The rumour mill began to churn wildly—like in every other school where something pivotal happened—with powerful gusts of anxious, worried winds blowing through its blades.
It had been two days since the announcement of Professor Dumbledore’s death. Harry had heard everything and anything: Aurors had arrived, and they’d arrested Filch, Dumbledore had been murdered in his sleep and found in a gigantic pool of blood, Dumbledore had been killed with magic but had fought back bravely, taking one of his attackers with him, one of the ghosts had done it, and—his personal favourite—the headmaster wasn’t really dead and was chilling somewhere with the King and Michael Jackson. That last one must have come from one of the Muggleborn first-years.
Classes resumed on Tuesday, September 2nd. Everyone was in a tense, miserable mood, and it was another day until Harry could speak to either of the Snapes alone.
He was in the Gryffindor common room playing cards with Ron, Neville, and Dean when a shy-looking first year with buckteeth stopped by their side. It was Neville who noticed him first.
“You want something?” he asked the kid.
The short-legged brunette seemed loath to interrupt them. “I’m sorry, but—” His eyes turned to Harry, and he asked timidly, “You’re Harry Potter, right?”
Damn it—another one, he thought. It happened every year. He steeled himself as he looked up and nodded that he was indeed the famous Boy Who Lived. He hoped the fresh-faced first year wouldn’t ask to see the scar he kept hidden beneath a fringe of dark-brown hair.
The kid looked over his shoulder instead, towards the common room entrance. “Um—there’s a professor in the hall that wants to see you.”
Harry let out a surprised, “Oh!”
“One of them Professor Snapes,” he added.
“Thanks for letting me know,” he told the boy, who seemed eager to disappear now that he’d accomplished his task. “Sorry, guys,” Harry said to his friends, getting to his feet. “Talk to you later?”
“Sure thing,” Dean replied.
“Go get us some news that we can actually rely on,” Neville added.
Harry gave him an assertive smirk before turning on his heel. He left the common room moments later, finding Saturnine leaning against the wall, facing the Gryffindor entrance, arms crossed over her chest. Her lips curled into a smile the moment she saw him. Harry felt like rushing forward to hug her, but he fought the urge. They were in a busy hallway, and it probably wouldn’t do to be caught cuddling their new Defence teacher.
“Hey,” he said instead, stopping two feet away from her.
Saturnine’s smile didn’t let up. “Hello, Harry. How are you?”
“I’m okay.” He smiled back. “You?”
“I’m fine. Do you have a moment to talk?”
He nodded eagerly.
She pushed off the wall and started walking towards the Grand Staircase. “Let’s go down to the dungeons, then.”
Hoping for a family gathering, Harry quickly caught up with her.
It was a long way down to the dungeons from Gryffindor Tower, and his feet were beginning to hurt when Saturnine stopped on the third-floor landing. He was surprised to see that she seemed to be going to her personal quarters. There were two entrances to her private rooms, Harry knew. The Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom on the second floor had a small spiralling staircase that led to an office on the third floor. A door at the back of the office led to the personal quarters that lay behind. Another lesser-known entrance was in the hallway they had just stepped in.
Saturnine stopped in front of a gargoyle and pulled out her wand. She tapped the statue on the shoulder, on the top of the head, and on the nose before muttering the password. The heavy gargoyle obediently stepped to the side, revealing the entryway into her living room, and Harry followed her inside.
He hadn’t been back since last year and had wondered if it would look any different from when she had occupied it as Leen Nine. He found that everything was identical in the small quarters reserved for the Defence teacher. The small living room was sparsely furnished and lacked the personal touches and warmth Saturnine had brought to her brother’s far roomier quarters. The bedroom that he glanced at through an open door seemed to be used for little more than a few hours of sleep a night.
The reason for the feeling of unoccupancy was clear. Though they’d been back at Hogwarts for close to three weeks now, Saturnine had spent very little time in her own quarters. From what Harry had observed during the last weeks of holidays, she only came here to sleep and when she needed silence to concentrate on something. Going by the lack of presence that still permeated the rooms, it looked like she had kept up the routine once classes had started.
Saturnine sat down in one of the two armchairs placed next to a small coffee table and motioned for Harry to take the other one. He did, and she reached out for him, placing both hands on his shoulders.
“How are you, really?” she asked.
“Is it true,” he demanded, “about Professor Dumbledore?”
She nodded. “The Aurors came in to remove the body. An official investigation will begin shortly.”
“Do you know what happened?” he asked.
“We’ll be going down to the dungeons in a minute. And Severus and I will tell you and Draco what we can.” She paused, seeming to steel herself for what was about to come. “I wanted to have a quick word with you first. I know you have questions, Harry. But I can’t answer them all.”
Harry was no fool; he knew she didn’t have all the answers. She seemed chagrined, though, and he said, “It’s okay that you don’t know everything.”
“That’s not what I meant.” She gave him a small smile that bordered on sadness. “There are things that I do know and that I’m not at liberty to share with you at the moment.”
Harry felt a pang of hurt at her words. It was like the sixth year all over again. “So, it’s like that again?” He had hoped that now that he was an adult, people would stop treating him like a baby too fragile to hear the truth.
“I’m sorry, Harry. I know how it sounds, but there’s much more happening than you know about. And I am doing this for your safety.”
He huffed; that excuse was growing old.
“I have never lied to you, Harry, and I won’t start today. But you have to understand that I cannot tell you everything.”
“So, I shouldn’t ask,” he said, resigned.
“You can always ask. But I may choose not to answer sometimes,” she explained.
Yep—definitely the sixth year all over again, he thought, clenching his teeth to avoid saying something uncouth.
One of Saturnine’s hands came up to brush at his cheek, and he looked up. There were tears in her eyes. “Listen closely now,” she whispered. “I love you, lad. I love you so very much, and I wish things were different. But there’s a war going on, and my primary objective is to keep you safe. If you end up hating me a little for it, it’s a sacrifice I’m willing to make.”
Harry’s heart surged at her words; she had called him ‘lad’ again. He hadn’t heard the nickname in a while and realised he’d missed it. She also used the word love—twice—which wasn’t something either of them often did. Unlike other people, who seemed content to throw the L-word left and right all the time, they used it sparingly and always with intent. Feeling his eyes well up, he nodded.
“I am so proud of you,” she continued, leaning forward slightly. “But I also know you, and I know your tendency to meddle with things that are bigger than you. You don’t trust adults, and you feel like you have to take responsibility for everything yourself. But I’m asking you—begging you—not to.” She caught his gaze and held it, intimating the importance of her words. “Severus and I are working on this, and it requires all our attention. We need to be able to focus on the task at hand without having to check on you and Draco every five minutes to make sure you guys are not getting into trouble.”
Harry nodded to show he understood, wondering fleetingly if Draco was having a similar chat with Severus at that very moment. Divide and conquer sounded like just the kind of tactics the Snape siblings might enjoy using.
“No heroics this year, please,” Saturnine demanded. “Come to us if you have questions or doubts, and we’ll do our best to set your mind at ease. Promise?”
He nodded again. “I promise.”
She leaned in the rest of the way to kiss him on the cheek, and Harry felt himself blushing. It was a novelty to feel like someone cared about his wellbeing, and he basked in the warmth that pooled in his chest.
“How is he?” he asked, feeling that a change of topic would be welcome.
“Your brother,” Harry explained. “He was really angry me with the other day.”
“Severus is only worried about your safety, as I am,” she replied. “He didn’t mean to snap at you like that.”
“It’s okay. I’ve got years of practice dealing with him snapping at me.” He smiled ruefully at her to let her know the comment had been said in jest. “I was just wondering—I know he was pretty close with Dumbledore, and…”
Saturnine nodded in understanding. “It’s Severus,” she said, as if that explained everything. “Even I don’t know half of what goes on through that head of his.”
“You’ll be there for him, though, right?” Harry asked. “He needs someone, too.”
Saturnine nodded, and her smile grew. “Thank you, Harry,” she said. “For being the bigger man. I know Severus wasn’t always kind to you. So, thanks for giving him a second chance.”
“He’s earned it, fair and square,” he said, and it was the truth. So what if the man wasn’t a ray of sunshine? Severus had risked his life to save Harry’s more times than he could count. And it was time he started repaying that kindness.
They sat up, and instead of going to the front door to return to the hallway, Saturnine moved to the back of the small living room. Harry saw that another of her rectangular enchanted frames had been placed there. That one was as tall as she was and shaped like a door. Only it didn’t reflect anything and seemed content to frame the flowered wallpaper that lay behind it.
Saturnine pulled out her wand and tapped the side of the frame twice, and the wallpaper shimmered before becoming translucent. It undulated into nothingness, and Harry saw the corridor inside of Severus’ quarters appear. On the left was the door that led to the Potions Master’s bedroom. On the right, Harry could make out the start of the small kitchenette where the four of them took their evening meals before classes started.
Saturnine stepped through the frame, and Harry followed.
“Wicked,” he said as he was magically transported to the dungeons without the need for four flights of moving stairs.
Ahead of him, Saturnine chuckled.
“How does it work?” he asked, turning back on his heel to watch the passageway shimmer again before thickening into the familiar cobblestone that lined the dungeons’ walls. Another identical frame was stuck to the wall on this side.
“Keep showing up to my classes,” Saturnine instructed as she entered the living room. “And you might find out one day.”
Saturnine and Harry were already seated on the sofa when he and Draco arrived. His sister had apparently asked the kitchens for a pitcher of lemonade, and it sat on the table with four glasses above a beige napkin that had come from Merlin knew where. Not for the first time, Severus was hit by the strange familiarity of it all. She really had made herself at home in his quarters, and so had the boys. He wasn’t sure what surprised him the most: that Saturnine seemed to want to spend time with him so much that she had all but taken over his inner sanctum or that he’d let her.
He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of people he’d allowed inside those rooms in the entirety of his tenure at Hogwarts. Yet he hadn’t batted an eyelid when he returned from the summer holidays with three living human beings in tow. Now his living room had windows, crumpled Quidditch magazines had been left on his kitchenette table, and a collection of small hand-carved figurines lined his bookshelves.
His home was no longer his alone, and Severus couldn’t seem to muster the energy to be bothered by it. The boys hardly took up any space. They were well-behaved and capable of interesting conversation. And he found that hearing them joking and laughing in the background was relaxing. Saturnine was as sharp-minded and quick-witted as he was, which was both refreshing and challenging. And he trusted her more than he’d ever trusted anyone in his life. So, it was no trouble having her around, either.
Severus sat down in the one thing that was still his—his well-worn armchair—and Saturnine handed him a glass of lemonade. He wasn’t thirsty, but he took a sip and enjoyed the taste; so, he took another one. Draco sat down next to Harry on the sofa, and Saturnine took the second armchair.
The young Gryffindor looked his way with a broad smile and said, “It’s good to see you, Severus.”
The words were out of his mouth before he had the time to think them through. “Likewise, Harry.”
“I’m guessing you both have questions, and we’ll tell you what we can,” Saturnine said, gathering everyone’s attention at once.
“As you’ve probably heard, the Aurors came to collect Dumbledore’s body and any evidence they could. Their preliminary conclusions are that the headmaster was murdered. Therefore, a formal investigation will begin shortly—tomorrow, probably.”
Severus had to hand it to his sister; she had a way with words. She had just confirmed the boys’ assumption that Dumbledore had been murdered, but she had told no lies. It seemed she was still of a mind to tell the truth at all costs.
“We’re expecting for the entire staff to be questioned, and possibly some of the students—although Professor McGonagall is formally opposed to the idea,” Saturnine added. “However, we all agree that we better be as helpful as we can so that the investigative unit can do its job quickly and efficiently, all the while keeping the disturbances in the daily activities of the school to a minimum.”
“Will McGonagall be the new headmaster?” Harry asked.
“Professor McGonagall,” Severus corrected. “And no, the school isn’t getting a new headmaster for the moment.”
“Why not?” he asked. “She’d be good at it, don’t you think?”
“There will be no change of staff while the investigation is ongoing. It’s hardly the moment to go through potential candidates’ resumes,” Severus said. “Besides, the current staff is more than capable of seeing to the day-to-day operations required to run this school.” He sneered. “It’s not rocket science.”
“But when the investigation’s over?” Harry asked. “What are the chances she will be the new headmaster—or headmistress?”
Severus let out a frustrated sigh. Stubborn, like his blasted father, he thought, but the tone in which his inner voice said it was more fond than exasperated. Besides, the boy did have a point. Minerva McGonagall was next in line to succeed to Dumbledore, and during these past two days, the staff had readily turned to her for their instructions. And she had turned to them—Saturnine and himself—to help oversee the investigation. In an informal meeting conducted in that very living room earlier this afternoon, Minerva had requested that they keep an eye on whoever would be appointed to solve the mystery of Dumbledore’s death.
“I know that Albus has given you two more tasks to accomplish than merely looking after Harry and Draco,” she had told them. “Though I do not know what they are.”
Saturnine gave her a nod to attest to the validity of her supposition.
“I won’t ask you for more information and trust you to complete your assignment. But I will request that you do this as well—if you have the time.”
“Of course, Minerva,” Severus replied, hiding the fact that to be requested to oversee the investigation was the best thing that could happen to them.
“I have little doubt that whoever they will appoint won’t be very sympathetic to our cause.” She pursed her lips before taking a sip of her tea. “I won’t have a Death Eater or one of You-Know-Who’s followers freely roaming these hallways.”
“We agree, then,” Saturnine said.
“The students’ safety must remain a priority and come second to discovering the truth about what happened,” McGonagall continued. “In the meantime, I will speak with the board and see how they wish to deal with the vacant position.”
“I would advise against it, Minerva,” Severus said, leaning forward in his chair. “Who knows who they’d settle on given the opportunity. Best that we carry on as we are for as long as we can.”
“I agree with Severus,” Saturnine concurred. “We’ll already have our hands full with the investigation—it’s no time to add more players to the game.”
McGonagall thought it through for a minute or two before nodding in agreement. “We carry on as usual, then.”
Returning to the present, Severus took another sip of his lemonade while Saturnine explained how the investigation would most likely proceed. Having worked for the Ministry and Auror department for several years—albeit in a different section—she had a pretty good understanding of the standard procedure this type of case called for. And if whoever they appointed played it ‘by the book’, they would be able to remain one step ahead of the local authorities easily. If not—well, they had contingencies.
“How are you, really?” Harry asked Draco once the door to their shared bedroom had closed behind their backs.
“I’m fine,” he said, moving to sit on his bed. He’d kept his voice in check, not wanting Harry to realise how happy he was to be back in the dungeons and their room. There was no need for complicated wand work to ensure his privacy and safety down here—and no one to stab him in the back.
“I don’t mean this thing with the headmaster,” Harry said as he moved closer. “I mean being back in Slytherin House.”
Draco huffed, realising his act might not have been as foolproof as he’d thought. “What did you expect—that they’d welcome me back with chocolate and flowers?”
Harry sat at the end of his bed. “So—more like insults and hexes, then?”
“Something like that,” he admitted. “It’s okay. I can handle it.”
“Shite—I’m sorry, Draco.”
“Don’t waste your time feeling sorry for me,” he said. He’d had worse in his life, and he knew the snakes wouldn’t dare attack him directly. He had only to keep up a stoic front, and he’d be all right. “I’m not a child, I can handle it.”
“Well, you can hang with us during the day if you want to,” Harry offered.
Draco snorted at the foolish idea. “Yeah, like that’ll help Slytherin House forget that I changed sides.”
“It can’t make things worse, can it?” Harry asked. “The harm’s done already.”
He shrugged. “Guess so.”
Harry wasn’t giving up, stubborn Gryffindor that he was. “Then—will you?”
“Me, hanging out with the golden trio?” Draco sniggered. “I’m not sure about that.”
“Ron and Hermione are okay, and you know it. Remember this summer? Our birthday party? It wasn’t that bad. They’ll behave, I promise.”
“Well, Hermione isn’t so bad, but Weasley…”
“I know Ron can be an arse, but his heart is in the right place,” Harry said. “And it would help if you stopped calling him Weasley and called him Ron instead. That is his name, you know.”
Draco huffed in annoyance, knowing there was little chance of him ever cosying up to the ginger-haired prat. The others he could potentially learn to get along with. But he drew the line at the dimwitted weasel.
“They’re my friends, Draco,” Harry said, his voice lowering—a sign that he was serious. “And you are my family. And I don’t want to see the most important people in my life fighting each other.”
The words were sobering, and Draco felt something flutter in his chest at the mention of them being family. It was the truth, though—not that either of them had acknowledged it aloud before.
“Fine,” he sighed in a mock show of reluctance. “Have it your way.”
Harry beamed at him. “Thank you.”
Draco shook his head. Then, feeling the need for some levity, he added, “You don’t want to hug me now, do you?”
Harry punched him in the shoulder instead. “Arse!”
“Tosser,” he called back, feeling the corners of his lips curl upwards.
Harry tried hard to suppress his own grin. “Wanker.”
“That was some clever avoidance of the truth with no outright lying,” Severus said as he started unbuttoning his frock coat. “Colour me impressed.”
They had retreated to his bedroom, the only place where they could speak freely without the risk of being overheard by one of the boys. He’d put the Sound Shields up himself several years ago. And he knew not even a stampeding dragon could be heard on the other side of his bedroom door.
“I won’t lie to them,” Saturnine replied, coming to stand by her bed. Then she seemed to think better of it and moved to the wall by his head. She leaned her back against it and crossed her arms over her chest.
She sighed, and the way she looked straight through the wall opposite her and a little to the left told him she was thinking about Harry and Draco.
“I sleep better when I know they’re down here,” she said eventually. “That way, I know they’re safe.”
He knew what she meant. “Are you staying the night, too?” he asked, tossing his coat aside and starting on the buttons of his undershirt.
There was a long pause before she answered. “Do you mind?” she asked. “When I stay over, I mean?”
“Not at all,” he replied, and it was the absolute truth. They had never talked about it directly, but after sharing a room for the entire summer it was—nice to have some company again, now and then.
In all his adulthood, Severus had never had anyone staying the night—never even once contemplated the idea—but he found that he didn’t mind it in the slightest when Saturnine did. The small house on Spinner’s End had only ever had one cramped bedroom to accommodate the two of them, and he was used to sharing his space with his sister. She was a comfortable, familiar presence. And if he were perfectly honest, he slept better when she was here.
Sitting up, he retreated to the bathroom to shower and change. Saturnine still hadn’t moved when he came back. The pinched expression on her face told him she was trying hard to work out a problem.
“Something on your mind?” he asked before sitting down on his bed again. He was barefoot now, and the floor was too cold to remain standing for long.
“The Elder Wand,” she replied. “The Dark Lord wants it. He’s always wanted it, and he’s looking for it still.”
Severus nodded cautiously. That wasn’t news at all, and he wondered why she had brought it up.
“The attack this summer, on the day of the equinox—do you remember it?” she asked.
How could he forget that day? It was the day Draco had lost his mother. And yet, he knew his sister well enough that if she made a point of revisiting it, she had a reason. He tried thinking past the painful parts to focus on the rest. “Death Eaters caused some mayhem in Diagon Alley before they damaged that bridge.”
Saturnine nodded, confirming that he was on the right track.
“They killed Fortescue,” he continued. “Ransacked Ollivander’s.”
She nodded again. “Yes, a gratuitous murder followed by some petty theft.”
“There’s always the need for some new wands to equip the troops,” he said. “They get damaged in battle sometimes.”
“I know. And for a long time, I thought that was all it was—but what if they did more? The attack happened during the day. They knew old Ollivander would be there. What if they questioned him and then Obliviated him so that he wouldn’t remember anything?”
Severus thought about it. It was the kind of dark, conniving plan the Dark Lord occasionally enjoyed pulling off—like all Slytherins.
“It’s the only thing that explains it, Sev. Think about it—the attack on the Ministry makes sense. The attack on the bridge, also. But zooming back and forth through Diagon Alley, ransacking an old man’s shop and blowing up the ice cream store, of all places? That was too random to be random.”
She had a point, and he ought to have seen it before, really. But the other attacks had been so monumental that they’d stolen his focus. “A distraction?”
“Tom Riddle was raised in the Muggle world, same as we were, and—”
He easily followed her line of thinking. “—he thinks the way we do.”
Saturnine nodded again. “And that is exactly what I would have done. He is still after the wand, and he didn’t want us knowing about it.”
Severus sighed. “Ollivander knew nothing about it; we’re safe.”
“He might not have known of the Elder Wand, but he’s known Dumbledore a long time. Possibly, he realised the headmaster changed wands at some point.”
“That could be due to any number of reasons,” Severus pointed out.
“One of which is the reason we don’t want the Dark Lord figuring out.”
“We can’t do anything about it, ’Nine, and you know it. The wand is with the Aurors, and it must stay there. They need to check it to ascertain that it hasn’t been used to fight off the killer. We can do the switch before the funeral like we planned to.”
“I know, I know.” She sighed before pushing herself off the wall. “I just don’t like loose ends. They worry me.”
He smiled at that; it was something they had in common.
“If Voldemort gets his hands on that wand, half of our plan goes down the drain,” she said, slumping down on her bed. “We can’t have that. How else will we keep him distracted next year?”
“Easter egg hunt?” he volunteered.
That got a light chuckle from his sister, and he felt the corners of his own lips lift. If it came down to it, they’d figure something out, he knew. Somehow, they always did. He wasn’t sure where the certainty came from. But deep within himself, he knew that if they stayed together, things would be all right.