While October had been mild, November paved the way for a typical frosty Scottish winter. The past week, especially, had been rather cruel on those brave enough to venture out-of-doors.
As Harry prepared to step outside, he wished—not for the first time—that he could slip back into bed and curl up beneath a pile of blankets.
“Ready for it, sport?” Saturnine asked as she tightened a scarf around her neck. It was Ravenclaw blue and the only speck of colour on her attire. She wore thick knee-length leather boots over black corduroy trousers, and he wasn’t sure what she had underneath her heavy woollen black robes, but he would have bet his wand-hand it was one of her thicker hoodies.
Suppressing a shiver, Harry nodded as he finished strapping on his Quidditch uniform. Though they were still in the dungeons, he was cold just thinking about going outside.
“Bloody hell,” Draco said as he entered the living room, his damp boots leaving wet patches behind him. “It’s all but raining icicles now.”
Harry shivered in anticipation and turned a pleading look towards Saturnine. She only gave him an amused smile in reply. The smile didn’t reach her eyes, though; it never did these days.
The strain of the investigation into Dumbledore’s murder and Auror Talio’s scrutiny into Severus and Saturnine’s every move and decision had extended to their life in the dungeons. Severus was in a constant bad mood now, and it was contagious. He had a scowl permanently etched into his forehead, and Harry couldn’t remember the last time he had seen Saturnine even smile for real. Her mood wasn’t as bad as her brother’s, but she clearly tried to put up a brave front for Harry’s and Draco’s sakes. Their weekly dinners together had become tense affairs held mainly in silence, and Harry was getting sick of it fast.
Talio’s biased investigation had upset the careful balance of their quartet, and Draco had remarked one evening, when the two of them were discussing it in the privacy of their shared bedroom, that it was like living in a home with parents about to file for divorce. Harry wasn’t sure how such a metaphor could be applied to their unique circumstances, but the mere thought of a rift splitting up the Snape siblings twisted his stomach. Worse still was the idea of being forced one day to decide who to live with—Saturnine or Severus. A situation like that was the last thing Harry wanted, and he had redoubled his efforts to resolve the matter.
The D.A. was as active as it had been in their fifth year, and its members had tried everything they could to solve the mystery of Professor Dumbledore’s death. Hermione and Luna had interrogated the house-elves, Ron and Harry had snuck into the headmaster’s quarters to inspect the crime scene, and everyone else had taken part in hour-long brainstorming sessions to try to unscrew the unscrewable.
Realising they’d reached a dead-end, Harry and Ron had snuck back into the Headmaster’s Tower to ‘borrow’ the old man’s pensive. They had lugged it with them, underneath Harry’s cloak, all the way to the Room of Requirement. There they had collected everyone’s memories of the night of the Welcoming Feast so that they could build a timeline of events.
Hermione had been tasked with managing it, and she had transfigured an entire length of the wall into a blackboard. Memory after memory, the D.A. recreated the events of that night, accounting for each student and staff member’s movements, the exact location where they had been sitting, and when they had gotten up and left.
When the first blackboard was full, Hermione charmed another wall. And within a week, that surface was equally covered in names and timestamps. Once they had exhausted their collective supply of memories, they wondered who else to question. Who might have been in the hallways when Dumbledore left and shortly after? Who might have seen if an intruder had come in while most students remained in the Great Hall?
Another list was drafted with the names of students who might have held onto compelling memories. They went after the Gryffindors first, sure that they wouldn’t reveal to anyone what the D.A. was working on. One by one, they were taken to the Room of Requirement to share their memories, and the timeline grew more informative. Trustworthy students from Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff were next, but they drew the line at asking anyone from Slytherin for their memories—save for Draco, who was the only Slytherin member of the D.A., of course.
“I can’t believe the Aurors didn’t think of doing something like that,” Harry commented one day as he stood in the room with only Ron and Hermione by his side.
“They sort of have, Harry,” the bushy brown-haired witch said. “Only, they’re doing it through interrogations rather than memory hopping.”
“And since Auror Talio can’t interrogate any of us, it’s no wonder he isn’t getting anywhere,” Ron added.
“There was an article about the investigation in the Daily Prophet this morning. Did you see it?” Hermione asked.
Harry shook his head; he’d stopped making a habit of reading that pile of drivel sometime in his fourth year.
“Reading between the lines, I got the impression that Talio had better solve the case before Christmas, or else it will end up on the cold case pile,” Hermione said. Then she quoted the paper from memory. “In times like the ones we live in, Albus Dumbledore’s untimely death sadly isn’t the only one that needs investigating, and choices will soon have to be made.”
“While I’ll be sad to see them close the case,” Ron said, “I won’t miss seeing that nosy beady-eyed man prowling the hallways at any time of the day.”
Hermione nodded. “Gives me the creeps. And I’m sure the Snapes will breathe a bit easier without him breathing down their necks all the time.”
Harry had to agree with her on that one—even if the thought of the headmaster’s murder remaining unpunished didn’t sit well with him. While he knew where the order had come from, he still wanted to see the triggerman punished.
A loud snap of Saturnine’s fingers brought him back to the present. She had noticed the wet patches Draco had left behind on the dark stone. With a pointed stare, she made him pull out his wand and cast a Scourgify quicker than you can say “Quidditch.”
“I’m glad not to be on the team anymore,” Draco said once he was done. “I’d much rather sit on the bleachers with a Warming Charm all over me and my thickest clothes on.”
“Yeah, rub it in, why don’t you?” Harry said, fastening his gloves and regretting that these were for protection rather than insulation.
“You can have a warm bath and cocoa once you’ve won the game,” Saturnine said, coming closer and placing both hands atop his shoulders. “Just keep moving, all right. And remember to flex your fingers as much as you can to avoid cramps.”
Harry nodded, and they got going. For once, there wasn’t a spring in his step as he headed outside for the first game of the Quidditch season, the traditional Gryffindor versus Slytherin match. Maybe it was because he was getting older, he thought. The sport didn’t hold the same appeal to him anymore, and despite his talent at the game, there was no way he would ever consider a professional career after school was over. Sure, a good game was always fun. But he wanted something more substantial for his life, something that made a difference and that mattered—and that could be done indoors in the winter months.
He was surprised when Severus materialised by his side around one of the hallway corners. The Head of Slytherin House was dressed as warmly as his sister, Harry noticed, but the scarf around his neck was unsurprisingly silver and green. He wondered for an instant if the two should even be speaking before a game. Severus was the competition, after all.
“Ready for the game?” the Potions Master asked him as he paced his steps to match Harry’s gait.
“I am,” he said. “Ready to lose—” he paused before adding politely, “sir?”
Severus’ lips quirked downward, and to everyone else, it would have looked as if he were displeased. But Harry knew him better than most, and he could see the glint of amusement in his dark eyes. In a swirl of dark robes that all but concealed the gesture, Severus placed a small phial in his hand.
Harry looked down at it with a puzzled expression.
“Five drops before you take off,” Severus instructed in a voice that was barely more than a whisper. “Don’t say a word to anyone about it.”
Harry nodded to indicate he understood the instructions and would comply with them. Though he had no idea what the phial contained, he trusted Severus enough to take the potion. Despite his many claims otherwise, he was a Slytherin supporter through and through. And he dearly liked to see the Quidditch Cup returning to his quarters. But Harry knew the strict Head of House wouldn’t sabotage the competition to get his way. Severus Snape wasn’t the cheating kind, and he liked his wins to be fair and square whenever possible.
The blasting winds that hit them full-on in the face when they left the comforting warmth of Hogwarts were almost enough to make Harry turn on his heel. He might have been tempted to if one of his teammates hadn’t caught up with him and dragged him forward to discuss manoeuvre and tactics. Harry barely had time to wave a goodbye hand at Saturnine and Draco over his shoulder before he was dragged into a crimson and gold melee of brewing enthusiasm and voracious hunger for victory.
A few minutes later, broom in hand, Harry swallowed five drops of the viscous liquid in the phial before pocketing it. Then he mounted his trusted Firebolt, kicked off the ground, and was up in the air. He rose to the bleachers’ level, then past them, shivering. The winds were stronger still up there, and it made the rain even more biting.
Five minutes in, and he was surprised he could still feel his extremities. His nose and the tip of his ears felt like icicles, but the rest of him wasn’t doing so bad, and—as he drew slow circles around the pitch to keep moving—he wondered if perhaps he shouldn’t have worn one fewer shirt underneath his equipment. Even his nose and ears weren’t doing so horribly. And in flexing his fingers once, twice, he realised his hands weren’t faring any worse than they typically did. Swooping back down towards the pitch, he came to a stop by Ron’s side.
The redhead’s cheeks were about the same colour as his hair, and he desperately blew air over his cupped hands to warm them up.
“It’s bloody freezing,” he muttered through chattering teeth. “Shouldn’t be allowed to p—p—play like this.”
Glancing to his left, Harry saw that their Captain, Ginny Weasley, seemed equally frozen. It wasn’t that cold, though, was it? He felt fine—more than fine, actually. Warmth seemed to radiate from inside of his chest, and he—of course! he mentally slapped himself—the potion.
Flying a little higher, Harry turned on himself a little until he caught sight of Severus sitting with the rest of the Hogwarts staff. Saturnine was next to him, and they were animatedly discussing something. He waited until the Potions Master looked his way to give him a slight nod of appreciation. Severus arched an innocent eyebrow up that seemed to say, “I have no idea what you’re on about.” Harry smiled even more.
Saturnine noticed, and she turned to her brother with a raised eyebrow of her own. Severus said nothing as he sheepishly looked down at her. She leaned against him slightly and returned her attention to the game that was about to begin.
A thickly robed Madam Hooch arrived an instant later, and Harry focused all his attention on the game at hand.