Severus Snape was a mess.
There’s no other way to say it, Harry thought. Ever since his sister had been taken away, the man had become an utter mess—plain and simple.
Everyone in the castle was of a similar opinion that their Potions Master was at his absolute worst. Before this summer, it could have been said that Professor Snape had a short fuse and that he was prone to outbursts when provoked. But that was no longer the case—there no longer was a fuse. It had blown when the Aurors arrested Saturnine, and there had been no off switch to Severus’ foul temper since.
He stalked the hallways in a flurry of black robes, seething and sneering at anything that stood in his way, and students moved from his path as if the mere shadow of the man could hex them to orbit. Severus’ clever tongue constantly lashed out, pouring out never-ending spews of venomous, belittling contempt that targeted student and staff alike, as if bitterness was all he had left inside of him.
“This can’t go on,” Draco said one morning with an exasperated huff. “He’ll kill someone. Or someone will kill him.”
“He’s hurting,” Harry said. “She’s his sister.”
“And she all but is your mother,” Draco countered. “And yet I don’t see you stalking the hallways, looking to pick up a fight.”
The two of them had stayed behind after a meeting with the D.A. where they had tried to brainstorm ideas to free Saturnine. They had failed to come up with anything substantial, but Hermione wasn’t done reading all the tomes on wizarding law that the Hogwarts library contained, and she was sure the answer lay within one of them. Harry had doubts, but he hadn’t had the heart to tell her. The game was rigged, and he feared even the law wouldn’t be on their side. The Ministry was rotten on the inside, and it was a lost cause trying to win fair and square when the other side was cheating.
“I’m afraid he’ll do something even worse than hash it out with another professor,” Harry admitted. “What if he tries to get her back?”
“What?” Draco asked with a raised eyebrow. “Like march down to the Ministry himself and demand that they give him his sister back?”
Harry reflected for a moment. “He seems desperate enough.”
Draco passed a wary hand through his short blond hair as he slowly exhaled. “Merlin, I hate to admit it, but I think you might be right. What will we do?”
Harry shrugged; he hadn’t thought that far ahead. It was only Saturday, and the Aurors had taken Saturnine away on Wednesday. They had spent all their free time thinking up ways to help her out. He hadn’t had time to focus on Severus much, and he felt awful as he realised that. It was one thing to complain about the Potions Master’s attitude, but they hadn’t done anything to help him.
Harry hadn’t even spoken to Severus since. He’d learned what had happened from Professor McGonagall, and the only time he’d seen Severus since had been in class. His free time had been spent with the D.A., and three days had passed without him realising it.
“Have you spoken to him?” he asked, thinking that surely the Slytherin had—right?
Draco shook his head, and Harry cursed aloud.
“Merciful Merlin, I haven’t either,” he admitted. “Shite, we’ve left him all alone. That’s not right.”
“It’s Severus,” the blond said with a shrug.
“Don’t give me any of that Slytherin crap about how you guys are just emotionless puppets, Draco,” Harry said, raising his pointer finger and jabbing him the chest with it. “It’s utter crap, and we both know it.”
Then he turned on his heel and stormed out of the Room of Requirement with the beginning of a plan in his head.
“Where are we going?” the blond asked as he caught up to him.
“The dungeons,” Harry replied. “You and I are moving back in.”
“Severus won’t like that,” Draco remarked.
“I don’t give a dragon’s arse what he does or doesn’t like,” Harry said as they came upon the Grand Staircase. “We’re a family, and families stick together.”
Whether or not he was aware of it, his godfather needed help. Severus was tearing apart at the seams, and he would do something stupid if someone didn’t keep him in check. Draco saw no one queuing at the door to take over the job. So, it would have to be Harry and him.
Only, neither of them had any idea how to go about it. Draco and Harry had received so little care in their lives that they weren’t sure to wholly understand the concept. Only now, they were expected to dole it out in spades—and onto someone like Severus Snape, of all people. It sure as hell required an unusual skill set neither of them possessed. But what they had was Gryffindor courage and Slytherin cunning. So, Harry encouraged while Draco schemed.
Step one was to move back in when Severus wasn’t there so that he couldn’t stop them. They lugged their stuff into the dungeons at lunchtime and closed the door of their shared bedroom once the deed was done to make sure that Severus wouldn’t notice right away that all their stuff was back in their shared bedroom.
Step two was to spend the afternoon and evening doing their homework in the living room as if it were a typical Saturday. They held onto the hope that Severus would want to go to bed before they did. But that didn’t happen, and they were forced to reveal their actions at bedtime. A row ensued.
Step three was to remain steadfast in their decision and not to let Severus drag them away by any means—and that was the challenging part. The man knew how to use his words to get his way; he knew how to cut deep with only one or two sentences, and he could mince them to tiny bits with the sharpness of his tongue. He didn’t quite go all in, but he tried to get them off his back just the same. Draco understood the tactic for what it was. ‘Offence is the best defence’ was a motto Slytherins were taught in the crib, and he’d warned Harry against it.
Their attempt at helping Severus turned into a war of wills, the two of them forcing their care onto an unwilling participant who tried to hold them back at arms’ length. It lasted an entire week—seven days of Harry and Draco spending whatever free time they had working on ‘operation Severus’. They reconvened to his quarters whenever they were out of class and discussed the situation at length to try and plot the best course of action. And whenever Severus arrived, they’d join him in the living room, forcing their presence onto him in poorly veiled attempts to draw him out of his own head. They went about it in many ways that ranged from sharing with him the highlights of their respective days to asking complex questions about brewing techniques and potions-making.
Harry even resorted to using the Half-Blood Prince’s book against the potioneer, sifting over the pages to find parts that teenage Severus had vehemently disagreed with, then weaving the subject into their evening conversations. These tended to get the Potions Master talking, and it seemed to Draco that for a few minutes, at least, he would forget about the awful situation they were in. The passion returned to him, and his eyes shone with interest again. What a relief it was to see something other than the seething anger or desolate apathy he seemed to constantly switch between.
Saturnine’s name hadn’t been mentioned once, and while Draco was no expert at these kinds of situations, even he knew how unhealthy that was. But Harry hadn’t dared bring her up during their evening discussions, and neither had he. It would surely set Severus off, and they were both loath to reduce a week’s worth of efforts to cinders because of a poorly timed comment. So, she remained the Hippogriff in the room that they all chose to ignore.
Harry and Draco had gone to Professor McGonagall for information instead. They learned from her that the school had hired a lawyer to get the Ministry to free her. They were intent on challenging the evidence and had filed a formal request to have her released until a fair trial could be held. Their motion had been denied, and a date for the trial had been set in early January. It had cut deeply to learn that Saturnine wouldn’t be with them for Christmas.
Harry and Draco had entertained the idea that the four of them could have returned to Cove Cottage for the winter holidays, and discovering that Saturnine would spend the time alone in a cell somewhere had turned their stomach. The D.A. had redoubled their efforts after that announcement, everyone joining Hermione in the task of poring over centuries-old judicial tomes. Harry had asked Ron to ask Percy to ask around for more information. The elder Weasley still worked at the Ministry, and whatever inside information they could get out of him could be a treasure-trove. Surprisingly, the former Gryffindor Head Boy came through, and Harry wondered what incentive Ron must have resorted to using to get him to snitch on his colleagues.
The gist of what he’d said was that Saturnine Snape’s arrest had caused quite the ruckus within the Ministry. It was public knowledge that the legitimacy of the accusation was challenged. Articles in the Daily Prophet hinted at a false testimony and fake evidence, and even Ministry employees were divided on the subject. Draco and Harry learned that Raylan Talio’s reputation was playing against him. Many within the Ministry suspected him to have ties with You-Know-Who, and a few of his colleagues hinted that he’d never been one to ‘play it by the book’ anyway. So, it didn’t stretch the mind to think there might be some credence to what the papers said. It turns out that that was what didn’t sit well with the stickler for protocol that was Percy Weasley and the entire reason why he had agreed to snoop around.
Percy had dug in for more information and discovered that the evidence wasn’t that strong. According to the two seasoned Aurors he had talked to, it shouldn’t have been enough to even warrant an arrest. The blade had tested negative to all their spells, refusing to divulge the identity of the person who had plunged it in poor Dumbledore’s chest. It had been cleaned by the killer and hadn’t been touched by skin since. So, all the Ministry had to rely on was the testimony of a seedy character that would have sold his own mother for a few Galleons—Mr Borgin, co-owner of Borgin and Burkes.
Draco was more than familiar with the unsavoury character. Mr Borgin was a stooping man with a voice as oily as his greasy hair. Greedy and money-minded, he had always been jubilant when Lucius Malfoy entered his shop for whatever shady deal was in store that day. If the shop owner was the prosecution’s star witness, there was no doubt that the deck had been manually stacked against them. This investigation was a travesty, and no matter how talented Saturnine’s lawyer was, she wouldn’t see the light of day again if the people rigging the game wanted her gone.
Hotel Ministry wasn’t as fun as the brochure made it out to be. Instead of a four-poster bed, Saturnine had to make do with a cot on the floor; the linen was abrasive, and she was pretty sure there was mould in one corner of her cell.
She sighed as she tried finding a comfortable position to sleep in, deciding that she definitely wouldn’t be giving them a good review. She wasn’t sure how long she had been there, already. It felt like a week, but she wasn’t sure.
Blasted Dumbledore, Saturnine thought bitterly, in the darkness of her cell. Couldn’t leave me alone, could you?
Then she chastised herself for the harshness of her thoughts; she judged the headmaster too severely, and she knew it. Presented with a chance to go back in time and change things, Saturnine knew she would make the same damn choices all over again. Whenever Severus entered into the equation, she’d never been capable of saying no. And if she hadn’t agreed to join the Order, she would never have gotten to know Harry and Draco, either.
She sighed. Thinking about the boys hurt—a lot. And she realised they now featured into the equation that was her life choices just as prominently as her brother did.
“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone,” she muttered in the darkness just to break the silence. “Isn’t that how the saying goes?” Been there, done that, she thought bitterly.
Freedom? She had lost hers a few years ago, but the fire inside had never died. Oh, she had followed orders and let everyone believe her will had been broken, but she’d merely been biding her time until she found a way out. She had waited seven years, and then, she’d regained her freedom.
Severus? She had lost him, too, fifteen fucking years ago. A decade and a half spent without talking to him; nearly half of her life spent feeling like a part of herself had been cut away and left behind. But throughout their separation, she had known that he was out there. Not exactly safe—but alive and growing up. And she had known, deep down she had always known, that she would see him again one day. And she had.
The boys? Well, she hadn’t quite lost them yet, but there had been some close calls. And those had been close enough for her to realise that, while she couldn’t lose them, she could always let them go if it came to that.
The Ministry could have her. They could have her rendition and force her into isolation. She would go willingly and surrender her freedom to them—if she knew that her family was safe. She would choose brick walls and Dementors over the comfort of Hogwarts any day if it meant that Severus was free to live a good life in Scotland. She would take years in a windowless cell in Azkaban if it meant that Draco and Harry got to enjoy summer afternoons chasing each other on broomsticks in Cornwall.
They thought they’d broken her, subdued her, won the battle. They hadn’t.
There would be no winner in this, for this had never been a fight. It had always been a sacrifice—one she was willing to make, time and again.
“Why doesn’t she escape?” Draco asked out of the blue one evening after he’d finished eating his salad. “Saturnine, I mean.”
Severus’ fork clattered loudly as it hit the plate, falling off fingers that had gone limp. Harry looked at the blond with eyes as big as his round glasses before discretely kicking him in the shin under the table.
Draco was done being silent, though. The more time passed, and they learned about what was really going on, the more he was sure this situation wasn’t temporary. And if Saturnine wasn’t coming back, they couldn’t spend their whole life pretending the Hippogriff wasn’t in the room. It wasn’t healthy—for either of them.
“I doubt that her Elemental powers would be dampened by the magical bonds. So, she could escape if she wanted to, right?” Draco asked.
“She won’t,” Severus said through clenched teeth. It looked like getting the words out was physically painful for him. “She isn’t like that.”
“But the game is rigged; the whole thing is a scam,” Draco protested. “She has to know that. Why is she going with it, then?”
Severus pushed his chair back so sharply that its feet loudly scraped the floor. He was on his way to his bedroom moments later, dinner forgotten on the table.
Draco shot to his feet after him, rounding on him in the corridor. “Don’t do that, Severus. Don’t turn your back on us.”
Without looking, Draco knew Harry had followed him, and he was thankful for it. It would take both of them to get through that thick raven-haired Slytherin head.
“Back to your room—both of you!” Severus commanded as he pushed open his bedroom door, intent on ending their conversation.
Maybe the tension of the past ten days pushed Draco past his limits and straight into a fit of temporary insanity. Or perhaps some of the lions’ famed courage had slipped into his snake blood without him noticing. He followed his godfather inside with Harry hot on his heels.
Draco hadn’t been back inside Severus’ bedroom since that one time when his godfather had taken care of him after the Dark Lord had Crucioed him. What he discovered inside took his breath away. The place was a mess, and so unlike Severus’—or even Hogwarts’—standards that it could only mean one thing—the Potions Master had forbidden the house-elves from entering to clean up.
It was the only way to rationally explain the heap of dirty clothes in one corner and the leftover plates of drying up sandwiches, piles of parchments, and open books that littered the floor and his bed. Those weren’t the only changes that Draco noticed. As both boys had guessed, Severus’ bedroom had undergone a few modifications with Saturnine’s arrival—an enchanted square frame had been placed over his bed to display a view of a playpark that Draco wasn’t familiar with. And a second bed had been squeezed between Severus’ and the bookshelves lining the wall opposite the door.
And therein lay the most heartbreaking part of all. This bed—the one that was clearly Saturnine’s whenever she stayed in the dungeons overnight—was the only one that looked slept in. And that was a huge fucking Hippogriff right there. Harry saw it, too, and came to the same conclusion Draco had. And while the sheer depth of Severus’ pain froze Draco in his tracks past the door, it did little to slow down the impetuous Gryffindor’s momentum.
Harry was halfway through the room in four quick strides, and he had a handful of black frock coat and surprised Potions Master in his arms an instant later. Frozen shock must be the standard Slytherin response to acute emotional displays, for Severus went as stock-still as Draco had. He remained poised in the middle of the room with his arms limp by his side, his face still expressing his earlier anger and displeasure, while Harry attempted to hug the pain out of him.
Life returned to Draco first, and he gently closed the door behind him before moving forward. Harry stepped to the side a little when he saw him approach, and Draco seized the opportunity to capture Severus in a hug of his own, burrowing himself in the man’s chest as he placed one arm around his back and the other around Harry’s shoulders.
With his head leaning against an uncomfortable row of black buttons, he never saw the moment Severus gave up the fight. But he felt it just the same. The tension went out of him at an instant’s notice, and he slumped forward as a loud, wet exhale of breath left his lungs. The tears came shortly after, heavy and thick, and Harry and Draco held him in comforting silence as wave after wave of pain ebbed out of him.
“You can’t keep doing this, Severus,” Harry said softly once the waterfall of tears had slowed to a stop, and the three of them had gone to sit on the bed—Saturnine’s bed. “It’s not healthy.”
“Harry’s right,” Draco said from the Potions Master’s other side. “You’ve got to let us help.”
Harry nodded against the man’s shoulder. “We’re a family, and families stick together through thick and thin.”
“I’m starting to see that,” Severus said in a voice raw with emotions.
“You haven’t answered my question,” Draco said after a moment of silence, intent on blasting the bloody Hippogriff in the room to smithereens. “Why doesn’t Saturnine try to escape? She could go into hiding—disappear off the face of the earth for a while.”
“She’s doing it to keep us safe,” Severus replied, and once again, it looked like the words felt painful to him. “So long as they’re focused on her, they’re not harassing either of us.”
“She’s a—diversion?” Harry asked, moving back a little so that he could see Severus’ face.
The Potions Master nodded.
Harry looked like he was on the verge of puzzling out something important. He had understood something that Draco hadn’t. So, he chose to remain quiet while he waited for the discussion to play out.
“She wouldn’t be taking that big a risk if she didn’t have a few aces up her sleeve,” Harry said, and you could see the cogs turning in his brain. “For one thing, she wouldn’t want the Aurors to stop investigating the headmaster’s death. She wouldn’t want us to walk around the castle unprotected with a possible killer in our midst.”
Severus remained as silent as Draco was, and Harry kept unravelling the thread he had found.
“She wouldn’t risk her freedom if we were in any real danger; she’d sooner have made plans for us to disappear to some nameless country together instead,” he continued.
Draco began to see the picture Harry was trying to paint, and he tried to formulate a hypothesis of his own. The chips fell with surprising clarity, and he wondered how he could have been so blind. “Either the two of you already know who the killer is—or there never was any,” he said
Even as he said the words, Draco knew they were true. Somehow, the siblings had fooled them all. It was the only thing that made sense at this stage. It was why week after week and memory after memory, the D.A. had been unable to find the killer. There wasn’t one to find. It was the reason why Saturnine and Severus hadn’t been as affected by this entire thing as everyone else had, why they had managed to go head to toe with the Ministry despite their grief, keeping cool enough heads to lead Talio by the nose to further whatever secret agenda they had. They hadn’t been grief-stricken because they knew that—
“Dumbledore isn’t dead,” Draco finished his thought aloud. “Merlin’s bollocks—the old codger’s alive.”
“Language,” Severus chided him. But there was no real heat to his tone.
“What the hell did you two do?” Harry demanded, pulling away from Severus far enough to cross his arms over his chest. Draco felt the need to mirror the gesture, and they both stared at the man expectantly.Severus let out a long, martyred sigh—an admission of defeat.