From what Harry had learned, Severus and Saturnine had split their classes between them by school year. Severus taught Defence Against the Dark Arts to students from years one to four and Potions to students from years five to seven. Saturnine, in turn, taught Potions to the youngest students and Defence to students at O.W.L.s and N.E.W.T.s levels.
On Wednesday afternoons, all seventh-years had one period of Potions, followed by one period of Defence. On Friday afternoons, they had double Potions followed by double Defence.
It was with slight apprehension that Harry entered the Potions classroom that day. He honestly had no idea what to expect. He wondered if Severus—no, not Severus now; it was Professor Snape again—would treat him any differently now that they…
He wasn’t sure how to even finish that thought. Were they family? Friends? Two wizards who had lived under the same roof for an entire summer? Yeah, that last one seemed about right.
I’m not asking for the moon, he reflected as he sat down at his usual table next to Ron. If I could only have the same treatment as everyone else, that’d be great.
Looking to the table on his left, he was pleasantly surprised to see Draco sitting next to Hermione. They exchanged a smile before pulling out their respective notebooks. Harry carefully took out his old-but-improved version of Advanced Potions. He’d made a habit, ever since receiving the book for his birthday, to read a chapter or two nightly before going to bed. And it had been a most enlightening journey.
Harry had never cared much for Potions before—primarily because of the stigma that resulted from the classroom ambience and his dour professor’s attitude. He had forced himself to endure the class because he didn’t have a choice. The Half-Blood Prince’s manual had been a breath of fresh air after six years of Hogwarts Potions’ toxic fumes. The witty, sarcastic comments helped Harry see past the prejudice he’d endured and allowed him to focus on the core subject for the first time. Better yet, the prince had taken great care to cross out most of the long-winded, pompous sections that detracted from the essential, rendering the book intriguing and mentally challenging. And now, for the first time since he’d sat down in the dungeon’s Potions room, Harry truly wanted to learn.
Severus Snape, Potions Master, Half-Blood wizard and heir to the House of Prince, walked into the room dressed in his usual sombre attire. He lifted an impatient, pale hand, and one of the blackboards flipped over to reveal a set of instructions written in his familiar, spidery handwriting.
“Save for a few exceptions, your summer essays were abysmal,” he admonished without preamble, his bass voice rolling like thunder. “While I am sorely tempted to wash my hands of your futures, I would very much like for you to pass your N.E.W.T.s,” he continued. With a sneer, he added, “But only so that I can be sure not to suffer your presence next year.”
Then he launched himself into a long monologue about the various states a potion can undergo and the importance of each. It was something they had studied last year—and the subject of their summer assignment. But Potions Density was a vast topic, and Harry knew from his advanced reading that they had only scratched the surface. Now that he thought about it, what they had learned last year—and what most students seemed to have failed to grasp—was the cornerstone upon which most of this year’s syllabus was meant to stand. Looking at it this way, Harry could understand where his professor’s frustration stemmed from. If his students didn’t grasp the basics, he had no foundation to build on and couldn’t proceed with the programme.
Once he was done with the introductory diatribe, the Potions Master distributed the corrected essays while students reread the relevant chapters listed on the blackboard. Chancing a glance at some of the papers in the man’s long pale fingers, Harry saw that they were bleeding red. He swallowed nervously. Harry was almost sure that his essay had been good—well, adequate. Tolerable, if he were honest.
Like all of Snape’s summer essays, that one had been difficult and had caused Harry multiple headaches. But he’d pored over his school manual like Hermione on a bender until he’d produced the required fifteen inches of parchment. For obvious reasons, he hadn’t dared go to Severus for pointers. But he had shown it to Saturnine, who hadn’t noticed any grave error and had praised him on his understanding of the subject.
Professor Snape seemed intent to keep their corner of the room for last, and when he only had four parchments left in his hand, he rounded their desks. He handed Ron his copy first; it was full of red marks and sported an angry T in the upper right corner.
Then, with a sigh akin to someone who suffered martyrdom, Snape placed a trio of essays marked with the letter E in front of Harry, Draco, and Hermione. Before returning to his desk, he said to Ron, “Too bad intelligence isn’t contagious, Mr Weasley. You might have caught it, otherwise.”
Despite pitying Ron, Harry couldn’t help smiling—worse than that, he was downright beaming. Snape—not Severus, but Professor Snape—had just called him intelligent.
Draco was of the mind that the Snape household must have held a very minimal outlook on the subject of clothing. While he had yet to see his godfather wear something other than the colour black, he had hoped that his sister would prove more adventurous in her choice of clothing this year.
While under the guise of Professor Leen Nine, she had stuck to a singular uniform composed of a pair of black trousers and a light-blue blouse. This year would not be more varied. Last week, she had paired white denim with a dark-blue blouse, and the preceding two days, she had worn white denim with a dark-blue blouse. Today was more of the same. Her long dark-brown plait was even tossed over the same shoulder.
Her attitude this year, however, was different. And it was more akin to the witch he’d gotten to know this summer. She stood with a straight back and confident pose and spoke with a loud, clear voice that held the faintest traces of a northern accent that betrayed her origins. Seeing her move now, Draco had no trouble believing that she’d been an Auror for seven years. She could teach them Defence Against the Dark Arts because she knew how to defend herself against them—plain and simple. She exuded the type of confidence that only years of practice conferred. Draco listened to her introduction of this year’s syllabus with rapt attention.
He’d chosen to sit with Harry and his friends again, preferring their company to his fellow Slytherins. For one, they didn’t look at him like they wanted to hex his bollocks off, and—well, he had to admit that Hermione deserved her title of the brightest witch of her age. So far, he’d only taken two classes alongside her, Potions and Ancient Runes, and what an improvement that had been after six years spent suffering either Crabb or Goyle in each class. With Hermione, he could discuss the day’s subject with a vocabulary that extended past the monosyllabic onomatopoeia. It was almost enough for him to forget his troubles. Almost.
The Investigative Unit the Ministry had appointed to solve the headmaster’s death had arrived that very morning. And Draco could tell the man leading the investigation was bad news on sight; it was written all over him. From the quality of his finely tailored black robes to the elegant cuffs on his ivory shirt to the intricate embroidery of his waistcoat, everything about him screamed Pureblood. And the way the silver-haired fifty-something wizard held himself, looking down his nose at everything and anything despite his short stature, screamed prejudiced Pureblood. Yes, Draco knew the look; he had seen it in the mirror often enough.
He’d caught up with Harry on the way to Potions earlier that afternoon, and the Gryffindor had agreed. This investigator, whoever he was, was more than likely a supporter of You-Know-Who. The two younger Aurors who accompanied him—a dark-skinned girl and a portly Scandinavian-looking blond—seemed so young that one wondered if they had graduated from the academy yet. There was little doubt their roles would be limited to fetching the lead investigator cups of tea and writing down reports.
The only question that remained was how the investigation would go. Whoever that wizard was, he clearly had his own agenda—and whether it actually included solving Professor Dumbledore’s murder, Draco had no clue.
“I heard from Ginny, who heard from Luna, who heard from some Hufflepuff, that the Aurors interrogated Professor Sprout this morning,” Hermione volunteered in hushed tones.
“Like a real interrogation?” Harry asked. “Like cops do in the movies?”
She nodded, and he swallowed nervously. The four of them had decided to spend a bit of time together out-of-doors before going to the Great Hall for dinner. The weather was still mild, and, despite the setting sun, it was warm enough to stay outside while wearing only dress shirts. Harry had rolled his sleeves up to expose his forearms to the last rays of the sun. He missed being outdoors, and he missed Cornwall’s southern climate.
“Do you think they will interrogate everyone?” Ron asked. “All the staff, I mean?”
Hermione nodded. “Sounds like the most logical way to go. They’ll need to know who was where and determine if everyone has an alibi—that kind of stuff.”
Draco snorted. “I pity anyone who has to interrogate Severus about anything.”
Harry smiled at that, while Hermione and Ron both seemed shocked to hear their much-dreaded professor referred to by his first name.
“So, Professor Snape,” Draco continued, affecting a haughty tone, “care to tell us where you were that night—and who you were with? Was it a blonde or a brunette? And how much did she cost you?”
This time, the three of them laughed freely.
“I hope he won’t be charged with murdering the investigators before they determine who did it,” Draco said, sobering up.
“More importantly,” Ron quipped with an amused expression, “do you think he’s gotten any in the past decade or so?”
“What are you looking at me for?” Harry demanded. “Ask Draco. He’s the one who’s known the man all his life.”
“Oh no, no, no,” Draco replied, raising his hands in protest. “Leave me out of this, guys. I do not know—or want to know—anything about that man’s sex life.” He paused before adding with a wry smile, “Or lack thereof.”
There was another round of guffaws at his words. And Harry couldn’t help but glance over his shoulder to make sure there wasn’t a tall, dark-robed wizard looming nearby. They’d be so dead if Severus ever overheard them talking about him this way.
“On a serious note,” Hermione said, “what do you think will happen now? To the school, I mean.”
“Will McGonagall be headmistress, or what?” Ron added.
Harry shook his head. “From what Severus and Saturnine told us, no—not yet. They can’t appoint anyone until the investigation is over.”
“Hmm—I read the same thing in the Daily Prophet,” Hermione commented. “I wondered if it was true.”
“Guess so,” Draco said, shrugging his shoulders. “The current staff will handle the headmaster’s tasks for now.”
“That’s probably for the best,” mused the young witch. “The board chooses the headmaster. And we all know who controls it.”
Harry nodded; he’d come to the same conclusion himself. Whatever administrative technicality made it impossible to elect a new headmaster at the moment was a godsend for their side. Who knew who they’d have been settled with, otherwise?
“Was there anything more in the article?” Draco asked, obviously curious. “I don’t make a habit of reading that pile of drivel, but they do get one or two things right now and then.”
In response, Hermione reached into her bag to pull out a folded copy. She flipped through it to the correct page before handing it to the Slytherin.
“Funny, that,” Draco said as he skimmed through it. His brows furrowed as he finished reading it. Then he passed it to Harry. “Your thoughts on the fourth paragraph, Harry?”
Looking down at the paper in his hand, Harry diligently read the article. Once he got to the relevant section, he had no trouble understanding Draco’s interrogations.
“There will be no change of staff while the investigation is ongoing. It’s hardly the moment to go through potential candidates’ resumes,” our source told us. “Besides, the current staff is more than capable of seeing to the day-to-day operations required to run this school. It’s not rocket science.”
“What is it?” Hermione asked, having noticed that he kept rereading that line.
“That is exactly what Severus told us last night,” Harry explained. “Word-for-word.”
Next to him, Draco nodded. “Ad verbum,” he confirmed.
“Could be just a coincidence,” Ron added. “What did that rocket science comment meant?”
“It’s a popular Muggle saying,” Hermione replied. “Means that it’s not that complicated. Did Professor Snape also say that?”
“Do you think he’s the mysterious source, then?” Ron, who now peered over Harry’s shoulder, asked.
“Does it say who wrote the article?” Hermione asked.
Harry searched the paper for the answer. His eyes settled on an initial and name below the last paragraph. “R. Skeeter,” he read aloud.
“Skeeter—that cockroach?” Hermione stared at him, wide-eyed. “No way was Professor Snape talking to her, then.”
“Do you think she’s been eavesdropping again?” Ron asked.
Hermione huffed. “She had better not be.”
With her sensationalist and dishonest tendencies, the so-called Queen of the Quills wrote for fame more than anything and specialised in false information and misreported interviews. Harry loathed Skeeter for her publication of an unauthorised tell-all biography of himself that was three-quarters fictional. The idea that Severus Snape, of all people, would have disclosed confidential information to a woman of her ilk was ludicrous. And yet, the words were his.