“What do professors do, anyway?” Harry asked as he scooped some mashed potatoes onto his plate. “Besides teaching, that is?”
Their quartet had been staying at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry for three days now, and Harry hadn’t thought that living in a 900-year-old Scottish castle’s dungeons could be this nice. For one, he’d imagined his dreaded Potions professor, Severus Snape, living in a bleak, barely-lit, mediaevalesque torture chamber—or quite possibly a simple coffin stored amongst the Potions ingredients surplus and mothballs. But to his surprise, Severus had some taste after all. And his private chambers in the dungeons of Hogwarts were neither gloomy nor scary.
They were simple, yes, but also comfortable and laidback. The entrance door led to a rectangular-shaped living room furnished with a dark-brown leather sofa and a matching well-worn armchair. One of the longer walls was entirely lined with over-stacked bookshelves, while the other held a large fireplace in the middle and a cabinet on the right-hand side. Opposite the front door was a hallway that led to the bedroom, and a small kitchenette with an even smaller table and four plain oak chairs was niched in a recess carved out of the left side of the hallway wall. The kitchenette wasn’t suited to cooking food. But there were enough cupboards to store some dishes and cutlery and everything you would need to make tea.
While it was more than enough for one man, it didn’t fit a family of four. And Saturnine had taken it upon herself to make some small but necessary changes—with her brother’s permission, of course. She used the Undetectable Extension Charm incantation “Capacious Extremis!” on the living room wall left of the fireplace to create a new bedroom for the boys and completed it with a small but practical en-suite shower room. She added another armchair to the living room and enlarged the coffee table. Finally, she placed two large wooden frames on the walls next to the front door that she charmed to reflect the view from outside the castle. Now, looking at the frames was like gazing out a window—the magical reflection was an actual real-time view of the Forbidden Forest. Like a real-life window, the bewitched frames let the sun in, which made living below ground more bearable.
Saturnine placed a smaller frame—displaying a view of the plains beyond the Herbology greenhouses—on the wall opposite the kitchenette and another large one in the boy’s bedroom. That one, of course, was of the Quidditch pitch. Though Harry hadn’t been able to check, he was sure there had to be at least one more in Severus’ bedroom. There might also be a second bed in there—not that Harry or Draco had had the guts to ask whether their assumption was accurate or not. After all, Saturnine had her own private quarters in the upper floors above the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, but Harry was almost sure she had spent the night in the dungeons two days prior. And Severus didn’t seem the type of guy who liked to share his blanket and pillows.
“We have essays to grade and classes to prepare,” the Potions Master replied between two bites of his well-cooked steak. “Detentions to oversee, and—”
“That must keep you busy,” Draco cut in, “like—a lot.”
Severus stared darkly at him before continuing, “Night patrols at least once a week, countless staff meetings, three to four Hogsmeade weekend trips to chaperone each year, and O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s exams to create each year and to subsequently grade.” He looked to his sister, sitting opposite him, to see if she had anything more to contribute.
“Remedial classes,” she explained, “and students coming to see you after class with specific questions.”
“Ah—I don’t seem to find myself subjected to too much of either,” Severus said, feigning a chagrined expression.
“One wonders why,” Saturnine replied with a wry smile that made it clear she knew full well why—they all did.
Draco chuckled at that, and Harry joined in. It had been decided that until everyone returned to the castle on August 31st, the four of them would take their evening meals together. The siblings had to get up early to get a head start on their day of setting up their classes and storing the various equipment and ingredients they needed, checking the materials, and Merlin knew what else. But Harry and Draco were allowed to sleep in late and left to their own devices during the day. Depending on the weather, they either went for a quick fly around the Quidditch pitch or stayed indoors perusing the library or stalking around the castle. Lunches were taken in the Great Hall with the other staff members that were present. But the evening meals—ordered straight from the Hogwarts’ kitchens—were theirs. It was fun to enjoy a relaxed moment together, and bouts of banter were frequent, the two Snapes often taking the lead. Harry had been surprised to discover that Severus, much like his sister, had a sharp sense of humour and could be quite witty when he wanted.
“You don’t have that much time to yourselves, then,” Harry said. “I hadn’t realised.”
Severus shrugged as if it had never bothered him to be on-call most of the time.
Saturnine was slightly more vocal. “We don’t get paid much for our efforts either, and the students’ recognition is even worse.”
“Do you have more things to do, Severus?” Draco asked. “As Head of House?”
“Even more boring staff meetings to attend, six Quidditch games to sit through and—” He paused as if he had to think hard to remember what other duties he had. “And I believe the other Heads of House sometimes lend their shoulders to their students to cry on.”
Harry couldn’t imagine him ever doing that, and he snickered at the mental image that thought conjured up.
“You’ve forgotten the caustic motivational speeches you force yourself to go through once or twice a year,” Draco pointed out. “Those are always a riot.”
“Ah, yes.” He huffed out a long, martyred sigh. “There are those as well.”
Saturnine shook her head fondly at him while smiling benevolently.
“What?” Severus asked her in mock exasperation.
“Complain all you want. But you love it,” she said. “Admit it.”
“You couldn’t be further from the truth,” he replied, eyebrows drawing closer as he frowned.
“And yet…” she taunted, letting her words hang.
“And yet nothing,” he countered, leaning back so that he could cross his arms over his chest.
Saturnine returned to her near-empty plate with a shrug of her shoulders. And if Harry had ever had any doubts that the two were siblings, he didn’t anymore. The ease with which they teased each other was effortless and seamless, evidently borne from years of practice. They knew just how far to push and just when to quit. Harry could only dream of having that kind of relationship with anyone one day. On the opposite end of the table, Draco was smiling over his cup of pumpkin juice, and Harry figured that one day, he just might. And he would make damn sure they kept having meals together sometimes during the school year, too. There was no way he would give up on that anytime soon.
Saturnine was a much better potioneer than she gave herself credit for, and Severus knew all about that. She prepared her ingredients in the same way she went about her hare-brained schemes—with precaution. And she stirred with precise, controlled movements—albeit a little too generous for his taste.
Severus had known from the Dark Mark Potions she had made for him all summer that she possessed some talent. But she’d always refused his offers of assistance. So, he had never gotten to watch her brew before. Why she hadn’t wanted his help all summer was a mystery to him. Being too poorly and magically depleted had stopped being an excuse towards the end of July. But knowing his sister as he did, it probably was something else entirely. Maybe she did this as a favour to him—to right some past wrong or something, which was ludicrous.
“Knut for your thoughts,” she offered, drawing him out of his mind.
“It’s nothing,” he said, peering into their cauldron to check for the potion’s colour and liquid state. It was still a little too gooey, but the shade of blue was the one they were going for. “Stir a little bit faster.”
Saturnine complied, and Severus readied himself to add the drops of unicorn blood.
The Stasis Potion he had devised took an entire day and night to brew and used no less than a hundred ingredients. It had taken them two days to slice, dice, mince, grate, powder, and extract everything they needed.
They had begun brewing at dawn and kept relaying themselves throughout the day. They were well into the night now, and Severus could feel the fatigue creeping in. He hadn’t been on his feet for hours on end since his fight against the Death Eaters in May. And he knew he was pushing himself past what was reasonable. He should lie down and let Saturnine take over for a while. But he was loath to leave her alone. It was his potion, after all—and thus, his responsibility. The fact that he’d allowed her to assist so he wouldn’t have to stir for twenty-four hours straight was one thing, but he was determined to continue overseeing the project so that he could shoulder the blame if something went wrong.
“And you’re miles away again,” Saturnine added with a smile as she raised her hand to remove the sheen of sweat pearling on her brow.
“Sorry,” he apologised. “A lot hinges on this. I was only examining the various steps in my head.”
She nodded. “Don’t worry; the potion will turn out fine.”
Severus was tempted to snort but found that he lacked the energy for it. “Thanks for the vote of confidence.”
He added the five drops of blood to the potion, and they watched as the liquid turned a darker shade of blue before swirling and settling for a nice burgundy red. Saturnine kept stirring with the same movement and speed while Severus first discarded the cup that had stored the unicorn blood, then reached for the powdered amethyst that was to be added next.
“I am sure the potion will work because you’re the one who invented it,” Saturnine said. Then catching his gaze, she added, “You are—and always have been—brilliant at potions, Severus.”
Despite his better judgement, he felt himself blushing and looked away—as if that could hide his embarrassment.
“Youngest Potions Master ever in Britain—and Europe, if I recall correctly,” she continued.
His gaze swivelled back to his sister. He was surprised to discover that she knew about that since it had happened during the period of their estrangement.
“I was very proud of you when I found out,” she added with a soft smile.
Severus didn’t know what to say and looked down instead of replying. If he’d been uncomfortable before, that was nothing compared to how he felt now. He’d never taken praise well, always feeling undeserving somehow—not that people praised him often. He knew his sister enough to know that she meant it, though. And that made his chest tighten in something that wasn’t pain but wasn’t so far from it, either.
“You looked very dapper in that graduation uniform,” she added, smiling fondly at the memory. “Although your hair was cut much too short for my taste.”
He snorted; he hadn’t liked his haircut much, either. “My master insisted I keep my hair short so it wouldn’t fall in the cauldrons by accident,” he explained. He rose a hand to brush the back of his neck as he remembered how the severe cut had left his skin exposed, something he loathed. It took two more seconds for the meaning of his sister’s words to sink in, though. Saturnine had known what he looked like the day he graduated, and she could only have done that if—
“You were there?” he asked, bewildered. He hardly recognised his own voice.
His sister nodded and kept stirring. “Did you think I would miss something so important? I didn’t stay long, and I wore a disguise. But yes, I was there.” She paused long enough to capture his gaze. “And I was really proud of you, brother-mine.”
Severus couldn’t speak over the lump in his throat. He clutched the jar of powdered amethyst so tightly that he feared it might shatter in his hand. He’d gotten his mastery four years after his sister had left Britain. They weren’t talking at the time. Yet not only had she known what he was up to, but she had also bothered showing up. He felt his eyes welling up.
“Really proud,” she repeated, reaching for his arm with her free hand. She squeezed his bicep once before returning her attention to the now-maroon simmering potion. It was nearly time to add the amethyst, and he fought to clear his thoughts so that he could tend to the task at hand.
They kept brewing in silence after that. Severus took over the stirring once the potion coalesced into a near-solid mass that was almost impossible to stir. He sweated profusely as he kept working the iron rod through the molasses, putting all his weight behind the motion. Years of practice allowed him to maintain the momentum, and slowly, the potion began to thaw and release some of its tension. He kept stirring, never giving up—even when he sweated so profusely that he could feel his undershirt stick to his back. Saturnine left for a few minutes and returned with a glass of cold water that she brought to his lips while he kept stirring. He took several grateful sips and wished, not for the first time, that they could have brewed this somewhere other than some sordid, cramped room at the back of the dungeons that no one knew about. Somewhere where he could have opened a damn window to let the fresh air in. But no—illegal potions were better brewed in secret.
“Let me know if you need me to step in,” Saturnine offered as she took a sip from the glass herself. She looked tired, but she had barely left his side since they’d started brewing.
“It’s okay,” he replied through clenched teeth. “I’ve almost got it—get ready with the Belladonna oil.”
Saturnine nodded as she reached for the phial next in line, her fingers easily unstopping the lid. The sticky, tar-like substance he stirred began to give, and he started to draw figure-eights in the cauldron. He nodded at his sister when it was time for the oil, and she diligently dipped the contents of the phial square in the middle of his latest figure-eight. The stirring became easier after that, and he motioned at the flames to augment the intensity. The potion started bubbling again.
“Can you take over?” he asked, and Saturnine was by his side an instant later. They barely lost momentum as they traded places, having done it well over a dozen times that day.
A quick survey of the ingredients left on the table confirmed that they were getting close to the finish line. In another hour or so, they would have their murder weapon ready—so to speak.
Reaching for what remained of the water, he downed it in one go, even as he charmed the top buttons of his frock coat open. He was suffocating, and he needed to sit. He’d have gladly taken off his coat, but he knew better than to brew anything with only a flimsy cotton shirt on. He’d learned early on that even the most fundamental potions could project burning liquid when set to boil, and it was better to keep as much of his skin protected as possible. He still carried the faint reminders of his mistakes along his forearms and on the back of his hands. These scars served as incentives not to yield to the temptation of comfort. Pulling out his wand, he cast a cleansing and cooling charm on himself instead.
“How did you know?” he asked, bringing the topic to the forefront for want of a distraction and because he was more than a little curious.
“Know what?” Saturnine asked, looking up from the cauldron with a puzzled expression.
“Oh, I had my sources,” she said with a shrug. “I may have left the country, but I kept a few pairs of ears and eyes behind.”
“Care to be more specific?”
“Friends who kept me appraised of significant events,” she replied, her gaze returning to the task at hand. Her cheeks reddened, but it was hard to tell if it was because of the stifling warmth in the room or if she blushed. “And the occasional edition of the Daily Prophet.”
Sitting up, Severus grabbed the minced cotton flowers and prepared to add them to the mix. They lapsed into silence again until they neared the last ingredients, and Severus switched places with Saturnine again.
Past midnight, he’d stopped checking the time and had no idea how far away from dawn they were. His back protested as he leaned over the cauldron, and his right arm felt like it was made of lead. But he reached for the iron rod, nonetheless. He began to stir counter-clockwise the ethereal orange-ish potion that floated about the cauldron. At least he wasn’t met with much resistance this time.
He could easily have let Saturnine finish the potion, but he was determined that it be completed by his hand. No matter how simple or how complicated it was, a potion was always tied to the potioneer who brewed it; part of its maker was transferred to its core during the creation process. While he had had no choice but to seek Saturnine’s assistance to make it to the finish line, he was determined that her magic would be as undiscernible as possible in the final product. Most of their plan to conquer the Dark Lord hinged on this Stasis Potion. Were it to end up in the wrong hands, the consequences would be catastrophic for whoever was found responsible for brewing it. Besides, there was always the possibility—slim as it was—that he’d overlook something and that it would kill Albus Dumbledore instead of saving him. If that should be the case, he wanted Saturnine to stay well away from the consequences of his mistake.
“Only the Dendrobatidae toxin left,” Saturnine said as she reached for a crystal phial containing a clear liquid. The poison dart frogs’ secretion was two hundred times as potent as morphine and had been hard to source. Severus was forced to suffer an uncomfortable encounter with a dealer in Knockturn Alley to procure it, and ten millilitres of the stuff had cost him a month’s worth of salary. The headmaster had paid him back for everything, but still… He reached for the phial with a careful hand.
He had turned off the flames below the cauldron some ten minutes ago, and he stirred slowly now. Saturnine didn’t release her hold on the phial, choosing to follow its path with her hand as he brought it closer to the cauldron. Severus tried to catch her gaze to understand her behaviour, but her eyes remained fixed on the near gas-like substance below.
Saturnine kept her hold on the phial even as her free hand reached around the one he used to hold the rod, and her intention became as clear as the liquid toxin in the small bottle. She was determined to do this with him. The final step of the potion—the one that would seal all their fates. He wanted to tell her not to. But he couldn’t find his voice, and her fingers curled around his. They stirred together, added the toxin of common intent, and the potion was soon completed.
Outside the castle, the first lights of dawn illuminated the sky, heralding the beginning of a new day. Today was August 31st, 1997, and the Hogwarts Express’ steam locomotive would reach Hogsmeade station in the early hours of the evening, spitting out large plumes of white smoke. It would rattle to a stop; red passenger carriers’ doors would groan open to let out hundreds of eager students, old and new. And when the sun shone its last rays, and the moon assumed its place in the sky, an old man would draw his last breath.
Today was a day of beginnings and ends. And it would always be remembered as the day of the death of Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, Order of Merlin First Class, Grand Sorcerer, Supreme Mugwump, Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, and current headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.