1. What Kind of World? by SaraJany
2. N.E.W.T.s by SaraJany
3. Are You Back? by SaraJany
4. The Last Supper by SaraJany
5. Return to Cove Cottage by SaraJany
6. Who We Are by SaraJany
7. Wanting to Stay by SaraJany
8. Like the Universe Plus One by SaraJany
9. Proud and Loved by SaraJany
10. The Beginning of a New Life by SaraJany
Returning to Cove Cottage had never been so painful. It was as if all the joy had been sucked from the Cornish air. And Saturnine wondered if about a dozen Dementors were drifting about the place, just out of sight. It would explain the oppressive ambience.
While she and Severus suffered only superficial injuries in the final battle against Voldemort, Draco was forced to stay at St. Mungo’s for another two days before the Mediwitch in charge allowed them to take him home. And it was only at Severus’ insistence that, as a Potions Master, he was more than capable of seeing to his son’s medical needs. The Mediwitch had tried to protest, but she lost the fight when Severus informed her, not too kindly, that it was his very own brand of antivenin that she had been pumping into Draco’s blood for three days.
That had solved one of their problems. The other currently lay sleeping inches away from Saturnine, and she had no idea how to solve that one. Harry looked impossibly young while he slept, as if he had no worries or cares anymore. Reaching a hand forward, Saturnine pushed a lock of brown hair from his face and tucked it behind his ear. Her son didn’t so much as stir at her touch. And she felt her heart break all over again.
Harry had gotten some of his memories back and was less confused than when he first awoke at the hospital. But that was the sole extent of his recovery. The last two years of the boy’s recollection was riddled with more holes than Swiss cheese.
Memories of a song drifted back to Saturnine’s mind as she watched her son sleep. It must have been something she heard while she was in France, for what little she remembered of the lyrics wasn’t in English.
“Laisse-moi te dire, boy—te voir dormir. C’est un peu mourir, boy—ainsi soit-il,” she sang softly, careful to not wake Draco.
How very fitting, Saturnine thought; watching Harry sleep was a bit like dying inside. The song was about the trials of parenthood and your children surviving you in the end. She couldn’t remember all the lyrics. So, she hummed the melody under her breath while she watched Harry.
Looking at him like that, she could almost fool herself into believing that everything was all right. They had won the fight without suffering any losses, and the future they had fought so hard for, bled for, was finally theirs. But it wasn’t—not really.
They had lost something: Harry—or part of him, at least. The part that was well and truly theirs—or it should have been. While their son remembered everything about who he was, all his friends at Hogwarts, and what he’d learned in class, there seemed to be a black hole of absolute nothingness where the three of them were concerned. It was as if someone had practised the most despicable and precise Obliviation Charm on him, sifting through memory after memory to carefully prune the Snape family from his every recollection.
A cruel fate, indeed, worthy of the Dark Lord. And the worst of it was that Harry wasn’t the one who suffered the most. It was a small mercy that the boy didn’t seem to know what he’d lost. He merely looked wrong-footed most of the time, which was nothing compared to how they felt. The three of them: his family, who, unlike Harry, retained their entire set of memories and knew all too well what was missing. It was killing them slowly, tearing them apart with malice that befitted the darkest wizard of all time.
Draco clung to his books like a lifeline, coming up with questions and interrogations that led to ideas and schemes to try and bring his brother’s memory back. But the Mediwitch—who couldn’t explain what had happened any more than they could—had advised against attempting to force Harry to remember. Either it would happen naturally, or it wouldn’t, she had said. So, Saturnine had been forced to ask Draco that he do nothing that risked making things worse. But still, her second son kept poring over book after book as he sought the miracle cure.
Her brother was in pain; that was clear to anyone with a pair of eyes and half a brain. Haunted would be an even more appropriate word for it. Severus drifted through his days like a man who’d lost a limb or half of his heart. Saturnine had tried talking to him about it, but he’d rebuked every last one of her attempts with cold, crisp words. And when she ran out of strength to try and pull him from his misery, she decided to let him be.
As for herself? Well, mostly Saturnine wondered where her tears were. Surely she ought to have some in stock, but they just wouldn’t come. She had lost more than a limb or half of her heart on that battlefield. She’d been cut open, and the haemorrhage was ongoing. But weirdly enough, tears weren’t coming—only blood.
Every night, as she sat by her sleeping son, who wasn’t her son anymore, she felt as if she was bleeding out on his blanket. During the day, even more of her lifeforce was drained away when she watched her second son waste away his time with his books as he sought a solution that she knew wasn’t there. And the last precious drops of her vital essence spilt out at her brother’s feet every time she caught his empty, broken gaze.
Whatever Voldemort had done to Harry that day, the Dark Lord had more than succeeded in giving them all a punishment worse than death. Even from beyond the grave, he tortured them—achingly slowly—heartbeat by heartbeat until their family would be no more.
Minerva McGonagall kept them appraised of the ongoing repairs at Hogwarts and assured them that O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s were still scheduled for June. Severus wondered how long it would take her to ask them to return. Would she dare ask us that? he wondered. Dumbledore would have; he wouldn’t have hesitated. The old man had asked for so much already, taken so much.
And they would bring him back, wouldn’t they? That had been the deal: keep him under stasis until the Dark Lord was gone. Follow his instruction until the last battle, and sacrifice what must be sacrificed to get the result Dumbledore had intended. And they had done it, hadn’t they? Good little sheep that they were, they had carried the torch and taken over the deadly game of chess Dumbledore and the Dark Lord had been playing. Then, they had willingly sent a child to the battlefield: a boy barely seventeen years old—just a child. And he’d gone alone to face the most violent, depraved, evil wizard their generation had ever seen. And he’d gone willingly because that was what he’d been told to do. Because, for years, the old man had prepared him, groomed him to sacrifice him to the cause—his cause.
Their son, their Harry—with his heart of gold and his parents’ Gryffindor courage and honour—had gone willingly, without fear. And on that battlefield, he had done the impossible. And he had sacrificed the best parts of himself to save them all.
What kind of world required that? Severus wondered. In what kind of world was it okay to sacrifice the heart and soul of a seventeen-year-old boy to stop an evil lord?
There was a loud crashing sound in their tiny kitchen, and Severus realised he’d hurled the glass he’d had in his hand against the wall. It had been half-full, and whisky dripped down the side of the kitchen cabinet where the glass had exploded into tiny shards. He reached for the bottle, which still lay on the counter, and he threw it to the floor. There was a large plate nearby with six apples on top, and he sent that flying, too.
He was dimly aware of his sister’s voice in the distance, but that wasn’t enough to stop him. Opening the cupboards at random, he kept throwing glasses, plates, and cups against the walls. And they crashed repeatedly, like the ocean waves that exploded against the rocks at the foot of the Cornish cliffs. He kept hurling dishes until he was no longer able, and he slumped against the counter, shaking and wracked with sobs.
“Oh, Sev,” he heard Saturnine say, and he was engulfed in her arms a moment later. He went willingly; he wouldn’t have been able to fend her off anyway. As it was, he barely even remembered how to breathe.
He had no idea how long they stayed there, sitting in a heap on the kitchen floor in one of the only spots that wasn’t covered in shards of glass or porcelain. When he came to, Severus noticed that Saturnine had closed the kitchen door. And he wondered if she had put up a Silencing Charm to protect the boys from the worst of his outburst. Knowing her, he thought she probably had.
“Thanks,” he muttered through the last of his tears. “I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay,” she said before kissing his temple. “Are you feeling better?”
He nodded before pushing away slightly and leaning his back against the kitchen cabinets. Focusing on his breathing, he tried to calm himself and realised that he was feeling a bit better.
“I hope your Reparo Charms are good,” Saturnine said. “Or we’ll have to eat straight from the pans from now on.”
He chuckled at that, and his sister joined in his laughter; it was short-lived, though. “I’m sorry,” he said again, turning his head to the left to face her. “I haven’t been of much help these past couple of days.”
And he hadn’t been, had he? He could see it now in the tired lines of Saturnine’s face—the pain, the ache. She wasn’t doing much better than he was, and he’d left her alone. “I’m sorry.”
She shook her head. “It’s okay. You’re here now, right?”
He nodded, reaching an arm around her shoulders to draw her in.
Draco hadn’t expected to be left alone with Harry, but after his parents finished brewing the potion that would bring back Dumbledore, they had left for Hogwarts together. He’d felt like protesting and asking if one of them could stay, but the words died on his lips when he caught their gazes. The Snape siblings looked like pale copies of themselves—tired, battle-wary, and oh-so-sad—and he hadn’t wanted to add to their misery.
He was in the middle of preparing dinner when Harry popped into the kitchen.
“Didn’t know you could cook, Malfoy,” he said, sneering.
Heaving a sigh above the pan of boiling water, he tossed in the pasta and stirred twice before lowering the heat of the flame.
“Don’t call me that, Harry,” he said, turning back to face his brother. “I told you that’s not my name anymore.”
“Oh, right,” Harry said as he sat down at the kitchen table, looking for all the world like he didn’t believe him. “Habit, I guess.”
That was why Draco didn’t like to be alone with him anymore; he had lost Harry’s trust. In his brother’s muddled brain, they were still Potter and Malfoy—sworn enemies. And it didn’t matter that Draco hadn’t said or done anything mean to him in days or that he’d spent hours every night telling him everything he could remember and crying openly in front of him as he poured his heart out to him. Harry still saw Draco Malfoy when he looked at him, and that cut more than anything else.
And he’d thought that Harry not remembering him at first was bad. Hell, he would gladly exchange the hostility for a complete lack of recognition. He supposed Severus would, too, for he’d become Professor Snape—greasy, evil bat of the dungeons—again in his son’s eye. Only Saturnine had had the heart to consider this progress. However faulty Harry’s recovered memories were, she considered them steps in the right direction. Draco begged to differ.
“Dinner will be ready in fifteen minutes,” he announced, turning back to the pan of cooking spaghetti. “I made that curry and shrimp sauce you like.”
“With coconut milk and raisins?” Harry asked.
Draco nodded as he lifted the lid on the saucepan to stir it a couple of times. He heard Harry sit up, and a moment later, his brother joined him at the counter.
“How did you know I like that?” Harry asked him as he peered inside the saucepan.
Draco shrugged. “Saturnine made some last summer, and you said it was the best thing you’d ever had. I found the recipe in one of her books.” He stirred again, hoping he hadn’t messed it up. He had gotten quite good at cooking. But he was still anxious when he tried his hand at something new. “Why don’t you set the plates? It’s almost ready.”
Harry did so without objecting, and Draco finished cooking their lunch in silence. He brought the steaming spaghetti with him to the kitchen table and served Harry before serving himself. The way his brother looked up to thank him for the food, it was almost like the old Harry was back. For a fleeting instant, there wasn’t any mistrust or ill intent in his green eyes. But then Harry blinked, and the moment passed.
Draco sat down and tried to enjoy the food, but it tasted like ash in his mouth. Everything did these days.
Harry was glad when he could finally return to Hogwarts. The week and a half he’d been forced to stay in Cornwall had been—weird.
The doctors at St. Mungo’s had told him that he’d lost some of his memories. Ron and Hermione explained to him exactly what kind of memories were missing. And the three people he’d been stuck with in Cornwall for a fortnight had tried their best to be supportive. But still, Harry had had a hard time wrapping his head around it all.
Even though he’d been told not to, Draco spent hours telling him everything he could remember—his version, at least. Harry wasn’t sure if he ought to believe him or not. But it seemed to align with Ron and Hermione’s memories, too; so, he figured it must be the truth. Never mind that he had no recollection of any of it ever happening to him. It was like hearing someone else’s story.
And then there were the Snape siblings—his new parents, or so he’d been told. Saturnine constantly looked at him with a broken-hearted gaze and always seemed minutes away from crying her eyes out. Harry knew full well that he was the cause of her pain, but he couldn’t remember ever meeting her before waking up in St. Mungo’s. The fact that he had no idea how to make her feel better made it all worse. And Professor Snape—well, he was the opposite. Until the last days of their stay in Cornwall, the man had seemed dead inside—a mere puppet going through the motions out of habit. He was nothing like the fearsome, loathsome Potions professor Harry remembered from his first years at Hogwarts, and that was perhaps the most unsettling part of all of this crazy situation. Those two versions of the Potions Master were so at odds with each other that Harry couldn’t reconcile them without the missing pieces of his memory to bridge the gap.
Now that all three of them were out of his sight, and Harry was back in Gryffindor Tower with Ron and Hermione, he found that he could breathe a little easier. It didn’t solve anything, of course. But at least he wasn’t faced with his family’s misery day in and day out. Nor was he confronted with his constant failure when he tried remembering.
And Harry had tried. He really had tried. But whatever had removed this specific set of memories from his brain had been completely effective. It had left him with an odd feeling of having forgotten something without knowing what it was. Like that feeling he sometimes got when he had a melody stuck in the back of his mind without being able to remember its title or that impression of having a word caught on the tip of his tongue without being able to say it aloud. It was pure torture, and the harder he tried to remember, the less it came to him.
More frustrating even was the fact that no one knew what had caused it. No one knew what it was—only what it wasn’t. It wasn’t an Obliviation Charm or a Forgetfulness Potion; it wasn’t this, and it wasn’t that—fat load of good that did him. Hermione had read more books in two weeks than he could in a year. Ron had asked everyone he could think of about it, and the Snapes had talked to specialists. But no one had an explanation to offer. The only thing they seemed to agree on was that it had to do with the Dark Lord.
Him Harry could remember clearly. He remembered going to the clearing and meeting Lord Voldemort face-to-face. Harry remembered taunting him and how it had felt to want to kill him. The rage Harry had felt at the thought of dozens of Death Eaters attacking the school. His school, where his friends were risking their lives—all because of a demented bigot who thought the world owed him reparations for his childhood misery. As if Tom Riddle was the only little boy who’d ever been hurt.
Harry couldn’t remember the outcome, though. He had done something to repel Lord Voldemort—an attack that had overpowered him—but he couldn’t remember what it was. The last minutes of their fight were a blur to him; many parts of that day were.
“At least you remember enough of your class to pass the N.E.W.T.s,” Hermione said, drawing him back to the present. “It’s ever so important.”
“Sure.” Ron sighed next to her. “Never mind that Harry just killed You-Know-Who and freed us all. We wouldn’t want him to miss his exams.”
“Oh, Ronald,” she said with an exasperated sigh of her own. “When will you learn?”
Ron seemed about to reply but then apparently thought better of it. Instead, he buried his nose in his Transfiguration manual. Even though he couldn’t see her, Hermione gave him a ‘you better’ kind of nod before returning to her notes. Harry smiled at the familiarity of it all: Ron, Hermione, and the Gryffindor common room. It felt like home at last.
He returned to his own set of notes and surprised himself a little at the amount of work he had put into his Potions and Defence classes this last year. The notes for these two subjects were much more detailed than what he’d done for his other classes and on par with Hermione’s. Harry had always paid careful attention to his Defence Against the Dark Arts classes, but he couldn’t remember ever applying himself that much in Potions. Flipping through the notes, he found some of his graded essays and felt his eyebrows rise in surprise. He sure as hell didn’t remember ever being this good at it, either.
As she walked out of the castle towards the greenhouses, Saturnine wondered at what she was doing. Going through the N.E.W.T.s exams now felt like a stupid thing to do. The only reason she hadn’t called it off was that the entire school was invested in her results—and Severus’. But it hurt a little to walk down there. She could see Harry in the distance, sandwiched between Ron and Hermione. Draco was where he always was these days, a couple of feet behind them—following them without seeming to. It hurt to see it—as it hurt to remember all the evenings they had spent studying together in the dungeons, the four of them. Echoes of laughter and jokes danced in her head, and she had to force them out to avoid breaking down in tears.
A hand slipped into hers, and she didn’t need to turn her head to know whose it was. Ever since his breakdown in their kitchen, Severus had been much more present for her. While he still refused to talk about their current situation, he had no problem offering the comfort of his presence when she needed him to.
She slowed her steps to a stop a few feet from the greenhouses and waited for the last students to enter to turn to face him. Severus was dressed as he always was—black trousers and a black frock coat over a white undershirt. But he had left behind his teaching robes. She had done the same when she had left her office earlier. Her brother seemed okay—more than she was, at least. She leaned forward to rest her head on his shoulder—needing to feel his strength for just a minute.
“Don’t worry,” he murmured above her head. “Pomona promised me there wouldn’t be any Mandrake this year.”
It was a silly thing to say—she couldn’t have cared less, and Severus knew it—but she chuckled anyway. It felt good to do it, too, like a small breath of fresh air amongst the clouds of melancholia.
“Good luck, brother-mine,” she said, pulling away at last. Then, with what had to be the first real smile she had managed in weeks, she added, “Don’t let Neville Longbottom score higher than you.”
Harry never thought he would enjoy exams this much. The Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests had been challenging—and aptly named—but they had also been a much-welcomed distraction. For two entire weeks, they allowed him to put everything else aside. No more thinking about the Dark Lord and what he had done, no more thinking about the family he had forgotten. Harry thought only of his exams, and days flew by as question upon question forced him to use his brain. And every evening, he climbed into his bed feeling nastily exhausted, and he had no trouble falling asleep.
But the exams ended, same as everything else. And as Harry waited for his N.E.W.T.s results to come in, the memories came back—or at least, their absence did. And just like that, Harry was back to feeling miserable as he tried and failed to make sense of what his life had become. He didn’t even know what would become of him now. Where was he even supposed to go next autumn?
“You can always come with me,” Ron said as he packed his trunk. “You know my parents wouldn’t mind, and it’s only Gin and me now that the twins have moved out. Plenty of room.”
Harry ‘hmmed’ distractedly as he got the last of his clothes out of the wardrobe and onto his bed. How he would make all that fit into his trunk, he had no idea.
“Or you could go to Grimmauld,” he continued. “Or you could sell that old place and get a flat somewhere nice.”
“The Snapes want me to go with them,” Harry said as he flipped open his trunk before bunching together an armful of clothes. “It wasn’t so bad when we were there earlier—way better than the Dursleys, at least. I think I’ll go—see what that’s like.”
“Sure,” Ron said, closing the lid on his trunk. “If you change your mind, though, our door’s wide open, mate.”
Harry dumped the bunched-up clothes at one end of his trunk before looking up at him. “Thanks,” he said with a smile.
Coming closer, Ron chuckled at the mess he’d made. “Don’t let Hermione see that, or she’ll have you start over.”
“Speaking of Hermione,” Harry said, returning to the pile of clothes on his bed to get a second armful. “Where will she spend her summer?”
“Oh—with her parents at first,” Ron said, “and then—uh…”
Harry looked up to see his friend’s cheeks turn red. “Will she be sharing a room with Ginny again, then?” Harry asked, unable to stop himself from adding to Ron’s embarrassment. “Or would you rather have her in yours?”
“That—uh—I—” Ron stammered, turning a bright shade of crimson all over. “I don’t think Mom would approve,” he said eventually before quickly excusing himself and leaving the room.
Harry chuckled as he dumped the second batch of clothes into his trunk. They landed on something that made a crunching noise, and he bent down to see what it was. Reaching a hand beneath the jumble of shirts and socks, he found a stack of letters—his letters.
The sight of them took the wind out of his sails. And he sat down heavily next to his trunk. He’d forgotten all about his goodbye letters, the ones he’d written in case he didn’t survive the war. It had started with letters to Ron and Hermione when he found out about the prophecy. But there was more than a dozen now, neatly stacked and held together with a red ribbon. He guessed he didn’t really need them anymore now that he had done the impossible and survived the Dark Lord. He was about to toss them back into the trunk when something caught his gaze: the name on the first envelope—Saturnine Snape.
Harry couldn’t remember writing her a letter, and he quickly untied the ribbon to get to it. Removing it from the pile, he discovered that the second letter was addressed to Severus Snape, and the third, to Draco Snape. His breath quickened in his throat.
These were undoubtedly his; he could recognise his handwriting. But he had no idea what he’d written inside. Taking a deep breath, he tore all three open and pulled out several sheets of parchment covered in yet more of his handwriting. There had to be at least ten pages covered in his script from top to bottom. He couldn’t believe that he’d written so much; everyone else’s letters had been less than a page. What could he have had to say to these three, he wondered?
Steeling himself, Harry reached for one at random and started reading. And each line of text was like a bolt of lightening. They zipped through him, coursing through his veins, to shoot straight to his heart. Every word was like a needle piercing his brain, sharp and unforgiving. It hurt to read the letters, but Harry couldn’t stop. Never mind that he could barely breathe anymore, never mind that he was crying in pain and inches away from passing out. He kept reading, even as a kaleidoscope of memories exploded behind his eyes.
Potions classes with the Half-Blood Prince’s book in his hands… afternoons spent at Cove Cottage, flying around the house with Draco… his first Christmas with Saturnine and the smell of freshly-baked gingerbread cookies… the four of them on the Astronomy Tower for Severus’ birthday.
Clutching at the letters as if they were the most precious things in the world, Harry couldn’t believe he hadn’t remembered before. How could he have forgotten? His father, his mother, his brother—Harry loved them all so much. How could he have forgotten? The words blurred, and he removed his glasses just long enough to wipe his eyes with the sleeve of his shirt before he continued to read, and more memories surged forward.
Severus and Saturnine rescuing him and Draco from a cellar… watching Narcissa Malfoy’s funeral on the television in their cottage’s living room… almost losing Draco shortly after, and the fight in the cemetery… losing Saturnine when the Aurors arrested her, and watching Severus struggle to cope with her absence… going to Cokeworth and discovering the truth about the prophecy.
How could he have forgotten all that? Merlin, how could he? How could the Dark Lord have taken that from him?
And suddenly, he remembered: the clearing in the Forbidden Forest. The Dark Lord threatened his family and smiled down at him like he was nothing. But he hadn’t been nothing; Harry had been—love. And Harry had shown him, hadn’t he? He had shown Tom Riddle what he was missing: what he would never understand—‘the power the Dark Lord knows not’. Lord Voldemort was a creature of darkness who couldn’t comprehend the magnitude of love—the purity of it.
Harry remembered reaching deep within, searching through his memories as if he was about to cast a Patronus. He remembered gathering his love into something solid, a beast that rose from within and that mingled with his magic. It had poured out of him in waves, rushing forward in a sea of light so pure that it was blinding. It had leapt and pounded, engulfing the vile empty shell of the man that once was Tom Riddle. And Harry’s powers had smothered Voldemort in kindness and compassion. They had burned him with love and passion before crushing him under the weight of hope.
Harry’s body had given up on him then, emptied of his life force as it was, and he’d fallen limp to the floor. Winning had never felt this anticlimactic.
Back in the confines of Hogwarts, Harry understood then that Voldemort had never stolen anything from him; he had surrendered his memories willingly. Knowing that if the Dark Lord were allowed to survive, he would come after his family and everyone else he held dear, Harry had sacrificed his most precious memories to defeat him, leaving behind a gaping void in his heart.
Harry kept reading the letters, sensing the void inside him fill up with memories upon memories, and a surge of feelings, each more intense than the last, blossomed in his chest. The strength and unconditional love of his father, the nurturing kindness and care of his mother, and his brother’s affection and support. It kept coming at him, slamming into his chest as wave after wave of emotion and love intertwined. Harry felt himself folding in two under their strength. He was screaming now and couldn’t stop, just like he couldn’t stop crying and remembering. And the memories hurt as much as they soothed. And still, he wept, and still, they came—until the world went black.
Harry felt like he must have spent half of his life waking up in a hospital bed, and it took him a minute or two to remember what he had done to land himself in the hospital wing this time. He’d been packing his trunk, ready to return home with his family for the summer holidays; that much he remembered. Ron had been there, and they had discussed where Harry would be staying. Hadn’t Ron suggested Harry return to 12 Grimmauld Place? What a stupid idea! Saturnine had said the four could return to Cove Cottage; why would he go to London instead? Really, what had Ron been thinking?
“Harry, you awake?” his brother asked, and Harry forced his tired eyes open. His head pounded, and everything was blurry and dark. He surmised it must be the evening already.
“Glasses?” he asked, frowning when he realised his voice sounded hoarse. Draco pushed them into his hand an instant later, and he put them on before gingerly sitting up.
The world came into focus again, and he found his brother sitting on a chair by the side of his bed, looking miserable and like he wanted to find a rock to crawl under or something. Shite, Harry thought. What happened now? He’d thought that with the threat of Voldemort behind them, there wouldn’t be any more nasty surprises in store for them. Their family wasn’t the lucky type.
Try as he might, Harry couldn’t think past packing up in his dorm with Ron. Had he been attacked? Looking down at himself, he couldn’t find any visible injury, and nothing hurt. Well, he had a killer headache, but that seemed to be the worst of it.
“What happened?” he asked. “I can’t remember?”
“You were packing, and then you started screaming. As far as we can tell, you were alone,” Draco said hesitantly. “When Ron and Hermione came in, they found you passed out next to your trunk. No one knows why.”
That jolted a memory loose; Harry vaguely remembered rereading his goodbye letters. It had hurt to do it—hadn’t it? Like it had hurt to write them. But he wouldn’t have wanted to die without letting his parents know how much he loved them or Draco. How thankful he was for their presence in his life, how they made everything better. Well, he had told Draco in the end, hadn’t he? In the hallway, before they split up. But he’d never gotten around to telling Saturnine or Severus—not properly. Why hadn’t he told them afterwards? There’d been time for that, hadn’t there?
“Where are Mom and Dad?” he asked, suddenly wondering why they weren’t here. Someone would have told them that the hero of the Wizarding World had landed himself in the infirmary yet again. He’d half-expected waking up to Saturnine holding his hand and Severus hovering nearby with a disapproving frown a mile long. It was the first time he’d used the M-word and D-word aloud, but the time felt right for it.
“What?” Draco said, sitting up straight as if he’d just been hit by a Stunning Spell. “What did you say?”
“I asked you where Mom and Dad are,” Harry repeated. “Aren’t they coming? Wait—has something happened to them?”
Adrenaline surged through him at the mere thought that something may have happened to the siblings. He was halfway out of bed when his brother rose twin placating hands to halt him.
“They’re with Madam Pomfrey, discussing what happened to you,” Draco assured him, and Harry relaxed a little. “Never mind that; are you okay?” his brother demanded as he leaned forward in his chair. “Are you back?”
Harry had no idea what he meant by that. Back from where? He hadn’t left, had he?
“Harry, do you know who I am?” Draco asked hesitantly before sitting up and coming closer to his bed.
Why his brother was acting so strangely, Harry had no idea; so many emotions cascaded on the blond’s pointy face that he couldn’t read them all. “What kind of stupid question is that, you prat?” he said. “Are you okay? You’re acting kinda weird.”
Draco said nothing and just stared at him with wide silvery eyes for a full minute—and then some. In other circumstances, the look on his face would have been comical. Then he started blinking furiously as if he held back tears, and a feeble “Wanker,” passed his lips.
Harry doubted that it was the time and place for another round of their verbal jousts, but Draco looked like he needed it. So, he indulged him with a shrug. “Jerk,” he said.
Draco’s only reply was to lunge at Harry like an enraged octopus, and Harry almost toppled backwards under his weight. He was about to call him out on it when he realised that the blond was crying. Well, not just crying—his brother’s back was wracked by huge, heavy sobs. Harry had never seen him so broken before, not even when Narcissa died. He had no idea what had prompted this outburst, but he was quick to wrap his arms around Draco’s shaking shoulders to draw him closer. He could wait to find out what had happened, he figured; this was more important.
“You’re here,” Draco muttered through his tears. “You’re really here?”
“Why do you keep asking me that?” Harry asked as he held him close. “Did I go somewhere?”
He felt his brother nod against his shoulder. “Kinda—for a little while.”
“Sorry,” Harry said, even though he had no idea why he was apologising. Still, it felt like the safest thing to say now. “Shhh—I’m okay,” he added. “I’m here now.”
What had happened to Harry was one more mystery to add to the pile. Looking at the numerous parchments Poppy Pomfrey had given them, Severus felt like bunching her notes into a tight ball before setting them on fire. Or perhaps he could find some glass phials and bottles to toss against a wall. That had calmed him the last time.
“Useless,” he drawled out, dropping the documents on her desk before turning to look out the nearest window. “Fucking useless.”
He heard Saturnine sigh and the sound of papers moving about, and he surmised she must be stacking the reports into a neat little pile again. “Thanks for going to the trouble of double-checking everything, Poppy,” she said, and Severus had half a mind to part with a scathing comment. Fat load of good her diagnostic spells had done.
Madam Pomfrey hadn’t been able to explain why their son had passed out in his dorm after crying his heart out any more than the doctors at St. Mungo’s had been able to explain why Harry had lost parts of his memory. No one knew what was going on—not even the newly-resuscitated Albus Dumbledore.
Useless, the whole lot of them, he thought. Inadequate, like I am, and—
“Sev, don’t do this to me now,” Saturnine pleaded, drawing him out of his bleak thoughts. She moved to stand next to him and snaked an arm around his shoulder. “I’m as worried as you are. But you’ve seen the results; Harry will be fine once he wakes up. Maybe it was the nerves, the stress of the exams catching up with him.”
“It wasn’t, and you know it as well as I do,” he said through clenched teeth. “Something’s wrong with our son, and I want to know what. I want him back.”
Saturnine tried to move in for a hug, but he stepped back and out of her reach. The need for violence had passed, and now he only felt like throwing up. Already he could feel the bile rise in his throat, and it took a real effort of will to push it back down. It wasn’t the only thing he had to hold back—the pressure of tears behind his eyes was almost too inviting.
In his mind, the Dark Lord’s last words were like cold echoes in the wind, cutting him through the many layers of his clothes like an unstoppable wintery draught. “Harry and Draco will leave you the moment they finish school, never to look back… Saturnine will leave again, as she has before…” it seethed in his ear, “…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.”
He saw Madam Pomfrey standing up awkwardly from behind her desk. “Maybe I should give you two a minute,” she said. “I’ll go check on the boys while you…” She waved a hand about and left the room without finishing her sentence.
Saturnine seized the opportunity to draw close to him again. She seemed intent on keeping her arms to herself for now, though, and Severus turned his head to the side to look out the window again. Or at least he tried; he had a hard time getting past his own snarling reflection. He could feel himself falling apart, and he longed for the quiet of his rooms in the dungeons, where he could fall to pieces on his own. But his personal space in the bowels of Hogwarts wasn’t his alone anymore; it hadn’t been for some time. And faced with that realisation, Severus found that another part of himself yearned for company. His heart ached for some comfort and support—a helping hand to get through this debacle.
“Don’t push me away, Sev,” Saturnine pleaded. “Don’t close yourself off. Not now, please.”
“Alone once more…” the Dark Lord whispered in his ear. “Alone.”
Severus shivered as cold fear gripped his heart. “Please don’t leave me,” he blurted out. Then, because he wasn’t sure if he had said it aloud, he asked again. “Please, ’Nine. Promise me that you won’t leave me again.”
Saturnine never got a chance to answer, for Madam Pomfrey burst into the room with nervous excitement. “Harry’s awake,” she said, panting. “And he feels like his old self again.”
They both whirled on her and were out of the door before you can say Quidditch.
It was the look on Draco’s face that assured Saturnine that everything would be all right. Though there were visible tear tracks on his pointy face, her blond boy was smiling. She hadn’t seen Draco smile in weeks—not since the day of the battle. Then there was the way both her children were sitting on the infirmary bed, huddled close together. It was a good indicator that things were back to how they should be. But still, she had to make sure.
“Harry?” she asked cautiously, almost fearfully.
Her son turned a beaming smile of his own towards her at the sound of his name. But it was the word that tumbled from his mouth next that cemented it: “Mom!” There was no holding back the tears after that—for either of them.
Severus beat her to their child’s hospital bed, and he received an equally enthused “Dad” for his effort.
“Draco was telling me—” Harry started to say, but he never got any further. Whatever explanation he had for them was swallowed by the many layers of black robes and frock coat that smothered him in a bone-crushing hug. Saturnine wasn’t far behind, grabbing hold of whatever limb she could reach, catching a handful of blond Slytherin in the process and dragging both of them close.
Time seemed to stop around them as she treasured the knowledge, the utter certainty, that her family was now complete. They weren’t blood—except in every way that counted.
“I love you,” Saturnine said to no one in particular. She wasn’t sure why she said it at all; it seemed the words had a will of their own. “I love you all so much,” she added. And then it occurred to her. At that moment, in this room, with these people, she had never been happier in her life.
“I can’t believe it,” Neville Longbottom said. He had a glazed look in his round brown eyes and seemed unable to remember how to close his mouth. “I can’t believe it.”
Harry thought his friend looked like he’d just seen a ghost. Well, not the kind of ghost that travelled through the hallways of Hogwarts day in and day out, but the type of ghost that heralded the return of someone you had thought irrevocably lost. And that was a pretty good approximation of the truth.
The Great Hall was packed, with all students returning, except a few still treated at St. Mungo’s. Most of them shared in Neville’s amazement. A few of the younger ones were even crying. All in all, save for a handful of Gryffindors, everyone was surprised to see Headmaster Albus Dumbledore presiding over the Leaving Feast.
Harry fancied the old man enjoyed the situation enormously if the twinkle in his bright blue eyes was any indication. The old fool could have told them beforehand, but he’d held off on it so that he could make a grand entrance—a magical one: with Fawkes’ help, he’d Apparated in front of the High Table with a resounding crack and wisps of light and smoke.
The staff had clearly been warned and either shared in the headmaster’s enthusiasm or—as was the case for Professor McGonagall—glared daggers at the old man for his antics. Either way, Dumbledore was back from the dead—or the not-quite-dead, as Harry well knew.
The curse that had been slowly killing the headmaster faded to nothingness when Lord Voldemort had died. Severus and Saturnine Snape had brewed the antidote to the Stasis Potions that had kept him alive but comatose for close to ten months. It was an untested potion, and no one could be sure it would work as intended or that there wouldn’t be any lasting side effects. But even with his confused memories, Harry had never been worried. When it came to potions, Severus Snape was the best. And upon ingesting the antidote, the headmaster had awoken from what appeared to be a very comfortable sleep with a craving for lemon drops.
He’d remained safely hidden away in the newly rebuilt Headmaster’s Tower, overseeing the last of the repairs of the castle following Voldemort’s attack and catching up on everything he had missed the previous months. Harry hadn’t been sure why his return hadn’t made it to the first page of the Daily Prophet then and there. But now, he knew.
“That’s a bit mean, don’t you think?” Hermione asked. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she aimed her best disapproving gaze at the old man. “And frankly childish for a wizard of his age.”
“He’s been playing dead for nearly a year, Hermione,” Ron said over a mouthful of candies. “Let him have his fun.”
The headmaster got up from his seat at the High Table and launched himself into his annual goodbye speech, and Harry tuned out. He didn’t need the recap of the year’s events; he’d lived through them. And the experience had been unpleasant enough to go through once. Instead, he let his eyes linger over the room with his four long tables filled with students dressed in the colours of their respective Houses. Today would be the last time Harry would see them all, and the last time he would sit at the end of Gryffindor table, underneath the Great Hall’s enchanted ceiling.
Glancing to his right, he exchanged a brief smile with Ron and Hermione—his two best friends. Then he let his eyes travel further down the table where he found the rest of his dormmates, Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan, and Dean Thomas. He wasn’t sure when he would ever see any of them again. The Hogwarts Express would take them away in the morning, and he would depart for Cornwall with his family later in the week. Unlike the previous years, none of them would be coming back.
Harry knew he ought to join in on the global cheer, but he couldn’t help but feel mellow. Despite the many highs and lows of his scholarship, he had loved being at Hogwarts. Thinking back to his scrawny eleven-year-old self, who had passed through the great doors for the first time seven years ago, he couldn’t help but feel tears prickling at the corners of his eyes at how much he had experienced in these hallways—how much he had grown.
A hand snaked itself around his shoulder, and he didn’t need to look to know to whom it belonged. He let himself be dragged into his brother’s side.
“You okay there?” Draco whispered so low that Harry was the only one who heard it.
He nodded before turning to look at the blond. He was the only student at their table wearing green and silver, the Slytherin colours. He ought to have been sitting with the rest of his House. But when they’d arrived in the Great Hall, directly from the infirmary, Harry had draped an arm over Draco’s shoulder to steer him in the opposite direction. And not one lion had complained about having a snake at their table.
After quickly telling his friends he’d somehow regained his memories, then providing a lengthier explanation of how he’d lost them, a teary-eyed Hermione had pushed a stack of envelopes and some spare parchment sheets in his hand. Then she had whispered, “I didn’t think you’d want everyone to read those.” He’d thanked her for her quick thinking and discretion, then had started talking Quidditch with Ron and Seamus. Up the table, Draco got into a lengthy chat with Hermione about university choices and a possible internship with the Ministry as they waited for the End-of-Term Feast to begin.
“Fine,” Harry whispered back in reply to Draco’s question. “I’m just going to miss this,” he admitted.
His brother nodded in understanding. They hadn’t talked much about what they would do once school ended. They’d been so busy trying to survive the year that neither of them had made plans. And then—well, Harry hadn’t been himself afterwards. But their parents had assured them that they could spend the summer at Cove Cottage, and Harry figured he’d have time to come up with something once he got there. After he found a way to reassure his parents that all was well with him and that there were no more nasty surprises in store for them—or so he hoped.
Draco nodded pointedly towards the High Table, and Harry tuned back into Dumbledore’s speech, realising he was about to announce the winners for the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup. Knowing that both would go to Gryffindor House, Harry felt the corners of his mouth lift.
“And now,” Dumbledore said, “it is time for us to salute the efforts of the valiant Gryffindor House, which once again won both Cups.”
The gold and red table erupted in a cacophony of applause and victory cries. The applause from the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables was equally loud. But that of the Slytherins was more subdued and perfunctory. Their Head of House, Professor McGonagall, rose from her seat to clap cheerfully as she did every year when her House won.
“Now, now,” Dumbledore said, raising a hand to re-establish order amongst the students. “I believe it is time for us to salute another set of accomplishments.” With an amused smile, he added, “And one whose outcome many of you are very invested in, I believe.”
Silence descended upon the large room, and the headmaster pulled a parchment from one of his purple robes’ pockets. Even from where he sat, Harry saw that it was sealed with the Ministry’s blue crest.
Harry wasn’t the only one to have guessed at the mysterious parchment’s content, and excited whispers ran up and down the tables.
“N.E.W.T.s results,” Hermione whispered. “It’s got to be Severus’ and Saturnine’s results.”
Harry’s eyes flew to the far end of the High Table, where his parents sat. Despite a year of playing cat and mouse with the Dark Lord and the subsequent fight to bring him down, Severus and Saturnine had gone through with their mad contest. To settle an argument—the kind only siblings could have—they’d decided to challenge themselves to retake their exams to determine, once and for all, who was the best. And thus, for the first time in Hogwarts’ history, two professors had taken the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests right alongside the seventh-years.
Harry had a sense of what the results would be. But it seemed the room was holding its collective breath in anticipation of the grades—staff included. But more than the results themselves, they wanted to know how much money they had won. The professors’ silly challenge had resulted in a schoolwide betting pool where everyone had attempted to guess at the results—even their Divination teacher. While that was highly irregular and quite possibly illegal—as Hermione had pointed out several times—everyone had turned a blind eye to it and allowed the betting to continue.
In a year of conflicts and tension, of fear and doubts, this silly, stupid challenge had been the breath of fresh air that their school had needed to carry through.
“Yes,” Professor Dumbledore said. “As you have guessed it, those are N.E.W.T.s results. And while everyone will receive theirs next week, the Wizarding Examinations Authority have sent me the results of two very particular applicants.” Turning to his right, the headmaster beckoned over said applicants.
Saturnine stood eagerly while Severus got up with what appeared to be the greatest of reluctance. Under their black robes, the pair wore their usual attire—black trousers and a black frock coat for Severus, tight white denim and a navy-blue blouse for Saturnine. They were tall, lean, and oozing the kind of self-assurance that only came from surviving years of hardship undefeated, and Harry realised they were the best teachers he’d ever had. Not simply because they knew their respective subjects, but because of the passion that drove them. And sure, it made them appear strict and demanding, exacting even, but that was because they wanted their students to succeed. They wanted the very best and settled for nothing less.
Harry heard Draco snicker beside him. “As if he isn’t curious,” he muttered.
“Don’t know about Dad,” Harry said, “but I am.” And he was. Everyone had tried to get them to spill the beans about their exams for days. But both siblings had steadfastly refused to disclose (even to each other) how they felt it had gone.
Once Severus and Saturnine joined Dumbledore in front of the High Table, the old man resumed his announcement. “It will come as no surprise,” he announced, “that these were some of the best results this school has ever seen.”
Saturnine was all smiles at that, but Severus arched a dubious eyebrow—no doubt questioning the use of the words ‘some of’ in that sentence.
Dumbledore unrolled the parchment after breaking its seal. With a flick of his wand, he made the name of the five subjects Severus and Saturnine took write themselves in the air in glowing yellow letters.
Transfiguration, Herbology, Charms, Potions, and Defence Against the Dark Arts. While the latter two were their respective subjects, and they had had to request that this years’ exams be written by someone else, the other tests had been written by Professors McGonagall, Sprout, and Flitwick. From what Harry knew, this year’s Potions test had been redacted by Severus’ predecessor, Horace Slughorn. The Defence exam was the brainchild of the Order of the Phoenix members, Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, and Nymphadora Tonks. And that accounted for some of the weird questions near the end.
“First off,” Dumbledore said, reading off the parchment, “Charms—a subject both professors scored an Outstanding in back in the day.”
The word Charm glowed brighter than the others, and silence fell onto the gathered crowd.
Raising his wand again, Dumbledore flicked his wrist, and two Os appeared next to the word, in front of Severus and Saturnine, respectively. There was a loud round of applause for the both of them that had Professor Flitwick stepping onto his chair so that he could join in.
Saturnine gave the audience a polite bow of her head while Severus remained his stoic self. But Harry had seen the corner of his lips twitch briefly when his glowing O appeared.
“Next up,” Dumbledore continued, “Potions.” Everyone held their breath until two similar Os popped up in front of the siblings. Two more Os joined them on the Defence Against the Dark Arts line a moment later.
“While I believe many of you are now familiar with the fate of Severus’ frog during his Transfiguration exam, I can assure you that no animals suffered an untimely demise this year,” Dumbledore said. And his words caused riots of laughter to erupt from the many tables. “And Professor Sprout has confirmed to me that no student lost a finger this year either—including our dear Saturnine.”
It was with mildly sheepish looks that Severus and Saturnine watched the last two subjects glow brighter. Of the five subjects, these were the only ones where one of them had scored less than perfect back in the day. The death of Severus’ frog had resulted in him getting an E in Transfiguration. Saturnine got the same result in Herbology for having let a Mandrake bite her finger off.
At a flick of the headmaster’s wand, an O appeared in front of Severus on the Transfiguration line. Another bloomed into existence in front of Saturnine on the Herbology line.
The applause was more contained this time as everyone wondered if their teachers had been able to repeat their earlier exploits in the last categories, thus landing them both a perfect score.
Harry felt Draco lean forward in anticipation of the final results, and they were now braced over the table, shoulder to shoulder. On the headmaster’s right, Saturnine glowed; next to her, even Severus had allowed himself a small smile.
“The final results,” Dumbledore said, holding up the parchment as if it contained the answers to all the mysteries in the universe.
If Harry hadn’t been designated the official bookkeeper of their unofficial betting pool, and he’d been allowed to take part in the gamble, he’d have predicted five Outstandings for each of them. He’d have staked all his money on it, and—Dumbledore flicked his wrist, and the last two results appeared—Harry would have lost.
Twin glowing Es danced in front of each professor, and a collective gasp of surprise flew over the crowd. While the results were nothing to cry about, and many students failed to achieve results like that every year, they still came as a surprise to Harry. Furthermore, he found the subjects in which the lapses had happened to be suspicious. Each of them had failed today where the other had the last time. Some would have seen this as proof there was a cosmic balance to the universe. But Harry had his doubts. It was too conspicuous to be entirely coincidental.
And then he understood. Neither Severus nor Saturnine wanted to win at the other’s expense. So, the siblings had each answered a question wrong on purpose. And it was that demonstration of love that had brought them to a perfect tie and the same results as when they had taken their N.E.W.T.s the first time. Four Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations—an impressive score indeed.
The entire school erupted in cheers of laughter and an endless volley of applause. Harry joined in on the applause, getting to his feet and feeling Draco do the same next to him. He sincerely hoped the pride he felt welling up inside of him showed on his face.
His gaze caught Saturnine’s, and she gave him a soft smile that was just for him before turning to her brother and planting a kiss on his cheek—in front of the entire school. More laughter bubbled up at that, and Severus hid his blushing cheeks beneath a curtain of black hair, even as he turned a murderous gaze towards his sister.
“I hear they want to give them medals,” Ron said, nodding towards the two professors, who seemed now eager to return to their seats at the High Table. “Order of Merlin, no less.”
He seemed eager to bring the subject up now that Harry had gotten his memory back. It was as if he and Hermione had held off from this line of questioning until he’d recuperated. Now that he thought about it, Harry realised that they had. And not just Ron and Hermione, but everyone else, too. They’d all done their absolute best to skirt around the issue and stayed well away from any topic that had to do with either Snape.
Harry nodded before explaining to them that while in Cornwall, the four had gone to the Ministry. There, they had given a formal statement of their involvement in Lord Voldemort’s destruction. Under instruction from Severus and Saturnine, Harry had told them the whole truth without sparing any details—well, what he could remember, at least.
Later that day, he’d had a short, informal chat with the new Minister for Magic—the old one, Pius Thicknesse, having disappeared off the face of the earth the same day the Dark Lord died. Harry had found it heart-warming to discover that his friend and fellow Order of the Phoenix member, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had gotten the job. It heralded substantial changes within the Ministry and the coming of new times for all of Wizarding Britain.
“So, yeah—Severus is getting one,” Harry finished. “Even if he doesn’t want it.”
“And Saturnine?” Hermione asked. “She helped just as much, didn’t she?”
Harry nodded. That she had. But things were slightly more complicated with his mother. With a sigh, he said, “She has a few things to sort out with the Ministry first.”
While Saturnine got along with Minister Shacklebolt as well as Harry did, she’d had quite the beef with his two predecessors. The last one, Pius Thicknesse, had been the Imperiused puppet of Lord Voldemort. And the one before, former Head of the Auror Office, Rufus Scrimgeour, had blackmailed Saturnine into doing his dirty work for nearly seven years.
There was also the small, but no less important, fact that Saturnine was an Elemental: a witch who had been born with the power to wield the elements themselves without a wand. It was the kind of power that tended to scare lesser wizards. And Elementals, like her, had nearly been driven into hiding through fear of being arrested for who they were.
Harry supposed that made it a little bit hard for the Ministry to hand her out a medal, even if they all knew that her powers had been instrumental in the defeat of the Dark Lord. But she hadn’t been the only one who had helped; their werewolf friend, Remus Lupin, and his Metamorphmagus girlfriend, Nymphadora Tonks, had done much to help bring about safer days. And their part-goblin Charms teacher, Filius Flitwick, and the half-giant, Rubeus Hagrid, had helped protect the school to the peril of their lives.
And Harry hoped that the winds of change that blew over the Ministry, and Britain at large, would not just dispel all that blood purity crap. He hoped that they would also open people’s eyes to the importance of equity amongst magical folks.
This time, returning to Cove Cottage had felt like coming home, and as she did most afternoons, Saturnine sunk heavily into the old worn-out sofa in the living room of Dumbledore’s summer cottage with a book in her hand. She was relieved that the old man had agreed to let them have the place again until the start of the term in September. Aside from the week and a half they had spent here after the final battle, she had many beautiful memories associated with this cottage, and she’d have been sad if she’d been unable to return. But she supposed she would have to say goodbye to it come summer’s end. For one, it was Dumbledore’s place. And Harry and Draco would soon be getting their own places—somewhere. There would be no returning to Scotland for them this autumn; it would be just her and Severus while the boys started their careers elsewhere.
Their boys were adults now, and it was right for them to move out of the family home to start their own lives. It would break her heart a little to see them go, she knew; they’d had so little time together, after all. But even one day would have been better than no time at all, and she had a whole summer to look forward to. A summer with no Dark Lord looming over their heads, with no fake murder to plan. A summer of happiness and freedom—a taste of the life they had built for themselves.
Placing a marker in her book, she swung her legs over the side before sitting up and crossing the living room. Peering through the window, she found Harry and Draco where she expected: circling the cottage on their brooms. These two had a love for flying that bordered on insanity, and they could spend entire afternoons fooling around in the skies. Currently, they seemed caught in a back-and-forth ball-tossing game—ten feet off the ground, with no hands holding onto either broom.
“Kids,” she muttered with a fond smile.
While part of her couldn’t help but be scared by their antics, she rejoiced at seeing them be the carefree teenagers they ought to be. Both had been forced to grow up too soon, and they had missed so much of their childhoods. So what if the way they had chosen to amuse themselves gave her a few premature grey hairs? It was a mother’s prerogative to feel that way, she figured, and she was happy to be granted the privilege.
She opened the window slightly, telling herself that she did it to let in the warm summer air. Nah, she thought. Who am I kidding? She did it to be alerted should one of them fall off his broom in a tumble of broken limbs.
The sound of tinkling glass made her avert her gaze from the window, and she turned to her left, to the small Potions lab niched into the wall left of the front door. Her brother was in there, as he was most afternoons. To each his own, she figured. And while she enjoyed the quiet company of a good book to wither away the time, her brother preferred to busy himself with his cauldrons and beakers, brewing for the sake of brewing. Not because of any imperative or standing orders, but because he could. And left to his own devices, Severus brewed whatever took his fancy—from simple Hair-Removal Shampoo to complex Blood-Replenishing Potions. The former was used to scare the boys into going to bed at an appropriate time, and the latter was dispatched to the St. Mungo’s stores.
“And what are we up to today?” she asked, entering the tiny lab.
Without decelerating his stirring, Severus looked up long enough to smile at her. “Research,” he answered, looking back into his boiling cauldron. He was wearing the same dragon-hide boots and thick black trousers he did at Hogwarts, but the white undershirt and frock coat had been replaced by a long-sleeved navy jumper that was so dark that it bordered on black.
Saturnine returned his smile, even if he couldn’t see it anymore. Research Afternoons were his favourites, she knew. Even if she had achieved the same grade as her brother at her Potions N.E.W.T.—a fine O, both times—Saturnine knew that she was no match to him in that field. If Severus had devised the questions, and he’d intended them to be difficult, Saturnine would have been left in the dirt. As it was, it was Professor Slughorn who had created both sets of exams, and both Snapes were better potioneers than he had ever been. So, the tests had been nothing short of a walk in the park. But the fact remained that Severus was a genius when it came to brewing complex recipes. Better yet, he enjoyed the mental challenge of undergoing the process of creating his own.
Creating a potion from scratch required hours of careful planning beforehand. It also necessitated an understanding of ingredient properties that went beyond comprehensive. The exactness, the attention to every conceivable detail required was something at which many a potioneer baulked. So much had to be taken into account; it often took weeks, if not months, to devise something semi-worthy, and the most complicated potions took years. It took years of finicking, of adjusting the ingredients, to attain that unique perfect balance.
Severus, she knew, was nothing if not a perfectionist. Thus it was that he had so rarely in his life had had the time to go through the entire process. However, there was no denying that he enjoyed the massive intellectual challenge it presented—which was something she could understand. She was a Ravenclaw, after all. She liked a mental challenge as much as any other raven.
“The Werewolf Cub Potion?” she asked, guessing at what he was trying his hand at today.
Severus gave her a curt nod without looking up from his cauldron. The potion had been his idea. It had come after they’d been informed of the happy news that Remus and Tonks were expecting their first child. It was a rare thing for a werewolf to father a child. There was always a risk that the infant would be born with his parent’s affliction. While Severus knew that finding a cure to rid an infected wizard was equal to finding the Holy Grail of brewing, he hoped to create a potion that would free second-generation children—such as Remus’ child—of the disease.
Not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, Severus had refused to let anyone know what he’d been working on—not even the boys. But he’d gone to his sister for her opinion on his theories more than once. For, while she didn’t have the mind of Severus Snape, Saturnine did know a thing or two that her brother didn’t.
She had been surprised to hear what he was working on, just like she had been surprised the first time she saw Remus and Severus together in the same room a short while after the battle against Voldemort. The lack of animosity between the two had been noticeable; whatever happened between them while she’d been away had left a mark. She had refrained from asking Severus about it but had had no such compulsion when discussing the matter with her old friend a few days later. To her surprise, Remus had steadfastly refused to satiate her curiosity, saying that it was between him and Severus. Whatever it was, the two seemed to have finally buried the proverbial hatchet, and Saturnine couldn’t have been more relieved.
“How is it going?” she asked, coming to stand behind him to take her usual spot when she checked on him in the lab. She placed a palm on his back and rested her chin on his shoulder to peer into the cauldron. The first time she had done that, she had felt him shudder in surprise. Nowadays, Severus just kept stirring as if the interruption in his routine was the most natural thing in the world. But always, a tiny smile crept up at the corners of his lips when she joined him in the lab.
“Holding steady so far,” he said, sighing. “But I haven’t added the blood yet.”
She understood where the sigh came from. Every time he got to the stage that required the inclusion of drops of werewolf-infected blood, the potion turned a cloudy colour that meant it was ready to be poured down the drain. And yet, there was no way around it; werewolf blood had to be one of the core elements, and any attempt to create a potion without it was a waste of time and ingredients.
“Ready for failure number eight?” he asked before pointing at the small crystal phial that contained a dark-red liquid that Saturnine knew to be werewolf blood. “Four, if you don’t mind.”
Without moving from her spot at her brother’s back, she reached around him with her free hand to pour four delicate drops into the potion. They fizzed on the surface before dissolving into the mass that Severus kept stirring with precise figure-eights.
They had just enough time to count to ten before the forest-green potion took on a darker hue. It congealed into a disgusting mass that had all the appeal of tar.
“Sorry, Sev,” she murmured into her brother’s shoulder. “Better luck next time.”
Severus nodded before vanishing the contents of the cauldron with a flick of his wand. One could have expected him to be disheartened by the experiment’s results, but Saturnine knew he was past it already. His mind was busy analysing today’s results and preparing alternative solutions.
“I keep thinking that the temperature is the problem,” he said after a while. Turning on himself and effectively dislodging the octopus of a sister latched to his side, he crossed his arms over his chest and sat on the edge of the table. “Too hot, and the blood cells get damaged before they can meld with the potion; too cold, and they close in on themselves without mixing at all.”
Leaning against the wall at her back, Saturnine asked, “Do you think there’s a middle ground you haven’t found yet?”
Severus shook his head. “Doubtful. The cells are too fragile and the potion too aggressive.”
She knew what he meant; not many ingredients survived the tarantula venom he had chosen to counter the werewolf stain. There was no sugar-coating the truth; there were only two reasons why no such potion had been invented yet. Either it was almost impossible to figure out, or it wasn’t possible. Her thoughts gave her pause, and she tilted her head to the side. Sugar-coating it. Sugar-coating it?
“Thought of something?” Severus asked, having detected her change in attitude.
“Obviously you can’t lower the temperature,” she said, working through her theory as she spoke.
“Obviously,” Severus drawled out.
“So perhaps,” she continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted, “the solution lies in finding a way to protect the blood cells long enough for them to quietly warm up to the potion without losing their properties, then mixing them in with the rest of the formula.”
Severus rubbed the back of his neck with one hand while he considered her proposition. “Sounds interesting,” he said at last, “but I can’t think of a way to do it that wouldn’t compromise the blood cells or the rest of the potion.”
He had a point there, Saturnine figured. Any new element added to the mix would interact with the other ingredients and alter the results. Damn, but this was a nightmare—and yet, she couldn’t help but think that she was onto something.
“That has to be it,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”
“Has to be,” she continued. “You’ve got everything else nailed down by now. You’ve got the right ingredients and dosage. You only need to determine the delivery method.”
“I’ll think on it,” he agreed almost reluctantly.
“As will I,” she said, stepping closer to her brother. Then, stepping closer still, she placed both hands on his shoulders to look him straight in the eye. “If anyone can do this, it’s you, Sev,” she said. “You’re amazing like that.”
She smiled fondly as she watched him squirm uncomfortably under her gaze. Severus had always reacted as poorly to encouragement as he did praise, which was why she always made a point of giving him hefty doses of both.
Severus hadn’t been surprised when Albus Dumbledore came over for an impromptu visit one afternoon. He had expected him to drop by sooner.
No doubt the headmaster had managed to come up with new questions he wouldn’t be going home without having received the answers to. Never mind that Severus and Saturnine had both spent hours in his newly refurbished office meticulously explaining everything that had happened earlier this summer.
As it were, today’s questions were mostly for him. Or so it became clear when after a solid twenty-minutes of idle chitchat with the entire family, the headmaster informed them of his desire to go out for a stroll along the cliffs, all the while requesting Severus’ company.
In the end, they didn’t go very far and had stopped about ten minutes from the cottage when Dumbledore found a particularly inviting rock to sit on. Severus remained standing, his gaze lost on the blue-grey horizon. It was a warm, late-June afternoon, and the ocean was tranquil. A beautiful sight to look at, even if he preferred a more diverse landscape.
“I was wondering, my dear boy,” Dumbledore started, “if you planned on returning in September.”
Severus turned on him in surprise, thinking that was an odd question. He had never considered not returning, and he wondered why the headmaster had brought the subject up. He always returned.
Something in his reaction must have amused the old man, for there was a smile hanging at the corner of his lips when he said, “You do have a choice, you know.”
Do I? he almost asked aloud before clamping his mouth shut. Instead, he turned his head away to look at the ocean once more. He did have a choice, he supposed. The war was over. His promise had been kept. Where did that leave him? Severus hadn’t taken the time to think it through. He hadn’t once allowed himself to look past the walls of his self-imposed prison, so sure he was that there would be no salvation for him.
“You have done everything I have asked of you, Severus, and more,” Dumbledore said. “And I insist you take your time to answer my question. You are free, my boy. Free to live your life as you wish. You’ve more than earned that right.”
Looking back over his shoulder, retracing the steps they had taken to get to the top of this cliff, Severus found the cottage they had left behind. He didn’t need time to think about it; he knew what he wanted. And what he wanted was in that house—his family. Only, this summer couldn’t last forever. The boys would fly from the nest on their broomsticks in less than two months, only returning for the occasional visit or—dare he hope—the holidays.
“Alone…” a voice only he could hear whispered in the air.
Once the boys left, it would be just him and Saturnine, and he refused to lose her to the intricacies of life as well. He wanted more of the shared classes and hours spent complaining about the students who failed to perform to their standards in either of their classes. He wanted the lunches and dinners in the Great Hall next to each other and the long evenings spent talking by the warmth of his fireplace.
“I want to go back,” he said through the lump in his throat, “with my sister. I want everything to remain as is.”
A hand landed on his shoulder, and he shuddered in surprise, so lost that he’d been in his thoughts he hadn’t noticed the headmaster getting up. “I have a feeling Saturnine wants the same thing,” the old man said. “And I would be more than happy to grant both of your requests and welcome you back for many more years. Besides, Filius is thinking of retiring. So, I’ll need a new Head of House for Ravenclaw. Think your sister will want the job?”
Severus nodded, forcing some of his hair down to curtain the side of his face as he did.
“I am so very happy, my boy, that you have made a family for yourself at last,” Dumbledore continued, and this time, Severus was speechless. “You deserve every happiness you can get.”
He wasn’t sure that he did, but he wanted to believe so. But more than anything, he wanted to believe that he wouldn’t lose his family any time soon. He wasn’t sure he could survive it if he did. Voldemort’s taunts hadn’t left him since he’d heard the words. His insinuations had clawed their way through his mind all the way down to his heart and settled there like a parasitic insect feeding on his happiness. Already, it looked like he would lose Harry and Draco in no time at all; he couldn’t lose Saturnine, too. He just couldn’t. With her help, he could withstand the distance from his sons, face the long waits until they remembered to return home for a cup of tea or dinner. But on his own—on his own, the monster around his heart would suck him dry in weeks.
“The cottage?” he asked through his tears, the thought coming out of nowhere.
His head whipped around, and he faced Dumbledore despite the well of emotions on his face. “Can I buy it from you?” he asked. “I have money now.”
He didn’t know where the idea had come from, but he knew in his heart that it was a good one. Their family needed a place to regroup, a home to spend the odd weekend together, and times like Christmases and birthdays. And the old hovel at the back of Spinner’s End wasn’t it; he would sooner die than bring either Harry or Draco there. The monsters in that house’s closets were his and Saturnine’s alone, and they would never subject their children to their malevolent darkness.
Dumbledore gave him an enthused smile, and his blue eyes lit up behind his half-moon spectacles. “Of course, my dear boy,” he said. “It’s all yours—my gift to you and your family.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “While I appreciate your generosity, I want to pay for it.”
“Severus,” Dumbledore started, but the Potions Master raised a hand to stop him.
“Please, Albus, the House of Snape has money now,” he explained. “And if Cove Cottage is to become a home for Saturnine and me, for our children, and hopefully, their children one day. Then we shall not rely on the kindness of strangers to acquire it. We would much rather buy it, at its full price, with the funds in the family’s vaults, which we have been saving for exactly such a purpose.” He paused for a moment as he considered how else to get his point across. The words Harry had said at Christmas resonated loudly in his ears. And, for the first time, Severus fully understood his son’s request. And he was determined to meet it.
“Please, Albus,” he continued with renewed vigour. “I need my children to know that this family will be there for them, always. The House of Snape has the will and the means to see to their continued safety and happiness. This is who we are. Please allow us this privilege.”
And thus it was that their deal was concluded one sunny Thursday afternoon, atop a tall cliff in Cornwall. Cove Cottage became the sole property of the House of Snape.
“Out of curiosity,” Dumbledore asked on the way back to the cottage, “Why did you and Saturnine part ways all those years ago?”
“We had a row,” Severus replied as the memory slammed into him like the Knight Bus. “The worst we’ve ever had. Said things we didn’t mean—both of us.”
And they had, hadn’t they? Severus had said some pretty nasty things that day—wicked things that hadn’t come from him but from the people he frequented back then, fool that he’d been. And Saturnine retaliated in kind, giving back as good as she got until the argument escalated past the point of no return.
“We never fought when we were little,” he added as an afterthought, and it was the truth, too. They fooled around but never quarrelled; they never fought or yelled at each other. Not once. He supposed they hadn’t seen the need to add to the violence already present in spades in their childhood home.
And then they had come to Hogwarts, and they had been forced apart. They handed him a green tie and gave Saturnine a blue one. And that had been the beginning of the end for them.
“It’s never easy to grow up and find your place in the world,” Dumbledore said next to him. “It takes time—sometimes years. And maybe you both needed to spend some time apart to figure out who you were and who you wanted to be.”
“Or maybe we were both idiots who didn’t know better,” he said, feeling the need to be contradictory.
The headmaster chuckled next to him and said, “Or maybe you were.”
Regardless, Severus thought, he knew exactly where he wanted to be now—and who he wanted to be with.
Later that night, as they prepared for bed, Severus’ guarded voice broke the silence, to his sister’s surprise. “Remus told me you came to our parents’ funerals,” he said without much inflexion to his voice.
His comment had come out of the blue, and Saturnine wasn’t sure what had prompted it. She figured it was probably something that had been percolating in her brother’s head for a while, and he had only just found the strength to bring it up.
Severus was in his nightclothes, sitting atop his covered mattress, and his words had caught Saturnine as she exited the bathroom. Instead of aiming for her bed, she moved to his and gingerly sat down next to him. She kept her gaze down, staring at their bare feet for another minute or two as she composed herself. Her brother’s statement had brought up a lot of memories, most of them unwanted, and she needed the time to quiet and order her thoughts.
When she finally looked up, Saturnine nodded to him as she said, “Yes, I did.”
Their gazes met, and she guessed the pain she found in his dark eyes was a match for the one in hers.
“I didn’t see you,” he muttered before looking away. It wasn’t a rebuttal, but it definitely wasn’t a ringing endorsement. It had been expected, though, and she decided to tell him the truth. She gave him both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.
“You wouldn’t have,” she said. “Disillusionment Charm—both times.” Severus nodded, and she continued, “I had to come. They were my parents, too. But I didn’t think you—we—were ready to meet each other again. So, I found a way to circumvent that issue. I’m sorry if, in doing so, I inadvertently hurt you. It wasn’t my intention.”
Severus shook his head slightly and brought his gaze up again. “You didn’t,” he confirmed. “I’m just—I mean, I…” he sighed instead of finishing his sentence and looked away. Saturnine reached for one of his hands and clasped it in her own, and that seemed to give him the strength he needed to finish. “I’m glad you were there,” he said between two heavy breaths. “I’d have told you what happened if I’d known how to reach you.” Her brother’s obsidian eyes were a bit too bright, and Saturnine was surprised when he kept talking. “I didn’t know how to, and I always wondered if you—I mean, if you’d learned somehow, or if—if you didn’t even know that they’d…”
That sentence also went unfinished, and Saturnine gathered her brother in her arms when a lone tear fell out from his left eye.
“Forgive me,” he continued in a broken tone. “I didn’t know where you were. I’d have told you myself otherwise.”
Each one of Severus’ apologies was like a stab to Saturnine’s heart. She wanted to stop him, to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that he had nothing to blame himself for, but she held her tongue. She cradled the back of his head with one hand and rubbed at his tensed shoulders with the other while her brother apologised some more. Severus had been bottling up this pain for over ten years, repressing it and denying himself the release of tears, and she knew it needed to come out—all of it. Thus, she allowed him to express his anguish, even if it broke her heart to do so.
When the tears ran dry, she pulled away enough to kiss his temple, and the first words that came out of her mouth were, “I love you.” She enveloped her brother in another tight hug soon after.
“I love you so much, brother-mine,” she murmured in his ear. “It’s okay; you couldn’t have found me even if you’d looked—I hid well. But I had people keeping me in the loop, and that’s how I found out. You did nothing wrong, okay? You did nothing wrong. So, stop blaming yourself for not telling me.”
She waited to feel him nod, but he didn’t, and so she added, “I’m the one who left, remember? It’s on me, not you. Let it go, Sev. Let go of that guilt—it’s unwarranted.” She kissed him wherever she could reach and asked again, “Please let it go, Sev. Please.”
She continued rubbing his back until she got the nod she was after, and even then, she didn’t pull away. She couldn’t have said how long they stayed that way, offering each other however much comfort they could while they tried to seal old wounds that would never truly heal.
The feeble rays of a waning moon were the only source of light in their room when they pulled away from each other. They moved to sit up with their backs against the headboard of Severus’ bed, shoulder to shoulder with their feet tucked beneath the blankets. It had to be close to midnight now, but neither of them cared.
“I know that it was a cirrhosis that finally did the old man in,” Saturnine said of their father a while later.
Severus nodded. “Alcoholic liver disease,” he indicated in a clinical tone. “A fitting end for Tobias Snape.”
“I always knew he would drink himself to the grave,” Saturnine added without hiding the bitterness in her voice. Guess the whole town saw that one coming, too, she thought. “I bet Mom was sad, though.”
She felt rather than saw Severus nod. “She stayed by his side and nursed him until the end. Then she wrote to me to let me know he’d passed.”
“She loved him still?” she mused. “After everything?”
“Guess so.” Severus shrugged. “I stopped trying to understand their relationship a long time ago.”
After a lengthy pause, Saturnine asked. “I’m less clear about what happened to Mom. I heard she was in a Muggle hospital a while beforehand?”
Severus nodded, then leaned forward with his shoulders hunched and his hands clasped tightly in his lap. They looked ghostly pale in the moonlight. “I checked on her, ’Nine,” he said before letting out a long, heavy breath. “Even with everything that was going on in my life, I made a point to drop by twice a month to chat with her and make sure she was okay.” He paused, then repeated with emphasis, “I checked on her.”
Guessing from his tone that tears weren’t far away again, Saturnine moved closer to her brother. She grabbed both of his shoulders tightly. Severus shook his head from left to right as he brokenly repeated, “I checked on her.”
“She didn’t tell you she was sick, did she?” Saturnine guessed. “She kept it from you?”
Nodding faintly, Severus replied, “She made me tea, and we talked of trifling things, and she pretended everything was okay. She was sick, and I didn’t even know for weeks and weeks—until it was too late.” He heaved in a wet breath. “One evening, I came home, and she wasn’t there. I waited a while, then went to ask the neighbours. Mrs Cook told me she’d been taken to the hospital like it was only to be expected, what with her cancer getting worse.
“You should have seen the look she gave me, ’Nine,” he continued bitterly, with a broken tone. “Like I should I have known—like I was a bad son or something.”
“Oh, Sev,” Saturnine said, hugging him tightly from behind.
He shook his head, hiding his face behind a curtain of thin black hair. “I could have helped; I could have given her a potion or taken her to St. Mungo’s. But she didn’t—she—” his voice strangled itself, and he never finished his sentence.
“She made her choice,” Saturnine said. She rose a hand up to tuck a strand of her brother’s hair behind his ear so that she could nestle her head against his. A few tears escaped her own eyes, and they joined her brother’s where their cheeks met. “It wasn’t your fault, sweetheart. It wasn’t.”
Severus’ hands found and clasped around her own. Beneath their linked fingers, she could feel his heaving chest struggling to breathe. It was fourteen years since their mother had passed. But for them, it still hurt like it had been yesterday. How could they have waited so long to have this discussion?
“Did you at least get to say goodbye?” Saturnine asked, hoping the answer would be yes, that the Fates would have granted her brother at least that small mercy.
Though Severus was beyond words now, he nodded, and she held him a little tighter. She had to force herself to ask the next question, and it was a struggle to get the words out past the heavy lump in her throat. “Did you get to say goodbye for me?”
Severus nodded, more firmly this time, and a weight Saturnine had carried with her for years lifted from her chest. “Oh, thank you. Thank you, Sev,” she managed through her heavy tears. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there, and you had to go through this alone. And I’m so sorry it took us so long to talk about it.”
Never again, she thought firmly. Never again! She wished she could have said it aloud, but she was past words now.
Severus twisted around until he could gather her in his arms, and she sobbed against his chest until she ran out of tears.
“Guess we both needed that,” Saturnine said when the bulk of the pain had ebbed away. She rose a hand to wipe the moisture from her cheeks. “Can’t remember the last time I cried this much, though.”
Severus ‘mm-hmmed’ in reply, his face once more hidden behind a curtain of black locks. If she didn’t know him so well, she’d be tempted to think that was the sole reason why he wore his hair to shoulder-length.
Glancing over at her bed, Saturnine wondered how cold it would feel when she slipped beneath the sheets. She much preferred staying in her brother’s warm, comforting embrace instead, she realised. She needed him right now—needed this closeness and togetherness they hadn’t had in years. Life had turned them into orphans somewhere along the way, and this was the first time they’d been able to grieve together.
“Can I stay with you tonight?” she asked, wondering if Severus would allow it. She had been imposing a lot on him recently, she knew, and maybe this was too much.
“Of course,” he replied, rubbing her back a little, and she sagged more fully against him in relief.
Severus leaned back until his head found the pillows, and she went with him. Soon enough, they were both horizontal atop his bed. It took them little time to arrange their legs in a way that was comfortable for them both. They had done it enough times when they were younger; they still remembered what worked and what didn’t. And she soon made her blanket fly over to cover them both.
There was more that she wanted to ask him about their parents’ last days. And there was more that she wanted to say to him, but it could wait—they’d pushed themselves enough for one night.
“Don’t let go,” she demanded, her head nestled in the crook of his neck. “Please, don’t let go.”
Severus’ arms tightened a little more around her—a silent promise that he wouldn’t.
Saturnine sighed a little contented sigh, and the last thing she heard before sleep claimed her was Severus’ soft-spoken, “Love you too.”
“Why aren’t you all smiles, Birthday Boy?” Draco asked, catching up with Harry and draping an arm around his shoulders. “I rather thought you’d be happier after having spent the day with all your friends and getting a handful of presents.”
“They’re your friends, too,” Harry insisted. “And you got gifts, too.”
“That I have,” Draco said with an insincere nonchalance only he could pull off. “And I’m all smiles about it.” He beamed at Harry to prove his point. “So, why the long face, brother-dear?”
Why indeed? Harry asked himself. This day had been nothing short of perfect. Without the need for the Fidelius Charm to protect the cottage, he’d finally been able to invite his friends over. They had spent it outside, having a delicious brunch, before Harry and Draco led everyone down the coast path to a small cove at the foot of the cliffs. They’d even gone for a swim—well, most of them had; the girls had insisted that the ocean water was way too cold for that. But they had agreed to strip down to their bathing suits; so, there had been that.
With Draco’s birthday at the beginning of June and Harry’s at the end of July, they had settled for the first weekend of July to throw the party. Draco’s was a bit late, and Harry’s was a bit early, but neither felt left out.
The guests had left at sundown, and now it was time for their family to celebrate together. Harry and Draco had helped clean up and get the garden outside the cottage back in order, and they were on their way back inside for what he was sure would be some cosy together-time by the fireplace. Why then did he feel like he was about to cry?
Changing course at the last moment, Harry walked to the back of the house, and Draco followed him wordlessly. There was another way into the cottage, at the back, through the large bay window in their shared bedroom.
“Do you want to know why I’m not smiling?” he asked his brother before sitting down in the grass with his back against the glass of their bedroom window.
Draco, who wasn’t one to sit in the grass, crouched down by his side. He nodded encouragingly at his brother.
“I’m not smiling because I don’t know when I will ever see them all again.” He sighed. “I probably never will—at least, not all at once. It will be two or three here and there, and that’ll be that. School’s over, and we move on with our lives.” He sighed again, but this time, it sounded a lot more like a sniff. “I always knew it was coming. But it still hurts, you know.” He paused, then added in a much smaller voice, “And they’re not the only ones I don’t want to lose.”
With a sigh of his own, Draco moved to sit next to him, grass and all. “I know what you mean,” he said. “I don’t want to leave this place any more than you do, Harry.”
“Doesn’t seem fair,” he said. “Why do we get so little time with them—with each other?”
Draco said nothing, but the way he brought his knees up to his chest told Harry everything he needed to know about how his brother felt.
Harry ought to have left it at that, but he couldn’t stop speaking. Part of him had felt miserable for weeks, and he needed to let the pain out before he drowned in it. “I don’t give two Knuts about going to the university or taking up whatever internship Hermione thinks I should apply for. I don’t want to be an Auror, and I don’t want to play bloody Quidditch every day. I want the years everyone else has had with their family. It’s not fair that we shouldn’t have it, not after everything we’ve been through—everything this family has been through.”
Harry knew he sounded like a petulant child, but he couldn’t care less. Wizarding Britain could give him all the medals and honorary titles it wanted, but he cared only about his family. And time was running out on them, and Harry refused to accept it. He’d been forced to accept too much over the years, and this was where he drew the line. Maybe he ought to have failed his N.E.W.T.s. That would have given him a reason to return for another year. Why did he have to be so good as to get two Os and four Es?
“When I was little, and I got sick, Mother would send in the house-elves to look after me,” Draco said in a quiet voice.
It was so random that Harry turned to look at him in surprise. His brother seldom talked about his childhood and even more rarely brought up Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy. Much like Harry rarely spoke of the Dursleys or the Potters. They had turned the page, both of them, and began new chapters as the sons of Severus and Saturnine Snape.
“When I made a mess of my room, she’d order them to clean it up,” Draco continued. “Father saw to it that I had the best tutors to learn everything I needed to know to become the perfect little Malfoy heir. So, I was raised by an assortment of strangers who’d been paid to look after me, and terrorised house-elves.” He sighed, resting his head against his bent knees. “Somehow, I don’t think that’s how Severus and Saturnine would have gone about it.”
“They’d have taught you everything themselves and made sure you learned your lesson, too,” Harry said with a nod, thinking there would have been no cupboard under the stairs, either.
“Forced us to clean our room under threat of punishment,” Draco added, and the change of pronoun wasn’t lost on Harry. “Enforced curfew, especially on school days.”
“Forbidden us from eating sweets before dinner,” Harry offered.
“Sat by our bed when we were sick and held our hand until we fell asleep,” Draco said, turning to look at him with unshed tears in his eyes. “Damnit, I want that. I don’t care that I’m eighteen. I want to know what it’s like to have parents who give a fuck about what happens in my life.”
Harry’s heart went out to his brother. Draco rarely ever cursed, and especially not the Muggle way. It was a sign of how badly he felt.
“We’ve got to figure something out, mate,” Harry said. “We’ve got two months left to think of something.”
“We defeated the Dark Lord,” he explained. “You killed that creepy snake, and I got rid of that noseless git. How hard can it be to figure out a way for us to stay with our mom and dad a little while longer?”
Draco shrugged. “Well, when you put it like that…”
“Last one who figures it out is a wanker,” Harry added for good measure before returning to his feet. He reached a hand down to his brother and hoisted him up.
“You’re going to eat the dirt, you prat,” Draco said with a confident smile.
“In your dreams, tosser,” Harry replied. “In your dreams.”
“I’d rather not be in your dreams at the moment,” Draco said mockingly. “Not after the way you looked at Ginny this afternoon. Man, gotta love whoever invented women’s two-piece swimwear, huh?”
Feeling himself blush to the tips of his ears, Harry said, “I have no idea what you’re on about.”
“Oh come on, brother-dear,” Draco scoffed. “Unlike you, I have perfect vision, and I totally saw how you looked at her. It was like your eyes were charmed stuck on her or something.” He paused as if considering it. “Or, rather, on some of her most curvy parts.”
“You’re delusional, Draco,” Harry said, pushing the bay window open. “Must be an insolation or something.”
Draco was still teasing his brother’s burgeoning interest in the younger Ms Weasley when they entered the living room. The fact that Harry had now well and truly turned tomato red gave him the giggles.
“Everything all right, boys?” Severus asked, glancing up from the newspaper in his hands.
Draco nodded, and Harry tried to say something, but the only sound that made it through his lips was a squeak. Feeling magnanimous, he slapped his brother on the back forcefully before helpfully pointing out, “It’s nothing; Harry’s just swallowed a bug.” Then, because he couldn’t help himself, he added, “A really cute ladybug.”
Predictably, the allusion passed miles above Severus’ head, but Harry threw Draco a murderous gaze before sitting next to their father on the sofa. Draco sat down next to him, feeling very content with himself. Then a thought struck him, and he wondered what it would have been like to have Severus give them the talk about the birds and the bees. Then he thought that he still might have a thing or two to say on the subject. And that cured him of his laughter.
It wasn’t long until Saturnine joined them, bringing a tray of sandwiches and some lemonade. She placed everything on the coffee table and squeezed in next to Draco. It was a tight fit on the small sofa, but none of them seemed to care.
“Thanks for today,” Draco said, saving his brother from going through it himself. “It was nice having everyone over.”
“I’m glad you boys had a good time,” Saturnine said before serving the lemonade. She handed over the glasses, and Harry drowned half of his right away.
There wouldn’t be any gift from their parents tonight, he knew. He had gotten his on June 6th and surmised Harry would get his on July 31st. But that didn’t mean there wouldn’t be any gifts. For, while they had celebrated Severus’ birthday with all the balloons and candles they could find, Saturnine’s had gone unnoticed, the Dark Lord choosing May 4th to attack Hogwarts—which happened to be her birthday.
Between their waking up at St. Mungo’s and the time it had taken Draco to get over his snake poisoning, Harry’s memory loss, and the rebuilding of Hogwarts, followed by the exams and subsequent revival of the headmaster, there had never been time to throw her even a belated party. And while they could have waited until Christmas to give her their gift, Harry and Draco had decided that today was as good an opportunity as they would get. Not wanting Severus to feel left out, they had, of course, bought something for him as well, and both gifts slowly burned a hole in Draco’s pockets. They’d split the cost between themselves, using some of their monthly allowances.
Glancing at Harry, he tried to gauge his brother’s state of mind to see if the timing was right. He hadn’t expected the days’ event to upset him this much. Nor had he expected to find himself pouring his heart out with his arse in the dirt. And yet—it had felt good to be able to voice some of his cravings and even better to realise that his brother was on the same wavelength. Besides, Harry was right; after all that they’d been through, finding a solution to their little conundrum oughtn’t be too difficult. And if it was, well, they could always owl Hermione.
Harry gave him a slight nod over his lemonade, and Draco reached into his right pocket to pull out a small box wrapped in ivory paper and held together with dark-blue lace. Placing it on his palm, he presented it to their mother.
“For me?” she asked, surprise evident on her face. Suspicious, she looked at the three of them in turn to ascertain the reason behind the gesture. While Harry and Draco wore equally beaming smiles, Severus shrugged his shoulders in a ‘no idea’ kind of way.
“Thank you,” she said, cautiously pulling on the lace and unwrapping the small box. She paused before opening it. She had probably thought this to be a prank. But when she recognised the box to be the type that comes with jewellery, she reconsidered.
“We didn’t really have the time to celebrate your birthday,” Draco explained, “what with Harry saving the world and me getting bit by a giant snake. But we got you something anyway.”
Harry nodded. “It should have come with a full party and everything,” he added. “But there never was a right time for it. So, we figured why not tonight.”
“Raincheck on the big party, though,” Draco added. “You know we loooove throwing parties and can’t wait for January to roll around again so that we can get it out of our systems,” he said with a smile that did not wither in the face of their father’s glare.
“You can count on me to help you with that one,” Saturnine said with a conspiratorial wink. “And thanks for thinking of me.”
She pulled the box open and was unable to speak for a few minutes. Inside was a silver necklace with an elegant pendant that was a replica of their family’s crest. Harry and Draco had had the idea for it at Christmas but hadn’t had the time to have it made then. It was very detailed but small enough that she could hide it underneath her blouse when she taught at Hogwarts if she wanted to.
“We figured since I’m still wearing your necklace,” Harry said, reaching under his shirt to pull out the small, S-shaped pendant Severus had made for his sister long ago, “that you wouldn’t mind wearing a new one.”
She held out the small box to Severus so that he could see it, then reached for each of her sons, in turn, to plant a loud smack on both of their cheeks. Severus gave her the box back when she was done.
“Thank you,” she said, her fingers trying to work open the latch. It took her a few tries to manage it because of the small tremors that coursed through her digits. “That’s most lovely,” she said, putting it on. “I’m very, very touched.”
“And because we’re the gift that keeps on giving,” Draco said, reaching into his other pocket, “and we didn’t want you feeling left out, Dad.” He pulled out a second, slightly smaller box wrapped in black paper with red swirls and silver lace.
“Happy, uh—early Christmas?” Harry said, shrugging. “Or congratulations on your most excellent N.E.W.T.s result, Professor.”
Severus chuckled nervously as his fingers got to work on the wrapping paper. The shape of the small box left little to the imagination, and he wasn’t overly surprised to find a ring inside. His breath was nonetheless taken away by the symbol embossed on the silver surface.
“A signet ring with the family crest,” Draco said with a small bow of his head, “as befits the patriarch of the House of Snape.”
Severus didn’t hold out the box to his sister for her to see. But he did hold it out to Harry—along with his left hand so that he could put the ring on his pinkie finger. His were shaking too much for him to attempt the action himself.
Their father was well and truly tongue-tied, and he bowed his head in thanks once the ring was secured in place. And Draco understood how much it meant to him. Severus only ever became silent when the emotions overcame him. Leaning over Harry, he reached a hand out to him.
Later that night, a happy feeling fluttered through Harry’s chest when he found Severus completely engrossed in his new signet ring. The Potions Master sat alone on the living room’s sofa, shoulders hunched forward, his dark gaze steadfastly fixed on the small silver band. The flames in the grate opposite him played intricate shadows on his face.
Harry slowly moved in close to not startle him until Severus looked up. His obsidian eyes were full of emotions, and his son smiled warmly at him in return.
“I knew you’d like it,” Harry said knowingly, as he perched himself on the coffee table, a little to the left of the man’s long legs.
Severus’ Adam apple bobbed up and down a couple of times before he spoke. His voice was softer than Harry had ever heard it—perhaps even slightly awed. “Thank you very much, Harry. It means a lot to me.”
Harry shrugged noncommittally. He had a pretty good idea what the Snape crest meant to his adoptive parents. He’d been without a family himself for so long that the symbolism wasn’t lost on him, either. But he knew better than to try and force a lengthy declaration of feelings onto an unsuspecting Slytherin. It seemed his father had other ideas, though.
“The word ‘family’ never meant much to me,” Severus started, sounding a little unsure of himself. His gaze was still steadfastly locked onto his bejewelled finger. “The place where Saturnine and I grew up never felt like a home, and the four people who lived in it never behaved like a family. Only Saturnine ever mattered to me. I felt next to nothing when my father passed, and the Snape name meant little to me—Merlin knows, I’ve heard it used as an insult more often than not.” Pausing an instant, Severus heaved in a deep breath, and Harry felt a need to reach out to him that was hard to overcome. “I would never have bothered with a crest or anything. I never felt the need to, never had a reason to even think of such things, until…”
Severus let his words hang while the fingers of his free hand came to cover the emblazed ring protectively.
Feeling that the distance between them was too much, Harry moved to sit by his father’s side on the sofa. The Potions Master’s free hand relocated to his son’s shoulder an instant later.
“The word ‘family’ never had a meaning for me until you and Draco made us into one,” Severus continued at length. “This,” he glanced down at his signet ring again, “is a beautiful and powerful symbol, Harry. And I truly appreciate it. I know I’m not the best at communicating what I feel, but I wanted you to know that I got the message, loud and clear.”
Harry leaned in, catching his father in a one-armed hug, saying, “I love you, Dad.”
“I love you, too,” came the whispered reply, and Harry treasured it for the rare treat it was. It was one thing to know a man such as Severus Snape loved you, but it was another to hear it said aloud.
They stayed like that for a little while—father and son—holding onto each other and enjoying the closeness, warmth, and sense of belonging. This, Harry decided, was the quintessence of what ‘family’ and ‘home’ meant, and he’d have stayed in Severus’ arms forever if he could. But all too soon, the man pulled away, a curtain of black hair hiding his face and brimming eyes from view.
Harry silently stayed where he was, giving them both time to recover from the onslaught of their emotions. He still found it hard to believe, at times, how lucky he was. Both Severus and Saturnine were more than he’d ever hoped to have. He had their unwavering support and love and, for the first time in his life, felt as if anything could be overcome with their help—and Draco’s. His brother had become as much a friend as an ally to rely on during tough times.
“We should find something for Draco to wear,” Harry said when realisation dawned on him that his brother was now the only family member without a Snape family heirloom. He had his mother’s childhood necklace, Severus still wore his, plus his new signet ring, and Saturnine had the brand-new necklace they’d just given her.
Severus turned a puzzled gaze his son’s way, and Harry told him the realisation he’d just come to. A brief flicker of something that looked like pain crossed Severus’ dark eyes. Then he seemed to come to a decision, and he reached a hand beneath the hem of his black jumper. When Harry caught sight of a thin, silver chain looped around his long fingers, he gasped.
“But you never take it off,” he said, surprised. Saturnine might have parted with her necklace at the beginning of Harry’s sixth year at Hogwarts. But Severus had never taken his off—save for very briefly the day Draco and Harry had been kidnapped, and the Snape siblings had used the pendants to locate them.
“I never had a reason to,” he explained. Then he brought the chain over his head before letting it rest on his opened palm. The small S-shaped pendant—a replica of Harry’s—lay nestled between the silver rivulets. Severus visibly shuddered at the necklace’s absence, and Harry reached for his own family heirloom on impulse, resting it in his palm an instant later.
Catching his action, Severus reached for the pendant he had carved so many years ago to bring it closer to his. As soon as they were close enough, the two magically linked together as if they were living snakes seeking each other’s embrace.
Harry watched it happen in awe. “I had no idea they could do that,” he said.
Severus nodded. “They haven’t locked together in years,” he said, voice laden with emotions. Though his face was hidden behind the barrier of his hair yet again, Harry thought he had just glanced up towards the bedroom where Saturnine was now resting.
A moment later, Severus pulled on the chain of Harry’s necklace, and the two pendants parted. Holding his own necklace tightly, he placed the second on Harry’s waiting palm and closed the boy’s fingers around it.
“Keep it safe,” he said. “Always.”
Harry didn’t need to hear that, but he nodded anyway. “I promise, Dad.”
Without another word, Severus sat up and made his way towards the room where his second son would likely be almost done with his evening shower.
“I see we have some very curious visitors,” Fred Weasley commented as he caught sight of the four wizards that had just entered Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes situated at 93 Diagon Alley.
George’s equally ginger head popped up from over a nearby shelf. “If it isn’t our esteemed benefactor,” he said.
“His brother, mother, and our favourite Potions professor,” Fred continued, his smile growing.
“Doubtful,” Severus drawled as he closed the front door behind him.
“Oh, but we beg to differ; don’t we, my co-conspirator?” George said, rounding around the shelf to come to join his twin brother. They were dressed almost identically, the only difference being the colour of their striped jumpers.
“For he might have believed to have us tremble in terror,” Fred continued.
“But we always enjoyed having him as our tutor,” his brother said.
“And still, many of his teachings we use today. We daresay he was our mentor.”
Harry had trouble restraining his laughter, and he made a point not to look at Severus’ face, for if he did, he would break out in a mad giggle.
“All right—enough, you two,” Saturnine said. “Or Severus might be tempted to owl your mother and suggest she start to knit you a pair of muzzles for Christmas.”
“Oh, but you wound me, my lady,” George said before mock-impaling himself over his own hand.
“Seriously, though,” Fred said, ever the businessman. “Welcome to our humble abode.”
He stepped to the side, and his brother did, too. And Harry and Draco were free to take in the full sight of the wondrous boutique. Every stall and every shelf were covered in what amounted to a wizard child’s dream. There were hundreds of practical joke objects, an entire display of Muggle Magic Tricks, a full range of fireworks, and several racks full of sweets. Part of Harry regretted having given away the Potter vaults, and he bet Draco was equally feeling the heavy weight of his near-empty pockets. Still, just looking at the place made him giddy with joy.
Serpenting through the shelves, he saw that Severus and Saturnine had remained near the entry and were busy chatting with the twins. The discussion seemed amicable enough, and even Severus looked relaxed—even if he was the only one not smiling. The rhyming welcome may have been a tad too much, but it hadn’t been that far from the truth. Harry knew the twins had great respect for Severus’ skills, and they used much of what he had taught them in their daily business—after all, many of the Weasley’s Wheezes were brewed in cauldrons. It probably wasn’t what Professor Snape had hoped to see them do with his teachings. But brewing was brewing, and the dark-haired potioneer looked at them with the kind of respect he gave only his peers.
Harry didn’t end up getting that many things. He had used up most of the allowance his parents had given him to last his seventh year, and they hadn’t given him anything for the summer. Catching sight of Draco between two aisles, he saw that his brother’s hands were empty—a sign that he must have used up all of his on their parents’ gifts.
“All right—time to go,” Saturnine said, crossing through the shop to make her way to the till. She had her purse in her hand, Harry saw, and he understood that she intended to pay for the day’s extravaganza. Catching Draco’s gaze, Harry gave him a discreet nod that made Draco look her way. Draco was quick to understand the situation, and he ran to get a handful of sweets.
Their mother paid for everything, and Harry raised a curious brow at Fred, who cashed in their shopping. The Weasley twins had a standing policy of letting Harry walk away with everything he wanted—not that he didn’t try to pay for his shopping each time, anyway. Fred shrugged at him and angled his head in a way that informed him he had no choice but to let Saturnine pay, almost as if he’d been ordered to. A glance from the ginger-haired wizard towards Severus, who was still speaking amicably with George, gave him the identity of the man behind the order.
“Thanks, Mom,” Harry said with a smile as she handed him his bag of sweets and tricks.
“Sure thing, lad,” she said, brushing her hand in his hair to direct him towards the exit, and Harry understood that this moment had been the reason behind Severus’ instruction. If the sweets had been free, they wouldn’t have had the chance to thank their parents for buying them. This was what Harry had asked them for last Christmas, and he loved his father even more for having gone to the trouble, even if he pretended not to have noticed his little game at all.
“Sweet thing they’ve got going there,” Draco said once they’d left the store. “Never thought those two would go so far in life.”
“For all their mischievous streak, the twins were talented students,” Severus said with a shrug. “When they applied themselves to something, they got some amazing results. Too bad they didn’t feel compelled to apply to anything much.”
They stopped by Madam Malkin’s Robes For All Occasions for Draco, who’d had a growth spurt this spring and needed a new set of formal robes, and at the book store for Saturnine, who needed to pick up a few tomes she had ordered.
“Would you care for some ice cream?” Severus asked as they walked past Topsy Gelato, the newly furbished ice cream parlour. “If you haven’t stuffed yourselves full of sweets yet, that is.”
“Always got room for ice cream,” Draco said over a mouthful of bright pink liquorice that had somehow tinted his tongue blue.
“Same,” Harry informed him, especially considering that he hadn’t dug into his bag of sweets yet and that it was a sweltering July morning.
“You guys go ahead,” Severus said. “I need to get something from the Apothecary.”
When he reached inside his frock coat pocket for his coin purse, Harry held out a hand. “That’s okay, Dad. I’ll get the ice cream.”
“There’s no need,” Severus replied with a frown.
“You and Mom just paid for everything else; let me get the ice cream,” Harry protested.
“You know, Harry, for someone so keen on giving all his money away last Christmas, you sure like buying stuff,” he complained. But he put his purse away. So, Harry took it as a win.
“That’s not it,” he protested. He just liked making gifts; it wasn’t the same thing.
Draco guffawed indiscreetly behind his back, and Harry threw him a look over his shoulder. “What’s so funny to you?”
“Just the fact that he’s telling you that you spend too much and not me,” Draco said with a shrug.
“No wonder,” Harry said, falling in step with him so that he could loop an arm around the blond’s shoulders. “Tell me, brother-dear, would you be able to afford an ice cream scoop today, or have you spent all your allowance already?”
“Point taken,” Draco replied sheepishly, looking at his shoes.
“Enough, children,” Saturnine chided, stepping between them and placing an arm over each of their shoulders. “Harry, thank you for your kind offer to buy us all ice cream; the whole family appreciates it. Draco, that money was meant to last you for the duration of the school year. It was expected to have run dry by now. Severus, don’t spend hours complaining about the quality of everything they try to sell you, and come join us when you’re done.”
The potioneer nodded at her before turning on his heel. He headed towards the little boutique with intricate phials and glass jars in the window.
“Now,” Saturnine continued as they headed towards the ice cream parlour, “why don’t you two try and guess which flavour your father would like to have, hmm?”
“Firewhiskey?” Draco offered, and Saturnine chuckled.
“Not sure they have that one, but nice try,” she responded.
Harry knew he would ravage through anything that tasted even remotely like a treacle tart, but he had noticed Severus didn’t have much of a sweet tooth. Saturnine, on the other hand, seemed to be magically attracted towards anything that contained chocolate.
“Tea?” he said, thinking his father might like that. “But a nice blend—not the vapid stuff most people drink.”
“Ah, nice idea,” Saturnine agreed as she pushed the door open, “We’ll see what they have on offer.”
The door had all but closed behind Harry’s back when the ground shook, and the sound of attack spells boomed in the distance. He whirled on himself and only had an instant to understand what was happening before Saturnine yanked him backwards and away from the door.
Harry felt his blood grow colder than the ice cream at his back; all the windows to the Apothecary store had blown outward.
Saturnine reacted on sheer instinct, pushing Draco behind her and yanking Harry backwards by the back of his hoodie. It was done with no conscious thought on her part, her brain engaged as it was on analysing the situation and assessing the threat level. But the need to protect her family, to see them to safety first and foremost, had shot out of her regardless—a primal urge that overcame everything else and was the apanage of all mothers.
Her next thought was for her brother—the brother who had just told them that he was heading for the Apothecary: the very building that had all but burst open. The building with windows through which plummets of smoke now curled out of.
“Severus.” The name crossed her lips like a whispered prayer. Then she kicked into action.
Turning towards both of her sons, she fixed them with a stern gaze that brokered no argument. “Stay there,” she ordered. “Both of you.”
She didn’t wait to see them nod to head out the door, wand in hand. The street was awash with tension and people running around. They were either scampering as far away from the Apothecary as they could or approaching it with their wands drawn. She beat them all to it, her Elemental powers simmering close to the surface and giving her the extra boost.
At a swish of her wrist, the door flew open, tearing itself off its hinges from the spell’s force. It landed in the street a few feet to her left. She pushed through the opening, wand drawn forward and ready to call up a shield if need be.
There was smoke in the air, the aftermath of several attack spells. An assortment of oils and potions had crashed to the floor, spilling open, and the sickly-sweet smell of herbs and fruity fragrances joined together in a heady mix. Saturnine ignored it all as she crept forward, freezing when she caught sight of a corpse on the floor. She had a moment’s pause until the shape of the man registered, and she realised with relief that it wasn’t Severus. Her respite was short-lived; her brother lay on the floor in a pool of blood, mere feet away.
Severus was lying on his front, with his head turned the other way around. His left hand was outstretched by his side, while his wand-hand looked to be curled beneath him at an odd angle. Several bleeding cuts were on his back and down the length of his arms, probably due to the exploding glass. But mostly, what made Saturnine’s heart thunder in her chest was that he wasn’t moving. And that, sprawled as he was, she didn’t know if—
A choked-up gasp broke the silence in the small store, and it took Saturnine a moment to realise it had escaped her lips. Movement caught her attention in her peripheral vision, and she turned slightly to see that two wizards had just entered the shop, one of whom she recognised to be the owner of the boutique next door. They’d come to help, and she dismissed them from her awareness the moment she realised they weren’t a threat.
Rushing forward, she knelt by her brother’s side. She got her first look at his face then; it was pallid and lax from unconsciousness or—
Reaching with shaking fingers, she caught Severus’ shoulder and forced him to roll on his back, discovering with horror the blood’s source. It was his blood that had pooled on the floor. It was his life force that gushed from the many wounds on his stomach and torso. It was his blood that now stained her fingertips crimson red.
She wanted to say something—to call out his name, to beg the deities that she knew not to take him, but fear and panic rendered her mute and all but motionless. Saturnine was crying, she knew, but she couldn’t stop it any more than she could stop the tremors wracking through her. Her brother was either dying or already—
And she was dying right alongside him; it was all she could do. She refused to do anything else, refused to contemplate a life without him by her side. The blood on the floor might as well have been hers. It was a physical manifestation of the heart that had been ripped out of her chest and was dying a slow death on the dank cobblestone.
“I love you,” Saturnine had said one night, many moons ago. “I love you like the sun.”
It was something silly they did, sometimes, to pass the time. Severus didn’t particularly like to hear her say that—at least not when they were outside, and others could hear. But he allowed it when it was just the two of them. And on nights like this, Saturnine was pretty sure he needed to hear it.
“I love you like the stars,” he replied in a soft voice.
“Which ones?” she asked, looking up and through their bedroom window to see the pinpricks of light that pierced the distant black sky. Although she was only five, she knew all about the stars because Severus had told her about them. He had told her what they were and divulged their names. Then they had spent many evenings sitting below the window observing them until she fell asleep, curled up in her blanket.
“All of them, ’Nine,” her brother replied a little breathlessly, and she wrapped her small hands around his shoulders a bit more securely.
Severus was lying on his side, the least hurt, with his head cradled in her lap. She would have preferred that they had both gone to his bed. But he wanted to see the stars, and after what their father had done to him, well—she couldn’t say no. So, she had helped him lie down below the window. Then she’d gone to retrieve their blankets so that Severus wouldn’t be too cold. He was still shaking, though—his thin, battered body wracked with intermittent tremors—even with both blankets covering him all the way to just below his chin, where a large bruise started to darken.
“I love you like the galaxy,” she said. She was unsure what a galaxy was, but she knew it was bigger than the stars; so, she supposed it worked.
“Then I love you like the universe,” Severus said, and when the shaking got worse, she held him a little tighter.
She tried hard to remember what was bigger than the universe. There had to be something; so, she asked Severus about it. He would know; her big brother knew everything. “What’s bigger than the universe, Sev?”
A wet chuckle passed his lips at her question. “Nothing sweetie—it’s infinite,” he said between two sniffs. “Means it never ends.”
“Oh,” Saturnine replied, seeing how that might be problematic. Then she shrugged and said, “Then I love you like the universe plus one.”
Someone pushed her to the side, and Saturnine wanted to protest. She wanted to stay with Severus but couldn’t speak any more than she could move. She was numb, motionless—just like he was. Her body reacted to her brother’s plight by emulating it. Inside she screamed, wailing in distress; she waged a battle, fighting the tide of emotions that sought to drown her. But outwardly, she resembled a lifeless puppet whose strings had been cut off—a mere broken doll.
Broken, the both of them—broken and bleeding. Severus on the outside, and Saturnine, on the inside, as they had been for so much of their life. Every one of their father’s punches or kicks or lashes of his belt had left a mark on Severus’ soft skin and a cut on Saturnine’s tender heart.
She was dimly aware of a flash of blond hair and hearing the familiar tone of Harry’s voice, but the notion that her sons were there wasn’t coming through. Nothing could make it past the hurt, not even them. She thought of only one person, the one person she couldn’t live without. He had been there since the first day she had drawn breath; without him, she couldn’t breathe.
“Higher, Sev, higher,” a six-year-old Saturnine demanded as her brother pushed her on the swings. “Higher!”
And as always, Severus obliged her, and his hands at her back pushed more strongly. She was elated and couldn’t contain the giggles she felt bubbling up her throat. Saturnine loved the swings and the feel of the wind in her hair. It was like she was flying, and she craned her neck to look at the clouds to see if any birds flew by. Maybe she could join them and fly, too? Perhaps they could teach her how so that she could escape? She’d have to take Severus with her, of course. But wouldn’t that be nice—to be a bird in the sky?
“Is that enough?” Severus asked in a fake-bored voice, but she could hear the smile in his words.
“More,” she demanded. “Higher.”
And once more, Severus obliged, and she swung faster and faster, feeling her joy grow with every woosh and feeling herself sing with the wind. Her need to fly blossomed in her chest with a comfortable warmth. Fly, fly, she thought. Higher. And on the next swing, she let go of the metallic chains, reached her arms forward, and—she flew. Just surged forward and flew—suspended in the air, weightless and free—and it was the best feeling she had ever felt. She could feel the very air around her, all the different currents that kept her aloft, moving as if obeying her command.
But then she heard Severus cry out her name, and it broke her concentration. She fell to the ground in a heap of limbs and blades of grass. Even though she had mud on her cheeks now, she couldn’t stop smiling.
“Blasted Merlin, ’Nine,” Severus said in a panicked voice. He rushed to where she had fallen and fell to his knees beside her. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
His shaking hands were all over her, frantically checking for bruises and broken bones. When he looked up in her face, she saw how worried he was, and she felt a little bad for it. Severus had told her many times that she should never let go of the metallic chains on the swings, and she had disobeyed him. Her smile vanished. And she looked down so that she wouldn’t have to see his worried expression again. Severus must have decided that she was okay then, for he engulfed her in a tight hug.
“Merciful Merlin, ’Nine, never do that to me again,” he whispered in her ear. “You scared the pants off of me. I don’t know what I’d do if something ever happened to you.”
Through the blur of her tears, Saturnine saw shapes approaching, people touching Severus and trying to—
She didn’t know what they were doing, but she wouldn’t let them. No one would take Severus away from her, she decided. She got moving again, tried pushing them away, tried protecting what was hers.
They fought her, held her back, as hands rummaged over her brother’s broken body and pushed a phial to his lips. She fought harder, and another set of hands forced her backwards. She heard someone scream and wail like a wounded animal, and she dimly realised it was her.
Someone was in her face now—a familiar someone. Messy brown hair and round glasses. Emerald eyes and sharp cheekbones. Harry. His mouth was moving, and she was vaguely aware of his voice in the distance, but she couldn’t make out the words over the thumping of blood in her ears. It sounded important, so she tried focusing harder.
“—is—okay,” Harry said. “Calm—please—down.”
None of that made sense to her, and Harry tried again. Catching her gaze, he leaned in closer and spoke slower. “Severus is okay, Mom,” he said. “He’s going to be okay.”
The words got through at last, and she had just enough presence of mind to force out what she hoped was an enquiring gaze.
Harry nodded without looking away. “He’ll be okay. I gave him some Blood-Replenishing Potion, and Draco’s seeing to his injuries,” Harry said. “He’s going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”
She felt herself slump forward from the sheer relief she felt. She was dimly aware of Harry catching her before the world went dark.
Severus was surprised to see the light pouring from the window when he awoke. It was no morning light, either; it looked like the middle of the afternoon at the very least. Had he taken a nap, he wondered? That wasn’t really his style; he must have been exhausted to fall asleep in the middle of the day.
He tried sitting up but couldn’t. His entire right side was unresponsive as if weighed down by something, and the rest of him flared up in pain. And then the thoughts rushed back in—the Apothecary, the attack.
He groaned in pain even as he tried taking stock of himself.
“Easy, Dad—don’t move,” Draco whispered as he came into view. Harry was right behind him, and he wondered if they had been sitting on Saturnine’s bed; they certainly seemed to be coming from that direction.
“Stay still,” Harry advised softly. “You’re pretty banged up.”
Severus wanted to ask a few questions, but Harry gave him no time for it. He picked up a phial on the nightstand and pressed it to his lips without asking for permission. At a whiff, the potioneer recognised it to be a Strengthening Potion—one of his own. He swallowed dutifully and felt slightly better afterwards.
He tried sitting up and found that he was still irrevocably weighed down on one side. Slowly turning his head that way, his neck protesting the motion, he was surprised by what he found there. And also oddly comforted.
Though she sat in a chair, Saturnine had somehow fallen asleep with her head on his shoulder. The posture looked most uncomfortable, but she didn’t seem to be in pain. So, he figured he’d let her sleep a while longer. He didn’t need the use of his right arm at the moment.
“Once she came back to, she wouldn’t leave your side,” Draco explained in a whisper. “Refused to let the Aurors take you to St. Mungo’s for a check-up or anything. She was feral.”
“She finally fell asleep about an hour ago,” Harry said. “But she’s been caring for you ever since we returned.”
“Came back to?” he asked, his mind latching on that odd bit of information. Had Saturnine been injured somehow? She hadn’t been in the shop when he’d been attacked, had she?
Harry nodded. “She—well, she really freaked out when she found you,” he said. “You were a right mess, though.”
Finding the explanation most unsatisfactory, he arched an eyebrow.
“You lost a lot of blood, Dad,” Draco said, looking pale and a little sick. “My first thought was that you were dead. And I’m guessing that was hers, too.”
“I’d never seen her like that,” Harry admitted as he looked past Severus to the sleeping witch resting on his shoulder. “So sad, so broken—it was like she was dying right alongside you.” Then he shook himself, and he grabbed something else from the nightstand. It was another phial containing a dark-green liquid.
Severus sniffed at it, arching an eyebrow in surprise at what he smelt.
“Valerian root extract and Dittany leaf essence,” Harry said.
Severus frowned, recognising the substances as two of the base ingredients of the Blood-Replenishing Potion. Appropriate, given the circumstances—although why he wasn’t given the entire thing—
“Can’t give you more,” Harry said, cutting through his musing. “You’ve already had three doses of Blood-Replenishing Potion at the Apothecary. Any more of that, and it’ll do you more harm than good.”
Harry frowned slightly at the small phial in his hand, then said, “But these two should help a little, right? To ease the blood circulation and strengthen your system—without killing you in the process?”
Severus nodded before accepting to drink the concoction. Harry’s assumptions had been correct, and though he had covered the dangers of potion overdoses in class, he hadn’t offered his students any solution to that conundrum. It was something Harry had come up with on his own, and at a stressful time, at that. Severus felt immensely proud of him at that moment and regretted not having the strength to tell him so. He tried to convey the meaning through his eyes, and when Harry smiled wanly in return, he figured some of it must have carried through.
He was dimly aware of Draco’s fingers on his temple a moment later and his voice reciting a foreign spell, and a wave of calm washed over him. He let go and sunk into its warm embrace, and the next moment he was asleep.
The next time Severus awoke, it was early morning, and he was alone. Or he wasn’t—not entirely. Two boys were fast asleep atop his sister’s bed, limbs tangled and half dangling off the side, and he could hear the distant sounds of tingling silverware coming from the kitchen.
Pushing himself up on one elbow, he found that he felt marginally better—good enough to stand. Barely a grunt passed his lips as he got to his feet, dragging his battered body to the bathroom to take care of the morning business.
The boys hadn’t moved by the time he came back out, and he wondered how long they had stayed up, keeping vigil by his side. He vaguely remembered waking up and briefly talking to them the day before, remembered his sister falling asleep on him. Maybe it was a symptom of his ailment, but he’d swear he could still feel the warmth of her body pressed to his seeping into his heart.
Wanting the real thing rather than a memory, he quietly left the bedroom to go to the kitchen. Saturnine was busy preparing their breakfast, and he watched her for a moment. She had her back to him and hadn’t noticed his arrival yet. She was dressed as she often did, in a slack pair of denim and a hoodie—ivory today. Her hair fell loose on her shoulders, something he rarely saw. He was struck by how much she resembled their mother like that, especially from the back. She’d had long hair, too—albeit a shade lighter than Saturnine’s.
Ever the good spy, he stepped forward without a sound, placed his palm on the middle of his sister’s back and, pushing some of her hair out of the way, rested his chin atop her shoulder. He felt her tense and then relax underneath him, and a soft sigh passed her lips.
“I love you,” he said; it was all he felt in that moment, and he wanted her to know.
“Like the universe plus one,” she replied. Then she leaned her head against his, and they breathed together for a moment.
“You scared the pants off of me. Never do that to me again,” she murmured after a while. “I don’t know what I’d do if something ever happened to you.”
He nodded against her shoulder. “I’ll try not to.”
They shared their recollections. Then, patched up the holes in their respective memories. Severus told her how a man he knew from his Death Eaters days entered the small boutique after him, catching him by surprise and lending a few attack spells before he had the time to ready a shield. Saturnine told Severus how Draco and Harry had saved him, despite her instruction to stay away. In minutes, Harry had found the right potions on the Apothecary shelves and forced them down Severus’ throat while Draco cast healing spell upon healing spell. They had saved their father together—Harry mending him inside while Draco took care of his external wounds.
Tears burned on her face when she told him how useless she had been—frozen in fear, something that had never happened to her before. Not when Severus had been left bruised and bleeding on the floor of their parents’ bedroom when they were kids. Not when Lucius Malfoy nearly killed him in the cemetery. Not when the two of them fought Voldemort’s shade in the Headmaster’s Tower.
“Hush,” Severus said, brushing her tears away before wrapping her in a tight hug. “It’s okay; I’m fine now.”
“I’m so sorry,” she kept saying.
“It’s okay, ’Nine,” he said. “The boys were there; you knew that. You knew they’d do the right thing. Just let yourself feel. It’s okay.”
And he knew all about that, how intense repressed emotions could feel when they were finally let loose. They were like a tidal wave that swept you up, tried to drown you, and left you a quivering mess when it finally ebbed away. He’d felt that way often enough those past couple of months to know how powerless he’d been to do anything about it.
“We’ll be okay,” he said. “You and me.”
And for the first time, he found that he believed it. The monster that had been leaching off his heart must have disintegrated in the night, for he couldn’t feel its presence anymore. He only felt the love of his children and sister. And it was more than he’d ever needed, more than he’d ever hoped to have. It wasn’t quantifiable, and it didn’t come with an expiration date; it just—was.
Voldemort’s words had been no more than empty threats, hollow because the man who had once been Tom Riddle understood nothing of love and family—it was beyond his comprehension. But Severus understood. He could see it now; this family was going to stay. No matter what happened come September, they would never lose each other. They might not see each other every day anymore, but the distance wouldn’t kill the love—nothing could. They’d still be in each other’s thoughts and hearts. Always. A family before all else.
“I need to tell you something,” he said in Saturnine’s ear. “And then I need you to go back to Cokeworth with me—one last time.”
Severus had planned on waiting until Christmas to tell his family about his recent purchase of Cove Cottage, but life had just reminded him that sometimes it was better not to postpone.
Some of life’s moments are cathartic: they make you feel like a different person, cleanse you of your past, and prepare you for a new life. They remove your pain and soothe your soul. And for Saturnine Eileen Snape, nothing had ever felt more cathartic than watching the shabby house at the end of Spinner’s End burn to cinders. That she had been the one to light the flames was the icing on the metaphorical cake.
Turning to look at the man standing by her side, she was surprised by the smile on her brother’s face. It was a smile she hadn’t seen in years: a little boy’s smile that reached his sparkling dark eyes. The past was over for them both, buried now—reduced to ashes like the house beside them. Today was the beginning of a new life—one they had chosen for themselves. And it came with a new home that was everything the house on Spinner’s End had never been.
Cove Cottage wasn’t in a drab northern mining town; it was on the coast in the southwest. It wasn’t at the end of a spindly little street; it stood in a vast expanse of fertile land by the ocean. It wasn’t composed of cramped rooms with even smaller windows; it was roomy and brightly lit. It wasn’t a place of fear and sadness but a place of love and hope.
It was home.
“I never gave you my reply,” Saturnine said, sounding almost matter of fact. A dark eyebrow rose quizzically. “That afternoon, in the infirmary. You asked me to stay,” she elaborated.
Severus said nothing, but she saw him swallow thickly, a clear sign that he remembered the event in question. She hadn’t forgotten, either. It had never been the right time for her to give Severus her answer—not that it was a complicated question. But the tone in which her brother had asked—begged—her to stay had cut deep within her. And she wanted to do it right.
Up to that point, she was unaware that Severus was still afraid that she would leave again. In hindsight, she should have seen it coming. She’d heard the words Voldemort’s shade had thrown at him—and she had left him once already.
She reached for her brother’s hand, slipping her fingers through his before stepping between him and their past’s burning cinders. Turning her back on what remained of their old home, she looked up into his vibrant dark eyes.
“I don’t have many regrets in life, Severus, but I’ve never regretted anything more than what I told you that day.” She sighed, then gave him the god-honest truth. “I don’t regret leaving. I needed to see the world a bit—to get away from it all and figure out who I was. But I regret how I went about it and that it took me this long to return.”
Severus nodded, then said in a voice that was barely more than a whisper, “We both had a lot to figure out.”
“Yes, we did.” She gave him a soft smile. “And I think we have.”
He nodded again.
“I heard what it said to you, the Dark Lord’s shade. And I want you to know that you don’t have to remain alone for me. I’m sure there’s an amazing wife for you out there—if that’s what you want. Merlin knows, I’ll even help you search for her if you decide to follow that path.”
“What if I don’t?” he asked, his expression open and vulnerable. “What if I’m happy with how things are now?”
Saturnine shrugged. “Then we simply keep things how they are.”
“Just like that?”
She nodded. “Just like that.”
“Is this what you want?” Severus asked, sounding cautious. “You could do better.”
“So could you,” she replied, holding his gaze to make her point.
Her brother scoffed before looking away.
Saturnine waited until his gaze returned to hers to continue. “Severus, you could have the life everyone else has if you wanted to. We both could.”
“I don’t want to,” he admitted. “I could never trust anyone enough to…”
Severus didn’t need to finish his sentence; Saturnine understood the meaning clearly. “I couldn’t either,” she said. “I tried to while I was away, but I guess I was too…” Saturnine let her words hang, unsure how to finish that sentence. What was she—too broken, too tarnished, too scared? Glancing back over her shoulder, she found that the fire had died. It had finally run out of material to consume.
Too lonely was what she had been back then, even when she sought the company of gentlemen for a night or more. They were entertaining for a short while, but she never let herself be completely honest with them. The lies were never big, but they were numerous. She lied about her name or the reason why she was wherever she was at the time. She lied about having no family, about being a typical witch. The only person who knew the truth—well, most of it—was Remus. And he was a friend more than anything else.
All the time Saturnine had been away, she had felt incomplete—as if she had left part of herself behind in Britain. She wasn’t sure if it was a piece of her heart or a slice of her very soul, but she was sure that she would never leave without it again. It hurt too much to be without it.
“I want things to remain as they are,” Saturnine said, willing her face to reflect the sincerity of her words. “I don’t need anything more to be happy.” At Severus’ answering smile, she leaned in for a hug. “We won’t always agree on everything, and there’ll be ups and downs, but I hear life’s like that for everyone,” she whispered into his ear. She kissed his cheek before hugging him a little more tightly. “I’ll make do with your shortcomings, as you will with mine. And we’ll enjoy the rest of it all like the second chance it’s supposed to be.”
And as the last remains of the empty, decrepit house at the end of Spinner’s End were blown away in the winds—impossible winds that seemed to blow only on their street—the Snape children held onto each other as if nothing else in the world mattered but themselves. Their long-awaited hug felt like then and now, young and old: a hug that felt like home, love, and safety. At long last, they were no longer alone.
Never alone again.
Returning to Cove Cottage after their bout of arson, Severus and Saturnine found Harry and Draco where they had left them, quills scratching parchment while hushed words passed between them. Had this been any other year, Severus would have thought they were doing their homework. As it was, he knew that wasn’t the case. They were up to something, and Severus had no idea what it was. But he was sure that he would find out soon enough. And knowing the boys, it would probably be something as unexpected as it was thoughtful.
Moving to the bedroom he shared with Saturnine, he unpacked what little he had taken from the house on Spinner’s End before he’d asked his sister if she would be so kind as to torch the place. Merciful Merlin, but it had felt good to watch it twist and turn and crack and disintegrate to nothingness. That it was magic that had done it in, magic that had rid the earth of the last vestige of Tobias Snape’s malevolent influence—well, that had been the icing on his metaphorical cake.
Knowing that his sister would stay, that she would be by his side come September 1st—and every other day after that—there wasn’t a word or a metaphor strong enough to aptly describe how he felt other than happy. Very happy, indeed.
Feeling that he was ready for attempt number fourteen, Severus took his notes on the Werewolf Cub Potion and moved to the lab. He had made no progress during the summer, and he was still failing when the time came to add the infected blood. Yet Severus knew there was no way around it; it had to be added to the potion. Only he was unable to protect the cells long enough to integrate them safely into the boiling mix. The closest he had been was when he’d coated them in a membrane of dragon intestine. It had protected the cells, but the addition of the foreign flesh to the mix had rendered the final potion unusable. Severus needed something more neutral, but nothing in the world was ever neutral. Everything was something: fundamental elements—an assortment of molecules comprised of a complicated mix of atoms.
Spreading the parchments that had all his research on the table, he leaned over them and scratched the back of his head. Something in him told him that the solution was there, and he couldn’t see it. He’d never been prone to feeling frustrated. Yet Severus could feel it seeping in at this stage. Not because the task was complicated, and he’d failed to achieve his goal no less than thirteen times—no, that was part of the process. So much could be learned from one’s mistakes. He was frustrated with himself, with his instincts, which screamed at him that the solution was there while his mind obtusely refused to see it. He called out for his sister.
Saturnine poked her head inside the lab a moment later. “You called, m’lord?” she asked with a mocking bow.
“Yes,” he said, waving a nervous hand over the papers. “Think with me, will you?”
If she was surprised by his words, she didn’t show it. Pulling out a stool from underneath the table, she sat down, and with a sibling’s patience, said, “Walk me through it from the beginning.”
And he did. They went over everything from top to bottom. Saturnine listened while he talked, asked a few pointed questions along the way that made him doubt himself and the validity of his choices. Once answered, they allowed him to be sure that he’d chosen the correct path.
“So, it is still the delivery method,” Saturnine said once they circled back to the crux of the problem.
“I cannot add anything to the mix—but I must,” Severus said with a nod. “A most impossible conundrum.”
“You need to work with what’s already in there,” she offered. “Adding more of what the potion already contains wouldn’t upset the ingredients.”
He sighed. “There’s nothing I can use to insulate the blood, ’Nine.” He’d already thought about it and concluded that no powders and extracts could be used to that end. “And everything I add, everything, ruins the damn potion. It’s so unstable that even a breath of air would make it sour.”
The potion wasn’t the only one at risk of turning sour, Severus felt. Pinching the bridge of his nose, he took a deep breath to calm himself.
“Would it, though?” Saturnine questioned.
“What?” Severus asked without looking up from his papers.
“Air,” she repeated. “Would it disrupt the potion?”
He shook his head. “Of course not—that was a hyperbole.”
“Then I believe, brother-mine,” his sister said, sitting up, “that you have just found your solution.”
Failing to understand her words, Severus looked up to her. The nagging smile tucked at the corners of her lips told him she knew something that he didn’t. Typical annoying Ravenclaw attitude, he thought.
Stepping closer, Saturnine snatched one of his hands and brought it up between them, palm up. Bending down slightly, she blew air on his hand. He felt it touch his skin, pass through his parted fingers and slide along his knuckles before returning to the top of his upturned palm. Though he couldn’t see it, he felt the gust of air spiral on his skin, turning faster and faster until he could see it—a small ball of air floating an inch above his skin. And Severus understood.
Saturnine could create a temporary barrier that would protect the blood cells long enough to dip them safely inside the boiling mix—a shield that would let the warmth seep in slowly enough that the werewolf stain wouldn’t be damaged. She was the only witch Severus knew who could create protection from one of the most fundamental elements known to humankind—air itself.
It worked. Together, they created a potion only they could have made. Severus’ mastery of his craft and her unique abilities, entwined together, merged to make something new—something that would change people’s lives. The cure would allow children around the globe to grow up normally, to have a life of happiness and joy, of hope and possibilities. Not the life Remus had had—not the one that two miserable urchins from Cokeworth had had either.
Severus let himself fall atop his bed with little grace and a groan, the result of an entire afternoon spent brewing less than two days after having almost bled to death on an Apothecary floor. Saturnine shuddered at the thought; she could still see the blood when she closed her eyes. It would be a while until that particular memory would let her sleep in peace again.
Tired her brother might be, he smiled; he hadn’t stopped for a moment since they’d left the lab with a dozen phials filled to the brim with his potion. The first bottle she had set aside, and it would end up under the Lupin family Christmas tree, and they would send the others to Minister Kingsley Shacklebolt in the morning.
Stopping by the dark lump on the bed that happened to be vaguely wizard-shaped, she said, “That’s quite the potion you invented, brother-mine.”
Severus closed his eyes, letting out a contented sigh. Not wanting to reply, he merely shrugged a shoulder.
“I’m very proud of you,” she added, and that made him open one eye.
“Wouldn’t have made it without your help,” he said.
“Still, the idea was all yours. I merely put the finishing touches. It was your talent, Sev—your resilience that made it possible.”
The eye closed, and her brother’s cheeks reddened. He turned away.
Crouching down by his bed, Saturnine rested her chin atop the mattress and blew air towards the back of his neck until he was exasperated enough to turn over. When his eyes opened to fix her with an annoyed but fond gaze, she said, “Really. Truly. Very proud of you. And not just for today.”
Severus was saved from replying by the arrival of two teenagers, one brown-haired and one platinum-blond. Forcing himself back up, he moved up the bed to lean against the headboard. Saturnine sat herself down where her head had been instants ago.
“If you’ll pardon the interruption,” Draco said in a tone that made it clear he was not sorry, and the two were about to spring something unexpected on them. Saturnine wondered if they were finally going to tell them what they’d been working on for days on end.
“Kinda have something for you,” Harry said. He sure didn’t have his brother’s poise and manners, but he was as earnest as they come. And everything—from the smile at the corner of his lips to the twinkling emerald eyes behind his round glasses—told her she was in for another of their surprise gifts that were so thoughtful they made you cry.
Next to her, Severus sat up a little straighter, having no doubt realised what was happening. He said nothing, and she remained equally silent, waiting to be amazed.
And when both boys pulled out twin parchments from behind their backs, she was surprised. And neither was a quick poem; each parchment was at least thirty inches. The boys glanced at each other nervously, appearing to decide who should go first. It was settled when Draco gently but firmly shoved his sibling forward—ah, brotherly love at its best, Saturnine thought fondly.
Harry’s cheeks reddened, and he tried to steel himself before holding out the rolled parchment. “Professor Snape,” he said, primarily looking at the floor. “I would like to apply formally for an apprenticeship in your field. Should you decide to take on an apprentice next term, I hope you will consider me.” Then looking up, cheeks flaming red, he held out the parchment to his Potions professor, who seemed as flabbergasted as Saturnine was. In all the years he had taught at Hogwarts, no one had ever gone to Severus to request an apprenticeship, and this came as a great surprise.
“I know you’ve never taken an apprentice, Professor,” Harry continued, “and I understand that it will be difficult and that you will be as demanding as you’ve ever been—more, possibly. But I really want to do this.” He paused, glanced at the parchment, then added, “I mean, it’s all in there, but I just really wanted to say—I’d be honoured to, and I wouldn’t let you down, sir.”
Clearing his throat, Draco took a step forward, holding out his application. “Should there be an opening in Defence Against the Dark Arts, Professor Snape, I would very much like to submit my candidacy. As I’ve outlined in this proposal, I am intrigued by the field and feel confident that I would greatly benefit from your most exceptional teaching.”
Saturnine took the parchment from his fingers with a raised eyebrow. “A little bit wordy, even from you, son,” she said. “Should I ever acquiesce to your request, I shall hope for less flourished verbiage.”
“My lady,” he said with a mock, little bow.
“I hope you know what you’re asking for,” Severus said in a tone close to the one he used in class. “You won’t be getting any preferential treatment because we’re your parents—quite the opposite, actually. We know you and what you are capable of. We will demand the very best and settle for nothing less.”
“We know,” Harry said with a small smile. “And we expect nothing less from you guys. But please read our candidatures and then give us your decisions.”
With that, they left, retreating from their parents’ bedroom and leaving behind a pair of befuddled professors. Neither had considered that option, and truth be told, Saturnine hadn’t even known that it was an option. Yet it sounded like utter perfection.
“How long do they last?” she asked her brother. “These apprenticeship things?”
“At least three years,” he replied. “More if the candidate is struggling.”
Three years. Three more years with their boys? The years she thought she’d never have. Not only that, but she and Severus would be teaching them in earnest, their relationships not merely that of professor and student but also of mentor and apprentice. It wouldn’t only be the kind of knowledge they tried to impart to the students; it would be everything else—their love and understanding of their craft and their passion for the art. They could try to pass on all of that to their children—their legacies.
Knowing the boys as she did, she did not doubt the applications they held in their hands were worthy of praise. And she knew they would try their best, as they had promised.
“Wait a minute,” she said, a thought striking her. “I’m teaching half the Potions classes. Does that mean I get Harry half of the time, too?”
“I should think so,” Severus answered with a stoic face that betrayed nothing of how he felt. Except for his eyes—his eyes told her all she needed to know. Severus could see the possibilities as clearly as she could.
She saw a family home in the Hogwarts dungeon. It had a double bedroom for the boys and another for the adults. A future of family meals and evenings spent by the fire, filled with board games and squabbles, fallings-out and making-ups. Times of teaching and learning, of growing up and growing old.
Pulling out her necklace, Saturnine glanced at the crest dangling at the end of the silver chain. Familia Ante Omnia, indeed—they couldn’t have got it more right.