“I see we have some very curious visitors,” Fred Weasley commented as he caught sight of the four wizards that had just entered Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes situated at 93 Diagon Alley.
George’s equally ginger head popped up from over a nearby shelf. “If it isn’t our esteemed benefactor,” he said.
“His brother, mother, and our favourite Potions professor,” Fred continued, his smile growing.
“Doubtful,” Severus drawled as he closed the front door behind him.
“Oh, but we beg to differ; don’t we, my co-conspirator?” George said, rounding around the shelf to come to join his twin brother. They were dressed almost identically, the only difference being the colour of their striped jumpers.
“For he might have believed to have us tremble in terror,” Fred continued.
“But we always enjoyed having him as our tutor,” his brother said.
“And still, many of his teachings we use today. We daresay he was our mentor.”
Harry had trouble restraining his laughter, and he made a point not to look at Severus’ face, for if he did, he would break out in a mad giggle.
“All right—enough, you two,” Saturnine said. “Or Severus might be tempted to owl your mother and suggest she start to knit you a pair of muzzles for Christmas.”
“Oh, but you wound me, my lady,” George said before mock-impaling himself over his own hand.
“Seriously, though,” Fred said, ever the businessman. “Welcome to our humble abode.”
He stepped to the side, and his brother did, too. And Harry and Draco were free to take in the full sight of the wondrous boutique. Every stall and every shelf were covered in what amounted to a wizard child’s dream. There were hundreds of practical joke objects, an entire display of Muggle Magic Tricks, a full range of fireworks, and several racks full of sweets. Part of Harry regretted having given away the Potter vaults, and he bet Draco was equally feeling the heavy weight of his near-empty pockets. Still, just looking at the place made him giddy with joy.
Serpenting through the shelves, he saw that Severus and Saturnine had remained near the entry and were busy chatting with the twins. The discussion seemed amicable enough, and even Severus looked relaxed—even if he was the only one not smiling. The rhyming welcome may have been a tad too much, but it hadn’t been that far from the truth. Harry knew the twins had great respect for Severus’ skills, and they used much of what he had taught them in their daily business—after all, many of the Weasley’s Wheezes were brewed in cauldrons. It probably wasn’t what Professor Snape had hoped to see them do with his teachings. But brewing was brewing, and the dark-haired potioneer looked at them with the kind of respect he gave only his peers.
Harry didn’t end up getting that many things. He had used up most of the allowance his parents had given him to last his seventh year, and they hadn’t given him anything for the summer. Catching sight of Draco between two aisles, he saw that his brother’s hands were empty—a sign that he must have used up all of his on their parents’ gifts.
“All right—time to go,” Saturnine said, crossing through the shop to make her way to the till. She had her purse in her hand, Harry saw, and he understood that she intended to pay for the day’s extravaganza. Catching Draco’s gaze, Harry gave him a discreet nod that made Draco look her way. Draco was quick to understand the situation, and he ran to get a handful of sweets.
Their mother paid for everything, and Harry raised a curious brow at Fred, who cashed in their shopping. The Weasley twins had a standing policy of letting Harry walk away with everything he wanted—not that he didn’t try to pay for his shopping each time, anyway. Fred shrugged at him and angled his head in a way that informed him he had no choice but to let Saturnine pay, almost as if he’d been ordered to. A glance from the ginger-haired wizard towards Severus, who was still speaking amicably with George, gave him the identity of the man behind the order.
“Thanks, Mom,” Harry said with a smile as she handed him his bag of sweets and tricks.
“Sure thing, lad,” she said, brushing her hand in his hair to direct him towards the exit, and Harry understood that this moment had been the reason behind Severus’ instruction. If the sweets had been free, they wouldn’t have had the chance to thank their parents for buying them. This was what Harry had asked them for last Christmas, and he loved his father even more for having gone to the trouble, even if he pretended not to have noticed his little game at all.
“Sweet thing they’ve got going there,” Draco said once they’d left the store. “Never thought those two would go so far in life.”
“For all their mischievous streak, the twins were talented students,” Severus said with a shrug. “When they applied themselves to something, they got some amazing results. Too bad they didn’t feel compelled to apply to anything much.”
They stopped by Madam Malkin’s Robes For All Occasions for Draco, who’d had a growth spurt this spring and needed a new set of formal robes, and at the book store for Saturnine, who needed to pick up a few tomes she had ordered.
“Would you care for some ice cream?” Severus asked as they walked past Topsy Gelato, the newly furbished ice cream parlour. “If you haven’t stuffed yourselves full of sweets yet, that is.”
“Always got room for ice cream,” Draco said over a mouthful of bright pink liquorice that had somehow tinted his tongue blue.
“Same,” Harry informed him, especially considering that he hadn’t dug into his bag of sweets yet and that it was a sweltering July morning.
“You guys go ahead,” Severus said. “I need to get something from the Apothecary.”
When he reached inside his frock coat pocket for his coin purse, Harry held out a hand. “That’s okay, Dad. I’ll get the ice cream.”
“There’s no need,” Severus replied with a frown.
“You and Mom just paid for everything else; let me get the ice cream,” Harry protested.
“You know, Harry, for someone so keen on giving all his money away last Christmas, you sure like buying stuff,” he complained. But he put his purse away. So, Harry took it as a win.
“That’s not it,” he protested. He just liked making gifts; it wasn’t the same thing.
Draco guffawed indiscreetly behind his back, and Harry threw him a look over his shoulder. “What’s so funny to you?”
“Just the fact that he’s telling you that you spend too much and not me,” Draco said with a shrug.
“No wonder,” Harry said, falling in step with him so that he could loop an arm around the blond’s shoulders. “Tell me, brother-dear, would you be able to afford an ice cream scoop today, or have you spent all your allowance already?”
“Point taken,” Draco replied sheepishly, looking at his shoes.
“Enough, children,” Saturnine chided, stepping between them and placing an arm over each of their shoulders. “Harry, thank you for your kind offer to buy us all ice cream; the whole family appreciates it. Draco, that money was meant to last you for the duration of the school year. It was expected to have run dry by now. Severus, don’t spend hours complaining about the quality of everything they try to sell you, and come join us when you’re done.”
The potioneer nodded at her before turning on his heel. He headed towards the little boutique with intricate phials and glass jars in the window.
“Now,” Saturnine continued as they headed towards the ice cream parlour, “why don’t you two try and guess which flavour your father would like to have, hmm?”
“Firewhiskey?” Draco offered, and Saturnine chuckled.
“Not sure they have that one, but nice try,” she responded.
Harry knew he would ravage through anything that tasted even remotely like a treacle tart, but he had noticed Severus didn’t have much of a sweet tooth. Saturnine, on the other hand, seemed to be magically attracted towards anything that contained chocolate.
“Tea?” he said, thinking his father might like that. “But a nice blend—not the vapid stuff most people drink.”
“Ah, nice idea,” Saturnine agreed as she pushed the door open, “We’ll see what they have on offer.”
The door had all but closed behind Harry’s back when the ground shook, and the sound of attack spells boomed in the distance. He whirled on himself and only had an instant to understand what was happening before Saturnine yanked him backwards and away from the door.
Harry felt his blood grow colder than the ice cream at his back; all the windows to the Apothecary store had blown outward.
Saturnine reacted on sheer instinct, pushing Draco behind her and yanking Harry backwards by the back of his hoodie. It was done with no conscious thought on her part, her brain engaged as it was on analysing the situation and assessing the threat level. But the need to protect her family, to see them to safety first and foremost, had shot out of her regardless—a primal urge that overcame everything else and was the apanage of all mothers.
Her next thought was for her brother—the brother who had just told them that he was heading for the Apothecary: the very building that had all but burst open. The building with windows through which plummets of smoke now curled out of.
“Severus.” The name crossed her lips like a whispered prayer. Then she kicked into action.
Turning towards both of her sons, she fixed them with a stern gaze that brokered no argument. “Stay there,” she ordered. “Both of you.”
She didn’t wait to see them nod to head out the door, wand in hand. The street was awash with tension and people running around. They were either scampering as far away from the Apothecary as they could or approaching it with their wands drawn. She beat them all to it, her Elemental powers simmering close to the surface and giving her the extra boost.
At a swish of her wrist, the door flew open, tearing itself off its hinges from the spell’s force. It landed in the street a few feet to her left. She pushed through the opening, wand drawn forward and ready to call up a shield if need be.
There was smoke in the air, the aftermath of several attack spells. An assortment of oils and potions had crashed to the floor, spilling open, and the sickly-sweet smell of herbs and fruity fragrances joined together in a heady mix. Saturnine ignored it all as she crept forward, freezing when she caught sight of a corpse on the floor. She had a moment’s pause until the shape of the man registered, and she realised with relief that it wasn’t Severus. Her respite was short-lived; her brother lay on the floor in a pool of blood, mere feet away.
Severus was lying on his front, with his head turned the other way around. His left hand was outstretched by his side, while his wand-hand looked to be curled beneath him at an odd angle. Several bleeding cuts were on his back and down the length of his arms, probably due to the exploding glass. But mostly, what made Saturnine’s heart thunder in her chest was that he wasn’t moving. And that, sprawled as he was, she didn’t know if—
A choked-up gasp broke the silence in the small store, and it took Saturnine a moment to realise it had escaped her lips. Movement caught her attention in her peripheral vision, and she turned slightly to see that two wizards had just entered the shop, one of whom she recognised to be the owner of the boutique next door. They’d come to help, and she dismissed them from her awareness the moment she realised they weren’t a threat.
Rushing forward, she knelt by her brother’s side. She got her first look at his face then; it was pallid and lax from unconsciousness or—
Reaching with shaking fingers, she caught Severus’ shoulder and forced him to roll on his back, discovering with horror the blood’s source. It was his blood that had pooled on the floor. It was his life force that gushed from the many wounds on his stomach and torso. It was his blood that now stained her fingertips crimson red.
She wanted to say something—to call out his name, to beg the deities that she knew not to take him, but fear and panic rendered her mute and all but motionless. Saturnine was crying, she knew, but she couldn’t stop it any more than she could stop the tremors wracking through her. Her brother was either dying or already—
And she was dying right alongside him; it was all she could do. She refused to do anything else, refused to contemplate a life without him by her side. The blood on the floor might as well have been hers. It was a physical manifestation of the heart that had been ripped out of her chest and was dying a slow death on the dank cobblestone.
“I love you,” Saturnine had said one night, many moons ago. “I love you like the sun.”
It was something silly they did, sometimes, to pass the time. Severus didn’t particularly like to hear her say that—at least not when they were outside, and others could hear. But he allowed it when it was just the two of them. And on nights like this, Saturnine was pretty sure he needed to hear it.
“I love you like the stars,” he replied in a soft voice.
“Which ones?” she asked, looking up and through their bedroom window to see the pinpricks of light that pierced the distant black sky. Although she was only five, she knew all about the stars because Severus had told her about them. He had told her what they were and divulged their names. Then they had spent many evenings sitting below the window observing them until she fell asleep, curled up in her blanket.
“All of them, ’Nine,” her brother replied a little breathlessly, and she wrapped her small hands around his shoulders a bit more securely.
Severus was lying on his side, the least hurt, with his head cradled in her lap. She would have preferred that they had both gone to his bed. But he wanted to see the stars, and after what their father had done to him, well—she couldn’t say no. So, she had helped him lie down below the window. Then she’d gone to retrieve their blankets so that Severus wouldn’t be too cold. He was still shaking, though—his thin, battered body wracked with intermittent tremors—even with both blankets covering him all the way to just below his chin, where a large bruise started to darken.
“I love you like the galaxy,” she said. She was unsure what a galaxy was, but she knew it was bigger than the stars; so, she supposed it worked.
“Then I love you like the universe,” Severus said, and when the shaking got worse, she held him a little tighter.
She tried hard to remember what was bigger than the universe. There had to be something; so, she asked Severus about it. He would know; her big brother knew everything. “What’s bigger than the universe, Sev?”
A wet chuckle passed his lips at her question. “Nothing sweetie—it’s infinite,” he said between two sniffs. “Means it never ends.”
“Oh,” Saturnine replied, seeing how that might be problematic. Then she shrugged and said, “Then I love you like the universe plus one.”