When December rolled around, everyone involved was sure that the investigation would end—one way or another. If the Ministry finally releasing the headmaster’s body hadn’t been indication enough, the bad press around Talio’s inability to produce a lead could be seen as nothing less than the tide turning. So, the short silver-haired man stalked the hallways in an even darker mood.
Going all-out for the win, he took to cornering students in between classes to harass them with questions akin to insinuations. “Do you think one of your professors could have done it?” he’d asked a second-year Ravenclaw. “Do you know if either of the Snapes has an alibi?” He’d even had the gall to ask a fourth-year Slytherin, “How about Professor Snape. Doesn’t his name spring to mind when you wonder who might have done it?”
It was now little more than all-out war between the middle-aged Auror and the siblings. While Talio sought to destroy their reputations from within, Severus and Saturnine attacked more subtly, liberally smearing the Auror’s name and standing in the press, dropping shocking revelations and exclusive peeks at the investigation every other day. Reading the paper had become like an episodical novel that had half of Britain hooked on every cliffhanger.
While this all-out war wasn’t quite what they had planned, Saturnine was satisfied with the whole debacle. If anything, it was attention-grabbing, which was what they had been going after. Look at my left hand while I pull a rabbit out of my hat with my right hand had become her motto as she faced off against the annoying Auror. She didn’t give two Knuts what the man thought of her, but she enjoyed giving him the impression she did when he came at her with uncouth insinuations and criticisms of her life choices.
It was now clear to everyone who had half a brain that Voldemort was pulling the man’s strings, and Saturnine fancied the Dark Lord was getting as desperate as his puppet, faced with his repeated failure at breaking either of them. But the fact remained that this little masquerade had won their side four months of respite. Four months during which the Order of the Phoenix rallied new members and strengthened its ranks, four months during which she and Severus pored over every book and parchment they could to locate the missing Horcruxes. And in a war of nerves, time was as valuable a currency as gunpowder, and Saturnine would do her best to keep Voldemort chasing his tail a short while longer.
But even the best-laid plans sometimes go astray, and the Snape siblings’ careful plotting suffered a severe blow when Talio stopped playing by the rules. He’d not always been a stickler for them. But so far, he’d kept within the bounds of decency. In a no-holds-barred move that could only have been borne from sheer desperation, he broke every law that he had ever stood for.
Talio made his move on a Wednesday morning, just before lunch. The Gryffindor and Slytherin fifth years’ Defence Against the Dark Arts class was nearing its end when a huffing, puffing fifth-year Ravenclaw barged into the second-floor classroom. Saturnine’s insides coiled as the realisation sunk in that the boy should have been in Potions at that very moment, and Severus never let his students out before it was time.
“What happened?” she asked before the curly-haired teen could even open his mouth.
“It’s your brother, miss,” he replied between two laboured breaths. “They’re arresting him.”
“Class dismissed,” Saturnine said in a tone that caused everyone to look up at her with round eyes. “Someone warn Professor McGonagall of the situation.”
She didn’t stick around long enough to check that her order was followed. Turning on her heel, she headed to the stairs that led to her private office and the secret passageway to the dungeons. It was the shortest route to her brother; time was of the essence.
Minutes later, she barged into the Potions classroom with her wand in hand and a deep scowl plastered upon her face. The kid hadn’t lied, she saw, and only Severus’ desk stood between him and three angry-looking Aurors.
Though most students had left—in a hurry, given the number of open-books and quills that still lay atop the desks—a few still hovered near the door leading back to the hallway. She dimly noted they had drawn their wands, too, clearly intent on standing up for their teacher. A touch of pride swelled in her when she realised they were all Ravenclaws.
“Out, all of you!” she ordered as she came to a stop next to Severus. Their loyalty was admirable, but the situation could turn nasty, and she didn’t want any of them getting hurt in the crossfire.
“What’s going on?” she asked her brother, throwing him a concerned look.
Severus was the tensest he’d ever been; all his muscles coiled like springs ready to be let loose. Though he didn’t have his wand in hand, his wrist was angled in a position that let her know it could slip into his open palm with an instant’s notice. “I am to be arrested for the headmaster’s murder, it would seem,” he said in a voice as cold as the stare he fixed Talio with.
“On what grounds?” she asked, turning back to glare at the short man with all the imperiousness she could impart.
“We have proof that your brother purchased the blade that killed the headmaster earlier this summer,” Talio said, pleased elation stretching his lips as he smiled. “And a witness that will testify to being present for the sale.”
Saturnine had to make a conscious effort to control her answer; it was a load of crap. The blade had been hers for years, and Severus had never been anywhere near it in his life. They both knew it, but Talio didn’t. And no matter how outraged they felt, they couldn’t give that fact away.
“I don’t believe you,” she said. “My brother was with me when Dumbledore was murdered. Your witness—whoever they are—is obviously lying.”
“The Ministry doesn’t see it that way, Ms Snape,” Talio said, his eyes crinkling in delight at winning the game at last. He pulled out a long parchment that he unrolled between his pudgy fingers before turning it over so that Saturnine could read it. It was an arrest warrant, signed by the Minister himself. Pius Thicknesse must not have been hard to convince, Imperiused as he was.
Saturnine could have slapped herself at her own thickness—she should have seen it coming. Their bruised ego and sheer hubris had tricked them into thinking they were too clever to be caught, and they had pushed Talio too far. Not wanting to concede to the defeat, the battered Auror had done what he had to do to win—he’d broken all the rules and fabricated the evidence he’d been unable to find, thus killing two birds with one stone. Talio would become the Ministry’s poster boy as the wizard who had brought Dumbledore’s killer to justice, and he’d accomplished his master’s revenge on Severus for his desertion and duplicity.
“This investigation has been a masquerade since day one, and we both know it. This is a travesty of the truth. Your so-called proof is nothing better than fabricated evidence,” Saturnine said with all the venom she could muster.
“While your verve is admirable,” Talio’s smile turned predatory, “I do have an arrest order, as you can see.” Turning to Severus, he pinned him with a hard stare. “Now, Professor, if you’ll kindly hold out your wand and both of your wrists—”
“You will do no such thing, Severus,” said a slightly panting Professor McGonagall as she barrelled into the room in a flurry of green robes. Pomona Sprout and Septima Vector were hot on her heels, both looking enraged.
Saturnine was glad to see that the Aurors were outnumbered, and she breathed slightly easier. The short respite allowed her to engage her brain in looking for possible exit strategies from this mess.
“Deputy Headmistress,” Talio acknowledged her arrival with a contemptuous nod. “If you’ll kindly look at this parchment, you will see that everything is in order and that I have every right to arrest your so-called professor.”
The disdain he’d placed on that last word almost made Severus reach out for his throat. Sensing it, Saturnine placed a hand on his forearm to still his movements and comfort him that she was there by his side.
“I don’t care about any parchment,” McGonagall said, the Scottish twang thick on her every vowel. “Severus is one of ours, and you’re not taking him away.”
“We’ll fight you for him if we have to. We will,” Sprout said, rolling up the sleeves of her robes to reveal thick forearms that were all but ready to physically battle anyone who dared lay a finger on the Potions Master.
“Like she said,” Vector said, pulling out her own wand before coming to stand by Saturnine’s side.
As heart-warming as this display of support was, Saturnine could see it in Talio’s eyes that he wouldn’t back off. He’d fight them for the win—they had pushed him too far. It had become about more than revenge for him. It was about his dignity now, and the two Aurors by his side looked neither young nor green. They were the hardened troopers she had often seen patrolling crime scenes. Whether they were loyal to the Ministry or the Dark Lord wouldn’t make a difference if someone attacked Talio—they would defend him, either way. And blood would be spilt.
Severus’ rage wasn’t abiding. It simmered close to the surface, and he had a hard time reining it in without the familiar clutch of Occlumency. He tried, though; he wanted, needed, to be his whole self now and not a diluted, emotionless version of himself.
His first instinct had been to duel Talio; the man didn’t seem that apt a wizard, and he was sure of his odds, even with the two full-fledged Aurors that sandwiched him. But the classroom hadn’t been empty, and he hadn’t dared risk any of his students’ safety. Then Saturnine had arrived, and it had been only the two of them. But he couldn’t risk her life any more than his students’.
Now the Aurors stood three to five, and Severus could tell the four witches by his side were ready to fight tooth and manicured nail to save him. As surprising as it was, it also forced him to keep his countenance lest he risk provoking an all-out fight sure to result in casualties.
Despite the tense situation, he couldn’t help but notice the fervour with which McGonagall, Sprout, and Vector had declared their allegiance to him. They hadn’t questioned anything—hadn’t given Talio’s words any credence. Without even knowing the facts, they’d automatically sided with—him. Despite his chequered past, less than stellar disposition, and frequently ill temper, they had decided to stand by his side without even a second thought. That moved him beyond words and comforted him in his decision that neither of them would be made to suffer today.
At a shake of his wrist, his wand slid down from the hem of his shirt and into his hand. After a flick of his fingers, he presented it to Talio, handle first. Saturnine’s hand tightened around his forearm, and he gave her a pointed stare and quick shake of his head that all but screamed, “let me do this and don’t interfere.”
She must have misread the signs because she stepped forward before Talio’s fingers had the time to close around his wand.
“Step aside,” the Auror told her coldly.
“I will do no such thing,” Saturnine said, and then she did something that caught Severus so off guard, he felt his jaw go slack. She flipped her own wand around before holding out both of her arms in surrender.
Severus was too dumbstruck to say anything, but Talio had no such issue.
“You’re not the one I want,” he said quickly. “Step aside, witch.”
“I might as well be,” she said, remaining where she was. “It says S. Snape on that warrant of yours. I fit the bill. And I’m sure you’ll have no trouble convincing your witness to switch pronouns when he testifies. Either you take me, or we fight you for Severus—the choice is yours.”
Talio seemed to consider it, and that kicked Severus’ brain back into action.
“Saturnine, no!” he said with a hint of desperation.
But it was too late. Talio had made up his mind, and he took the acorn wand from Saturnine’s loose fingers. Using her own wand against her, he tapped both of her hands twice, and thick bands of black leather appeared around her wrists. The enchanted bonds wouldn’t allow her to use magic until someone removed them. It was the cruellest type of restraint that could be placed upon a wizard or a witch.
Saturnine was now as much a Squib as Severus had been earlier that summer, and it was all his fault. “Saturnine, don’t,” he all but pleaded with her as he stepped forward. Reaching for one of her shoulders, he tried pulling her back.
She twisted out of his grasp and turned back to face him with fierce determination and eyes swimming with tears. “One of us has to go—there’s no other way, and we both know it,” she said. “Take care of the boys. They’ll need you.”
Severus wanted to scream his protests, to tear Talio apart with his bare hands, but Saturnine was right. The only way they would all walk out of the dungeons alive was if one of them willingly went with the Aurors—but he strongly disagreed with their choice of bounty. It ought to have been him.
“Don’t ’Nine, please,” he said, feeling tears of his own pooling in his eyes. He knew he sounded desperate, and he probably looked the part, too, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. Not when someone wanted to take his little sister away from him. “Please don’t.”
She took a step closer to him, bound hands resting limply by her hips. Cocking her head to the side, she caught his gaze and held on. Severus took a step forward and engulfed her in his open arms.
“You have to let me go, Sev,” she murmured against his shoulder. “It will be okay.”
Unable to speak again, he shook his head vehemently. It felt like his insides were being torn apart, like what little remained of his poor, battered heart was being ripped in half. “Please ’Nine, don’t,” he whispered against her temple. “I need you.”
“I know, and I’m sorry to have to do this,” she said. “I love you—always. And I trust you to do the right thing.”
Saturnine let out a heavy sigh and stepped back and out of his embrace. She kept her eyes downcast as she turned on her heel and returned to Talio’s side. They left without a fuss moments later.
Pomona Sprout caught Severus’ arm, and he was barely aware of her pushing him back into his desk chair. He didn’t so much as sit on it as slumped when his legs gave way underneath him.
McGonagall was speaking to him, spouting out words like ‘lawyer’ and ‘bloody sham’ and ‘keep hope,’ but he couldn’t bring himself to pay attention. He could still feel the phantom warmth of his little sister in his arms, the ghost of her breath on his jaw, and he couldn’t see anything other than her azure eyes brimming with tears and steadfast resolve. When had she become so strong? he wondered. And when had he become such a coward?
He had lost Saturnine again, and it hurt worse than it did the first time. This time, there was no rancour to hide behind—no soothing balm of a misconception that he was right, and she was wrong. No sense of greater purpose awaiting him around the next corner.
He had allowed himself to care again. For her, he had lowered his shields and exposed his tender, battered heart to the dangers of feelings. And now, his poor heart had been ripped clean out of his chest.