The ritual could have taken place at any time, but given the amount of preparation necessary, it made sense to aim for a date some weeks away that had its own power. Since Hugo and Vic would be back in Rochester by Samhain, the blue moon would have to do. Hermione knew it would be torture to wait so long to see Severus, but she couldn't keep asking Percy for International Floo access without giving him some details, and it wasn't safe to do so yet. Besides, she knew if she had access to Severus at all times, she wouldn't be able to focus on finishing her open commissions and prepare for the ritual. It was bad enough that they texted as much as they did.

Readying the site at McCoy House had gone according to plan, which was to say that the contractor far exceeded the original estimate for excavation and building the footings and foundation moulds. Fortunately, the Hogarths were still wibbling over their entrance hall tile, so money wasn't an issue, and Hermione was well-versed in the problems endemic to building in the highlands, like magic-resistant granite (charm the block and tackle instead of the boulders) and wet surface horizons (Waterproofing Charms that she'd had the Ministry approve for architectural use), and had planned for copious delays. When the day of the ritual dawned, Hermione looked out the front window at the piles of material neatly arranged around the gaping hole in the earth and felt anticipation curl in her stomach. They were ready. All their production required now was a group of players.

Thankfully, Severus's flight into Heathrow was only delayed by an hour, because the MPS in the Peugeot had a few choice words about being complicit in harbouring criminals and dark magic, though Hermione suspected it was secretly thrilled.

As Severus descended the escalator to the baggage reclaim, violin case tucked under his arm, she felt her knees turn to water, but that didn't stop her from practically leaping into his embrace. Once they had convinced one another that their too-long separation was finally at its end through bestowing kisses on every bit of one another's skin that could be revealed in public, they gathered Severus's luggage from the carousel and made their way to the car.

The MPS was oddly polite as it zipped them through the busy streets, and Hermione wondered if Hugo hadn't warned it about Snape's temper. Regardless, they chatted about innocuous subjects most of the way, brushing fingers more than was strictly necessary.

When they got to McCoy House, Severus fell silent, and Hermione could tell his eyes were on the construction site near the end of the drive.

"Would you like to take a look at things once you're settled?"

He blinked and gave her a half smile. "You built this house, did you not?"

"I restored it and added a few modern conveniences."

The Peugeot came to a stop by the side door, and Hermione popped open the boot.

"It's a handsome setting," he said, handing her the violin case and a leather shoulder bag. "I'm glad others will soon have the opportunity to enjoy it."

"Assuming we don't blow up the foundations tonight," she said, returning his wry smile with one of her own.

He set his suitcase on the ground and shut the boot. "At the very least, it'll see a unique performance of Beethoven's 7th."

"That's more than some performance venues will ever see, I suppose," said Hermione, opening the door to the kitchen and ushering Severus inside.

She gave him a brief tour, and his gaze lingered on the rose garden and, surprisingly, her little chair in the corner of the living room. She paused outside Rose's room.

"If you're uncomfortable sharing a room with me or if you'd prefer to keep up appearances when the boys are in the house, you're welcome to take Rose's old room."

His hand was warm on the small of her back, and he pressed his lips to her forehead. "If you think your son capable of refraining from questioning my intentions too vociferously, I'd be much happier with you."

She smiled. "I'm glad. It would be undignified to have to tiptoe back and forth between their rooms like teenagers after the boys had gone to bed."

She ushered him into the master bedroom, which she'd redone in the past weeks, putting all the Chudley Cannons paraphernalia into the attic, along with the black-lacquer bed that Ron had picked out and the enormous wardrobe that seemed to spontaneously generate Doxies and moths. The room had always felt small due to the oversized furniture that accommodated her oversized husband and the autumnal colour scheme of russet and black he had favoured.

But now that the room was hers and hers alone, she took inspiration from the highlands outside her window and painted the walls the colour of the sky and added thick rugs in deep green, purple, and brown. There were touches of heather and bright green to offset the warm mahogany furniture, and the late morning sun poured across the window seat, which had always been Hermione's favourite place to read. The alcove the wardrobe formerly occupied was now filled with a book shelf containing her to-read pile. She watched Severus's eyes sweep over the room's contents, pausing at the books.

"It's not what I expected," he admitted.

"You expected Gryffindor red and brocade?" she asked, wrinkling her nose.

He smirked. "Or tartan. The house is quite traditional on the outside. Though knowing you, I ought to have known the inside would be as beautiful as it is practical."

She felt her cheeks flush at the compliment and busied herself conjuring a luggage stand for his suitcase. After Levitating his suitcase and the stand next to the bookcase, she paced her hand on the doorknob of the cupboard and paused. "I know you've grown accustomed to dressing as a Muggle," she said haltingly, "but I have some of your old robes. They were part of a display at the Shack some years ago, but we kept them in storage in case they were needed again in the future."

She opened the cupboard and retrieved three sets of robes: the familiar buttoned-up high-collar teaching robes, his Death Eater robes, which she privately wanted to burn but felt that he should have the honour of doing so, and grey worsted robes with smart piping along the seams and shiny onyx buttons. She laid them out on the bed and sat next to them. "You needn't wear them, of course," she said, "but they are yours, if you want them."

He ran his fingers over the worsted. "I bought these robes for my first job out of Hogwarts. Old Archie Jigger advanced me a month's pay so I wouldn't turn up to work in second-hand robes."

His gaze fell on the teaching robes and he smirked. "Harbouring naughty thoughts for teacher, are we?" he asked.

Hermione fought not to blush and failed. "I rather thought you might use them to put the fear of Merlin into our sons if they misbehave," she said. "But if you wish to give me detention, I might actually show up at the appointed hour."

He pressed a quick kiss to her lips that was filled with heat and promise and ended far too soon.

"You know what these are," he stated, gesturing at the black silk robes.

She nodded.

"It was good of you to bring them," he said, gathering up all the robes and returning them to the cupboard.

She squeezed his hand when he sat down next to her. "Would you like to see the site?"

He kissed the crown of her head. "I'd like to see everything."

She raised her face and kissed him, and he responded enthusiastically.

"Of course," she said breathlessly, "the site will still be there in half an hour."

Severus began to undo the buttons of his shirt. "Quite."

By the time the boys arrived, the sun was low in the sky, and Hermione had a light supper waiting.

Hugo had barely set down their bag before hovering over the food on the counter. "Is it all right if I eat?"

"That's why it's there," said Hermione, handing them plates, which were soon piled high with charcuterie, cheese, fruit, and bread.

"Where's Dad?" asked Vic, brushing the soot from his sleeve.

"Napping," said Hermione. "Muggle international travel is exhausting."

Vic made a face. "I remember. We went to Spain on holiday once, and I never wanted to fly again after that."

"Do you think we're ready?" asked Hugo when they were all seated at the table.

"As ready as we can be," she said. "I'll never be a virtuoso pianist, but I have the piece under my fingers now, and it's inextricably in my head."

"Good," said Hugo. "The latter's even more important than the former."

"What about you?" asked Hermione, looking at Vic.

Vic chewed a bite of food thoughtfully and swallowed. "It's been odd, to say the least. I mean, I've known he was hiding something about his past for as long as I can remember, but it's still weird to walk into the kitchen and see him grinding beans with his wand. He doesn't do a lot of magic when I'm around, although I know he's brewing again, and not just beer."

"Well, he's been hiding it for practically your entire life," said Hugo, smearing brie on a slice of baguette. "Maybe he's still getting used to doing magic around you."

"Could be," said Vic, popping a grape into his mouth. "But overall, I think it's a change for the better, despite the fact that both of us have to go outside to practice now."

"Is he any good?" asked Hermione.

Vic appeared to be torn between giving an honest assessment and family loyalty. "He might have been," he said diplomatically. "As it is, he can play all the notes mostly in tune in the right order, which is more than can be said of most people who haven't played an instrument in thirty years."

"He's at least as good on violin as I am," added Hugo, hiding a smile behind a slice of apple.

Vic narrowed his eyes in mock sternness. "Are you damning my father with faint praise?"

"Gracious, no!" exclaimed Hugo. "That would suggest self-awareness, and everybody knows that particular characteristic is beyond the grasp of Weasley men."

"Let it never be said that this particular Weasley man is lacking in penetration," said Vic, smiling wickedly at Hugo, whose ears turned pink.

They continued to eat and chat amiably until Hermione realised that the sun was down and the moon would rise in less than two hours. The thought sent a thrill through her. In two hour's time, they would be embarking on an unprecedented magical undertaking, and far more depended on its success than the project at the end of her drive.

"I should make sure your dad's awake," said Hermione, taking her plate to the kitchen.

"I'll make some coffee," said Vic. "He's going to need it."

Hermione was surprised to see the light of her bedroom on, and she knocked quietly before entering. She had to ruthlessly squash her visceral response to seeing him standing in front of her mirror in his Death Eater robes. He spun to face her, and she saw that he was clutching his forearm. His teeth were bared in a disgusted grimace.

"I forgot how loathsome these things are," he said. "They cling to one like a thin film of oil. Even hours after one takes them off, their taint is palpable."

"You needn't wear them if they make you uncomfortable," said Hermione, voice calm despite her racing heart.

He gave a bitter laugh. "On the contrary, they are precisely what I should wear. I had many years of success undermining the darkest magic in these robes." He shot her a perspicacious look. "Does it bother you, seeing me wear them?"

"They're a potent symbol," she caged, but at his expression, she sighed. "I don't like seeing anyone wear them. You most of all."

"This is an inextricable part of my past, Hermione," he said, voice harsh.

"I know that," she said. "I meant that it pains me to see one of the best men I know wearing them, knowing full well how he feels about what they stand for."

He stilled. "It was foolish of me to expect a typical response from you."

She held out her hand. "Yes, it was. Lucky for you I like occasionally foolish men. Come on, you should have something to eat, and you should give the boys the opportunity to get used to seeing you like this."

"I can flap my arms, if you like," said Severus sarcastically.

"Vic was right. You do need coffee," said Hermione, threading her arm through Severus's and deliberately resting her hand over his forearm.

His response was a growl, but it was an affectionate growl.

Hermione Apparated to the Shack in advance of the others, since she was the only one who could dismantle the wards, and Severus, Victor, and Hugo were to arrive an hour later. The work was methodical and required enough concentration that she didn't have time to worry about what could happen. When the final magical lock had been released, Hermione sighed and sat down next to the stain on the floor. She thought about the beautiful blue magic that risen to meet Vic's, and hesitated only a fraction of a second before placing her hand in the centre of the stain.

She thought about the night she watched Severus die, and she allowed the energy of her fear, horror, and sorrow to travel down her arm and into the floor. The stain didn't glow the way it had when Vic called it to life, but she felt it, quiescent but present, gently draw the unpleasantness from her as poison from a wound. Heartened, she sent the affection she felt for Severus through the palm of her hand, and she felt an answer echo against her palm before retreating into stillness.

Of course. This wasn't the Severus she knew. It was Professor Snape who had died that day, who had given everything up to defeat Voldemort and was confident of nothing but his love for Lily and the necessity of Harry Potter's survival. In her mind's eye, she saw Professor Snape, who had died to save Harry lying near Vic, the version of Severus that should have been, and her own Severus, scarred and strong, and understood that it wasn't simply the book that Severus wished to bury tonight.

She came back to herself at the sound of a car door slamming nearby, and she exited the shack to find Hugo and Severus fixing a wooden platform to the roof of the Peugeot while Vic sat on the steps tuning his cello.

"Can you do that a bit more quietly or go inside?" asked Hugo. "The last thing we want to do is attract attention."

Vic sighed dramatically, but he went inside as Hugo had suggested and nodded to Hermione as he passed.

When the platform was secure, Hermione stuck her head in the driver's side window.

"Everything set?" she asked the MPS.

"We're going to be caught," moaned the MPS. "You're all going to be thrown into Azkaban and I'm going to be sold for parts, or worse, sold at auction to someone who keeps a car as a curiosity and spends every day reviewing routes that I will never be asked to navigate."

"Good. You remember the signal?"

"Of course I do!" huffed the MPS. "I remember hundreds of thousands of maps. I ought to be able to remember a few notes." It chimed in a reasonable impression of the quaver pattern that was to serve as its cue.

"Excellent. And whatever you do, don't get too far ahead of us, and avoid as many potholes as you can."

"Don't try to teach your grandmother to drive manual transmission."

"Good luck," said Hermione, patting the console fondly.

Severus had removed his violin from its case and stowed the case in the back seat of the Peugeot while Hugo gave the wooden platform a final tug to test its fastness.

"I think we're ready, Mum," said Hugo.

Hermione glanced at the horizon where the full moon hung low in the sky. "Let's go."

They gathered around the stain, one at each cardinal direction, and Severus placed the small, leather-bound book in the centre. Even knowing what it contained, the object seemed unnaturally innocuous. Hermione did her best to avoid thinking about what the magic would accomplish, even though she doubted that Sallow had been a Legilimens, much less had the ability to weave it into the magic that protected the book. Still, there was no sense in taking risks. Vic conjured a chair for himself, and he sat so he and Severus could tune.

When they were satisfied, Severus nodded at Hermione and Hugo. Hugo raised his hands, and Hermione held hers up against his. Hugo breathed on them, and their fingers pulsed with the orange fire that Hermione recognised as her son's magic. She flexed her hands as she had seen Hugo do before accompanying Vic in the shack all those weeks ago.

"We're ready," Hugo whispered.

Vic lowered his head, which put his eyes in the shadow of his fringe in the dim light. He raised his bow, they all breathed together, and Hugo and Severus played the opening chord as Hermione and Hugo struck the first chord of the piece in the air. Though Hermione knew what was coming, she was still surprised by the powerful sound that filled the Shack, and the blood stain answered immediately with a shimmering pulse. Hermione grinned in relief. The worst of her imagined failures was when she struck the first notes in the air and nothing happened.

And then Vic and Hugo were playing together, a quiet ostinato of crotchet, quaver-quaver, crotchet, crotchet.

Tah tum-tum tah tah. Tah tum-tum tah tah.

From the repeated rhythm grew a melody, slow and mournful. As it grew, the bloodstain shimmered, and a tendril of light reached out and licked the tip of Vic's bow. On the next up-bow, he leaned towards it in invitation, and it leapt from the floor to the bow, encompassing it in blue fire.

Vic's tone was sweet and simple, with little vibrato, and Hermione was so powerfully compelled to listen that she nearly missed her entrance. Thankfully, she remembered at the last possible moment, and orange fire lit her fingertips as she filled in the musical texture as Hugo repeated the melody in the second violin, the legato tones lingering in the air. Hermione focused on the middle notes and added dissonances that created tension along the familiar path of melody, and released energy into the resolutions.

The beauty of the Allegretto movement of Beethoven's 7th, and the reason they'd chosen it, was the simple repetition of a simple theme that was passed from player to player, like a relay race. Hugo had been disappointed that there was no trombone part, but being the most experienced accompanist, he understood that the piece was perfect for their purposes and how he might best contribute.

The third iteration of the melody saw the entrance of the theme in the first violins, which danced under Hugo's fingers, and Vic began to weave quaver patterns that felt like waves in the middle of each bar, which was Hermione cue to stop playing. She glanced at Severus, who stood over the bloodstain and book, his wand rising and falling in time with the music, a look of intense concentration on his face. The bloodstain resembled nothing so much as a blue conflagration now, and the book glowed blood red at its heart.

Hermione raised her wand, and cast a silent Wingardium Leviosa on the chair where Vic sat and gently Levitated him and his cello a foot or so above the floor. She let out an inward sign of relief that there wasn't a hitch in his playing.

Taking care not to break eye contact, Hermione she guided Vic down the stairs, through the garden, and placed him gently atop the wooden platform atop the Peugeot. He landed during a rest, and continued to play as though nothing had happened. Hermione glanced over her shoulder to see how things were proceeding.

The bloodstain's blue fire stretched from Vic's bow all the way back to the interior of the shack. Hugo stood a few feet behind her, luminous fingers playing in time with Vic's bow, and Severus was making his way through the garden with the book, which floated in front of him like a carmine will-o-the-wisp. The blue fire swirling around his feet like mist. His calm, focused expression suggested that he was very much in control of the situation.

Hermione swept her wand in a large arc that all of them and felt the cold ripple of her Disillusionment charm wash over them all. When they were all but invisible to the outside world, she flexed her hands, and the orange fire flared to life. On the high keys of her imaginary piano, she added high string and woodwind flourishes on the next iteration of the melody. The woodwind entrance was the MPS's cue, the Peugeot began to roll gently down the road towards McCoy Hall with only the smallest grumble of engine, and they all followed like lucid sleepwalkers, the music guiding their footsteps ever forward.

Hermione glanced over her shoulder and saw that Severus had raised his violin to his chin and was bowing in time with them. The book still hovered in front of him, and its red fire had expanded to easily twice its original radius. As melody and countermelody swirled around her, Hermione reached out with the oboes and bassoons on the off beats, sending the oboes forward to Vic and the bassoons back to Severus with gentle waves of her hands. Hugo caught her eye and responded to her by winding the second violin countermelody around them all and pulling it tightly. As the music swelled to fortissimo, the red light that encompassed the book grew even larger and pulsed with the crash of timpani as the trumpet and horn sang out the theme.

Hermione couldn't see Vic's face, but his back was straighter as they all played together, a powerful portent of things to come, and the blue light that was his connection to the bloodstain back to the shack flared like flame. The music was everywhere, filling her mind, beating in time with her heart.

When the theme faded and fragmented, Hermione plunged her hands into the development, pulling out string and woodwind motifs, her mind in focused chaos as she barrelled through Beethoven's acrobatic lines. She was vaguely aware of the others around her doing the same, and before she knew it, bits of the theme were darting out of the inner voices. They were nearly there.

Hermione exited the melodic texture and peered out of the magic swirling around her and was delighted to see that they were only about twenty metres from the site. Everything was working as it needed to. She glanced behind her to check on Severus and her heart nearly stopped beating. Behind Severus was the trail of blue magic that connected their spell to the Shrieking Shack, but along it, some hundred metres behind him, floated a dozen circles of light that Hermione recognised as Lumos charms.

Someone was following them. Quite a few someones, in fact. Hermione squared her shoulders. Now more than ever they needed the spell to work, since it was likely that this would be their only opportunity.

Hugo glanced her way, and she shook her head and raised her hands. The strings were rising into a frenzy, and Hermione crashed her hands down in front of her, unleashing the brass and timpani once more on a partial recapitulation of the theme that faded suddenly to ipiano/i as they took their places at the edge of the gaping hole at the construction site. At her next rest, Hermione seized her wand and tapped the concrete, which came obediently to life. As Hugo's oboe and bassoon sang sweetly over Vic's ostinato and Severus's dancing violin line, Hermione tapped her wand to liquefy the magic concrete and sent it sweeping down into the pit, filling the wall forms and covering the dragon-bone floor supports.

As the music quieted to its softest level yet, Hermione caught Severus's eye, and he nodded.

She raised her hands a final time, joining them all on a final fortissimo rendition of the theme, strings, brass, winds, and timpani combining into an ecstatic statement of permanence and strength, even as pianissimo interjections suggested that it was all an illusion. The fiery magic connecting them all grew brighter as they all poured the music into the red protections surrounding the book, as Severus lowered the book gracefully into the pit. The blood red glow dimmed as the book sank into the cement.

Dazzling red light shot through the foundation, and Hermione blinked to clear the afterimage. She could barely make out a dark shape descending upon the spot where the book had disappeared, and she smiled, recognising Severus's black silk robes. She continued to play the final notes, encouraging the cement to grant a final resting place to the vestiges of Severus's youthful mistakes, and the robes sank into the cement as the music grew softer and softer until it was only Vic and Hugo playing.

Hermione and Severus joined on the final chord, and the red light that enveloped the foundation flared once more. But as the sound faded, so did the light, until there was nothing left but the sound of heavy breathing, the moonlight overhead, and, as Hermione gradually became aware, dozens of Hogsmeade residents surrounding them- Madam Rosmerta, Mayor Methuselah Suggs- all bearing silent witness.

Hermione fell to her knees, exhausted physically and magically. Her Disillusionment Charm was still in effect, but a hand that was unmistakably Severus's found her elbow and helped her stand.

"It is done," he whispered in her ear before planting a kiss on her cheek.

"Mum," whispered Hugo from somewhere behind her. "What do we do?"

Hermione's mind and body were both exhausted, but as attractive as doing nothing sounded, it was not an option. But to her amazement, the decision was no longer in her hands.

The village Mugwump, Methuselah Suggs, stepped forward to the pit with his wand lit. In the wandlight, Hermione could see that his cheeks were damp with tears. But he raised his chin and began to sing in a reedy voice.

When walking in the darkest night,

Hermione immediately recognised the canon by Thomas Tallis, a piece she had learnt in school, for all that the words were different than any she'd heard. Automatically, Methuselah's wife Jocasta added her voice to her husband's, but a bar behind so that they were singing in a round.

We know our magic's blessed light

More voices joined in, some joining Methuselah and Jocasta, others starting the melody over.

Protects us like a dragon's wing

Soon, they were surrounded by singing, and Hermione listened in slack-jawed amazement. The only time she'd ever heard magical people sing was her first year at Hogwarts when they sang the school song. Hugo's voice rose behind her, and Vic's ethereal voice twined with his.

Extending o'er us as we sing.

Hermione's eyes widened when she grasped the words and saw aureoles of white light grow around each singer. This wasn't simply a children's song to ward off nightmares. The simple words and the deceptively simple music that carried them were magic. The round seemingly had no beginning and no end; a circle of sound surrounding them and honouring the magic that had been done tonight, cleansing it, blessing it. Hermione's heart swelled with joy as she understood that despite the official ban, some music magic remained in the collective consciousness, and it was every bit as beautiful as Vic and Hugo's.

She glanced behind her and saw the boys holding hands, though they appeared to be only white outlines of light. Belatedly, she released the Disillusionment Charm was still in effect, and half expected the music to stop when the denizens of Hogsmeade saw Vic and Severus.

But the music continued, and Severus's arm was around her shoulders, supporting her exhausted body and buoying her spirits. He was singing very softly, and her throat tightened with emotion to see that the robe he had buried in the concrete had concealed casual Muggle clothing. Though she knew her voice was little more than a croak, she began to sing with him, and his arm tightened around her.

She looked around at her neighbours, who were similarly transported by the strange magic they were making, their expressions ranging from awe to delight. There were curious glances Severus's way, but until Methuselah Suggs held them all on the last word, sent the final note ringing to the heavens, and pushed their collective magic into the foundation with a wave of his wand, no words were spoken.

In the bright moonlight, Hermione could see Suggs's eye travel from Severus to herself, and finally to the boys. A murmur went up from the assembled crowd, and someone whispered in the mayor's ear. After conferring with the woman for a moment, Suggs walked around the edge of the pit and extended his hand.

"Welcome back, Severus Snape. It's good to see you again."

Hermione was putting the finishing touches on the concept sketch for a fountain and playground at Fletcher Cove Park when Severus set a copy of The International Prophet on the desk next to her, along with a cafe Cubano.

"Merlin help us," he said. "Our sons officially have a viable livelihood."

Hermione glanced at the paper and tutted. "I never made the front page when the Wizengamot did a blanket reclassification of Reinforcement Charms at my behest."

"No offence intended, my dear, but Reinforcement Charms weren't previously classified as Dark, and you weren't 'a pair of devastatingly handsome men of international mystery'."

"I suppose not," she said, taking a sip of the coffee. "Thank you for this. I'm surprised Hugo didn't call to let us know about the verdict."

"I'm sure he's quite busy with preparations for the inaugural concert."

"You don't suppose he's still angry with me for leaving the estate to him, do you?"

"If he is, he's a fool," said Severus. "He's starting out his career with no student loans, in possession of a beautiful home and the only magical concert hall in Britain, all with no strings attached. If he has an ounce of sense, he'll come around."

"Perhaps I've given him too much and he resents it."

"I've always thought you were too generous," he said, kissing her. "However, it would be churlish to characterise it as a fault, given that I am the primary beneficiary."

She gave him a mischievous smile. "Are you terribly disappointed that our sons have managed to upstage us?"

"As fascinating as it has been to have been treated to the iProphet's/i speculations about what Dark magic I used to snare the Widow Weasley and what sort of underpants I wear, I knew that one day I would have to pass the mantle on to some other unsuspecting sod."

"I'm owling a package to them today. Are there any American sweets that Victor would find comforting in this time of public scrutiny?"

"Peanut butter cups," said Severus. "But don't feel too sorry for him. Unless I'm much mistaken, Victor will be gorging himself on the attention."

Hermione kissed him fondly. "It sometimes stretches one's credulity to think that you two are related."

Severus harrumphed. "It has been dismaying to discover how much, but for the grace of Merlin, I might have had in common with Potter."

Hermione chuckled and signed the sketch with a flourish. "It's done. What do you think?"

He studied it over her shoulder for a moment. "Meticulous, whimsical, and witty," he said.

"But do you think children will want to play on it?"

"I've seen children create whole universes from cardboard boxes," said Severus. "If they fail to do the same in the environment you've created, the problem is a failure of their imaginations, not yours."

She grinned. "Good. I'm sending it off to the city council today. I hope I get it. It'll go a long way towards establishing me locally."

"And if someone else wins the commission?"

She rolled up the sketch and slipped it into a mailing tube. "Then I'll retire and start a collection of garden gnome statues in the garden. Honestly, Severus, I'm not staking my self-confidence on the whims of local government. And speaking of whims, I'm taking you out for dinner tonight."

"What's the occasion?"

Hermione handed him a garishly decorated thank-you card that emitted pink and purple stars. "It's from the Hogarths."

Severus held it distastefully between his thumb and index finger. "There are Gothic cathedrals that took less time to complete than it took you to finish remodelling their home."

"I know. How I shall miss Antigone's owls at all hours and having to re-do my own work six times. But the good news is that they gave me a quite generous bonus, which is why I'm buying dinner tonight."

He looked at her suspiciously. "They haven't tried to rope you into another project, have they?"

"They want me to do their holiday home in Dorset. I've told them I'm terribly sorry that it won't be feasible for me to be on site, as I would need to be in order to oversee the renovations."

An owl tapped at the window and Severus opened the sliding glass door to the balcony. The sound of the sea followed the owl into the room, and it alighted on her drafting table. She took the heavy cream envelope from its foot and fed it a bit of crust from her leftover breakfast toast.

"If that's another bribe from the bloody Hogarths-"

"It's from the boys," said Hermione, pulling out a handsome, silver-accented invitation and joining Severus on the balcony.

"The young idiots can't be getting married already," said Severus.

Hermione threw back her head and laughed. "It's an invitation to the concert, you twit."

Severus scowled and took the invitation. "They've addressed it to both of us."

"Were you expecting to be excluded?"

"The concert will be held in Ronald B. Weasley Memorial Hall, on the anniversary of its namesake's death," said Severus.

"I had noticed," said Hermione drily. "I fail to see how that translates to Victor excluding his father from his professional solo d├ębut."

"I was thinking about your son," said Severus in an exasperated voice. "If I attend, he'll glower at me the way he did at Victor's senior recital."

"It's nothing personal. Hugo and Teddy were best friends growing up, but Hugo still glowered at him for months after Teddy and Rosie started dating. Besides, Hugo will be so busy schmoozing I'd be surprised if he has time to do much glowering. The more salient question is whether or not you wish to go. Now that you're registered with the Bureau of Magical Affairs and the Ministry's accepted your special service pension request, you don't have to fly."

"That won't stop the press hounding us."

"You know if they get wind of your attendance, it won't be from anybody in town. The last time a reporter came sniffing around when you were visiting, Rosmerta dumped a pint of ale on his head and threw him out of The Three Broomsticks for pestering her customers."

Severus couldn't hold back a snort of amusement. "A lot of good their protection will do if my own son is determined to capitalise on my notoriety. You can't deny that he's likely to do everything he can to ensure the public eye will be on the event."

"And if it is? That just means there may be a few more snide editorials about the proper duration for mourning," said Hermione, rubbing his shoulders. "I endured far worse during the Triwizard Tournament."

Severus leaned into her with an approving hum. "I seem to recall that the endurance was laced with more than a bit of revenge. Albus and I were quite impressed that a girl of fourteen was able to handle the situation so adroitly."

"Just think what I'm capable of now," said Hermione, pressing a kiss into his shoulder.

"I shudder to think," said Severus shifting and putting his arm around her. "Very well," he said, sighing heavily. "I suppose we'll have to go."

"Gracious, I'm in danger of being swept off my feet by the depth of your enthusiasm."

Severus leaned in to kiss her soundly. "You may yet," he murmured into her lips.

As she returned his kiss, she became aware of an old Beatles song being played somewhere nearby, and the lyrics caught her memory.

Though I know I'll never lose affection

Of people and things that went before,

I know I'll often stop and think about them;

In my life, I love you more.

She wrapped her arms around him and deepened the kiss.

In my life, I love you more.

The End

NOTES: This is a completed work of fiction that was written as a gift for Linlawless in the Winter 2012/2013 SSHG Exchange, and as such, constructive criticism is not being sought on it.

There have been some questions about Vic's and Severus's sexuality and the seeming contradiction in them being presumably genetically identical and having ostensibly different sexual orientations. However, I don't see this as a contradiction at all. First of all, nowhere in the text does Vic or Severus describe themselves as homosexual or heterosexual, nor should sexuality be assumed from the fact that Severus is with a woman and Vic is with a man. Human sexuality exists on a spectrum, not a gay/straight binary. Or, if you prefer a biological explanation, numerous twin studies since 1950 show that somewhere north of 50% of identical twins have the same sexual orientation, but a large number of them do not. This is partially because identical twins don't always share DNA equally between them, but there are numerous other factors at play, including epigenetic changes. Since Severus was adult when Vic was created, he's had over 30 years to manifest changes in gene expression due to environmental stresses. Given that there hasn't been a great deal of research on reproductive cloning (magical or Muggle), there's not much literature on the effects of creating an infant from adult genes (as opposed to gametes). Something tells me the creator of the spell in this story wasn't particularly interested in the safety or reproduceability of his work.

MCPS, PRF, ASCAP, and BMI certify that the following pieces were not harmed or mistreated in the writing of this fic:

Gabrielli, Giovanni (1557-1612): Ricercar Number 7

Puccini, Giacomo (1858-1924): "O mio babbino caro" from Gianni Schicchi

Richard Rogers (1902-1979) & Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960): "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel

Wilson, Brian (1942- ): "God Only Knows" from the Beach Boys album Pet Sounds

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827): Piano Sonata No. 8, "Pathetique;" Symphony No. 7 in A major (II. Allegretto)

Mahler, Gustav (1860-1911): Symphony No. 8 in E-flat major, "The Symphony of a Thousand"

Tallis, Thomas (1505-1585): Evening Hymn, or Canon. (words by yours truly)

Lennon, John (1940-1980) & McCartney, Paul (1942- ): "In My Life" from the Beatles album Rubber Soul.

For further study (pieces mentioned but not featured):

Debussy, Claude (1862-1918): La Mer

Beethoven, Ludwig van (1770-1827): Symphony No. 5 in C minor

Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus (1756-1791): "Tuba Mirum" from Requiem in D minor, Symphony No. 35 in D major, "Haffner"

Shostakovich, Dmitri (1906-1975): Symphony No. 5 in D minor

Hermione drives a 1971 Peugeot 404.

Enormous thanks and much love to Mr. 42 for beta-reading and lj user=lifeasanamazon for gamma-reading, Brit-picking, and otherwise being awesome. This story has been immeasurably improved by their keen eyes, incisive comments, and generous hearts. Thanks also to Linlawless, whose tremendous prompt spurred my imagination to places it might never have otherwise gone. Special thanks to SSGH Exchange Moderators Shiv, Ginny, and SLogic for throwing the best party in fandom!