Anti-Litigation Charm: It all belongs to JKR; I play for non-profit amusement.
Author's Notes: Neither HBP nor DH compliant.
Conversation in Italics signifies MindSpeech.
Happy New Year's Eve! (And Voldemort's birthday, amusingly.)
Thanks ever so to everyone who has stuck with me through this grand adventure, and a special thank you to all those who have reviewed. I've had a grand time even if it's sometimes been tough; readers and reviewers have kept me going. It's hard to really wrap my head around the fact that I started posting The Problem with Purity nearly a year ago. This has been a definite learning experience, and I'm going to take a lot away with me for future endeavours.
Love and hugs to all. ^_^
The Problem with Purity
Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, Draco Malfoy, and Severus Snape were four of the most famous wizards in the wizarding world. They had been for over a month ever since they had defeated He Who Must Not Be Named on the grounds of Hogwarts.
It still wasn't entirely clear how they had done it, but the Prophet had reported that Harry Potter had spoken to the Minister directly and reassured her that the spell that had been used—which had packed terrific force behind it and caused an explosion that the villagers of Hogsmeade had said they had felt even in their beds—was one which could never be duplicated. It had apparently been designed to kill Voldemort and would never be used again.
The Prophet reported that the Minister had been quite satisfied with Mr Potter's explanation, and as he and Headmaster Dumbledore had carried out a short interview with the paper while Miss Granger lay in a coma, the newspaper was convinced of his veracity as well.
Andrew Stebbins kept abreast of the news in the Prophet as a matter of good business sense since he needed to be aware of public opinion; he could thus be prepared for the correspondence he was likely to receive at the Auror Department.
In this particular case, he was inclined to think that they had all done a very good job. Unlike all the citizens clamouring for more interviews and parties with the four as the guests of honour, Andrew rather thought it was time to let them have a little peace and quiet. The three younger had only just graduated, after all, and most of their time since then had been spent fighting a war or recovering from it.
They were all still holed up at Hogwarts, but since it was one of the few locations where the press could not gain entrance and only visitors approved by the headmaster were permitted, Andrew couldn't blame them for this choice, either.
The furor surrounding the end of the war was only starting to die down. The Auror Department was still abuzz with activity, although their job had been made easier by the fact that Azkaban had been completely re-warded the week before. Andrew had not been there, of course, but he had been well-informed on the matter given the number of people who were writing to the Department wanting to know what was being done with all the prisoners now that the Dementors no longer guarded Azkaban.
He duly informed any concerned citizens, therefore, that a whole team had been brought in specially, including a premier expert on warding, and the prison had been done over from the first stone to the last. For security reasons, Andrew did not know exactly what had been done, nor did he have the slightest idea who this team had been comprised of, but he had seen the look of respect in Kingsley's eye. As a result, he was able to respond to any concerned inquiries with a heartfelt guarantee that the convicted Death Eaters were safely behind bars.
It was looking to be quite a typical Thursday afternoon, and Andrew was therefore very much surprised when Kingsley (who, it was rumoured, spent a good deal of time at the school himself), stopped by Andrew's office to hand him a gilt invitation.
"It's for this afternoon," Kingsley reported to him. "You'd better open it now."
Very confused, Andrew saw that the invitation was addressed to him rather than being a piece of mail to be filed or distributed to one of the Aurors. Opening it, his confusion only grew because it turned out to be an invitation to a ceremony of bonding—or rather, a double bonding—between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, and Hermione Granger and Severus Snape.
"Well, are you coming?"
There was amusement on Kingsley's face, and if Andrew hadn't known him so well, he would have suspected that this was a joke of some kind. But although he knew that his boss had a sense of humour, the man wasn't really the type to play practical jokes on anyone. Not on Andrew, at least.
"Coming?" he stammered. "To this bonding ceremony? Now?"
"Yes," Kingsley replied, his look of amusement only deepening. "You wouldn't want us to be late, would you?"
Andrew, of course, prided himself on his punctuality, but— "I'm still working."
Kingsley smiled broadly. "I believe I can vouchsafe you for the afternoon, Andrew. Come along."
Not knowing what else to do, Andrew followed his superior out of his office and to the Apparition Point. He Apparated to Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, a place which held many fond memories but which he had not returned to since he had graduated nearly thirty years ago.
Looking down at himself, he was torn between the realization that he was completely improperly dressed and the overpowering certainty that there had to be some kind of mistake.
He prided himself on his job, it was true, but he didn't fancy that any of these young heroes at Hogwarts had the slightest idea who he was or what he did.
Kingsley, however, was striding through the gates, waving politely at the two Aurors who were standing there. Andrew felt horribly self-conscious but when he greeted them politely and moved to step past them onto the grounds themselves, they didn't make the slightest attempt to bar his way and declare that obviously he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He continued on, wondering how this could have happened. It was true that the War Heroes (as they were being called collectively in the Prophet) knew a number of Aurors. They were friends with Kingsley, from what he had seen, and Auror Tonks had worked at the school for an entire year.
But Andrew had never so much as seen them, let alone spoken to them. Why they could possibly want him here, he couldn't fathom, and his sense of confusion only grew when he and Kingsley walked across the lawn to the array of chairs which had been set up near the edge of the Forbidden Forest. It was clear now that this really was for friends and family only.
There were the Weasleys all seated together, and Ron Weasley had been friends with Harry Potter and Hermione Granger from the beginning, if the Prophet was to be believed. Auror Tonks was there with her fiancé, Remus Lupin, Harry Potter's godfather and once a werewolf.
There were the elder Malfoys—who were doing "community service", a Muggle notion that would allow them to repay the society that they had wronged while recognizing that they had been on the right side of the war in the end. Next to the Malfoys were two Muggles—or so he gathered from their clothes—whom Andrew guessed must be the bride's parents. They looked slightly overwhelmed but very happy.
There were a number of others who looked to be about the same age as the three younger War Heroes, so Andrew imagined they were friends from school. There were a number of professors, too, some of whom Andrew recognized from his own Hogwarts days.
And that was it. The Minister wasn't even present, so why, Andrew wanted to know, had he been included?
He had, he acknowledged, performed a trifling service during the Final Battle. For Kingsley had come to see him, oh, it must have been three months ago, now, and spoken to him of a new form of communication, very secret and to be used only in moments of dire need. He had made it clear that he would address these missives directly to Andrew, and Andrew—though he prided himself on his professionalism—had been all agog to see how this new communication worked.
To say that he had been stunned when something that looked like a smoke-grey lynx appeared in his home and spoke with Kingsley Shacklebolt's voice would be a gross understatement.
But he had been honoured to be trusted with this undertaking, and Kingsley was quite correct that he was just the man to admire this new form of communication and do what was instructed properly. Even his amazement at the medium had been dashed by the message.
For Kingsley had assured him that it was not possible to duplicate or fake these messages, so Andrew was faced with the sudden and appalling news that Hogwarts was under siege and Auror reinforcements were required at once to Apparate to the edge of Hogwarts and fight the forces found there.
For a moment, Andrew had been too stunned to move. Should he, he had wondered, report this to the Minister? A moment's thought had cleared his head. A protocol had been clearly established. Kingsley was both the head of the Department and the head of Magical Law Enforcement, and while these requests were usually made in person, his orders still held.
Kingsley had made it clear all those months ago that he was trusting Andrew with this task, and Andrew had realized then that he had to live up to that faith. He had therefore rushed to the Ministry and sounded the alarm which summoned all on- and off-duty Aurors to send them forthwith to Hogwarts.
The Aurors weren't exactly used to getting orders from him saying that they had come from Kingsley, but he had put the authority of twenty-six years of exemplary service into his voice along with the sure knowledge that he was doing what Kingsley wished.
The Aurors had done as they were bid.
They had, he found out hours later, met with a force of Dementors that was terrifying to behold, and they might have been overrun were it not for the fact that the unicorn herd—Andrew almost wished he had been there, to see that—had emerged from the Forbidden Forest and destroyed the host of Dark Creatures.
There was no saying what the Dementors might have done, terrorizing the town of Hogsmeade or breaking through the wards and attacking the beleaguered people fighting the Death Eaters on the ground, but between the Aurors and the unicorns, they were defeated.
So Andrew admitted that he had done his duty in this situation, but he still couldn't see that that was sufficient reason to be invited to the wedding. Not all of the Aurors who had fought at the battle were here, and they had surely had a more active role than he.
Yet the fact remained that the invitation had been handed to him, and here he was. Given how rife media speculation had been, he was sure it was a good thing that this was a private ceremony.
In the privacy of his own mind, he admitted that he had not been entirely convinced that the marriage of Severus Snape and Hermione Granger was a wise one. He didn't like to gossip, but he'd kept up with the Prophet, and so he was tolerably well informed about the antagonistic relationship the head of Slytherin had had with the Gryffindor students throughout their school career.
He was almost two decades her senior. Andrew couldn't believe it was a good idea.
Seeing them here now, however, it was quite plain even from his position in the fifth row back, that they were completely in love. Looking at them, in fact, Andrew was quite sure that they belonged together.
He was much too old to have been taught by Professor Snape, but a number of the younger Aurors in the Department had been in his Potions classes. When he was mentioned, it was always with the liveliest horror or in the context of tasteless jokes about his being a vampire and their being able to go after him on a raid one day.
Andrew had seen unflattering pictures of the man in the Prophet, and there were flurries of letters about him from time to time at the Auror Department: Death Eater activity, outrageous teaching practices, appalling treatment of Harry Potter, etc., etc.
Looking at the man as he stood up next to Hermione Granger, Andrew thought he looked years younger than he had in the last picture Andrew had seen. His formally cut robes of deep green made him look less sallow and much healthier than that last picture. The radiant Miss Granger was gazing at him blissfully, and Andrew imagined that anyone would look their best in that context.
She was wearing cream-coloured, closely tailored robes that seemed to be a mix between a Muggle wedding dress and the formal robes that were normally worn by bonded couples. Her dark hair was piled on top of her head in a mass of curls with several shining strands woven through it. She wore no other adornments and was quite properly barefoot, as were her bond-mate and the other bonding couple.
Andrew was quite sure that he had heard rumours of a rivalry between Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy, too, but looking at them, he could only see the deep affection between them. The Gryffindor was dressed in green that matched his eyes, and the younger Slytherin was wearing grey, and seemed to be completely captivated by those emerald eyes. The Boy Who Lived Again, Andrew noted, also hadn't once taken his gaze off the blond man standing beside him.
Andrew might not know why he was here, but it was an honour.
A ceremony right next to the Forbidden Forest was a little unusual, although to be sure, it was a lovely July day. He could have sworn as he walked from the Apparition point to the Hogwarts gates that it was going to be too hot for an outdoor wedding, but now that he was seated on the grounds, he found that it was quite tolerable indeed, and though the sun was shining down at all of half one in the afternoon, it didn't seem unbearable at all.
Looking at the two couples and the headmaster—who was resplendent in robes of brightest purple with a phoenix perched on his shoulder—Andrew found that it was almost impossible not to believe in soul-mates, a notion which he had always scoffed at. It had seemed a little too far-fetched and fantastical to him, but looking at these four people, he found that he was being steadily converted.
The headmaster began the ceremony by declaring that it was only proper that these new beginnings in a new world brought about by the people standing in front of him came about on the new moon which would be occurring in a few minutes' time. Although the moon phases still played a part in older rituals, it was rare that younger couples paid any attention to it nowadays.
As he was watching the scene unfolding in front of him, however, Andrew overheard someone speaking quietly behind him; apparently, the castle wards had been re-cast that morning, and it seemed that the people standing in front of him had been largely responsible for their being erected.
Examining them more intently, he found that Miss Granger seemed almost to be glowing, and the three gentlemen looked to be in excellent health and colour as well. Andrew would have imagined that re-casting the wards would have left them too tired to do anything of import, let alone be bonded, but it looked rather as though the casting had energized them.
Hermione Granger and Severus Snape spent the entire time looking in one another's eyes except for the one moment, right after they had been bonded, when the young woman looked to the Forest and smiled. Following her gaze, Andrew froze.
His only regret about not being at the battle had just been obliterated, for the Forest was full of unicorns, a whole herd seemingly, and Andrew couldn't fathom how he hadn't seen them before; though they were standing very still, they were all glowing with an inner light. The headmaster regained Andrew's attention as he pronounced the couple bonded, and when Andrew looked back at the Forest, the unicorns were gone.
The unions were completed, both couples kissing with evident delight. It was clear they were all devoted to one another, and Andrew felt very privileged indeed to have witnessed the day even if it turned out to have been a clerical error of some kind.
Once the ceremony had finished, the lawn was rearranged in the blink of an eye for the reception, a rather impressive piece of magic. There was now a smooth area of lawn for dancing, small tables for conversation, and buffet tables piled with food.
Andrew resigned himself to being forgotten in a corner somewhere. At least if he could tuck himself away, he wouldn't spend the entire ceremony feeling as though he stood out completely in his totally inappropriate work robes.
They were in good repair, certainly, but didn't begin to approach the formal wear that should be worn to a wedding. Since he knew so few of the people, apart from a few work colleagues, he didn't suppose that he'd want to do any mingling anyway.
Now that he knew that the Forest was full of unicorns, he did not feel quite so leery of it as he had done, but his school years reminded him that there were still plenty of other creatures in it, and he didn't want to get too close. It seemed to be the only place to get out of the way, however, so he chose one of the small tables near the Forest's edge and sat down and tried to be inconspicuous.
He was much surprised when he was greeted not many minutes later by Hermione Granger-Snape who had Severus Snape, Harry Potter-Malfoy, Draco Potter-Malfoy, and Ron Weasley in tow. Andrew rose immediately to his feet, not quite sure how to deal with this influx of very important personages.
"Mr Stebbins, how kind of you to come." Hermione Granger-Snape was twinkling happily at him, and he had no notion of how she could know who he was, but there was no lack of recognition in her eyes. She seemed to know just what he did, too, for she complimented him on his filing job.
He could detect no hint of insincerity in her voice and therefore thanked her with only a trace of a stammer.
Her smile deepened. "It is a pleasure to have you here. Surely you don't mean to sit down all afternoon?"
He shook his head a trifle hopelessly. "I'm completely ill-dressed, Miss Granger. Er, Mrs Granger-Snape. I wouldn't want to disgrace your lovely reception."
She laughed. "Nonsense. You look fine to me. And please call me Hermione. Come, and I'll introduce you to Varda Sheppard."
Looking down at himself doubtfully, Andrew found to his shock that he was now wearing quite the loveliest set of dress robes that he'd ever seen. They were a rich dark brown, and he was quite certain he didn't own anything of the like. He was even more certain that he hadn't been wearing them a moment ago.
He looked up in bewilderment and encountered only grins from all the men facing him. Harry Potter patted him on the shoulder.
"It's best just to do what she says."
Not knowing what else to do, he allowed Hermione to draw her arm through his and lead him away. As they left the gentlemen, he heard Ron Weasley speak.
"Who on Earth is he?"
Harry Potter laughed. "Don't you remember? If not for him, Ron, we mightn't be here, and Voldemort might not have been defeated."
Andrew was certain he must have misheard, but Severus Snape continued, "Your memory is lamentably short, Mr Weasley. It is Mr Stebbins who is in charge of all the correspondence at the Auror Department. It was he who encountered several … interesting letters at the end of August."
"What…. Oh!" It seemed that Mr Weasley now understood what they were talking about even if Andrew was still in the dark. "Well, better than inviting Scrimgeour, anyway."
There was a chorus of laughter behind him, and Andrew had to wonder just what letters it was that they were talking about. The thought was driven right out of his head, however, when he met Varda, who was quite the loveliest woman he had ever seen. Hermione left them alone with a smile.
Andrew was now sure he had had very good reason to file all those complaints about former werewolves given human status under "nonsense". The Minister and Kingsley had made it clear that Hermione's cure was to be trusted. Having now met her, even for the briefest of periods, he found that he was quite in agreement with them.
He saw Hermione hurry back to Severus Snape. He spoke to her, and whatever he said made her throw back her head and laugh, the silvery sound floating through the air and lifting Andrew's spirits. He watched as the dark-haired man slipped his arm around Hermione's waist, and she beamed up at him.
Andrew still didn't understand quite how these people knew him, but it was clear that he'd been doing his job. If that had somehow assisted in the saving of the world and helped bring these four people together, then he was very gratified indeed.