In many ways, Auror Raylan Talio reminded Saturnine of former Minister for Magic Rufus Scrimgeour. Only then he had been known to her as Auror Rufus Scrimgeour. And he, too, had stopped at nothing to get what he wanted. It had served him well, advanced his career, and secured him the position he’d lusted after—until he died, murdered by You-Know-Who. In the end, all that had been left of him was a pool of congealed blood on the Atrium’s marble floor of the very building he so wanted to oversee. Though she had always been crappy at Divination, Saturnine predicted the same kind of ending for Raylan Talio.
One of Lord Voldemort’s most pernicious talents was his ability to make lesser men believe they were more important than they thought. The Dark Lord had a knack for finding the right kind of pawns who’d swallow his lies by the mouthful. And he knew just how to stroke their narcissistic egos to get everything he wanted from them. Not only did these lackeys willingly break all the rules and everything they once stood for to curry favour with Voldemort, but they were ever so eager for it. Real talent, indeed, she thought bitterly, looking at Talio, who couldn’t seem to control the glee he felt at detaining her. She pitied him. Poor man—if only you knew what your master really thinks of you.
Saturnine had been escorted to one of the Ministry’s interview rooms again: an austere-looking area slightly larger than a broom closet. It had no furniture other than a plain metallic table and two uncomfortable folding chairs. By design, there was no window or clock in the room. She recognised that tactic for what it was: one more way to isolate the suspect by rendering them unable to tell how much time had passed.
“You know what this is?” the silver-haired wizard demanded, sitting down on the other side of the table she’d been instructed to sit at. He pulled out a blank sheet of parchment and Self-Writing Quill.
“You want to know my secret chocolate mousse recipe?” Saturnine demanded, arching an eyebrow before stage whispering. “It’s all in the chocolate, you know. You have to buy the good kind to make an excellent dessert—one made with whole milk and not one of those cheap powders. And be sure to use high-quality eggs and rich cream.”
“Funny,” Talio said with a sneer that indicated it was anything but.
“What can I say?” She shrugged her shoulders. “Humour runs in the family. We’re a real riot.”
“Ah yes—your brother is quite the comedian,” Talio deadpanned. “While I would have liked to enjoy his company today, I will have to settle for yours—for now. But don’t worry. He’s next on my to-do list.” He paused, gave her a smile that held no warmth, and added, “Maybe you two will get adjoining cells in Azkaban.”
“You have nothing on Severus,” she said, keeping her face and tone neutral. Merlin, but she hoped that man’s death wouldn’t be quick—something long and agonising would be so much better. Forget the Astronomy Tower and the Black Lake—he deserved an introduction to the family of Acromentulas that lived in the Forbidden Forest. Hopefully, she’d have a chance to watch.
“Oh, but you’re wrong. Or are you forgetting what happened here?” he asked. “Your brother would be sitting in this chair today if you hadn’t intervened. Tell me, Ms Snape, with you in Azkaban, who will save him next time?”
Saturnine was tempted to smile, but she reined it in. Severus had never needed help; he was a natural-born fighter, a survivor—as she was. They were cut from the same cloth. As the children of a drunk Cokeworth miner, they’d learned to toughen up at a young age. It was Harry and Draco that needed protecting. And one of them needed to stay behind to see to their wellbeing. They’d only had to sacrifice the most expendable chess piece of their double set to placate the Ministry for a short while.
“What a family,” Talio commented with a disdainful sneer. “A Muggle father. I wonder how many people know.”
At a flick from his wand, a Manila folder appeared on the table. Saturnine briefly glanced at it and was surprised to discover on the surface a crest that had nothing to do with the Ministry. It was the one from the West Midlands Police—the Muggle authorities. She cursed inwardly, guessing at what it contained.
She’d have to tread carefully, she realised. Talio was no fool, and just like Scrimgeour before him, he was thorough. Eventually, she would have to give him enough so that he didn’t want to dig further into her past.
“The grand Severus Snape—the son of a Muggle. Who’d have thought?” Talio continued as he flipped the folder open. “And what a Muggle.”
He pulled out a few documents, and Saturnine felt her temper flare. Even from where she sat, she could see those were arrest reports. There seemed to be a few photographs, too. She glanced away; if she never got to see Tobias Snape’s bloated face again, it would be too soon.
“I don’t need you to tell me what kind of man my father was,” she said, forcing herself to meet the Auror’s beady eyes. “I know full well.”
“Drunk and disorderly, driving under the influence, hospital reports that point towards domestic abuse,” he listed as he kept pulling out pages. “My, my. How close to the tree the fruits have fallen.”
With his most contemptuous sneer, Talio said, “Well, like father, like son—isn’t it what they say?”
It took Saturnine a herculean effort to contain the surge of rage that coursed through her at those words. Not true! She wanted to spit in his face. But she knew that if she let even one word pass her lips, her control would snap, and she would tear Raylan Talio to shreds—throw him against a wall, burn him, or replace all the air in his lungs with water. No! She forced herself to take a deep breath, to keep control of her emotions, to clamp down hard on the impulse to fight. It doesn’t matter, she told herself. It doesn’t matter what he thinks. She knew the truth, and Severus did, too; that was all that mattered. Breathe!
Talio seemed to take her prolonged silence as a sign that he’d won the round. He allowed himself a small, satisfied smile. “In answer to my earlier question,” he said, “this is the time for your confession.”
“Ah,” Saturnine said, calming down. With a curt nod towards the writing equipment that hovered in the air on the Auror’s right-hand side, she added, “I hope you’ve brought more parchment. I’ve led a long life.”
“Albus Dumbledore’s murder will suffice,” Talio said.
“Are you sure? If you want, I could confess to a couple more while I’m here. I find myself feeling rather magnanimous today.”
“We’ll see how long your cheek will last once the Dementors start taking an interest in you,” Talio said with all the benevolence of a fire-breathing dragon. “I hear they really bring out the best in people like you.”
At a snap of his fingers, the bewitched quill pressed to the paper and started writing down his every word. “Saturnine Eileen Snape, you have been charged with the murder of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore. Evidence has been found linking you to the murder weapon, and a witness swore under oath that he sold that blade to you. While a formal trial will be held in front of the Wizengamot to determine your sentence, we offer you today the chance to confess to your crime. A full confession and a genuine display of repentance will be seen as a show of goodwill by the representative of the Ministry and could lead to a lesser sentence.” He stopped for a breath. “What have you to say today?”
With the state the Ministry was in, it would be weeks until a trial was scheduled, she knew—not until after the New Year, at the very least. It was more than enough time for Severus to set up the next phase of their plan—the one that would bring about the downfall of Voldemort.
And knowing him, her brother would probably spend quite a bit of his free time trying to find a way to get her out of jail. While she wasn’t sure there was any—save for the obvious one that she prayed he wouldn’t resort to—if anyone could find her an out, it was him. She’d wait patiently in her cell until then. It wasn’t the Ritz, but the room came with a bed and two meals a day. So, who was she to complain? She had survived worse in the past.
Heaving in a deep breath and clearing her throat, Saturnine held up a hand, palm forward. She folded one finger with each word that came from her mouth. “See. You. In. Court.”
When four fingers were down, and only her middle finger remained, she turned her palm around and beamed at the pissed-off Auror.
Raylan Talio made good on his promise to bring out the Dementors. It wasn’t long after she was returned to her cell that Saturnine felt an eerie cold creeping in. She tried curling up on her cot to keep some of the warmth in, but the cold still found her. It crept up her legs and down her arms, clawing at her skin and biting, and she was tempted to bring out the flames.
“No!” she told herself, remembering that she’d been through worse. She knew how to be cold. She had been cold many times when she was younger, and there hadn’t been enough money to pay for the gas bill. Only, she’d had Severus then. They would huddle together in his bed under a big pile of blankets, and he would hold her close and blow warm air on her fingers when they started to ache. But her big brother wasn’t here now, was he? He was in Hogwarts, risking his life, and—
“Get out of my head!” she spat as she tried clearing her thoughts. She glared at the door to her cell, but it had little effect on the dark creatures she knew to be on the other side.
“Think happy thoughts,” she cautioned herself as she wondered if she could try for a wandless Patronus. Maybe it would work if she brought up memories of her boys. Last summer, the four of them going out for a picnic down in one of the coves Harry had discovered, Severus getting sunburned in the afternoon, his pale, bare forearms reddening under the harsh August sun.
Pale forearms covered with red welts, bruises starting to form. Another round under the belt. Not just his forearms, but his entire back, too. A bad one, this time. Their father used his leather belt’s buckle end, and it drew blood. And he used his fists, too; split a lip and gave Severus a black eye and—
“No!” Saturnine cried out, curling up in an even tighter ball. “Out of my head. Out!”
Reaching deep within, she commanded the air in the room to form a protective bubble around her cot. Instantly, the unnatural cold disappeared, and she felt warmth seeping in. Taking a few deep breaths, she realised her thoughts were her own again and sighed in relief. It was dangerous to let her Elemental Magic out within the Ministry, but the Dementors had only broached the surface of her childhood trauma, and she feared if they dug any deeper, she would lose her mind.
“Happy thoughts,” she scolded herself as she focused on her breathing pattern. “Happy thoughts.”
Turning over again, she tried remembering how she had gotten into this mess in the first place. Memories of a particular Friday morning of April ’96 drifted back to her, and she lost herself in the recollection.
It was a cold morning, in London, and dew still covered the blades of grass underneath the soles of Saturnine’s boots. She couldn’t remember ever coming to St James’ Park before and glanced around nervously. As locations for covert meetings went, this wouldn’t have been her first choice. But she had to admit that the clutter of tourists and dog-walkers offered a certain anonymity.
Though she hadn’t seen him in years, she had no trouble making out Professor Albus Dumbledore, the current headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, from the rest of the morning crowd. He’d tried for a Muggle disguise, but the old man still stood out like a sore thumb with his long silver hair and even longer beard. The purple velvet ensemble he had chosen to wear didn’t help.
The headmaster stood facing the lake and seemed to be enjoying himself tremendously as he fed breadcrumbs from his pocket to the ducks gathered nearby. He turned towards Saturnine when she reached him, a ready smile stretching his wrinkled face.
“Headmaster,” she said politely.
“Miss Snape,” he replied in a tone that made her feel eleven years old again.
At a nod from him, they relocated to a wooden bench where Dumbledore promptly sat down. Saturnine chose to remain standing. For lack of a better thing to do with herself, she crossed her arms over her chest. With her faded light-blue denim trousers and black hoodie, she was sure to look as Muggle-like as the many tourists she could see taking photographs nearby.
“What have you been up to, my dear?” the headmaster asked good-naturedly, the tip of his index finger twirling the end of his white beard.
Saturnine, who had been wary of coming, felt her hackles rise at the overfamiliar greeting. She could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times the grand Albus Dumbledore had ever spoken to her directly—and even then, she had fingers to spare.
“Nothing much,” she answered with a nonchalant shrug.
If not for Remus’ insistence that she made the meeting, she wouldn’t have replied to the owl she received from the headmaster. But her friend said it was important—and important, for Saturnine, meant Severus—so she postponed her departure. She was curious to see what information she could get from the seasoned wizard on her brother’s wellbeing. Not that she was about to confront him directly about it. No, she would rather err on the side of caution and tread carefully, waiting to see what he would volunteer on his own.
“The school year is about to end, and I’m afraid I will need a new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor again come September,” the headmaster said with a crooked smile. “For some reason, Defence teachers never seem to last the year.”
Saturnine vaguely remembered reading somewhere that Dolores Umbridge had been given the position and thinking what a stupid idea that was. She doubted her input on the matter was needed at this point; so, she merely shrugged again.
“A most troubling year this has turned out to be,” Dumbledore continued, gaze lost inward. “A High Inquisitor, would you believe it? The games the Ministry likes to play sometimes. It never ceases to amaze me. If only Dolores hadn’t been so hard on the students—and the staff.” He paused an instant, sighed, then prattled on, “Poor Sybill. After all those years, Dolores sacked her like that. She fired Hagrid too, did you know? Sent Minerva to the hospital…”
Saturnine tuned out while the headmaster continued to vent his frustration.
“How is he?” she asked when he fell silent. So much for her wanting not to ask a direct question. But Dumbledore had left her no choice but that of a direct approach. He’d included nearly everyone in his little rant but Severus—even Filch and his bloody cat made an appearance, for Merlin’s sake. Saturnine was fully aware that the older man was goading her, but she’d never been the patient type.
“Walking a tightrope, as always,” Dumbledore replied informally. “And I fear it will only be getting worse for him now that the Dark Lord has returned.”
Saturnine didn’t question the veracity of Lord Voldemort’s return; she’d seen enough evidence of his second rising during her time as a Ministry employee. But she needed confirmation of her brother’s stance on the matter. “He’s working for you, then?” she asked. She’d heard it from Remus, but she wanted—needed—to be sure.
“As you well know,” Dumbledore replied with a knowing smile that told her he’d seen through her eagerness.
She scoffed, more at his attitude than at his words. “Part of your so-called Order of the Phoenix, is he?”
“I’ve always quite liked the name,” Dumbledore said, ignoring her arrogance entirely. “It has a certain ring to it, does it not?”
“A merry band of fools,” she replied, lacing her words with all the bitter sarcasm she could.
Dumbledore chuckled warmly at that. “When I look at you, I see a lot of Severus, too—a version of him, at least,” he said with something akin to fondness. The affection gave way to melancholy as he added, “The person he would be today, perhaps—if things had gone differently.”
Saturnine felt one of her eyebrows rise at that; she wasn’t sure she liked that last comment much.
“How long has it been since you last saw him?” Dumbledore asked, his bright eyes boring into hers from behind his half-moon spectacles.
Saturnine was quick to look away, refocusing her gaze on the placid lake. “I’m certain you know the answer to that.”
“Severus has changed a lot since then, you know. He’s grown into a strong-minded, confident young man—albeit one who has to be very careful about what he says and does.”
And whose fault is that? Saturnine wanted to throw in his face. But she refrained. She thought the man had a lot of nerve to talk to her this way. Never before had the grand Albus Dumbledore given two Knuts about her—or her brother, for that matter. Not until Severus became a valuable tool he could use and abuse.
She hadn’t forgotten how miserable Severus had been while at Hogwarts and where that misery had led him. In her books, Headmaster Albus Dumbledore would always carry some of the blame for her brother’s decision to join the Death Eaters. What the Marauders did to him had been no less than straight-up bullying, and they’d never been punished for it. Oh, a few points had been taken from Gryffindor House here and there for good measure, but nothing more. Not even when Remus almost tore Severus’ throat out.
That last thought made Saturnine’s magic thrum with anger and awoke something primal within her. Turning on her heel, seemingly to check the perimeter, she took a deep breath to centre herself. It drove her mad to think that it had been Remus, of all people, who finally had the guts to tell her the whole story about what happened during the boys’ fifth year. Not even Severus had dared share the highlight of Sirius Black’s insanity with her.
“Nothing but a prank gone wrong,” he’d told her back then when she enquired after his injuries.
In her heart, Saturnine had instantly known that there was more to it—it had been easy to read off her brother’s anguished face—but she hadn’t pressed him about it. Now that she looked at it with an adult’s eyes, she understood that these words were what he’d been told to say should anyone ask. A prank gone wrong, she thought bitterly. Ten Galleons that these were Dumbledore’s very own words to him that day.
“Thankfully, Severus has always had a lot of control over his own emotions. Too much so, sometimes,” the headmaster continued jovially. “It frightened me how quickly he took to Occlumency. But it served him well in the end—saved his life, even. Despite it all, part of me will always fondly remember him as an inquisitive, scrawny eleven-year-old boy from the Midlands who looked at everything with wide, curious black eyes.”
Saturnine kept her gaze firmly averted, for she had never been as good an Occlumen as Severus, and she didn’t want the headmaster to be able to read the guilt off her face. She remembered that kid, too, even though she hadn’t seen him in a long time.
“I do so hope to see that boy again, one day,” Dumbledore concluded wistfully before falling silent.
Silence stretched around them, enveloping the park and its residents in its thickness. The breeze softly blowing through the leaves of the tall oak trees at their backs and the ducks quaking away merrily in the distance were the only disturbances in the quietness of the moment.
“What are you here for?” Saturnine asked at last, unwilling to keep on playing whatever game Dumbledore had on his mind.
“There’s another child that worries me,” the man said as if that answered anything. “Another boy I must ask too much from.”
It was another riddle, but it didn’t take a bright Ravenclaw to solve that one. “The Chosen One,” Saturnine said with more contempt than she wanted. Despite the Daily Prophet’s sensational headlines, she had heard good things about the boy from Remus, but Dumbledore had her on edge, and it was starting to show.
“Lily’s son,” the old man felt the need to point out. “Harry.”
Saturnine snorted at him—as if she could have forgotten his parentage. She had met Baby Harry once when Lily was still alive, and the emerald-green Evans eyes on his chubby face had been unmistakable. Going by the most recent photographs she’d seen, the rest of him was pure Potter, though.
“What’s that to do with me?” she asked, itching to put an end to this conversation that was going nowhere.
“I need your skills, Saturnine. Your keen mind,” Dumbledore said. “Even as a child, you were always intelligent and savvy. You have a perception of this world few witches and wizards have, and this last feat of yours—against Rufus Scrimgeour, no less—only serves to prove my point.
“Our side needs people like you,” Dumbledore continued. “Not to mention your abilities as an Elemental.”
Saturnine could not hide her surprise at that, and she turned to him sharply to see his face; it gave nothing away. How the old rascal had found out about that, she had no idea. Surely, Remus would never have broken her trust, and she didn’t think Scrimgeour would have made it public, either—not with what she had on him. How, then? How in all the seven hells had Dumbledore figured out she was an Elemental?
“Not a lot gets past me, you know,” the old man said as if to answer her silent question. She could have sworn his blue eyes twinkled as he did, and she felt her blood boil.
More importantly than the ‘how,’ she wanted to know ‘when.’ How long had the old man known what she was? Had he figured it out when she was still a Hogwarts student?
After leaving Scotland, Saturnine had spent years trying to understand who and what she was, never once feeling complete until the missing pieces of the puzzle of her identity slid into place. Could it be that Dumbledore had known all along—and not said anything?
“I refuse,” Saturnine said in a stern voice that brooked no argument. The tips of her fingers tingled with magic, and she was inches away from cursing the man. “I haven’t fought my way out of the Ministry’s clutches to so readily fall into yours, Headmaster.”
She’d done enough, she figured. And she had been hurt enough. She would leave England well alone again and never come back—it was what was best for everyone. Determined to put this aberrant conversation behind her, Saturnine turned on her heel and headed for the park’s exit without even a goodbye.
“Severus,” Dumbledore said softly.
The morning breeze was enough to carry the name to Saturnine’s ears, and she froze in her steps. That one name had stopped her as surely as a Stunning Spell.
“When the time is right, he will need your help to remember who he is,” Dumbledore continued. “No one else will be able to reach that fragile little boy within, I’m afraid. Not even me.”