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He bore his black eyes into hers as he leaned across the counter while she stared back at him with a vacant expression and dumb grin. If he drew his wand, the guards would be all over him. He might be chatting her up or even flirting with her. He had done in the past. It would not attract any attention.
It had to be something believable and with the proper motivation; otherwise, Lyudmila's mind would reject it as false and Severus would draw unwanted attention to himself, Draco, and the girls. There would be no second chance at this; he had to plant the memories and make them convincing, before her mind rejected them and became impervious to any sort of suggestibility. He also had to have it finished by the time Draco finished. If he failed, or if Draco was caught at any point sneaking the girls out, all could be lost. He thanked God that the rooms had Silencing Charms on them. He also trusted that Draco at least had the sense to Confund or Obliviate any clientele who happened to be in the rooms at the time.
Focus, he chastised himself. This was not for him to worry about. This was a team effort. He would do his job, and would have to trust Draco to do his. Trust others. Trust a Malfoy. A novelty. But he had no other choice.
Severus's mind raced as he considered the task at hand. This trick worked best if he implanted past memories, rather than ideas for future action. It would only work if the girls were already gone. And the girls could only be taken out if Draco wasn't caught. If he gave Lyudmila no cause to be alarmed when she found them missing from their rooms. If she expected them to be gone. If she believed that she had let them go already.
No room for error tonight.
The woman kept the girls here, despite the ever-present-albeit unlikely-risk of trouble, for two reasons: their profitability, and the fact that the Ministry tended to look the other way when it came to Death Eater children. Ministry officials absolutely knew about this. Many, he sadly knew, were regular customers, comped in exchange for their silence on the matter.
Could he convince her that all of that was in jeopardy?
Clearing his mind, he looked deep into her eyes and looked at her mind. He visualized it as a box with all memories and thoughts neatly packed in small cubes next to and on top of one another. Lyudmila's mind was well-organized and it was easy to see where she kept her memories and thoughts. That would make it a bit easier, though nothing about this would be truly easy.
He leant against the counter and began talking about inconsequential and trivial things and waited for her to make eye contact. When she did, he struck.
Giving her a smirk—a flirtatious one—he shook the box.
The thoughts and memories in her mind tumbled around the box like letters in a Boggle set that had just been shaken, and through Severus's manipulations, they fell in exactly the order he wanted. As the thoughts roiled through the box her head, with surgical precision, he inserted small snippets of false memories expertly into the appropriate places. As if they had really happened.
He found her dormant fear of the girls being found out by the wrong people, and he grasped onto it and exacerbated it. Encouraged it. Anchored it to the memories, both real and false.
In her most recent memory of reading the Daily Prophet, he planted a memory of an article about a Ministry crackdown on sex trafficking, and how another brothel in a Wizarding village in the Midlands had been closed down for having under-aged girls.
The tipster who'd warned her that the brothel was hot fell in next to a real memory of her bribing another official to keep quiet.
Next to a memory of her paying her guards he inserted the statement from one of the them that comping Ministry officials free "services" would no longer do the trick; Shacklebolt was under pressure and needed to make an example out of someone, and if Lyudmila wasn't careful, it would be her.
He planted the realisation she'd had that if under-aged girls were to be discovered, it would be Azkaban for her and all her profits disgorged and the building leveled.
They were a liability now, no longer an asset. She had to do what was best for her and her business.
He ordered her to forget the customers who had come in to see them that evening. Thankfully, it had been a slow night and there was very little she had to forget.
She should erase all records pertaining to the girls and destroy all other evidence.
The last time she'd seen them as a group, just that morning, she'd told them to get out, to not come back, thrust some coins into their hands and pushed them through the back door. She really had seen them that morning. He expertly manipulated the memory into what he wanted her to believe. What he needed her to believe.
And, of course, she would forget she ever heard a word from Severus about the whole thing. In fact, she should forget that he had even come that night. The guards wouldn't say a word; he was a regular enough patron that his presence, even just to talk, would not raise any eyebrows.
The box settled itself, and Severus was pleased to see that her mind didn't seem to be rejecting the memories as false.
It never would have worked had he not been able to remove the girls simultaneously. It never would have worked had Apparition not been an option. It would never have worked if he'd had to take the girls out the front door. It never would have worked if the girls were not already gone by the time he was finished with her.
It never would have worked had the Draco Malfoy not stumbled back into his life.
Severus strode out the door and into the night. He looked to the sky and said a silent prayer of thanks that he had accomplished his part of the mission. He hoped that, for once, Draco Malfoy had not let him down. He hoped that this would not be the karmic payment for his recent personal happiness. With everything now in the hands of fate, he Disapparated back to Grimmauld Place.
Five girls sat in the ground floor sitting room wrapped in blankets conjured by Harry and Hermione, clinging to each other and eyeing the adults around them with great suspicion. Luna fixed tea in the kitchen and sent it out to the girls with magic. None of the girls had said a word. Luna had advised Harry and Hermione not to try to speak with them; Severus was the person they felt safe with. They should wait for him.
Eventually, the man in question Apparated directly into the ground floor sitting room, immediately facing three drawn wands and the screams of five distraught girls. The wands were lowered as the girls threw themselves into his arms. They were panicked and relieved all at once; Draco Malfoy, who many of them remembered from the war or even as a guest in their homes, had Apparated into a room in which Apparition was impossible, grabbed them by the arms, and Disapparated them into an unfamiliar home full of unfamiliar people. He had told them he was taking them to Severus Snape, and that they would be safe there, but how could they know for certain?
They had withdrawn into themselves, the fear and anxiety and confusion and relief all bursting out at once in one cathartic explosion upon seeing that they were really, truly, gone from that place and in Severus Snape's care once again.
Somehow, he had done the impossible. He had set them free. Brought them home to him. Without harming anyone.
As the girls fell into his arms and sobbed into each other and on him, he shut his eyes in relief. He had thought this day would never come. He had given up on it ever happening and eventually had stopped letting himself hope. It had become too, too painful.
After a long time passed, and the girls collapsed into an exhausted sleep, he looked up and saw Hermione and Harry and Luna beaming down at him. They were not so very stupid; it would be a long and difficult road from here. The kind of trauma that these girls had lived through, the hell that had been their very lives, was not the kind papered over and smoothed out. It would take years to undo the damage, and it was very possible that they would never truly recover from it. Would these girls, later in life, ever be able to welcome a gentle and kind lover into their arms? Would they ever feel safe? Only time would tell.
They had their work cut out for them, all of them did. But tonight was not the time to worry about all of that. For now, the girls would just sleep, peacefully and safely, for the first time in many years.
"Where's Malfoy?" Severus whispered after he had untangled himself from the group on the floor. As he spoke, Harry waved his wand and transfigured a sofa into a bed, then duplicated it five times. He then gently levitated each of the exhausted girls into bed.
"I sent him into the bath, he smelled terrible," Luna said. "Neville's gone to Hogwarts to let Professor McGonagall know that we've found Leopold. He said he'll try to speak with her, let her know the situation, so that Leopold can go back without any trouble."
Severus snorted derisively. "Forgive me for not placing my hopes in him."
"Be nice," Hermione scolded.
"Look, it's been a long day for all of us," Harry said, running his fingers through his hair. "Can't we just worry about all of this tomorrow?"
"How lovely it must be to have the luxury of fobbing off your responsibilities to the indefinite future," Severus drawled out of habit rather than malice. "While I believe I have covered our tracks well enough to ensure that Lyudmila will not set her dogs on me or Malfoy or the girls, there is still the very real issue of the Ministry. They are still technically wards of the government, and that has to be taken care of as soon as possible. I think it unlikely that the Ministry will come banging on my door tonight or tomorrow, demanding my head and carting the girls away, but it is not an impossibility that they would suddenly decide to grow a conscience about the whole thing."
"It's not like we can do anything about any of this tonight," Harry pointed out.
"We have to be prepared," Severus hissed. "Constant—"
"Vigilance," Harry, Luna, and Hermione finished in unison.
"There is also the matter of Malfoy," Severus said. "If he is to stay here, too, we have to plan for that. Where he is to stay, in what capacity, et cetera."
"Something that we can easily discuss in the morning," Harry protested.
"Oh, for the love of God, Harry, if you're so damn tired go home," Severus snapped.
"And come back in the morning to face your ire for having left with all of this unresolved? Not bloody likely."
"Then shut it. And take an Invigoration Draught if you need one. I have some in the cabinet."
"Don't mind if I do," Harry muttered, excusing himself to stagger to the potions cabinet in the kitchen, which all the adults in the household were now permitted to access.
"Alright," Hermione said in full planning mode once Harry returned. They'd moved up to the attic to sort through everything. She'd even summoned some parchment to take notes. "We have three things to discuss, then: Leopold and Hogwarts; the Ministry and the girls; and Draco Malfoy."
"Malfoy is the easiest one dealt with," Severus said. "He brought the girls here at great personal risk for reasons I have yet to understand. He is not himself anymore, and I do not know what possessed him to do it. I do not know what his presence here will do to the other children; most of them knew him, or at least met him, while their parents were still alive. As I have said to Hermione in the past, many are acutely aware that his family was spared when theirs were not, despite being higher up in the ranks than the others. At the same time, he is the saviour of the elder ones."
"You won't just turn him out?" Hermione asked.
Severus shook his head. "No. Not tonight. But nor will he be allowed free reign of the house. We will put him up in the library, ward the door to keep him in, and in the morning I shall deal with him."
"Deal with him?"
"I find it hard to believe that his motives are purely altruistic," Severus said. "It is, of course, a possibility, but not something I am willing to assume."
Severus could see Hermione mentally checking off the item on an imaginary list as she made notes on her real one. "With regards to Leopold and Minerva, Harry is not wrong in that there is little to be done this evening. As his legal guardian, I am the only one who can speak with Minerva on the subject. In the past, the ones who ran away would not have been granted a chance to return. However, I am inclined to believe that it was because neither Glastonbury nor anyone else from the Ministry ever argued for one. In the morning I will speak with her; hopefully Longbottom hasn't ruined this like he's ruined so many other things he's tried, and Minerva will listen. The boy is a Gryffindor; that should buy him some favour."
He turned to Luna. "Will he contact you once he is finished with Minerva?" Luna nodded. "Then please come and find me as soon as he does, regardless of the hour or where I am, come find me and let me know."
"And the girls?" Hermione asked.
Severus sighed. He had saved the most difficult issue for last. "That one I cannot hope to resolve in one night, or even one week."
"Can't we get you appointed guardian?" Luna asked.
"I'm already guardian of fifteen and the legal limit is technically five," Severus said. "While I would ordinarily not worry about the Ministry following or not following its own laws, it would be a gamble. I called in several favours to get all fifteen appointed to me. To attempt to add another six would be difficult, and would go beyond what influence I already have."
"Would your guardianship of the other fifteen be in jeopardy still?" Hermione asked fearfully.
He sighed. "Yes."
They all stood there, silently, until Luna spoke. "Then you simply won't be their legal guardian anymore." All heads swiveled to look at her. "We simply apply to be their guardians in your stead, and you could apply for the girls."
"We?" Severus was confused.
Luna nodded. "I live here, I can apply for five. Harry is still the owner of this house on paper, he can apply for five. Neville can move in and—"
"Stop," Severus said, raising his hand. "I will agree to no plan that involves Longbottom living under the same roof as me."
"You really want your irrational hatred of him to colour your decision in this?" Harry asked wearily.
Yes, Severus thought. Yes I do.
"Don't listen to him," Hermione said. "I think it's a brilliant idea, Luna. And Neville is already here most nights anyway." Severus gave her a sharp look. "Oh, come off it, you know it's true. Let's make it official. For them. They can all still live here, their guardians will officially be different but you'll still call the shots."
"Hermione, of course, can apply for them, too," Harry said. Hermione shifted and averted her eyes. This wasn't exactly the best time to bring up her and Severus's change in circumstances.
Severus sighed. He didn't like the idea of handing off legal authority for any of them. It's not that he didn't trust any of them; he did. Trusted them more than he probably had ever trusted anyone.
"It won't be an easy process, mind," Severus said. "It isn't failsafe. It could still attract the wrong attention from the wrong sort of people, it could be denied…" He huffed a deep breath. "But I agree, it is probably the safest option. The only option, really."
"Can I help in any way?" Harry asked. "Any way at all? I could try to throw my weight around."
"I am humbled by your modesty, Harry, but you remember from our little visit to the Ministry that there is only so much we can hope to do with your name attached."
"That was different, though," Harry said. "That was about the Ministry publicly and openly doing something. This… this would be a bit more secret."
"That helps, but I still am not entirely confident about the situation," Severus admitted.
"Well, wouldn't you be doing them a favour?" All heads again turned toward Luna. "If you think about it, these girls are a liability to the Ministry. They dislike them so much that their solution was to merely forget about them. If you were to approach them and offer to 'take them off their hands' so to speak, why wouldn't they go along with it?"
"Because, despite all the hero-worship nonsense, there are many within the Ministry who do not hold me in much regard, and I would worry that they might deny it on the basis of my name or theirs. Particularly if word were to get out about the fact that I'm already fostering fifteen others of the same ilk."
Hermione snapped her head up. "What if you weren't to be their guardian but something else?" The other three gave her a puzzled look. "Severus, adoptions and legal guardianships are handled by different departments in the Ministry."
"Yes, but remember, Hermione, you need to be married to adopt," Harry said.
"Yes," Hermione responded, looking pointedly at Severus. "You do."
Severus's eyes widened a bit as he understood her meaning. "Yes, you do."
"So why would…" Harry's voice trailed off as comprehension dawned. "Oh."
"Oh, indeed," Luna said, looking completely unsurprised by the development.
"Were you already…?" Harry's voice trailed off.
Hermione nodded. "Just since earlier today, just before we returned. With all the excitement we returned to, it seemed unimportant. But now we have another reason to do so, and to do it quickly."
She took Severus's hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. "Besides, if we do it quickly, there's no chance of anyone trying to force me into some ghastly meringue and having me parade around like a Muggle faerie princess."
Severus said nothing, but Hermione could read his thoughts quite easily in his eyes: I truly have found the right person to marry.
"Is it really an option?" he whispered.
"Marrying you quickly? Of course."
"No, I mean adoption." He had never considered it before. He had always been ineligible on account of his marital status and had never dreamed that he would be able to change that.
"It is governed by different rules than a guardianship," Hermione said, reciting the information as if she had committed the law to memory, which she had. "Guardianships are controlled by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, adoptions by the Department of Family Services. The consent requirements aren't there like there are for guardianships—don't ask me to understand that."
"Can it be fast-tracked?"
"That may be where Harry comes in," Hermione grinned cheekily. "He has an in with the head of the Department of Family Services."
"Who is that?"
Severus made a face, which caused the rest to giggle. "I know, the world-class prat. But he owes me quite a bit," Harry said, "and when I come to collect, he doesn't refuse me."
"What does he owe you?" Luna asked.
"I happen to know that he switched sides in the war at the last minute to preserve himself, rather than out of loyalty to his family or the Order. The battle was raging, Voldemort was falling, and he believed that he would no longer be on the side of the winners unless he defected back to the Order. He had been on the side of Voldemort and actively supported him through his work at the Ministry, back when it looked like he would win. Thanks to me, and only me, the Wizengamot never heard that."
"How do you know all that?" Severus asked.
"His grief for Fred was genuine," Harry said. "And for whatever reason, when he got pissed beyond all reason at the funeral, he chose to confess it all to me."
"I had no idea," Luna said.
"Few do. Which is why this is such handy information to keep in my back pocket for occasions such as this."
"How very Slytherin of you," Severus mused.
"What can I say, you've rubbed off on me."
"You'd think he would have been able to break the rules on marital status," Severus said, frowning that he had not been informed of this a year ago, when it would have been most convenient.
"He can only do so much for a single man wanting to adopt fifteen children. For a married couple wanting to take in six, he can probably make things happen." Harry shrugged. "There are some rules he can bend, others he can break."
"As it is with all things," Severus replied. "Does he really have final say on this?"
"I might also try whispering in Kingsley's ear, but yes, typically Percy is the one with final say on matters such as adoption, probate, divorces, marriages…"
"Oh, God, Percy is going to be the one to marry us, isn't he?" Hermione realised. After thinking for a moment, Harry nodded. Both of them grimaced and then burst into laughter.
"Oh, Severus," she laughed. "The sacrifices I am already making for you."
Severus gave a half-smile before speaking again. "Then I wonder if we need to transfer the guardianships at all."
"It would be the safest option," Luna pointed out. "The Ministry would have less cause to prohibit the adoptions and you wouldn't have to worry about them coming up with some pretext to take the younger ones away. I know it's been in the back of your mind for the past year." Severus didn't respond, but his non-reaction to the statement said it all.
"I suppose the pertinent question, then," Luna continued, "is whether or not you trust us to do right by them?''
That was the question, wasn't it? Did he trust them all enough to make the right decisions? To do the right thing? To follow his orders in this area?
His answer surprised him.
"Yes," he said softly, meeting each one in the eye. "Yes, I do."
"That sorts everything for tonight, then, doesn't it?" Harry asked hopefully.
"Malfoy is still in the bath," Hermione pointed out.
"Git is still a thorn in my side," Harry muttered.
"After all he's done for us tonight?" Hermione asked incredulously.
"I have a baby and a heavily pregnant wife who likes to get obscure cravings in the middle of the night. You have no idea how little sleep I get."
"Try living my life for a week and see how much you appreciate the amount of leisure time you have now," Severus said.
"Stop," Hermione said, not wanting this to turn into a pissing contest. The two might be friends now, but neither would back down at the chance of besting the other, and she was far too tired for that.
She turned to Severus. "You need a couple extra wands for when Malfoy comes out, correct?" Severus nodded. "So Harry can take a kip down on the sofa, near the girls, so that he's here if they need him and also he can be the extra wand should Draco attempt anything. Luna, bless her, held down the fort whilst I was away, and since we don't know whether Neville will be back in five minutes or five hours, she could probably grab a rest, too." Hermione had never seen Luna look so grateful. She turned back to Severus. "I'll stay with you for when Malfoy comes out."
He shook his head. "You're right that Luna deserves a night's sleep more than anyone in this room. You should go to bed, too, so that we have someone down there with the other kids. The Rosier siblings, in particular, will likely need someone nearby. I'll wait for Malfoy, and when he comes out I'll wake Harry and we can handle him together. If we can't, you're just a Patronus away."
Hermione nodded. "Alright."
As the group disbursed for the evening, Severus caught Hermione by the wrist and pulled her into him for a gentle kiss. "Thank you," he whispered against her lips. It was an inadequate phrase for what he was really trying to say, but it would have to do.
Severus exited the kitchen with a cup of tea sweetened with brandy and tiptoed out to the sitting room. Malfoy was still in the bath (not causing trouble; his Patronus made sure of that) and the girls were still sleeping in their transfigured beds. Leopold had been found, and Hermione was back home.
All things considered, not a bad day at all.
Harry was lying on a settee in the sitting room, not asleep for all his bluster about being tired. He had an orange in his hand and was slowly unpeeling it in one long curly strip.
Severus couldn't help the chuckle that escaped from his lips. Harry whirred around to look at him. "What?" he asked.
"Lily used to do that, too," Severus said, slowly crossing the room to sit in a chair next to Harry. "With oranges. Everyone at Hogwarts would always just vanish the peel with magic, but she always insisted on doing it the Muggle way."
Harry smiled. "I always feel like I've accomplished something if I can remove it all in one go."
Severus smiled to himself. "She always said the same thing."
"Did she eat a lot of oranges?"
Severus nodded. "She did. Always kept one in her bag."
"Me, too, ever since that year in the tent. Malnourishment teaches you to always be prepared. I brought this one from home." Harry contemplated the fruit in his hand. "Convenient, oranges. No special packaging needed, easy to nick from the Great Hall." He removed a wedge and popped it into his mouth. "Taste delicious." He smiled. "I'm glad she liked oranges."
"She had a sweet tooth."
Harry pressed his luck. "What else did she like?"
Severus tilted his head back and closed his eyes, remembering. He answered Harry, and before long found himself being drawn into a reminiscing about Lily Potter with her son.
Someone (likely Granger) had cast a very strong Tergeo on Draco Malfoy's grimy clothing and had folded it neatly. He wrinkled his nose at the idea. He still didn't like Mudbloods. Still thought them inferior, still thought them unworthy, still thought them, well, disgusting. But he no longer wanted to eradicate them, no longer felt compelled to share his feelings on the subject, no longer wanted to spout pureblood propaganda. Just wanted to stay the hell away from them.
He dressed and looked at himself in the mirror for the first time in a long time. With his long hair and thin face, he looked so like his father.
It sickened him.
Severus had long since cast a Muffliato on himself and Harry, they were laughing so hard.
"Right in her porridge?" Harry asked incredulously as he laughed.
"Yes!" Severus choked out through his laughter. He had forgotten how he and Lily had used to torment Petunia with their magic by conjuring various creatures to crawl out of her breakfast most mornings, then vanished them as soon as Mrs. Evans turned around. Oh the trouble they never got in for it…
The laughter cut off immediately as they saw a young, gaunt Lucius Malfoy look-alike standing before them at the foot of the stairs. Severus stood up, his face the impassionate mask that was so familiar to his former students. Harry stood up next to him, hand wrapping around his wand, as both stared at the blonde man.
Finally, Severus jerked his head toward the kitchen, and both Harry and Malfoy followed him inside. He took a seat with his back to the doorway, thus allowing him to block the only exit, and indicated for Malfoy to take a seat across from him.
Harry took a seat next to Severus, crossed his arms, nodded at his former teacher, and stared down Malfoy in his best attempt at a menacing glare, in an excellent impression of Severus.
Severus, who at present was neither glaring nor crossing his arms, rolled his eyes. "For fuck's sake," he muttered.
Draco crossed his arms and glared right back at the two of them. "Well?"
"Calm down, this isn't an inquisition," Severus said, kicking Harry under the table in an effort to make him stop glaring. The man across from them had risked a lot for them tonight. "We owe you a debt of gratitude," he continued. "This could not have been done at all without your help."
The room was silent as Severus waited for Malfoy to name his price.
Malfoy merely shrugged. "I'm glad I was able to get all of them. I'm sorry I wasn't able to do so sooner."
Harry blinked. This didn't sound like the Draco Malfoy he knew from Hogwarts. That Malfoy had always had an ulterior motive for everything he did. Then again, the man sitting next to him was not the Severus Snape he had known from Hogwarts.
Malfoy stared over the tops of their heads as he continued to speak. "Snape, I know that you're waiting for the other shoe to drop here. What I want in exchange and whatnot. There's nothing. I remember those girls from when they were babies, I saw what was happening to them, and for once in my miserable life I did the right thing without being pushed to do it or being too scared to do something otherwise." He turned his gaze to them both and stared straight into Severus's eyes, narrowing his gaze. "Satisfied?" Then a derisive snort. "Of course you're not. Go ahead, take a look. My Occlumency has gone to shite in the last few years."
Ever the Slytherin, Severus would not reject that which was freely offered. He looked. He blinked, then looked again. Blinking rapidly, he removed himself from Malfoy's mind and looked at the young man's face again. So young…
Malfoy scowled. "I told you." He stood up. "May I go now?" Without waiting for an answer, he stood up and stalked out of the kitchen.
Severus stood up to block his exit. "Draco…"
"Move!" As he pushed past Severus and through the door, he felt a hand on his shoulder.
"You know how to find your way back here," was all he said. Malfoy stood still for a moment before giving him a minute nod. Without a word, Malfoy walked out the front door and Disapparated.
Severus walked out of the kitchen and over to the floo. "Are you planning to stay tonight?"
"I ward the doors and floo every night. I'm making an exception for Longbottom tonight, but that's it. If you wish to go home, now would be the time to do so."
"Is everything alright here?"
Severus looked at the five sleeping girls and thought of the sixteen children and the young woman sleeping in his bed upstairs. "Yes," he breathed out. "Shockingly, unexpectedly, yes. For now."
Harry nodded. "Good." He smiled. "Very good. I'll be back in the morning, then. Good night."
Severus said nothing but warded the floo shut once Harry left. He cast a Patronus to watch over the girls and slowly made his way to his bedroom. Wrapping himself around Hermione, he thought of how he had spent the previous evening. This time last night, he was lying in an empty bed, unsure of whether Hermione would ever be back to fill it. Leopold had been at Hogwarts. The girls were still in that place with no hope of getting them out.
He sighed and curled up closer beside his fiancée, contemplating just how much his life had changed in the last twenty-four hours.
The last four and a half chapters all took place over a single twenty-four hour period. Lots of action and life change in that short amount of time. They've earned a rest.
The Prince's Tale implies that Confundo can confuse, Obliviate, and plant past memories and future ideas. As a Legilimens, I think Severus would be particularly adept at it. And, as stated in the previous chapter, TPT implies that it can be done wandlessly.
Boggle is a board game in which a player shakes a box full of cubes with letters on them; when the letters fall into place, you try to make as many words out of the letters you see as possible.
The idea of Hermione and Severus getting married and adopting was foreshadowed all the way back in Chapter Five (Philanthropic Gestures).
"Where Dwell the Brave at Heart" is part of the Sorting Hat's song about Gryffindor in PS. In this chapter, it refers to everyone at Grimmauld Place.
Coming Up: The end of our story proper, in which the gang puts their money where their mouths are. To be followed by a rather lengthy Epilogue.