Wow. Um. Yes. It's finished. Finally. The story I began in Nov. 2003 is finished. I don't know if this last tiny bit is really worth the wait, but I hope you enjoy and that you've enjoyed this tale in its entirety. To every one of my readers, past, present, and future, thank you. Thank you especially to those who have put up with the long spaces between chapters/my disappearing acts. I'm glad that I've been able to keep your interest (I hope). While I don't plan on adding any sequels, I have a new fic due out once I can get it back from my friends. It's complete, so there won't be the same situation as with FFG. I promise. Anyhow, the epilogue.
The First Faint Glimmer
Epilogue -- After the Fire
They parted with little more than a glance at the train platform, Snape striding purposefully to the professors' car, Hermione rejoining her friends in a compartment towards the rear of the train. They had made their arrangements the previous evening, both fighting a sense of loss as they told each other it was only five months. Five months to be careful and cautious, of each other's feelings as much as of their public personas. Five months to learn and teach; a month had sufficed for much, but there were always little things to be discovered. Five months to let things grow and change, to consider possibilities and ramifications, confessions and introductions.
Five months to wait and worry as each led a life almost entirely separate and so very dangerous in its own way.
Hermione envied Severus as she stepped into the compartment. His ordinary behaviour made it easy for him to brood undisturbed. She, however, had to express interest in her friends' holidays and deflect the questions about her own. But it was easier than she had thought it would be; half a lifetime of practice in keeping secrets from others apparently made it easier to include her friends in that category.
Five months, she told herself. Five months to act as though her life hadn't changed a whit.
Albus eyed Severus when they reached the castle, that thrice-bedamned twinkle searching out the differences he expected. Severus grunted and grouched his way back to his dungeons, barely even allowing himself a sigh of relief when he reached them. He had half-acted for every waking minute for nearly half a lifetime, he had simply added another facet to be hidden within the depths. Still, he envied Hermione. She didn't have to play the dog to two masters, at least one of whom could keep an eye on him every single second of every day. She didn't know the restriction of being afraid to even let a single thought flow through her mind in the moments between waking and sleeping, lest it be snatched from her and examined under an alchemist's magnifier. Gods, he hoped that this deception wouldn't be the straw that broke him. Or worse yet, broke Hermione.
Five months, he told himself. Five months to keep hope in the innermost place of his soul and to pray that, for once, whatever sort of fate there was would treat him with consideration.
And yet they passed, somehow. Slowly, tensely, with days made of stolen glances and nights of rare, hidden moments. A word here and there. A letter on occasion. A conversation when they felt about to break. Worry when Hermione disappeared on various errands. Near-panic when Severus was Called. Hope and fear in a fragile web around them, growing love and faith supporting them.
And then, suddenly, with the abruptness of a cut thread, it was over.
There had been a chaos of blood and magic and shouts and fear. Of agony and helplessness and triumph. They had lost each other again and again in the melee as they focused on the tasks they had been set, the roles they knew they had to play. And then it ended, leaving an odd, empty stillness behind as everyone--good, evil, combattant, and bystander--gazed in shock at the gasping, blood-stained Harry and the still, deformed corpse of Voldemort.
It was over.
Decades of uncertainty and terror, of bravery and greed, were over.
What was supposed to happen now?
Severus gazed at his arm in bewilderment; the traces of the cursed tattoo were barely visible. It was, somehow, a concept too great for his mind to comprehend. It was supposed to be darker than that, wasn't it? He dimly recognized that someone was approaching and it was his body more than his brain that reacted, putting him immediately en garde. Only after did he realize that it was a young woman in Muggle clothes, the jumper slightly scorched at the shoulder, the pants stained and torn at the knees. It took a few seconds more to recognize Hermione in those clothes; Hermione, who had picked her way through the still crowds to stand beside him. Hermione, who watched him with a curious look in her eyes, one that he couldn't quite decipher and couldn't quite bring up the mental capability to try.
And then she smiled at him.
It was a small, tentative smile, as though she were trying it on and wasn't quite sure it fit. He didn't try it, himself; he knew a smile wouldn't fit on his face. "Hermione," he said instead, watching the movement of her eyes, the slight twitch of her chin as she tilted her face.
"Severus," she replied, her voice just as quiet and solemn. "Severus, will you kiss me now?"
He stared as he tried to process her question, then, out of habit, quickly scanned the room. Potter was hunched over, hands on his knees to support himself while Ron Weasley clapped him on the back. Minerva was helping a tottering Dumbledore to his feet. Pomfrey was... Wait, what did it matter now? "Yes," he said and leaned forward carefully to touch his lips to hers.
Nothing else mattered then. Nothing else existed until the torches, spelled to extinguish at dawn, went out with their loud, heavy sound. The two started apart, then stepped together. Hermione gazed out the windows at the clear, grey light.
"The first faint glimmer," she murmured. Severus lifted an eyebrow in query. "I just remember that phrase from somewhere," she explained. "I can't recall where. But that's what this is, isn't it? The first faint glimmer of..." she couldn't seem to find the right words, "...of everything."
Severus shook his head slowly, turning his attention back to the scenes inside and beyond. "No, the first faint glimmer was in the dungeons on a December afternoon. This, Hermione, this is sunrise."
She closed the last bit distance between them, wrapping an arm around him and leaning against his shoulder. "I still can't figure you for a sappy poet."
"No, I am by nature an evil-tempered, nasty bastard," he replied blandly, his arm snaking around her. "You bring out the worst in me."
"But our lives are ours, now, aren't they?"
Bemused, Severus blinked. "Yes. Yes, I suppose they are. Shall we begin by scandalizing everyone?" Hermione blinked at him in turn. "I believe you expressed a desire to, if I recall correctly, 'snog in the Great Hall'."
She grinned. "I certainly don't object to it. Will we continue as we begin, do you think? Shocking everyone we come across?"
"My dear," Severus's expression was positively evil, "I am counting on it."
"Then let us do so."
And so they did.