A/N: Writer's block sucks… Definitely AU, like most of my stories. Harry is not a perfect hero— or even a hero— in this story, and some things change due to actions and resultant reactions. Be warned. This is not canon.
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, and the flyby Commander Shepard
Disclaimer: I am not JKR. I just play in her sandbox. Anything you recognise is probably hers, unless, of course, I made it up in my own head.
Trigger Warnings: wanton (un)friend neglect
Summary: [HG/SS] Hermione was always different. One day different came crashing into her mother's garden in a tangle of wings, claws, and teeth. Did she run? Yes— to the cupboard to get bandages and ointment. Little did she know that this one event would set the course of her entire life.
The End is Not Always the End
vincit qui se vincit
(He who prevails over himself is twice victorious)
Hermione knew she wasn't normal in the sense most people thought of the word and from a very young age. She knew it because normal people didn't hide with the monsters under the bed and have tea parties with them. Normal people didn't talk to the birds on the bird feeder and get a chirpy little reply.
At first, she thought it was a perfectly normal thing, but that had changed all too soon when her friends proceeded to inform her that animals couldn't talk to them. She was obviously making it up to get attention was the general opinion. Saddened by this, she resolved to stop making such things up and act perfectly normal, just like everyone else. That noble resolution had lasted all of one day until the moment she found a winged rabbit sporting a fine rack of antlers in her mum's garden, struggling to pull the rather large turnip out of the back garden with its oversized teeth.
Her parents thought she had quite a vivid imagination, each blaming the other for indulging their daughter entirely too much, especially when said daughter never grew out of, well, imaginary things like all of the other normal children. Her father blamed her reading far too much at a very early age, and her mother blamed the tall tales and fish stories her husband told her before bed. They even had her admitted to a children's hospital for psychological testing, only to be informed that she had a new "imaginary" friend named Fred.
They put her on pills, but they only made her sick, and even stranger things began to happen inside the Granger home. Things moved without anyone being around. The fireplace burst into life without being lit. All of the clocks began to move backwards, and all the keys in the house ended up stuck to the ceiling and had to be individually carved out with a hammer and chisel. They contacted a priest and demanded an exorcism, but nothing they did seemed to cure young Hermione of her "issues."
So, when a frantic Hermione ran into the house asking for bandages to help "a monster who crash landed in the garden," her parents just accepted it, finally having decided that nothing they said or did was going to make her stop seeing things. Even more, when they stopped medicating her, objects stopped flying around the house and getting stuck to the ceiling. It was better, the believed, to live with a nutter for a child than live with a nutter child and a haunted house too, after all.
"Hello! I'm very sorry I took so long, but mummy keeps all of the bandages on the top shelf of the cupboard." Hermione, having never experienced a fear of anything that most people would consider to be extraordinary, cleaned the strange wounds with the special bubbly spray her mum always used on her, wrapped the cuts with the roll of gauze.
"Do you have a name?" she asked, so intent on tending the wounds that she didn't notice the creature wincing in pain, baring his teeth slightly as a thick, fluorescent green venom dripped from its large maw. "My name is Hermione. I haven't seen you around here before. Are you new here? We just moved here. Daddy thinks that people won't realize I'm different in this brand-new place."
The creature growled, its talons flexing as it attempted to stand, then groaned in pain as its wing was bent backwards in a most excruciating way, the leathery membrane between the bones having been badly torn.
"Oh, no!" Hermione cried, her hands reaching to touch the broken parts instinctively. "Don't move; you'll only hurt yourself even more."
There was a flash of blue light and a surge of heat, and the creature had frozen in place, its dark eyes staring holes into her. She clung to its injured wing; only it was healing before their astonished eyes as her touch sent a flood of healing energy through his injured body. The membrane was knitting together like the spill of water across a table from a tipped glass. The broken bones jerked, cracked, and realigned, mending with suddenly accelerated speed.
The moment all seemed to be well, Hermione snatched her hands away. "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! It just happens!" She curled up into a tiny ball and began to cry. "If someone finds out we'll have to move again. I'm not supposed to do things that other people can't do!"
The creature's wing curled protectively around the girl as she whimpered, tugging her closer, pressing her against its almost unnatural warmth. She clung to the strangely soft, leathery and scaled skin, her tears wetting his smooth hide as they trailed down from her face.
The beast moved his monstrous head and nudged her gently, tucking her more securely against itself. Its head was somewhat elongated, like a preternaturally thin, starving horse, but its mouth was filled with oversized, jagged teeth. A long, sinuous tail wrapped around the little girl, the end seeming to be split into multiple, smaller tails. A pitch black mane of hair went from top of head to spill in an inky trail down its back, which was covered by small, finely shaped scales that shimmered wherever the sun touched it, like polished chips of obsidian. It was a chimaera of beasts, put together by a committee of madmen, out of various spare and/or defective parts— or perhaps the scariest parts one that could find. Yet, none of this seemed to matter to Hermione, who clung to the creature as one would a cherished, well-loved teddy bear— if a teddy bear came in extra large and scary with fangs and claws and a profusion of multiple whip-like tails.
How long they stayed together— young girl and beast— no one could say. When Hermione's young emotions were finally spent, she crawled out from behind the curved wings as one would emerge from a cocoon, poking her head out from the top and peeling the wings back like leaves. She looked around fearfully, not for fear of the beast as for being caught being different. She knew her parents would most definitely not approve. They would not understand, and like most of her "imaginary friends," they would be dismissed as an elaborate flight of fancy that should never be taken seriously.
She had brought in the winged rabbit, and all they had seen was a perfectly ordinary wild bunny. She'd shown them the little bird with a cat's head, and all they had seen was a magpie.
"Hermione!" called a voice from inside the house. "Dinner's ready!"
"Coming, mummy!" the little girl answered. She stared up into the dark eyes and hugged his head, drawing her tiny arms around it as one would attempt to hug a polar bear. "I have to go, or mummy will come looking for me. I know I probably won't see you again. We never live in one place long enough to make friends."
She stroked its head gently. "I hope you aren't hurt again. Be careful, okay?" She placed a small kiss on its forehead and scurried off back into the house.
The creature shuddered and gasped, seeming to fold in on itself— talons shrinking, muzzle flattening, and wings folded in and disappearing. In its place was a startled, haunted-looking man with long black hair, dark eyes, and pale skin. He stared at his hands, flipping them over to check them as he pinched the skin on his arm. He stared into the house where Hermione had gone.
He was gone.
Hermione did see him again, but each time it had been in the lowest and saddest parts of her life. Each time was fleeting but for the pull of its warm embrace— the one friend who had never, ever hurt her. It had come right before the troll had come in the bathroom, allowing her to cry over him once more— silent, protective, and non-judgmental. He had left after she managed to pull herself together, but then the troll had come.
Hermione had never had a bad experience with a magical creature until then, and the experience had left her feeling quite rattled. Before that awful experience, many strange creatures had come to her, almost like they knew her touch would heal them. They would creep in through her open bedroom window or into the garden and wait for her— knowing she would find them eventually and knowing that she couldn't help but heal them.
It never worked for "normal" everyday animals, despite her best efforts. She had tried, many times, to rescue the animals her neighbour's cat had mauled and brought back to the house. It had never worked on anyone fully human either, or at least it seemed that way.
She never knew why he always seemed to knew when she was suffering, but he always found her, provided that safe space in which to cry, and then was gone the moment he was certain that she was on the mend. While he never once spoke, nor did she believe it was possible, he never failed to offer the support she so desperately needed.
The next time he came, she looked like a cat— a furry, feline head on a mostly human body. She was quite upset, and understandably so, but not for the reasons a normal person might be.
"Harry and Ron are trying to find the heir of Slytherin," she cried. "What if they need me? What if they get hurt because I wasn't there? What if MMPHF—"
The all-encompassing feel of her monstrous friend's wings pinned her into that now comforting blackness and warmth. She never asked him how he managed to find her. She never asked why he cared. She felt such a calming reassurance whenever he was there that it was impossible to ignore. The familiar scent of herbs and earthen musk somehow made all of her worries simply fade away. She lay her head against him and listened to the sound of his heart beating strongly in his broad chest.
The sound of swiftly approaching footsteps caused the both of them to scramble— she for the nearby stall and he for the nearest window. Harry and Ronald had come to her, but she still had to show them why that wasn't going to happen. They finally left without her, and Hermione made her way to the infirmary, praying that there would be some cure for her rather mortifying condition.
The next time he came to her was when she was petrified solid— drawn, perhaps, to the call of the sheer terror she was feeling. Her body was already frozen, but her senses were rather slow to leave her. She felt the brush of leathery wings against her body and the warm darkness that had always come along with it.
She pleaded in her mind for him to escape— to leave her there. What if the basilisk came back? What if it got him too? Her only friend— her secret beastly friend who had always been there for her when things had seemed far too difficult, when she was facing grave danger or a seemingly insurmountable task. She couldn't bear to expose him because of her own failure. What if they thought he was a monster? What if they hurt him? What if they—
She heard the low growl as his muzzle pressed against her cheek. His talons wrapped around her closed fist before she couldn't feel him anymore. Her senses were fading into a grey oblivion where neither light or darkness were there to welcome her.
The year when the Dementors came to Hogwarts, no one felt like they would ever be safe again. To top it all off, the only two people she felt she could possibly consider friends had shunned her entirely, thanks to her telling Professor McGonagall about the arrival of Harry's broom via an unknown benefactor. Harry had been so angry with, and a furious Ron had gotten right up in her face, yelling at her for always taking away all of the good things in life.
They shunned her.
They ignored her.
Or, worse, they talked about her like she wasn't there.
Hermione fled, fighting back tears, grabbing her books against her chest like a shield and exiting the Great Hall as quickly as she could. She hustled off trying to focus on finding a way to save Buckbeak instead of focusing on her own non-existent social life.
But Buckbeak didn't really show her any particular regard either. He was unlike the other magical creatures— far more interested in eating dead ferrets than anything else. While Nifflers would crawl into her lap and beg for pets and even Diricawls would appear and beg for pieces of her sandwiches— Buckbeak cared for only three things: ferrets, bowing protocol, and boys. There was no room for Hermione unless she had a dead ferret or three to share.
Her father used to say that her mum had this little, yappy dog that seemed to hate all men. He adored female attention, however, and turned into the best-behaved dog ever when around her mum or her girlfriends.
"Man-hater," her father muttered under his breath.
She figured Buckbeak preferred only males for companionship— the ultimate lifelong bachelor.
Still, even though he didn't much care for her, he didn't deserve to die.
She stared longingly at the restricted section of the library. Surely, there could be a book there that could help her?
"Where is your Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dumber, Ms Granger?" a low, baritone voice rumbled, startling her.
Hermione's eyes grew wide as the ever-intimidating Professor Snape scowled down at her. She turned away, wincing. "They aren't speaking to me, sir," she explained quietly
"Obviously," he answered her, tching his tongue. "Which is probably why they are currently cooling their heels in detention with Lupin, but I have a feeling such efforts offer no hope of solving their various problems. And you, Ms Granger? Do you not yet know enough? Pining over some random book across the way seems a bit unnecessary for one as knowledgeable as yourself."
Hermione flushed in embarrassment, staring down her small hands.
"Must you squirrel yourself away, hiding amongst the books, sacrificing most of your valuable time for not a single drop of thanks?" Snape scoffed. "Your pathetic little friends do not seem to care about you until your much-vaunted knowledge can save them somehow, hrm?"
"Th— that's not true," Hermione protested, wringing her hands.
"Isn't it?" The tall, brooding potions master scowled at her. His lip curled in an all-too-familiar expression of utter disdain. "If you must sacrifice yourself for a cause that no one cares about— even those who truly should— by all means, don't let me stop you. Maybe something in there will murder you where you stand, saving us all from your irritatingly incessant hand waving." He slammed his hands down on the desk in front of her, staring her right in the eyes.
Hermione turned her chin up, staring right back at him. There were tears shimmering in her large brown eyes, but she refused to let them fall. She met his gaze squarely, mustering her resolve.
"Ah, so there it is," he commented quietly, causing her to blink. "The famous look of Gryffindor bravery in the face of danger. Perhaps, Miss Granger, you are long overdue for discovering the benefits of a little Slytherin self-preservation before your foolish little 'friends' manage to get you killed!"
"Shhhhhh!" Madam Pince hissed.
Snape whirled, glowering down at the older witch with a look of barely-contained fury.
Hermione realised that Madam Pince had few, if any, supporters.
Snape turned and stormed out in a flurry of billowing dark roes, but as he did, a small scrap of parchment fluttered down to the floor in his wake.
Hermione rushed to pick it up— thinking that perhaps she should return it, but her eyes widened as she realised what it was: a pass to the restricted section.
She stared off after her rather mercurial potions professor, feeling rather conflicted.
"...overdue for discovering the benefits of a little Slytherin self-preservation, Miss Granger…"
Hermione clenched the parchment in her hands. She stared at the Restricted Section. She stared down at the pass with no little disbelief.
Research pass for the restricted section.
Reusable until I say otherwise.
Hermione's arm trembled. She bit her lip.
It's reusable, the voice inside her traitorous heart whispered. You can always give it back to him… later. Maybe.
Hermione set her chin and stood, walking over to Madam Pince. "I'd like to see the restricted section, please."
The year of the Triwizard Tournament, Draco Malfoy had struck her with a curse meant for Harry Potter, but that hadn't stopped him from ridiculing her for being in his way. To make matters worse, Professor Snape had dressed her down in front of the entire class— again. There was simply no pleasing the man. There wasn't anything she could do to somehow gain his favour. She didn't even need a kind word from him, if she could only have a single non-hateful one.
"He hates me," Hermione moaned as she tucked herself within a the hidden copse of trees overlooking the Black Lake. "He said he saw "no difference". How can someone not see— this!" She tapped her hideously elongated front teeth, no thanks to Malfoy's spell. "Ron hates me. Harry would rather hang out with Ron and goof off than study. I'm just a stupid little MudMFFF—"
Hermione squeaked in surprise as a dark wing curved around her and pulled her into an embrace. She clung tightly to that comforting darkness, unable to hold back her cry of despair at being different— always so different, always the freak, no matter what circle of people she happened to be in. Huge talons and great wings, dark but so warm and protective, pressed her up against that all-encompassing darkness complete with its sense of total safety, and absolution. In that darkness it was safe to cry, safe to be weak, and safe to remember she had a friend.
"You're my only real friend," Hermione confessed. "The only one who comes to me when I'm feeling down and not— not because I can do something for them. I don't even know your name."
The creature whuffed softly, a low rumbling and clicking sound.
"It's okay if you have a life out there away from all of this," Hermione said, wiping her streaming eyes with the back of her hand. "It would be selfish of me to think you didn't have a life somewhere out there. I'm learning to be strong and harden my heart."
The beast lifted his head, tilting it to the side slightly. He narrowed his bright black eyes at her.
Hermione sniffed, turning her head away, trying to do as she said— trying to wall up her wounded heart against those who would hurt her.
Suddenly, like a lightning strike, the beast snapped at her, his teeth clicking only millimeters from her face. She startled, her concentration broken, and her emotions flooded out like water from a burst dam. She wrapped her arms around his huge muzzle and hugged him tight. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry! I didn't mean—"
The beast's black eyes stared at her as she clung to the bridge of his muzzle. He gave a low crooning sound as the tip of his bright green tongue crept out. It was her only warning.
He pinned her down with his head and rubbed against her, tagging her over and over with his unnaturally long tongue. Hermione burst into a fit of helpless giggles, unable to stop the onslaught, trying to protect her tickling places but realising that everything was ticklish. She was doomed!
After a few minutes, she lay back, gasping for air, her tears forgotten. He rolled her to him with his wing and pulled her against him and she buried herself in that familiar scent and cocoon of warmth, darkness, and safety. She was covered in an unnaturally glowing green drool, but she couldn't feel safer.
"You slimed me," Hermione giggled, petting his tongue like one would an Orca as a reward for a job well done. The beast let out a soft groan of pleasure at her touch and flopped over, exposing his softer belly for her attention, all of his whiplike tails twitching.
Fearlessly, she rubbed his exposed belly until he was a heap of quivering monster, greenish drool trickling from the corner of his muzzle. Hermione's touch, even without intending it, spread the familiar heat of her magic into his body. Scars faded, cuts disappeared, and even missing patches of fur and scales became whole and pristine once more.
Suddenly, the beast grasped her by the back of the collar and dragged her off to the lake, plunging in with a wave of rushing water. Hermione sputtered and flailed, fighting desperately to tread water. She clung tightly to the beast's midsection, trying to excise the water from her lungs.
The beast garrumphed, making a growling, chattering sound— laughing at her!
Hermione pushed water at him with her hands.
He glared at her, using his tails to wrap around her waist and jerk her away only to use his wings to buffet a large wave of water at her.
Hermione coughed and beat on his tails, but she wasn't struggling. She laughed and slumped. "No fair."
He gave her a look that even without words translated to, "And?"
They both slunk out of the lake, and he shook himself all over her, sending droplets of water flying everywhere, like an enormous wet dog.
"Hey!" she protested.
Again, the strange laughter.
Hermione pouted, putting her hands on her slender hips.
There was a rustle of feet against the shore rocks, and Hermione turned to find Viktor Krum jogging along the shoreline. For once, he didn't have a gaggle of giggly girls following him like a flock of hungry, squawking seagulls.
The beast's head wedged against her back and pushed her forward into the light so she could be seen.
"Wait—wha—?" she protested, stumbling forward and unable to stop herself.
Viktor had seen her.
A bit frantically, she looked back behind her to where the beast had been, but he was gone.
"Hello," Viktor said, giving a bow as he took her hand. He didn't seem to care she was dripping wet from the lake. "Was wondering. Please come to dance with me?"
Hermione's eyes went wide and her jaw dropped to the ground.
"Ronald ruined everything!" Hermione clenched her fists together. "Viktor— his face— oh, Merlin. The disgust… He thinks me to be a harlot now, some unclean little trollop," she trailed off, fighting back the tears as her anger rose.
"This was supposed to be, I just," she sputtered. "I just wanted to feel beautiful. To be beautiful, just once. Just once I wanted to feel like the fairy tale was possible."
Slow music drifted up from the Great Hall, coming up from the open windows to the hidden ramparts where one, lonely girl had often found shelter from those who could not find it within themselves to understand one such as herself.
The beast's talons extended to her, and she put her hand into his, her hand barely able to curve around even one of his large, elongated digits. He gently pulled her to her feet, offering her an exaggerated bow.
Hermione's eyes widened as he pulled her into a surprisingly graceful dance, guiding her across the stone ramparts in the moonlight. The cold seemed to fade away. The warmth of the beast chased the frozen snow away along with her pain. The slow music seemed to seep in from everywhere around them, fueling their private dance. She whirled; he caught her. She pressed herself against his warm, scaly form, her head resting against his chest to listen to his heartbeat as she danced with him. Her gossamer periwinkle dress shimmered in the moonlight, contrasted against the dark, dark skin of her beastly friend.
As the music faded, Hermione pulled the beast's head down and placed a gentle kiss upon his muzzle.
"Thank you," she whispered, staring up into his startled eyes. "I envy your mate— wherever she is out there. She's very lucky to have one such as you in her life. You probably have other things to do, yet here you are, bringing comfort to a poor, deluded girl who is still waiting for the magic to be real."
She caressed his muzzle. " I'm sure she loves you very much."
Hermione's eyes were sad as she pressed her forehead to his muzzle. "I know I do."
Noise in the nearby hall caused Hermione to stiffen and flee, knowing only that she couldn't bring attention to her oldest and most cherished friend. She disappeared quickly down the corridor.
The beast shuddered, his form folding in on itself in a rush of heat and magic. Severus Snape stood in its place, his haunted eyes staring down the hall in disbelief and pure anguish.
He hissed, clutching his arm.
The Dark Mark writhed on his arm, darkening and solidifying— the mark of his utter damnation. He let out a strangled cry. Hands twisted into talons. Leathery dark wings sprouted up from his back. His skin writhed and changed, scales and fur replacing smooth human skin. He clutched his head, his head reforming into the horrible visage of the beast. Long, dagger-like fangs sprouted out from his gums as venomous drool dripped from his mouth. He let out a roar of agony, leaping from the parapets and flying off into the night— the outline of the beast set across the moonlit sky.
Severus gasped as Dumbledore hit him with the restraining spell, forcing his monstrous body to heel. An overpowering rage suddenly filled him. A sense of anguish chased down his shame. The beast did not like being forced back. It did not like like being— contained.
His dark wings crackled and withdrew. Black talons shrank into clear human nails. Scales and fur withdrew, leaving him feeling naked and oddly vulnerable. His whiplike tails slashed out, knocking a row of books off Dumbledore's office bookshelf. Severus roared, his fangs jerking, shrinking, dulling into the weak, pathetic teeth of a human man. His body jerked, twisted, convulsed as it was forced back into a mortal human state. He wheezed, breathing hard.
"I'm sorry, my boy," Albus' voice said with a deep sigh. "Your curse seems to have grown even stronger lately. Containing it is becoming steadily more challenging."
Severus stared at him silently, seething with both hatred and self-loathing. This was their bargain. For Lily's life and containment of the curse that Bellatrix had thought was ultimately fitting: transforming him into a nightmarish beast whose only cure was true love. And Bellatrix knew very well that Severus had only ever loved one woman in his entire life: Lily Evans. Lily Evans, however, had repudiated him, choosing the unworthy James Potter over her childhood friend. Oh, Bellatrix knew very well that the curse would damn Severus for life, and she had looked forward to seeing him taken out by the Dark Lord for being a freakish monster.
Only something had changed in him that day he had crash landed in a lonely Muggle garden, tended to by a sweet little girl who had no idea of the great power she wielded in her gentle hands. The power of her touch had healed the deep wounds inflicted on him by Bellatrix' cruel slicing hexes. The power of her innocent kiss had allowed him to regain his human form long enough to retreat back to Dumbledore and have his beast "contained" once more.
But each time he came back— each time he came crawling back to Dumbledore— he knew he had traded one madman for another. He had resigned himself to a cursed life: either a long, lonely life, free as a beast no one could love, or live as a hated, human man held firmly under the boot of two unforgiving masters.
But his little saviour had come to him, sorted into the very house he had hated for so long, and surrounded by the very people that made both of their lives miserable. She was untouchable by him.
He could feel her— he had ever since the moment she had placed that first kiss up on his forehead. He always knew exactly where she was. He knew how she was feeling. He could feel her heart beating inside of his own. He knew because, on the night that Bellatrix had cursed him, his heart had stopped beating— until he met her: Hermione.
There was no way to help her, at least not in any obvious way. There was no way to be there for her— not while so many Death Eater sympathisers and their children roamed close. So, he kept her away from him with bitter barbs and venomous hate. He drove her into the arms of her stupid, lazy, selfish little Gryffindor friends, and he hated himself every single time he did so.
He felt her pain. Every damned time.
He felt her anguish— her need for comfort, for love— for someone to heal her very broken heart.
Yet, he could do nothing.
Nothing but find her whenever she was alone and wrap her in the comfort of his wings and let her tears wash over his skin.
Every time she would try to close herself off from the pain but shutting down emotionally, he would break her walls down, refusing to let her become as isolated as he had. Let no one into your heart, for then no one can ever hurt you.
He refused to let her close herself off from the world when she had so very much to offer it.
She accepted the beast. No one, not even the great Dumbledore, could find it within themselves to do that.
And the beast came to her, unable to stand her torture, defying Dumbledore's every attempt to keep it confined and restrained.
And now, Dumbledore wanted him to kill him.
What then? Rule Hogwarts as a beast? Hah!
"You're a fool, Albus," he whispered into the floor, tasting his own blood. "You're playing with Fiendfyre, and it will consume you in the end."
"Perhaps, Severus," Albus said. Then he vowed, "but it will be on my terms."
The night of Albus' murder, everything fell apart. A coldness grew in Severus' heart, freezing the beats of Hermione's magic. Without her touch— without her emotion— his heart stilled once more into the broken, cursed state it had been since Bella first cursed him, so long ago. It was then, as he saw Albus' broken body fall to the earth below, that he knew what Albus had done— seal away the beast with his death: seal it away by breaking the connection to her.
He gasped, digging his nails into his palm. No, not this. He would rather live as a tortured beast, face never being able to have her than this— cold, unfeeling, sense of utter emptiness. To no longer be able to feel her—
The Dark Mark floated above them, the glowing snake and skull glaring down over the grounds of Hogwarts.
Bellatrix was cackling.
Children were screaming.
Hermione stood at the foot of the Astronomy Tower, staring up at him as Headmaster Dumbledore lay crumpled at her feet.
A deep sense of betrayal grew in her heart. Guilt. She had given her trust to him as her professor to protect them all from harm.
That was when he felt it: hatred.
Overwhelming hatred coursed through her mind and heart like a deadly poison.
The sweet little girl with warm hands, gently caressing his head. The warmth of her smaller body pressed close against his. The steadfast loyalty and compassion— where was it now? Gone. Gone… because of him.
Because of HIM!
The ice around his heart solidified as the last, slow beat was silenced.
Severus Snape felt absolutely… nothing.
He turned and fled into the chill, unforgiving night along with the other Death Eaters.
"What's wrong with you, 'Mione?" Ron scoffed. "You're like a bloody ice queen."
Hermione's eyes narrowed. "Do you really want to know, Ronald?" she growled lowly.
"Well, yeah, I wouldn't have asked otherwise."
She tugged savagely at her shirt collar, showing him the star-shaped scar. "Wounds."
"It's just a scar, yeah?" Ron shrugged. "It healed. You survived. No big deal."
"Killing curses are such a little deal, are they?" Hermione replied, her eyes as cold as ice. "One of many. She pulled off her shirt, causing Ron to backpedal in shock.
"Wait— What are you—?"
"Look more closely, Ronald," Hermione bit out sharply. The surface of her otherwise pale skin was covered in a great many such scars— angry, red, and some didn't appear to be healing at all.
Ron's eyes widened in horror and a growing sense of disgust. He stared at the jagged, angry lines, the marring of her once flawless skin. There had been no Dittany left after having used it to save Ron's life when he Splinched himself. The pain potions, she had given him to ease the resultant agony were also gone. The healing potions she had used to repair the damage done by the freezing water on Harry's frostbitten, dying skin and flesh had been all used up. The last of her healing potions Harry had practically ripped out of her hands to heal Dobby, in a desperate attempt to save the dying elf's life.
Hermione unwrapped her arm. The word Mudblood was still bleeding profusely— the Dark knife that had carved it into her had had its final twisted laugh at her expense. Her wide, brown eyes had grown old before their time, having lost all sense of what gave life meaning. They stared holes through Ron with no small amount of betrayal.
Ron suddenly seemed to realise why. "Look, I'm sorry I left you two behind. I came back, right? I swear, I really wanted to come back the very same moment I left, but I just couldn't—"
Hermione turned her head away, making a disgusted noise in the back of her throat. "Do you know anything about touch healing, Ronald? Anything at all?"
"Rare as bloody dragonfire rubies, it is," Ron replied.
"I've finally figured out why some creatures can be healed and some others cannot," she said. She opened her hands, and a tiny catbird flew out from between her hands, fluttering its wings as it flew a circle around her head in thanks before zooming out the nearby window and to the forest beyond. "Healing is a bond. Normal healing requires no bond, only intent. But touch healing forges a bond between one and the other allowing that magic to flow and healing to commence." Hermione made a fist. "If there is no true bond, there can be no healing, no matter how hard I might try or want to heal something or someone."
"But you're not a touch healer, 'Mione," Ron said, puzzled. "We'd have seen you do it by now if you were."
Hermione's cold eyes flicked over to stare at him. "And if I were," she said softly. "What would that say about us? About you and me and Harry, Ronald?"
"That you weren't meant to be a healer, 'Mione," Ron answered. "Not so hard to figure out, that, 'innit? You can't be that bloody good at everything."
Hermione stood and glowered down at the clueless redhead despite his considerably greater height. "No, apparently not. I realise now that Dobby never wanted to be my friend. There was no room in his heart for anyone other than Harry James Potter. Nor is there any room in your own for me."
Ron flushed a deep, deep red. "What the hell are you talking about? I came back, didn't I? I do care."
A small, winged pony, no larger than her hand, flitted around Hermione, neighing piteously in distress. Her right wing was struggling to keep her aloft. Somehow, in the middle of nowhere, by a cottage only a handful of people knew about, the little creature had sought salvation. It landed in Hermione's outstretched hands, whickering a plea to her, curving her silky little head around Hermione's slender fingers. She looked up at Hermione with such profound hope and love that she almost seemed to glow.
Hermione's hands covered her, bringing the little creature to her lips and placing a kiss upon the winged horse's tiny head. There was a brief surge of heat, and Hermione smiled down at the little horse, spreading her hands out.
The horse carefully extended one wing, then the other, before flapping them both in delight. She neighed joyously, bucking her back legs out and rearing up, kicking out excited. She curved her head around Hermione's thumb and launched off her hands, winging wild corkscrews around her head before zooming off over the surf.
Hermione's expression hardened as she stared challengingly back at Ron.
Hermione winced, touching her rapidly reddening jaw. A thin trickle of blood flowed down from her cracked lip.
"You could have saved Dobby!" Harry raged accusingly. "You could have saved him, and you let me pour all of those useless potions into him for nothing!"
Hermione drew her hand across her mouth, staring at the blood smeared heavily across it.
Harry's unreasoning burst of anger caused his magic to surge out of control. It formed a cruel, battering wind around Hermione, slicing her skin to bloody ribbons in multiple places. Blood trickled down her face as well as the rest of her body, with locks of curly hair falling to the ground.
"What the bloody hell are you doing!" Bill yelled. He tackled Harry to the ground as Fleur cast a protective shield around Hermione. Luna was running up, her normally placid face pale and lined with worry.
Wild with fury, Harry punched Bill directly in the face, far too angry to know friend from foe or even if there was a foe to be had.
"Harry Potter!" Fleur hissed. "You will stop your temper tantrum this instant!"
There was a flare of magic— of sizzling heat and power— and then Fleur was surrounded in wrathful white fire. Strange fin-like projections formed around her head, a fine webbing between her fingers, and long, pearly talons curved out of her delicate fingertips. There was nothing but rage, and she screamed, bowling Harry arse over teakettle into the sand, knocking him almost senseless.
Fleur was floating in the air, fireballs formed in her hands. Great, monstrous wings had erupted from her back. She was a Veela, and she was seriously pissed.
Harry, still enraged, tried to get up and rush Bill again, and Fleur began to sing. Her utterly exquisite voice caused every male in the vicinity to become still and glassy-eyed, staring mutely at Fleur like she was a goddess on earth. Fleur, however, looked down at her wounded mate and growled, her deadly talons reaching inexorably towards Harry.
Hermione's hand gently wrapped around Fleur's arm. "No, Fleur."
Fleur's eyes widened as sanity returned. "You're hurt!"
"It will heal," Hermione said, her voice strangely unemotional. "There will be scars, and I will remember each and every one by name."
As the manic rage cooled around Fleur, she slowly returned to her human form— the power of her rage no longer tapping into the gift of her grandmother's Veela line.
Bill staggered, wiping the blood from his face, one side quickly blackening where Harry had taken a rage-fueled fist to his left eye.
A tiny flicker of emotion seemed to break through Hermione's otherwise cold expression. "You're hurt," she whispered.
Bill winced as she placed her small hands very gently on his scarred face. "Nothing a few weeks rest and a thick steak won't cure, love," he said sadly. "Though, I would much prefer to eat the steak instead of putting it on my eye. We were much more worried about you, Fleur and me."
Hermione looked towards Fleur and Bill. She stared into Bill's bright blue eyes as if searching for something there. Fleur's hand touched Hermione's shoulder, and the moment the triad of power linked, Hermione's hands heated and her magic surged forward. Bill's face was healed right before their eyes.
"Your scars," Fleur gasped.
Bill touched his face where Fenrir Greyback had mauled him several months ago. His skin was perfectly smooth and flawless once more. He grasped Fleur's hand and pressed his lips to Hermione's forehead. Then he twirled Fleur around, crushing her tightly against him.
"Touch healing is a very special thing, Harry," Luna said, tapping a rock with a shell as they sat overlooking the surf. "One in a hundred can become a magical healer, but only one in countless thousands can perform touch healing, and those with the gift can only heal those they are able to form bonds with. The stronger the bond, the stronger the healing." Luna looked up, staring at the pristine white clouds above. "You can lie to your healer, but the magic doesn't lie. She couldn't heal Dobby because he was bonded to you."
"He was a free elf!" Harry protested, running his hands through his messy hair in an agitated manner. "There was no bond!"
Luna looked at him sternly, her peaceful face starting to grow rather irritated. "Do you think that just because you didn't exchange formal vows of ownership that a bond didn't exist? Between a mother and her child? Between friends? Between those who fight together? Do you really think she didn't try to heal Dobby? Do you think she didn't try to heal Mr Ollivander? Or me? You are such a fool, Harry Potter. It was the very first thing that she did, and when she couldn't, she knew— she knew there was nothing for her healing to latch onto. Dobby didn't love her."
"So you love her now, do you?" Harry snapped bitterly.
"Harry, I know you've been through a lot of tough times on your mission for Dumbledore, and I will try to forget what you just said," Luna said with no small amount of anger in her voice. "Of course I love her. As a cherished friend, one of a very few I might add. The problem here, Harry, is that you've never seen her as a true friend, whether by choice or by design. I do not know if someone has managed to guide you to the place you are in— thinking you stand solitary and alone on a pillar with the fate of the entire world on your shoulders. You are so very quick to condemn, and even slower to realise fault."
Luna sighed deeply. "You say Hermione is your friend. You swear it even, but I do not think you truly understand what the word friendship means. I dearly hope that someday you do, because when this war is over and done with— one way or another— there will be nothing left to tie her to this world but ashes and betrayal."
"Dobby loved everyone," Harry said rather bleakly.
"You most of all, Harry," Luna answered, leaving the unsaid hanging in the air between them.
And you see how well that ended for him.
It was his time to die; Severus was certain. The venom from Nagini's bite would see to that even if the sheer amount of blood loss didn't. All of his potions and all of his knowledge didn't mean diddly at this moment. The antivenin he took daily could only slow the effects, provided he could get to a decent healer, but that wasn't going to happen.
He had to wait— wait for sodding Potter to come and claim his birthright: Severus' secret shame.
Why didn't that bother him? It should. Why couldn't he feel anything?
"Professor?" Potter was cradling his head and trying to staunch the blood.
Severus stared, forcing all of the pertinent memories into his tears.
"Take them," his whispered. "Take them. Take them and go, please," he choked weakly.
"Hermione, a vial, something!"
Potter collected the silvery tears of memory in the vial that Hermione had conjured for him, and his mission was, at last, completed.
"Look at me," Severus pleaded, staring. Potter stared at him, locking his emerald green eyes with his.
They were the wrong pair of eyes.
Severus let out a final ragged gasp, the last dregs of his strength leaving his wounded body. Finally, he lay terribly still and silent on the blood-soaked floorboards of the shack.
"Come on, mate, we have to go now," Harry insisted, dragging Ron along behind him as he rushed off to the castle.
"Professor Snape." That voice— so familiar.
"Lily—" he whispered. "Your son is an utter imbecile."
"But I protected him, just as I promised you."
Warm hands touched his neck. "I have no healing potions left, professor. All of them are gone. There is only me left. I need you to please trust me. I need to know why you killed the headmaster."
Her touch— so warm and so reassuringly familiar.
"How dare you make me your scapegoat, Albus," he hissed, gurgling on his own blood. "Curse yourself with that damn Horcrux and then— force me to... Kill you." He choked, coughing spatters of blood over his ghastly white face.
He heard a sharp gasp. His vision was blurry. He couldn't remember where he was.
"Professor, I know you must hate me, but I need you to let it go. Even if you pick it up later. Please. Please, professor, I cannot heal you without a bond—"
Deep brown eyes with flecks of golden amber in their depths regarded him pleadingly.
She stroked his head gently. "I hope you aren't hurt again. Be careful, okay?" She placed a small kiss on his forehead and scurried off back into the house.
"Do you have a name?" she asked, so intent on tending the wounds that she didn't notice the creature wincing in pain, baring his teeth slightly as a thick, fluorescent green venom dripped from its large maw. "My name is Hermione. I haven't seen you around here before. Are you new here? We just moved here. Daddy thinks that people won't realize I'm different in this brand-new place."
Hermione— his Hermione.
"Thank you," she whispered, staring up into his startled eyes. "I envy your mate— wherever she is out there. She's very lucky to have one such as you in her life. You probably have other things to do, yet here you are, bringing comfort to a poor, deluded girl who is still waiting for the magic to be real."
She caressed his muzzle. " I'm sure she loves you very much."
Hermione's eyes were sad as she pressed her forehead to his muzzle. "I know I do."
"Hermione," he gurgled.
A deep, penetrating warmth like the radiance of the sun filled him, spreading from her hands through every part of his body.
His heart began to beat again.
He convulsed, thrashing hard against the floorboards. Long-fingered hands twisted into sharp talons. Leathery wings burst from his back. Fangs ripped from his gums, displacing his blunt human teeth. Green venom dripped from his maw as his teeth clacked together. Glossy dark scales and fur spread over his pale skin. A mane of thick black hair covered him from the top of head to the base of his spine. A long serpentine tail lashed outward, splitting, splitting, and splitting again into a multitude of whip-like tails.
"My beast," Hermione squeaked, her voice so small in the silence of his rasping pants.
She placed her hands upon his elongated muzzle, touching every familiar cranny, line, and nook.
He made a soft, crooning sound.
"It was you all along," she whispered, her large eyes wide and filled with joy and amazement. Her hands ran over his talons, seeming so tiny against his oversized digits. "I thought you were gone— I thought you were dead." She wept, hot tears spilling from her eyes and down her fair cheeks. "You never came back. I cried. I pleaded. I begged, but you never came."
Hermione hugged her arms. "She tortured me. Bellatrix."
The beast snuffled her, gently nosing her scars, both old and new. He whined, a deep, rumbling sound of mingled grief and agony. He made a creeling sound, shaking his head, slamming his head hard into the side of the shack. His tail slammed into the wall, the floor, the ceiling, and furniture. He let out a baleful wail. As he stared at her, his fathomless black eyes filled with silvery tears full of a lifetime's worth of memories. He blinked; the shimmering memories trailed down his muzzle. His talon reached up and wiped it from his muzzle and started to drip it from the tips of his sharp, obsidian claws.
Hermione stared at it, not comprehending.
The beast whined painfully.
His other hand brushed against her cheek as he willed her to figure out what he needed of her.
"Memories are extremely potent things, Miss Granger," Professor Snape had said during one memorable class. "If you do not put them into a Pensieve they can often become too concentrated, too powerful, when separated from the original memory source. They could forever become your memories. So, before you go thinking you solved it all despite missing a step in the grand equation, Miss Granger, think a bit on why we might have devised such things in the first place."
Hermione closed her eyes, taking in a deep breath, and pressed her lips to his outstretched talon, letting the droplet land upon her tongue.
"Like it, Severus? Widdle, biddle Sevvvvruss," Bellatrix cackled her twisted, mocking laughter. "You're going to be like that forever. My own little curse. My special gift, just for you. You're going to be everything your filthy little Mudblood bitch hates, and the only way you are going to keep your mind is going to be true love returned. Love she'll never, ever return. I think I'll let you rampage a while and let our Lord reconsider the wisdom letting a paltry half-blood join his innermost ranks. CRUCIO! CRUCIO! CRUCIO!"
"Very well, Severus," Albus said as he stood at the window of his office. "But in exchange for this, I will have things I need for you to do for me. I will need you to do them all, and I will need you to perform those things without question. Now, hold still, this may hurt."
This spell slammed into the beast with stunning force, slamming the curse back in order for the human Severus to return— with a tearing, ripping, and reforming that which was never meant to be caged into a prison of flesh and bone.
"I don't know how you managed to hold onto your mind for this long, Severus," Bellatrix hissed, "but if you step one single toe out of line, I will be sure to remind you of exactly what we do to beasts around here."
"You will kill me, Severus," Albus stated grimly. "You must. Only then will Dark Lord trust you implicitly. Draco cannot be the one to do it. Murder would break him— destroy his fragile soul."
"And what of my soul, Albus?" Severus asked bitterly. "Mine?"
"You know I'm dying, Severus," Albus answered. "And you know why I'm dying. For you, it will be a simple mercy killing."
"You must be the one to kill me, Severus," Albus insisted. "You must tell Harry what he needs to know when the time is precisely right and not before. This is my command. I do not think I need to remind you of the nature of your vows."
Severus stiffened. "Yes, sir."
"You're a witch, mum! Just pick it up and leave him!" Severus yelled. "He beats you! He drinks all the money, turns it into piss, and leaves you with nothing!"
"He's my husband!"
"He's a fucking bastard!"
"Get out of this house, Severus. You leave this house and don't ever come back."
"Impedimenta!" Lily screamed. "Confringo!"
"Lily," Severus cried out, but all that came out was a croaking sort of whine.
He tripped over his monstrous legs. His wings were tangled in the vegetation. She was his last and only hope. If she couldn't accept him, he would lose his ability to think like a human. He might never BE human again.
He lurched forward, but all Lily saw was a slavering, vicious beast, and she treated him in kind. His wings were torn to shreds from her slicing hexes. He was bleeding from a multitude of wounds. They were healing, but far too slowly for him to even hope of catching up to her.
"Lily," he moaned.
He was doomed.
"Look, Pads, it's ickle Snivellus."
"Oh? Didn't the greasy bastard get enough of a beating after Lily turned him down after he pathetically pined away in front of the Gryffindor common room?"
"Yeah, Snivellus, how did that work out for you?"
"She'll never, ever trust you again, Snivelly."
"Yeah, and she's going to be mine, you greasy git, so why don't you go running home to mummy."
"Maybe we should leave him a bit of a reminder, mate."
"Yeah, a lasting reminder, sounds good to me."
"Let's hang him by his pants from the Whomping Willow."
"Snivelly! Greasy Git! Snivellus, the Greasy Git of the Dungeons!"
Hermione opened her eyes, staring into the concerned black eyes of her ever-faithful beast. She caressed his muzzle, tenderly running her palms over his scales and fur. "I forgive you," she whispered, pulling his head down so she could gently press her lips to his forehead.
The beast's form shuddered, folding in on itself. He gave a long sigh as Severus Snape stared at her, his human form, and then back to her.
She gave him a somewhat sad look. "I have to go back and try help the others, but I promise, when this is finally done, we need to have a long talk about— everything." She placed a hand on his cheek, causing him to startle, his black eyes going impossibly wide.
"I won't run from the beast," she said sombrely. "I will try to give the man the chance I didn't before." She touched his hand. "I want to have that change. When all this is done— I want the white picket fence, or perhaps the black, wrought-iron one depending on who I'm with."
She turned, grabbing her beaded bag off the ground before turning to go. She took a few steps forward and hesitated for a moment, biting her lip.
"Damn all Gryffindor courage," she whispered. "Never enough when I really need it." She spun and closed the distance, pulling Snape's startled face down into a kiss.
She pulled away, her eyes sad. "You were always my truest friend, and I love you. I always have and I always will. If the gods are kind, I will see you after this is done. My beast. My beloved friend."
With that, she fled the shack, wiping the tears from her eyes as she did so, leaving a stunned Severus Snape to stare speechlessly at the empty space where she had been only moments before.
Hermione returned to help with the battle, and after watching Harry walk bravely to his impending death, there wasn't much left that could be done. Ron stood there, dumbly, obviously unsure of what to say, but Hermione didn't blame him for that. It wasn't like there was any sort of customary thing you could say to your best mate who was marching off to get himself killed— literally.
Neville introduced himself to Nagini, sword-end first, and lopped off her head in a move that would have made most maidens swoon, had there been any maidens around to witness said act of heroism. Gone were the days of awkward Neville lying paralysed on the floor of the Gryffindor common room.
Neville smiled at Hermione, wiped his brow, cleaned his sword, and then proceeded to march over to Luna Lovegood and snog her senseless.
Ron had disappeared for quite some time, but he reappeared carrying the Goblet of Helga Hufflepuff— melted down the side from being impaled by a basilisk fang. He then joined his brothers for the fight that kept on giving or taking, depending on how you happened to view it.
Hermione helped with the wounded as best she could, doing whatever Madam Pomfrey needed of her. As she had often dreaded, her touch could only heal those who had room in their heart for her— some genuine friendship or sense of connection— and there were not many such persons to be found among the wounded.
Hermione had not made many true friends, not for lack of trying on her part. Trying to form a connection while a person was unconscious was impossible if one was not there to begin with, and many were just barely clinging to life. Thankfully, her touch did work on several of the teaching staff, and for that, she was grateful. She mended Professor McGonagall's arm, stopped Flitwick from bleeding out, and repaired a nasty gash on Madam Pomfrey herself. She attempted to heal Argus Filch of a broken leg, but it didn't work— at least until she healed Mrs Norris of her pierced lung. Once he had seen her heal his beloved Mrs Norris, he found enough fledgling hope and trust to make a connection with Hermione. It was just enough to help stabilise him, which was far more than she had expected. Small steps were fine if it kept someone alive long enough for Madam Pomfrey to do what she did best: patch people together with a swift wand and a prayer.
Word of Hermione's ability to heal by touch spread like wildfire, but so, too, did the conditions— the price, such as it was. The people older in magic, strangely the pure-bloods, seemed to understand how it worked the best. There was nothing like facing death that caused a person to have an epiphany, and there were a good many of those to be had. She laid hands on them all, exhausting herself nearly to the point of collapse.
It was Theodore Nott that came up to her with a drink, sitting by her silently as she drank it down. He had blood coating his hands and his robes and wore a kind of haunted expression that only facing battle could give. She knew he had seen friends die. She knew there were things he couldn't fix, much as he might wish otherwise.
Theo kept watch over her, politely telling those of his house who dared to jeer at his choice of places to sit to stick that load of shite up their arse and set themselves on fire. Strangely, he said it in such a remarkably suave manner that Hermione suspected that some of them might actually do it, thinking it sounded like the best plan of action.
Others were not quite so bad, and they would also bring her things— tidbits of food, part of a sandwich, fruit, drinks— anything to keep her strength up to keep on healing.
There were some she couldn't help— people who had no room left for trust in their hearts. There was no room for a bond, no matter how necessary for their continued survival. Those, such as the house-elves, who were bound to the school as tightly as glue, could not be healed by her. They had put the entirety of their love and trust in Hogwarts, and Hogwarts had sacrificed much of herself to save those that she could.
When Kingsley came in, limping with a wicked gash on his leg, his arm wrapped around Remus Lupin's shoulder as they stumbled in together, Hermione did what she could. Kingsley, surprisingly, easily responded to her magic. He gave her a warm smile and a gentle hug as he nodded to her, heading back out to the ongoing fight.
Remus, however, did not respond to her magic. Hermione tried— she tried so hard she started to cry, but he just placed his hand on her shoulder.
"My heart is fully given to my mate, Hermione," he said gently. "My mate and my son are my life. There is no room for anyone else. Do not be sad. Help bind me up. I have to get back. Tonks needs me."
"Professor," Hermione pleaded.
"Please, Hermione," Remus insisted, squeezing her hand reassuringly. "Help me get back to her. I need to be with her, now of all times."
Hermione nodded, sniffling, binding his wounds with bandages and what little traditional healing magic she had to her name.
"Be at peace, Hermione," Remus said gently. "I've made my choice, and I am content with that."
Hermione nodded, but she held his hand tightly.
He patted her hand. "Take care of her, Mr Nott."
"I will, sir," Theo replied solemnly.
Remus smiled gently and limped off to rejoin the fight.
Draco and Blaise were dragging someone between them. "You hang in there, Astoria! Damnit, Astoria!"
They dragged her towards an open space, laying her down on one of the mats to await Madam Pomfrey's aid.
The witch was moaning piteously. Her leg was practically shredded and covered with dust. She had blood trickling down from the corner of her mouth.
"Come on, Astoria, stay with me," Draco hissed, slapping her face a little to get her to stay conscious.
Hermione struggled to stand, teetering, and Theo grabbed her. "Too soon, Hermione."
"I can't— she's hurt."
"Here drink this first," Theo insisted, putting a vial in her hands. "There's only a little left, but it will help."
Hermione stared at the small bit of liquid in the vial. Their entire supply of healing potions had been exhausted. There were too many injured. There were far too many that had lost the battle between life and death. Death was something that Hermione simply did not have the power to reverse. That kind of power belonged only to the soul and the divine.
Hermione drank the potion, thanking Theo for it. She felt stronger, but she knew it was temporary. It wasn't her energy that healed— she was but the conduit, but it took her power to channel it, guide it, and make it go where it needed to be. Never before had she had to heal so many in such a short time. Never had she ever had to create so many new bonds in such a short time.
Hermione knelt beside Astoria. "Madam Pomfrey is very busy right now. I can help you, but—"
"I never— hated you, Her… mione," Astoria groaned. She looked into Hermione's eyes. "We're not," she gasped, coughing. "We're not all Pureblood bigots." She glared accusingly at Draco and Blaise, who simultaneously flushed in shame.
Hermione clasped her hand, gazing deeply into her blue eyes, searching for that tendril of connection she could use to forge a bond.
Astoria's face went placid. "That year you punched Draco in the face. I really wanted to shake your hand for that."
Hermione let out a short laugh, the warmth spread from her hands into Astoria. They were both laughing, connected by that one moment of shared validation. Astoria gasped as the healing warmth spread into her, her ribs cracking as they moved back in place. She drew harsh breaths that slowly evened out. Her leg jerked, and Theo used his magic to wash away the dirt and dust as the torn skin and knit itself back together.
Hermione pulled her hands away, smiling as Astoria pulled herself up and gave a sigh of profound relief.
"Thank you, Hermione," Astoria said.
Hermione staggered, falling backwards.
"Hermione!" Theo yelled, swiftly catching her limp form up in his arms.
Hermione awoke in the cluttered remains of the Great Hall. Draco was staring at her from his sitting position, his arms wrapped tightly around his knees.
"Hey," Draco said softly.
Hermione winced, sitting up. "What happened?"
"You healed Astoria," Draco replied. "She's fine by the way. Better than fine, in fact."
Hermione nodded, looking around. So many bodies were lying out on mats— the victims yet to be buried. Her heart seized as she saw the familiar tumble of dirty blond hair. "Professor—"
Draco turned and looked. He looked down at the floor. "They didn't make it. They held the ramparts for hours. Dolohov murdered him while he was trying to save Becca from falling off the edge. Tonks went into a rage. She killed so many, but Dolohov fled. My... aunt. She killed her, gloating over her— I'm so sorry, Hermione. I've been horrible to you ever since I first met you. I've been nothing but exactly what my father wanted to be. Only now—"
Draco drew in a ragged breath. "Now we know the truth." He clenched his fists. "Fear drives us, not pride. Fear for a world in which we are not as all-important as we would like to believe. Fear for the fate of our families if we were to fail. I fear for my parents— so I took the Mark, took on the mission to kill the headmaster— all to save them. But for what? A world ruled by a crazed, homicidal fanatic. He ripped open his sleeve to show the bloody, mangled flesh of his arm where he had actually tried to carve the Mark out of his body. I'll never be free. I've often hated my father every bit as much as I've adored him, but I couldn't see them killed."
Hermione closed her eyes, understanding completely where the blond Slytherin was coming from. "I sent my parents away because I loved them. Even if they never really understood me. They thought my head was always in the clouds. They finally understood when I received my Hogwarts letter, but by then it was too late to take back all of the terrible things they had said and done. Still, I did love them. As it turns out, I wasn't understood in this world any better than I was in the Muggle one."
Draco turned away in shame.
Hermione gently touched his arm.
Draco's eyes went wide, panicked.
"Think of your family," Hermione said softly. "Think of everything you would do for them. Think of how much you hate them and yet love them. Think of how much you blame them but forgive them all the same. Think of that moment of understanding when you realise all the choices you made were your own." Hermione's eyes flicked over to where Tonks and Remus lay dead, their hands clasped together as though alive. "Think of the one you love despite a mountain of differences, the moment when you think you may never see them again, and then think of a world without them in it—"
Draco gasped, his eyes meeting Hermione's in a perfect moment of understanding, finally realizing that perhaps they weren't so different after all. The golden radiance spread down his arm, moving over it, and suddenly Draco screamed, his arm jerking strangely. He thrust his arm out, his fingers spasmodically clenching around Hermione's throat and squeezing.
"You think you're so smart," Draco hissed, his eyes turning a ghastly, glowing red. "Do you think I'd just let my own minions cure themselves? Free themselves from ME? All who try will DIE— Just. Like. YOU!"
Hermione choked, her hands frantically grasping at Draco's straining arm. He yanked her off her feet, letting her dangle helplessly in his grasp.
"This one is pitiful and weak," Draco's un-voice hissed. "But I can still make use of him. One way or another." His fingers dug steadily deeper into her slender throat.
Hermione's face was slowly turning a deep, dusky blue, her eyes bugging out as she struggled desperately for a breath of air.
"Goodbye, little Mudblood," Draco said with a sneer even as his grey eyes remained wide and terrified. On some level, Draco knew what he was doing and was fighting with all he had to stop himself, but Voldemort's grasp on his mind and body was shockingly strong.
Draco's right arm clawed futilely at his homicidal left arm. "No!" he cried, strangled and hoarse.
"Fight me, will you, BOY?" he answered himself in a savage growl. "You are nothing but a foolish, weak little boy. You are nothing but a failure."
Suddenly, there was a swirl of pitch black, and a strong, pale hand crushed Draco's wrist so hard the bones moved as the tendons stretched against their natural movement. "He may be only a boy, but I— am a MONSTER."
Severus' snarl was savagely inhuman— twisted halfway between man and monster. His iron fingers crushed into Draco's much weaker radius and ulna bones.
Draco let out a hoarse scream of agony as Severus jerked, and Draco's hand broke free from Hermione's neck. She immediately fell to the ground, choking, gasping, clutching her neck and sucking in great gulps of air. She whimpered, collapsing on her side, instinctively curling up in the fetal position.
"Severus," Draco hissed. "Heel."
Snape groaned as his arm jerked. His neck muscles strained as he attempted to remain in control. The blackness of his pupils swallowed up his eyes, and he growled. "I have lived with the beast far longer than I have lived with you, my Lord," he snarled. "At least, the beast and I are in perfect agreement when it comes to you.
Draco grappled with Snape, snarling like a rabid animal, and Snape snarled back, only his mouth was full of wicked-looking, dagger-like teeth that dripped green venom. He was changing— and he found himself actually welcoming the change this time. Dark wings that took in all the light around, spread like a curtain of total darkness after the last dregs of sunset had died . Wickedly sharp talons replaced dull, transparent human nails. Fur and scales replaced pale, white flesh. A long, serpentine tail slammed into the ground— once, twice, and again. Each time the end split into extra tails. Severus roared into Draco's face, towering over him like a Hungarian horntail dragon over a hippogriff.
"You bear my Mark," Draco hissed. "You. Will. Always. Be. MINE."
"No," Hermione stated firmly, placing her hands on the arms of both Draco and Severus. "These are my friends, and you will not have them. Not now. Not ever."
The golden radiance spread from her hands and poured forth from her chest, down her arms, into her hands, and finally shone through them both.
And there will come a deadly fray,
Where the outcast becomes hero of the day.
He that was hoisted high on pedestal tall,
Shall fall to the earth, once great, now small.
The serpent master, neither man or god,
Shall strike himself down and be called a fraud.
Immortality will be forever lost—
The price unpaid, too high a cost.
The man shunned shall have become the beast,
For he has been the one seen as least.
Many viewed him as a traitorous soul,
When love has been his only goal.
The dragon, once risen on this throne of gold,
Shall cry in shame for dark deeds untold.
But he will rise again, renewed,
On wings of righteousness, once eschewed.
The downtrodden boy shall be reborn
A man to regard all evil with scorn
The beast shall be renewed with a heart of gold,
And find his treasure in love untold.
For she shall choose the love of him
Over fame and gold and fickle public's whim.
Hidden anger's sins shall come to light.
Truths harsher than a serpent's bite.
She of light and warmth falls dead and cold,
Struck down by false friendship's rage so bold
He shall come and save her
In his dark embrace
Carried off in the winds
Of true love's healing grace.
Those left behind shall be decried
Guilty of arrogance and unyielding pride.
The Lord of Darkness meets Death by his own hand,
A heavy price paid by the most selfish of man
The Dark Lord shall fall by a hand — his own.
And all shall reap what they have sown.
Where the beast was clad in darkness, Hermione was clad in incandescent light. Great golden wings spread like those of a mother phoenix coming to alight on her nest. The energy arched through the beast, amplifying and shooting into Draco. Draco screamed— a high, ululating twinned sound that echoed in the keening cries of every single Death Eater, every last one to be found— filling the room with the sound of his clarion agony. His twin-voice and red eyes faded, finally leaving Draco alone and screaming. But his eyes were filled with silver fire. His face was victorious. He clasped Hermione and Snape together, pulling them both close in his arms as all the golden radiance poured through his body and blasted out in countless strands of shimmering golden light. All of it thrown outward like celestial spears piercing the midnight sky.
Screams in the dark and grey.
Darkness reeled. Every cloud fled, chased away by the sun flaring down in its purity of purpose and the sheer power of renewal.
Ghostly images— taller than the parapets— stood around Hogwarts.
They linked hands around the school, their individual bodies aglow in their house colours.
"Begone!" their voices rang through the battle-torn grounds of Hogwarts. "Draco dormiens nunquam titallandus!"
The silvery form of a great dragon burst from Draco's body, roaring loudly as it grew to fully encompass the school. It bellowed its rage across the grounds as the school reformed around and under it. Stones lifted. Parapets reformed. Walls were instantly replaced. Fires doused themselves. Bridges rebuilt, and a blast of unbelievable power surged up like a rogue wave from the very core of Hogwarts, blowing outward in a rush of pure, exultant magical energy.
The bright, joyous sound of children singing filled the halls and spread out over the surrounding grounds.
Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,
Teach us something please,
Whether we be old and bald,
Or young with scabby knees,
Our heads could do with filling,
With some interesting stuff,
For now they're bare and full of air,
Dead flies and bits of fluff,
So teach us things worth knowing,
Bring back what we've forgot,
Just do your best, we'll do the rest,
And learn until our brains all rot
One by one, the glowing visages of the four great founders walked into the very walls of Hogwarts and disappeared. On the highest tower, Fawkes appeared to alight at the very tip, screaming out his distinctive clarion call that filled every heart with a purity of purpose.
And everywhere— in every nook and cranny hidden or not— Death Eaters fell like flies. Utterly still and unmoving. Forever severed from their chosen Lord and master. Almost every last one of them fell where they stood, never to move again— all save a few.
There were those who knelt on the ground, clutching their now unblemished arms, crying tears of joy as they realised the hated Mark was gone forever. They fell too, but only to drop their wands and weep. They stared at their arms and slumped against whatever was nearby.
It was both the end and a new beginning.
After seeing that many of their attackers were not getting up, the ones that were were being tackled by family members in a flurry of relief and reunion.
Theo had come to Draco's side and put his hand on his shoulder.
"You alright, mate?"
Draco lay flat on his back as he stared up to the flawlessly repaired enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall. The stars had never seen so bright and beautiful to him before this night. "Never better, mate." He laughed almost hysterically. "I've never been so good in my life."
His arm lay by his side, palm up and fully exposed— smooth and unMarked.
"Crabbe and Goyle are dead," Theo said grimly. "Pansy and Daphne too. Edgecombe and Chang from Ravenclaw, Smith from Hufflepuff, and— a lot of people I never thought would tote the flag of bloody Voldemort."
"We can't all be as level-headed as you, Theo," Draco sighed. "You had the guts to defy your own father. A lot of people aren't strong enough to go up against their own family, mate."
"Dear old dad was a fucking bastard, Drake. It was easier than you think, believe me."
"My father was a real charmer," Draco said with a grunt.
"But he loves you," Theo sighed. "Everyone knows your parents— they may have had their share of faults, mate, but they genuinely cared for you. If mine had shown even half as much care for me… it would've been a lot harder, I think."
"Hermione— where is she?"
"Hermione is it now?" Theo grinned widely.
"Oh, shut it, Theo," Draco scoffed. "I think I deserve a little slack here. I can't believe— Hogwarts. Magical."
"You hit your head after all that? Hogwarts has been magical since its founding."
Draco smacked Theo on the chest. "You know what I mean."
"Yeah, we all saw it. I think— if good old moldy Voldy had known about all of the magic in these walls, he wouldn't have been stupid enough to do what he did. He might have tried in France or something."
"He'd make a horrible girl," Draco muttered, wrinkling his nose in distaste.
The two young wizards laughed— a long, loud, desperate, wonderful laugh of sheer amazed relief.
"I'm glad you survived, Drake."
"Yeah," Draco sighed. "I'm glad you did too, Theo."
"Stay away from him!" Hermione cried, attempting to block the large, looming beast with her petite body.
Snape snarled, venomous drool dripping from his open jaws.
"He's a bloody monster, Miss Granger!" one of the Aurors yelled. They all had their wands out and aimed squarely at Severus.
"He saved all of your lives," Hermione hissed. "You wouldn't even be standing here without him to channel my magic through."
"Get out of the damn way," one of the Aurors barked at her, attempting to shove Hermione aside in order to have a clear shot at his target.
The beast roared, wings unfurling, talons extended.
"Professor," Hermione said softly, turning to face him. Her hands touched his scaly chest, looking oh so small against his so-much-larger self. "Easy, it'll be okay, sir."
He growled lowly, obviously not quite convinced.
Gently, smoothly she pulled his head down in a well-practiced movement. She placed her hand against his tongue, sliding it against the bright green, unnaturally-coloured surface. She touched his fangs and gently guided his jaws shut. She slowly pressed her head against the top of his muzzle. "I'm okay. We're okay. See? Everyone is okay, alright? You saved them all."
Tenderly, she placed a gentle kiss upon his nose. His nostrils flared slightly as his heated breath rushed in and out. Their eyes locked.
Wings folded, talons receded, scales and fur seemed to be sucked back into his skin. In a few seconds, a rather weary-looking Severus Snape stood in the beast's place, his dark black eyes staring into Hermione's with nothing less than absolute adoration.
"Thank you, Miss Granger," Snape whispered quietly.
Hermione's smile was swift and tender. She said nothing, but her eyes practically shone with love.
"Death Eater!" another Auror yelled, sending an ugly purple spell zinging through the air.
"Enough!" Minerva McGonagall barked as she strode angrily across the Great Hall as though the entire legions of hell were coming along with her for backup. She hauled a large portrait of the late Headmaster out of her robe pocket and enlarged it so everyone could see him. "You leave our Severus alone. He was innocent, and I have proof. Tell him," Minerva hissed, shaking the portrait. "You tell them what you told me and you tell them now, Albus."
"Minerva, I don't think—"
"TELL THEM NOW!" Minerva seethed furiously, "or so help me Merlin, I will shift into my cat form and tear your canvas to shreds in front of everyone!"
The flustered portrait-self of Albus Dumbledore cleared his throat, adjusted his collar, and stroked his long, white beard. "I, Albus Dumbledore, did frame Professor Severus Snape for my murder in order to convince Tom Riddle that he was trustworthy. I did use Severus as my servant for the last twenty years to insure I would have a spy in Voldemort's midst should he ever return. To guarantee that he would do exactly as I wished, I placed a spell that would activate upon my death to seal his emotions away and guarantee he would follow my orders to ensure that Harry Potter succeeded in his quest to vanquish Tom Riddle. I knew that no spell Severus cast upon me could truly killing me— because in order for the killing curse to work, he would have had to actually want me dead, and he did not. I planned to use the momentum of the spell to fling myself off the Tower, activate my spell to seal his beast and his emotions away, and force him to follow through with my plans. To guarantee his guilt, I planned to make certain that he thought his spell had actually killed me. Since I am talking to you like this, I can only presume my plan succeeded after he did give up his memories to young Harry Potter."
"Severus was but my instrument," Dumbledore's portrait confessed. "There was nothing he did that I did not specifically order him to do, with his cooperation guaranteed by an Unbreakable Vow that I forced him to make when he first approached me about protecting the Potter family. Should he have even tried to disobey, he would have died. That is how I knew he could never betray me. I did shamelessly use his terrible guilt and self-loathing to my advantage. I purposely isolated him and made sure he had no friends. Friends would have only distracted him. Emotions would have distracted him and perhaps swayed him from the path I had set for him. "
Aurors immediately began yelling at each other, causing Shacklebolt to come up and start knocking a few remarkably hard heads together.
"Hey," Hermione said, sitting next to the dour-faced Potions master.
"You wipe every loyal Death Eater off the face of Creation, protect me from a bunch of rabid, dunderheaded Aurors with a sharpened axe to grind, and all you can say to me after all of that is— 'Hey'?"
Hermione blushed and smiled, gazing down into her lap. "I fear I am somewhat unsure of what to say. I never had a problem talking to the beast, but I find myself now a bit frightened that I might say something wrong."
Hermione clutched a scroll tightly in her hand, crushing it in her fingers.
"Do you wish to beat me with the newspaper, Miss Granger?"
"Wha—no!" Hermione stared a bit wide-eyed at the scroll before bursting out laughing. She handed it to him. "It was sent to Professor McGonagall a few months ago."
Severus unrolled it, scanning it. His eyebrows raised up into his hair. "You sat your N.E.W.T.s. A year ahead?"
Hermione smiled shyly. "I didn't know if I'd be able to come back."
"So you— decided to a little light studying on the side before sitting your N.E.W.T.s and going on a year's journey with two morons in a tent looking for Dark magical artifacts?"
"Sounds pretty silly when you say it like that."
"Hn." Severus looked across the new Great Hall. "I fear you haven't had much of a childhood, Miss Granger, and I also fear I have been a horrible friend."
Hermione reached over and touched Severus's hand, squeezing it gently. He startled, looking at her, unfamiliar with a casually affectionate touch. "You were there when I needed you, and even though you were such a horrible teacher—"
"You taught me so many things that I needed to learn," Hermione said. "You were there for me when my world was falling apart until Headmaster Dumbledore—" She stopped, wincing. "You were always there until he interfered. It wasn't your fault that you couldn't be there anymore. It was pretty selfish of me to expect otherwise."
"Professor," Hermione interrupted.
"Severus," he whispered. "Please. I am not your professor anymore."
"Hermione," she replied.
They stared at each other, each willing the other to look away first.
"Hermione," Severus said. "There is nothing selfish in wanting friends to be there in good times as well as bad. I wanted to be there for you good times, not just when your world was falling apart. You deserved that."
"Severus, don't you see?" Hermione said. "You were with me in my good times. My good times were always with you."
Severus trembled, turning away, awkward, unaccustomed to such intimate confessions.
"You were with me for the first part of my life," Hermione told him. "I wish to be there for you for the rest of ours."
Severus drew in a ragged breath. "I am a monster, Hermione, and you are still very young with many choices before you."
Hermione gave a dry laugh. "I am old enough to have seen war and survived. I am old enough to make up my own mind of what I want and who I wish to spend that with. My life is nothing—"
Severus tried to interrupt her, but Hermione placed her fingers to his lips.
"Nothing without my beast. There is no world without you in it. Not for me, Severus. I would be yours if you would have me— a friend, a companion through life, more perhaps, if it is meant to be so."
Severus looked at her, his pale hand reached to touch her cheek. The moment his thumb brushed against her skin, she sighed, leaning into his touch as she had so many times before when his visage was far less human. "I am a cursed man, Hermione. If you stay with me, my blood could curse you too."
Hermione looked into his eyes. "Most girls dream of things like unicorns and hippogriffs. Do you know what I dreamed of?"
"Pink and blue pegai?"
Hermione snorted. "I dreamed I was a beast, so I could be with you. Every night, ever since that first night when you landed in my mum's garden. I have always dreamed of you."
"Human or beast, I do not care which form you happen to take," Hermione said. "I would happily be either to be with you."
"Severus, we need you over here to clear up this sodding mess with Dumbledore," Kingsley called, gesturing for Severus to join him.
"Duty calls, dear professor," Hermione said with a smile. "Shall we talk again after Professor McGonagall is finished beating people about the head and shoulders with the former Headmaster's portrait?"
Severus snorted. "We shall talk, Hermione," he said, his voice coming in a low rumble that was very reminiscent of the beast. "For if you intend to bind yourself to me for all time, I would have you wear a proper ring that is worthy of one such as you."
Hermione smiled at him. "A candy ring from Honeydukes? If so, I am rather partial to strawberry."
Severus' eyes narrowed. "You think I am joking?"
Hermione placed a soft kiss against his nose. "Never you, Severus. But me? Someone has to be the humour in this relationship."
Severus tilted his head, making a face.
"What is it?"
"What of it?"
"I never even imagined… that word and myself would ever become entwined."
"Better get used to it," Hermione said with a rather impish grin. "I fear if you will have me, I will never leave."
"Promise?" Severus whispered, his hesitant voice almost inaudible.
"Always," Hermione replied immediately, her smile practically bathing him in love and warmth.
"Hey, Hermione," Harry greeted, brushing his messy hair back from his face. "Got a moment?"
"Sure, Harry," Hermione replied. "I don't think that conversation is going to be short. She gestured to the arguing Aurors, teachers, and the random group of students that had come to gawk.
"Professor Snape, Harry."
"Yeah, um, you saved him?"
"I've saved a lot of people recently, Harry," Hermione replied.
"But why Snape?"
Hermione frowned. "A life is a life, Harry Potter," she said. "His was bleeding out before me. It could have been you. It could have been anyone."
"But it's Snape."
"Did you miss that entire shouting match and confession with Dumbledore's portrait, Harry?" Hermione asked, dumbfounded. "Dumbledore used him. He used you."
"No, that portrait was mistaken." Harry shook his head. "It's just a stupid painting."
Hermione closed her eyes. "Harry, have I wronged you in another life? Is everything I say so very hard for you to believe?"
Harry made a short grunt of frustration. "I— I'm sorry, it's just that Dumbledore has always done nothing but help me all this time. If it weren't for him, we wouldn't be here right now."
"Well, you do have that part right," Hermione sighed. "Harry, there are just some things we do. There are some things I do. I'm drawn to do them. Do you think when you go after a Snitch? Do you think about how you do it? Do you have a strategy? You just do it instinctively. It is what you are— good at. Yes?"
They walked together, trying to make sense of each other— trying to find a way to connect in a way they had not been able to in seven long years. The halls of Hogwarts had now been fully restored, right down to the carpets and tapestries that decorated the castle's halls. Laughter, sorrow, and even simple mundane conversations filled the air everywhere they went. Portraits whispered to each other as of old. It was as if nothing had happened. It was every bit as magical as it had been when they first arrived at Hogwarts, seven years before.
"I guess we did okay, even without the prophecy," Harry said, fingering the Elder Wand between his hands.
"You always wanted to be normal, Harry," Hermione said. "Now, you have that chance. Be normal. Seize your future in both hands and don't let anyone but you choose what you should do with it."
"You said that your magic went through all the Death Eaters and then straight into the Dark Lord's heart," Harry said quietly. "Couldn't you have done that before we went off on the run for a whole year?" He laughed dryly.
"Maybe if I had known that was even possible," Hermione said with a soft snort. "But I have a feeling it needed two conduits in order for that to happen. Draco and Professor Snape— and they both had to want to. Even so, you destroyed the Horcruxes. That was needed too."
"I guess you're right," Harry admitted. "Would have been loads easier if you'd just blown him up first and then we could've gone after his Horcruxes."
Hermione scoffed. "Yeah, and all those Death Eaters would've just let us— instead of coming down like an avalanche right in our faces. Good plan there, Harry."
Harry sighed. "Come on, let's go find Remus. I'm sure he has quite a few tales to tell."
Hermione's eyes widened and she froze in her tracks.
"I thought you knew—"
"Knew what, Hermione?" Harry's face was growing very red, his wand hand already twitching. A strong wind was quickly starting to rise again.
"Harry, please," Hermione said.
"What aren't you telling me, Hermione?" Harry demanded.
"Professor Lupin— he's dead, Harry. He was killed by Dolohov. Bellatrix killed Tonks. I thought you knew. I honestly thought you knew, Harry."
But Harry wasn't listening. His face was beetroot red and his eyes had narrowed to rage-filled slits. His arms were shaking. Wind was cutting around them with Harry as the eye of the storm and Hermione the tree. "You fucking healed SNAPE and you just let Remus DIE?!"
Hermione staggered back, trying to shield herself. "Harry, please. I cannot heal the dead."
"You could have save him before he died! And Snape should have died! You saved HIM, but you couldn't bring yourself to save Remus? My only remaining connection to my parents? How COULD you?!
Hermione cried out as she was violently slammed backwards again and again. Her face was cut and bleeding where jagged bits of rock were hitting her. "Harry!"
"You aren't my friend! If you'd been my friend, you'd known that his life was way more important than Snape's. You'd have saved HIM instead!" Harry's blind fury increased the power of his magic, and his magic was quickly growing into a storm that was careening wildly out of control. The storm raged around her like a F-5 tornado, snatching Hermione up and spinning her around in a tight spiral as she screamed in absolute terror.
Hermione's voice gurgled. "Harry—"
Harry turned, and suddenly all the storm winds stopped. Rocks fell, tree limbs fell, and debris stopped swirling, abruptly falling to the ground all around them.
Hermione hung in the air, impaled on a large broken tree limb that had been slashed and burned into a near-perfect spear during the Death Eaters' march towards Hogwarts. Blood trickled down her chest where the bloody limb had pierced through her back to protrude from her front.
"Her— mione?" Harry gasped. His breathing came in sharp, ragged gasps. "I… I… I didn't mean… I'll go get Madam Pomfrey— I'll… Oh, Merlin! Hold on, Hermione!"
Harry scrambled back towards the school, running as fast as he was able. He ran and ran, the world blurring around him. The doors seemed forever too far away— just out of reach.
That's when he heard it.
A bone-chilling howl of mingled agony and despair.
He couldn't stop. He couldn't look. He didn't dare. He just ran. He had to find Madam Pomfrey right away. He had to.
He blazed a path into the cacophony that was the Great Hall— the last place he had seen the medi-witch tending patients. He saw her familiar white hat and rushed forward.
Then a pair of freckled arms caught him in a tight hold.
"Harry! Get Hermione!" Ron shouted, shaking him. "Get Hermione, Harry! Ginny— Ginny's been hurt bad. The wall fell on her when she pushed Fred out of the way. It crushed her, but she's still alive, just barely. Madam Pomfrey says she needs help right now— more help than just potions. Where is she, Harry? Harry!"
Harry stared at Ron, Ginny, and then Ron. "She's been hurt."
"Hermione's been hurt—"
Theodore Nott, who had been sitting nearby and listening, promptly butted in. "Hermione's hurt? Come on, we have to go get her!"
A lone, terrifying, mournful howl echoed throughout the corridors and into the Great Hall. As Fawkes' songs inspired joy and strength, the unknown creature's howl filled every heart with grief and despair.
Theo seemed to suddenly realise something just as Draco ran up in an absolute panic. "Something's wrong with Hermione," Draco hissed.
"I know it, I can feel it— after she healed me. She's hurt, bad!"
"Come on, mate, let's go," Theo dragged Draco by the collar as the two ran out as fast as their legs could carry them.
"Something's wrong," McGonagall said, gasping. She clutched her chest.
"I can feel it too," Kingsley said, staggering.
"A bond can go both ways," Flitwick squeaked excitedly. "If we link together, we can send some of our energy to her. Give them time to find her. Where is Severus?"
"He left in a hurry when— oh Merlin!"
"Link up, link up!" Filius ordered. "All of you that were healed by her. Come on. Link up. We have to help her now!"
Molly was wailing. Madam Pomfrey was frantically feeding Ginny vial after vial of the strongest healing potions she had in her arsenal.
Ron slapped Harry sharply across the face. "Hey! We need to save Ginny. Where is Hermione?"
Harry looked up, startled. "It was an accident."
"What was an accident, Harry?"
Harry stared at Ron in total despair.
"No, nonononononoo!" Severus cried as he used a slicing hex and Wingardium Leviosa to break Hermione free of the jagged, broken tree limb. "No, no, not you. Please, please, not you."
He cradled her, watching her chest rise and fall in short, rapid pants. Her eyes locked on his. Her mouth worked, but only a strangled gurgle came out. Her hand weakly grasped at his fingers. He tried to hold her close intending to Disapparate with her to Mungo's, but the anti-Apparate jinx abruptly slammed into him, full force.
"Hermione," he groaned. He touched her face, her arm, her silken curls—
"Sss—" she gurgled. Her eyes were filled with pain and terror.
Hot tears were pouring down her face. She begged him— pleading with her eyes— to do something, anything.
Severus held her close in his arms and began to run through the forest, picking a random direction in hopes he could outdistance the Anti-Apparition wards. He'd done it once before, after the not-murder— death— of Albus Dumbledore.
He stumbled, half-walking and half-running through the darkened woods, frantic to get as far as he possibly could from the castle. The strange, clinging warmth he felt within her was quickly fading as he ran. The further he ran, the colder she became. Her tenuous tie to life was unraveling with every step he took.
"Hermione!" he growled, his mouth filled with jagged teeth dripping venom. His face was extending into a bestial muzzle. His arms were jerking, twisting around her, but still he held her tightly. The change was fast coming upon him, but he didn't even notice; he didn't even care. All he cared about was getting far enough away that he could Apparate and take Hermione to the safe hands of the Mungo's healers.
"Sss—" Hermione gurgled, her weak hand clasped his fur. "Severus."
"Hold on to me, woman," Severus growled lowly. "You are not permitted to die on me!"
He was running still. His claws beat against the ground, leaving long gashes in the moist earth. His leathery wings caught in the foliage and trees, never meant to house a beast of his impressive stature.
For her— for Hermione!
How had she been hurt? Her mind was clouded, pained. Her thoughts jarbled. He couldn't tell what had happened. He was too focused on her pain.
He howled as he ran.
Save our mate!
Hermione was convulsing against him, foam coming from her mouth and mixed with blood. Her eyes were glassy, and her breaths were slowing—
He stopped, if only for a moment. He listened to her heart beat, and he realised she was at the brink. There was no time— no time for help.
"My blood is cursed. It could change you."
"I dream of becoming a beast to be with you. I have dreamed it every night since the night you came to me in mum's garden."
"Hermione," he crooned, his voice garbled into a growling rumble. His dark talons cradled her head.
The light was fading fast, the bare trickle of moonlight reflected only a little in the eyes that had once held such love and warmth.
Cursed blood ran through his veins.
"There is no world for me without you in it. Not for me, Severus. I would be yours if you would have me— a friend, a companion through life, more perhaps, if it is meant to be so."
Hermione, beloved. Tamer of the beast within.
He bit deep into his palm, mixing his venom and his blood together in an extremely potent cocktail.
He called out to her with his heart and mind. He called to her with his beast and his soul.
Stay with me. I beg of you.
The mixed fluids dripped from his wounded hand, falling to her pale lips.
Her chest had stopped rising. Her eyes were half-lidded and unseeing.
Severus cried out in a howl of pure despair.
Too late. Too late!
He groaned like a dying thing, pulling her inexorably into his dark embrace, his wings trembling. He bayed at the moon, fangs bared as the toxic slaver dripped heavily from every tooth.
Like a striking viper, he sank his teeth into her neck, praying to any god that might be listening, Dark or otherwise, that there was enough— just enough— life left in her to carry his dark taint home.
Suddenly, she was latched onto his hand— strongly!
She clung to his tainted offering like a leech, greedily drinking in the powerful mixture of blood and venom. Her body was shaking, her breathing growing strong again. She growled like a wild thing, thrashing, convulsing, clinging tightly to him. Her heart beat faster and more wildly.
He tried to shift her position and move her, but her hand— curving, twisting, changing into talons— clamped around his wrist and moved it away.
Overpowering need rushed like a blistering flow of boiling-hot lava rushed over his skin, setting him aflame. He growled, lustfully.
And she— SHE responded eagerly in every single way that mattered.
His fully formed wings locked with hers— even as half-grown as they were. His tail slithered around hers, locking together like mating snakes. He pulled her into his heated embrace. Where his were the colour of black on black, her's was the colour of liquid amber. Golden amber scales and fur, glistening like wildflower honey, spread over her. Each golden scale was outlined in shining obsidian, like a frame.
Then they became one, and as he claimed her as his one— his only love— his precious mate, her transformation rapidly accelerated. She gave in to it, gloried in it, and she howled, her crystalline voice ringing out like a church bell in the dead of night, accompanied by the low, bellowing roars of her mate.
They lay, entwined together— wings with wings, tails with tails, and bestial muzzles pressed together as they slowly groomed one another with their long, sinuous, acid green venom-coated tongues.
Hermione's amber-flecked brown eyes practically glowed in the darkness. They slid over to eye her mate, and she gave a very alluring chatter of teeth, her tail very deliberately stroking her mate in all the right places.
Severus growled and promptly pounced her. They tumbled through the leafy undergrowth, dislodging a few shrubs and sapling trees. They coupled. Then they coupled again, grooming each other in between bouts of lovemaking only to decide that there was still a lot of love to go around.
When finally the pair seemed to take a timeout for a little sleep, two glistening golden rings of pure magic sparkled on their monstrous talons.
"You win the apple bushel, Firenze," Bane snorted, stamping his feet.
"Oh?" the centaur stallion said, raising a brow.
"Eight times," Bane said rather wistfully.
"Damn," Magorian said, scratching the underside of his chin. "Perhaps we should all get busy boosting the numbers in our herd. We shouldn't let our two new neighbours have all the fun."
"Oh, and I suppose you think eight is a paltry number, eh?" Bane accused, raising a raven brow and shaking his finger at the elder stallion.
"Oh, my dear young stallion," Magorian said with a rather wicked smile. "I may be old, but I know all of the most effective positions."
Firenze and Bane's jaws dropped as they stared open-mouthed, watching as the elder stallion trotted— nay, frolicked— back towards the herd camp.
When the two beasts landed on Minerva's balcony, she ran up to meet him. "Severus! Hermione? Oh, my precious lad and lassie. Are you well? Are you hurt at all?"
The black monster whuffed, gently tussling Minerva's hair.
The amber beast cooed softly, nudging the crying elder witch with her nose.
They nuzzled each other tenderly, and slowly their bodies seemed to fold in upon themselves.
Hermione staggered slightly, and Severus caught her, a soft growl rumbling deep within his throat. She touched his face and smiled at him. "Let me stand, you big overprotective beast," she chuckled.
"Your big, overprotective beast."
"Mmmhmm," she purred in reply, causing Severus' eyes to noticeably dilate.
"Well, that explains all the noise," Minerva commented, dashing away stray tears with the feathered end of her quill. Then she stood and pulled them both into a bear hug, ignoring Severus' sputters of indignation at having a Gryffindor witch accosting his person.
"You weren't complaining last night," Hermione reminded him with a rather mischievous raised eyebrow.
Minerva then enjoyed the rare honour of seeing Severus blush a bright, beetroot red.
"Sit, have some tea, and you will tell me all about it," Minerva insisted, gesturing to the comfy tartan bedecked chairs in her newly-refurbished office. "By all means, don't leave out any of the fun parts. Though, my imagination came up with a few ideas just from all of the howling."
Hermione and Severus sank into their chairs, both looking more than a little sheepish.
"This is for the two of you," Minerva said, passing them over an ornate, rather official-looking scroll.
Hermione snatched it up before Severus could, earning her an accusatory look. Hermione kissed him on the nose, and all seemed to be forgiven. She opened the scroll and gasped. "Does that office ever sleep?"
"Hn?" Severus snatched the scroll and looked, eyebrows raising high into his hair.
"Congratulations on your marriage, laddie," Minerva laughed. "I've seen enough of those scrolls to know one immediately on sight."
Severus flushed. "Magic gets rather stalker-creepy at times," he growled half under his breath.
Hermione beamed. "Magic is utterly brilliant!"
Minerva eyed them both. "So?"
"I, um, well— I almost died."
Minerva raised a brow. "I did gather that much, my dear. We felt it. And then all of us knew that you had somehow been healed. We tried to link up and send you energy, but then it seemed as though you were too far away from us."
"I may have— run with her to try and get past the Anti-Apparition jinx," Severus confessed.
"I did try to die on him," Hermione admitted somewhat shyly. "He simply wouldn't let me."
"You disapprove?" Severus asked, a single black eyebrow arching into his hair.
"Didn't say that!" Hermione chimed.
"Seems to have ended satisfactorily enough for you both," Minerva quipped.
"Mmm, yes," Hermione hummed.
Severus shot her a look.
"Very satisfactorily," Hermione added a bit smugly.
"You've been cleared of all charges, Severus," Minerva said. "Kingsley had the final word in all of it, but the Wizengamot saw the memories. They are are— keeping Albus' portrait for questioning for a while." She gestured to a large, empty spot on the wall.
Dark eyebrows raised up into his hair once more.
"As it is, should his portrait ever return, I am tempted to stick it in Hagrid's hut where they can spend time commiserating together," Minerva said with a sigh. It was Hagrid's spiders— thus his fault that the spiders were even there— that killed so many of our students. He got captured while attempting to save them— even the ones that were seen killing our children. I'm so far beyond angry with him right now that if he didn't already have his arm in a sling and his opposing leg in a brace, I'd put him in both myself."
Hermione snuggled a little closer to Severus instinctively, shying away from the ire of the Scottish witch, the very incarnation of justice, wrath, and fiery retribution.
Minerva let out a heavy sigh. "I'm sorry, lass. He just makes me so very angry. Even in the middle of war, he still truly believes all of his dangerous creatures to be completely harmless." She narrowed her eyes. "Even while they are killing people right in front of him."
"Well, enough of that sore spot," Minerva said decisively, drinking down her entire teacup in one swift gulp. "I'm sure you'll be looking for a nice place to settle, away from all of this, and I happen to have the ideal solution for you."
Severus looked somewhat suspicious, but Hermione looked curious enough to be a cat, complete with perked ears and a tail.
"I have a lovely cottage along the coast where I often take my summer holidays at," Minerva said. "It's a small cottage, but it comes with a very generous amount of heavily wooded acreage. Enough, should you desire to build a cottage of your own with only one single feline neighbour for a few months of the year— at least until I retire, and well, I will gleefully be walking the beaches and making hay in my own way. There is a deep, lush forest, a beautiful view of the sea, and utterly inhospitable cliffs that surround the entire place. And the one thing Albus did right for me: it's also unplottable."
Severus seemed to have his own pair of perked, pointed ears poking out from his dark hair at that.
Hermione did a little bounce. "Yes!" She stared at Severus, as if daring him to say otherwise.
Severus looked from Minerva to Hermione. "I believe I'm outnumbered anyway."
Hermione gave him a radiant smile that made his face soften, and he brushed her soft cheek with a loving hand.
"I believe we shall accept your most generous offer, Minerva," he whispered.
"Excellent!" Minerva said, favouring him with an impossibly wide grin. "I've arranged for the two of you to stay at my cottage until your place has been built. I figured the two of you wouldn't mind being somewhere away from the rabble for an extended period of time. I will tell you honestly that I thought we would be rebuilding Hogwarts for the next few years and I am heartily relieved that that won't be the case."
"Messrs Malfoy and Nott are heading a project to build a memorial near to where we have buried the dead," Minerva informed them. "They set to work the very moment they returned from trying to find you, well, after they dealt with a little backlash." Minerva coughed, staring at the portrait of Phineas Black.
Severus, experienced in the art of interpreting Minerva-ese, narrowed his black eyes at her. "What, precisely, happened over the course of a single night?"
"Much," Minerva replied. She tapped her fingers against the nearby side-table.
"Miss Weasley passed on during the night, shortly after the search parties were sent out. There was nothing more that Poppy could do for her. I even had healers from St Mungo's Flooing in to help, but she had been crushed by the outer wall during the battle and her injuries were simply far too severe. Fred Weasley told everyone that she had saved his life. Molly had a nervous breakdown in front of Merlin and everyone. She wouldn't let us bury her. It took a group of ten strong Aurors to pry her off of her daughter's body so that we could give Ginevra a proper burial."
"Then, after all that, she just— simply gave up. Arthur says she hasn't slept, talked, or eaten since. She just lies on the grave out there."
Hermione looked utterly horrified. "Ginny?"
Hermione's face crinkled in anguish, and she pressed her face into Severus' robes as if trying to burrow herself into him.
Severus somewhat awkwardly wrapped his arm around her, offering human comfort, seeming to be little discombobulated by the strange sensation.
"I fear that Mr Potter and Mr Weasley had a bit of a row," Minerva said. "Triggered by Miss Weasley's death, of course. A great deal of blame has been cast about. Tell me, Hermione," Minerva asked, "what happened out there with Mr Potter?"
Hermione flinched. "He found out about Professor Lupin's death by accident, from me." She stared down at her hands. "I honestly thought he knew. He— blamed me for not saving him instead of saving Professor Snape."
Snape shot her a look.
"Severus," Hermione corrected. "He just lost it. His magic just got completely out of control. It's happened before, but— oh, the wand. The wand! He was holding the Elder Wand at the time! It must have. It could have," Hermione trailed off. "The next thing I knew was pain. I was stuck on a tree. I could see part of a branch sticking out of my chest. He didn't even realise— he turned around, and he freaked out, running back towards Hogwarts to get help. I remember being terribly frightened."
Hermione furrowed her brows and swallowed hard. "The only clear memory I have after that is the darkness closing in around me. I heard his voice, calling to me, telling me to hold on. I lost my way. I... couldn't hear him anymore. Then, there was this incredible warmth, spreading through every vessel in my body, this driving hunger to survive— I latched onto it with everything I had, and I simply refused to let go. He was there, and he was beautiful and perfect— and all mine."
Hermione flushed crimson, suddenly realising exactly what she was saying.
Severus growled lowly, pulling her close to him.
"Well, at least it ended well," Minerva said, utterly deadpan. "We've had quite enough tragedy, thank you."
"Minerva, lass," Minerva chuckled.
"Minerva," Hermione said, somewhat nervously. "What happened to Harry and Ron?"
"They disappeared," Minerva told her with a frown. "No one has seen either of them since their public row."
Hermione frowned. "That… doesn't sound good at all."
"P-professor!" Hermione backed up into the alcove.
Hermione's pupils swallowed her large, brown irises, her breathing becoming a bit deep and heavy. The tip of her somewhat unnaturally glowing tongue flicked out and ran across her lips in an unmistakable sign of rising interest.
The impressive wall of black that was her mate loomed over her, his head curved down as he sniffed her hair, crooning to her with equal interest. Dagger-like teeth were slightly exposed in a grimace as he took in her delicious scent, rolling it around in the back of his mouth. His mouth moved down to cover hers in a kiss, and Hermione mewled in desire, quaking with a heightened lust.
They growled together, rubbing cheek against cheek, breathing heavily—
"Ahhem," a squeaky voice interrupted with slight stammer.
Severus whirled, growling menacingly, his dark robes presenting a clear reflection of his very real wings.
The little house-elf stared at him with an expression that spoke of pure panic. "Mistress Headmistress says to tell you that cottage is ready!" the little elf squeaked. "Portkey for you!" She held it out to them with trembling hands: a flawless Scottish thistle.
Severus's hands, which were twisting into talons in front of the house-elf's terrified eyes, plucked the thistle from the elf's hands.
"Tell. Her. I. Said. Thank. You," Severus growled through his wickedly sharp teeth.
The elf gulped. "Blinky most honored to serve," she squeaked and popped away just as soon as she got the words out.
Severus' eyes narrowed as he read the small, golden tag bearing the activation phrase on the preserved thistle.
"Severus!" Hermione exclaimed, bouncing up to try and see over and around him. "What is it?"
He bared his teeth, his eyes glinting mischievously as he pulled Hermione tightly against himself.
"Bonny beast," Severus growled.
"C'est exquise!" Fleur exclaimed as she took in the lovely little cottage that the pair had carved out of the heavily-wooded coast. "Hermione, it is so beautiful!"
Hermione smiled. "You really think so?"
"It is gorgeous," Fleur said with wide eyes. "Magnifique!" Fleur got a rather mischievous look in her eyes. "May I?"
Hermione nodded, and Fleur leaned down to press her ear against Hermione's protruding abdomen.
"Ah!" she cooed. She stood, rubbing her own swollen belly. "My Bill says we will both be very busy, very soon."
Hermione smiled, but then her face grew serious. "How is Mrs Weasley?"
Fleur looked over towards where Bill and Severus was standing, overlooking the coast and chatting.
"Some days good," Fleur said. "Some days not so good. Bill keeps a strong face, but death of Ginny— hurt whole family, yes?"
Hermione nodded, her eyes filled with worry.
Fleur sighed. "Molly never cared much for me," Fleur admitted. "She think... She think I ensorcell Bill with Veela charm. Think Bill only with me because I use Veela magic on him."
Hermione shook her head in dismay. She patted Fleur on the shoulder reassuringly.
"You will always have friends here, Fleur," Hermione assured her. "We will all stick together."
"I am so glad to have you and Severus," Fleur smiled. "Glad to have true friends after such a terrible war."
"Hey, what are we?" Fred drawled.
"Chopped hippogriff?" George finished.
They laughed, carrying an enormous platter of food between them. "Dad sends his love, but he can't really leave the house right now. If someone isn't there with mum—"
Fleur nodded grimly. "We understand."
"Bill! Brother, we brought barbeque! Dad even let us use his Muggle grill," Fred teased.
Bill perked. "You do realise that you are vastly outnumbered by carnivores, yes?"
Fred waved his arms wildly. "Enough for all, we promise!"
George threw a bean down on the ground and dramatically put a single drop of water on it. With a loud WHOOSH, there was an entire garden set consisting of stone tables, table umbrellas, place settings, and plush seat cushions. "Liiiiike it?" He asked, wiggling his eyebrows. "It's a new Wizarding Wheezes Garden, the fabulous BBQ Bean!"
"Very impressive, you two," Hermione commented. "So, you really are full of beans."
George's jaw dropped. "Madam Snape— you actually have a sense of humour!"
Hermione sniffed. "Sometimes."
"Married life seems have done you good, Gr— Hermione," Fred said with a wink. "Still getting used to the new name, sorry!"
Hermione shook her head. "It's okay. You should see some of the looks I get in public. People aren't sure if they want to kiss my feet or duck my claws."
"Well you do have one gorgeous set of claws," Fred told her, waggling his eyebrows suggestively as George grinned madly.
Hermione just rolled her eyes at them. "I'm very taken, boys."
"Oh I would never dream of going toe-to-toe with a certain highly-intimidating beast, thank you very much," Fred said, quivering a bit. "He was scary enough in class, thank you."
"I do have ears, Mr Weasley," Severus remarked from by the overlook.
Fred winced. "Can't get away with nuthin' round that one."
"Never could," Hermione ribbed.
"Hermione, you wound me," the twins said, dramatically stabbing themselves with invisible daggers.
"Melodramatic too," Hermione added with a wink.
"Besides," George said. "You'd rip our bollocks off if we ever dared try anything. We're nowhere near that stupid."
Hermione smiled rather evilly, very deliberately running her elongated tongue across her lips, letting a trickle of bright green venom coat her mouth.
"AHHHH!" the twins exclaimed, shuddering. "You're our friend and we still want to go hide in the cupboard. Blimey, Hermione."
"Hnn, mate," Severus said, seemingly having appeared out of nowhere. "You seem to giving off quite an— irresistible invitation." He proceeded to claim his mate's mouth with a low, unnerving growl of pure possessive need.
"ACK! Children don't like it when mummy and daddy kiss!" Fred exclaimed, dramatically clapping a hand over his eyes.
"My virgin eyes!" George wailed, holding a chair cushion in front of his blushing face.
"Oh stuff it, you two," Bill said, smacking his brothers upside the head with his palms. "It's not like we didn't have to watch you two snogging each other's girlfriends and then swapping just to see if they'd notice."
Bill arched an auburn brow. "Older, not stupider."
Fred and George both flushed a rather vibrant shade of Gryffindor.
"You did what?!" two voices exclaimed from the clearing.
The twins fled, diving over the garden fence as Angelina and Katie chased after them, slinging multiple hexes as the pair ran for their lives.
"That should keep them fit and agile," Bill commented.
"Should we wait to have supper?"
"Nope," Bill said. "I wouldn't."
"It gets kind of chilly on the coast at night," Fleur said.
"Never noticed," Severus said.
"You tend to sleep as a beast, Severus," Bill reminded him.
"My mate doesn't complain," Severus rumbled, causing Hermione to flush deeply.
"Good thing you don't have any real neighbours to speak of," Lucius voice purred from the gate as he let himself in. "To think of what the poor souls might hear."
Severus shot Lucius a look.
"Draco and Theo are going to be a little late," Lucius announced. "They had to stay for the lighting of the eternal torch at the new war memorial. All that hard work."
Severus nodded sombrely.
"Tell me, Severus," Lucius asked nonchalantly as the witches fussed around the tables and set out heaping trays of glorious food. "Do you have anything for nausea?"
Severus arched a brow. "Coming down with something?"
Lucius cricked his neck. "Not... exactly."
"Do tell," Severus rumbled curiously.
"It's not for me," Lucius said, clearing his throat.
"Your peacocks, then?"
Lucius sniffed a touch derisively, staring down at his very expensive dragonhide boots.
"Narcissa requires something for her nausea," Lucius said softly. "In the mornings, you see."
"EEEEEeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" Hermione squealed joyously, glomping Narcissa on the other side of the garden. "I'm so happy for youuuuuuu!"
"Oh, that kind of nausea potion," Severus commented, utterly deadpan, as Lucius turned various interesting shades of embarrassed. "I'm sure I could come up with… something suitable and safe for gestating humans."
Lucius slowly collected himself. "Since when has making a potion safe for humans been an issue?"
"Safe for pregnant mothers, Lucius," Severus sighed. "Do try to keep up. I doubt you would want me to give you the same tonic I would give Aberforth for his pregnant goats."
Lucius paled. "I… see. Thank you for your consideration, then."
"How is your arm?" Severus asked.
"Not even a scar," Lucius replied in a whisper that spoke of no little awe. "I never thought I'd be free of it. Never."
"None of us did, Lucius," Severus replied. "He saw to that."
"I'm glad he's gone," the blond wizard said, closing his eyes. "Cissa had all the stone in the dining room and main areas replaced. Every single stone. She couldn't stand to live and eat in a place where that vile madman tortured and killed countless people— where he had us do the most unspeakable things for him. She burned all the furniture, melted down every piece of silverware, and even ripped out the chandeliers."
"Draco told us as much," Severus said with a grim nod. "I do not blame her. I sold Spinner's End and gleefully watched them tear it down to prepare for a new housing development. There was nothing left there for me— not even a single good memory that I would wish to keep."
"I once truly believed in him," Lucius sighed. "I will eternally live with that burden of guilt even with the Mark no longer staining my skin.
Severus touched Lucius on the arm, staring at him with an unnerving gaze. "You changed, Lucius. That is why you are alive now. Whatever guilt we might carry, we are far better people as we are now than when we were so very young and ignorant."
Severus looked over to where Hermione, Narcissa, and Fleur were giggling over where to put an enormous dish of homemade pasta on the table. "What we have now— I would not trade that for the world."
Lucius put his hand on Severus' and nodded firmly in agreement. "You are right, old friend. And what am I do to now? A father? After this long— I never dreamed that when Hermione healed Narcissa that it would have—"
Severus looked Lucius in the eyes once more. "Take it for the gift it is, Lucius. Hold on to it with everything you've got, and don't ever let go."
"I won't." Lucius squared his jaw. "I won't. I swear it."
"Do I look like I'm joking?"
"How did you build all of this?"
"I," Lucius snorted, "did not. I hired people who knew precisely what was at stake and told them to do it. Quietly."
Severus stared at Lucius.
"Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!" Hermione gasped from the next room. "A library! Our own library! Just look at all these books! Look at this laboratory! Severus! Isn't this absolutely wonderful?"
"Damn," Bill said, grinning. "I think we might not be seeing Hermione or Severus for at least the next year."
"I—" Severus loosened his collar. "Thank you, Lucius. Your gift is most generous."
"You and she deserve a little peace and happiness, old friend. She for her generosity and fame. You for your pain and infamy." Lucius tapped his manicured fingers against his cane. "This place is worth settling in, and you should be able to enjoy doing what you love in such a place. I took care of all the permits and the contracts. You are now, officially, H. Prince's Owl-Post Potions Company, and Hermione is the Gryphon's Quill Charms and Arithmancy Consultancy Service."
"Oh, um… Well, you should probably go open that now," Lucius said, pointing to a rather large box on the table. "It's from Draco, Astoria, Blaise, and Theo. They, uh… well. You'll see."
Severus stayed rooted to the spot, practically radiating suspicion.
Hermione, however, immediately trotted over, undid the ribbon, and opened the box. "Awwwww! He's so cute!"
She picked up a large bundle of fur, feathers, and beak: a gryphon kit. The little creature made a soft clacking noise with his beak, growling and clinging like a burr to Hermione's chest.
He headbutted her. "Mrrrrrrrwwwlllllll-chirp."
A small round tag hung on a collar: Knickers.
"Knickers?" Hermione sputtered. "You named him— KNICKERS?!"
Lucius flushed. "I had nothing at all to do with that."
"The night we rescued him— your new friend's an orphan you see— we didn't have anywhere to keep him, so we locked him in Astoria's bedroom until we could find him a proper box," Draco said sheepishly from the doorway. "We found him later, and he'd pulled out the drawers on the dresser and made himself a comfy nest among Astoria's unmentionables."
"It was all Blaise's idea," Theo sighed. "We had to register him and sign all the paperwork, and he had had to have a name, so—"
"Squeeeeerrrk!" Knickers squeaked, staring adoringly up at Hermione.
Hermione's eyes glazed over. "Ohhhh."
"Well, that's done it then," Bill said decisively. "Familiar bond."
Hermione hugged the gryphon kit tightly.
"Squueerrrrrrff!" he purred and wriggled happily against her, lapping her chin.
"Wha?" Draco questioned. "We had him for the last week and he didn't bond to any of us."
"Animal magnetism," Severus quipped, smirking.
"All for the best," Lucius said. "Your mother would not suffer a gryphon rampaging around in her newly-refurbished home."
"You'll never need to worry about having someone here to guard your home, Severus," Draco volunteered.
"Wonderful," Severus quipped. "More magical beasts. We'll start a bloody sanctuary."
"Maybe you'll find a Crumpled Snorkack!" Luna said dreamily.
"Oi!" Draco yelped. "Where the hell did you come from?"
"Well that is a rather involved questions, Draco," Luna answered him, "but it involved love, a jar of peanut butter, licorice whips, and Nargles."
"Just forget I even asked," Draco groaned, pinching his nose. Then he slumped into the nearest chair and chugged the rest of his butterbeer.
Official Wizarding War Memorial Opens to the Public this Saturday, July 31 next to the Hogsmeade Cemetery in Scotland
One year ago, the Second Wizarding War ended in a blinding surge of of magic the Dark Lord Voldemort did not expect. One year ago, he was defeated via a vile magic of his own design: the Dark Mark. Thanks to a brave witch with the rare gift of being about to heal by touch, the one type of magic he never expected, Voldemort's Mark ultimately destroyed him— pure light magic was channeled through his Death Eaters and then into himself, destroying them all.
This shattered the original prophecy to to pieces.
The Boy-Who-Lived lives on, and many believed that was not to be his fate. But it seems Fate herself had a few plans of her own in mind.
Thanks to the wizards Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy, infamous Slytherins both, two men who many believed to be faithful servants of the Dark, Hermione Snape, (formerly Granger), was able to channel her healing magic through these living conduits into every Death Eater who willingly served the Dark Lord. Many witnesses have stated that Voldemort met his end in a ball of golden fire as bright as the sun. All that was left was ash.
While some of those who once bore Dark Mark did survive, most did not. The few who survived were either Marked against their will or came to feel true remorse and regretted their decision to join Voldemort. All were victims of Voldemort's ultimate lie: that he was a Pureblood wizard and the rightful heir to Salazar Slytherin. Whatever half-truths he may have claimed, the half-blood bastard wizard, Tom Marvolo Riddle, rose to power, seduced the Pureblood families to his cause, and then chained them into his service through a Mark that would kill them if they tried to remove it. Until the day it killed him and his faithful instead.
The day everything burned.
The surviving former Death Eaters have returned to their families, all very grateful for the opportunity to rejoin the good wizarding society once more. Their arms were pristine and unmarred by Voldemort's evil Mark.
All those on whom the Mark remained, died for their cause along with their chosen Lord.
Messrs Draco Malfoy and Theodore Nott spearheaded the creation of the war memorial to be called the Garden of Tears. Within, they laid to rest the fallen of the our latest and hopefully final Wizarding war. Sculptures of each of the fallen grace each and every grave— crafted from the very memories of the loved ones they left behind. In the center of the garden is a torch holding the eternal flame, which will burn brightly rain or shine, in every season, from now until the horror of war is but a dark memory.
A circular wall of polished granite, upon which the names of the fallen are listed, completely surrounds the Garden of Tears. While many of the names and those buried there were human, there are many others who have been buried there. In the last stand against Voldemort— human, centaur, and all manner of magical beasts all fell trying to defend their world against a vile enemy who threatened to destroy that world. There, in the Garden of Tears, all who rest there are honoured as equals, as they should be.
May all who are interred there rest in peace, knowing they will never be forgotten, and their courageous sacrifices will forever humble those who come to honour their memory.
"Madam Snape," an older witch came up to her, holding out her hands.
Severus watched stoically from the side, keeping a very sharp eye on all those who came near his pregnant mate.
"Thank you for everything."
"It was nothing."
"No, you saved my daughter, Madam Snape. You may not be on that wall, but you deserve a place of honour all your own." The elder witch placed a small bundle into her hands, kissing her fingers before walking off into the Garden of Tears.
Many came and went that day, and Hermione was utterly exhausted. She had not come there to socialise. She had come with Severus to pay her respects just as many others were. Draco and Theo's tireless work had created a beautiful place where all those who came there could remember those who had given their lives to a cause far greater than many could ever fathom.
Severus remained by her side always, rarely being more than a few steps out of visual range, having learned the hard way that bad things seemed to happen when he took her eyes off her for even a single moment. She had tried to tell him that danger wasn't going to spring up to pounce every time she was outside of his company, but he and the beast were in perfect agreement that Hermione was to be protected. From everything.
Luna had brought a picnic lunch and refreshments, and she and Neville had erected a large shade umbrella to keep the Namphlegasheits away. No one there but Luna seemed to know whatever the hell those were, but it was shady, comfy, and cool, and so they left it at that.
"So, how was Tibet?" Hermione asked idly.
"Oh, it was wonderful!" Luna exclaimed. "Neville and I were married by a yak."
Severus and Hermione just stared blankly at Luna.
"He was named Hugo," Luna said, oblivious to their clear bemusement. "He was quite charming for a yak."
Several sets of eyes bored into Neville who was trying very hard to stare a hole into the picnic basket.
"Sandwiches, anyone?" Neville squeaked. "I have chocolate biscuits, Victoria sponge, pork pies, and sausage rolls too."
Severus' eyebrow twitched. "Mr Longbottom. Care to share something with the rest of the class?"
Neville flinched visibly. "I, er, we— WegotmarriedinTibet. Itwasareallysuddenthingbutitseemedliketherightthingatthetimesowedidit."
Hermione leaned over towards Luna, pinned her down with a growl, scaring Neville silly. Luna just giggled as Hermione sniffed at her abdomen, her long, green tongue flicking out like a serpent's.
"Oh dear Merlin, please don't eat my wife!" Neville wailed pitifully.
Hermione let Luna up, absently licking her teeth as her rather pointed ears flicked. Her beast rose just under the surface, spilling out enough to start the physical change. "You're pregnant, Luna."
"That's why I've been seeing Ninglesprats!" Luna cried, laughing with glee.
"Obviously," Severus said, taking a bite out of his sausage roll. He eyed Neville rather narrowly as he did it, showing off his elongating fangs as he did so. His fingers were lengthening— stretching, crackling, and popping— as they transformed into a fine set of wicked-looking talons.
Neville looked like he was ready to dive into the picnic basket and attempt to drown himself in the lemonade.
Luna casually plucked a sausage roll out of the basket and stuffed it into Hermione's mouth and started to rub behind one ear as she also rubbed her side.
Hermione purr-growled and flopped onto her side, her leg twitching spasmodically as she made strange sounds of pure, bestial bliss.
Luna placed her head over her belly and listened. "Mmmm, Hermione, do you think you'll have a set of identical or fraternal twins?"
Hermione wasn't answering. A trickle of fluorescent green venom was leaking out the corner of her mouth.
"You might want to collect a bit of that, Neville," Luna said casually. "It's really good as a sore muscle rub."
"But— I don't want to rub that on me!" Neville blurted out.
"I might," Luna answered with a whimsical smile. "Oh, I understand that venomous tentaculae also find it quite tasty. It encourages budding and makes them feel rather frisky too."
Neville's jaw dropped and he frantically fumbled for a vial. Then he looked over at Severus and froze like a deer in the headlights of an oncoming Muggle car.
"He's just teasing you, Neville," Luna calmly informed her new husband.
"That does not look like teasing to me!"
"Of course, he's teasing you," she reiterated. "You're not dead, are you?"
Neville's jaw worked up and down like a fish gulping desperately for air. He nervously leaned over to collect a blissfully happy Hermione's drooly venom. He fumbled with the vial, getting excess drool all over his fingers, but he managed to fill the vial to the top and safely tucked it away.
"You didn't get any of it on you, did you?" Luna asked. "In raw form, it's got a few rather interesting side effects."
Neville was staring at her, his breathing a little heavy and his pupils blown wide. "Lunnnnaaaa," he whispered, his voice trembling.
Luna eyed her husband. "Neville did you—"
"Weneedtogonowseeyoualllater!" Neville said in a rush, grabbing Luna by the arm for a quick side-along Apparate.
And they were gone.
Severus sat down next to Hermione and ran his fingers through her curls. "Hermione, did you happen to drool excessively on purpose?"
"Mrrrrrrrrr," Hermione replied, her tongue shooting out to slowly lick Severus' hand.
Severus shuddered, his eyes darkening. "Woman," he growled. "You will surely be the death of me." He closed his eyes and dug his nails into his palms, forcing his controls down. "We. Are. In. Public."
Hermione made a disappointed-sounding mewl in the back her throat.
Severus' nostrils flared, his teeth glinting as he grimaced to taste the air.
"What are you doing here, Harry?" an all-too-familiar voice seethed near one of the statues.
The very moment Harry's name was uttered, Severus and Hermione froze, all interest in one another dissipating as quickly as if they had been doused with ice water.
"How dare you come here to put flowers on my baby sister's grave when it was you who kept her from being healed and all because of your bloody stupid temper!"
Hermione sat up in a crouch, her ears pointed sharply forward. Her hands had already curved into half-talons. Her mouth parted as fangs jerked and twisted up from her gums. She trembled, letting out a long, low, whine-growl.
The sound snapped Severus to attention, and he immediately got up to stand in front of her, using his body to shield her from both the impending attack and the sight of the combatants in question.
Raging, spinning winds.
Tree limb bursting through her ribs.
Crimson blood dripping down her body.
Memories as sharp as broken glass cut through Severus' mind— Hermione was remembering. Truly remembering what happened for the very first time.
"How dare you heal Snape and not Remus!"
"You KNEW how important Remus was to me!"
"Harry, I cannot reverse death!"
Cutting rocks. Debris was everywhere— spinning! Spinning! Cutting!
Footing was gone. She was flying— flying.
Hands were slick with blood. Can't move. Can't.. Pain.
The despairing howl of a beast rang out across the green.
Help me. Please.
"You just had to lose your sodding temper, didn't you, Harry? Everything is always about you. It's always about you, the fucking Chosen One, saviour of the wizarding world. She WORSHIPPED you! You might as well have killed her yourself by hurting 'Mione! And fucking SNAPE saved her— turned her into a monster to save her life! All because of YOU! My sister died waiting for help that never came. It never came because you blew up all over the only touch healer we had and impaled her with a fucking tree!"
"It was an accident, Ron!"
"Yeah, an accident. An accidental almost-murder, more like. Whoops, sorry, I accidentally amputated your arm with that slicing hex. Sorry I killed your cat after kicking it into the fireplace by accident. Sorry? I don't accept your fucking sorry, Harry. My mother is all but catatonic because of you!"
"Ginny—" a feminine voice quaked. "You killed my Ginny? Harry? My Ginny!"
"I didn't kill her!"
"She could have been saved!"
"You don't know that!"
"We'll NEVER know now, will we?!"
"Look, I'm really sorry that Ginny died. I truly am. I grieve for her—"
Hermione whined and growled, greatly distressed by the sudden appearance of Harry and the rising voices in the garden memorial. Severus wrapped her up snugly in his protective wings, pulling her close to him, his muzzle twisted into a menacing snarl. His tail lashed violently and then wrapped around his mate.
This place was causing his mate grave distress, and that simply would not do.
Harry Potter Kidnapped From War Memorial
By Formerly-Catatonic Grieving Mother
By Rita Skeeter
Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Now-Wishes-He-Hadn't-Lived, was kidnapped yesterday by none other than Molly Prewett Weasley, grieving mother of the late Ginevra Molly Weasley who was killed during the battle that took place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
After a heated row in the middle of the new Garden of Tears war memorial, Harry Potter's alleged best mate, Ronald Bilius Weasley, accused him of murdering his sister by impaling her would-be healer on a tree limb. Now just who was that healer, you ask?
Why, none other than the notorious Muggle harlot herself, Hermione Snape (née Granger). The former Miss Granger a well-known attention-seeking little strumpet, is now, of all things, attempting to pass herself off as a touch healer! Granger, who quite infamously threw herself at Viktor Krum, dosing the famed Bulgarian Quidditch star with Amortentia to secure his favour while simultaneously wooing Harry Potter himself, has now managed to convince a sizeable number pathetic, weak-minded, and desperate fools that she is a touch healer— the very rarest of the rare.
This scandalous witch, who has a varied list of sins every bit as long as this paper, previously forced this news reporter to write lies and slander for an entire year while her beau, Harry Potter, ran riot all across Wizarding Britain on his mad Crusade against Voldemort himself. And believe me, when she man-handled me, she most certainly didn't heal me. Not even so much as a paper-cut.
Supposedly, this gem of a faker was knocking on death's very door, but where is she now? Warming the bed of her former professor, the notorious Death Eater who murdered Albus Dumbledore, Severus Snape. Who is obviously alive and unwell in the head. Everyone knows the man was a confirmed Death Eater. Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater! Granger is a sick, sick witch who wants nothing more than to have a man, especially a man desperate for love, ready and willing to do anything she demands, so naturally she picks the one person who we've all since learned was repudiated by his one and only childhood friend.
Without Albus Dumbledore to yank hard on his leash and keep him to heel, this Severus Snape is free to feed and nurture all of wicked Hermione's many delusions.
But... back to Harry Potter, kidnap victim.
I managed to follow Mr Potter to the place where Molly Weasley brought him: the blackened ruins of a shabby little hell-hole of a house in the middle of a field of nothing. There was nothing but debris, assorted refuse and the charred remains of what might have been someone's home.
Here, in this field of ruin, Mrs Weasley shoved Harry Potter's face into the mud and called him a murderer. If it hadn't been for him and his temper, or so she claimed, her youngest child and only daughter might still be alive.
Now do you see the effects of the dangerous web of lies that harlot Hermione Granger-Snape has created? The web of grief and woe? It is pain that this foul, evil little excuse for a witch has caused. Mrs Weasley thinks a pathetic fraud could have saved her daughter's life! Harry Potter was obviously angry with Granger for leading him on for so many years and was JUSTIFIABLY got angry with her.
How many bodies do we have to have to bury before Hermione Granger is incarcerated in Azkaban where she truly belongs?
Rare as Dragon Fire Opals: The Touch Healer
By Luna Lovegood at the Quibbler
Healers are the wondrously gifted people who keep us together, sometimes quite literally. Many of us wouldn't even be here if it wasn't for the efforts of a fine healer. This is an established fact. What very few people know is that being a healer is far more than just a job title. There are also various types of healers: energy healers, mind healers, spiritual healers, medical healers, and the very rarest of them all: the touch healer.
Why isn't touch healing more common? Obviously that would be a very great boon to St Mungo's, yes?
The biggest issue with touch-healing is that a bond must exist for touch healing to take place. There must be a strong sense of connection between the healer and the one being healed. What kind of connection? A conscious, genuine compassion or trust. Without this mutual bond, no amount of effort can bring the healing energy into being. The touch-healer is a conduit, but they also need a pathway to channel that energy into their patient. That is the unfortunate price of touch-healing.
Have you ever been healed by a touch-healer? Congratulations. You have experienced something rare and genuine— something remarkably powerful. I hope you realise what a wonderful gift that is.
If anyone has any doubt at all about the validity of the bond between Hermione and her husband, Severus Snape, you need only remember this: it was because of their bond that Lord Voldemort finally met his end. Without Mr Snape and Mr Draco Malfoy there to act as conduits to pour her extraordinary healing power into, it could never have been directed back through them and into Voldemort himself along with his loyal Death Eaters.
Remember that the next time fear-mongers attempt to persuade you into believing that Madam Hermione Granger Snape is an imposter. For those of us who witnessed the fall of Voldemort on the front lines, the truth was as clear and obvious and as brilliant as the sun.
We were there.
I was there.
Be very, very thankful that SHE was there, and that Professor Severus Snape was able to save her life. Had he not done so, very few of us would still be here.
Rita Skeeter Caught In Severe State of Undress
A reporter for the Daily Prophet, notorious gossip columnist Rita Skeeter, was found fornicating with a statue of Merlin in Knockturn Alley very early this morning. Aurors found her completely starkers and clearly unable to contain her indecent urges, stating, "He's a real wizard's wizard!"
Witnesses stated she was dressed like one of the witches from The Corset and Wand, and Skeeter had apparently shared her favours with over fifty clients throughout the night, some of them being repeat customers. The proprietor of The Corset and Wand was seen having quite a loud row with Ms Skeeter about doing her business on their property without a signed contract.
Aurors dragged Ms Skeeter off to St Mungo's for a thorough medical and psychiatric examination, but short of having an extremely active libido and being pregnant with quintuplets, our source at the hospital informed us that there appears to be nothing wrong with her. That is, if nothing can explain why she propositioned every male and female healer at St Mungo's and even the Aurors who were unlucky enough to catch her in the act, as it were.
Her handbag, which contained only a few galleons, a tube of lipstick, and a jar of cucumber-melon hand creme, has offered no additional clues that might lead Aurors to the cause of Ms Skeeter's aberrant behaviour.
"She's always been a teensy bit odd— a bit too obsessed with certain... things," the senior editor of The Prophet stated rather delicately. "She's seen a lot of stuff out there. Maybe she finally just cracked, ya know?"
In our last update, we are told that Ms Skeeter was seen in the Janus Thickey ward of St Mungo's, reportedly trying to roll refuse into large balls and hoarding them in her room, chanting, "Dung for the babies! The babies must have their dung!"
I'm sure we all wish Ms Skeeter the very best in her recovery.
Harry Potter Under Investigation
A highly disturbing report that Harry Potter has been brought in for questioning has come to our attention after the Boy-Who-Lived was caught with the wand of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, thought to have been buried along with the late former Hogwarts headmaster short.
The wand, which has been seen in multiple photographs, portraits, and eye-witness accounts was widely rumoured to be the legendary Elder Wand that originally belonged to the eldest Peverell brother, Antioch, in the tale of the three brothers.
After quickly confirming that the wand was indeed not the property of Mr Potter, Aurors searched his flat in Cokeworth and found a very alarming scene that suggested that Potter has long been obsessed with the recently disgraced former Daily Prophet gossip columnist, Rita Skeeter. A multitude of life-sized photographs of the reporter were plastered over every wall. Copies of all of her works were glued over empty spaces and furniture. The bed was covered in a quilt that was made up of nothing but Prophet articles. And all of it was Rita Skeeter's work.
Perhaps most disturbing of all, an inflatable doll wearing rather revealing lingerie was found reclining in Potter's bed. That doll, we are told, also bears a striking resemblance to Rita Skeeter. Aurors grew quite flustered but declined to speculate when asked about the likely use of such a scandalous creation.
Mr Potter is strenuously proclaiming his innocence, stating that he's never seen nor done anything of the sort, and the recent laws brought into place by Minister for Magic, Kingsley Shacklebolt, no longer permits the use of Legilimency or Veritaserum unless previously approved by the Wizengamot and only in the most extreme cases of Dark Magic. Unfortunately, every attempt that Potter has made to extract the pertinent memories from his mind have all produced the same result: the shocking attack and impalement of Hermione Granger Snape in the wake of the Battle of Hogwarts.
Mr Potter is facing a very grim future. Even if he is found innocent of stalking and causing harm to Ms Skeeter, he will likely be convicted of assault and inflicting grievous bodily harm to Hermione Snape (nee Granger). Despite his claims that it was an accident, the fact he did not report it or even attempt to contact the Auror's about it shades his claims with suspicion.
The sentence for such a serious offense is hard labour working for the goblins and could last from anywhere between five to twenty-five years.
In other news, Molly Weasley has been admitted into St Mungo's to undergo mind-healing therapy after the death of her only daughter, Ginevra. When Aurors separated her from Mr Potter, she returned to a semi-catatonic state and is still unable to participate in questioning.
"Unfortunately," Healer Bradburn said in an interview, "the death of someone very close to you can cause severe mental trauma. It can lock the mind in place, trapping it in an unending circle of what-ifs. Breaking through that can prove exceedingly very difficult and time consuming If you have ever imagined yourself doing something differently, try to remember how many times you altered the scenario in your mind. That is what people like Mrs Weasley have to face— an endless cycle of possibility and disappointment. Perhaps, that is also part of what Mr Potter is and has been facing— having never truly come to terms with the loss of his parents."
Knickers wriggled out from under the entangled wings of his "mum and dad" and chirred happily. He'd never been so close to his first mum like this. He'd had to fight for every scrap of food, only to be beaten on by his much stronger siblings, forced out from the warm places under mum's wing, and then finally getting kicked out of the nest by his rambunctious, older nestmates.
That's where the humans had found him: sprawled at the bottom of the mountain where the nest was, having tumbled many, many times down to his almost-death. The humans had proven to be quite kind to him, scraping him up and stuffing plenty food into him, but he hadn't truly felt alive agin until now. His mind sang with pure happiness upon his newfound union with two other minds.
To put it bluntly, he had been the runt of the litter, and he had been starving to death.
But now— oh now— he had a mum and dad all to himself. He could feel their minds mingling with his own, and he could snuggle under their combined wings whenever the family slept.
Hunger was no longer perpetually gnawing at his stomach. He had a place to guard. He had a family. This was all he he had ever wanted. It was all he could ever dream of having. He even had his very own cliff to look over, a place to stretch his little wings out, and dream of flying. And he would, one day, when he was strong enough. Until then, he'd keep practicing, pumping those wings until he was strong!
Mummy had been sad for a while, but dad had been strong, wrapping them both in his enormous wings. That had always made him feel better, even though he'd been often kicked out to sit in the rain while his siblings sheltered under their first-mom's wings. But now— ahh! There were warm wings for everyone. This was a vastly improved arrangement, he had decided. He was now just as big as his big brother and his monstrous big sister. He wondered if they even noticed he was gone. Maybe, they were actually glad that he was gone. One less beak to feed for his first-parents, one less sibling to fight over the food.
He flopped down to the ground and stretched, shaking his wings out. He tackled the knotted rag chew toy and shook it violently, flinging it in the air catching it with a sharp snap of his beak, tumbling with it, and then dragging it under him like prey. He plunked it down and trotted over to the counter and looked up at it longingly.
He was hungry.
Someone scooped him up, giving him a lift to the top of the counter.
Oh! It was mummy! Did mummy have food for him?
Mummy tore into haunch of something and ripped off a piece with her teeth, guiding it down to him.
Food. Food. Food. Food!
Oh! It tasted wonderful.
Piece by piece, mummy patiently tore off bits of food for him, just like first-mum did, only now there were no others to butt him out of their way. He could eat patiently. He could even wait patiently.
Sometimes mummy fed him. Sometimes it was dad. Each feeding made the bond between them stronger, and he utterly reveled in it. He felt important! He felt loved!
And now he was full. What a feeling. Finally, he could sleep with a full tummy full of tasty food.
"Scriieeerrrr!" he purred.
Mum's long tongue cleaned him off, leaving him glistening and clean. He batted at mum's muzzle, trying to catch her serpentine tongue as it worked him over. He tried to return the favour, but he only got a few pegs in before her attention bowled him over.
He shook himself off, his feathers and fur poofing out like a puffball. He stared up adoringly to his mum, singing his heartsong of his adoration and love for his parents.
Mum looked down at him with her shining topaz eyes. Pride and love filled her heart, and he shared in it. Her huge golden wings moved around him and scooped him up into her arms, and she carried him outside into the sun.
Ooo! Was it time to play in the water?
She held him close as she launched in the air and glided down to the shore. Her massive wings seemed to span from one horizon to the other. She was so beautiful, his mum. One day, he would be as great as her!
His feet touched the cold water, and he squeaked, but he liked the sensation, so he bounded into the surf to play. He never went far, always keeping mum in sight. He never wanted to lose his family again, especially this one.
Mum sprawled in the warming sand, soaking in the sun.
He played, chasing crabs and gulls across the beach. He would stalk mum's tails, pouncing on them and trying to sink his beak-teeth into them. Her tails were very resilient, however, and resisted his best attempts to subjugate them. He would try to wrestle with her, attempting to drag her along the shore, but she would slump in the sand like a dead weight and resist all movement. Then, he would climb on her back and puff up tall, proclaiming himself master gryphon of the mountain, but mum's wing would topple him off, and he would end up with a beak covered in sand.
Shade descended upon him from above, and he froze in place. Blackness— blackness spanned the horizon!
Oh. It was just dad.
Dad landed with a thump next to mum, growling a low, resonate greeting. Mummy purred a response, rolling over, and he entwined with her, joining her in the sun-bathing.
Hey! He wanted in on that!
Knickers bounded over and climbed up mum's tail and wedged himself between mum and dad, sprawling between them like a bridge.
"Chirrrrrr," he cooed.
This was the life.
"Severus Tobias Snape!" Madam Pomfrey yelled. "I don't care if you are a sodding jabberwocky! You will sit there with your mate, hold her paw, and support her as she gives birth to this baby!"
The giant, black beast, who towered over Poppy, looked thoroughly chastised. He slunk back to his mate's side, sat down on the large seat, and obediently held Hermione's taloned hand.
Minerva, who was already holding the other hand, vainly attempted to stifle a chain of chortles, causing Severus to glower at her through narrowed eyes.
They were interrupted by Hermione's reverberating roar of pain as the strongest contractions yet began.
"That's it, dear," Poppy reassured her growling patient. "One big push and the last nine months are finally all behind you."
Hermione roared, and in a gush of fluid, blood, and baby, the newest of the line of Snape slid from her birth canal and into Poppy's waiting arms.
Severus Snape, hulking monster and beast, had just passed out cold onto the floor.
Minerva looked over Hermione to where Severus lay crumpled at the new mother's taloned feet. "Men. You just hold on there, lassie. Minerva is here for you."
Hermione locked gazes with Minerva, her eyes full of love and appreciation.
Poppy, who hadn't missed a single beat, had cleaned the child, tied off the umbilical, and swaddled the baby in what could only be described as an experienced and professional manner. Then she tucked the burbling newborn into Hermione's loving arms. The little babe, sporting pale white skin, a surprising amount of black hair, and shining topaz eyes, cooed, sticking her baby hands into her mum's bestial nostrils.
Hermione's eyes went wide.
"No fear in that one," Poppy chuckled, guiding a glass of nutrients to Hermione's lips. "Drink this dear. It is blood replenishing potion and nutrients."
Hermione obeyed, trusting the medi-witch. Her bestial shape folded in on itself, leaving Hermione looking so much smaller and more vulnerable. "She's— beautiful."
"Just like her mam," Minerva cooed, her finger already tightly grasped by the baby's tiny hand.
Meanwhile, Poppy was scraping Severus up off the ground and propping him up in a chair. "Ah, men. So strong in times of grave danger, yet seeing a baby come out sends them into a right state."
Hermione looked a little mortified, but she gazed down at her newborn baby with pure love.
"What will you call her, lass? Minerva asked curiously.
"Athena," Hermione whispered, watching Minerva's eyes grow wide with wonder. "Athena Mira Snape."
"Mira means wonderful," Poppy said with a smile. "I highly approve."
Hermione beamed as Severus groaned from beside the bed, his green tongue half-hanging out of his mouth.
Severus shook his head, rubbed his head, and looked around.
"Nice of you to join us, laddie," Minerva chuckled.
The beast stared down at the bundle in Hermione's arms, nostrils flaring as he pressed his muzzle to the baby's face. His body shuddered, folded in on itself until he was human again. His pale face and wide eyes strongly suggested that he was somewhat unsure of what to do.
Hermione held the tiny girl out. She made eye contact.
Severus froze, still as a stone.
Hermione glared at him, the tip of her green tongue flicking across her teeth.
Severus immediately stepped forward, took the baby into his hands and held her out in front of him like a dirty nappy.
Hermione huffed, glowering.
Severus slowly drew the baby to him, cradling her gently in his arms. Athena cooed and burbled, letting out a big yawn. Severus' eyes softened and he was utterly undone.
"There now, that's much better," Poppy said firmly, clapping Minerva on the back. "Let's leave this lot for a bit and check on poor Bill. If he's anything like Severus, we'll have to scrape him off the floor as well."
The two elder witches laughed as they walked on to where Fleur lay resting in another part of the hospital wing.
"Those two have been glued from the hip since birth," Bill sighed, watching Athena and his son, Louis, riding Knickers around the yard like a monstrous pony.
Fleur smiled. "They get married some day, I t'ink."
"What?" he and Severus exclaimed together.
"Don't be such a prude, darling," Fleur admonished her husband. "They were born under same star. It is only natural they are drawn together."
Bill and Severus did their very best gaping fish impressions.
"Hey! HEEEEY!" a platinum blonde girl with silver-blue eyes wailed. "Me! Me! Me!"
Athena and Louis leaned down together and snatched up the smaller girl to draw her onto Knicker's back along with them. As the children cheered wildly, Knickers galloped off over the garden wall and trotted down the beach.
Lucius sipped his tea calmly. "Might be a threesome."
Severus spat out his tea with a muttered curse. Bill dropped his and stared wide-eyed at the smirking blond wizard.
Fleur cackled merrily with Narcissa, each giving the other a high-five.
Hermione came out bearing a tray of ice-cold lemonade, giving everyone a glass. "They are far closer than ever I'd been with Harry and Ron. They've all slept in the same crib together ever since they were babies. One day, they are either going to break each other's hearts or decide they can find a way to share.
Severus narrowed his eyes. "I do not share."
Hermione kissed Severus on the nose. "Nor would I ever expect you to, my love."
"Cassie wants to share everything," Lucius said with a sniff. "She tries to steal sips of Draco's wine all the time. We have to watch her like hawks."
"He and Astoria finally decide to settle down after all that globe-trotting?" Hermione asked.
"Nay," Narcissa answered with a wistful sigh. "They had their baby in Spain. I haven't even gotten to see my new grandbaby."
Hermione frowned, sympathetic. "Well, at least Cassiopeia has kept you on your toes."
"Don't let him fool you," Narcissa giggled. "Cassie has Lucius wrapped around her little pinky."
Lucius glared at his still-giggling wife.
A tired-looking tawny owl hooted as it released the latest The Daily Prophet onto the table and landed nearby to drink a bit of water and collect itself.
Severus reached over to give the owl a snack of dried meat before picking up the Prophet and flipping through it.
"Ah," he grunted. "Potter has finally been released from his goblin servitude. And here I was hoping he'd be eaten by one of the dragons they keep down there to guard the vaults."
"Severus!" Hermione gasped.
Severus waved his hand dismissively. "He almost murdered you."
"It was an accident!"
"Potter had far too many anger-induced incidents throughout his Hogwarts career and beyond. Had he managed to kill my mate, especially after going through as much as we did, I would have torn him to pieces without a single qualm."
"I'm sure my sister is whirling in her grave with the knowledge that her curse actually ended up giving you a happy ending that she never intended," Narcissa commented, raising an eyebrow.
"A very happy ending and financial well-being for a great many generations at that," Lucius huffed. "Considering how many rewards the both of you received for the disposal of countless Death Eaters, conspiracists, and Dark wizards and witches with high prices on their heads."
"There are still others out there, if any of you would like to get in on the act," Severus grunted, shaking his head. "Greyback and his cronies are still plotting to take over the world by turning the entire population into werewolves. So very sad for him that his werewolves are all so uncontrollable that they kill far more than they manage to infect, making their attempted uprising prove to be anything but effective."
"My youngest brother is still out there, so very proud that he's a 'famous' hit wizard," Bill sighed, sipping his lemonade. "He hasn't managed to get himself killed yet, so I suppose that is something. I think he's just happy knowing that he's finally more famous than he is infamous, no thanks to one Harry Potter. Pity that he can't manage any money to save his soul and what little he doesn't blow on firewhiskey and women, he ends up pissing away on gambling, claiming that he'll hit the jackpot one fine day. That is, should the Chudley Cannons ever win a game.
"Well, that isn't likely to happen," Severus commented rather dryly.
"Ever," Lucius agreed with a snort of derision.
"Ronald hasn't even spoken to me in—" Hermione's eyes widened. Her fangs glinted as she concentrated, the tip of her green tongue flicked out over her teeth in avid thought.
"Since well before Athena was born, and he screamed that she was going to be a mutant freak, just like her parents, as I recall," Severus said with a scowl.
"Oh, yeah… that," Hermione said with a slight frown.
Bill rubbed Hermione's shoulders. "It's okay, little sis. It's not just you who wants give him a swift kick between the legs and then set him on fire. Not that Fred and George haven't tried that one already."
"Oh? Really," Lucius said, leaning in a bit closer, the better to hear the gory details.
Bill smiled. "Now, now, Lucius. You don't have to look quite so eager."
"What can I say?" Lucius said, rubbing his chin with his fingers. "I truly enjoy a well-told tale of justice served."
Lucius discreetly adjusted his halo. "You disagree, Madam Snape?"
Hermione shook her head. "What you really enjoy is a well-told tale of Ronald being dropkicked by his brothers, smothered in wildflower honey, buried upside down in the desert, and having his bits repeatedly bitten by a horde of rampaging fire ants."
"Well yes," Lucius admitted without a trace of shame. "That too."
"Speaking of tales," Lucius purred. "Severussss— however did that little experiment with that rather exceptional venom-drool turn out?"
"Claude Adler had somewhat of a bad experience after taking a little too much— he was apparently trying to fertilise his Venomous Tentaculae," Severus said, his mouth twitching with suppressed amusement.
"Bad experience? I don't seem to recall there being any negative side effects," Lucius said in a voice of mingled velvet and honey.
"Apparently you can fertilise your Venomous Tentaculae— and you can fertilise. Your Tentaculae."
Lucius' eyes went impossibly wide. "You must be joking."
Severus arched a brow. "Let us just say that the risks of overdose by drooling imbeciles far outweighs the potential monetary gain involved in attempting to market it safely on an open, public venue. Seeing as we cannot actually force said imbeciles to always wear gloves whenever mixing up a batch of fertiliser."
Bill rolled his eyes. "It's like the idiots who walk into a crypt and think 'Nah, I won't get hurt— this stuff is positively ancient. None of it could possibly harm me'."
"I blame Longbottom," Severus said with a deep sigh. "He somehow neglected to mention to his herbology friend the consequences of getting it on one's skin. I fear that if we market it as fertiliser, we would get a slew of wizards and witches foolishly attempting to splice their DNA with whatever flora they might happen to be propagating within their greenhouses. If we market for— certain other things, we'd have to sell it by the droplet with a disclaimer approximately the length of the average Gringott's contract. Besides, it is, technically, a type of venom. Gods forbid some Ministry idiot should decide to pay us a visit and demand to see how we make it."
"You know," Lucius purred. "I believe I have just the place for you to perfect your formulae, Severus. By the time you are finished experimenting, you will be filthy rich— far more than you already are— and you will have the most delicious revenge ever.
Severus narrowed his eyes. "Lucius."
Lucius favoured Severus with a very Slytherin smile.
Some years later…
A single grave sat alone, surrounded by a veritable sea of more average-looking graves. A dreary sign hung from the rusty gateway: 'Welcome to the final resting place of Tom Riddle's Death Eaters, they who bit off far more than they could chew'.
One grave amongst hundreds might have seemed just like the others, had it not been surrounded by a garden of the most lush, vibrant flowers the world had ever seen. Venomous Tentaculae melded in harmony with tropical orchids, and many other rare and exotic flowers bloomed in defiance of the rather gloomy location. Rainbows arched as dew-laden mist danced over a pristine pool of brightly-coloured koi, which swam endless circles around the bevy of white and pink water lilies that floated serenely on the surface of the pond.
The gravestone, completely isolated from the other, far more dreary graves, was carved of the most flawless white marble. Glowing rainbow letters shone bright and clear on the surface, and a white marble unicorn and pegasus graced each side of the stone, framing the letters perfectly.
The reason we're all as happy as fuck.
Thanks for cursing me.
These flowers will never die.
Enjoy the rainbow.
It was said that on certain days, a phantom of a crazed-looking, wild-haired woman drifted about the graveyard screaming her outrage— unable to pass on into the afterlife due to a lifetime's worth of wrought iron chains.
Hermione felt the arms and wings of her husband wrapping around her, his warm breath tickling her skin. In the room down the hall, she heard her daughter, Athena, and her childhood friends chattering excitedly about what Hogwarts would be like. What house would they be Sorted into? Would they remain friends forever?
Hermione smiled, pleased that her child did not have to face the same worries that she herself had so very long ago.
Severus' growling purr sent a shiver down her spine as his wings brushed tenderly against her back, his tongue flicking lightly against her ear, both sending amazing jolts of pure pleasure all the way down to her toes.
She turned, looking up into the adoring eyes of her mate.
"I love you, my beast," Hermione whispered, pressing her lips to his muzzle in a tender, loving kiss, smiling as his beast form fell away into his human but no less loving shape.
Severus enfolded her with his arms, pressing his human face into her neck and curls. "I love you, my wife. My beloved mate. Always."
A/N: You know, when most people write a one shot it takes up maybe a few K at the most. Yeah, well, that wasn't happening. Hope you enjoyed this. You better have, or I'm siccing a hungry Knickers on you.