September gave way to October, and the Forbidden Forest started to sport crimson and gold patches as autumn began to settle in. The Aurors remained at a loss concerning what had happened to Professor Dumbledore, and Raylan Talio steadfastly refused to release the headmaster’s body for the funeral. From what Draco had heard, Professor McGonagall and a few of the senior staff members went to the Ministry and caused quite a ruckus but to no avail. Whoever Talio was, he had quite a reach, and they hadn’t managed to circumvent him yet. Or he knew the necessary pressure points to sway things in his favour, which Draco felt was more likely.
The man had tried cornering him in the hallways one day towards the end of September to ask him questions. Draco had been saved by Saturnine’s timely arrival. And she hadn’t minced her words when she had told the Auror to get lost.
“If he ever tries that again, walk away,” Saturnine had told him as she escorted him back to the Great Hall. “He isn’t allowed to talk to the students. So, never let him interrogate you. If anything happens, come get Severus or me right away.”
Draco had nodded his thanks, feeling an odd sensation flutter in his chest as he witnessed her obvious concern on his behalf. To feel cared for was a novel sentiment—one he realised he could easily get used to.
The two younger Aurors backing up Raylan Talio hadn’t been seen throughout Hogwarts in weeks, and the consensus was that they had been reassigned. The investigation was now solely Talio’s, and Draco wasn’t sure if that was a blessing or a curse. The silver-haired wizard now had to waste his time doing everything himself; this left him less time to walk the hallways. But he was unchecked and free to behave as he saw fit, with little regard for the people he harassed regularly.
There now seemed to be an open war between him and the Snape siblings. Draco wasn’t sure what had triggered it, but they could barely remain cordial to each other anymore. Rumour had it, wands had been drawn at one point, and Professor Sprout was forced to separate them—not that either Severus or Saturnine had confirmed it to be true. But the fact remained that Talio had it in for both of them. He was like a dog with a bone, and it was Draco and Harry’s fear that he wouldn’t let go until he had found a way to pin this grisly murder on one or both of them.
The boys had decided they wouldn’t let that happen. While there wasn’t much they could do, they had taken it upon themselves to keep tabs on Talio—using Harry’s Map and a helpful network of like-minded students who had become their eyes and ears throughout the school. Draco had been fully inducted into the reformed Dumbledore’s Army, and a dozen students resumed the habit of carrying around an enchanted Galleon in their pockets.
What had begun as a mere security assignment soon started to lean towards the investigative side of things. Hypotheses began to float about during their meetings as to what had happened to the headmaster. Surely, if they could deduce the truth and find the culprit, it would be the end of their worries, for Talio would have no choice but to leave the Snapes in peace.
But the members of the D.A. had no idea what had happened, exactly. All of them had heard a different version of the truth, and Hermione pointed out that they couldn’t solve anything while they didn’t have their facts straight. Later, in a meeting with Dobby, the D.A. members were given a thorough account of the circumstances in which the headmaster had been found by one of his fellow house-elves.
“You seem lost in thought,” said a voice on his right, and Draco shook himself back to reality. Turning his head on the side, he found Saturnine standing by the head of the sofa, with one eyebrow arched in typical Snape fashion. “Everything all right?” she asked.
Draco nodded, smiling politely. “Just thinking.”
She moved closer, sitting next to him. “I can see that,” she said. “Anything in particular?”
Draco wouldn’t say. Early on, they had agreed with Harry that it was best neither of the siblings found out about the reformed D.A. and its current mission. While he fancied Saturnine might have been flattered to know her students had her best interests at heart, Severus would quite possibly have a coronary from the shock. “Just school stuff,” he answered vaguely, and it wasn’t really a lie.
“You can talk to me, you know—if you want to,” she said softly. “I’m not asking as your professor, but as a friend.”
Draco could see on her face that she meant it, and it warmed him up on the inside. He wasn’t sure if friendship was the right word to describe their relationship, but whatever it was, it was precious to him.
“How are things with the Slytherins?” she asked, turning in her seat so that she faced him and folding one of her legs underneath her.
“Same,” he replied with another shrug. “It’s okay. I know how to handle them.”
“You shouldn’t have to,” she said, shaking her head. “Your dorm mates should be your friends, not people you must constantly keep an eye out for lest they stab you in the back.”
“I’m a Malfoy. I’ve been looking over my shoulder since I was old enough to walk,” he said honestly. “Really, Saturnine, you don’t have to worry about it. I’ve always kept an eye on them—even before.”
She grimaced and looked about to say something. Then she sighed, and her face relaxed. “I hope you don’t feel like you have to do that here,” she said at last.
“I don’t.” He gave her an honest smile. “It’s refreshing.” And it was; it was bloody comfortable to relax at last and have fun with Harry. And the rare nights where he slept in the dungeons during the weekends were ones where he slept the sleep of the dead.
“Good. Let’s move on to brighter topics, then,” Saturnine said, smiling. “Have you any plans for the party tomorrow? What of Saturday?”
He had trouble getting excited about either prospect, but he tried. Tomorrow was the 31st of October—Halloween. Decorations had been installed throughout the school all week, and while there wouldn’t be a party, a themed banquet was expected for supper. Many students had owl-ordered costumes, and they planned to wear them anyway. A few parties were sure to happen within the confines of the four Houses’ respective Common Rooms.
Draco had no costume to wear—not that he would be participating in any Slytherin gathering. He had planned on sneaking back into Severus’ quarters the minute he was done with supper and spending the night in the quiet comfort of his simple, unassuming bed in the room he shared with Harry down there. And he planned on sleeping late into Saturday morning and waking up sometime around noon with a good excuse as to why he hadn’t gone to Hogsmeade with everyone else.
He was surprised to feel Saturnine’s hand on his shoulder, and he realised he’d lost himself within his head again. “Sorry,” he muttered.
“What’s wrong, Draco?” she asked. “Really.”
He was about to say ‘Nothing’ again, but she had moved closer and looked really concerned now, and he couldn’t push the word out past the lump in his throat. He swallowed nervously instead.
“Harry’s been on edge all week, but him I can understand. He’s never had cause to rejoice on Halloween’s night—for obvious reasons. And I doubt he will attend any parties tomorrow, but I thought you might like the opportunity to have a bit of fun.”
Shite! Draco cursed inwardly—Harry’s parents; he’d forgotten that tomorrow was the anniversary of their death. He’d have to be sure to watch his mouth the next day and to be there for Harry if he needed him. They were family now, weren’t they? And that was what a family did in the face of tragedy. Wasn’t it?
Saturnine still awaited a response, and she was Snape enough that she wouldn’t let the matter drop without having received an answer. He couldn’t give her the truth, though; he was too ashamed to admit to it. But he had to give her something.
“I think I’ll spend my soirée and Saturday down here if you guys don’t mind,” he said at last. “I could do with a bit of peace and quiet.”
“Of course we don’t mind,” she said, and it was funny how it sounded like the dungeons’ quarters were now hers as much as they were Severus’. “You and Harry are always welcome here, and you know it.” After a short pause, she added, “I take it you don’t want to go to Hogsmeade this weekend?”
Draco swallowed before looking away. He could feel the heat of shame beginning to burn at his cheeks. He couldn’t admit to that; he refused to. Of course he would love to go to the village with everyone else. It was nice to get out of the castle occasionally, and it was even nicer to come back with a bagful of sweets and treats. But that was no longer on the menu for him; Lucius had seen to that. Even dead, the pompous snot still managed to screw him over. All those Galleons—a fortune amassed over generations was sitting idly in the Gringotts’ vaults while the remaining Malfoy descendants contested its ownership in court. Last he’d heard, Great-Uncle Ludwig was in the lead. But no matter who ended up winning the Malfoy jackpot and real estate bonanza, Draco knew he wouldn’t get a Sickle out of it. Legally, he was no longer a Malfoy and thus as poor as a pauper. And poor kids didn’t get to go to Hogsmeade—they made up phoney excuses as to why they had to stay in the castle while everyone else got to indulge.
It was no longer shame that bit at him, but pain, and despite himself, he felt his eyes beginning to prickle. Saturnine’s hand moved from his shoulder to his back and settled between his shoulder blades, where it started rubbing comforting circles.
“How did it work before?” she asked. “Did your father give you money? A yearly allowance or something?”
Draco frowned at the unexpected question; the surprise made him overcome his shame and answer her. “Yes—and I was free to use it as I wanted. He topped it up at the beginning of each year, and—I never ran out of money, even when I spent a lot. So, I guess he saw to it that I always had some.” He sneered, knowing it wasn’t done out of the kindness of Lucius’ diamond heart but a sense of propriety. “It wouldn’t do for a Malfoy not to be able to afford something.”
“So, in essence, Lucius gave you the money you needed to last the year, as most parents do.”
Draco nodded, failing to see where she would go with this. He saw it in her eyes that she had noticed, and he felt her slipping into the teaching mode that had become natural to her and knew she wouldn’t flat out explain her point but rather help him reach the correct conclusion on his own.
“Do you recall a similar situation happening earlier this year?” she asked. “When you needed to get your schoolbooks?”
Draco nodded. “Severus paid for those,” he answered through clenched teeth; it had been kind but embarrassing as hell.
“And do you recall what he said about it?” she continued. “His exact words, if you can?”
Draco was fairly sure that he did, but he couldn’t bring himself to say it. Severus had never had much money, and Draco knew it—Merlin, one only needed to look at his living quarters to know that—but he’d offered to help, nonetheless. Said he’d been glad to do it—and that had cut deep.
“His exact words, Draco?” Saturnine asked again.
Draco felt the tears make a grand return, and he fought not to let them escape past his eyelashes. He couldn’t say it; he just fucking couldn’t. The shame was too much, and he lashed out as he shot to his feet. “You can’t seriously expect me to ask him to fund my trip to Hogsmeade. Books are one thing—I kinda need those. But I won’t go to Severus for some fucking candies.”
“Language, Draco!” she chided in a tone so sharp it sliced the air. “Now stop being a petulant child, sit back down, and speak to me like an adult.”
He was back on the sofa an instant later, feeling quite chastised.
Saturnine’s hand returned to his shoulder as if the outburst had never happened. “You seem to have trouble remembering. So, I’ll refresh your memory. Severus said he was proud to do that for you,” she said. “Now, after the year you’ve had, and the stressful past couple of months, if there’s a way to make you forget your worries for a few hours—by, say, going to the village and stuffing yourself full of chocolate and candies—I’m sure he’ll be equally happy to step in.”
The tears were close to overflowing now, and Draco sniffled to rein them back in.
“Severus cares a lot about you—even if he doesn’t always know how to show it. And he wants to be there for you, Draco—he truly does,” she said softly. “But he can only do that if you let him.”
“But he doesn’t have any money,” Draco said eventually. “And it’s not anything I really need.”
“Just how poor do you think we are?” she asked him with a bemused expression. “We are getting paid, you know? Not much, I’ll grant it—but we do get a monthly salary. Besides, Severus has seniority on his side, and he’s a Head of House to boot. Furthermore, he spends most of the year living in a place that provides free boarding and housing, so I’m sure he can part with a few Galleons so that you can buy some sweets.
“Lucius Malfoy probably earned more in a month than the two of us combined in a year. But that doesn’t mean we cannot see to you and Harry’s needs. And seeing to a child’s welfare is more than just providing food and clothes. It’s also getting him the appropriate levels of happiness. While there are many ways to get to it, I have yet to find a quicker way to make a child smile than a bag full of sweets.”
Draco wasn’t sure what to say to that; so, he remained silent. That strange feeling constricting his chest was back in full force, and his eyes were close to overflowing. Saturnine must have noticed, for she leaned in to catch him in a hug. He shouldn’t have enjoyed it as much as he did—he wasn’t a child anymore, after all—but it felt too nice to question the feelings.