Harry was elated to be reunited with his friends, and he’d gone all the way down to Hogsmeade station with Hagrid to welcome back Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Neville and Luna, and all the others. He had managed to convince Draco to come along, even if the blond’s enthusiasm had paled compared to his.
Now seated in the Great Hall underneath the enchanted ceiling with its hundreds of floating candles, Harry couldn’t wait for the time they’d be able to return to their dorms so that he could properly catch up with the rest of Gryffindor House.
“Less cheery than usual,” Ron commented once the Sorting Hat finished its welcoming song. And indeed, it had reflected the tense times they lived in and had nearly killed the jovial mood floating about the four long rectangular tables filled with students.
Their Transfiguration teacher, Professor Minerva McGonagall, started calling out the names of the new students one by one so that the Hat could sort them into the Hogwarts House to which they belonged. As he looked up and down the line of nervous first-years, Harry couldn’t help but notice how few newcomers there were. He did a quick headcount and discovered only eighteen—not even half the usual average.
Hermione, who had caught him counting, said, “Rumour has it that many parents refused to let their children attend for fear of what might happen. Numerous students haven’t returned, either.”
Harry looked around the Great Hall at that and realised she had been right. There were gaps along the benches here and there at every table. But Hufflepuff House and Ravenclaw House seemed to be the most impacted.
“Not many Death Eater wannabes missing from the snakes’ table,” Ron commented as he followed Harry’s gaze. “Guess they don’t have much cause to be afraid of an impending attack.”
“Well, Gryffindor House is pretty much all accounted for, too,” Harry said, looking up and down his own table. “We’ll give them a run for their money if they try anything.”
The Sorting Ceremony was a quick affair, and four students joined the red-and-gold table to the cheering and applause of their new comrades. Professor McGonagall removed the stool and Hat before returning to the staff table that sat perpendicular to the students’ tables at the head of the Great Hall.
There were no new teachers, Harry saw, but they’d been playing musical chairs again. From right to left were Rubeus Hagrid, who taught Care of Magical Creatures, Aurora Sinista of Astronomy, Bathsheda Babbling of Study of Ancient Runes, Charity Burbage of Muggle Studies, Filius Flitwick, who taught Charms, and Transfiguration professor and Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall. In the centre, as always, sat Headmaster Albus Dumbledore. And on his left was Professor Pomona Sprout, who taught Herbology. Then came Sybill Trelawney, Divination, Septima Vector, Arithmancy, Flying Instructor Rolanda Hooch, and finally, Professors Saturnine and Severus Snape, who, respectively, taught Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions.
Harry was glad to see that the Snape siblings sat next to each other this year, unlike last year when Saturnine—who had posed as a foreign professor, Leen Nine—had chosen to sit as far from her brother as she could in fear that he would see through her disguise and realise who their new staff member was.
A tired-looking Albus Dumbledore rose to deliver his usual welcoming speech. Harry did not avert his gaze from the frail, sickly-looking form of the man, although he was a difficult sight to behold. The headmaster, whom Harry knew had been cursed nearly a year prior, was living his last days. And it was a wonder that he’d had the strength to attend the ceremony at all.
“Welcome to another year at Hogwarts,” he announced, his words slightly breathless. “A few words before we begin our banquet.”
The room had grown utterly silent, as if every student realised that Dumbledore’s voice wouldn’t be able to carry over their chatter as it usually did.
“A new staff appointment, as is so often the case,” he continued with a hint of a smile. “Our last Defence Against the Dark Arts professor having had to leave due to some unforeseen circumstances.”
Harry smiled despite himself at the headmaster’s words—she had vanished, more likely—never to return. Leen Nine had ceased to exist the moment Harry and Draco had been kidnapped. And Saturnine had been forced to reveal her true identity to all to get the boys back. Apparently, that part of the story wasn’t worth explaining to the students at large, and Dumbledore opted to introduce Saturnine as a new teacher altogether.
“To change the tide, our esteemed Potions Master and Head of Slytherin House has agreed to split classes between himself and our newest member of staff and former Ministry Auror,” Dumbledore explained. “Potions classes for years five to seven will be taught by Professor Severus Snape. He will also teach Defence for years one to four. His sister, Professor Saturnine Snape, will teach Potions from the first to fourth years and take over Defence from years five and onward.”
Harry’s brain screeched to a halt at that. They will what?
Looking up, his eyes darted straight to the opposite end of the Great Hall, where he sought a familiar-looking blond. Draco was staring his way, too, and seemed equally surprised at the announcement. They frowned at each other for a second longer before both of them simultaneously turned their heads towards the staff table, levelling the siblings with matching puzzled expressions and glares that all but screamed, “Why didn’t you tell us?”
Their nonverbal communication wasn’t missed by their attentive professors. And the boys’ questions were met by a twin set of raised eyebrows and shrugs that clearly meant, “See if I care.”
However, the slight smirk at the corner of Saturnine’s lips and the glint in Severus’ dark eyes told a different story. In their own ways, they both said, “Gotcha!” And Harry was once more amazed at how childlike the two could be at times. A part of him felt like retaliating, but he knew better. Between Saturnine’s smarts and Severus’ cunning, he didn’t have a chance—even if he managed to secure Draco’s help.
“I’m going to guess that you didn’t know?” Hermione, ever the perceptive one, asked.
“Didn’t have a clue,” Harry admitted. “They’ve got quite the wicked sense of humour, those two.”
“Wait,” Ron said, “Snape—a sense of humour? You’re kidding, right?”
“Which one?” Ginny chimed in from his left.
“Professor Snape, I mean,” Ron clarified, then he realised that that didn’t clarify his statement one bit. “I mean the bat of the dungeon one—damn, but that will be annoying.”
“There’s another one?” Harry heard Seamus ask from a little further down the table. “Another Professor Snape? As if one wasn’t bad enough.”
“Maybe she isn’t as bad?” commented Dean. “I mean, she’s not dressed all in black at least. So, there’s hope.”
Even if he could only see the top half of Saturnine’s outfit, Dean had been right on that one. Saturnine wore a different blouse this year, one that was no longer azure-blue but navy-blue. She also wore it differently than last year. While Professor Nine had been careful to button hers up to the top, Saturnine was comfortable enough in her own skin to let her neck show, and she hadn’t fastened the first two buttons. Harry had seen earlier in the afternoon that the rest of her outfit was as far removed from her brother’s as she could have made it, too. At her waist, the blouse was tucked into a pair of tight-fitting snow-white denim trousers. Harry couldn’t remember ever seeing a witch wearing a pair of white jeans, but Saturnine seemed the type to want to break the mould. Beneath the flared hem of her trousers, she wore low-ankle, brown leather boots. A large leather belt of the same colour was tied at her waist, giving her attire an indubitably modern look.
Without the black school robes, she would have looked very Muggle-like. But with the long black cape-like cloth falling around her, she looked very much the figure of authority—albeit a stylish one. Her dark-brown hair was no longer forced upwards in a severe bun but had instead been braided into a long plait that hung over her right shoulder.
Harry felt a little bad that Saturnine was forced to go the extra mile to prove to everyone that she wasn’t like her brother. But she was a talented teacher, and he was certain that by the end of the first week, everyone would know to tell the difference between the two—even if there were some striking similarities with how they led their classes.
Later that night, in the headmaster’s chambers, Saturnine saw how much it had cost Dumbledore to attend the Welcoming Feast. Simply showing up had all but drained him of whatever life remained, and he was barely more than a living corpse now.
Severus noticed, too. “You shouldn’t have done it, you old fool,” he said. “You could have dropped dead over the treacle tart. What good would that have done us?”
Dumbledore, who lay down atop his own bed, barely had the energy to frown at the rebuke.
Sensing that time was in short supply, Saturnine forced them to focus on the task at hand. “We have the potion ready, sir,” she said. Taking a few steps forward, she came to sit on the bed at the headmaster’s right. She looked up to Severus, caught his gaze, and held it until he mirrored her actions and sat down on the other side.
Once seated, he reached into one of his frock coat’s pockets to pull out a small, delicate-looking crystal phial.
“Thank you,” Dumbledore said, looking at Severus first before turning his head to take in Saturnine. “Both of you.” He was met with twin respectful nods. “I know this situation isn’t easy, and it’s only going to get worse, especially for the two of you.”
“It’s nothing, Headmaster,” Saturnine said. “We’ll do our part.”
“I have one last thing to give to you before I go,” Dumbledore said.
Raising a pale, shaking hand a few inches off the bed, he pointed towards the dresser on the wall facing him. “Bottom drawer,” he indicated.
Saturnine got to her feet, and she knelt before the walnut drawer an instant later. Inside, amidst a colourful sea of scarves and gloves, she found a golden goblet with two handles and a badger carved on the side. “Helga Hufflepuff’s cup,” she said in amazement. It was pulsing with Dark Magic and she feared touching it. Looking over her shoulder, she asked, “Is it safe to hold it?”
Dumbledore nodded, and she picked it up, bringing it with her as she returned to his bedside.
“It was in the vaults, then?” Severus asked, and Dumbledore nodded again.
“Only two left now,” Saturnine observed. “The locket and the diadem.”
“It will take something powerful to destroy the Horcruxes,” Dumbledore said. “I would suggest Godric Gryffindor’s sword.”
“The only heirloom Tom Riddle refused to go anywhere near,” Severus said in understanding.
“Precisely, my boy,” Dumbledore answered. “A few parting words now.” He heaved in a deep breath. “I am sorry that my foolishness led me to this moment in time, for I wanted to see the battle to the end. Alas, I am now forced to leave you both in this impossible position. And I am so very sorry. Especially for you, Severus. I have already asked so much of you—I am loath to ask for more.
“But I am ever so proud of you—of you and your sister. You two have come such a long way from that wayward childhood of yours. You never let that keep you down. You fought your way forward, and you must now find the strength to fight a little longer.”
Saturnine felt tears welling up in her eyes at the kindness of the comment and the enormity of what they were about to do. Glancing to her right, she saw that her brother wasn’t fairing much better. She would have expected him to be Occluding by this point, but he’d clearly refrained from the urge.
Severus was looking as devastated as she was—worse, even. He’d known Dumbledore for years. The two were close, evidently, but Saturnine realised it went deeper than that. The headmaster had become more than an employer and mentor for Severus. He was the father figure his brother had never had. And the necessities of war now demanded that he all but kill him.
Reaching out a hand over Dumbledore’s legs, she caught Severus’ free hand and curled her fingers around his. The gesture wasn’t lost on the headmaster, who placed his good hand atop theirs.
“You’ll need each other to go through this,” he said. “You must protect the children. All of them. And especially Harry and Draco—they are our future.”
Saturnine nodded, and from her peripheral vision, she saw Severus doing the same.
“Now,” Dumbledore said, mustering the energy from somewhere to curl up the corners of his lips. “I find myself thirsty.”
Severus’ fingers shook as he held out the potion, unstopping it one-handedly. Dumbledore reached for it with fingers that trembled even more. But he brought it to his lips and downed it in one go. His eyes never left Severus’ as he did.
“Tastes like toenails,” the headmaster said, bringing his hand back down. “Why do potions always have to taste awful, Severus?” His eyes fluttered closed, and his breathing slowed. The crystal phial rolled out of his limp fingers, and he breathed his last.
Pulling out her wand, Saturnine performed one of the medical check-up spells she had learned years ago from a Swiss Mediwitch. The spell was unequivocal; Dumbledore was dead.
“It’s done,” she said in a half-voice. “It’s over.”
A lone tear trailed down her brother’s face, and she held his hand a little tighter. She hated to have to rush this moment, but they were running out of time, and they had many things to do. The longer they stayed in the Headmaster’s Tower, the more they risked getting caught out past curfew.
“We have to set the scene,” she declared, enunciating the next step of their plan.
Severus nodded before letting go of her hand to retrieve the small crystal phial. It was the one evidence they couldn’t leave behind; he returned it to his pocket. Then they both sat up and got to work.
Severus used a spell to charm the window open so that everyone would think the intruder had come from outside. Then he moved to the chest of drawers where Saturnine had found the cup. Using his wand, he rummaged into each one, displacing everything so that it would look like someone had searched it. Then he moved to the large wardrobe that sat against the next wall. He charmed it open and flicked through the clothes hanging there, impatiently throwing a few hangers to the floor in what would look like an exasperated fit.
Saturnine remained by the headmaster’s body. She reached inside her robes’ pocket and retrieved the dagger that would be the murder weapon. It was wrapped in a white piece of cloth. She uncovered the blade but left the cloth to protect the handle so that her fingerprints wouldn’t be on it. She knew full well that the investigators would be wizards. But she also knew that the Wizengamot wasn’t above allowing the use of Muggles techniques in such high-profile cases. They’d stop at nothing to find Dumbledore’s killer, and all precautions had to be taken.
While Severus kept pretending to ransack the room, Saturnine heaved in several centring breaths. She had to be precise; there was no margin for error. Drawing back on everything she had learned with the Mediwitch and the many diagrams she had studied throughout the summer, she knelt on the bed by the headmaster’s side. Then, feeling her way with the tip of her fingers, she followed the muscles and bones underneath his frail skin until she found the spot she was looking for.
Saturnine pressed the tip of the blade to the thin layer of cotton that separated her dagger from Dumbledore’s flesh. Saying a little prayer to all the deities she knew that she wasn’t about to kill the greatest wizard that had ever lived, she plunged the blade through the wrinkled skin. It required more strength than she had imagined, and she leaned her whole body into it until the blade was in to the hilt. Pulling back, she removed the cloth from the handle and watched as blood stained the cotton around the entry wound. It wouldn’t bleed much, not with the state the headmaster was in. But it would be enough to convince any onlooker that Dumbledore had been stabbed to death. Aurors weren’t used to investigating crimes where the victim hadn’t been killed with magic, and she prayed they wouldn’t know how much blood was expected from such injuries.
“It’s done,” she confirmed, returning to her feet and moving towards the entrance of the room.
Severus was already there, and he looked up to stare at her. He did his damnedest not to look to his right, refusing to see the body that lay there with a blade in its chest.
Saturnine could understand why. Reaching for Harry’s cloak, which she had left on the armchair by the door, she pulled it over herself before motioning for Severus to join her. He did before using an Alohomora to open the front door so that they could step out.
Once in Dumbledore’s office, Saturnine used a spell to turn the key in the lock on the other side. Then, using slow, precise movements, she levitated the key from the lock. Peering through the keyhole, she levitated it back a little more before throwing it out of the window, giving the Aurors a locked-room mystery to investigate.
The two Snapes let themselves out of the Headmaster’s Tower, hidden from sight, the sound of their feet muffled by one of the Potions Master’s spells. They encountered no one on their way back to the dungeons and found the inside of Severus’ quarters as empty as the hallways had been.
The boys had returned to their respective Houses’ dorms earlier that day, and Saturnine looked at their empty, unlit bedroom with a pang of longing. They were doing this for them, she reminded herself. For Harry, Draco, and every other child in this school.
Severus disappeared down the hallway and into his bedroom without a word. Folding the Invisibility Cloak, Saturnine placed it on the back of the sofa, wondering how she would manage to return it to Harry’s trunk tomorrow without being seen.
Though it was past midnight, she knew sleep wouldn’t be easy to come by tonight. Feeling the need for some company, she went to her brother, entering his bedroom, which had now become partly hers, too. She had charmed the room to make it wider and squeezed a second bed between Severus’ and his bookshelves. Hers was smaller than his and not as comfortable, but it was more than enough for whenever she felt like staying in the dungeons overnight.
She would be staying tonight, she knew. There was no way she could go back to her empty quarters on the third floor after what they’d done. Retching sounds came out from the adjoining bathroom, and Saturnine realised her brother would have a hard time falling asleep, too. Her heart went out to him, and her feet followed; she was by his hunched form a moment later with a towel in one hand and a glass of water in the other.