Chapter Twenty-three

(In which there is an) Epilogue

Three weeks later ...

"I can't believe Fudge finally resigned." said Minerva, folding up the previous day's issue of The Daily Prophet and laying it on the night table.

"You sound almost disappointed, my dear." chuckled Albus, looking up from a few official documents he happened to be perusing. The end of the second war against Lord Voldemort and his followers had generated a nearly endless stream of paperwork, with which the school and its staff were still coping.

"Don't be ridiculous! It was about time. That's all." Minerva told him, looking over his shoulder at a scroll detailing the findings of an official inquiry into the death of Draco Malfoy.

Severus had requested it. It was found that the young wizard had been subjected to the Imperious curse for nearly three years. The curse had quite likely been placed upon him by his father. The signs had gone all but unnoticed, but that was not surprising, all things considered. Draco had simply not been strong enough to resist it effectively, and the late Lucius Malfoy had been an expert in its use. It was all very sad.

"I hardly think that's acceptable bedtime reading." she commented.

"I suppose not, but I will be handing it over to Severus in the morning. I thought I should have a look at it first." he said.

"Of course." said Minerva quietly. "Who do you suppose will be the next Minister of Magic?" she asked.

Albus shuffled his papers for a moment before placing them on the stand by the bed and turning toward Minerva. He propped up on one elbow, knowing where the conversation was going.

"I will probably be asked again. But I believed I shall decline." he informed her. "Unless you have something to say about that ..." he added.

"Are you ready to leave Hogwarts?" she questioned.

"No, and I don't think I ever will be, Minerva."

"Just as well, I suppose." she nodded. "I'm not cut out to be a politician's wife."

They had been married almost a week earlier, right after the daily routine of the school had returned to normal. Minerva glanced at the wedding band that she wore. It had been a long enough courtship, she decided once she had paused to consider the matter. They had known each other for many years, and their friendship had been the closest she had ever known. Regardless of the obstacles they had faced, the trials and tribulations of those long years had only drawn them closer together. But she was grateful that their actual engagement had been rather short.

The ceremony had been held in the Great Hall with all of Hogwarts in attendance. Many of the students and faculty were still in mourning for their fallen friends, professors, students, and colleagues. All of the celebration that had accompanied the end of Voldemort's first reign of terror had been conspicuously absent from this victory. The cost of his defeat had seemed very high to many of them. It was for that reason the Minerva had first suggested that they get married in London or barring that, in the small wizarding community in Glasgow. But Albus thought that it would be more fitting for the ceremony to take place at Hogwarts. In the end she had agreed.

And when everything was said and done, Minerva McGonagall, who had elected to retain her own surname to avoid confusion and because of her own substantial professional accomplishments, was very glad she had given into Albus' wishes. The smiles on the students' faces when she walked down the aisle, so to speak, were the brightest she had seen in weeks. A wedding, a new beginning for the two professors, was something that lightened the hearts of everyone who witnessed it, including members of the teaching staff who were just beginning to adjust to the loss of two of their own.

Albus had asked Professor Snape to act as his best man, but unfortunately Severus simply wasn't up to the task yet. He had taught many of his classes from behind a desk, gladly or at least willing accepting Dumbledore's offer to teach some of them in his place to allow him to recuperate more thoroughly.

In the end Albus had contacted his old friend Mundungus Fletcher, who had been invaluable during the war because of all of the secret information he was able to ferret out of Ministry officials for the Order. Mundungus simply had a way about him, but even Albus had thought him too mentally unbalanced to have on the battlefield in the end.

Minerva had chosen Agatha Sprout to act as her maid of honour. She had been torn between asking Poppy or the Herbology professor, but the mediwitch was still on her last nerve following the events of the previous weeks. The younger woman would have been happy to do it, of course, but Minerva did not feel that it would be fair to ask her.

But Professor McGonagall had another choice to make that was much more difficult. Both of her parents had died during the Grindelwald conflict while she was still in school, so Minerva had no one in her family, neither brothers nor other willing relatives, to walk her down the aisle and give her away, though at her age she found the idea a bit tiresome. If not for his death, Minerva might have asked Professor Flitwick, who had taught her during her years as a student. Her choice when everything was said and done was Sir Nicholas de Mimsy Porpington, the Gryffindor house ghost, who only too glad to float beside her down the aisle.

It was by all accounts a very lovely and touching ceremony, which none of the students would ever forget. To many of them, as they would state in later years, it marked the end of a time of great grief that was mixed with bittersweet triumph and the beginning of a time of healing for them all.

Minerva sighed softly and smiled at her husband as she remembered how wonderful their wedding had been.

"I am recommending that Arthur Weasley be considered for Minister of Magic when he is well enough to take it on." said Albus. "If things had been otherwise in the Ministry, he might have gotten it before now." he added. He meant that if Arthur had not been what Fudge's people called a 'muggle-lover'.

"He would do a fine job." Minerva agreed.

"Yes." Albus nodded. "And young Percy Weasley will probably see more successful days in the Ministry too, though it is a shame about his arm."

"Yes, but whenever those who supported Fudge see Percy, they will be reminded about the war, which would not have been half as long nor as wretched if we had had their full cooperation." she said.

"Indeed not." Albus agreed, his eyes twinkling at her outspokenness and firm convictions. He loved those qualities.

"The children will be leaving the day after tomorrow." she said with a quiet sigh. "Can you believe it, Albus? This year is finally drawing to a close."

"It has been quite a year, hasn't it?" he chuckled, gently pulling Minerva into his arms and kissing the top of her head.

He knew how she was feeling. It would be very difficult to let go of the students that would be leaving them this year: Harry, Ron, Neville, Seamus and Dean, the Patil sisters, Blaise Zabini, Justin Finch-Fletchley, Hannah Abbott, Susan Bones, and all of the others who had participated in the battles and proved themselves there. The school would be entering a new era without these young wizards and witches. But at least one of that year would remain ...

The next afternoon ...

Severus was lying in bed and grading the third year potions' examinations when he heard someone opening the door to his apartment. He glanced at the parchments, feeling momentarily disappointed that finding fault with the exam papers did not have the same appeal that it once held for him, and set them aside, looking curiously toward the bedroom door. Then he heard her voice.

"Severus, where are you?" she called.

The very sound make his skin prickle and tingle with excitement as he left the bed and tossed a dressing gown on over his bedclothes. He felt slightly giddy, but it wasn't from his medication. Something about her voice could simply make feel like a schoolboy again, and this time, the experience was a far more pleasant one.

"In here, Hermione." he called in return, making his way toward the door as quickly as he could. He was still taking a number of potions for the injuries he had received when Hermione and he had been buried by a shower of masonry and debris during the final battle.

When Hermione appeared in the doorway, a smile spread across his face, the like of which had seldom graced his features before. If some of his students had seen him at that moment, they would have fainted in shock at the very least. Severus held out his arms to her, and she dashed toward him with a slightly stiff gait, dropping her school bag by the door. Her recovery was coming along nicely, but her steps were still a bit slower, a bit heavier than they had been before the terrible battle.

Severus threw his arms around her and buried his face in her curly hair. She grasped a fist full of his robes in each hand and rested her cheek against his chest, listening to the loud thud of his heartbeat. Looking at them standing there with their eyes closed, anyone would have guessed that they had been apart for days or weeks, though it had only been since noon or so. That embrace was their usual greeting. They had come so very close to losing one another that a simple, mundane salutation would never suffice for them.

Severus whispered something into her hair that caused her to nod and slowly release him. Hermione smiled as she looked up at him and tugged him by the hand back to the bed. He didn't protest as she chuckled and slipped the green dressing gown from his shoulders. He sat down and looked up at her quizzically as she began unbuttoning her school robes.

"Love?" he questioned curiously.

Hermione chuckled and cupped his face in her hands before leaning down and kissing him. He wrapped his arms around her waist and deepened the kiss. His heart was pounding again. In an instant Severus had pulled her onto the bed, holding her tightly against him as she lavished soft, but passionate kisses upon him. A soft moan escaped his lips and her hands found their way underneath his nightclothes.

"I finally did it." she whispered in a breathy voice into his ear.

"The protective charms?" he managed as she finished unbuttoning his nightshirt.

"Of course." she replied.

"Then you want to ..." he said in a questioning tone, running his fingers through her hair as she kissed his throat and worked her way down to his shoulder and collar bone. He shivered slightly.

"Do you think that it's advisable ...?" Hermione asked him delicately as he began toying with the buttons of her blouse.

"Poppy suggested that I take it easy for a few weeks ... but I think it has been long enough." he said.

"She gave me the same advice." said Hermione with a soft chuckle, caressing his cheek and resting her head in the crook of his neck.

Severus closed his eyes for a moment, squeezing her tightly in his arms.

"Of course, we don't have to rush. I'm not going home for the summer or anything. My rooms will be ready tomorrow evening. And they aren't far away, especially not by floo." she told him thoughtfully.

Severus started at this bit of news and opened his eyes before sitting up slowly and taking her with him. He frowned slightly. All desire was wiped momentarily at least from his mind in the confusion and uncertainty that her words caused him.

"But I thought you would stay here with me. There is plenty of room in my apartments for all your things." Severus told her, looking into her eyes.

"Severus, it's all a bit sudden, isn't it? I mean, count the days we've been together, subtracting out the ones where one or both of us were unconscious or injured. I thought ... I mean, Severus, I would never dream of intruding or anything." said Hermione seriously.

Severus took one of her hands in his as he struggled to decide what to say to her. He gently chafed her fingers between his. It had become a familiar habit in the hospital wing while he had waited for her to awaken and to regain use of his legs, both of which had taken the better part of a week. He drew her fingers to his lips and kissed them as he was flooded with an almost overwhelming sense of thankfulness that she had lived, that they both lived, and that they had days and years ahead of them to spend together.

"Love," he said as his voice became slight hoarse with emotion, "I will always respect your decisions. I will always try to do so. But you must know that I want you here by my side, not just sometimes or when the mood suits, but everyday and always. And you are very much welcome to share this drafty dungeon with me."

Hermione marveled at how much he had changed. He was so different from the slightly insecure, sometimes inadvertently venomous, and frequently aloof man who had gone to his last Death Eater meeting that night so many weeks earlier. She could hardly believe that he was really and earnestly inviting her to live with him. She had the sudden urge to pinch herself to see if she were dreaming.

"Severus, I ... I don't know what to say. I would love to live with you." said Hermione.

He smiled warmly at her. Somehow Hermione wasn't sure that she would ever quite get used to that.

"But now you have to answer one question for me." she said with a hint of mischief in her eyes.

He narrowed his eyes just slightly and questioned, "Yes?"

"I know that something happened ... while you were ..." and here she groped for the appropriate choice of words, but could not find them.

"While I was driven mad?" he asked, leaning toward her and kissing her softly. "It's all right." he whispered reassuringly as he noticed the anxiety in her eyes.

"Do you remember any of it?" she questioned, blinking away a few stray tears.

Severus considered her question, or rather how to answer her. He pulled Hermione into his arms and rested his head on top of hers. He sighed softly. There was no easy way to explain everything that had happened within his own mind while he had been in the grips of the curse-induced dementia.

She could sense his hesitance. Hermione had tried more than once to open such a discussion while they were still in the hospital wing, their beds pushed close enough together for him to hold her hand and occasionally lean over the railings to give her a kiss. Severus had subtly avoided the inquiry by reminding Hermione it was time for her to have one potion or another. She had dropped the subject shortly thereafter when she saw the uncomfortable look in his eyes.

"You don't have to say, Severus, if it was really terrible." she said softly, placing her hand on his chest. She could feeling his heart beating quickly but steadily.

"It wasn't all bad." he told her hesitantly, placing his hand over hers. "I just don't know how to explain without it sounding foolish or like something a complete lunatic would say."

"I would never even think anything like that." she said in a surprised and mildly reproachful tone. "You can always tell me anything." she assured him.

Severus took a deep breath and began, "I wasn't exactly alone in my mind when I was mad. Someone else was with me. He looked exactly my father, but he told me that he was a delusion, and the undamaged part of my mind ..."

Early evening that same day ...

Remus was lying on his back on the floor in his apartment with Ginny kneeling at his feet, pushing gently, but firmly against his formerly broken leg. He was supposed to push back to help strengthen the injured appendage, but there was still a twinge of pain in his knee that made him reluctant to do so. They had been at it for what felt like weeks after Madam Pomfrey had examined his leg and found a weakness in the muscles and tendons that she could not repair by magic. He had a choice of either exercise or surgery at St. Mungo's. The latter option gave him chills, so there they were.

"Push harder, Remus!" Ginny urged him.

"I can't believe we're still doing this." Remus groaned, rolling his eyes and wincing slightly.

"It's your own fault." she told him sternly, perhaps gritting her teeth. "You should never have limped around for hours on a broken leg! It was a bloody stupid thing to do." Ginny said in no uncertain terms. She was not one to be trifled with in her 'mother hen' mode. Remus could see her becoming a woman as formidable as Molly Weasley someday.

"Like mother, like daughter." he thought silently to himself. "How much longer?" Remus asked.

"You know the routine: twice daily for ten minutes each time. So ... another five more minutes, Remus." Ginny told him, knowing that he would probably try to avoid finishing the session.

"Ginny, I think I should have told you this earlier, but I suppose now is as good of a time as any. I spoke to your father before he went home." said Remus rather abruptly.

"Did ... did you tell him about us?" she questioned uncertainly, easing back on the pressure she was applying to Remus' injured limb.

"I asked him for his permission to see you socially."

Ginny remembered Mister Moody's advice that he had given her that night in the Tower and asked, "What did he say?"

Remus chuckled despite the ache in his leg and said, "That if I bit you, he would kill me." At the time the comment had alarmed him, but anti-werewolf prejudice was something that he was accustomed to.

"Anything else?" asked Ginny, feeling momentarily guilty.

"That I should consider what would happen to my career if I ... got you into any trouble. I assured him that that would definitely not happen. Then he gave him permission. I don't think he was very happy about it, but he didn't try to hex or jinx me, and I will take that as a good sign."

"No, that sort of thing is mum's department. Dad would have just punched you or something." said Ginny, who had seen her father get into at least one fist fight in her life. "Did you tell her?" she questioned, biting her lower lip in anxiety.

"No, your father strongly advised against it."

"Time's up." she said, releasing his leg. Remus gave her a grateful look and rested it on the floor. "I think I shall certainly be getting a lecture when I step off the train." she sighed, gesturing toward the couch.

Remus climbed wearily from the floor and onto the couch.

"I imagine so." he agreed, lying on his stomach and closing his eyes. "But I thought it was the right thing to do."

"It probably was." she sighed reluctantly.

This was the part that made the rest of it worth it. He smiled softly as Ginny knelt next to the couch and began kneading his shoulders. Remus heaved a sigh of contentment as she worked her magic.

He was so surprised by how quickly their lives had begun to return to that pleasant state in which they had existed between their sojourn among the demons and the terrible battle. Ginny had told him everything that had happened, everything that she had witnessed that long night. Facing the dementors of Azkaban, running away from the giant, being caught too near a blasting curse, holding Alastor Moody's hand when he died, and then taking his body back to the castle. It was a lot for young woman to see and experience. That evening, three days after the actual events, Remus had held her in his arms as she wept. To the best of his knowledge it was the first time she had done so. But Ginny had recovered from the shock and the horror, and for the Remus was extremely grateful.

"Can I come visit you this summer?" asked Ginny as she gently massaged his back.

Remus opened one eye and said, "If your parents will allow it."

"Summer isn't that long ..." she began to say with a soft rattling sigh. "But I'm going to miss you so much."

"We can write to each other." he suggested.

Ginny brightened and leaned down to kiss his forehead, saying, "Of course we can!"

As she combed her fingers through his graying hair, Remus' heart began to beat faster. He would miss her so much! Especially after the full moon. He would miss her comforting presence. He would miss looking into her eyes and knowing that there was one person who could love him in spite of his curse. His heart ached as he realized how lonely he would be without her.

Ginny saw the change in his expression and wrapped her arms around his shoulders, resting her head against his.

"It won't be so bad." she whispered. "Just think of how much we have to look forward to."

Very late that night ...

The sound of urgent tapping on the window awakened Professor Dumbledore. He recognized the noise as that of a delivery owl rapping upon the window with its beak. Albus grabbed his wand and glasses from the table by the bed and dashed the to let the owl inside. He could telling immediately that it was a Ministry owl.

"What is it, Albus?" asked Minerva sleepily from the bed as a cool gust of air blew into the bedroom.

Dumbledore lit a few candles with his wand before removing the letter from the leg of the delivery bird, which then flew out the window again, possibly to the Owlery. He knew that would not be pleasant news. That could have waited until the scheduled morning delivery. Bad news simply would not wait.

Minerva climbed from bed and wrapped her tartan dressing gown around her shoulders before joining her husband at the window. She closed it to keep out the cold while he read what appeared to be a lengthy letter.

"Albus?" she questioned, placing a hand on his arm.

"It seems that the former Minister of Magic had been keeping a few things from us." said Dumbledore absently.

"Such as?" she questioned warily, watching his face take on a somber and worried expression.

"There were two empty cells in Azkaban after the dementors left. The people who had occupied them ... They had obviously been freed." he told her.

Minerva shivered and said, "Surely you can't mean ..."

"Yes, Taliesin and Lilith Lestrange." Dumbledore told her somberly.

"But why? Surely they have been insane for sometime now. Why would Voldemort have ordered the dementors to free them?" asked Minerva.

"The answer to that question may have died with him." said Albus, putting his arm around her and looking up from the letter. "But there is more." he said seriously.

"More?" she questioned.

"When the Ministry Aurors identified all of the dead or captured Death Eaters and supporters of Voldemort, they neglected to mention that certain individuals were not found, that a number, a small number, of them had escaped, possibly during the last hour of the battle when our full attention was turning toward the rampaging giants." he said, shaking his head.

"How many?" asked Minerva, placing one hand over her mouth in shock.

"Insofar as the Ministry knows, Willard Avery and Eldred Wilkes, the younger of the Wilkes brothers, but they suspect that there are others who were not on the list that Severus provided the Ministry, secret operatives from within the Ministry itself, whose names were only known to the Dark Lord alone." said Albus.

"Then the days of peace ..."

"They may have to wait, Minerva. There is still work to be done it seems." he told her, folding up the letter and looking at her with a troubled gaze.

The End


A/N: First things first: is there a sequel? I left the ending open for a reason, so not yet, but there might be later. I have the plot, but when I try to write, it sucks. I hate when that happens. I'm also working on other stories ... But to everyone who has asked, thanks! It's always encouraging. I had so much stuff I wanted to say at the end of this, but I can't remember any of it.

Jasmine Black: I have a huge, insane grudge against Fudge. I think I'm finally getting it out of my system. Thank you for reviewing!

Sammy: Wow. That's a lot of reading. I'm glad you enjoyed the stories. Thanks for the review!

Lady Death: I can't stand Fudge. And I know. I am very mean. Thank you for the review!

Amethyst: That was supposed to come up again, but it never did, but I think if I ever write that sequel ... it will come out somehow. Thank you for reviewing!

Minerva of Tortall: I'm not good with the extra-fluffy stuff. And, yes, this is the end. Thanks for the review!

Zaeria: I thought it was fitting. I see the Ministry in the book-era as being a huge, bureaucratic hinderance. *shrugs* Thank you for reviewing!

Dixiehnsnluver: Expecting anything less from the Ministry? Thanks for reviewing!

LinZE: "Voyager"? *twitch* I never made it through a whole episode. Sorry. Thank you for the review!

Pidgie: Thanks!

GEM: Glad you like those pairings. Thank you for reviewing!

Lily of the Shadow: Bitter-sweet ... I'm really into that. Thanks for the review!

ElvenEnchantress: Thank you!

Static Wolf: I am trying to write a sequel, but that isn't going so well. But thanks for asking and for reviewing!

Laura: I'm glad I made you smile. Thank you for reviewing!

And to everyone who reviews later, thank you very much!