Severus Snape had never wanted to maim or reduce anyone to a pulp as much as Dolores Umbridge. The pink monstrosity that dared call herself a teacher had rubbed him the wrong way from day one. Unfortunately, the vile woman had held the same objective as Lord Voldemort, namely, to rid Hogwarts of its current headmaster. Thus, he’d been ordered by the Dark Lord to assist her as best he could. That had meant no cursing, mutilating, or killing the woman—no matter how much he’d wanted to. And he’d been forced to hold back his tongue and keep—most of—his vitriol to himself.
He was glad that he was under no such orders today. Crossing his arms over his chest and pulling his dark robes around himself to appear even more intimidating, he stared down at the silver-haired, short-legged investigative Auror facing him with all the disdain he could muster.
While he had never before encountered the snobby wizard, whom he was fairly certain had never been granted the honour of receiving a Dark Mark on his forearm, Severus had little doubt about Raylan Talio’s true allegiance.
The fact that the Dark Lord would try to hoodwink the investigation and influence its outcome was something he and Saturnine had planned for, and he took it in stride. However, that didn’t make it any easier to stomach the biased Pureblood that now requested his presence for a formal interview.
Severus would have preferred it to occur in the staff room, where they wouldn’t have been alone. He didn’t need his peers’ moral support, but he didn’t quite trust himself not to curse the man before the hour was over. It would take all his self-control not to surrender to the temptation, but he had to keep looking at the bigger picture. This was but one step in their plan, and they needed this investigation to last as long as possible.
Feeling his emotions simmer close to the surface, Severus forced himself to inhale deeply to decrease his irritation. The simpler solution would have been to Occlude and remove all sentimentality from the exchange to come, but he was loath to do it. He hadn’t turned to Occlumency once since he’d regained the ability to survive without it, and he didn’t want to relinquish his newfound freedom for such an insignificant man.
“If you’ll allow me a moment of your time,” Talio paused before adding contemptuously, “Professor.”
“I have a few minutes,” Severus conceded with a great show of reluctance.
“I know,” Talio sneered, presumably feeling the need to impart that he had access to the staff’s complete schedule. Then he turned on one of his heeled boots and followed Severus to a nearby classroom at the investigative team’s disposition.
Three desks—filled with an assortment of parchment rolls and large binders that Severus recognised to be official Hogwarts records—took up half the room. The other half was occupied by a single table, with two chairs facing it.
Talio waved an imperious hand to indicate where Severus was supposed to sit, and he complied with a huff. Pushing his chair back, he crossed his legs and arms and kept staring down the length of his nose at the shorter man. The Potions Master might have lost the will to Occlude, but he still knew how to be nasty on command; it was a fine art he’d perfected over the years.
“You have been a professor here since September 1981?” Talio asked as he pulled out a parchment and a golden Self-Writing Quill. “At the age of twenty-one?”
Severus decided the questions had been rhetorical and remained silent.
“Well—have you?” Talio demanded.
He gave him the briefest of nods.
Another quick nod.
“And now Defence Against the Dark Arts as well—” Talio paused, making a show of reading something on his parchment, “—alongside your younger sister.”
Feeling this one had been rhetorical, too, Severus brushed an imaginary fleck of dust off one of his sleeve instead of answering.
“Most unusual, that,” Talio continued. “Was it the headmaster’s idea?”
“There is nothing uncommon about it,” Severus answered in a flat tone. “Hogwarts needed a new Defence professor, and my sister happened to have the correct profile and time on her hands. For more details on the subject, I would suggest you speak to Saturnine directly.”
“Your whereabouts, then—the night in question?” Talio demanded.
Tired of beating around the bush already? Severus wondered as he fought to keep the smirk from his face. “Which timeframe interests you?”
“From the time you left the Welcoming Feast until the next morning.”
Severus gave him a sample of the version he and his sister had agreed upon—one they had well-rehearsed and that would confound even the most astute investigator. “I briefly left to accompany one of my students to the Slytherin quarters and then returned to the Great Hall. Saturnine and I left around nine and descended to my quarters in the dungeons. We finished preparing the Potions class for the new semester and then reconvened to my office to work on our shared classes’ syllabuses until close to one in the morning. We parted ways then and went to sleep.”
Talio frowned at that. “Waiting until the last minute—that doesn’t sound like you, Professor.”
Severus brushed off his cheap jab. “Saturnine’s appointment was recent, and given the particularities of having to split our classes, we each had much to plan and prepare. We have been working similarly late at night for nearly a fortnight.”
“Why the split?” Talio asked.
“There’s a curse on the Defence position that forced the headmaster to hire someone new every year. I’m guessing Professor Dumbledore felt it was time to find a way around it.”
“Your relationship with Albus Dumbledore—how would you describe it?” Talio asked.
“He was my employer—and I, his employee,” Severus replied flatly.
“But did you two get along?”
“I wouldn’t have stayed for sixteen years if we didn’t,” he answered, refraining from adding an insulting ‘obviously’.
“Any disagreements recently that could have led to a falling-out?” Talio tried. “After all, that wouldn’t be the first time you’ve had a change of heart in career matters.”
Severus felt his teeth grind against each other as he swallowed back down the vitriol that threatened to spew from his mouth. He could have destroyed the man with words if he wanted, but he reigned it in. “I fail to see what you’re referring to,” he replied through barely parted lips. “I had the greatest of respect for Albus Dumbledore and what he stood for.”
The interview continued in the same vein for well over an hour. Talio seized every opportunity he could to infer to Severus’ debatable past as a Death Eater and his recent change of allegiance. The Potions Master did not doubt that a detailed account of this interview would sooner make its way to the Dark Lord’s ears than it would the Ministry’s.
When he could finally leave the room, Severus slammed the door behind him on his way out so loudly that the hinges groaned. Childish, yes—but oh, so satisfying.
He had missed supper and stopped by the kitchens to request something be brought to his quarters before heading back to his rooms. He found Saturnine there, slumped on his sofa with her nose in a book. He shrugged off his robes with more force than he was used to, and by the time he moved to stand by the coffee table with a shot of Firewhiskey in his hand, Saturnine had closed her Muggle novel.
She looked at him with a raised eyebrow and a wry smile. “Let me guess—a most charming chitchat with the delectable Raylan Talio?”
Motioning at her to move her feet so that he could sit down at the bottom of the sofa, Severus huffed a breath. She obliged by bending her knees. “Wouldn’t be surprised if we were to find him flat at the foot of the Astronomy Tower one morning,” he replied, sitting down and taking a large gulp of whisky. It burned on the way down, and that felt bloody good. Without pause, he took another mouthful.
“I was thinking about drowning him in the Black Lake, but your way works, too,” Saturnine said before straightening her legs once again and resting them on her brother’s lap. He frowned at that but did not attempt to remove them.
“Got the pleasure of his company, then?” he asked before taking another sip.
“Right after my last class,” she answered. “It went about as well as expected. At least half a dozen questions about my presence here and my qualifications. More than a few about you.”
Severus arched a curious eyebrow at that.
“I got the impression that he either wanted to know if I was aware of your past as a Death Eater or if I followed the Dark Lord myself. Needless to say, he got no answer.”
“I got more of the same,” Severus admitted. “You told him what we agreed on regarding Monday night?”
She nodded. “Of course.”
The siblings continued comparing notes well into the night and ironed out the following stages of their plan. By the looks of it, Talio and his team would easily spend the rest of the week interviewing the staff, and it was more than probable that a second round would be on the menu for next week.
From what they had gathered from McGonagall, Talio also wanted to interrogate some of the students, but the deputy headmistress had steadfastly refused them the permission. In the absence of parents or legal representatives, the students were under the school’s responsibility. And she refused to compromise their wellbeing by putting them through the stress of being interviewed by Aurors as if they were common criminals. Severus wholeheartedly supported her decision, knowing Talio would sooner fall off the Astronomy Tower before he ever let him get anywhere near Draco. And he had a feeling a dip in the Black Lake would be in the cards long before Saturnine let him get within a foot of Harry.
Saturnine was exhausted after her first full week. The Defence classes were on par with what she had gone through the year before. But it was nice to drop the act and the accent as it allowed her to speak faster.
The Potions classes were a different beast altogether. Unlike when she had arrived last year, she knew exactly where each class was at—Severus had seen to it and given her the comprehensive pre-established syllabus he worked from to. But it was a new topic, and the bar had been set high. She knew how exacting her brother was and knew that when students moved on from her to him, he expected to be handed pupils as competent as if he’d taught them himself. Thus, she had decided to stick to his ways of teaching. While she wouldn’t behave quite like he did—one cantankerous Professor Snape per school was enough—she would hold the students to the same standard that Severus would and wouldn’t tolerate any attitude that was less than assiduous.
Not only was Potions a dangerous subject where accidents easily happened, but Severus would expect a certain kind of behaviour when he inherited the students from her. And it was best that they display the right attitude for a smoother transition.
It wasn’t overly challenging. And Saturnine was sure that in a few weeks, it would be natural for her, but now, she forced herself to go the extra mile and be inordinately vigilant. Thus, it was that after her last class of the week—a double period of seventh-year Defence—she was knackered and only wanted to return to the dungeons so that she could slump down on Severus’ sofa and forget about the world for half an hour or so.
Leaving her classroom on the second floor, she took the Grand Staircase, chatting with Harry, Draco and their friends on the way down. Her mood had lifted when she reached the ground floor, and she parted with the kids, who wanted to go outside for a bit near the castle’s entrance door. Turning on her heel to return to the stairs that would take her to the underground levels, she felt her spirits dampen when she caught sight of Auror Talio.
She wasn’t the only one who noticed the other. The silver-haired wizard did, too, and waved an imperious hand her way to catch her attention. She had half a mind to pretend not to have noticed, but it would have been too obvious. She steeled herself as she waited for him to approach—if he wanted her to come to him every time he said ‘heel’, he’d be in for a world of disappointment.
Talio was by her side in four quick strides, and she looked down at him with a raised eyebrow instead of a greeting.
“A most opportune encounter, Ms Snape,” he said. “I had wanted to discuss something with you.”
“I would have thought you’d asked everything you wanted already,” she said with a frown. “What do you want to know now?”
“You mentioned getting the position mostly due to your background within the Auror Office,” he started.
With an idea where this conversation would be going, Saturnine nodded but remained silent.
“As an Auror myself, I was surprised; I couldn’t recall ever running into you,” Talio continued. “Although it might have been coincidental. But I had a duty to be thorough, you see.”
Saturnine crossed her arms over her chest and leaned on one hip, feigning boredom.
“So, I asked around about you and requested a copy of your file,” he finished. “Care to explain?”
Seeing the tactic for what it was—a desperate man’s poor attempt to fish information—she smiled as benevolently at him as she would to one of her first-year students. “But of course, Auror Talio. Just tell me which part you struggled to understand.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw a dark silhouette move into her field of vision. She turned her head minutely and lifted her gaze to meet Severus’ for an instant. He seemed equally enthused at seeing Talio in his midst. Angling her chin slightly, she motioned for him to change course and come up behind the Auror.
“The conditions under which you left,” Talio said, having failed to notice the siblings’ silent conversation.
“I would have thought that was easy to understand,” Saturnine replied, deciding to play along for a bit. “I resigned, plain and simple.”
Severus came to her side, materialising himself on the Auror’s right-hand side in an impressive flurry of billowing, dark robes. Talio flinched in surprise.
Saturnine smirked inwardly, all the while wondering what had happened to the awkward teen she had grown up with. Severus had never seemed comfortable in his own skin. When had he become such an expert at projecting an imposing figure?
“Everything all right, dear?” he asked, his eyes steadfastly on hers, ignoring the silver-haired wizard entirely.
“Quite,” Saturnine said. “I was on my way to you when Auror Talio stopped me. Apparently, some sections of my file at the Ministry are unclear to him.”
“Oh,” Severus said, feigning surprise and raising an eyebrow as he finally deigned to take in the man. “And which parts would that be?”
“The whole bloody thing!” Talio snapped, clearly fed up with the siblings’ little game. “I have yet to be allowed to see a copy of your file, and I want to know why.”
Saturnine feigned surprise all over again, “Oh, but I thought you said you had it?” She gave him a contrite pout. “I must have misunderstood—my bad.”
“You understand perfectly well!” Talio reproached in the same irritated tone. “Your past,” he said, pointing a nervous finger at Severus, “is public knowledge and pretty damning in itself. And yours,” he said as his finger moved to point at Saturnine, “seems just as shrouded in darkness. I have my eye on both of you. Mark my words. I will see you punished for your crimes.”
“Interesting,” Severus said slowly and darkly. “Here I was thinking you’d been hired to solve the headmaster’s murder.”
“You know what, brother-mine?” Saturnine asked without bothering to hide her smirk this time. “I rather think he was. Or has the Ministry forgotten to let us know that more investigations have been launched?”
Talio was saved from having to reply by Professor McGonagall’s arrival. She was clearly displeased to intervene—her patience where Talio was concerned having long since vanished. “Is everything all right?” she demanded, stopping by their side.
“Quite,” Severus said.
“I believe Auror Talio was about finished inquiring about imaginative files he may or may not have had trouble understanding,” Saturnine added with a friendly smile.
“Imaginative files about what?” demanded McGonagall.
“Nothing,” Talio assured her, flapping a nonchalant hand about. “A misunderstanding.”
“Very well,” the deputy headmistress said, “If you’re done, you won’t mind me stealing my professors back from you.” Turning her head to look at both of them, she added, “I need you both now.”
Severus nodded his head politely, “But of course, Minerva.”
“Lead the way,” Saturnine said, and the three of them left without saying goodbye or giving the seething Auror one more second of attention.
Saturnine was laughing on the inside. Some might think that an outwardly antagonising attitude was the worst idea they’d ever had. But in truth, it had been part of their plan all along. They were the only ones who knew that this investigation had no leg to stand on. Thus, she and Severus were the only ones not to fear its outcome. Wanting to spare their colleagues’ feelings as much as they could, they had decided early on to try and bring the storm onto themselves, confident that they could weather it. Severus’ background was—as Talio had pointed out—public knowledge by now. And there wasn’t any dirt he could dig up that would do any serious damage. Saturnine’s past was more shadowy, but she was sure that he wouldn’t have enough of a reach to get to the skeletons in her closet. And even if, by some miracle, he did, she had contingencies in place for that.
McGonagall led them to the staff room, where they were shortly joined by the two other Heads of Houses and three more professors.
They took turns complaining about Talio and his never-ending interviews that cut into everyone’s free time until McGonagall called them back to order. “Now, if you don’t mind, I would like to discuss a more sombre matter,” she said. “Namely, the headmaster’s funeral.”
The mood sunk at her words, and a heavy silence fell over the room.
It was Professor Flitwick who finally broke it, his squeaky voice loud in the silence. “Has the Ministry agreed to release his body, then?”
McGonagall shook her head, and there was little doubt she was displeased about it. “Not yet, but I have had words with the Minister himself. And I better have a positive answer by the end of next week. Otherwise, I will march down to see them myself and blow up whatever they’ve managed to reconstruct,” she said, the Scottish twang in her voice more pronounced than usual.“We’ll happily escort you, Minerva,” Professor Sprout said. “It is more than time Albus was buried with the respect and dignity he deserves.”