A/N: Oops that last chapter wasn't supposed to be that long… Sorry?
Beta Love: Curfew-Breaker-Dragon and the Rose, Budgie-Wrangler Dutchgirl01, Flyby Commander Shepard, and the Wait-Where-is-Sesshōmaru Hollowg1rl
Octavius: No money being made disclaimer here!
The Lord of Death and Albus Dumbledore
Attachment and aversion are the root cause of karma,
and karma originates from infatuation. Karma is the root cause of
birth and death, and these are said to be the source of misery.
None can escape the effect of their own past karma.
Hermione's eyes widened as the goblin opened the vault with a low bow and then she saw what lay within. Her hand clasped Severus' as his tightened around hers.
"This vault now belongs to you according to the will set by the last of the Prince family on the condition of your marriage sealed in magic under the traditional virginity clause," the goblin said. "Please touch your wands to this parchment."
Hermione and Severus, almost zombie-like, pressed their wands to the parchment together as a flash of magic moved out and opened the vault even wider, igniting a number of ornate lanterns that were scattered throughout. Piles upon piles of fortune lay heaped within from galleons to jewels to rare tomes, filling the vault from floor to ceiling like a dragon's hoard.
"What do you mean, "virginity clause"?" Hermione whispered.
"A marital bond consummated without—" the goblin paused, looking a little uncomfortable.
"We both had no other lovers," Severus whispered.
"You've never had another lover?" Hermione's voice squeaked, disbelieving. "But you—"
Severus arched a brow at her.
Hermione flushed crimson. "You were amazing."
"Should I be flexing or strutting to your compliment?"
Hermione stared at him, audibly swallowing. "But, we weren't—"
The goblin coughed lightly. "Marriage of magic," he explained. "It is not something defined on parchment and affixed with wax seal, madam."
"Oh," Hermione said. She looked up at Severus. "Did you know—"
"The vault has been waiting for a couple who fit the criteria for upwards of three centuries now, Madam Snape," the goblin said. He cleared his throat. "It seems that that one of the ancestors sealed the family fortune to keep it safe from selfish and eager relations having more and more children in the hopes of draining the family's seemingly vast array of assets. The clause is quite traditional, so it was not so out of place at the time—"
"But the sexual revolution locked them out of their own family fortune," Severus let out a laugh that filled the vault. "Done in by hormonal infatuation and a simple lack of self control."
Hermione sat down in the nearby chair, her hands running across the inlaid mother of pearl. "I guess being the infamous Virgin if Gryffindor did have an advantage after all."
Severus favoured his wife with an amused raise of both eyebrows. "Quite a few interesting things will come of this other than being able to afford a downpayment on the house of our choosing," he rumbled.
"Oh?" Hermione's ears perked towards him.
The goblin smiled, showing his many sharp teeth. "Many, many vaults in Gringotts are sealed with the exact same clause," he said. "A great many wealthy magical families wished to protect their fortunes from the threat posed by— gold-digging usurpers."
Hermione blinked at that. "Usurpers?"
Severus rubbed her hand soothingly with his fingers. "People who would entice suitors with the favours of their body in order to marry for plentiful gold. The magic knows, even if we do not."
Hermione, ever curious as a feline, asked, "So, not every, um, virgin act consummates a marriage?"
Severus watched his wife's face flush very, very red. "No, I think sometimes even Magic has certain limits to what it can bless. Also, marriage magic can only occur when both persons are of age, which typically happens around seventeen for magical folk, unless a betrothal bond is created between the children at a young age— which most pureblood families would do to ensure their bloodlines remain pure."
"Oh, thank Merlin," Hermione said, her mind filled with a what a world filled with feverish teenage groping begetting marriage would do to the Wizarding world.
"Margoz," Hermione asked, "You said many vaults in Gringotts are under that clause. Does that mean many of the old families have unclaimed fortunes sitting in limbo?"
The goblin smiled toothily. "Yes, Madam."
Hermione performed some rapid mental calculating, the astronomical numbers practically swirling around in her brain like a hurricane. "Do those families usually have secondary vaults for their children to cover the costs of their schooling and any other necessities until they become of age?"
Margoz grinned wider, showing all of his teeth. "Yes, Madam."
Severus looked at Hermione, an unasked question in his eyes.
"Severus," she said. "You said Harry's parents fled the Dark Lord, yes?"
"Yes?" he said, elongating the word in his confusion.
"I'd always wondered about them. I mean, Harry claimed that his parents were these heroes on the run from the Dark Lord, right? They were on the run. But, why didn't they just move to America or some other country? Why did they choose to stay here instead, knowing their family was targeted for death? Why not run somewhere further away if they had the resources with which to do so? Unless… they didn't have sufficient galleons at their backs to cover the costs of pulling up stakes and moving abroad."
Severus stared, his face utterly deadpan, and then his lips curved into an impressive sneer. "They didn't satisfy the Potter family vault's virginity clause, did they?"
Margoz gave a dark chuckle. "No, they didn't. Many families could not. None but the very strictest magical families. Purebloods such as the Malfoys— Blacks. Very particular about their children's behaviour. Marriage. Old ways. Some families wished to be more modern. More— permissive."
"Way to shoot yourself in the heart with an Unforgivable," Severus said, shaking his head.
Hermione squealed in pure delight as she found an ancient tome buried in galleons. "A first edition of Hogwarts: a History… with a foreword by Rowena Ravenclaw!"
Severus eyed Hermione with pursed lips.
"Haustibus Uiam Fecerit Incredibili!" Hermione cried, doing a stomping dance with her feet.
"No!" Severus gasped with disbelief as she thrust the book into his arms. He brushed a thick layer of dust off the cover. "Merlin's saggy man-tits! Another first edition!"
Hermione eyed her husband with pursed lips and then set the book down as her clutter of arachnids zoomed around the vault, chittering excitedly.
Crookshanks dashed after them, having suddenly appeared in a cloud of black vapour.
Severus and Hermione exchanged looks. "I didn't know he could—"
"Don't look at me, witch. That is your familiar!"
Octavius popped out from under his hair and spronged off his shoulder with a "Wheeee!" before skittering off to explore the vault, accompanied by Shade, Kobal, Haze and Cinder, who were not about to be left out of something so exciting.
Shade bounced up and down on a particularly dusty box. "Oooo, ingredients!"
Severus glided over to examine the box in question, a smile quickly lighting up his face.. "I think I just died and went to potion ingredient heaven."
Hermione shot him a look that clearly said "Died, hrm?"
He gave her a tug of lips that might as well been a sheepish grin.
"Does Snapes wish to add— creatures to vault access?" Margoz asked, utterly unflappable.
Hermione jerked her head up. "You can see them?"
The goblin smiled. "Goblins can see many things, Madam Snape. Many things most humans cannot."
"We would," Severus said, plucking a curious Haze out of a flawless Ming vase. She squeaked indignantly as he transferred her to the surface of a harpsichord that had been hidden underneath multiple ornate chests filled with jewelry.
She bounced up and down on the keys, making quite a racket.
"Leg, body, or paw prints here," Margoz instructed them, extending the parchment.
"Mrowl," Crookshanks said, strutting across the parchment. He had Haze clutched in his mouth and blotted her fuzzy body against the parchment, causing her to squeak. The other spiders skittered onto the parchment and it glowed brightly.
"Very good," Margoz said with a toothy smile that reminded Hermione of a film she'd seen during Shark Week on the telly. The goblin nodded as he checked things over, rolling the scroll up again. "The wards have been adjusted. Familiars can come and go as you wish. Do you wish your personal vaults to be transferred to the family vault?"
Hermione looked at Severus, a shy look upon her face. "Um… would that be okay?"
Severus blinked. "You're asking if I approve of our belongings mingling in a dark hole in the ground?"
"Yes?" Hermione said.
He touched her cheek. "Yes, Margoz, please make the necessary arrangements."
"Very well, it shall be done by the end of the week," Margoz said. "Do you wish to have the same family retainer for your vault?"
Severus' head turned as if on a swivel. "What?"
"A retainer, sir. Someone outside of family who is authorised to make small withdrawals in case of emergency."
"Ah, yes, wait—" Severus narrowed his eyes in sudden suspicion. "Who is my family's current retainer on this vault?"
"Mr Albus Dumbledore, Mr Snape."
Snape's figure abruptly darkened as black mist seemed to slowly swirl around him. His eyes blazed with dark fire. "How much has he taken from this vault over his years as the Prince family retainer?" he hissed angrily, his fists clenching.
The goblin closed his eyes, calculating rapidly. "Approximately five thousand galleons a year for medical care… for you, Mr Snape, while you were attending Hogwarts."
Hermione seemed to be putting the pieces together and was horrified by the ugly picture that began to form. "He purposely arranged for you to get hurt, just so he could withdraw money from the vault in your name," Hermione whispered.
Molten rage wafted off of Severus— the shift so very close to the surface. His real form struggling to be free of the Mask. Hermione enveloped him with her arms, pressing her head to his chest. She said nothing, but she hugged him tight, wordlessly offering the support he needed to center himself. Then, like the cool touch of a cloth during a fever, their master's touch covered them.
Severus let out a long, cleansing sigh. "Thank you."
Desmondon's cool, centering touch withdrew, having given them both clarity in the midst of overpowering rage.
"Please replace him as retainer with Minerva McGonagall, Mr Margoz," Severus said, the cool mask of Professor Snape falling into place once more. "And file an immediate charge of fraud for every last withdrawal allegedly made on my behalf by Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore."
"Of course, Mr Snape," Margoz replied with a bow. "Do you wish to conclude our business involving the illegal Dark soul-bound artefact harboured in the vaults at this time?"
Severus and Hermione nodded. "Yes."
"Very well, this way, please," the goblin said, bowing as they left the vault.
"You're sure, Snape?"
Moody narrowed his eyes. "I don't like this."
"I'm sure there are a lot of things you do not like, Mr Moody," Severus said, his face set like stone. "But it is there."
Moody glowered at Severus, his magic eye spazzing. "You're hiding something."
"I hide a great many things, Mr Moody, including how I get my fabulous hair to be this perfectly greasy."
"Why you—" Moody snarled, his face getting red as he tried to storm right up into Severus' face.
Hermione stood in front of him. "He is telling the truth, Professor Moody. I would recommend you apply yourself to verifying it instead of attempting to preserve the honour of a man who has none."
Severus' lips twitched, tugging slightly upward. The moment he did it, Moody whipped out his wand and pointed it at Severus' heart.
The moment he did it, Hermione's golden eyes blazed, and she used one arm to cast an arc in front of her as a shield went in front of her. One hand touched Severus' and the shield strengthened.
"Get out of the way, girlie," Moody barked. "He's a bloody Death Eater. He'll kill you as soon as spit on ya."
"You cast one spell upon me, Professor, and I promise you that I will respond in kind," Hermione said, standing taller, her hair writhing around her head like a living thing.
"I don't think you're ready to duel against me, lassie," Moody snapped, his wand still pointed at Severus.
"I have been in many duels, Professor. I have lost to only one wizard. He is behind me. You are in front of me. If you value your life. Be. Somewhere. Else." **
Moody's jaw clenched, his eye zipping around wildly.
"What is going on here!?" Minerva shrieked as she stormed in, stepping between them. She used her stature to wedge herself between them, shoving Hermione and Severus behind her as she glowered fiercely at Alastor. "This is a school, Mr Moody, and you are not an active Auror anymore. You cannot just pull wands in a school and expect people to stand down when there are children about!"
Moody, reluctantly lowered his wand, his jaw twitching. Then, and only then, did Hermione dispel her shield.
"I invited you here, Alastor," Minerva said. "I asked Severus to fill you in, and at no time did I ever expect you to pull a wand on him here at Hogwarts! Now, please get in my office before I hex you myself."
Moody managed to look quite sheepish, a tint of pink on his cheeks as he did so, ducking into Minerva's office with a swirl of his long leather coat.
As Minerva requested a house elf to supply them with tea, Severus sat down on the small couch, and Hermione sat beside him, her hand still curled in his. Alastor glowered as he saw it, mingled disgust and pity clear on his craggy face.
"Encouraging fraternisation between student and faculty, Minerva?" Moody growled.
"There is no fraternisation when they are of age and married, Alastor, so just chew on that awhile I pull out some things you need to read before we get to the real reason I called you here."
"Married? Psh. You can't be serious."
"Would you like us to snog here in front of you, or will just seeing the rings do?" Severus said, his lip twitching.
The pair lifted their ring fingers where Death's marriage bands glimmered, pulsing with the signature of a magically bonded marriage— and then some.
Alastor's jaw hit the ground as he sputtered. "How? Granger is Potter's age? He's barely out of his training pants."
Minerva threw down copies of the journals Albus had hidden away in his office. "Read those, Alastor, then we some other things you need to view over there." She pointed to the Pensieve sitting near her window. And so you don't immediately assume they were somehow tampered with, we will extract them right here while you watch."
Minerva's phantom claws seemed to scrape against her desk.
Alastor tentatively accepted the pile of papers and began to read.
"Merlin, I need a drink," Alastor said, sucking down the last dregs of the Scottish breakfast tea in his cup.
He looked at Severus and Hermione rather awkwardly. "I— apologise."
Hermione narrowed her eyes at the former Auror, but Severus patted her hand. "You believed what you were supposed to, just as I once did. Just as he did, and as Minerva did. Until very recently."
"He aged you?" Moody looked sick to his stomach.
"I aged myself, Professor Moody," Hermione said, still lapsing into the last formal name she had for him. "But I did have help getting there."
Moody eyed her with pity, but not for the same reasons as before.
"Believe me, Professor," Hermione said. "Aging a few years does not sit high on my list of concerns right now. There are far greater concerns."
"The Horcruxes," Moody said. "And the fact Dumbledore pilfered money out of your family vault for years— your memories, the beatings, the alcoholism. Do you know if he was always that way?"
"Tobias was a bitter drunkard of a father, and I never knew him otherwise, but I have often wondered what would have drove her to such a man and lay down with him to have a child when so many other options remained to her."
Moody narrowed his eyes. "How long has Albus Dumbledore been the retainer for the Prince family fortune?"
"Longer than I have been alive, but that is all I know for sure. How he became a retainer over simply creating a minor bank account, I am not sure. I didn't even know the Prince family had a vault for their family fortunes until we went there to find the cup in Bellatrix' family vault." Severus flinched as Hermione's stomach growled noisily.
Hermione flushed. "Excuse me," she said.
Moody saw the look of pure panic on Hermione's face as she buried her face against Severus' robes.
"Amelia said there was something I needed to take an Oath for— something I'd understand only after I talked to you and after I saw something important," he said. "It involves you two, doesn't it?" His eye flicked over them, and he still saw them as he expected, but there was something else flickering around the edges. Something hidden deep. "Something Albus did to save your lives, there in the journals."
Severus and Hermione stared at him, silent and stone-faced.
Moody raised his wand. "I do solemnly swear on my wand and on my magic that anything I learn here tonight involving Severus Snape and Hermione Gr— Snape shall not leave my lips, quill, or anything else unless they allow it first."
His wand flashed a bright green, filling the room, as Magic accepted the former Auror's oath.
Severus face twisted into a grimace as his fangs flashed, and he bit his wrist. Hermione took it, snuggling into him as she drank in his offering. Severus' expression was peaceful as he wrapped his free arm around her, pressing his nose into her mane of curls. The bodies shimmered as the Masks fell away, and the younger Morangelus fed from her mate.
Severus turned his head to stare at Moody, his black eyes like fathomless pits of darkness in a twisted animal skull. His jaws parted as he huffed once, his wings wrapping around his mate as she fed. As she finished, she snuggled into him, purring softly. Then, and only then, did their Masks reform, hiding away their true selves to appear as Professor Severus Snape and the "young" Hermione Granger.
Moody just stared at them for a few minutes. Silent. Expressionless.
"Minerva, please tell me you have something highly alcoholic in a drawer somewhere," he said at last. "I'm going to need a bit of sedation or I'm going to storm up to that Headmaster's tower and do something I'll regret sometime later when I'm sitting in Azkaban for murder."
Minerva placed a bottle of four hundred year old scotch on the top of the desk. "Neat or with water, Alastor."
"Neat," he sighed. "Definitely neat."
Minerva poured him the scotch into her crystal snifter and pushed it toward him.
Alastor downed the lot in one go. He looked at Severus and for once his magical eye seemed at ease, no longer spazzing wildly about. "What happened to your Mark, Severus?"
Severus lifted his head slowly, realising he was being addressed by a man who had never before used his name with any sort of respect. "You cannot Mark the dead, Alastor," he said quietly, returning the gesture. "Well. you can, but it disappears the moment we shift, which is what mine did the first time I shifted to heal myself from the Dark Lord's twisted pleasures."
"He never suspected?"
"Oh, I'm sure he had his suspicions, but when he looked, he saw only what he wished to see, just as you did."
Alastor had the decency to look embarrassed. "How did you know when he called?"
"Cast a spell on someone like us, and we tend to remember the feel of it. The more Dark and, say… deadly in intent it is, the more it sticks with us, like a whisper or a homing beacon, depending on the spell. Hermione, for example, will know where Mr Potter is for the rest of his life. She will know when he is close to death because it was actually Potter who killed her."
"Potter?! Harry Potter did this to you?"
Hermione shook her head. "He cast the spell, but he meant to inflict it on someone else. While I can never fully trust him again, I know that his rage was not for me. That doesn't make it right, but I know where it came from. It was planted and nurtured early on. It was fed gradually, turning a small thing into a raging beast that churned in his stomach. Just as others fed him stories of how noble and pure his parents were— faultless, perfect— he also had his Muggle relatives telling him how horrible he was and how his parents were nothing but drunken freaks. Who to believe when neither story was the truth?"
Hermione's golden eyes glowed brightly and then faded. "Death brings one greater perspective. Forgiveness. I do not forgive to forget. I forgive to move on. He has only a set amount of time in which to make his mistakes and learn how to live with them. I have all the time in the world now, and I am no longer alone. We are no longer alone." Her fingers curled around Severus' and wove into his fingers.
"You would just let him get away with what he did to you?"
Hermione's smile was brief. "Who says he has or will?" she replied. "Punishment is kind of an odd duck. It can come from one's self even more strongly than from others. Even when one thinks they have escaped and gotten away scot-free, sometimes the truth comes back to haunt them. Just as Dumbledore is haunted by one event— from so long ago. He continually runs away from it, not towards salvation but towards his damnation."
Moody stared in awe. "You're very deep for a twenty-something who was effectively murdered by her own best mate."
Hermione licked her teeth thoughtfully. "He may find it sooner than he thinks when he discovers that he and Ginny will not be granted access to the Potter family fortune upon their marriage. So, too, will Ron, as I believe the only ones in the Prewett and Weasley family line who waited until marriage were Bill and Fleur. If there is any fortune left to be had, but do you not think it odd that out of two pureblood families, the Weasleys were forced to live on solely what Mr Weasley brought home to support his many children? Odd, don't you think, that neither Mr or Mrs Weasley ever mentioned such things to her children to at least warn them?"
Alastor just stared. "You're quite the spitfire, Miss Gr— Madam Snape," he said. "Is it true what you said? That Severus was the only one to defeat you in a duel?"
"She was twelve at the time," Severus said. "Lockhart was teaching. I don't think one witch in that classroom was paying attention to anything but his unnaturally white smile."
Hermione flushed pink.
Moody's eyebrow twitched. "Pretty sure that bloke was a child predator," he said. "He just Obliviated himself before we could catch him."
"You can thank Ronald's broken wand for that," Hermione snorted.
"Oh, but don't discount Lockhart's inherent idiocy," Severus added.
Alastor snorted. "So what is this thing about the jinx on the Defence teaching position?"
"There is one," Snape confirmed with a deep sigh.
"It has to be rooted to something physical. Would it be the classroom itself?" Alastor asked. "Wait, why hasn't it affected you?"
Severus smiled, unnerving Moody. "I'm already dead."
"Right," Moody said, shaking his head. "It's hard to consider you dead when you're sitting right there talking to me and— obviously still able to bleed."
Severus shrugged. "There is always a chance that he altered the jinx so I would continue teaching in that position."
Moody wrinkled his nose. "I think it's time to bring in the Unspeakables to dismantle that ruddy classroom brick by brick. It has to be something that focuses on the room itself. Can you authorise it, Minerva?"
Minerva nodded sharply. "Albus has been a right mess for months. I'll sign for it."
"And you still want to postpone bringing formal charges against him until after the war?" Moody asked.
"As much as it pains me, yes," Minerva sighed. "There is no telling what will happen if word gets out that Albus is not here 'protecting' Hogwarts. Even Riddle feared Albus, which is why he tried to get Draco to kill him instead."
"Well, I'll add these charges to the pile that Amelia is gathering. She's ready to feed that sodding old bastard his own beard. I didn't realise why until I came here tonight, and I almost botched that mess right up before we even got to the sit down," Alastor said, visibly chagrined. "So, what do you intend to do to the cup and the other Horcruxes as you find them?"
Severus smiled smugly. "Cut them down with a scythe and bleed on them."
Alastor blinked at that. "Right then. I wish you luck."
Octavius gave a spider purr as Hermione rubbed his belly. The shadow spider wriggled his legs in pleasure as she gave him a fond kiss on the head before sending him back off to Severus.
"Awwww, but he's a git," Octavius complained.
"But you love him," Hermione said.
"Well, yes, but he's still a jerkface!"
Hermione smiled. "He's my loveable git jerkface too," she said giving the spider a shoo on the abdomen.
Octavius sighed. "At least he cuddles you and doesn't try to squish you into random things."
Hermione grinned as the spider toddled off to return to his master. Despite the complaining, she knew Octavius was fanatically loyal to Severus, and Severus had a clear fondness for the spider in return. They just both covered it up with snide banter and insults. When it came down to it, though, Octavius could dish out every bit as much as he took, and Severus respected that in any companion. Octavius just didn't have a filter.
The jinx on the Defence Against Dark Arts position had finally been laid to rest. The Unspeakables had found that the position was anchored to none other than the dueling platform— the one thing that no one ever thought to check. It had been there for as long as anyone could remember, becoming almost as invisible as the classroom floor. People didn't think on it much, and that had played right into hiding it.
The first to stand on the platform every term was always the teacher— and so the jinx would unerringly find its victim. Even when they weren't using the dueling platform, it was the teacher's responsibility to check the platform— and all it took was that standing on it, and by that time, they were already jinxed and unable to sense the jinx anymore.
Twisted, but brilliant.
Severus sent her word via Octavius since he was so angry that he didn't want to risk opening the bond between them and then dumping all that rage into her mind or Desmondon's. Now, he was suffering through the Unspeakables taking the jinx off him— or at least what they could find of it. He suspected the jinx was still there and quite active. It was just really hard to kill someone who was already dead.
Thank Merlin for that, she thought.
Hermione had to smile at Minerva's enthusiasm when it came to getting things done behind Albus' addled back. With his brain frequently wandering off without him, he rarely ever left his office now. He even forgot to feed Fawkes, but thankfully the house elves were taking care of the bird's needs. Fawkes had taken up singing I Plead Insanity as the Headmaster's personal theme song, using his taloned feet to drum the beats on his perch.
Hermione nibbled on a few blackberries, her hunger finally abated enough to allow her to take her craving for life in something other than liquid form. That, she knew, would always be the surefire way to stop the hunger, but it was nice to be able to at least look like she was not starving herself at every meal drinking only tea and broth. Not that it really mattered anymore. School rumours pegged her as a vampire, with stories mixing as to the why. Most people thought it was because of Harry's curse. Others thought the dungeon bat had finally gotten so sick of her hand waving that he bit her. Most pitied her, but they also feared her due to her "condition." Half the school didn't want to catch her "curse" and the rest of them were terrified she'd drain every drop of their blood.
As if she'd ever want the blood of most of these witless dunderheads.
Oops. Maybe she was spending a just little too much time with her husband lately.
Not that either of them would have it any other way.
Harry had tried to talk to her when she had visited the infirmary— for once it wasn't her in the bed. Madam Pomfrey said he was finally free from the yoke of being dosed with Possessiveness Potion, and she made sure of that while he was visiting Neville, who had a concussion from getting whomped by the Whomping Willow when he attempted to harvest moss for Professor Sprout's class.
Not that it had kept him and Ginny apart, really. They seemed addicted to each other, she thought. Only at least Ron was only obsessing with Lavender instead of both Lavender AND her.
Both Harry and Ron were still serving "time" in the manner of detention and school service every night for their attack against her the first time— Harry for cursing her and Ron for his attack on her and Draco later having cemented their solidarity in mutual torment and a complete lack of free time. It seemed like they actually wanted to be in detention, however, because if they weren't in detention, they were off getting even more detention for getting caught snogging or— worse.
She'd not really felt that craving for the more carnal aspects of a relationship until—
She blushed. Well, she wasn't exactly complaining. Her mate was— everything and more. Yes, please. Thank you.
She'd been even more surprised that Severus had quite a fortune on his own even without the family vault— having squirreled hundreds of patents for every potion, spell, hex, and whatever he had created throughout his career.
"What would I spend it on?" he asked her as she saw the increased piles of everything in the family vault. "Until now," he clarified.
She recalled the haunted look on his face as he confessed he'd even sent money to cover the Malfoys' witness protection before they had been married. Lucius had lost a great deal of his family's money thanks to the Dark Lord's continual demands. Bribes, payments for services, pleasures— Lucius had, in his own way, looked out for Severus, as misguided as it had been, once upon a time.
Hermione, however, had surprised him by hugging him and telling him there was no guilt in helping a true friend, especially one who went so far back. Lucius, she had said, and perhaps the entire Malfoy family, had a new lease on life. When the Dark Lord was well and truly gone, he could eventually rebuild.
That had earned her a seriously good snog.
No complaints there. Nope.
It was a discombobulating to have such an accumulation of extreme wealth hidden away. Knowledge, money— but, short of being able to renovate Spinner's End and selling it to what must have been the happiest family in Cokesworth by the time they were done repairing and modernising the old house— they knew they had time to find just the right place for themselves. They could wait. There was no hurry, and they could afford to eat out and spend a bit of time away from Hogwarts on occasion.
All things of value from Severus' old house went into the vault— mostly his collection of books. Everything else had bitter memories attached to it or else had been pawned off by his "sodding drunk of a father for more cheap booze."
Hermione, who normally would have wanted to meet the parents of her husband, realised perhaps it was a blessing that she did not, lest she might have done some terribly unspeakable things to them, with or without magic, for the horrors they had inflicted upon their son.
When a lipping of her hair startled her, she found herself surrounded by the Hogwarts thestral herd and smiled. They crooned and keened, sounding more like a pod of whales rather than creatures of the land or sky. She realised with some delight in the epiphany, that the look of the thestrals' heads looked mighty familiar— much like the Morangelus, only with fewer lines of pointed teeth. Perhaps sharing in the domain of Death had something to do with it— the reason why most did not see their true natures or the shadow spiders. She had not seen the thestrals when Harry had tried to tell her about them.
It wasn't though she didn't believe him as much as she hadn't seen them, and he'd asked "Don't you see them, Hermione?"
The answer to that being "No, I don't see anything, Harry. The carriages are pulling themselves, like always."
It had been pretty naive of her, thinking back on it, much like her old obsession with freeing the house elves "whether they believed they needed it or not." She sighed. She was a right example of oblivious self-righteousness there, for sure. Not everything that looked like slavery actually was slavery.
She and Severus were prime examples of such. To the normal person, perhaps, they were the slaves of Death, forced to do his bidding in all things. They were not. They chose to bind themselves to his service, and he, in exchange, protected and guided them to what he needed of them— tasks they were free to complete in whichever way they wanted to, provided they followed the rules he had set.
And Death had many more rules than they did. Their only rules were to follow his wishes and not take those whose time was not yet up. Those, they were to leave alive— or barely alive, depending on their particular transgressions.
Death Eaters, almost Death Eaters, most of Fenrir's rejects, and those who tried to kill you first— well, they had their own karma backlog just waiting to rise up and smother them. The ones that had attacked her parents, for example, were enjoying her Lord Master's private, erm, hospitality.
It wasn't like Master Desmondon was going to say "Oh, they're trying to kill you and the people you actually care about? Take it to the face, dear."
Hermione snorted. That was so not Master Desmondon's style.
The nearby thestral nickered, bowing, inviting her to ride, and Hermione smiled. "Why not, eh?"
She slipped onto the thestral's back and in front of the wings, hugging the animal's warm neck. Their bodies exuded gratuitous amounts of heat and warmth, so unlike their looks, which people often thought of reptiles, cold blooded, and monsters.
She signalled the thestral with her seat, letting him know she was ready, and the beast spread its great wings and took a running gallop into the air as the rest of the herd followed behind, flying in lazy circles and emitting friendly calls.
As Harry sat on the fence near Hagrid's hut, he saw the thestrals touch down in the field, nimbly dodging the Whomping Willow's not-so-friendly swats. At first he thought they were just milling about, waiting for Hagrid to feed them, but then he realised there was someone perched on one of their backs.
Harry's stomach tied in knots, still unsure what to think.
Ron sat down beside him. "He's not here, mate. Maybe we can come back later." He paused. "Who's that?"
"Wut?" Ron said, disbelief writ bold across every freckle. "She finally come down from on high to mingle with us lowly mortals?"
Harry gave him a look that wasn't all that kind. "If she hadn't been so badly hurt, she'd still be around us. You do realise that right?"
Ron huffed in annoyance. "It was just an accident, Harry. We're already being punished for it. The least she could do is acknowledge that."
"By what? Pretending it didn't happen? She has claws, mate. Her eyes— It's not exactly like I gave her a case of faerie pox and she just broke out in rainbow spots for a week."
"And then you went and almost tried to kill her— again," Harry said, staring down at his shoes.
"I was under the influence!" Ron protested angrily.
"Does it really matter?" Harry asked, running his hands through his messy mop of black hair. "We both— did some pretty horrible things."
The thestral herd milled about, and Hermione was brushing each one, combing the few hairs they had, and using a soft brush to dust them off. She grabbed the large tube of lotion that was sitting on the fence and slathered each thestral, vigorously rubbing it into their dry areas. Each beast nickered and rubbed up against her, eager to get their turn and quite impatient for their own share of the attention.
Harry stared as some of the brushes seem to move on their own, and the lotion she applied seemed to smear itself on each thestral. Ron, who only saw brushes moving themselves stared blankly into the almost-dark of dusk, confused. "She mental? What's she brushing? Air?"
"Oh," Ron said, frowning.
"There you go," Hermione said with a beaming smile. "Thank you very much for the ride."
The thestrals whickered and rubbed up against her in thanks, obviously appreciating her clawed scratchings on their itchiest spots.
"You know, I never really liked flying before," she confessed to one of the foals. "Brooms and I never quite got on." She sniffed and then smiled. "I think I can handle thestrals though."
The baby thestral nickered happily, tossing his tail. His curved almost-beak nibbled on her curls.
"Gah, no, not the hair," Hermione laughed, giving the young foal a hug around the neck before it trotted off to his mum. She looked down at her robes. "I'm now covered in hair," she grumped.
"Out for a little evening romp, Miss Granger," a familiar voice cut through the night sounds, startling the crickets.
"Why, yes, Professor, it seems that I am," Hermione answered. Her face was radiant, beaming with happiness.
"You seem to have quite the collection of hair, Miss Granger," he replied, his dark shape seeming to tower over hers.
"I was born with it," Hermione replied.
"Such cheek," Snape said wryly, his oh-so-white fingers plucking the long strands of thestral hair from her shoulder. He pulled out a long box and his wand."
"Do hold still. I would hate to injure something."
Hermione's lips turned in a smug smile as he guided every single stray thestral hair into the box.
"Thinking of building your own thestral, Miss Granger, or do you have other entrepreneurial goals in mind?" he said, face dispassionate.
"I was thinking of bribing someone with them," Hermione said, her face carefully stoic.
"Do tell? Mr Ollivander, perhaps? I'm sure he'd love to make himself an entire mountain of elder wands."
"You, actually," she said, her eyes smiling for her.
"And what, pray tell, could I possibly have to interest the likes of you, hrm?" Snape's dark eyes gazed down his impressive nose at her, staring her in the eyes.
"I was thinking, to start, perhaps a kiss," she said, going on her tippy toes to oh-so-delicately lick the very tip of his nose. "And then, perhaps, you could throw me down onto this comfy patch of moss and have your wicked way with me out here under the stars."
"Miss Granger, are you propositioning me?"
"Why, is it working?" she asked. "I do love your sexy crooked nose," she purred. "And you have the most delicately long fingers, which I would love to have touching every bit of my attention-starved body as you said just about anything to me in that voice of yours...Professor."
"Hrrr," Severus growled. "Attention-starved? Are you telling me that in all of Hogwarts, no young wizard has come to find value in your more— feminine assets?"
"I fear they don't even know I'm female," Hermione replied sadly, sticking out her lower lip in a pout.
"And you would pick one such as me to bring you into the world of adulthood? Did you fall and hit your head, perhaps?"
"Perhaps, but, it is my choice. I am of age, after all, and perhaps I prefer the touch and attentions of an experienced man to the clumsy fumbling of overeager teenage boys whose only desire is to fornicate in alcoves in Hogwarts in the hopes they are not caught praying beyond all logic that the very act does not saddle them with child and ruin their illusion of adolescent invulnerability without responsibility."
"And what if I were to call you on this so-called responsibility, Miss Granger," Snape said, his nose touching hers. "What if I would demand your own responsibility and inform you that would I bed no female who is not entirely mine. Body." He pressed against her. "Magic." He ran his hands over her face. "Soul." His face twisted into a cruel smile. "Would you willingly choose to bind yourself to such a forbidding scarecrow of a wizard? This vampire of the dungeons. Bat. Git. Overall bastard extraordinaire?"
"Yes, please," Hermione breathed, her voice a shudder of heat and desire.
"And who am I to argue with the foolishness of youth, when such talent and feminine guile walks right up and takes me by the nose, hrm?" He pulled out a pretty silver ring. "Very well, Miss Granger. I would make you mine. With this ring and a kiss, I claim you as mine." He paused. "You are a virgin, yes? The binding magic will not be kind if you are not. Last chance to say no."
Hermione slipped her finger through the ring and pulled his head down into passionate kiss that practically pulled Snape down onto the wall with her. When they parted, they were breathless, and the air was thrumming with thick magic.
"Welcome to my family, Madam Snape," Severus rumbled. "Shall we consummate our union right here or in a proper bed like civilised people?"
Hermione grinned wickedly. "How about over your teaching desk, professor?"
Snape's eyes grew comically wide. "I had no idea you had such adventurous… interests."
"Get to know me," Hermione purred. "Perhaps you will learn something too."
Hermione and Severus turned their heads at the same time, spying the pale, fallen forms of one Harry James Potter and Ronald Bilius Weasley— both boys staring up at the sky with drool leaking from the corner of their mouths. Their bodies were dressed in very opulent and ornate drag, complete with stunning Elizabethan skirts, full makeup, corsets, and excessively frilly underthings.
Hermione eyed Severus. "My love?"
"Did you happen to ward the paddock for privacy with a cross-dressing jinx?"
"Madam, what do you take me for?"
"A cruel, merciless bastard."
"Your cruel, merciless bastard," he said archly, pressing a tender kiss to her forehead.
"I wouldn't have you any other way—" she purred invitingly. "Except maybe in bed. Right now with your mouth right here and your hands right here," she said meaningfully.
"Is that all, Madam Snape?" he asked.
"I'll think of the rest depending on just how well you do."
Severus rumbled. "Challenge accepted."
Colin Creevey wasn't even sure what he was taking pictures of, but when the Hufflepuff Quidditch team pointed him in a direction and told him to click away like nothing else mattered, he merely did as he was told. The entire team was at it, laughing and yelling and wolf-whistling like mad, but Colin had no idea what was really going on. For all he knew, there was a brawl going on, but at least he'd have plenty of pictures for the school paper in the morning.
As he sat alone in the dark room waiting for the photographs to develop, he moved them over to the setter, jiggling the tray so they would set correctly. Squinting at the pictures, all he could see was a pair of silly witches dressed in fancy old-style clothes from the Muggle world. However, when all the photos were hanging to dry, he opened the door to the dark room and lit the lanterns again so he could see…
And promptly grabbed up all the photographs and ran full tilt to the newspaper room, yelling for them to hold the presses.
"Professor McGonagall you have to do something!" Harry pleaded.
"She's been Imperiused!" Ron exclaimed.
"She must've been Confunded!" Harry added
Minerva, who was trying really hard to take two teen wizards dressed in Elizabethan drag seriously, cleared her throat. "Let me get this straight, Messrs Potter, Weasley. You were out on the grounds, well after curfew, spying on another student, and allegedly saw this student, how did you put it—"
"'Mione went down on Snape!" Ron blurted out. "It was disgusting!"
"More disgusting than, say, the over twenty detentions you two gentlemen have accumulated so far for being caught in various indecent acts in the hallway alcoves, Mr Weasley?" Minerva asked, giving both boys a stern look over her spectacles.
"That's different! That's only natural!" Ron defended himself, his ears going very red.
"Well, gentlemen, while normally we would take such accusations very seriously here at Hogwarts," Minerva said, with a twitch of the invisible whiskers on her face, "I fear there is nothing we can really do about a consensual marriage bond or—" Minerva coughed lightly. "Relations taking place between two consenting adults."
"WUT?!" Ron blurted.
"What do you mean?" Harry exclaimed.
Minerva did her very best to keep a straight face. "You two are barking up the wrong tree. I think instead of trying to point out sin where there is none, perhaps you should instead focus on how your own behaviour is not exactly helping your respective reputations, and those reputations have become more than a little shaky as of late. I must ask that you work on curbing your… appetites, lest you, ah… expose your younger and impressionable fellow students to acts that they should not have to witness in these halls of education."
"Now, that being said, both of you will be serving an extra month's worth of weekend detentions assisting Mr Filch in his duties for breaking curfew and falsely accusing the staff of this school of lewd behaviour."
"But Mione is a student!" Ron argued.
"No, Mr Weasley. She is not," Minerva calmly informed the aggrieved redhead.
Suddenly, there was a quiet knock at Minerva's door.
"Ah, do come in, please," she called out welcomingly.
Hermione walked in followed by the always looming with a touch of dooming Professor Snape. "Hello, Professor. I'm here to sign the contract we discussed?."
"Ah, yes, Hermione, Severus. Please give me a moment—" She shuffled through her drawers and pulled out a scroll. "Here we go," she said, smoothing it out. "A one-year apprenticeship under Horace, who has, shall I say, quite gleefully agreed and is greatly anticipating a return to the joys of retirement. After which, you will, upon completion of your mastery project, be offered a full-time contract position here at Hogwarts as the new professor of Potions and head of Gryffindor house. Congratulations, my dear."
Hermione dipped a quill into the inkwell and signed her name, and Minerva witnessed it with her seal. "Thank you, Professor."
"No, thank you," Minerva said, a smile spanning her entire face like a certain Cheshire Cat as she handed the younger witch a hefty sack of galleons. "Here is your stipend to purchase your teaching robes, pins, and signet rings. All the usual rubbish." She winked at Hermione. "Horace even added a little extra to bribe you perhaps into mooching some of Severus' formidable expertise to fast track yourself, I assume so he can get back to his retirement all the quicker."
"Professor," Hermione said with a gasp, placing her hand to her sternum. "Are you encouraging me to use Professor Snape's impressive fountain of knowledge as my personal drinking fountain?"
Severus' expression didn't waver in the slightest. "What makes you think there is anything she could offer that would make me take away from the joys of watching dear Horace searching for the retirement he still pines for like a long lost lover?"
"Oh, I'm sure you could think of something that might distract you from that, laddie," Minerva said, her eyes sparkling with mischief and her lips tilting just slightly upward.
Minerva smiled. "As much as he will probably hate you for it, do take Severus out to get some sun while you shop. But try not to spontaneously combust, if you please."
Severus wrinkled his nose at her. "Are you trying to kill me, Minerva? Everyone in Hogwarts knows I will spontaneously combust if exposed to sunlight."
"Just dodge those sunbeams, laddie," Minerva said with a warm chuckle. "With all that forbidding black you choose to wear all the time, all you really need to do is pull up your hood and keep your hands in your pockets."
Severus eyed the Deputy Headmistress with the look that consistently made Hufflepuffs cry and drove even the proudest Gryffindor to slink away from his black gaze with their tail tucked firmly between their legs. Minerva, however, simply passed him a shortbread biscuit and gave him her best feline smile.
"Sorry for interrupting your conference, Professor," Hermione said as both she and Severus turned to leave. "I will leave you and your… ah, young ladies in peace."
"WAAAAT!" Ronald screeched. "I am not a lady!"
Hermione turned slowly like a star in a horror movie. "Ronald? Is that YOU?! Wait… HARRY?"
Ron, having suddenly realised that he could have denied everything had it not been for his own big mouth, turned bright red as he stammered and sputtered. Harry gave Ron the most hateful look he could muster, fervently wishing his best mate would have shut the ruddy hell up while he was ahead.
"Haven't read the paper, yet, hrm?" Severus' voice purred as he pulled a copy of the Hogwarts Chronicle out of his robes and placed it down on Minerva's desk.
Harry made a frantic lunge for it, quickly trying to hide it against his chest, unaware that that the back side was the one plastered with Colin's impressive collection of pictures from the Quidditch practice.
Ron tried to slither under the desk as Hermione grinned wickedly. "Well, I know what I'll be reading in the bath tonight, hrm?" she said.
Hermione and Severus swept from the room in a flurry of black cloth as Harry and Ron did their best to die of embarrassment.
Minerva, steepling her fingers, could only watch, the smothered grin on her face sparkling in her eyes as she attempted to remain proper.
SHOCKER: Boy-Who-Lived Comes Out In Transvestite Love Affair!
Ginevra Weasley and Lavender Brown Left Heartbroken!
Oh ho ho, Wizarding Britain! It has become quite the stirring pot at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, and I, Rita Skeeter, have the scoop for you!
Yes, we all preach to our children to keep their budding libidos under control and their hands to themselves, but do they ever listen? In today's age, it seems to hard to keep the old practices alive— traditions that have guarded many a family fortune over countless generations. Of course, few families actually say the why, right? It is assumed that when the parents say to use good judgement that the child doesn't plan to mess up their entire future by say… shagging in a random cupboard or public hallway.
Stuff and nonsense, you say?
I don't think so, for I have learned the dark and dirty secret o f the Boy-Who-Mucked-Things-Up and his best mate, Ronald Bilius Weasley, thanks to the photographs taken by the up-and-coming young photographer Colin Creevey— photos that were so good, the Daily Prophet has offered him a permanent position upon graduation as well as paying him top galleons for rights to his stunning array of candid photos of Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley running side-by-side through the hallowed halls of Hogwarts sporting elaborate Elizabethan dresses and full makeup.
And if such stories and photos do not sway you to accepting the truth that Harry Potter is hardly an innocent victim in this story, I have it on very good authority that the two young wizards' now ex-girlfriends have shocking news of their hidden pregnancies— having consummated their teenage lust in many a dark and deserted school hallway.
So, who is the betrayer? Who is the betrayed?
It might be easy to believe that Potter and Weasley were merely the hapless victims of someone's epic prank, but after seeing Ms Brown and Ms Weasley dressed as Muggles and sneaking out to get Muggle pregnancy tests together, what can I truly say? Seems like there is quite a lot going on in the life of Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley.
What Potter and Weasley intend to do about this shocking state of affairs, however, remains to be seen.
Draco Malfoy, heir to the "throne" of Malfoy, was losing his marbles all over the shared common room. Minerva, who at least had the decency to be in cat form before getting herself high on nip and rolling around completely stoned out of her feline mind, chased Haze around with Crookshanks until the dizzy spider dove under a low cabinet to escape her furry pursuers.
Severus, staring down at the young wizard sprawled out on his floor, finally sighed. "Are you quite finished?"
Draco continued to roll around, laughing hysterically. "No, no, not even close."
Severus rolled his eyes.
A clutter of spiders skittered by carrying a delicate silver diadem set with a sparkling blue stone. "Don't mind us!"
"We're just doing all of the work around here."
"While you're rolling around on the floor."
They skittered up to put the diadem on Hermione's desk, where she and Severus sat face to face, hands linked across the desk as magic swirled around them. Dark wisps of black aether swirled around them, their eyes fully black and fully gold, the irises having swallowed the whites completely. They stared into each other, but they did not see the other. Hermione's curls seemed to twist and writhe on their own as Severus' hair stood up from the roots as though he'd just walked across a bearskin rug.
Skullface to skullface, their jaws were slightly parted as they focused. Darkened vapour swirled from each of their mouths, moving around the other in a seeming caress. Their wings hung loosely, but the spurs touched, hooking around the other's in a makeshift cocoon.
Master of Death
Balance of Life
Lurks in the darkness
But walks in the light
Seeker of souls
And master of ends
Purify this diadem
Once crafted amongst friends.
Restore the purity
Of knowledge gained,
Release the Darkness,
Within this object is chained
Blood of the servant,
Blood of the master,
Within is hidden.
With a rush of magic, they bit their hands and let the blood drip over the diadem, and the circlet screamed as a foul, black corruption immediately fled from its core. The scream was strangled, almost too human, filled with the kind of rage and hate that held an entire lifetime condensed in one shrill, agonising wail.
A golden goblet floated in the air before them, and Octavius lead the way in catching it in silk, sticking it firmly in place as both Hermione and Severus extended their talons forward. With a sharp thrust, Severus grasped the goblet, and it started to buck and tilt wildly in the webbing. Hermione's eyes glowed as she bit her finger and then smeared her blood over the goblet.
Goblet of Hufflepuff
Of the workers' caste
Noble of spirit
Duty to last.
Blood of our Master
Through us does flow
Purify this travesty,
Where darkness was sown.
Back to the corruptor,
These curses shall flee.
Destroy the destroyer,
Thrice back in deed.
Wherever the creator
Hides in the dark,
Our Master sends greetings,
To demand you embark.
Choose to seek out your end,
in our Master's embrace,
Or be flung in the Abyss,
Without even a trace.
Your life is unnatural,
Defying the law.
You seek not the Cycle,
Only other's pain and awe.
We give you one year,
To settle your earthly affairs.
After which we shall come,
And your unworthy soul to reap.
With the blood of our Master,
You will know pain,
Or you can come to him willingly,
Wearing only your shame.
The end will come one way,
Like it or not.
Be it on our terms,
Or in the chains you have wrought.
As Hermione's blood touched the goblet, it began to smoke as dark slime oozed out of the gold metal. It bounced in the web, unable to escape its strong, silken prison, and it then it seemed explode outward, attempting to destroy the pair as they sat at the desk together.
The moment the blackness touched their pale flesh, it ate it away, dissolved the skin, muscle, and fat, liquefying it as it went all the way down to the bone until two white skulls were all that remained, along with matching sets of skeletal talons. The skulls seemed to twist into mocking smiles, twin flames glowing from the sockets where their eyes should have been.
Slowly at first, and then faster, the flesh seemed to crawl back into where it belonged, reforming as it had left. The goblet was still in the silken web, pristine once more.
Hermione yawned, showing all fang and a lolling tongue just before her elongated muzzle-skull reformed into something more human.
"Tired?" Severus asked quietly.
Hermione nodded. "Is it bad that I've already forgotten what year this is supposed to be for me?"
Severus gave his own yawn and shrugged. "I don't believe so, considering all we've been through lately. All the time turning probably didn't help any in your case."
Hermione chuckled. She grew sombre as she stood and wrapped her arms around herself in a shiver. "I should probably tell Draco he can stop plastering his ear to the door and come back in the main room, hrm?"
Severus rolled his eyes. "No."
Draco burst through the door and blurted, "Hey!"
Severus shook his head. "Point made."
Draco snorted. "Why are you such a git, Severus?"
"I'm paid to," Severus replied. "It's in my contract."
"Yeah, and he's a master at it!" Octavius squeaked, earning himself a firm squish and a shove back under Severus' hair. "Git!"
Shade, Cinder, Kobal shook their heads simultaneously, seemingly glad they weren't having to deal with such rough handling.
"I want ice cream," Cinder said.
"Ooo, what kind?" Kobal asked eagerly.
"Do you think it would be too much to ask for bugs in my ice cream?"
"I don't think that's normal," Kobal replied.
Haze skittered over. "Double chocolate and toffee chips," she said, in a rare moment of lucidity.
"I agree with her," Draco said with enthusiasm, plucking Haze off Hermione's shoulder.
A house elf arrived with a tray full of bowls of ice cream— and a few extra tiny bowls of ice cream, perfectly spider-sized.
"Banana split with lacewing flies, yum!" The spiders all dove in, taking their mini-bowls and making themselves obnoxiously happy.
Hermione handed Draco the double chocolate and toffee chip bowl and Severus the espresso with fudge swirl before taking her own bowl of black raspberry chocolate chunk. "Thank you, Figgy."
"Figgy is happy to serve most glorious Snape Madam!" the little elf beamed and vanished with a poof.
Hermione looked down at a diagonal, her head tilted oddly as she sighed. "Well, I suppose that's better than them running in fear that I'm going to give them clothes."
Severus made a scrunched face. "I heard about that."
Hermione flushed. "I was an idiot."
"You probably saw some sort of house elf underappreciated slavery," Severus said. "But— if they are doing their job right, they mean to be underappreciated. Their magic is making things seem… magical."
Hermione tilted her head. "I think you're right."
"As Lucius would say, 'Of course, I'm right. I'm me'." Severus did a flourish and a bow.
Hermione snorted, eating her ice cream.
Severus shook his head, looking like it truly hurt him to emulate Lucius Malfoy for any amount of time. "I feel like I am going to spontaneously combust."
"That did look rather painful," Hermione admitted. "Especially that hair flip."
Octavius let out a yawning squeak. "So, um, what's next?"
Hermione stared into her bowl of ice cream. "I have no idea."
"We wait for the Dark Lord to give up, or we meet up in a year and force our hand." Severus rubbed his chin and sighed. "That is the time when our confrontation would have happened regardless of what we are."
"Severus you make the end of the war sound like such a bother."
"Oh, but it is," Severus confessed.
"No, a bother is Sybill Trelawney," Hermione sniffed. "A bother is having to save your supposed friends from blowing everyone up in class and then having to take a detention for it."
Severus snorted. "Missing such days, are you?"
Hermione plunked her empty dish down. "No, not really."
"I really wasn't a fan of my school days either," Severus said. "Only my tormentors could find me anywhere, somehow, anytime."
Hermione frowned. "Harry's father?"
Hermione scowled a moment, the gears in her head turning. "I think I know how they did it."
His eyes looked at her guardedly. "Go on."
Hermione extended one hand, her fingers twisting into gnarled talons. She put her palm up. Severus carefully laid his hand in hers, and there was a jolt as her memory flowed into his.
His hissed quietly as the memory was almost too clear.
Potter and Weasley were there, under the invisibility cloak as they muttered to each other, pulling out a folded piece of parchment. They tapped it with their wand and said, "I do solemnly swear that I'm up to no good."
The parchment became a giant, highly-detailed map of Hogwarts, filled with moving names.
Severus shook off the memory. "The old me would be livid," he said after a long silence. "I think i'm just a little disgusted that I was outwitted by a ruddy piece of smart-arsed parchment."
Hermione winced. "Sorry."
"Don't be," he said. "Dying has a way of— providing perspective."
Hermione placed her hand over his. "I am glad to have you in this journey, Severus."
Severus stood, tugging her with him to their joined bed chambers. "I think it's time we did a little something for ourselves, love."
Hermione squeaked as his mouth covered a sensitive spot under her ear. "Okay," she murmured against his cheek.
He gathered her up in his arms and plunked her down on the bed. He gave her a wicked smile that spoke volumes only to her.
Hermione admired his chain of buttons that seemed to go on forever.
Voldemort sat at the head of his table, the table he had stolen with the rest of Lucius Malfoy's estate. Around him lay the corpses of his knights, sucked dry of their magic and life before they could be purified.
In the middle of the room lay the corpse of Nagini, perhaps his only true friend, even if she couldn't help but be loyal to him as a Parseltongue.
Voldemort now forced himself to rebuild his ranks with the likes of Fenrir Greyback and those he had once deemed too impure to join his knights, but there was a price for binding one's self to the riff-raff of Wizarding society. His powerbase no longer pulled on old magic families where blood and magic were bound together. He no longer had the seemingly infinite coffers of Lucius Malfoy and the other Sacred 28 to pull from.
He was surviving, but every attempt to create a new Horcrux caused him waves of excruciating pain. How his hidden Horcruxes had been found and destroyed, however… that still remained to be seen.
He could still feel the one, though— the locket was still safe, and as long as it remained so, that nightmare of two skull-faced figures warning him to put his affairs in order and embrace death could be dismissed as mere folly.
He was the great Lord Voldemort, more powerful than any wizard that had ever lived, more powerful than his blood could have ever imagined. He was immortal, and even Death himself could not claim him for his own.
At least he had the new Marked to feed him, even if they didn't realise what it was doing—
Even if it had some odd side effects.
Fenrir was, perhaps, the most shaken by them. The Mark had taken away his "gift"- the thing all others called a curse, or at least those who hadn't been brainwashed into thinking rampaging around as a mindless, violent beast was somehow a good thing.
It didn't matter to him, though. The neutering of Fenrir only make him forcibly subservient, hoping that gaining his lord's favour would return his "power" to him. Fenrir had to work extra hard to get his "cured" people to fear him enough to give him what he believed was the proper respect.
A part of Voldemort thought it ironic that the "cure" for lycanthropy was to override it with Dark Magic and have it drive out the curse. The person could not serve two masters. There was either him or the beast— and Voldemort was more of a beast than any bloodthirsty mindless animal.
It annoyed him that it took so much energy to appear powerful enough to intimidate ever since his original Death Eaters had left him, their screams of agony as the outpouring of the Mark's Dark Influence was torn from their very blood. He couldn't fathom how it had happened— the Mark had been the most perfect connection to both power and ensured loyalty. Soon enough he'd be strong enough to make another Horcrux. He just had to remain patient.
Harry panted as he let himself sag wearily against the bookshelves in Dumbledore's office. The "field trip" to a cave swarming with Inferi had done wonders to convince him that he wasn't ready to face just how evil Voldemort was— a person who could kill so many just to make an army of the dead to guard a lake. Perhaps he had only killed a handful, and they had made their victims into kin, but Harry wasn't sure if it even mattered.
Dumbledore had used some sort of swirling ring of fire to save them both, but after that, it was Harry that had to save their lives by focusing the Headmaster enough to bring them home without splinching them both.
Yet, even as he was thankful that they had survived the experience, he couldn't help but notice how strange and… different the Headmaster had become. Where once was surity of action and planning, now there was only confusion.
Dumbledore muttered lowly to himself, and a locket lay near his withered hand. Dumbledore himself was slumped heavily near a window, his aged face haunted.
Harry had heard many of the man's strange apologies and confessions of guilt as he had drank down the strange potion from the stone bowl—
Dumbledore looked far older now than he once did, and it seemed as if that sort of timeless, ageless quality had left him. No one doubted he was old, but always before Dumbledore had seemed outside of time— as if it didn't really matter to him.
The locket was vitally important, or so the Headmaster had confided in him, yet as the open locket lay on the floor— a piece of parchment unfurled from its compartment— all that could be discerned was a long lost note by someone named R.A.B. who had taken the real item to destroy it. What that meant for Dumbledore's quest, however, remained elusive.
Harry found himself wishing fiercely that Hermione was there to help shed some light on the situation, and the sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach was nothing short of guilty. He'd well and truly mucked up that avenue of communication by turning Hermione's blood to acid and doing whatever it as that had caused her to undergo a grisly transformation into something "other" that required Snape, of all people, to watch over her.
He still wasn't wrapping his mind around marriage, however, preferring to think instead that someone had spiked his and Ron's pumpkin juice and caused them both to hallucinate the whole thing together. It didn't matter that Hermione was now apprenticing as a teacher under Slughorn or that everyone in the school other than Ron and the Headmaster seemed to think that everything was all HIS fault. Even Sybill Trelawney had flung a crystal ball at him, cursing him for stealing away the only wizard worthy of herself.
Harry felt his eye twitching. That was just one hell of a nasty mental image— arguably even worse than Snape and Hermione, if only by a fraction.
Ron, he knew, had practically hurled at the thought of it, yelling "that greasy git doesn't deserve her" and "even Hermione deserves better than ruddy Snape." That statement had earned Ron a few looks that weren't even remotely friendly. Not at all. Matters had compounded when someone said "Madam Snape" within earshot of Ron, and he set off on a massive tirade that ended with Ron enjoying yet another detention with Filch thanks to him plowing into Professor Flitwick in the greenhouse. The unfortunate smaller teacher had ended up tangled in the Venomous Tentacula and had suffered numerous bites before finally being extricated from the pissed-off plant—
No, that hadn't ended well at all.
Harry knew that Dumbledore was the main reason he and Ron hadn't been all but drawn and quartered by the Aurors and the Wizengamot. It had been him, after all, who had advocated that the two of them "serve penance" at Hogwarts since they were, technically, still minors. Now, of course, they had to be extra mindful, since both Ron and him were now of age by Wizarding standards. The only reason Ron had escaped notice from being, technically, seventeen was again— thanks to Albus Dumbledore.
Then again, it had also helped that Ron hadn't been one to actually cast the spell.
The Headmaster had mumbled something about how Harry needed to keep Hermione close before lapsing back into his disjointed mumblings.
Harry was just too confused to figure out how exactly he was supposed to do that after having done what he did to her. Apologies aside, she obviously had exchanged trust for frank suspicion.
Harry picked up the rolled up parchment that had once been in the locket. Hermione did always like puzzles. Perhaps he could entice her into humouring him.
For a moment, he placed his hand on Dumbledore's shoulder. "I need to go, sir."
Clarity seemed to flicker across Dumbledore's eyes. "Yes, of course, Harry," he said.
Harry frowned and nodded. "Take care of yourself, Sir," he said, slowly walking out of the headmaster's office, his mind full of too many questions and not enough answers.
Harry found himself oogling around as Slughorn lead him down a corridor and into another atrium. "Don't be too long, my boy. I have her working on a project."
"Thank you, Professor Slughorn," Harry thanked the portly man awkwardly, trying hard not to stare at his mustache too much.
As Harry walked into the room, Slughorn left them alone, and Hermione's eyes flicked up from a pile of scrolls. Her unnerving, golden gaze bored into him and then flicked back down to her work. "May I help you, Mr Potter?" she said formally, her voice barely changing.
Crookshanks jumped up on the desk and glowered fiercely at him, tail swishing back and forth in clear annoyance. He stretched and headbonked Hermione's arm before curling up right in the middle of her parchments.
Hermione sighed, nudging the feline's fluffy tail aside to sign another parchment before plunking her quill down.
"Hermione, Dumbledore really needs our help," he said quickly.
"And what, pray tell, would the great Albus Dumbledore need a lowly apprentice to help him with?"
Harry swallowed hard. He had to admit, she had a valid point— at least had the Headmaster been fully aware.
"There's something—" Harry began. "There's something off about him, Hermione. He's not like he was."
"No longer able to cover up the shameful atrocities happening within the very hallowed halls of his school?"
"Hermione, I'm sorry! How many times must I say it before you will believe me!"
A dark shadow moved in from behind Harry, the sweep of black swirling in the teacher's wake. "I would hope that you had something more significant to say than to come here to beat an already long dead horse of apology, Mr Potter." The DADA teacher curled his lip, but Crookshanks chose that moment to stand up and purr-rub against the curtain of black, getting an obnoxious amount of ginger fur on the heavy black wool.
"You are truly insufferable, cat," Severus said, pointing his long finger at the unrepentant feline offender.
Crookshanks rubbed up against his finger, scenting both sides with a deep, rumbling purr.
Snape rolled his eyes.
"Don't blame him," Hermione said. "It's not his fault you're so likeable."
"Are you mental, witch?" Severus said, snorting in sheer disbelief.
"I do have my occasional moments of lucidity," Hermione said primly.
Harry decided to be a bit more more direct. "Look, I know you think some pretty horrible things about me, but this is important," he explained. "Professor Dumbledore took me out to some hidden cave near the ocean and he had to drink some weird potion to pull an old locket out of the bowl it was in. But when we got back, the locket opened up to reveal this note, and I think it might be really important!"
Hermione's lips tightened, and Severus placed a hand on her shoulder before he gestured to the desk. "Put it here, Mr Potter."
"The note, or have you forgotten already?"
Harry flinched and unrolled the small parchment.
Snape eyed it, lids narrowing. "Where was this, Mr Potter?"
"Inside a locket."
"Where was the locket found?"
"In a bowl on a pedestal, covered in some emerald green potion, sir."
Hermione looked up at the DADA teacher, and he returned her gaze. Harry could have sworn they were somehow talking, but their lips didn't move at all.
"What aren't you saying, Mr Potter?" Severus asked.
Harry cringed, expecting Snape to point his wand at him and tromp through his mind. "There were dead people in the lake— they tried to drag me under when I tried to get water for Professor Dumbledore. He set them on fire, and we escaped— barely."
Professor Snape cracked his neck. "I see." He sighed and shook his head. "I suppose it cannot be helped," he said after a while. "I will send a Patronus to Alastor and see if we can light a fire under the proper amount of posteriors."
Harry frowned at the strange intimacy between them that seemed to scream that all his denial was for naught.
He had driven his best friend into the arms of Snape.
Professor Snape allowed Hermione to take his fingers— his FINGERS! She rubbed them with her thumb and squeezed gently, taking comfort from him.
"My wife," the dour man rumbled. "I recommend dinner before you pass out from famished exhaustion. I do not approve of Horace's abuse of you doing all his paperwork that he should have filled out."
"I don't mind it, Severus," Hermione said, and Harry flinched as she used the man's given name with such… tenderness. It wasn't right. It wasn't… natural. "I don't have to brew the example potions for tomorrow's class because of it."
"Oh, and what horrible potions would he desire for his classes?"
"Amortentia and the Compulsion potions," she said.
"Shirking your potions duties, Hermione? How indecent."
"Psh," Hermione replied. "I brewed them already last week. All he has to do is decanter the cauldrons into his teaching vessels."
Professor Snape let out a sigh. "Who is the teacher again?"
"You, sir," Hermione replied with a whisper that made it sound positively indecent.
Harry looked on in unabashed horror as it looked like the two were going to kiss right in front of him, and he felt the bile rise in his throat. "Okay! Stop! I learned my lesson! You don't have to fake being married anymore just to gross me out!"
Snape's head snapped around and stared at him, his dark eyes more than a little inscrutable.
Hermione, however, took that moment to say, "Oh, believe me Harry, the pleasure is all mine," she purred, tugging Snape's chin towards her as she guided his mouth down to hers where she proceeded to demonstrate the art of the most sensual kiss known to the living.
Harry tried to suppress his other brain's instinctive, uncontrollable reaction, and failed utterly. He flushed, digging his fingers into his palms with an anguished look.
"I'm sorry, alright. Please, just—"
Severus looked upward, reluctantly pulling away from his lovely wife's irresistible lips and even more skilled tongue.
"Mr Potter, you are the one who have intruded on our private space for your— issue. You can stop looking at us like we are a freak show and thinking such awful thoughts about me having to drug someone to get them to find me appealing in any way. I have every right to enjoy private moments with my wife, and she has every right to indulge in them with whomever she chooses, as long as that person is me."
"Severus," Hermione huffed.
"I can't have my wife out there snogging immature boys now can I?"
"Like I would ever be snogging anyone but you, you insufferable git!" she protested, somehow ending up with a rolled up Prophet in her hands which she proceeded to smack him with.
"Agh! Abuse, wife. Desist your assault upon my cranium with inane printed drivel!"
Severus and Hermione turned their heads simultaneously to see Harry passed out cold on the floor.
Octavius sprung from Severus' shoulder and landed on Harry's chest. "I know exactly what to do!"
Minerva walked into the workroom that connected both to Slughorn's domicile and to the Snape quarters and was immediately assaulted by Harry Potter hanging upside down, wrapped like a Christmas ham in silk. Hermione was up to her neck in scrolls she was writing over, and Severus was sitting in an armchair reading the Daily Prophet like it was the latest issue of Potions Monthly.
"Care to explain why Mr Potter is hanging upside-down in your wife's workroom wrapped up like a prize ham?"
"No, not really," Severus said, licking one finger and idly turning the page to the paper.
Octavius landed neatly on Minerva's shoulder. "He deserved it," the spider squeaked.
"And what, pray tell, did he do that qualifies as 'deserving it'?" Minerva asked.
"He accused Severus of drugging Hermione to love him and faking that they're married," Octavius said, his forelegs tapping in annoyance. "I figured he needed to grow up fast, so hanging him upside down would increase the blood flow to his clearly starved little grey cells."
"Emphasis on little," Haze said, rubbing her abdomen with her legs.
"Emphasis on starving," Shade added, gazing up at Minerva with a determined air.
Minerva pinched the bridge of her nose. "Please, just get Potter down from there. I'm just glad you didn't challenge him to a duel of honour like the purebloods do whenever their wives are involved."
"You could do that?" Haze asked, clearly interested.
"No," Minerva said. "He cannot."
"Awwww," Kobal said. "I do so love a good duel."
"It's a good thing there aren't any more of you," Minerva sighed. "I'm not sure this school could handle a rampaging horde of vengeful arachnids on a mission to defend their mistress' honour."
The shadow spiders perked and bounced happily. "We aim to please!"
"Please whom, exactly?" Minerva asked, frowning worriedly.
The spiders' eyes whirled. "Hee!"
They disappeared into a wisp of black aether.
To say he was unnerved was calling the Atlantic ocean a puddle, and Harry was feeling more than a little unnerved walking into Grimmauld Place with Hermione on one side and Snape on the other. To add even more discomfort, Alastor Moody brought up the rear, wearing the kind of scowl that made merely breathing look like an Unforgivable.
When Kreacher walked up to them, scowling darkly, he looked like he was ready to sprew his typical brand of hatred upon them. The elf suddenly stopped in his tracks, his eyes growing wider than wide on the normally narrow-eyed face.
"Is it Kreacher's time?" the elf whispered, terror in his voice.
Harry turned to look at Hermione, his mind full of questions.
Hermione, who normally dreaded Kreacher's foul treatment of her, had schooled her face into utter dispassion, but it was disturbing coupled with her unnerving amber eyes and unnaturally pale skin.
Harry flinched. All his fault.
"No, Kreacher," Hermione said, her voice strangely unemotional and so unlike the Hermione Harry knew— or thought he knew.
Harry swallowed hard, realising that that, too, was his fault.
The house elf still looked beyond terrified, something Harry didn't quite understand. This was Hermione, after all, and she had done nothing to Kreacher but try to treat him with kindness and respect, even when the elf had insulted her to the point of tears.
Molly stood at the end of the hallway. "Harry!" she greeted warmly. She approached and hugged him warmly, but she gave Hermione a cold glare and Severus a twisted lip of pure disgust. "How could you, Severus?! Corrupting a young girl and forcing her to marry you?!"
"It was a magic-blessed marriage, Molly," Severus said, teeth clenched. "And you know as well as me what that means."
Molly paled, staring at Hermione. "No, it can't be. She's just a young child. You're wrong."
Severus scowled at her, glowering down his nose at the Weasley matron.
"Do tell Mr Potter and the rest of the people with their ears plastered to the doors what that means, Molly." He spat her first name like a curse. "Tell them what it really means."
Molly shook her head adamantly. "There's no way she could be of age and willingly wish to bind herself to the likes of you."
"Ah, and there's the rub, isn't it?" Severus sneered at her. "I'm willing to bet that if she had been willingly bound to your son of choice, there wouldn't be a problem for you, yes? But no one could ever find such value within me."
Molly's face flushed red with embarrassment and anger.
"You're her TEACHER!" Molly hissed.
"Hasn't Albus told you? I am no longer her teacher, and it was he who put us together— cohabitating."
Molly's face paled. "I don't believe you!"
"Would you like a memory?" Snape seethed at her.
"If you are quite finished talking like I am not here," Hermione said with no small amount of annoyance, "there is a meeting we were summoned to attend."
She and Moody swept by both Severus and Molly, even as Hermione's hair seemed to rise up on its own and emulate a nest of cobras.
As Harry shuffled along uneasily behind them, Molly brought up the rear.
"You look tired," Remus said quietly, sitting down beside Hermione as she looked out over the back garden— the only flourishing thing that remained vibrantly alive at Grimmauld Place "Rough conversation in there," he said. "As usual, they focus on the stupid things and forget all about why we are here to begin with."
Hermione sighed. "It's too much to expect to be treated like my opinion is worth anything."
"Not everyone can see past the illusion of youth," Remus said. "Others spend their entire lifetime trying to put themselves back to such days." Remus sighed, looking up at the night sky. The angry voices of the people inside arguing continued to fill the house.
"I wish they'd stop trying to make Severus look like the bad guy long enough to realise that he's right."
Remus smiled. "I fear years of his caustic personality hasn't helped improve their opinions of the man," he said. "In school, it only got worse with age." He took in a deep breath. He pressed a package into her hands. "Here. My… belated congratulations."
Hermione tilted her head curiously. Then she unwrapped the small cloth-wrapped bundle and stared. Nestled in the cloth was a grotesque gargoyle face, lovingly carved in realistic detail. "Is this—?"
"Traditional housewarming gift to newlywed wizarding couples," he said. "Guards the home from evil, but I think one look at Severus' scowl and most denizens of evil would run the other way."
Hermione laughed, touching the relief with a smile. "Thank you, Remus. It means a lot to me. Severus will be touched, even if he won't admit it, much less show it."
"I expect no less," Remus assured her. "He's not the only one who's changed since school, Hermione, but you can well imagine the old grudges are still all-too-real."
Hermione touched Remus's hand. "When the war is done, Remus, you may find many things will not matter as much. How did you find out about the marriage?"
Remus smiled, flushing a little. "Harry wrote me a rather panicked letter saying it was all his fault that Hermione ran into the arms of Snape. I tried to tell him that no one, no way, and no how was Severus going to let any female touch him unless it was real. I knew it was real. Severus is a great many things, but he doesn't play with women like that. Breaks their minds, perhaps, but not like that."
Hermione snorted. "My mind is perfectly solid."
Remus chuckled. "Solidly 'round the bend. Seems good old Molly left out the part about how magical marriages work and that it requires both being of appropriate age to make sound decisions and a willingness to be bound."
"I don't think she has ever forgiven me for getting her Ronald in trouble. Harry too. She sees them both as her youngest sons. But me— I've never been more than an outsider as far as she's concerned. Even Ginny won't talk to me now." She pointed to her eyes and splayed her claws. "Can't imagine why."
"You don't even bother to glamour it," Remus observed, not accusing.
Hermione shook her head. "No. I find it helps show me who my real friends are."
"You're not a child, Hermione, but I find it rather sad that you can be so cynical as young as you are," Remus confessed. "Something terrible must have happened to you— something more than what Harry told me about."
Hermione looked grimly at the far side of the garden. "I heard you question Albus tonight."
Remus nodded. "He's losing it, Hermione. Only a fool couldn't see it. They're in there, arguing about Severus, when they don't see the old man is off in la-la land."
"When Harry cursed me, it killed me," Hermione said. She looked at Remus carefully, studying his expression. "This transformation is what saved me. Well, more or less"
"You're serious, aren't you?" Remus said slowly.
Hermione gave him a half-hearted, mirthless smile. "Unfortunately." She looked up. "Make no mistake. I chose to come back. I chose to fight, but the Hermione that Harry knew died that day."
"I recognise that look—" Remus said. "I saw Severus right after Lily died. It was the same look. The same… odd scent."
Hermione cocked her head again. "Werewolves and your sensitive noses," she sniffed.
Remus gave her a sheepish grin. "Can't help it. I can tell you're mated too. Your scents carry each other's. Maybe that's why I didn't question it."
"Harry may have killed me, Remus," Hermione said, "but it was Albus who called in a favour to bring me me back from death. And it is that act which pushed him into this state he is in right now— the magic that kept him from forgetting himself was used to keep me alive."
Remus stared hard at one particular rosebush, his face twisted into a myriad of different emotions. "He wants me infiltrate Fenrir's pack and turn them against him, but he doesn't seem to realise that the only way out of Fenrir's pack is death— and the word is—"
Hermione lifted her head. "Hrm?"
"Fenrir is now Marked by the Dark Lord— he and all his pack. If I go and infiltrate, I'd have to take the Mark."
Hermione jerked her head, her lips flattening in a firm line. "Do not go."
"I have to," Remus said. "I— am bound to."
Hermione's golden eyes flashed, her lips curved into a snarl. "He put you under Oath?"
"He saved my life."
"So you are to give that life up in return?" Hermione's expression was beyond wrathful. "Didn't you just say he losing it? How could you—"
"I must," Remus said, his fist clenching. "It is a life debt. I'm the only one in the Order who can do this."
"Because you're a werewolf."
Remus jerked his head. "Yes."
"That is a stupid reason to order someone with a child on the way to throw himself to the werewolves— and not just any werewolves," Hermione said.
"At least I have a chance to come home to Tonks," Remus said sadly.
"The moment you take the Mark, you are dead, Remus, and you know it. If not by Fenrir himself but the Dark Lord's Mark, which he has designed to kill you so he may live."
Hermione closed her eyes, and she suddenly had a rather large spider in her lap. She pet it like one would a cat, and it purred— just like a cat.
Remus stared as the multi-eyed and legged creature stared back at him accusingly.
"I do not recall giving you permission to upset my wife, Lupin," Severus' voice rumbled as a mass of black wool brushed by. The heated yelling inside of Grimmauld Place had seemingly ceased, at least for the moment. He sat next to Hermione, pressing his face into her lush curls. Waves of agitation and anger rolled off the dark wizard, and and a loss of his tight, usually unwavering control.
Hermione's head jerked up as Severus gave a low growl of hunger, his normal steady temperance lost. "Severus?"
He panted into her neck. "Can't— control."
Lupin paled as he felt a powerful wave of gut-twisting, agonising hunger.
Hermione stared at Remus, her eyes glowing. "Do you wish to see why you cannot go on Albus's errands, Remus?"
"Do you wish to see what he is willing to turn you into?"
Remus found himself trembling with hunger he had no idea where it came from— only to realise it was coming off of Severus.
"The tea— the fucking. Tea." Severus' voice was but a harsh snarl. "Going to. Murder her."
Hermione trembled, and Remus thought it was in fear, but then he realised she was holding something back, if but only barely. "If you wish to see the truth, Remus, stay. If not. Leave. Now." Her voice grated, as if speaking aloud actually pained her.
When he didn't leave, jerking his head in a "no" gesture, she gave him a snarl as her teeth lengthened. Her fingers elongated as membrane spread from her arms and between her fingers. The pointed, funnel ears she had been hiding in her hair revealed themselves as her face twisted into a muzzle. Each jerk of her muscles hurried the transformation— teeth jerking as fangs replaced dull human teeth. A strange mixture of feathers grew on the leathery membranes, giving her wingspan the impression of some fallen angel. She drew one claw across her neck, and Severus was on it in a flash, drinking deeply. Hermione's wings wrapped around him, her eyes half-lidded in some alien ecstasy.
Remus found himself breathing again as the gut-twisting hunger slowly abated, and Hermione's winged embrace loosened as Severus went limp against her. Her monstrous features receded as her human-ish shape, yet she kept her arms around her husband, her golden eyes boring into the werewolf with both challenge and—
"Do you understand now, Remus?"
Remus felt confusion and anger combining inside him, rage for what had been done to two people who had obviously been turned into something far more monstrous than a mere three-nights-a-month monster.
"This was for the "greater good"," Severus said, his eyes were completely black from pupil to sclera. "Ask yourself whose greater good. Ours? Or one old man's pipe dream?"
Hermione stroked Severus' hair in comfort, seemingly uncaring that Remus was watching them. "Are you alright now?"
Severus took a deep breath. "Yes. Thank you."
"For once, I could help you for a change."
Severus snorted. "There was something in that bloody tea. The mint was far too strong. I couldn't smell anything else."
Hermione frowned. "It is odd that anything would affect us."
"You okay, boss?" Octavius squeaked, concern in his voice instead of his usual, playful banter.
"I am fine, Octavius," Severus said with a sigh. "It was an intense, driving hunger, and I was willing to get it from every soul in that house had Hermione not—"
"But I was," she said, grasping his hand.
"Bonsai!" Haze cried, scurrying off into the house.
The other spiders looked at Haze strangely.
"Doesn't she mean 'bonzai'?" Shade asked quizzically.
"Maybe she wants to trim small Asian evergreens?" Cinder asked.
Haze skittered off, regardless of correct word usage.
"Wait for me!" Cinder complained.
"Oi! Don't forget me!" Kobal added.
"Whoa, hey, I have eight legs too!" Octavius muttered, joining the others.
Shade sat in Hermione's lap, continuing his own unique version of purr therapy.
"You are okay, my child?" Desmondon's mind voice rumbled between his Morangelus.
"Yes, Master," Severus replied. "Thanks to Hermione."
"This is why I wish you to be together— and why you should always strive to be. To support each other, but that is neither here nor there. Send me your memories."
There was a warmth that spread between them as their master took what he required from them.
"There are many simple herbs that are quite harmless to humans, but when imbibed by those aligned by their allegiance, such as to death, they can have unforeseen effects," Desmondon explained. "A very common reagent to make one more open to the help of benign spirits is dandelion— but it also summons the attention of the dead."
Desmondon seemed thoughtful. "Needless to say, if those that are dead are still, shall we say, walking around— such summons have a very negative reaction. Spirit dead are usually quite eager for such things. Those such as you, obviously, would not think so kindly upon such endeavours."
"This Molly Weasley," Desmondon said, "she pines for her dead twin brothers, and is constantly seeking their guidance. She probably hopes the spirits of them— will watch over her loved ones. Once it was a common folk medicine additive, easily forgotten for the new and more modern."
"So it was not intentional," Severus whispered into Hermione's hair, nuzzling her neck.
"Doubtful, Severus," Desmondon said.
"She doesn't know we are dead, my love," Hermione said quietly. "There was no way she could have known what it would do to us. We certainly didn't."
Severus grumbled into Hermione's hair, his hands still twisted into unnerving, inhuman talons. With each stroke of Hermione's fingers in his hair, he reverted, looking more human and less— other.
"Take care of your werewolf friend, my children," Desmondon said. "If you make him your ally, the curse will be—" Desmondon chuckled. "No longer an issue."
"He is not my friend," Severus snarked.
Hermione caught his mouth with hers, distracting him. "Yes, my Master."
Desmondon chuckled as he withdrew, still chuckling.
Hermione's eyes flicked over to Remus. "Just how much did your sensitive werewolf ears overhear, Remus?"
Remus looked at her, wide-eyed.
"Morangelus," Hermione said, eyes half-lidded as Severus bathed her neck to comfort himself.
"Angels of Death…"
"You know of us, then?" Severus lifted his head, suddenly much more interested.
Remus flinched. "I almost died when I was first infected as a child. Albus was there at our home, talking to my father. They thought I was going to die that night. There was a… man, and yet he was not a man. He said I would not survive to become a Morangelus. I would die, horribly, unless I wished strongly enough to live. He could not help me. I saw things. Horrible things. Twisted faces. Bodies. It scared me back to life. I survived. The man— he told Albus this one was a freebie. He did not… turn children. Children who had no idea of what their choices were."
Remus flinched. "I thought it was just a nightmare— from the werewolf bite. It happened often, the same scene playing over and over in my head—"
Remus' eyes widened. "Oh, Merlin. That man— that man is your master, isn't it? You're his… Morangelus."
Severus looked more sympathetic. "I had no idea Albus had his hooks in you from childhood," he said. "Even back then, he was bending the rules to turn you into his debt-cursed slave."
"You know, it was Albus who tipped James off to go for a walk that night when they found Poppy escorting me to the shack," he said. "Such a bright, beautiful moon, they told me. That's why they decided to become Animagi— for me."
Severus' expression remained set like stone, but Hermione leaned into him, giving a soft purr of encouragement, and much to Remus' surprise, the dour wizard leaned into her, allowing her comfort and—actually smiling. Remus had never seen it, not even—
Not even when Lily had been alive.
Severus seemed to ponder something deeply, his brows knitting together as he thought something over. "I am willing to concede that there have been certain… outside influences with regard to our deplorable mutual past history, Lupin. Pasts wherein neither of us had any idea we were being…" He closed his eyes. "Expertly manipulated."
Severus drew Hermione close to him, his eyes seemingly far away. "You should know that we can rid you of your furry little problem, Lupin, but you will have to completely trust us— something I'm sure you are having issues with right now, not that you ever did trust me." He looked off into the distance over the garden wall. "I must warn you that it will not be a pleasant experience for you. In fact, it will be agony, but it will drive out the curse you have been afflicted with, through no fault of your own."
Remus sat up straight, his body seemingly electrically charged. "Severus, if there is even the slightest chance I could be free of this. Any at all— I'd do it. I'd do it right now."
"And your wife would agree to your throwing your fate to those she doesn't know?" Severus did not appear to be discouraging him, but the question was valid and pertinent.
"Severus, I could support Dora and our child! I could get a real job! I could pass those stupid lycanthropy tests and no longer be a social pariah who can't even walk in public without— Severus, please. Please, I beg you, do not dangle such a thing in front of me only to deter me."
Severus straightened. "No."
"Take time to warn your mate that you will be suffering. Speak to her about what you want to happen. What you will do to achieve it. Then we will arrange for a meeting place where no one will hear your screams— for there will be many. Do not expect her to understand immediately afterwards, even if the results are in your favour. That sort of betrayal will not exactly help your new marriage."
Remus stiffened and then slumped. "You're right, Severus. I was already planning on helping Harry along on his quest instead of—"
Hermione snapped her head up. "You were going to leave your wife and child to—"
"What good is staying safe if the whole world goes to shite?" Remus snapped. "What good is being alive if you are only going to watch your child wither away and your wife hate you because you couldn't do anything to save them!"
"Remus?" Nymphadora's voice trembled from the doorway. Her hair had turned a shocking stark white. "You were going to just leave us behind? To go off with Harry?!"
"Dora—" Remus stammered, standing to get to her.
Tonks threw her arms up. "Don't touch me!" she said, her face turning purple as warthog tusks sprouted from her mouth. She decked Remus when he tried to touch her anyway, sending him flying headlong into the rose bushes. She spun on her heel and stormed back into the house, sobbing.
Hermione slumped against Severus. "Being a werewolf is the least of his problems, I fear."
Severus pulled her against him, closing his eyes. "Yes."
As the rest of Grimmauld Place slept, the two Morangelus stood silently as Kreacher opened the door marked "Regulus Arcturus Black."
"It is in here, Death Ones," Kreacher said, his arm gesturing to the inside of the room. "Nothing was moved since young Master's death."
Hermione walked in first, utterly silent. Her golden eyes glowed from inside her skull-like face. Her bony talons touched the door, leaving a ghost of a skeletal print there in black before it slowly faded away.
Kreacher grovelled, bowing and scraping before them.
Severus swept in behind her, his hands wrapped around his scythe.
Haze bounced up and down on a box on the dresser, causing a small cloud of dust to move around her.
"Kreacher tried to destroy it. Young master told me to, but Kreacher couldn't. Tried. Failed. Tried. Kept trying. Nothing. Nothing worked."
"Peace, Kreacher," Severus said, his black eyes fathomless. "Had you destroyed the locket, you would have destroyed the souls trapped inside that fuel its immortality. I am willing to bet, every one of those inferi Potter talked about— their souls are within the locket— which is what allowed so many of them to be created, focused around this one thing."
Hermione tilted her head. "Every spell you cast destroyed one soul instead of the locket— a very disturbing bit of Dark magic."
Kreacher's eyes widened in horror. "Kreacher could have killed his master?" He grabbed a bat and started beating himself with it viciously.
Hermione hissed, waving her hand over Kreacher, and the bat turned to foam and made a strange squeaking sound like a dog toy every time Kreacher hit himself with it. Kreacher tried something else, but everything he touched was converted to something harmless, from feather pillows to butterflies to gelatin cubes. Hermione looked at Severus with a strange expression of resignation and disgust.
The spiders swarmed all over the laquered box and stuck their forelegs into the locking mechanism. It opened with a click, exposing only one thing: a locket with a silver snake formed into the shape of an s. The locket pulsed with dark magic, sending out a wake of intent, and the two Morangelus stared at it.
"There's hundreds of souls trapped within this Horcrux, all forced to save it, should it come under attack via any form of magic." Hermione's eyes flicked over it, watching the auras.
"How fortunate that we do not require mortal magic," Severus growled.
Hermione nodded. "So here lies the conundrum, my love, " she said. "Had Dumbledore not been a manipulative old bastard, we would not be here— able to destroy this thing that harbors the souls of those unfortunate enough to have touched it. We would not found each other, nor would we be able to help. So— was he right to do these horrible things for this nebulous greater good, or does the ends never justify the means?"
Severus eyed the locket as he bit his hand, squeezing his blood over the locket. The locket began to smoke, quake, and scream as clouds of black smoke billowed out of it. Hermione bit her own hand, doing the same, adding her blood to the mix.
"Through our Master, be undone," Severus intoned.
"Immortality, unjustly won," Hermione said.
"We unravel what you have wrought," Severus continued.
"You end will come as it ought," Hermione finished.
The cloud of vapour formed into a screaming face— hands clutching at vapour-hair, pulling it tightly between phantom fingers. "No! NOOOO! I am immortal! I AM FOREVER! AVADA KEDAVRA!"
Sickly green beams hit Severus and Hermione on their skull-like faces, the flesh melting off to show the bleached, white bone underneath. Their flesh seemed to crawl back across the bone, realigning, forming, and knitting back together.
"Bodies lost to your duress," Severus hummed.
"Come back ye now, to our caress." Hermione waved her hand over the locket.
"Take from what once was skin and bone," Severus said.
"A soul returned which once was flown." Hermione clenched her fist as dark green and black energy gathered even as Severus did the same, his own energy swirling crimson and black. They slammed their hands together in a slap as their eyes glowed, their other hands extended out as Octavius and Shade leapt into their free hands, transforming into the distinctive, unearthly scythes.
The locket screamed as the two blades swung down upon it, severing its tenuous anchor to the physical plane and time. The construct exploded as a flood of shrunken, emaciated bodies spilled out, expanding like a toppled trunk off the Hogwarts Express. The Horcrux's wake of attempted retaliation ripped through the magical wards and carefully crafted Fidelius charms on Grimmauld Place, blowing them all to smithereens. The portraits in the house froze in mid-scream, unmoving, their enchantments broken. Muggles outside stopped and stared at the house that hadn't been there before, even as the doors blew open and hundreds of naked witches and wizards rolled out in a massive tidal wave of magic.
Unspeakables arrived with a team of Oblivators, drawn to the explosion of magic where magic should decidedly not have been. Amelia Bones, dressed in head to toe red robes with runes running up and down her golden stole, had a severe look of consternation on her face as the team with her stunned and Obliviated all Muggles who had seen the outpouring of bodies from Grimmauld Place 12.
Just as they were getting a handle on it, Amelia saw one horrifyingly starkers Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore Apparate in casting some random spell that turned the entire street purple and filled each window with water like an aquarium— water that turned every human it touched into various species of fancy goldfish.
"Get that sodding idiot back in the house!" Moody's voice barked. "You there, Savage, Proudfoot! Undo all of this fishy business! YOU! Turn them back into people and Obliviate them until they don't know their own names for two bloody weeks. YOU! Make something up and send it to the Muggles Authorities. Gas leak. Whatever! YOU! Figure out why this street is covered in naked people! GET MOVING YOU IDIOTS! NOW!"
People moved around like frantic ants as they tried to put things into order.
Meanwhile, from their perch on a roof on the opposite side of the street, Severus and Hermione watched, unseen by the living.
"That man is damned scary," Hermione said, pursing her lips.
"Want us to do anything?" the spiders asked, eager to help in the face of hundreds of naked witches and wizards.
"No, our job is done. The rest must fall in the hands of mortals."
The spiders seemed disappointed. "Oh, okay then."
Octavius nudged Severus. "We could go find any other objects like that one."
Severus turned to him. "Oh?"
The spiders instantly poofed into the shadow aether.
"You've created a monster," Hermione said, eyebrow twitching.
"They already were; I just gave them focus." Severus scratched his head.
"Focused shadow spiders are even more dangerous."
Severus' lips curved upward. "Indeed."
Drug Bust Leads to Accidental Release of a Cloud of LSD,
Affecting Over One Hundred Area Residents
If you happened to sleep through it last night, you're probably far better off. Last night, a drug bust in Islington near Claremont Square sent a massive cloud of LSD vapour into the air, affecting over a hundred residents of the area and causing them to experience all manner of highly bizarre and extremely vivid hallucinations ranging from people thinking they were goldfish to witnessing an unclothed elderly man appearing out of nowhere, to a pile of nude bodies flooding out of a house that wasn't there before.
Authorities had quarantined the area, but it seems all is back to normal again this afternoon. No sign of an extra house, strange people in funny hats, and a rampaging horde of naked people have turned up, much to the great relief of the local mothers whose daycare is located very close to where the incident took place.
Most affected reported vivid and dramatic hallucinations as well as odd bruises and scrapes from things they don't remember having done. Thankfully, authorities have released the ban on the area, stating all is now well. The only victim they cannot seem to explain is the neighborhood's birds, who seem to have all been replaced by non-native cassowaries, leading people to believe that the entire incident was actually fabricated by immigrants from New Guinea and Australia.
More updates to come as we learn more from the authorities.
Nymphadora was coming unglued in the sitting room as she heard Remus' screams from the next room. Even knowing no one else would be able to hear them outside there, she felt guilty that she had ever wished Remus to suffer for having through the best thing to do for her and the baby was to run away with Harry Potter.
Nothing could have prepared her for it. The Calming Draught did nothing for her. The screams—
Merlin, the screams.
Worse than anything she had heard from him during the throes of transformation.
Worse than anything she had ever heard from those under Cruciatus.
And she couldn't help but think that it was all her fault.
She had told him to go throw himself in front of the Knight Bus for all she cared. She had told him she'd never forgive him.
She hadn't meant it, but the look on his face—
It was like he had no reason left to live. He had just calmly walked out of the house that they shared in silence and disappeared.
It had taken her umpteen Patroni and much begging, groveling, and all manner of pleading to get to where she was now— here on the outside, listening to him scream.
She'd called him worthless.
She'd called him a coward.
And he was in there, screaming— being tortured or gods knew what else— just so he could be "normal".
To get a job.
To be able to provide for his family, like a normal person.
She was such a sodding hypocrite. She had always told him that his lycanthropy didn't matter— that she loved him and accepted him just as he was.
But it had been her constantly nagging him about providing and Teddy and providing for Teddy, and— gods, GODS!
Why did she have to be so bloody stupid?
Tea appeared, connected to a pale hand.
Nymphadora looked up, seeing the strangely young yet wizened face of Hermione Granger staring back at her— unlike so many times before, her emotions were hidden behind a stoic expression.
"The tea will help. There is nothing potion-y about it, but some would argue tea is, by own inmate nature, a drinkable tincture." Hermione sounded clinical, but her voice was not unkind.
Tonks, however, was a total wreck. She sniffled, and blew her nose into the seventh hanky, too drained to even charm it clean. She drank the offered tea in one massive gulp, and Hermione's eyes went wide at the spectacle. She summoned the teapot and poured Tonks another with a worried expression breaking her stoic face.
"It's all my fault he's in there," she moaned.
"No, it not," Hermione said.
"It is only part of why he's in there, yes," Hermione said. "To say the only reason he's in there is solely because of something you said to him would not be true."
Tonks frowned. "How can you say that when it was my words that drove him away to THAT!" she yelled, pointing to the next room where the agonised screaming continued.
"If you think more than two decades of being a werewolf boiled down to a mere few words said in anger to drive him to this fate, you would be quite mistaken," Hermione said. "Your words probably hurt, yes, but that is what you intended, yes?"
Tonks gaped at her. "How can you—"
Hermione leveled an intense stare at her. "When people say hurtful words, they mean them. Even if but for a moment. Even for a second— in that moment they want that person to be in pain. They want them to suffer. Then, later, reality comes back. Feelings come back. Rationality comes back. We realise in that moment we are sorry, and we truly mean it— and those that are not sorry, well, they have different issues to deal with."
"You are an Auror, perhaps one of the most dangerous jobs out there as you constantly put yourself in danger for the people who cannot protect themselves, yet," Hermione said, "and you had no issues going to work. You had no issues leaving your child at home with Remus, alone, so you could save lives. Yet, when Remus wished to do something so he could work like a normal wizard, everything changed. Do you know why?"
"It's not the same thing!"
"Because we were just fine the way we were!"
Hermione curled her lip before her face went back to the impassive and unnerving mask she had worn before. "Fine for him? Fine for you?" She tilted her head to the side slightly. "Perhaps, you should think of what fine would be for your son— having both parents there providing both love and protection."
"And I'm supposed to take the word of a ruddy walking encyclopedia? Some swotty little girl? Don't think I haven't heard what all the others say about you, Hermione."
Hermione closed her eyes for a moment, and part of Tonks felt a real thrill that she'd broken through that stupid emotionless facade.
But when Hermione's eyes opened again, her eyes were golden, and the fingers she splayed across her face were no longer even remotely human. "Did your little tattletales tell you what they did to that swotty little girl, that ruddy walking encyclopedia, hrm?"
Hermione stared at Tonks, her fangs glinting unnaturally white in her human mouth. "Did your blessed Harry Potter tell you about how he turned my blood to acid because his beloved godfather and his father had created a nasty little prank spell to deal with 'Snivellus'? Did Ron also tell you how he lured Draco Malfoy into that little hallway to— teach him a lesson? How that "harmless little prank" became this?"
Hermione stood. "I have welcomed you into my home, and you have repaid me in insults and scorn. Once Remus' time is finished here, I would ask you not to return, to ask me no favours, and if you were to have some crisis— kindly find someone else to placate your petty selfishness, for I will not. And if you were to somehow imagine that sidling up to my husband will somehow change my decision, you would be wrong."
Hermione walked over to the floo and threw in a handful of powder. "Minerva."
"Yes, Hermione, what is it, lass?" came McGonagall's voice.
"I fear I cannot guarantee the continued safety of my guest, Minerva. If you would, please, accept her into your care, I would be most grateful."
"Of course, Hermione, send her through. I'll have the elves make her up a cot."
"No! No, please! Don't make me leave! Don't— I need to be here! I need to be here for when he comes out!" Tonks wailed tearfully, standing up and wringing her hands.
"I will not be here, Mrs Lupin, and you are not trusted in my home alone. When your husband comes out, Bonkers will fetch you. Then, and only then, will I allow you back into my home." Hermione's teeth flashed. "Now, please get out of my sight."
"Please, please," Tonks begged. "I'll do anything. Just let me stay. Let me be here when he comes out." She rubbed her abdomen frantically.
"Perhaps, you should have thought of this before you threw my hospitality and concern for your wellbeing out the window by insulting me. Tell me Mrs Lupin. Were you sorry after you called me what you did, or was it only when I showed you I wasn't buying it that you began to regret what you said?"
Hermione threw more powder into the floo and reached out her hand to Tonks and made a clawing motion, snapping her wrist.
Tonks went sliding across the floor and into the floo with a whoosh and then disappeared.
Hermione glared into the floo for a while, long after the green flames died.
"Bonkers," she said.
A small house-elf appeared. "Yes, Mistress Snape?"
"Please inform Mrs Lupin when Remus returns to this room. You may… tend to her needs as long as it does not involve you bringing her back here at any time before Remus is waiting for her in this room."
"Yes, Mistress! Bonkers is happy to serve the most wonderful Mistress Snape."
The elf disappeared with another pop.
Hermione closed her eyes, feeling her hunger clawing at her stomach after Tonks' little temper tantrum and bout of name-calling. It had fueled Hermione's hunger, and having her stay in the same room as her while she was feeling that hunger, when her mate was occupied with curing Remus— it would not have ended well. Had she remained calm, or at least sad but not spiteful, the effort to control that hunger would have been easier, but most of her energy was being spent being a rock and anchor for Severus— and with Severus, as without him, Remus's treatment would most likely fail.
He was far more experienced in the matter of delicate counter balances of magic and auras, finding what was off, and realigning what needed it.
Hermione, oddly, was supposed to better at dealing with people, but apparently she was having a particularly awful day at it, having botched whatever attempt to placate Nymphadora Tonks.
Her stomach growled.
She had to hunt. She had to feed.
Her mate counted on her stability, and she would not disappoint him now.
"Child, I come," Desmondon's voice warmed her from the inside.
With only seconds from his words, he was there, his pale features glowing by the hearthlight as he opened his arms to her, dragging one claw across his neck without a word being said.
She latched onto him, her hunger whetted, and she drank, allowing his embrace to soothe her stress as his blood soothed her hunger.
"There, there, child," her master said kindly. "You need only ask, and I will always be there for you."
Hermione crumpled in his arms as his wings folded around her, and she allowed herself to truly relax. "Thank you, Master."
Her master's expression was kind as he continued to comfort her. "Alas, it is that saturation of life and all its emotion that triggers such overwhelming hunger, at least at first. You have no reason to feel guilty, child. Had you not thrown her out, you would have eventually fed on her, and she would have lost the baby as a result."
Hermione clutched her master's cloak and nodded. "Even knowing that, I feel horrible. She may be selfish, but she's also pregnant and emotionally unstable, and I probably didn't help much with that."
Desmondon chuckled. "Dear child, you cannot blame everything on pregnancy, despite what those that are would tell you. There are times when you must take responsibility for yourself, your actions, and your choices— and while one may not necessarily mean to hurt another, you do have to reap the consequences of doing so, no matter how understanding one might wish to be."
He stroked her back tenderly. "Do you think that elusive greater good, even if it did allow for your and Severus to be together, even if it did bring out an ultimately good thing, excuses those like Albus—who used my token for his own ends? Does forcing you, even if you didn't see it that way as a child, to age much faster than your peers, to learn more than your peers for one person's ultimate benefit— even if they were to say, save the world— make it right?"
Hermione stared at his buttons on his cloak before answering.
"You were a child then, Hermione. You may not have been when you made the choice to bind yourself to my service and become what you are, but you were then, and I loathe those who would manipulate children who have no concept of exactly what they are agreeing to."
"While all are but children to me, my child, I know the difference between informed decisions and answers given to me because someone wants to give me an answer they think I want. Taking such answers as true— is a disgrace. Shameful."
"Did Albus truly ask you to save Remus back when he was attacked by Fenrir?" Hermione asked.
Desmondon nodded, sighing at the memory of that night. "Can you even imagine a five-year-old Morangelus? Frozen in time at that age? Frozen in maturity at that particular phase of life? Emotional "instability" as it were? Despite what you may think of the maturity of the soul, the body is what allows that to channel, and if the body is not ready, it will never be ready if cut at a moment so vulnerable and immature. Especially with those such as witches and wizards, who are still brimming with accidental magic until they reach their teens, and even then— well, it's debatable if such things are stable while pubescent hormones are still rampaging around."
Hermione shuddered with horror. "No, thank you."
"Exactly. I may call you my child, and you may always be my child to me, but you are not frozen as a child, and that is a big difference."
Hermione tilted her head. "Is that why he thinks you're a vampire, Master? Rather than Death, I mean."
Desmondon laughed. "Well, it's ironically easier to accept vampire over Death, I think."
Hermione blinked. "Oh."
"For most people, anyway," he said, chuckling. He tilted his head to the side. "I fear it was due to that refusal to 'save' the boy that he was so much more careful with Severus— and by careful, I believe you know what I really mean."
Hermione nodded. "Yes, Master. Molding him into the kind of person he wanted, one who would make all the right mistakes for reasons that were quite unknown to him." Hermione curled her lip in disgust.
"What will happen to Albus when he dies?"
Desmondon cracked his neck, blinking slowly. "First, he has to die, my dear, and some might say that living trapped within your addled mind might be living in a prison of your very own making."
Hermione's eyes widened. "Wizards typically live a very long time."
Desmondon smiled without humour. "Indeed, they do."
When Remus came out of the next room, Severus set him down on a hastily transfigured bed, made him drink some restorative potions, and then covered him up with a duvet before rushing to Hermione's side and scooping her up into his arms and crushing her to himself hard enough to almost crack a rib.
By the time Nymphadora came in, throwing herself at the resting Remus, Severus had curled up on the couch with Hermione draped across his lap. He said nothing to her, his black eyes raking over the younger witch with hardly a flicker of sympathy.
Minerva flooed in shortly after, carrying a tray of finger foods ranging from light to the more substantial, drinks, and an assorted mixture of "life" foods that she knew would cater to their other, more specific needs.
Severus partook of the offerings gratefully, giving the elder witch a respectful nod.
"Are you alright, Severus? Is Hermione?" Minerva asked with concern.
"Our master took care of her, Minerva," Severus said. "She will be fine, and because she was fine, I am also fine," he reassured her.
Minerva nursed her tea. "And Remus?"
"He will be fine," Severus said. "Removing something that had been parasitically living in him since he was five was about as hard as one might expect— like trying to remove an invasive cancer, cell by cell."
Minerva closed her eyes. "Did you hear about Fenrir Greyback?"
Severus shook his head. "No, only that Remus was supposed to go and infiltrate his pack by Albus' orders."
"He has no pack anymore," Minerva said. "Alastor said they caught him attempting to kidnap Garrick Ollivander— and he was Marked, Severus. Marked and free of lycanthropy. If you are to believe it— even more insane because of its loss."
Severus frowned, staring into his tea. "The Dark Mark— cured the lycanthropy?"
Minerva shook her head. "Oh, it drove out the lycanthropy, but it replaced it with something that I would argue is infinitely worse. Alastor says that, even as twisted as Fenrir was or is, he had always had his twisted pack in mind. The Mark demands absolute loyalty to the Dark Lord alone, and this puts every werewolf Marked in a primal conflict with themselves—"
"What aren't you saying, Minerva?" Severus asked.
Minerva's face scrunched up. "They gnawed off their own arms in holding, Severus. Every single one of them— with fully human teeth— and they bled out in their cells."
Severus' eyes widened. "I— I cannot say I expected that."
"I don't think anyone suspected that would happen, Severus."
"What does that mean for the Dark Lord?" Hermione asked, stirring from Severus' lap like a cat rolling over in a sunbeam.
"Nothing good for him," Severus said grimly. "His year will be up since we unravelled the goblet and diadem. And that was before we found the locket."
"The spiders are still searching for any other stragglers that may have been hidden," Hermione said. "We have no way of knowing if he might have created another Horcrux by accident."
"Or on purpose, given his proclivity for such things," Severus said grimly, his eyebrow twitching slightly.
"School is going to start up again soon, and I'm not sure how it's going to go with Dumbledore as addled as he is. He seems somewhat better during the day than towards evening, so he might make it if we move up the welcome feast to early afternoon instead of night— that could also give the new students time to get settled, which always seemed to be us unpacking and sleeping in our clothes the first night anyway…"
Severus arched a brow. "Tours of the castle could help with the first years ending up dangling off staircases by accident and creeping around the wrong corridors."
"Sounds like a good idea," Minerva said, nodding her head. "I could easily arrange that with the board without having to explain or bring in Dumbledore— he's always had me do such things anyway. We will have to bring in the Head of Houses as well as the more competent staff members to funnel attention away from Albus during the worsening times. My hope, however, is that when you do finish off this thing with the Dark Lord and his various objects that we can safely retire him. We're practically doing all of his work for him anyway," she said soberly.
Severus sighed and gave a curt nod.
"One of the greatest wizards of all time reduced to being addled and unable to even control his basest impulses," Hermione said, shaking her head. "It's truly terrifying."
Minerva furrowed her brows. "I was speaking with Poppy, and she said that it would probably be best to give Albus a chaperone of sorts— someone like a personal aide that will not leave his side. We could disguise it as being a sort of organisational thing, like a secretary, but it would really be for keeping him from showing up starkers to dinner or doing something that would result in Rita Skeeter getting involved, which is the absolute last thing we need."
"So when he's coherent, he has a secretary, but when he's not, he'd have someone who keeps him from doing something truly unfortunate?" Severus asked.
"You do realise, he would need a talented Occlumens to survive his constant need to pilfer through other people's thoughts?"
Minerva frowned, having not thought of that.
"How strong is his—"
"Very," Severus said.
"Shite," Minerva summed it up quite succinctly.
She stared down at the floor, seemingly counting cracks.
Suddenly. Minerva grinned like a Cheshire cat.
"Minerva, I know that look."
The Scottish witch continued to grin. "I do believe I have an idea."
"When you said you had an idea, Minerva, this was not quite what I was expecting, considering your view on transfiguration of people—"
"Transfiguration of students as a form of punishment, Severus," Minerva replied tartly. "This is transfiguration for the preservation of the school and the Headmaster's dirty little secrets until the war is well and truly over."
"I've never seen a trigger transfiguration hex before!" Hermione said, bouncing on the balls of her feet.
"Do try to stop being so excited," Severus snipped.
Hermione pouted and turned her head away, snubbing him.
"Git!" Octavius admonished him.
Severus frowned and squished the shadow spider back under his hair.
"Still a git!" the spider hissed.
"I would be glad to teach you," Minerva said with a wink.
"Still, do you really trust Hagrid not to spill the beans to Albus the moment he changes back?" Severus asked.
"I do when he's under oath."
Severus widened his eyes. "However did you manage to convince him to do that?"
"He genuinely wants to help Albus— and like most people who don't know any better, he thinks he owes him."
"At least he and Fang seem to be getting on really well," Hermione said, tapping one talon to her chin.
The boarhound and the silvery-white Toggenburg goat had curled up together before the hearth, snoring away peacefully.
"It does seem— oddly fitting," Severus said with a distinct smirk.
"He seems to do much better as a goat," Hermione said, puckering her lips in speculation.
"It may have been his true calling," Minerva said. "I didn't pick the form, after all. Magic did."
"You used Wild Magick on him?"
"The only thing that Hogwarts can't specifically counter due to his status as the current Headmaster," Minerva said, nodding sharply. "It will attempt to do whatever he wishes, whenever he wishes it."
"Such an antiquated system," Severus muttered.
"I don't think that was the real system," Hermione said after a long moment.
"Huh?" Severus and Minerva looked at her the same, confused and curious.
"Hogwarts was created by the Founders, who all shared duties equally. There was no headmaster and deputy. There were just them— what we call the Heads of House. Yet, recently, at least as time goes, someone decided it was better to give one person all the power and shove all the rule makers into a Board of Governors— effectively making it so the right hand doesn't know what the left is doing."
Minerva tilted her head. "You, my dear, must discuss this with me further, after all is said and done in this war. Now, unfortunately, is not the time."
Hermione's lip twitched, and she nodded.
"Well, here is hoping the start of the new term goes off without a hitch— and that the Dark Lord continues to believe that Albus sits firmly in his throne," Minerva said after a while. "Which is the only reason we are even humouring Albus remaining here at the school when he should be an inpatient at Mungo's being treated for his condition."
Severus nodded, letting out his breath slowly. "It's a good thing I'm dead because all this drama would surely kill me."
McGonagall scoffed, shaking her head. "Well, I'm still alive, laddie, and I'd certainly like to stay as such for just as long as naturally possible."
Severus wrinkled his nose. "As you wish, Minerva."
Hermione stood silently as she watched the potions class, her hands clasped behind her back. Horace Slughorn wandered the room making occasional hrming sounds, grimacing in a way that looked like he was in pain. He had one of those auras that reminded her of a prey animal— beady eyes constantly on the move, paranoid and swift to flee, yet smart enough to survive.
The way life was seen through various lenses totally fascinated her— now that death was clearer. People often spent their lives fearfully running from death rather than living. Horace was one of those people who spent much more time looking over his shoulder than truly experiencing his life as it unfolded. He surrounded himself in powerful people— or rather those most likely to be powerful so he could seek favours from them at a later date.
The truth was, she wasn't learning anything overly mind-blowing from Slughorn when it came to potions, but she was certainly learning the art of political maneuvering— not that she particularly cared for it. It made her skin crawl to do the back scratching game. Rub here. Grease there. Tweak here. Shake there.
Hermione had no reason to not learn new things, even if they were distasteful to her. Playing the game was a part of life, and it was something that was, unfortunately for her, everywhere. Muggle or magical made no actual difference.
There were the invisible movers, the social climbers, the social elite, and those who were simply too tenacious to give up on a long, arduous process of red tape and votes and social improvement. Slughorn was one who dreamed of being an invisible mover, but he was really just a social climber by proxy. He rubbed up against those who did the climbing and the moving, the true bringers of change. He lived vicariously through others, thinking he was as great, if not even greater for having recognised those who would become great before others did.
The students were all staring intently at her, perhaps seeing her for the first time as someone who not only survived a great and terrible attack, but as someone who had been irrevocably changed.
Even her family name had changed— emblazoned on the front page of the Prophet, thanks to the ever-obnoxious Rita Skeeter digging her nose into the Ministry's marital records while looking for dirt on someone else.
One title proclaimed:
Magically Blessed Marriage Binds Teacher and Student as Snapes Forever
Another, shortly after, cried:
Victim of Harry Potter's Foul Curse Finds Herself Bound To the Equally Foul Severus T. Snape
While one that had obviously come from Rita Skeeter slipped in with:
Granger Trollop Seduces Hogwarts Potions Professor Into Carrying Bastard Lovechild
That headline had been especially entertaining when a bewildered representative of the Department of Magical Marriage couldn't explain exactly why the couple's names— or rather, their ages— were strangely indecipherable, yet he did confirm that the pair were, in fact, recently wed via Ancient Magick— whoever and however old they really were.
That had led to Hermione calling Severus "you there in the black" and him calling her "the one with the sentient curls" for a week's worth of chuckling. Minerva hadn't particularly appreciated being dubbed "the walking hairball" but Draco had amused himself by being "that obnoxious blond git".
Hermione had speculated that made it perhaps too vague, but Draco had simply refused to acknowledge her logic and wouldn't even consider her alternate suggestion of "the wily white ferret".
She couldn't imagine why—
The other students seemed to forget she had ever been one of them, but whether that was self-defense or a gift from Desmondon, Hermione wasn't entirely sure. It was true that his gift protected them from being scrutinised too closely— all that did would find themselves staring at themselves or into the Abyss.
It did make Hermione wonder why Rita was not affected by it, causing her to suspect that maybe Rita had made a pact with some sort of minor force of shite-stirring on a cosmic level.
The mental image of Rita being claimed by some minor demon of the underworld for temporary fame, money, and popularity made her teeth itch. Even your novice demonologists in the Muggle world could tell you that making pacts with demons were bad news with a huge helping of no thank you and so-not-worth-it.
Minerva didn't seem to be affected by whatever magic caused most others to gloss over and forget about Hermione as a former student, but Severus had speculated that true loyalty was the key to unlocking the magic. It made sense, as both Draco and Minerva trusted them implicitly. Perhaps, she thought, it really was that simple.
Not that true loyalty was simple or even all that common—and Rita Skeeter was definitely not filed under loyalty to anyone but herself.
Dumbledore seemed to dodge the radar of the students well enough. No one associated the billy goat following Hagrid and Fang around with Albus Dumbledore, and that made it ever so much easier to get other things done. Meanwhile, the countdown to the Dark Lord's "year" to get his affairs in order and report to Death was ticking away little by little.
Neither Severus nor Hermione thought the Dark Lord would actually take the words to heart, but there was the slimmest chance that all the bad things that kept happening to him would eventually help him take a hint.
Draco was still cohabitating with the Snapes due to the war not being quite over yet. Slytherin was still full of backstabbing, pureblood elitist, aspiring murderers— and the fact their mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, and whatever else had either died due to the Mark or else had been outed and shamed because if it only seemed to make Draco even more glad that his parents were safely away in another country.
On the positive side, Draco's grades had never been better, as he had no distractions from "peers" and he had access to two brilliant minds to ask questions of only a few steps away every evening. Rekindling a trust with Severus and forming a new, better relationship with Hermione was just the sweet icing on the cake.
A tender nuzzle along her neckline alerted Hermione to her husband's return, and his wings wrapped around her as he rocked her back and forth as he hummed softly.
"Hullo," Hermione greeted him. "No patrol this evening?"
"It's already well past the witching hour, my love," he said. "Even the late night Astronomy tower snoggers are sleeping."
Hermione chuckled. "It seems like I was just in Slughorn's classroom watching over student cauldrons."
"Would you rather be back there?"
"No," Hermione laughed, pulling his head down with one hand. "It's bad enough that Horace is looking for reasons to push me out of apprenticeship and into full mastery at a moment's notice. You'd think he wanted to retire or something."
Severus snorted. "He wanted to retire back when I first studied under him. He wants to be a full-time schmoozer."
Hermione shook her head. "Isn't he already?"
"Is that the proper respect for your elders, Miss Granger?" Severus admonished, reverting to his stern professor voice.
"The truth, professor," she answered, leveling a gaze at him.
Severus rumbled softly, rubbing his thumb across her smooth cheek.
Hermione stared into the fire, her golden eyes flickering in reflection to the light. "Severus?"
"Do you think we could have had something, had we not been—"
"No," he said, causing her head to jerk up, raw pain in her eyes.
He touched her chin, shaking his head. "Even our allies only see our masks, albeit a different sort. Only a single piece of who we are. Never the whole. It would be an unfair love— you having only a small bit of the whole— and me unable to show you all of who I was. While I'm not saying we could not have become close, it would have been a desperate longing between us, each wishing to feel that completeness and never being able to obtain it."
He leveled his gaze at her. "It would not be because you lacked in some way as a person, Hermione, and I think you know this."
Hermione sighed and nodded. "I just feel like part of Dumbledore was right, you know? Like there was a greater good, forged through terrible deeds."
Severus pulled her to him and wrapped himself around her. "We are truly one, you and I, united to each other and to our master. We are free from the earthly restraints that once held us. And, ultimately, we serve both a better master, one who genuinely cares for us, and a better purpose as well."
Hermione nodded, smiling at him. "I just— think it's a bit unfair that I'd never have gotten to know you if it hadn't been for Dumbledore's meddling and Harry ultimately— killing me."
Snape sniffed. "I find my opinion of the boy— and yes, I still consider him very much a boy— has remained unchanged over the years."
"And here I thought I found something redeemable in Draco, and you say that nothing changes," Hermione ribbed him.
"Nothing with anyone related to Potter ever changes," Severus muttered. "It seems to be some sort of genetic family issue. As we have the evidence of his failure to satisfy the virginity clause of his family fortune as well as his parents not leaving him something in his own sodding mini-vault to say "oh hey, be careful who you sleep with because, oh, you could lose everything like we did" or some other such rot." Severus wrinkled his nose.
"Who knows, maybe there is a clause that prevents someone from warning their underage relatives, otherwise it's all null and void. Kind of a guaranteed unbias to the test. I mean, if you knew you stood to earn the family fortune just by virtue of being celibate until marriage, wouldn't most people be able to control themselves for a few more years?" Hermione scratched her head.
Severus looked thoughtful. "Judging by how many children seem to want to drag their peers into closets and indulge more than their hands— I tend to think no," he said. "And let's not get into the fact that if they really cared, they could just as easily just raise them with, I don't know, values."
Hermione sighed. "I'll admit I had certain values instilled in me, and I still done mucked up by having a crush on Ronald Weasley."
Severus closed his eyes, shuddering. "That was an image I did not need."
"If it is a pureblood tradition, then it isn't exactly a secret that such things exist, right?" Hermione asked.
"I have to wonder if some families are so shamed by their inability to keep it in their pants that they purposely encourage their children's sexual freedom to cover up their own shame," Severus said after a while.
Hermione leaned into Severus. "It's a little ironic, yes, that we are the ones with the family fortune and we aren't exactly going out of our way to spend it all like some Muggle winning the lottery?"
"Diving into the library, perhaps," Severus quipped.
"Yeah, that," Hermione agreed.
Severus took in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
"How long do you think it will take Harry or— well, most of the Weasleys to figure out about the clause?" Hermione asked.
Cinder gave a yawning squeak. "Not long at all if there is an arachnid intervention," the spider said cheekily, wearing a very bent, tarnished halo.
"Cinder, wherever did you get that halo?" Hermione asked.
"I found it in the room with all the stuff," she replied with a spider shrug. "It liked me and followed me home."
Hermione blinked. "Okay then."
"And I thought Octavius brought home all the odd stuff," Severus said, rubbing his chin.
A gargantuan snake wrapped in spider silk and fastened to a large, cast-iron cooking spit abruptly dropped out of thin air. Its mouth was tightly wrapped closed, and the entire body was unmoving save for the very tip of its tail, which was twitching angrily like a brassed-off cat attempting to do its best rattlesnake impression.
Upon seeing Severus, the snake went completely ballistic, thrashing and straining in the silk, hatred that seemed deeply seated in every movement. The snake's eyes went entirely red, and a voice seemed to come from the serpent.
"Ssseverus!" the voice hissed.
Haze, who had been perched on top of the snake's head, wrapped more silk around the snake's head and anchored it down to the floor, yanking on the silk to pull it tight. The snake's head hit the floor with a sickening crack.
"Yer zollywogs are apertight!" Haze said, flicking on strand of silk, causing the snake's head to smash hard against the floor multiple times.
"You will come to heel, Ssseverus," the voice continued from the snake. "Where I shall teach you the true meaning of pain."
Severus's lips turned up slightly. "We shall sing you a song, my Lord," he said, his voice resonating with the very air.
The beating of deep drums sounded off from the deep, seemingly from the deepest depths of Hogwarts itself. The croon of a stringed instrument sang in the echo. Hermione and Severus stood together, their bodies straightening completely as their bodies shifted, cracked, and reformed. Their heads became twisted skulls that were neither human or animal. Claws grew like crystalline blades from their fingertips as webbed wings stretched between bone.
Hermione began to sing, a strange ethereal echo causing her voice to both rise and fall like the beating of a heart.
Hvem skal synge meg
(Who shall sing me)
I daudsvevna slynge meg
(into the death-sleep sling me)
Når eg på Helvegen går
(When I walk on the Path of Death)
Og dei spora eg trår er kalda, så kalda
(and the tracks I tread are cold, so cold)
Severus added his voice to her song, singing with her, his voice curling around hers like the wrappings of the world serpent, the great and massive coils of Jörmungandr flexing and sliding against the very roots of the mighty Yggdrasil.
Eg songane søkte
(I sought the songs)
Eg songane sende
(I sent the songs)
Då den djupaste brunni
(when the deepest well)
Gav meg dråoer så ramme
(gave me the drops so touched)
Av Valfaders pant
(of Death-father's wager)
Alt veit eg, Odin
(I know it all, Odin)
Var du gjønde ditt auge
(where you hid your eye)
Hermione walked over to the snake, pulling her head up with one, bony finger as she met the enormous serpent's fangs with a flash of her own. She breathed a strange, red vapour directly into the snake's nostrils
Når dy ved Helgrini står
(When you stand by the Gate of Death)
Og når du laus deg nå riva
(and you have to tear free)
Skal eg fylgje deg
(I shall follow you)
Over Gjallarbrua med min song
(across the Resounding Bridge with my song)***
The body of the serpent shook and twisted as a shockingly shrill scream came from within. A humanoid form formed out of the red mist that spewed forth from the serpent's mouth even as Severus struck at the snake's neck with his own fangs, tearing into scale and flesh. He pulled away, spitting out the chunk of scale and skin, and Hermione dripped her blood onto the gaping wound.
The serpent's body shrivelled and crunched in on itself as a shrieking black cloud of a fractured soul came rushing forth and was immediately destroyed. The spewed red smoke then formed into the twisted, hideously misshapen body of the Dark Lord himself.
"What is the meaning of this?!" the barely-human figure screamed.
The Morangelus said nothing, moving not one fraction as blackened vapour rose up from the ground, swirling, and forming into another figure.
"Tom," Desmondon's voice was both venom and velvet combined.
"Du blir løyst frå banda som bind deg!" Hermione sang. (You will be free from the bonds that bind you!)
"Du er løyst frå banda som batt deg!" Severus answered her. (You are free from the bonds that bound you!)
Desmondon smiled at Tom. "Do you hear it, boy? The dirge of the dead come to free you from your earthly bindings and carry you into the crushing coils of Jörmungandr."
"I do not believe in such rot!" Tom hissed. "I am immortal and beyond the reach of death!"
Desmondon reached out one finger and poked Tom lightly on the "nose". "You have no idea how long I've been waiting to do that, Tom."
"Who the hell do you think you are?!"
"Oh, I think I'm a great many things, Tom," he said after a long moment. "But I think the name you would be the most familiar with— is Death."
Desmondon's lips curved into a cruel smile. "Is that what your Legilimency tells you, Tom?"
Tom snatched a wand from the nearby table and pointed it at the one who claimed to be "Death" and snarled "Legilimens!"
Riddle's eyes changed from red to a fully human dark brown as the the figure in front of him expanded into a monstrous and beautiful creature that shifted form with every blink. Human merged with beast. Angel merged with demon. Youth met with skeletal bleached bones. Dull, human fingers turned to wicked talons. Arms became tentacles that became fins. Fire and brilliance met with the darkness of the Abyss.
Tom let out a shrill scream of agony, dropping the stolen wand as he clutched at his head. His eyes burned out from his sockets, charred and empty as the true form of Death was too much to behold by any living creature.
He fell to the floor, writhing in pain, his face transformed into a parody of rigor. His body quaked, thrashed, and jerked like a hundred strong cords were simultaneously pulling his limbs in random directions.
Death stood over him, face emotionless. He reached out his hands, and Hermione and Severus put their hands in his. They transformed into his instruments, their bodies blurring as each became a sickle united by a chain— Death's own kusarigama.
Long you have avoided
My gentle touch,
But you shall no longer be able
To say as such.
Long in years,
But short on death,
I even the scale,
As I take your last breath.
Defiler of the balance,
Abuser of men,
Destroyer of minds,
Again and again.
Now is your ending,
By my hand not alone,
For they were your victims,
Whom you must atone.
Roll the boulder upward
On the hill neverending
Only to have it roll back
In a cycle unending.
Death is too easy
For one such as you.
I condemn you to live,
Your punishment anew.
Day after day,
And night after night.
The beasts bay for your blood,
Despite all your might.
Your power will be nothing,
But ash and a dream—
Only a faint glimmer
That can be barely seen.
And just when you think,
Having no soul is your friend.
I shall give you one anew,
To suffer your end.
Every pain you shall feel,
Every murder in your past—
Each will haunt you forever
From the first to the last.
And if by some miracle,
You should feel regret,
One day I shall take
From the punishment you get.
Death stood above Tom Riddle, his skull face holding two burning eyes composed entirely of flame. He spun, using his sickles to slice off the head of Tom Riddle, releasing the last remaining shard of his soul to the beyond only to have gnarled spirit hands grasp ahold of it and drag the final soul piece to the underworld. The vengeful screams of Riddle's multitude of victims rang out as one, their combined hands dragging him away through the very bowels of damnation, raking his body over the burning coals of his own making.
The Earth cracked, swallowing up his body before it filled with molten magma and then sealed completely.
Desmondon's face was utterly expressionless as the glow from the underworld faded to nothing.
Headmaster of Hogwarts Retires Upon Confirmation of the End of He Who Died
Albus Dumbledore has retired from Hogwarts after successfully guiding generations of students through two Wizarding Wars. After Aurors reported a record number of outlying wizards and witches, werewolves, and confirmed Death Eaters dropping dead at the same time, the decapitated body and head of the man who had once been Tom Riddle and the Dark Lord, appeared on the desk of Minister for Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour.
After much time was spent confirming if this corpse was truly the man who had terrorized Britain for upwards of twenty-odd decades, the grim reality was that someone had "taken care of business" and rid the world of an impending doom.
The attacks both on Muggle and magicals alike have come to screeching halt, peppered only with what Aurors consider "ordinary crimes" from witches and wizards hoping to cash in on the chaos to get away with things that would have normally been side-lined in favour of pursuing the evil agents of He-Who-Shall-Not-Be-Named.
Fortunately for Wizarding Britain and less fortunately for them, the death of the Dark Lord has freed up many Aurors to respond immediately to reports of other criminal activity.
As for the retirement of Albus Dumbledore, Deputy Headmistress Minerva McGonagall has taken the reins as Headmistress, and the Board of Governors has appointed Professor Filius Flitwick as her Deputy-Headmaster. Classes have not missed a beat, however, in light of the fact that Headmistress McGonagall cannot teach and be head of a Hogwarts' house while being Headmaster, it is rumoured that Apprentice Hermione Snape will be taking her mastery tests early and assuming the vacancy left by the Headmistress' change in roles.
Unfortunately, this leaves Professor Horace Slughorn without an apprentice to take over his position before his planned retirement. Those interested in applying for the potions position are welcome to owl Headmistress McGonagall for a personal interview.
"Horace, I realise that you were hoping to retire and finally get to have that vacation without worrying about Death Eaters," Minerva said, "but we desperately needed a new Transfiguration teacher, and we needed it more urgently than a potions teacher. Your contract doesn't officially run out for the ten year renewal for quite a few years unless you have an apprentice who agrees to take your place during that time."
Horace was sulking in the corner. "You know I was counting on this retirement, Minerva!"
"We all count on retirement, someday, Horace!" Minerva said with an exasperated sigh. "But if you want to blame someone for this, blame Albus for retiring in a flurry after the war, not me, and most definitely not Professor Snape!"
"I don't blame Severus—" Horace protested.
"Hermione Snape!" Minerva elaborated.
Minerva put a hand on his shoulder. "Look, Horace, I know you've been looking forward to retirement for quite some time, but try looking at this in a different way. The esteem we've all gathered from keeping our students alive during two wars will give you even more clout with those little parties you have inside and outside of the school, hrm? By the time you do retire, your name will be firmly in the glow, yes?"
"But surely you can let that Lupin person take DADA again and let Severus take—"
"Horace!" Minerva chided. "I will not take away a position that he has wanted to teach for as long as I can remember just so you can retire faster!"
Slughorn messed with his mustache, sighing. "Very well, Headmistress. You will let me know as soon as someone applies for the apprenticeship?"
"Thanks," he said, grumbling as he left the Headmistress' office.
"Sorry about that," Minerva said as she waved to the figure hidden in the alcove of her office. "Here is your contract for teaching Wizarding History, starting as soon as you can get Professor Binns' ghost to move on."
Remus rubbed his ruffled hair and shrugged. "Horace really wants to get out of here."
Minerva sighed. "I think it's more that he's wanting to do less, not more— Hermione made me aware of just how much she was doing for him without much in the way of guidance. He assumed she already knew everything, at least when it came to potions. To be fair, if she had any real question she had Severus there to ask— but it leaves me in a pickle as to what kind of person I will have to bring in to apprentice with him."
"May I ask you a favour, then, Headmistress?"
"I can promise nothing in these times, but you are welcome to ask."
"Can I move the history classrooms to a new location? Binns probably won't even notice he's lecturing to an empty room, and then I won't have to fight him for it."
Minerva grinned. "I like the way you think, Remus. I will arrange it."
Remus smiled. "Thank you."
"I'll move Sybill into the history rooms and give you the tower. Think of the great view."
Remus belted out laughter. "I like your style, Headmistress." He signed the contract.
"Oh, and Remus?"
"Be prepared to spend a week ridding yourself of the hidden sherry bottles and smell of booze and incense."
"I'm so glad I'm not a werewolf anymore," Remus said, wrinkling his nose.
Harry and Ron waited in the intensely long lines at Gringotts in order to open their joint accounts between themselves and their new wives. Ginny and Lavender chatted away amicably, even as Harry and Ron tried not to get annoyed. Apparently, there were a lot of people opening up joint accounts due to even more people getting married after the confirmed end of the war.
Ron was distracted by the sound of feminine, French laughter— a distinctive sound in London even without the familiarity from knowing exactly who it was.
"That's Fleur," Ron said to Harry, nudging him in the ribs.
"So? They have to go to be bank too," Harry said.
Ron scowled, crossing his arms across his chest. "That's my Aunt Muriel with them," he said.
"The one you don't like?" Harry asked, frowning.
"The one no-one likes," Ron said. "I have no idea why they are talking to her."
"Yes, yes, I will take care of it, my dears," Muriel said, tsking and tutting as she signed the parchments. "You will tell me if you plan on having more children, and we can set them up together. You should have it down perfectly by the time you have to teach them how to do it."
Fleur laughed lightly. "I should hope I do not have children forever," she said. "A few will be just fine."
"Yes, well, you did manage to keep your hands to yourselves until marriage, unlike the rest of the family, or so it seems, so I am more than happy to help you with the ins and outs with regard to your inheritance. In a few years you should have enough investments that you won't have to withdraw from the family vaults, and if you play your gobstones correctly, add to it. Don't worry, my dear, that's what it's there for— making a good start for you and your family until you can put a little back in, yes?"
Fleur smiled along with Bill.
"Thank you, Aunt Muriel," Bill said giving her a hug. "I really appreciate your help."
Muriel tutted. "You needn't worry, my boy," she said. "You just remember, it's for you and your immediate family, not to be divided out to the rest of the clan. That's the part a lot of folks don't get. When they come with their hands out, hoping that their inability to keep it in their pants will be forgiven if but for the blood in their veins. If that were true, we wouldn't have the Clause to begin with, yes? You can, however, do formal loans under Goblin contract, which can be arranged at any time. I'm sure you're fully aware of what those entail."
Bill nodded. "Goblin contracts are not to be trifled with."
Muriel smiled. "No, they are most certainly not. Anyway. You can provide for the children or yourself at least until they come of age, after which they must rely on their own vaults unless they, too, satisfy the clause. At that point they are allowed to share in it as well, equally."
"I had no idea the Weasley family even had a family vault," Bill said, boggling. "I had always thought my parents' personal vault was it."
Muriel wrinkled her nose. "Yes, well, bad blood there, that. I'm sure you can see why they don't talk about it, even if they could."
Bill and Fleur nodded in agreement. "We both understand the need," Fleur said. "Many families in France do much the same but for perhaps stranger reasons."
"To prevent crimes of a sexual nature," she said.
Bill's eyes widened. "That actually makes sense, strangely."
"Stranger reasons," Fleur said, laughing. "You see?"
Bill seemed to understand something as his brows knit together. "Aunt Muriel, what happens if someone is—" he trailed off. "Forced. It is not their fault, after all. Not that I would ever allow such a thing with a daughter or son of mine, but—"
"A special clause takes care of the victim," his aunt said. "Compensation comes from the attacker's family vaults to make up for the loss— needless to say, any family worth their salt would far rather eat their own children before permitting them to drain their vaults by committing such a heinous act."
Fleur tilted her head. "Many old families had extensive curses to prevent such things," she said. "Hexes that shriveled a man and made his parts fall off if he even attempted such a crime."
"Gods!" Bill gasped, instinctively choking and doing a swift, surreptitious check of his own male parts.
Fleur and Muriel chuckled together at his expense.
Ron turned to Harry, whispering. "I think there may be some family money tucked away," he muttered. "Something about needing to be married."
Harry frowned. "What do you mean, Ron?"
"I didn't hear them very well, but I think once you are married you get access to the real family vault."
"Next," a sharp-toothed goblin grunted.
"Oi, goblin," Ron said self-importantly. "How do we access our family vault?"
The wizened goblin narrowed his eyes. "It is the same with every wizard family, young Mister Weasley," he said, his teeth grinding together. "Be married, and satisfy the family magic on the door. Many have certain specific… clauses to prevent unauthorised, selfish access to those vaults."
"Ron, whatever are you going on about?" Harry asked, frowning.
"Oh! A family vault?" Lavender was suddenly fully alert and really interested now. "It's only the very oldest wizarding families that have those! Mine doesn't!"
Ginny butted in. "What do you mean a family vault?"
"We'll we're both married now, so let's see those vaults!" Ron said, grinning madly.
"You are welcome to attempt to pass the door, Mister Weasley," the goblin said neutrally.
"Is there a vault for me too, sir?" Harry asked politely.
"There is a Potter Vault, yes," the goblin said cryptically.
"Well, come on, Harry, if Bill and the Frenchie can do it, it must be pretty easy," Ron said, rubbing his hands together in glee.
The goblin rang a bell, and another goblin walked out from behind the curtain. He gestured for them to follow him.
Lavender and Ginny looked at each other excitedly, chattering on with high voices and squeals.
The path to the family vaults was strangely desolate, even peaceful. There were no ominous growls or keens from the famous vault guardians, and even less people walking through.
Ron's jaw tightened as he saw Draco Malfoy standing by one of the open vaults, pressing his personal seal into a parchment as his new wife did the same— who was that? Daphne? No, Astoria? One of those Greengrass girls, anyway.
The girl in question was blushing like crazy at something the goblin was saying.
"Hey, what is this test anyway?" Ron asked the goblin.
"Every family had a choice of which tests would be used to grant or deny their future descendants access," the goblin informed him. "All were properly established at the foundation of the family vault."
"But what is it?" Ron insisted.
"That is entirely between you and the vault, Mister Weasley."
Ron scowled and fell silent.
They reached the Potter vault first, its giant doors looming with engraved dragons on the front.
"Stand right here, Mister Potter," the goblin directed Harry. "Cast any spell upon the door so it can recognise your magic. You may do the same over there, Mister Weasley." He pointed to another vault door, one that seemed to be decorated with weasels rampant, all carrying swords and shields.
Harry stood in the area and pointed his wand at the door. "Expecto Patronum!" he cast his spell towards the door, and the Patronus stag zipped in and out through the vault door.
The door glowed a bright, blinding green and then blue.
The dragons slithered on the door, moving. One turned to face them. "Couldn't keep your todger in your pants, could you, boy?" the dragon snorted. "You shall not pass. Only those who satisfy the Potter virginity clause may walk through these doors."
"I have to be a virgin to pass?" Harry blurted.
"No, boy," the other dragon said. "You and your bride both must until your marriage and the following consummation. Such things sing in your magic, boy. We cannot be fooled. And you— were not forced or coerced against your will, or we'd have known it. Now begone! Pray your spawn have better sense than you, for you cannot tell them. They must make their choices on their own, or we will deny them too."
The door went silent as the dragons moved back into position guarding the door.
Harry squared his shoulders. "Well, that's okay," he said after a while. "I still have what my parents left me, and the rest I'll make on my own."
Ginny, however, looked utterly horrified. "Why didn't my mum ever tell me!" she screeched.
"Don't touch me!" she cried, holding her belly with an instinctive flinch. She fled the corridor in tears.
"Does Mr Potter still wish to create a join account?" The goblin asked, not even bothering to spare glance to where Ginevra had left.
Harry looked somberly in the direction that Ginny had fled. "I think— I'll leave it for now as it is, thank you."
"As you wish, Mister Potter."
"No! No! You can't do this!" Ron's outraged scream came and Lavender's shrill wailing joined in.
Harry frowned, figuring that he hadn't really counted on any sort of riches beyond what he had from his parents. Why, then, were Ron and Lavender (or even Ginny) acting like they'd just been robbed? He had a lot left over from what his parents had left him, even after having paid for quite a few sweets for Gryffindor during finals week, year after year.
"What is the oddest clause you've ever had on a vault?" Harry asked, curious.
The goblin twitched his ears. "Consummation in front of the vault door and me as a witness." The goblin's lips moved with clear discomfort.
Harry's eyes went very wide. "I have a lot more respect for you, sir," he said after a beat.
The goblin bared his teeth. "Griphook had it even worse. One wizard family required the kissing of a goat."
Harry flinched. "I think I would far rather rely on my own means to make money," he said.
"You would be surprised what some wizards are willing to do for money," the goblin said.
"Wait— if no one can know what they need to do until they get here, how did they—"
The goblin smiled cruelly. "He transfigured his wife into a nanny goat and then kissed her."
Harry swallowed hard. "Good talking to you," he said, shuffling down the corridor. "What about Ron and Lavender?"
The goblin waved his hand negligently. "They will find their own way back out or starve. If they pass out, we will place their bodies on a cart and move them out with the evening refuse."
Harry made a face. "Oh."
As they began the trek back towards the lobby, Harry suddenly heard the high-pitched babbling of a very small child.
He looked to see Hermione holding up a young infant high in the air, making silly faces at the little girl.
"Babababababaaaaaa!" the infant cooed happily.
"Maaamamamamama!" another infant said, and Harry about fell over as he saw Severus Snape touching noses with another infant, a little boy.
They stood together just inside a giant, open vault door. Beyond it lay a great and vast collection of books and antiques as well as enormous piles of gold galleons.
"Just a handprint on the parchment here," the goblin near them said. "We will sent out the proper notification if they satisfy the clause for the vault when they are of age and if they meet the conditions."
Severus nodded. "Very well."
"I don't think you're even going to be able to go out on a date without daddy blowing his top and making some little boy cry, Abby," she cooed to the infant.
Abigail babbled happily.
Severus gave his wife a "look." "No child of ours will allow their lower brain to rule them, now will they, yes, Duncan?"
The infant boy babbled like his sister, blissfully oblivious and happy.
"Do you wish to make any other withdrawals, sir and madam?"
Both parents shook their heads. "Just what we alloted for their personal vaults for school," Hermione said.
"Very well, ma'am," the goblin said politely, and Hermione bared her teeth in what looked like a vicious snarl as she bowed.
The goblin seemed quite pleased as they exited the vault together.
"You!" Ron's voice rang out, and Harry moved to act, but the goblin next to him shook his head.
Harry looked like he wanted to protest, but the goblin was not entertaining conversation.
Ron threw himself in front of Hermione. "You took our vault from us!"
Hermione stood still, eyebrow arched. "Me, Ronald? How exactly did I take a vault from you?"
"If you'd just got off your high horse and engaged in a little snogging and gave me a good wank, I would never have had to go to Lavender to have my needs taken care of!"
Hermione's face ranged from disbelief to anger to hilarity.
"Really, Ronald? You're going to blame your putting your penis into a witch as MY fault? How is that, exactly? Considering you had your tongue down her throat in every broom closet for over a year before you and Harry made it quite impossible for us to be in a relationship, hrm?"
"What do you mean 'have to go to Lavender'?" Lavender screeched, pulling out her wand. "You sorry, son of a—" her face was cherry red with her rage, and it seemed like she was channeling her magic through her swollen belly.
Magic blew out from her abdomen and shot into Ron, bowling him arse over kettle into the nearby vault door— where the Snape's guardian door came to life as winged beasts and roared and clawed at his body before flinging him further down the corridor.
"Let's see you stick your cock into anything again, Ronald Weasley. I want a divorce!"
Lavender stormed down the corridor, electricity zapping through her hair.
Harry watched Ron rolling around on the ground, holding his groin as he moaned.
Hermione leaned over to whisper to Severus. "That wasn't what I expected to happen."
"Are you complaining, wife?"
"No, just… surprised."
Severus snorted, and rubbed her hair, eliciting a purr from his wife.
"That was— I mean— Nnngh," Hermione's eyes fluttered. "You win. I surrender to your skill."
Severus smiled, watching the show of a certain younger Weasley check his parts and scream hysterically. "Karma is a true pleasure to watch in action when it is not torturing me."
Hermione thumped him. "You made your mistakes as all people make them. And you paid for your mistakes."
"And you, wife? What mistakes did you pay for with your life?"
Hermione snuggled into his side. "Trusting the wrong people."
Severus touched her cheek. "I trusted no one. You trusted the wrong ones. Between us, perhaps our spawn shall at least find the middle ground."
"Baaa!" the twins burbled together.
Hermione closed her eyes, her body shaking with laughter.
"Can we discuss the strange irony of two beings that have died being able to have children?"
Severus smiled. "Who are we to question the miracles of our Lord?"
Hermione traced the line of her husband's nose. "Speaking of which, today he's coming to entertain his grandbabies."
Severus grunted something about universal grandparent spoilings.
Hermione pressed a soft kiss on his mouth. "I love you."
His lips twitched. "I suppose I must love you back."
"I suppose," Hermione replied. She lifted her head like a certain Lucius Malfoy, twisting her face into a scowl of disdain—
Which lasted all of three seconds as her husband descended upon her face with a searing kiss.
Hermione mumbled something incoherent.
Severus smiled. "I love you too," he purred.
Hermione's face lit up like the sun.
"Viktor," Hermione greeted happily, enfolding him in an embrace. "How are you?"
The Bulgarian smiled broadly. "Sestrá, I have missed you."
"You could visit more," she chided. "In between all that fame and responsibility."
Viktor grinned as he watched their children merge into a gaggle and chatter away non-stop. "They never seem to have problems, da? Picking right up where they left off?"
Hermione grinned. "A lot like us, Viktor."
Viktor smiled broadly. "Am happy that being sworn to Zmei is not so vast as being Morangelus of Death," he said honestly. "Have hands full as it is."
Hermione laughed. "It helps that we are dead, old friend. Well, at least as the mortals go."
"It is a gift from our Masters, yes? Perhaps yours most of all, that you are allowed children— and they be a given normal, mortal life to decide their own paths." Viktor looked thoughtful. "Protecting Bulgaria seems big enough task for me and my mate."
Hermione smiled warmly. "You have always been a protector, Viktor. It suits you well."
Viktor chuckled. "I cannot say I ever saw you as Morangelus when first met— but cannot see any other way, now."
Hermione laughed. "Well, some others are not quite so understanding."
"Bulgaria doesn't always think benevolent when Zmei is involved," Viktor said wryly. "See dragon, run screaming, mess everywhere."
"Yay for cleaning charms?"
Viktor shrugged. "Sometimes best to just cut losses, protect people, and leave quickly."
Hermione snorted. "Sorry," she said, waving her hands. "That must really irritate you, leaving messes for others to clean up."
Viktor stretched and shook his head. "Thankfully in Bulgaria, most of the bad things Zmei wishes us to combat are night-creatures. Traditional dangers, rooted in Slavic folklore and culture."
"Master Desmondon gives us tasks of tracking down those cheating the natural cycle— but he prefers we try to assist their being caught by their own mortal peers unless there is no other choice."
Viktor sipped at the iced lemonade that appeared in front of them. "Your master seems quite wise and compassionate."
"Don't tell that to Wizarding Britain," Hermione said. "They might all have a collective aneurysm, and then we'd be reaping souls for weeks."
The Bulgarian laughed. "I will restrain myself."
"Thanks for that," Hermione replied, chuckling.
They both turned together as their respective children let out a loud collective screech of joyous abandon as they discovered the Muggle water hose and the glory of water fights without wands.
"Joie de vivre?" Viktor asked.
"Oui, bien entendu," she replied with a chuckle. "Nothing say joy of living like a water fight on a hot summer day."
"A water fight on a hot summer day with friends," Viktor said approvingly. "And those that would be family in all but blood."
Hermione only had a few seconds to register the duality of what he'd just said when Viktor blasted her with a wand movement, bowling her over with a wave of water.
Suddenly, Viktor went arse-over-teakettle as Severus blasted him with his own vortex of icy water.
The children gaped as they watched Hermione and Viktor team up together to blast Severus down.
If anyone happened to be looking over the hedge to see what all the mad cackling was about, no one said anything, but they did end up with a massive water fight involving all the local children gathering en masse in the yard and joining in on the water fun.
By the time the parents shuffled over to collect their wet children, Severus, Hermione, and Viktor were all sopping wet and wearing mad grins.
[Clipping in local paper]
Water Wands by Crookshanks and the Canary
The newest summer toy has been released in London, and they are taking Britain by Storm. Designed to hold an amazing amount of water, these new toys are beating out the traditional squirt gun for wet summer-time fun. These things are so popular, that they sell out in minutes.
Crafted locally by Mr and Mrs Snape, each one is painstakingly made by hand and sold in small batches at local stores. Local businesses have been begging to be the next to be allowed to sell the next batch, and the small shop businesses have enjoyed a great boost in sales akin to the mini monsters sales of a few years ago.
The next release will be Wednesday at Gambol and Japes upon opening. See you there!
Severus and Hermione stood next to their trembling twins. Desmondon nudged them forward. "Come now, Abigail, Duncan. You've been waiting all of eleven years for this very moment."
Abigail hugged her familiar's cage to her, rattling the poor owl inside and causing Notos to hoot softly in annoyance.
Duncan's face was a bit more stoic, but he was still trembling too. He held onto his familiar's cage with an iron grip. The half-Kneazle kit snoozed on, Pakhet totally oblivious to her master's nervousness.
Crookshanks meowed from Hermione's shoulder, looking on sagely.
Tiny half-grown shadow spiders huddled against each child's neck. "Come on! We've got this!"
"Yeah, we'll be with you!"
The children seemed to gather their courage as they looked back at their parents.
"We're proud of you both,"Hermione said warmly.
"Unless you get sorted, Gryffindor," Severus snarked.
Hermione gave him a look, and all the spiders promptly leapt onto his face.
Severus pinged them off with a swipe of his hand.
"Git!" Octavius yelled as he silked himself back up to crawl under his hair.
Hermione cuddled Cinder. "You okay with your kiddos going off with ours?"
"Of course!" Cinder said, bobbing up and down happily.
"Us too!" the little spiders perched on Viktor's childrens' shoulders exclaimed as Gavril and Iskra giggled.
"Aren't you a merry bunch of conspirators," Severus quipped.
The smaller spiders cheered happily.
Upon seeing their Uncle Viktor arrive with their best friends, the children barely waited to hug and kiss their parents for their official goodbye before running to board the Hogwarts Express.
Severus sighed. "To think, we won't see them for another—"
"Five or six hours?" Hermione chuckled.
Severus sniffed. "Children never leave. They just get needier and more demanding."
Viktor snorted and nudged Severus with his elbow. "They are young and human. Is that not reason enough for them to enjoy life's milestones?"
Severus rolled his eyes as Hermione hugged them both together. "Let's all have some excellent curry over at Akuti, yeah? Is your wife coming, Viktor?"
"Give my Galina some time to weep over her children getting married," he said. "Her mind is already many years ahead. To her, they are leaving forever."
Hermione chuckled. "She'll always have the holidays."
"She does love curry," Viktor said approvingly. "It will be good motivator."
"Isn't that how you convinced her allow all of you to move to Britain for the kids? You bribed her with curry?"
"Shh," Viktor said with a wicked grin. "Trade secret."
The Hogwarts' Express squealed as it started to take off, slowing chugging forward. Their children all waved out the windows frantically, staying together in the same car— as everyone knew they would.
Galina was sniffling away like a leaky faucet, dabbing at her eyes with a handkerchief.
The spiders all bounced up and down, waving.
The other spiders stared at Haze, shaking their heads.
"Come," Desmondon said, smiling knowingly and flaunting his current more "human" looking guise— a golden-haired, fair-skinned man with piercing blue eyes. "Let's go eat. I'm buying, and none of you are arguing."
"Yes, Master," Hermione and Severus said immediately, and Viktor bowed respectfully.
As they walked away, Viktor snagged his wife by the sleeve and tugged her alone, hugging her waist.
"You are very creepy-looking so human and… well, alive," Severus observed as they walked.
Desmondon smiled warmly. "Someone has to make up for your own dreary fashion sense, child."
Hermione busted up laughing and wrapped her arms around them both. "I love you."
Severus flushed as Desmondon and Viktor grinned, unashamed and proud.
Haze clung to Galina's shoulder and patted her neck gently. "There, there, it's not the end of the world." She offered her a freshly spun silk handkerchief.
Galina hugged the shadow spider to her and sobbed into her fluffy body.
"Curry for Lady Galina, stat!" Kobal squeaked.
Viktor pressed a kiss to her head. "Do not worry, love. We can make more children with new excess free time."
Galina flushed a bright crimson, sputtering, trying to beat Viktor's kiss off with her hands and failing utterly.
Desmondon pulled Severus and Hermione together, grinning. "Will there by more grandchildren for me in the future, hrm?"
Desmondon laughed joyously, his cheer causing quite a few people to turn their heads and stare at him as if he were quite mad.
Severus muttered. "We can't take you anywhere, Master."
"You can take him," Hermione said, "but there will always a bit of death about it."
Desmondon laughed heartily. "Just because we are not alive does not mean we cannot live, my children. For living well is the greatest curse upon our enemies— that we are happy, and they— well… There is that very special place in the Afterlife for two exceptionally deserving individuals. And— I may, on occasion, give them a glimpse of other people living happy lives without them."
They continued to walk on for some time before Severus stopped dead in his tracks. "Master, what kind of glimpses?"
Desmondon's smile was both serene and utterly terrifying. "Oh, just some prime examples of life going on in spite of death."
Severus eyed his master somewhat suspiciously as Desmondon dragged his "children" down the street towards a great dinner and a bright future.
Meanwhile, in Purgatory
Sweating heavily, Tom Riddle struggled to push an enormous boulder up a seemingly endless hill to get to the glasses of cool water that had been left every few hundred feet or so. Each time he used his his body to hold the boulder in place so he could reach the glass of water and drink, the bottom of the glass would show him some scene of the world of the living— life going on without his influence and being so much better for it.
Elsewhere, a solitary goat stood alone in a field of unending grass with no distinguishable landmarks. No matter which way it went, everything looked exactly the same. He ended up walking back to the very same still pond no matter which direction he went, and each time he resigned himself to take a drink, the surface of the water would shimmer, showing him a vision of his beloved sister, Ariana… she was healthy, strong, beautiful and wholly magical, living out a wonderful, glorious Afterlife— all without him.
Albus knew all he had to do was get to her and everything would be right again. Everything would be worth it. She would greet him, remember him, forgive him—
He just had to find his way out of this accursed grassy field.
It had to be that way.
He ran towards the horizon.
That must be it.
This time for sure!
Meanwhile the pond flickered, changing to a brand-new image of a certain raven-haired Morangelus embracing his lovely mate in the throes of mutual bliss as shadow spiders busily wove a new silken curtain over the "view".
"Hey! No peeking!"
"Oi, nothing to see here!"
"Mind your own business!"
"Yeah, whatever she said."
The silken curtain covered up the pond, looking like peaceful white clouds.
Meanwhile back with our couple…
Octavius scurried in between the nestled bodies and attempted to gain a warm cuddle as the other spiders dove into Hermione's lush mane of curls.
Severus' pale talons plucked him up and tossed him off the bed.
"You're still a GIT!" the spider squeaked as he bounced repeatedly across the bedroom rug.
Crookshanks plucked the spider up between his jaws and jumped up onto the bed and wove himself under the covers, carrying the spider with him. He nestled under Hermione's arm and against her chest, purring like mad. Crooks dropped Octavius between his paws and set his head down on top, closing his eyes.
"Your familiar is cuddling Octavius. It makes him utterly insufferable."
"I seem to do quite well with insufferable personalities."
"I happen to think you both make excellent cuddle buddies." Hermione snuggled up to her mate and kissed his nose.
"She loves me!" Octavius squeaked from under the covers.
Severus reached under the covers and muffled the arachnid.
"I love her more," he growled, descending upon his mate with a heated kiss.
"You're jealous of a spider?" Hermione laughed as his kiss ended.
"Octavius is not the one giving you children," he grumped.
"You needn't worry," Hermione said with a warm chuckle. "All of our children have two legs, not eight." She guided his hand down to her abdomen. "Even the latest one," she purred.
Severus' eyes grew very wide. "Truly?"
"Mmhmm," she purred.
"Do you love me?" she said coyly, flipping her hair to the side just so.
His eyes filled with the darkness of space as he growled. "Always," he rumbled, capturing her in his arms and pulling her close.
Spiders hung in glistening webs as they spun countless sets of silken baby booties and sleeper-wear. The younger spiders scurried over the empty baby crib, weaving new linens in perfect detail, all eagerly awaiting the arrival of the newest member of the Snape family.
** This quote was adapted from Delenn from B5 in Severed Dreams, one of my favourite kick ass quotes (and there were many). Kudos to you that know where it came from. You deserve pie.
*** This song was written and performed by Wardruna. The song is called "Helvegen" (The Way To Hell) and if you can find the version on youtube performed by Wardruna AND Aurora (live) it may move you as it did me when I heard it.
A/N: I hope you enjoyed the story.
Many thanks to my sleep-starved betas The Dragon and the Rose and Hollowg1rl who stayed up past their expiry date to beta this fic to completion. Praise them!