They lay together through the night, spooned against one another, until the warm thread of morning pulled them from sleep.
Hermione stirred, cushioned by the soft grass, disoriented for a moment. Cool air swept through the chamber, chilling her bare skin and providing one more reason to stay nestled in Severus' embrace. As if I needed an excuse. She wondered fleetingly whether the chamber might provide them with necessities should they decide to stay here—never to leave. Drifting into half-sleep, it was only the purposeful movement of Severus' hands along the soft skin of her belly that woke her. I could get used to this.
She smiled and hummed her appreciation as he caressed her.
"Well, that was not precisely what I'd had in mind for our activities last night," he murmured.
"Wasn't it?" She laughed and rolled to face him, enjoying the flash of humour in his eyes as she pulled him closer.
"Not quite," he drawled as he dropped kisses along the line of her jaw. "Bonding with the elements and risking life and limb for the soul of the wizarding world fell rather low on my list of priorities, oddly enough."
"I hope that last night's activities made up for the interruptions of the evening," she teased.
"Ah, well it's possible that I will need to revisit those just to verify—"
She laughed out loud. "I have always admired your thoroughness," she murmured, distracted by the movement of his mouth along her jaw and in particular by the wandering touch of his hand lower and lower.
He chuckled, renewed his attentions on a spot right behind her ear. The one that, he'd discovered, never failed to make her moan.
It lay where she'd discarded it in her last fit of pique, atop a pile of crumpled parchments and empty bottles of ink. The variables were still smouldering at the bottom of the page. The occasional rune rallied valiantly, rising from the heap and spinning in frantic search for a place to perch.
Why hasn't it balanced? He watched as she pulled the parchment closer, smoothing the crumbled page with both hands. The hours had not been kind, he thought. For as liberated and grounded as he felt, his hands, and hers—he saw, bore the remnants of the night. Blood, tears, mud, and rain had left traces on their hands, and her parchment bore the marks now, as well.
"Any change?" Severus asked, reaching for the page, grimacing at the blots his hands left on its surface.
"None," Hermione replied, slumping down in her chair. How could it be, he wondered, that the world was still askew?
She shot up at the edge in his voice. "What is it?"
He gestured to the parchment, spinning again with kinetic motion. The runes and symbols that had been stagnant for weeks leapt from the page, dancing and twisting—almost eager. But now, instead of tumbling end to end, only to land in a smoking heap at the foot of the page, their movements were easier, slower. One by one, in a sequence as lovely as a choreographed dance, they settled into their places, humming happily.
In an instant, the Tree exploded into colour—its roots burrowing into the soil that had appeared there, its trunk stout and tall. The branches reached out, leaves bursting with life, vibrant.
Hermione looked at the equation—the Tree of Life—that had acquired three dimensions, movement, and life, along with its equilibrium.
"It needed more than ink," she whispered. "It needed—" She hesitated.
She looked at her hands and at the Tree that seemed to have absorbed the remnants of the night from her skin. Not hers alone, but theirs, he realised. Them.
"It required a Significator," Severus said. "It—" His voice caught in his throat.
"It needed us, Severus," she whispered as she stepped forward to wrap her arms around him.
She seemed to understand, he thought. Seemed to realise that all his joking in the chamber aside, being the agent of change—of life—rather than the overseer of death and despair was... overwhelming.
"Us, yes," he said softly, burying his face in her hair. "How absolutely astonishing."
He felt her smile, though he couldn't see her expression. When she lifted her face to his, he couldn't help but smile, too.
"What do you say we retire to your rooms—I never did get to see much beyond the sitting room," she said.
"Yes," he murmured. "I believe that there is a chamber there that requires our attention."
Severus' private chambers reflected so much more of him than the outer rooms, Hermione thought sleepily. Guarded and austere, the sitting and eating areas were about brisk efficiency with only a touch of the person who dwelt there showing through.
It wasn't that his bedchamber was so revealing, or that it was so dramatically different from the space outside. Hermione looked around the warm room, bedclothes tucked securely around her though she privately thought that Severus was a far better blanket. It was really just that there was a bit of softness in here that didn't show outside. That was it, she realised—sharp edges were both a necessity and safety for him. But here were the parts of him that nobody could be allowed to see.
She sighed happily. He stirred, dropping a sleepy kiss on her head, and then on her lips as she turned to greet him.
"Good morning." She smiled. "Or is it afternoon? I've lost track entirely."
He laughed. "I have as well. And if hunger is any indication—"
Hermione's stomach rumbled and she snorted softly. "I can't remember when we last ate."
The chamber, like all living and working rooms in the Department, heard their need and responded with...
"Must be morning if it's eggs and toast," Severus remarked. Together, they made room on the bed for the tray piled with food and tucked in. After the initial edge of hunger was sated—it had been an awfully long time since they'd eaten, thought Hermione, talk turned to what might be happening outside.
Thoughts of events out there as Hermione often thought of it, had so long been fraught with guilt and fear that it felt oddly liberating and a bit strange to think of it now. But the chamber had provided them with a paper along with their meal—a Daily Prophet, whose front page told them that they'd been away for two days, including their last bout of sleep, and that a great deal had changed since they left the node in the chamber.
The main headline, spread across the entire front page and over a picture of a beaming Kingsley Shacklebolt, proclaimed: Escalating Natural Disasters Come to a Screeching Halt: Minister of Magic says, "We knew we could beat it." Details, page 21. Hermione snorted and threw the paper across the bed. "Hogwash," she said. "But predictable. Though I might have expected better from Shacklebolt, actually," she added.
Severus huffed in agreement. "No matter," he said. "He will do what politicians do. It's clear that far more goes on beneath the surface than the majority of the populace will ever know."
Hermione nodded. Solemn agreement and tacit acknowledgement of his years of unsung sacrifice and contribution to all of their safety hung in the air between them. She reached for his hand, and his fingers threaded with hers—a bond woven by choice and fashioned in spite of layers of barriers. Or perhaps, in part, because of them, she thought.
"I'd like to go to Diagon Alley," she said, and he looked up, surprised.
"I want to walk down Diagon Alley. With you," she continued, eyes shining. "Hand in hand." She smiled. "I want to wander the aisles of Flourish and Blotts and see who drags who out of there for want of nourishment."
"Diagon Alley. Flourish and Blotts. Yes," he murmured. She saw him hesitate, wondering what it would feel like for him to walk those streets again, a man so different from the one the wizarding world believed they knew. A man so different from who he had believed himself to be only months before.
"Where would you like to go, Severus?" She asked. "It's been so chaotic for so long, I can't even imagine..."
"Hogwarts," he said abruptly. "I want to walk the halls of Hogwarts and know that I shan't be chased from there ever again."
She squeezed his hand, heart aching for the man who stalked those halls and bore the acidic glares of students and faculty alike—especially that last, awful year. "I would like to be there when you do," she whispered. He nodded—his bowed head enough confirmation of his feelings.
"And I should like to visit Dumbledore's Tomb," he added softly. "I've not been."
"Not even when—" She cursed herself for her impulsive words, though he didn't appear troubled.
"No, not even when I was Headmaster," he answered. "I couldn't do it, not then." She nodded, waiting, listening. "I loved and hated him both," he continued. "And until it was all over, I couldn't stand in his presence with all of that still thrashing inside me."
She nodded again. How immobile he'd had to be for so terribly long in order to restrain the battle inside.
"I think that visiting Dumbledore's tomb must be the first thing we do, Severus," she said. "Today, now."
"There is no reason anymore to wait, nothing preventing you—us—from going where we want, when we please."
He nodded slowly, as if assimilating altogether new information. A quicksilver smile flashed across his face, and she tilted her head in question.
His eyes were sparkling again. "I was just wondering if our dragons would fit through a particular window that I believe contains a rather large hole," he smirked, then laughed at her confusion. "Never mind, I'm sure they've repaired it by now." He tugged at her hand, "Come," he said, suddenly eager to leave, "let's go."
The white marble shone in the mid-morning light. The lake just beyond sparkled with life and Severus thought he saw the peering eyes of merpeople and selkies just beneath the surface. He took a deep breath and approached the tomb, Hermione just behind him.
He stroked the smooth stone, remembering the hours spent staring at it from a distance—from a hidden copse of trees that summer... after; from the windows of the castle that long, dark year when he barely ventured from the grounds apart from times he was compelled by the barbed chains of magic.
"You did your best. I know you did." He didn't know what he would say until the words fell from him, a flood of emotion directed to the surface of the rock, and to the spirit of the man whose will had been as impenetrable. "I always wished that you'd had as much compassion for me as you did for the others," he whispered. "But I forgive you, Albus." And inexplicably, he did.
He turned to Hermione and wiped the tears from her cheeks. She held him until his tears fell, and past the point where he'd managed to quell them enough to pretend they hadn't.
And when he looked into her eyes, he recognized the fire there—and the reflection of his own, fire he'd never before recognized as his. The shifting was seamless, his and hers both.
Two phoenixes, fiercely plumed and exuberant launched themselves from the surface of the white marble.
Wings outstretched, they circled the lake, riding the current of the wind. They sang to each other in the sky, pure notes—crystalline and fine, drops of peace and hope swept into the jet stream. In unison they flew, Phoenix sense taking them where they must go.
They were off to find Fawkes—he needed to know that it was finally time to come home.
The International Journal of Transmutations and Transmogrifications
The discipline of Transformational Magics, as practiced by witches and wizards fifty years after VWII, has enjoyed tremendous growth and proliferation (McGonagall & Flitwick, 2010). Contemporary wizarding education integrates the philosophical and ethical underpinnings of magic and its use, including its application to identity, diversity, and the interdependence of all living beings on one another, and on the world that sustains them (Sprout, Longbottom & Hagrid, 2011).
While only some wizarding schools employed the procedure of sorting students into distinct houses, the incineration of the Hogwarts sorting hat—whose spontaneous destruction was discovered during the visit of Severus Snape and Hermione Snape (nee: Granger) to the school in the early days after their repair of the breach in the magical flux—marked the beginning of a new era in magical education, worldwide (Maxime,
McGonagall & Marchbanks, 2011).
Schools across the globe have since adopted the use of the Tree of Life as a method of divining each incoming student's unique strengths and weaknesses, consequently placing students in the group where their membership serves the overall balance both individually and collectively (Marchbanks, 2012).
The original Tree of Life parchment used to balance the elements and repair the fabric of magical energies resides with the authors. Rather than being placed in stasis or archived, it is brought to Hogwarts every September 1 and placed in the hands of each and every incoming first-year student. Observers note that with each passing year the Tree's colours grow richer and its branches, more luxurious.
The dancing runes, sigils and symbols adorning the tree, in turn, never fail to make even the most frightened of the children smile.
Snape and Snape, 2055
The Alchemy of the Soul and Other Transformational Magics