A/N: A Halloween story! (So warning against gore and evil and… stuff)

Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, Commander Shepard

One Tiny Detail

Chapter 2

For man, as for flower and beast and bird, the supreme triumph is to be most vividly, most perfectly alive.

D. H. Lawrence

Hermione opened the eyes on one side of her face, blinking as she focused on Bill's silhouette standing by the open door. He nodded his head in a come hither motion, and Hermione yawned as she rose from the floor and approached.

"Walk with me?" Bill asked, tired but calm.

Hermione rumble-clicked, but nodded and followed him out. She looked back on the sleeping people and hissed softly.

Bill took out his wand and closed the door, warding it, and the soft hum of warding magic enveloped the house. "Family wards. My Aunt and Uncle put them in. Only family can raise and lower them. I think they knew their family wasn't perfectly safe from scrutiny."

Hermione rumbled and nodded.

"I hope you don't mind, but I've been doing some digging around while you mended fences with Harry and Draco. I know you believe in them or they would never have survived the experience," Bill said.

Hermione clicked, muzzle wrinkling.

"It's your nature, Hermione. Maybe it always was, but being a Crux-eater— that makes it more so. You are designed to seek out Dark magic and obliterate it. Hexes, curses, objects, even people. The fact you brought Severus and Draco here— I know we can trust them. I'd still like to know how you found this place having never been here."

Hermione blinked all of her eyes and scratched her head with her tail tip.

"Hah! You don't know either do you?"

Hermione grinned toothily, made someone unnerving by the multiple rows of jagged teeth.

Bill laughed, a lot of the tension seemingly draining away from his face. "It feels good to know that you're as baffled as the rest of us, I think."

Hermione gave Bill a long slurp upside the face, her eyes shimmering with crackling energy as her amusement bubbled underneath.

Bill hissed suddenly, clutching his face as he dropped to the sand. His body shook and writhed.

Hermione trembled a little, clicking nervously, her claws clenching and unclenching in concern. She looked up, watching the full moon peek out from clouds, and her muzzle wrinkled in a frown. Was he turning? For real? How was that even possible?

She stared at him with all of her eyes, the multiple rows squinting as they glowed brightly. Her vision focused on him— yet her expression remained wrinkled and confused. She extended her tongue and patted it with her hands, trying to figure out if she had accidently grown a poisonous stinger on top of everything else she had unexpectedly mutated into.

"BWahahahahahahahahahahah!" Bill laughed, rolling on his back and spewing sand.

Hermione blinked all her eyes simultaneously and slowly poked Bill with her tail, clicking with concern.

Bill grabbed her tail and pet it, causing Hermione to rumble in appreciation before she shook it off and click-hissed at Bill, nudging him with concern.

"You wonderful, glorious creature," Bill said. He pulled his hair away from his face where his scars from Fenrir Greyback had "gifted" him with a proclivity towards raw steak. His skin was smooth and unblemished and oddly freckle free. "The wolf— it no longer claws at me from the inside. It's gone. Feels like it clawed at my insides on the way out though," he said wincing as he held his chest with a grimace.

Hermione crooned and pegged him with her tongue in a few exposed places, causing Bill to writhe and wriggle. "Nnngah!" he sputtered, trying to half-heartedly push her away. Hermione clicked and growled, hissing with a bob of her head in laughter.

Bill smiled, pushing his hair away from his face as he felt his cheek again, still trying to convince himself that the scar was gone.

Hermione rumbled and clicked, shaking her head.

Bill snorted. "It will take some getting used to, Hermione. I spent the last however many months coming to terms with that I would be scarred for life, forever craving bloody meat on the extremely rare side."

Hermione licked her teeth thoughtfully.

"Well, you may find that appealing, Ms Crux-eater, but my constitution still prefers the properly cooked variety," Bill said with tap of his finger to his chin.

Hermione seemed to shrug, but it was somewhat concealed by a shaggy mane that made her wild, bushy curls seems like a straight bob haircut.

"Here," Bill said, handing her a lacquered box.

Hermione tapped it with her talon, giving him a monster eyebrow and multiple-eye regard.

"Well, it's obviously not cursed," Bill muttered, and Hermione snorted air at him, ruffling his long ginger hair.

She fiddled with the box awkwardly, finally using her tail to finagle the lid open.

"Cheater, you are," Bill muttered.

Hermione sniffed and looked inside the box, tilting her head in confusion.

"It's the goblin Seal of Brotherhood." Bill scratched his head. "They're offering you an alliance in— non-human solidarity. In exchange for doing what you are built to do, which is sniff out Dark Magic and neutralise it, they will offer you sanctuary within the Goblin Nation. From what I've been told that is a great honour, though I have never seen it bestowed before. The Goblins keep their private lives and secrets far more secure than even Gringott's itself. You will be very well compensated, given an extremely generous stipend, and your choice of living arrangements. I—" Bill trailed off. "I don't think I need to tell you what a tremendous opportunity this is. They take very good care of me and Fleur, and I'm not even close to that level of honoured."

Hermione picked up the seal and clicked softly, her muzzle wrinkling.

"It's goblin-magic," Bill said. "If you agree, you press it here," he said, gesturing. "Then you say— or maybe you just think it— I agree, it will… do something."

Hermione eyed Bill somewhat dubiously.

Bill waved his hands. "Just the messenger, not exactly first hand experience here!"

Hermione seemed to ponder things as she stared at the box. She looked at herself, or perhaps her lack of pockets, and then back at Bill.

Bill fidgeted. "Er… you have—" He pantomimed. "Pocket. Pouch. Things."

Hermione's multiple rows of eyes seemed to move in unison.

"May I—" he said awkwardly. He lifted up her arm and felt around. "You have, uh—" He stretched out what appeared to be a fold of skin. "Pouches. Here. The other arm, and uh." Bill coughed. "Think Niffler."

Hermione looked down reaching her hand into the newly-discovered abdominal pouch and her entire arm disappeared into it. She squeaked in surprise and boggled. She eyed a large shell on the beach and picked it up and then stuffed it into the pouch. She patted her abdomen hurriedly, opened it, looked inside, felt around, fished out the shell after her entire arm sank in up to the shoulder, and then she pulled it out again. She made a squeaky clicking sound that sounded surprisingly like the sea otters that had been playing on the beach just a few hours earlier. She took the box with the seal and dropped it into the pouch under her arm and squeaked happily as it disappeared. She grinned toothily, showing her multiple rows of teeth.

Suddenly, Hermione's muzzle twisted into sharklike grin of pure mischief.

"Wait— Hermione— HERMIONE!" Bill cried as she picked him up and then nonchalantly stuffed him into her pouch.

Hermione rubbed her belly like she had just had a good meal and grinned from pointed ear to pointed hear.

When Fleur met Hermione on the porch of the cottage, she gave the beast a quizzical look. Her eyebrows furrowed and she looked further down the beach as if expecting Bill to show up behind her. She seemed wary, perhaps unsure as to Hermione's level of control over her instincts or if her heritage somehow dipped into the area of Dark magic.

Hermione peered at Fleur with all of her eyes.

Fleur fidgeted with discomfiture. She seemed to want to say something but was unsure how to go about it considering their history had been littered with Weasley family mockery. While Hermione had never been one to indulge in such things, they had never been able to get to know each other properly outside of the Hogwarts shared term. That, however, had been peppered with more drama than anyone ever wanted to revisit. Fleur had gotten the brunt of the Tri-Wizard's worst between the stress of almost losing her sister to her failure and then being taken out by a possessed Durmstrang wizard of the highest caliber. Then there was the slight matter of her being part Veela and being judged as though her beauty was somehow a weapon and that she had ensnared Bill to her service. It hadn't taken her long to realise that even Bill's own mother believed that. Then, her brave, brave, Bill had been savaged by Fenrir Greyback, which had "gifted" him with some rather annoying side-effects. That too, the Weasley family blamed on her. Who else would drive their favoured son off to throw himself in front of a werewolf? Surely not his own will and his own choices.

Hermione's talons closed over Fleur's hands, and Fleur startled. Yet, when she looked into Hermione's eyes— all of them glowing softly in the dark of night— she saw something there she hadn't expected: understanding.

Fleur reached up to touch Hermione's muzzle, her fingers tentatively running up the velvet nostrils and scales. Hermione's eyes half-closed, and she purr-clicked. She rumbled as she soothed her ears one by one.

"You have— many everythings," Fleur said with wonder. She traced her eyes and multiple ears before tapping a few of her jagged rows of teeth. "You have, erm, multiple tongue too?"

Hermione tilted her head and unfurled her tongue, staring at it in curiosity.

Fleur laughed. "Non, just one of that."

Hermione sucked her tongue back in with a goofy expression.

"I feel—" Fleur began, "that you understand being different. Judged for what you cannot help."

Hermione clicked and nudged Fleur with her nose.

"I am guilty too— judge you for your frightening facade. Thought you eat Bill."

Hermione's eyes averted, made all the more obvious by their glowing radiance.

"You ate my Bill?!" Fleur gasped.

Hermione reached into her pouch and pulled out Bill, plunking him down in front of Fleur. Bill blinked sleepily, looking like he'd just woken from the best nap of his life.

"Oh, hi Fleur," he mumbled a bit groggily.

Fleur pressed her hands to his face. "Your scars." She touched his cheek. Her eyes went very wide as she looked to Hermione and then back to Bill. She kissed Bill on the forehead. "You did not need this to be my love. You know this, yes? I love you no matter what."

Bill kissed Fleur passionately, and Hermione clicked and turned her multiple eyed gaze away somewhat awkwardly, pondering if she could hide in her own pouch. Just as Hermione started to attempt self-immersion on a totally new level, Fleur tackled Hermione and kissed her soundly on both sides of the muzzle.

Hermione's many eyes widened comically as Fleur drew her head down and kissed her smack in the middle of her forehead. "You are truly— extraordinary!" Fleur said joyfully.

Foop!

Hermione stood in the beast's place, looking wide-eyed and utterly gobsmacked.

Fleur grinned and hugged Hermione and Bill tightly, the bright flare of her fiery magic shimmering around her. "Come inside now. You should really get some sleep. Tomorrow, you can tell us what happened to you, oui?"

Hermione's eyes darted nervously, but she nodded slowly.

"You are a little nervous? That is so touching." Fleur took Hermione's hands, and the younger witch jolted with surprise, startled by the different sensation. "It is different for you. Part of you remembers how things were, but that isn't how they feel anymore. I remember— same sensation when I found out I was part-Veela. Some things you can never get back."

Hermione seemed to ponder this a moment before she nodded to Fleur.

"But, you find you gain more than you lost," Fleur said. "It— is hard to see at first, but something you can feel inside once the instinct fades."

Hermione seemed to struggle to speak. Her mouth worked, but no sound came out. She shook her head, giving a small hissing-growl of frustration, then making a series of odd clicking noises. She tried to say something again, but much like before, all that came forth was alien and inhuman.

"It takes time, Hermione," Fleur reassured her. "You needn't try to force it. My baby sister. She's so slow in magic, but once she learns it, she never forgets. The one thing she beat me in was her Veela facade— ah, face. The monster. The harpy. The living fire. She changed back the moment she had to. Just like that. I was so envious! She said," Fleur said, changing her voice to match her younger sister's. "She said 'Finally, I master something before you! HARUMPH!'."

Hermione chuckled, that, at least, translating from her beast just fine.

"My grandmere said to me," Fleur recalled, "We all have a focus— a ground— someone or something that is our anchor. Our—" Fleur struggled with her vocabulary. She stared at Bill, making expressive eyebrows.

"Touchstone," Bill replied, with a warm smile for his lovely French wife.

"Oui! D'accord!" Fleur explained with visible relief. "Touchstone."

Hermione tilted her head and seemed to contemplate something.

Fleur said, "You know that thing that keeps you grounded, yes? You must have. You are not— forgive me— rampaging. I—" Fleur suddenly looked rather embarrassed. "I burned down half a forest by accident."

Hermione blinked at Fleur. She clicked at her, brows furrowing.

Fleur smiled. "It took me a long time to find my real focus. Instead I had my family, which helped. Long time— I thought I was broken. No control. I hated water. I was terrified of fire. I was, erm, mess?"

"Not as bad as you think," Bill said.

"Because it you!" Fleur said indignantly.

"Aw, am I so bad?"

Fleur crossed her arms. "You horrible."

"Horribly handsome," he said, wiggling his brows.

Hermione facepalmed, shaking her head, making a few odd clicking noises that translated to something like, "Really? Now?"

Bill shared a soft look with Fleur. "My family doesn't approve. They never did. I really wish that they could see her like I do, but they just… don't."

Hermione frowned, her face caught somewhere between shame and sadness.

Fleur put a hand on her shoulder. "I know you were in an uncomfortable place. You never said a word against me, but I knew you couldn't say your mind either."

Hermione shook her head remorsefully, looking down.

Bill patted her on the shoulder. "I saw how my baby bro treated you, Hermione. It was shameful. And Ginny— she knows how to manipulate the legs off a frog. She may have sorted Gryffindor, but she's much more sly than she wants you to believe. Ambitious too. Mum made her that way, filling her mind with her own dreams and ideals."

Hermione looked up, her eyes filled with curiosity.

Bill smiled warmly. "Come inside. We should all get some sleep. I have a feeling we'll all sleep better knowing the Big V is writhing in misery somewhere in purgatory. And, well, the world may not know it, but I know enough about Crux-eaters to know if you do anything, you do it thoroughly."

Hermione shook her head. She pointed inside with her hand and pantomimed a dagger and a stabbing motion.

Fleur patted Hermione's hand. "You do not understand, chéri . Your presence, your aura— it enhances the destruction of Dark intent. None more so than the Darkness that created the Anti-crux that went into your creation. Your energy, it unravels the magic that Dark wizards have used to cheat death. You may not have driven the dagger into this man, but your presence alone would have been enough to bring about his end. Even so, had you, perhaps, bled upon it, then all the more powerful would the effect be." Fleur scrunched up her nose as she struggled with her English a little.

Hermione touched Fleur and gently squeezed her arm, smiling.

Bill sighed and herded the two witches into the house with his body. "Come on, then. I need to get to sleep before my yawns devour my own face."

Fleur giggled and linked her arm with Hermione's as they walked back into the house.

SHINK.

Hermione let out a pained, shocked cry as a metal dart suddenly sank into her neck, injecting its payload of potion into her before she could even realise what was going on.

"Hem, hem," came a horribly familiar voice. "Take her!"

THUNK.

THUNK!

Multiple spearlike harpoons burst through Hermione's skin, and she cried out in agony, her human body already going into severe shock.

Bill and Fleur turned around, and even as they ran forward, Percy showed up behind Bill and jabbed him with a dart to the neck. "Sorry, brother. Can't let you soil our family's good name any more than you already have with your half-breed wife and your own lycanthrope contamination."

Fleur's eyes blazed with righteous fire, and she started to levitate, her silvery blonde hair going every which way.

THUNK!

thu-THUNK!

Multiple darts went zinging through the hair. One hit Fleur straight to the bum, but the other missed and struck some guy in drab yellow robes. He fell to the ground instantly, overtaken by the powerful tranquilizers potion.

Fleur, too, fell to the ground.

Umbridge stood over Hermione, her shoe crushing her neck. "Don't think I've forgotten your little trick, Mudblood. Apparently you are hard to kill, but I'm sure that will make your suffering all the more enjoyable." She gestured to the other wizards with her, all of them looking like the kind of scum recruited directly from Knockturn Alley.

There was a loud crash from inside the house.

"Time to go," Umbridge cooed as she pulled out a pink jadeite cat figurine.

They all linked up as Umbridge smiled cruelly. "Catisfaction."

The group vanished silently into the dark pre-dawn.


Bill woke to total chaos.

There were no words for what he saw as his senses returned to him. There were terror-filled screams and the harsh grating of metal.

Slam.

Slam!

SLAM!

Thud.

Then the burbling and the distinctive metallic tang of blood and the even more distinctive tang of someone's bowels having been exposed.

Bill shot up straight, immediately regretting it, as his head throbbed fiercely. It was hard to focus. Harder still to remember where he was. Then, slowly, he remembered Percy.

Hermione.

Oh, gods, no.

No!

He looked around frantically, and Fleur was there, shaking her head at him silently, telling him to stay very still. She was alive.

She pointed, and he followed the direction to see a man, or what had been a man, dangling by his neck from the vice-like talons of something that wasn't wholly there. He'd been disemboweled, slit from neck to groin. All of his organs had pooled on the floor along with his blood. The side bars of the cell were painted in his gore. His skull was caved in where the beast had smashed him into the bars repeatedly. The beast dropped the carcass as the blood seemed to burn off her skin and scales as the beastly form abruptly disappeared— into nothingness.

Mad panic came in the form of loud yelling, as people dressed in some sort of quasi-Ministry uniform ran in, wands brandished only to slip, slide, and otherwise fall over, attempt not to fall over, bump into each other to avoid, and fail completely. A few of them started to retch immediately, others starting gibbering incoherently as though they'd unwittingly looked upon the face of an Elder God, and they started to wail, beat on each other, and and attempt to maim themselves. A few had enough nerve to blame others for the scene— and one seemed to be enjoying the site entirely too much to be mentally healthy.

One stone-faced man, who looked as the world could be burning and he'd not change expressions, barked orders to find the prisoner or there would be hell to pay. People tried to scramble out the door, but he had his wand pointed at them.

"Go in there and find and tranquilise the prisoner, or I swear I'll kill you myself," he sneered.

For a moment, Bill forgot himself and tried to warn them. "No— don't open the cell!"

Fleur jabbed him in the ribs, hard.

Bill jerked back, angry at first, and then he seemed to recall the events that had brought them there to begin with. His indignance and concern swiftly transformed into indecision, and then he backed up against the wall of the cell and remained silent.

"I know what you're up to, Weasley," the wizard in the doorway sneered. He shut the door behind him and threw up some basic wards. "No one is getting out of here until that little Mudblood bitch is in a YOKE! Now get moving and FIND HER!"

Yet, for all his threats and yelling, nothing was happening to plan, or if it was, the plan was certainly a horrible one from the start. As the first people stepped into the seemingly "empty" cell, the door clicked shut behind them just before the bars were crushed and bent together in an ungodly mess that rather resembled melded spaghetti.

The people trapped inside started frantically flinging a volley of spells at the cell bars, and in their panic, they were hitting anything and everything— bars, walls, and even the people on the outside of the cell. It didn't take long before the paranoid became murderous, and Dark spells rapidly replaced the usual stunners as blame flew along with the spells. Screams and yells combined in spells gone wrong; they sliced each other to pieces without any help to fan the fires. One terrified witch tried to escape the room, and the snarly man grabbed her by the throat. "You get in there and FIND her!"

"But, my baby!"

"Think of that baby's life without YOU and don't fuck this up!" he snarled, shoving her ahead into the chaos. "You wouldn't want anything to happen to your dear Mudblood husband, now would you?"

The woman's face twisted in agony as she gripped her wand and stepped hesitantly into the fray—

Just as the man in front of her whirled around, his eyes mad with bloodlust.

"AVADA KEDAVR—"

SHINK!

The wizard's head tumbled off his shoulders as a set of vicious claws burst through his chest cavity holding his still beating heart. The beast roared, flinging the corpse into the cell bars in an explosion of blood.

Multiple wands were pointed directly at the beast. Powerful spells of every description blasted into the beast, and the beast slammed into the pregnant witch, caging her against the wall between her massive arms. The witch screamed in terror, wailing as liquid ran down her legs. The stench of urine began to mix with the thick, coppery odor of blood.

As the destructive blasts of magic finally came to an end, the air was full of a cloud of plaster and stone dust, thicker than even the densest London fog.

The witch whimpered, wide-eyed, as the beast materialised amidst the cloud, her rows of jagged teeth and rows of multiple eyes bored into her. For a moment, time seemed to stand still. The beast delicately placed its head down on the witch's belly, her ears swivelling to press against her distended abdomen. Her nostrils whuffed loudly against her skin and then she raised her head. She stared into the witch's terrified eyes. The snarl on her muzzle slowly relaxed.

SHINGblam!

A red and green beam slammed into the beast's body from two sides.

The beast jerked back, this time her body was shimmering with the absorbed energy from the spells that struck hit her. Red, like bright blood, shimmered from under her scales, and power rose up from her tail, up her spine, and gathered in her mouth. Her jaws opened.

Bzzzzzzrrrrrrrrraaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Brick, metal, and wood burned and melted a giant gaping hole in the wall and exposed a tied, bound, and gagged Alastor Moody chained to what could only be described as a circular torture rack. Next to him, stood a fully engaged Dolores Umbridge, who was casting a series of spells on the incapacitated man.

The witch turned around and looked extremely unaccustomed to interruptions. She stood there with her mouth hanging open like it was on a hinge. "W-what is the meaning of this?! Nottingham! I told you to prepare the Mudblood for interrogation, not burst through the wall!"

The wizard staggered through the opening, falling on Umbridge with a burble. Blood was coming from his mouth as he clutched his abdomen. Crimson flowed down his front through his fingers. One claws hand, still holding his wand, grasped her sickeningly pink blouse and practically tore it open as he gurgled.

Dolores shrieked as he bled over her outfit— more so than him dislodging the buttons. She pushed him away.

"Mmmm—m-monster!" He managed to say with one last gurgle before he sank to the ground, twitching.

Umbridge's expression twisted darkly. She held out her wand into the dust clouded opening. She incanted a spell, causing the dust to be swirled into a compact mass that clunked to the ground. She squinted into the opening and the cells beyond to see—

Nothing.

She stormed into the cell-room, pointing her wand this way and that. Her eyes bulged as blood and body parts plastered the walls in small and large gooey bits. Some were recognisable. Some were not. She looked down as her foot connected with something only for her to realise it was an eyeball still connected to the optic nerve.

Umbridge froze, jaw clenched. Her gaze shot out into the cells, seeing that the cell she cared about the most was closed with warped metal and filled with part of her minions. When she vanished the cell bars to get at them, they shrieked in terror, cuddling with each other in the corner of the cell wall, babbling nonsense.

"Where is SHE?!" Umbridge roared. "Where is that little Mudblood bitch?!"

The wizards in the corner babbled and pointed.

Umbridge looked around and saw nothing but— blood and guts. Yet, when she saw Bill and Fleur sitting in the corner of their cell— a cell that was disturbingly lacking in blood and guts— she became suspicious.

"You— half-breed werewolf and your half-breed whore!" she shrieked. "I'm going to make you pay for setting her free!"

"We didn't," Bill replied warily.

Umbridge sneered. "You may be able to fool everyone else, but you doesn't fool me, Weasley," she spat.

"By all means, do tell me how I managed to do anything locked up behind bars. And wandless. With my wrists tied no less," Bill said evenly.

Dolores' face scrunched up, making her resemble a constipated amphibian. "You— YOU! You used some sort of illegal, stolen magic!"

Her face twisted with hate, she aimed her wand at them both. "I was going to save you until after the main punishments, but I fear you are equally deserving too."

Umbridge gave them a hateful smile, then screamed. "Crucio!"

She smiled as she heard their screams sounding off in unison, but then she looked up as the screaming abruptly stopped. She looked to where they were, and saw nothing. "That is not going to help you!" she cried, randomly flinging curses, spinning like a child's top. Spells zinged around her in all directions, and Umbridge herself seemed to have lost her mind, perhaps having caught some of the particles of insanity that drifted through the air after so many wizards had gone insane in such a short period of time.

"Bombarda MaxIIIIIIIMMMAAAAA!" Umbridge screamed.

The spell sang out into the dust of the room and bounced off a looming shape in the darkness. The magic seemed to catch and be absorbed even as it reflected it back outwards in a sphere of beams.

BOOM!

The noise was deafening, like the roar of an irate Ironbelly.

Rumble.

Rumble.

SHOOM!

The ceiling caved in from above and the explosion in a rolling cascade of stone, wood, tile, and—

Poor Miss Dorothea McGillacutty from accounting crashed down onto Umbridge from above, witch, desk, chair, and all— including the rather large slice of floor that had been below her cubicle. The trembling, traumatised witch stared around at the gore and debris and didn't stop screaming until she saw Umbridge's two feet sticking out from under the wreckage with just her pink buckled shoes showing.

At that point, Miss McGillacutty shrieked even more loudly and more shrilly, summoning the entire office staff to gawk down the hole that had been created in the floor and the exposed remnants with what could only be described as frank horror.

There was a clattering sound from above, and the doors flew open as a squad of Aurors burst through led by none other than Kingsley Shacklebolt.

"Mr Shacklebolt! You cannot just barge into another office in the Ministry without at least sending wo—" Minister Thicknesse feebly protested as he stumbled clumsily after the Auror, drooling slightly.

"Oh, yes I can, Minister Thicknesse," Kingsley said, throwing a scroll into Pius' hands. Pius recoiled like it was a dangerous viper, giving out a shockingly unmanly scream.

Half of the Aurors turned to stare at the man. "Minister?"

Pius babbled incoherently, shaking and pointing.

They turned to look—

And saw nothing.

"Teeth and eyes!" Minster Thicknesse cried. "Teeth and eyes! Gnashing teeth!"

The Aurors stared at their Minister, clearly wondering if he had been nipping illegal potions or perhaps experimenting with Muggle hallucinogenic substances. Or both.

Someone tried to help the Minister up, and Thicknesse screamed again. "Get away! GET AWAY! NOOOOO! NOOOOOOOO!" He crawled backwards across the floor to escape "something" but failed. He ended up backed up against another desk, whimpering piteously. The tang of urine filled the air, and the Aurors exchanged odd glanced, seeing nothing that would cause such fear.

The Aurors that looked down in the hole, however, had different faces: theirs were filled with horror. They stared into the hole and then back again and again, trying to decipher if it was well and truly real but unable to come up with an answer. One young Auror was green, almost literally green, and dashed across the room to hurl his breakfast into a waste container, and the very sound of it caused a few others to quickly follow suit.

Kingsley and the older Aurors simply closed their eyes and took a deep breath. "What happened?"

The startled and panicked workers had mostly left, save a few stalwart souls who apparently were unphased by anything happening at the Ministry.

"There was a terrible explosion from down below," an elderly woman said, pushing her horn-rimmed glasses further up her nose. She was still sitting at her desk, quilling away with her owl feather. "Then the floor caved in under poor Dorothea."

As if to accent the statement, a piece of tile fell from the floor down to the floor below with a clatter.

"Get Miss McGillacutty out of that hole and bring the desk and floor up here with it. Mulcahy, Houlihan, get started on fixing the damage. Rodgers, I want images of everything down there. Ackers, you, Morgan, and Reid need to identify exactly what happened down there and find out how many bodies we'll actually be dealing with."

"Sir!" they all said at once, scrambling to obey.

"Oh, and Smithers," Kingsley said.

"Sir?"

"Figure out if Madam Umbridge is still alive after that debris made like a Muggle waffle iron on her," Kingsley said.

"Yessir!"

Kingsley sighed, shaking his head as he sent out his lynx Patronus in a few different directions.

"What is the meaning of this?" a voice berated from near the door.

"I am here by request," another voice replied, cold as ice.

"Yeah well, we don't want your kind here."

"My kind? Tell me, Mr Weasley. What exactly is my kind?"

Percy stood in the door, blocking the way for him, his face twisted in an ugly sneer. "Death Eater."

"Didn't you get the memo? I'm not a Death Eater."

"Just because Dumbledore vouched for you doesn't take away the fact that you're BRANDED!" Percy yelled, ripping open Snape's sleeve and sending buttons flying everywhere.

Kingsley turned to see Percy stumble backwards in shock.

"Impossible!" Percy blurted. "You've put a charm on it!"

"On what? I can assure you that I do bathe daily," Severus said, crossing his arms.

"You did something! You must have found a way to exchange arms!"

Snape frowned. "Do you even hear yourself? Believe me, if I had found a way to exchange body parts, I would have started with something far more obvious, like my nose. Fancy it, do you? Perhaps I should exchange ours."

Percy stumbled backwards, brandishing his wand. "I'll die first, you filthy Death Eater!"

There was loud clicking hiss, and Percy screamed as the bones in his hand were suddenly crunched together along with his wrist. He still held onto his wand, and he screamed out a spell in desperation to be free. "Depulso!"

The spell hit "something", briefly outlining a form so monstrous that Percy let out a shrill bleat of terror. Deep red magic shimmered as Percy's loosed magic gathered and reformed, trailing upward as a vast maw opened, exposing rows of sharklike teeth.

"EEAGHHHHHHHHH!" Percy yelled.

Energy was gathering in the beast's mouth— Percy's spell— and it looked as though it were going to come right out to meet him face to face.

Bitter stench filled the air as Percy loosed his bowels in fear. "HELP ME!" Percy screamed, his voice shrill.

"I'm sorry. I cannot do that. You see, you and your friends created that little law that claims that half-bloods and Muggleborns don't have the real magic. I can't even hold a wand." Severus stood, deadpan and stoic. "So sorry."

The other Aurors and employees that were standing there exchanged glances and simultaneously dropped their wands.

"Oh, well, if it's illegal," they all muttered.

"You good-for-nothing bastards! HELP ME!" Percy screamed.

The berating didn't seem to make them any more likely to help, and the monster's appearance definitely wasn't helping his case any. Percy shot a desperate glance at Kingsley. "Why are you just standing there?!"

Kingsley sniffed, giving Percy a disdainful glare. "I will not raise my hand to a Crux-eater."

"A what?"

"Her." Kingsley pointed to the beast.

Percy blinked. "THIS IS YOUR THING?!"

The creature growled lowly, her talons closing even tighter around Percy's already broken bones. Percy both shrieked and whimpered.

A slender, pale hand touched the monster's arm. "He's not worth it, little one."

The beast suddenly materialised completely, her breaths coming in soft whuffs. She click-growled and gently nosed the pale wizard, rubbing her head up against him like a cat trying to scent-mark a favoured human.

"You!" Percy wheezed venomously. "This is your fiend? Proof that you are a bloody Dark wizard!"

"Just because I have horrible sense in fashion doesn't mean you get to call me names," Snape said stonily.

Kingsley gently placed one hand between the beast's many eyes. "Hullo, my lady. Do you remember me?"

The beast's tongue shot out and gave Kingsley a long slurp upside his cheek.

"Ah good, I would hate to lose an arm putting my hand on the wrong Crux-eater," he said with a smile. "I have a friend in the DoM would give his other leg for a chance to look you over. Please don't take him up on it, though."

The beast clicked and tilted her head. She used her tongue to search his robe pocket and found a ginger biscuit hidden within.

Kingsley smiled and nodded to Snape. "For the safety of all, I think you should take our lovely lady here to somewhere safe-er." He handed Severus a small disc, almost like a button. "Nothing forges friendship like adversity, Severus," he said meaningfully.

The beast nudged Kingsley, using her tail to point to her abdominal pouch.

"Hrm?" Kingsley said.

Percy used the momentary distraction to pull his crushed arm and hand away from the beast and stagger backwards. He had his wand in the other hand and brandished it. "You're all going to rot in Azkaban for conspiring to inflict harm upon an important Ministry official with an illegal magic-created FIEND!"

Severus was having a hard time keeping a neutral expression as Hermione was slurping his hair back and forth with her tongue like a lioness grooming her cub. "I'm so sorry, Mr Weasley. Could you perhaps yell that again? I seem to have missed it the first time."

"You see this? He's a Dark wizard with a Dark wizard's demon familiar!"

The beast jerked her head up at the yelling, rows of eyes narrowed and focused on Percy.

"Mr Weasley, I strongly recommend that you cease and desist at once, before you do something you'll regret," Shacklebolt said.

"I will never regret taking out a Dark wizard and his demon!"

"I shall help you!" Pius babbled, having swiped wands from various places as others were distracted. "We shall hail the reign of our Dark Lord together!"

Percy's eyes widened. "What?! NO! I serve no Dark Lord!"

Pius grinned with a strange wildness to his eyes. "What do you think all those documents you signed, laws you helped with, people you framed were for? Ha! HA! You did it all for Him! Alllll for HIM!" He cackled, completely unhinged. "You framed Harry Potter like he was the true threat while our Lord smiled upon us."

Percy's face twisted in agony. "No! That's not true!"

"It is, it is!" Pius, still soiled from his earlier terror, danced around from one leg to the other like a maniacal jester, no longer seeing threat anywhere instead of believing it was everywhere. "Awww, you're no longer in the game? That's okay. I can use your body as a game piece." He pointed all the wands at Kingsley. "But after I deal with you, Kingsley."

Pius' face was nothing short of insane as he giggled and aimed his wand directly between Kingsley's eyes. "Atque Ad Infantiam Obliviate!"

"No!" Percy flung himself in front of the beam, shoving a startled Kingsley out of the way even as Aurors scrambled, only to realise that Pius had somehow managed to surreptitiously nick all their wands.

There was a blast of searing heat as something invisible moved through, knocking over pieces of desk and parchments. A low growl rumbled as Pius was lifted up off the ground by his wrists and flung like a dishrag into the far wall. Even as the gathered tried to realise what was going on. Pius was flattened up against the wall by his throat, gurgling. His eyes were glazed over, and he was drooling a little. He still had the nicked wands clutched in his hands and, believing he had the upper hand whether by knowledge or sheer insanity, he pointed them at at the invisible nothing that was pinning him to the wall.

"Bye-bye monster!" he giggled. "Bombarda Maxima!"

KABOOOOM!

The room was filled with the radiant heat from Pius' spell. Yet, as everyone dove for cover and put up shields, there was a infantile giggle and squeal from the floor as a baby Percy whacked Kingsley over the head with a stray wand. "Bahbu!" he squealed happily. The end of the wand flashed, shooting a beam of light towards Kingsley, but the beast's paw was swiftly inserted in-between. The beam reflected off and splatted Pius squarely between the eyes. When the light cleared, where Pius had been was a large, spotted hyena plush toy with crazy eyes and a string of iridescent drool hanging from one side of its mouth.

The beast stared at the plush hyena, then cautiously poked at it with a single talon. It let out a rather disturbing, maniacal giggle-laugh that caused baby Percy to squeal with excitement. The damaged wand that Percy was holding then emitted a flash light from between the cracks before bursting into particles of grey ash that floated harmlessly to the floor.

Kingsley, who was lying flat on his back and looking pretty baffled, let out a soft sigh of resignation. "Is there anything else anyone would like to add to this exceedingly bizarre day?"

The beast, who paused to give Percy his stuffed— hyena—clicked and growled, pointing at her abdomen with her tail.

"You're pregnant?"

"Don't be daft." Severus grunted. He leaned over and gently opened up the beast's abdominal pouch and peered inside. The lines on his face crinkled a little more. "You may want to clear the way to Mungos for us."

Kingsley sat up, putting his wand up as he struggled to stand and then approach the she-beast. He looked for some sign of disapproval. "May I?"

The beast yawned, showing all her teeth, but didn't move otherwise.

Shacklebolt opened the pouch and looked in. "I heard stories that Crux-eaters were one of the few creatures other than Nifflers that could store things in their-HOLY MOTHER OF MERLIN!"

The beast sighed, slowly shaking her massive head.

"Get me the rapid response medical team!" he cried, fumbling for his wand. Two Patroni went flying by his head before he could find his own wand.

Kingsley was practically run over by the team that was attempting to extricate one Dolores Umbridge from the rubble. He looked like he was going to protest when Severus touched his arm. "They're fine. If anything, they are in even better care right now. Let them do what they can for her— if there is anything that can be done for her."

Kingsley took in a deep breath and nodded. "You're right."

The she-beast, now calm, rumbled lowly, nosing Kingsley affectionately and setting her giant head down on top of his, making them resemble a very strange totem pole. He looked thoughtful as he contemplated things in his head. "Severus."

"Hn?" Snape replied.

"What exactly has you bound to a Crux-eater? Not that I do not appreciate that Lady Hermione is most effective at the tasks they were designed for. But, let us be frank in saying, had you not told me all of this before I arrive, things would have not ended well for— anyone."

Snape stretched his neck as the sound of his bones realigning made a slight popping sound. "Tortured and stabbed by my former best friend even as Miss Granger was apparently inflicted with much the same by Bellatrix Lestrange. Perhaps, only slightly before me."

Kingsley looked at Snape with clear sympathy in his dark eyes. "I am sorry, Severus."

"It was hardly your doing, Kingsley." Snape sighed and tugged uncomfortably at his collar with one finger. "If anything, it was my own doing, penance for a grave error in judgment made a very long time ago."

"As I recall, you were not the only one to make errors in judgment around that time," Kingsley said quietly.

"Yes, but I made some rather massive ones," Snape said.

"Yet, you are willing to admit to them, my friend," Kingsley said. "Not many have such honesty or vision to admit their own shortcomings. Mine being, that I well and truly need a good long nap after all this."

Hermione clicked and growled at Snape, and Snape quirked his mouth. "How badly do you want that nap?"

"You have no idea," Shacklebolt said with a wry grin.

"I think you should look closer into that pouch."

Kings eyed Severus. "Whatever do you mean?" He pulled open Hermione's abdominal pouch and peered inside, curious.

Snape surreptitiously shoved Kingsley into the opening until his entire body disappeared into the opening like treasure into a Niffler's bottomless pouch.

Hermione clicked at Snape.

"He started it."

The beast eyed him somewhat dubiously.

"Look at all the rest and relaxation he gets to have, while us lowly mortals must stay out here and suffer."

Hermione rumbled.

"How should I know how many people you can fit in there? It seems to expand to order," Severus said with a shrug. "Though, maybe it's more about what you want, and not what we think should fit."

"Where is he! Where is that greasy-haired bastard?" a voice demanded outside the room. " I saw him come in here! Tell me where he is!"

The beast stared at Severus for a moment and in a flash of movement, shoved him into her pouch and he disappeared from sight with hardly a whisper of sound.

"Where is he?!" Ron demanded as he burst in through the doors. "What's that sodding Death Eater doing here at the Ministry?" he blurted.

The gathered Aurors around the hole in the floor lifted their heads to regard the young Weasley.

"Mr Weasley, you cannot be in here!" A woman dressed in brown Auror robes strode up to Ron with her hands on her hips and a scowl on her face. "Just because your father works—"

"I know that git is here, and I know he's up to no good!" Ron shoved his way in even as Harry ran up from behind and tried to stop him.

"Ron, stop!"

"I know he's here!"

"So, what if he is! He's not evil!"

"You were the one who always said he had it out for us!"

"Well, can you blame him? Look at what you're doing now!"

"You came!"

"To talk some sense into you!"

"You're not even the slightest bit concerned that he could be here somewhere, probably trying to poison Percy? Or my dad?"

"Ron, what the hell, mate?"

"You forget he killed Dumbledore?" Ron hiccupped. "Have you gone daft?"

"Ron, it's complicated. I know what I said back then, but it's not—"

"Don't you dare say that it doesn't matter now!" Ron yelled. "I listened to you blather on about how Snape was a bloody murderer every single night since Dumbledore took the fall off that tower, and don't you dare tell me that it doesn't matter anymore!"

"Ron, if you'd just watch the ruddy Pens—"

"I'm not sticking my head into someone's tampered memories!" Ron exclaimed. "You know as well as I do that people like Slughorn can alter their memories!"

"You are not permitted to enter this area, Mr Weasley," one of the senior Aurors said. "If you do not leave, we will have to escort you out."

"Just ask Percy. He'll tell you he wants me here!" Ron protested.

"I fear that will not be possible, Mr Weasley," an Auror with deep scars across his face that looked like— claw marks?

"What do you mean it isn't possible?" Ron blurted.

"Bahbooo!" baby Percy squealed, and there was another blast of magic.

Ron sprouted a pair of dog ears and a tail.

Percy clapped and giggled excitedly.

Ron grabbed his head and wrenched it around to stare in dismay at his rear. He yelled something at baby Percy, but it only came out as a wretched coyote-like howl.

The senior Auror pointed a wand at Ron. "Hold still, boy, and I'll try to reverse it." He paused and said, "Ad Pristinum Reverti!"

Ron barked frantically as his body warped and twisted, and he ended up on all fours on the floor as a small Jack Russell terrier.

"Damn, Proudfoot, what the devil did you just do?"

"Reversal to original form," he said, staring at his wand and looking quite baffled.

"You sure that's what you incanted?"

"Of course, I'm sure!"

The other Auror looked somewhat dubious, his bushy eyebrows furrowing in thought.

"Savage, you know that I know my spells."

"Mhmm."

Proudfoot glared.

Savage pointed his own wand at the dog. "Transformatio Finite Incantatem!"

YIP!

The Jack Russell Weasley turned into a squealing ginger-coloured Puffskein.

A hand lay on Savage's. "Let's stop while we're ahead."

"I think we left ahead long behind us, mate."

A gaggle of people dressed in red robes ran in, wands brandished. "What's the emergency?"

Savage and Proudfoot exchanged glances. "Merlin, where to even begin!"

"I recommend that you start down there," another Auror said, pointing to the gore-spattered hole in the floor.

One of the rapid response team members looked a little green about the gills. "Bloody hell!"

"What the hell did this?" The other asked in clear astonishment.

The Aurors scratched their heads. "You wouldn't believe us if we told you."

"We've seen a lot of stuff," one of the team interjected.

"Trust me, you probably haven't seen this one." Savage traded glances with Proudfoot.

"I doubt that, just tell me what prisoner escaped and painted the walls with entrails," the wizard said.

Savage sighed. "Madam Umbridge was holding a Crux-eater."

"Crux-eaters only exist in myths!" one wizard objected.

"Then she was holding a ruddy myth, Jacobs," Proudfoot growled.

"Unless you've been hiding a sodding myth in your pocket, Savage," the wizard snapped, "just tell me what really happened down there."

Jagged teeth and glowing eyes manifested in front of the nonbeliever. The beast's jaws opened wide in a yawn full of jagged, glowing teeth. A long black tongue shot out and gave him a slurp right between the eyes.

The wizard promptly piddled himself and fell to the floor in a dead faint.

Savage unwrapped a sizable bundle from his robes and opened it, holding it out. "You deserve a tasty reward for that one, pretty lady."

The she-beast's long tongue wrapped around the roast beef pasty and drew it into her mouth.

"That's a—"

"A—"

The other wizards sputtered together incoherently.

"Crux-eater," the Aurors replied coolly. "Just like we said."

"Where is Kingsley?" one of the older response team members asked, getting ahold of himself.

"He's taking a time out," Savage said, utterly deadpan.

"He what?"

"Can't you just escort us to Mungo's?" Proudfoot asked plaintively. "I promise, all will be revealed."

The team exchanged glances and looked down at their unconscious team member. Meanwhile, the she-beast had disappeared completely just like the Cheshire cat.

"Um…" The team looked around a bit sheepishly. "Okay."


"What do you mean my Percy and Ronald can't be cured?!" Molly wailed so shrilly that everyone in the ward could hear her.

"Mrs Weasley," the healer said, attempting to pry the distraught witch off his lime green robes. "It was accidental magic— adult level magic— with a child's intent. As for Percy, he was hit with a full spell from an experienced wizard using multiple wands, some of which were damaged, and the spell mutated into something we cannot seem to counter."

"But— but he's a baby!" Molly protested. "There must be something you can do!"

Auror Savage stood by, arms crossed. "Madam Weasley, you may want to look on the bright side of this."

"WHAT BRIGHT SIDE COULD THERE POSSIBLY BE IN THIS?!" Molly yelled.

"If he was the proper age, we would have him brought in front of the Wizengamot for colluding with the Dark Wizard Voldemort, Madam Umbridge, and Ex-Minister Fudge as well as Ex-Minister Thicknesse. He would be rotting in Azkaban to await trial, and then, due to the evidence, probably be enjoying Her Majesty's hospitality for upwards of two decades or more."

Molly paled, staggering backwards in shock.

"So, too, would your youngest son, as he was instrumental in starting the events that resulted in the attack and abduction of Miss Granger, your son, William, and his wife Fleur. The fact that he is, now, a— fuzzlepuff—"

"Puffskein," Proudfoot corrected.

"Whatever," Savage said with a brief roll of his eyes. "It is now serving as his sentence."

Molly sat down directly, wringing her hands. "No, you're lying."

"I am not, Madam," Savage replied coolly. "We were here to arrest them both if they were able to be restored back to their rightful forms."

Molly wailed, and Arthur tried to rub her shoulders comfortingly.

"That's not right! It's not right!" Molly bemoaned through loud sobs. "They're good boys!"

"Mum, I fear that your good little boys kidnapped me and then set us up to be tortured by that sadistic bitch, Dolores Umbridge," Bill said stonily from the other bed behind a curtain. "And not just myself and my wife, but our unborn child as well, so you'll have forgive me if I don't just… tell them both to rot in hell and never come back."

"What?" Molly gasped.

Bill looked strangely comfortable, staring at his mother as she poked her head around the curtain. The healers had transfigured the couple a double bed and sectioned off the area for a bit more privacy to allow Bill and Fleur to recover from their ordeal together because they had experienced it together. Oddly, there was a small silver tabby curled up on the pillow, her left paw draped over Fleur's head, the feline seeming quite protective of the part-Veela witch.

"The Aurors have already taken the memories of our kidnapping," Bill said quite matter-of-factly. "And of the situation that lead to their respective transfigurations."

"But you weren't there, Bill! How could you—"

"You think because I wasn't conscious at the end, that I somehow forgot Percy arriving with Madam Umbridge and her goon squad at my front door and somehow let them in through family wards? And how would they even know to come at that very moment without being told to do so by a member of our family?" Bill's face darkened. "Percy put a wand to my throat, hit Hermione with some sort of tranquiliser dart, and then called me and my wife filthy half-breeds. I awoke to find myself in a holding cell. Does that sound like a 'nice boy' thing to do?"

Molly shook her head in stubborn denial. "That can't be true."

"It is true," Fleur said, slightly muffled as she spoke into Bill's shoulder.

"Why should I believe you? You don't know my Ronald or my Percy like I do. I'm his mother!" Molly insisted.

"And you think I don't?" Bill said, sighing into his pillow with a half-yawn. "I lived with him too, or did you forget?"

Molly looked like she was going to say something or screech it, but Arthur chose that time to return.

"I talked to the Aurors, Molly," he said grimly. "Their cases go to the Wizengamot as soon as—" Arthur trailed off.

"As soon as what, dad?" Bill asked, frowning.

"As soon as the acting Minister is done—" Arthur made a face. "Cleaning house."

"Who is the acting Minister?" Bill asked.

Arthur looked somewhat confused. "I am not sure."

"That would be me, since Amelia would rather not after her protracted stay enjoying Madam Umbridge's dubious hospitality, as I'm sure you can understand," Kingsley said as he walked in.

Severus stood on one side of him, dressed in his typical black, but he had a sash of emerald green around his waist with intricate brocade on it. On the other side, Hermione stood silently, also dressed in black but with a crimson sash with the same intricate brocade. Runes and mythical beasts wove in and around each other in a variation of Celtic meeting Mayan with a twist of Aboriginal. Around each of their necks was an intricate collar fashioned in goblin silver. Delicate runes shimmered in and out of sight. Their gazes had an eerie green glow about them as they seemed to look through everyone as though they were not there at all.

"What is the meaning of this?" Molly demanded angrily. "Why weren't you helping my Ronald?!" she accused Hermione. "And you!" She turned to Severus. "You're a right bloody Death Eater! What is he doing to you, using you like some sort of—"

"Molly—" Arthur placed a hand on her shoulder.

Molly swatted him away impatiently. "Dumbledore warned us about you. He said you could be trusted, but we all knew what he was really saying. Ever since you went dabbling in potions for power. James told us. Sirius told us. Do you know what he is?!" she yelled at Kingsley.

"Yes," Kingsley said.

"Revelio!" Molly cried, pointing her wand at Snape. The green glow hit Snape across the face as he stood, staring forward, and as the smoke cleared, the wizard's features had shifted into the snarling Anubis-like head of what was most definitely not human.

Kingsley said nothing. Snape took a step forward, his muzzle wrinkling ever so slightly. Shacklebolt closed his eyes, and the collars around his two escorts glowed, and they both returned to a neutral position, unmoving.

"You would stand next to the likes of him instead of my boys?" Molly screeched, wringing her hands. "A beast? My boys didn't play with potions for power!"

"Mum, stop," Bill said, sitting up on the side of the bed. He rubbed his temples. "I was a witness when Severus was put under Veritaserum and submitted memories to take up the job. You know. You know that Sirius Black and his friends put magical beast hair into his polyjuice potion project. It was for a project for Professor Slughorn, mum. Where do you think he got that, hrm? A poor second-year at Hogwarts? Who came from a rich pureblood family with deep pockets?"

"He was friends with Lucius Malfoy!" Molly protested.

"Do you hear yourself?" Bill asked, weary. "You told us that people who judged us just because we didn't have as much money as other families were just not knowing us for who we really were. Look, I know you had a soft spot for Percy and for Ron, hell, you pampered Ginny like she could do no wrong, even when she hog-tied Ron and hung him in the attic just above where the ghoul could get him, but this has to stop, mum. They made their choices, and they chose wrong. And if they had succeeded, you'd be going to my funeral or visiting me in Mungo's for the rest of my life. And let's not even talk about how you look down your nose at my wife. She could have died or lost the baby. Wake up! You wonder why Charlie moved to bloody Romania and he never sent you amy word about his fiancée? Why Fred and George work so hard and never come home except for major holidays? Why Fleur and I live at my aunt's old place?"

Molly seemed torn, even more so because her eldest son was telling her things that she did not wish to hear.

"Molly," Arthur said slowly. "Remember that, um— problem we had back in the day? That potion didn't come from Mr Abernathy. It came from the only Potion Master I knew wouldn't botch it up."

Molly paled. "No. You're lying."

"I didn't tell you because you wanted it to work so badly, not knowing where it came from," Arthur said.

Hermione made soft, unnerving clicking noises, but was otherwise not speaking, and Severus, as per the usual, said nothing at all. Molly's head jerked up, her indecision turned to hardened focus. "You! Why aren't you helping my Ronald? He was always so kind to you and Harry!"

Hermione stared blankly, unmoving.

"Mum," Bill said, his voice hardening. "Don't provoke Hermione."

Harry walked up, followed by Draco. "Kings, Auror Savage sent us to give you this." Both boys were dressed in Trainee Auror Robes— Auror brown with a lighter brown collar to indicate their trainee status.

"Harry!" Molly's voice brightened. "You'll tell them, won't you? Tell them how my Ronald could never do the terrible things they are saying he did?"

Harry's brow furrowed. "Mrs Weasley, I'm so sorry."

"Don't be sorry, Harry," Molly said, brushing his robes off with her hands. "Just tell them that my Ronald is not the one they're looking for. That they're wrong!"

Harry shook his head, taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly. "I'm sorry, Mrs Weasley, but we just found the note that Ron owled to Percy in Percy's office along with every document he'd ever approved. Ron is the one who told Percy where to send the people who abducted Bill, Fleur, and Hermione right out in front of Shell Cottage."

"No," Molly cried, her face twisted in anguish. "That's not true!"

Kingsley sighed. "I'm afraid that It is, Molly. I had two of my best Aurors searching Percy's office after Pius' confession before his transformation came to light. That, and Umbridge herself confessed under Veritaserum to all manner of things, but one thing she was clear on was who her co-conspirators were. And-" Kingsley paused. "After reading this report, it is very clear that your son, Ronald, owled Percy specifically to arrange for the abduction, torture and unlawful incarceration of Miss Granger as well as your eldest son, Bill, and his wife, Fleur. The note also made it clear that Ronald expected to receive public adulation as well as significant monetary gain for his actions against his family and a young woman he supposedly considered one of his best friends."

Kingsley's brows knit together. "There were other things that were said that need to be verified. But that will wait until we have systematically cleansed the Ministry of the line of Voldemort's Dark influence. That takes priority."

"And how would you manage do that. considering it couldn't be done in the past because—"

Kingsley held up a hand. "I will with the help of my trusted Sköll, Severus Snape, and my Hati, Hermione Granger. Bound by Olde Magick, through an ancient blood-consecrated contract, their loyalty to me is— utterly beyond reproach. It was done before the Wizengamot itself, and witnessed by no less than fifty people, and sealed as a condition of my Office that my closest advisors also be my guard during a time of war. Now that I have been— pressured into office— they come with me."

"But— Hermione is just a girl— a student!" Molly protested.

"Forged in war, Molly. You know as well as I do what war does to a person."

"You bound yourself to hi— to them?!" Molly protested, wringing her hands in dismay. "Why didn't you say anything to the Order?!"

"The Order was compromised from within," Kingsley said. "It was an underground vigilante group. There was a leak that resulted in Alastor being captured on the night Mr Potter was being removed from the Dursley home to end up in Madam Umbridge's personal torture chamber. A trusted member of the Order had been feeding sensitive information to Umbridge and her cronies, compromising the safety of everyone we were trying to protect. Mr Potter. Moody. Amelia. The Order was the only ones who knew where they really were on the nights they disappeared when they were working on Order business. I needed people I could trust implicitly, so I chose them, and it does not matter one whit to me what countenance they wear. Though, I have to admit that large, fanged, and drooly has come to grow on me as of late."

Hermione made a soft clicking sound, and Severus growled lowly.

Kingsley looked grim. "You should appreciate that had I not done this, had I not believed in them and made such a bond, there is a good chance that the threat your sons put upon Miss Granger would have led to a very bloody, violent end."

Molly had her face scrunched up in anger. "Were we not trustworthy?" Molly accused. "Did we not sacrifice for the Order?"

"Molly, it has nothing to do with whether YOU were trustworthy," Kingsley replied. "That is what you are truly asking,isn't it? And for the record. You were not. Not when it came to your children. You would do anything to protect your children, yes? Even lie to yourself."

Kingsley looked grim. "Dumbledore was a wise man, but he did not share that knowledge. He hand fed it, piece by piece, as he wished, only when he wished to. What I did was to trust one witch and one wizard to both bring me knowledge, and they, in turn, trusted me to tell them mine. Because of it, even when Hermione was tortured and transformed into a Crux-eater, she was able to adjust faster, when others would have continued destroying everything that stood in their way. It has happened." Kingsley rubbed his temples. "I have been reading a rather extensive bit of literature on the subject recently. Thank you for that, William."

"You are quite welcome," Bill said with a small smile and nod to his wife.

"Crux-eater? That myth?" Molly scoffed disbelievingly.

"It's not a myth, mum," Bill sighed.

"They are just stories," Molly insisted. "Dreams of some old wizard or witch. Like the Tale of the Three Brothers."

Harry exchanged significant glances with Draco.

The silver tabby, that had been enjoying a good lounge-about until then, jumped off the pillow to the floor and transformed into Minerva McGonagall. "You may find, Molly, that many of the tales we were told as children did have at least some basis in fact."

"Minerva! At last! Some sense! Tell them that my Ronald and Percy could never have done this!"

A pale woman with long dark hair walked in carrying a tiny cooing infant wrapped in a swaddle. "I call tell you that they most certainly did. I was there when the owl came in to Percy Weasley's office. It was me that Percy ordered to inform Madam Umbridge as to the particulars of the plan. I'm terribly sorry, Madam Weasley. "

"And who are you?" Molly demanded. "Why would I believe someone I've never met before?"

"I am— was— Percy's secretary, Maeve," the woman said. "Until he was removed from office." She handed the swaddled baby to Molly. "As my last duty to my old office, I was to give his family the last of his things. There is a shrunken box with the last of his belongings wrapped in there with him."

"What?" Molly gurgled, fussing over the baby. "Why are you giving me a ba—" She trailed off as she touched the lock of bright ginger hair on the baby's head. "PERCY? Nononono! They'd said he could be cured! They said they were working on it!"

"They did," Maeve answered quietly. "As it turns out, they found that there was nothing they could do."

A healer came around the corner, bowing slightly to Kingsley and then also to his two bodyguards. "I'm afraid that we have exhausted all possible reversal options, Minister. Unfortunately, we cannot restore the younger Mr Weasley to his human condition. It is irreversible."

Molly seemed to lose every bit of fight left within her, and she just sank into the nearby chair, her face pale and her mouth muttering a stream of nonsensical babble.

Arthur put his arm around her, his eyes closed in sad resignation. "Please, just— tell us what we need to do from here," he said quietly.

Kingsley slowly opened his eyes to regard Arthur. "There will be a meeting of the Wizengamot this evening after each member has been cleared. We'll all know more then. You'll have to be ready to take both your sons— as they are— to the session to face the evidence and what they believe is fair compensation for conspiracy."

Molly just sobbed into Arthur, clutching baby Percy as though it was all she had left in the world.


As Kingsley watched the last of the conspirators being dragged off to Azkaban, strangely volunteering after having seen what Kingsley had up his sleeve, he couldn't help but sigh in relief. He flopped into his "new" chair and then waved his hand dismissively.

Hermione and Severus went from attention to relaxed, and each looked around curiously.

"New office, Kingsley?" Severus asked, arching a brow at the gaudy statue on the shelf.

"Haven't even had time to move Pius' old stuff out, and Pius apparently didn't have time to move Fudge's stuff out," Kingsley said.

Hermione clicked curiously, pointing at a strange photograph.

"No idea, Hermione," Kings replied. "Short of checking the desk to make sure it wasn't sabotaged, and checking the room to make sure nothing was going to kill me outright, I really haven't had the time to explore."

Hermione poked the photo's glass with her more talon than finger, the dark claw clacking on the glass. The glass cracked almost immediately, and Hermione gave an apologetic growl.

Snape put a hand on her shoulder, looking at her meaningfully. He had his wand out and moved it over the photo. The photo itself seemed mundane enough, but the shards from the broken frame glowed an unnatural green. "Kingsley, you need to bring in the Tracers for this one."

Kingsley was up on his feet and beside them in seconds. His wand worked over the pieces. "Sodding hell… any idea what this was?"

"I'd imagine this is what kept Pius pliable," Severus said grimly. "But we should check everything in here to be sure. Again, that is."

"Have at it then," Kingsley agreed. "I'd like to be able to rest in my own office." Kings frowned. "I liked my old office better."

Hermione rumbled, her tongue shot out and gave Kingsley a few licks over, jostling his hat.

"Ngh! Demoness, how am I supposed to look dignified when you are grooming me like your very own kitten?"

Hermione chuckled.

Snape rubbed the area between his eyes. "Insufferable."

Hermione pouted, giving him huge, innocent monster eyes— every row of them looking wide, shiny, and equally sad.

Severus sighed, walking up and pulling her head close, pressing his forehead to hers. "And they thought they broke the mould when they made me. I suppose, you always had to do things one step better, hrm?"

Hermione's tongue snaked out from between her rows of teeth and pegged him between the eyes.

Snape gave her a sombre expression, but his eyes were peaceful. "How does it feel to be free of the yoke not of your choosing?"

Hermione rumbled, forcing her head up against his hand so he could keep on rubbing. Snape raised a brow. "You are the only one— who desires my touch."

Kingsley snorted. "I wouldn't say that, but I'm not about to rub myself up against you to let you know that I wouldn't mind a touch now and then. A nice clap on the back from time to time."

Severus lifted his chin and sniffed. He gave Hermione a gentle pat and turned, putting a hand on Kingsley's shoulder. "You did right by us, Kingsley. You kept your word, and you saved our lives. And—" He looked to Hermione, who had somehow found a fluffy white Kneazle kitten and was giving it a good grooming. "You kept her from being ostracised too."

Kingsley placed his hand on Snape's and looked him in the eye. "I swore to you I would always do my best to protect you both just as you both swore to protect me. I haven't forgotten, nor shall I in this time to come. At least now—"

Kingsley patted his robes and sighed with relief. He pulled out a box with a goblin silver signet ring. "Your mastery, Hermione. It just went through. Tests approved. You're officially—"

"Damned," Severus finished, arching a brow.

"Graduated," Kingsley muttered. He placed the ring on Hermione's ring "talon" and it resized and fused to her finger.

Hermione clicked at it curiously, peering at it with all her eyes. She clicked and then hugged Kingsley tightly, engulfing his body entirely.

"Oof!" Kingsley managed to say as he endured being nearly squeezed to death by a large Crux-eater.

"I'd say congratulations, Hermione," Kingsley said, but we all know the tests were a mere formality."

Hermione rumbled sadly.

Kingsley smiled kindly. "Congratulations, Hermione."

The she-beast grinned, showing all of her teeth.

"Careful, it will all go to her head," Severus warned, earning himself a beastly lick. He huffed at her. "Such impropriety."

Hermione gave him a multi-eyed stare.

"Psh," Kingsley muttered. "You know she thinks the world of you, and you her, so you don't have to be like that around me. Not that it started that way. I was starting to wonder if you'd kill each other before finally unbending enough to start working together."

Snape crossed his arms. "Hn."

"Well, maybe now you can stop telling her that being with a Anubian beast is beneath her, hrm?" Kingsley said, wiggling his brows. "Or do I have to seduce her and marry her myself?"

Severus jerked his head up and stared at Kingsley.

Hermione looked back and forth from Snape and Shacklebolt, clicking nervously.

Severus tightened his jaw. "There are plenty more eligible wizards than myself."

Kingsley shook his head. "Truth be told, Severus, my old friend, I don't think either of you have a choice. Or rather— both of you have already chosen, despite what your minds may be telling you. If anything, Lucius just hurried the process along by mixing your blood together via the tip of a Dark blade."

Severus flinched. "I would never force anyone to put up with the likes of me."

Kingsley tilted his head. "I think the putting up with stage is already over, Severus," he said matter-of-factly. "Can you honestly say that Hermione would accept anyone else if she set her mind on someone, hrm? We know how you felt about her once un-relationship with a certain Weasley boy."

Hermione made a low, groaning sound, fanning her talons across her muzzle and shaking her head.

"Sorry," Kingsley apologised. "To be fair, we all make mistakes, or rather, our brain chemicals do. You know my past history with Cara."

Hermione and Severus looked up.

"Yeah, I know it was bad. I think that Johnson even checked to see if I was under the Cupid Crystals potion," Kingsley confessed.

"Amortentia more like," Severus quipped.

Kingsley rolled his eyes. "I wasn't that bad."

Hermione shot him a multi-eyed glance.

"Okay, it was bad!" Kingsley groaned.

"You proposed to her in front of the entire Wizengamot, Kingsley," Severus accused. "It was only natural that we'd all want to know what you were on."

Hermione clicked at him.

"I was NOT plastered!" Kingsley protested.

"Stoned, perhaps?" Severus asked, arching a brow.

Hermione clicked a rather cheeky reply.

Kingsley glared. "I was not knackered, either."

Hermione whistled and clicked sympathetically.

Kingsley's expression softened. "I know. You've always been looking out for me. Both of you. At least, this time, I did a little looking out for the two of you. I am— sorry for what happened to you, Hermione. Yet— I cannot say that your timely transformation did not provide a welcome assist in cleaning out the Ministry quite, um, forcibly."

Hermione crooned and shook her mane of thick tresses. The crystal and metal beads clinked together as she did so, each emblazoned with a hundred or more protective and identifying runes— namely Kingsley's— all to make sure that she was identified for who and what she was on sight. Snape's Anubian form was much the same, only what she wore in her mane of hair, he wore as distinctive ear armor that made his already pointed ears look even more intimidating. Both of them, however, wore the collar of office— not so much to say they were servants but to make it clear they weren't rampaging beasts with no direction.

Not that terrified people would even make that distinction—as the Dark Lord's hidden agents in the Ministry had very recently found out.

"Severus?"

"Hn?" Snape looked up to regard Kingsley.

"Think Hogwarts will miss you as a professor?"

Snape snorted, sounding like a canine sneeze. "No."

Hermione clicked.

"Okay, Minerva might," Severus conceded. "Once she gets over that 'I murdered your oldest friend and colleague' thing."

Hermione frowned, the wrinkles on her muzzle making it look like a snarl.

"It is very strange," Snape confessed. "This—" He gestured to his face with his hand. "Not having to hide anymore."

Hermione clicked.

"Hn, true. Having someone who actually stands up for us, that is also strangely different."

Kingsley smiled. "You two have always been worthy of confidence," he said. "Even if there were many who never saw that."

"How is it that you did?" Severus asked, brows furrowing. "When all others did not?"

Kingsley's mouth curved slightly.

"Kingsley,"Severus said, prodding.

Hermione pressed her muzzle to Kingsley, her multiple nostrils flaring. She jerked back and clicked excitedly.

"You can't be serious," Snape muttered.

Hermione pointed to Kingsley with one ear and gave him "the look."

"Ahahaha," Kingsley laughed. "I could hide it from an Anubian, but not from the Crux-eater."

Severus glowered. "You couldn't be."

"Since the day I was born, my friend."

"You," Snape began, boggling. "How do you keep that a secret in a world that both embraces and fears what is less or more than human?"

"How did you?" Kingsley replied with a smile.

Severus tilted his head. "Point, but still—"

Hermione clicked, and Kingsley smiled. "Would you have guessed before this?"

Hermione shrugged.

"No, she would have," Snape retorted. "She of all people would have found out, eventually."

Kingsley looked somewhat dubious.

Snape raised an eyebrow. "This is Hermione we are speaking of. She called you a Uraeus instead of 'some kind of cobra-esque creature,' after all."

Hermione peered at Kingsley, who peered back at her. "Point."

There was a clatter as a group of people in red robes filtered into the room. "Minister Shacklebolt?"

Kingsley pointed to the broken object on the shelf. "Please dispose of that— and make sure nothing else is lurking in my office?"

The robed figures fidgeted nervously.

"Hermione isn't going to eat you," Kingsley said with a sigh.

Hermione licked her muzzle mischievously.

"Despite what she would like you to believe."

The witches and wizards all looked rather suspicious.

"Don't you trust me?" Kingsley asked.

Snape crossed his arms across his chest, pulling his outer robes inward. "I don't think it's you that they don't trust, Kingsley."

Kings shrugged. "I suppose. Severus, if you would be so kind?"

Snape gave him a look.

Kings eyed him meaningfully.

Severus tugged at his collar in clear discomfort.

Hermione clicked, hanging her head and pouting.

"It is NOT you!"Severus insisted. "It's—" He worried his lip. He looked at Hermione with a strange intensity. "Well, it is you, but it's not what you think!"

Hermione blinked all of her eyes. She whuffed softly, her nostrils flaring, and then she shook her head, walking into the side office that was clearly marked "Hermione J. Granger — Hati of Kingsley Shacklebolt." The emblem on the door clearly depicted a wolf chasing the sun.

Severus spread his hand over his face as he shook it.

The robed people, however, seemed quite relieved, and busily set to work on going over Shacklebolt's newly-inherited office.

Kingsley tapped his jaw with his index finger. "Severus, you've been colleagues in war. That easily trumps the student and teacher hang-up, don't you think?"

Severus frowned. "I… " His face twisted in agony. "I would not be able to let her go."

Kingsley put a hand on Snape's shoulder. "My old friend, what makes you think she'd ever want you to?"

Snape gestured to himself as if that was the only reason he required.

Kingsley smiled. "When my father told his witch that he was— well, different— and that their children might actually hatch, he was convinced she would run for the hills and never come back. Well, you can see how well that ended, hrm?"

"Your mother gave birth to an egg?"

Kingsley huffed. "Don't be thick. She laid a clutch."

Snape's jaw worked up and down on a hinge, but no words came out.

"Just think of all the adorable Anubian cross-breeds you could have," Kingsley said with pure mischief in his coffee-brown eyes. Part jackal-god and part Crux-eater— think of Hogwarts in, say, eleven years or so."

Severus' dark eyes flashed. "If only Albus were still alive to be so inflicted."

Kingsley took in a deep breath. "We can't have everything, my friend, but you can have something, and you CAN have a little piece of perfection right there in that office." He pointed one finger in the direction of Hermione's office. "All you need to do is take a deep, calming breath and listen to your heart."

Severus tugged on his collar once more. "You make it sound so easy."

Kingsley smiled. "That's why I'm the Minister for Magic."

"Minister for Conspiracy, more like," Severus grumbled.

"What's that, Severus?"

"Nothing," Snape replied.

Kingsley gave him expressive eyebrows. "Hn. Careful, Severus. Your ears are showing."

Snape quickly felt his ears and then sighed. "I hate you, sometimes."

Kingsley grinned. "Just love me the rest of the time."

Severus sighed wistfully.


"You misunderstood me," Severus said in almost a whisper. "I do not wish to start something I will have to stop-because I will not want to."

Hermione raised her head, her multiple eyes unblinking.

"To touch you," Snape confessed. "It is— pleasurable. It reminds me of what I could never have— can never have."

Hermione narrowed her eyes, clicking.

"It has always been so," Snape confessed. "Since—" He stopped, turning away, his teeth pulling in his lower lip as he closed his eyes.

Hermione stared intently.

"Since we underwent the ceremony with Kingsley to become his Sköll and Hati," Severus said. "I thought it a fluke— until you asked me to help you convince your parents to flee to Australia. You—"

Severus winced as if in pain. "You trusted me."

If it was possible for a she-beast that looked like she'd crawled out an alien-demonic-Ancient-god portal to look skeptical, Hermione was doing her best interpretation.

Snape took in a deep, ragged breath. "When I was— about your age— a friend I once thought the world of around whom my whole life seemed to circle," he began. "We were… intimate. Close, I mean. Not—shite, this is awkward."

Hermione's muzzle wrinkles relaxed, and she gave off a soft, purring sound.

Severus sighed heavily. "We had a row of epic proportions. I called her a foul name in the heat of the moment and she never forgave me for it. One night, she asked to meet me privately to discuss what had happened between us. Turns out, she wanted to meet me because she wanted to make certain that I knew there was nothing left between us. She was pregnant, and she didn't want me in her life, period. Then, as if that wasn't bad enough, when I left her company, I was ambushed by the Marauders, who saw fit to beat me unconscious in a four against one fight so I knew to never come back."

Hermione's eyebrows wrinkled as her lips pulled back in a snarl.

"Even then I didn't have a stellar reputation, Hermione, and—" Snape frowned. "I must admit, some of it I deserved."

"It's not that I have not come to respect you, enjoy your company in our time with Kingsley, Hermione. Once Hogwarts and you being my student was past us—" Severus turned away. "But the idea of you actually desiring my company in any way outside of simple companionship was always irrational and foolish, and that's without mentioning age."

Hermione snorted, sending parchment scattering across her desk.

"I am not a— I could not bear having to return to formality if we were to become more," Snape said quietly. "I beg you, if there is any doubt in you, or any curiosity of some person you have yet to meet, simply say so. Better to not know than to hunger for what was once mine."

Suddenly Hermione was right in front of him, row and row of so many glistening teeth every so close to his face as her strangely sweet breath tousled his hair. He wondered, even for a little while, if she was going to put him out of his misery once and for all. He felt her heat— so radiant as a living, breathing creature.

Darkness engulfed him like the embrace of an old friend and carried him off into the arms of Oblivion.


When Severus opened his eyes, he found himself in a dimly lit place, much like the dungeon, only it was warm and comfortable instead of damp and cold. As his eyes focused, he realised it wasn't dim at all, but instead had an eerie glow to it. Phosphorescent plants glowed all around him, and then he saw the end of the she-beast's great tail slide around the corner and disappear.

"Hermione?" he said, but he received no answer.

Runes marked the walls and seemed to emblazon every stone. They too glowed with a soft blue light.

Where the hell was he?

As he walked down the chamber, he saw a rather gnarled-looking old goblin chattering away at Hermione. He was nodding and muttering as he scribbled something down on a piece of parchment. "Yes, yes, this is fine, my Lady. We are glad we could come to a compromise that suits both Minister Kingsley, our nation, and your most honourable self. We will start sending word when a vault needs to be checked, which should not be often unless we have to open one that hasn't been opened for a lengthy period of time. We have constructed the quarters are you have requested. We hope it suits your needs, but do let us know if there are changes you would require."

Hermione rumbled, her tail swishing lazily back and forth like a lion's.

"Why that is quite easy, my Lady," the goblin said, baring his teeth. "Young goblins learn up to five languages including our mother tongue, Gobbledegook. English because of our place of business, whatever language of choice of neighbouring regions, and often a most ancient one, just to confuse the surface folk— such as Crux-eater. Ancient Egyptian, Mayan, and a few others."

Hermione clicked and whistled, shaking out her mane.

"Oh, that is just me," the goblin said with a chuckle. "My mentor knows at least thirty different languages."

Hermione snuffled over the goblin and licked her teeth.

"You have made a wise choice in trusting us, Lady Hermione," the goblin assured her. "We goblins do not forget such things." The goblin leaned in as if to tell her a secret. "Griphook will be so jealous. He swore we could never get one such as you to see reason, but you are far from unreasonable, yes?"

Hermione shrugged, seemingly unconvinced.

The goblin bowed and bared his teeth. "I am Dagnar, my Lady, at your service. You may send for me if there is anything you require."

Hermione nosed Dagnar.

He gave her a goblin smile, which most humans would probably have called creepy. He then placed one hand on Hermione's nose, rubbing the area between her nostrils, and Hermione purred softly in response.

Severus had to dig his claws into his palms to keep the jealousy at bay— the part of him that wanted to be the only one that take such liberties in touching her. Even as he knew the feeling was absurd, still—

The goblin bowed and left, leaving down a corridor where a distant click of door closing echoed faintly in the vacant hallway.

It was then that Severus realised that they were standing in the dining room, and a large spread had been provided by the goblins, from roasted and glazed Cornish game hens to what smelled like the seafood casserole his mum used to make back before his father spent all the money on booze.

The she-beast sniffed the air with an almost wistful sigh as she pointed at him with her tail and then at the table.

Snape tilted his head. "You," he began. "You want me to have dinner with you?"

The beast stared at him and clicked in a manner that pretty much screamed, "Obviously."

Snape stared at the table a moment and then moved to politely slide a chair out for Hermione. He looked down, awkwardly, privately thankful that the chair had been made with typical goblin fortitude and could handle a massive she-beast sitting on it, tail and all. Yet, before she sat down, he reached out to touch her muzzle, his fingers ever so lightly brushing against the velvet softness of her nostrils. He pressed his forehead to hers, pulling her head down to do so. He breathed softly into her nostrils, his long ears flicking nervously. His jackal-esque features, tailored so much like the old portrayals of Anubis, made them a matched set, two ancient creatures of myth made very real.

There was a brush of warm magic that caused a shiver to go down his body as a tingle followed. He backed away to suddenly find himself staring at Hermione— well, mostly Hermione— her beast mane surrounding her now-human face. Her eyes were still the same eerie green. Severus looked at paw-hands and realised they were now human again with only the soft curve of black claws on the end of his fingers. He felt his head and face and realised he, too, had changed, if but a little, finding something more human beneath the beasts they were.

He stared into her glowing eyes, painfully aware of just how much pleasure it had given him to have touched her, even for that brief momentary contact.

"Your eyes are beautiful," Hermione said, her voice a whisper. "Deep like the fathoms of space."

Severus brushed a hand against her cheek. "You speak again."

Hermione smiled into his palm. "I never stopped."

"With human words," he replied.

"I thought it would please you that I was not blurting out answers and waving my arm wildly," she said almost shyly.

Severus sighed. "You thankfully grew out of that particular phase." He looked into her eyes. "May I—touch you?"

The meaning of his words seemed to sink in slowly, and Hermione knew what he was really asking. Was she sure? Would he be enough? Would anyone? He was begging her not to break his heart again. Hell, was she even LOOKING to be in a relationship? After all she had been through—

"Only if I can touch you," Hermione replied, her lips curving into a smile.

He could smell the desire wafting off her, and he boggled by its strength.

Him?

Truly?

He could feel his heart beating rapidly in his chest. Could she hear it? Thundering under his ribs like a maddened beast?

As if to answer his question, she lay her ear against his chest, her eyes closed as she did, indeed, listen to the beating of his heart. His fingers wove through her mane causing the crystals and beads to clink together with a pleasing sound. His lips brushed against her temple, his tongue just slightly darting out to taste her skin as a rush of pleasure caused him to pull her to him completely, crushing her against him as he let out a low groan.

She made a soft, pleasurable moan, looking up at him with a strange mixture of shyness and desire. She closed her eyes, her hands seeking the contours of his face, neck, and ears. The moment her hands touched his long, pointed ears, he let out a gasp, practically buckling under her own weight.

"I think the bed is that way," Hermione said, whispering against his skin.

"You think?" he breathed.

"I will confess that all I can think about is your body at the moment," Hermione replied.

With a hiss of determination, and a splash of wherewithal, Severus had enough sense left to him to cast a stasis charm over the table as he staggered with Hermione in the direction that may or may not have led to a bedroom. Somehow, in that short amount of time, Hermione had opened his buttons like a master locksmith, wrapping her arms around his back and pulling him down to her with a hungry growl of pure need.

Severus managed to remove her robes without tearing them off, and his fingers fumbled around her back to release the clasps that held her bound. His mouth descending upon her breast, and Hermione mewled and squirmed under him. He used his tongue to coax a variety of sounds from Hermione's throat as the heat rose between them, responding to her groans by focusing on the areas that seemed to please her most.

There was only one problem.

Everything seemed to please her the most.

He slid his hands over her arms, pinning her wrists to the bed as he hovered his mouth just above hers. "Hermione."

"Don't stop, please," she replied, her breathing heavy.

"I wish I could give you something special, but I fear, that has long been gone." He looked at her sadly, filled with want of her but full of sorrow.

"You are something special, Severus," she said breathily. "You are more than just special. I do not need to be your first— only the last."

He brushed her mane away from her face. "I do not wish to be the shame in your life, Hermione. Make no mistake, I want you. I want you to be mine, but—" He turned his face away, tormented. "I know all too well what others think of me."

Hermione placed her hands against his cheeks and turned his face to hers. "What does it matter what others think, if what I want in life is to live a long life with you? I have already lived my life for other's sake. For other's ideals. For other's spite. Now I wish to live with you. I want you."

Snape's face wrinkled in doubt. "I could be a terrible lover."

Hermione pulled his head close, whispering into his ear. "Did I ever tell you that I was obsessed with Egyptian mythology ever since I was little? My favourite was always Anubis."

Snape's eyes widened. "And what would you have of me?"

"You." Hermione's eyes seemed to glow brighter.

Snape shuddered as her hands skillfully undid every bit of willpower he had. "I will not be able to let you go," he said, pain written on every crease of his face.

Hermione pulled his face down to hers and allowed her somewhat gifted tongue to work other sorts of magic to his mouth. He groaned, drinking her in as if she were the only thing he'd ever need. When she pulled back, he was panting, sweating, and most definitely at attention. "Who said I would want you to let me go?"

He growled, a flash of canine fangs as he clamped onto the side of her neck, wrecking havoc upon her sensitive skin below her ear. She bucked against him, breathing heavily against his skin.

Her scent filled his nostrils, and he wanted it-her— all over him. He wanted his scent all over her, the marks of his teeth upon her throat, and the soft mewling of her voice saying his name and no other.

Now, where had that come from?

Yet, even as he wanted such a thing, she was giving him exactly that. Her voice trembled as he drew her skin between his teeth and marked her neck, and she rasped his name as he did so.

Severus.

Never had he heard his name in such a way, nor had he ever dreamed it could be said in such a way. Kingsley had taught him that his name could be said with respect, but this—

This was different.

She was the siren; he was the sailor, and his ears could listen to no other sound but her song.

He knew he was damned the moment he first felt her touch— even as a beast— had filled a part of him like no other had or ever would. Even as he tried to deny she was any different than the others— the Muggles that never knew him, the childhood friend that had never loved him—Hermione defied them all. He knew, in that heated moment, that if they coupled it would be forever. It would be no casual fling, a one-off, or something they could back out from.

Yet, even as his mind threw up obstacles and reasons she could hurt him, part of him knew that Hermione was not like those other people. Chiefly, she was not like Lily. He knew that because after they had partnered, no matter how snide and cold he had been to her, she had always taken it and gave him nothing but the respect he didn't deserve. She's always told him exactly what she thought and where he could stick it, yet— she managed to do it with the smooth tongue of a first-rate Slytherin.

Perhaps that awful experience with Potter's son and the youngest Weasley boy had done her a few favours even as he was sure that without her, the other two would have long since been strangled to death by vines in their very first year. It wasn't that Potter's son and Ronald Weasley were complete idiots, but their good qualities often got lost under a larger pile of other, far less admirable ones.

At least Potter hadn't gotten himself turned into a puffskein. Or an infant. Or a ferret.

All of it, however, didn't mean a lick now that Hermione wanted him. She had made herself plain. Why, then, was he still hesitating?

"Are you sure this is what you want," he asked, painfully aware of how much he didn't want to ask such things.

Hermione growled, using her powerful legs to lock both around him and twist him down on the bed flat on his back. Her mouth was over his, tongue teasing him to the point where he could no longer think straight, sideways, or diagonally. He rolled her over onto her back, tongue sliding over her erect nipple, and she clawed his back. "Severus," she hissed. "Please."

Please.

So simple, yet—

"As my lady commands," he whispered as they joined together in a tangle of breathless passion, every thrust being one step closer to the bright, shining light. He heard a roar in his ears, and it was his own voice.

His arms wrapped around her, crushing her to him as their bodies spasmed together, drawing their magic together with the force of their union. He was falling— falling into their combined magic and the blazing warmth of their new union.


Severus woke to find himself curled around a warm, sleeping Hermione, both of them buried under a thick duvet that was altogether comfortable. Her eyes were closed as she had snuggled up against him, pressing herself to his skin. He touched her hair, gently brushing the strands of her mane from her face. She opened her eyes slowly, drowsily murmuring as she snuggled closer to him.

"Hermione," he said quietly.

"Mmmm," she answered. "Can we do that again?"

Snape spasmed as a burst of joyful mirth erupted from his throat. He held her close, rocking her against him. "Love, we may do that however many times you so desire."

"Mmm," she replied with no little satisfaction. "Excellent."

"You are a true wonder," he said softly, pressing his lips to her forehead.

"You're not so bad yourself, Severus," Hermione purred, nibbling on his neck.

Snape's eyes widened.

She smiled at him, tracing the lines of his face as she stared into his eyes. "I'm not lying."

"I—" he started to say, frowning. "I am glad you think so."

"Do not frown," she said warmly. "You definitely should not frown."

"I fear you are but a beautiful, insubstantial dream," he said, his pale face haunted.

"Severus," she said, pulling his head down so she could place a kiss on his mouth. "I am not going anywhere."

"Do you promise?" he asked, his eyes still haunted.

"What would you like me to promise?" Hermione said, a serene look on her face.

"That this is not some cruel joke," he said.

Hermione's expression softened. "Tell you what," she bargained. "I'll promise this is no cruel joke, and you can promise me you won't abandon me in my hour of need in the woods because of some unfounded jealous fit?"

Snape scowled at first and then seemed to realise she was serious. "He—"

Hermione nodded.

"If he wasn't already being punished, I'd punish him myself," he growled.

She placed a palm against his cheek. "I promise you, this is no trick. I will not change when we leave the door and become more of a monster than I already am.

Severus brushed her hair with his hand. "You're not a monster, Hermione. You are an avenging angel with fangs and claws."

Hermione gave him a dubious smile, but Snape pressed his mouth to hers in a kiss. When he pulled away, he promised solemnly, "There will be no other for me but you, Hermione. I will always have my demons, but you will never be one of them."

Hermione smiled. She stroked his pointed ears with fondness, and Severus found his leg pumping without his permission. She grinned at him. With a wicked smile, she rubbed his belly, and Severus let out a loud growling groan of pleasure.

"Curse you, witch," he said.

"What's that, Severus?" She purred, clicking softly.

"Please don't stop," he pleaded, it coming out as a jackal-esque whine.

Hermione demonstrated the dexterity of her Crux-eater tongue as Snape blacked out in the throes of ecstasy.

He came to only briefly as he ensnared his mate with his arms and pulled her close.


"Congratulations," Kingsley purred as Snape sat down at his desk.

Snape's pointed ears swivelled.

"Shall we make plans for a nursery?" Shacklebolt asked, a shite-eating grin on his face.

Severus scowled. "Why must you be so insufferable?"

"Loveable," Kings replied, tapping his quill against his face.

"Well?" Kings prodded.

Snape's face twisted into various expressions, made all the more comical by his Anubian muzzle and inhuman creases. "Wehavenoideahowlongpregnacywillbe," he muttered under his breath.

Kings grinned like a Cheshire cat. "Did you get my rings?"

Snape scowled even more. "Yes," he said, teeth bared.

"Excellent," Kings replied, altogether smug.

"Thank you," Severus said, sombre. "You know my family history well enough. I didn't want to curse her with the history of my family."

"Those rings were crafted by my great, great, great grandfather, specifically for the Hati and Sköll mated pair, but in my family, it seemed none of them loved each other like that. They worked together, but they had their own mates and their own lives apart from the position." Kingsley looked thoughtful. "The glamour will help keep you decent in Muggle places, though I imagine looking human for most places would bring more peace of mind to the magical community as well, as you need it."

Snape eyed the ring on his finger— a wolf chasing the moon. Hermione's had been the wolf chasing the sun. "There is more protective magic in this," he said.

Kingsley nodded. "Much, but it has been a long time since the time of my ancestor, and no one since then has worn them. Many of my family thought them a myth or the power a fantasy."

"Not you," Snape said.

Kingsley smiled. "My parents always respected the ancestors and their stories most of all."

Snape's eyebrows furrowed. "Your ancestor couldn't have known who the rings would go to."

Kingsley shrugged. "Maybe he knew they would find themselves where the should be. Much like how Hermione's nature drives her to find unnatural and Dark magic and destroy it."

"Do you think that Tom knew that he had created his own demise?" Severus asked.

"I think he knew it could be used against him, which is why he gave it to Bellatrix to dispose of, but even he couldn't foresee that she would force feed such a thing into a living person." Kingsley frowned. "I would see her torturing, yes. But jamming a stone down her throat while carving her up with a Dark blade?"

"May she rot in hell," Severus remarked, fist clenching.

"Well, hopefully, she and Tom are taking turns flailing each other in hell for what the other did to each other," Kingsley said. "Then again— who knows what the magic of a Crux-eater truly does to those they, um, deal with." Kingsley's voice trailed off as they both knew full well what Hermione's Dark bloodlust did.

"Well—" Severus said, looking thoughtful. "I just wish—"

Kingsley lifted his head. "Hrm?"

Severus waved his pawlike hand, his claws fanning out. "The Weasley girl wanted a meeting with Hermione. Old friend. Girls day out. I can't help but think—"

"She wants something?"

Severus nodded.

"People always want something, old friend," Kings said. "However, what she wants is the key to this particular mystery."

"Hermione still feels sorrow for the Weasley clan," Severus said. "Old loyalty to a family that she thought she knew. But— I have to wonder if Ginevra can accept what Hermione is or if it's all a facade."

"Being Slytherin teaches you to suspect everything, but in this case, you are probably wise to ponder such things. With all that has happened— you would be unwise not to suspect." Kingsley frowned. "However, despite your tendency to think badly of the human species, old friend, I won't say that you're ultimately wrong."

Severus cracked his neck as he moved it. "I do not trust that family. They were in the pocket of Dumbledore for longer than anyone, blinded by his greater good, and equally desperate to believe in absolutes. Arthur less so, but he has to live with his wife— and ever since Fabian and Gideon died, she has tread the line of Death Eater prejudice that even Dumbledore himself could not rid her of on my behalf."

"You think Ginevra is like her mother?" Kings asked.

"I think they spend too much time together for that not to be the case," Severus replied.

Kings rubbed his chin. "You want me to check up on her?"

Snape lifted his head, his jaw tightening and then relaxing. "Yes, I think so."

Kings put a hand on Snape's shoulder. "Do not feel embarrassed that you care about what happens to her, Severus. That is what friends do, not just the newly mated."

Severus's brows furrowed. "My past friend history is— spotty."

Kings chuckled. "Indeed, but I would like to think that by now, you are at least convinced I am not trying to shank you in your sleep, my friend."

Snape's expression softened, the corners of his mouth turning upward only slightly. "You have proven more than my two other masters assuredly, and in less time."

"Perhaps because I do not see myself as anyone's master, Severus," Kingsley answered with a smile.

Severus looked at Kingsley thoughtfully. "Which is why you beat them all."


When Kingsley walked in Hermione's home, he found it in disarray, and by disarray it could have been considered where a tornado had touched down.

"Hermione?" Kings said, pocketing the Port Key she had given him in case he desired to visit and not go through 101 goblin inquisitors.

"Help!" a female voice cried from an adjoining room.

Kingsley rushed forward, wand brandished as he flew through the doorway and saw—

A red-headed witch clinging to the chandelier with an angry Crux-eater snarling up at her, jumping every so often, the tips of her massive claws ripping away at Ginevra Weasley's robes.

"Thank, Merlin!" Ginny cried. "Help me!"

Much to the girl's chagrin, Kingsley put his wand away.

"Hermione," he said, soft and calm.

The Crux-eater's head spun around, the wrinkles of anger easing ever so slightly. Her nostrils flared. She growled, but she scented Kingsley in the air and took a step forward.

"HELP ME!" Ginny yelled. "Don't just stand there!"

Hermione's head whirled around, lips pulling back from her teeth in a vicious snarl.

Kingsley's Auror training snapped into place as he scanned the room— wrecked as it was— spotting the smashed tea service on the floor and a tin of what appeared to be sugared rose petals. The confection was highly sought after in places such as Diagon Alley, yet they were scattered across the floor as much as the were in the tin.

"What did you try and give her?" Kingsley said.

"We were having tea and she went bezerk!"

Kingsley frowned. "Tell me the truth, or I take my time remembering where I put my sympathy."

Hermione snarled, leaping up and swatting up at Ginny again. Ginny screamed, clinging to the poor, abused light fixture, whose only saving grace was excellent goblin workmanship keeping her from falling to the ground.

"It was nothing! Just a little— EEEEEE!" Ginny protested, as another swat came from the Crux-eater.

"I beg to differ, I think," Kingsley said sombrely. "What did you try to dose her with?"

The Crux-eater growled lowly.

"It was just to help her remember who she's supposed to remain loyal to, that's all!" Ginny shrieked. "Remind who's been there for her all this time!"

"Your idea of 'being there' for someone— does it always involve doping them up on mind-altering potions?" Kingsley asked grimly. "Who else have you encouraged? Harry?"

"Of course not! Ron had him totally convinced that Slytherins were nothing but a bunch of Death Eaters. That was all he had to— EEEEEKKK!" She screeched as one of Hermione's razor-sharp talons swiped the air just under her hastily jerked-up leg.

"Hermione," Kingsley said calmly. "Please ensure that Harry is tested to ascertain whether he is under the influence of mind-altering potions and— any kind of Dark geas."

"What?! NO! We would never!" Ginny protested. "We're to be married!"

Kingsley placed a hand between Hermione's eyebrows, allowing his soothing warmth to pass between them. Hermione rumbled, growling, her rows of multiple eyes blinking at him. She pegged him once, twice with her tongue and then seemed to vanish into thin air.

Ginevra let herself down from the chandelier with a sigh of profound relief. "Thanks, Kingsley. I'll tell mum that everything's okay, it was all just a big misunderstanding, yeah?"

Kingsley reached out and took custody of Ginny's wand. "Not quite. You are now under arrest, Ms Weasley. For conspiracy to unlawfully influence the mind of another for personal gain."

"Wha— no! This isn't right! You're on our side!"

"I am on the side of justice, Ms Weasley. And no where in the books did it ever say that drugging a friend was acceptable."

Ginny's eyes grew very wide. "This isn't right!"

"I've been saying that all of both Wizarding Wars," Kingsley said grimly.

He gestured with his chin. "Off we go. You'll be kept in holding until someone other than me makes a decision on when you will be brought before the Wizengamot."

"But— you're the Minister for Magic! This was all just an unfortunate misunderstanding!"

"Well, it is unfortunate, yes," Kingsley agreed, "but I do not believe I misunderstood what you stated quite clearly."

"N-no! She should be helping us! You should be helping us!" Ginny protested. "My father works for the Ministry! Look at all we did for the war!"

"Oh, I'm sure it will all come out in the wash," Kingsley said grimly, moving her along. "Along with all the gory details."


"What in the—" Severus' jaw dropped as he saw Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy passed out in the middle of Hermione's office. The smell of beer, whisky and stale pizza filled the air.

Hermione gave a series of annoyed clicking noises, not even trying for English.

Kingsley's office cleaners, a squadron of large, fluffy (and sudsy) arachnids, were doing everything from sweeping up the debris and scrubbing down both wizards as they obliviously drooled in their inebriated oblivion.

"This is tough!"

"They're slobs."

"What a mess!"

"Dip yourself in pine-scented cleanser!"

"I did! I think we need something even stronger!"

Severus frowned. "Potter and Draco didn't take the female Weasley's plot to marry him for his family fortune and fame well?"

Hermione clicked disapprovingly.

"No, I don't imagine that Draco appreciated being her backup plan either."

Hermione sighed, drooping sadly, the spider in her mane tilted as it tried to tie her mane back to keep it out of her face.

"Eee!" it exclaimed. "Tilt!"

Hermione yawned, showing her rows of jagged teeth, giving Severus a deep sigh and series of clicks.

"Kingsley appreciated you not gutting the Weaslette from bottom to top," Snape said solemnly. "I think we both know you could have jumped higher if not simply climbing up the wall to fetch her."

Hermione grunted, shaking her head.

"Did you know?" Severus asked. "That she was going to attempt something?"

Hermione looked upward and shook her head in negative, nostrils flaring expressively.

"Well, I'm pleased to see that my training you to carefully smell all of your food and drink as well as potions sank in," he replied grimly.

Hermione whuffed softly, blow-drying the spider clinging to her pencil holder.

"Old habits?" Severus asked, eyeing the distinctly worried-on Muggle pencils in a cup that said: Steal my coffee, shame on you. Steal my pencils, and I'll chew on you instead.

The text swirled around the cup in angry red letters as it got to "chew on you".

Severus arched a brow. "Who have I married?"

Hermione grinned toothily.

He extended his paw-like hand to her. "Since the spiders have this well in hand— legs, perhaps we should go have dinner. I know a nice place— that has excellent steak, seafood, and positively sinful chocolate desserts that you would probably approve of."

Hermione perked.

"Interested, hrm?" he rumbled.

The Crux-eater was muzzle to muzzle with him, pressing her forehead to his with nothing short of avid interest.

Severus sighed. "You only like me for my food."

Hermione licked her chops but nuzzled him fondly. She looked back at her poor office, the spider crew dutifully cleaning both the room and the wizards.

"Don't worry about them," Snape said with a heavy sigh. "If anything I taught him sunk in, Draco knows how to brew a morning-after post-drunken stupor anti-intoxication potion."

Hermione gave him a slow blink and nudged him.

He placed his hands on both sides of her muzzle, pressing his forehead to hers, and their forms shimmered into the less disturbing forms— easier to cloak under their gifted ring's powers.

"I have no doubt that they would work either way," Severus said thoughtfully as he fingered the ring on his finger, "but think of how much easier it will be to wield a fork."

Hermione huffed at him.

Severus touched her cheek and offered up his arm. "Shall we?"

Hermione looped her arm through his, pressing her head to his shoulder.

Severus seemed a bit dumbfounded for a few seconds and then a small smile tugged at the corners of his mouth as they exited the office, allowing the two knackered now-compatriots to sleep off their stupor.


Wizarding World Rocked as End-of-War Aftermath Shocks Everyone!

An abrupt end to the reign of Tom Marvolo Riddle, the self-styled 'Dark Lord Voldemort came about out of nowhere, and no one seems more surprised than those closely following the criminal charges against certain members of the Weasley family. With one son reduced to a state of infancy after being struck with a de-aging curse by then-Minister Pius Thicknesse, another transformed into a ginger puffskein, and the only daughter taken into custody after being caught attempting to surreptitiously slip a mind-influencing potion to a Ministry employee, the Weasleys are suffering from a severely fractured family life. To top it all off, Arthur and the former Molly Weasley bear the dubious distinction of being the recipients of the first Ministry-sanctioned divorce of a pureblood couple in the last fifty-odd years.

Due to multiple entangled conspiracies and even stranger situations, the infant Percival Weasley, ginger puffskein-ised Ronald Weasley (ex-Minister Thicknesse was similarly hyena-plush-ified) and Ginevra Weasley were disowned by their distraught father, Arthur Weasley after a heated divorce during which the then-Mrs Molly Weasley accused him of being an albatross around her neck for the past twenty-nine years before experiencing a rather dramatic nervous breakdown in front of the entire assembled Wizengamot.

Molly Weasley, now Prewett, is currently being treated at St Mungo's for a persistent semi-catatonic condition.

As for the former Weasley children, Ronald Weasley has been remanded to a facility for magically-afflicted deviants, while his infantilised brother, Percival Weasley has been placed in St Jerome's Orphanage for Magical Children. Ginevra Weasley has been sentenced to five years hard labour with the Goblin nation without a wand in lieu of Azkaban. Molly Prewett will remain under a healer's care at St Mungo's until an eventual mental evaluation permits her to be sentenced for her role in the actions that manipulated both Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Conquered and another Ministry employee whose name has not been released.

With the coming of such strange times, the fact that the notorious He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named has neither been seen or heard from in upwards of months leads us to believe that something or someone, somehow, brought about an end to the Second Wizarding War. But who did it and how remains to be seen. Is the Dark Lord truly gone? Is the war finally at an end? Is He-Who's reign of terror finally over?

The official word remains to be spoken, but we can all hope that the end to the death and destruction has, indeed, finally come and left our world at least somewhat better than it was.


Time passes…


THUMP!

"Aiiiee!"

Kingsley thumped backwards into the rug as two growly, snarly beast-lets pounced him from the back of the couch. They slammed their heads into his face and wedged him between them both, purring like a pair of affectionate felines. They growled, snarled, purred, and rumbled as they kneaded his robes and generally disheveled him all over.

"Hey there," Kingsley said, rubbing each child behind their long, pointed ears.

They both flopped on him, purring like overgrown Kneazles.

"Now, now, Rafael, Allegra," Minerva's chiding voice said. "Where are your manners?"

The two beastlets slumped and pouted, giving Kingsley apologetic licks.

Kingsley chuckled. "Tis fine, Minerva. I take it you have finished their lessons for today?"

Minerva shook her head. "They are apt students as always. Well ahead of their peers that are already at Hogwarts. But do we really expect otherwise?"

The twins beamed proudly. The female blinked her multiple rows of eyes and the male radiated a purple aura of smug satisfaction.

"Yes, well, between a fine goblin education, a no-nonsense tutor, and two parents who are far from uneducated, and doting grandparents that love to visit, I think they are going to give Hogwarts a run for its walls," Kingsley speculated.

Minerva smiled. "I'm sure the school is ready for them, Kingsley. The faculty members, however—"

"You can't say you wouldn't know how to keep these two in line if you were still Headmistress, Minerva," Kingsley said a bit dubiously.

"I'm not there anymore," Minerva said with a cheeky wink.

"Despite all their begging and pleading?"

"Especially because of that," Minerva replied with a sniff. She suddenly had Allegra in her arms, and the young beastlet was purr-rubbing up against her happily.

"You little stinker," Minerva purred. "We saw Rutherford Poke with young Percival in Diagon Alley the other day. Seems like the change in circumstance and family has done the boy considerable good. He's much more grateful for what he has this time around."

"Well, I'm glad he had a real chance instead of rotting away in the detainment facility for his entire life. His circumstances were different from his siblings, assuredly, but all the healers have stated that his slate was wiped clean all the way back to childhood. Whatever Pius did to him— what he meant to do to me— was quite permanent. And from I've been told, despite the nature of the spell itself, Thicknesse's mind and intent was bent on something far more harmful than what the spell was actually designed for."

Minerva nodded as the beastlet happily nommed on her headscarf. She looked into the beastlet's eyes and rubbed noses with her.

Allegra giggled, her mane rustling as she made happy faces at Minerva from between her paw digits.

Kingsley, who had moved to the settee, closed his eyes only to find that Rafael had curled up with him, snuggling into the wizard with a contented sigh of mischief managed. Kings gave Minerva a wink before closing his eyes again.

Minerva smiled as she turned and ruffled Allegra's mane. "Shall we have a proper girl's night out, lassie? Your parents have vault-sniffing duty this evening, so you're all mine and Kingsley's tonight."

Allegra let out a series of happy clicks and whistles, hugging Minerva tight.

"Well then, my wee lass. Let's see what we can do."


"That's gonna—"

Crash!

"Hurt," Draco finished as they watched their children attempt to emulate the beastlets in climbing the enormous beech tree in one corner of the garden only to realise that claws were something they didn't have.

The children wailed at the bottom, their bums quite sore on where they had fallen.

Harry and Draco, who by then had become old hands at the drama of children, didn't rush to coddle their spawn, but let them figure out that it was better to use their head than follow blindly. Draco's twins— a platinum blond boy and a strawberry blond girl— huddled with Harry's raven-haired daughter.

After fussing and pouting and even a little more crying, the kids realised that ladders were made for a reason, and they even remembered that one of the parents had installed on previously on the other side of the tree. After a few minutes all the children were giggling from the top of the treehouse like nothing had happened at all.

A strawberry blonde woman walked over arm-in-arm with Luna. "Oh, hello, Harry. I see you manage to avoid being strung up by your toes today. I was expecting for rope to be involved at least. I was telling Rosaline that our children do have a proclivity to act a bit like Carpathian Kundergheists and enjoy tying you up and hanging you by your feet."

Draco chuckled. "That's my baby sister."

"Hello, Luna, did you enjoy your witches' day out?" Harry asked.

"Of course, but Rosaline took me out watch a cricket game, which seemed a lot like the game daddy taught me on how to throw gnomes out of the garden so they wouldn't come back."

Harry blinked. "I never thought of it that way."

"Of course you didn't, Harry," the other witch said with a grin as she leaned over to give Draco a kiss. "That is Luna's way of seeing life."

"My lady wife," Draco purred, pressing his lips to her temple.

Rosaline gave him a smug smile. "Careful, your former father is probably writhing in his afterlife— if he even has one."

"I hope it chafes him," Draco growled, "and he scratches himself raw."

His wife's eyes softened. "I am here for you, my love."

Draco's hate-filled eyes lost their fire as he smiled again. "I love you."

Harry made a mock-sound of disgust. "Ugh, really?"

"Stuff it, Potter," Draco hissed. "You snog my half-sister making those disgusting smacking noises when you think no one can hear."

Harry sputtered.

Luna and Rosaline shook their heads and then proceeded to snog their squabbling husbands silly.

The children in the treehouse all cried, "Ewwwww!" together-save for the two beastlets who seemed to think the others were overreacting a bit.

Rafael and Allegra leapt down from the treehouse without a care, landing on Harry and Rosaline with happy clicking.

"Hello, pet," Rosaline greeted as Harry groaned from his prone position on the floor. She touched noses with the beastlet and smiled. "How's your toe? Let me see."

Rafael put his paw up to her face, spreading his toes wide. She clucked and tutted, looking between them and checking the skin.

"Healed very nicely, young man," she said with a grin, earning herself a slurp upside the face and more happy clicking. "Would you like to come see the horses after supper?"

Allegra squealed from her spot on top of Harry and sprang up to cling to Rosaline with excited squeaks. Her brother just rolled his eyes at her, huffing.

"You spoil them rotten," Draco quipped.

"Advantage to being a veterinarian," she replied. "I have the skills and the cool toys."

Rafael stuck out his chin and nodded decisively.

Harry shook his head. "Rosaline, I have to ask—" Harry made an odd face. "How are you so accepting of the magical world? My aunt and uncle. They were so frightened of it."

Rosaline grinned. "I had a very magical first date, Harry." She winked at him. Seeing that Harry was serious, she gave a soft sigh. "Truth? I woke up in the morning with this little man curled up next to me like an overgrown cat after that rather rowdy celebration at the Tree Broomsticks."

Harry coughed. "Three, Three Broomsticks." He averted his eyes.

"I woke up, saw the Jackal god doing a breakfast fry up and this fantastic beast throwing her baby up into the air and catching her like any human would do. I knew in that moment that everything Draco had tried to hint at was true. It wasn't just some trick or magician convention."

She looked thoughtful. "Helps that Hermione is my cousin, and I knew she wouldn't hurt me."

Harry seemed saddened. "I think my relatives never knew anything more avidly than I was evil," he said. "I guess I'm amazed you adapted so well."

"Helps to be in love, Harry," Rosalind said warmly. "Anything seems possible when you truly love someone. That and this cute little stinker here keeps trying to hurt himself."

Rafael rumbled at her, rubbing his cheek against hers.

"Someone has to keep him bandaged," she said with a wink.

Rafael clicked and nommed on her scarf playfully.

"We should probably set the table," Draco said, "before the spiders choose the entrees."

"Come children," Luna called. "Time to set the table!"

The human children feigned deafness.

"Ah, well, more pudding for us," Harry said, nodding to Draco.

The sudden stampede of children into the house caused the adults to shake their heads.

"Your children are bad influences," Harry informed Draco.

"Mine? Hah, Potter. Yours are definitely worse."

The beastlets exchanged glances with each other. They reached into their pouches and both pulled out tins of their Nana-Minerva's famous shortbread fingers, patted the pin, and stuffed it back into their pouches.

"Why you little—" Harry started to say.

Luna looped her arm through his and skipped him along. "It's okay, Harry. It's not their fault they learn by watching you and Draco nicking biscuits from Minerva's baking counter."

Draco and Harry exchanged flushed glances and then hurried a little faster inside.

Luna and Rosaline grinned at each other.

"Men," Rosaline said with a grin.

"Magical or not, the seem to have a knack for finding trouble," Luna replied. "It's fine. This weekend, I invited Grandma Minerva over to teach the children how to bake while we're out, and I made sure to stock the cupboards with extra sprinkles and icing colours."

Rosaline perked.

"I also made sure to let Hermione know not to let her spiders visit that day."

Rosaline busted out laughing. "You're positively evil, Luna."

The two females carried the beastlets between them, not noticing how they linked their tails together behind them and gave each other a definitive tail-shake.


Time Passes…


As a heavy fog seemed to permeate the entire platform, two figures cloaked all in black stood side by side as a young boy and girl clung to Kingsley tightly. Their manes of raven-black dreads clinked together as they looked nervously all around them.

"There now, don't you fret," Kingsley said, ruffling their thick manes with a smile. "You're more than ready for Hogwarts. Rings?"

The two children brandished their goblin silver rings on their right hands.

Kingsley smiled. "No worries from you lot," he said confidently. "Those rings will keep your secret safe, just like they do for your mum and dad, and you don't see them worrying, eh?"

Allegra gave him a dubious look. "But father never looks worried," she protested.

Severus' brows knitted together as he regarded his offspring.

"Just don't be climbing walls like a spider and bringing attention to your more preternatural talents, hrm?" Kingsley cautioned them. "Remember that your special talents are there to keep you safe, but you should never flaunt them. These are your secret things. You need not use them to prove your worth in school. That is a battlefield of wits and spells, learning, and different folk from all over."

Allegra hugged her giant book of Hogwarts: a History.

Kingsley smiled.

"Allegra! Rafael!" Coralia Malfoy called out from the platform. The strawberry-blonde little witch waved frantically. "Come on! They're boarding!"

The two very pale children gulped, then jumped down from Kingsley and hugged their parents tightly. Hermione rubbed noses with each of her children and smiled lovingly at them, softly clicking and purring at them in comfort.

She pointed to the trunks and the two pet carriers, each holding a fluffy part-Kneazle kitten and one large, fluffy spider.

The children hugged Severus tight, and he, like his mate, gently rubbed noses with his offspring as he gave them, at least what was for him, a broad smile.

The people around them gave them a wide berth, but it wasn't so much the old reputations. People rushed to put their children on the train, busily running to and fro. Whether they sensed some greater aura or unease was anyone's guess, but it worked for Kingsley, as it kept masses of people randomly coming up to pester him. The glamour kept the more obvious features hidden from sight, but there was nothing they could do to suppress the feeling of impending doom around Hermione— at least if said person dabbled in the Dark arts— and they had found out there were far more people that "dabbled" than such families would have anyone believe.

Some, Kingsley said, was a remnant of a time when such magic was commonplace— accepted as often as one would the beating of a House elf about the ears for dropping your tea. It would take time, just as it did for the treatment of the elves and other non-human species. Kings was well known for equal treatment of non-human species, as his Sköll and Hati attested to. People even knew that the Snapes were far from human anymore, but the circumstances of what had created them served as a warning to most that nightmares were created by the deeds of men— or in the case of Bellatrix Lestrange, woman.

Even so, Kingsley was no fool. Helping the Snapes blend in when they weren't "on the job" was simple good practice. People were more likely to forget, even something as great a thing as monster amongst men, when the monster wasn't looming over them, teeth glistening and claws sharp.

Then again— Kingsley also knew when having a monster looming over someone with their teeth glistening was a strategic move.

Still, all the kids cared about was that Kingsley was the best uncle ever, and he treated them in kind. They didn't care he was trying to make a world that was better for them or that he was an advocate for their rights. No, all they cared about was the warmth of his smile and the softness of his touch, the stories he told, and the love he shared with them.

And really, Severus and Hermione could have asked for nothing more from him or Minerva, both of which had been a constant presence in the raising of their children. Bill and Fleur, too, had been nothing short of the family the other Weasleys of less repute had claimed to be.

The twins had tried to visit often, trying to encourage more mischief and pranks amongst the children, much to Severus' disdain, but he relented soon enough when the beastlets turned their mischief back on the twins over and over again.

Rafael turned and ran forward to jump on his mum once more and gave her a tight hug, rubbing cheeks with her. Hermione gazed fondly into her son's dark eyes, brushing his hair away from his face.

"I love you," she said in clicks and rumbles. "Don't let anyone tell you cannot do whatever you put your mind to."

He clung to her tightly and gave her nose a tender lick. "Love you, mum! I promise I'll make you all proud of me."

Hermione ruffled his mane of hair. "I'm already so proud of you, love. Do your very best. That is all I will ever ask of you."

He nodded quickly and jumped down, grabbing his books and his animal carrier, rushing off to join his friends.

"This way," Victoire Weasley called, standing by her parents, Bill and Fleur, as they waved to Hermione and Severus. The children hurriedly crammed their way onto the train car, chattering away excitedly.

Hermione sniffed once, straightening her shoulders.

Severus put his arm around her. "They will excel, just like their mother did."

Hermione looked up at him, smiling.

"Or they will devour their competition," Severus said with a feral grin.

Hermione clicked at him fiercely.

Severus pulled Hermione flush against himself, hushing her by practically squeezing the life out of her.

Hermione slumped and hugged him as they both looked on, watching the Hogwarts Express slowly pull away from the station. She sniffled and clicked.

"Such a bother," Severus said, brushing her soft cheek with his thumb. He looked up and saw the last of the train disappear into the fog. "Just do what I do. Think of what they'll do to Professor Longbottom for endless amusement."

Hermione's eyes widened and then she slammed her head into his chest a few times.

Severus pressed his lips to hers and murmured, "Justice." He gave her a genuine smile. "My darling Crux-eater. We shall now have the house all to ourselves. Whatever shall we do with ourselves?"

Kingsley put his arms around them both. "Sleep for a month at least, then I start making a betting pool regarding the next batch of beastlets?"

"I'm in!" Bill said eagerly as he and Fleur walked up, both sporting mischievous smiles.

"I'm betting they don't even last a week before we can start betting," Harry said, a wicked grin on his face.

"A day," Draco said, looking rather sly.

"Pity you two will be too busy decorating a new nursery," Rosaline said as she smiled at Luna. They both patted their bellies meaningfully.

The blood drained from Harry and Draco's faces simultaneously as they hit the ground to sprawl out in a dead faint.

Hermione surreptitiously slid the unconscious wizards into her pouch, looking terribly innocent.

Severus adjusted his collar. "I want them out by bedtime," he stated firmly, nostril twitching.

Hermione placed a soft kiss on his nose as she rubbed his ears, even while they were still hidden by his cloak hood.

Severus gave an unmanly jackal-whine as his leg kicked with unmistakable pleasure. "Fine, they can stay for dinner, but then they're out!"

Hermione grinned, clicking away merrily.

"Minx," Severus accused.

"Crux-eater," Bill and Kingsley chorused together.

Severus rolled his eyes and put out his hand, holding out a small figurine of Anubis. They all linked up together, looking quite smug.

Crack.

They disappeared, leaving only a glowing pumpkin lantern sitting on the bench that they had been standing by. Etched upon it was the screaming face of Bellatrix Lestrange. A small fluffy spider with a bucket on its head held a carving knife as it jabbed one final touch on the face by stabbing a pupil into the screaming face. The spider looked around shiftily and then scurried off, leaving the cleaning crews to wonder exactly how the jack-o-lantern had gotten there and why it never seemed to rot or cease to glow.

They say, on every All Hallow's Eve, you can even hear the sound of a mad witch's screams emitting from the mouth of the pumpkin lantern.


Happy Halloween!

(Late, I know, but real life, I swear, is out to get me!)


A/N: Hope you enjoyed it folks! Be sure to thank my Keepers, the Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, and Commander Shepard for keeping me (in)sane that I may write these things even when I'm sick, buried in real life, and running around like a highly-caffeinated spider being chased by a Nundu cub. AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!