This time, returning to Cove Cottage had felt like coming home, and as she did most afternoons, Saturnine sunk heavily into the old worn-out sofa in the living room of Dumbledore’s summer cottage with a book in her hand. She was relieved that the old man had agreed to let them have the place again until the start of the term in September. Aside from the week and a half they had spent here after the final battle, she had many beautiful memories associated with this cottage, and she’d have been sad if she’d been unable to return. But she supposed she would have to say goodbye to it come summer’s end. For one, it was Dumbledore’s place. And Harry and Draco would soon be getting their own places—somewhere. There would be no returning to Scotland for them this autumn; it would be just her and Severus while the boys started their careers elsewhere.
Their boys were adults now, and it was right for them to move out of the family home to start their own lives. It would break her heart a little to see them go, she knew; they’d had so little time together, after all. But even one day would have been better than no time at all, and she had a whole summer to look forward to. A summer with no Dark Lord looming over their heads, with no fake murder to plan. A summer of happiness and freedom—a taste of the life they had built for themselves.
Placing a marker in her book, she swung her legs over the side before sitting up and crossing the living room. Peering through the window, she found Harry and Draco where she expected: circling the cottage on their brooms. These two had a love for flying that bordered on insanity, and they could spend entire afternoons fooling around in the skies. Currently, they seemed caught in a back-and-forth ball-tossing game—ten feet off the ground, with no hands holding onto either broom.
“Kids,” she muttered with a fond smile.
While part of her couldn’t help but be scared by their antics, she rejoiced at seeing them be the carefree teenagers they ought to be. Both had been forced to grow up too soon, and they had missed so much of their childhoods. So what if the way they had chosen to amuse themselves gave her a few premature grey hairs? It was a mother’s prerogative to feel that way, she figured, and she was happy to be granted the privilege.
She opened the window slightly, telling herself that she did it to let in the warm summer air. Nah, she thought. Who am I kidding? She did it to be alerted should one of them fall off his broom in a tumble of broken limbs.
The sound of tinkling glass made her avert her gaze from the window, and she turned to her left, to the small Potions lab niched into the wall left of the front door. Her brother was in there, as he was most afternoons. To each his own, she figured. And while she enjoyed the quiet company of a good book to wither away the time, her brother preferred to busy himself with his cauldrons and beakers, brewing for the sake of brewing. Not because of any imperative or standing orders, but because he could. And left to his own devices, Severus brewed whatever took his fancy—from simple Hair-Removal Shampoo to complex Blood-Replenishing Potions. The former was used to scare the boys into going to bed at an appropriate time, and the latter was dispatched to the St. Mungo’s stores.
“And what are we up to today?” she asked, entering the tiny lab.
Without decelerating his stirring, Severus looked up long enough to smile at her. “Research,” he answered, looking back into his boiling cauldron. He was wearing the same dragon-hide boots and thick black trousers he did at Hogwarts, but the white undershirt and frock coat had been replaced by a long-sleeved navy jumper that was so dark that it bordered on black.
Saturnine returned his smile, even if he couldn’t see it anymore. Research Afternoons were his favourites, she knew. Even if she had achieved the same grade as her brother at her Potions N.E.W.T.—a fine O, both times—Saturnine knew that she was no match to him in that field. If Severus had devised the questions, and he’d intended them to be difficult, Saturnine would have been left in the dirt. As it was, it was Professor Slughorn who had created both sets of exams, and both Snapes were better potioneers than he had ever been. So, the tests had been nothing short of a walk in the park. But the fact remained that Severus was a genius when it came to brewing complex recipes. Better yet, he enjoyed the mental challenge of undergoing the process of creating his own.
Creating a potion from scratch required hours of careful planning beforehand. It also necessitated an understanding of ingredient properties that went beyond comprehensive. The exactness, the attention to every conceivable detail required was something at which many a potioneer baulked. So much had to be taken into account; it often took weeks, if not months, to devise something semi-worthy, and the most complicated potions took years. It took years of finicking, of adjusting the ingredients, to attain that unique perfect balance.
Severus, she knew, was nothing if not a perfectionist. Thus it was that he had so rarely in his life had had the time to go through the entire process. However, there was no denying that he enjoyed the massive intellectual challenge it presented—which was something she could understand. She was a Ravenclaw, after all. She liked a mental challenge as much as any other raven.
“The Werewolf Cub Potion?” she asked, guessing at what he was trying his hand at today.
Severus gave her a curt nod without looking up from his cauldron. The potion had been his idea. It had come after they’d been informed of the happy news that Remus and Tonks were expecting their first child. It was a rare thing for a werewolf to father a child. There was always a risk that the infant would be born with his parent’s affliction. While Severus knew that finding a cure to rid an infected wizard was equal to finding the Holy Grail of brewing, he hoped to create a potion that would free second-generation children—such as Remus’ child—of the disease.
Not wanting to get anyone’s hopes up, Severus had refused to let anyone know what he’d been working on—not even the boys. But he’d gone to his sister for her opinion on his theories more than once. For, while she didn’t have the mind of Severus Snape, Saturnine did know a thing or two that her brother didn’t.
She had been surprised to hear what he was working on, just like she had been surprised the first time she saw Remus and Severus together in the same room a short while after the battle against Voldemort. The lack of animosity between the two had been noticeable; whatever happened between them while she’d been away had left a mark. She had refrained from asking Severus about it but had had no such compulsion when discussing the matter with her old friend a few days later. To her surprise, Remus had steadfastly refused to satiate her curiosity, saying that it was between him and Severus. Whatever it was, the two seemed to have finally buried the proverbial hatchet, and Saturnine couldn’t have been more relieved.
“How is it going?” she asked, coming to stand behind him to take her usual spot when she checked on him in the lab. She placed a palm on his back and rested her chin on his shoulder to peer into the cauldron. The first time she had done that, she had felt him shudder in surprise. Nowadays, Severus just kept stirring as if the interruption in his routine was the most natural thing in the world. But always, a tiny smile crept up at the corners of his lips when she joined him in the lab.
“Holding steady so far,” he said, sighing. “But I haven’t added the blood yet.”
She understood where the sigh came from. Every time he got to the stage that required the inclusion of drops of werewolf-infected blood, the potion turned a cloudy colour that meant it was ready to be poured down the drain. And yet, there was no way around it; werewolf blood had to be one of the core elements, and any attempt to create a potion without it was a waste of time and ingredients.
“Ready for failure number eight?” he asked before pointing at the small crystal phial that contained a dark-red liquid that Saturnine knew to be werewolf blood. “Four, if you don’t mind.”
Without moving from her spot at her brother’s back, she reached around him with her free hand to pour four delicate drops into the potion. They fizzed on the surface before dissolving into the mass that Severus kept stirring with precise figure-eights.
They had just enough time to count to ten before the forest-green potion took on a darker hue. It congealed into a disgusting mass that had all the appeal of tar.
“Sorry, Sev,” she murmured into her brother’s shoulder. “Better luck next time.”
Severus nodded before vanishing the contents of the cauldron with a flick of his wand. One could have expected him to be disheartened by the experiment’s results, but Saturnine knew he was past it already. His mind was busy analysing today’s results and preparing alternative solutions.
“I keep thinking that the temperature is the problem,” he said after a while. Turning on himself and effectively dislodging the octopus of a sister latched to his side, he crossed his arms over his chest and sat on the edge of the table. “Too hot, and the blood cells get damaged before they can meld with the potion; too cold, and they close in on themselves without mixing at all.”
Leaning against the wall at her back, Saturnine asked, “Do you think there’s a middle ground you haven’t found yet?”
Severus shook his head. “Doubtful. The cells are too fragile and the potion too aggressive.”
She knew what he meant; not many ingredients survived the tarantula venom he had chosen to counter the werewolf stain. There was no sugar-coating the truth; there were only two reasons why no such potion had been invented yet. Either it was almost impossible to figure out, or it wasn’t possible. Her thoughts gave her pause, and she tilted her head to the side. Sugar-coating it. Sugar-coating it?
“Thought of something?” Severus asked, having detected her change in attitude.
“Obviously you can’t lower the temperature,” she said, working through her theory as she spoke.
“Obviously,” Severus drawled out.
“So perhaps,” she continued as if she hadn’t been interrupted, “the solution lies in finding a way to protect the blood cells long enough for them to quietly warm up to the potion without losing their properties, then mixing them in with the rest of the formula.”
Severus rubbed the back of his neck with one hand while he considered her proposition. “Sounds interesting,” he said at last, “but I can’t think of a way to do it that wouldn’t compromise the blood cells or the rest of the potion.”
He had a point there, Saturnine figured. Any new element added to the mix would interact with the other ingredients and alter the results. Damn, but this was a nightmare—and yet, she couldn’t help but think that she was onto something.
“That has to be it,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”
“Has to be,” she continued. “You’ve got everything else nailed down by now. You’ve got the right ingredients and dosage. You only need to determine the delivery method.”
“I’ll think on it,” he agreed almost reluctantly.
“As will I,” she said, stepping closer to her brother. Then, stepping closer still, she placed both hands on his shoulders to look him straight in the eye. “If anyone can do this, it’s you, Sev,” she said. “You’re amazing like that.”
She smiled fondly as she watched him squirm uncomfortably under her gaze. Severus had always reacted as poorly to encouragement as he did praise, which was why she always made a point of giving him hefty doses of both.