Thank you all.
Heavy, flowing black robes billowed behind the wizard who strode steadily down the hall. His stride was a bit slower, perhaps, but only to those intimately familiar with him. He entered a circular chamber, richly furnished with rugs and an eclectic collection of chairs, occasional tables, and a few divans. The mistress of the house closed the book she was reading with leisurely grace, a charmed bookmark marking her place without her attention.
"Severus. How pleasant to see you. I trust the business is successfully concluded, then?"
He nodded, settling himself into a cushiony chair with a swirl of his robes. "Your husband will be behind me presently. He wished me to convey that he was delayed—something to do with the Wizengamot, I imagine."
Hermione's brow furrowed slightly with irritation, but she smoothed it away again quickly. Not quickly enough, however, as Severus noticed, a bark of laughter escaping him as Hermione summoned the waiting tea tray. "You have not yet perfected the art of appearing nonchalant when others meddle in your business, madam!"
"If Mr. Jones believes that he will be able to influence my Wizengamot by approaching my husband, he will find himself sadly mistaken," she said tartly, taking a sip of her own brew after sending the other cup to Severus. He nodded, a small smile playing at the corner of his mouth.
"I would encourage you to not pay too much heed to Severus' ramblings, but I know you are far too sensible for that."
The wizard in the doorway was no less fearsome for all that a few decades had written a few changes. There were now slight feathers of gray at his temples, and perhaps the lines around his eyes and mouth were cut a bit deeper. Nonetheless, Severus looked a few decades older than either, and after helping to secure the item that Lord Voldemort now had in his possession, Severus was still glad for it.
"I was just saying that Alexander Jones will find I am no less immovable than my predecessor," Hermione said tartly, and Voldemort smiled at her, an intimacy that was only displayed so casually before those they trusted most. Severus counted himself a fortunate part of that extremely small circle, but he cleared his throat as a polite reminder of his presence. Sometimes the Dark Lord and Lady were known to get…carried away in one another.
Hermione smiled in return and moved swiftly, giving her husband a swift kiss. Severus averted his eyes just in time. It was one thing to have taught their son, it was quite another to be reminded of how he came to be.
"And how is Orias?" he asked, taking another sip of his tea. Oolong—a very nice blend. But that was true of everything in this house…a very nice blend of two very different kinds of magic.
"Causing his fair share of trouble," Voldemort said silkily, helping himself to his own cup of tea. There was a wisp of fragrant steam, the scents potent and dark, like the man himself. He had no idea what blend of tea the Dark Lord preferred, but it was a wise policy to stay far away from his teacup. Even the young master Riddle had learnt that lesson. The only one immune was his wife. "Now, Severus, if you please."
Severus pushed up both sleeves of his robes, revealing twin, unmarked expanses of pale flesh. He had never said it, but Hermione knew that Tom had gambled when he had removed Severus' Dark Mark as repayment. Tom had bet that Severus would eventually return to him—and he had. It may have taken a few years, but eventually the potions master had made his own way back to their door, and Tom had not batted an eye.
"Here it is."
Tom swirled his wand, and a large crystal appeared on the table. The perfectly clear hexagonal stone appeared, at first glance, to be a type of smoky quartz. The three present knew differently, three wands held guardedly at attention.
"Difficult wards," Hermione murmured, but Voldemort only smiled.
"Layered and tied…I do so love a challenge."
Severus felt the reverberations to his core as he cut the thin thread of his magic that had tied the stone to him. "More trouble than I wish to experience again. I wish you well of it."
"Does it hurt?"
Voldemort did not turn away from his examination of the stone. Orias' arrival was predictable, if something he had hoped to control with a bit more finesse. He glanced at Hermione, knew she was upset that Orias had seen the Stone. Wordlessly he touched her wand hand, sending a fillip of magic to reassure her. It was Severus who answered the young man.
"I have only experienced its power near death, so yes, it bloody well did hurt. However, it should not for those who are delaying its arrival rather than teetering on its precipice."
"Would you let me?"
At this, Voldemort did stop. He looked up and straightened. His son was a fine young man, with the same darkly handsome good looks he had sported at that age, but slightly lighter and curlier hair courtesy of his mother. He was an exceptionally gifted wizard, but without the—as Hermione put it so bluntly—'crippling issues' of his father.
"I think that is a question and decision best reserved for a later time in your life, when you have learned the true cost of death and life." He felt the roar of approval from Hermione's magic at his words, but he kept his focus on Orias.
There was a moment, a breath of time, when he could see Orias' mind warring with itself as he held his son's dark eyed gaze. Then, it was over, and Orias blinked, his gaze shifting to meet Hermione's. "You're right. It's not as though there isn't time."
The word was soft, but Tom was quite sure that Orias would not be asking again. It was unsurprising that Orias left them to their perusal shortly, having engaged Severus in a volley of questions about a potion he was attempting.
They worked seamlessly together on the spells and wards layered throughout the stone. He knew Hermione would never approve, but she would go with him nonetheless. Such it was between them, still and always.
"You have it, don't you?" she murmured after a period of time.
"Yes," he replied, his wand sure. He felt her magic fade back, letting him take the lead and finish, the protective spells unraveling like silken threads. "It is done."
As they stepped back, the stone glowed red again, its magical properties fully unfettered, waiting to be used.
"Fias hi takēm," Hermione said, clasping his free hand with her own.
"He won't," Tom tilted his head slightly toward his wife, answering her unspoken question. "But you will."
Her fingers interlaced with his. "For you, yes, I will. But someday, Tom, you will realize that you don't need to fear Death. You will greet it as an old friend—and when that day comes, I will go with you."
He turned toward her, his hand soft on her cheek. "You complete me, even in my journey."
It is immaterial how many years passed. The name Voldemort, the truth of his campaign, exploits, and influence faded into the mists of legend. Powerful houses and nations rose and fell, and eventually a new dark lord cropped up elsewhere. Hermione knew that the Flamels must have felt a similar ache to see history repeat itself with Tom. It mattered little whether the name Riddle was involved or not—such was the amnesia of time. And when one sought them again, seeking the Stone…Tom knew it was time.
They were by the graves of Orias and Severus. It was a fitting place, comforting in the face of the vastly different world that Tom felt strangely disconnected from. They were in their own private bubble, a shield the likes of which no living wizard apart from himself could have cast.
He could say it now, its truth no longer threatening, the quiet devastation of his heart long soothed and accepted. Her grip was firm—his wife, his mate… "Faes hi takēm kātha."
Her smile and magic were still warm, full of life.