“Explorer Extraordinaire Gilderoy Lockhart Finds Famed Elder Wand—a Rita Skeeter exclusive,” Harry read aloud, trying his best to keep the scorn from his voice. He had in his hand the latest edition of the Daily Prophet, and it looked like it took everything he had not to crumple it into a tight ball.
“Wizards and witches, young and old, have all heard the tale of the famous Elder Wand. Supposedly created by Death itself, it is said to be the most powerful wand in existence. Lost since time immemorial, many wizards have sought to find it over the years. Well, I can tell you now, my dear readers, that the wand is lost no more.
“It was none other than fearless adventurer Gilderoy Lockhart who finally succeeded where so many have failed. Honorary Member of the Dark Force Defence League and author of the bestsellers Break with a Banshee, Gadding with Ghouls, and Holidays with Hags—and a close friend of old—Gilderoy Lockhart spent the past four years searching for the lost wand.
“Travelling the world and battling many a dangerous creature, including Sirens and Topanecks, he stopped at nothing to complete his quest. While Gilderoy Lockhart’s next book, Wondrous Wandering Wand, will contain all the details of his travels and the perils he faced, I have been able to persuade the intrepid, dazzling wizard to partake of a few titillating bits—”
“Wondrous Wandering Wand?” Draco cut in, having heard enough. “That one just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?”
On the other side of the kitchen table, Saturnine shrugged her shoulders. “I thought it would fit in nicely with the other drivel he’s published, no?”
“So, how much of what is in this article is the truth?” Harry asked, placing the Daily Prophet back on the flat surface of the table. It looked like he had no desire to read Lockhart’s fabricated interview aloud.
“It’s Rita Skeeter,” Severus said contemptuously. “What do you reckon?”
“Less than a third?” Harry offered.
Severus nodded. “Sounds about right.”
“Will people really buy it?” Draco asked. “I mean, that Lockhart did all that?”
“The man’s reputation precedes him,” Saturnine said, reaching for the abandoned newspaper. “After everything he’s claimed to have done in the past, what’s one more incredible feat? Besides, if Rita Skeeter says it happened—then, it must be true.”
“Sensational journalism at its best,” Severus pipped in.
“But I thought he was little more than a drooling baboon now?” Draco said.
“Very few people know what happened in 1993. Dumbledore saw to that,” Severus explained. “The world at large still thinks those stories are true.”
“When in reality, the only thing that man ever was good at was his Memory Charms. And he really outdid himself in your second year—he’s forgotten most of everything he ever knew,” Saturnine explained as she folded the newspaper. “He’s got the mind of a child now.”
“Which does result in the occasional drooling,” Severus confirmed with a satisfied smirk.
Draco chuckled at that. Four years ago, the Head of Slytherin House made it abundantly clear what he thought of the newly appointed Defence Against the Dark Art’s teacher. His sharp tongue never missed an opportunity to mince the fraud, and it culminated in a fantastic display of Severus’ superior wizarding skills when the pampered idiot challenged him to a duel.
“Merlin, I’ll never forget that Duelling Club,” Draco said.
“To think he dared to call you his assistant, though,” Harry snickered. “You’ll still have your Potions Master when I’m through with him—never fear!” he mimicked Lockhart’s delivery in a pompous tone.
“For a moment, I thought you would skin him alive,” Draco added, remembering how Severus had looked when he got on the duelling platform. Standing with his head held high and a straight back under his dark frock coat, he had looked—regal. There was no better word for it. For a brief instant, Severus had let them all see how truly magnificent a wizard he was. On the opposite end of the room, Lockhart had looked a mere buffoon with his wavy blond locks and garish robes. There had never been any doubt as to who would win. And aside from some of the most gullible girls, he’d had all the students standing behind him, too—never mind which House they were in.
Draco remembered feeling proud that day—proud of his Head of House and proud to be a Slytherin. He clearly recalled thinking he wanted to be like that one day as he watched Severus disarm the deluded, obnoxious wizard with minimum exertion and ruthless precision. The Potions Master had made an impression.
Turning in his seat, he reached for Severus’ sleeve to get his attention. When his obsidian eyes settled on him, Draco held his gaze and said, “You were amazing that day. I felt overjoyed to have you as my Head of House—proud, even.”
That left Severus speechless, and he quickly looked down at the table to hide his embarrassment, a curtain of black hair sliding forward to cover the red blossoming in his cheeks. Draco felt it was somewhat endearing how a simple compliment could disarm such a resilient wizard, but he did not comment on it. Harry gave him a small smile that let him know he’d noticed, too.
“So, Dumbledore had the Elder Wand all along,” he said, returning the conversation to more pressing matters.
Saturnine nodded. “We know the Dark Lord wants it. If we dangle it before his nose, he will come for it.”
Harry snorted at that, and Saturnine raised a curious eyebrow his way. “He kinda doesn’t have one,” he said. “A nose, I mean.”
“It was a metaphor, lad,” she replied. “What I meant is that he will be coming for it.”
“We decide where the battle happens and when, then?” Draco said in understanding. Manipulation, confusion, and subversion—it was the type of cunning mind game his inner Slytherin liked.
“Yes,” Severus said. “And most importantly, we keep him busy while our numbers grow, and we keep looking for the final Horcrux.”
“A diversion again,” Harry said. “Let’s hope it works.”
“More like subversion,” Severus said.
“You won’t let him have the wand, though?” Draco asked him.
“Don’t worry.” He gave him a confident nod. “It’s in a secure location.”
“There will be two more articles on it in the coming weeks,” Saturnine added. “More details of Lockhart’s perilous travels leaked to the press, and finally the announcement that the wand will be unveiled for all to see in a museum exhibit in London.”
“You’re building up the tension, getting everyone excited about it,” Harry said. “Think that’ll whet Voldemort’s appetite?”
“Undoubtedly,” Severus said darkly. “He’s tried finding the wand for years, and the mere idea that a buffoon like Lockhart succeeded where he failed—”
“—that’s adding insult to injury,” Saturnine finished. “We made sure to move Lockhart to a safe location so that he cannot find him. Rita Skeeter is also staying out of town and mailing in her exclusives to the Daily Prophet’s editors by owl.”
“The Dark Lord will only have the information that we want to give him, when we want him to have it,” Severus pointed out. There was a spark to his dark eyes that told Draco how much the man enjoyed the situation. After years of tolerating Voldemort’s convoluted orders and scheming demands, it had to be strangely fulfilling to be the one doing the manipulating for once.
“Brilliant,” Harry said.
“Quite,” Draco agreed.
“I’m sorry, but I have to ask,” Harry said after a while. Saturnine gave him a smile that told him she knew which question was on the tip of his tongue already. He asked it anyway, “Rita Skeeter—what do you have on her?”
“Have on her?” Saturnine frowned slightly at his choice of words. “I don’t have anything on her, lad.”
“How come she’s obeying you, then?” Harry inquired. “There’s no way she’s doing that out of the goodness of her heart—not that woman.”
Saturnine chuckled a bit. “I forget that you two have a history, too.”
Harry’s cheeks tinged red at her words.
“I thought her articles were exquisite,” Draco said smarmily. “Loved it when she hinted at a bourgeoning romance between you and Hermione. I’m sure Ron was equally in awe of her literary prowess.”
Harry gave him a dark glare that only succeeded in broadening the blond’s smile.
“Ah, yes,” Saturnine said. “Rita’s dubious understanding of the truth. She really likes to stretch the realism, doesn’t she?”
“As a matter of fact,” Severus intersected to bring their discussion back on topic, “I am equally interested in Saturnine’s answer to Harry’s question.”
His sister shrugged nonchalantly when the three of them turned their questioning gaze towards her. “Simple, really. She owes me.”
“Meaning...” Severus drawled out.
“Little-known fact about the Queen of the Quills,” Saturnine started. “She has a younger sister, Caitlin. Some twenty years ago, Caitlin married a Muggle scientist to live a perfectly ordinary life in Muggle Brighton. They have a son, Kevin, who should be about fourteen now.”
“A Squib, I take it,” Severus guessed.
His sister nodded. “Yes, and accident-prone. Or at least he was when I met him some ten years ago.”
The Potions Master was the first to make the connection, “The boy you saved,” he said in understanding. “The incident that got you on Scrimgeour’s radar—it was Rita Skeeter’s nephew?”
“Little Kevin thought it would be fun to escalate the balcony’s railing of his parent’s flat. They lived on the fifth floor. Had I not been here, he would have died,” she confirmed.
“Does she know?” Harry asked her. “Skeeter, I mean. Does she know how you saved him?”
Saturnine shook her head. “Thank Merlin, no. Unlike Scrimgeour, she believed my explanation.”
“So, she’s doing this to pay off her sister’s debt?” Draco asked.
“Rita wanted to write an article on me at the time—said she’d make me into a hero.” Saturnine shook her head ruefully. “I begged her not to. It wasn’t the kind of publicity I needed at the time. So, she said if I ever needed her help with anything, I only had to ask.”
“Just like that?” Draco demanded. It surprised him to think that a woman as vile as Rita Skeeter had a sense of honour—especially ten years after the fact.
“Just like that,” Saturnine confirmed. “Rita may be a dubious journalist, but when it comes to family, she’s as honest as they get.”
Saturnine’s words gave Draco pause; he could understand them. Family changed everything.
The end of the Christmas holidays was spent in much the same fashion as they had begun, with one notable exception—their entire family now studied for their N.E.W.T.s exams.
Harry had never doubted that Severus and Saturnine would execute their challenge and pass the exams again. But he hadn’t realised how seriously they would take the endeavour. While they still had professorial duties to see to during the day and the Lost Diadem of Ravenclaw to find, the siblings set aside their evenings for N.E.W.T.s revision. And the sight of them, seated in their respective armchairs by the fireplace with schoolbooks in their laps, became the new normal.
Harry wasn’t sure what the challenge was to them. It might have started as pure sibling rivalry. It was a concept that Ron had explained to him early on, and it was supposed to be absolutely normal. But Harry knew that when the Snape family was involved, things tended to be more complicated than they first appeared, and he wondered at the deeper meaning of the action.
The two of them were brilliant; there was no debating that. Saturnine had Ravenclaw ingenuity on her side, but Severus had Slytherin cunning to counter it. And it made them evenly balanced. When thinking about the outcome of the N.E.W.T.s exams, Harry could not imagine them having anything other than straight Os. And he knew Severus and Saturnine had to be thinking along the same lines. Why then go through the charade? Harry wondered. Why bother studying for and sitting through the exams if the outcome was already known to everyone, including themselves?
The answer came to him one evening when he walked out of his bedroom to see Severus sitting on the armrest of his sister’s chair and pointing at something in the book she had open in her lap. He was busy explaining something to her, and it had to be intriguing, going by the attention she gave his words. Then she said something that had them both chuckling before Severus returned to his armchair and his own revision.
The scene reminded Harry of the photograph in the frames Saturnine had gotten for them at Christmas. All at once, he understood that this had never been about the exams’ results. It was all about moments like this—the two of them doing something together, united in a common cause. They attempted to regain what they’d lost all those years ago: the closeness, the friendship.They were mending their burned bridges and moving forward—together.