When Severus awoke three hours later, Harry was still where he’d been when the Potions Master had finally succumbed to the day’s exhaustion—asleep in his arms. Severus had heard about cathartic releases, but he’d never imagined them to be this powerful—nor this cleansing. He felt like his soul had been purified by the sea of tears that had submerged him, and even after hours of sleep, he still had a hard time getting a grip on the raging emotions that had been shaken loose by the waves.
Severus had never told anyone the whole story of his sad little life, and he never thought he would ever have the strength to do it—least of all to Lily Evans’ son.
Looking down at the boy’s head resting against his chest, he couldn’t help but feel an outpouring of love for that jumbled mess of dark locks—for that kind-hearted teenager who had given him the compassion the world so often refused him and the forgiveness he didn’t think he deserved.
Lily and James’ son—the living embodiment of his mother’s kindness and his father’s strong-mindedness, and the proud recipient of a double helping of Gryffindor courage. Severus’ child now, too—just as much as Draco was. His and Saturnine’s boys—forever and always. They were a family not bound by blood but by love. Their household was missing its fourth member and it was high time he went and got her back.
While he watched Harry sleep, Severus readied his next steps in his head. He would go straight to the top with copies of the documents Saturnine had collected. Severus would go to Minister Pius Thicknesse because talking to Thicknesse was like talking to his former master—the Dark Lord. There he would state his demands: the immediate release of Saturnine and dismissal of the fake evidence incriminating her. Or the report would go next to Rita Skeeter and the magical ink presses of the Daily Prophet.
While he wasn’t abreast of the Dark Lord’s plans anymore, Severus knew the snake wouldn’t have bothered to secure Thicknesse’s cooperation for nothing. Tom Riddle had plans for the Ministry, and the resurgence of the Harriet Blum report could put a wrench in those. So, it would come down to a choice of the lesser of two evils for him. And Severus could only hope that Voldemort was more interested in his long-term schemes than his personal vendetta against what remained of the Snape bloodline.
Without waking Harry, Severus got to his feet and dressed in his usual clothes. Glancing at the frame on the wall, he saw that it had snowed in Cokeworth sometime during the night, and their footsteps had disappeared under a white blanket. It was as if the three of them had never visited.
On his way out, he stopped by the second bedroom and checked on Draco. His godson was equally asleep, and he brushed a lock of blond hair from his face before leaning down to place a kiss on his brow. Standing back up, he caught sight of his old, battered copy of The Return of the King on the bedside table. He frowned; that trilogy had always given him mixed feelings—the fate of the whole world resting on the frail shoulders of a single man—and his gardener? Had it been up to him, he’d have sooner cut his wand-hand than sent Frodo and Sam alone in Mordor. Merciful Merlin, he’d have gone there himself—same as he chose to tempt the Fates alone today while Harry and Draco slept peacefully in Hogwarts, unaware of the risks he assumed on their behalf.
Saturnine awoke with a gasp and shivered in the cold. She was covered in sweat, and the small, frayed cotton blanket that was the Ministry’s finest bed linen did little to repel the cold that seemed to seep in from the concrete floor and walls. She looked around the cell she’d been in for the past—what was it now—two weeks? she asked herself. It took her longer than it should have to get her bearings. Only moments ago, she’d been back in Cokeworth—a small child once more with arms too weak to carry her brother’s deadweight and fingers too small to staunch his bleeding wounds adequately.
Sitting up, she passed a wary hand over her neck and frowned when it came away wet. She was drenched in sweat. “Blasted nightmares,” she muttered to the darkness. She hadn’t had one of those in years. But the recent change in accommodation had triggered their return.
Looking at the small eight-by-eight window that was her only indicator of the time passing, she saw that dawn had not yet broken outside. It was too early to get up; too early to think—and yet, she had nothing else to do.
She’d think of something else, then. Not Cokeworth—never Cokeworth. She’d think of the boys and imagine them discreetly smiling at her in the Great Hall when they came in for breakfast. Imagine them sitting in her classroom, listening with rapt attention and taking a copious number of notes—a clear display of the ‘best behaviour’ approach they had chosen to take to their Potions and Defence classes this year.
She was surprised when the lock on the door of her cell clicked open, and she sat up straighter. Two Aurors she had never seen before came in with sombre faces, and she stood up.
“Come with us,” the younger of the two said, pointing his wand at her.
She felt the hairs at the back of her neck rise; something in their behaviour was off. They didn’t carry themselves with the relaxed stance the others Aurors had when they’d taken her to be interrogated by Talio. These two were on the defensive, as if they expected her to want to fight back for some reason.
“Where are you taking me?” she demanded.
“Auror Talio wants to see you,” the second man replied.
“That’s who, not where,” she pointed out.
The man gave an impatient twitch of his wand. “Come with us, and you’ll find out.”
Drawing in a few centring breaths, Saturnine got going, taking a slot in-between the two burly wizards. A wand was pressed firmly to the middle of her back. Feeling like a lamb led to slaughter, she focused on her core magic and what lay beyond. If they intended to kill her, she’d put up a fight—one they wouldn’t see coming.
The dark-haired Auror led them through meandering corridors and a flight of stairs, and Saturnine was surprised to feel fresh air hit her face when he pushed open a door and stepped through. She followed him outside and was blinded momentarily by the hues of orange and pink that unexpectedly greeted her in the distance. It was early morning, and the sun had not yet fully risen. But after days of sitting in a dark cell, it hurt her eyes just the same.
They were on the Ministry building’s rooftop, and the air was crisp and cold around her. The floor ahead of her feet was covered in a thin layer of fresh snow, and light banks of fog disturbed the horizon in the distance.
The wand at her back prodded her forward, and Saturnine started walking again. Talio was waiting for them a little ahead, mere feet away from the ledge and the void that lay beyond.
“So nice of you to join us,” he said, with an expression that betrayed the utter rottenness of the man inside. “A fine morning to die, don’t you think?”
Saturnine stared at him with wonderment, unable to accept the sudden change. She had anticipated the animosity. And the fabricated evidence hadn’t been that surprising to see, given her history with the Aurors corps. But outright murder? She hadn’t seen that move coming and couldn’t begin to imagine how Talio would explain that to his superiors. There might be some rotten apples within the Ministry, all the way to the top level, but honest wizards and witches remained within the Wizengamot. Surely the death of a suspect under arrest would raise some eyebrows.
“So, what is this?” she asked, watching as her words turned into fog in the crisp morning air. “A suicide, or my failed attempt to escape captivity?”
“The latter, I’m afraid. It turns out that you weren’t that clever in the end,” Talio replied. “Fear not; I will make sure your brother knows. I will personally see to that.”
The time for pretence was over, and Saturnine pinned the short silver-haired wizard with the coldest gaze she could muster. “You lay a finger on my brother, you piece of crap, and I will turn you to dust.”
The Auror’s only answer was to reach for his wand and aim it at her body. A flick of his wrist later, and Saturnine floated over the edge in a full Body Bind.
“I’ll make sure to let him know you said goodbye,” Talio said before he sent her tumbling to her death.
The Body Binding Spell was lifted at the same moment as the Levitating Charm, and Saturnine had only seconds to react. Forcing her body to take a horizontal stance, she extended both of her arms ahead of herself, even as she reached deep within for the primal magic that she knew to be there. It was a force more ancient than magic—a primitive beast deep within that yearned to be loose. The Ministry’s spells might hamper her from using regular magic, but the binding bonds around her wrists were powerless against the raw power of Elemental Conjuring. The ancient, secular force was beyond the Ministry’s understanding.
Air and water were the elements with which she was most comfortable. Always present in ample quantities around her, they required no creation—only manipulation. The action necessary to alter the course of the morning winds was so instinctual, it was almost thoughtless. In a split second, a gulf of wind cocooned her and slowed the speed of her fall by half. A quick calculation of distance and estimation of velocity later, and Saturnine landed standing, both feet touching the ground simultaneously without even a jolt.
“An interesting turn of events,” Talio commented, emerging from the shadows at the base of the building. He had Apparated to the grounds and seen her display of Elemental Magic. Saturnine cursed inwardly realising this had been a test all along.
So, Talio had gotten to the truth, after all. She wasn’t sure what surprised her the most: the fact that the idiot facing her had possessed the intelligence to find it or that Scrimgeour had been careless enough to leave behind some evidence.
“How?” she demanded, her curiosity overruling her sense of self-preservation.
“I knew something was off with you the moment I saw you,” Talio said, flexing his wrist again. The Body Bind returned. “A Snape working for the Ministry—what a joke. A Half-Blood and the sister of a known Death Eater? I knew Scrimegeour, and he would never have allowed it. Not without a good reason.” He levitated her, and she felt her feet dragging in the snow as she was forced closer to the man. “I searched deep within the archives for something that explained your filthy presence within our ranks but could find nothing. But the absence of evidence is proof, isn’t it?”
“How?” she repeated through her clenched teeth. She was now standing inches away from Talio, and the temptation to siphon the air from around his head was damn tempting. Or she could always use the water from the snow around them to drown him. Right now, both solutions seemed equally appealing. But she had to know the answer to her question first.
“Rufus Scrimgeour was careful to conceal your presence and activity, but the salary slips attested that you did indeed work for us, even if it looked like you were little more than a ghost. And so, I looked deeper. I went further back until your name appeared again: Saturnine Eileen Snape, the brave witch who saved a Muggle child’s life nine years ago.”
Saturnine would be tempted to say she regretted her actions; her good deed had certainly caused her much grief over the years. But the truth was, she didn’t. She had saved that boy’s life, and if she had to make the same choice again—knowing what she did now—she would, in a heartbeat.
“Imagine my surprise when I read the notes the lead investigator made on you back then. Of course, those never made it into his final report. But the daily parchments weren’t purged of the truth.”
Saturnine could do little more than glare at him.
“I wonder if it’s a congenital anomaly that runs in the family,” Talio mused darkly. “Perhaps we should test that theory by throwing your brother off a rooftop to see what happens.”
“That won’t be necessary, Auror Talio,” someone said behind her back. The newcomer’s voice was mellow and had a sleepy quality to it.
Saturnine wished she could turn around to see who it was, but the bindings held her in place.
Talio saved her the trouble from having to guess who it was. “Mi—minister?” he stammered in surprise. “What are you doing here so early in the morning?”
“Some most unfortunate news has come to my attention,” the Minister for Magic Pius Thicknesse said, approaching them. Saturnine could see his profile in her peripheral vision now. Judging by the blank look on his face and vacant expression in his eyes, he was Imperiused.
“Unfortunate news, Minister?” Talio asked, clearly thrown by the turn of events.
“Regarding the nature of your investigation, the pertinence of some of your evidence, and the way you obtained it,” Thicknesse continued in the same sleepy monotone.
“I—uh—I’m afraid I don’t know what you mean, Minister,” Talio said, and Saturnine could see his brain short-circuiting behind his eyes. This clearly was not how he’d expected the day to go.
“I’m fairly certain you do, Auror Talio,” Thickness said. “And I must ask you to release this witch and send her home at once.”
“Minister!” Talio protested, aghast. “But—my orders, sir. I mean, she’s a Snape,” he added, as if her mere surname was explanation enough to warrant special treatment. Oh, yes, she thought, Severus did make an impression.
“I am well aware,” Thicknesse said. “However, I assure you that your foolhardiness is drawing undue attention to matters that would best remain shadowed.” He took a step closer, lifted his wand, and removed the spell that had Saturnine immobilised. “This vendetta ends today,” Thicknesse concluded. “So, it has been decided.”
Though carefully worded, it was easy to read between the lines—the Dark Lord himself was ordering them to stand down. Saturnine slumped forward slightly—whether from the lack of binding or in relief, she couldn’t tell. She had no idea how Severus had done it—for she was sure that it was his doing—but he’d managed to get Voldemort to back off.
Once her wand was returned to her, she Apparated away without so much as a goodbye.
Apprehension permeated the Hogwarts’ Potions Master’s quarters later that morning. Three wizards sat in stone-cold silence in the living room, a teapot forgotten in the middle of the coffee table—cups with turgid liquid long since gone cold held between clenched fingers.
“What did he say again?” Draco asked. His voice, though subdued, was loud in the silence.
“That he would take it under consideration,” Severus replied through clenched teeth.
“That’s politician talk for ‘I’ll ask the Dark Lord about it and get back to you’,” Draco said. “At least you got out of there alive.”
Severus snorted, and Harry clenched his fists a little tighter. He’d freaked out something fierce when he woke up alone and realised the man was gone, and he had taken the documents on the Harriet Blum case with him. Draco had been equally appalled when Harry woke him up.
It was a no-brainer to ascertain where Severus had gone. Whether he’d be coming back, though, had been up in the air.
“You shouldn’t have gone there alone,” Harry said in a tone so dark, it surprised even himself.
In his periphery vision, he saw Severus turn to him in surprise. He couldn’t look at him, though, and he kept staring at the corner of the coffee table instead. “You could have died,” he murmured. “They could just as easily have killed you.”
“It was a calculated risk,” Severus tried to explain.
“Calculated—my arse!” Harry shouted back, his anger rising. Damn, but he was tired of adults who thought they knew better, making decisions left and right as if they held the answer to everything. “It was sheer dumb luck, Severus, and you know it. Don’t insult us by pretending otherwise.”
“Harry,” Severus said in warning.
“Don’t Harry me like I’m some stupid child,” he roared back, getting to his feet with an overwhelming impulse to punch someone. “I’m tired of people telling me what to do.”
“It’s okay, Harry,” Draco tried in a placating tone. “Severus came back.”
“It’s not okay,” Harry rounded on him, his anger reaching boiling lava levels. “It’s nowhere near okay. Can’t you see, Draco? He could have died.” At those words, the fight went out of him as quickly as it had arrived, and he turned to the dark-haired wizard with a forlorn expression.
“You could have died, Severus,” he muttered, feeling the beginning of tears prickling at his eyes. “Where would that have left us, huh? Did you even think of that? Of Draco and me? What losing you would have done to us?”
“Harry, I—” Severus started, hesitating.
Harry didn’t give him a chance to finish. “You didn’t! You didn’t,” he repeated before slumping back down in his seat. “You just left us behind, like she did.”
“And I’m terribly sorry for it, lad,” Saturnine said from the entrance door. Harry’s head whipped to the left so quickly that there was an audible creaking noise. He was on his feet and running towards her in one instant, Draco hot on his heels. They hadn’t heard her coming in over Harry’s shouting.
A moment later, Saturnine was down on one knee with an armful of brown-haired Gryffindor on one side and blond Slytherin on the other. But her gaze was impossibly locked on the dark-haired wizard who sat shock-frozen on the armchair with an utterly broken look. She mouthed a silent “thank you” to him before kissing both boys’ heads in turn.