A/N: Chapter 100, folks. Where did all the time go?!
Chapter 100: Epilogue: All Aboard | The Great Beyond
"Mum," Lily tugged on Hermione's sleeve. "Mummy!"
Hermione blinked and looked down at her bushy black-haired child with a grunt. "Hnn?"
"Why do we have to take a train to school?" she asked her mother. "Severus and I can just fly there!"
"Because, love," Hermione admonished. "It is tradition."
"Tradition like throwing salt over your shoulder?" Lily asked.
"That's more superstition," Hermione laughed.
Lily furrowed her brows. "So… like pouring hot water into the kettle and dumping it out before brewing tea?"
Hermione laughed, putting her hand on her child's head. "Something like that, my imp."
Lily grinned at her mother, bouncing up on her toes.
Severus came up beside his twin, rolling his trunk, his owl cage, and other school supplies strapped to the cart. The white owl hooted to the other owl on Lily's stacked trunk. The twin owls hooted commentary to each other excitedly.
Hermione chuckled and pulled out two pouches from her robes. "Here is your spending money for the train. Don't spend it all on chocolate frogs. Just in case you may need it for last minute supplies."
"But mother," Severus complained. "You and father and grandfather will be at the school if we need anything."
"True," Hermione laughed. "But do you really want to start off school with everyone knowing that?"
Severus and Lily exchanged very Slytherin looks and shook their heads. "Reveal nothing. Let them guess."
Hermione's sly grin answered them. "Quite Slytherin and Durmstrang of you, my children," she said. Their conversation until that point had been entirely in fluent Bulgarian, making a few of the passerbys that did not know them on sight wonder why non English speakers were going to Hogwarts. Hermione grinned. Let them wonder.
A squeal of happiness shattered the air and two other children came running up to them. Hope Lupin jumped into Hermione's arms, glomping her mercilessly, and Teddy Lupin hugged her waist, his hair changing into Hermione's silver and brown.
"I can't believe it's finally here!" Teddy exclaimed.
"It's going to be wonderful to finally get to be in school for real," Hope said, bouncing up and down before tackle hugging Lily and Severus. Teddy tried for a handshake, but Lily wouldn't have anything of it and hugged him mercilessly.
Tonks hurried up from behind them, tripping over some witch with a cane, and bumping into a wizard with an owl cage. "Oof! Sorry! Sorry!" she muttered coming up beside them. "Just as hazardous as I remember," she said, her hair turning a bright shade of Hogwart's Express red.
"Where's that mate of yours, Tonks?" Hermione chuckled the question.
"With your father and your mate preparing to receive these holy terrors," Tonks laughed. Her children huffed at her. Teddy make two wolf ears poke out of his hair and flick towards her as his hair turned bright red to match his mother's.
"Psh!" Tonks said, ruffling her son's head and hugging her daughter.
"Are the Longbottoms going to be on the train, mother?" Lily asked.
Hermione shook her head. "Neville and Luna didn't have Lorcan and Pandora until a few years after you, I fear, despite the fact you grew up together. You'll have to see them in about two years, officially."
Severus snorted. "We saw them every day growing up, Lily, I'm not sure what you're missing them for."
Lily pouted, sticking out her lip, and Hermione and Tonks exchanged laughing glances. Lily was never the best at keeping dates straight, and that including keeping the ages straight of her friends, packmates, and her own parents. She was horribly equal opportunity forgetful like that. Neville had given her a remember-all for her Hogwart's-bound gift. The irony wasn't lost on Hermione in the slightest.
Severus sniffed, looking much like his grandfather. "They'll be coming in with James and Sirius Potter," he said, making up for his sister's inability to remember ages. "And Scorpius Malfoy," he added with a tilt of his head.
The quartet had come a few years ahead of what had been dubbed "the baby train" that occurred when Harry and Harriet, Draco and Astoria, and Luna and Neville had all "decided" to have their first children in the same year. Oddly, Ron and Lavender's first born girl, Rose, was one year behind the quartet, putting her in a year that was neither with the Krum or Lupin children nor that of Potter, Longbottom, or Malfoy.
Sirius had embraced the life of the perpetual bachelor, but even while he had still not wed anyone he found to be "serious dating material," he had plenty of love for the Pack and Herd's younglings, and never failed to be there for them. He said that it was only fitting, considering how horribly he had failed at that for Harry.
Tonks smiled, ruffling Severus on the head. "You know, Hermione," she said. "With your father as Headmaster, Remus teaching History of Magic, Viktor teaching Charms, Neville teaching Herbology, Luna teaching Care of Magical Creatures, you teaching Potions, Harriet teaching Transfiguration, Firenze teaching Divination, and Bane and Chara teaching wild-crafting and centaur relations, Hogwarts is basically a Pack family affair.
Hermione shrugged her shoulders. "Someone had to do it!"
Tonks laughed, her hair going striped like a zebra. "McGonagall said she was leaving Hogwarts in capable paws," Tonks said with a grin.
Hermione's grin was perfectly sly.
"Okay," Tonks said sternly. "You lot, what's the rule?"
The quartet straighted up. "No exposing the Pack or the Herd to danger. Don't go into the Dark Forest without telling the Pack or Herd first," they chimed together. "No shifting around non Pack and Herd, unless it's a matter of life and death."
"Good," Tonks said with a smile. "Now, give me a hug."
The quartet ran forward and hugged Tonks at the same time. Tonks rose up with a grin on her face.
Hermione turned her nose up, looking in another direction.
The children giggled together and glomped her as well. "Don't be like that mum," they all chimed together.
Hermione laughed hugged them back. "I will see you at school."
"Do we have to call you Professor?" they whined in unison.
"Indeed you will, and you will have to call your father and grandfather that as well, as well as Neville and Luna."
The four children pouted.
Hermione laughed. "Off you go, then." She shooed them. "I love you," she said in Bulgarian, the threat of tears in her eyes.
"We love you!" the quartet chimed together.
They hugged her legs and waist tightly, and Hermione pet their heads in a shadow of what Severus had done so many times to her and Draco.
The children hurried onto the Hogwarts express.
Tonks took Hermione into a hug as the pair sniffled together in the emotional upheaval of having their combined children see themselves off to school for the first time.
"You'll get to see them tonight at the feast," Tonks said with a sniff. "I have to wait until the next holiday."
Hermione laughed, her voice like a bell. "You needn't worry. They won't be anything less than how you were in school."
Tonk's hair turned lime green. "That's what I'm afraid of."
Hermione shot Tonks a look. "Nymphadora Lupin," she said in her professor voice. "What exactly were you like in school?"
Tonk's hair turned cotton candy blue. "Nothing fatal!" she squeaked, not even bothering to yell at Hermione for using her full name.
Hermione sniffed at Tonks as her controls slammed down over her expression, and she looked at Tonks with the perfectly stoic expression of her father. "Five points from Hufflepuff, Ms. Lupin, for your cheek."
Tonks burst into laughter, pulling Hermione tight to her. "I love you so much," she gushed.
Hermione's face was perfectly dispassionate, but her pale white hand came up to stroke Tonk's cotton candy blue hair as the Pack Song rose between them and sang strong and true.
I am the gryphon mother,
Whose children have just left the nest.
My love for them grows by the minute,
And bubbles forth from my chest.
I am the shifter of many faces,
Whose mate sings to the sway of the moon.
My children grew strong both in light and darkness,
And with the Pack we shall always commune.
Mother, my name is Severus,
My wings will be wide and strong,
I shall remember the lessons you've taught me,
And always remember where I belong.
Mother, my name is Lily,
My teeth will be bared in your name.
May no one challenge our honour
And bring to our family shame.
Auntie, my mum, and my kindred, I am Hope,
My howls announce the strength of my love,
For under your wings you have sheltered me,
And protected me from above.
Auntie, oh Auntie, and my mother, I am Teddy,
My song is the change of the storm,
For the Pack is the beat of our heartsong,
And with it, we shall always be warm.
Oh children, my children of the Pack,
May you grow strong in each others' grace.
May the ground underneath never fail you,
And may you never fall behind and lose pace.
Oh children, my children, of the Pack,
May that which we have given you make you strong,
May you always be true to your honour,
And your friendships made be lifelong.
Mother, oh mother, and Auntie,
We promise to you forever this day,
We shall never forget what you have given us,
And our love for you we shall proudly display.
Hermione and Tonks watched the Hogwarts Express pull out from the station and leave on its way to Scotland. Tears trickled down their faces as they looked on proudly, waving in their pride to their children on their way to to Hogwarts.
The very distant future…
Hermione stood on the ramparts of Hogwarts as she watched the sun set. Her mind would travel far in such moments. It would fly in the skies and run across the ground at top speed. Always beside her would be her mate, even when his body had long since ceased to have the immeasurable strength it once did. Always in her mind was her father, even when his body had grown still under the still of night. They never left her… her two greatest loves. She felt them always, wrapped around her heart like the long cloak that had become synonymous with Professors Snape and Krum.
Minerva and Severus provided her some comfort with their portraits, their enchanted voices bringing her the sort of bittersweet relief in the fact she had outlived them. They had both lived long, happy lives. They had left large shoes to follow, but Hermione had risen to the task, refusing to disgrace the man who had first been her professor, then her Master, and father. She embraced the memory of Minerva McGonagall and moved mountains in her name as much as her father's.
Her birth parents, the Grangers, remained close to their grandchildren, even though they never quite figured out how to connect with their daughter. Hermione never blamed them. They had their monthly and holiday family dinners. Her children loved them greatly, and they seemed to love them in return far more easily than ever they had with her. She was happy with that. When her parents has passed, they passed knowing that their daughter loved them despite it all and that their grandchildren adored them.
She leapt into the air off the ramparts of Hogwarts, letting the thermals carry her aloft, spreading her great wings to greet the skies as she always had. She closed her eyes. She could feel her father's wings touching hers on one side and Viktor's on the other other. She banked hard into the thermals, allowing them to carry her aloft high into the air above the clouds. She let out a loud eagle cry that echoed the release she always felt when flying, savouring the irony that Hermione Granger, bane of all brooms in flight, would find herself a gryphon who enjoyed flying in the air as a duck took to water.
Aleksander had married a fiery Bulgarian witch who had shown the same passion for cooking as he. They had been married off the coast where the sun set like the sky was on fire. Their children set the world on fire, and the Pack expected nothing less.
Lazar found himself bound to a Veela from Southern France. They had met on a whirlwind holiday Lazar was taking while making connections in France for opening a French extension of the Aerie. In the course of less than a year, the wizard found himself both married as well as the father of triplets. Lazar proclaimed he was going insane, the Pack helped him get a handle on his brood one day at a time.
Valko, proud bird of earth, stood steadfast that he needed no female to complete him. He lived a good twenty years after his graduation from Durmstrang as a proudly single earthen bird until he crash landed, Harry Potter style, into a ring-tailed coati Animagus while caught in a storm, succumbed to the perils of love, and found himself married after a two year courtship. The Pack seemed to think it was fated. Harry congratulated Valko on "pulling a Harry and Harriet."
Petya, the proud and the wizard with the silver spoon for a tongue, found himself quite enamoured with one Pansy Parkinson, who had made good on her change from Pure-Blood supremacist to Muggle-born advocate in the Wizarding Muggle Affairs Office. Draco had smiled during the wedding saying that she was still surprising him, even years out of Hogwarts. While she showed no desire to be an Animagus, stating that she did not want to find out she was an orca or a tree frog and have to live it down. She remained, however, a devoted friend to the pack.
A certain long-lived bearded goat became known as the Hogwart's mascot. He was dressed up for all sorts of occasions such as holidays and Quidditch games, and depending on who won the House Cup that year, he was dressed in matching House colours for the next summer after. It was probably good that Albus Dumbledore was not aware of his predicament as the Slytherin House won the cup for a number of years in a row.
But, all those years that Hermione flew with her mate, her father, her brother's coils wrapped around her neck, and her Sky Brothers had faded into distant memory. Hermione had survived them all. Her and their children and grandchildren now took over what she and her original Pack had started. The Aerie and Joke Shop businesses were still Pack run, and their carved out and protected life in the Dark Forest remained peaceful. They had succeeded in protecting their legacy, their alliance to the Herd, and the providing a safe haven for Animagi and reformed werewolves.
They had won the war. They had done the impossible. They had survived, thrived, grown, and become mighty. The packs children, grandchildren, and all those that came after them would prevail.
Hermione felt the aches in her wings from her flight. Her great wings were slowly getting weary. Her heart was no longer the strong and driving force of will it used to be. She allowed the silvery armour to cover her, relishing in the feel of the once Christmas gift Severus has gifted her. It had saved her life so many times. It had saved others' lives many more. She let the armour retract as her wings flapped tiredly and she circled the growing settlement of Animagi homes that had started so humbly.
The new settlements were built into the forest and into the trees, blending into the ground and in the forest cover, merging the ways of Wizard and centaur in a perfect blend of cultures. All that lived in the settlement devoted half their time in taking care of the surrounding forests, working to insure the lands remained protected, and all the respect due to the centaur herd remained in tact.
Hermione landed in her garden, smelling the scent of the night blooming flowers, the ripening produce, and damp loamy soil. There was a time that seemed no so long ago, when Moony would be there in the garden waiting for her, laying under the fruit tree orchard. Padfoot would bound up to her and slurp her like a farmer's hound to welcome her home, and her mate would be leaning against the door of the house, that special smile he reserved only for her upon his face. His scent of the salty sea no longer haunted the garden paths for her anymore, but sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she could smell it still.
How she longed to open the door to the Lair and see her father sitting in his lounge chair, book in his hands, Minerva curled up in his lap, tea on the table waiting for her. It never mattered what time it was. He would always know. He would always be waiting for her return, no matter how busy the day, how many of his children needed bedtime stories, or how many times he and his wife sneaked out together to escape. Severus, Hermione, and Viktor would sit together, drinking tea. Draco would wander in like so many times before escaping Crabbe and Goyle to sneak into the lair. They would sit together, saying nothing, but sharing everything without words.
Minerva had been the first to go. Hermione had found her curled up in her favourite window in a sunbeam. Her head curled around with her tail so she resembled a ball. She had looked like so many times before, that Hermione had greeted her, made tea, and sat it down beside the old Animagus before her mind processed that the old tabby's sides did not move. Hermione had reached into the Pack Song and found that essential piece of Minerva McGonagall was gone. Hermione had pulled Minerva to her, her hand stroking the old tabby's fur as though she were alive. She pressed her face into her fur as the tears came down, and the sobs came after.
The Scottish witch had been her professor, her mentor, her Mistress, and so much her mother in magic. Hermione swore she saw that silver tabby walking down the halls when she patrolled, tail up and curved over her back, but when she ran after to find her, the corridors would be empty and she would be alone.
One by one, her Sky Brothers had been taken from her, having lived long and joyous lives. Their elemental chicks had long since grown and flown the nest, but some of them stayed in the village and remained with the Pack. Fiery Aleksander, comforting Lazar, wise and stable Valko, and proud Petya. Oh how she missed their warmth, their teasing, their banter, and their steadfast loyalty.
She would see Aleksander in the kitchen, always. She would see Lazar brewing his drinks in barrels in the back as she passed through the store. She would see Valko inclined against the wall of her garden, singing to the plants as he proclaimed it made them grow faster. She was would see Petya perched high on the steeples, singing his song in the early morning air, greeting the dawn as he always had, just before Tonks would throw a shoe at him from her open window.
She would see Remus sleeping in the garden in wolf form, children tumbling upon him, pulling his tail and tweaking his ears. Children, grandchildren, children of his friends, all of them took turns flopping on the old wolf, and he would tolerate it always, guard them always, and drool on them with love always. Tonks would often lean against him the garden, looking up at stars or the clouds, depending on the time. Sometimes they would sleep there, peaceful and serene.
She would see Sirius, growing somewhat frazzled and worn, pad up to his old friend and bow in play, and the two oldest friends would romp the gardens and into the forest like they were pups once more. They would tear around the woods like fools chasing a deer, and return to the garden covered in pine needles or leaves. They remained, until the end, best friends, always.
And one day Remus lay down in the garden under his favourite cherry tree, closed his eyes, and fell asleep. Sirius had found him, bowed himself in an offer to play, barked for his old friend to join him, but Remus never woke, and Sirius, the last of the Marauders, howled his grief to the heavens, curled up next to his best friend, and his heart gave out.
Tonks, perhaps thanks to Teddy, did not follow her mate, but there were times when she would sit with Hermione and they would both stare at the sunset together, remembering their loves and their lives together, wistful for the time when they were all together.
While other deaths came and went, as was expected through life and growing old, none effected as much as the death of Severus Snape. She had felt the agony as her last tendrils of the bond they shared left a gaping hole as they broke. She as she patrolled the halls of Hogwarts, and she had never run as fast through the corridors to the Headmaster's office. She ran up the spiral staircase, flung open the door, and run in, falling to her knees at her father's feet.
Severus Snape was inclined in his armchair, a book in his hand, tea on the table as he waited for her to finish her patrols, his eyes closed as if in sleep. It had been natural and sudden, she knew, for he had said nothing through their bond. It had simply disappeared, leaving her empty and alone. She hadn't been alone since her second year in Hogwarts, and now, she felt the weight of all her years crash down upon her. She flung herself into her father's lap, snuggling into him and his lingering scent.
It was almost a day after, they found her, still curled up in her father's lap, clinging to his robes like a child of twelve. Her children sang to her in the Pack Song to bring her back from her grief and the enormity of her loss. They had found Viktor collapsed much like her in the middle of a Quidditch Pitch, having succumbed to the shock of the loss while teaching the youngest generation tips of the older generation. Harry had sat with her for days along with Viktor, offering his comfort as best he could, but a part of him knew that what the two of them had lost was more than just absence of a person but more an absence of a soul that they had shared for decades. Veronika, however, never recovered from her beloved husband's death. One day, the old bear walked out of the gardens and never returned. They found her curled up on the grave of her husband, eyes closed as if in sleep, poised as if to guard over him in his final sleep.
Hermione and Viktor gradually recovered. Hermione became Headmistress, and life continued on. Her body grew older. Gray spread in both hers and Viktor's hair. Their time together seemed all the more precious. They would walk together by Black Lake, and when they were sure no one was looking, they would fly together like times of old, chasing each other across the surface of the lake, allowing their wing tips to dip into the water and their talons to touch the surface as they flew.
But, one day, Viktor did not wake beside her in the morning. His arms had remained around her as his heart had given out at last, and Hermione Krum found herself truly alone in her mind. Viktor, loving, compassionate, and protective Viktor, had stayed by her side until the end of his life. Hermione had cradled Little Vik in her arms and sobbed into his soft feathers. The tiny hippogriff snuggled into her face giving her reassuring chirps. Vik was her last connection to her beloved mate, and through him, he lived on.
When she flew, now, she flew alone, but in her mind, Viktor and her father were always there. Her Sky Brothers dipped and spun in lazy circles around them. There were so many times she didn't want to open her eyes, lest she remember that they were gone.
That left Harry and Draco, ever faithful, her brothers. Draco's children with Astoria ran through her gardens chasing the gnomes year after year. He spent his life pulling his family name out of the gutter his father had thrown it into, and by the time his children were grown enough to marry and have their own children, Malfoy was no longer cursed in the same breath as Death Eater.
Astoria had never become one of the Pack, but she was protected by it. Her love for Draco and her children was strong and respected. She adored all the people in the village, raised many children as her own, and was accepted just as Neville and Luna were.
But one night, on a cold winter day, Hermione felt the warm coils of her brother around her neck as she fell asleep. His familiar scent and warmth reminded her of so many times at Hogwarts. And when she woke in the morning, his body was still. He was wrapped around her neck as he always did, but when her hand reached to touch his scaled head, no darting tongue flicked out to lick her fingers. He had become cold in the night. Perhaps he had known, or maybe he had been seeking that part of the Pack that always bought him peace. Whatever the reason, her brother had chosen to be with her in the end, and Hermione didn't stop crying for weeks after. Every time she saw a favoured place to sun, a branch he loved to coil on, or her hand would go to her neck to seek the familiar warmth of her favourite Taipan choker, she would burst into tears, sometimes throwing things, sometimes sinking to her knees, and sometimes walking until her legs felt like they were falling off. She knew in her heart, that despite how close she and Harry had been, Draco had been her brother for far longer. Draco had been her first true realisation of family outside Severus. He had been her brother, her comrade, and best friend. His absence created void that could never be filled, but she lived on.
Hermione sprawled out on the loamy earth of her garden as the moon rose high over the Earth. The moon was full, and a part of her imagined Moony chasing Padfoot around the forest and leaping in the garden.
When she lay there, letting the Earth beneath her thrum with its own power of life, she could feel Viktor's muzzle nuzzle into her neck, his tongue tongue grooming her feathers into order as he'd done so many times before. She could feel the coil of her brother around her neck, the warm bird balls gathered around her belly, and the soft touch of her Master's hand upon her head. She closed her eyes.
Harry saw the dark clad figure in the garden and felt an immediate sense of foreboding and panic. Part of his mind screamed Death Eater. Finally, after all these years, they had returned to collect a debt of lives upon Hermione.
Harry leapt over the garden fence and ran towards the orchard where he saw the figure. It was Hermione's favourite place to sleep since so many of the Pack had passed.
The dark robes were ominous. He couldn't see a face or even hands. Who was it?
Harry had his wand out, adrenaline rushing. Years of being a trained Auror snapped into place. "Get away from her!" he yelled.
The figure turned, and Harry realised that there was no face. A gleaming skull stared out at him. Black flames flickered within his eye sockets. Bone talons curved from the back, tattered looking robes.
"What, exactly, would you do, child, if I did not concede to your request?" a voice came from the skull like face. It was like a whisper of the grave itself. "You may have my old cape, but that does not make you my master."
Harry stared into the skull's eyes. "What?"
The skull-like face tilted to the side, the rest of his body still. The gesture was eerily familiar. He'd seen it before, head tilted just so, stillness of the grave. Severus had often had it. Hermione had had it… Desmondon had… had it.
"Who are you?" Harry asked.
Long bony fingers extended outward and then clenched, as if to stretch them. "Many names I have been called. Mannanan, Mictlantecuhtli, Yama, Supay, shinigami, Osiris, Hades, Thanatos, Hel, Mors, Aita, Kali, Dullahan, Grim, Aminon, Barastyr, the Black Wanderer," he said with a soft voice. "Perhaps, however, if I were to pick a favourite, it would be… Desmondon."
"You're Death?" Harry whispered.
"One name of many," he replied, the black flames in his eyes sockets flickered and rose up. He extended his bony talons towards Hermione's still form.
"Don't!" Harry said. "Don't touch her!"
The skull face stared at him. "You would condemn her to life without ending as her body shrivelled around her, trapping her mind that can never die?"
Harry shook her head. "No, she was fine this morning. She's not suppose to… die before me."
Flames flickered from Death's pitiless skull face. "She has always been good at hiding her condition from you, Harry Potter."
Harry staggered backward, his wand lowering slightly. He shook his head. "No."
"She is old, child," Death said. "She has lived a long life. Longer than one who has been dealt with far less ever sees. She has no regrets, her body is failing, her life trickles out like the sand in a hourglass. She is ready to come Home."
"Home?" Harry whispered.
Death tilted his head. "Where the heart is, Harry Potter." He turned back to Hermione and knelt down. His skull like face came down towards her, and he placed a kiss upon her forehead. "Time to come Home, my child," he said softly.
"Master Desmondon?" Hermione's voice whispered. It was tired and sleepy.
"Sleep now," Death said softly, his skeletal hands gently pressed to her forehead and passed over her face, closing her eyes.
His bony arms wrapped around her and pulled her up to his breast. He wrapped her in the wispy blackness of his cloak, pulling her into his embrace so her head lay against his shoulder. It was a surprisingly tender gesture.
Death stepped off the ground, his body simply taking off the ground as if he had no weight at all. He began to fade into the air, his body and hers becoming transparent.
"You will see her again, Harry Potter," Death said softly. "But not today and not tomorrow. Perhaps, not for some time."
And with that, Death was gone, carrying Hermione Krum, mother, Headmistress, professor, friend, sister, and gryphon beyond the Veil.
Hermione woke in a place where the light was terribly bright, and she winced, rubbing her eyes. She felt strangely rested, something she hadn't experienced since many years previous, when her bones had been younger and less abused.
"Good morning, child," a warm rumble of a voice greeted her.
Hermione rubbed her eyes and focused. Familiar black robes hung from the figure's shoulders. "Master Desmondon," she said warmly.
The vampire's familiar bestial face was a strangely welcome sight. He was so familiar.
"You've had a long and happy life, child?" he asked.
Hermione smiled, thinking of her life. It was odd, she realised that she felt no pain over it anymore. "A long and happy life, Master," she said with a nod.
"I am gladdened to hear it," Desmondon said tenderly, his eyes, black as they were, had a warmth to them. "Your Pack had been waiting for you," he said to her. "Impatiently, I might add."
Hermione's eyes grew wide. She looked around her. All around here were green hills and forests. She could smell the water of the nearby lake. There was the smell of earth and loam. She stood, looking around her in wonder as the wind shook the grass, making it rustle with a shimmer.
"Took your time, Ari," a painfully familiar voice said. She turned and saw a blond short-haired younger Draco Malfoy. "I blame your damnable good health."
"Coils?" She whispered.
"In the scales, sister mine," Draco answered her, his broad Slytherin grin was painfully beautiful.
Hermione rushed up to him, placing her hands on his cheeks. "Brother?"
Draco looked into her eyes, his silver-grey ones flickered with emotion. "It's me."
"Bought time our sestrá finally get here," Aleksander's voice said.
"Tired of being the only one who keeps Petya from burning all the food," Lazar replied.
"Tired of having to bury the evidence," Valko said with a sniff.
"Not my fault," Petya complained. "I didn't know you could burn food here!"
Hermione stared as her Sky Brothers came out of the foliage, solidifying in her vision as though they had just walked out of the fog. "My brothers," she whispered in Bulgarian.
"Psh," Viktor's voice said. "Mate so distracted by brothers that she doesn't even notice me. Will have to have epic battle after all to win back mate."
"Viktor?" Hermione breathed. She ran up to him and halted, suddenly unsure. She reached out to touch his face, and paused, looking fearful.
Viktor placed his palm to her cheek and stroked it, his thumb moving across her nose to wipe her tears. "Is me, Her-my-own."
She clung to him, burying her face into his neck. His arms went around her in his oh so familiar embrace.
"She's excited, and she hasn't even seen the library," Minerva's voice said with a grin sounding in her voice.
Hermione pulled away from Viktor to see Minerva approaching. The Animagus wasted no time getting to her, turning into her cat form, running up at top speed, and leaping into Hermione's arms. Hermione clung to Minerva with tears in her eyes. "Minerva," she whispered, a tremble in her voice.
The silver tabby cat rubbed against her face, running her whiskers across her cheeks.
There was movement, and she saw Desmondon turning to leave.
Hermione set down Minerva carefully and walked after him. "Master Desmondon?"
The vampire turned to her.
Hermione rushed up to him, wrapping her arms around him in a combination of relief and thankfulness.
Desmondon placed a white hand to her hair and stroked it gently. "You have earned this peace, my child," he said with a quirk of his lips. "Enjoy it."
"Will I see you again?" Hermione asked.
The ancient vampire laughed genuinely. "You need only ask, dear child," he said, pressing his lips to her forehead in a kiss. "But there are others you should be greeting before you call for my company."
"She's forgetting about us already, Moony," Sirius' voice chuckled as he approached. Remus was at his side with a broad grin. Hermione turned to meet them, an amazed look upon her face. When she turned to look towards Desmondon, she found he had disappeared. She rushed up to Sirius and Remus, and they pulled her into a warm hug.
"About time you got here," Sirius complained. "Moony seems to think I don't groom him as well as you do."
Hermione laughed, hugged the two Marauder's tight.
"He's waiting for you," Remus said, a warm smile about his face.
Sirius grinned, pointing over his shoulder. "Follow that silver tabby."
Hermione saw Minerva's tail waving in the wind and took off after her down the grassy hillside.
Minerva was on a mission, and Hermione found herself pressed to keep up as a human. She was tempted to shift, but then she figured if she caught up to Minerva, she'd have to wait for her to lead her the rest of the way agonisingly slowly.
She followed after the tabby over a hill, through part of the woods, a garden that looked very familiar, and to a cottage she recognised as the Lair. Minerva had already darted in, and Hermione rushed up to the door and stopped. She pondered if she should knock, or if the normal walking right in rules applied.
Deciding to take life into her hands, she walked in.
A dark clad Potion Master sat at a round table. His hand was holding a book, and tea was set out on the table. Minerva was curled up in his lap, tail flicking lazily. There was an extra cup sitting on the table… waiting for her, as it always was.
He was waiting for her, as he always did.
:Father,: she rushed up to him and lay her head in his lap, slightly squishing Minerva in her enthusiasm.
The softest touch of his hand was on her hair, soothing her hair as though it were her feathers.
:My daughter,: he whispered into her mind. :Sit, and have tea with me.:
Hermione stared up into the black eyes of her father and Master and beamed at him. :Your will is mine.:
A/N: I have to thank all of you that have supported me through this whirlwind that was this story. I never though I'd have a story that yanked me by the heart strings like A Chance for Happiness, and I couldn't be happier to be wrong. It has been an exercise of canon and non, characters that never change, and those that evolve. It has been a ride without sleep, too much coffee, not enough tea, and everything in between.
I take the time, however, to thank a special group of you that have practically posted reviews for just about every chapter from the very beginning till the end. It is people like you that made me persevere. I love you all.
Special thanks to those who have put up with my oddball messages at 2am looking for sounding boards or provided moral support when I desperately needed it, but not limited to: Bookwormkat1, SereniteRose, Shorty653, DutchGirl01, Kallanit, the dragon and the rose, Kermit 304, AriBridge, samdeesingh, carick of hunter moon, and LuresaSWTOR. There are so many more of you than names I can remember off the top of my head, and for that, you have my apologies, but please, do not think that makes you any less special. There were times when I sat uninspired and unsure where to go, and that one review came in at just the right time and made me happy.
And hugs to those of you like waitedforlove743, who took a chance to read a story they wouldn't normally read and let me know that they not only did, but liked it, and Stalwart77, who let me know my stories helped them through some tough times. I am glad, so very glad, that one story can reach so many different people.
Last but not least, a thanks to those such as iscariot, who challenged me to do better with brutal honesty. Constructive reviews may not make a person feel that great when you get them, but they are helpful, as they should be, and someone had to do it.
All I ask from you, my faithful, my random guests, and my drive-by readers, is to please leave a review and let me know what you thought of the story. Tell me if you had a favourite character.
I appreciate you all. While I write to write rather than to a specific audience, your generous support has helped me get through my own difficult times, and that is its own priceless gift.
P.s. Sorry if I created a tissue vortex. I swear the ending was happy. HAPPY! I just had to make it sad to get to happy. I swear happy was the goal!