Severus waited at the dock for the three o'clock ferry. In order to keep the disturbance in the community to a minimum, they'd insisted that all of their magical guests arrive via boat. The Potters and the Grangers had arrived yesterday, the Weasleys and Minerva would arrive tomorrow. Filius and Pomona on Saturday. Today, it was the Malfoys who were arriving on-island.
To his right stood Rose. Though he knew that she was bursting with anticipation, she stood beside him completely composed. Elegant, quietly beautiful. It had shocked him how quickly, profoundly, irretrievably this young woman had stolen his heart. Though they looked nothing alike, she could not be more his daughter in thought and bearing if she had been a product of his own flesh. As her brother had, she had consented to bind herself to their new family. The decision had been easy for Hugo. For Rose, it had not. He had fully accepted her choice to decline, but his heart had soared when she changed her mind. She would be his daughter.
As if hearing his thoughts, she looked at him, gave him a conspiratorial glance, betraying, just for a moment how excited she truly was, and then resumed her dignified stance. They could see the faces of the passengers now. On the bow of the main deck, as resplendent as a bird of paradise among crows, stood Scorpius, his eyes searching for hers. He did not wave or gesture. Nor did she. But that did not lessen the punch of the moment when the two of them locked eyes.
"Bloody Hell..." muttered Hugo to his left, "they'd better go ahead and have sex soon, or they are going to kill me with all that unresolved tension."
Severus glared at the boy. "Raise your shields then." He gestured to the Taverna, and smirked. "Unless, of course, you and Pikinos can find a more enjoyable use for that energy."
The boy blushed, then grinned. "I guess we could think of something."
"I have no doubt."
Severus watched as Draco and his wife joined Scorpius at the bow of the boat. Three more people who knew who he was. He blew out a breath. There were now officially twenty two people from the magical world who knew his identity, several of whom were underage. The secret would not last much longer.
It was inevitable. Whether by intent or by accident, there was no way so large a number of individuals would allow him to continue unexposed. It simply defied human nature. That the secret had lasted all summer, he knew, was a testament to how much these people cared for him. But it was only a matter of time.
He and Hermione had already begun to plan for when the word got out. They would return to London. Make appearances. Use Potter's connections to influence the story's spin. Ensure that they were available until the majority of the furror died down. They would have to visit London regularly anyway, to see Hugo at University, and Rose at Hogwarts. During those visits they planned to feed the press sufficient fodder to keep them reasonably sated. As long as they did so skilfully, they believed they might keep Arki as their sacrosanct retreat as well as their primary home.
Weeks, months. He would not rush it. But he no longer dreaded it either. What did it matter? He would not face the furor alone. There was not one among these twenty two who wouldn't stand by him...well perhaps Mrs. Malfoy. But the others? He knew in his heart that he had their support.
Who knew that one could learn trust at such an advanced age?
There would be no elaborate white wedding. It just was not necessary. Neither she, nor Severus could care less about the trappings. What mattered to both of them were saying the words and invoking the magic that would formalize their bonds as a family. Having their community there was a bonus, and anything else was overkill.
Instead of a traditional wedding gown, she'd chosen a plain A-line dress, with a scooped neck and a full, tea-length skirt. It was simple and lovely, and made her feel beautiful. All four of them would be wearing the same fine white linen that Severus wore habitually; the symmetry of that pleased her.
She'd decided against carrying a bouquet, and their wedding site would have no flowers or decorations of any kind. With the sapphire sea and the rugged coast behind them, she knew the ceremony would not lack for beauty.
She and Severus awoke that morning, as usual, before dawn, and made love in the quiet dark. Afterwards, he held her face in his warm hands, stared at her with his fathomless eyes.
"Today." He said.
She smiled, her face still flushed and damp from their love-making. "Today." She answered back.
While the women chatted, applied cosmetics and glamours, Rose, who had always had a way with such things, worked on her mother's hair. Hermione smiled at the conversation around her. This little interlude, with all of the women she loved in one room, filled her with warmth. She loved listening to the banter while her daughter twisted and braided and worked with small sections of her impossible strands. With her back to the mirror, she couldn't see what Rose was up to, but Rose had been a fashionable creature since birth, and Hermione knew she'd figure something out, somehow.
And she did. When she'd finished, the front of Hermione's head was shaped into a complicated, stylish tangle that complimented the shape of her face, and managed to look casual but sophisticated. The rest of her hair was left as its tempestuous self.
"I left the back the way Severus likes it, Mum. Just, fashioned up the front, you know?"
"Rose, you are a marvel. It's perfect."
Rose laughed. "I am, aren't I? And yes, it is pretty perfect."
Ginny came up behind her to look in the mirror. "Oh, that is good, Rose!" She reached behind her, and removed the simple strand of pearls from her neck, held them around Hermione's. "How about this with that hair? It can be your something borrowed."
The pearls Harry had given Ginny when Albus Severus was born. She liked the symbolism. And they did look lovely. So Hermione nodded and smiled, and the pearls were secured around her neck.
Molly cleared her throat. "Dearie. I hope I did the right thing. I have a little something for you too." She handed Hermione a large, bespelled box. "If it's the wrong thing, you don't have to use them."
Hermione opened the box, and her breath caught in her throat. Inside, were dozens of fresh orange blossoms, a single teardrop pearl wired in the centre of each.
As an adolescent, whenever she had envisioned herself as a bride, Hermione had always wanted an orange blossom bouquet. But she and Ron had married in early spring, when the fragile blossoms had not been in season.
"I thought you might think of them as a gift from Ron. He so wanted to be able to give them to you, and now he finally has. Oh, Hermione, he would be so glad that you are happy."
Hermione choked on a sob, and fell into her mother-in-law's arms. It felt right to bring something from her Ron to this wedding. After all, there was no future without the past.
After they'd calmed a bit, Hermione picked up the box again. She inhaled deeply. "Oh, gods, smell that, it's heavenly."
And so all the women crowded around, smelling the delicious citrus scent, and discussing how to use the flowers. Hermione reached a hand into the box, lifted one out reverently. "And the pearls?"
Molly blushed. "Those are from me. They aren't real, Dearie. Just a bit of paste really. But they're a bit special. See my mum gave me a pearl purse to carry on my own wedding day, and it broke a while back, so I took some of the beads and wired them in. I thought they might suit for your something old."
Hermione smiled. "They are a treasure."
"Here," said Rose, "Let me have those." And one by one, she tucked the orange blossoms into the complicated concoction of Hermione's hair. When she was done, she pressed a kiss to her Mum's cheek. "From Dad."
"Thank you, Rose. Molly. All of you. I'm just so very happy today." The last was said with tears coursing down her cheeks. That just about did it for the entire room. Molly burst into tears and Dr. Granger, and Ginny. Even Rose shed a tear or two. Mama didn't cry, but she did tutt comfortingly, proclaim "Is good luck to cry on a wedding day!" and pass out cups of chilled wine and tissues to all who were weeping.
It was Ginny who regained her control first, and squeezed her sister-in-law's hand. "If we're going to do it, we should go all the way. You have something borrowed, and the pearls can be your something old, and your dress is new. So we still need something blue."
Much to Hermione's amusement, all the women immediately began rustling in their respective purses and bags for something blue to round out the collection.
It was Mama who stepped forward, with a white box. She wiggled her eyebrows and spoke in her broken English. "I was going to give these later, but I give now instead. My cousin in Paris, she send them to me for you. And Sevroos too, yes?"
Inside were a dozen pair of the worlds prettiest, smallest, daintiest lace knickers...in every colour of the rainbow. The women, Hermione included, all roared with laughter. More wine was served, and the world's tiniest pale blue knickers were selected, and donned with great ceremony.
As she had the first time, Hermione's mother picked up her daughter's wedding dress, and held it for her to step in. But this time, it was Rose who claimed the privilege of zipping the dress up the back. Three generations of Granger eyes met in the mirror. Which resulted in more tears.
"Mum, you look beautiful."
"I do, don't I?" She looked at her daughter. "You too. But you're missing something." She reached back, pulled an orange blossom from own hair, tucked it into her daughter's. Kissed her daughter on the cheek. "There. From your father. Brilliant, beautiful lives, Rose."
"Brilliant, beautiful lives, Mum."
"Let's do this thing."
They embraced. Took turns glamouring away the signs of tears. Then Hermione and her cadre of women left Mama's house for the coast.
Any tourist arriving on Arki that day would be out of luck. There would be no vendors to greet the ferry. No fishermen cleaning their boats in the harbour. No helpful passers-by to give directions. Even the Taverna, always open to the traveller, was closed. Every soul on Arki was attending the wedding ceremony of Sevroos and Hermioneee.
But the islanders had their own way of doing things. Instead of filing into seats in advance to await the bride's passage, all the guests who were able waited along the road that the bride would travel. Hermione had decidedly passed on riding a donkey, another island custom, but no one seemed to mind.
So she walked. As she approached the waiting guests, they cheered. As she and her women passed by, they filed in behind, forming a raucous procession. Some played musical instruments, some sang, and everyone chatted and laughed and called out to each other. It didn't seem to bother anyone that the procession had to travel over a mile to reach the northernmost coast. Everyone knew that they had chosen to marry in the very place they had first kissed, and the romance of that made the journey worthwhile.
When they arrived at the site, Severus and Hugo were there, waiting for them. Judging by the brilliance of Hugo's smile, he was incandescently happy. And Severus...He stood there, tall, serious, with the wind whipping his soft black hair, and eyes that saw nothing but her. Hermione smiled at him and saw something beautiful move across his face. Her heart throbbed in response.
Once before she had pledged herself to a man. She had loved him with her whole heart. They had walked through life together to the very gates of death.
To be able to feel that way again? To be able to live life, with all its joys and sorrows, hand-in-hand with this man?
She was the luckiest woman in the world. She stepped forward, and placed her hands into his.
Brilliant, beautiful life indeed.
Severus Snape stood, the young man who would become his son at his side, the sea crashing behind him, and watched the boisterous procession move closer. At this moment, walking towards him was everything he'd never known that he wanted. A community that accepted him, made him welcome and useful. People from his old life who knew who he was and what he had done, and supported him nonetheless. A wonderful, bossy, wise old woman who had taught him what it meant to be loved. A razor-sharp, beautiful young woman who had consented to become his daughter. And Hermione. His friend. His lover. His wife.
He felt emotion rise high in his chest, and took a deep, shuddering breath. It was, for a moment, almost overwhelming. Then, he felt a warm hand squeeze his own. Hugo. The young man looked at him with gentle understanding. Rather than being annoyed by the boy's emotional eavesdropping, Snape surprised himself by finding that intimate moment comforting, rather than invasive. He felt...cared for. Significant. Loved.
He squeezed Hugo's hand back in thanks, and the boy's face erupted in a smile so bright it was practically blinding.
And then, at last, Hermione arrived. His Hermione. She smiled a slow, joyful smile and placed her capable hands into his. Instantly, his nerves melted away. With one voice, they began the incantation that would bind them together for a lifetime.
Once before, Severus Snape had pledged himself. In doing so, he had lost decades of his life, surrendered his freedom, his self esteem, and much of his soul. This time, when he bound his life to another's, he would lose nothing. Instead, he would gain everything a man could hope for.
Beside the glistening blue of his ocean, Severus Snape took a deep breath, and began his life again.
Dedicated to Richard, my own dark potions master, and the bravest man I know.
AN: Thank you all for reading. Can you believe it has only been 8 weeks since we started this crazy adventure? It feels like I've been hanging out with you guys forever now. I'm going to miss you!
Before I go, I want to offer some particular thanks to Orlando Switch, Renaid, HM88, Jen Lennon, HPG4ever, Sherrithewriter, Frecklysnape, Mollysister, Seriously Perkey, Aurette and most recently MinkyT. All of you had a significant impact upon this story one way or another. In gratitude, I've arranged to have Alan Rickman stop by all of your houses for a bit of a snog. I know, I know, it was the least I could do!
This story, as with most of my work, dealt a lot with the aftermath of loss. As a mother, I look at my happy, innocent daughter, and I wonder, how do prepare her for loss? How do I teach her resilience? How do I teach her that no matter how hard life kicks her, that she should always do whatever it takes to get up again? Well, I've boiled it down to two mantras. And I repeat them to her ad nauseum. And now, as a parting gift, I shall inflict them on you. It's okay to roll your eyes. Because, really, who wants unsolicited advice? But it's good stuff, so after you finish the ocular rotation, read it, 'kay? Anyway, here goes...
First: Always remember, the human heart can heal from anything.
And second: Never give up on life...you never know what might happen next.
May all your oceans be wide and deep, and may you keep hope close, even when you wander in dark places.
In deepest gratitude,