A/N: Two years ago today, I posted the last chapter of iA Walking Shadow/i, with no idea of the significance of the date. This time, the date is deliberate.
The happiest of birthdays to my Uberfriend and partner-in-crime, Anastasia.
This story is, as always, for you. *hands you dandelion* Make a wish!
As Hermione and the portraits watched, Harry's scar bled away to nothing.
The seed fell, pure white, to his outstretched hand.
Hermione sent a deeply shaken Harry back through the Floo. "Ginny," she said, "give him some time. The rift at the Ministry stretched back to Godric's Hollow, and it's raised some unpleasant memories," she said.
Ginny's eyes held no warmth, but she nodded, Flooing through to help Harry home.
Hermione sank into her chair and rested her head in her hands.
She'd no idea she'd fallen asleep when she felt Severus' hand at her shoulder. "I've called for some Firewhisky, Hermione."
She shook her curls out of her face, and he tucked the one, always errant, behind her ear, resting his fingertip at her temple for a moment before drawing her out of her chair to sit by the fire.
"I'm not ready," Hermione said some hours later, setting her glass on one of Dumbledore's spindly-legged tables that Minerva had kept for sentimental reasons. "I'm simply not. I've too much work to do with Poppy, and really…" She let out a shaky laugh. "I'm a bit of a wild card."
"Do you think Ginevra will accept the position?"
"Eventually, I think. She had that calculating look she used to get when faced with a challenge, and she couldn't hide it."
The topic they'd not addressed loomed large between them.
"I've been thinking," Severus began, even as Hermione said, "Severus, I've been –"
At Hermione's gesture, Severus spoke first.
"There is a larger problem here than simple logistics, Hermione."
She nodded. "I know."
He reached for her hand, and rubbed his thumb over her skin. "Given our ages, you will eventually find yourself alone of all who were touched as strongly as we by Darkness. I've no wish to contemplate what you might do, even with your conscience and better training than Dumbledore, in his infinite foolishness, sought to keep from you."
She nodded, looking at the ring, heavy on her hand.
"I've decided to stay."
He was not talking only about Hogwarts.
She looked into his eyes through her tumbled curls but did not raise her head. "No."
"Yes, Hermione. If the little one can interact with matter, it's possible, and when I know a thing to be possible, I've never once failed to achieve it. If I die first, I'll stay."
Hermione rested her hand gently on his face. "As will I."
He closed his eyes and gathered her into his arms, enveloping them both in the warmth of black silk as he exhaled his relief into her hair.
After a time, when their heartbeats had settled, Hermione's voice came muffled from against his chest. "Then you won't mind if I ask you to serve as acting headmaster until the year ends?"
He winced, but chuckled. "If I must."
"I was going to ask Percy, but –"
"Hush. I've said yes."
"No. You said, 'If I must.'"
His lips twitched again.
"I can't redesign the Defense curriculum when I don't know what it should be," Hermione said, sitting up and nestling less closely but no less permanently into his arms. "Just because there's no great force of Darkness abroad in the world – excepting us, of course – doesn't mean one won't appear in the future. Our students must be prepared. Really prepared, starting with the truth."
"You could ask your colleagues at Durmstrang," he offered.
"But I trust you," she said, as though it settled the matter.
Which it did.
"And besides," she continued, her eyes beginning to close drowsily as she leaned more closely into his shoulder. "My portrait will spend an eternity with Dumbledore's. I'll spend the first century or so hexing him. As acting headmaster, you'll get a portrait too."
"How do you know?"
"Minerva. She's been a placeholder since he died."
"The Ministry kept that quiet, too."
Harry Potter, sans scar, was in due course elected Minister of Magic, and his wife took the day from her teaching duties to attend his investiture. After a long photo session and an even longer dinner, she excused herself to attend a staff meeting.
"Don't wait up, Harry," she said. "We're going to Hogsmeade after the meeting. I've not finished raking her over the coals for Lily's fifth year."
However they had settled it between them, they had.
They'd really had no choice, and sometimes, it's what you do when you've no choice at all that makes you who you are.
Harry chuckled again as he turned that insight over in his mind.
A knock at his office door interrupted his thoughts. "Enter," he said.
Percy came in bearing the red file.
Harry sighed. "Is it time, then?"
"It's time." Percy opened the folder and started to read.
If both men choked up at times during the truth of Ron's sacrifice at Godric's Hollow, neither ever said.
The little ghost never did speak, but led her class at Hogwarts just the same.
One early night just before the Yule Ball in her Sixth Year, Neville found her outside in the snow, watching the snowflowers bloom with the rising of the moon.
"I thought I'd find you here."
She turned to him, and he gasped.
That afternoon, she'd decided she'd been eleven for long enough, that perhaps fifteen would be better.
From the look on Neville's face, she'd both succeeded and chosen very wisely indeed.
At the ball, the headmistress and assistant headmaster complimented them on their dancing, and the next year Cassie celebrated her 40th birthday by turning sixteen.
And there, she stopped, and she and Neville were sometimes seen to be holding hands.