A/N: Long day was long… zzzzz
Beta Love: The Dragon and the Rose, Dutchgirl01, and Flyby Commander Shepard
Evil is a Matter of Perspective
Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
Severus woke to the blissfully re-remembered familiar warmth of a certain dryad curled up against his chest. Her small tapered claws kneaded his chest like a kitten with a wool blanket before she snuggled in closer. He looked around, still somewhat amazed by how their living space fit inside a tree— literally inside a tree— as all times before, the tree had never allowed him inside with her. All times before, she had hibernated alone, buried deep inside her loving trees.
His parents had created a home hidden amongst the rocks and crags of their forest— a home built into the side of a hill and made to look like any other hill. With both him and his brother prancing in and out all the time, it was amazing they even had a door on the home, much to his mum's consternation. His mother's tree had sent its roots down and around the hill, protecting their home in a slightly more subtle way.
He couldn't help but think Hermione's way was more intimate with "her" tree— the tree had waited for over a decade for its dryad to come home. Its sorrow had affected the entire forest, making it seem darker, sadder, and even more dangerous. Now, not only was Hermione back where she "belonged" but they were now mates, as they had intended to be so many years previous.
How could he have known, then, that the place where he had found a tree worthy of her would be in what would one day become the Forbidden Forest of Hogwarts? At least before she had been captured by Black, the forest had flourished. Fauns had a bond with the forest, but it wasn't the same as a dryad's, whose very health was reflected in the forest itself. But then—
He had gotten himself well and truly buggered by Black, and she had risen to his defence, getting herself tortured and captured herself— all for the love of him. The entire forest had suffered as she suffered, just as he had suffered, if unknowingly, without her.
He smiled as she snuggled into him, murmuring softly. Her small hooves kicked slightly, bumping into his. He snuggled into her, blissfully content in that they were together again. Finally— they could be at each other's sides. She could tend the forest, and he would, reluctantly, tend to the silly human children in an attempt to keep them from blowing each other up. But at the end of the day and perhaps many other times, he would be able to return home to her— his Hermione.
As for the flow of kharma, he was unsure how it would resolve the drama of the Weasley family. More so, he wasn't sure if he should even care save for the fact it had harmed Albus Dumbledore— a man that had, at the very least, done his best to protect him as well as Hermione so they could one day meet again.
Severus touched Hermione's cheek. "My love," he said.
Hermione looked up at him sleepily. "Mmmm?"
"Would you be opposed to—"
Hermione snuffled his neck. "You wish me to bring peace to his mind and heart."
"He helped us," he said quietly. "He saved our lives."
Hermione tilted her head and closed her eyes, seemingly listening to something. The tree creaked around them—above, around, and below. The inside of the tree was surprisingly expansive— far greater than anything he had at Spinner's End. All of it was lovingly entwined with the tree's core. Even one such as he could feel the pulse of the tree's heart flowing around them.
Hermione opened her eyes. "You are right, Severus. We owe him our help for he has helped us and through us the forest."
He pressed his forehead to hers. "I love you."
Hermione smiled at him. One of her hooves rubbed lightly against his leg fur. "Do you?"
Severus slid his eyes to the side, his mouth twitching slightly. "Do you wish for a—" He gave her a private, needful look. "Demonstration?"
Hermione wrapped her fingers into his mane of shiny hair and breathed against his ear. "I think you may have forgotten how," she said with a soft laugh.
Severus rumbled, capturing her in his arms and pulling her down into the soft moss and lichen as he did his best to prove he hadn't forgotten he was a faun, the like of which inspired many a grand epic and ballad.
As the sun eventually set and the moon rose up high into the sky—no one would ever accuse Hermione of complaining.
Albus looked out over the ramparts of Hogwarts, reaching over to gently stroke Fawkes' breast feathers. He picked up the glistening leaf from his window sill and lifted it up in salute to the forest. He tipped the leaf back and let the shimmering droplets of dew alight on his tongue, disappearing as he swallowed. He closed his eyes and took in a deep, cleansing breath, letting the air go with his tension.
Fawkes gave a soft warble.
"I'm alright, my old friend," Dumbledore said as he opened his eyes. "I think, for the first time in a long, long time I can actually see things clearly again."
He pulled out his wand from his robes and drew his fingers across it. "Gellert, my old friend, it was never ours to have. Ariana's death should have made that clear, but we were far too young, far too stubborn, even in our grief. And I— I spent most of my life trying to replace you and the hole in my heart, but I see now that peace is only found within."
Dumbledore pulled out a drawer in his desk and pulled on a latch. A panel on his bookshelf moved over, exposing a box. He walked over to it and opened the box, revealing an antique gold ring with a black stone. The symbol of the Deathly Hallows lay etched on the stone. He closed the box and latched it, sealing it with magic. From inside the hollow in his bookshelf, he pulled out a bundle of fabric that shimmered and shifted as if he were watching the colours change on a cuttlefish.
"I am sorry, Harry, I was not entirely honest with you," Albus said. "There are many invisibility cloaks, but only one was crafted by Death himself. The one I gave you was crafted to do much the same. No one would have known the difference, save for Death."
Dumbledore closed his eyes. "Being the Master of Death seems rather meaningless if one cannot truly enjoy the life one has been given. Seeking to undo the deaths of the past—" He stroked his beard. "Devalues the respect for the present and the meaning for previous deaths— despite how tragic they may have been."
He touched a small framed picture hidden amongst his shelves. A young girl's face looked timidly out of the photo. "Aberforth was right, Ariana. I spent my youth thinking only of the future, and I spent my years after your death thinking only of reversing the past."
He placed the wand and the ring box in the fabric and bound it with a cord.
"Fawkes, my old friend, I must ask you to do something for me," Dumbledore said. He stroked Fawkes' feathers tenderly. "Something long overdue."
Hermione lay the bundle in the middle of the faerie ring, opening the fabric and then the box as she moved the wand to lay vertical over the ring. A rush of warmth mixed with cold blew through forest.
Darkness, like tendrils of vines or the branches of trees, reached around them. Hermione's hand sought Severus' as they bowed their bodies down, unable to kneel due to their inhuman legs.
The blackness swirled and moved around them, darting, inspecting, lightly brushing against their fur and skin. It coagulated into a humanoid form with distorted, gnarled hands that looked more like bones and branches than than flesh.
"Children of the forest," the voice seemed to whisper like the wind through the hallows. "You have called to me through the ancient pathways. What would you ask of Death?"
"We would give you back those objects of yours which have become well-known in the stories of mortal man," Hermione said.
"That you may take them to where they will never be touched by mortal hands ever again," Severus added.
"The world of mortals is already filled enough with avarice and temptation, and there are those who think nothing of subjugation, whether it be human, animal, Wildkin, or—" Hermione said.
"Even Death," Severus said softly.
Fawkes warbled from a nearby branch.
Death floated silently, his head turned to see the cloak, the stone, and the wand. He passed one hand over the circle, and the ring seemed to melt as the stone turned into a normal river stone. With his other hand, he dug a hole with his fingers, dipping them deep into the earth, and he placed the wand within it, pointed end up. It began to sprout, growing into an elder tree. He patted the earth around the growing tree and dragged his gnarled fingers across the earth again as water sprung from the earth and transformed into a gentle river. There, he placed the stone amongst the water where it multiplied into so many other stones to fill the riverbed. At last, he took the cloak, and he cast it over himself. It seem to expand and grow outward, like the creep of a living thing spreading across the ground. The holes in his cloak disappeared, made whole once more.
"And what would you ask of me, children of the hoof and wild?" Death whispered. "What boon would you ask of Death?"
Hermione squeezed Severus' hand tightly, and he smiled and nodded in encouragement.
"Please, what we would ask of you is not for ourselves," she said. "If it is possible— could you, would you— please release all those forced into a form other than their natural state, that they may return to their loved ones and their homes?"
"Of all the things you could ask, child, you ask only for this?"
Hermione nodded. "We know what it is like to be trapped in a life we did not ask for, separated from those we loved— the homes we so desperately longed for. It was much the same for you, Lord Death, was it not? To be parted from these pieces of yourself?"
Death was silent for several moments, and Hermione fidgeted nervously. But then, he smiled. "You are very insightful, child of the trees, and I think that your request is far too humble for the sheer greatness of what you have done for me. I think that I shall grant your request— but my boon shall be given at my own whim as so befits the selfless acts that have been done today. Go in peace, my children, and know that I am content and that I never forget any slight— but neither do I forget a true kindness."
He gently drew Hermione's head to his lips, pressing a kiss to her forehead, and a glowing spread of delicate antlers sprouted from her mane of hair. He then drew Severus' head to his lips, pressing a kiss to his forehead, and his curving horns transformed into the silver-white radiance not so unlike a unicorn's horn. Soft, magical runes glistened over both Hermione's antlers and Severus' horns.
As he turned to leave, Death stood up straighter, floating up to where Fawkes was perched. "And you, my friend, shall be the first— released by the request of the children of the forest."
Death drew Fawkes' head to him and placed a kiss upon his beak—
The forest was filled with the glow that seemed brighter than the moon as Death disappeared in the blinding radiance. As Hermione and Severus opened their eyes, only moonlight lit up the clearing. The faerie rings, having served their purpose, faded back into the ground. The home tree rose above them all, seemingly lovingly entwined with the newer, yet no less massive elder tree—their trunks woven together with nothing short of the most intimate magic.
Hermione and Severus looked down to see a young man in his starkers, half-covered in shed feathers. His pale skin shone very white in the moonlight, wreathed in a disheveled mass of unruly, disobedient black hair.
"Regulus?!" Severus breathed out the shocked exclamation, causing Hermione to abruptly shift into her faerie dragon form with a poof.
"I, um— I'm sorry, but I have no idea how in Merlin's name I got here—" Regulus said, scratching his head in bemusement. "I must have had a little too much to drink or— gods, Severus?! You have horns and— hooves! Why do you look so— where are my clothes? Was I drugged? Did—"
Hermione landed on Regulus' chest.
"Oh, uh, hullo, er— well, you're quite pretty. Um— and very friendly," Regulus babbled nervously as Hermione moved in closer. She extended her graceful neck and clamped her teeth over his nose and bit him quite soundly.
Severus quickly grabbed a leaf and transfigured it into a set of robes. "You'll thank her for that later. After you've had your nappy."
"Nappy? What are you talk—"
Regulus Black passed out in the pile of feathers and Severus magicked the robes onto his unconscious body. His soft snores sounded like warbles.
Severus sighed. "He's going to have one massive hangover when he wakes up."
Hermione chirred as she flew figure eights cheerfully.
"Did you know?"
Hermione chirped, giving a draconic shrug.
"Hn," Severus said. "It would probably be best to have him wake up somewhere familiar, but for the life of me I have no idea where that would be at this point. The Black residence has— rather gone to the wolves."
Hermione chirped and settled on his shoulder. They both looked over their newly revitalised home. She squeak-chirped and flew towards their home tree as the bark parted for her.
Severus pointed his wand at Regulus and levitated him towards their forest home. "Better to wake up with us than your psychotic arsewipe of a brother."
Strange Days Indeed!
Missing Persons Turning Up Across Britain As Others Disappear
Several people who were reported to have disappeared during the Wizarding War have suddenly returned home much to the surprise of friends and family who had long believed them dead.
Where have they been all this time?
No one seems to know, but many families are bringing their newly re-found loved ones to Mungos to be checked out for any ailments they may have missed and any clues that may lead to a reason as to why they disappeared in the first place.
Does anyone know?
While miraculous, there seems to be no rhyme or reason for the return of the missing, but most families are not complaining— save those who have heard about the tumultuous explosion of magic that required a full Obliviator team and Aurors to put a lid on the public magic battle between the newly-returned Regulus Black and his elder brother, Sirius Black, who publicly accused his younger brother of being a "bloody Death Eater" before slinging a number of rather Dark spells at his sibling in full sight of terrified Muggle witnesses in a primarily Muggle neighborhood, many of whom quite understandably contacted their local authorities to report the situation.
Regulus Black, who had just rescued the Boy-Who-Lived from the physical abuse and neglect of his Muggle guardians, an aunt and uncle on his late mother's side of the family, which involved extricating young Potter from a shockingly small room with bars over the windows and multiple locks on the door. Mr Regulus Black had just brought Harry Potter to safety and was in the process of contacting the Auror department to report the circumstances of the young boy's abuse when the altercation occurred. The two wizards had recently formed a quick friendship after convalescing in the Hogwarts' infirmary together, and this was to be Mr Potter's very first visit to his friend's home during the hols.
Unfortunately, no one could have predicted that Sirius Black, known fugitive escapee from Azkaban, would choose that very moment to attempt contact with his godson, nor could they have known that the meeting of the two brothers would escalate into such a shocking display of violence.
With the rearrest of Sirius Black, the Wizengamot is holding a special session to determine if the circumstances of his original arrest was, in fact, justified, what with the newfound discovery of one Peter Pettigrew, who had been transformed into a Puffskein by a faerie ring and thus proven to be very much alive. And now they must also consider this very violent altercation with his younger brother, Regulus Black. Mind Healers from St Mungos are being brought in to ascertain if Sirius Black's incarceration in Azkaban may have unhinged his mind to the point where his last attack was only a matter of when and not if.
As for the fate of the Boy-Who-Lived in light of the abuse and neglect inflicted upon him by his Muggle relatives, Headmaster Dumbledore tells us that he is seriously considering making Mr Potter a ward of the school for the final years of his education.
In other news, while many people are appearing after being missing for years, others seemed to have vanished into thin air. Chief amongst the missing was the daughter of Xenophilius Lovegood. According to those that shared her dormitory, she vanished in the night.
"There you are, Hermione!" Luna said brightly as she splashed water on the foraging dryad.
Hermione screeched as the cold water hit her, her fur standing on end along with her mane.
Luna beamed, smiling from ear to ear. Her skin, mottled with shining opalescent scales, glistened with rainbow prisms from the sun. She giggled, her webbed ears flicking with amusement.
"Naiads," Severus scoffed, stomping one hoof as he lay a basket of fruits down beside the tree trunk. "Even worse than dryads."
Hermione pranced around him, planting a tiny kiss on the end of his nose. His skin flushed crimson almost immediately.
"Nice of Death to give you a river to live in," Luna said.
Severus frowned. "We do not live in the river."
"But, it's so comfy!" Luna protested.
Severus glared at Hermione. "Why did you bite her again?"
Hermione shrugged. "She deserved to know. We did."
Luna smiled. "I wish my mum was here. At least I know now why she really died."
Severus sighed. "I am truly sorry, Luna."
Luna sighed and then smiled again. "She died protecting me from the Black family. If it weren't for that, I wouldn't be here, but I remember her now. How she really was. Who she really was."
Hermione gave the naiad a hug and a smile.
Luna smiled brighter. "At least daddy knows I'm okay. And he can visit if he gets too lonely."
"I suppose," Severus grunted, crossing his arms across his chest.
Hermione chuckled, giving him a peck on the chin.
Luna flicked one fin-like ear. "He knows the truth now. I think— he always suspected there was more to my mum, but they were so alike that it never mattered."
Severus looked skyward. "The Black family was only one family of many that believed enslaving others species gave them additional power. They were simply— more insidious about it. Regulus was one of the few that tried to be something better from the inside, but when Kreacher was hurt by Tom, he tried to destroy the locket Horcrux."
"That is how Dumbledore found him, yes? Almost drowned by Inferi?" Luna asked.
Severus nodded. "Like with myself and Hermione, Albus transformed Regulus into the one thing he knew could survive being on the verge of death when even taking him to Mungo's would have taken too long. Only for him, it was about surviving at all, while for us, it was hide us from key members of the Black family."
Hermione shared the fruit with Luna as they sat down by the river so Luna could remain near the water. "Why would he keep Sirius Black safe, if he knew he was the one that caused so much pain?"
"To keep an eye on him, of course," Luna said. "If Sirius truly believed Albus to be the fool, chances are he'd do something stupid eventually that would allow him to be caught or— maybe he did it so he could foil his actions. Like keeping Severus at Hogwarts as his trusted agent and placing him in as a spy to Voldemort. That way he was, undesirably to Sirius, protected by both sides. All in the hopes that Severus survived long enough for Hermione to grow back into her power again and the forest restored to protect itself as well as those that rely on it."
Severus shook his head. "Before I could remember, I wondered why you saw some things so clearly and ignored certain other things that most people considered obvious."
Luna smiled. "I thought like a naiad," she said. "I still do."
Severus and Hermione exchanged glances. Hermione smiled. "Of course you do."
Luna sprawled on the bank with her feet in the air and her chin on her hands as she dug her elbows into the soft riverbank. "You know, Harry is probably feeling really confused right now. He's lost the best mate he thought he had, the godfather he thought he knew, the family he thought was perfect, and the female friend he thinks he blew up."
Hermione tilted her head, her mane half covering her face. "I'm not sure how I feel about Harry right now," she confessed. "He was dealt a very bad turn of the leaf, but he also walked straight into the devil's snare and wonders why things do not go well for him."
Luna tapped her fingers on a wet rock and sighed. "I understand, I think. My life has been short. I see things as a human would even when I also see things as Wildkin would. That was my parent's gift to me, to bridge and balance the two worlds, only it didn't work out as well as it could have since my mum died before she could tell me what I was and how to tell the difference between one world and the other."
Luna smiled at them both. "Imagine how much you would cling to something that seemed so perfect in comparison to where he started in life, never realising that there was something far better just around the corner."
Severus closed his eyes. "Lily."
Hermione stared into the water, watching it ripple and rush. "Ron."
They both shuddered simultaneously, shaking their heads. Hermione snuggled into Severus as he wrapped his arms around her, pressing his face into her mane.
Hermione nodded her head. "Alright."
"He deserves better than what he was given," Severus admitted quietly. "I know how that feels, at the very least."
"Some things he did hurt me, but—" Hermione leaned into Severus, seeking the comfort of his warmth. "He wanted a family more than anything— that piece of his life he knew was missing. I think he clung to Ron so tightly because he was his living connection to the family he always idolised. After meeting the Dursleys, I can sympathise. Truly."
"I knew Petunia as a child— and she was no saint even back then. I can only imagine what sort of walking horror she married and what kind of child would come of such a union." Severus shook back his mane and snorted in derision.
Hermione touched the river with one finger, dragging it through the cool watery surface. "I think his aunt punishes him for a choice she made long before he was even born, and his uncle punishes him for reminding him of his father, with whom he hated. There are other things, too," she said thoughtfully, "but everyone in that family wants someone to blame other than themselves. Harry is the one thing they can all agree to hate."
"I will say that his father did leave very strong opinions on all those he met. One way or another," Severus said. "That his son looks like so very like his doppleganger does not help. Even Black— I often heard him calling Mr Potter by his father's name and nicknames when we were forced to cohabitate by Albus."
Hermione took in a deep breath and squeezed Severus' hand. "We got our second chance at life. Perhaps, we can give Harry his first real chance."
Severus, pulling Hermione against him as he tucked her head under his chin, skillfully avoiding getting tangled up between her antlers and his horns, closed his eyes. "I believe that is fair."
Luna splashed them both with river water and grinned. "Who's for fresh blueberry tarts?"
Hermione bounced excitedly. "Ooo me!"
Severus looked skyward. "Females."
"Molly Weasley, we the Wizengamot find you guilty of intentional mind-altering magic for personal and familial gain," the acting Chief Warlock Ogden announced sternly as he read off a large scroll. Rectangular spectacles slid down his nose and he had to push them back up as he read. "You are to serve a term in Azkaban of no less than the full number of years the illegal coercive magic was being used to influence Albus Dumbledore's judgment in favour of your family. For the crime of interfering with the mandated treatment of your youngest son, Ronald Weasley, via the introduction of tampered sweets, the additional time of five years will be added to your sentence with consideration of good behaviour due to the apparently unintentional nature of the offence."
"No! It's not right!"
"Mr Weasley, you are out of turn!"
"Screw your out of turn, that's my mum! She's never hurt anyone!" Ron's body then shuddered violently and he transformed into a habitat-displaced giant squid.
Tentacles went sprawling everywhere as Ron made a distorted gurgling noise, flipping desks, chairs, people, and—
"OH MERLIN, IT LOOKED UP MY ROBES!" A red-faced witch screeched in total mortification. The witch started casting spells to zap the tentacles near her.
Suddenly, the giant squid shuddered and its body transformed again— into a pudgy, brassed-off Swedish Short-Snout dragon. It coughed out a brilliant blue flame and set many chairs on fire. The dragon's tail lashed wildly and sent members of the Wizengamot tumbling over each other to get out of the way. Aurors rushed forward, wands brandished as the dragon transformed into a pygmy jerboa, bringing them all to a stunned halt as they stared at the tiny creature peering nervously up at them, its giant furry ears twitching cutely.
It dashed away, under debris, tables, legs, and everything in-between, making a beeline towards the exit.
If Ronald Weasley was conscious inside each dramatic shift, no one but he could have said so. If he had a plan, his family remained utterly oblivious. Even though all the focus had shifted to him over his mother, his mother seemed increasingly desperate to get to him.
"Ron, no!" she wailed.
Ronald, however, transformed again, the tiny rodent expanding and seemingly exploding into another form: a great Portuguese man-of-war.
People scrambled out of the way of the stinging tentacles, stumbling over debris and each other, not even noticing that without water, the man-of-war was hardly moving anywhere. However, the creature shuddered again, this time changing into anthropomorphic red-furred stoat.
This time, the Aurors were on the move, and the pointed their wands simultaneously at the furry offender.
"No, not my Ron!" Molly wailed again, rushing forward to block them.
"Mrs Weasley, no! Watch out for the ring!" Harry cried, lunging forward try and block her from stepping right into the faerie ring that had sprouted right out from the boards making up the floor— in fact, there seemed to be places where the wooden planks from the floor had been transformed into something alive, becoming a mass of real vines and roots.
Molly, however, was desperate to block Ron from being attacked by Aurors and shoved Harry to the side—
The faerie ring exploded as Harry tumbled into it, its magic concentrating and them catching Harry in the blast as the ceiling came crashing down.
Green magic surged forward, blazing through the chambers as Hermione and Severus stood together in the middle. Hermione had her arms crossed in front of her, palms flat and pointed down. Severus' were angled down to meet hers, palms touching. Their combined magic blazed bright green as the sounds of the forest filled the room.
Hear our plea.
Stay your anger,
And let them flee.
As Magick does,
But does not punish
Stay your rage,
And give them life—
A second chance
Without the strife."
The roar of the magic flowed out of the room like the rush of water down a roaring waterfall. The room was filled with bright streamers of magical energy as the chambers first glowed like a beacon and then suddenly went black as night.
Amelia Bones stood in the middle of what was the Wizengamot's chambers and let out a soft sigh of wonder. The chambers had been changed drastically from top to bottom. The ceiling , where it had fallen, was now being supported by the trunks of massive tree trunks. The seats, or rather where they had been, were now carved into stone seats that were, in turn, grown over by vines. The vines, however cradled bowls of soft mosses and lichens as well as soft grasses making for the softest seats any in the Wizengamot had ever known.
The ceiling opened to the sky, yet the trees had woven themselves into a perfect canopy for the seats, curved subtly to allow any rain to pool into the most impressive mirror pool in all of Britain. The sky reflected on the surface in perfect detail, the surface so perfect that one felt they could just walk right into it.
A glittering faerie dragon flew in playful loop-de-loops around her, brushing by her with velvet soft wings. Amelia reached out, and the dragon landed on her arm and shuffled over to her shoulder, snuggling up to her neck.
Amelia's lips twitched as she rubbed the tiny dragon under the chin. "Hello there, little love," she said, her eyes warm and sparkling. "Thank you for bringing me in to your little secret, hrm?"
Hermione chirred and rubbed against her cheek, radiating pure happiness.
"Just had to go and save everyone," Severus said, rubbing one leg with his hoof, "again."
Hermione bobbed her head merrily.
"Technically, you both did," Amelia pointed out. "How does it feel to have an entire Wizengamot owing you a debt of secrecy, hrm?"
"You're insufferable, Hermione," Severus said with a sniff, crossing his arms. "Making friends wherever you go."
Amelia chuckled. "Is there really anything wrong with having friends in all places?"
Severus wrinkled his nose in mock distaste. "Hn."
"I'm sure you're not one to talk, Severus," Amelia said. "Considering you have most of the unmarried witches in the Wizengamot wanting to pet you."
Severus turned red. "I am not available!"
Amelia chuckled, rubbing Hermione's headfrill. "Neither is Hermione, but she seems quite content to accept a good head massage."
Severus stomped a hoof impatiently. "That is different."
Amelia, amused by her own teasing, just grinned, allowing Severus to try and gather whatever shreds were left of his dignity before he tripped over it and made it even worse. Hermione, not to be outdone, stuck her prismatic tongue out at him even as she enjoyed the absolute best head massage of her entire life.
Severus looked on, a pang of jealousy causing his eyebrow to twitch. Whether it was jealousy for the head rub or the thought that someone else was making his mate happy remained to be seen.
Amelia sighed. "So, will you tell me what you think about adopting the infantilised Mr Potter, seeing as he has been given a rather drastic new lease on life as a faun fawn?"
Hermione chirred, headbonking Amelia.
Severus closed his eyes and shook his head. "As as much as the boy did not ask for Molly Weasley to shove him into a faerie ring, perhaps he will have a better life without the spectre of his past hanging over him. Have you confirmed he's not conscious inside his current shape?"
Amelia nodded. "I've had Unspeakables performing every sort of test they can think of, but the consensus seems clear. Harry Potter is for better or worse, a faun, and if the sheer amount of mischief he's managed to cause in my Department offices is any indicator, he seems far more carefree than before. If it is, as you say, Wild Magick's judgement of his heart, then perhaps he truly wished to be free of his past."
Hermione jumped off Amelia's shoulder and transformed into her dryad self, gently tending some of the new flowervines that had taken over the Wizengamot's chambers. "Fauns are good at forgetting," she said with a smile.
Severus scowled. "We remember things."
"Some things," she teased. "When properly bitten about the nose."
Severus crossed his arms. "Hrrumph."
Hermione wrapped her arms around him and bounced, kissing him on the nose with just a tiny click of her teeth.
Severus grumbled but caught her mouth with his, giving her a tender kiss— in front of a witness.
"And Molly Weasley's fate? Or her son's?" Severus asked, curious.
"Or Rita Skeeter," Hermione chuckled. "I don't imagine she'd ever pictured herself as a manatee."
"Pity she just had to hitch a ride on Potter's collar at that particular moment." Severus' lips curved into a smug smile. "The Americans wish to use her to help rebuild the species in their Everglades. She'll get all the sand and sun she'd ever wanted and all kinds of fame besides."
Amelia tried to stifle a grin of her own, but didn't quite manage it.
"She was a very cruel person who greatly enjoyed causing the pain and discomfort of others," Hermione said. "She made up many a mean-spirited story, and even more sadly, people chose to believe her."
Severus rubbed Hermione's shoulder gently, sensing that some memories, just like his, were much too powerful to ever forget. She leaned into him, smiling as she took comfort in his presence.
"We knew that Ms Skeeter had somehow broken in to many places and stolen or overheard things she should never have had access to, but we were unsure how. She never managed to get into the Department of Mysteries, thank goodness for the wards, but the rest of the Ministry was not as paranoid as we were. Alastor had been trying to get the Ministry to allow them to ward up the Office of Magical Law Enforcement, but Fudge insisted that the offices be open and welcoming to the public. He may— decide to reconsider that policy soon."
Severus sniffed. "So, tell me, Amelia," he rumbled. "If non-humans have no rights according to Wizarding law, how exactly would this adoption even go through?"
Amelia's lips tugged into a smile. "That was before certain truths about the end of Voldemort came into the light and you managed to save the entire Wizengamot from being destroyed by Wild Magick backlash. Oh, and the Pensieve memories of one Sirius Black, Regulus Black, and Rodolphus Lestrange."
"Rodolphus?" Hermione asked.
"He, much like Regulus, had been forced into taking the Mark via family magic," Amelia said. "And he, like Regulus, was freed when the main focus of that magic was— taken out of the picture and their own, true natures were allowed to surface once more."
"True remorse," Severus said.
"True regret," Hermione said.
Amelia nodded. "But you, my friends, area budding members of the very first Division of Wildkin under the Department of Mysteries. And— I think you will understand and approve of the chosen liaison between the Department and the Division: Xenophilius Lovegood. He has even brokered his first mutual"
Hermione's grin spread across her entire face as she bounced on her hooves and clapped with obvious delight. "That's wonderful!"
Severus rolled his eyes, but Hermione kissed his cheek. He mumbled something about duress. "Fine," he muttered. His eyes rolled back as Hermione rubbed his ears with her fingers. He kicked his leg a few times involuntarily, his tail flicking wildly.
As his senses came back to him, he stiffened, trying to regain his composure as Hermione and Amelia pretended he succeeded. "Fine, we will take the fawn faun off your hands," he said in the same tone as one might discuss muddy boots being dragged across a pristine floor. His eyes, however were entirely absent of the scorn he normally had in regards to one Harry Potter or any of the Potter bloodline starting with James.
Hermione bounced, doing a little dance, and the room burst into blooming flowers that spread all over trees, vines, and grass. "Our twins will have a big brother!" she exclaimed happily, rubbing her belly as she did another dance, twirling.
Severus froze, his head turning oh-so-slowly to regard his mate.
"Congratulations!" Amelia said, patting them both on the shoulders.
Severus proved that he could, in fact, turn a shade more pale as he did his best fainting goat impression, hooves splayed in the air in a very undignified sprawl as he lay, dazed, in a supine position.
"Aw, he's sleeping," Hermione said whimsically.
Amelia chuckled. "No, my dear, I think he's quite stunned."
"Well, he is quite stunning in the moonlight," Hermione confessed rather dreamily.
Amelia snickered into her palm. "He is indeed."
Daily Prophet Posts Reward For Information Leading to the Whereabouts of Missing Reporter, Rita Skeeter
The Daily Prophet is offering a five hundred galleon reward for information leading to their star reporter after she disappeared last month after promising her boss, Sampson Smithers III, that she was going to come back with the story of her life.
Rumour has it she was covering the closed Wizengamot session regarding the trial of Molly Weasley, but as to how she would accomplish this, no one seems to know as she was not invited to the proceedings. The Wizengamot stated that no one of Rita Skeeter's description was at the hearing, and the Daily Prophet is willing to pay an extra five hundred galleons for her safe return.
Daily Prophet withdraws their reward offer after some prankster warped in and filled the entire Prophet building with sea water and filling it with all manner of North American sea-life ranging from alligators to porpoises and manatees. To make matters even worse, a clandestine ecological group known as Magizoologists For All Creatures transformed the entire building into a transparent (actual) aquarium complete with suitable habitats. Due to international treaties with various countries, the displaced animals had to be allowed to live, and negotiations are underway to decide if the Daily Prophet will now be Wizarding Britain's first public aquarium or if the Prophet will pay for transporting all the sealife back to the oceans around North America.
Due to the rarity of some of the animals, much consideration is being made as to the ramifactions of having so many endangered species under one roof, but some officials are entertaining the idea of participating in global breeding programs with Muggle counterparts.
As for why some person or persons decided to magically transport a chunk of the ocean to the Daily Prophet in a presumed attempt to claim the reward for Rita Skeeter, no one seems have any idea.
"Obviously if Rita Skeeter were in that mess, she'd have transformed back when we did the dispelling for magic," Daily Prophet employee Darcy Dowler told interviewers. "It's my job to scan all incoming mail for Dark or hazardous magic, and that includes transfiguration, so if she was in there, we'd have found out!"
Reactions to Rita Skeeter's disappearance have ranged from sadness for the loss of entertainment value to profound relief. Aurors reported they will be going through her things in the hopes of finding a clue as to what happened to her.
From: Kingsley Shacklebolt
To: Aurors, All
Rita Skeeter is wanted for use of an unregistered Animagus form for illegal activities, and she is to be arrested on sight and fitted with a magic suppression band. You are authorised to use spells without warning or identification on sighting of her. No questions asked.
Private Owl to Amelia Bones, Head of the Department of Mysteries
I put out the memo as requested, but you'll have to understand I can barely keep a straight face. A manatee? Really? Wild Magick is really something, but I can't help but think it was utterly fitting. I owe you a dinner and you owe me a drink. Let's meet up.
P.S. you need to come and help me scrape Alastor off the floor. He hasn't stopped laughing since he heard, and I'm pretty sure he's lost all the oxygen to his brain because he's been singing rather lewd drinking songs in Gaelic mixed with Dutch and professing his undying love to a certain tabby cat Animagus and her shapely, childbearing hips. Frankly, it's pretty painful to hear.
Some time later…
(Posted on Bulletin Board in Department of Mysteries and Auror Office)
You are cordially invited to the wedding of:
When: This Saturday (scrawled in quill) Oh, come on, you all knew this was coming, it's not like we didn't have time to prepare like three years ago!
Seating starts at 4pm. There will be a traditional Scottish supper and a cèilidh after.
Severus and Hermione walked amongst the passed out revelers. Severus rubbed his horns and blew hair out of his face. "And they claim fauns and saytrs are the ones that party too hard."
"Scots make the drunken and shameful centaur celebrations from the olden days actually seem tame," Bane observed, tail flicking in amusement. He sipped some of Hermione's special brew she had made for the Wildkin that had none of the shameful after-effects.
Moody was passed out, sprawled with his back leaning up against a tree trunk, Minerva draped over his head in all her tabby cat glory. Both were drooling and snoring quite loudly
"I have a feeling someone may have managed to spike the wedding punch," Severus speculated as Hermione's eyes widened at the sight of so many normally dignified people in various states of mortifyingly hungover embarrassment.
"I wasn't aware that the Headmaster drank," Hermione whispered.
"We do now," Severus said, eyebrow twitching. "I could have gone my entire immortal life having not seen him in lavender underpants."
Hermione touched the nearby bush and pet it frantically, causing the shrub to grow really large in an attempt to cover the Headmaster's dignity— or what he had left of it.
Severus pinched his nose and rubbed his eyebrows as Harry bolted by them giggling hysterically as he shook his rattle made of antler and gourd.
Severus shot Hermione a look just as a smaller faun fawn and a baby dryad squealed in delight and chased their big brother— followed by a small herd of centaur foals. They took turns decorating the passed out revelers with flowers and plants, making crowns out of vines and various other found items.
Hermione just shrugged. "We were once that age too, love."
"I did not at any point decorate drunken revelers with plant material," Severus objected.
"That's only because we didn't have any drunken revelers to decorate," Hermione said cheekily, stomping her hooves with a playful tappity tap.
"Harumph," Severus replied, turning his chin up.
"Daddy, daddy!" the little dryad said, tugging on his curly leg fur. "Harry and Silas found something really funny!"
Severus arched a brow at his spawn. "Oh? And what would that be, Thea?"
She tugged on his leg again, drawing him in a direction. Severus gave Hermione a look, and she smiled at him, chuckling.
Severus patiently followed his daughter to the edge of the forest, thinking that she'd found yet another drunken casualty. He stopped in mid step, his hoof hanging in the air as his eyes grew wide. "Hermione—"
Hermione quickly trotted up, curious. "What is it, Seve—" Her voice trailed off as she bumped right into him.
"Please… Obliviate me," Severus whispered.
Hermione gaped openly as she saw the rear end of a sheep, the nude torso of a very thin female, and the head of a giant red squirrel sporting a pair of enormous spectacles sitting on its muzzle.
"Professor Trelawney?!" Hermione squeaked shrilly.
"Please, for the love of Merlin, my wife," Severus moaned. "Obliviate me. Now."
The two fawns tugged at Trelawney's ears as the little dryad tugged on the witch's woolly sheep posterior.
"Doesn't she look funny, daddy?" Thea asked, giggling. She placed a large wreath composed of ripe berries and bright wildflowers over Trelawney's rear end.
Severus twitched as Hermione attempted to gather her words into something coherent, but she ended up settling for a stream of soft babble.
The sprogs bounced up and down excitedly, tugging, decorating, and even bouncing on top of Trelawney's transformed mess of a situation.
"That," Severus said with a scowl, "is not welcome in our forest."
Hermione peeked through her fingers that were covering her eyes. "What shall we do with her?"
Hermione elbowed her mate causing him to grunt.
"It's traumatising our sprogs."
Hermione looked, watching her children bounce up and down on Trelawney. "No, no I don't think they are traumatised at all."
"Well, I am!" Severus hissed.
Trelawney woke, spying the little fauns and dryads standing on her wooly legs. She screamed. "Get these things off of me!" she screeched.
Harry, Thea, and Silas plastered their ears down against their heads, drooping. They practically slithered to hide behind their mum and dad as Hermione and Severus seemed to grow taller, green Wild Magick responding to their anger in defence of their beloved sprogs. The broken and wilted mushrooms from the faerie ring rejuvenated, sprouting into larger glowing fungi as a surge of the Wild focused around the transformed witch.
The magic surged and blasted Trelawney into the air and towards the lake where she landed with a very undignified splash on top of a baffled giant squid. Yet, on contact, Trelawney's body shuddered and quaked, and her wolly posterior grew tentacles. She thrashed about as her entire body shifted from bottom to top, taking the form of Black Lakes second giant squid…
The original Black Lake giant squid wrapped its tentacles lovingly around the second squid and absconded with her down to the depths of Black Lake with a sploosh.
Hermione and Severus, recovering from their conjoined anger at the insult to their sprogs, replaced rage with a touch of horror.
Harry, Thea, and Silas, however, bounced up and down, squealing, "WICKED! MUMMY, DADDY DO IT AGAIN!"
Hermione and Severus slumped, pinching the bridge of their noses together. "What are we going to tell Dumbledore?" Severus bemoaned.
Firenze and Bane walked up, each eating an apple. "After this wedding celebration, my friends, just tell him the truth."
"And what truth would that be, exactly?" Severus asked.
Bane offered the sprogs some apples, which they took happily. "The giant squid is no longer lonely."
Hermione and Severus eyed the Black Lake together. "Mmm...kay," they said together.
Firenze smiled. "And the Divinations position is free for some overhaul and new blood, hrm?"
"Who would want that position?" Severus asked, lip curling. Hermione shuddered at the mention of divination.
Bane pushed Firenze forward with his shoulder. "Oh, I could think of someone who happens to be quite good at reading the stars and planets."
"Oo, oo!" the sprogs cheered. "Can we come too! We love Firenze's stories!"
"Whoa there, my wee sprogs," Hermione chided. "You're a little young for Hogwarts, officially."
"Awwww," they said, ears drooping.
Firenze smiled. "Besides, you all get the full lessons with the foals at night."
The trio grinned and bounced in agreement.
"By the time you get to Hogwarts, all of the skies shall already be open to you," Firenze said, ruffling their manes of hair with amusement.
"Uncle Bane," Harry asked, placing his hand on Bane's leg.
"Hrm, yes child?"
"Can we fish with you today?"
Bane rubbed his chin with his fingers in thought. "Hrm, I don't know. Your parents may not approve of it." He winked at Hermione.
"Awww pleassssseeee!" the sprogs bounced up and down in circles around their parents.
"Hnn," Severus said. "I don't know. Some lazy sprogs did not clean up their sleeping bowls this morning and left the Home Tree messy.
The trio dashed off in a hurry towards the Home Tree to rectify the situation.
Bane and Firenze laughed, clapping Severus and Hermione on the back. "It is good to have you back in the forest, brother, sister."
Luna walked by pulling an airborne jellyfish by a tentacle like a human would tug a balloon. She sipped punch from the wedding punch bowl as she walked. "I need to find myself a mate, I think. I wonder if I could convince Neville to step into a faerie ring and try his luck, or maybe he'd turn into a salmon. That would be pretty unfortunate. I suppose I could be like mother and take a human mate. It worked well enough for daddy." She sauntered off, humming to herself.
Bane, Firenze, Severus, and Hermione all exchanged glances, rubbing their heads in mutual confusion just as the trio of trouble galloped back in and pounced their father.
"Everything clean!" they announced. "Can we fish now? Can we can we can we?!"
Hermione's lip twitched. "I don't know, can you?"
"MAY we!" they all chimed together.
The adults all exchanged amused glances.
"I suppose," Hermione said. As long as Bane and Firenze don't mind.
The trio gave the two centaur exceedingly adorable round eyes of pleading.
Bane grunted. "I suppose." He bowed his head to Severus and then Hermione as he herded the trio in front of him towards the centaur encampment.
Hermione cocked her head to the side as she eyed Black Lake. "I hope you can cover the windows in the Slytherin dormitories. Otherwise they might be in for the sight of unexpected cephalopod reproduction."
Severus' leg twitched involuntarily, causing his hoof to stomp. "I really didn't need to think about that."
Hermione rubbed his nearest ear comfortingly. "Oh, my love. There are far better things to think about than what you don't want to think about."
Severus eyed Hermione doubtfully.
Hermione pulled out a photograph of an obviously inebriated, passed out Alastor Moody with the new Madam Moody draped over his face. "Like where to post this and so many more photographs for maximum mischief."
Severus' mouth twitched and then curved into a mischievous smile. "I'm sure Amelia would be more than delighted to help with this latest endeavour."
"That's my mate," Hermione said, leaning in to give him a kiss.
He scooped her up close to him and returned her kiss with interest just as she wriggled out of his embrace and bounced off into the forest, leaving a trail of growing and blooming plants in her wake.
Severus tore off after her, determined to prove that she wasn't the only Wildkin with hooves in the forest.
Ronald Weasley sat at a small corner table in the Ministry canteen, the hood of his robes covering up his furry donkey ears and shading his protruding buck teeth. He waited, patiently, for his mother to join him during one of the few times he was allowed outside the Ministry school program. After a few years, he'd come to realise much of what he had taken for granted at Hogwarts as a "free" individual, and even though he had completed his education, he was serving out the rest of his sentence by helping other children that had been in similar situations.
Due to his physical deformities, he rarely ever showed his face outside the Ministry, and even then he tried to keep his head down. It was only because of his good behaviour that he was able to take his meals in the Ministry cafeteria instead of in the school facility. His mother, thanks to being on her very best behaviour, had been allowed (under Oath to not to use magic in any way with her cooking) to complete her sentence via community service at the Ministry cafeteria and be allowed to have a small room in the Ministry— even if it was under high security.
Much to Ron's surprise, she actually seemed to enjoy her work, and the relief of not being back in Azkaban seemed to do wonders for her tattered sanity. Being parted from her children and husband had also seemed to give her some perspective on what her actions had led to, and the both of them would commiserate together daily on what had brought them to sitting at a small cafe table in the Ministry instead of being at the Burrow.
Ever since the event at the Wizengamot, the Ministry was bustling with Wildkin mixed with humans. Centaurs walked the halls, sprites flitted from place to place, and the wild had grown into the very halls. Even so, Ron didn't like showing his ears and teeth— he didn't want to be taken as one of them. He remembered a time when he didn't have long floppy ears and donkey teeth. And while all his other mutations seemed to have left him, those two did not, almost as if they were taunting him with some mystery as yet unsolved.
His changes hadn't been because he wanted them. He hadn't been born into them. He hadn't been "gifted," no. His were a curse because if he did something mean or remotely vengeful, they would spread to other areas of his body and forcibly remind him that he was being, quite literally, a jackass.
At least, he thought, he didn't look like a naked mole-rat anymore, well, except when he got—
Still, he did have his life, however sour and uncomfortable it had become, but things were slowly getting better, even if it really couldn't get much worse.
He watched a young faun, a smaller faun, and a young dryad playing in the fountain in the main atrium just outside the cafeteria. They looked school age, but it was so hard to tell with Wildkin.
Ron rubbed his eyes. Life on the inside was getting to him, he realised. He could have sworn that the older faun looked a little like Harry as a younger kid. He blamed the mop of black hair.
Molly sat down at the table, placing a loaded tray of food in front of him. Onion soup, a bacon buttie, chips, and her homemade pickles, even a slice of banoffee pie. It was odd having home-cooked food at the Ministry, but he had to admit his mum knew her way around a kitchen, and she knew how to cook for many mouths most of all.
"How are you doing, Ron?" his mum asked quietly, sipping her tea.
"Fine, mum," he replied. It wasn't a lie, really. He was starting to respect what he did have, even if he grumbled about what he didn't.
"You're taking care of yourself?"
"Yes, mum," he replied, giving her a smile as best he could.
Molly took his hand and smiled. "Arthur tells me you'll be out soon."
Ron nodded. The thought of being out in the world scared him despite his desire to have more freedom. The truth was, the life he had now had rules that made it easy to know whenever you mucked something up. He knew the "real" world wasn't so forgiving. Shades of grey were everywhere, and you were expected to know the difference between right and wrong without being told. He should know— that's what landed him where he was right now.
That old, family artefact of the Black family had been the turning point in his life. He had chosen to take it and use it, albeit with different intentions than what had actually happened, and he had transformed his professor into a beast-man, blown up a classroom, and— he still didn't know what had happened to Hermione. No one would say, or no one knew. Either way, he figured it had to be pretty bad.
He heard the whispers—
The faerie rings had come after his accident at Hogwarts. They had, mostly, ended with his and his mother's incarceration. It didn't take much pondering to put those particular events together, and he had pondered it a lot. Part of him had even wished a faerie ring would show up again so he could throw himself into it and be something that didn't think again.
It had taken over a year for the effects of his mother's tampered sweets mixed with his faerie ring transformations to unravel, and he'd had to drink many foul potions and suffer through hours of incantations to even do that. His healers had thought it was a miracle he was even partially human in appearance, donkey ears and teeth or not.
As he watched a gaggle of little kids join the young creatures in the atrium and play, he thought of the last time he had seen Lavender— belly swollen with child and with 3 little ones clinging to her. Her husband apparently worked somewhere in the Ministry, though he had no idea who. He hadn't talked to Lavender since the incident that had sent her screaming through the halls of Hogwarts. He tried to hold the look of her grotesquely swollen belly in his mind to avoid thinking of her in any other way lest he have a relapse into being a naked mole-rat… again. His healers had offered him a potion to reduce the chances of that happening again, but— he couldn't help but think that was even more unnatural.
Might as well be a eunuch— and that was even less manly than he already felt.
"You father visited," his mother said, interrupting his chain of thoughts.
"What he want?" Ron asked, drinking down his soup.
"Charlie was hurt," his mum said. "He had to floo out there to take care of him for a while."
"Oh," Ron said. "He does work with dragons," he said. "Amazing it didn't happen sooner. Even if he is careful."
Molly sighed, petting her own hands to comfort herself. He noticed she did that often to try and not freak out like she used to. Awkwardly, he put his hand on hers and squeezed it, trying to be comforting. She seems to appreciate it, giving him a warmer smile.
"You'll be out of here soon," Molly said, more to herself than to him.
He wasn't sure what gave her the idea he would be out soon, as no one had said anything to him. Somehow, his dad thought he was going to be out soon, but Ron didn't really feel as excited as his mother seemed to think he'd be. Again, the real world was less forgiving, and Ron had been living his life where he'd at least worked his way up into being somewhat respected working with his once fellow delinquents. He had a stipend, and he could afford to get things for himself from the Ministry shops— not that he did much.
"Naw, mum, I don't think I'll be going," he said, watching her eyes grow wide with panic.
"It's not what you think," he said, squeezing her hand. "I'm doing good stuff here. Working with kids that don't even have what I had growing up. Some of them are really messed up, and— I get it, you know. They get it that I get it. That means something."
Molly seemed to chew on this unknown side of her son. "Surely you want to be out of here? Not stuck here." The unsaid "like me" hung in the air heavily. Despite the fact she wasn't in Azkaban, Molly craved her freedom again.
He saw it just as more opportunities to screw up— freedom to do something even more stupid.
He'd heard that Sirius Black had been up for review before the Wizengamot after being extracted from the paintings at Grimmauld Place. Apparently his brother, Regulus, had done had enough of him streaking by every portrait, naked and howling.
Sadly, Sirius wasn't much better outside the painting than he had been inside, and he was deemed unfit to just cast into Azkaban, so Harry's godfather had been admitted into the Janus Thickey ward in St. Mungo's. Ron figured he'd had a real psychotic break and just succumbed to his imagined lycanthropy. It sure seemed that way. The Ministry wasn't taking any chances though and had fitted him with magic suppression in case Black was faking it just to turn into a dog and escape.
Ron had no idea what the truth was when it came to Sirius Black. He'd thought he was a hero back when he'd taken the artefact to reveal Snape as a demon— yet instead of that he'd turned Snape into a beastman, destroyed a classroom, and most likely killed his childhood friend— or disfigured her so badly that no one wanted to talk about it…
He wished Harry was around to talk to, sometimes.
There was the distinctive squeal of children, and Ron looked up to see some creature that looked like a horse for the top half and a long fish tail for the other spring out of the fountain and shower the odd goat children with water. Ron watched as the horse-thing rose up out of the fountain and took on a human form, scooping the three goat children up with his arms in a hug. "Come on, you lot. Luna is meeting us all for lunch with your Uncle Xeno."
The man turned back into the fountain and leaned in. "That means you too, Loire," he said.
A strange merge of child and fishtail leapt out of the water and landed in the man's arms, giggling hysterically as the man held him up in the way he used to watch his father hold Ginny when she wanted to tossed in the air and caught again. The fish tail disappeared into legs as the goat children swallowed the fish child into their group with welcoming laughs. They all ran forward to the large reception desk and peaked over it just barely. The old witch that sat at the desk pushed a bowl of chocolate wands and licorice snaps over to them. The children bit their lips together as they tried to decide which treat was best, each picking one carefully and thanking the lady at the desk. The elder witch smiled, handing them a guest tag, which magically affixed itself to each child's chest like a miniature octopus.
"Ol' Xenophilius said he's in the orange room today," the witch said. "Don't run, now. They just waxed the floors."
"Yes, ma'am!" the children said.
"Ma'am," the man said, taking a guest pass.
"Oh, don't you ma'am me, Neville Longbottom. I've known you since you were in diapers, and just because you grew into hippocampus doesn't change that. You tell Augusta she owes me lunch when you see her."
Neville laughed. "You still winning bets about how many colours you can turn that old Umbridge undoing all her hard work?"
The witch smiled wickedly. "It's worth it after what she put us all through during the war. Oooo that woman. You can barely call her a woman, that one."
Neville coughed. "Literally."
The elder witch smiled smugly. "Justice. Now she can't even look herself in the mirror, and that suits me fine. Hard to be all high and mighty pureblood jibber jabber when you look like a shrew upstairs and an ass downstairs, hrm?"
Neville choked a laugh. "You're a vengeful elder witch, Mrs Abbot, and I'm glad you're on our side."
The witch grinned. "Get along, now. You don't want to be late and give old Xeno another reason to saunter off and forget what he was doing."
"Ma'am," Neville said with a grin, watching Mrs Abbot puff at him for calling her ma'am again.
Neville and the children disappeared down the hall.
Suddenly the black-furred goat child ran back to the fountain and tossed in a found knut. The moment the coin hit the water it turned into a golden fish and swam into the fountain plants.
"Harry, come along now," Neville called from. "Spit spot."
"Yes, Uncle," the young goat child said rushing back to meet him.
Neville scooped him up as he jumped and carried him in one arm. The other two children pouted that they wanted a ride too.
"Ron, have you heard a word I said?" Molly asked.
"What has you so focused, Ronald?"
"Mum, what 'appened to 'arry?" Ron asked. "Why doesn't he come round at all? I mean, why is Neville springing out of fountains and herding goat kids around."
Molly frowned. "They're fauns, Ron."
"Well they look like goats," Ron said. "But that goat kid was named Harry. Did he save a lot of them?"
Molly frowned. "Ron, during the trial he was—"
"So the names popular, yeah?" Ron said, assuming.
Molly twisted her napkin into a tight bundle. "They were trying to hurt you, Ron. The reason I'm in this whole mess is because when I tried to protect you, I pushed Harry out of the way."
"Wot? To save him right? Nothing wrong with that."
"It was to save you, Ron. I wasn't thinking of Harry at the time. I was mad with— protective grief. I pushed him. Pushed him right into a faerie ring."
Ron paused. "So, that's his son there? That goat kid? Because you turned him into some kind of goat thing?"
"You turned my best mate into a faun and he had baby goats?"
Molly scrunched up her face. "No, Ron. I'm saying that faun was Harry. Harry Snape."
Bane trotted over to the home tree and tipped a small skin of water down around the roots before he knocked firmly on the bark. The bark shimmered and parted and then a young centaur filly zoomed out with a happy squeal, chased by none other than a mop-haired young faun.
"Hi daddy!" the filly him greeted as they galloped by.
Bane raised both brows, his lips puckering as his daughter barely had enough sense to greet him on her quest to be chased.
"They say the sweetest clover must be pursued with great fervour," Firenze said with a chuckle as he carried a sizeable basket of assorted foods. "Your filly seems to desire our young Harry to find her well worthy of the chase."
Bane sighed. "It has always been so. But I rather fear what the foals might look like. What if they only have two legs instead of four?"
Firenze snorted. "Do you really think only having two legs would be a handicap after all you have seen thus far?"
Bane shook his mane, snorting. "Not if our friends have anything to say about it."
Firenze smiled. "Oh, I'm sure they don't have to say much of anything. Magorian probably already has the foal details figured out, including number of legs, coat colour, and extra limbs if need be."
Bane sputtered. "My daughter will not be mated to the squid!"
"Well that would be awkward, considering he has a mate now anyway," Firenze noted.
Bane's eyebrow twitched. "A disturbingly sherry coloured and odiferous mate."
"Come now, brother," Firenze said. "River dolphins are a most glorious pink."
"Sherry is a libation, not something you should smell on squid," Bane said.
"True, but she does illuminate the lake at night with that soft glow."
Bane gave Firenze a look somewhere between exasperated and amused. "It doesn't help the foals like to stick a baby squid to their head and use it as a nightlight."
"They seem to enjoy it," Luna said as she jumped out of the river, her fish tail disappearing into legs. She carried a string of river fish on a line. "Hermione? Severus? Are you done snogging each other senseless? Can we come in?"
Muffled grunting came from inside the tree.
"You're a sodding faun, brother," Kander said as he trotted in from the brush. "If you are going to have the most glorious horizontal entertainment, at least do it where we can all enjoy the show."
"Kander, you incomprehensible git!" A pillow smacked into Kander's face followed by an apple to the head. Just as he was recovering from that, he was trampled by a young faun, a dryad, and a small herd of young centaur.
Kander stared skyward, his body quaking with his laughter despite having been trampled.
Severus stepped out of the tree, eyes narrowing as he aimed a hoof to Kander's head. "You're lucky our children are no longer little." He stomped down mere centimetres from his brother's hard head.
"Someone had to teach the fauns to be fauns in this family," Kander replied, pulling himself up.
"My children are perfectly fine without having to learn the vulgar art of shagging anything that moves, thank you very much," Severus said with a sniff. "I would prefer they had some taste to make up for your severe lack thereof."
Kander made a stabbing motion to his heart but grinned at his brother.
"Kander," Hermione said as she walked by, leaning in to kiss his cheek. "How good of you to come. Manage to lose Sybill?"
Kander shuddered. "I have no interest in squid, Hermione. She has a mate."
"You have limits?" Hermione said coyly. "How nice to see that even you, dear Kander, have some things you will not shag."
Kander huffed, crossing his arms across chest. "I am not a barbarian."
"You just act like one," Severus said, giving him a shove towards the firepit. "Do make yourself useful."
Kander pouted dramatically but took the strand of fish from Luna and hung it over the fire pit as he started to work.
"Where is Neville, Luna?" Hermione asked.
"Quivering in fear," Severus quipped.
Bane and Firenze snorted, stomping their feet. "Still?" Bane asked.
"He handles the children just fine," Luna said, "but something about Severus makes him unable to shift completely into one form or another and he ends up in a rather awkward state of needing water on land or vice versa. Personally, I think it's because he swallows watersprites when he sleeps. They're known to cause random effects." Luna placed a kettle near the fire for tea. "He'll be here as soon as he manages to settle on a form."
"Maybe he would have been better as a land creature," Bane said. "At least then he wouldn't have to trade gills for lungs."
"But that would be much harder to cuddle with underwater," Luna said with a frown. "Besides, he makes a handsome hippocampus, and I get to ride him around the lake anytime I wish."
Severus' lip twitched. "How convenient for you."
"Where are your spawn, Luna? It's not like them to miss any event involving food," Firenze asked.
"Oh! They're with daddy today," Luna said. "He's taking them to the ocean to hunt beach-dwelling Crumpled Snorkacks."
"How fascinating," Severus said, his lip curling slightly.
Hermione bounced on her hooves and gave her mate a kiss as she walked by on her way to fetch something from inside the tree.
Severus eyed her with the same longing she always instilled in him until Firenze elbowed him, startling him out of it.
"Fauns," the two centaur said together.
"You'd think that infatuation would have worn off by now," Bane said, teasing.
Severus sniffed. "Does my mate seem like the type to become any less fascinating as time goes on?"
"Do any of ours, really?" Firenze said with a chuckle. "As long as they remain ever intriguing to us, does it truly matter?"
"I've loved her for centuries," Severus said with a sniff. It's not like it's changed at any point."
Kander snorted. "He's not kidding either."
Severus shot his brother a look. "At least I'm not cruising for an STI," he shot out.
"A whaa?" Kander said with a confused blink.
"Never mind," Severus muttered, waving him off. "Just be glad that you're a faun."
"But I am glad I'm a faun," Kander said, now completely baffled, tilting his head as he scratched his black hair into a spiky mess.
"Are you sure you weren't born blond?" Severus quipped.
A silver tabby sauntered by, carrying a small basket of still warm shortbread biscuits fastened to her back.
"Minerva!" Hermione cried joyfully from inside the tree.
The sound of a feline being hugged with great enthusiasm came shortly after.
A perky-looking Scottish wildcat with twinkling blue eyes padded in after Minerva, a Dutch oven filled with bundles of steaming cabbage rolls floating serenely behind it.
Bane chuckled. "I never thought the Headmaster would be a cat. Maybe some sort of flamboyant tropical bird with crazy feathers—"
"A flamingo, perhaps?" Severus asked, idly picturing a bright pink long-legged bird sporting an equally long white beard.
"Amazonian royal flycatcher was my thought," Bane confessed.
"Since when do you know what birds look like in the Amazon?" Firenze asked incredulously.
"Since Hermione dragged me into the library to look through bird identification books," Bane mumbled, flushing slightly under his dark skin.
"I think he's mellowed quite a bit now that Death has retrieved his tools of the trade," Firenze pointed out.
"Recovering from over a decade of being drugged via Molly Weasley's insidious little bon-bons certainly helped," Severus observed.
The centaurs nickered. "True."
Bane heaved up the spit he and Firenze had brought along with them and placed it carefully over the firepit, taking a moment to moisten the leafy wrappings before adjusting it to just the right position. "I will give the humans credit for once for releasing these things into the forest. At least the feral boars are tasty and plentiful, and their meat can be cured and stored quite easily."
Severus chuckled. "At least they're edible and aren't trying to kill off the students and other denizens of the forest, unlike certain Acromantulas."
"Is it wrong that I actually miss watching the Whomping Willow punting spiders into the lake?" Firenze asked with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.
Severus stroked his chin scruff and smirked. "Point."
Hermione and Luna came out of the tree hollow, giggling together.
Severus eyed them both suspiciously, knowing that giggling dryad plus giggling naiad equalled trouble in nine out of ten forests. Add the Luna factor with a twister of Hermione's idle brain mischief…
Minerva padded out with a tiara of flowers perched on her feline head, and then Albus slinked out covered in a lush carpet of purple flowers, which even after shifting into his human form, didn't disappear.
Severus snorted before breaking down and laughing himself silly
Albus shot him a dark look, sighing. "At least they are the right colour," he muttered.
"When are the others coming, Bane?" Hermione asked, putting a lei of flowers around his neck.
Bane eyed the flowers with considerable amusement. "I'm sure when the hog starts smelling like delicious, the others will fly out of the forest faster than a Ministry postal owl."
Luna smiled as she helped Hermione clear the leaf litter out from the well-cushioned mossy areas the Wildkin entertained their guests in. Every centaur had their own favourite mossy pitch on which to fold their legs and lie down and they were no exception to the other guests who pretty much did exactly the same. Minerva jumped up onto her mossy "throne" as Severus called it. It towered around the other places, putting her above everyone else with a bird's-eye view of the proceedings, where every feline worth their whiskers thought they belonged, at least if your name wasn't Albus.
Dumbledore, strangely fond of his newfound Animagus form— something he'd never bothered studying before all the drama with Molly Weasley had happened— preferred to be more down-to-earth and look upward rather than down upon everyone and everything. Much of the personality that Severus had found so very aggravating and Minerva had found so frustrating had disappeared after the effects of the tampered candy had finally left his elderly system. Ever since then, he'd switched to pear candies instead of lemon sherbets, not really having to say why. Everyone knew that if anyone had a reason to thumb his nose at those particular sweets, it was Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore.
Along with the candy fixation, so, too, left the fixation on being the Master of Death, and Death having regained his tools had healed something in the old wizard too. Much as the stories said, the dead could not truly return in a way the living were. Even more surprisingly, Albus had made up with his younger brother, Aberforth, and the two were even civil to each other in public, which amazed quite a few old-timers that knew of the pair's rocky history.
By the time the hog started to truly "smell delicious" the centaur herd, the foals, the sprogs, and the almost-grown-in-betweeners had arrived to gather around the main fire. Food was passed from elder to youth and all around. Some of the foals had already paired up, which truly didn't surprise anyone, nor did the bond between certain foals and their faun or dryad childhood friends. Whether such youthful bonds would lead to mated pairs after a declaration of love and the Rite, however, no one could really be sure.
Betting, however, was bound to take place as everyone had their guesses, and some pairs seemed awfully strong. In fact, it was usually quite the topic of conversation during their gatherings.
Albus let out a shrill feline screech as he flew up into the air, his fur spiked like a porcupine as his emotions manifested through his fur.
"Oh! So sorry," one filly said, picking him up and cuddling him apologetically with a vice-like hug. She pet his ears, and the Scottish wildcat's eyes crossed in pure pleasure, his ears going to the sides, his fluffy tail unfloofing, and every bone in his body turned to rubber.
Minerva mrowled her amusement from her high "throne" perch, Albus' predicament having so perfectly illustrated the reason why certain wiser and more experienced felines greatly preferred the higher perches.
The foals milled about the clearing, distributing food to the elders, and the one hugging Albus served him a heaping plate from the gathered foods that would have more than stuffed a human or centaur stomach, let alone a much smaller feline one. Albus seemed torn between enjoying the gratuitous hugs and shifting into his human for to start working on all the delicious food.
"The ginger beer is most excellent, Severus," Luna said, smiling joyfully at him. "It's even better when you drink it with the pear cider."
Severus blinked as a centaur foal served him a large plate of food. "Harry, I see that you, Vetch, and Valerian have been quite busy smoking trout, hrm?"
Harry grinned. "Yes, father." The young centaurs with him sported matching grins, pumping their arms in approval and pride.
"Perfect flavour," Firenze said, sighing with pleasure. "You must have found some hickory bark during the morning dew."
The trio nodded with pride, grinning.
"You'll make excellent providers for your future mates," Magorian said as he plucked some fragrant roasted hazelnuts and forest fruits from a serving basket. He smiled knowingly, giving a wink to Firenze and Severus as the young faun and centaurs turned a rather fetching shade of red. "Thank you, Kander and Zephyr for the most tasty hazelnuts and fruit."
Kander rubbed Zephyr's shoulders and smiled. The breeze nymph nodded respectfully to the centaur herd's leader and the others.
"Careful, brother," Severus quipped. "Someone might think you actually found someone worth settling down with."
Kander flushed. "She's worth more than devotion."
The foals giggled amongst each other, tails flipping.
"You had better not leave her high and dry after a week, Kander," Severus warned his brother. "You'd have to teach at Hogwarts, and you'd have to escape the arrows of countless irritated centaur who happen to adore having a Aurae breeze nymph around to bless the forest with cool winds."
Severus eyed his brother. "Not to mention some of us related to you find it unconscionable how many living things you have broken in regards to their hearts and minds."
Kander pouted. "So it took me a few hundred years. Not all of us can know the one on first sight when we're barely a few decades old."
"Oh, but some of us have, so it seems," Hermione said with no little amusement, eying her oldest son and how the young faun's touch lingered on Clover's withers and how she gazed at him through half-veiled lids. She passed around a basket piled high with buttered yeast rolls and a served the foals a fruity wildberry punch that she had brewed in the special hollows in the tree.
"Both you and Severus brew the best drinks for both young and old," Bane said, sipping his drink, and we never have to worry about the embarrassing intoxication that human drinks provide in abundance."
Luna uncovered a basket with her homemade blackberry crumble and some custard. "This was mum's favourite pudding back in the day. I remember watching her make it when I was young." Hermione placed a hand on her shoulder in comfort, and Luna smiled at her. "It's okay. I think she would be happy knowing things did finally work out in the end."
"Excellent cabbage rolls, Albus," Kingsley said, the senior Auror practically buried alive in curious foals. "And your shortbread fingers are utterly marvelous as usual, Minerva."
Minerva mrowled, sprawling on her throne, having made short work of a small hoard of tattie scones, some tomato and spring onion salad, and the coveted curried deviled eggs.
"Looks like your eggs are a huge hit, Kings," Alastor said, grunting as he drank deeply from his flask. A trickle of the wildberry punch trickled down his chin, and he wiped it away with a grin.
"You know, when they said you had whisky in your flask, it seemed easier to believe than pumpkin juice," Kingsley observed.
"Naw," Alastor grunted. "I gave up whisky after I almost drank myself dead when 'ol snakeface finally bit it. I think I realised that celebration was a lot better when you were alive to spite the ones your survived over instead of dying in a ruddy gutter, drowning in your own vomit."
The old Auror sighed. "The wild places being back. The Wild Magick. The peace is back with it, yeah? Lot of things are better now when the hate is gone. My hate for you, Severus. It was based on acts you did while under the Darkest magic out there, and I didn't even notice. I can't even begin to forgive meself for that—"
Severus just shook his head. "It was what Black wanted you to think, Alastor. It's what he wanted everyone to think. Lily thought it too, and she—" Severus frowned, but Hermione looped her arm around his and leaned into him. "I just hope that her spirit is content and that she knows the truth. She may have married a bloody wanker, but— they did, in the end, go out as the kind of people who would give up everything for their child."
Alastor nodded. "Aye, lad, but I'm sorry for my part in it all the same." He took a mouthful of the dandelion and wild mushroom salad, trying to catch one of the steamed fairy pods as it seemed to avoid him with preternatural speed and agility. "My thanks to the mares for this wonderful salad, I must say."
The mares nickered in approval, smiling.
The gathered enjoyed their food together, smiling and telling tales both epic and minor, but all seemed to truly enjoy each other's company.
Half of a ripe watermelon abruptly thumped down upon the ground, covering some of the foals in watermelon bits and seeds. They looked up to see a very guilty-looking phoenix trying to blend unsuccessfully into the tree canopy.
"Regulus, come down here and share the feast with us, you sodding fruit addict," Severus hissed.
The phoenix Animagus guiltily landed in the midst of them, changing into his human form, but he reached into his robes and enlarged a small basket that suddenly became enormous and was loaded with an epic haul of assorted candies and other treats from Honeydukes that had all the young foals nickering with excitement. Each foal twitched as they allowed the elders to pick whatever they desired first, then the moment each elder had a sweet, they dove in and distributed all the treats amongst each other equally.
A chocolate frog landed on Albus' furry head, and a young foal pounced on it, tackling both the frog and Albus in a barrel roll of equine nickering and laughter. Soon, Albus was once more being cuddled, but he looked more pleased than annoyed about the outcome.
Severus clapped Regulus companionably on the shoulder. "Good to see you, featherbrain."
"You too, goatlegs," Regulus replied with a cheeky grin.
"I'm glad you decided not to poison us with your pitiful inability to cook anything but burnt water."
Regulus sighed and confessed, "I will admit that I was never meant for cooking."
Amelia chuckled as she shook her head at them both. "I'm glad you are well, Regulus. We were worried there might be some lingering curse upon you due to how personally your brother's hate seemed to focus on you and everyone you cared for."
Regulus nodded. "Albus did me a real kindness in locking me into a phoenix form for as long as he did. I was far more help as a phoenix than I ever was as a man. No one suspects a phoenix of being a Death Eater, and even my own brother believed me dead. By the time I was out of it, I found the form so natural for me that it had become my Animagus form as well, though I will admit the luxury of a long soak in a tub was long overdue." Regulus eyed the pile of toasted wedges. "Merlin, Alastor, did you make your famous tattie scones? I love you!" He then proceeded to stuff his face like a proper young pureblood gentleman.
The Scotsman just shook his head, chuckling.
"So this is where you've been hiding yourself, dear brother," a familiar voice spat angrily.
The foals squealed in fright, diving for the shelter of the forest as the mares leapt up to form a wall of bodies to block the way. The centaur stallions all reared up threateningly. Severus and Hermione stood, their magic swirling around them like twin cyclones even as Kingsley, Alastor, Amelia tried to stand. Kander and his mate used their magic to make the clearing quickly grow over, protecting the young ones from the oncoming threat.
Suddenly, Luna stood in front of Sirius Black, her pale hair shining like the moon. "Mr Black. I've yet to give you a proper thank you for what you did for my mother."
Sirius, his wand lowered slightly in his confusion, furrowed his brows as Luna gathered him into a sudden embrace and planted a kiss directly on his mouth, a surge of watery magic swirling around her and him. Then she shoved him away from her, and he stumbled into a newly created ring of familiar yet strangely aquatic-looking mushrooms, but he tripped and only his neck and head landed inside.
The faerie ring surged with water, and Sirius Black's upper body convulsed and warped, twisting him into the very first donkey's arse for a head. The human rear connected to the ass' arse stumbled around blindly, crashing into trees and tripping over rocks, falling over many times.
"Luna!" Hermione gasped in surprise, though a tiny smile was threatening to spread across her face.
Luna just smiled serenely. "Sorry, I really meant to push him in all the way, but I miscalculated slightly. I know you kinda wanted to deal with him yourself, but—"
Hermione hugged Luna tightly. "Luna, you handled it perfectly."
The foals had started to come back, all of them poking the strange double-arsed creature that had once been Sirius Black. Kander and Zephyr let their magic return the forest back to how it had been before an intoxicated and spoiling-for-a-fight Sirius Black had turned up to try and ruin their happy celebration.
"How did he escape incarceration?" Severus asked, brows furrowed.
"Does it matter, my love?" Hermione said, putting a kiss on his nose. "I think his end was fitting."
Her mate's brows lifted and he cracked a genuine smile. "Justice."
Magorian, who gave the foals near him comforting pats and smiles, raised his glass to everyone, and they, in turn raised theirs. "To old friends regained and new friends made, the families of now and of the future, and to justice long in coming. May we all share the same stars forevermore."
The all saluted the elder centaur, taking a large swig from their drinks at once.
The green, living magic of the forest shimmered and glowed around them, sealing their Covenant.
A faerie dragon flew in loop-de-loops around a black pegasus as a phoenix sang, circling the clearing. The centaurs reared up and galloped away together as a silver tabby hitched a ride on Severus' back, her paws clinging around his neck. Regulus snatched up Albus and carried him off into the sky as Severus and Hermione took off. Luna cuddled the newly lynx-ified Kingsley, rubbing his velvety ears. He purred in clear approval. Alastor, looking suitably prickly as a porcupine, proceeded to lazily stuff his face with the unguarded leftover food. Amelia, finding herself quite hawkish, took to the air, letting out a raptor scream of joy as her wings carried her up and away, chasing the pegasus and the faerie dragon through the skies.
Meanwhile, the double-arsed half-ass set half of himself on fire in the embers of the bonfire and then plowed straight into a huge oak tree.
Harry, Silas and Thea all stared at the sad excuse for a creature and they crossed their arms in front of themselves looking very much like their father.
"Brother, do you think it will die? It has no mouth!"
Harry shrugged. "I feel like I should remember that man, before he was—" He rubbed his horns and frowned.
"That's okay, brother," Thea said soothingly. "There are much happier things to remember now."
Harry grinned. "I'll get my pipes. We can dance in the forest!"
"Okay!" This siblings scurried back to the Home Tree to get their instruments and join him in the best celebration they could think of and living life to the fullest.
And all was good once again in the Not-So-Dark-Forest, and so it would remain forevermore.
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A/N: Kharma is wild thing that will not be contained -9-1-1
Spiders: Psst, let them know we're infesting the next story!
(Spider with bucket on head thumps into vase of flowers, falls back stunned senseless.)
Spiders: This way, Bucket!
(Spiders scoop up the stunned spider and carry him off, whispering and giggling to each other.)
Spiders: Nini! See you soon!
I hope you enjoyed the story. My thanks to my lovely betas for keeping me sane, and a big tin of shortbread fingers for The Dragon and the Rose for cracking that focusing whip to keep me from— SQUIRREL! (dashes off)
(Dragon chases after crazy bird with a butterfly net.)