A/N: You guys. 1000 reviews! Originalanonymouse, look for a PM from me! And to everyone who followed this story and reviewed as they read, you have no idea how much your words meant to me. They kept me writing. They're the reason this epilogue exists. Thank you!
October 31, 2007
She was alone, and her footsteps echoed on the flagstones. She walked the length of the keep, peering into empty rooms as she passed. It was not until she reached the ball room—the throne room— that she paused for more than a few moments. She could see it all spread out before her, the bowing and scraping Death Eaters all giving obeisance to him before turning their eyes on her. Speculative, wary, reverential. Powerful.
Her heeled boots echoed on the marble floor as she made her way towards the obsidian throne which dominated the room. She could see him sitting there in her mind's eye, the man who had nearly succeeded in killing her, who had thought to use her and twist her into something, someone unrecognizable.
"Bombarda Maxima!" she cried, her wand pointed at the throne which exploded into a thousand fragmented pieces.
It had been so long. Ten years, and still she could see his red eyes staring at her approvingly. Even now, she could picture that glittering gaze as it watched her dance around this very room. She had thought that by coming here, she could put it behind her, destroy the evidence of her family history, and move on… but the excursion had proved the opposite. The horror of her summer in Midlothian, the horror of her heritage, could never really be erased.
Wiping at her eyes, she Disapparated, reappearing at the bottom of the hill upon which Keep Avery sat.
"I thought I might find you here."
Startled, Hermione turned to find Severus leaning against a tree several yards from her.
"How did you— oh never mind. I'll not apologize for coming if that's what you're looking for."
He sighed, moving to stand beside her and folding his hands behind his back.
"Please don't, Severus. I know what you're going to say, and I appreciate it… but I needed to do this on my own."
A pause and then, "I know that. You think I don't understand?"
"I didn't mean it that way."
"Hermione, I know what it is to be horrified by your own blood. The monster who spawned me was not so very different than the one who sired you, but for the power they held. I have been where you are."
"I mean only to offer you companionship Hermione, not to discredit the things you still feel, or to cheapen them."
Hermione closed her eyes, reaching for his hand with hers and allowing herself to feel the truth of his words along with the warmth of his skin. This place was always so damnably cold. Every year when she came, haunted by the ghosts of the war, of the part she had played, she returned chilled to the bone, a fitting sensation which matched her inner turmoil.
"I keep thinking I'm past it all," she whispered. "Every year I think I've got it beat, and then October rolls around, and I'm right back where I was a decade ago."
"There is nothing wrong with the way you feel," Severus assured her. "You are a good woman, disturbed by the evil in this world, which at one point threatened to envelope her. I love you precisely because you fought against it, because you still fight against it."
Hermione gave him a thin smile and squeezed his hand with her own.
"Thank you," she said after several minutes. "I'm ready now."
They raised their wands together, pointing them towards the castle. They watched as old wards began to sweep up from the ground near their feet, arching upward and inward to meet in a dome over the ancient structure. They viewed the castle through the shimmering wards until the glow in the air faded, leaving the view undisturbed.
Hermione let out a breath, visible in the cold air, and turned her back on her family's former stronghold.
"Cyril and Messalina?" she asked as they walked a short way together.
"With your parents for the night's festivities. I thought you might appreciate some time just the two of us this evening."
"Thank you," she said, and Severus squeezed her hand in response, pulling her close and wrapping one arm around her waist.
"I love you," he reminded her, and as twisted and dark as she felt inside, the words still made her heart leap with joy and a small, grateful smile bloom on her lips.
She kissed him, one hand threading through his hair and pulling him down to meet her. His mouth was warm over hers, and as she felt his tongue trace the seam of her lips, she was reminded that though this haunted feeling which plagued her today may last for the rest of her life… there were other things, stronger things, that would last well beyond.