“I can’t believe it,” Neville Longbottom said. He had a glazed look in his round brown eyes and seemed unable to remember how to close his mouth. “I can’t believe it.”
Harry thought his friend looked like he’d just seen a ghost. Well, not the kind of ghost that travelled through the hallways of Hogwarts day in and day out, but the type of ghost that heralded the return of someone you had thought irrevocably lost. And that was a pretty good approximation of the truth.
The Great Hall was packed, with all students returning, except a few still treated at St. Mungo’s. Most of them shared in Neville’s amazement. A few of the younger ones were even crying. All in all, save for a handful of Gryffindors, everyone was surprised to see Headmaster Albus Dumbledore presiding over the Leaving Feast.
Harry fancied the old man enjoyed the situation enormously if the twinkle in his bright blue eyes was any indication. The old fool could have told them beforehand, but he’d held off on it so that he could make a grand entrance—a magical one: with Fawkes’ help, he’d Apparated in front of the High Table with a resounding crack and wisps of light and smoke.
The staff had clearly been warned and either shared in the headmaster’s enthusiasm or—as was the case for Professor McGonagall—glared daggers at the old man for his antics. Either way, Dumbledore was back from the dead—or the not-quite-dead, as Harry well knew.
The curse that had been slowly killing the headmaster faded to nothingness when Lord Voldemort had died. Severus and Saturnine Snape had brewed the antidote to the Stasis Potions that had kept him alive but comatose for close to ten months. It was an untested potion, and no one could be sure it would work as intended or that there wouldn’t be any lasting side effects. But even with his confused memories, Harry had never been worried. When it came to potions, Severus Snape was the best. And upon ingesting the antidote, the headmaster had awoken from what appeared to be a very comfortable sleep with a craving for lemon drops.
He’d remained safely hidden away in the newly rebuilt Headmaster’s Tower, overseeing the last of the repairs of the castle following Voldemort’s attack and catching up on everything he had missed the previous months. Harry hadn’t been sure why his return hadn’t made it to the first page of the Daily Prophet then and there. But now, he knew.
“That’s a bit mean, don’t you think?” Hermione asked. Her arms were crossed over her chest, and she aimed her best disapproving gaze at the old man. “And frankly childish for a wizard of his age.”
“He’s been playing dead for nearly a year, Hermione,” Ron said over a mouthful of candies. “Let him have his fun.”
The headmaster got up from his seat at the High Table and launched himself into his annual goodbye speech, and Harry tuned out. He didn’t need the recap of the year’s events; he’d lived through them. And the experience had been unpleasant enough to go through once. Instead, he let his eyes linger over the room with his four long tables filled with students dressed in the colours of their respective Houses. Today would be the last time Harry would see them all, and the last time he would sit at the end of Gryffindor table, underneath the Great Hall’s enchanted ceiling.
Glancing to his right, he exchanged a brief smile with Ron and Hermione—his two best friends. Then he let his eyes travel further down the table where he found the rest of his dormmates, Neville Longbottom, Seamus Finnigan, and Dean Thomas. He wasn’t sure when he would ever see any of them again. The Hogwarts Express would take them away in the morning, and he would depart for Cornwall with his family later in the week. Unlike the previous years, none of them would be coming back.
Harry knew he ought to join in on the global cheer, but he couldn’t help but feel mellow. Despite the many highs and lows of his scholarship, he had loved being at Hogwarts. Thinking back to his scrawny eleven-year-old self, who had passed through the great doors for the first time seven years ago, he couldn’t help but feel tears prickling at the corners of his eyes at how much he had experienced in these hallways—how much he had grown.
A hand snaked itself around his shoulder, and he didn’t need to look to know to whom it belonged. He let himself be dragged into his brother’s side.
“You okay there?” Draco whispered so low that Harry was the only one who heard it.
He nodded before turning to look at the blond. He was the only student at their table wearing green and silver, the Slytherin colours. He ought to have been sitting with the rest of his House. But when they’d arrived in the Great Hall, directly from the infirmary, Harry had draped an arm over Draco’s shoulder to steer him in the opposite direction. And not one lion had complained about having a snake at their table.
After quickly telling his friends he’d somehow regained his memories, then providing a lengthier explanation of how he’d lost them, a teary-eyed Hermione had pushed a stack of envelopes and some spare parchment sheets in his hand. Then she had whispered, “I didn’t think you’d want everyone to read those.” He’d thanked her for her quick thinking and discretion, then had started talking Quidditch with Ron and Seamus. Up the table, Draco got into a lengthy chat with Hermione about university choices and a possible internship with the Ministry as they waited for the End-of-Term Feast to begin.
“Fine,” Harry whispered back in reply to Draco’s question. “I’m just going to miss this,” he admitted.
His brother nodded in understanding. They hadn’t talked much about what they would do once school ended. They’d been so busy trying to survive the year that neither of them had made plans. And then—well, Harry hadn’t been himself afterwards. But their parents had assured them that they could spend the summer at Cove Cottage, and Harry figured he’d have time to come up with something once he got there. After he found a way to reassure his parents that all was well with him and that there were no more nasty surprises in store for them—or so he hoped.
Draco nodded pointedly towards the High Table, and Harry tuned back into Dumbledore’s speech, realising he was about to announce the winners for the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup. Knowing that both would go to Gryffindor House, Harry felt the corners of his mouth lift.
“And now,” Dumbledore said, “it is time for us to salute the efforts of the valiant Gryffindor House, which once again won both Cups.”
The gold and red table erupted in a cacophony of applause and victory cries. The applause from the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables was equally loud. But that of the Slytherins was more subdued and perfunctory. Their Head of House, Professor McGonagall, rose from her seat to clap cheerfully as she did every year when her House won.
“Now, now,” Dumbledore said, raising a hand to re-establish order amongst the students. “I believe it is time for us to salute another set of accomplishments.” With an amused smile, he added, “And one whose outcome many of you are very invested in, I believe.”
Silence descended upon the large room, and the headmaster pulled a parchment from one of his purple robes’ pockets. Even from where he sat, Harry saw that it was sealed with the Ministry’s blue crest.
Harry wasn’t the only one to have guessed at the mysterious parchment’s content, and excited whispers ran up and down the tables.
“N.E.W.T.s results,” Hermione whispered. “It’s got to be Severus’ and Saturnine’s results.”
Harry’s eyes flew to the far end of the High Table, where his parents sat. Despite a year of playing cat and mouse with the Dark Lord and the subsequent fight to bring him down, Severus and Saturnine had gone through with their mad contest. To settle an argument—the kind only siblings could have—they’d decided to challenge themselves to retake their exams to determine, once and for all, who was the best. And thus, for the first time in Hogwarts’ history, two professors had taken the Nastily Exhausting Wizarding Tests right alongside the seventh-years.
Harry had a sense of what the results would be. But it seemed the room was holding its collective breath in anticipation of the grades—staff included. But more than the results themselves, they wanted to know how much money they had won. The professors’ silly challenge had resulted in a schoolwide betting pool where everyone had attempted to guess at the results—even their Divination teacher. While that was highly irregular and quite possibly illegal—as Hermione had pointed out several times—everyone had turned a blind eye to it and allowed the betting to continue.
In a year of conflicts and tension, of fear and doubts, this silly, stupid challenge had been the breath of fresh air that their school had needed to carry through.
“Yes,” Professor Dumbledore said. “As you have guessed it, those are N.E.W.T.s results. And while everyone will receive theirs next week, the Wizarding Examinations Authority have sent me the results of two very particular applicants.” Turning to his right, the headmaster beckoned over said applicants.
Saturnine stood eagerly while Severus got up with what appeared to be the greatest of reluctance. Under their black robes, the pair wore their usual attire—black trousers and a black frock coat for Severus, tight white denim and a navy-blue blouse for Saturnine. They were tall, lean, and oozing the kind of self-assurance that only came from surviving years of hardship undefeated, and Harry realised they were the best teachers he’d ever had. Not simply because they knew their respective subjects, but because of the passion that drove them. And sure, it made them appear strict and demanding, exacting even, but that was because they wanted their students to succeed. They wanted the very best and settled for nothing less.
Harry heard Draco snicker beside him. “As if he isn’t curious,” he muttered.
“Don’t know about Dad,” Harry said, “but I am.” And he was. Everyone had tried to get them to spill the beans about their exams for days. But both siblings had steadfastly refused to disclose (even to each other) how they felt it had gone.
Once Severus and Saturnine joined Dumbledore in front of the High Table, the old man resumed his announcement. “It will come as no surprise,” he announced, “that these were some of the best results this school has ever seen.”
Saturnine was all smiles at that, but Severus arched a dubious eyebrow—no doubt questioning the use of the words ‘some of’ in that sentence.
Dumbledore unrolled the parchment after breaking its seal. With a flick of his wand, he made the name of the five subjects Severus and Saturnine took write themselves in the air in glowing yellow letters.
Transfiguration, Herbology, Charms, Potions, and Defence Against the Dark Arts. While the latter two were their respective subjects, and they had had to request that this years’ exams be written by someone else, the other tests had been written by Professors McGonagall, Sprout, and Flitwick. From what Harry knew, this year’s Potions test had been redacted by Severus’ predecessor, Horace Slughorn. The Defence exam was the brainchild of the Order of the Phoenix members, Remus Lupin, Alastor Moody, and Nymphadora Tonks. And that accounted for some of the weird questions near the end.
“First off,” Dumbledore said, reading off the parchment, “Charms—a subject both professors scored an Outstanding in back in the day.”
The word Charm glowed brighter than the others, and silence fell onto the gathered crowd.
Raising his wand again, Dumbledore flicked his wrist, and two Os appeared next to the word, in front of Severus and Saturnine, respectively. There was a loud round of applause for the both of them that had Professor Flitwick stepping onto his chair so that he could join in.
Saturnine gave the audience a polite bow of her head while Severus remained his stoic self. But Harry had seen the corner of his lips twitch briefly when his glowing O appeared.
“Next up,” Dumbledore continued, “Potions.” Everyone held their breath until two similar Os popped up in front of the siblings. Two more Os joined them on the Defence Against the Dark Arts line a moment later.
“While I believe many of you are now familiar with the fate of Severus’ frog during his Transfiguration exam, I can assure you that no animals suffered an untimely demise this year,” Dumbledore said. And his words caused riots of laughter to erupt from the many tables. “And Professor Sprout has confirmed to me that no student lost a finger this year either—including our dear Saturnine.”
It was with mildly sheepish looks that Severus and Saturnine watched the last two subjects glow brighter. Of the five subjects, these were the only ones where one of them had scored less than perfect back in the day. The death of Severus’ frog had resulted in him getting an E in Transfiguration. Saturnine got the same result in Herbology for having let a Mandrake bite her finger off.
At a flick of the headmaster’s wand, an O appeared in front of Severus on the Transfiguration line. Another bloomed into existence in front of Saturnine on the Herbology line.
The applause was more contained this time as everyone wondered if their teachers had been able to repeat their earlier exploits in the last categories, thus landing them both a perfect score.
Harry felt Draco lean forward in anticipation of the final results, and they were now braced over the table, shoulder to shoulder. On the headmaster’s right, Saturnine glowed; next to her, even Severus had allowed himself a small smile.
“The final results,” Dumbledore said, holding up the parchment as if it contained the answers to all the mysteries in the universe.
If Harry hadn’t been designated the official bookkeeper of their unofficial betting pool, and he’d been allowed to take part in the gamble, he’d have predicted five Outstandings for each of them. He’d have staked all his money on it, and—Dumbledore flicked his wrist, and the last two results appeared—Harry would have lost.
Twin glowing Es danced in front of each professor, and a collective gasp of surprise flew over the crowd. While the results were nothing to cry about, and many students failed to achieve results like that every year, they still came as a surprise to Harry. Furthermore, he found the subjects in which the lapses had happened to be suspicious. Each of them had failed today where the other had the last time. Some would have seen this as proof there was a cosmic balance to the universe. But Harry had his doubts. It was too conspicuous to be entirely coincidental.
And then he understood. Neither Severus nor Saturnine wanted to win at the other’s expense. So, the siblings had each answered a question wrong on purpose. And it was that demonstration of love that had brought them to a perfect tie and the same results as when they had taken their N.E.W.T.s the first time. Four Outstandings and one Exceeds Expectations—an impressive score indeed.
The entire school erupted in cheers of laughter and an endless volley of applause. Harry joined in on the applause, getting to his feet and feeling Draco do the same next to him. He sincerely hoped the pride he felt welling up inside of him showed on his face.
His gaze caught Saturnine’s, and she gave him a soft smile that was just for him before turning to her brother and planting a kiss on his cheek—in front of the entire school. More laughter bubbled up at that, and Severus hid his blushing cheeks beneath a curtain of black hair, even as he turned a murderous gaze towards his sister.
“I hear they want to give them medals,” Ron said, nodding towards the two professors, who seemed now eager to return to their seats at the High Table. “Order of Merlin, no less.”
He seemed eager to bring the subject up now that Harry had gotten his memory back. It was as if he and Hermione had held off from this line of questioning until he’d recuperated. Now that he thought about it, Harry realised that they had. And not just Ron and Hermione, but everyone else, too. They’d all done their absolute best to skirt around the issue and stayed well away from any topic that had to do with either Snape.
Harry nodded before explaining to them that while in Cornwall, the four had gone to the Ministry. There, they had given a formal statement of their involvement in Lord Voldemort’s destruction. Under instruction from Severus and Saturnine, Harry had told them the whole truth without sparing any details—well, what he could remember, at least.
Later that day, he’d had a short, informal chat with the new Minister for Magic—the old one, Pius Thicknesse, having disappeared off the face of the earth the same day the Dark Lord died. Harry had found it heart-warming to discover that his friend and fellow Order of the Phoenix member, Kingsley Shacklebolt, had gotten the job. It heralded substantial changes within the Ministry and the coming of new times for all of Wizarding Britain.
“So, yeah—Severus is getting one,” Harry finished. “Even if he doesn’t want it.”
“And Saturnine?” Hermione asked. “She helped just as much, didn’t she?”
Harry nodded. That she had. But things were slightly more complicated with his mother. With a sigh, he said, “She has a few things to sort out with the Ministry first.”
While Saturnine got along with Minister Shacklebolt as well as Harry did, she’d had quite the beef with his two predecessors. The last one, Pius Thicknesse, had been the Imperiused puppet of Lord Voldemort. And the one before, former Head of the Auror Office, Rufus Scrimgeour, had blackmailed Saturnine into doing his dirty work for nearly seven years.
There was also the small, but no less important, fact that Saturnine was an Elemental: a witch who had been born with the power to wield the elements themselves without a wand. It was the kind of power that tended to scare lesser wizards. And Elementals, like her, had nearly been driven into hiding through fear of being arrested for who they were.
Harry supposed that made it a little bit hard for the Ministry to hand her out a medal, even if they all knew that her powers had been instrumental in the defeat of the Dark Lord. But she hadn’t been the only one who had helped; their werewolf friend, Remus Lupin, and his Metamorphmagus girlfriend, Nymphadora Tonks, had done much to help bring about safer days. And their part-goblin Charms teacher, Filius Flitwick, and the half-giant, Rubeus Hagrid, had helped protect the school to the peril of their lives.
And Harry hoped that the winds of change that blew over the Ministry, and Britain at large, would not just dispel all that blood purity crap. He hoped that they would also open people’s eyes to the importance of equity amongst magical folks.