Severus hadn’t been surprised when Albus Dumbledore came over for an impromptu visit one afternoon. He had expected him to drop by sooner.
No doubt the headmaster had managed to come up with new questions he wouldn’t be going home without having received the answers to. Never mind that Severus and Saturnine had both spent hours in his newly refurbished office meticulously explaining everything that had happened earlier this summer.
As it were, today’s questions were mostly for him. Or so it became clear when after a solid twenty-minutes of idle chitchat with the entire family, the headmaster informed them of his desire to go out for a stroll along the cliffs, all the while requesting Severus’ company.
In the end, they didn’t go very far and had stopped about ten minutes from the cottage when Dumbledore found a particularly inviting rock to sit on. Severus remained standing, his gaze lost on the blue-grey horizon. It was a warm, late-June afternoon, and the ocean was tranquil. A beautiful sight to look at, even if he preferred a more diverse landscape.
“I was wondering, my dear boy,” Dumbledore started, “if you planned on returning in September.”
Severus turned on him in surprise, thinking that was an odd question. He had never considered not returning, and he wondered why the headmaster had brought the subject up. He always returned.
Something in his reaction must have amused the old man, for there was a smile hanging at the corner of his lips when he said, “You do have a choice, you know.”
Do I? he almost asked aloud before clamping his mouth shut. Instead, he turned his head away to look at the ocean once more. He did have a choice, he supposed. The war was over. His promise had been kept. Where did that leave him? Severus hadn’t taken the time to think it through. He hadn’t once allowed himself to look past the walls of his self-imposed prison, so sure he was that there would be no salvation for him.
“You have done everything I have asked of you, Severus, and more,” Dumbledore said. “And I insist you take your time to answer my question. You are free, my boy. Free to live your life as you wish. You’ve more than earned that right.”
Looking back over his shoulder, retracing the steps they had taken to get to the top of this cliff, Severus found the cottage they had left behind. He didn’t need time to think about it; he knew what he wanted. And what he wanted was in that house—his family. Only, this summer couldn’t last forever. The boys would fly from the nest on their broomsticks in less than two months, only returning for the occasional visit or—dare he hope—the holidays.
“Alone…” a voice only he could hear whispered in the air.
Once the boys left, it would be just him and Saturnine, and he refused to lose her to the intricacies of life as well. He wanted more of the shared classes and hours spent complaining about the students who failed to perform to their standards in either of their classes. He wanted the lunches and dinners in the Great Hall next to each other and the long evenings spent talking by the warmth of his fireplace.
“I want to go back,” he said through the lump in his throat, “with my sister. I want everything to remain as is.”
A hand landed on his shoulder, and he shuddered in surprise, so lost that he’d been in his thoughts he hadn’t noticed the headmaster getting up. “I have a feeling Saturnine wants the same thing,” the old man said. “And I would be more than happy to grant both of your requests and welcome you back for many more years. Besides, Filius is thinking of retiring. So, I’ll need a new Head of House for Ravenclaw. Think your sister will want the job?”
Severus nodded, forcing some of his hair down to curtain the side of his face as he did.
“I am so very happy, my boy, that you have made a family for yourself at last,” Dumbledore continued, and this time, Severus was speechless. “You deserve every happiness you can get.”
He wasn’t sure that he did, but he wanted to believe so. But more than anything, he wanted to believe that he wouldn’t lose his family any time soon. He wasn’t sure he could survive it if he did. Voldemort’s taunts hadn’t left him since he’d heard the words. His insinuations had clawed their way through his mind all the way down to his heart and settled there like a parasitic insect feeding on his happiness. Already, it looked like he would lose Harry and Draco in no time at all; he couldn’t lose Saturnine, too. He just couldn’t. With her help, he could withstand the distance from his sons, face the long waits until they remembered to return home for a cup of tea or dinner. But on his own—on his own, the monster around his heart would suck him dry in weeks.
“The cottage?” he asked through his tears, the thought coming out of nowhere.
His head whipped around, and he faced Dumbledore despite the well of emotions on his face. “Can I buy it from you?” he asked. “I have money now.”
He didn’t know where the idea had come from, but he knew in his heart that it was a good one. Their family needed a place to regroup, a home to spend the odd weekend together, and times like Christmases and birthdays. And the old hovel at the back of Spinner’s End wasn’t it; he would sooner die than bring either Harry or Draco there. The monsters in that house’s closets were his and Saturnine’s alone, and they would never subject their children to their malevolent darkness.
Dumbledore gave him an enthused smile, and his blue eyes lit up behind his half-moon spectacles. “Of course, my dear boy,” he said. “It’s all yours—my gift to you and your family.”
“No,” he said, shaking his head. “While I appreciate your generosity, I want to pay for it.”
“Severus,” Dumbledore started, but the Potions Master raised a hand to stop him.
“Please, Albus, the House of Snape has money now,” he explained. “And if Cove Cottage is to become a home for Saturnine and me, for our children, and hopefully, their children one day. Then we shall not rely on the kindness of strangers to acquire it. We would much rather buy it, at its full price, with the funds in the family’s vaults, which we have been saving for exactly such a purpose.” He paused for a moment as he considered how else to get his point across. The words Harry had said at Christmas resonated loudly in his ears. And, for the first time, Severus fully understood his son’s request. And he was determined to meet it.
“Please, Albus,” he continued with renewed vigour. “I need my children to know that this family will be there for them, always. The House of Snape has the will and the means to see to their continued safety and happiness. This is who we are. Please allow us this privilege.”
And thus it was that their deal was concluded one sunny Thursday afternoon, atop a tall cliff in Cornwall. Cove Cottage became the sole property of the House of Snape.
“Out of curiosity,” Dumbledore asked on the way back to the cottage, “Why did you and Saturnine part ways all those years ago?”
“We had a row,” Severus replied as the memory slammed into him like the Knight Bus. “The worst we’ve ever had. Said things we didn’t mean—both of us.”
And they had, hadn’t they? Severus had said some pretty nasty things that day—wicked things that hadn’t come from him but from the people he frequented back then, fool that he’d been. And Saturnine retaliated in kind, giving back as good as she got until the argument escalated past the point of no return.
“We never fought when we were little,” he added as an afterthought, and it was the truth, too. They fooled around but never quarrelled; they never fought or yelled at each other. Not once. He supposed they hadn’t seen the need to add to the violence already present in spades in their childhood home.
And then they had come to Hogwarts, and they had been forced apart. They handed him a green tie and gave Saturnine a blue one. And that had been the beginning of the end for them.
“It’s never easy to grow up and find your place in the world,” Dumbledore said next to him. “It takes time—sometimes years. And maybe you both needed to spend some time apart to figure out who you were and who you wanted to be.”
“Or maybe we were both idiots who didn’t know better,” he said, feeling the need to be contradictory.
The headmaster chuckled next to him and said, “Or maybe you were.”
Regardless, Severus thought, he knew exactly where he wanted to be now—and who he wanted to be with.
Later that night, as they prepared for bed, Severus’ guarded voice broke the silence, to his sister’s surprise. “Remus told me you came to our parents’ funerals,” he said without much inflexion to his voice.
His comment had come out of the blue, and Saturnine wasn’t sure what had prompted it. She figured it was probably something that had been percolating in her brother’s head for a while, and he had only just found the strength to bring it up.
Severus was in his nightclothes, sitting atop his covered mattress, and his words had caught Saturnine as she exited the bathroom. Instead of aiming for her bed, she moved to his and gingerly sat down next to him. She kept her gaze down, staring at their bare feet for another minute or two as she composed herself. Her brother’s statement had brought up a lot of memories, most of them unwanted, and she needed the time to quiet and order her thoughts.
When she finally looked up, Saturnine nodded to him as she said, “Yes, I did.”
Their gazes met, and she guessed the pain she found in his dark eyes was a match for the one in hers.
“I didn’t see you,” he muttered before looking away. It wasn’t a rebuttal, but it definitely wasn’t a ringing endorsement. It had been expected, though, and she decided to tell him the truth. She gave him both the ‘how’ and the ‘why’.
“You wouldn’t have,” she said. “Disillusionment Charm—both times.” Severus nodded, and she continued, “I had to come. They were my parents, too. But I didn’t think you—we—were ready to meet each other again. So, I found a way to circumvent that issue. I’m sorry if, in doing so, I inadvertently hurt you. It wasn’t my intention.”
Severus shook his head slightly and brought his gaze up again. “You didn’t,” he confirmed. “I’m just—I mean, I…” he sighed instead of finishing his sentence and looked away. Saturnine reached for one of his hands and clasped it in her own, and that seemed to give him the strength he needed to finish. “I’m glad you were there,” he said between two heavy breaths. “I’d have told you what happened if I’d known how to reach you.” Her brother’s obsidian eyes were a bit too bright, and Saturnine was surprised when he kept talking. “I didn’t know how to, and I always wondered if you—I mean, if you’d learned somehow, or if—if you didn’t even know that they’d…”
That sentence also went unfinished, and Saturnine gathered her brother in her arms when a lone tear fell out from his left eye.
“Forgive me,” he continued in a broken tone. “I didn’t know where you were. I’d have told you myself otherwise.”
Each one of Severus’ apologies was like a stab to Saturnine’s heart. She wanted to stop him, to tell him that it wasn’t his fault, that he had nothing to blame himself for, but she held her tongue. She cradled the back of his head with one hand and rubbed at his tensed shoulders with the other while her brother apologised some more. Severus had been bottling up this pain for over ten years, repressing it and denying himself the release of tears, and she knew it needed to come out—all of it. Thus, she allowed him to express his anguish, even if it broke her heart to do so.
When the tears ran dry, she pulled away enough to kiss his temple, and the first words that came out of her mouth were, “I love you.” She enveloped her brother in another tight hug soon after.
“I love you so much, brother-mine,” she murmured in his ear. “It’s okay; you couldn’t have found me even if you’d looked—I hid well. But I had people keeping me in the loop, and that’s how I found out. You did nothing wrong, okay? You did nothing wrong. So, stop blaming yourself for not telling me.”
She waited to feel him nod, but he didn’t, and so she added, “I’m the one who left, remember? It’s on me, not you. Let it go, Sev. Let go of that guilt—it’s unwarranted.” She kissed him wherever she could reach and asked again, “Please let it go, Sev. Please.”
She continued rubbing his back until she got the nod she was after, and even then, she didn’t pull away. She couldn’t have said how long they stayed that way, offering each other however much comfort they could while they tried to seal old wounds that would never truly heal.
The feeble rays of a waning moon were the only source of light in their room when they pulled away from each other. They moved to sit up with their backs against the headboard of Severus’ bed, shoulder to shoulder with their feet tucked beneath the blankets. It had to be close to midnight now, but neither of them cared.
“I know that it was a cirrhosis that finally did the old man in,” Saturnine said of their father a while later.
Severus nodded. “Alcoholic liver disease,” he indicated in a clinical tone. “A fitting end for Tobias Snape.”
“I always knew he would drink himself to the grave,” Saturnine added without hiding the bitterness in her voice. Guess the whole town saw that one coming, too, she thought. “I bet Mom was sad, though.”
She felt rather than saw Severus nod. “She stayed by his side and nursed him until the end. Then she wrote to me to let me know he’d passed.”
“She loved him still?” she mused. “After everything?”
“Guess so.” Severus shrugged. “I stopped trying to understand their relationship a long time ago.”
After a lengthy pause, Saturnine asked. “I’m less clear about what happened to Mom. I heard she was in a Muggle hospital a while beforehand?”
Severus nodded, then leaned forward with his shoulders hunched and his hands clasped tightly in his lap. They looked ghostly pale in the moonlight. “I checked on her, ’Nine,” he said before letting out a long, heavy breath. “Even with everything that was going on in my life, I made a point to drop by twice a month to chat with her and make sure she was okay.” He paused, then repeated with emphasis, “I checked on her.”
Guessing from his tone that tears weren’t far away again, Saturnine moved closer to her brother. She grabbed both of his shoulders tightly. Severus shook his head from left to right as he brokenly repeated, “I checked on her.”
“She didn’t tell you she was sick, did she?” Saturnine guessed. “She kept it from you?”
Nodding faintly, Severus replied, “She made me tea, and we talked of trifling things, and she pretended everything was okay. She was sick, and I didn’t even know for weeks and weeks—until it was too late.” He heaved in a wet breath. “One evening, I came home, and she wasn’t there. I waited a while, then went to ask the neighbours. Mrs Cook told me she’d been taken to the hospital like it was only to be expected, what with her cancer getting worse.
“You should have seen the look she gave me, ’Nine,” he continued bitterly, with a broken tone. “Like I should I have known—like I was a bad son or something.”
“Oh, Sev,” Saturnine said, hugging him tightly from behind.
He shook his head, hiding his face behind a curtain of thin black hair. “I could have helped; I could have given her a potion or taken her to St. Mungo’s. But she didn’t—she—” his voice strangled itself, and he never finished his sentence.
“She made her choice,” Saturnine said. She rose a hand up to tuck a strand of her brother’s hair behind his ear so that she could nestle her head against his. A few tears escaped her own eyes, and they joined her brother’s where their cheeks met. “It wasn’t your fault, sweetheart. It wasn’t.”
Severus’ hands found and clasped around her own. Beneath their linked fingers, she could feel his heaving chest struggling to breathe. It was fourteen years since their mother had passed. But for them, it still hurt like it had been yesterday. How could they have waited so long to have this discussion?
“Did you at least get to say goodbye?” Saturnine asked, hoping the answer would be yes, that the Fates would have granted her brother at least that small mercy.
Though Severus was beyond words now, he nodded, and she held him a little tighter. She had to force herself to ask the next question, and it was a struggle to get the words out past the heavy lump in her throat. “Did you get to say goodbye for me?”
Severus nodded, more firmly this time, and a weight Saturnine had carried with her for years lifted from her chest. “Oh, thank you. Thank you, Sev,” she managed through her heavy tears. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there, and you had to go through this alone. And I’m so sorry it took us so long to talk about it.”
Never again, she thought firmly. Never again! She wished she could have said it aloud, but she was past words now.
Severus twisted around until he could gather her in his arms, and she sobbed against his chest until she ran out of tears.
“Guess we both needed that,” Saturnine said when the bulk of the pain had ebbed away. She rose a hand to wipe the moisture from her cheeks. “Can’t remember the last time I cried this much, though.”
Severus ‘mm-hmmed’ in reply, his face once more hidden behind a curtain of black locks. If she didn’t know him so well, she’d be tempted to think that was the sole reason why he wore his hair to shoulder-length.
Glancing over at her bed, Saturnine wondered how cold it would feel when she slipped beneath the sheets. She much preferred staying in her brother’s warm, comforting embrace instead, she realised. She needed him right now—needed this closeness and togetherness they hadn’t had in years. Life had turned them into orphans somewhere along the way, and this was the first time they’d been able to grieve together.
“Can I stay with you tonight?” she asked, wondering if Severus would allow it. She had been imposing a lot on him recently, she knew, and maybe this was too much.
“Of course,” he replied, rubbing her back a little, and she sagged more fully against him in relief.
Severus leaned back until his head found the pillows, and she went with him. Soon enough, they were both horizontal atop his bed. It took them little time to arrange their legs in a way that was comfortable for them both. They had done it enough times when they were younger; they still remembered what worked and what didn’t. And she soon made her blanket fly over to cover them both.
There was more that she wanted to ask him about their parents’ last days. And there was more that she wanted to say to him, but it could wait—they’d pushed themselves enough for one night.
“Don’t let go,” she demanded, her head nestled in the crook of his neck. “Please, don’t let go.”
Severus’ arms tightened a little more around her—a silent promise that he wouldn’t.
Saturnine sighed a little contented sigh, and the last thing she heard before sleep claimed her was Severus’ soft-spoken, “Love you too.”