soul cried out: scorched lips,
you are on one side, and the world is on the other,
The whole world is on the other side.
It was Hermione's Wedding Anniversary.
She was celebrating it in the traditional manner, tucked up in a warm blanket on the top of the Astronomy Tower, with two glasses of Firewhiskey. One glass for her, and one for Severus.
She raised a glass in a salute to him, and took a sip. She was grateful for the warmth it generated; it was decidedly chilly up here. She had to admit that the new Mediwitch, whatever her name was, had been right that it was too cold up here for an old woman.
Perhaps they should have been more sensible and married in March and not November, or Severus could have chosen a warmer place in which to propose than the Astronomy Tower, but they'd been young and impatient and hadn't thought ahead.
Whatever-her-name-was had insisted on giving her a medical examination, with the result that she'd been stripped to her underwear, stuffed into a draughty gown and forced into an uncomfortable bed in the Infirmary. She'd pursed her lips and sighed heavily throughout the whole undignified process, and then tried putting her foot down and forbidding Hermione from coming up here. Hermione was old; Hermione was ill; Hermione shouldn't take the risk.
She wished Severus had been there to see the look of shock on the old trout's face when she had simply said, "Bollocks. Severus will be expecting me, and I won't be letting him down."
Hermione had to give her credit though, she didn't back down in the face of her indignation. "You're mad," said the Old Trout, and there had been a horrified silence in the Infirmary. Perhaps she was, they were thinking, perhaps the old woman had finally lost her marbles. That was the hardest thing about growing old: her mind had lost none of its sharpness and agility, but somehow people assumed that her powers were fading.
Not twice, it had to be admitted; nearly eighty years of marriage to Snape had seen some of his vicious tongue rub off on her. A verbal flaying was usually enough to make the impertinent youngsters back down, but this woman was clearly unimpressed.
They didn't understand that, yes, she had difficulty remembering names these days, but that was because the youngsters of today were so dull. She'd spent the last Ministry dinner talking to Draco Malfoy and they'd both agreed that the present crop of witches and wizards had the personality of flobberworms.
Lucius was long gone of course. He'd taken his own life in prison after the War so that his estates couldn't be sequestred. She'd proposed a toast to Lucius – it had been worth it to see the carefully blank expressions of her dinner companions; no one would dare say anything to her about the unsuitability of mentioning a man whose name had become a byword for evil.
She supposed that witches threatened their offspring that Lucius Malfoy would come and take them away if they didn't behave. He would probably have enjoyed that. He would certainly have enjoyed the very pointed way that Draco had allowed his hair to grow; he was the spitting image of his father. No, Lucius Malfoy wasn't about to be forgotten by anybody.
Draco had replied by proposing a toast to Severus. The other diners had been happier about that – Severus's status as a War Hero was unimpeachable, and as he wasn't there they didn't have to deal with the unfortunate fact that he was a sarcastic bastard. They'd ended up toasting their old friends – and enemies in some cases – from Hagrid to Harry to Albus to Minerva.
The new Headmaster was a prat of course, not a patch on Harry, and was on the verge of agreeing with Whatever-her-name-was when Young Severus had intervened. "If either of you are stupid enough to continue in this course of action, I can assure you that I will see that both of you are out of a job by the end of the week."
"But Minister..." the Headmaster had protested.
"But Minister, nothing," he'd snapped. He could be his father's son when he had to be. "My mother will be spending the night on the Astronomy Tower."
"In that case," the Old Trout had put in, "I will be accompanying her."
"Severus and I do not require a chaperone," Hermione had said icily.
There was another exchange of looks between Headmaster and Mediwitch, but whatever it was they thought they kept to themselves in the face of Young Severus' stony expression.
"Very well," the Headmaster had bleated, "But I accept no responsibility for ... for any harm that might come to your mother."
Typical obfuscation from the modern generation, she'd thought; why not come out with it? If your mother dies up there, it's not my fault.
So she'd been allowed to rise from the Infirmary bed, had put her clothes back on, and had been escorted into Dinner as an honoured guest rather then the bloody nuisance they clearly considered her to be.
Hogwarts didn't change.
If she kept her eyes on the chattering children she could imagine that she was sitting by the side of her husband as she had so many times for Dinner at the High Table. Young Severus was so much like his father, the same fingers wrapped round a wineglass, the same hair falling down as he bent to eat, that if she allowed her eyes to dazzle she could imagine that she was flanked on either side by Albus, and Minerva, and all those familiar faces from the past.
Binns was still there. She'd avoided him as much as possible, she felt like a ghost herself sometimes, but he had managed to corner her as Young Severus was on the point of escorting her to the Tower.
"Miss Granger," he'd said, "do give my respects to Severus when next you see him."
She'd been startled by the rush of tears to her eyes, which she held back with difficulty. "I will." Her voice had sounded croaky, even to her own ears.
There were still the same indulgent expressions on the faces of the rest of the staff watching the exchange; how nice of Binns to humour the old woman and her mad fancies, the were thinking. How she yearned to hex them off, but she wouldn't want to be late for her appointment.
Young Severus had been very quiet as they made their way through the school. They'd stopped at the base of the Tower; she would go the rest of the way alone.
"You'll be alright on your own," she'd asked.
He'd known then, but had smiled sweetly – god knows he didn't get that disposition from either of them – and said, "Of course I will. Give father my love."
She'd simply nodded, tucked an errant strand of hair behind his ear, and kissed him on the cheek, and begun the long climb to the top of the Tower.
Fortunately, she'd left plenty of time to make the journey, because she was sure that someone had added another couple of stories to the damned thing. Half an hour before the allotted hour – midnight, only Severus would have proposed at midnight – she'd arrived panting and puffing at the roof, and settled down to wait.
She was glad to be early; she didn't want Severus to see her all puffed and blown, though he'd doubtless make some comment about it bringing back happy memories, just to see if he could make her blush.
She'd poured their glasses of Firewhiskey - he'd doubtless complain about her starting without him – and begun telling her news to the wind.
Of how Septimus, their eldest, was a father at last; how Young Severus had defeated Cornelius's grandson to become Minister for Magic; and how Lily seemed to have an eye to marrying Young Lucius, but was playing hard to get.
"Quite right too," said a voice softly from behind her. "If he's anything like his grandfather."
"You're late," she said.
"You're early," he countered.
"I've saved you some Firewhiskey."
"I'm glad to hear it." He settled next to her, and they gazed out across the grounds. "I suppose you'll want to go to the wedding then?"
She shook her head. "The way those two are playing games, it could take years before they finally settle."
"My love." He turned his head and she could feel his warm lips touch her palm. "Come with me?"
She nodded. "I've said my goodbyes."
He turned to her then. His spectral hand pierced her worn out flesh; there was a sharp pain, and then she was raising a shaking hand to touch his beautiful face. There was one last wrench as she allowed him to help her to her feet, and then she was free. Neither of them spared a glance for the huddle of rags and bones at their feet as they embraced fiercely.
At the foot of the Tower, Young Severus heard his mother's laugh ring out clearly and then silence. He couldn't be sure, but shortly afterwards, he thought he saw two faint shadows move towards the lake. He blinked to clear his eyes, but they were still there when he looked again. The shapes paused, turned in his direction and seemed to wave, then faded away before he could acknowledge it.