In a place like Hogwarts, compelling news and rumours quickly come and go, and Harry expected the announcement of the Snape siblings retaking their N.E.W.T.s to be forgotten in a matter of days. But he couldn’t have been more wrong.
Day after day, week after week, people kept pestering him about it. Did Professor Snape still intend to take his N.E.W.T.s? Was he studying? Which subject would he take, and how did Harry think he would score?
It was as if everyone tried to guess at the outcome. Students started to make prognoses, suddenly remembering that not only one but two professors would retake their exams this year. And as was often the case when two contestants were opposed in a match of any kind, people started to bet on their favourites. The consensus seemed to be that Saturnine was the smartest, but Severus was the most likely to cheat.
When it became clear to everyone with half a brain that neither Harry nor Draco would take sides, they became the official bookkeepers of the school’s illegal pool. Harry took the bets for Saturnine, and Draco took those for Severus. And to their surprise, they were evenly placed.
With the help of Fred and George Weasley, who had heard about the pool at their joke shop in Diagon Alley, they devised a complex grid system to count points. It allowed students to not only bet on the winner but also the results of each exam. While they refused to take bets larger than one Galleon, Harry and Draco soon found themselves juggling a hefty pile of golden coins. Everyone was keen to participate, from first-years to seventh-years—no matter which house they were in. Ron and Ginny Weasley took it upon themselves to rally new customers, while Hermione wrinkled her nose at their antics, moaning about their own upcoming N.E.W.T.s and the need to stick to her review schedule.
The whole thing assumed such proportions that Harry wondered how no teacher had yet realised what they were doing. When Professor Flitwick cornered him one afternoon after class, he understood why.
“One Galleon on Severus getting five Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations,” he said. The short part-goblin wizard whispered it so softly that Harry wasn’t sure he had heard it right. But there was no denying the golden coins in his teacher’s hand. “And one Galleon that says Saturnine gets six Os.”
He tapped the side of his nose and added, “Once a Ravenclaw…”
Harry was too shocked to comment, and he left the classroom at a run when their deal was completed. Three more teachers placed bets with him that week, and two went to see Draco. It got to the point where Harry wondered if the Snape siblings knew full well what was happening and only pretended not to. It would be like them to do something like that, he figured. And Harry feared what they would do when they decided it was time to give their sons a lecture about their poor behaviour.
They were unable to keep the money in their bedroom in the dungeon for obvious reasons. And with Harry no longer feeling confident keeping so many Galleons in Gryffindor Tower, he and Draco turned to the Room of Requirements to fulfil their needs.
“What’s all that clutter, anyway?” Harry asked when they entered the place where the Vanishing Cabinet had been kept. The place was as it had been when he’d finally managed to unearth Draco’s whereabouts—covered from floor to ceiling in various dust-covered knickknacks stored with no rhyme or reason.
“This place is known as the Room of Hidden Things,” Draco explained. “It’s the place to go if you need to hide something.”
Well, that explained the haphazard clutter that filled the room.
Pointing to two unopened liquor bottles piled on an old antique table, Draco said, “See those? They’re Professor Trelawney’s sherry bottles.”
“No way!” Harry said. But he felt that explained some of their Divination professor’s peculiarities—and her tendency to spout world-ending prophecies now and again.
“Guess she didn’t see me see her hiding it,” he snickered. “The fraud.”
Looking to the back and the place where he knew the Vanishing Cabinet had been, Harry was surprised to see that it wasn’t there anymore. He had no idea where it was now—if it still existed or had been destroyed. He shuddered, thinking back to that day and the events that had followed, which had nearly cost them their lives.
“It all started in this room,” he said, glancing at Draco. “Us, I mean.”
Draco shrugged; he looked as uncomfortable as Harry felt to be back in here.
“Thanks for saving my life back then,” Harry said. “Guess we wouldn’t be brothers today if you hadn’t.”
“Sheesh—must you always be so melodramatic?” Draco asked. He put up a brave front, but Harry could see in his silver eyes that his words had affected him. “I swear—sometimes it feels like I got myself a sister.”
“Shut up, you prat,” he retorted, offering him an out from a conversation too rich in emotions for his snake blood.
“Jerk,” Draco shot back.
Draco raised a hand. “All right, enough—let’s hide this crap and get the hell out of here. This place gives me the creeps.”
“Fine,” Harry said, looking around for a good hideout. “Where do we put it, though?”
“I think there’s some dusty antique jewellery somewhere,” Draco said. “Maybe we can hide the Galleons underneath it.”
The Slytherin teen moved to the left and rummaged around a few boxes. Then he lifted an old Victorian dress and snapped his fingers at Harry to come closer when it revealed a box of bejewelled necklaces and tiaras.
“I say we put the money bag underneath those,” Draco suggested, reaching inside to lift the clutter of gemstones and threads of silver and gold.
Harry had just enough time to stop him. When he surged forward to grab Draco’s hand with both of his, their bag full of shiny golden Galleons fell to the ground, gaping open and spilling its contents.
“Don’t!” he bellowed, pulling the blond backwards.
“What?” Draco asked, bewildered. “What? Why?”
“Don’t touch it,” Harry repeated, placing himself between his brother and the danger that lurked inside the box. “Don’t!”
Draco tried pushing him to the side, but Harry refused to move. He still had Draco’s hand firmly clutched in one of his, and he couldn’t bring himself to let go. His heart was beating a staccato rhythm, and he shuddered when he thought of how close a call this had been. Unpleasant images of Dumbledore’s cursed hand, rotten black, flashed in his mind. And he felt his blood grow cold when he thought the same thing might have happened to his brother.
“In the—in the box,” he muttered through dry lips. “The Lost Diadem—it’s in the box.”
Saturnine and Severus wasted no time retrieving Rowena Ravenclaw’s diadem once Harry and Draco alerted them to its whereabouts. It was now held in a secure location in the castle with Salazar Slytherin’s locket, Helga Hufflepuff’s cup, Marvolo Gaunt’s ring, and Tom Riddle’s battered diary.
“The snake’s the only one left,” Severus said, sitting on the side of his bed with a pensive look.
“A knife to the throat ought to do it for her,” Saturnine offered, sitting down on her bed so that she faced him. “Then a knife to his throat, and we’ll all sleep better.”
“Do you really think we can do it? That we can kill him?” Severus asked. “And then what? We just—move on?”
Saturnine had never been the type to worry about tomorrow; she enjoyed living in the present too much. But she knew Severus was different, and she could see why he’d have a hard time seeing past something like the end of Voldemort. It was no small hurdle to overcome; it was the life-changing type of event that rarely happened to you. There would be a before and an after. Life as they knew it would never be the same after that battle was over—if they survived it.
At this point, it was just as likely that not all of them would. And knowing Severus as she did, that thought probably weighed as heavily on his soul as it weighed on hers. She tried pushing it away, but it refused to vanish.
There were about three feet of distance between the two of them, but it felt like thirty. Saturnine stood up as she said, “I spoke with Rita. She’ll send in the last article tomorrow.”
“It’s time, then,” Severus said, lifting heavy, lidded eyes to look up at her.
She nodded, coming closer to him. It struck her how her brother looked at that moment: old and tired. When had he gotten so old? When was the last time that he had gotten a good night’s sleep—without the nightmares and worry?
Saturnine sat down next to him and leaned against his shoulder. Now that she thought about it, she felt tired, too—exhausted, really. “I want to believe everything will be all right, and we’ll make it,” she said. “That we will survive and spend a beautiful summer in Cornwall. I will be curled up on the sofa, reading a book, you will tinker away at a new potion in your lab, and the boys will fly in circles past the windows.”
“I’d like that, too,” Severus whispered above her head.
“I’ll fight for it,” she promised, pulling back to face her brother. “I don’t care about Wizarding Britain and the common good and all that crap. I’ll fight for only three things: you, Harry, and Draco—my family.”
“Think this is it?” Harry asked, sitting on his bed at the other end of the Potions Master’s living quarters.
Draco didn’t need to ask him what he meant by that. They had found the second-to-last Horcrux, and it wouldn’t be long until the final battle now. He hadn’t known he would be part of it, but it looked like he would be on the front lines after all. He did not doubt that Severus and Saturnine would try and keep him and Harry out of it, but he wouldn’t back out of the fight any more than Harry would.
“Yeah,” Draco said, stepping slightly closer to Harry. “We’re not letting them go fight without us, right?”
“Over my dead body!” Harry exclaimed. He tried to go for a smile, but his joke fell flat.
Draco found it hard to swallow past the lump in his throat. Hogwarts Houses were one thing, but hearts and souls were another. It was clear that Harry resembled Severus: both were self-sacrificing—not that Saturnine or himself wouldn’t lay down their lives for others. But Harry and Severus took it to another level; it came to them without thinking—a selfless gesture done with no regard for the consequences. It was born of a need to protect others—one so raw and primal that it defied reason. They shared a willingness to force the pain onto themselves to spare others. As character traits went, it was as beautiful as it was dangerous.
Draco knew that Saturnine understood her brother’s penchant for martyrdom, just like he understood Harry’s. And that made their respective positions easy to discern. While Severus and Harry took it upon themselves to safeguard everyone and anyone, Saturnine and himself would see to their safety. They were the protectors’ protectors.
Little did they know that Lord Voldemort had plans of his own. The wheel of Fate had been set in motion. And sometimes, even the best-laid plans crumbled to dust under the strength of the opposition—like castles built of sand.