Someone pushed her to the side, and Saturnine wanted to protest. She wanted to stay with Severus but couldn’t speak any more than she could move. She was numb, motionless—just like he was. Her body reacted to her brother’s plight by emulating it. Inside she screamed, wailing in distress; she waged a battle, fighting the tide of emotions that sought to drown her. But outwardly, she resembled a lifeless puppet whose strings had been cut off—a mere broken doll.
Broken, the both of them—broken and bleeding. Severus on the outside, and Saturnine, on the inside, as they had been for so much of their life. Every one of their father’s punches or kicks or lashes of his belt had left a mark on Severus’ soft skin and a cut on Saturnine’s tender heart.
She was dimly aware of a flash of blond hair and hearing the familiar tone of Harry’s voice, but the notion that her sons were there wasn’t coming through. Nothing could make it past the hurt, not even them. She thought of only one person, the one person she couldn’t live without. He had been there since the first day she had drawn breath; without him, she couldn’t breathe.
“Higher, Sev, higher,” a six-year-old Saturnine demanded as her brother pushed her on the swings. “Higher!”
And as always, Severus obliged her, and his hands at her back pushed more strongly. She was elated and couldn’t contain the giggles she felt bubbling up her throat. Saturnine loved the swings and the feel of the wind in her hair. It was like she was flying, and she craned her neck to look at the clouds to see if any birds flew by. Maybe she could join them and fly, too? Perhaps they could teach her how so that she could escape? She’d have to take Severus with her, of course. But wouldn’t that be nice—to be a bird in the sky?
“Is that enough?” Severus asked in a fake-bored voice, but she could hear the smile in his words.
“More,” she demanded. “Higher.”
And once more, Severus obliged, and she swung faster and faster, feeling her joy grow with every woosh and feeling herself sing with the wind. Her need to fly blossomed in her chest with a comfortable warmth. Fly, fly, she thought. Higher. And on the next swing, she let go of the metallic chains, reached her arms forward, and—she flew. Just surged forward and flew—suspended in the air, weightless and free—and it was the best feeling she had ever felt. She could feel the very air around her, all the different currents that kept her aloft, moving as if obeying her command.
But then she heard Severus cry out her name, and it broke her concentration. She fell to the ground in a heap of limbs and blades of grass. Even though she had mud on her cheeks now, she couldn’t stop smiling.
“Blasted Merlin, ’Nine,” Severus said in a panicked voice. He rushed to where she had fallen and fell to his knees beside her. “Are you all right? Are you hurt?”
His shaking hands were all over her, frantically checking for bruises and broken bones. When he looked up in her face, she saw how worried he was, and she felt a little bad for it. Severus had told her many times that she should never let go of the metallic chains on the swings, and she had disobeyed him. Her smile vanished. And she looked down so that she wouldn’t have to see his worried expression again. Severus must have decided that she was okay then, for he engulfed her in a tight hug.
“Merciful Merlin, ’Nine, never do that to me again,” he whispered in her ear. “You scared the pants off of me. I don’t know what I’d do if something ever happened to you.”
Through the blur of her tears, Saturnine saw shapes approaching, people touching Severus and trying to—
She didn’t know what they were doing, but she wouldn’t let them. No one would take Severus away from her, she decided. She got moving again, tried pushing them away, tried protecting what was hers.
They fought her, held her back, as hands rummaged over her brother’s broken body and pushed a phial to his lips. She fought harder, and another set of hands forced her backwards. She heard someone scream and wail like a wounded animal, and she dimly realised it was her.
Someone was in her face now—a familiar someone. Messy brown hair and round glasses. Emerald eyes and sharp cheekbones. Harry. His mouth was moving, and she was vaguely aware of his voice in the distance, but she couldn’t make out the words over the thumping of blood in her ears. It sounded important, so she tried focusing harder.
“—is—okay,” Harry said. “Calm—please—down.”
None of that made sense to her, and Harry tried again. Catching her gaze, he leaned in closer and spoke slower. “Severus is okay, Mom,” he said. “He’s going to be okay.”
The words got through at last, and she had just enough presence of mind to force out what she hoped was an enquiring gaze.
Harry nodded without looking away. “He’ll be okay. I gave him some Blood-Replenishing Potion, and Draco’s seeing to his injuries,” Harry said. “He’s going to be okay. We’re all going to be okay.”
She felt herself slump forward from the sheer relief she felt. She was dimly aware of Harry catching her before the world went dark.
Severus was surprised to see the light pouring from the window when he awoke. It was no morning light, either; it looked like the middle of the afternoon at the very least. Had he taken a nap, he wondered? That wasn’t really his style; he must have been exhausted to fall asleep in the middle of the day.
He tried sitting up but couldn’t. His entire right side was unresponsive as if weighed down by something, and the rest of him flared up in pain. And then the thoughts rushed back in—the Apothecary, the attack.
He groaned in pain even as he tried taking stock of himself.
“Easy, Dad—don’t move,” Draco whispered as he came into view. Harry was right behind him, and he wondered if they had been sitting on Saturnine’s bed; they certainly seemed to be coming from that direction.
“Stay still,” Harry advised softly. “You’re pretty banged up.”
Severus wanted to ask a few questions, but Harry gave him no time for it. He picked up a phial on the nightstand and pressed it to his lips without asking for permission. At a whiff, the potioneer recognised it to be a Strengthening Potion—one of his own. He swallowed dutifully and felt slightly better afterwards.
He tried sitting up and found that he was still irrevocably weighed down on one side. Slowly turning his head that way, his neck protesting the motion, he was surprised by what he found there. And also oddly comforted.
Though she sat in a chair, Saturnine had somehow fallen asleep with her head on his shoulder. The posture looked most uncomfortable, but she didn’t seem to be in pain. So, he figured he’d let her sleep a while longer. He didn’t need the use of his right arm at the moment.
“Once she came back to, she wouldn’t leave your side,” Draco explained in a whisper. “Refused to let the Aurors take you to St. Mungo’s for a check-up or anything. She was feral.”
“She finally fell asleep about an hour ago,” Harry said. “But she’s been caring for you ever since we returned.”
“Came back to?” he asked, his mind latching on that odd bit of information. Had Saturnine been injured somehow? She hadn’t been in the shop when he’d been attacked, had she?
Harry nodded. “She—well, she really freaked out when she found you,” he said. “You were a right mess, though.”
Finding the explanation most unsatisfactory, he arched an eyebrow.
“You lost a lot of blood, Dad,” Draco said, looking pale and a little sick. “My first thought was that you were dead. And I’m guessing that was hers, too.”
“I’d never seen her like that,” Harry admitted as he looked past Severus to the sleeping witch resting on his shoulder. “So sad, so broken—it was like she was dying right alongside you.” Then he shook himself, and he grabbed something else from the nightstand. It was another phial containing a dark-green liquid.
Severus sniffed at it, arching an eyebrow in surprise at what he smelt.
“Valerian root extract and Dittany leaf essence,” Harry said.
Severus frowned, recognising the substances as two of the base ingredients of the Blood-Replenishing Potion. Appropriate, given the circumstances—although why he wasn’t given the entire thing—
“Can’t give you more,” Harry said, cutting through his musing. “You’ve already had three doses of Blood-Replenishing Potion at the Apothecary. Any more of that, and it’ll do you more harm than good.”
Harry frowned slightly at the small phial in his hand, then said, “But these two should help a little, right? To ease the blood circulation and strengthen your system—without killing you in the process?”
Severus nodded before accepting to drink the concoction. Harry’s assumptions had been correct, and though he had covered the dangers of potion overdoses in class, he hadn’t offered his students any solution to that conundrum. It was something Harry had come up with on his own, and at a stressful time, at that. Severus felt immensely proud of him at that moment and regretted not having the strength to tell him so. He tried to convey the meaning through his eyes, and when Harry smiled wanly in return, he figured some of it must have carried through.
He was dimly aware of Draco’s fingers on his temple a moment later and his voice reciting a foreign spell, and a wave of calm washed over him. He let go and sunk into its warm embrace, and the next moment he was asleep.
The next time Severus awoke, it was early morning, and he was alone. Or he wasn’t—not entirely. Two boys were fast asleep atop his sister’s bed, limbs tangled and half dangling off the side, and he could hear the distant sounds of tingling silverware coming from the kitchen.
Pushing himself up on one elbow, he found that he felt marginally better—good enough to stand. Barely a grunt passed his lips as he got to his feet, dragging his battered body to the bathroom to take care of the morning business.
The boys hadn’t moved by the time he came back out, and he wondered how long they had stayed up, keeping vigil by his side. He vaguely remembered waking up and briefly talking to them the day before, remembered his sister falling asleep on him. Maybe it was a symptom of his ailment, but he’d swear he could still feel the warmth of her body pressed to his seeping into his heart.
Wanting the real thing rather than a memory, he quietly left the bedroom to go to the kitchen. Saturnine was busy preparing their breakfast, and he watched her for a moment. She had her back to him and hadn’t noticed his arrival yet. She was dressed as she often did, in a slack pair of denim and a hoodie—ivory today. Her hair fell loose on her shoulders, something he rarely saw. He was struck by how much she resembled their mother like that, especially from the back. She’d had long hair, too—albeit a shade lighter than Saturnine’s.
Ever the good spy, he stepped forward without a sound, placed his palm on the middle of his sister’s back and, pushing some of her hair out of the way, rested his chin atop her shoulder. He felt her tense and then relax underneath him, and a soft sigh passed her lips.
“I love you,” he said; it was all he felt in that moment, and he wanted her to know.
“Like the universe plus one,” she replied. Then she leaned her head against his, and they breathed together for a moment.
“You scared the pants off of me. Never do that to me again,” she murmured after a while. “I don’t know what I’d do if something ever happened to you.”
He nodded against her shoulder. “I’ll try not to.”
They shared their recollections. Then, patched up the holes in their respective memories. Severus told her how a man he knew from his Death Eaters days entered the small boutique after him, catching him by surprise and lending a few attack spells before he had the time to ready a shield. Saturnine told Severus how Draco and Harry had saved him, despite her instruction to stay away. In minutes, Harry had found the right potions on the Apothecary shelves and forced them down Severus’ throat while Draco cast healing spell upon healing spell. They had saved their father together—Harry mending him inside while Draco took care of his external wounds.
Tears burned on her face when she told him how useless she had been—frozen in fear, something that had never happened to her before. Not when Severus had been left bruised and bleeding on the floor of their parents’ bedroom when they were kids. Not when Lucius Malfoy nearly killed him in the cemetery. Not when the two of them fought Voldemort’s shade in the Headmaster’s Tower.
“Hush,” Severus said, brushing her tears away before wrapping her in a tight hug. “It’s okay; I’m fine now.”
“I’m so sorry,” she kept saying.
“It’s okay, ’Nine,” he said. “The boys were there; you knew that. You knew they’d do the right thing. Just let yourself feel. It’s okay.”
And he knew all about that, how intense repressed emotions could feel when they were finally let loose. They were like a tidal wave that swept you up, tried to drown you, and left you a quivering mess when it finally ebbed away. He’d felt that way often enough those past couple of months to know how powerless he’d been to do anything about it.
“We’ll be okay,” he said. “You and me.”
And for the first time, he found that he believed it. The monster that had been leaching off his heart must have disintegrated in the night, for he couldn’t feel its presence anymore. He only felt the love of his children and sister. And it was more than he’d ever needed, more than he’d ever hoped to have. It wasn’t quantifiable, and it didn’t come with an expiration date; it just—was.
Voldemort’s words had been no more than empty threats, hollow because the man who had once been Tom Riddle understood nothing of love and family—it was beyond his comprehension. But Severus understood. He could see it now; this family was going to stay. No matter what happened come September, they would never lose each other. They might not see each other every day anymore, but the distance wouldn’t kill the love—nothing could. They’d still be in each other’s thoughts and hearts. Always. A family before all else.
“I need to tell you something,” he said in Saturnine’s ear. “And then I need you to go back to Cokeworth with me—one last time.”
Severus had planned on waiting until Christmas to tell his family about his recent purchase of Cove Cottage, but life had just reminded him that sometimes it was better not to postpone.