1. What Professors Do by SaraJany
2. The Last Welcome by SaraJany
3. Grave News by SaraJany
4. The Grey Lady by SaraJany
5. Family Reunited by SaraJany
6. New Year—Same Difference by SaraJany
7. Raylan Talio by SaraJany
8. October by SaraJany
9. November by SaraJany
10. Dumbledore’s Funeral by SaraJany
11. The Ministry’s Gambit by SaraJany
12. When the Levee Breaks by SaraJany
13. Plans Within Plans by SaraJany
14. The Interview by SaraJany
15. Doing the Right Thing by SaraJany
16. A Letter from the Past by SaraJany
17. Memories from the Past by SaraJany
18. A Morning Walk by SaraJany
19. Christmas by SaraJany
20. House of Snape by SaraJany
21. Bowtruckle Island by SaraJany
22. A Nastily Exhausting Question by SaraJany
23. A Rita Skeeter Exclusive by SaraJany
24. Familia Ante Omnia by SaraJany
25. Why We Fight by SaraJany
26. Pains and Aches by SaraJany
27. The Cost of Victory by SaraJany
“What do professors do, anyway?” Harry asked as he scooped some mashed potatoes onto his plate. “Besides teaching, that is?”
Their quartet had been staying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for three days now, and Harry hadn’t thought that living in a 900-year-old Scottish castle’s dungeons could be this nice. For one, he’d imagined his dreaded Potions professor, Severus Snape, living in a bleak, barely-lit, mediaevalesque torture chamber—or quite possibly a simple coffin stored amongst the Potions ingredients surplus and mothballs. But to his surprise, Severus had some taste after all. And his private chambers in the dungeons of Hogwarts were neither gloomy nor scary.
They were simple, yes, but also comfortable and laidback. The entrance door led to a rectangular-shaped living room furnished with a dark-brown leather sofa and a matching well-worn armchair. One of the longer walls was entirely lined with over-stacked bookshelves, while the other held a large fireplace in the middle and a cabinet on the right-hand side. Opposite the front door was a hallway that led to the bedroom, and a small kitchenette with an even smaller table and four plain oak chairs was niched in a recess carved out of the left side of the hallway wall. The kitchenette wasn’t suited to cooking food. But there were enough cupboards to store some dishes and cutlery and everything you would need to make tea.
While it was more than enough for one man, it didn’t fit a family of four. And Saturnine had taken it upon herself to make some small but necessary changes—with her brother’s permission, of course. She used the Undetectable Extension Charm incantation “Capacious Extremis!” on the living room wall left of the fireplace to create a new bedroom for the boys and completed it with a small but practical en-suite shower room. She added another armchair to the living room and enlarged the coffee table. Finally, she placed two large wooden frames on the walls next to the front door that she charmed to reflect the view from outside the castle. Now, looking at the frames was like gazing out a window—the magical reflection was an actual real-time view of the Forbidden Forest. Like a real-life window, the bewitched frames let the sun in, which made living below ground more bearable.
Saturnine placed a smaller frame—displaying a view of the plains beyond the Herbology greenhouses—on the wall opposite the kitchenette and another large one in the boy’s bedroom. That one, of course, was of the Quidditch pitch. Though Harry hadn’t been able to check, he was sure there had to be at least one more in Severus’ bedroom. There might also be a second bed in there—not that Harry or Draco had had the guts to ask whether their assumption was accurate or not. After all, Saturnine had her own private quarters in the upper floors above the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, but Harry was almost sure she had spent the night in the dungeons two days prior. And Severus didn’t seem the type of guy who liked to share his blanket and pillows.
“We have essays to grade and classes to prepare,” the Potions Master replied between two bites of his well-cooked steak. “Detentions to oversee, and—”
“That must keep you busy,” Draco cut in, “like—a lot.”
Severus stared darkly at him before continuing, “Night patrols at least once a week, countless staff meetings, three to four Hogsmeade weekend trips to chaperone each year, and O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s exams to create each year and to subsequently grade.” He looked to his sister, sitting opposite him, to see if she had anything more to contribute.
“Remedial classes,” she explained, “and students coming to see you after class with specific questions.”
“Ah—I don’t seem to find myself subjected to too much of either,” Severus said, feigning a chagrined expression.
“One wonders why,” Saturnine replied with a wry smile that made it clear she knew full well why—they all did.
Draco chuckled at that, and Harry joined in. It had been decided that until everyone returned to the castle on August 31st, the four of them would take their evening meals together. The siblings had to get up early to get a head start on their day of setting up their classes and storing the various equipment and ingredients they needed, checking the materials, and Merlin knew what else. But Harry and Draco were allowed to sleep in late and left to their own devices during the day. Depending on the weather, they either went for a quick fly around the Quidditch pitch or stayed indoors perusing the library or stalking around the castle. Lunches were taken in the Great Hall with the other staff members that were present. But the evening meals—ordered straight from the Hogwarts’ kitchens—were theirs. It was fun to enjoy a relaxed moment together, and bouts of banter were frequent, the two Snapes often taking the lead. Harry had been surprised to discover that Severus, much like his sister, had a sharp sense of humour and could be quite witty when he wanted.
“You don’t have that much time to yourselves, then,” Harry said. “I hadn’t realised.”
Severus shrugged as if it had never bothered him to be on-call most of the time.
Saturnine was slightly more vocal. “We don’t get paid much for our efforts either, and the students’ recognition is even worse.”
“Do you have more things to do, Severus?” Draco asked. “As Head of House?”
“Even more boring staff meetings to attend, six Quidditch games to sit through and—” He paused as if he had to think hard to remember what other duties he had. “And I believe the other Heads of House sometimes lend their shoulders to their students to cry on.”
Harry couldn’t imagine him ever doing that, and he snickered at the mental image that thought conjured up.
“You’ve forgotten the caustic motivational speeches you force yourself to go through once or twice a year,” Draco pointed out. “Those are always a riot.”
“Ah, yes.” He huffed out a long, martyred sigh. “There are those as well.”
Saturnine shook her head fondly at him while smiling benevolently.
“What?” Severus asked her in mock exasperation.
“Complain all you want. But you love it,” she said. “Admit it.”
“You couldn’t be further from the truth,” he replied, eyebrows drawing closer as he frowned.
“And yet…” she taunted, letting her words hang.
“And yet nothing,” he countered, leaning back so that he could cross his arms over his chest.
Saturnine returned to her near-empty plate with a shrug of her shoulders. And if Harry had ever had any doubts that the two were siblings, he didn’t anymore. The ease with which they teased each other was effortless and seamless, evidently borne from years of practice. They knew just how far to push and just when to quit. Harry could only dream of having that kind of relationship with anyone one day. On the opposite end of the table, Draco was smiling over his cup of pumpkin juice, and Harry figured that one day, he just might. And he would make damn sure they kept having meals together sometimes during the school year, too. There was no way he would give up on that anytime soon.
Saturnine was a much better potioneer than she gave herself credit for, and Severus knew all about that. She prepared her ingredients in the same way she went about her hare-brained schemes—with precaution. And she stirred with precise, controlled movements—albeit a little too generous for his taste.
Severus had known from the Dark Mark Potions she had made for him all summer that she possessed some talent. But she’d always refused his offers of assistance. So, he had never gotten to watch her brew before. Why she hadn’t wanted his help all summer was a mystery to him. Being too poorly and magically depleted had stopped being an excuse towards the end of July. But knowing his sister as he did, it probably was something else entirely. Maybe she did this as a favour to him—to right some past wrong or something, which was ludicrous.
“Knut for your thoughts,” she offered, drawing him out of his mind.
“It’s nothing,” he said, peering into their cauldron to check for the potion’s colour and liquid state. It was still a little too gooey, but the shade of blue was the one they were going for. “Stir a little bit faster.”
Saturnine complied, and Severus readied himself to add the drops of unicorn blood.
The Stasis Potion he had devised took an entire day and night to brew and used no less than a hundred ingredients. It had taken them two days to slice, dice, mince, grate, powder, and extract everything they needed.
They had begun brewing at dawn and kept relaying themselves throughout the day. They were well into the night now, and Severus could feel the fatigue creeping in. He hadn’t been on his feet for hours on end since his fight against the Death Eaters in May. And he knew he was pushing himself past what was reasonable. He should lie down and let Saturnine take over for a while. But he was loath to leave her alone. It was his potion, after all—and thus, his responsibility. The fact that he’d allowed her to assist so he wouldn’t have to stir for twenty-four hours straight was one thing, but he was determined to continue overseeing the project so that he could shoulder the blame if something went wrong.
“And you’re miles away again,” Saturnine added with a smile as she raised her hand to remove the sheen of sweat pearling on her brow.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “A lot hinges on this. I was only examining the various steps in my head.”
She nodded. “Don’t worry; the potion will turn out fine.”
Severus was tempted to snort but found that he lacked the energy for it. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
He added the five drops of blood to the potion, and they watched as the liquid turned a darker shade of blue before swirling and settling for a nice burgundy red. Saturnine kept stirring with the same movement and speed while Severus first discarded the cup that had stored the unicorn blood, then reached for the powdered amethyst that was to be added next.
“I am sure the potion will work because you’re the one who invented it,” Saturnine said. Then catching his gaze, she added, “You are—and always have been—brilliant at potions, Severus.”
Despite his better judgement, he felt himself blushing and looked away—as if that could hide his embarrassment.
“Youngest Potions Master ever in Britain—and Europe, if I recall correctly,” she continued.
His gaze swivelled back to his sister. He was surprised to discover that she knew about that since it had happened during the period of their estrangement.
“I was very proud of you when I found out,” she added with a soft smile.
Severus didn’t know what to say and looked down instead of replying. If he’d been uncomfortable before, that was nothing compared to how he felt now. He’d never taken praise well, always feeling undeserving somehow—not that people praised him often. He knew his sister enough to know that she meant it, though. And that made his chest tighten in something that wasn’t pain but wasn’t so far from it, either.
“You looked very dapper in that graduation uniform,” she added, smiling fondly at the memory. “Although your hair was cut much too short for my taste.”
He snorted; he hadn’t liked his haircut much, either. “My master insisted I keep my hair short so it wouldn’t fall in the cauldrons by accident,” he explained. He rose a hand to brush the back of his neck as he remembered how the severe cut had left his skin exposed, something he loathed. It took two more seconds for the meaning of his sister’s words to sink in, though. Saturnine had known what he looked like the day he graduated, and she could only have done that if—
“You were there?” he asked, bewildered. He hardly recognised his own voice.
His sister nodded and kept stirring. “Did you think I would miss something so important? I didn’t stay long, and I wore a disguise. But yes, I was there.” She paused long enough to capture his gaze. “And I was really proud of you, brother-mine.”
Severus couldn’t speak over the lump in his throat. He clutched the jar of powdered amethyst so tightly that he feared it might shatter in his hand. He’d gotten his mastery four years after his sister had left Britain. They weren’t talking at the time. Yet not only had she known what he was up to, but she had also bothered showing up. He felt his eyes welling up.
“Really proud,” she repeated, reaching for his arm with her free hand. She squeezed his bicep once before returning her attention to the now-maroon simmering potion. It was nearly time to add the amethyst, and he fought to clear his thoughts so that he could tend to the task at hand.
They kept brewing in silence after that. Severus took over the stirring once the potion coalesced into a near-solid mass that was almost impossible to stir. He sweated profusely as he kept working the iron rod through the molasses, putting all his weight behind the motion. Years of practice allowed him to maintain the momentum, and slowly, the potion began to thaw and release some of its tension. He kept stirring, never giving up—even when he sweated so profusely that he could feel his undershirt stick to his back. Saturnine left for a few minutes and returned with a glass of cold water that she brought to his lips while he kept stirring. He took several grateful sips and wished, not for the first time, that they could have brewed this somewhere other than some sordid, cramped room at the back of the dungeons that no one knew about. Somewhere where he could have opened a damn window to let the fresh air in. But no—illegal potions were better brewed in secret.
“Let me know if you need me to step in,” Saturnine offered as she took a sip from the glass herself. She looked tired, but she had barely left his side since they’d started brewing.
“It’s okay,” he replied through clenched teeth. “I’ve almost got it—get ready with the Belladonna oil.”
Saturnine nodded as she reached for the phial next in line, her fingers easily unstopping the lid. The sticky, tar-like substance he stirred began to give, and he started to draw figure-eights in the cauldron. He nodded at his sister when it was time for the oil, and she diligently dipped the contents of the phial square in the middle of his latest figure-eight. The stirring became easier after that, and he motioned at the flames to augment the intensity. The potion started bubbling again.
“Can you take over?” he asked, and Saturnine was by his side an instant later. They barely lost momentum as they traded places, having done it well over a dozen times that day.
A quick survey of the ingredients left on the table confirmed that they were getting close to the finish line. In another hour or so, they would have their murder weapon ready—so to speak.
Reaching for what remained of the water, he downed it in one go, even as he charmed the top buttons of his frock coat open. He was suffocating, and he needed to sit. He’d have gladly taken off his coat, but he knew better than to brew anything with only a flimsy cotton shirt on. He’d learned early on that even the most fundamental potions could project burning liquid when set to boil, and it was better to keep as much of his skin protected as possible. He still carried the faint reminders of his mistakes along his forearms and on the back of his hands. These scars served as incentives not to yield to the temptation of comfort. Pulling out his wand, he cast a cleansing and cooling charm on himself instead.
“How did you know?” he asked, bringing the topic to the forefront for want of a distraction and because he was more than a little curious.
“Know what?” Saturnine asked, looking up from the cauldron with a puzzled expression.
“Oh, I had my sources,” she said with a shrug. “I may have left the country, but I kept a few pairs of ears and eyes behind.”
“Care to be more specific?”
“Friends who kept me appraised of significant events,” she replied, her gaze returning to the task at hand. Her cheeks reddened, but it was hard to tell if it was because of the stifling warmth in the room or if she blushed. “And the occasional edition of the Daily Prophet.”
Sitting up, Severus grabbed the minced cotton flowers and prepared to add them to the mix. They lapsed into silence again until they neared the last ingredients, and Severus switched places with Saturnine again.
Past midnight, he’d stopped checking the time and had no idea how far away from dawn they were. His back protested as he leaned over the cauldron, and his right arm felt like it was made of lead. But he reached for the iron rod, nonetheless. He began to stir counter-clockwise the ethereal orange-ish potion that floated about the cauldron. At least he wasn’t met with much resistance this time.
He could easily have let Saturnine finish the potion, but he was determined that it be completed by his hand. No matter how simple or how complicated it was, a potion was always tied to the potioneer who brewed it; part of its maker was transferred to its core during the creation process. While he had had no choice but to seek Saturnine’s assistance to make it to the finish line, he was determined that her magic would be as undiscernible as possible in the final product. Most of their plan to conquer the Dark Lord hinged on this Stasis Potion. Were it to end up in the wrong hands, the consequences would be catastrophic for whoever was found responsible for brewing it. Besides, there was always the possibility—slim as it was—that he’d overlook something and that it would kill Albus Dumbledore instead of saving him. If that should be the case, he wanted Saturnine to stay well away from the consequences of his mistake.
“Only the Dendrobatidae toxin left,” Saturnine said as she reached for a crystal phial containing a clear liquid. The poison dart frogs’ secretion was two hundred times as potent as morphine and had been hard to source. Severus was forced to suffer an uncomfortable encounter with a dealer in Knockturn Alley to procure it, and ten millilitres of the stuff had cost him a month’s worth of salary. The headmaster had paid him back for everything, but still… He reached for the phial with a careful hand.
He had turned off the flames below the cauldron some ten minutes ago, and he stirred slowly now. Saturnine didn’t release her hold on the phial, choosing to follow its path with her hand as he brought it closer to the cauldron. Severus tried to catch her gaze to understand her behaviour, but her eyes remained fixed on the near gas-like substance below.
Saturnine kept her hold on the phial even as her free hand reached around the one he used to hold the rod, and her intention became as clear as the liquid toxin in the small bottle. She was determined to do this with him. The final step of the potion—the one that would seal all their fates. He wanted to tell her not to. But he couldn’t find his voice, and her fingers curled around his. They stirred together, added the toxin of common intent, and the potion was soon completed.
Outside the castle, the first lights of dawn illuminated the sky, heralding the beginning of a new day. Today was August 31st, 1997, and the Hogwarts Express’ steam locomotive would reach Hogsmeade station in the early hours of the evening, spitting out large plumes of white smoke. It would rattle to a stop; red passenger carriers’ doors would groan open to let out hundreds of eager students, old and new. And when the sun shone its last rays, and the moon assumed its place in the sky, an old man would draw his last breath.
Today was a day of beginnings and ends. And it would always be remembered as the day of the death of Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin First Class, Grand Sorcerer, Supreme Mugwump, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and current headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
Harry was elated to be reunited with his friends, and he’d gone all the way down to Hogsmeade station with Hagrid to welcome back Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville and Luna, and all the others. He had managed to convince Draco to come along, even if the blond’s enthusiasm had paled compared to his.
Now seated in the Great Hall underneath the enchanted ceiling with its hundreds of floating candles, Harry couldn’t wait for the time they’d be able to return to their dorms so that he could properly catch up with the rest of Gryffindor House.
“Less cheery than usual,” Ron commented once the Sorting Hat finished its welcoming song. And indeed, it had reflected the tense times they lived in and had nearly killed the jovial mood floating about the four long rectangular tables filled with students.
Their Transfiguration teacher, Professor Minerva McGonagall, started calling out the names of the new students one by one so that the Hat could sort them into the Hogwarts House to which they belonged. As he looked up and down the line of nervous first-years, Harry couldn’t help but notice how few newcomers there were. He did a quick headcount and discovered only eighteen—not even half the usual average.
Hermione, who had caught him counting, said, “Rumour has it that many parents refused to let their children attend for fear of what might happen. Numerous students haven’t returned, either.”
Harry looked around the Great Hall at that and realised she had been right. There were gaps along the benches here and there at every table. But Hufflepuff House and Ravenclaw House seemed to be the most impacted.
“Not many Death Eater wannabes missing from the snakes’ table,” Ron commented as he followed Harry’s gaze. “Guess they don’t have much cause to be afraid of an impending attack.”
“Well, Gryffindor House is pretty much all accounted for, too,” Harry said, looking up and down his own table. “We’ll give them a run for their money if they try anything.”
The Sorting Ceremony was a quick affair, and four students joined the red-and-gold table to the cheering and applause of their new comrades. Professor McGonagall removed the stool and Hat before returning to the staff table that sat perpendicular to the students’ tables at the head of the Great Hall.
There were no new teachers, Harry saw, but they’d been playing musical chairs again. From right to left were Rubeus Hagrid, who taught Care of Magical Creatures, Aurora Sinista of Astronomy, Bathsheda Babbling of Study of Ancient Runes, Charity Burbage of Muggle Studies, Filius Flitwick, who taught Charms, and Transfiguration professor and Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. In the centre, as always, sat Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. And on his left was Professor Pomona Sprout, who taught Herbology. Then came Sybill Trelawney, Divination, Septima Vector, Arithmancy, Flying Instructor Rolanda Hooch, and finally, Professors Saturnine and Severus Snape, who, respectively, taught Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions.
Harry was glad to see that the Snape siblings sat next to each other this year, unlike last year when Saturnine—who had posed as a foreign professor, Leen Nine—had chosen to sit as far from her brother as she could in fear that he would see through her disguise and realise who their new staff member was.
A tired-looking Albus Dumbledore rose to deliver his usual welcoming speech. Harry did not avert his gaze from the frail, sickly-looking form of the man, although he was a difficult sight to behold. The headmaster, whom Harry knew had been cursed nearly a year prior, was living his last days. And it was a wonder that he’d had the strength to attend the ceremony at all.
“Welcome to another year at Hogwarts,” he announced, his words slightly breathless. “A few words before we begin our banquet.”
The room had grown utterly silent, as if every student realised that Dumbledore’s voice wouldn’t be able to carry over their chatter as it usually did.
“A new staff appointment, as is so often the case,” he continued with a hint of a smile. “Our last Defence Against the Dark Arts professor having had to leave due to some unforeseen circumstances.”
Harry smiled despite himself at the headmaster’s words—she had vanished, more likely—never to return. Leen Nine had ceased to exist the moment Harry and Draco had been kidnapped. And Saturnine had been forced to reveal her true identity to all to get the boys back. Apparently, that part of the story wasn’t worth explaining to the students at large, and Dumbledore opted to introduce Saturnine as a new teacher altogether.
“To change the tide, our esteemed Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House has agreed to split classes between himself and our newest member of staff and former Ministry Auror,” Dumbledore explained. “Potions classes for years five to seven will be taught by Professor Severus Snape. He will also teach Defence for years one to four. His sister, Professor Saturnine Snape, will teach Potions from the first to fourth years and take over Defence from years five and onward.”
Harry’s brain screeched to a halt at that. They will what?
Looking up, his eyes darted straight to the opposite end of the Great Hall, where he sought a familiar-looking blond. Draco was staring his way, too, and seemed equally surprised at the announcement. They frowned at each other for a second longer before both of them simultaneously turned their heads towards the staff table, levelling the siblings with matching puzzled expressions and glares that all but screamed, “Why didn’t you tell us?”
Their nonverbal communication wasn’t missed by their attentive professors. And the boys’ questions were met by a twin set of raised eyebrows and shrugs that clearly meant, “See if I care.”
However, the slight smirk at the corner of Saturnine’s lips and the glint in Severus’ dark eyes told a different story. In their own ways, they both said, “Gotcha!” And Harry was once more amazed at how childlike the two could be at times. A part of him felt like retaliating, but he knew better. Between Saturnine’s smarts and Severus’ cunning, he didn’t have a chance—even if he managed to secure Draco’s help.
“I’m going to guess that you didn’t know?” Hermione, ever the perceptive one, asked.
“Didn’t have a clue,” Harry admitted. “They’ve got quite the wicked sense of humour, those two.”
“Wait,” Ron said, “Snape—a sense of humour? You’re kidding, right?”
“Which one?” Ginny chimed in from his left.
“Professor Snape, I mean,” Ron clarified, then he realised that that didn’t clarify his statement one bit. “I mean the bat of the dungeon one—damn, but that will be annoying.”
“There’s another one?” Harry heard Seamus ask from a little further down the table. “Another Professor Snape? As if one wasn’t bad enough.”
“Maybe she isn’t as bad?” commented Dean. “I mean, she’s not dressed all in black at least. So, there’s hope.”
Even if he could only see the top half of Saturnine’s outfit, Dean had been right on that one. Saturnine wore a different blouse this year, one that was no longer azure-blue but navy-blue. She also wore it differently than last year. While Professor Nine had been careful to button hers up to the top, Saturnine was comfortable enough in her own skin to let her neck show, and she hadn’t fastened the first two buttons. Harry had seen earlier in the afternoon that the rest of her outfit was as far removed from her brother’s as she could have made it, too. At her waist, the blouse was tucked into a pair of tight-fitting snow-white denim trousers. Harry couldn’t remember ever seeing a witch wearing a pair of white jeans, but Saturnine seemed the type to want to break the mould. Beneath the flared hem of her trousers, she wore low-ankle, brown leather boots. A large leather belt of the same colour was tied at her waist, giving her attire an indubitably modern look.
Without the black school robes, she would have looked very Muggle-like. But with the long black cape-like cloth falling around her, she looked very much the figure of authority—albeit a stylish one. Her dark-brown hair was no longer forced upwards in a severe bun but had instead been braided into a long plait that hung over her right shoulder.
Harry felt a little bad that Saturnine was forced to go the extra mile to prove to everyone that she wasn’t like her brother. But she was a talented teacher, and he was certain that by the end of the first week, everyone would know to tell the difference between the two—even if there were some striking similarities with how they led their classes.
Later that night, in the headmaster’s chambers, Saturnine saw how much it had cost Dumbledore to attend the Welcoming Feast. Simply showing up had all but drained him of whatever life remained, and he was barely more than a living corpse now.
Severus noticed, too. “You shouldn’t have done it, you old fool,” he said. “You could have dropped dead over the treacle tart. What good would that have done us?”
Dumbledore, who lay down atop his own bed, barely had the energy to frown at the rebuke.
Sensing that time was in short supply, Saturnine forced them to focus on the task at hand. “We have the potion ready, sir,” she said. Taking a few steps forward, she came to sit on the bed at the headmaster’s right. She looked up to Severus, caught his gaze, and held it until he mirrored her actions and sat down on the other side.
Once seated, he reached into one of his frock coat’s pockets to pull out a small, delicate-looking crystal phial.
“Thank you,” Dumbledore said, looking at Severus first before turning his head to take in Saturnine. “Both of you.” He was met with twin respectful nods. “I know this situation isn’t easy, and it’s only going to get worse, especially for the two of you.”
“It’s nothing, Headmaster,” Saturnine said. “We’ll do our part.”
“I have one last thing to give to you before I go,” Dumbledore said.
Raising a pale, shaking hand a few inches off the bed, he pointed towards the dresser on the wall facing him. “Bottom drawer,” he indicated.
Saturnine got to her feet, and she knelt before the walnut drawer an instant later. Inside, amidst a colourful sea of scarves and gloves, she found a golden goblet with two handles and a badger carved on the side. “Helga Hufflepuff’s cup,” she said in amazement. It was pulsing with Dark Magic and she feared touching it. Looking over her shoulder, she asked, “Is it safe to hold it?”
Dumbledore nodded, and she picked it up, bringing it with her as she returned to his bedside.
“It was in the vaults, then?” Severus asked, and Dumbledore nodded again.
“Only two left now,” Saturnine observed. “The locket and the diadem.”
“It will take something powerful to destroy the Horcruxes,” Dumbledore said. “I would suggest Godric Gryffindor’s sword.”
“The only heirloom Tom Riddle refused to go anywhere near,” Severus said in understanding.
“Precisely, my boy,” Dumbledore answered. “A few parting words now.” He heaved in a deep breath. “I am sorry that my foolishness led me to this moment in time, for I wanted to see the battle to the end. Alas, I am now forced to leave you both in this impossible position. And I am so very sorry. Especially for you, Severus. I have already asked so much of you—I am loath to ask for more.
“But I am ever so proud of you—of you and your sister. You two have come such a long way from that wayward childhood of yours. You never let that keep you down. You fought your way forward, and you must now find the strength to fight a little longer.”
Saturnine felt tears welling up in her eyes at the kindness of the comment and the enormity of what they were about to do. Glancing to her right, she saw that her brother wasn’t fairing much better. She would have expected him to be Occluding by this point, but he’d clearly refrained from the urge.
Severus was looking as devastated as she was—worse, even. He’d known Dumbledore for years. The two were close, evidently, but Saturnine realised it went deeper than that. The headmaster had become more than an employer and mentor for Severus. He was the father figure his brother had never had. And the necessities of war now demanded that he all but kill him.
Reaching out a hand over Dumbledore’s legs, she caught Severus’ free hand and curled her fingers around his. The gesture wasn’t lost on the headmaster, who placed his good hand atop theirs.
“You’ll need each other to go through this,” he said. “You must protect the children. All of them. And especially Harry and Draco—they are our future.”
Saturnine nodded, and from her peripheral vision, she saw Severus doing the same.
“Now,” Dumbledore said, mustering the energy from somewhere to curl up the corners of his lips. “I find myself thirsty.”
Severus’ fingers shook as he held out the potion, unstopping it one-handedly. Dumbledore reached for it with fingers that trembled even more. But he brought it to his lips and downed it in one go. His eyes never left Severus’ as he did.
“Tastes like toenails,” the headmaster said, bringing his hand back down. “Why do potions always have to taste awful, Severus?” His eyes fluttered closed, and his breathing slowed. The crystal phial rolled out of his limp fingers, and he breathed his last.
Pulling out her wand, Saturnine performed one of the medical check-up spells she had learned years ago from a Swiss Mediwitch. The spell was unequivocal; Dumbledore was dead.
“It’s done,” she said in a half-voice. “It’s over.”
A lone tear trailed down her brother’s face, and she held his hand a little tighter. She hated to have to rush this moment, but they were running out of time, and they had many things to do. The longer they stayed in the Headmaster’s Tower, the more they risked getting caught out past curfew.
“We have to set the scene,” she declared, enunciating the next step of their plan.
Severus nodded before letting go of her hand to retrieve the small crystal phial. It was the one evidence they couldn’t leave behind; he returned it to his pocket. Then they both sat up and got to work.
Severus used a spell to charm the window open so that everyone would think the intruder had come from outside. Then he moved to the chest of drawers where Saturnine had found the cup. Using his wand, he rummaged into each one, displacing everything so that it would look like someone had searched it. Then he moved to the large wardrobe that sat against the next wall. He charmed it open and flicked through the clothes hanging there, impatiently throwing a few hangers to the floor in what would look like an exasperated fit.
Saturnine remained by the headmaster’s body. She reached inside her robes’ pocket and retrieved the dagger that would be the murder weapon. It was wrapped in a white piece of cloth. She uncovered the blade but left the cloth to protect the handle so that her fingerprints wouldn’t be on it. She knew full well that the investigators would be wizards. But she also knew that the Wizengamot wasn’t above allowing the use of Muggles techniques in such high-profile cases. They’d stop at nothing to find Dumbledore’s killer, and all precautions had to be taken.
While Severus kept pretending to ransack the room, Saturnine heaved in several centring breaths. She had to be precise; there was no margin for error. Drawing back on everything she had learned with the Mediwitch and the many diagrams she had studied throughout the summer, she knelt on the bed by the headmaster’s side. Then, feeling her way with the tip of her fingers, she followed the muscles and bones underneath his frail skin until she found the spot she was looking for.
Saturnine pressed the tip of the blade to the thin layer of cotton that separated her dagger from Dumbledore’s flesh. Saying a little prayer to all the deities she knew that she wasn’t about to kill the greatest wizard that had ever lived, she plunged the blade through the wrinkled skin. It required more strength than she had imagined, and she leaned her whole body into it until the blade was in to the hilt. Pulling back, she removed the cloth from the handle and watched as blood stained the cotton around the entry wound. It wouldn’t bleed much, not with the state the headmaster was in. But it would be enough to convince any onlooker that Dumbledore had been stabbed to death. Aurors weren’t used to investigating crimes where the victim hadn’t been killed with magic, and she prayed they wouldn’t know how much blood was expected from such injuries.
“It’s done,” she confirmed, returning to her feet and moving towards the entrance of the room.
Severus was already there, and he looked up to stare at her. He did his damnedest not to look to his right, refusing to see the body that lay there with a blade in its chest.
Saturnine could understand why. Reaching for Harry’s cloak, which she had left on the armchair by the door, she pulled it over herself before motioning for Severus to join her. He did before using an Alohomora to open the front door so that they could step out.
Once in Dumbledore’s office, Saturnine used a spell to turn the key in the lock on the other side. Then, using slow, precise movements, she levitated the key from the lock. Peering through the keyhole, she levitated it back a little more before throwing it out of the window, giving the Aurors a locked-room mystery to investigate.
The two Snapes let themselves out of the Headmaster’s Tower, hidden from sight, the sound of their feet muffled by one of the Potions Master’s spells. They encountered no one on their way back to the dungeons and found the inside of Severus’ quarters as empty as the hallways had been.
The boys had returned to their respective Houses’ dorms earlier that day, and Saturnine looked at their empty, unlit bedroom with a pang of longing. They were doing this for them, she reminded herself. For Harry, Draco, and every other child in this school.
Severus disappeared down the hallway and into his bedroom without a word. Folding the Invisibility Cloak, Saturnine placed it on the back of the sofa, wondering how she would manage to return it to Harry’s trunk tomorrow without being seen.
Though it was past midnight, she knew sleep wouldn’t be easy to come by tonight. Feeling the need for some company, she went to her brother, entering his bedroom, which had now become partly hers, too. She had charmed the room to make it wider and squeezed a second bed between Severus’ and his bookshelves. Hers was smaller than his and not as comfortable, but it was more than enough for whenever she felt like staying in the dungeons overnight.
She would be staying tonight, she knew. There was no way she could go back to her empty quarters on the third floor after what they’d done. Retching sounds came out from the adjoining bathroom, and Saturnine realised her brother would have a hard time falling asleep, too. Her heart went out to him, and her feet followed; she was by his hunched form a moment later with a towel in one hand and a glass of water in the other.
Draco had known all along that returning to Slytherin House would be difficult. The sons of Death Eaters, who had been his allies for years, were now his enemies. And going by the murderous gazes they sent his way, they would gladly relish the opportunity to stab him in the back while he slept.
While they would never be foolish enough to attempt something in the Great Hall, the situation within the Slytherin dorms was a different beast entirely. He was thankful Severus had gotten up at the end of The Feast to walk him down himself. Draco had stayed close to him, drawing strength from his presence, and Severus had gone as far as placing a hand on his shoulder as they walked into the common room. That had clarified to everyone where their Head of House stood regarding Draco and that going after him was like going after Severus Snape himself. There weren’t many students foolish enough to want to try that.
That single gesture would buy him some time, Draco knew. But while it would keep him alive, it couldn’t shield him from the murderous gazes and serpent tongues of his comrades.
“Toadying up to Potter, now?” Zabini had asked as Draco entered their shared dormitories after their Head of House had departed. “I would never have thought you could stoop so low.”
Pansy Parkinson, who had been sitting on his lap, crooned, “Oh, but haven’t you heard, Blaise? Draco is penniless now. He must be cosying up to the Chosen One for his Galleons—the little slut.”
Draco had been tempted to throw the insult back in her face. Pansy was one to talk; everyone knew she had opened her legs for at least half the male population of Slytherin House. But he’d kept his mouth shut as he moved to his bed.
With complicated wand gestures and a few nonverbal spells, he had removed the protection on his trunk to retrieve his pyjamas. Then he went to change in the bathroom and placed a series of complicated spells on his bed when he returned. Lastly, he charmed the curtains so that no one could pull them open during the night—all the while knowing that if he was forced to stay within the Slytherin dorms, he would never be able to sleep soundly again.
Come morning, Draco awoke bright and early to have the shower room to himself. He finished his business quickly and was dressed and ready to go at six o’clock sharp. And he slipped outside the Slytherin quarters the moment he was allowed.
For the first time since he’d started school at Hogwarts, he was the first student to make it to the Great Hall. He sat down with his back against the wall at the corner closest to the entrance doors. That way, he’d be able to observe where both Harry and his godfather sat. He could also make a hasty exit if he needed to, and no one would be able to come at him from behind.
A few more students started coming in a moment later, Ravenclaws mostly—but then they had always been known to be early risers. The first ones that ambled in all had their noses in books. Draco snickered at the sight; that made him think of Saturnine, and he surmised that that was where she must have got the habit. She, too, was an early bird, and she enjoyed a bit of reading at all hours.
Draco wondered what her classes would be like now that she was free to give them as Saturnine Snape, without the need for deception, without being forced to play the part of shy, demure Leen Nine. She was free to be herself—the formidable, capable, strong witch he knew she was.
While Draco was sure Saturnine would never perform Elemental Magic in class, she still possessed a considerable talent that she was now free to showcase to everyone. He was sure that her first class would leave a long-lasting impression—much like last year’s had.
At six-thirty sharp, the banquet tables filled with food, and Draco started in on his breakfast. The tables were half-filled now. And it wasn’t long until Gryffindor’s golden trio ambled into the room. Harry’s green eyes sought him out immediately, and they exchanged smiles of greeting.
Harry sat down at the lions’ table, situating himself opposite him. He spoke animatedly with Ron about something or other. Hermione quickly lost interest, and she pulled out a swath of papers from her pocket instead, perusing them with intent. Draco couldn’t be sure, but it looked like class schedules. The young Slytherin wished he could join them, but he knew that wasn’t possible. There were limits he couldn’t cross, and the snakes would kill him for breaking that one.
Some ten minutes later, a loud gong resonated within the walls of Hogwarts—once, twice. Everybody froze in surprise, forks paused in mid-air. Heads turned left and right as everyone tried to determine what was going on. Draco caught Harry’s gaze with a question in his eyes. Harry shook his head—a sign that he had no idea what was going on, either.
Professor McGonagall’s voice resounded through every hallway and corridor a moment later. “Every student to the Great Hall. I repeat, every student to the Great Hall.”
Harry shot to his feet at the announcement, and Draco felt himself tense up. Hermione pulled at Harry’s sleeve to have him sit back down. From where he sat, Draco couldn’t hear what she was telling him, but he saw her mouth the words Great Hall twice, and he got the gist of what she was saying. They were already in the right place to determine what was happening; there was no need to go anywhere else.
The few professors who were already there looked equally puzzled. None of the Heads of House were present. So, they looked unsure as to whom to turn to for information.
Pomona Sprout, Head of Hufflepuff House, arrived a moment later. She nervously crossed the Great Hall to join her colleagues, buttoning the last of her shirt up as she went. A few of her students tried stopping her with questions, but she raised an annoyed hand to stop them before they could start. Saturnine and Severus were next; they were fully dressed and moved with more confidence than Professor Sprout had displayed. No one bothered to try and get in their way as they crossed through the room with long, purposeful strides.
Less than ten minutes later, the Great Hall was packed full, all students and staff seemingly accounted for. Transfiguration teacher and Deputy Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, entered the room an instant later, and every pair of eyes present narrowed at her—staff included. All the chatter that had been occurring trickled down to a tensed silence as she crossed the room; it got so quiet that McGonagall’s last steps as she rounded the High Table were all that could be heard.
Unlike the rest of the staff, she did not sit down, choosing to stand behind the headmaster’s tall ornate chair instead. Her features were taut, and her lips pressed into a thin, pale line. The deep green of her robe heightened the lack of colour in her cheeks. And her fingers shook slightly as her hands came up to grip the back of the golden chair.
Whatever announcement she had for them, it wasn’t good news. That much was obvious.
“Everyone, listen up,” she said. The Scottish inflexion in her voice was more pronounced than usual, another sign that the situation was grave. “I have terrible news to announce—most terrible.”
Staff members and students alike held their breaths as they waited for the blow to come.
“Professor Dumbledore,” she said, and it was clear she was forcing herself to get the words out, “is dead.” She heaved in a breath. “The headmaster is dead.”
Gasps of surprise and horror shook the assembled crowd like a wave.
“He was murdered in his rooms,” McGonagall continued. “The house-elves found him this morning.”
A hubbub of voices grew and grew within the Great Hall, assuming a life of its own. It was a mix of Dear Merlin, But he’s Dumbledore, and Do you think it was You-Know-Who?
“Silence!” shrieked McGonagall, and the panicked voices died down. “Classes are cancelled for the day. You are all to return to your dorms at once and stay there until lunchtime. More information will be given to you then.” She snapped her fingers, and the students started to move.
Draco was amongst the first ones out of the door. It wasn’t long until Harry, Ron, and Hermione joined him in the hallway. The young witch had tears in her eyes, and the ginger-haired lion had draped a comforting arm around her shoulders.
“Do you think it’s true?” Harry asked. “About Dumbledore?”
Draco nodded. “Guess so. They wouldn’t have said it otherwise.”
“Sweet Morgana, Professor Dumbledore,” moaned Hermione. “I can’t believe it.”
It was a terrible blow for their side. Dumbledore had been the one leading them, uniting them. The Dark Lord’s attack on the Ministry earlier that summer had done substantial damage; it had taken them weeks to get a semblance of organisation back. And this would weaken them again.
“He was going to die anyway,” Draco stated the obvious. “Who’d be stupid enough to risk a life sentence in Azkaban to make it happen faster?”
“What do you mean, Malfoy?” Ron asked with a snarl.
“Don’t be thick, Weasley. You saw how he was last night. He barely had the strength to stand.” he replied. “I doubt he’d have lasted the week. Who would murder a dying man?”
Draco remembered Saturnine telling him and Harry that they had better ready themselves not to see the headmaster again—that it was likely he wouldn’t last until the end of August. The old man had outlived her prognosis, but it hadn’t made a great deal of difference in the end.
“Who is one thing—but I’m most interested to know why,” Harry said. “Draco’s right. Dumbledore was near the end. So, why go to the trouble of killing him?”
“He must have been working on something,” Hermione said between two sniffs. “And he must have been getting close. A way to stop You-Know-Who, maybe?”
Students kept pouring out of the Great Hall, walking around them hurriedly. Some of the girls were in tears, Draco noticed. None of the staff had come out yet, and he could imagine them standing together in a tight group near the back of the Great Hall, discussing the situation and making plans.
“What will we do?” Ron asked.
“We have to figure out what happened,” Harry said. Then, looking over his shoulder at the wall separating them from the Great Hall, he added, “I wonder what Severus and Saturnine know.”
More students filled the hallway, and Draco saw Professors Vectra and Sinistra walking amongst them. A little while later, he caught sight of Madam Hooch and Professor Burbage.
Severus walked out eventually, and he came straight at them, dark robes billowing around him as he parted the throng of students like the Red Sea.
His eyebrows were tightly knitted, a scowl etched deep in his forehead. “I would have thought Professor McGonagall’s instructions were clear. Every student is to go back to their dorms.”
“But Professor—” Hermione started.
“Every. Student,” Severus commanded, his voice a dark growl. “That means you, too, Miss Granger.”
“But Severus, what happened?” Draco asked.
The Potions Master directed his dark eyes the blond’s way, and his lips curled into a snarl. “What was that, Mister Malfoy?” he asked.
The young wizard understood his mistake at once. Calling his professor by his given name while they were amongst themselves was one thing. But outside of their quarters, he owed his godfather the proper respect his title imposed. “Professor Snape, I mean,” he said, looking down.
“Do you know anything, Professor?” Harry asked.
“Only what Professor McGonagall told everyone,” he replied. “Now, if her instructions weren’t clear enough, I will repeat them for you. Return to your dorms, and do not leave.”
His tone made it clear they had better comply—or the loss of a few House Points would be the least of their worries. He’d alternated between looking at Harry and Draco as he spoke. It was clear he didn’t care much what happened to Ron and Hermione. But the two boys were meant to obey the instructions.
Without another word, Severus turned on his heel to return to the entrance of the Great Hall. Saturnine joined him an instant later, coming out of the room with Professors Sprout, Flitwick, and McGonagall. The five of them left together, walking towards the Headmaster’s Tower.
As he stepped down to the dungeons, Draco wondered what fresh hell had just been unleashed on them. The headmaster had had his back despite—everything. He’d gone above and beyond that summer, trying to foil Lucius’ plans, when he didn’t need to. Especially after Draco had tried, and failed, to kill him twice the year before. And now, he was gone.
The side of the Light had just lost its leader, and he prayed that didn’t mean they had just lost the war.
Later that afternoon, Severus and his sister gathered in his living room to discuss the current situation.
“I don’t like this,” Saturnine said, crossing her arms over her chest. She stood near the fireplace and sported an expression that Severus could only qualify as petulant. It was a look he hadn’t seen on his sister’s face in years. It was her ‘I don’t want to eat my soup’ look.
“We don’t have a choice. We can’t risk anyone finding out,” Severus explained again from where he sat on his armchair.
“I’ve never lied to Harry,” she countered. “Not once. And I won’t start now.”
“Be selective about the truths that you share, then,” he offered. “Spin it in a way that—”
“Lying by omission is still lying, Severus,” she cut in.
One of his eyebrows rose in mock surprise. “Is it, now?”
“Yes, you snake—it is,” she replied, pacing the length of the fireplace back and forth.
That comment coming from anyone else would have angered him, but he knew she meant it endearingly, and he merely shrugged the comment off. “We agreed not to let anyone know.”
“But the boys wouldn’t tell a soul.”
“The Dark Lord has a direct connection to the inside of Harry’s head,” Severus pointed out.
“He knows how to Occlude,” Saturnine argued.
She waved an impatient hand about, and Severus all but rolled his eyes at her. As if that would help them. He knew how talented Voldemort was at Legilimency. And Harry, for all his good intentions, would be unable to stop him. “We can’t risk it, ’Nine. I won’t have it.”
“Fine, I’ll do my best.” She gave in with an exasperated huff. “But I make no promises if he comes at me and asks me straight up what I know with those imploring emerald puppy eyes of his.”
Severus would have snorted if he, too, didn’t find it difficult to stand up to Harry’s soul-searching green-eyed stare. “Minerva seems to have things under control for the moment,” he said, referring to the recent arrival of a bunch of Aurors at Hogwarts. They had secured the ‘crime scene’ and made all the necessary reports before removing the headmaster’s body.
Their plan had gone smoothly, and everyone had been fooled into thinking that Albus Dumbledore was dead. An official investigation into his murder was set to begin any day now. Apparently, it was only a matter of finding the right wizard or witch to lead it, and Severus feared that meant allowing a Death Eater into their midst.
Staff and students alike would be under scrutiny then, and they’d have to be careful what they did. Which was why they had better put what little freedom they had left to good use.
“We have retrieved one more Horcrux,” he said. “We need to hurry to find the other two.”
“I’ll go talk to the Grey Lady,” Saturnine offered. “See if she knows anything about the diadem.”
The Grey Lady, Helena, was a witch and Rowena Ravenclaw’s daughter. She attended Hogwarts centuries ago and was sorted into the house that her mother had founded. Shortly after her death, she returned as a ghost to Hogwarts Castle, where she became and continued to be the ghost of Ravenclaw House.
Slytherin House also had its ghost: a nobleman whose name had been forgotten over the centuries. Condemned to wander through the years covered in the silver bloodstains of one of his victims, he was now known solely by the moniker of “Bloody Baron”.
As ghosts went, the Baron was very pale, pearly-white, and slightly transparent. He had wide, staring black eyes and a gaunt face and carried chains in a final act of contrition for his past deeds. He was the worst of all the Hogwarts Ghosts—a truly despicable character.
The idea of sharing his space with living ghosts had been hard to accept for Severus when he first came to Hogwarts. No one had thought to warn him, and he’d nearly had a heart attack when he first met the Slytherin ghost. And to this day, being near the Baron still made him uneasy—not that he would ever admit that to anyone.
“Do you mind—” Severus started, “I mean if that’s okay with you…”
“Want to tag along?” Saturnine asked in understanding.
“You never know with these ghosts,” he said, and they were on their way to the ravens’ nest a few minutes later.
“In all my years of teaching at Hogwarts, I don’t think I’ve ever spoken with the ghost of Ravenclaw Tower,” Severus said as they climbed stair after stair up said tower.
“You’re not missing out on much,” Saturnine said. “She isn’t that pleasant to speak to.”
It was a lot of steps to get to the top, and they were both slightly breathless when they reached the last floor. “Do you know where to find her?” he asked.
“No. She randomly drifts about the entire tower and sometimes wanders into the rest of the castle,” she said, stopping by the entrance of the Ravenclaw quarters. “I thought we’d start up here and work our way down. If we can’t find her today, we’ll start again tomorrow.”
Severus nodded, cursing at the ghosts of Hogwarts that always seemed of a mind to make his life difficult. First that blasted Peeves, who liked to mess with his stores and Potions’ equipment—then the Bloody Baron that was a menace in himself and delighted in scarring his youngest snakes. And now there he was, stalking the corridors searching for a drifting damsel in white.
They caught sight of a tall ghost around a corner and froze. She drifted away through a solid wall before they had the time to get close. Once through the door of the corridor she had disappeared into, they saw her again. She was at the very end of the passage, still gliding smoothly away from them.
“Hey—wait—come back!” Saturnine called, rushing forward.
The ghost consented to pause, floating a few inches from the ground. She was beautiful, with her waist-length hair and floor-length cloak. But she also looked haughty and proud.
“Good afternoon, Grey Lady,” Saturnine said once she had reached her. She affected a polite bow of her head.
The ghost returned the gesture but did not speak.
“We apologise for disturbing your day,” she continued. “But we urgently need your wisdom.”
“We need to know anything you can tell us about the Lost Diadem,” Severus cut in. He never understood people who went out of their way to be mindful of the ghosts’ feelings. They were dead, for Merlin’s sake; their feelings couldn’t get hurt anymore.
A cold smile curved the ghost’s lips. “I am afraid,” she said, turning to leave, “that I cannot help you.”
“Please, Helena,” Saturnine said fiercely. “This is important. If the diadem is at Hogwarts, we must find it, fast.”
“Generations of students have badgered me about this,” she said disdainfully. “And you are not the first professors to covet the diadem, either.”
“You mistake us, Helena. We do not want it for its powers,” Severus cut in. “It’s about the war—defeating Voldemort—avenging the headmaster’s death. Or do you not care about that?”
Saturnine shot him a warning glare that clearly intimated he had better behave.
Ghosts could not blush, but Helena’s transparent cheeks became opaquer, and her voice was heated as she replied, “Of course I do—how dare you suggest that I don’t?”
“Well, help us, then!” he urged her.
The ghost’s composure was slipping. “It—it is not a question of—” she stammered. “My mother’s diadem…” She looked angry with herself. “While the diadem bestows wisdom,” she said, with an obvious effort to pull herself together, “I doubt that it would greatly increase your chances of defeating the wizard who calls himself Lord—”
“We are not interested in wearing it!” Severus cut in, feeling himself reaching the end of his patience. “If you care about Hogwarts and want to see Voldemort terminated, you’ve got to tell us everything you know about the diadem!”
The Grey Lady remained quite still, floating in mid-air, staring down at them, and a sense of hopelessness engulfed Severus. Of course, if she had known anything, she would have told Flitwick or Dumbledore, who had surely asked her the same question before.
“Please, Helena,” Saturnine said imploringly. “We need your help. The time is grave.”
“I stole the diadem from my mother,” she conceded in a low voice, as if reluctant to confess to her crime. “I sought to make myself cleverer, more important than my mother. I ran away with it.”
Both he and his sister listened with great attention, careful not to interrupt.
“My mother, they say, never admitted that the diadem was gone but pretended that she had it still. She concealed her loss, my dreadful betrayal, even from the other founders of Hogwarts. Then my mother fell ill—fatally ill. Despite my perfidy, she was desperate to see me one more time. She sent a man who had long loved me, though I spurned his advances, to find me. She knew that he would not rest until he had done so.” She drew a deep breath and threw back her head. “He tracked me to the forest where I was hiding. When I refused to return with him, he became violent. The Baron was always a hot-tempered man. Furious at my refusal, jealous of my freedom, he stabbed me.”
“The Baron?” Severus couldn’t help himself from asking. “You mean…”
“The Bloody Baron, yes,” said the Grey Lady, and she lifted aside the cloak she wore to reveal a single dark wound in her white chest. “When he saw what he had done, he was overcome with remorse. He took the weapon that had claimed my life and used it to kill himself. All these centuries later, he still wears his chains as an act of penitence—as he should,” she added bitterly.
“And—and the diadem?” Saturnine asked.
“It remained where I had hidden it when I heard the Baron blundering through the forest towards me—concealed inside a hollow tree.”
“A hollow tree?” repeated Saturnine. “What tree? Where was this?”
“A forest in Albania. A lonely place I thought was far beyond my mother’s reach.”
“Albania,” mused Severus. Sense was emerging from confusion, and now he understood why she was telling them what she had denied Dumbledore and Flitwick. “You’ve already told someone this story, haven’t you? To a student, long ago?”
The Grey Lady closed her eyes and nodded. “I had no idea. He was flattering. He seemed to—to understand, to sympathise…”
Yes, Severus thought, Tom Riddle would certainly have understood Helena Ravenclaw’s desire to possess fabulous objects to which she had little right. “Well, you weren’t the first person Riddle wormed things out of,” he muttered. “He could be charming when he wanted.”
So, Voldemort had managed to wheedle the location of the Lost Diadem out of the Grey Lady. He had travelled to that far-flung forest and retrieved it from its hiding place, perhaps as soon as he left Hogwarts—before he even started work at Borgin and Burkes. And wouldn’t those secluded Albanian woods have seemed an excellent refuge when, so much later, Voldemort had needed a place to lie low, undisturbed, for ten long years? But the diadem, once it became his precious Horcrux, had not been left in that lowly tree. No, the diadem had been returned secretly to its true home, and Voldemort must have put it there.
“Do you know where the diadem is now, Helena?” Saturnine asked.
The ghost shook her pale head negatively. “I’m sorry, but I cannot help you more,” she said before floating gently away.
Generations of students had failed to find the diadem, which suggested that it was not in Ravenclaw Tower—but if not there, where? What hiding place had Tom Riddle discovered inside Hogwarts Castle that he believed would remain secret forever?
The rumour mill began to churn wildly—like in every other school where something pivotal happened—with powerful gusts of anxious, worried winds blowing through its blades.
It had been two days since the announcement of Professor Dumbledore’s death. Harry had heard everything and anything: Aurors had arrived, and they’d arrested Filch, Dumbledore had been murdered in his sleep and found in a gigantic pool of blood, Dumbledore had been killed with magic but had fought back bravely, taking one of his attackers with him, one of the ghosts had done it, and—his personal favourite—the headmaster wasn’t really dead and was chilling somewhere with the King and Michael Jackson. That last one must have come from one of the Muggleborn first-years.
Classes resumed on Tuesday, September 2nd. Everyone was in a tense, miserable mood, and it was another day until Harry could speak to either of the Snapes alone.
He was in the Gryffindor common room playing cards with Ron, Neville, and Dean when a shy-looking first year with buckteeth stopped by their side. It was Neville who noticed him first.
“You want something?” he asked the kid.
The short-legged brunette seemed loath to interrupt them. “I’m sorry, but—” His eyes turned to Harry, and he asked timidly, “You’re Harry Potter, right?”
Damn it—another one, he thought. It happened every year. He steeled himself as he looked up and nodded that he was indeed the famous Boy Who Lived. He hoped the fresh-faced first year wouldn’t ask to see the scar he kept hidden beneath a fringe of dark-brown hair.
The kid looked over his shoulder instead, towards the common room entrance. “Um—there’s a professor in the hall that wants to see you.”
Harry let out a surprised, “Oh!”
“One of them Professor Snapes,” he added.
“Thanks for letting me know,” he told the boy, who seemed eager to disappear now that he’d accomplished his task. “Sorry, guys,” Harry said to his friends, getting to his feet. “Talk to you later?”
“Sure thing,” Dean replied.
“Go get us some news that we can actually rely on,” Neville added.
Harry gave him an assertive smirk before turning on his heel. He left the common room moments later, finding Saturnine leaning against the wall, facing the Gryffindor entrance, arms crossed over her chest. Her lips curled into a smile the moment she saw him. Harry felt like rushing forward to hug her, but he fought the urge. They were in a busy hallway, and it probably wouldn’t do to be caught cuddling their new Defence teacher.
“Hey,” he said instead, stopping two feet away from her.
Saturnine’s smile didn’t let up. “Hello, Harry. How are you?”
“I’m okay.” He smiled back. “You?”
“I’m fine. Do you have a moment to talk?”
He nodded eagerly.
She pushed off the wall and started walking towards the Grand Staircase. “Let’s go down to the dungeons, then.”
Hoping for a family gathering, Harry quickly caught up with her.
It was a long way down to the dungeons from Gryffindor Tower, and his feet were beginning to hurt when Saturnine stopped on the third-floor landing. He was surprised to see that she seemed to be going to her personal quarters. There were two entrances to her private rooms, Harry knew. The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom on the second floor had a small spiralling staircase that led to an office on the third floor. A door at the back of the office led to the personal quarters that lay behind. Another lesser-known entrance was in the hallway they had just stepped in.
Saturnine stopped in front of a gargoyle and pulled out her wand. She tapped the statue on the shoulder, on the top of the head, and on the nose before muttering the password. The heavy gargoyle obediently stepped to the side, revealing the entryway into her living room, and Harry followed her inside.
He hadn’t been back since last year and had wondered if it would look any different from when she had occupied it as Leen Nine. He found that everything was identical in the small quarters reserved for the Defence teacher. The small living room was sparsely furnished and lacked the personal touches and warmth Saturnine had brought to her brother’s far roomier quarters. The bedroom that he glanced at through an open door seemed to be used for little more than a few hours of sleep a night.
The reason for the feeling of unoccupancy was clear. Though they’d been back at Hogwarts for close to three weeks now, Saturnine had spent very little time in her own quarters. From what Harry had observed during the last weeks of holidays, she only came here to sleep and when she needed silence to concentrate on something. Going by the lack of presence that still permeated the rooms, it looked like she had kept up the routine once classes had started.
Saturnine sat down in one of the two armchairs placed next to a small coffee table and motioned for Harry to take the other one. He did, and she reached out for him, placing both hands on his shoulders.
“How are you, really?” she asked.
“Is it true,” he demanded, “about Professor Dumbledore?”
She nodded. “The Aurors came in to remove the body. An official investigation will begin shortly.”
“Do you know what happened?” he asked.
“We’ll be going down to the dungeons in a minute. And Severus and I will tell you and Draco what we can.” She paused, seeming to steel herself for what was about to come. “I wanted to have a quick word with you first. I know you have questions, Harry. But I can’t answer them all.”
Harry was no fool; he knew she didn’t have all the answers. She seemed chagrined, though, and he said, “It’s okay that you don’t know everything.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She gave him a small smile that bordered on sadness. “There are things that I do know and that I’m not at liberty to share with you at the moment.”
Harry felt a pang of hurt at her words. It was like the sixth year all over again. “So, it’s like that again?” He had hoped that now that he was an adult, people would stop treating him like a baby too fragile to hear the truth.
“I’m sorry, Harry. I know how it sounds, but there’s much more happening than you know about. And I am doing this for your safety.”
He huffed; that excuse was growing old.
“I have never lied to you, Harry, and I won’t start today. But you have to understand that I cannot tell you everything.”
“So, I shouldn’t ask,” he said, resigned.
“You can always ask. But I may choose not to answer sometimes,” she explained.
Yep—definitely the sixth year all over again, he thought, clenching his teeth to avoid saying something uncouth.
One of Saturnine’s hands came up to brush at his cheek, and he looked up. There were tears in her eyes. “Listen closely now,” she whispered. “I love you, lad. I love you so very much, and I wish things were different. But there’s a war going on, and my primary objective is to keep you safe. If you end up hating me a little for it, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
Harry’s heart surged at her words; she had called him ‘lad’ again. He hadn’t heard the nickname in a while and realised he’d missed it. She also used the word love—twice—which wasn’t something either of them often did. Unlike other people, who seemed content to throw the L-word left and right all the time, they used it sparingly and always with intent. Feeling his eyes well up, he nodded.
“I am so proud of you,” she continued, leaning forward slightly. “But I also know you, and I know your tendency to meddle with things that are bigger than you. You don’t trust adults, and you feel like you have to take responsibility for everything yourself. But I’m asking you—begging you—not to.” She caught his gaze and held it, intimating the importance of her words. “Severus and I are working on this, and it requires all our attention. We need to be able to focus on the task at hand without having to check on you and Draco every five minutes to make sure you guys are not getting into trouble.”
Harry nodded to show he understood, wondering fleetingly if Draco was having a similar chat with Severus at that very moment. Divide and conquer sounded like just the kind of tactics the Snape siblings might enjoy using.
“No heroics this year, please,” Saturnine demanded. “Come to us if you have questions or doubts, and we’ll do our best to set your mind at ease. Promise?”
He nodded again. “I promise.”
She leaned in the rest of the way to kiss him on the cheek, and Harry felt himself blushing. It was a novelty to feel like someone cared about his wellbeing, and he basked in the warmth that pooled in his chest.
“How is he?” he asked, feeling that a change of topic would be welcome.
“Your brother,” Harry explained. “He was really angry me with the other day.”
“Severus is only worried about your safety, as I am,” she replied. “He didn’t mean to snap at you like that.”
“It’s okay. I’ve got years of practice dealing with him snapping at me.” He smiled ruefully at her to let her know the comment had been said in jest. “I was just wondering—I know he was pretty close with Dumbledore, and…”
Saturnine nodded in understanding. “It’s Severus,” she said, as if that explained everything. “Even I don’t know half of what goes on through that head of his.”
“You’ll be there for him, though, right?” Harry asked. “He needs someone, too.”
Saturnine nodded, and her smile grew. “Thank you, Harry,” she said. “For being the bigger man. I know Severus wasn’t always kind to you. So, thanks for giving him a second chance.”
“He’s earned it, fair and square,” he said, and it was the truth. So what if the man wasn’t a ray of sunshine? Severus had risked his life to save Harry’s more times than he could count. And it was time he started repaying that kindness.
They sat up, and instead of going to the front door to return to the hallway, Saturnine moved to the back of the small living room. Harry saw that another of her rectangular enchanted frames had been placed there. That one was as tall as she was and shaped like a door. Only it didn’t reflect anything and seemed content to frame the flowered wallpaper that lay behind it.
Saturnine pulled out her wand and tapped the side of the frame twice, and the wallpaper shimmered before becoming translucent. It undulated into nothingness, and Harry saw the corridor inside of Severus’ quarters appear. On the left was the door that led to the Potions Master’s bedroom. On the right, Harry could make out the start of the small kitchenette where the four of them took their evening meals before classes started.
Saturnine stepped through the frame, and Harry followed.
“Wicked,” he said as he was magically transported to the dungeons without the need for four flights of moving stairs.
Ahead of him, Saturnine chuckled.
“How does it work?” he asked, turning back on his heel to watch the passageway shimmer again before thickening into the familiar cobblestone that lined the dungeons’ walls. Another identical frame was stuck to the wall on this side.
“Keep showing up to my classes,” Saturnine instructed as she entered the living room. “And you might find out one day.”
Saturnine and Harry were already seated on the sofa when he and Draco arrived. His sister had apparently asked the kitchens for a pitcher of lemonade, and it sat on the table with four glasses above a beige napkin that had come from Merlin knew where. Not for the first time, Severus was hit by the strange familiarity of it all. She really had made herself at home in his quarters, and so had the boys. He wasn’t sure what surprised him the most: that Saturnine seemed to want to spend time with him so much that she had all but taken over his inner sanctum or that he’d let her.
He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people he’d allowed inside those rooms in the entirety of his tenure at Hogwarts. Yet he hadn’t batted an eyelid when he returned from the summer holidays with three living human beings in tow. Now his living room had windows, crumpled Quidditch magazines had been left on his kitchenette table, and a collection of small hand-carved figurines lined his bookshelves.
His home was no longer his alone, and Severus couldn’t seem to muster the energy to be bothered by it. The boys hardly took up any space. They were well-behaved and capable of interesting conversation. And he found that hearing them joking and laughing in the background was relaxing. Saturnine was as sharp-minded and quick-witted as he was, which was both refreshing and challenging. And he trusted her more than he’d ever trusted anyone in his life. So, it was no trouble having her around, either.
Severus sat down in the one thing that was still his—his well-worn armchair—and Saturnine handed him a glass of lemonade. He wasn’t thirsty, but he took a sip and enjoyed the taste; so, he took another one. Draco sat down next to Harry on the sofa, and Saturnine took the second armchair.
The young Gryffindor looked his way with a broad smile and said, “It’s good to see you, Severus.”
The words were out of his mouth before he had the time to think them through. “Likewise, Harry.”
“I’m guessing you both have questions, and we’ll tell you what we can,” Saturnine said, gathering everyone’s attention at once.
“As you’ve probably heard, the Aurors came to collect Dumbledore’s body and any evidence they could. Their preliminary conclusions are that the headmaster was murdered. Therefore, a formal investigation will begin shortly—tomorrow, probably.”
Severus had to hand it to his sister; she had a way with words. She had just confirmed the boys’ assumption that Dumbledore had been murdered, but she had told no lies. It seemed she was still of a mind to tell the truth at all costs.
“We’re expecting for the entire staff to be questioned, and possibly some of the students—although Professor McGonagall is formally opposed to the idea,” Saturnine added. “However, we all agree that we better be as helpful as we can so that the investigative unit can do its job quickly and efficiently, all the while keeping the disturbances in the daily activities of the school to a minimum.”
“Will McGonagall be the new headmaster?” Harry asked.
“Professor McGonagall,” Severus corrected. “And no, the school isn’t getting a new headmaster for the moment.”
“Why not?” he asked. “She’d be good at it, don’t you think?”
“There will be no change of staff while the investigation is ongoing. It’s hardly the moment to go through potential candidates’ resumes,” Severus said. “Besides, the current staff is more than capable of seeing to the day-to-day operations required to run this school.” He sneered. “It’s not rocket science.”
“But when the investigation’s over?” Harry asked. “What are the chances she will be the new headmaster—or headmistress?”
Severus let out a frustrated sigh. Stubborn, like his blasted father, he thought, but the tone in which his inner voice said it was more fond than exasperated. Besides, the boy did have a point. Minerva McGonagall was next in line to succeed to Dumbledore, and during these past two days, the staff had readily turned to her for their instructions. And she had turned to them—Saturnine and himself—to help oversee the investigation. In an informal meeting conducted in that very living room earlier this afternoon, Minerva had requested that they keep an eye on whoever would be appointed to solve the mystery of Dumbledore’s death.
“I know that Albus has given you two more tasks to accomplish than merely looking after Harry and Draco,” she had told them. “Though I do not know what they are.”
Saturnine gave her a nod to attest to the validity of her supposition.
“I won’t ask you for more information and trust you to complete your assignment. But I will request that you do this as well—if you have the time.”
“Of course, Minerva,” Severus replied, hiding the fact that to be requested to oversee the investigation was the best thing that could happen to them.
“I have little doubt that whoever they will appoint won’t be very sympathetic to our cause.” She pursed her lips before taking a sip of her tea. “I won’t have a Death Eater or one of You-Know-Who’s followers freely roaming these hallways.”
“We agree, then,” Saturnine said.
“The students’ safety must remain a priority and come second to discovering the truth about what happened,” McGonagall continued. “In the meantime, I will speak with the board and see how they wish to deal with the vacant position.”
“I would advise against it, Minerva,” Severus said, leaning forward in his chair. “Who knows who they’d settle on given the opportunity. Best that we carry on as we are for as long as we can.”
“I agree with Severus,” Saturnine concurred. “We’ll already have our hands full with the investigation—it’s no time to add more players to the game.”
McGonagall thought it through for a minute or two before nodding in agreement. “We carry on as usual, then.”
Returning to the present, Severus took another sip of his lemonade while Saturnine explained how the investigation would most likely proceed. Having worked for the Ministry and Auror department for several years—albeit in a different section—she had a pretty good understanding of the standard procedure this type of case called for. And if whoever they appointed played it ‘by the book’, they would be able to remain one step ahead of the local authorities easily. If not—well, they had contingencies.
“How are you, really?” Harry asked Draco once the door to their shared bedroom had closed behind their backs.
“I’m fine,” he said, moving to sit on his bed. He’d kept his voice in check, not wanting Harry to realise how happy he was to be back in the dungeons and their room. There was no need for complicated wand work to ensure his privacy and safety down here—and no one to stab him in the back.
“I don’t mean this thing with the headmaster,” Harry said as he moved closer. “I mean being back in Slytherin House.”
Draco huffed, realising his act might not have been as foolproof as he’d thought. “What did you expect—that they’d welcome me back with chocolate and flowers?”
Harry sat at the end of his bed. “So—more like insults and hexes, then?”
“Something like that,” he admitted. “It’s okay. I can handle it.”
“Shite—I’m sorry, Draco.”
“Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for me,” he said. He’d had worse in his life, and he knew the snakes wouldn’t dare attack him directly. He had only to keep up a stoic front, and he’d be all right. “I’m not a child, I can handle it.”
“Well, you can hang with us during the day if you want to,” Harry offered.
Draco snorted at the foolish idea. “Yeah, like that’ll help Slytherin House forget that I changed sides.”
“It can’t make things worse, can it?” Harry asked. “The harm’s done already.”
He shrugged. “Guess so.”
Harry wasn’t giving up, stubborn Gryffindor that he was. “Then—will you?”
“Me, hanging out with the golden trio?” Draco sniggered. “I’m not sure about that.”
“Ron and Hermione are okay, and you know it. Remember this summer? Our birthday party? It wasn’t that bad. They’ll behave, I promise.”
“Well, Hermione isn’t so bad, but Weasley…”
“I know Ron can be an arse, but his heart is in the right place,” Harry said. “And it would help if you stopped calling him Weasley and called him Ron instead. That is his name, you know.”
Draco huffed in annoyance, knowing there was little chance of him ever cosying up to the ginger-haired prat. The others he could potentially learn to get along with. But he drew the line at the dimwitted weasel.
“They’re my friends, Draco,” Harry said, his voice lowering—a sign that he was serious. “And you are my family. And I don’t want to see the most important people in my life fighting each other.”
The words were sobering, and Draco felt something flutter in his chest at the mention of them being family. It was the truth, though—not that either of them had acknowledged it aloud before.
“Fine,” he sighed in a mock show of reluctance. “Have it your way.”
Harry beamed at him. “Thank you.”
Draco shook his head. Then, feeling the need for some levity, he added, “You don’t want to hug me now, do you?”
Harry punched him in the shoulder instead. “Arse!”
“Tosser,” he called back, feeling the corners of his lips curl upwards.
Harry tried hard to suppress his own grin. “Wanker.”
“That was some clever avoidance of the truth with no outright lying,” Severus said as he started unbuttoning his frock coat. “Colour me impressed.”
They had retreated to his bedroom, the only place where they could speak freely without the risk of being overheard by one of the boys. He’d put the Sound Shields up himself several years ago. And he knew not even a stampeding dragon could be heard on the other side of his bedroom door.
“I won’t lie to them,” Saturnine replied, coming to stand by her bed. Then she seemed to think better of it and moved to the wall by his head. She leaned her back against it and crossed her arms over her chest.
She sighed, and the way she looked straight through the wall opposite her and a little to the left told him she was thinking about Harry and Draco.
“I sleep better when I know they’re down here,” she said eventually. “That way, I know they’re safe.”
He knew what she meant. “Are you staying the night, too?” he asked, tossing his coat aside and starting on the buttons of his undershirt.
There was a long pause before she answered. “Do you mind?” she asked. “When I stay over, I mean?”
“Not at all,” he replied, and it was the absolute truth. They had never talked about it directly, but after sharing a room for the entire summer it was—nice to have some company again, now and then.
In all his adulthood, Severus had never had anyone staying the night—never even once contemplated the idea—but he found that he didn’t mind it in the slightest when Saturnine did. The small house on Spinner’s End had only ever had one cramped bedroom to accommodate the two of them, and he was used to sharing his space with his sister. She was a comfortable, familiar presence. And if he were perfectly honest, he slept better when she was here.
Sitting up, he retreated to the bathroom to shower and change. Saturnine still hadn’t moved when he came back. The pinched expression on her face told him she was trying hard to work out a problem.
“Something on your mind?” he asked before sitting down on his bed again. He was barefoot now, and the floor was too cold to remain standing for long.
“The Elder Wand,” she replied. “The Dark Lord wants it. He’s always wanted it, and he’s looking for it still.”
Severus nodded cautiously. That wasn’t news at all, and he wondered why she had brought it up.
“The attack this summer, on the day of the equinox—do you remember it?” she asked.
How could he forget that day? It was the day Draco had lost his mother. And yet, he knew his sister well enough that if she made a point of revisiting it, she had a reason. He tried thinking past the painful parts to focus on the rest. “Death Eaters caused some mayhem in Diagon Alley before they damaged that bridge.”
Saturnine nodded, confirming that he was on the right track.
“They killed Fortescue,” he continued. “Ransacked Ollivander’s.”
She nodded again. “Yes, a gratuitous murder followed by some petty theft.”
“There’s always the need for some new wands to equip the troops,” he said. “They get damaged in battle sometimes.”
“I know. And for a long time, I thought that was all it was—but what if they did more? The attack happened during the day. They knew old Ollivander would be there. What if they questioned him and then Obliviated him so that he wouldn’t remember anything?”
Severus thought about it. It was the kind of dark, conniving plan the Dark Lord occasionally enjoyed pulling off—like all Slytherins.
“It’s the only thing that explains it, Sev. Think about it—the attack on the Ministry makes sense. The attack on the bridge, also. But zooming back and forth through Diagon Alley, ransacking an old man’s shop and blowing up the ice cream store, of all places? That was too random to be random.”
She had a point, and he ought to have seen it before, really. But the other attacks had been so monumental that they’d stolen his focus. “A distraction?”
“Tom Riddle was raised in the Muggle world, same as we were, and—”
He easily followed her line of thinking. “—he thinks the way we do.”
Saturnine nodded again. “And that is exactly what I would have done. He is still after the wand, and he didn’t want us knowing about it.”
Severus sighed. “Ollivander knew nothing about it; we’re safe.”
“He might not have known of the Elder Wand, but he’s known Dumbledore a long time. Possibly, he realised the headmaster changed wands at some point.”
“That could be due to any number of reasons,” Severus pointed out.
“One of which is the reason we don’t want the Dark Lord figuring out.”
“We can’t do anything about it, ’Nine, and you know it. The wand is with the Aurors, and it must stay there. They need to check it to ascertain that it hasn’t been used to fight off the killer. We can do the switch before the funeral like we planned to.”
“I know, I know.” She sighed before pushing herself off the wall. “I just don’t like loose ends. They worry me.”
He smiled at that; it was something they had in common.
“If Voldemort gets his hands on that wand, half of our plan goes down the drain,” she said, slumping down on her bed. “We can’t have that. How else will we keep him distracted next year?”
“Easter egg hunt?” he volunteered.
That got a light chuckle from his sister, and he felt the corners of his own lips lift. If it came down to it, they’d figure something out, he knew. Somehow, they always did. He wasn’t sure where the certainty came from. But deep within himself, he knew that if they stayed together, things would be all right.
From what Harry had learned, Severus and Saturnine had split their classes between them by school year. Severus taught Defence Against the Dark Arts to students from years one to four and Potions to students from years five to seven. Saturnine, in turn, taught Potions to the youngest students and Defence to students at O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s levels.
On Wednesday afternoons, all seventh-years had one period of Potions, followed by one period of Defence. On Friday afternoons, they had double Potions followed by double Defence.
It was with slight apprehension that Harry entered the Potions classroom that day. He honestly had no idea what to expect. He wondered if Severus—no, not Severus now; it was Professor Snape again—would treat him any differently now that they…
He wasn’t sure how to even finish that thought. Were they family? Friends? Two wizards who had lived under the same roof for an entire summer? Yeah, that last one seemed about right.
I’m not asking for the moon, he reflected as he sat down at his usual table next to Ron. If I could only have the same treatment as everyone else, that’d be great.
Looking to the table on his left, he was pleasantly surprised to see Draco sitting next to Hermione. They exchanged a smile before pulling out their respective notebooks. Harry carefully took out his old-but-improved version of Advanced Potions. He’d made a habit, ever since receiving the book for his birthday, to read a chapter or two nightly before going to bed. And it had been a most enlightening journey.
Harry had never cared much for Potions before—primarily because of the stigma that resulted from the classroom ambience and his dour professor’s attitude. He had forced himself to endure the class because he didn’t have a choice. The Half-Blood Prince’s manual had been a breath of fresh air after six years of Hogwarts Potions’ toxic fumes. The witty, sarcastic comments helped Harry see past the prejudice he’d endured and allowed him to focus on the core subject for the first time. Better yet, the prince had taken great care to cross out most of the long-winded, pompous sections that detracted from the essential, rendering the book intriguing and mentally challenging. And now, for the first time since he’d sat down in the dungeon’s Potions room, Harry truly wanted to learn.
Severus Snape, Potions Master, Half-Blood wizard and heir to the House of Prince, walked into the room dressed in his usual sombre attire. He lifted an impatient, pale hand, and one of the blackboards flipped over to reveal a set of instructions written in his familiar, spidery handwriting.
“Save for a few exceptions, your summer essays were abysmal,” he admonished without preamble, his bass voice rolling like thunder. “While I am sorely tempted to wash my hands of your futures, I would very much like for you to pass your N.E.W.T.s,” he continued. With a sneer, he added, “But only so that I can be sure not to suffer your presence next year.”
Then he launched himself into a long monologue about the various states a potion can undergo and the importance of each. It was something they had studied last year—and the subject of their summer assignment. But Potions Density was a vast topic, and Harry knew from his advanced reading that they had only scratched the surface. Now that he thought about it, what they had learned last year—and what most students seemed to have failed to grasp—was the cornerstone upon which most of this year’s syllabus was meant to stand. Looking at it this way, Harry could understand where his professor’s frustration stemmed from. If his students didn’t grasp the basics, he had no foundation to build on and couldn’t proceed with the programme.
Once he was done with the introductory diatribe, the Potions Master distributed the corrected essays while students reread the relevant chapters listed on the blackboard. Chancing a glance at some of the papers in the man’s long pale fingers, Harry saw that they were bleeding red. He swallowed nervously. Harry was almost sure that his essay had been good—well, adequate. Tolerable, if he were honest.
Like all of Snape’s summer essays, that one had been difficult and had caused Harry multiple headaches. But he’d pored over his school manual like Hermione on a bender until he’d produced the required fifteen inches of parchment. For obvious reasons, he hadn’t dared go to Severus for pointers. But he had shown it to Saturnine, who hadn’t noticed any grave error and had praised him on his understanding of the subject.
Professor Snape seemed intent to keep their corner of the room for last, and when he only had four parchments left in his hand, he rounded their desks. He handed Ron his copy first; it was full of red marks and sported an angry T in the upper right corner.
Then, with a sigh akin to someone who suffered martyrdom, Snape placed a trio of essays marked with the letter E in front of Harry, Draco, and Hermione. Before returning to his desk, he said to Ron, “Too bad intelligence isn’t contagious, Mr Weasley. You might have caught it, otherwise.”
Despite pitying Ron, Harry couldn’t help smiling—worse than that, he was downright beaming. Snape—not Severus, but Professor Snape—had just called him intelligent.
Draco was of the mind that the Snape household must have held a very minimal outlook on the subject of clothing. While he had yet to see his godfather wear something other than the colour black, he had hoped that his sister would prove more adventurous in her choice of clothing this year.
While under the guise of Professor Leen Nine, she had stuck to a singular uniform composed of a pair of black trousers and a light-blue blouse. This year would not be more varied. Last week, she had paired white denim with a dark-blue blouse, and the preceding two days, she had worn white denim with a dark-blue blouse. Today was more of the same. Her long dark-brown plait was even tossed over the same shoulder.
Her attitude this year, however, was different. And it was more akin to the witch he’d gotten to know this summer. She stood with a straight back and confident pose and spoke with a loud, clear voice that held the faintest traces of a northern accent that betrayed her origins. Seeing her move now, Draco had no trouble believing that she’d been an Auror for seven years. She could teach them Defence Against the Dark Arts because she knew how to defend herself against them—plain and simple. She exuded the type of confidence that only years of practice conferred. Draco listened to her introduction of this year’s syllabus with rapt attention.
He’d chosen to sit with Harry and his friends again, preferring their company to his fellow Slytherins. For one, they didn’t look at him like they wanted to hex his bollocks off, and—well, he had to admit that Hermione deserved her title of the brightest witch of her age. So far, he’d only taken two classes alongside her, Potions and Ancient Runes, and what an improvement that had been after six years spent suffering either Crabb or Goyle in each class. With Hermione, he could discuss the day’s subject with a vocabulary that extended past the monosyllabic onomatopoeia. It was almost enough for him to forget his troubles. Almost.
The Investigative Unit the Ministry had appointed to solve the headmaster’s death had arrived that very morning. And Draco could tell the man leading the investigation was bad news on sight; it was written all over him. From the quality of his finely tailored black robes to the elegant cuffs on his ivory shirt to the intricate embroidery of his waistcoat, everything about him screamed Pureblood. And the way the silver-haired fifty-something wizard held himself, looking down his nose at everything and anything despite his short stature, screamed prejudiced Pureblood. Yes, Draco knew the look; he had seen it in the mirror often enough.
He’d caught up with Harry on the way to Potions earlier that afternoon, and the Gryffindor had agreed. This investigator, whoever he was, was more than likely a supporter of You-Know-Who. The two younger Aurors who accompanied him—a dark-skinned girl and a portly Scandinavian-looking blond—seemed so young that one wondered if they had graduated from the academy yet. There was little doubt their roles would be limited to fetching the lead investigator cups of tea and writing down reports.
The only question that remained was how the investigation would go. Whoever that wizard was, he clearly had his own agenda—and whether it actually included solving Professor Dumbledore’s murder, Draco had no clue.
“I heard from Ginny, who heard from Luna, who heard from some Hufflepuff, that the Aurors interrogated Professor Sprout this morning,” Hermione volunteered in hushed tones.
“Like a real interrogation?” Harry asked. “Like cops do in the movies?”
She nodded, and he swallowed nervously. The four of them had decided to spend a bit of time together out-of-doors before going to the Great Hall for dinner. The weather was still mild, and, despite the setting sun, it was warm enough to stay outside while wearing only dress shirts. Harry had rolled his sleeves up to expose his forearms to the last rays of the sun. He missed being outdoors, and he missed Cornwall’s southern climate.
“Do you think they will interrogate everyone?” Ron asked. “All the staff, I mean?”
Hermione nodded. “Sounds like the most logical way to go. They’ll need to know who was where and determine if everyone has an alibi—that kind of stuff.”
Draco snorted. “I pity anyone who has to interrogate Severus about anything.”
Harry smiled at that, while Hermione and Ron both seemed shocked to hear their much-dreaded professor referred to by his first name.
“So, Professor Snape,” Draco continued, affecting a haughty tone, “care to tell us where you were that night—and who you were with? Was it a blonde or a brunette? And how much did she cost you?”
This time, the three of them laughed freely.
“I hope he won’t be charged with murdering the investigators before they determine who did it,” Draco said, sobering up.
“More importantly,” Ron quipped with an amused expression, “do you think he’s gotten any in the past decade or so?”
“What are you looking at me for?” Harry demanded. “Ask Draco. He’s the one who’s known the man all his life.”
“Oh no, no, no,” Draco replied, raising his hands in protest. “Leave me out of this, guys. I do not know—or want to know—anything about that man’s sex life.” He paused before adding with a wry smile, “Or lack thereof.”
There was another round of guffaws at his words. And Harry couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder to make sure there wasn’t a tall, dark-robed wizard looming nearby. They’d be so dead if Severus ever overheard them talking about him this way.
“On a serious note,” Hermione said, “what do you think will happen now? To the school, I mean.”
“Will McGonagall be headmistress, or what?” Ron added.
Harry shook his head. “From what Severus and Saturnine told us, no—not yet. They can’t appoint anyone until the investigation is over.”
“Hmm—I read the same thing in the Daily Prophet,” Hermione commented. “I wondered if it was true.”
“Guess so,” Draco said, shrugging his shoulders. “The current staff will handle the headmaster’s tasks for now.”
“That’s probably for the best,” mused the young witch. “The board chooses the headmaster. And we all know who controls it.”
Harry nodded; he’d come to the same conclusion himself. Whatever administrative technicality made it impossible to elect a new headmaster at the moment was a godsend for their side. Who knew who they’d have been settled with, otherwise?
“Was there anything more in the article?” Draco asked, obviously curious. “I don’t make a habit of reading that pile of drivel, but they do get one or two things right now and then.”
In response, Hermione reached into her bag to pull out a folded copy. She flipped through it to the correct page before handing it to the Slytherin.
“Funny, that,” Draco said as he skimmed through it. His brows furrowed as he finished reading it. Then he passed it to Harry. “Your thoughts on the fourth paragraph, Harry?”
Looking down at the paper in his hand, Harry diligently read the article. Once he got to the relevant section, he had no trouble understanding Draco’s interrogations.
“There will be no change of staff while the investigation is ongoing. It’s hardly the moment to go through potential candidates’ resumes,” our source told us. “Besides, the current staff is more than capable of seeing to the day-to-day operations required to run this school. It’s not rocket science.”
“What is it?” Hermione asked, having noticed that he kept rereading that line.
“That is exactly what Severus told us last night,” Harry explained. “Word-for-word.”
Next to him, Draco nodded. “Ad verbum,” he confirmed.
“Could be just a coincidence,” Ron added. “What did that rocket science comment meant?”
“It’s a popular Muggle saying,” Hermione replied. “Means that it’s not that complicated. Did Professor Snape also say that?”
“Do you think he’s the mysterious source, then?” Ron, who now peered over Harry’s shoulder, asked.
“Does it say who wrote the article?” Hermione asked.
Harry searched the paper for the answer. His eyes settled on an initial and name below the last paragraph. “R. Skeeter,” he read aloud.
“Skeeter—that cockroach?” Hermione stared at him, wide-eyed. “No way was Professor Snape talking to her, then.”
“Do you think she’s been eavesdropping again?” Ron asked.
Hermione huffed. “She had better not be.”
With her sensationalist and dishonest tendencies, the so-called Queen of the Quills wrote for fame more than anything and specialised in false information and misreported interviews. Harry loathed Skeeter for her publication of an unauthorised tell-all biography of himself that was three-quarters fictional. The idea that Severus Snape, of all people, would have disclosed confidential information to a woman of her ilk was ludicrous. And yet, the words were his.
Severus Snape had never wanted to maim or reduce anyone to a pulp as much as Dolores Umbridge. The pink monstrosity that dared call herself a teacher had rubbed him the wrong way from day one. Unfortunately, the vile woman had held the same objective as Lord Voldemort, namely, to rid Hogwarts of its current headmaster. Thus, he’d been ordered by the Dark Lord to assist her as best he could. That had meant no cursing, mutilating, or killing the woman—no matter how much he’d wanted to. And he’d been forced to hold back his tongue and keep—most of—his vitriol to himself.
He was glad that he was under no such orders today. Crossing his arms over his chest and pulling his dark robes around himself to appear even more intimidating, he stared down at the silver-haired, short-legged investigative Auror facing him with all the disdain he could muster.
While he had never before encountered the snobby wizard, whom he was fairly certain had never been granted the honour of receiving a Dark Mark on his forearm, Severus had little doubt about Raylan Talio’s true allegiance.
The fact that the Dark Lord would try to hoodwink the investigation and influence its outcome was something he and Saturnine had planned for, and he took it in stride. However, that didn’t make it any easier to stomach the biased Pureblood that now requested his presence for a formal interview.
Severus would have preferred it to occur in the staff room, where they wouldn’t have been alone. He didn’t need his peers’ moral support, but he didn’t quite trust himself not to curse the man before the hour was over. It would take all his self-control not to surrender to the temptation, but he had to keep looking at the bigger picture. This was but one step in their plan, and they needed this investigation to last as long as possible.
Feeling his emotions simmer close to the surface, Severus forced himself to inhale deeply to decrease his irritation. The simpler solution would have been to Occlude and remove all sentimentality from the exchange to come, but he was loath to do it. He hadn’t turned to Occlumency once since he’d regained the ability to survive without it, and he didn’t want to relinquish his newfound freedom for such an insignificant man.
“If you’ll allow me a moment of your time,” Talio paused before adding contemptuously, “Professor.”
“I have a few minutes,” Severus conceded with a great show of reluctance.
“I know,” Talio sneered, presumably feeling the need to impart that he had access to the staff’s complete schedule. Then he turned on one of his heeled boots and followed Severus to a nearby classroom at the investigative team’s disposition.
Three desks—filled with an assortment of parchment rolls and large binders that Severus recognised to be official Hogwarts records—took up half the room. The other half was occupied by a single table, with two chairs facing it.
Talio waved an imperious hand to indicate where Severus was supposed to sit, and he complied with a huff. Pushing his chair back, he crossed his legs and arms and kept staring down the length of his nose at the shorter man. The Potions Master might have lost the will to Occlude, but he still knew how to be nasty on command; it was a fine art he’d perfected over the years.
“You have been a professor here since September 1981?” Talio asked as he pulled out a parchment and a golden Self-Writing Quill. “At the age of twenty-one?”
Severus decided the questions had been rhetorical and remained silent.
“Well—have you?” Talio demanded.
He gave him the briefest of nods.
Another quick nod.
“And now Defence Against the Dark Arts as well—” Talio paused, making a show of reading something on his parchment, “—alongside your younger sister.”
Feeling this one had been rhetorical, too, Severus brushed an imaginary fleck of dust off one of his sleeve instead of answering.
“Most unusual, that,” Talio continued. “Was it the headmaster’s idea?”
“There is nothing uncommon about it,” Severus answered in a flat tone. “Hogwarts needed a new Defence professor, and my sister happened to have the correct profile and time on her hands. For more details on the subject, I would suggest you speak to Saturnine directly.”
“Your whereabouts, then—the night in question?” Talio demanded.
Tired of beating around the bush already? Severus wondered as he fought to keep the smirk from his face. “Which timeframe interests you?”
“From the time you left the Welcoming Feast until the next morning.”
Severus gave him a sample of the version he and his sister had agreed upon—one they had well-rehearsed and that would confound even the most astute investigator. “I briefly left to accompany one of my students to the Slytherin quarters and then returned to the Great Hall. Saturnine and I left around nine and descended to my quarters in the dungeons. We finished preparing the Potions class for the new semester and then reconvened to my office to work on our shared classes’ syllabuses until close to one in the morning. We parted ways then and went to sleep.”
Talio frowned at that. “Waiting until the last minute—that doesn’t sound like you, Professor.”
Severus brushed off his cheap jab. “Saturnine’s appointment was recent, and given the particularities of having to split our classes, we each had much to plan and prepare. We have been working similarly late at night for nearly a fortnight.”
“Why the split?” Talio asked.
“There’s a curse on the Defence position that forced the headmaster to hire someone new every year. I’m guessing Professor Dumbledore felt it was time to find a way around it.”
“Your relationship with Albus Dumbledore—how would you describe it?” Talio asked.
“He was my employer—and I, his employee,” Severus replied flatly.
“But did you two get along?”
“I wouldn’t have stayed for sixteen years if we didn’t,” he answered, refraining from adding an insulting ‘obviously’.
“Any disagreements recently that could have led to a falling-out?” Talio tried. “After all, that wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had a change of heart in career matters.”
Severus felt his teeth grind against each other as he swallowed back down the vitriol that threatened to spew from his mouth. He could have destroyed the man with words if he wanted, but he reigned it in. “I fail to see what you’re referring to,” he replied through barely parted lips. “I had the greatest of respect for Albus Dumbledore and what he stood for.”
The interview continued in the same vein for well over an hour. Talio seized every opportunity he could to infer to Severus’ debatable past as a Death Eater and his recent change of allegiance. The Potions Master did not doubt that a detailed account of this interview would sooner make its way to the Dark Lord’s ears than it would the Ministry’s.
When he could finally leave the room, Severus slammed the door behind him on his way out so loudly that the hinges groaned. Childish, yes—but oh, so satisfying.
He had missed supper and stopped by the kitchens to request something be brought to his quarters before heading back to his rooms. He found Saturnine there, slumped on his sofa with her nose in a book. He shrugged off his robes with more force than he was used to, and by the time he moved to stand by the coffee table with a shot of Firewhiskey in his hand, Saturnine had closed her Muggle novel.
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow and a wry smile. “Let me guess—a most charming chitchat with the delectable Raylan Talio?”
Motioning at her to move her feet so that he could sit down at the bottom of the sofa, Severus huffed a breath. She obliged by bending her knees. “Wouldn’t be surprised if we were to find him flat at the foot of the Astronomy Tower one morning,” he replied, sitting down and taking a large gulp of whisky. It burned on the way down, and that felt bloody good. Without pause, he took another mouthful.
“I was thinking about drowning him in the Black Lake, but your way works, too,” Saturnine said before straightening her legs once again and resting them on her brother’s lap. He frowned at that but did not attempt to remove them.
“Got the pleasure of his company, then?” he asked before taking another sip.
“Right after my last class,” she answered. “It went about as well as expected. At least half a dozen questions about my presence here and my qualifications. More than a few about you.”
Severus arched a curious eyebrow at that.
“I got the impression that he either wanted to know if I was aware of your past as a Death Eater or if I followed the Dark Lord myself. Needless to say, he got no answer.”
“I got more of the same,” Severus admitted. “You told him what we agreed on regarding Monday night?”
She nodded. “Of course.”
The siblings continued comparing notes well into the night and ironed out the following stages of their plan. By the looks of it, Talio and his team would easily spend the rest of the week interviewing the staff, and it was more than probable that a second round would be on the menu for next week.
From what they had gathered from McGonagall, Talio also wanted to interrogate some of the students, but the deputy headmistress had steadfastly refused them the permission. In the absence of parents or legal representatives, the students were under the school’s responsibility. And she refused to compromise their wellbeing by putting them through the stress of being interviewed by Aurors as if they were common criminals. Severus wholeheartedly supported her decision, knowing Talio would sooner fall off the Astronomy Tower before he ever let him get anywhere near Draco. And he had a feeling a dip in the Black Lake would be in the cards long before Saturnine let him get within a foot of Harry.
Saturnine was exhausted after her first full week. The Defence classes were on par with what she had gone through the year before. But it was nice to drop the act and the accent as it allowed her to speak faster.
The Potions classes were a different beast altogether. Unlike when she had arrived last year, she knew exactly where each class was at—Severus had seen to it and given her the comprehensive pre-established syllabus he worked from to. But it was a new topic, and the bar had been set high. She knew how exacting her brother was and knew that when students moved on from her to him, he expected to be handed pupils as competent as if he’d taught them himself. Thus, she had decided to stick to his ways of teaching. While she wouldn’t behave quite like he did—one cantankerous Professor Snape per school was enough—she would hold the students to the same standard that Severus would and wouldn’t tolerate any attitude that was less than assiduous.
Not only was Potions a dangerous subject where accidents easily happened, but Severus would expect a certain kind of behaviour when he inherited the students from her. And it was best that they display the right attitude for a smoother transition.
It wasn’t overly challenging. And Saturnine was sure that in a few weeks, it would be natural for her, but now, she forced herself to go the extra mile and be inordinately vigilant. Thus, it was that after her last class of the week—a double period of seventh-year Defence—she was knackered and only wanted to return to the dungeons so that she could slump down on Severus’ sofa and forget about the world for half an hour or so.
Leaving her classroom on the second floor, she took the Grand Staircase, chatting with Harry, Draco and their friends on the way down. Her mood had lifted when she reached the ground floor, and she parted with the kids, who wanted to go outside for a bit near the castle’s entrance door. Turning on her heel to return to the stairs that would take her to the underground levels, she felt her spirits dampen when she caught sight of Auror Talio.
She wasn’t the only one who noticed the other. The silver-haired wizard did, too, and waved an imperious hand her way to catch her attention. She had half a mind to pretend not to have noticed, but it would have been too obvious. She steeled herself as she waited for him to approach—if he wanted her to come to him every time he said ‘heel’, he’d be in for a world of disappointment.
Talio was by her side in four quick strides, and she looked down at him with a raised eyebrow instead of a greeting.
“A most opportune encounter, Ms Snape,” he said. “I had wanted to discuss something with you.”
“I would have thought you’d asked everything you wanted already,” she said with a frown. “What do you want to know now?”
“You mentioned getting the position mostly due to your background within the Auror Office,” he started.
With an idea where this conversation would be going, Saturnine nodded but remained silent.
“As an Auror myself, I was surprised; I couldn’t recall ever running into you,” Talio continued. “Although it might have been coincidental. But I had a duty to be thorough, you see.”
Saturnine crossed her arms over her chest and leaned on one hip, feigning boredom.
“So, I asked around about you and requested a copy of your file,” he finished. “Care to explain?”
Seeing the tactic for what it was—a desperate man’s poor attempt to fish information—she smiled as benevolently at him as she would to one of her first-year students. “But of course, Auror Talio. Just tell me which part you struggled to understand.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a dark silhouette move into her field of vision. She turned her head minutely and lifted her gaze to meet Severus’ for an instant. He seemed equally enthused at seeing Talio in his midst. Angling her chin slightly, she motioned for him to change course and come up behind the Auror.
“The conditions under which you left,” Talio said, having failed to notice the siblings’ silent conversation.
“I would have thought that was easy to understand,” Saturnine replied, deciding to play along for a bit. “I resigned, plain and simple.”
Severus came to her side, materialising himself on the Auror’s right-hand side in an impressive flurry of billowing, dark robes. Talio flinched in surprise.
Saturnine smirked inwardly, all the while wondering what had happened to the awkward teen she had grown up with. Severus had never seemed comfortable in his own skin. When had he become such an expert at projecting an imposing figure?
“Everything all right, dear?” he asked, his eyes steadfastly on hers, ignoring the silver-haired wizard entirely.
“Quite,” Saturnine said. “I was on my way to you when Auror Talio stopped me. Apparently, some sections of my file at the Ministry are unclear to him.”
“Oh,” Severus said, feigning surprise and raising an eyebrow as he finally deigned to take in the man. “And which parts would that be?”
“The whole bloody thing!” Talio snapped, clearly fed up with the siblings’ little game. “I have yet to be allowed to see a copy of your file, and I want to know why.”
Saturnine feigned surprise all over again, “Oh, but I thought you said you had it?” She gave him a contrite pout. “I must have misunderstood—my bad.”
“You understand perfectly well!” Talio reproached in the same irritated tone. “Your past,” he said, pointing a nervous finger at Severus, “is public knowledge and pretty damning in itself. And yours,” he said as his finger moved to point at Saturnine, “seems just as shrouded in darkness. I have my eye on both of you. Mark my words. I will see you punished for your crimes.”
“Interesting,” Severus said slowly and darkly. “Here I was thinking you’d been hired to solve the headmaster’s murder.”
“You know what, brother-mine?” Saturnine asked without bothering to hide her smirk this time. “I rather think he was. Or has the Ministry forgotten to let us know that more investigations have been launched?”
Talio was saved from having to reply by Professor McGonagall’s arrival. She was clearly displeased to intervene—her patience where Talio was concerned having long since vanished. “Is everything all right?” she demanded, stopping by their side.
“Quite,” Severus said.
“I believe Auror Talio was about finished inquiring about imaginative files he may or may not have had trouble understanding,” Saturnine added with a friendly smile.
“Imaginative files about what?” demanded McGonagall.
“Nothing,” Talio assured her, flapping a nonchalant hand about. “A misunderstanding.”
“Very well,” the deputy headmistress said, “If you’re done, you won’t mind me stealing my professors back from you.” Turning her head to look at both of them, she added, “I need you both now.”
Severus nodded his head politely, “But of course, Minerva.”
“Lead the way,” Saturnine said, and the three of them left without saying goodbye or giving the seething Auror one more second of attention.
Saturnine was laughing on the inside. Some might think that an outwardly antagonising attitude was the worst idea they’d ever had. But in truth, it had been part of their plan all along. They were the only ones who knew that this investigation had no leg to stand on. Thus, she and Severus were the only ones not to fear its outcome. Wanting to spare their colleagues’ feelings as much as they could, they had decided early on to try and bring the storm onto themselves, confident that they could weather it. Severus’ background was—as Talio had pointed out—public knowledge by now. And there wasn’t any dirt he could dig up that would do any serious damage. Saturnine’s past was more shadowy, but she was sure that he wouldn’t have enough of a reach to get to the skeletons in her closet. And even if, by some miracle, he did, she had contingencies in place for that.
McGonagall led them to the staff room, where they were shortly joined by the two other Heads of Houses and three more professors.
They took turns complaining about Talio and his never-ending interviews that cut into everyone’s free time until McGonagall called them back to order. “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to discuss a more sombre matter,” she said. “Namely, the headmaster’s funeral.”
The mood sunk at her words, and a heavy silence fell over the room.
It was Professor Flitwick who finally broke it, his squeaky voice loud in the silence. “Has the Ministry agreed to release his body, then?”
McGonagall shook her head, and there was little doubt she was displeased about it. “Not yet, but I have had words with the Minister himself. And I better have a positive answer by the end of next week. Otherwise, I will march down to see them myself and blow up whatever they’ve managed to reconstruct,” she said, the Scottish twang in her voice more pronounced than usual.“We’ll happily escort you, Minerva,” Professor Sprout said. “It is more than time Albus was buried with the respect and dignity he deserves.”
September gave way to October, and the Forbidden Forest started to sport crimson and gold patches as autumn began to settle in. The Aurors remained at a loss concerning what had happened to Professor Dumbledore, and Raylan Talio steadfastly refused to release the headmaster’s body for the funeral. From what Draco had heard, Professor McGonagall and a few of the senior staff members went to the Ministry and caused quite a ruckus but to no avail. Whoever Talio was, he had quite a reach, and they hadn’t managed to circumvent him yet. Or he knew the necessary pressure points to sway things in his favour, which Draco felt was more likely.
The man had tried cornering him in the hallways one day towards the end of September to ask him questions. Draco had been saved by Saturnine’s timely arrival. And she hadn’t minced her words when she had told the Auror to get lost.
“If he ever tries that again, walk away,” Saturnine had told him as she escorted him back to the Great Hall. “He isn’t allowed to talk to the students. So, never let him interrogate you. If anything happens, come get Severus or me right away.”
Draco had nodded his thanks, feeling an odd sensation flutter in his chest as he witnessed her obvious concern on his behalf. To feel cared for was a novel sentiment—one he realised he could easily get used to.
The two younger Aurors backing up Raylan Talio hadn’t been seen throughout Hogwarts in weeks, and the consensus was that they had been reassigned. The investigation was now solely Talio’s, and Draco wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or a curse. The silver-haired wizard now had to waste his time doing everything himself; this left him less time to walk the hallways. But he was unchecked and free to behave as he saw fit, with little regard for the people he harassed regularly.
There now seemed to be an open war between him and the Snape siblings. Draco wasn’t sure what had triggered it, but they could barely remain cordial to each other anymore. Rumour had it, wands had been drawn at one point, and Professor Sprout was forced to separate them—not that either Severus or Saturnine had confirmed it to be true. But the fact remained that Talio had it in for both of them. He was like a dog with a bone, and it was Draco and Harry’s fear that he wouldn’t let go until he had found a way to pin this grisly murder on one or both of them.
The boys had decided they wouldn’t let that happen. While there wasn’t much they could do, they had taken it upon themselves to keep tabs on Talio—using Harry’s Map and a helpful network of like-minded students who had become their eyes and ears throughout the school. Draco had been fully inducted into the reformed Dumbledore’s Army, and a dozen students resumed the habit of carrying around an enchanted Galleon in their pockets.
What had begun as a mere security assignment soon started to lean towards the investigative side of things. Hypotheses began to float about during their meetings as to what had happened to the headmaster. Surely, if they could deduce the truth and find the culprit, it would be the end of their worries, for Talio would have no choice but to leave the Snapes in peace.
But the members of the D.A. had no idea what had happened, exactly. All of them had heard a different version of the truth, and Hermione pointed out that they couldn’t solve anything while they didn’t have their facts straight. Later, in a meeting with Dobby, the D.A. members were given a thorough account of the circumstances in which the headmaster had been found by one of his fellow house-elves.
“You seem lost in thought,” said a voice on his right, and Draco shook himself back to reality. Turning his head on the side, he found Saturnine standing by the head of the sofa, with one eyebrow arched in typical Snape fashion. “Everything all right?” she asked.
Draco nodded, smiling politely. “Just thinking.”
She moved closer, sitting next to him. “I can see that,” she said. “Anything in particular?”
Draco wouldn’t say. Early on, they had agreed with Harry that it was best neither of the siblings found out about the reformed D.A. and its current mission. While he fancied Saturnine might have been flattered to know her students had her best interests at heart, Severus would quite possibly have a coronary from the shock. “Just school stuff,” he answered vaguely, and it wasn’t really a lie.
“You can talk to me, you know—if you want to,” she said softly. “I’m not asking as your professor, but as a friend.”
Draco could see on her face that she meant it, and it warmed him up on the inside. He wasn’t sure if friendship was the right word to describe their relationship, but whatever it was, it was precious to him.
“How are things with the Slytherins?” she asked, turning in her seat so that she faced him and folding one of her legs underneath her.
“Same,” he replied with another shrug. “It’s okay. I know how to handle them.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” she said, shaking her head. “Your dorm mates should be your friends, not people you must constantly keep an eye out for lest they stab you in the back.”
“I’m a Malfoy. I’ve been looking over my shoulder since I was old enough to walk,” he said honestly. “Really, Saturnine, you don’t have to worry about it. I’ve always kept an eye on them—even before.”
She grimaced and looked about to say something. Then she sighed, and her face relaxed. “I hope you don’t feel like you have to do that here,” she said at last.
“I don’t.” He gave her an honest smile. “It’s refreshing.” And it was; it was bloody comfortable to relax at last and have fun with Harry. And the rare nights where he slept in the dungeons during the weekends were ones where he slept the sleep of the dead.
“Good. Let’s move on to brighter topics, then,” Saturnine said, smiling. “Have you any plans for the party tomorrow? What of Saturday?”
He had trouble getting excited about either prospect, but he tried. Tomorrow was the 31st of October—Halloween. Decorations had been installed throughout the school all week, and while there wouldn’t be a party, a themed banquet was expected for supper. Many students had owl-ordered costumes, and they planned to wear them anyway. A few parties were sure to happen within the confines of the four Houses’ respective Common Rooms.
Draco had no costume to wear—not that he would be participating in any Slytherin gathering. He had planned on sneaking back into Severus’ quarters the minute he was done with supper and spending the night in the quiet comfort of his simple, unassuming bed in the room he shared with Harry down there. And he planned on sleeping late into Saturday morning and waking up sometime around noon with a good excuse as to why he hadn’t gone to Hogsmeade with everyone else.
He was surprised to feel Saturnine’s hand on his shoulder, and he realised he’d lost himself within his head again. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“What’s wrong, Draco?” she asked. “Really.”
He was about to say ‘Nothing’ again, but she had moved closer and looked really concerned now, and he couldn’t push the word out past the lump in his throat. He swallowed nervously instead.
“Harry’s been on edge all week, but him I can understand. He’s never had cause to rejoice on Halloween’s night—for obvious reasons. And I doubt he will attend any parties tomorrow, but I thought you might like the opportunity to have a bit of fun.”
Shite! Draco cursed inwardly—Harry’s parents; he’d forgotten that tomorrow was the anniversary of their death. He’d have to be sure to watch his mouth the next day and to be there for Harry if he needed him. They were family now, weren’t they? And that was what a family did in the face of tragedy. Wasn’t it?
Saturnine still awaited a response, and she was Snape enough that she wouldn’t let the matter drop without having received an answer. He couldn’t give her the truth, though; he was too ashamed to admit to it. But he had to give her something.
“I think I’ll spend my soirée and Saturday down here if you guys don’t mind,” he said at last. “I could do with a bit of peace and quiet.”
“Of course we don’t mind,” she said, and it was funny how it sounded like the dungeons’ quarters were now hers as much as they were Severus’. “You and Harry are always welcome here, and you know it.” After a short pause, she added, “I take it you don’t want to go to Hogsmeade this weekend?”
Draco swallowed before looking away. He could feel the heat of shame beginning to burn at his cheeks. He couldn’t admit to that; he refused to. Of course he would love to go to the village with everyone else. It was nice to get out of the castle occasionally, and it was even nicer to come back with a bagful of sweets and treats. But that was no longer on the menu for him; Lucius had seen to that. Even dead, the pompous snot still managed to screw him over. All those Galleons—a fortune amassed over generations was sitting idly in the Gringotts’ vaults while the remaining Malfoy descendants contested its ownership in court. Last he’d heard, Great-Uncle Ludwig was in the lead. But no matter who ended up winning the Malfoy jackpot and real estate bonanza, Draco knew he wouldn’t get a Sickle out of it. Legally, he was no longer a Malfoy and thus as poor as a pauper. And poor kids didn’t get to go to Hogsmeade—they made up phoney excuses as to why they had to stay in the castle while everyone else got to indulge.
It was no longer shame that bit at him, but pain, and despite himself, he felt his eyes beginning to prickle. Saturnine’s hand moved from his shoulder to his back and settled between his shoulder blades, where it started rubbing comforting circles.
“How did it work before?” she asked. “Did your father give you money? A yearly allowance or something?”
Draco frowned at the unexpected question; the surprise made him overcome his shame and answer her. “Yes—and I was free to use it as I wanted. He topped it up at the beginning of each year, and—I never ran out of money, even when I spent a lot. So, I guess he saw to it that I always had some.” He sneered, knowing it wasn’t done out of the kindness of Lucius’ diamond heart but a sense of propriety. “It wouldn’t do for a Malfoy not to be able to afford something.”
“So, in essence, Lucius gave you the money you needed to last the year, as most parents do.”
Draco nodded, failing to see where she would go with this. He saw it in her eyes that she had noticed, and he felt her slipping into the teaching mode that had become natural to her and knew she wouldn’t flat out explain her point but rather help him reach the correct conclusion on his own.
“Do you recall a similar situation happening earlier this year?” she asked. “When you needed to get your schoolbooks?”
Draco nodded. “Severus paid for those,” he answered through clenched teeth; it had been kind but embarrassing as hell.
“And do you recall what he said about it?” she continued. “His exact words, if you can?”
Draco was fairly sure that he did, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. Severus had never had much money, and Draco knew it—Merlin, one only needed to look at his living quarters to know that—but he’d offered to help, nonetheless. Said he’d been glad to do it—and that had cut deep.
“His exact words, Draco?” Saturnine asked again.
Draco felt the tears make a grand return, and he fought not to let them escape past his eyelashes. He couldn’t say it; he just fucking couldn’t. The shame was too much, and he lashed out as he shot to his feet. “You can’t seriously expect me to ask him to fund my trip to Hogsmeade. Books are one thing—I kinda need those. But I won’t go to Severus for some fucking candies.”
“Language, Draco!” she chided in a tone so sharp it sliced the air. “Now stop being a petulant child, sit back down, and speak to me like an adult.”
He was back on the sofa an instant later, feeling quite chastised.
Saturnine’s hand returned to his shoulder as if the outburst had never happened. “You seem to have trouble remembering. So, I’ll refresh your memory. Severus said he was proud to do that for you,” she said. “Now, after the year you’ve had, and the stressful past couple of months, if there’s a way to make you forget your worries for a few hours—by, say, going to the village and stuffing yourself full of chocolate and candies—I’m sure he’ll be equally happy to step in.”
The tears were close to overflowing now, and Draco sniffled to rein them back in.
“Severus cares a lot about you—even if he doesn’t always know how to show it. And he wants to be there for you, Draco—he truly does,” she said softly. “But he can only do that if you let him.”
“But he doesn’t have any money,” Draco said eventually. “And it’s not anything I really need.”
“Just how poor do you think we are?” she asked him with a bemused expression. “We are getting paid, you know? Not much, I’ll grant it—but we do get a monthly salary. Besides, Severus has seniority on his side, and he’s a Head of House to boot. Furthermore, he spends most of the year living in a place that provides free boarding and housing, so I’m sure he can part with a few Galleons so that you can buy some sweets.
“Lucius Malfoy probably earned more in a month than the two of us combined in a year. But that doesn’t mean we cannot see to you and Harry’s needs. And seeing to a child’s welfare is more than just providing food and clothes. It’s also getting him the appropriate levels of happiness. While there are many ways to get to it, I have yet to find a quicker way to make a child smile than a bag full of sweets.”
Draco wasn’t sure what to say to that; so, he remained silent. That strange feeling constricting his chest was back in full force, and his eyes were close to overflowing. Saturnine must have noticed, for she leaned in to catch him in a hug. He shouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as he did—he wasn’t a child anymore, after all—but it felt too nice to question the feelings.
While October had been mild, November paved the way for a typical frosty Scottish winter. The past week, especially, had been rather cruel on those brave enough to venture out-of-doors.
As Harry prepared to step outside, he wished—not for the first time—that he could slip back into bed and curl up beneath a pile of blankets.
“Ready for it, sport?” Saturnine asked as she tightened a scarf around her neck. It was Ravenclaw blue and the only speck of colour on her attire. She wore thick knee-length leather boots over black corduroy trousers, and he wasn’t sure what she had underneath her heavy woollen black robes, but he would have bet his wand-hand it was one of her thicker hoodies.
Suppressing a shiver, Harry nodded as he finished strapping on his Quidditch uniform. Though they were still in the dungeons, he was cold just thinking about going outside.
“Bloody hell,” Draco said as he entered the living room, his damp boots leaving wet patches behind him. “It’s all but raining icicles now.”
Harry shivered in anticipation and turned a pleading look towards Saturnine. She only gave him an amused smile in reply. The smile didn’t reach her eyes, though; it never did these days.
The strain of the investigation into Dumbledore’s murder and Auror Talio’s scrutiny into Severus and Saturnine’s every move and decision had extended to their life in the dungeons. Severus was in a constant bad mood now, and it was contagious. He had a scowl permanently etched into his forehead, and Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had seen Saturnine even smile for real. Her mood wasn’t as bad as her brother’s, but she clearly tried to put up a brave front for Harry’s and Draco’s sakes. Their weekly dinners together had become tense affairs held mainly in silence, and Harry was getting sick of it fast.
Talio’s biased investigation had upset the careful balance of their quartet, and Draco had remarked one evening, when the two of them were discussing it in the privacy of their shared bedroom, that it was like living in a home with parents about to file for divorce. Harry wasn’t sure how such a metaphor could be applied to their unique circumstances, but the mere thought of a rift splitting up the Snape siblings twisted his stomach. Worse still was the idea of being forced one day to decide who to live with—Saturnine or Severus. A situation like that was the last thing Harry wanted, and he had redoubled his efforts to resolve the matter.
The D.A. was as active as it had been in their fifth year, and its members had tried everything they could to solve the mystery of Professor Dumbledore’s death. Hermione and Luna had interrogated the house-elves, Ron and Harry had snuck into the headmaster’s quarters to inspect the crime scene, and everyone else had taken part in hour-long brainstorming sessions to try to unscrew the unscrewable.
Realising they’d reached a dead-end, Harry and Ron had snuck back into the Headmaster’s Tower to ‘borrow’ the old man’s pensive. They had lugged it with them, underneath Harry’s cloak, all the way to the Room of Requirement. There they had collected everyone’s memories of the night of the Welcoming Feast so that they could build a timeline of events.
Hermione had been tasked with managing it, and she had transfigured an entire length of the wall into a blackboard. Memory after memory, the D.A. recreated the events of that night, accounting for each student and staff member’s movements, the exact location where they had been sitting, and when they had gotten up and left.
When the first blackboard was full, Hermione charmed another wall. And within a week, that surface was equally covered in names and timestamps. Once they had exhausted their collective supply of memories, they wondered who else to question. Who might have been in the hallways when Dumbledore left and shortly after? Who might have seen if an intruder had come in while most students remained in the Great Hall?
Another list was drafted with the names of students who might have held onto compelling memories. They went after the Gryffindors first, sure that they wouldn’t reveal to anyone what the D.A. was working on. One by one, they were taken to the Room of Requirement to share their memories, and the timeline grew more informative. Trustworthy students from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were next, but they drew the line at asking anyone from Slytherin for their memories—save for Draco, who was the only Slytherin member of the D.A., of course.
“I can’t believe the Aurors didn’t think of doing something like that,” Harry commented one day as he stood in the room with only Ron and Hermione by his side.
“They sort of have, Harry,” the bushy brown-haired witch said. “Only, they’re doing it through interrogations rather than memory hopping.”
“And since Auror Talio can’t interrogate any of us, it’s no wonder he isn’t getting anywhere,” Ron added.
“There was an article about the investigation in the Daily Prophet this morning. Did you see it?” Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head; he’d stopped making a habit of reading that pile of drivel sometime in his fourth year.
“Reading between the lines, I got the impression that Talio had better solve the case before Christmas, or else it will end up on the cold case pile,” Hermione said. Then she quoted the paper from memory. “In times like the ones we live in, Albus Dumbledore’s untimely death sadly isn’t the only one that needs investigating, and choices will soon have to be made.”
“While I’ll be sad to see them close the case,” Ron said, “I won’t miss seeing that nosy beady-eyed man prowling the hallways at any time of the day.”
Hermione nodded. “Gives me the creeps. And I’m sure the Snapes will breathe a bit easier without him breathing down their necks all the time.”
Harry had to agree with her on that one—even if the thought of the headmaster’s murder remaining unpunished didn’t sit well with him. While he knew where the order had come from, he still wanted to see the triggerman punished.
A loud snap of Saturnine’s fingers brought him back to the present. She had noticed the wet patches Draco had left behind on the dark stone. With a pointed stare, she made him pull out his wand and cast a Scourgify quicker than you can say “Quidditch.”
“I’m glad not to be on the team anymore,” Draco said once he was done. “I’d much rather sit on the bleachers with a Warming Charm all over me and my thickest clothes on.”
“Yeah, rub it in, why don’t you?” Harry said, fastening his gloves and regretting that these were for protection rather than insulation.
“You can have a warm bath and cocoa once you’ve won the game,” Saturnine said, coming closer and placing both hands atop his shoulders. “Just keep moving, all right. And remember to flex your fingers as much as you can to avoid cramps.”
Harry nodded, and they got going. For once, there wasn’t a spring in his step as he headed outside for the first game of the Quidditch season, the traditional Gryffindor versus Slytherin match. Maybe it was because he was getting older, he thought. The sport didn’t hold the same appeal to him anymore, and despite his talent at the game, there was no way he would ever consider a professional career after school was over. Sure, a good game was always fun. But he wanted something more substantial for his life, something that made a difference and that mattered—and that could be done indoors in the winter months.
He was surprised when Severus materialised by his side around one of the hallway corners. The Head of Slytherin House was dressed as warmly as his sister, Harry noticed, but the scarf around his neck was unsurprisingly silver and green. He wondered for an instant if the two should even be speaking before a game. Severus was the competition, after all.
“Ready for the game?” the Potions Master asked him as he paced his steps to match Harry’s gait.
“I am,” he said. “Ready to lose—” he paused before adding politely, “sir?”
Severus’ lips quirked downward, and to everyone else, it would have looked as if he were displeased. But Harry knew him better than most, and he could see the glint of amusement in his dark eyes. In a swirl of dark robes that all but concealed the gesture, Severus placed a small phial in his hand.
Harry looked down at it with a puzzled expression.
“Five drops before you take off,” Severus instructed in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. “Don’t say a word to anyone about it.”
Harry nodded to indicate he understood the instructions and would comply with them. Though he had no idea what the phial contained, he trusted Severus enough to take the potion. Despite his many claims otherwise, he was a Slytherin supporter through and through. And he dearly liked to see the Quidditch Cup returning to his quarters. But Harry knew the strict Head of House wouldn’t sabotage the competition to get his way. Severus Snape wasn’t the cheating kind, and he liked his wins to be fair and square whenever possible.
The blasting winds that hit them full-on in the face when they left the comforting warmth of Hogwarts were almost enough to make Harry turn on his heel. He might have been tempted to if one of his teammates hadn’t caught up with him and dragged him forward to discuss manoeuvre and tactics. Harry barely had time to wave a goodbye hand at Saturnine and Draco over his shoulder before he was dragged into a crimson and gold melee of brewing enthusiasm and voracious hunger for victory.
A few minutes later, broom in hand, Harry swallowed five drops of the viscous liquid in the phial before pocketing it. Then he mounted his trusted Firebolt, kicked off the ground, and was up in the air. He rose to the bleachers’ level, then past them, shivering. The winds were stronger still up there, and it made the rain even more biting.
Five minutes in, and he was surprised he could still feel his extremities. His nose and the tip of his ears felt like icicles, but the rest of him wasn’t doing so bad, and—as he drew slow circles around the pitch to keep moving—he wondered if perhaps he shouldn’t have worn one fewer shirt underneath his equipment. Even his nose and ears weren’t doing so horribly. And in flexing his fingers once, twice, he realised his hands weren’t faring any worse than they typically did. Swooping back down towards the pitch, he came to a stop by Ron’s side.
The redhead’s cheeks were about the same colour as his hair, and he desperately blew air over his cupped hands to warm them up.
“It’s bloody freezing,” he muttered through chattering teeth. “Shouldn’t be allowed to p—p—play like this.”
Glancing to his left, Harry saw that their Captain, Ginny Weasley, seemed equally frozen. It wasn’t that cold, though, was it? He felt fine—more than fine, actually. Warmth seemed to radiate from inside of his chest, and he—of course! he mentally slapped himself—the potion.
Flying a little higher, Harry turned on himself a little until he caught sight of Severus sitting with the rest of the Hogwarts staff. Saturnine was next to him, and they were animatedly discussing something. He waited until the Potions Master looked his way to give him a slight nod of appreciation. Severus arched an innocent eyebrow up that seemed to say, “I have no idea what you’re on about.” Harry smiled even more.
Saturnine noticed, and she turned to her brother with a raised eyebrow of her own. Severus said nothing as he sheepishly looked down at her. She leaned against him slightly and returned her attention to the game that was about to begin.
A thickly robed Madam Hooch arrived an instant later, and Harry focused all his attention on the game at hand.
On the day of the funeral, Saturnine was astounded to see how many people attended. Save from her parents’ funerals, she hadn’t gone to many in her life. And she hadn’t been sure what to expect for this day. Rows upon rows of black folding chairs had been installed in a large open field beside Hogwarts’ Castle. A Protective Charm enveloped the entire area in a dome-like shield that stopped the snow from falling onto the guest’s seats and the raised dais where a fine-looking mahogany casket was displayed.
All the students were in attendance, dressed in their best school uniform and creaseless robes. Their arrival had been organised by House and school year. And they complied with the instruction without stepping a foot out of line, moving as one grieving body intent on displaying a final show of respect for their deceased headmaster.
The only two students who weren’t to sit with the others were Harry and Draco, who had been sternly ordered to remain by the Snapes’ sides throughout the entire ceremony. Given some of the wizards in attendance, Saturnine was adamant not to take any risks, and she wouldn’t let either boy out of her sight.
One such wolf in sheep’s clothing was the newly appointed Minister for Magic, Pius Thicknesse. Though his long brown hair was neatly combed, and his goatee finely trimmed, he didn’t look to be entirely there. It was common knowledge amongst members of the Order of the Phoenix that the former head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement was under an Imperius Curse and little more than Voldemort’s puppet now.
A large section of the Wizengamot was also present—all of them dressed in matching purple ceremonial robes—and, of course, the Hogwarts Board of Governors. Supporters of You-Know-Who dotted both groups, and Saturnine tried hard not to think of how badly they were outnumbered.
The members of the Order of the Phoenix were there, too. But they refrained from gathering together and took up seats scattered throughout the entire area. Thus, the only person Saturnine had encountered today was Remus Lupin. Upon their arrival near the front row, the sandy-haired wizard had left the witch he’d been talking to, Nymphadora Tonks, to come to greet them.
He gave Harry a warm hug and a few words of encouragement. He then turned to Saturnine with a soft smile on his face, earnestly happy to see her, despite the dire circumstances. They both exchanged an equally intense hug before Remus stepped back to pat Draco on the shoulder. His greeting for Severus was a lot more reserved. While the werewolf made free use of her brother’s given name, Severus steadfastly refused to address him with anything other than his usual tight-lipped “Lupin.”
When it became apparent that the ceremony was about to begin, Remus returned to Tonks’ side. And Saturnine saw him slip his hand into hers. She was glad to see the two still appeared to be an item; Remus deserved to have a little love in his life, and she wished them a long, happy life together.
Squeezing between the second and third row of chairs, she followed Severus until he stopped to sit down. She took the chair next to him before looking to her left to make sure Harry and Draco were doing the same. Professor Flitwick was next in line, preceding Professor Sprout. Saturnine sent a silent thank you to whoever had overseen the seating arrangement that the two Heads of House had been chosen to round out the protective detail on Harry and Draco.
The Minister for Magic came on the dais first, addressing the crowd at large, his voice magically amplified so that he could be heard all the way to the back. He gave a quick recap of Dumbledore’s best achievements and reiterated the Ministry’s stance on education and the importance of educating the wizards and witches of tomorrow.
Minerva McGonagall, deputy headmistress of Hogwarts, Head of Gryffindor House and Transfiguration teacher of over eighty years, was next. The assistance’s attention to her words was much more sincere than it had been for Pius Thicknesse. But then again, it was probable that more than two-thirds of the assembled crowd sat in her class at one time or another. McGonagall launched herself into a long eulogy that had everyone’s eyes watering. Unlike the Minister’s barely veiled attempt at rallying political attention to his cause, McGonagall’s speech was honest and heartfelt. When a few tears fell along the lines of her wrinkled cheeks, there was no denying their sincerity.
Saturnine was filled with mixed feelings. She knew for a fact that Dumbledore wasn’t dead; he was merely resting—in a coffin—at his own funeral. However, she knew that everyone’s pain and sorrow were real, and it was hard not to succumb to the morose atmosphere that seemed to have been spelled into the protective dome.
Besides, Saturnine knew how close they’d come to holding a real funeral; Dumbledore sure had come close enough to death for that. It had been sheer folly on his part to wait until the day of the Welcoming Feast to take the potion; he’d been at death’s door that night, and a few more hours would have done him in. Plus, there was still the possibility that he wouldn’t wake up when given the antidote—or that Voldemort would win the war, in which case Dumbledore had given them instructions never to wake him again.
Looking at the casket to centre her thoughts, Saturnine focused on what she knew to be fact to regain control of her emotions. Despite the appearances, Dumbledore wasn’t dead. He was in stasis, his whole body under temporal lockdown—neither growing older nor decaying. The casket was a special commission they had overseen, and it would keep him safe once placed within the mausoleum they had designed. A constant circuit of fresh air would be provided through a series of hidden air vents and slots—Muggle ingenuity at its best—and something that they were sure most wizards and witches would overlook even if it stared them in the face.
McGonagall’s eulogy came to an end, and she pulled her wand out of her dark robe’s pocket. Swirling her wrist, she used the first spell that students attending Hogwarts were taught to close the lid on the open casket. It fell shut with a loud thud that elicited a few surprised gasps throughout the audience.
Saturnine felt Severus shudder next to her and glanced at him sideways. She didn’t like what she saw and turned in her seat a little to get a better look at her brother. Severus’ lips were clamped shut in a tight line. And he breathed in and out of his nose at a too-rapid pace. His face was ashen white, and he looked minutes away from either passing out or throwing up his lunch. Guessing that she wasn’t the only one for whom this whole charade felt all too real, she reached out for his hand, lacing her fingers with his limp, cold digits.
Severus didn’t seem to notice the gesture, his dark eyes never straying from the closed casket that McGonagall now levitated towards the marble mausoleum erected next to the Black Lake that would be the headmaster’s final resting place. Using her free hand, Saturnine sneaked it around her brother’s shoulder while she pressed her right leg close to his to impart as much warmth and comfort as she could. That he did notice, and he turned a bewildered gaze her way. The look in his obsidian eyes was so lost and vulnerable; Saturnine was sure that, in that very moment, Severus had no clear idea where he was or what was going on—he’d lost himself too deep within his own head for that. She’d seen it happen before when they were children. The most violent nights had left him in a near-catatonic state, his mind taking a leave of absence—unable to process the horror with which it was presented. It was no wonder Severus later became such a talented Occlumen. He’d been partitioning his mind for years already; he’d only had to learn the proper technique to do it securely.
“It’s okay; you’re safe,” she murmured for his ears only. “Remember what you know.”
He blinked a few times before nodding—a sign that he was returning to his senses. Though Saturnine turned back in her seat to face forward again, she held onto him as the ceremony ended.
After the mausoleum was locked, and two tall torches were lit on either side of it, McGonagall called all in attendance to stand up to pay a final homage to the headmaster. The crowd stood as one, pulling out their wands and aiming them at the sky. Streams of lights and sparkles shot from hundreds of wooden tips in a myriad of colours that rose high in the sky and mingled together before slowly fanning out and down over the assembled mourners.
The crowd parted soon after. The professors lost no time herding the students back to the warm confines of the castle, while most of the Wizengamot and Board of Governors moved past the Apparition Wards in silence. In less than ten minutes, only a handful of witches and wizards remained, mostly members of the Order.
Saturnine wasn’t sure what her brother wanted to do. Looking at him now, you would never have guessed he’d almost had a panic attack only minutes ago. But she knew looks could be deceptive, especially where Severus was concerned. “Do you want to stay a little longer or go back inside?” she asked him in a tone that let him know both solutions were perfectly acceptable to her, and the choice was his.
“Let’s go back,” he replied in a voice that was as controlled as ever.
She nodded her assent and sneaked an arm around Harry’s back as they started on their way to the castle. The young Gryffindor looked minutes away from tears, and she felt awful for him. Not for the first time, she wished she could tell him the truth: Dumbledore wasn’t dead, and he hadn’t lost one more person who had taken an interest in him…
It was all so unfair; it made her angry, and she fought hard not to let her feelings show. But wars were rarely fair.
Now that the day ended, Severus was left alone with his sister and a crackling fire in the hearth. He’d wanted to keep the boys around for the night, but both teens had insisted they were fine and returned to their respective dorms.
“Having second thoughts about this?” his sister asked as she came to sit down next to him on the sofa with a small glass of Firewhiskey in her left hand. She’d offered him one, but he declined, not feeling up for it.
Severus shook his head, and spikes of pain shot up and down his tense neck. “It was necessary,” he replied. Sighing, he closed his aching eyes, then rose a hand to rub at them; he could feel the beginning of a headache settling in. “Minerva will do worse than give us detention when she finds out.”
“I hope that Dumbledore will be the recipient of the brunt of her rage,” Saturnine said. “But she’ll be mad, all right. And she won’t be the only one.”
Severus leaned forward slightly and tried to take a couple of deep, steadying breaths to calm himself. Although he’d had next to nothing to eat for supper, he felt as if he’d stuffed himself with something that didn’t agree with him. The truth was, he’d been feeling awful all day. He even debated taking a Calming Draught before going to the ceremony but resisted the urge. Given the danger of having so many unsavoury characters present, he opted to keep a clear head throughout. Now that the show was over, though, he ached for some relief.
His discomfort must have shown on his face because his sister’s hand rose to rub soothing circles between his shoulder blades. Her soft voice broke the silence a short while later as she said, “You should take something. You don’t look too good.”
Forcing his tired eyes back open, Severus shook his head. He was about to say that he was fine when he winced against the harsh light of the dancing flames. All at once, he felt himself breaking into a cold sweat; he heaved in a few measured breaths to avoid becoming violently sick.
Saturnine left him an instant; when she returned, a small phial was pressed into one of his clammy hands. It was a Calming Draught—one of his. He swallowed its content without protest and vanished the empty phial back to the Potions lab afterwards.
His sister took her place on the sofa again, and her hand returned to massage his tense shoulders. Though he was thankful to her for that small gesture of comfort, he was ill-equipped to express his gratitude in words and didn’t know where to begin.
Saturnine didn’t seem to be in a hurry to be elsewhere and stayed with him long after she’d finished her drink. She remained silent, reminding him that, in moments like these, the two of them had never needed words.
Severus closed his eyes again, content to listen to the crackling of the wood in the fireplace and his sister’s soft breathing. And if he leaned on her shoulder at some point and fell asleep, he blamed it on the Draught.
When December rolled around, everyone involved was sure that the investigation would end—one way or another. If the Ministry finally releasing the headmaster’s body hadn’t been indication enough, the bad press around Talio’s inability to produce a lead could be seen as nothing less than the tide turning. So, the short silver-haired man stalked the hallways in an even darker mood.
Going all-out for the win, he took to cornering students in between classes to harass them with questions akin to insinuations. “Do you think one of your professors could have done it?” he’d asked a second-year Ravenclaw. “Do you know if either of the Snapes has an alibi?” He’d even had the gall to ask a fourth-year Slytherin, “How about Professor Snape. Doesn’t his name spring to mind when you wonder who might have done it?”
It was now little more than all-out war between the middle-aged Auror and the siblings. While Talio sought to destroy their reputations from within, Severus and Saturnine attacked more subtly, liberally smearing the Auror’s name and standing in the press, dropping shocking revelations and exclusive peeks at the investigation every other day. Reading the paper had become like an episodical novel that had half of Britain hooked on every cliffhanger.
While this all-out war wasn’t quite what they had planned, Saturnine was satisfied with the whole debacle. If anything, it was attention-grabbing, which was what they had been going after. Look at my left hand while I pull a rabbit out of my hat with my right hand had become her motto as she faced off against the annoying Auror. She didn’t give two Knuts what the man thought of her, but she enjoyed giving him the impression she did when he came at her with uncouth insinuations and criticisms of her life choices.
It was now clear to everyone who had half a brain that Voldemort was pulling the man’s strings, and Saturnine fancied the Dark Lord was getting as desperate as his puppet, faced with his repeated failure at breaking either of them. But the fact remained that this little masquerade had won their side four months of respite. Four months during which the Order of the Phoenix rallied new members and strengthened its ranks, four months during which she and Severus pored over every book and parchment they could to locate the missing Horcruxes. And in a war of nerves, time was as valuable a currency as gunpowder, and Saturnine would do her best to keep Voldemort chasing his tail a short while longer.
But even the best-laid plans sometimes go astray, and the Snape siblings’ careful plotting suffered a severe blow when Talio stopped playing by the rules. He’d not always been a stickler for them. But so far, he’d kept within the bounds of decency. In a no-holds-barred move that could only have been borne from sheer desperation, he broke every law that he had ever stood for.
Talio made his move on a Wednesday morning, just before lunch. The Gryffindor and Slytherin fifth years’ Defence Against the Dark Arts class was nearing its end when a huffing, puffing fifth-year Ravenclaw barged into the second-floor classroom. Saturnine’s insides coiled as the realisation sunk in that the boy should have been in Potions at that very moment, and Severus never let his students out before it was time.
“What happened?” she asked before the curly-haired teen could even open his mouth.
“It’s your brother, miss,” he replied between two laboured breaths. “They’re arresting him.”
“Class dismissed,” Saturnine said in a tone that caused everyone to look up at her with round eyes. “Someone warn Professor McGonagall of the situation.”
She didn’t stick around long enough to check that her order was followed. Turning on her heel, she headed to the stairs that led to her private office and the secret passageway to the dungeons. It was the shortest route to her brother; time was of the essence.
Minutes later, she barged into the Potions classroom with her wand in hand and a deep scowl plastered upon her face. The kid hadn’t lied, she saw, and only Severus’ desk stood between him and three angry-looking Aurors.
Though most students had left—in a hurry, given the number of open-books and quills that still lay atop the desks—a few still hovered near the door leading back to the hallway. She dimly noted they had drawn their wands, too, clearly intent on standing up for their teacher. A touch of pride swelled in her when she realised they were all Ravenclaws.
“Out, all of you!” she ordered as she came to a stop next to Severus. Their loyalty was admirable, but the situation could turn nasty, and she didn’t want any of them getting hurt in the crossfire.
“What’s going on?” she asked her brother, throwing him a concerned look.
Severus was the tensest he’d ever been; all his muscles coiled like springs ready to be let loose. Though he didn’t have his wand in hand, his wrist was angled in a position that let her know it could slip into his open palm with an instant’s notice. “I am to be arrested for the headmaster’s murder, it would seem,” he said in a voice as cold as the stare he fixed Talio with.
“On what grounds?” she asked, turning back to glare at the short man with all the imperiousness she could impart.
“We have proof that your brother purchased the blade that killed the headmaster earlier this summer,” Talio said, pleased elation stretching his lips as he smiled. “And a witness that will testify to being present for the sale.”
Saturnine had to make a conscious effort to control her answer; it was a load of crap. The blade had been hers for years, and Severus had never been anywhere near it in his life. They both knew it, but Talio didn’t. And no matter how outraged they felt, they couldn’t give that fact away.
“I don’t believe you,” she said. “My brother was with me when Dumbledore was murdered. Your witness—whoever they are—is obviously lying.”
“The Ministry doesn’t see it that way, Ms Snape,” Talio said, his eyes crinkling in delight at winning the game at last. He pulled out a long parchment that he unrolled between his pudgy fingers before turning it over so that Saturnine could read it. It was an arrest warrant, signed by the Minister himself. Pius Thicknesse must not have been hard to convince, Imperiused as he was.
Saturnine could have slapped herself at her own thickness—she should have seen it coming. Their bruised ego and sheer hubris had tricked them into thinking they were too clever to be caught, and they had pushed Talio too far. Not wanting to concede to the defeat, the battered Auror had done what he had to do to win—he’d broken all the rules and fabricated the evidence he’d been unable to find, thus killing two birds with one stone. Talio would become the Ministry’s poster boy as the wizard who had brought Dumbledore’s killer to justice, and he’d accomplished his master’s revenge on Severus for his desertion and duplicity.
“This investigation has been a masquerade since day one, and we both know it. This is a travesty of the truth. Your so-called proof is nothing better than fabricated evidence,” Saturnine said with all the venom she could muster.
“While your verve is admirable,” Talio’s smile turned predatory, “I do have an arrest order, as you can see.” Turning to Severus, he pinned him with a hard stare. “Now, Professor, if you’ll kindly hold out your wand and both of your wrists—”
“You will do no such thing, Severus,” said a slightly panting Professor McGonagall as she barrelled into the room in a flurry of green robes. Pomona Sprout and Septima Vector were hot on her heels, both looking enraged.
Saturnine was glad to see that the Aurors were outnumbered, and she breathed slightly easier. The short respite allowed her to engage her brain in looking for possible exit strategies from this mess.
“Deputy Headmistress,” Talio acknowledged her arrival with a contemptuous nod. “If you’ll kindly look at this parchment, you will see that everything is in order and that I have every right to arrest your so-called professor.”
The disdain he’d placed on that last word almost made Severus reach out for his throat. Sensing it, Saturnine placed a hand on his forearm to still his movements and comfort him that she was there by his side.
“I don’t care about any parchment,” McGonagall said, the Scottish twang thick on her every vowel. “Severus is one of ours, and you’re not taking him away.”
“We’ll fight you for him if we have to. We will,” Sprout said, rolling up the sleeves of her robes to reveal thick forearms that were all but ready to physically battle anyone who dared lay a finger on the Potions Master.
“Like she said,” Vector said, pulling out her own wand before coming to stand by Saturnine’s side.
As heart-warming as this display of support was, Saturnine could see it in Talio’s eyes that he wouldn’t back off. He’d fight them for the win—they had pushed him too far. It had become about more than revenge for him. It was about his dignity now, and the two Aurors by his side looked neither young nor green. They were the hardened troopers she had often seen patrolling crime scenes. Whether they were loyal to the Ministry or the Dark Lord wouldn’t make a difference if someone attacked Talio—they would defend him, either way. And blood would be spilt.
Severus’ rage wasn’t abiding. It simmered close to the surface, and he had a hard time reining it in without the familiar clutch of Occlumency. He tried, though; he wanted, needed, to be his whole self now and not a diluted, emotionless version of himself.
His first instinct had been to duel Talio; the man didn’t seem that apt a wizard, and he was sure of his odds, even with the two full-fledged Aurors that sandwiched him. But the classroom hadn’t been empty, and he hadn’t dared risk any of his students’ safety. Then Saturnine had arrived, and it had been only the two of them. But he couldn’t risk her life any more than his students’.
Now the Aurors stood three to five, and Severus could tell the four witches by his side were ready to fight tooth and manicured nail to save him. As surprising as it was, it also forced him to keep his countenance lest he risk provoking an all-out fight sure to result in casualties.
Despite the tense situation, he couldn’t help but notice the fervour with which McGonagall, Sprout, and Vector had declared their allegiance to him. They hadn’t questioned anything—hadn’t given Talio’s words any credence. Without even knowing the facts, they’d automatically sided with—him. Despite his chequered past, less than stellar disposition, and frequently ill temper, they had decided to stand by his side without even a second thought. That moved him beyond words and comforted him in his decision that neither of them would be made to suffer today.
At a shake of his wrist, his wand slid down from the hem of his shirt and into his hand. After a flick of his fingers, he presented it to Talio, handle first. Saturnine’s hand tightened around his forearm, and he gave her a pointed stare and quick shake of his head that all but screamed, “let me do this and don’t interfere.”
She must have misread the signs because she stepped forward before Talio’s fingers had the time to close around his wand.
“Step aside,” the Auror told her coldly.
“I will do no such thing,” Saturnine said, and then she did something that caught Severus so off guard, he felt his jaw go slack. She flipped her own wand around before holding out both of her arms in surrender.
Severus was too dumbstruck to say anything, but Talio had no such issue.
“You’re not the one I want,” he said quickly. “Step aside, witch.”
“I might as well be,” she said, remaining where she was. “It says S. Snape on that warrant of yours. I fit the bill. And I’m sure you’ll have no trouble convincing your witness to switch pronouns when he testifies. Either you take me, or we fight you for Severus—the choice is yours.”
Talio seemed to consider it, and that kicked Severus’ brain back into action.
“Saturnine, no!” he said with a hint of desperation.
But it was too late. Talio had made up his mind, and he took the acorn wand from Saturnine’s loose fingers. Using her own wand against her, he tapped both of her hands twice, and thick bands of black leather appeared around her wrists. The enchanted bonds wouldn’t allow her to use magic until someone removed them. It was the cruellest type of restraint that could be placed upon a wizard or a witch.
Saturnine was now as much a Squib as Severus had been earlier that summer, and it was all his fault. “Saturnine, don’t,” he all but pleaded with her as he stepped forward. Reaching for one of her shoulders, he tried pulling her back.
She twisted out of his grasp and turned back to face him with fierce determination and eyes swimming with tears. “One of us has to go—there’s no other way, and we both know it,” she said. “Take care of the boys. They’ll need you.”
Severus wanted to scream his protests, to tear Talio apart with his bare hands, but Saturnine was right. The only way they would all walk out of the dungeons alive was if one of them willingly went with the Aurors—but he strongly disagreed with their choice of bounty. It ought to have been him.
“Don’t ’Nine, please,” he said, feeling tears of his own pooling in his eyes. He knew he sounded desperate, and he probably looked the part, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Not when someone wanted to take his little sister away from him. “Please don’t.”
She took a step closer to him, bound hands resting limply by her hips. Cocking her head to the side, she caught his gaze and held on. Severus took a step forward and engulfed her in his open arms.
“You have to let me go, Sev,” she murmured against his shoulder. “It will be okay.”
Unable to speak again, he shook his head vehemently. It felt like his insides were being torn apart, like what little remained of his poor, battered heart was being ripped in half. “Please ’Nine, don’t,” he whispered against her temple. “I need you.”
“I know, and I’m sorry to have to do this,” she said. “I love you—always. And I trust you to do the right thing.”
Saturnine let out a heavy sigh and stepped back and out of his embrace. She kept her eyes downcast as she turned on her heel and returned to Talio’s side. They left without a fuss moments later.
Pomona Sprout caught Severus’ arm, and he was barely aware of her pushing him back into his desk chair. He didn’t so much as sit on it as slumped when his legs gave way underneath him.
McGonagall was speaking to him, spouting out words like ‘lawyer’ and ‘bloody sham’ and ‘keep hope,’ but he couldn’t bring himself to pay attention. He could still feel the phantom warmth of his little sister in his arms, the ghost of her breath on his jaw, and he couldn’t see anything other than her azure eyes brimming with tears and steadfast resolve. When had she become so strong? he wondered. And when had he become such a coward?
He had lost Saturnine again, and it hurt worse than it did the first time. This time, there was no rancour to hide behind—no soothing balm of a misconception that he was right, and she was wrong. No sense of greater purpose awaiting him around the next corner.
He had allowed himself to care again. For her, he had lowered his shields and exposed his tender, battered heart to the dangers of feelings. And now, his poor heart had been ripped clean out of his chest.
Severus Snape was a mess.
There’s no other way to say it, Harry thought. Ever since his sister had been taken away, the man had become an utter mess—plain and simple.
Everyone in the castle was of a similar opinion that their Potions Master was at his absolute worst. Before this summer, it could have been said that Professor Snape had a short fuse and that he was prone to outbursts when provoked. But that was no longer the case—there no longer was a fuse. It had blown when the Aurors arrested Saturnine, and there had been no off switch to Severus’ foul temper since.
He stalked the hallways in a flurry of black robes, seething and sneering at anything that stood in his way, and students moved from his path as if the mere shadow of the man could hex them to orbit. Severus’ clever tongue constantly lashed out, pouring out never-ending spews of venomous, belittling contempt that targeted student and staff alike, as if bitterness was all he had left inside of him.
“This can’t go on,” Draco said one morning with an exasperated huff. “He’ll kill someone. Or someone will kill him.”
“He’s hurting,” Harry said. “She’s his sister.”
“And she all but is your mother,” Draco countered. “And yet I don’t see you stalking the hallways, looking to pick up a fight.”
The two of them had stayed behind after a meeting with the D.A. where they had tried to brainstorm ideas to free Saturnine. They had failed to come up with anything substantial, but Hermione wasn’t done reading all the tomes on wizarding law that the Hogwarts library contained, and she was sure the answer lay within one of them. Harry had doubts, but he hadn’t had the heart to tell her. The game was rigged, and he feared even the law wouldn’t be on their side. The Ministry was rotten on the inside, and it was a lost cause trying to win fair and square when the other side was cheating.
“I’m afraid he’ll do something even worse than hash it out with another professor,” Harry admitted. “What if he tries to get her back?”
“What?” Draco asked with a raised eyebrow. “Like march down to the Ministry himself and demand that they give him his sister back?”
Harry reflected for a moment. “He seems desperate enough.”
Draco passed a wary hand through his short blond hair as he slowly exhaled. “Merlin, I hate to admit it, but I think you might be right. What will we do?”
Harry shrugged; he hadn’t thought that far ahead. It was only Saturday, and the Aurors had taken Saturnine away on Wednesday. They had spent all their free time thinking up ways to help her out. He hadn’t had time to focus on Severus much, and he felt awful as he realised that. It was one thing to complain about the Potions Master’s attitude, but they hadn’t done anything to help him.
Harry hadn’t even spoken to Severus since. He’d learned what had happened from Professor McGonagall, and the only time he’d seen Severus since had been in class. His free time had been spent with the D.A., and three days had passed without him realising it.
“Have you spoken to him?” he asked, thinking that surely the Slytherin had—right?
Draco shook his head, and Harry cursed aloud.
“Merciful Merlin, I haven’t either,” he admitted. “Shite, we’ve left him all alone. That’s not right.”
“It’s Severus,” the blond said with a shrug.
“Don’t give me any of that Slytherin crap about how you guys are just emotionless puppets, Draco,” Harry said, raising his pointer finger and jabbing him the chest with it. “It’s utter crap, and we both know it.”
Then he turned on his heel and stormed out of the Room of Requirement with the beginning of a plan in his head.
“Where are we going?” the blond asked as he caught up to him.
“The dungeons,” Harry replied. “You and I are moving back in.”
“Severus won’t like that,” Draco remarked.
“I don’t give a dragon’s arse what he does or doesn’t like,” Harry said as they came upon the Grand Staircase. “We’re a family, and families stick together.”
Whether or not he was aware of it, his godfather needed help. Severus was tearing apart at the seams, and he would do something stupid if someone didn’t keep him in check. Draco saw no one queuing at the door to take over the job. So, it would have to be Harry and him.
Only, neither of them had any idea how to go about it. Draco and Harry had received so little care in their lives that they weren’t sure to wholly understand the concept. Only now, they were expected to dole it out in spades—and onto someone like Severus Snape, of all people. It sure as hell required an unusual skill set neither of them possessed. But what they had was Gryffindor courage and Slytherin cunning. So, Harry encouraged while Draco schemed.
Step one was to move back in when Severus wasn’t there so that he couldn’t stop them. They lugged their stuff into the dungeons at lunchtime and closed the door of their shared bedroom once the deed was done to make sure that Severus wouldn’t notice right away that all their stuff was back in their shared bedroom.
Step two was to spend the afternoon and evening doing their homework in the living room as if it were a typical Saturday. They held onto the hope that Severus would want to go to bed before they did. But that didn’t happen, and they were forced to reveal their actions at bedtime. A row ensued.
Step three was to remain steadfast in their decision and not to let Severus drag them away by any means—and that was the challenging part. The man knew how to use his words to get his way; he knew how to cut deep with only one or two sentences, and he could mince them to tiny bits with the sharpness of his tongue. He didn’t quite go all in, but he tried to get them off his back just the same. Draco understood the tactic for what it was. ‘Offence is the best defence’ was a motto Slytherins were taught in the crib, and he’d warned Harry against it.
Their attempt at helping Severus turned into a war of wills, the two of them forcing their care onto an unwilling participant who tried to hold them back at arms’ length. It lasted an entire week—seven days of Harry and Draco spending whatever free time they had working on ‘operation Severus’. They reconvened to his quarters whenever they were out of class and discussed the situation at length to try and plot the best course of action. And whenever Severus arrived, they’d join him in the living room, forcing their presence onto him in poorly veiled attempts to draw him out of his own head. They went about it in many ways that ranged from sharing with him the highlights of their respective days to asking complex questions about brewing techniques and potions-making.
Harry even resorted to using the Half-Blood Prince’s book against the potioneer, sifting over the pages to find parts that teenage Severus had vehemently disagreed with, then weaving the subject into their evening conversations. These tended to get the Potions Master talking, and it seemed to Draco that for a few minutes, at least, he would forget about the awful situation they were in. The passion returned to him, and his eyes shone with interest again. What a relief it was to see something other than the seething anger or desolate apathy he seemed to constantly switch between.
Saturnine’s name hadn’t been mentioned once, and while Draco was no expert at these kinds of situations, even he knew how unhealthy that was. But Harry hadn’t dared bring her up during their evening discussions, and neither had he. It would surely set Severus off, and they were both loath to reduce a week’s worth of efforts to cinders because of a poorly timed comment. So, she remained the Hippogriff in the room that they all chose to ignore.
Harry and Draco had gone to Professor McGonagall for information instead. They learned from her that the school had hired a lawyer to get the Ministry to free her. They were intent on challenging the evidence and had filed a formal request to have her released until a fair trial could be held. Their motion had been denied, and a date for the trial had been set in early January. It had cut deeply to learn that Saturnine wouldn’t be with them for Christmas.
Harry and Draco had entertained the idea that the four of them could have returned to Cove Cottage for the winter holidays, and discovering that Saturnine would spend the time alone in a cell somewhere had turned their stomach. The D.A. had redoubled their efforts after that announcement, everyone joining Hermione in the task of poring over centuries-old judicial tomes. Harry had asked Ron to ask Percy to ask around for more information. The elder Weasley still worked at the Ministry, and whatever inside information they could get out of him could be a treasure-trove. Surprisingly, the former Gryffindor Head Boy came through, and Harry wondered what incentive Ron must have resorted to using to get him to snitch on his colleagues.
The gist of what he’d said was that Saturnine Snape’s arrest had caused quite the ruckus within the Ministry. It was public knowledge that the legitimacy of the accusation was challenged. Articles in the Daily Prophet hinted at a false testimony and fake evidence, and even Ministry employees were divided on the subject. Draco and Harry learned that Raylan Talio’s reputation was playing against him. Many within the Ministry suspected him to have ties with You-Know-Who, and a few of his colleagues hinted that he’d never been one to ‘play it by the book’ anyway. So, it didn’t stretch the mind to think there might be some credence to what the papers said. It turns out that that was what didn’t sit well with the stickler for protocol that was Percy Weasley and the entire reason why he had agreed to snoop around.
Percy had dug in for more information and discovered that the evidence wasn’t that strong. According to the two seasoned Aurors he had talked to, it shouldn’t have been enough to even warrant an arrest. The blade had tested negative to all their spells, refusing to divulge the identity of the person who had plunged it in poor Dumbledore’s chest. It had been cleaned by the killer and hadn’t been touched by skin since. So, all the Ministry had to rely on was the testimony of a seedy character that would have sold his own mother for a few Galleons—Mr Borgin, co-owner of Borgin and Burkes.
Draco was more than familiar with the unsavoury character. Mr Borgin was a stooping man with a voice as oily as his greasy hair. Greedy and money-minded, he had always been jubilant when Lucius Malfoy entered his shop for whatever shady deal was in store that day. If the shop owner was the prosecution’s star witness, there was no doubt that the deck had been manually stacked against them. This investigation was a travesty, and no matter how talented Saturnine’s lawyer was, she wouldn’t see the light of day again if the people rigging the game wanted her gone.
Hotel Ministry wasn’t as fun as the brochure made it out to be. Instead of a four-poster bed, Saturnine had to make do with a cot on the floor; the linen was abrasive, and she was pretty sure there was mould in one corner of her cell.
She sighed as she tried finding a comfortable position to sleep in, deciding that she definitely wouldn’t be giving them a good review. She wasn’t sure how long she had been there, already. It felt like a week, but she wasn’t sure.
Blasted Dumbledore, Saturnine thought bitterly, in the darkness of her cell. Couldn’t leave me alone, could you?
Then she chastised herself for the harshness of her thoughts; she judged the headmaster too severely, and she knew it. Presented with a chance to go back in time and change things, Saturnine knew she would make the same damn choices all over again. Whenever Severus entered into the equation, she’d never been capable of saying no. And if she hadn’t agreed to join the Order, she would never have gotten to know Harry and Draco, either.
She sighed. Thinking about the boys hurt—a lot. And she realised they now featured into the equation that was her life choices just as prominently as her brother did.
“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” she muttered in the darkness just to break the silence. “Isn’t that how the saying goes?” Been there, done that, she thought bitterly.
Freedom? She had lost hers a few years ago, but the fire inside had never died. Oh, she had followed orders and let everyone believe her will had been broken, but she’d merely been biding her time until she found a way out. She had waited seven years, and then, she’d regained her freedom.
Severus? She had lost him, too, fifteen fucking years ago. A decade and a half spent without talking to him; nearly half of her life spent feeling like a part of herself had been cut away and left behind. But throughout their separation, she had known that he was out there. Not exactly safe—but alive and growing up. And she had known, deep down she had always known, that she would see him again one day. And she had.
The boys? Well, she hadn’t quite lost them yet, but there had been some close calls. And those had been close enough for her to realise that, while she couldn’t lose them, she could always let them go if it came to that.
The Ministry could have her. They could have her rendition and force her into isolation. She would go willingly and surrender her freedom to them—if she knew that her family was safe. She would choose brick walls and Dementors over the comfort of Hogwarts any day if it meant that Severus was free to live a good life in Scotland. She would take years in a windowless cell in Azkaban if it meant that Draco and Harry got to enjoy summer afternoons chasing each other on broomsticks in Cornwall.
They thought they’d broken her, subdued her, won the battle. They hadn’t.
There would be no winner in this, for this had never been a fight. It had always been a sacrifice—one she was willing to make, time and again.
“Why doesn’t she escape?” Draco asked out of the blue one evening after he’d finished eating his salad. “Saturnine, I mean.”
Severus’ fork clattered loudly as it hit the plate, falling off fingers that had gone limp. Harry looked at the blond with eyes as big as his round glasses before discretely kicking him in the shin under the table.
Draco was done being silent, though. The more time passed, and they learned about what was really going on, the more he was sure this situation wasn’t temporary. And if Saturnine wasn’t coming back, they couldn’t spend their whole life pretending the Hippogriff wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t healthy—for either of them.
“I doubt that her Elemental powers would be dampened by the magical bonds. So, she could escape if she wanted to, right?” Draco asked.
“She won’t,” Severus said through clenched teeth. It looked like getting the words out was physically painful for him. “She isn’t like that.”
“But the game is rigged; the whole thing is a scam,” Draco protested. “She has to know that. Why is she going with it, then?”
Severus pushed his chair back so sharply that its feet loudly scraped the floor. He was on his way to his bedroom moments later, dinner forgotten on the table.
Draco shot to his feet after him, rounding on him in the corridor. “Don’t do that, Severus. Don’t turn your back on us.”
Without looking, Draco knew Harry had followed him, and he was thankful for it. It would take both of them to get through that thick raven-haired Slytherin head.
“Back to your room—both of you!” Severus commanded as he pushed open his bedroom door, intent on ending their conversation.
Maybe the tension of the past ten days pushed Draco past his limits and straight into a fit of temporary insanity. Or perhaps some of the lions’ famed courage had slipped into his snake blood without him noticing. He followed his godfather inside with Harry hot on his heels.
Draco hadn’t been back inside Severus’ bedroom since that one time when his godfather had taken care of him after the Dark Lord had Crucioed him. What he discovered inside took his breath away. The place was a mess, and so unlike Severus’—or even Hogwarts’—standards that it could only mean one thing—the Potions Master had forbidden the house-elves from entering to clean up.
It was the only way to rationally explain the heap of dirty clothes in one corner and the leftover plates of drying up sandwiches, piles of parchments, and open books that littered the floor and his bed. Those weren’t the only changes that Draco noticed. As both boys had guessed, Severus’ bedroom had undergone a few modifications with Saturnine’s arrival—an enchanted square frame had been placed over his bed to display a view of a playpark that Draco wasn’t familiar with. And a second bed had been squeezed between Severus’ and the bookshelves lining the wall opposite the door.
And therein lay the most heartbreaking part of all. This bed—the one that was clearly Saturnine’s whenever she stayed in the dungeons overnight—was the only one that looked slept in. And that was a huge fucking Hippogriff right there. Harry saw it, too, and came to the same conclusion Draco had. And while the sheer depth of Severus’ pain froze Draco in his tracks past the door, it did little to slow down the impetuous Gryffindor’s momentum.
Harry was halfway through the room in four quick strides, and he had a handful of black frock coat and surprised Potions Master in his arms an instant later. Frozen shock must be the standard Slytherin response to acute emotional displays, for Severus went as stock-still as Draco had. He remained poised in the middle of the room with his arms limp by his side, his face still expressing his earlier anger and displeasure, while Harry attempted to hug the pain out of him.
Life returned to Draco first, and he gently closed the door behind him before moving forward. Harry stepped to the side a little when he saw him approach, and Draco seized the opportunity to capture Severus in a hug of his own, burrowing himself in the man’s chest as he placed one arm around his back and the other around Harry’s shoulders.
With his head leaning against an uncomfortable row of black buttons, he never saw the moment Severus gave up the fight. But he felt it just the same. The tension went out of him at an instant’s notice, and he slumped forward as a loud, wet exhale of breath left his lungs. The tears came shortly after, heavy and thick, and Harry and Draco held him in comforting silence as wave after wave of pain ebbed out of him.
“You can’t keep doing this, Severus,” Harry said softly once the waterfall of tears had slowed to a stop, and the three of them had gone to sit on the bed—Saturnine’s bed. “It’s not healthy.”
“Harry’s right,” Draco said from the Potions Master’s other side. “You’ve got to let us help.”
Harry nodded against the man’s shoulder. “We’re a family, and families stick together through thick and thin.”
“I’m starting to see that,” Severus said in a voice raw with emotions.
“You haven’t answered my question,” Draco said after a moment of silence, intent on blasting the bloody Hippogriff in the room to smithereens. “Why doesn’t Saturnine try to escape? She could go into hiding—disappear off the face of the earth for a while.”
“She’s doing it to keep us safe,” Severus replied, and once again, it looked like the words felt painful to him. “So long as they’re focused on her, they’re not harassing either of us.”
“She’s a—diversion?” Harry asked, moving back a little so that he could see Severus’ face.
The Potions Master nodded.
Harry looked like he was on the verge of puzzling out something important. He had understood something that Draco hadn’t. So, he chose to remain quiet while he waited for the discussion to play out.
“She wouldn’t be taking that big a risk if she didn’t have a few aces up her sleeve,” Harry said, and you could see the cogs turning in his brain. “For one thing, she wouldn’t want the Aurors to stop investigating the headmaster’s death. She wouldn’t want us to walk around the castle unprotected with a possible killer in our midst.”
Severus remained as silent as Draco was, and Harry kept unravelling the thread he had found.
“She wouldn’t risk her freedom if we were in any real danger; she’d sooner have made plans for us to disappear to some nameless country together instead,” he continued.
Draco began to see the picture Harry was trying to paint, and he tried to formulate a hypothesis of his own. The chips fell with surprising clarity, and he wondered how he could have been so blind. “Either the two of you already know who the killer is—or there never was any,” he said
Even as he said the words, Draco knew they were true. Somehow, the siblings had fooled them all. It was the only thing that made sense at this stage. It was why week after week and memory after memory, the D.A. had been unable to find the killer. There wasn’t one to find. It was the reason why Saturnine and Severus hadn’t been as affected by this entire thing as everyone else had, why they had managed to go head to toe with the Ministry despite their grief, keeping cool enough heads to lead Talio by the nose to further whatever secret agenda they had. They hadn’t been grief-stricken because they knew that—
“Dumbledore isn’t dead,” Draco finished his thought aloud. “Merlin’s bollocks—the old codger’s alive.”
“Language,” Severus chided him. But there was no real heat to his tone.
“What the hell did you two do?” Harry demanded, pulling away from Severus far enough to cross his arms over his chest. Draco felt the need to mirror the gesture, and they both stared at the man expectantly.Severus let out a long, martyred sigh—an admission of defeat.
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.
In many ways, Auror Raylan Talio reminded Saturnine of former Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour. Only then he had been known to her as Auror Rufus Scrimgeour. And he, too, had stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. It had served him well, advanced his career, and secured him the position he’d lusted after—until he died, murdered by You-Know-Who. In the end, all that had been left of him was a pool of congealed blood on the Atrium’s marble floor of the very building he so wanted to oversee. Though she had always been crappy at Divination, Saturnine predicted the same kind of ending for Raylan Talio.
One of Lord Voldemort’s most pernicious talents was his ability to make lesser men believe they were more important than they thought. The Dark Lord had a knack for finding the right kind of pawns who’d swallow his lies by the mouthful. And he knew just how to stroke their narcissistic egos to get everything he wanted from them. Not only did these lackeys willingly break all the rules and everything they once stood for to curry favour with Voldemort, but they were ever so eager for it. Real talent, indeed, she thought bitterly, looking at Talio, who couldn’t seem to control the glee he felt at detaining her. She pitied him. Poor man—if only you knew what your master really thinks of you.
Saturnine had been escorted to one of the Ministry’s interview rooms again: an austere-looking area slightly larger than a broom closet. It had no furniture other than a plain metallic table and two uncomfortable folding chairs. By design, there was no window or clock in the room. She recognised that tactic for what it was: one more way to isolate the suspect by rendering them unable to tell how much time had passed.
“You know what this is?” the silver-haired wizard demanded, sitting down on the other side of the table she’d been instructed to sit at. He pulled out a blank sheet of parchment and Self-Writing Quill.
“You want to know my secret chocolate mousse recipe?” Saturnine demanded, arching an eyebrow before stage whispering. “It’s all in the chocolate, you know. You have to buy the good kind to make an excellent dessert—one made with whole milk and not one of those cheap powders. And be sure to use high-quality eggs and rich cream.”
“Funny,” Talio said with a sneer that indicated it was anything but.
“What can I say?” She shrugged her shoulders. “Humour runs in the family. We’re a real riot.”
“Ah yes—your brother is quite the comedian,” Talio deadpanned. “While I would have liked to enjoy his company today, I will have to settle for yours—for now. But don’t worry. He’s next on my to-do list.” He paused, gave her a smile that held no warmth, and added, “Maybe you two will get adjoining cells in Azkaban.”
“You have nothing on Severus,” she said, keeping her face and tone neutral. Merlin, but she hoped that man’s death wouldn’t be quick—something long and agonising would be so much better. Forget the Astronomy Tower and the Black Lake—he deserved an introduction to the family of Acromentulas that lived in the Forbidden Forest. Hopefully, she’d have a chance to watch.
“Oh, but you’re wrong. Or are you forgetting what happened here?” he asked. “Your brother would be sitting in this chair today if you hadn’t intervened. Tell me, Ms Snape, with you in Azkaban, who will save him next time?”
Saturnine was tempted to smile, but she reined it in. Severus had never needed help; he was a natural-born fighter, a survivor—as she was. They were cut from the same cloth. As the children of a drunk Cokeworth miner, they’d learned to toughen up at a young age. It was Harry and Draco that needed protecting. And one of them needed to stay behind to see to their wellbeing. They’d only had to sacrifice the most expendable chess piece of their double set to placate the Ministry for a short while.
“What a family,” Talio commented with a disdainful sneer. “A Muggle father. I wonder how many people know.”
At a flick from his wand, a Manila folder appeared on the table. Saturnine briefly glanced at it and was surprised to discover on the surface a crest that had nothing to do with the Ministry. It was the one from the West Midlands Police—the Muggle authorities. She cursed inwardly, guessing at what it contained.
She’d have to tread carefully, she realised. Talio was no fool, and just like Scrimgeour before him, he was thorough. Eventually, she would have to give him enough so that he didn’t want to dig further into her past.
“The grand Severus Snape—the son of a Muggle. Who’d have thought?” Talio continued as he flipped the folder open. “And what a Muggle.”
He pulled out a few documents, and Saturnine felt her temper flare. Even from where she sat, she could see those were arrest reports. There seemed to be a few photographs, too. She glanced away; if she never got to see Tobias Snape’s bloated face again, it would be too soon.
“I don’t need you to tell me what kind of man my father was,” she said, forcing herself to meet the Auror’s beady eyes. “I know full well.”
“Drunk and disorderly, driving under the influence, hospital reports that point towards domestic abuse,” he listed as he kept pulling out pages. “My, my. How close to the tree the fruits have fallen.”
With his most contemptuous sneer, Talio said, “Well, like father, like son—isn’t it what they say?”
It took Saturnine a herculean effort to contain the surge of rage that coursed through her at those words. Not true! She wanted to spit in his face. But she knew that if she let even one word pass her lips, her control would snap, and she would tear Raylan Talio to shreds—throw him against a wall, burn him, or replace all the air in his lungs with water. No! She forced herself to take a deep breath, to keep control of her emotions, to clamp down hard on the impulse to fight. It doesn’t matter, she told herself. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. She knew the truth, and Severus did, too; that was all that mattered. Breathe!
Talio seemed to take her prolonged silence as a sign that he’d won the round. He allowed himself a small, satisfied smile. “In answer to my earlier question,” he said, “this is the time for your confession.”
“Ah,” Saturnine said, calming down. With a curt nod towards the writing equipment that hovered in the air on the Auror’s right-hand side, she added, “I hope you’ve brought more parchment. I’ve led a long life.”
“Albus Dumbledore’s murder will suffice,” Talio said.
“Are you sure? If you want, I could confess to a couple more while I’m here. I find myself feeling rather magnanimous today.”
“We’ll see how long your cheek will last once the Dementors start taking an interest in you,” Talio said with all the benevolence of a fire-breathing dragon. “I hear they really bring out the best in people like you.”
At a snap of his fingers, the bewitched quill pressed to the paper and started writing down his every word. “Saturnine Eileen Snape, you have been charged with the murder of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Evidence has been found linking you to the murder weapon, and a witness swore under oath that he sold that blade to you. While a formal trial will be held in front of the Wizengamot to determine your sentence, we offer you today the chance to confess to your crime. A full confession and a genuine display of repentance will be seen as a show of goodwill by the representative of the Ministry and could lead to a lesser sentence.” He stopped for a breath. “What have you to say today?”
With the state the Ministry was in, it would be weeks until a trial was scheduled, she knew—not until after the New Year, at the very least. It was more than enough time for Severus to set up the next phase of their plan—the one that would bring about the downfall of Voldemort.
And knowing him, her brother would probably spend quite a bit of his free time trying to find a way to get her out of jail. While she wasn’t sure there was any—save for the obvious one that she prayed he wouldn’t resort to—if anyone could find her an out, it was him. She’d wait patiently in her cell until then. It wasn’t the Ritz, but the room came with a bed and two meals a day. So, who was she to complain? She had survived worse in the past.
Heaving in a deep breath and clearing her throat, Saturnine held up a hand, palm forward. She folded one finger with each word that came from her mouth. “See. You. In. Court.”
When four fingers were down, and only her middle finger remained, she turned her palm around and beamed at the pissed-off Auror.
Raylan Talio made good on his promise to bring out the Dementors. It wasn’t long after she was returned to her cell that Saturnine felt an eerie cold creeping in. She tried curling up on her cot to keep some of the warmth in, but the cold still found her. It crept up her legs and down her arms, clawing at her skin and biting, and she was tempted to bring out the flames.
“No!” she told herself, remembering that she’d been through worse. She knew how to be cold. She had been cold many times when she was younger, and there hadn’t been enough money to pay for the gas bill. Only, she’d had Severus then. They would huddle together in his bed under a big pile of blankets, and he would hold her close and blow warm air on her fingers when they started to ache. But her big brother wasn’t here now, was he? He was in Hogwarts, risking his life, and—
“Get out of my head!” she spat as she tried clearing her thoughts. She glared at the door to her cell, but it had little effect on the dark creatures she knew to be on the other side.
“Think happy thoughts,” she cautioned herself as she wondered if she could try for a wandless Patronus. Maybe it would work if she brought up memories of her boys. Last summer, the four of them going out for a picnic down in one of the coves Harry had discovered, Severus getting sunburned in the afternoon, his pale, bare forearms reddening under the harsh August sun.
Pale forearms covered with red welts, bruises starting to form. Another round under the belt. Not just his forearms, but his entire back, too. A bad one, this time. Their father used his leather belt’s buckle end, and it drew blood. And he used his fists, too; split a lip and gave Severus a black eye and—
“No!” Saturnine cried out, curling up in an even tighter ball. “Out of my head. Out!”
Reaching deep within, she commanded the air in the room to form a protective bubble around her cot. Instantly, the unnatural cold disappeared, and she felt warmth seeping in. Taking a few deep breaths, she realised her thoughts were her own again and sighed in relief. It was dangerous to let her Elemental Magic out within the Ministry, but the Dementors had only broached the surface of her childhood trauma, and she feared if they dug any deeper, she would lose her mind.
“Happy thoughts,” she scolded herself as she focused on her breathing pattern. “Happy thoughts.”
Turning over again, she tried remembering how she had gotten into this mess in the first place. Memories of a particular Friday morning of April ’96 drifted back to her, and she lost herself in the recollection.
It was a cold morning, in London, and dew still covered the blades of grass underneath the soles of Saturnine’s boots. She couldn’t remember ever coming to St James’ Park before and glanced around nervously. As locations for covert meetings went, this wouldn’t have been her first choice. But she had to admit that the clutter of tourists and dog-walkers offered a certain anonymity.
Though she hadn’t seen him in years, she had no trouble making out Professor Albus Dumbledore, the current headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from the rest of the morning crowd. He’d tried for a Muggle disguise, but the old man still stood out like a sore thumb with his long silver hair and even longer beard. The purple velvet ensemble he had chosen to wear didn’t help.
The headmaster stood facing the lake and seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously as he fed breadcrumbs from his pocket to the ducks gathered nearby. He turned towards Saturnine when she reached him, a ready smile stretching his wrinkled face.
“Headmaster,” she said politely.
“Miss Snape,” he replied in a tone that made her feel eleven years old again.
At a nod from him, they relocated to a wooden bench where Dumbledore promptly sat down. Saturnine chose to remain standing. For lack of a better thing to do with herself, she crossed her arms over her chest. With her faded light-blue denim trousers and black hoodie, she was sure to look as Muggle-like as the many tourists she could see taking photographs nearby.
“What have you been up to, my dear?” the headmaster asked good-naturedly, the tip of his index finger twirling the end of his white beard.
Saturnine, who had been wary of coming, felt her hackles rise at the overfamiliar greeting. She could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times the grand Albus Dumbledore had ever spoken to her directly—and even then, she had fingers to spare.
“Nothing much,” she answered with a nonchalant shrug.
If not for Remus’ insistence that she made the meeting, she wouldn’t have replied to the owl she received from the headmaster. But her friend said it was important—and important, for Saturnine, meant Severus—so she postponed her departure. She was curious to see what information she could get from the seasoned wizard on her brother’s wellbeing. Not that she was about to confront him directly about it. No, she would rather err on the side of caution and tread carefully, waiting to see what he would volunteer on his own.
“The school year is about to end, and I’m afraid I will need a new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor again come September,” the headmaster said with a crooked smile. “For some reason, Defence teachers never seem to last the year.”
Saturnine vaguely remembered reading somewhere that Dolores Umbridge had been given the position and thinking what a stupid idea that was. She doubted her input on the matter was needed at this point; so, she merely shrugged again.
“A most troubling year this has turned out to be,” Dumbledore continued, gaze lost inward. “A High Inquisitor, would you believe it? The games the Ministry likes to play sometimes. It never ceases to amaze me. If only Dolores hadn’t been so hard on the students—and the staff.” He paused an instant, sighed, then prattled on, “Poor Sybill. After all those years, Dolores sacked her like that. She fired Hagrid too, did you know? Sent Minerva to the hospital…”
Saturnine tuned out while the headmaster continued to vent his frustration.
“How is he?” she asked when he fell silent. So much for her wanting not to ask a direct question. But Dumbledore had left her no choice but that of a direct approach. He’d included nearly everyone in his little rant but Severus—even Filch and his bloody cat made an appearance, for Merlin’s sake. Saturnine was fully aware that the older man was goading her, but she’d never been the patient type.
“Walking a tightrope, as always,” Dumbledore replied informally. “And I fear it will only be getting worse for him now that the Dark Lord has returned.”
Saturnine didn’t question the veracity of Lord Voldemort’s return; she’d seen enough evidence of his second rising during her time as a Ministry employee. But she needed confirmation of her brother’s stance on the matter. “He’s working for you, then?” she asked. She’d heard it from Remus, but she wanted—needed—to be sure.
“As you well know,” Dumbledore replied with a knowing smile that told her he’d seen through her eagerness.
She scoffed, more at his attitude than at his words. “Part of your so-called Order of the Phoenix, is he?”
“I’ve always quite liked the name,” Dumbledore said, ignoring her arrogance entirely. “It has a certain ring to it, does it not?”
“A merry band of fools,” she replied, lacing her words with all the bitter sarcasm she could.
Dumbledore chuckled warmly at that. “When I look at you, I see a lot of Severus, too—a version of him, at least,” he said with something akin to fondness. The affection gave way to melancholy as he added, “The person he would be today, perhaps—if things had gone differently.”
Saturnine felt one of her eyebrows rise at that; she wasn’t sure she liked that last comment much.
“How long has it been since you last saw him?” Dumbledore asked, his bright eyes boring into hers from behind his half-moon spectacles.
Saturnine was quick to look away, refocusing her gaze on the placid lake. “I’m certain you know the answer to that.”
“Severus has changed a lot since then, you know. He’s grown into a strong-minded, confident young man—albeit one who has to be very careful about what he says and does.”
And whose fault is that? Saturnine wanted to throw in his face. But she refrained. She thought the man had a lot of nerve to talk to her this way. Never before had the grand Albus Dumbledore given two Knuts about her—or her brother, for that matter. Not until Severus became a valuable tool he could use and abuse.
She hadn’t forgotten how miserable Severus had been while at Hogwarts and where that misery had led him. In her books, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore would always carry some of the blame for her brother’s decision to join the Death Eaters. What the Marauders did to him had been no less than straight-up bullying, and they’d never been punished for it. Oh, a few points had been taken from Gryffindor House here and there for good measure, but nothing more. Not even when Remus almost tore Severus’ throat out.
That last thought made Saturnine’s magic thrum with anger and awoke something primal within her. Turning on her heel, seemingly to check the perimeter, she took a deep breath to centre herself. It drove her mad to think that it had been Remus, of all people, who finally had the guts to tell her the whole story about what happened during the boys’ fifth year. Not even Severus had dared share the highlight of Sirius Black’s insanity with her.
“Nothing but a prank gone wrong,” he’d told her back then when she enquired after his injuries.
In her heart, Saturnine had instantly known that there was more to it—it had been easy to read off her brother’s anguished face—but she hadn’t pressed him about it. Now that she looked at it with an adult’s eyes, she understood that these words were what he’d been told to say should anyone ask. A prank gone wrong, she thought bitterly. Ten Galleons that these were Dumbledore’s very own words to him that day.
“Thankfully, Severus has always had a lot of control over his own emotions. Too much so, sometimes,” the headmaster continued jovially. “It frightened me how quickly he took to Occlumency. But it served him well in the end—saved his life, even. Despite it all, part of me will always fondly remember him as an inquisitive, scrawny eleven-year-old boy from the Midlands who looked at everything with wide, curious black eyes.”
Saturnine kept her gaze firmly averted, for she had never been as good an Occlumen as Severus, and she didn’t want the headmaster to be able to read the guilt off her face. She remembered that kid, too, even though she hadn’t seen him in a long time.
“I do so hope to see that boy again, one day,” Dumbledore concluded wistfully before falling silent.
Silence stretched around them, enveloping the park and its residents in its thickness. The breeze softly blowing through the leaves of the tall oak trees at their backs and the ducks quaking away merrily in the distance were the only disturbances in the quietness of the moment.
“What are you here for?” Saturnine asked at last, unwilling to keep on playing whatever game Dumbledore had on his mind.
“There’s another child that worries me,” the man said as if that answered anything. “Another boy I must ask too much from.”
It was another riddle, but it didn’t take a bright Ravenclaw to solve that one. “The Chosen One,” Saturnine said with more contempt than she wanted. Despite the Daily Prophet’s sensational headlines, she had heard good things about the boy from Remus, but Dumbledore had her on edge, and it was starting to show.
“Lily’s son,” the old man felt the need to point out. “Harry.”
Saturnine snorted at him—as if she could have forgotten his parentage. She had met Baby Harry once when Lily was still alive, and the emerald-green Evans eyes on his chubby face had been unmistakable. Going by the most recent photographs she’d seen, the rest of him was pure Potter, though.
“What’s that to do with me?” she asked, itching to put an end to this conversation that was going nowhere.
“I need your skills, Saturnine. Your keen mind,” Dumbledore said. “Even as a child, you were always intelligent and savvy. You have a perception of this world few witches and wizards have, and this last feat of yours—against Rufus Scrimgeour, no less—only serves to prove my point.
“Our side needs people like you,” Dumbledore continued. “Not to mention your abilities as an Elemental.”
Saturnine could not hide her surprise at that, and she turned to him sharply to see his face; it gave nothing away. How the old rascal had found out about that, she had no idea. Surely, Remus would never have broken her trust, and she didn’t think Scrimgeour would have made it public, either—not with what she had on him. How, then? How in all the seven hells had Dumbledore figured out she was an Elemental?
“Not a lot gets past me, you know,” the old man said as if to answer her silent question. She could have sworn his blue eyes twinkled as he did, and she felt her blood boil.
More importantly than the ‘how,’ she wanted to know ‘when.’ How long had the old man known what she was? Had he figured it out when she was still a Hogwarts student?
After leaving Scotland, Saturnine had spent years trying to understand who and what she was, never once feeling complete until the missing pieces of the puzzle of her identity slid into place. Could it be that Dumbledore had known all along—and not said anything?
“I refuse,” Saturnine said in a stern voice that brooked no argument. The tips of her fingers tingled with magic, and she was inches away from cursing the man. “I haven’t fought my way out of the Ministry’s clutches to so readily fall into yours, Headmaster.”
She’d done enough, she figured. And she had been hurt enough. She would leave England well alone again and never come back—it was what was best for everyone. Determined to put this aberrant conversation behind her, Saturnine turned on her heel and headed for the park’s exit without even a goodbye.
“Severus,” Dumbledore said softly.
The morning breeze was enough to carry the name to Saturnine’s ears, and she froze in her steps. That one name had stopped her as surely as a Stunning Spell.
“When the time is right, he will need your help to remember who he is,” Dumbledore continued. “No one else will be able to reach that fragile little boy within, I’m afraid. Not even me.”
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.”
To say that Severus Snape was unhappy to return home was perhaps the understatement of the century. The dark-haired wizard hadn’t said a word as he’d exited the Black’s library. He’d remained equally silent as he’d stepped outside onto the front porch.
Draco moved to his side, and Harry followed an instant later with an equally subdued attitude. All three were gone in a flash.
Moments later, they Apparated in the woods next to a river that had seen better days. The thin layer of snow that covered the ground wasn’t enough to hide the litter covering its banks. Mainly, it looked like an assortment of old cans of coke and empty beer bottles.
Draco straightened himself, inconspicuously ensuring that all his limbs were accounted for. Next to him, Harry seemed equally ill-at-ease, and Draco tried to give him an encouraging smile. Neither remarked on the fact that Severus had just effortlessly Side-Along Apparated them both.
Wordlessly, the Potions Master marched forward in the dwindling light of day. He led the way with heavy steps, his boots leaving deep footprints in the fresh snow. Harry and Draco followed dutifully.
The shudder that shook the man’s coat-covered shoulders as the woods cleared and they emerged into a small playpark that had seen better days might have been from the force of the memories or simply from the cold.
Turning to his left, Draco could see the beginning of a town in the distance. It, too, didn’t look like much. A chilly mist hung low over snow-covered rooftops, and an enormous chimney, relic of a disused mill, reared up on one side, shadowy and ominous.
So, this is where the Snapes grew up, he thought. A crappy town in the middle of nowhere with dilapidated brick houses and broken streetlamps. He understood his godfather’s reluctance to return home. He, too, would have preferred to stay well away from a dump like this. And just how far north of the map were they? Draco was shivering, and he pushed his hands deep into the pockets of his trousers to resist the cold.
“Any idea where she hid it?” he asked, more to break the heavy silence than anything else.
Severus remained silent as he moved forward, clearly aiming for the rusty swing set. By his side, Harry was equally quiet and withdrawn. Draco got the feeling he was missing something, and he caught the Gryffindor’s wrist to halt him before he could follow the Potions Master.
“Everything all right?” he asked, low enough that Severus wouldn’t hear.
Harry shook his head. “Been here before,” he replied in a similar tone. “With my aunt and uncle.”
Draco felt his eyebrows arch. “Really?”
“Took me a while to place the name, but yeah. The summer of my eleventh birthday.” He paused, swallowed nervously, then added. “I think that’s where my mother and aunt grew up.”
Draco’s head swivelled around to lock onto Severus. The dark-haired wizard was busy inspecting the swing set, oblivious to their little chat. “In the same town where the Snapes grew up?”
Harry nodded before saying tensely, “A small town like this can’t have more than one school, and Severus and my mom were born the same year. There’s no way they didn’t know each other back then.”
Shite, he thought, the implications of that revelation are huge. And Draco knew how sensitive a subject this was to Harry. He took a step closer to him and reached an arm around his shoulders in comfort. Harry was shivering, too, he discovered.
“I—uh—I don’t think it’s the time to bring that up,” Draco said hesitantly. “Maybe wait until we get back to Hogwarts, okay?”
Harry’s eyes were a bit too bright behind his round glasses, but he nodded eventually. Draco was reluctant to move away from him, but Harry took the choice from him when he walked away. Draco followed suit, staying slightly closer than he typically would.
When they neared the old swing set, they discovered that Severus had climbed on one of the swings to reach for the top bar of the rusty iron A-frame that held the whole contraption together. Severus held himself upright with one hand and used the other to unscrew the cap placed at the top iron bar’s extremity. He let the cap fall to the floor and reached inside the tube with two fingers. A moment later, he pulled out a swath of folded parchment that neither time nor rain had altered. It had been charmed to remain intact, and Draco’s hope surged. Whatever it was, it had to be Saturnine’s get-out-of-jail-free card.
Back in the Hogwarts’ dungeons, Harry wasn’t sure what to do. He’d known that Saturnine knew his mother. But Harry had never thought to ask Severus about it. If he had, would the man have told him the truth? Or would he have pretended that he’d first met Lily Evans at Hogwarts, as Saturnine did? And why the charade? What had Saturnine said again? he wondered as he tried to recall their earliest discussion on the subject—that not only did her life hang in the balance but that someone else’s did, too? Had she meant Severus?
Harry couldn’t see how Saturnine revealing that she had known Lily at a young age could ever have put Severus in any danger. But clearly, he didn’t know half of the story. That thought stirred something dark and foul within him: a ball of anger and discontent that had been smouldering for too long. He was tired of being kept in the dark by adults who thought they knew better than he did. He thought that would have ended when he’d turned seventeen. But he was apparently doomed to that kind of behaviour for the rest of his life.
Severus hadn’t been more talkative on the way back from the Midlands than on the way in, and they had reconvened to his rooms in silence, each lost in his own thoughts. The parchments had been Saturnine’s; a mere glance at the handwriting that covered the first page dispelled any doubts they might have had. They hadn’t risked reading them in the open, and Severus had tucked them in his robes’ pocket before Apparating them back to Scotland.
Now that they stood in his living room, he unfolded the lot and placed them flat atop the coffee table. There were seven sheets altogether, Harry counted. But only the first was in her handwriting; the others were in that of a stranger.
Although a warm fire flickered merrily in the grate at his back, the chill that had seeped into Harry’s bones in Cokeworth hadn’t left him. Saturnine had her secrets—she’d never made a secret of that—and Harry had a feeling they had just stumbled onto a big one. Looking at the idle sheets of parchment on the table, he felt dread and apprehension rise inside of him, and he almost wished they’d returned empty-handed.
Draco reached out for the first parchment on the pile, and he read it aloud.
London, April 18th, 1996.
My name is Saturnine Eileen Snape, and the documents attached to this letter are my insurance policy against the Ministry of Magic’s Head of Auror Office, Rufus Scrimgeour.
For nearly eight years, I have been forced by Auror Scrimgeour to perform various tasks ranging from housebreaking to witness intimidation. To my knowledge, the various assignments I was asked to undertake were always kept off the official records. And I do not doubt that my name will be absent from the Ministry’s copious files, as if I had never existed or worked for its judicial body. And yet I have, under fear of being sentenced to life in Azkaban for no other crime than merely existing.
Through no fault of my own, I was born an Elemental, a fact that Auror Scrimgeour realised in the autumn of 1988 when he investigated the rescue of a Muggle child who fell from a balcony from the top floor of a five-storey building. His interrogation of the witnesses led him to believe that nothing, save for Elemental Magic, could have explained the air displacement that occurred that afternoon, cushioned the boy’s fall, and set him safely back to the ground. His instincts were right and picked up on a split-second decision on my part done with no other thought than that of saving a child’s life. Left with mere seconds to act, I chose the surest route to success—one that didn’t require the use of a wand.
Luckily, no wizards or witches had been present that day, and the Muggles’ recollections were convoluted at best. When I steadfastly refused to admit to anything more than a simple Levitation Charm, Auror Scrimgeour was left with no other choice than to let me go, with the Ministry’s official thanks for my heroics. But, unbeknownst to me, he kept a close eye on me from then on. And when he was elected Head of the Auror Office in 1989, he sought me out again and used what he had found to force me to do his dirty work. Given my precarious position and his position of power, there was no doubt that any refusal on my part would have resulted in a one-way ticket to Azkaban. Furthermore, Auror Rufus Scrimgeour made several threats to my brother’s life and to that of my best friend’s. They were both in a precarious position which ensured my obedience.
Left with no other options, I did as I was told and broke into the homes he designated by using my powers to reach for windows otherwise impossible to get to. I sent powerful gales of winds after cowering witches to frighten them into doing whatever Auror Rufus Scrimgeour expected from them. And I spied from the skies on secret meetings and discreetly followed wizards the Head of Auror Office monitored.
Elemental Magic is somewhat removed from Traditional Magic. So, my many break-ins were never detected by conventional Security Charms, and my spying was never detected. The irony wasn’t lost on me that the difference for which I had been singled-out, which had garnered me the promise of a sentence worse than death, had suddenly become a valuable tool that Auror Rufus Scrimgeour was all too eager to use and abuse.
I do not kid myself into thinking that the missions I participated in were in line with the official Auror Office’s directives or even sanctioned by the Ministry. But as far as I know, they never resulted in anyone’s death. Nor did they cause undue harm to innocent witches and wizards. Despite his more than questionable methods, Rufus Scrimgeour was devoted to the pursuit of justice, and his misuse of my talents only sought to secure the condemnations of known criminals. I would not have stood for it otherwise, and I think he knew it.
Nevertheless, I yearned to have my freedom returned to me and to see the threats on my loved ones’ lives lifted. For years, I have sought to garner evidence of what was happening within the Ministry. But Auror Scrimgeour was nothing if not diligent in his obsession with secrecy. It has taken me seven years to garner the necessary documents to guarantee my freedom, and I am enclosing them with this letter.
I plan on hiding these documents where Rufus Scrimgeour will never think to look for them, and my next move will be to confront him and demand that he return me my freedom. Hopefully, he will see reason, and this matter will be settled. If not, and if this letter is to become my testament, let it be known that I am sincerely sorry for my actions. I never sought to cause harm to anyone and would have done things differently had I had a choice.
Saturnine E. Snape
P.S. To my brother dearest: should you ever read those lines, I am sorry for how we left things. I love you—always.
The letter had been humbling to read and answered many of their most pressing questions. The postscript had been a knife to the heart for Severus. He’d left the room soon afterwards, retreating to the sanctuary of his bedroom—probably to lick his wounds in private. Draco could understand that.
That left him and Harry the task of reviewing the various documents littering the coffee table.
“As far as I can tell, it’s copies of an old case file,” Harry said. “From 1990—a murder investigation. There’s two pages of a witness report and four pages of what seems to be a daily recap of the Aurors’ investigation.”
Draco grabbed a sheet at random and scanned it; his eyes caught a familiar name. “Harriet Blum?” he said aloud. “It’s the case of Harriet Blum.”
Harry looked at him, puzzled. “Who’s that?”
“Haven’t you ever heard of her?” Draco asked, surprised. “Everyone knows about this.”
Harry raised his hand and waved it in Draco’s face. “Raised in the Muggle world, remember?”
“Oh! Right,” he said. “You wouldn’t have heard about her then, I guess. I was only ten back then, but I remember some of it. The gruesomeness of her murder caused quite the uproar within the wizarding community. The investigation was heavily followed by the press. Harriet was the same age I was. So, Mother took an interest. She started telling my father what she read about it at dinner.”
“How was she killed?”
“Dark Magic,” Draco answered, shuddering at the memories that arose in him. He’d been too young to hear of such things, he now realised—no wonder he’d had so many nightmares about it. “She was eviscerated and left naked in a pool of her own blood atop her bed, her blond hair fanned out around her, with a crown of daisy flowers placed above her head. Once the press printed that description on their front page, they had every witch of childbearing age in the country hooked on the case—everyone wanted justice for little Harriet.
“The investigation lasted for months, and it seemed to go nowhere. The father was suspected for a while, and a relative, too—an uncle maybe, or a cousin. I can’t remember now. Mother thought they would never find the culprit until they did. It was a neighbour well-versed in the Dark Arts—and more than a little psycho.”
“Do you think Saturnine had something to do with that arrest?” Harry asked. “That she broke into that guy’s house or something?”
“Probably,” Draco replied. “Otherwise, why would she have used that case as her safe conduit?”
“But it’s such an old case,” Harry remarked. “1990—it must have been around the time she started working for Scrimgeour.”
“Maybe that’s exactly why she chose that case—if it was one of the early ones. Maybe Scrimgeour’s system wasn’t as perfect as it was in later years. Maybe he made a beginner’s mistake somewhere.” Reaching for one of the interview reports, Draco’s eyes settled on Scrimgeour’s name. “He was the lead investigator on the case,” he explained, nodding at the document in his hand. “That’s him interrogating the witness, James Batterfoil.” He reached for the second interrogation report. “Same thing with that one. And it’s the same witness, too, only dated three months later.”
“Start with those,” Harry instructed. “I’ll read the daily reports. Then we’ll switch. Hopefully, we’ll figure out what Scrimgeour did.”
With an idea of what to look for, it wasn’t too difficult to find the relevant passages and understand that the damning evidence that had cracked the case had been planted by someone close to the investigation. James Batterfoil’s witness statement accounted for the man’s utter surprise at discovering that petals of the same rare variety of daisy flowers that had been found on Harriet Blum had been found in a cache in his bedroom. A cache that had been overlooked somehow by the first team of investigators that had searched his home—a cache Batterfoil seemed equally surprised to discover even existed.
Looking at the day-to-day briefing, written in lead investigator Rufus Scrimgeour’s hand, it was easy to understand the sheer desperation to which he had been driven. Harassed by the press, pressured by his superiors for results, hounded by grieving parents who desperately pleaded him for answers, he’d been at the end of his rope before the stroke of luck that hit the Auror Office. Worse, he’d been sure of Batterfoil’s guilt from that very first interview of the man. Something in his gut was screaming at him that he’d found his man—only he hadn’t had the evidence to prove it.
His desperation had led him to transcribe sentences like, “if only we could find something to incriminate him,” and “it would only take a single petal.”
And, indeed, daisy petals had been all it took to seal Batterfoil’s fate—and Scrimgeour’s. With her usual determination, Saturnine had combed through everything and anything until she’d found her way out, lost amongst a sea of paperwork, overlooked by everyone, save for her rapacious Ravenclaw eyes.
In the right hands, these documents would have sent Scrimgeour straight to Azkaban. And even now that the man was dead, they still held power. If she ever were to go to war with the Ministry, they would lend credence to her accusations. And in the court of public opinion, they would discredit the Auror Office and cause many a conviction to be questioned. It was the kind of nightmare no one wanted, especially in times as dire as the ones they lived in, when the Ministry was already put in the pillory for the way it had dealt with the return of Voldemort and its lack of efficiency in the matter.
“We should tell Severus,” Draco said as he stacked the papers in a neat pile in the centre of the table. It had taken them well over two hours to review everything, and their Potions professor had yet to give them a sign of life. Either he was asleep, or he was still not ready to face them.
“Do you want to?” Harry asked hesitantly.
Draco shook his head. “I think you two need to talk,” he said. “I’m gonna turn in. Wake me up if you need to when you come back.”
Harry nodded before turning to the hallway that led to Severus’ bedroom. He had no idea how to go about it, and he told himself that he would tell the man what they had found first. He would then see if he could muster the nerve to ask him about his mom. Gryffindor or not, it still required a unique brand of courage to demand anything from Severus Snape.
He knocked twice on the door and said, “It’s me, Harry. We—uh—we found something.”
For a long time, there was no answer. Then Severus’ voice magically crossed through the pane of wood and sound charms with two words: “Come in.”
The young Gryffindor could tell the bedroom had been cleaned despite the dim light of a single candle-lamp burning on the nightstand. It even smelled better; either the house-elves had been allowed back in, or Severus had Scourgified the room from floor to ceiling.
Said wizard was sitting on the bed—his bed—wearing a black cotton shirt and a thin, loose pair of sweatpants. There was a closed book next to his hip, and Harry surmised he must have been reading it when he’d interrupted. Severus was lying down atop the coverlet with his back against a pile of pillows, and Harry could see that he was tense, despite the projected impression of a relaxed state.
Though he had not been allowed to, Harry came further inside the room, and he sat down on the edge of Saturnine’s bed.
“The documents are from an old Auror case,” he began. “A murder investigation—Harriet Blum.” Harry could tell the name rang a bell with the Potions Master, and he continued. “Reading between the lines, it’s clear the evidence that had the killer convicted was planted by the Auror investigating the case.”
Harry nodded. “If this is ever made public, it’ll be one hell of a mess for the Ministry to clean up.”
“I’ll look it over tomorrow,” Severus said with very little inflexion in his voice.
“Good—we’ve left it all on the coffee table.”
Severus nodded. Harry knew that if he wanted to end things there, he would need to leave, but he couldn’t bring himself to move. He couldn’t bring himself to speak, either.
“Is everything okay between you and Remus?” he asked at last instead. “I mean—no worse than usual?” His questioning only postponed the inevitable, but Harry was genuinely curious to know the answer. Severus had stayed behind a long time to talk to his old Defence professor privately, and he and Draco hadn’t heard any shouting or cursing coming from the library. So, the two wizards must have—talked?
Severus sighed and seemed to relax a fraction. “I will never forgive him for what he did to me—or for what he let Black and Potter do,” Severus said cautiously. “But I think I can learn to tolerate the man he is today.”
Harry felt both of his eyebrows rise; that, coming from Severus Snape, was like a ringing endorsement. Whatever had happened in that library had been life-changing.
“That—that’s good,” he said. “I’m glad, really.”
Severus shrugged a shoulder noncommittally, and a pregnant silence fell over them.
“Are we going to talk about it, then?” Harry asked when the silence had stretched for too long. “Or will we pretend that nothing’s happened, and I’m still a clueless, ignorant little child?”
“You’d heard the name before?” Severus asked with little emotion.
Harry breathed a bit easier with the man’s decision to face the truth. “Been to that town before, actually,” he replied. “Just once, when I was eleven. The Dursleys sought to escape the Hogwarts’ letters that kept pouring into their mailbox.”
“Mine and Saturnine’s hometown,” Severus said, crossing his arms loosely over his chest as he stared at a fixed point on the wall ahead of him.
“My mother’s, too,” Harry added. The man nodded. “You knew her then—before Hogwarts, I mean.”
Harry waited to see if Severus would offer anything more, but he remained silent. The young Gryffindor had the strange impulse to go and shake him until the truth rattled out of him like loose spare parts.
Reining his wildest instincts, Harry sat up and moved to Severus’ bed, where he sat down atop the lower half of the mattress. The potioneer bent his knees to make some room for him before sitting and crossing his legs.
“Tell me about her, Severus, please,” Harry demanded. “I know so little.”
And Severus did.
He spoke in a cautious, hesitant voice that was miles from what Harry was used to hearing. His honest, open voice left very little out of the story. He did stop several times, though, having become either lost in his recollection or overcome by his emotions.
Harry never once interrupted him, and Severus carried the conversation well into the night. He took them through his bourgeoning friendship with Lily in Cokeworth and her first encounter with magic. Severus spoke of their shared excitement at the prospect of attending Hogwarts and the debacle that followed when Lily was Sorted into Gryffindor, and he, into Slytherin—two houses at odds with each other since time immemorial. While their friendship survived their first couple of years, it struggled with the strain that resulted from the actions of the Marauders, and it was with a voice choked with tears that Severus told Harry what finally sent his friendship with Lily six feet under.
Harry expected him to leave the story at that, but Severus kept going. He wrapped up his final years at Hogwarts and quickly brushed over his induction within Voldemort’s ranks and his parting of ways with his sister. He managed to continue until 1980 when he applied for a job at Hogwarts. And then his voice gave out on him.
Harry hadn’t asked for this much, but he’d listened to everything with rapt attention. Still, he found it strange that Severus got so worked up about something as mundane as a failed job interview. Harry sensed that he was missing out on something vital, and that made him curious. Looking up, he tried catching Severus’ gaze, but the man kept looking down at the hands he’d clasped in his lap, his face all but hidden behind a curtain of thin black hair.
His knuckles had whitened from the strain, Harry saw. Nothing so far had made Severus react this way, and there had been some pretty low points to his story. So, whatever happened next had to be deeply upsetting. Reaching out for Severus’ pale fingers, Harry clasped them, hoping to give the man the strength he needed to continue.
Severus’ whole body shook as if he’d been jolted by a spell when their fingers touched. A wet gasp of surprise escaped his lips, and the sniffing noises that followed told Harry that he had to be fighting tears behind his curtain of dark hair. He held on slightly more tightly to the man’s hands as he said in the kindest, most encouraging tone he could muster, “Tell me what happened next.”
Severus spoke in a voice so broken that Harry hardly recognised it as his; between sniffs, he admitted to overhearing Trelawney’s interview and part of the prophecy she made that day. Gasping, shuddering, and almost bent in half, Severus explained how eager he’d been to report back to the Dark Lord with what he’d heard to garner his master’s approval, never once imagining that he had just sealed his best friend’s fate.
Then he told Harry how he learned, months later, that the Dark Lord had sanctioned the assassination of James and Lily Potter’s son—all because of a few words he’d overhead in a room above the bar at the Hog’s Head Inn.
“I begged him not to,” Severus said brokenly with what little breath he had left. “Even though I knew it wouldn’t make a difference. Then I went to the only person I thought could help me.”
“Professor Dumbledore,” Harry said, his voice barely louder than Severus’.
“I begged him, too,” he added through his pain. “Begged him to protect her and told him I’d do anything—anything if he would help me. And he said he would. He promised me that he would.”
Severus was shaking his head, and Harry could see the lines of agony that ran through his face with every swing of his hair.
“I’m so sorry,” he continued, finally looking up and meeting Harry’s gaze for the first time since he’d begun this chapter of the story. In Severus’ obsidian gaze, Harry found a pain as deep as the ocean and regret enough to drown in. “I never—I—I never wanted this. I’m so sorry.”
At that moment, Harry felt that he had finally met Severus Snape for the first time. Looking into the man’s tear-filled eyes was like looking into his soul. And Harry saw nothing but agony and shame in them. Beneath his veneer of strength and collected attitude, Severus was nothing but raw pain on the inside. And he had been for years—all because of a stupid decision made in a moment of weakness. An error he had tried to atone for, for years, by inviting yet more pain upon himself.Harry felt his heart tear apart for him, and he did the only thing he could think of. He reached forward to hug Severus as hard as he could. It was the potioneer’s undoing, and what little of him remained standing collapsed in Harry’s arms as he shook and openly wept from years of repressed pain, a litany of apologies pouring from him while a river of tears cascaded down his cheeks.
When Severus awoke three hours later, Harry was still where he’d been when the Potions Master had finally succumbed to the day’s exhaustion—asleep in his arms. Severus had heard about cathartic releases, but he’d never imagined them to be this powerful—nor this cleansing. He felt like his soul had been purified by the sea of tears that had submerged him, and even after hours of sleep, he still had a hard time getting a grip on the raging emotions that had been shaken loose by the waves.
Severus had never told anyone the whole story of his sad little life, and he never thought he would ever have the strength to do it—least of all to Lily Evans’ son.
Looking down at the boy’s head resting against his chest, he couldn’t help but feel an outpouring of love for that jumbled mess of dark locks—for that kind-hearted teenager who had given him the compassion the world so often refused him and the forgiveness he didn’t think he deserved.
Lily and James’ son—the living embodiment of his mother’s kindness and his father’s strong-mindedness, and the proud recipient of a double helping of Gryffindor courage. Severus’ child now, too—just as much as Draco was. His and Saturnine’s boys—forever and always. They were a family not bound by blood but by love. Their household was missing its fourth member and it was high time he went and got her back.
While he watched Harry sleep, Severus readied his next steps in his head. He would go straight to the top with copies of the documents Saturnine had collected. Severus would go to Minister Pius Thicknesse because talking to Thicknesse was like talking to his former master—the Dark Lord. There he would state his demands: the immediate release of Saturnine and dismissal of the fake evidence incriminating her. Or the report would go next to Rita Skeeter and the magical ink presses of the Daily Prophet.
While he wasn’t abreast of the Dark Lord’s plans anymore, Severus knew the snake wouldn’t have bothered to secure Thicknesse’s cooperation for nothing. Tom Riddle had plans for the Ministry, and the resurgence of the Harriet Blum report could put a wrench in those. So, it would come down to a choice of the lesser of two evils for him. And Severus could only hope that Voldemort was more interested in his long-term schemes than his personal vendetta against what remained of the Snape bloodline.
Without waking Harry, Severus got to his feet and dressed in his usual clothes. Glancing at the frame on the wall, he saw that it had snowed in Cokeworth sometime during the night, and their footsteps had disappeared under a white blanket. It was as if the three of them had never visited.
On his way out, he stopped by the second bedroom and checked on Draco. His godson was equally asleep, and he brushed a lock of blond hair from his face before leaning down to place a kiss on his brow. Standing back up, he caught sight of his old, battered copy of The Return of the King on the bedside table. He frowned; that trilogy had always given him mixed feelings—the fate of the whole world resting on the frail shoulders of a single man—and his gardener? Had it been up to him, he’d have sooner cut his wand-hand than sent Frodo and Sam alone in Mordor. Merciful Merlin, he’d have gone there himself—same as he chose to tempt the Fates alone today while Harry and Draco slept peacefully in Hogwarts, unaware of the risks he assumed on their behalf.
Saturnine awoke with a gasp and shivered in the cold. She was covered in sweat, and the small, frayed cotton blanket that was the Ministry’s finest bed linen did little to repel the cold that seemed to seep in from the concrete floor and walls. She looked around the cell she’d been in for the past—what was it now—two weeks? she asked herself. It took her longer than it should have to get her bearings. Only moments ago, she’d been back in Cokeworth—a small child once more with arms too weak to carry her brother’s deadweight and fingers too small to staunch his bleeding wounds adequately.
Sitting up, she passed a wary hand over her neck and frowned when it came away wet. She was drenched in sweat. “Blasted nightmares,” she muttered to the darkness. She hadn’t had one of those in years. But the recent change in accommodation had triggered their return.
Looking at the small eight-by-eight window that was her only indicator of the time passing, she saw that dawn had not yet broken outside. It was too early to get up; too early to think—and yet, she had nothing else to do.
She’d think of something else, then. Not Cokeworth—never Cokeworth. She’d think of the boys and imagine them discreetly smiling at her in the Great Hall when they came in for breakfast. Imagine them sitting in her classroom, listening with rapt attention and taking a copious number of notes—a clear display of the ‘best behaviour’ approach they had chosen to take to their Potions and Defence classes this year.
She was surprised when the lock on the door of her cell clicked open, and she sat up straighter. Two Aurors she had never seen before came in with sombre faces, and she stood up.
“Come with us,” the younger of the two said, pointing his wand at her.
She felt the hairs at the back of her neck rise; something in their behaviour was off. They didn’t carry themselves with the relaxed stance the others Aurors had when they’d taken her to be interrogated by Talio. These two were on the defensive, as if they expected her to want to fight back for some reason.
“Where are you taking me?” she demanded.
“Auror Talio wants to see you,” the second man replied.
“That’s who, not where,” she pointed out.
The man gave an impatient twitch of his wand. “Come with us, and you’ll find out.”
Drawing in a few centring breaths, Saturnine got going, taking a slot in-between the two burly wizards. A wand was pressed firmly to the middle of her back. Feeling like a lamb led to slaughter, she focused on her core magic and what lay beyond. If they intended to kill her, she’d put up a fight—one they wouldn’t see coming.
The dark-haired Auror led them through meandering corridors and a flight of stairs, and Saturnine was surprised to feel fresh air hit her face when he pushed open a door and stepped through. She followed him outside and was blinded momentarily by the hues of orange and pink that unexpectedly greeted her in the distance. It was early morning, and the sun had not yet fully risen. But after days of sitting in a dark cell, it hurt her eyes just the same.
They were on the Ministry building’s rooftop, and the air was crisp and cold around her. The floor ahead of her feet was covered in a thin layer of fresh snow, and light banks of fog disturbed the horizon in the distance.
The wand at her back prodded her forward, and Saturnine started walking again. Talio was waiting for them a little ahead, mere feet away from the ledge and the void that lay beyond.
“So nice of you to join us,” he said, with an expression that betrayed the utter rottenness of the man inside. “A fine morning to die, don’t you think?”
Saturnine stared at him with wonderment, unable to accept the sudden change. She had anticipated the animosity. And the fabricated evidence hadn’t been that surprising to see, given her history with the Aurors corps. But outright murder? She hadn’t seen that move coming and couldn’t begin to imagine how Talio would explain that to his superiors. There might be some rotten apples within the Ministry, all the way to the top level, but honest wizards and witches remained within the Wizengamot. Surely the death of a suspect under arrest would raise some eyebrows.
“So, what is this?” she asked, watching as her words turned into fog in the crisp morning air. “A suicide, or my failed attempt to escape captivity?”
“The latter, I’m afraid. It turns out that you weren’t that clever in the end,” Talio replied. “Fear not; I will make sure your brother knows. I will personally see to that.”
The time for pretence was over, and Saturnine pinned the short silver-haired wizard with the coldest gaze she could muster. “You lay a finger on my brother, you piece of crap, and I will turn you to dust.”
The Auror’s only answer was to reach for his wand and aim it at her body. A flick of his wrist later, and Saturnine floated over the edge in a full Body Bind.
“I’ll make sure to let him know you said goodbye,” Talio said before he sent her tumbling to her death.
The Body Binding Spell was lifted at the same moment as the Levitating Charm, and Saturnine had only seconds to react. Forcing her body to take a horizontal stance, she extended both of her arms ahead of herself, even as she reached deep within for the primal magic that she knew to be there. It was a force more ancient than magic—a primitive beast deep within that yearned to be loose. The Ministry’s spells might hamper her from using regular magic, but the binding bonds around her wrists were powerless against the raw power of Elemental Conjuring. The ancient, secular force was beyond the Ministry’s understanding.
Air and water were the elements with which she was most comfortable. Always present in ample quantities around her, they required no creation—only manipulation. The action necessary to alter the course of the morning winds was so instinctual, it was almost thoughtless. In a split second, a gulf of wind cocooned her and slowed the speed of her fall by half. A quick calculation of distance and estimation of velocity later, and Saturnine landed standing, both feet touching the ground simultaneously without even a jolt.
“An interesting turn of events,” Talio commented, emerging from the shadows at the base of the building. He had Apparated to the grounds and seen her display of Elemental Magic. Saturnine cursed inwardly realising this had been a test all along.
So, Talio had gotten to the truth, after all. She wasn’t sure what surprised her the most: the fact that the idiot facing her had possessed the intelligence to find it or that Scrimgeour had been careless enough to leave behind some evidence.
“How?” she demanded, her curiosity overruling her sense of self-preservation.
“I knew something was off with you the moment I saw you,” Talio said, flexing his wrist again. The Body Bind returned. “A Snape working for the Ministry—what a joke. A Half-Blood and the sister of a known Death Eater? I knew Scrimegeour, and he would never have allowed it. Not without a good reason.” He levitated her, and she felt her feet dragging in the snow as she was forced closer to the man. “I searched deep within the archives for something that explained your filthy presence within our ranks but could find nothing. But the absence of evidence is proof, isn’t it?”
“How?” she repeated through her clenched teeth. She was now standing inches away from Talio, and the temptation to siphon the air from around his head was damn tempting. Or she could always use the water from the snow around them to drown him. Right now, both solutions seemed equally appealing. But she had to know the answer to her question first.
“Rufus Scrimgeour was careful to conceal your presence and activity, but the salary slips attested that you did indeed work for us, even if it looked like you were little more than a ghost. And so, I looked deeper. I went further back until your name appeared again: Saturnine Eileen Snape, the brave witch who saved a Muggle child’s life nine years ago.”
Saturnine would be tempted to say she regretted her actions; her good deed had certainly caused her much grief over the years. But the truth was, she didn’t. She had saved that boy’s life, and if she had to make the same choice again—knowing what she did now—she would, in a heartbeat.
“Imagine my surprise when I read the notes the lead investigator made on you back then. Of course, those never made it into his final report. But the daily parchments weren’t purged of the truth.”
Saturnine could do little more than glare at him.
“I wonder if it’s a congenital anomaly that runs in the family,” Talio mused darkly. “Perhaps we should test that theory by throwing your brother off a rooftop to see what happens.”
“That won’t be necessary, Auror Talio,” someone said behind her back. The newcomer’s voice was mellow and had a sleepy quality to it.
Saturnine wished she could turn around to see who it was, but the bindings held her in place.
Talio saved her the trouble from having to guess who it was. “Mi—minister?” he stammered in surprise. “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”
“Some most unfortunate news has come to my attention,” the Minister for Magic Pius Thicknesse said, approaching them. Saturnine could see his profile in her peripheral vision now. Judging by the blank look on his face and vacant expression in his eyes, he was Imperiused.
“Unfortunate news, Minister?” Talio asked, clearly thrown by the turn of events.
“Regarding the nature of your investigation, the pertinence of some of your evidence, and the way you obtained it,” Thicknesse continued in the same sleepy monotone.
“I—uh—I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, Minister,” Talio said, and Saturnine could see his brain short-circuiting behind his eyes. This clearly was not how he’d expected the day to go.
“I’m fairly certain you do, Auror Talio,” Thickness said. “And I must ask you to release this witch and send her home at once.”
“Minister!” Talio protested, aghast. “But—my orders, sir. I mean, she’s a Snape,” he added, as if her mere surname was explanation enough to warrant special treatment. Oh, yes, she thought, Severus did make an impression.
“I am well aware,” Thicknesse said. “However, I assure you that your foolhardiness is drawing undue attention to matters that would best remain shadowed.” He took a step closer, lifted his wand, and removed the spell that had Saturnine immobilised. “This vendetta ends today,” Thicknesse concluded. “So, it has been decided.”
Though carefully worded, it was easy to read between the lines—the Dark Lord himself was ordering them to stand down. Saturnine slumped forward slightly—whether from the lack of binding or in relief, she couldn’t tell. She had no idea how Severus had done it—for she was sure that it was his doing—but he’d managed to get Voldemort to back off.
Once her wand was returned to her, she Apparated away without so much as a goodbye.
Apprehension permeated the Hogwarts’ Potions Master’s quarters later that morning. Three wizards sat in stone-cold silence in the living room, a teapot forgotten in the middle of the coffee table—cups with turgid liquid long since gone cold held between clenched fingers.
“What did he say again?” Draco asked. His voice, though subdued, was loud in the silence.
“That he would take it under consideration,” Severus replied through clenched teeth.
“That’s politician talk for ‘I’ll ask the Dark Lord about it and get back to you’,” Draco said. “At least you got out of there alive.”
Severus snorted, and Harry clenched his fists a little tighter. He’d freaked out something fierce when he woke up alone and realised the man was gone, and he had taken the documents on the Harriet Blum case with him. Draco had been equally appalled when Harry woke him up.
It was a no-brainer to ascertain where Severus had gone. Whether he’d be coming back, though, had been up in the air.
“You shouldn’t have gone there alone,” Harry said in a tone so dark, it surprised even himself.
In his periphery vision, he saw Severus turn to him in surprise. He couldn’t look at him, though, and he kept staring at the corner of the coffee table instead. “You could have died,” he murmured. “They could just as easily have killed you.”
“It was a calculated risk,” Severus tried to explain.
“Calculated—my arse!” Harry shouted back, his anger rising. Damn, but he was tired of adults who thought they knew better, making decisions left and right as if they held the answer to everything. “It was sheer dumb luck, Severus, and you know it. Don’t insult us by pretending otherwise.”
“Harry,” Severus said in warning.
“Don’t Harry me like I’m some stupid child,” he roared back, getting to his feet with an overwhelming impulse to punch someone. “I’m tired of people telling me what to do.”
“It’s okay, Harry,” Draco tried in a placating tone. “Severus came back.”
“It’s not okay,” Harry rounded on him, his anger reaching boiling lava levels. “It’s nowhere near okay. Can’t you see, Draco? He could have died.” At those words, the fight went out of him as quickly as it had arrived, and he turned to the dark-haired wizard with a forlorn expression.
“You could have died, Severus,” he muttered, feeling the beginning of tears prickling at his eyes. “Where would that have left us, huh? Did you even think of that? Of Draco and me? What losing you would have done to us?”
“Harry, I—” Severus started, hesitating.
Harry didn’t give him a chance to finish. “You didn’t! You didn’t,” he repeated before slumping back down in his seat. “You just left us behind, like she did.”
“And I’m terribly sorry for it, lad,” Saturnine said from the entrance door. Harry’s head whipped to the left so quickly that there was an audible creaking noise. He was on his feet and running towards her in one instant, Draco hot on his heels. They hadn’t heard her coming in over Harry’s shouting.
A moment later, Saturnine was down on one knee with an armful of brown-haired Gryffindor on one side and blond Slytherin on the other. But her gaze was impossibly locked on the dark-haired wizard who sat shock-frozen on the armchair with an utterly broken look. She mouthed a silent “thank you” to him before kissing both boys’ heads in turn.
Saturnine awoke to the sound of her brother snoring lightly—not that Severus Snape would ever admit to such a thing. She contemplated how lucky she was—how lucky they all were. The dark-haired witch had been back for a few days. But she hadn’t yet returned to the loneliness of her personal quarters on the third floor. Nor had she barely left Severus’ side since. Nor had he left hers. She had returned to teaching her classes immediately, thanking her colleagues, who had stepped in to buffer her absence. But those were the only moments she spent out of the dungeons until the beginning of the winter holidays.
Since classes had ended, the four of them found many excuses to spend the maximum amount of time together. The weather was too bad to go outside, and the castle was too draughty to be comfortable. So, it was better to stay by the warm hearth in Severus’ living room. There was barely anyone staying over for the holidays. So, why bother showing up in the Great Hall for meals when it was so simple to order straight from the kitchens and eat in their kitchenette? It was as if the four of them shared an irrepressible need to be in each other’s vicinity. As if it was the only way they knew how to alleviate the fear—to reassure themselves that the others were here and safe.
There were many conversations, too—sometimes long into the night. Saturnine shared with her brother the highlights of her stay at Hotel Ministry and the appalling manners of its maître d’, and Severus filled her in on the D.A.’s impromptu return and the events that followed his trip to Cokeworth. Then they shared with Harry and Draco the next steps in their plan to defeat Voldemort.
Saturnine stretched her limbs beneath the blanket before sitting up, and her eyes darted to the enchanted frame above Severus’ bed. Their childhood playpark was covered in snow, as it had been since the beginning of December. She had put the frame up on a whim, not considering what she’d hidden in that swing set. She needed something to decorate her brother’s room and thought he might appreciate the nod to the place that had been their safe haven when they were younger. Now, it was never coming off.
Pushing the blanket off herself, she got up and silently made her way to her brother’s bed. She climbed in, sat by his torso, and poked him in the shoulder until a bleary obsidian eye blinked open.
“Wake up, sleepyhead,” she said, poking him again for good measure.
Whatever Severus’ reply was, it was completely muffled when he buried his face in the pillow. Saturnine chuckled and resumed her attempt at rousing him using Morse code. A clumsy hand rose to bat her finger away, but it was a half-hearted attempt at best.
Relinquishing the hope to sleep longer, Severus resigned himself to waking up and turned on his side to glare at the intrusive little sister who had so rudely awoken him.
“You’re adorable, you know, when you try to look all mean like that,” she said fondly. “Some things never change and a sleepy Severus will always be a cute Severus.”
“I don’t do cute,” he mumbled through a yawn. He might have intended his words to sound scathing or derisive. But his voice was as half-asleep as he was, and the protest came out meekly.
The potioneer’s reticent attitude was rewarded with a peck on the cheek.
“Was there something you wanted, ’Nine?” he asked with feigned exasperation. “Or did you just wake up on the annoying side of the bed this morning?”
“What day is it?” she demanded.
“I don’t know. Thursday?”
“Sev,” she said, tempted to poke him again. He had to know—right?
“Thursday,” he repeated with more assurance. “Why?”
“The date, you great big pillock.”
“I don’t know.” He seemed to think it through for an entire two seconds before deciding that it wasn’t worth the effort this early in the morning. “Twenty-something or other. Who cares?”
“It’s the 25th, you dolt.”
“So?” he asked, genuinely seeming not to get it.
“December,” she pointed out. “The 25th of December, Severus. Does that ring a jingle bell to you, or is your brain too asleep to catch up?”
His narrowing black eyes, wrinkled, long nose, and frowning lips all disappeared in a sea of unkempt black hair when Severus obtusely pushed his face into the pillow again.
“I was going to sing you a cheery Christmas song, but I fear you might be conscious enough to hex me all the way to the North Pole,” Saturnine said with audible glee. “So, I’ll just settle with wishing you a Merry Christmas, brother-mine.”
A muffled something that might have been, “Merry Christmas to you, too,” came from somewhere beneath the tangled lanky locks.
“I hope you got me something nice,” Saturnine said, hopping off the bed.
Propping himself up on one elbow, Severus pinned her with a twin set of drawn eyebrows. “And where did you expect me to find the time to go shopping for anything?” he asked. “I got you out of jail in time for Christmas. Can’t that count as your gift this year?”
“Well, I was detained at the Ministry for close to two weeks, and then I spent another one catching up with everything I missed. But you’re still getting something,” she said, pulling open the small dresser she had installed next to the bed where she slept and kept some of her stuff. She pulled out a red hoodie, then turned to Severus to ask, “Can I borrow one of your Slytherin scarves? I’m feeling Christmassy for some reason.”
Without awaiting an answer, Saturnine crossed the room to get to his wardrobe. Pulling it open, she rummaged inside until she found what she sought. Turning back on her heel, she looped the green scarf around her neck and stopped dead in her tracks when she noticed that Severus hadn’t moved. He was still half-sitting, half-lying down on his side with a puzzled expression worthy of someone who had just been presented with an Arithmancy problem.
“What is it?” she asked, stepping closer.
The puzzled expression turned cautious. “You got me something?”
Severus seemed so surprised to learn that he was getting a present for Christmas that Saturnine was tempted to hug the daylights out of him. She barely resisted the urge.
Draco awoke with mixed feelings. He wasn’t sure what to think of Christmas anymore. As a child, he had loved the holiday—of course he had. If there was one thing the Malfoys did better than anyone else, it was Christmases and birthdays. Nothing was too big or too expensive for the most affluent family of Wizarding Britain, and Draco had been spoilt rotten.
But the naïve little boy had grown up. The bitter harshness of reality caught up with him, and he learned that no amount of glitter or wrapping paper could replace happiness. Once he got to that point, the mandatory yearly display of decadent extravaganza felt as hollow as it was meaningless.
And so it was that Draco wasn’t sure what to expect from this year’s Christmas. It would be his first out of Malfoy Manor and his first without a Galleon to his name. It had been a drag to come up with gifts for the Snape siblings and Harry. And he felt the painful bite of shame when he thought of the meagre presents hidden at the bottom of his trunk. But it had been the best he could do.
Sitting up in his bed, he tried to shift his thoughts to a better angle. This Christmas would be his first with his new family. While he wasn’t sure where Severus stood on the whole ‘let’s celebrate Christmas together’ thing, he was certain Saturnine would arrange something—just as he knew that Harry would be the life of the party.
He was still mulling over his thoughts when Harry shot to his feet with a shout of “Merry Christmas!”
Yep, Draco thought, getting up and stretching his back, there’s the spirit.
Harry got dressed in record time and was out of the door an instant later.
Draco took his time getting ready and brought his presents with him to the living room—though he wasn’t sure what he’d do with them once he got there. Unlike the rest of the castle, Severus’ quarters were auspiciously devoid of Christmas cheer, and in the absence of a tree or ornament of any kind, he didn’t know where to leave his gifts. Bundling them in his arms, he figured he would just hand them in before breakfast. Then he could die of shame while he pretended to suffocate on gingerbread cookies.
He stopped dead in his tracks once he got to the living room, his eyes blinking stupidly at the red and green glow in his face. Severus’ bookshelf was crisscrossed with a magical garland that blinked on and off in alternating seasonal colours. Looking around, Draco saw that the sofa and both armchairs were covered in matching Afghans that held a variety of cartoonish Christmas trees and Santa figures, and a decorated pine tree had been placed next to the fireplace. The poor thing was struggling to stay upright under the sheer weight of all the baubles, garlands, and candles affixed to its branches in a random explosion of colours that held no rhyme or reason.
It was the oddest and most amateurish set of Christmas decorations that Draco had ever seen, but it was equally touching in its sheer honesty and simplicity. The ornaments weren’t grand or ostentatious, and they weren’t there to impress or impart a social status. They were just a rainbow of colours and sparkles meant to celebrate the day.
Moving towards the Christmas tree, Draco found that several gifts had already been placed at its feet. Pushing aside another blinking garland, he set his down next to what he guessed were Harry’s.
“Sweet Mother of Merlin,” Saturnine exclaimed as she arrived with her armload of wrapped boxes. “You guys went a little overboard, didn’t you?”
Her smile turned even brighter when she neared the overstuffed tree. Crouching down, she piled her three boxes beneath one of the lower branches. It seemed close to its breaking point due to the weight of the many garlands intersected on its length.
“It wasn’t me,” Draco said as he sat at the kitchen table to take in the entire living room.
Returning to her feet, Saturnine pinned Harry with a questioning gaze, but he shook his head before joining Draco at the table.
“Me neither,” she said with a puzzled look. She glanced back at the overdone Christmas tree, then up at the closed bedroom door opposite the kitchenette, then back at the tree. Shrugging her shoulders, she chuckled before joining the boys at the kitchen table. A snap of her fingers later, and a bowl of freshly baked Christmas cookies appeared on a large plate.
“The house-elves will bring the rest of your gifts sometime this morning,” she explained before taking a bite.
Harry nodded, wondering how many knitted sweaters would make their way to them this year.
Mr Grinch joined them soon after. To mark the day, Severus had chosen to forgo wearing his frock coat and loosely draped a green scarf around the collar of his white undershirt instead. It was the only concession he seemed willing to make on this special day.
No one commented on the colourful ornaments that had surprisingly popped up in the living room during the night, and Severus nibbled at his cookies without seeming to notice. But there was no missing the slight smirk at the corner of his lips that steadfastly refused to vanish or the relaxed, almost carefree way with which he sat, leaning his shoulder against his sister’s.
Harry had thought long and hard about what to give to his newfound family for Christmas. He’d seen Draco struggle to come up with ideas to suit his meagre means. But the fact that he now had full access to the Potter vaults didn’t make his quest any more straightforward; it made it worse.
Harry had never had money before, not really. He hadn’t had a dime during the first eleven years of his life, which was all right; he didn’t have anyone to shop for back then. Then he’d started at Hogwarts, and there had been a vault waiting for him with enough Galleons set aside to last him through his entire scholarship. Sure, the contents of that vault probably weren’t much by Malfoy standards. But to someone like Harry, who came from absolutely nothing, it was a fortune—much more money than he knew what to do with. Christmas gifts for Ron, Hermione, and the rest of his friends came quickly from then on.
But then he turned seventeen, reaching adulthood. And a letter from Gringotts Wizarding Bank arrived by owl the very next day. It was a complete statement of his financial situation and a confirmation that, as the only heir to the House of Potter, he was now the sole beneficiary of vaults that had been steadfastly compounding interest for well over fifteen years.
It took Harry three tries to count the number of zeros that formed the sum of what he’d inherited, and still, the number didn’t really make sense to him. It was more than he’d ever had, more than he’d ever dreamed of having, and more than he knew what to do with.
So, he’d done the only thing he could think of. He folded the letter in two, placed it at the bottom of his trunk, and promptly forgot all about it. There was still more than enough in the vault devoted to his scholarship, and Harry decided there was no need for him to worry himself about the rest. But he hadn’t been able not to think about it since. The thought had kept nagging at him, like an itch that needed to be scratched, until he’d come to a decision.
Once breakfast was over, Draco asked that his presents be opened first, and Harry surmised that was because he wanted the unpleasantness to end quickly. He offered to retrieve the parcels and brushed his hand against the blond’s shoulder as he walked by in a silent show of support. Whatever Draco had gotten him, Harry was sure he would love it. It was the thought that counted, he knew. And Harry was sure Severus and Saturnine would see it that way, too. But he surmised that was a lesson Draco still needed to learn.
Harry quickly found the three small square boxes wrapped in simple forest-green paper. Quickly glancing at the labels, he brought them to the coffee table, where everyone was gathered. Severus sat in his armchair with Saturnine perched on the armrest, and Draco was on the sofa. Harry joined him there, keeping the gift that was his and handing Severus and Saturnine theirs.
Under Draco’s instructions, they unwrapped their presents simultaneously and found similar gifts within the cardboard boxes. It was a matching set of stone figurines carved by hand: a lion for Harry, a raven for Saturnine, and a snake for Severus.
“Did you make these yourself?” Saturnine asked with the type of pride that Harry had seen in mothers throughout the world when they received handmade gifts from one of their children.
Draco nodded, and it was clear that he tried hard to maintain a strong front. “Professor Flitwick helped me with the charms to sculpt them,” he explained. “It’s not much, but you know…”
“It’s lovely, Draco,” Saturnine said. “Thank you.”
Harry was holding his lion between two fingers and examining it from every angle, wondering how it had been done. “Merlin, Draco, I had no idea you knew how to do that!” he said, unable to keep the awe he felt from his voice. “The details are breathtaking. Thanks.”
Severus hadn’t taken his snake out of his box yet, and he seemed unable even to touch it. He couldn’t keep his eyes off it, though. Harry wasn’t sure what had him so out of sorts. Was it the fact that he’d been gifted something, that the gift had come from Draco, or that it was a carved figurine? Harry supposed it had to be a mixture of all three for him to be rendered tongue-tied and misty-eyed. Saturnine had to kick him in the shin twice to shake him from his stupor.
Harry wanted to go last with his gifts, and he looked at Saturnine, silently pleading her to go next. She caught his gaze and arched an eyebrow that seemed to say, ‘Are you sure?’
Harry nodded emphatically, and Saturnine poked her brother discreetly in the arm. Severus sunk a little lower into his armchair at her prodding; he wasn’t willing to take the next spot.
With an amused smile, the dark-haired witch got up to retrieve her parcels. An instant later, Harry heard the tell-tale sound of a bauble breaking apart—a sign that the tree’s branch had finally succumbed to the amount of decoration it yielded now that it was no longer supported.
Saturnine had one gift for each of them, and Harry and Draco tore into theirs eagerly. Severus took his time, securing the box with Draco’s present between his left leg and the armrest first.
Inside the elegant ivory-white wrapping were identical folding picture frames. They were of a simple Muggle design and made of dark mahogany wood. But the real gifts were the photographs secured behind the clear protective glass.
Inside Harry’s frame was a photograph of Draco spinning circles on his broom in full Slytherin seeker regalia. He had a fluttering snitch held between the fingers of his right hand. Harry remembered the day. The photograph was from a Slytherin versus Ravenclaw game where Draco had caught the winged golden ball after a most impressive dive. Seeker Draco was all smiles in the photo, displaying a rare bout of genuine pride and happiness. Harry was sure that expression alone was why Saturnine had picked this photograph over the many others within the Hogwarts archives.
The other half of the frame carried a photograph of the Snape siblings that made Harry’s eyes water. He wasn’t sure how old they were in it, but they wore their Hogwarts uniforms. Harry would have guessed Severus was fifteen and Saturnine, twelve. Young Severus already had a curtain of black hair around his face, though not as long as Harry was used to seeing. His facial features were familiar and easy to recognise, even if they weren’t as starkly etched into his skin as they were today. He had his left arm slung over his sister’s shoulders and appeared to be animatedly explaining something to her. He was talking fast, excitement lighting up his unguarded features.
Young Saturnine was a full head shorter than her brother, and her pre-teen face had round cheeks. Her eyes were the same azure-blue they had always been, and they sparkled with life. She had pulled her hair up in a messy bun and seemed mesmerised by what her brother had to say. Then young Severus must have said something funny because the young girl exploded in pearls of laughter.
Harry watched the photograph loop again two more times before he managed to tear his gaze away from the carefree siblings that looked so young and innocent. Glancing over Draco’s shoulder, he saw that the blond’s frame held the same photograph of the Snape siblings and one of him on his broomstick, celebrating a Gryffindor win over the Hufflepuffs from last year. Harry remembered the day clearly. Saturnine had managed to sneak in a few words of encouragement before the match began. And in his heart, Harry had dedicated his win to her.
Curiosity getting the better of him, Harry got up and moved to stand behind Saturnine’s shoulder. He wondered what was hidden within Severus’ picture frame. On the left frame, Harry discovered the same photograph of the young siblings in their Hogwarts uniform that was in his. But on the right, he saw a photo that must have been taken during one of Severus’ seventh years’ Potions classes. How she had gotten it, Harry had no idea. He certainly had never seen a camera in the Potions classroom, and he doubted Severus would ever allow for one to be there while he taught. But Saturnine had always had her ways.
In the moving photograph, Harry and Draco were seated around the same table, working in tandem over a brewing potion. Harry stirred while Draco added ingredients. Out of frame, Severus must have been giving complementary instructions, for both boys would look up towards the front of the class at intervals. They wore matching expressions that alternated between attentive and admiring, and Harry was sure that it was that latter quality that had decided Saturnine’s choice of photographs. He supposed she wanted Severus to realise that he had earned Draco and Harry’s respect and esteem.
Saturnine’s gifts had come with several levels of interpretation, each more touching than the next, and Harry felt his eyes mist all over again. Looking sideways at Severus and the slight pink tinge of his cheeks, it was clear his sister’s gesture had hit him straight in the heart, too—and once again, he couldn’t take his eyes away from the gift carefully held in his hands.
“You’ve got a thing for picture frames, don’t you?” Harry asked Saturnine, glancing intently at the enchanted frames that decorated the living room walls.
The dark-haired witch chuckled warmly. “What can I say?” she mused. “I like keeping a close watch on the things I hold dear.” She looped an arm around Harry’s shoulders as she said it, and he leaned in close to place a small kiss on her cheek.
“Thanks,” he said. “I love it.”
“Love mine, too,” Draco chimed in, getting to his feet. “Thank you, Saturnine.”
The blond seemed unsure of what to do with himself, and he hovered awkwardly by Severus’ left side until the man put his arm around his godson’s waist to drag him forward in a clear invitation to sit on the vacant armrest. Draco gladly obeyed, and their quartet was complete once again. To further the effect, Harry moved to Saturnine’s left to squeeze himself between the two siblings and wrap an arm around each of their backs. Severus looked like he wanted to say something, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down furiously. But no words came out, and Harry wondered if he’d be able to survive one more gift.
“Think you’re okay to get one more, Severus?” he demanded to break the silence.
“Don’t you want my gift first?” the Potions Master asked, his voice sounding a little unsure. “It was my understanding that you wanted to go last. Or was I wrong?”
“Uh—yeah,” Harry said, surprised. “Sure.”
“Or did you not think I would have got you something?” Severus demanded, clearly having picked up on the source of the Gryffindor’s discomfort. But there was a slight upward curl at the corner of his lips that revealed he wasn’t chagrined but amused. Then he nodded at Saturnine, who got the message and promptly left to retrieve something from their shared bedroom.
She came back an instant later with a Manila envelope in her hand. Harry saw that it bore the Ministry of Magic’s crest. Feeling the throwback to last year’s Christmas’ gift acutely, he couldn’t help but smile broadly at the witch. It could only mean one thing: she had finally officialised the paperwork, and the adoption had gone through. Harry felt like jumping up and down, or dancing, or jumping up and down while dancing. He was elated.
“This is a gift from us to you both,” Saturnine said, returning to sit on the edge of the armrest. Harry leaned in right away, his shaking legs not quite able to carry his entire weight.
“If there’s one thing the last couple of weeks have taught us,” she continued, “it’s that there are no certainties in life and that some things better not be postponed.”
“We went to the Ministry the week Saturnine came back,” Severus added. “Filled out adoption applications for you both.”
Harry saw Draco perk up at that. Catching his gaze, he got the impression that the blond was surprised to be included. Harry smiled warmly at him to impart how glad he was that Severus had chosen to officialise Draco’s relationship with him. Draco wasn’t an orphan anymore, and neither was he.
Saturnine flipped open the envelope and pulled out two identical certificates embossed with the Ministry’s seal. Harry glanced down with eager trepidation, but the angle made it impossible for him to read what was on it.
“They’ve agreed to it, right?” he asked, wanting to make sure. “They said it was okay for us to be adopted?”
Saturnine nodded. “We didn’t tell you right away in case something went wrong. But for some reason, the Ministry seems very keen to keep us in their good graces now.”
“Can’t think why,” Harry said with a wry smile. “You’re my adoptive mother then, for real?”
She answered by placing a kiss on the crown of his head, and Harry felt like his heart would burst from happiness.
“And you’re adopting me?” Draco asked of Severus in a voice that still held some doubts.
The tone must have registered with the Potions Master, for he leaned towards Draco to wrap one of his long arms around him. He held him close and whispered something in his ear. It was spoken so low that Harry couldn’t hear the words. But the tears that pooled in Draco’s eyes left little to the imagination. Severus Snape had a heart, and he’d just declared his feelings for his son very eloquently.
Harry beamed at them both. “Best Christmas ever!” he exclaimed, turning to look at Saturnine.
She smiled back and shook her head fondly at him. Harry frowned; something in her smirk told him she had gotten one past him. He arched an eyebrow.
“The last couple of weeks also taught us that things don’t always go according to plan,” Severus said, pulling away from Draco a little to glance at his sister. His eyes shone bright with repressed emotions. “It wouldn’t have taken much for the two of you to have had to contend with only one of us this Christmas.”
Way to kill the mood, Harry thought, leaning a little more closely against Saturnine. They were all acutely aware that it had been a close call; there was no need to bring that up again—on Christmas day, of all times.
Severus must have realised his slip-up, for he was quick to add, “What I meant by that is that we’re done taking chances.” Heaving a breath, he continued, “We both acted with a lack of consideration for your feelings, as you so rightfully pointed out.” He looked at Harry as he said it.
The young Gryffindor held his professor’s intense gaze without flinching; he’d meant what he said, and he wasn’t taking it back. Severus’ gaze softened, and he gave him a shy smile in return. “You were right, Harry. I should have known better,” he admitted. “My apologies.”
“It’s okay,” Harry said, looking him straight in the eye to assure him that indeed it was. “What matters is that you’re all right—both of you.”
“Regardless,” Severus continued, “I promise you this won’t happen again. You and Draco will always come first from now on, for Saturnine—and me,” he said with a vulnerability that Harry had never heard from him. “If you’ll have me?”
Harry wasn’t sure what to reply. Was Severus asking if he could adopt him, too? Was it even possible for two different people to adopt him?
Saturnine’s next gesture was answer enough. She reached a hand forward, breaching the gap between her and Draco, and caressed the blond’s cheek with the tip of her fingers. “I would be honoured to have you in my care as well, Draco,” she told him. “If you’ll have me?”
“You mean—” Draco seemed equally surprised. “You want to adopt me, too?”
Saturnine nodded, “Very much so.”
“And you want to adopt me?” Harry asked Severus to make sure he had gotten it right. He got a nod in reply. “For real?” he demanded, not quite able to believe it.
“Yes, child,” he said. “I do.”
Severus found himself with an armload of seventeen-year-old, brown-haired Gryffindor an instant later and was almost knocked over from the impact. Draco wasn’t far behind, as was Saturnine, and it soon morphed into a massive group hug that made the poor Potions Master almost choke in the middle of it all from the lack of oxygen—not that he complained about it.
“Thanks for agreeing to this. The paperwork has gone through already, and it would have been weird to return to the Ministry to ask them to change it,” Saturnine said a while later. She had been the first to pull out. Then taking pity on her brother, she had pulled Harry backwards by the back of his sweater. Draco was still perched on the opposite armrest, with his arm around Severus’ middle; it looked like nothing could ever make him let go.
Saturnine held out the certificates she had removed from the envelope and handed one to Harry and one to Draco. Harry studied his intently and saw that it had both Saturnine and Severus’ names and signatures below—his new adoptive parents. He didn’t even know that it was possible for two people who weren’t in a relationship to adopt a child. But apparently, it was. It somewhat made sense, after all. He needed a mother and father—and that was what he had gotten. It didn’t matter that they weren’t married or a couple. They both wanted to take care of him. And to Harry, that was more than enough.
Something caught his attention as he kept reading the document. “Your birthday’s in January?” he asked Severus when he caught sight of his date of birth.
Severus nodded. “It is,” he said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “But please don’t feel the need to get me anything.”
“But I want to get you something!” Harry protested. He still hadn’t gotten over how nice Severus’ birthday gift had been, and he meant to get him something fabulous in return. In truth, Harry had meant to ask Saturnine for the correct date for a while now. But he hadn’t gotten around to it yet. It was a good thing he’d caught the date on the certificate then, or he might have been too late.
“My cranky older brother doesn’t like to have his birthday celebrated,” Saturnine explained with a smile. “But it looks like he will have to learn to enjoy it from now on.”
“Damn right he will,” Draco said. “I’m getting him something, too—and balloons.”
“And a cake,” Harry added. “We’ll need a big cake and—” he glanced down at the parchment to reread the date, “—thirty-eight candles.”
“Stop talking as if I weren’t sitting here,” Severus interrupted. “And stop planning my birthday party. I don’t want a party.” He tried to sound stern but failed.
“Let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Saturnine said to restore order. “This isn’t January yet. It’s still Christmas day, and I believe someone has yet to hand out his presents.”
Harry felt his apprehension return, but he nodded anyway and pushed away from the group to retrieve the little boxes he’d piled underneath the tree. They were identical and contained the same present inside—only those weren’t his presents at all. He carried the real one around his neck, close to his heart. But it was so monumental it required some setting up.
He watched with an amused smile as the three of them unwrapped the simple chocolate boxes. Draco had clearly expected something better, and Severus looked as if his might be poisoned. Saturnine easily guessed that this gift held a deeper meaning. If the frown marring her forehead was any indication, she was already trying to puzzle it out.
“That’s not really it, of course,” Harry said with a nonchalant shrug that did little to calm the buzzing butterflies in his stomach. “But when I saw these chocolate keys, I thought they were a good symbol.”
“Are you trying to tell us something, Harry?” Draco said, digging into the box and eating one. “Giving us the keys to your heart or something?”
“Shut up, Malfoy!” Harry said, unable to stop his cheeks from flaming up; this was so not what he was trying to say.
“That’s Snape to you, now—Draco Snape,” he retorted with all the contempt he could muster, “I’ve moved up in the world. Didn’t you know?”
“Don’t care what your name is, you prat—you’re still a berk,” Harry replied slyly. “Now, will you let me continue? You’re ruining my moment here.”
Draco gave him an elegant hand roll. “But of course—do proceed.”
Harry shuffled awkwardly to a spot in front of Severus’ armchair and thus ahead of the three of them. Hanging onto his Gryffindor courage and the utter conviction that he was doing the right thing, he pulled out the small chain with an old antique iron key dangling at the end of it that he had hidden under his collar. Working the necklace off his neck, he placed the key in his palm before extending his arm and offering it to his family.
Unsurprisingly, Draco recognised it instantly for what it was. “That’s a Gringotts’ vault key.”
Harry nodded. “My key to the Potter vaults,” he said. “I got it this summer, along with a list of everything that’s inside.”
“You shouldn’t carry that about your person, Harry,” Severus said with a reproachful gaze. “You might lose it without realising it.”
“I’m not doing that,” he told him, catching his gaze. “I’m giving it to you.” At Severus’ puzzled look, he added, “To you and Saturnine.”
“You can’t do that, Harry,” Saturnine protested, straightening up. “It’s your money. Your inheritance.”
“I don’t need it,” he protested, hand still outstretched. “But you do.”
“We most certainly don’t,” Severus said harshly. He looked cross, as if the insinuation that he needed help to provide for his family had irked him. “I’ve said it before, and I’ll repeat it: we are more than capable of seeing to your needs.”
Harry shook his head in annoyance. “You don’t get it, Severus. I don’t want it!” He’d known this would be hard to explain, but he hadn’t anticipated the tears he felt welling up in his eyes. But then again, when Harry had prepared his speech, he hadn’t known he would be giving it to his adoptive parents—on the day he learned the adoption process got through.
“I don’t want to have any money,” Harry tried again, “because I want you to give it to me. I want you to buy me my school stuff, my clothes, and everything else. I want the same things other kids have: parents who complain that raising children is expensive but still give their kids pocket money. Parents who threaten to take said money away when they misbehave. Parents who’ll go looking for a flat with me the day I’ll need one, who’ll help me pay for it at first, and who’ll help me choose the furniture. Parents who will always be there when I need them, and who will be there for my children when I have some.” Harry’s voice quivered, but he couldn’t stop. “And I want Draco to have that, too. I don’t want him to feel sad because he’s broke. I want him to know he can count on you for everything because you’re his parents, too. And that you’ll be there for him, same as you will be for me.”
Stepping forward, he all but threw the key in Severus’ face. “Please, just take the damn key. It’s not my money anymore, and I don’t want it to be. I want it to be ours—our family’s. Please.”
Severus’ fingers shook a bit as they closed around the small iron key. It disappeared in the depth of his trousers’ pocket a moment later.
“Thank you, Harry,” Saturnine said with tears of her own in her eyes. “I’m incredibly proud of you. And I promise you will have all of that—and more.”
“You and Draco.” Severus nodded. “Thank you.”
“It’s nothing,” Harry said with a shrug; he tried wiping away the annoying tears in his eyes, but new ones kept coming. “I’m tired of being special—the kid with the scar, the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One. I want to be Harry—just Harry. And I want to have a normal life with a normal family. And normal kids don’t have heaps of money. They have parents who love them instead.”
“I want that, too,” Draco chimed in with his own set of repressed emotions in his voice. “Everything you said, Harry. I want to know what that feels like.”
“You will,” Harry told him, smiling through his tears. “I promise you will.”
Harry wondered what James and Lily Potter would have thought of today’s events. Would they have understood his choices, or would they judge him for his desertion?
He hadn’t meant to turn his back on them so thoroughly; part of him still loved them fiercely and always would. But the truth of the matter was that his real parents weren’t there. They hadn’t been there for years and would never be there again. It wasn’t their fault; Harry knew that. And he didn’t resent them for their absence, but he was tired of the heavy weight of loneliness he had carried around his entire life.
He wanted—needed—the support system of a proper family. Harry wasn’t a child anymore. But he needed to know that he had someone on which he could depend. Doubts wouldn’t cease because he had turned seventeen; he would always need a second opinion, a helping hand, or the occasional shoulder to cry on.
Both Severus and Saturnine were willing to offer him that and more, but Harry couldn’t accept their love and care without returning the gesture wholeheartedly. He had never been the kind of person who did things by halves, and he had to release the chains to his past to move forward. So, Harry had to relinquish the Potter name and inheritance that came with it and agree to become a member of the House of Snape instead.
“I can’t believe you gave them your vault’s key,” Draco marvelled with a pensive look. He had already changed into his nightclothes, and he sat calmly on his bed. Saturnine’s picture frame rested on his bedside table, and he kept sneaking glances at it.
“It’s just money, Draco; it’s not that important,” Harry replied, shrugging off his shirt and tossing it aside.
“Just how much money are we talking about?” he asked.
“I don’t recall,” Harry answered dismissively. His head was lost inside his wardrobe as he looked for something to wear through the night. It was a little colder in the dungeons than in Gryffindor Tower, and his usual worn-out shirts weren’t up to par. He found one of the new ones Saturnine had bought him last summer and pulled it on.
“Why do you care?” he asked Draco as he turned to face him again.
The blond gave him a crooked smirk. “Well, seeing as half of it will be mine one day…”
Harry gave him a sour look. “Don’t joke about that.”
“Hopefully in a very long time,” Draco amended, raising a placating palm. “But still—it’s good to know that I’m back on the most eligible bachelors list.”
Harry scoffed. “Like that matters.”
Draco shrugged. “It matters to some.”
He arched an eyebrow questioningly.
“Not to me. Not anymore,” Draco hastened to add. “I’m done playing that stupid Pureblood game. But a tiny, teeny part of me is happy to know I still make the list—force of habit, I guess.”
“Severus isn’t married,” Harry remarked. “Does he make the list, too, then?”
Draco looked at him as if he’d just swallowed a vat of Polyjuice and transformed into Filch. He blinked, once, twice, then exploded into peals of laughter. “Merlin’s beard, that’s a good one,” he said once the laughter had died. “Please wait until I’m in the room to bring that up with him, though. I don’t want to miss his face when he realises the answer is hell yes!”
“I’ll make sure every one of us is there,” Harry said, chuckling. Then, sobering up, he crossed the room to sit next to the Slytherin. “What’ll happen to the House of Malfoy now?”
Draco shrugged as if he couldn’t care less. “I guess it will fade into nothingness—once my uncles and cousins finish tearing it down for scraps, that is.” A small, bitter laugh escaped his lips. “Fancy that—Lucius’ last twisted scheme caused the downfall of his entire House. Guess he didn’t see that one coming.”
Harry stayed silent for a while as he contemplated the situation. Then he added, “It’s not the only old House that’s going extinct. The Black’s ended when Sirius died, and the last Lestrange sons will spend the rest of their lives in Azkaban.”
Draco nodded. “Three more of the sacred twenty-eight will join the already extinct Crouch and Gaunt families.”
The sacred twenty-eight were the last one-hundred-percent Pureblood families of Wizarding Britain, some of the wealthiest and most influential Houses in their society. Harry had no regrets about seeing more of them hit the dust; it was time for a wind of change and new Houses to be afforded a seat at the table. That blood purity crap had divided their community long enough. It was time everyone realised success in life was about more than blood.
“I say the House of Snape is sacred, too,” Harry declared. “At least, it is to me.”
Draco nodded solemnly. “To both of us.”
“But it’s just the four of us, though, right?” he asked.
“As far as I know, yes. I don’t think there ever were other wizards in the Snape branch of the family.”
“What of the other half—the Prince’s?” Harry asked, curious. “Do you know if it’s a significant House?”
“Can’t recall ever hearing about them,” Draco said, frowning. “Either it’s very small, or Severus and Saturnine are the last descendants. But we could look it up in the genealogy books of the Hogwarts library someday.”
Harry nodded, interested in the idea to know more about his new family. “I think it had to have been a great House at some point. It has this nice crest and all.”
Draco looked up with a puzzled look. “A crest?”
“Yeah, Severus had it engraved on his mother’s headstone,” Harry explained, remembering the time he’d accompanied Saturnine when she visited her mother’s grave. “Saturnine said it was the Prince’s. It must have been a large family to have a crest, no?”
“All the Pureblood families have one, regardless of their size. And most mixed families have one, too,” Draco explained. “It’s a common thing in our world.”
Harry perked up at that. “Does that mean the House of Snape has one, too?”
“Doubt it,” Draco shrugged. “Severus and Saturnine are the first generation of magical children in the family. So, a crest would only exist if they’d bothered to make one—which, knowing them, sounds unlikely.”
“You can make your own?” Harry demanded, curious—if so, he had a few ideas. “You create it? Whatever you like?”
“Pretty much—whatever fits your fancy,” Draco explained. “Then you have it registered with the Ministry, and it becomes official. It usually comes with a motto to live by and a strong representative symbol.”
Harry had no idea what kind of motto would fit the Snape family, and he didn’t have many references from which to draw inspiration from. “I have no idea what the Potter one looks like, but I know the Black’s is all about blood purity.”
Draco nodded. “Toujours pur—Always Pure. The Malfoy’s Sanctimonia Vincet Semper—Purity Will Always Conquer.”
“That’s not much better,” Harry said, frowning. “Does it have to be about blood purity?”
“No, it doesn’t. It’s just a trendy theme, I suppose. It’s not mandatory to have one, though. The Lestrange crest doesn’t have any; it’s just the family name written weirdly. And the Rosier crest is all about flowers.” Draco shrugged. “It depends on the family, really.”
“I think we should have one,” Harry decided. If all the big Houses had one, there was no reason theirs should be an exception.
As she prepared for bed, Saturnine wondered at the situation and what her life had become. She had lived in so many places over the years: France, Hungary, China…
Wizards and witches willing to teach her about Elemental Magic had been hard to find, and she travelled the world for many years to try and understand who she was. She thought she had had it figured out eventually, but she’d been wrong. She hadn’t known—until today. Now, she knew who she was and where she belonged. And that was here, with Severus and the boys—their boys.
Looking at the small bedroom and cramped bed they’d pushed against the bookshelves, for lack of a better place to put it, she saw nothing wrong with it. Besides, she had slept in smaller quarters during her years abroad. She didn’t think she would ever sleep elsewhere now. Thirty-four years old, and she still shared a room with her brother. That might have made some laugh, but to her, it felt natural. They’d shared a room when they were little, too, and no one had thought it weird then. She saw no reason why it should be strange today.
“Part of me is wondering if I dreamed this whole day up,” Severus said as he emerged from the bathroom in his nightclothes. “Please tell me I didn’t.”
“You didn’t.” She smiled at him. “Or else we both did, and I don’t ever want to wake up.”
Severus chuckled at that, and she laughed with him. They kept going until Severus’ laughter turned into something much sadder, and tears welled up in his eyes. Drawing closer, Saturnine held out her arms, and he came to her willingly.
“I’m scared, ’Nine,” he admitted, whispering the words in her ear as if he didn’t dare be any louder about it. “I’m scared about what’ll happen now. I never had anything to lose, but now I do.”
“You and me both, brother-mine,” she said, holding him a little stronger. “You and me both.”
“I don’t know what to do, Saturnine. I don’t know how to raise children. I don’t even know if I can.”
“It’ll be fine. You’ll see.”
He huffed over her shoulder. “You were always the optimistic one.”
“Do you want to know how I know?” she asked, leaning back slightly so that she could catch his gaze and hold it. “I know because you, Severus Snape, woke up in the middle of the night to decorate the living room because it was Christmas—without anyone telling you or asking you to. You just did, for them, because you wanted them to be happy and have nice memories of today. So yes, my dear brother, everything will be fine. You are already the best thing that’s ever happened to them.”
Severus tried to smile through his insecurity but failed.
She hugged him again.
“I missed you,” he murmured into her neck after a while.
She nodded, knowing he would feel it. “Me, too.”
“I didn’t mean when they arrested you,” he added. “I meant before—I missed you terribly.”
She held him tightly as she fought to keep the emotions at bay long enough to finish this conversation. “I know; I missed you, too.”
“I’m sorry,” he whispered, words barely louder than his breath. “You were right. You tried telling me, but I didn’t listen.”
“It’s okay. It’s all in the past now.”
“I didn’t mean what I said. I was an idiot.”
She smiled at that and told him what she had waited over fifteen years to tell him. “It’s okay. I was angry with you when I left and scared for you—but I never stopped loving you.”
She felt something wet trail down the side of her neck, and she held her brother a little stronger.
“I have loved you all my life, Severus. And I always will,” she said, her voice choked with emotion but assured. “No matter what you do, no matter which mistakes you make, I will always love you. Always.”
“Please don’t go again,” he asked. “I need you.”
“I know,” she said, feeling her tears join his. “I need you, too.”
“I’m still not dreaming?” Severus asked after a while.
Saturnine smiled at how it had sounded like he was twelve again. “No, you’re not.”
She felt him nod against her shoulder. “Good.”
Hermione would have been proud, Harry thought. It was December twenty-sixth, he was on holiday, and there he sat, hunched over a book in the Hogwarts library. He might write to her later to let her know and to thank her for her Christmas gift.
“Found anything?” Draco asked as he returned to the table with a new volume in hand.
“Shhh,” Harry said. “Keep your voice down.”
Draco chuckled. “You do realise that we’re the only ones here, right? Even Madam Pince is on holiday.”
Harry looked up, glanced around the empty room, and realised Draco was right. They had the whole place to themselves. “There’s no mention of anyone with the Snape surname,” he said of the book he was flipping through, Wizarding Families Through the Ages. “But I found a few mentions of people by the name of Prince.”
“Do you know of anyone other than their mother, Eileen Prince?” Draco asked. “One name is not much to go on.”
Harry shook his head. He knew it probably would have been faster to ask Severus or Saturnine about it. But with everything the D.A. had done for the past four months, Harry had developed an investigative mind. Besides, it was too cold to go outside, and they had nothing better to do.
“What’s this one?” Harry asked, glancing at the book in the blond’s hands.
“The Founders’ Legacy,” Draco replied. “It’s a book about the Hogwarts Founders’ lineage. Who knows, maybe old Salazar was our great-great-great-great-great grandfather or something.”
“You wish,” Harry said, closing his book and picking up another. That one was on family crests, and it had many illustrations. He flipped through it at random to examine the various symbols and mottos other wizarding families used.
“You know, there are chapters on others besides Slytherin,” Harry said when he caught Draco skipping an entire section of the book for the third time in a row. Though he couldn’t see what Draco was reading, he had no trouble guessing the blond read only the parts regarding old Salazar.
“This is actually quite interesting,” Draco said. “Though Salazar Slytherin was a cunning, determined, bigoted Pureblood idiot, he was also a loner. He spent a lot of time on his own and often retreated to that island in the middle of the Great Lake to get away from—well, those he deemed unworthy.”
Harry guessed that Draco had embellished the truth, and the book actually used the word ‘Mudblood’. “That man was an idiot. We wouldn’t be in this mess without him.”
Draco shrugged. “Yeah, well—no one’s perfect.”
Harry shook his head before returning to the volume in his hand. He was startled when Draco unexpectedly yelled, “Merlin’s bollocks!” a few minutes later.
“What?” Harry asked, looking up. “What is it?”
In response, Draco turned over the book he was reading before pushing it towards Harry.
“Shite! Draco!” Harry exclaimed after looking at it. “You found it.”
Severus was surprised to see two teenagers barrelling into his Potions classroom at a sprint, huffing and puffing as if they’d just ran a mile. He was immediately on high alert, wand in hand, his eyes scanning his surroundings to identify possible dangers.
“What is it?” he demanded, the simmering potion he’d been working on for hours instantly forgotten on his desk.
“We found it; we found it!” Harry exclaimed gleefully.
“Found what?” Severus asked, his worry not abating. “What’s going on?”
“The locket,” Harry continued. “We found it, Severus.”
Draco, who hadn’t said a word yet, cleared his throat audibly. “Rather, I found it,” he said in a more measured voice. Then he opened the book and placed it on a nearby table.
Assured that there was no immediate danger—save from the unattended potion that risked exploding—Severus vanished the liquid that had turned a most displeasing dark-brown colour before moving to stand by the boys. When he looked down at the old leather-bound volume, he immediately detected what had them so excited.
In the middle of a long paragraph on Salazar Slytherin’s time at Hogwarts was a moving painting of the man sitting against a tree trunk. A small, hand-sized creature, seemingly a cross between an insect and a twig, ran up and down the Founder’s arm. It had two long, sharp fingers on each hand, and in its left dangled a very familiar-looking locket. The little creature’s antics seemed to amuse old Salazar to no end.
“Where was this?” Severus asked. “Does it say in the text?”
Draco cleared his throat for show before announcing in a clear, only mildly pompous voice, “Salazar’s Slytherin’s favourite place in Hogwarts—Bowtruckle Island.”
Severus’ head whipped to the left—where the Great Lake stood past the thick walls—on instinct. They had searched the castle top to bottom to find the last two missing Horcruxes, but they hadn’t thought to explore the outside grounds. But if that island was a place old Salazar enjoyed, and if Tom Riddle had heard about it…
Severus pulled out his wand to call for Saturnine. As far as he could remember, he had always resorted to memories of Lily to call forth his Patronus. But today, Severus found himself thinking back to their first Christmas as a family instead. A bright jet of light pulsed out of his wand, more strongly than he had ever seen it. And where he expected to see a familiar-looking doe stood a vivacious-looking cobra. It slithered around his feet for a moment before lifting itself upward and tilting its head to the side. There was intelligence in the creature’s slanted eyes, and it looked to be eagerly awaiting instructions.
“Message for Saturnine,” he told his Patronus, his voice quivering slightly. “Meet me at the castle’s entrance. The boys may have found the locket.” The snake’s forked tongue darted out happily before the creature gave its master a nod to confirm it had understood the instructions. It was back on the ground an instant later, slithering away and through the closest wall.
“It—changed,” Harry said, stating the obvious. “Your Patronus.”
“I noticed,” Severus answered, feeling more than a little amazed. As far back as he could remember, it had always been a doe—Lily’s doe. His last anchor to her—the final manifestation of his everlasting love for her. Its absence today felt like a betrayal—like he didn’t love her enough anymore.
A comforting hand wormed its way around his back, and Harry pressed himself against his side a moment later. “She wouldn’t mind,” he said, ever the insightful one. “It was time you let her go.”
“I—I didn’t mean to,” he admitted. He couldn’t understand why this had happened; his feelings for Lily hadn’t changed, had they? No, they never would. “I still…”
“It’s okay,” Harry said when it became clear he wouldn’t finish his sentence. “It doesn’t mean you don’t love her anymore. Just like me changing my last name and accepting you and Saturnine as my parents doesn’t mean that I don’t still love James and Lily Potter. My heart’s big enough to hold all of you in it, and so is yours.”
Bowtruckle Island was found in the Great Lake, south of Hogwarts Castle. It was an uninhabited, small plot of land where no one ever went. Aside from a few shrubs and half a dozen trees, there was nothing on it.
Severus, Draco, and Harry flew over on broomsticks, and Saturnine simply flew. It had been a while since she had taken to the air for the sheer joy of flying, and she let herself enjoy the moment. Her acrobatics garnered the boys’ attention, and Saturnine went as far as a few loops and swirls. While she couldn’t match them in speed, she more than made up for that in agility.
Severus—who she remembered had never liked flying and only ever resorted to mounting a broom when he had to—spent the whole trip frowning at their antics, his back ramrod straight and both of his hands firmly clutching his broom handle.
She was the last one to touch the ground on Bowtruckle Island. She’d done one final sweep of it to ensure that it was a safe environment before coming in. She still pulled out her wand when they started to explore and saw her brother do the same.
There seemed to be no signs of life on the tiny islet—nothing but vegetation. And all the trees looked the same.
“Over here,” Harry called, catching their attention.
Looking to where he stood, Saturnine saw that he was crouching down to inspect the snow at the foot of a tree. Coming closer, she noticed small markings in the white canopy. The trails were numerous, but they all led to the same tree.
“That must be the Bowtruckles’ home tree,” Severus said, moving closer.
“Careful,” Saturnine cautioned. “They’re shy creatures. But if they feel threatened, they will attack.”
“I know,” he said, pulling a small jar from one of his frock coat’s pockets. Saturnine quickly recognised its content as fairy eggs; her brother shared her knowledge of the twig-like creatures. Fairy eggs were the Bowtruckles’ favourite food after woodlice. But she knew the Potions Master didn’t have those in stock in his storeroom.
As he studied the tree more intently, Severus found tiny scratches on the bark and disturbed snow on some branches. It wasn’t hard to track the creatures’ path to a hollow about five feet off the ground. Unscrewing the lid on the jar, he held it out closer to the entrance.
Saturnine and the boys remained at a safe distance, and she caught both of their attentions and motioned at them to be quiet by raising a finger to her lips. They nodded before returning their attention to the tree hollow.
A few scratching noises broke the silence, and a flat-faced stick figure poked its head out of the hole. There were two leaves on its head, and it stared at Severus’ offering in confusion, its round brown eyes peering at it cautiously. Her brother remained impossibly immobile and silent, and a few minutes later, the Bowtruckle pushed itself out of the hollow on gangling legs. It jumped from the tree onto Severus’ arm, then clawed its way down to his hand to peer inside the jar. Saturnine held her breath and tightened her grasp on her wand. She knew these long, twig-like fingers to be sharp enough to cut through a man’s skin and muscles easily.
The Bowtruckle seemed happy with its discovery, though, and it soon reached inside the jar to pull out an egg. He bit into it with gusto and squeaked a little in delight. Two more green stick figures poked their heads out of the hollow tree at the sound. They looked at their friend, still perched on Severus’ arm, then at each other, then back at their friends. And a moment later, they leapt forward as the first creature had.
Severus waited a few more minutes to see if more Bowtruckles would pour out of the hollow. When it was clear everyone was at the feast, he took a few slow, measured steps to the side, moving away from the tree.
“Stay there,” Saturnine whispered to Harry and Draco. Then she lifted herself off the ground to glide forward soundlessly. Using the wind, she pushed herself upward slightly to reach the hollow. Then pulling out her wand, she cast a nonverbal Lumos to peer inside the creatures’ nest. They had made a cosy home for themselves, Saturnine saw. A mix of dried leaves and bark had been used as furniture, and she was loath to disturb it. Inching closer, she tried to look further inside. She smiled when something metallic reflected back at her. It was nearly hidden underneath a pile of twigs and dried dirt, but she had caught the shimmer of gold. Not wanting to touch the thing, she killed off the Lumos Spell and used a Leviosa instead. Trying to do as minimal damage to the Bowtruckles’ interior as she could, she levitated the foreign object through the opening. She smiled when Salazar Slytherin’s locket was revealed for all to see.
Saturnine floated away from the tree with the necklace in tow, and Severus carefully returned to stand by the hollow. His jar was nearly empty, and when the last fairy egg disappeared down one of the twigs throats, all three of them jumped back inside their home.
“Is this it?” Harry asked once they had reached the shore where they had left their brooms.
Severus nodded. “It is. Salazar Slytherin’s locket.”
“And is it a—” Harry shuddered. “Has it got a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul in it?”
Saturnine was peering cautiously at the floating piece of jewellery. None of them had dared touching it, and she had refused to let anyone but Severus step within a foot of it. Conjuring a ball of air to float the locket so that she could use her wand again, she tried ascertaining its nature using a few spells she knew.
She shuddered at the utter darkness she felt emanating from the golden heirloom. It felt wrong on so many levels that it was hard to catalogue the enchantments that enveloped the artefact. It was so far removed from what magic ought to be, so perversely twisted, that it made her sick to her stomach.
“Definitely,” she said, cutting the analysing spells off. “Magic doesn’t get any darker than that.”
Severus pulled out a small cotton pouch, and she levitated the locket inside it. Then he pulled out a small cotton bag, and she levitated the pouch into it. Her brother then pulled out a small, shrunken wooden box that he promptly returned to its proper size. He opened it, and Saturnine levitated the bag into it before closing the lid.
Only two left, she thought as they flew back to Hogwarts. The wooden box was tucked safely under one of her arms. Nagini and the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw still eluded them. Saturnine felt her resolve strengthen as she looked at the imposing castle to which they flew. The diadem was in there somewhere; she knew it. With Severus, they had searched the Ravenclaw quarters top to bottom, but there were still many nooks and crannies to go through. And they had two more pairs of hands and eyes to help them with now. It was only a matter of time before they would be ready to spring their trap on Lord Voldemort.
Harry and Draco’s time of wandering the castle freely and poring over old library books had lasted a total of four days. That was holiday enough, in Severus’ opinion, and now they returned to studying and preparing for their N.E.W.T.s exams.
Harry and Draco had tried negotiating their way out of the pile of homework the man had come up with—some of it legitimate, and the rest, additional work he’d pulled out of Merlin knows where. But when Saturnine made it clear that she sided with her brother on this, they realised they’d lost the fight.
“We should have seen that coming,” Harry said as he scratched his head over a torturous Arithmancy equation. “Our parents are professors—guess we have standards to uphold or something.”
Draco, who sat at the other end of the kitchenette table, nose deep in charms theorems, chuckled. “Is it too late to ask for a different set of parents? Cooks or painters, maybe?”
Harry laughed, knowing the Slytherin blond didn’t want a change of custodians any more than he did. Their parents wanted them to succeed. They enforced a strict routine of studying and revision to ensure that they would both pass their exams so that Draco and Harry could choose whichever path they wanted once they left Hogwarts. Severus and Saturnine were doing this because they cared—because they loved them. And that knowledge filled Harry’s heart with joy—even if the task’s difficulty caused quite the headache.
A little before noon, Saturnine arrived by the passageway from the third floor. She’d been gone most of the morning to prepare equipment for the next Defence semester. Severus had been equally absent, spending his morning in the Potions classroom. Apparently, professors had homework during the holidays, too.
“How is it going?” Saturnine asked, peering at Draco’s parchment first and then at Harry’s.
“Slowly,” Harry replied.
Draco gave her a martyred sigh that was a close match for how he felt.
“Put those away for now; it’s almost lunchtime,” she instructed. They were all too happy to comply.
“Out of curiosity,” Harry asked as he moved all his school stuff to the coffee table, “how did you do on your N.E.W.T.s?”
“Sweet Circe, that was a long time ago,” she said, conjuring a pitcher of lemonade from the kitchens. “I aced Potions and Defence. But I’m not sure I can remember them all.”
“Don’t try to spare our feelings,” Draco said, taking both his and Harry’s quills and ink bottles off the kitchen table. “We have no doubts that you must have had many Outstandings—just tell us how many.”
“Well,” Saturnine said with an amused smile, “I took six subjects and got away with one E and five Os.”
“Hmm—so clearly you got an O in Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions,” Harry started. “I’ll say Charms and Transfiguration, too.”
Saturnine nodded to indicate he was correct so far.
Draco joined in on the game. “And you took six subjects. So, that leaves us with two more contenders. I’ll guess you took Herbology and—Arithmancy?”
She nodded again. “Correct, so far.”
“Arithmancy is a hell of a lot more difficult than Herbology,” Harry remarked. But he’d gone to Saturnine for help with his equations, and she’d been scarily quick at unravelling them. Could it be she had been less than stellar at her Herbology exam, then?
“Arithmancy, then?” Draco asked, sitting back down opposite Saturnine.
“No, Herbology,” Harry declared before sliding into the seat next to the dark-haired witch. “I say you got an Exceeds Expectations in Herbology.”
Saturnine gave him a peck on the cheek. “And you would be right, lad. This Ravenclaw let a Mandrake bite her finger during her N.E.W.T. exam.”
“What of Severus?” Draco asked, leaning forward in his seat a little. “Please tell me it wasn’t all Os. We can’t compete with that.”
Saturnine leaned forward and whispered in a mock-confessional tone, “It wasn’t.”
“All right—give us the numbers, and we’ll see if we can guess what he did,” Harry said, gearing up for another game.
Saturnine thought about it for a moment and said, “If I remember correctly, six subjects, four Outstandings, and two Exceeds Expectations.”
“You beat him?” Draco asked, surprised.
“Glad to see you didn’t think me capable of it,” Saturnine replied with amusement. Then, pointing at her chest, she added, “Ravenclaw, remember?”
“Yeah, but—he’s Severus,” Draco said, waving a hand up and down, as if that explained everything. “I would have thought ten subjects and straight Os or something.”
Saturnine chuckled at that. “Though he may look like he is, he isn’t all-knowing. There was a time when he didn’t even know how to write down his own name, you know.”
An image of a very young Severus carefully learning his letters with a Muggle pen in his hand popped inside Harry’s head. And it was so out of place that he laughed so hard he hiccupped. The fact that the man in question chose that moment to enter the living room only doubled his amusement.
“Did I miss something?” he asked as he sat down opposite Harry.
Draco, who was smiling, too, steadfastly refused to look Severus’ way, probably worried that if he did, he would join in Harry’s bout of hilarity. Saturnine was doing a better job at containing herself. But she was clearly amused by the situation.
“Nothing much, dear,” she said. “The boys only just realised we were children, too, at one time.”
“Glad to see the subject is so amusing to you,” he drawled out before crossing his arms over his chest.
When noon struck, plates of food popped on their small table, Apparating straight from the Hogwarts kitchens. Today was chicken fillet, wild rice, and peas, Harry noticed through the tears of laughter in his eyes. Damn, but he had better get a hold of himself if he wanted to be able to eat something.
Forcing himself to do a few Arithmancy equations in his head, he managed to get his mirth under control.
“Sorry,” he said to Severus. “I couldn’t stop once I got going. I just got this funny image in my head of you holding a Muggle pen in primary school while you learned to write, and I couldn’t get it out.”
That got a small smile from Severus and an open chuckle from Saturnine. Then they all started eating in silence. There was a tasty mushroom sauce to go with the chicken, and Harry took a double helping.
Draco was the first to finish, and he resumed their game. “O in Potions, obviously—and in Defence,” he said.
Saturnine nodded over a mouthful of peas.
“O in Charms,” Harry guessed between two bites.
“Correct,” she said after swallowing her vegetables.
“What are we playing at?” Severus demanded once he’d finished his plate.
“The boys were interested in our N.E.W.T.s scores,” Saturnine explained. “They guessed at mine earlier, and they’re now having a go at yours. I only told them the number of subjects we took and the number of Os and Es that we got.”
“Oh,” he said, arching an impetuous eyebrow. “A day of introspection, indeed.”
“Okay, three more subject to guess at,” Harry said, checking with Severus that they’d been given the correct number of subjects. Severus gave him a short nod. “Herbology, definitely, and Transfiguration.”
“Obviously,” he said.
“I’ll venture you got an O in Herbology,” Draco said before taking a sip of pumpkin juice. “It’s such an important part of potion-making, and you often assist Professor Sprout.”
Severus dipped his head in the affirmative.
“You got an E in Transfiguration?” Harry asked, aghast. While it was still an excellent result and one he hoped to get for himself, it was funny to learn that the grand Severus Snape hadn’t always been the confident wizard he was today.
“Was it with Professor McGonagall?” Draco asked.
“What happened?” he demanded. “You’re amazing with a wand.”
“Yes, brother-mine—what did happen?” Saturnine asked with a smile that made it clear she already knew the answer and that it was a funny story.
“Did she tell you that she let a Mandrake bite her during her Herbology exam?” Severus asked.
Harry stopped eating to focus on the conversation at hand. It had to be quite the story if Severus was trying to deflect the attention away from himself.
“She did,” Draco confirmed. “And we had a good laugh about it. But we were talking about your Transfiguration exam, Professor Snape.”
“If memory serves,” Saturnine said, her smile turning predatory, “at some point, students that year were required to transfigure mice into frogs, weren’t they?”
“Which I successfully did,” Severus pointed out, raising an imperious index finger.
Saturnine nodded. “Very successfully—if the rumours were to be believed.”
Severus sighed and seemed to decide that he was willing to tell the story after all. Looking slightly sheepish, he explained, “I went a little overboard and made a particularly large specimen. Only it never quite forgot that it was a mouse, and when Filch’s cat sauntered by the classroom, it leapt away in fear. It bounced up and down the length of the classroom, smashed through a window, and died a painful death when it hit rock-bottom twenty feet below.”
Draco tried hard to keep a collected face, but Harry had given up trying mid-way through the story.
“It was a stupid accident that could have happened to anyone. That bloody cat should never have been there in the first place,” Severus tried defending himself.
“The whole school heard what happened,” Saturnine explained between two chuckles. “Some first-years actually cried for the poor animal.”
Severus looked so uncomfortable with the whole conversation that Harry’s heart went out to him. It wasn’t just Harry and Draco who had to get used to having people caring about them—it went both ways. And a comfortable, funny conversation between family members was clearly an unfamiliar situation for the Potions Master. Harry vowed they would have many more of those in the future until it became the new normal for all of them.
“Sorry to have to break it to you, Severus,” Draco said, clearly not being sorry at all, “but the whole school still hears about it.”
The potioneer’s eyebrows shot up at that.
“Right,” Harry said, catching on. “McGonagall tells the story every year.”
“Fifth-year introductory speech,” Draco continued. “Always be mindful of your animals; never let them out of your sight—”
“—or you’ll end up like that foolish boy whose frog smashed through a window during his N.E.W.T.s exam,” Harry finished.
“Foolish boy?” Severus demanded.
“Foolish boy,” Draco confirmed with a nod. “Her own yearly private joke at your expense, I suppose.”
“I’d have gotten an O without that blasted cat,” Severus said before vanishing the dishes with a large swipe of his wand.
“But you didn’t,” Saturnine said with a smile, “and that brings us to the last question mark of today’s entertainment session. Who cares to venture a guess at which subject proved to be just a tad too difficult for our very exacting Potions professor?”
Taking a more official tone, Saturnine added, “The contestants are Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, Care of Magical Creatures, Muggle Studies, History of Magic, Astronomy, and Divination.”
“I think we can safely rule out Divination,” Harry said.
“And History of Magic,” Draco added.
“Correct on both accounts,” Saturnine said. “Five contestants left.”
Harry chanced a glance at Severus for inspiration. But the man’s face was utterly blank, save for the small smile tucked at the corner of his lips. Severus was amused by their game. But it was clear he wouldn’t be of any help.
“No Muggle Studies, either,” Harry said. “It would have been too easy a class for you, and you like a challenge.”
Severus nodded, and Harry felt glad to have gotten it right.
“Four contestants left,” Saturnine said. “Arithmancy, Ancient Runes, Care of Magical Creatures, and Astronomy.”
There was little than Severus enjoyed more than Potions, Harry knew. It was a safe assumption that he’d known early on that his career would lean towards that subject. It was no surprise, then, that he’d taken Charms and Herbology classes. Those were on par with Potions and a requirement to become a talented potioneer. Defence Against the Dark Arts had been an equally logical choice given the dark times he lived in.
No potioneer worth his salt would ever be caught using transfigured ingredients, though. So that subject choice must have stemmed from a personal interest. As a fellow Muggle-raised kid, Harry could understand the appeal of Professor McGonagall’s classes. Seeing one object morph into another at the flick of a wand still amazed him seven years later, and he guessed young Severus must have felt the same way.
Harry tried looking at his own choices for inspiration. He had taken Care of Magical Creatures because Hagrid was his friend, and Harry loved his classes. And he had taken Arithmancy because as far back as he could remember, he’d always been good at maths, and Arithmancy was the magical equivalent of Muggle calculus.
Harry repeated the four subjects’ names in his head, again and again, to see if it rattled something, but that got him nowhere. Looking to his right, he saw that Draco was as deep in thought as he was, and he realised that this had turned into so much more than a silly game to pass the time. It had stopped being about Severus’ N.E.W.T.s results a long time ago; they were challenging their very own knowledge of the man and his interests and passions.
“Not Ancient Runes,” Draco said at last. “You consider it to be barely better than Divination.”
“Correct,” Saturnine said. “Three subjects left: Arithmancy, Care of Magical Creatures, and Astronomy.”
Harry’s brain started to hurt because he thought so much. Had Severus gone with one of the same choices he had? The familiarity of Arithmancy or the wondrous aspect of Magical Creatures?
Think, he told himself. Think, think, think. He was furiously going over everything he knew of Severus—every passing comment and personal information he’d ever volunteered—to solve the riddle.
He was tempted to rule out Astronomy, but then he reminded himself that he wasn’t the only one playing this game. He wouldn’t make it any easier for Draco by removing a potential false answer. Draco, who—he reminded himself—had the unfair advantage of having known Severus his entire life.
“Don’t say it aloud,” Harry said, pointing at Draco. “And no more removing subjects. When you’ve decided on your answer, you can whisper it to Saturnine, and I’ll do the same. She’ll tell us afterwards who got it right.”
“Deal,” Draco agreed, seeming to appreciate the new rules as much as he did.
Glancing up at Severus, Harry studied his face intently. The man’s amusement had given way to something more profound, and Harry surmised he, too, now understood that this had become more than an idle game to pass the time. He was curious to see if they would find the answer and knew him well enough to guess.
Harry was more determined than ever to get it right—and sure that Severus’ choice had to be of the ‘personal interest’ kind. It had nothing to do with Potions, the Dark Lord, or any of that. It was something Severus had chosen to pursue simply because he had liked the subject.
Severus Snape was an introverted boy from the Midlands who grew up in a dysfunctional family in a dilapidated town in the middle of nowhere. He was caught between an abusive father and a detached mother. What had he relied upon to bring some cheer to his life? Harry tried picturing it—a small house in a rundown street, a lonely boy locked up in a bedroom with no toys to play with. What had he turned to?
And then it hit him. What were the only constant companions to lonely little boys and girls all over the world through sleepless nights? Turning in his seat, he leaned towards Saturnine and whispered in her ear, “Astronomy.”
She kept her face blank for the sake of the game, but Harry knew that he had the correct answer.
At the other end of the table, Draco was still thinking his way through the possibilities. He’d worked up a sweat, Harry saw. Determined not to influence the outcome and inadvertently ruin Draco’s chances to show that he, too, knew Severus better than the man thought, Harry remained silent as he sipped his pumpkin juice.
It took well over ten minutes for Draco’s eyes to suddenly widen. His lips stretched to a smile, and he hurried to lean over the table so that he could whisper his answer into Saturnine’s ear. Then he slumped back in his chair, exhausted as if he’d just passed the bloody N.E.W.T.s.
“Care to venture a guess at how many correct answers I got?” Saturnine asked her brother. Her face had remained blank when Draco made his postulate, leaving Severus with no indicator of the boys’ answers—other than his gut. His obsidian eyes moved between Harry and Draco as he carefully considered the question. And the question was, did they know him enough to guess correctly? Did they care enough about him?
In his heart, Harry prayed that Draco had also got it right. But a little voice at the back of his mind told him that he must have—though he’d probably taken quite a different route to get to the finish line.
Severus shook his head no, and Saturnine gave him an understanding smile.
“What do you boys think?” she asked.
“I think I got it right,” Harry said. “Dead certain.”
Draco sat a little straighter. “Me, too.”
“And you’re both correct about your assumption,” Saturnine said with a warm smile. “Severus willingly submitted himself to endless cold nights spent outside crunching his neck to look at the stars.”
“Why did you get an E?” Draco asked, turning in his seat a little.
“I misremembered a date,” Severus said dismissively. “Never mind that. How did you figure it out?”
“I remembered sitting on your knees one night when I was very little. You pointed at the stars and told me their names,” Draco said.
“You remembered that?” Severus asked, clearly taken aback. “You must have been only four or five years old.”
Draco shrugged. “The good memories stay with you the longest.”
Severus leaned in to place a soft kiss on his head at that. Then he turned to Harry with eyes brimming with emotions. “What about you, Harry? How could you possibly know?”
“Easy,” he replied with a soft, understanding smile. “The stars were all you had to look at when you were little, and you couldn’t sleep at night.”
Severus nodded, and Harry got the feeling that he was close to tears. Sitting up, he moved to the other side of the table to hug him.
“Smart boy,” he murmured over his head, and Harry smiled into his chest.
“So, four Os and two Es on one side and five Os and one E on the other. You guys sure are setting the bar really high,” Draco said, trying to be funny. “I hope you don’t expect us to follow in your footsteps.”
“But of course we do,” Saturnine said. “I promise a special treat to whoever manages to equal or surpass my results.”
“Couldn’t you set the bar a little lower?” Harry asked, leaning forward a little. “Like Severus’ level or lower.”
“While I will admit to my mistake in Astronomy, I still maintain that I should have gotten an O in Transfiguration,” Severus said, clearly displeased to be considered the second-best. “I did perform an admirable Transfiguration Spell. It’s not my fault that that blasted cat scared my frog into committing suicide.”
“And yet…” Saturnine said, sitting up and stretching her back. “And yet…”
“And yet, nothing,” Severus said, frowning at her. “I was just as good as you were.”
“Funny that, but I seem to recall getting an O in Transfiguration,” she tossed over her shoulder as she walked towards the sofa.
“As I would have had, had Filch’s cat not ruined my exam,” Severus countered, turning in his seat so that he could keep staring at her, hard. “I say it doesn’t count.”
“Excuse me, but whose frog died a grisly death again?” Saturnine turned on her heel to fix him with a challenging gaze. “My bunny lived on happily ever after, believing it was a canary.”
“You let a Mandrake bite your finger off,” Severus reminded her.
“And you got a date wrong in Astronomy,” she volleyed back. “Save your breath, brother-mine. Whichever way you look at it, I beat you. Admit it.”
Severus moved Harry out of the way so that he could stand and face her. Harry sat down in his vacated chair, curious to see how this would pan out. Next to him, Draco was clearly enjoying the show as much as he was.
“Transfiguration didn’t count,” Severus retorted. “I demand a rematch.”
“What?” she said, bemused. “You can’t get a rematch, Severus. It’s the N.E.W.T.s scores, not a bloody Quidditch game. You only take them once.”
“Who says we can’t retake them?” Severus demanded, crossing his arms over his chest.
“Are you serious?” Hands on her hips, Saturnine huffed a laugh. “You’d go through the trouble just because you can’t admit that I was better than you?”
“You weren’t. That’s my point,” Severus said, stepping forward. “So—afraid to lose?”
“Of course not,” she replied, advancing on him, too, and raising a challenging eyebrow. “I already won once. I’ll win again.”
“All our old N.E.W.T.s—except Arithmancy and Astronomy, which only one of us took,” he proposed. “Theory and practical.”
“What of Potions and Defence?” she questioned. “You want us to answer our own tests?”
“We’ll have someone else devise the questions this year,” he proposed. “That way, we can both take it on equal footing.”
“You’re mad, Sev,” Saturnine said, chuckling lightly, but her smile made it clear that she had to be equally cuckoo because she would agree to the challenge.
“The same subjects, questions, and conditions,” Severus said, leaning forward with an almost predatory look. “You can’t say no to that, sister-mine.”
“Fine. You’re on—you crazy, eccentric, lunatic stargazer,” Saturnine said, holding out a hand.
“What do you wager?” Draco asked while the siblings shook hands to seal the deal. “Five Os each?”
Harry nodded. “Definitely.”The blond sighed. “We’re so screwed.”
“Explorer Extraordinaire Gilderoy Lockhart Finds Famed Elder Wand—a Rita Skeeter exclusive,” Harry read aloud, trying his best to keep the scorn from his voice. He had in his hand the latest edition of the Daily Prophet, and it looked like it took everything he had not to crumple it into a tight ball.
“Wizards and witches, young and old, have all heard the tale of the famous Elder Wand. Supposedly created by Death itself, it is said to be the most powerful wand in existence. Lost since time immemorial, many wizards have sought to find it over the years. Well, I can tell you now, my dear readers, that the wand is lost no more.
“It was none other than fearless adventurer Gilderoy Lockhart who finally succeeded where so many have failed. Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League and author of the bestsellers Break with a Banshee, Gadding with Ghouls, and Holidays with Hags—and a close friend of old—Gilderoy Lockhart spent the past four years searching for the lost wand.
“Travelling the world and battling many a dangerous creature, including Sirens and Topanecks, he stopped at nothing to complete his quest. While Gilderoy Lockhart’s next book, Wondrous Wandering Wand, will contain all the details of his travels and the perils he faced, I have been able to persuade the intrepid, dazzling wizard to partake of a few titillating bits—”
“Wondrous Wandering Wand?” Draco cut in, having heard enough. “That one just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?”
On the other side of the kitchen table, Saturnine shrugged her shoulders. “I thought it would fit in nicely with the other drivel he’s published, no?”
“So, how much of what is in this article is the truth?” Harry asked, placing the Daily Prophet back on the flat surface of the table. It looked like he had no desire to read Lockhart’s fabricated interview aloud.
“It’s Rita Skeeter,” Severus said contemptuously. “What do you reckon?”
“Less than a third?” Harry offered.
Severus nodded. “Sounds about right.”
“Will people really buy it?” Draco asked. “I mean, that Lockhart did all that?”
“The man’s reputation precedes him,” Saturnine said, reaching for the abandoned newspaper. “After everything he’s claimed to have done in the past, what’s one more incredible feat? Besides, if Rita Skeeter says it happened—then, it must be true.”
“Sensational journalism at its best,” Severus pipped in.
“But I thought he was little more than a drooling baboon now?” Draco said.
“Very few people know what happened in 1993. Dumbledore saw to that,” Severus explained. “The world at large still thinks those stories are true.”
“When in reality, the only thing that man ever was good at was his Memory Charms. And he really outdid himself in your second year—he’s forgotten most of everything he ever knew,” Saturnine explained as she folded the newspaper. “He’s got the mind of a child now.”
“Which does result in the occasional drooling,” Severus confirmed with a satisfied smirk.
Draco chuckled at that. Four years ago, the Head of Slytherin House made it abundantly clear what he thought of the newly appointed Defence Against the Dark Art’s teacher. His sharp tongue never missed an opportunity to mince the fraud, and it culminated in a fantastic display of Severus’ superior wizarding skills when the pampered idiot challenged him to a duel.
“Merlin, I’ll never forget that Duelling Club,” Draco said.
“To think he dared to call you his assistant, though,” Harry snickered. “You’ll still have your Potions Master when I’m through with him—never fear!” he mimicked Lockhart’s delivery in a pompous tone.
“For a moment, I thought you would skin him alive,” Draco added, remembering how Severus had looked when he got on the duelling platform. Standing with his head held high and a straight back under his dark frock coat, he had looked—regal. There was no better word for it. For a brief instant, Severus had let them all see how truly magnificent a wizard he was. On the opposite end of the room, Lockhart had looked a mere buffoon with his wavy blond locks and garish robes. There had never been any doubt as to who would win. And aside from some of the most gullible girls, he’d had all the students standing behind him, too—never mind which House they were in.
Draco remembered feeling proud that day—proud of his Head of House and proud to be a Slytherin. He clearly recalled thinking he wanted to be like that one day as he watched Severus disarm the deluded, obnoxious wizard with minimum exertion and ruthless precision. The Potions Master had made an impression.
Turning in his seat, he reached for Severus’ sleeve to get his attention. When his obsidian eyes settled on him, Draco held his gaze and said, “You were amazing that day. I felt overjoyed to have you as my Head of House—proud, even.”
That left Severus speechless, and he quickly looked down at the table to hide his embarrassment, a curtain of black hair sliding forward to cover the red blossoming in his cheeks. Draco felt it was somewhat endearing how a simple compliment could disarm such a resilient wizard, but he did not comment on it. Harry gave him a small smile that let him know he’d noticed, too.
“So, Dumbledore had the Elder Wand all along,” he said, returning the conversation to more pressing matters.
Saturnine nodded. “We know the Dark Lord wants it. If we dangle it before his nose, he will come for it.”
Harry snorted at that, and Saturnine raised a curious eyebrow his way. “He kinda doesn’t have one,” he said. “A nose, I mean.”
“It was a metaphor, lad,” she replied. “What I meant is that he will be coming for it.”
“We decide where the battle happens and when, then?” Draco said in understanding. Manipulation, confusion, and subversion—it was the type of cunning mind game his inner Slytherin liked.
“Yes,” Severus said. “And most importantly, we keep him busy while our numbers grow, and we keep looking for the final Horcrux.”
“A diversion again,” Harry said. “Let’s hope it works.”
“More like subversion,” Severus said.
“You won’t let him have the wand, though?” Draco asked him.
“Don’t worry.” He gave him a confident nod. “It’s in a secure location.”
“There will be two more articles on it in the coming weeks,” Saturnine added. “More details of Lockhart’s perilous travels leaked to the press, and finally the announcement that the wand will be unveiled for all to see in a museum exhibit in London.”
“You’re building up the tension, getting everyone excited about it,” Harry said. “Think that’ll whet Voldemort’s appetite?”
“Undoubtedly,” Severus said darkly. “He’s tried finding the wand for years, and the mere idea that a buffoon like Lockhart succeeded where he failed—”
“—that’s adding insult to injury,” Saturnine finished. “We made sure to move Lockhart to a safe location so that he cannot find him. Rita Skeeter is also staying out of town and mailing in her exclusives to the Daily Prophet’s editors by owl.”
“The Dark Lord will only have the information that we want to give him, when we want him to have it,” Severus pointed out. There was a spark to his dark eyes that told Draco how much the man enjoyed the situation. After years of tolerating Voldemort’s convoluted orders and scheming demands, it had to be strangely fulfilling to be the one doing the manipulating for once.
“Brilliant,” Harry said.
“Quite,” Draco agreed.
“I’m sorry, but I have to ask,” Harry said after a while. Saturnine gave him a smile that told him she knew which question was on the tip of his tongue already. He asked it anyway, “Rita Skeeter—what do you have on her?”
“Have on her?” Saturnine frowned slightly at his choice of words. “I don’t have anything on her, lad.”
“How come she’s obeying you, then?” Harry inquired. “There’s no way she’s doing that out of the goodness of her heart—not that woman.”
Saturnine chuckled a bit. “I forget that you two have a history, too.”
Harry’s cheeks tinged red at her words.
“I thought her articles were exquisite,” Draco said smarmily. “Loved it when she hinted at a bourgeoning romance between you and Hermione. I’m sure Ron was equally in awe of her literary prowess.”
Harry gave him a dark glare that only succeeded in broadening the blond’s smile.
“Ah, yes,” Saturnine said. “Rita’s dubious understanding of the truth. She really likes to stretch the realism, doesn’t she?”
“As a matter of fact,” Severus intersected to bring their discussion back on topic, “I am equally interested in Saturnine’s answer to Harry’s question.”
His sister shrugged nonchalantly when the three of them turned their questioning gaze towards her. “Simple, really. She owes me.”
“Meaning...” Severus drawled out.
“Little-known fact about the Queen of the Quills,” Saturnine started. “She has a younger sister, Caitlin. Some twenty years ago, Caitlin married a Muggle scientist to live a perfectly ordinary life in Muggle Brighton. They have a son, Kevin, who should be about fourteen now.”
“A Squib, I take it,” Severus guessed.
His sister nodded. “Yes, and accident-prone. Or at least he was when I met him some ten years ago.”
The Potions Master was the first to make the connection, “The boy you saved,” he said in understanding. “The incident that got you on Scrimgeour’s radar—it was Rita Skeeter’s nephew?”
“Little Kevin thought it would be fun to escalate the balcony’s railing of his parent’s flat. They lived on the fifth floor. Had I not been here, he would have died,” she confirmed.
“Does she know?” Harry asked her. “Skeeter, I mean. Does she know how you saved him?”
Saturnine shook her head. “Thank Merlin, no. Unlike Scrimgeour, she believed my explanation.”
“So, she’s doing this to pay off her sister’s debt?” Draco asked.
“Rita wanted to write an article on me at the time—said she’d make me into a hero.” Saturnine shook her head ruefully. “I begged her not to. It wasn’t the kind of publicity I needed at the time. So, she said if I ever needed her help with anything, I only had to ask.”
“Just like that?” Draco demanded. It surprised him to think that a woman as vile as Rita Skeeter had a sense of honour—especially ten years after the fact.
“Just like that,” Saturnine confirmed. “Rita may be a dubious journalist, but when it comes to family, she’s as honest as they get.”
Saturnine’s words gave Draco pause; he could understand them. Family changed everything.
The end of the Christmas holidays was spent in much the same fashion as they had begun, with one notable exception—their entire family now studied for their N.E.W.T.s exams.
Harry had never doubted that Severus and Saturnine would execute their challenge and pass the exams again. But he hadn’t realised how seriously they would take the endeavour. While they still had professorial duties to see to during the day and the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw to find, the siblings set aside their evenings for N.E.W.T.s revision. And the sight of them, seated in their respective armchairs by the fireplace with schoolbooks in their laps, became the new normal.
Harry wasn’t sure what the challenge was to them. It might have started as pure sibling rivalry. It was a concept that Ron had explained to him early on, and it was supposed to be absolutely normal. But Harry knew that when the Snape family was involved, things tended to be more complicated than they first appeared, and he wondered at the deeper meaning of the action.
The two of them were brilliant; there was no debating that. Saturnine had Ravenclaw ingenuity on her side, but Severus had Slytherin cunning to counter it. And it made them evenly balanced. When thinking about the outcome of the N.E.W.T.s exams, Harry could not imagine them having anything other than straight Os. And he knew Severus and Saturnine had to be thinking along the same lines. Why then go through the charade? Harry wondered. Why bother studying for and sitting through the exams if the outcome was already known to everyone, including themselves?
The answer came to him one evening when he walked out of his bedroom to see Severus sitting on the armrest of his sister’s chair and pointing at something in the book she had open in her lap. He was busy explaining something to her, and it had to be intriguing, going by the attention she gave his words. Then she said something that had them both chuckling before Severus returned to his armchair and his own revision.
The scene reminded Harry of the photograph in the frames Saturnine had gotten for them at Christmas. All at once, he understood that this had never been about the exams’ results. It was all about moments like this—the two of them doing something together, united in a common cause. They attempted to regain what they’d lost all those years ago: the closeness, the friendship.They were mending their burned bridges and moving forward—together.
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.
In a place like Hogwarts, compelling news and rumours quickly come and go, and Harry expected the announcement of the Snape siblings retaking their N.E.W.T.s to be forgotten in a matter of days. But he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Day after day, week after week, people kept pestering him about it. Did Professor Snape still intend to take his N.E.W.T.s? Was he studying? Which subject would he take, and how did Harry think he would score?
It was as if everyone tried to guess at the outcome. Students started to make prognoses, suddenly remembering that not only one but two professors would retake their exams this year. And as was often the case when two contestants were opposed in a match of any kind, people started to bet on their favourites. The consensus seemed to be that Saturnine was the smartest, but Severus was the most likely to cheat.
When it became clear to everyone with half a brain that neither Harry nor Draco would take sides, they became the official bookkeepers of the school’s illegal pool. Harry took the bets for Saturnine, and Draco took those for Severus. And to their surprise, they were evenly placed.
With the help of Fred and George Weasley, who had heard about the pool at their joke shop in Diagon Alley, they devised a complex grid system to count points. It allowed students to not only bet on the winner but also the results of each exam. While they refused to take bets larger than one Galleon, Harry and Draco soon found themselves juggling a hefty pile of golden coins. Everyone was keen to participate, from first-years to seventh-years—no matter which house they were in. Ron and Ginny Weasley took it upon themselves to rally new customers, while Hermione wrinkled her nose at their antics, moaning about their own upcoming N.E.W.T.s and the need to stick to her review schedule.
The whole thing assumed such proportions that Harry wondered how no teacher had yet realised what they were doing. When Professor Flitwick cornered him one afternoon after class, he understood why.
“One Galleon on Severus getting five Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations,” he said. The short part-goblin wizard whispered it so softly that Harry wasn’t sure he had heard it right. But there was no denying the golden coins in his teacher’s hand. “And one Galleon that says Saturnine gets six Os.”
He tapped the side of his nose and added, “Once a Ravenclaw…”
Harry was too shocked to comment, and he left the classroom at a run when their deal was completed. Three more teachers placed bets with him that week, and two went to see Draco. It got to the point where Harry wondered if the Snape siblings knew full well what was happening and only pretended not to. It would be like them to do something like that, he figured. And Harry feared what they would do when they decided it was time to give their sons a lecture about their poor behaviour.
They were unable to keep the money in their bedroom in the dungeon for obvious reasons. And with Harry no longer feeling confident keeping so many Galleons in Gryffindor Tower, he and Draco turned to the Room of Requirements to fulfil their needs.
“What’s all that clutter, anyway?” Harry asked when they entered the place where the Vanishing Cabinet had been kept. The place was as it had been when he’d finally managed to unearth Draco’s whereabouts—covered from floor to ceiling in various dust-covered knickknacks stored with no rhyme or reason.
“This place is known as the Room of Hidden Things,” Draco explained. “It’s the place to go if you need to hide something.”
Well, that explained the haphazard clutter that filled the room.
Pointing to two unopened liquor bottles piled on an old antique table, Draco said, “See those? They’re Professor Trelawney’s sherry bottles.”
“No way!” Harry said. But he felt that explained some of their Divination professor’s peculiarities—and her tendency to spout world-ending prophecies now and again.
“Guess she didn’t see me see her hiding it,” he snickered. “The fraud.”
Looking to the back and the place where he knew the Vanishing Cabinet had been, Harry was surprised to see that it wasn’t there anymore. He had no idea where it was now—if it still existed or had been destroyed. He shuddered, thinking back to that day and the events that had followed, which had nearly cost them their lives.
“It all started in this room,” he said, glancing at Draco. “Us, I mean.”
Draco shrugged; he looked as uncomfortable as Harry felt to be back in here.
“Thanks for saving my life back then,” Harry said. “Guess we wouldn’t be brothers today if you hadn’t.”
“Sheesh—must you always be so melodramatic?” Draco asked. He put up a brave front, but Harry could see in his silver eyes that his words had affected him. “I swear—sometimes it feels like I got myself a sister.”
“Shut up, you prat,” he retorted, offering him an out from a conversation too rich in emotions for his snake blood.
“Jerk,” Draco shot back.
Draco raised a hand. “All right, enough—let’s hide this crap and get the hell out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”
“Fine,” Harry said, looking around for a good hideout. “Where do we put it, though?”
“I think there’s some dusty antique jewellery somewhere,” Draco said. “Maybe we can hide the Galleons underneath it.”
The Slytherin teen moved to the left and rummaged around a few boxes. Then he lifted an old Victorian dress and snapped his fingers at Harry to come closer when it revealed a box of bejewelled necklaces and tiaras.
“I say we put the money bag underneath those,” Draco suggested, reaching inside to lift the clutter of gemstones and threads of silver and gold.
Harry had just enough time to stop him. When he surged forward to grab Draco’s hand with both of his, their bag full of shiny golden Galleons fell to the ground, gaping open and spilling its contents.
“Don’t!” he bellowed, pulling the blond backwards.
“What?” Draco asked, bewildered. “What? Why?”
“Don’t touch it,” Harry repeated, placing himself between his brother and the danger that lurked inside the box. “Don’t!”
Draco tried pushing him to the side, but Harry refused to move. He still had Draco’s hand firmly clutched in one of his, and he couldn’t bring himself to let go. His heart was beating a staccato rhythm, and he shuddered when he thought of how close a call this had been. Unpleasant images of Dumbledore’s cursed hand, rotten black, flashed in his mind. And he felt his blood grow cold when he thought the same thing might have happened to his brother.
“In the—in the box,” he muttered through dry lips. “The Lost Diadem—it’s in the box.”
Saturnine and Severus wasted no time retrieving Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem once Harry and Draco alerted them to its whereabouts. It was now held in a secure location in the castle with Salazar Slytherin’s locket, Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, and Tom Riddle’s battered diary.
“The snake’s the only one left,” Severus said, sitting on the side of his bed with a pensive look.
“A knife to the throat ought to do it for her,” Saturnine offered, sitting down on her bed so that she faced him. “Then a knife to his throat, and we’ll all sleep better.”
“Do you really think we can do it? That we can kill him?” Severus asked. “And then what? We just—move on?”
Saturnine had never been the type to worry about tomorrow; she enjoyed living in the present too much. But she knew Severus was different, and she could see why he’d have a hard time seeing past something like the end of Voldemort. It was no small hurdle to overcome; it was the life-changing type of event that rarely happened to you. There would be a before and an after. Life as they knew it would never be the same after that battle was over—if they survived it.
At this point, it was just as likely that not all of them would. And knowing Severus as she did, that thought probably weighed as heavily on his soul as it weighed on hers. She tried pushing it away, but it refused to vanish.
There were about three feet of distance between the two of them, but it felt like thirty. Saturnine stood up as she said, “I spoke with Rita. She’ll send in the last article tomorrow.”
“It’s time, then,” Severus said, lifting heavy, lidded eyes to look up at her.
She nodded, coming closer to him. It struck her how her brother looked at that moment: old and tired. When had he gotten so old? When was the last time that he had gotten a good night’s sleep—without the nightmares and worry?
Saturnine sat down next to him and leaned against his shoulder. Now that she thought about it, she felt tired, too—exhausted, really. “I want to believe everything will be all right, and we’ll make it,” she said. “That we will survive and spend a beautiful summer in Cornwall. I will be curled up on the sofa, reading a book, you will tinker away at a new potion in your lab, and the boys will fly in circles past the windows.”
“I’d like that, too,” Severus whispered above her head.
“I’ll fight for it,” she promised, pulling back to face her brother. “I don’t care about Wizarding Britain and the common good and all that crap. I’ll fight for only three things: you, Harry, and Draco—my family.”
“Think this is it?” Harry asked, sitting on his bed at the other end of the Potions Master’s living quarters.
Draco didn’t need to ask him what he meant by that. They had found the second-to-last Horcrux, and it wouldn’t be long until the final battle now. He hadn’t known he would be part of it, but it looked like he would be on the front lines after all. He did not doubt that Severus and Saturnine would try and keep him and Harry out of it, but he wouldn’t back out of the fight any more than Harry would.
“Yeah,” Draco said, stepping slightly closer to Harry. “We’re not letting them go fight without us, right?”
“Over my dead body!” Harry exclaimed. He tried to go for a smile, but his joke fell flat.
Draco found it hard to swallow past the lump in his throat. Hogwarts Houses were one thing, but hearts and souls were another. It was clear that Harry resembled Severus: both were self-sacrificing—not that Saturnine or himself wouldn’t lay down their lives for others. But Harry and Severus took it to another level; it came to them without thinking—a selfless gesture done with no regard for the consequences. It was born of a need to protect others—one so raw and primal that it defied reason. They shared a willingness to force the pain onto themselves to spare others. As character traits went, it was as beautiful as it was dangerous.
Draco knew that Saturnine understood her brother’s penchant for martyrdom, just like he understood Harry’s. And that made their respective positions easy to discern. While Severus and Harry took it upon themselves to safeguard everyone and anyone, Saturnine and himself would see to their safety. They were the protectors’ protectors.
Little did they know that Lord Voldemort had plans of his own. The wheel of Fate had been set in motion. And sometimes, even the best-laid plans crumbled to dust under the strength of the opposition—like castles built of sand.
Saturnine awoke with a gasp, sure that something was wrong—very wrong. Fighting for consciousness, she forced her eyes open—past the blinding light, past the pain. She needed to see; she needed to know.
The room she was in wasn’t one she recognised. And she fought through the many aches in her body for more: more information, more knowledge.
When? Where? Why?
Hospital. That one came quickly, Saturnine’s surroundings leaving little to the imagination. Not a complete room but a forlorn bed in a hallway. She saw that it was not the only one. A few students and two Aurors with minor injuries sat or lay on similar makeshift accommodations.
Glancing at herself, she found no severe injury. She had a few cuts and bruises down her legs and arms and a gash on her right temple that had left a dried-up trail down her cheek. It had stopped bleeding and clogged over, like the rest of her injuries. She found nothing life-threatening—nothing that a few nights of sleep wouldn’t cure.
Fighting off the dizziness, she pushed herself up into a sitting position and flung her legs over the side of the bed. Aches and pains shot through her from many different directions; it was impossible to catalogue them all. She felt as if she’d just gone a few rounds against half a dozen angry Bludgers. But the pain was just information, and she chose to disregard it.
Clamping her lips shut, she stood up and forced herself to walk away. There was a nurse station close by, and she needed to get there. She walked—slow but determined, her hands tightened into fists. She needed to get there; she needed to know. She had lost sight of Harry and Draco in the battle, and Severus had been hurt deeply. She needed to find out if they were okay.
Her stomach lurched, and she felt tears run down her eyes. It made her vision swim, or perhaps it was because the room was spinning around her. But still, she kept walking, seeking someone, anyone who could tell her what she needed to know.
Nothing had happened the way they had planned. Either Voldemort had grown impatient, or he had ascertained who had been stringing him along for months. He hadn’t waited for the museum’s grand opening, hadn’t fallen for the building they had set up like a gigantic mousetrap just for him. He had instead come to Hogwarts with the entire bulk of his army. An onslaught that took them by surprise one morning, and that made far more causalities than either of them ever wished for.
They’d been forced to split up and find the boys or the Horcruxes. Protect the boys or destroy the Horcruxes. Save all the children—or each other. In the end, the choice was taken from their hands entirely.
When Lord Voldemort’s sibilant voice resonated throughout the hallways, demanding a one-on-one duel with Harry Potter in the Forbidden Forest, Saturnine knew in her heart that her son would agree to it. No matter what she did, Harry would find his way to the Dark Lord so that he could face him. A Gryffindor through and through: courageous and selfless, a worthy reflection of James and Lily.
A glance at her brother had told her that Severus had reached the same conclusion. She saw the pain in his obsidian eyes and knew it was a reflection of her own. So, they had gone for the Horcruxes, hidden away in the headmaster’s chambers. And in a way, they had faced Voldemort there, too.
“You need to lie down, miss,” a woman told her, taking her by the arm to try and force her to sit down. She was dressed in a Mediwitch’s uniform, and a few grey strands had escaped her tight bun. She looked frazzled, tired, and it was no surprise given the number of wounded all over the place.
“Where?” Saturnine croaked out through parched lips.
The Mediwitch tried forcing her down into a plastic chair, but she squirmed from her grasp.
“Where?” she asked again with all the force she could muster. “Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy?” she asked, giving the witch the boys’ former names. She knew that if she had treated either of them, she wouldn’t have missed Draco’s platinum-blond hair or Harry’s scar. “My brother—Severus Snape?”
The Mediwitch turned to look at a door a little ahead, and Saturnine followed her gaze. She forced herself from the woman’s grasp and began walking again. Saturnine had no idea which one of the three she would find behind the lime-green door, but she knew she wouldn’t let anyone prevent her from getting there.
Draco slowly drifted back to consciousness. He tried fighting it, wanting to remain in the hazy limbo in which he had fallen, that quiet cottony place where everything was soft and warm, and nothing hurt.
His body wouldn’t let him. It had decided to wake up and made its intention quite clear. Painfully so. Moaning in discomfort, he sat up and immediately regretted his decision. Bile surged up his throat, and he had just enough time to lean to the side to avoid making a mess of the sheets. The tacky linoleum floor by his bedside table wasn’t so lucky.
Merlin, but he felt awful. Shivers ran up and down his legs and arms, even as he felt like he would suffocate from the heat. He caught sight of a glass of water on the small table and reached for it. That’s when he saw it: two tiny puncture wounds on his wrist—the memories tumbled back in, hitting him like a Bludger in the face.
The snake. The bloody snake had bitten him.
It had been a typical day—or so they’d thought. Professor Flitwick was in the middle of a long tirade about Healing Charms when darkness fell over Hogwarts Castle. The bright May sun disappeared beyond a thick veil of black smoke, and Draco knew. Without looking outside, he knew who was coming. The hostility and rottenness that seeped from that fog left no ambiguity as to who had cast it. The Dark Lord was here.
Harry was on his feet an instant later, rushing from the room with the rest of their quartet hot on his heels. More students poured from classrooms left and right, crying and panicking, while teachers tried to rein them in. They could try and pretend everything was under control all they liked, but Draco knew how wrong they were. There would be nothing but utter destruction and chaos in Hogwarts if the Dark Lord came through the front doors, for he surely hadn’t come alone. And Draco knew very well the kind of company he kept.
He hadn’t expected the snake, though.
Soon enough, the battle raged on every floor; teachers and older students alike fought off the masked attackers, banding together to try and protect the younger ones. Draco, who’d vowed not to take his eyes off Harry, fought side-by-side with Ron and Hermione to make it to the ground floor.
When the voice that was the source of many of his nightmares cut through the battle cries and the sounds of spells going off, Draco felt his heart stop at the words—Lord Voldemort’s ultimatum.
“Don’t,” he told Harry. “Don’t go.”
They were huddled together in a corner, hidden behind a fallen statue that was their only shield against two Death Eaters intent on killing them. A little further down the hallway, Ron and Hermione had ducked behind a gargoyle whose head had been blasted off.
“I have to, Draco,” Harry told him. “He’ll kill everyone otherwise.”
“I’ll come with you,” he said, brushing a sheen of sweat off his brow and leaning closer.
“You can’t,” Harry told him. “He’ll kill you, too.”
A blast of light flew past their heads and went straight for the gargoyle protecting their friends. A chunk of stone flew right off it, and they heard Hermione shriek in fear.
“I have to go,” Harry told him. “You keep Ron and Hermione safe for me.”
“No!” he said, reaching forward to stop him from leaving. His hands found Harry’s robes. Suddenly, Harry’s hands were on him, and they hugged each other like it was the end of the world—which wasn’t that far from the truth.
“I love you, and I don’t want to lose you,” Draco blurted out, feeling tears welling up. He hadn’t said it yet, and his timing couldn’t have been worse, but if he was going to lose his brother today, he wanted him to know.
“I love you too, brother. But you have to let me do this,” Harry said, pulling back. His green eyes shone brightly behind his round glasses. “Keep the others safe. Please.”
“You better come back alive, you prat,” Draco said through his tears. “I won’t forgive you otherwise.”
“Wanker,” Harry said with a wink. And then he was gone.
A fury Draco hadn’t known himself capable of feeling overtook him then, and he rose to his feet to send curse after curse at the two masked wizards at the other end of the hallway. Jets of lights blasted off his wand, shooting through the space between them with the speed of a seeker on a chase. They barrelled into their chests with enough strength to send them flying backwards a few paces.
Draco was still casting off spells when Hermione’s hand reached for his, forcing him to lower his wand.
“I think they’re down for now,” she said. “Come on, Draco. We have to get out of here.”
“We have to get to the Great Hall,” Ron added. “To make sure none of them make it up the stairs and into the hallways.”
Draco nodded, and they left at a sprint.
They were coming upon the first floor when a hissing sound stopped him in his tracks.
“Nagini,” he muttered through clenched teeth. He’d recognise that snake’s hissing anywhere.
“Not a good idea, mate,” Ron said, reaching for his arm to hold him back.
Draco shook himself free and ran down the last two steps to the first-floor landing. “I’ve got to kill it,” he said. “Harry can’t kill the Dark Lord otherwise.”
Hermione was at his back a moment later. “We’ll come with you,” she said. “You’ll need help with that thing.”
He heard Ron mutter, “Bad idea, bad idea,” in a high-pitched voice, but the sound of his footsteps indicated that he was coming, too.
The snake hadn’t been alone, and it hadn’t gone down willingly. The glass of water shook in Draco’s hand as he remembered the piercing pain that shot through him when Nagini plunged its fangs into his skin. But Draco had always been the kind of guy who gave an eye for an eye. And as he scrambled backwards on the floor to escape the slithering monster’s reach, one of his hands had found a shard of broken glass. And with a vicious smile, he gave the dark creature a taste of its own medicine.
Everything that followed was a blur. Draco vaguely remembered Hermione pressing her wand to his wound and Ron cradling his head while he convulsed on the floor. The world had gone dark soon after that.
He had made it out of Hogwarts alive, but he had no idea what had happened to the others. Alone, he did not know the outcome of the battle. Had Harry won or lost? Was he even still alive? What of his parents? He hadn’t seen them at all in the battle, and he didn’t know if they were—
His mind couldn’t even finish the thought.
Forcing some water down his parched throat, he wondered where he would ever find the courage to open the door of his hospital room. For as long as he remained here, they could all be alive—his brother, father, and mother. If the door remained closed, he had hope.
Someone pushed the door open from the other side, and Draco tensed in fear. If it was some bad news, he didn’t want to hear it, and he closed his eyes against the possible ugliness of the truth.
“Draco!” a voice that oozed relief shook him from his self-imposed isolation, and his eyes flew open.
“Mom?” The word, he had never said before, was out of his lips before his mind had the time to form the thought. And Saturnine smiled through the pain that lined her face. She was a mess—battle-weary and covered in minor wounds and scratches. But she was also alive—very much alive.
Draco threw himself at her when she was close enough to do so, hugging her with all the strength remaining in his battered body, clearly intent on never letting go.
Severus knew pain; they were old friends who went way back. He’d learned from a young age how to wake up with a battered, bruised, and abused body. Minimal exertion was the key: small, measured movements done with care and precision—an equal weight distribution to avoid putting too much strain on a single muscle group.
He rolled off his bed with barely a grunt and waited for the expected dizzy spell to pass before opening his eyes. He frowned at the sight that met him. He didn’t have high standards, but he’d expected better than an empty hallway. Looking down at himself, he discovered that whoever had brought him to St. Mungo’s hadn’t bothered doing much more than dumping him on a bed. He wasn’t wearing one of those ugly lime-green hospital gowns. But his clogged-up wounds hurt like hell when he started moving about. Well, he’d had worse.
He walked down the hallway on stiff legs and entered a larger room filled with a cacophony of sounds and motion. It wreaked havoc on his poor head, but he pushed through nonetheless. He couldn’t have said what drove his steps, why he chose to go in one direction rather than the other—sheer instinct, maybe. But he crossed through the lobby to enter another hallway, aiming for a half-opened door.
The Dark Lord had been wrong. He knew it in his heart, in his guts. His mind, his soul, simply refused to believe otherwise. Riddle had been incorrect; they weren’t gone—weren’t leaving. And he wasn’t alone.
Rushing through the corridors without encountering much opposition, he and Saturnine had made it to the Headmaster’s Tower in record time. Knowing what they had to do, they’d gotten to work with barely a pause. Saturnine levitated the Horcruxes out of their hiding places, behind the old headmasters’ portraits, and Severus went to retrieve the sword.
It was now the Head of Slytherin House that wielded Godric Gryffindor’s mighty sword. Despite any misgivings he might have had, he could not deny that it felt right in his hand. The weight felt comfortable; the lean hilt seemed to have been shaped for the length of his fingers.
The diary was already destroyed, and Severus ignored it. He chose to go for the ring first. Part of him loathed the object that had taken Dumbledore away from him. He slammed it with the edge of the sword and cut it into two clean halves—ring and stone alike. A plume of black smoke seeped from the stone, and he watched it wither to nothingness with a contented smirk.
He turned to the cup next, lifted the sword, and—
The walls shook. Severus froze in surprise, even as his eyes shot forward. Saturnine was ahead of him, nearing the windows to seek an explanation. Another blast blew the glass to smithereens, and a few shards cut into her before she could pull back.
“They’re onto us,” she said, pulling out her wand. The stones around the window morphed and grew under her will until there was no window anymore—nothing but bricks and mortar.
“Keep at it, Sev,” she instructed, turning back to face him. “I’ll hold them off.”
He returned to the table, and the Horcruxes laid out on it. Saturnine turned her back to him, feet firmly planted on the floor. She took a battle stance and seemed intent on not letting anything get between the door and him—and he loved her for it.
The cup suffered the same fate as the ring a moment later. And this time, more than the walls shook in retaliation: the entire tower, floor to ceiling. Whoever was on the other side of these walls was intent on blasting the edifice clear off the face of the earth. And this time, they weren’t stopping. Blast after blast shook the ancient tower, and a few of the portraits fell to the floor, provoking loud complaints from the headmasters within.
“Keep going, Severus,” Saturnine told him. “Whatever happens, don’t stop.”
He looked up to her to nod and saw her pull her wand away. Then she closed her eyes in intense concentration. When she reopened them, the walls exploded. Only, they didn’t blow inward but outward, blasted away by the sheer strength of the wind gales pulsing from Saturnine’s outstretched hands. They swirled at her command, spinning like a tornado until they formed a protective barrier around the two of them. But it wasn’t just the wind Severus saw. There were sparks of electricity in the air from the friction between conflicting, fizzling currents all but ready to ignite. Past the column of wind, he could glimpse the occasional jet of coloured light characteristic of battle spells. They ricocheted off the maelstrom like coloured marbles hitting a wall.
Severus returned his attention to the task at hand. There were only two more: the locket and the diadem. It was probably sentimentality that made him go for the diadem first. He rose the sword and readied to strike but froze at the pale ghost that filtered in existence ahead of him.
That smile, those eyes—he’d recognise them anywhere; they were Harry’s eyes—Lily’s eyes. His limp fingers almost lost their grip on the sword handle.
“Lily.” He said her name in a whisper, almost a prayer.
“You have to stop what you’re doing, Severus,” Lily said. Her voice was like music to his ears: seventeen years’ worth of pain was erased by her dulcet tones.
“Lily,” he repeated, unable to say anything else.
“Stop this; join me, Severus,” she said, stepping forward from the table and extending a pale hand. “I miss you.”
“I miss you, too,” he said, feeling tears well up in his eyes. “I miss you so much, Lily.”
She took another step towards him, her beautiful face angled up to look into his eyes, and he almost lost himself in hers. “I love you, Severus,” she said. “I’ve always loved you. Come join me, and we can be together for the rest of time.”
He wanted to say yes. Oh Merciful Merlin, but he wanted to say yes. Lily—his Lily. Finally, after all these years, she was offering him what he had always wanted: her love and acceptance.
“No more loneliness,” she said, smiling up at him with such longing and desire that he felt his own desire flare up. “No more lonely nights.”
She was everything he had always wanted, the only thing missing from his life. He wouldn’t be alone anymore. He’d have someone to talk to, love, and care for—someone who cared about him in return. Someone who…
Flashes of memories shot through him rapidly: his birthday party, filled with laughter and pleasant company. The evenings spent in the dungeons with Saturnine while they studied for their blasted N.E.W.T.s. The weekly dinners with the boys where they spoke of everything that had happened during the week. He tried holding onto the memories and pulled more of them forward. Then utter peace came over him as he saw himself waking each morning with the knowledge that he wasn’t alone in his room. It had got to the point where he didn’t even need to open his eyes anymore to know that Saturnine was asleep a couple of feet away; he knew it in his heart.
Severus took a step back, and he raised Gryffindor’s sword again, ready to strike. Fear flashed in Lily’s beautiful eyes, and he felt his resolve weaken.
“I love you, Severus,” she said again. “Let us be together.”
“No,” he said, forcing the words out. “No, not like this. I can’t—I have a family now, Lily, and I can’t lose them. I won’t.” He brought the sword down, and the shade disappeared as the diadem was cut in half.
Quickly, he turned to Salazar Slytherin’s locket. And before he had the time to prepare his next strike, another shade appeared: a darker one, a more sinister one—the shape of a monster he knew well.
“Is this what you have now—a family?” the Dark Lord asked, his sibilant voice slicing through his eardrums like blades. “Severus, you fool.”
Lord Voldemort took a step forward, and Severus recoiled from the poisonous anger seeping from the dark wizard’s spectral eyes.
“Fostering lost children as if they were your own—contenting yourself with the love of your sister because no other woman ever wanted you,” Voldemort mocked, his words oozing from his pale lips like venom. “My poor Severus—you tricked yourself into thinking that you built something good. But you know the truth, don’t you?”
The Dark Lord kept advancing, and Severus kept stepping back until he ran out of room to retreat and froze in fear.
“Deep down, you know that none of them need you, Severus. Not like you need them,” Voldemort hissed, his forked tongue coming out to lick his lips. “Harry and Draco will leave you the moment they finish school, never to look back. You will become a black mark in their memories as they move on to bigger, brighter things. And Saturnine—well, your impetuous sister will leave again, as she has before; it’s only a matter of time. You know that to be the truth, Severus. You will say or do something that will be the final nail in the coffin of your friendship, and she will go without so much as a goodbye.”
The Dark Lord slithered closer, one of his pale hands reaching up to brush Severus’ cheek tenderly. His touch chilled him to the bone. “And where will you be then, my dear Potions Master? Alone once more—a forgotten child that no one ever wanted. No one but me.”
In an instant, the coldness that seeped from the Dark Lord’s fingers was replaced by a blazing heat as the spectre was engulfed in raging, angry flames. Severus had just enough time to step to the side to avoid getting burned.
He caught sight of Saturnine in his peripheral vision; the flames ran all the way back to her outstretched left hand. She still used her right hand to control the tunnelling winds protecting them. Fury danced in her face, and there was a steely determination in her gaze he had never seen before.
At that moment, Saturnine was her elements, the primal force behind them. She was the raging ocean, the howling winds and the voracious flames. Her azure eyes caught his, and he saw that she was something else, too. She was the nurturing earth; she was love and compassion—she was home.
Severus saw all the way down to her soul and realised it was for him that she burned so brightly—that the roaring seas and furious winds had been unleashed and mountains had been moved. Saturnine was bearing down her soul, offering herself up to protect him. And Severus decided he would do the same.
Tightening his hold on the hilt of the blade, he raised it once more. Then, looking at the Dark Lord, still engulfed in flames, he said, “You know nothing of family, Riddle. You never had one.”
He plunged the sword through the flames, through the spectre—straight through the middle of the locket floating behind the Dark Lord—before collapsing forward as if his body had given up on him.
Pushing the hospital door open, Severus already knew what he would find on the other side: love, acceptance—home.
It was Draco who caught sight of him first. He hugged Saturnine, and his eyes latched onto him when he stepped through. There was no missing the wave of utter relief that passed through his pointy face—nor the love that danced in his silver eyes.
Saturnine must have sensed the change in their son, for she quickly turned to look over her shoulder. Her left hand shot out for him, even as the other kept a secure hold on Draco. He gladly linked his fingers with hers and offered no resistance when she tugged on his arm to bring him closer.
As he drifted back to consciousness, Harry wasn’t sure if he was alive or dead. He wished he could say the feeling was new, but it wasn’t; he’d felt both ways before. It was as if life couldn’t decide what to do with him. Harry was the odd one out, an ill-fitting puzzle piece. He should have died sixteen years ago. There was no more place in the world for Harry Potter than for Lord Voldemort, and Harry had told him so when they faced off against each other in a clearing in the middle of the Forbidden Forest.
Harry had been grateful for the choice of location. There was nothing out here, no one who risked getting caught in the crossfire of their duelling wands.
Harry still hadn’t found the ‘power that the Dark Lord knows not’, but he’d accepted the duel anyway. Prophecy or not, he wouldn’t back down. Harry would fight until his last breath if he had to, and he hoped to take Voldemort down with him.
He regretted being unable to say goodbye to anyone. He wished there had been time for more, but they lived in an imperfect world. There were letters, though, hidden at the bottom of his school trunk—his contingencies. The ones for Ron and Hermione had been written when he first heard the blasted prophecy and understood he would have to face off against Voldemort one day. In subsequent weeks, he wrote letters to his other friends and several of his teachers. There was even one for his aunt and uncle—but it had few pleasant things to say.
Voldemort hadn’t come to the clearing alone—not that Harry had expected him to. But still, his henchmen kept their distance, likely having been ordered not to interfere. He stepped closer, wand held loosely in his right hand, and stopped about twenty feet away: the perfect distance for a duel between wizards.
“Dumbledore’s hero, everyone,” Voldemort seethed from the other end of the clearing. “A frightened little boy.”
“You don’t learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you.”
“You dare—” Voldemort cut in.
“Yes, I dare,” Harry interrupted boldly. “I know many important things that you don’t, Tom Riddle. Want to hear some before you make another colossal mistake?”
Voldemort did not speak but prowled in a circle, and Harry knew that he kept the Dark Lord temporarily enthralled and at bay, restrained by the faintest possibility that Harry might indeed know a final secret…
“Is it love again?” Voldemort asked, jeering. “Dumbledore’s favourite solution, love? The one which he claimed conquered death, though love did not stop him from dying? Love did not prevent me from stamping out your Mudblood mother like a cockroach, Potter. Nobody seems to love you enough to run forwards this time and take my curse. So, what will stop you dying now when I strike?”
“Only one thing,” Harry replied softly.
“If it is not love that will save you this time,” Voldemort said, “you must believe that you possess magic that I do not. Or is it a weapon more powerful than mine?”
“Both, I believe,” Harry replied. He saw shock flit across his snake-like face, though it was dispelled instantly. Voldemort began to laugh, and the sound was more frightening than his screams—humourless and maniacal, it echoed through the silent clearing.
“You think you know more magic than I do?” he bellowed. “Than I, Lord Voldemort? I’ve performed magic that Dumbledore himself never dreamed of.”
“Oh, he dreamed of it,” Harry said. “But he knew more than you—enough not to do what you’ve done.”
“You mean he was weak!” Voldemort screamed. “Too weak to dare—to take what might have been his, what will be mine!”
“No, he was cleverer than you,” Harry mocked. “A better wizard and a better man.”
“I killed Albus Dumbledore!”
“You thought you did,” taunted Harry. “But you were wrong.”
“Dumbledore is dead!” Voldemort hurled the words at Harry as though they caused him unendurable pain. “His body decays in the marble tomb on the grounds of this castle; I have seen it, Potter. He will not return!”
Harry smiled a contemptuous smile that would have made Draco proud. “Only he isn’t,” he said, “not really. He’s merely resting for a little while.”
“You lie!” Voldemort screeched. “That’s impossible.”
“With the compliments of Severus and Saturnine Snape,” he said, affecting a slight bow. “The smartest, most amazing, Half-Bloods I’ve ever met.”
“Dead!” Voldemort shrieked. “The whole lot of them! As soon as I’m done with you.”
“Harry?” a voice that he knew as Hermione asked. “Sweet Morgana, Harry—are you all right?”
Harry blinked his eyes open and found that yes, he was. He pushed himself into a seated position and was glad to discover that there wasn’t too much pain to be felt—certainly no more so than after some of the Gryffindor versus Slytherin Quidditch matches.
Hermione engulfed him in a tight embrace, and he sat limply on his bed until she let go.
“Are you okay?” she asked, worry thick in her voice.
That was a good question, Harry thought. Was he okay?
“I’m not sure,” he told Hermione. “I feel kinda weird.”
That was enough prompting for Hermione to launch herself into a lengthy, detailed recap of the last couple of hours’ events. She covered everything from the state of the school:
“—in shambles. Many injuries, but thankfully, very few deaths. It could have been much worse.”
To the results of the battle:
“—a lot of Death Eaters were either killed or arrested. We believe a few might have gone away. But they’ll be hunted down by the Aurors. We won, Harry. I can’t believe we won.”
To his arrival at St. Mungo’s:
“—completely unresponsive, and they had no idea what was wrong with you. The Mediwizard wasn’t even sure you would wake up. Can you remember what happened?”
“I killed the Dark Lord,” Harry told her.
Hermione looked at him like she wanted him to elaborate, but he didn’t feel brave enough.
“I’m not sure where the others are,” Hermione told him. “I sent Ron looking for them.”
Harry wasn’t sure who ‘they’ were, but he nodded his thanks, regardless. It felt like the right thing to do.
“Ron’s okay, too,” Hermione continued. “A few cuts and bruises, but he’ll be right as rain in no time. That has him rather put out. He was hoping for some battle scars to show off.”
Hermione giggled nervously at her boyfriend’s antics, and Harry wondered what was so funny.
“You sure you’re okay, Harry?” she asked. “Do you want me to get a nurse or something?”
He shook his head. “I feel fine, Hermione. Thanks.”
That wasn’t very truthful, but he couldn’t bring himself to care about his white lie. He couldn’t bring himself to care about anything. Maybe he ought to get something to eat? Or a shower, perhaps? That might kick some life back into him.
“I wonder what’s taking Ron so long,” Hermione said, wringing her hands together. “Maybe I should look for him.”
Harry turned to look at her with puzzlement; he’d recognised her tone. He was making her uncomfortable. It hadn’t been his intention, and Harry wondered what he could do to ease her worry. Should he—smile? He wasn’t sure he even knew how anymore. And he wasn’t the smiling type, anyway—was he? That would look weird on him.
“Really, what could take him so long to bring them back?” she asked, getting to her feet.
“Who’s he bringing back?” Harry asked. He was getting fed up with the unspecific ‘they’ she kept referring to.
Hermione looked at him as if he’d grown a second head. “Well, your family, of course,” she replied. “Oh, Harry—are you sure you’re okay?”
His family? Did he have one? He couldn’t seem to recall. His parents were dead, weren’t they? They’d died a long time ago. Did she mean the Dursleys, then? Had Ron gone to fetch them? That would explain what was taking him so long, though—Surrey was a long way away from St. Mungo’s.
His puzzlement must have shown on his face because tears welled up in Hermione’s eyes. “You do remember them, Harry, right?” she said. “Draco, Saturnine and Severus?”
The names felt like the distant echoes of—something. Harry wasn’t sure what. He was almost positive that he knew those names. He’d heard them before, but he couldn’t remember the faces they were attached to. Why was Hermione bringing them up, then? Was he supposed to care about these people? No—he was sure that he didn’t care about anyone.
He shook his head.
“Draco’s your brother,” Hermione explained. “And Saturnine and Severus are your mom and dad. They adopted you last Christmas. You don’t remember that?”
Harry tried looking into his memories, but it was all very hazy. He seemed to have a vague recollection of—something. It was there, like words hanging on the tip of his tongue—present but unattainable.
“What of Severus’ birthday party in January?” Hermione asked. “Do you remember that? You spent days arranging everything with Draco. You roped all the teachers into helping out. We had a big party on the third floor. Then you guys went to the Astronomy Tower to watch the stars.”
Did he do all that? He couldn’t seem to recall. But it would have been something he’d have enjoyed doing. He liked looking at the stars; he’d spent many nights looking at them when he lived with the Dursleys.
“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said with tear-stained cheeks. “What happened out there?”
He was saved from replying by the door opening. Ron beamed at him when he saw that Harry was awake. Behind him was a tall man with an austere face and a hooked nose. His black clothes looked like they’d seen better days, and his thin dark hair was due for a wash.
Next to him was a woman who seemed to be about the same age he was—maybe a tad younger. Harry couldn’t be sure. Her clothes were in a right state, too; her dark-blue blouse was cut in several places, and her white denim trousers had many stains on them—some of them blood. She wore her long dark-brown hair braided in a plait, but many strands had gotten loose.
The fourth person to pass the door was a young boy of about his age. Their age wasn’t the only thing they shared; they wore matching ugly hospital gowns. He had a pointy chin, silver eyes, and platinum-blond hair.
Harry was sure he had seen these people before, but it mustn’t have been recently. Maybe they’d encountered each other a few years ago? He felt like he ought to greet them perhaps—or not. There seemed to be a lot of tension in the room suddenly. And he felt safer not doing anything.
The man dressed in black was the first to approach him. The other two remained by the door, the woman holding the boy’s shoulders tightly.
“Are you okay, Harry?” the man asked as he approached his bed.
“His memory’s not all there, Professor,” Hermione explained softly.
The man’s black eyes shot sideways to her in an instant before returning to Harry. “Do you know who I am?” he asked tentatively.
For some reason, Harry didn’t want to disappoint him. This man didn’t look to be the sort who liked to be disappointed, but Harry didn’t feel like lying to him. He shook his head slightly. “I’m not sure, sir. I—I feel like I’ve seen you before, but I can’t recall where. Do you know where we met?”
“Hogwarts,” the man answered, and there was such sadness in his eyes that Harry pitied him.
“My school?” he asked. Hermione had called him ‘Professor’. Did he work there, too? Harry ought to remember him if he worked there, no? Or perhaps he taught a class he hadn’t taken yet. “Do you work there?”
“Yes, I do,” the man replied, his eyes brimming with tears. “I teach Potions.”
“Oh, I like Potions,” Harry said, remembering that it was one of his favourite subjects. It hadn’t always been, but he’d grown rather fond of it lately. He liked brewing and watching the potions change colours and texture as he added ingredients. “It’s a fun subject.”
A few tears ran down the man’s cheeks as he nodded. “Yes, I rather think it is.”
Harry felt like he was somehow the cause for the man’s sadness, and he felt terrible about that. He didn’t want anyone to be sad because of him. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m supposed to know you, aren’t I?”
The man looked like he wanted to reply, but his pain was so intense that he couldn’t seem to speak. Harry heard the blond teen behind him gasp in shock. Looking up, Harry saw that he and the woman, who still stood by the door, wore matching desperate faces. All my fault, he thought again. Harry might not recognise them, but he knew he didn’t want to hurt them. “I’m sorry,” he repeated, feeling tears well up in his eyes.
“It’s all right, lad,” the woman came forward at last. “It’s not your fault you’re not well. Don’t blame yourself for it.” Turning to Hermione, she said, “Can you try and find whoever treated Harry, please? They may know more.”
Hermione gave her a short nod before scurrying from the room, grabbing Ron’s arm to drag him with her as she went. It was like she couldn’t wait to leave.
The woman with the braided hair came to sit in the chair Hermione had occupied earlier. “It’ll be okay, Harry. Whatever’s happened, we’ll figure it out.” She looked up at him with warm, kind eyes, and to Harry, she seemed trustworthy. He gave her a short nod, and she smiled despite the tears that seemed ready to fall from her eyes.