Disclaimer: For the final time: A special thanks to JK. Without her and her wonderful imagination, we wouldn't have this universe to play in.
AN: Debts was finished in Feb06 and then re-edited through to June. I can't believe it's been so long. It's been a pleasure sharing this with you all. Another thanks to Ariadne for reaching across the country to hold my hand when I reached the end.
What a sentimental fool I turned out to be...
George was buried on the Hogwarts grounds with full honors as a war hero, including an Order of Merlin, First Class.
It was a solemn affair, made worse by the utter strangeness of losing a twin. Fred stared ahead resolutely as he helped carry his brother's casket to the gravesite, while Molly sobbed inconsolably in Arthur's arms. She had been unable even to glance at Fred since the battle ended without bursting into tears. Minerva, along with customers of the joke shop and several students, tearfully shared their memories of George.
Several attendees were in different states of injury, including Ron, who, after isolating Voldemort, had been struck down by an unknown spell and had fallen from his Hippogriff. It was Tonks who had found him, and luckily only his leg had been broken. Severus sat at Hermione's side with a wound that was well on its way to healing completely. He had properly thanked Neville for his work on the potion, and offered to tutor him in his career choice. Neville had expressed that he wanted to develop more healing potions, effectively combining Potions and Herbology.
What Severus did not share was how much of a relief it was that only one life was lost, regardless of whose. It would be considered cruel by the non-cynical to express relief at only losing one life when it could have been many more. He had not planned to survive the war, and, in fact, had been fully prepared to die as he walked to the front gates that day.
This should be his funeral.
Sitting in the late July sun felt surreal, anticlimactic, and for lack of better words, wrong. In his mind, he had no right to live while someone so young lay before them, ready to be put into the earth forever.
He glanced at Hermione and found silent tears moving down her face. She clutched his arm tightly, as if to confirm that he was still there, still alive. Even though they were in public and the visiting students stared strangely, he did not push her away. An aptly aimed glare in their direction easily refocused their stares elsewhere. Part of him wondered what the coming school year would bring.
The remaining Death Eaters had been easily captured as their burning Marks had driven them to scream in excruciating pain. Once the Ministry announced that Azkaban was open and the Dementors in place, the trials had begun. This time, all claims of being under the Imperius fell on deaf ears. A Death Eater by the name of Amycus had admitted proudly that it was he who had killed "that fool on the Thestral,” and had been promptly thanked for saving the trouble of a trial, dragged off, and given the Kiss within the hour.
The Ministry, it seemed, was no longer in a forgiving mood.
Hogwarts itself stood proudly, bearing its wounds as if stating quite clearly that it would remain forever standing, even as the cycle of evil turned another revolution in time. Extensive repairs were required, with little time available before the fast approaching school year. With the collapse of the North Tower, the Divination classroom had been destroyed, leaving cushions, tea cups and tattered tapestries strewn across the grounds. Several staircases from Remus' bout with Greyback were lost, and, while the castle had quite smartly rearranged those remaining, some landings were left with nothing but broken marble at their ends.
The open corridor which had once held the last Horcrux made the castle appear disturbingly gutted. Portraits hung askew, and a lone piece of drapery fluttered in the summer wind, from time to time knocking another piece of stone to tumble out onto the grounds. At the far edge of the ragged opening, another display case leaned close to the edge, eerily reminiscent of the Malfoy mansion's last moments before it fell.
Days later, when Severus had recovered adequately, he ventured down to the Potions lab to take in the carnage. Hermione approached the door later in the day to find both doors still half-destroyed; one twisted up onto itself, the other at a drunken angle and threatening to fall. Desks were strewn about, and it was obvious that a furious search and duel had taken place. Severus' old desk had been destroyed in a way that clearly had been deliberate, and mangled cauldrons were scattered around the floor. It was difficult to walk without stepping on glass, parchment, broken chairs or nameless ingredients, any of which could be dangerous when mixed.
She found him in the middle of it all, sitting on a table and holding a wand in his hands, turning it end over end.
"Want company?" Hermione asked, moving to sit next to him. In the just over two weeks since the battle, Severus had kept himself busy in the lab working on research while she had absorbed herself in planning their upcoming wedding, trying hard to not feel guilty for hoping for happiness so soon after tragedy.
"This," Severus muttered, holding the wand by both ends. Bending it. "I almost died for this."
Tilting her head, she said in a low voice, "Is it his?"
Severus nodded briefly.
Sitting with her hands on the table, Hermione waited, unsure what to say.
"It was foolish, I know," he said, shocking her into looking at him questioningly.
"It means a lot to you," Hermione said softly, watching his expression as he turned the wand in his hand.
A pause and then a small nod before he turned his eyes to her.
She smiled sadly and ran her hand over his back, the sound of her nails over wool breaking the silence. "Was it worth it?"
Without hesitation. "Yes."
Hermione rested her arm around his shoulder and sighed. "Then, at this point, that's all that matters."
Severus raised an eyebrow, impressed at her wisdom and lack of condemnation of his recklessness other than chiding him that day.
"Seem too soon to repair things?" she asked, surveying the state of the classroom. It wasn't like Severus to leave things so messy. This was, after all, a man who struck fear in the hearts of thousands over the years if they so much as dared spill anything on his precious floor.
"A thought similar to that, I suppose."
"That, and a part of you enjoys destruction," Hermione smirked, trying to lighten the mood. She shifted against him, pushing him gently. "Admit it."
"That, I have never denied," he agreed with a slight grin. "However, this is no longer my classroom, and it needs to be righted." He drew his wand and cauldrons began to make their trek through the air to rest neatly on the shelves lining the walls. Soon, Hermione joined him, and they spent the better part of an hour clearing the room.
As Hermione finished up, Severus emerged from his private lab with a goblet.
"Wolfsbane so soon?" Hermione commented as they left the classroom together.
"Basically, yes," Severus said, fully expecting her to question him thoroughly on why he was brewing Wolfsbane so early before the full moon.
Instead, Hermione moved close, avoiding the goblet as he held it out, and kissed him gently. "I'll see you later. I need to attend to a few things for our upcoming event."
Severus rolled his eyes, just as he did at every part of the Muggle traditional wedding that Hermione insisted she wanted. "And in Muggle tradition this excludes me of course?"
"Yes and no," she responded with a grin.
"Interesting. Will I at least be informed of when my presence is, indeed, warranted? I am still invited, am I not?" he asked innocently.
"Severus..." Hermione warned. "Look, you may know that it will be held on the Quidditch pitch at dusk on Friday. You can find your way to the pitch, can't you?"
He ignored her attempt to bait him. "How do you know I don't have plans?"
The look on her face clearly stated he should quit while he was ahead.
"Look, can we skip the drama and just say that yes, it involves you, no, you cannot see what is planned, and move along?"
Severus raised an eyebrow at her statement and observed how she had set her hands on her hips, silently awaiting his next counter-point. Instead, a smirk played about his lips as he simply nodded and left her. He had no intention of allowing her the knowledge that sparring with her, in his opinion, was the pleasure of a lifetime.
"Quite impressive," Severus commented, gesturing to the horrifically mangled Entrance Hall. The doors still lay on the lawn, completely torn from their hinges; the partial remains of a staircase stood stubbornly in the doorway; and cascading mounds of broken marble littered the front steps.
Remus shrugged and grinned despite himself. "Through no fault of my own. However, I thought you'd appreciate that." He swung his hand up to present the torn open corridor where Severus had destroyed the last Horcrux. "I learned from the master."
Severus grinned and offered him the goblet. "Something experimental."
Remus looked at him expectantly, as it was still days before the full moon. After drinking the potion, he handed the goblet back to Severus.
"Hermione tells me I require something called a 'best man,'" Severus said, as though he were seeking a difficult to find ingredient. "Know where I may acquire one?"
Remus smiled and kept his eyes on the castle. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Severus examining the goblet's engraving. "I think you've found one. Someone has to ensure you appear presentable. I believe I've succeeded in that respect once to date."
Severus twitched a smile. "Indeed."
"Although..." Remus said with a glance at the goblet, "I may not look all that wonderful, considering."
Severus said, "I think you'll look fine. Trust me."
Severus' eyes slid to the side quickly and he muttered, "Act remorseful."
"An utter disgrace. Just look at it," Minerva complained as she approached and turned to take in the sight of the castle. "Years of history destroyed. And Sibyll's tower, it's just... what do you find so amusing, Remus?"
Remus shook his head, saying, "Nothing. We're just so shaken up about the castle. Very sorry." He glanced sideways at Severus, who was doing infinitely better at hiding his amusement.
"A tragic loss, but unfortunately one that couldn't be avoided," Severus said with careful sincerity. "I'm certain that Sibyll will be quite comfortable in the guest quarters near the kitchens, where the elves can cater to her hobby."
Minerva pressed her lips into a thin line and stared at Severus for a space of time. "Watch yourself, Severus. You are not too old. Besides, one more step like that and you can help Slughorn by teaching first year Potions again. Would you enjoy that?"
"I wasn't aware that I was still teaching," Severus stated, clearly not interested in reverting back to avoiding catastrophic fire or explosions on a daily basis.
"Well, now you are. I suggest you gather yourself together," she stated with a hard eye. "The new term starts soon. That is... if we can fit the students into the castle," Minerva said loudly, toward Hagrid and Filch, who were still trying to move monumental amounts of marble out of the Entrance Hall.
She shot one last withering glance at Remus, who had found the ground interesting, and turned to leave. Entering the castle required her to hitch her robes up and step carefully to make her way through the small path Hagrid and Filch has managed to clear.
"Did you learn nothing by hanging out with those idiots in your youth?" Severus asked incredulously.
Remus shrugged, "That was long ago."
Silence passed between them until at last Severus said, "Yes. It was."
Severus pushed a long, low-hanging willow branch out of the way and stopped, his hand still holding onto the leaves. It would never get easier, the sight of him there. It wasn't hard to know where he'd be - he never went far.
"You cannot stay here forever."
Draco sat, his legs drawn up against his chest, his chin on his knees. A fist held onto one pant leg, gripping it with more force than necessary, twisting the material. It was a position that bespoke both physical and emotional pain. A light breeze dusted stray hairs across his eyes, sweeping forward along his cheek. It had been months since it had been cut, and now it was uneven, in disarray.
Shifting to place his forehead on one of his knees, Draco muttered, "What do you want?"
Severus looked down at his hand where he had crushed the dry leaves into his palm. Shaking his hand clean, he moved closer, drew the wand from his pocket and held it in front of Draco.
Slowly, Draco lifted his head, saw the wand and looked up at Severus.
A questioning expression and a confirmation without words.
Draco threw his hand out, awkwardly stood and stared at the wand with near wonder.
"Take it. This is your right, but I could not allow you to do it. You must understand that, " Severus said, shifting his eyes away from the area just on the other side of the hill, where Dumbledore's grave marker stood, a pearlescent reminder of what he didn't want Draco to experience.
Draco kept his eyes on the wand, his hand raising seemingly on its own to take it from Severus' hand.
Stepping back, Severus watched as Draco closed his eyes and simply stood, holding Lucius' wand, moving his hands to each end. He paused, the wind at a lull, the tree's branches near still. The end of a wizard's life is a symbolic event, the wand dictating if it was an honorable passing - or not. To break a wand is to break the spirit, and it was believed that, by doing so, any hope of rest in the afterlife was ruthlessly denied.
Severus turned and dared to look out towards the white structure, visible just over the rise, the branches of the willow tree filtering most of the light. Behind him, he heard Lucius Malfoy's wand break and Draco speaking to his mother in a low voice; an apology, promises for the future - a farewell.
When he turned to see Draco place the broken pieces on Narcissa's grave and stand, Severus knew that he would no longer need to come there to find Draco anymore.
That time had passed.
With only two days to go before the wedding, Hermione finally found the dress she wanted. While it was certainly odd for the seamstress in Hogsmeade to work on a Muggle wedding dress, she did a beautiful job, embroidering red and gold along the neck line, the only hint of color in a sea of white. Hermione had kept it in Ginny and Harry's rooms, explaining to Severus, once again, how he was not to see the dress before the wedding. This was again met with much rolling of the eyes and mumbling about Muggles and silly tradition.
"No, Hermione," Severus stated in a flat tone, and went back to eating his breakfast as if the matter was closed.
"Come on, Severus. You said you'd go along."
"I'm not wearing that," he growled.
"Because it's a Gryffindor color."
"Because it's any color."
"Oh, so now you don't want to be tainted by anything Gryffindor?"
"Hermione, please..." Severus put his fork down and closed his eyes, searching for patience. He knew he was not destined to win, but had to put up a fight. Over the previous few weeks, they had developed a virtual points system, and with this wedding he feared he was falling behind. All that was missing were miniature hourglasses.
Severus groaned, "Tainted is a strong word."
"You didn't seem to feel tainted by something Gryffindor before."
Severus glared at her. "That is different."
"Really now," Hermione scoffed. She picked up the fabric and began to fold it.
"Severus, just agree to wear it, would you?" Remus said, grinning at his plate. He knew better than to look up at the murderous glare Severus was giving him. "We'd all like to see."
Hermione held up the red fabric and placed it at Severus' throat. He adopted the strategy of trying to ignore her by staring at the ceiling.
Remus laughed. "Nothing up there is going to help you now."
"I'd hold my tongue if I were you," Severus growled, looking every inch his usually intimidating self even while Hermione tied the silk around his neck and arranged the folds. "You'll be next, at your pace."
Severus sat back, resigned to his fate. Before Remus could offer a retort, Tonks arrived and snorted a laugh at Severus' pained expression.
"And the other piece goes here," Hermione said and moved towards his lap. "Really, must you look at me with such fear?" she laughed. "It's called a cummerbund. Goes around your middle."
"Must you attempt to dress me at the table?" he muttered and stabbed his eggs forcefully.
Hermione ignored his brooding. "Yes. It's the only time you stay still."
"The lovely coat will cover that you know," Severus pointed out, hoping to rid himself of at least once red item.
Hermione leaned closer and whispered into his ear, "I want to know you're wearing red under there too."
His eyebrows shot up and couldn't help but look at her.
"Really?" he said before clearing his throat and pushing his food around some more - a nervous habit that Hermione noted with a grin.
She trailed a finger along his neck, just where his hair parted. "Besides, I'm wearing green right now."
Severus' eyes searched her. "I don't see..."
Dawning realization spread over his face before he slid his eyes sideways to make sure no one had heard.
"My, you're quick," she laughed, and rose to leave.
Severus watched her leave and muttered to himself, "And so it begins."
The night before the wedding arrived, and Hermione explained to an irritated Severus that tradition dictated they not see each other the day of the wedding. She left him to stay with Harry and Ginny, even while he complained about Muggle foolishness. She soon found that, whether it nerves or missing him, she could not sleep. Deciding to take a walk, she slipped out and wandered the halls in the hopes of tiring herself out.
Her mind traveled over the previous few months, how it had all started, out on the grounds that night. The feeling of him in her arms, for all the wrong reasons - dying. How far everything had come. If someone had told her just months ago that she would be unable to sleep without Severus Snape lying next to her, she would have thought them mental.
She had just turned a corner when a hand was thrust over her mouth, an arm around her shoulders and his voice was in her ear. "Good evening."
Pulling her into an alcove, pushing her hair back from her neck, breathing deeply before laying a single, maddeningly light kiss. The cold wall, against her palms, him pressing closer behind her. She tilted her head back against his shoulder.
Her breath, gone in an instant. A low hushed whisper to the ceiling, "You know the rules. We're not supposed to see each other."
"As I am well aware," he murmured, shifting behind her, laying his chest against her back. Moving slowly, he picked up his robes, spread them wide and encircled her, pulling her against him. "However, it is not yet midnight."
A smile spread on her face as she turned to face him, staying within the circle of robes. "Skirting the rules, as usual."
"When it suits me," he said dismissively, staring at the base of her neck. Fingers, lightly trailing along her collarbone, dipping into the center, his hand wrapping around her neck, gently holding her as his lips just brushed that place - lingering.
Just as Hermione was starting to lose herself in him, the bell began to toll midnight. She started to extricate herself; however, Severus only drew his robes tighter around her and pinned her against the cold stone. Ignoring the bell, he caught her eyes for a second before kissing her deeply.
Somewhere in the middle of things, Hermione managed to whisper, "It's... midnight... bad luck..."
"You believe in such silly Muggle things?" he rasped as took one of her hands and held it high against the wall. She had a grip on the front of his coat so tight he wondered if it would tear soon.
"Severus Snape, step away from her this instant!"
They both started and turned to see Minerva standing in the hallway, her wand alight and the Marauder's map in her hand. She cast a hard glare at Severus and twitched her wand to the side, indicating that he should step away. She had learned of the interesting list of Muggle traditions, and was obviously taking them very seriously.
"Minerva, you can't possibly-" Severus began.
A knowing grin appeared on Minerva's face as she interrupted him, "At least you didn't make me go all the way out to the Quidditch pitch."
Silence stretched as Minerva's grin grew slowly, clearly proud of how she had unnerved him.
The midnight bell tolled the fifth time.
"Yes, Severus. I knew it was you," Minerva said with slight chuckle. "I let it go because of the things you went through."
A flicker of surprise passed through his eyes as the bell struck seven. Severus scowled, but remained silent.
Hermione miraculously managed to not laugh out loud; however, she couldn't quite hide a strained smile. Severus' eyes slid in her direction and narrowed slightly, before moving back to Minerva.
Minerva approached him as he obediently stepped away from Hermione's side.
"Now that I have your attention- if you are still in my sight by the time that bell ceases to toll there will be a high price to pay. Perhaps our earlier discussion regarding first year Potions? I know you love that class so."
Severus regarded the two witches for a moment, then decided it wasn't worth the battle. "Point taken."
As the bell tolled for the eleventh time, he glanced at Hermione one more time, swiftly turned and left.
"Pleasure doing business with you, Severus," Minerva called after him. She smiled as he angrily waved his hand back at her before turning the corner.
Hermione grinned, "You knew it was him all this time?"
"Oh, he shared that transgression with you?" Minerva asked. "I didn't know for sure, actually. Only a suspicion; however, the look on his face confirmed my guess."
Hermione looked impressed. "Almost Slytherin."
Minerva chuckled, "Oh, he knew I was bluffing, but his initial shock had already given him away. He's definitely relaxing, though; no chance of getting even a shadow out of him just weeks ago. Make no mistake, Hermione. He's a smart one."
"I will share one thing, though," Minerva said thoughtfully. "The smart ones are never dull."
Remus groaned in frustration, "Severus, move once more and this pin will end up in your neck."
"Do it and you'll find yourself waking up next week - if you are lucky."
Remus snorted and finished getting the red silk piece that Hermione wanted tucked into Severus' coat. Severus had managed to stop looking disgusted at the sight of it, but had groaned loudly while putting on the cummerbund. When Remus stood back to admire his work, Severus scowled and crossed his arms.
"Not too bad. Hermione is right; you do clean up well," Remus said, ignoring how Severus looked both irritated and awkward at once. "You could stand to cheer up a little, you know."
Severus rolled his eyes.
"Speaking of looks," Remus said. "Thank you."
"Severus, you know what for. The potion this month. There is a reason why I don't look... how did you put it before? Like I've been run over by the Knight Bus? The full moon is three days from now, but I'd never know it."
Shaking his head, Severus said, "I didn't want to get your hopes up. It's not finished, so it's weaker than I'd like."
Remus looked impressed. "Really?"
"Yes. One step at a time. There are other enhancements I have in mind, if you're willing to try."
"I am," Remus said immediately.
Severus raised an eyebrow. "You are certainly quick to trust."
Remus contemplated the strange thought of trusting someone like Snape before saying with confidence, "I have no reason to doubt you anymore."
Severus studied him for a moment, as if determining his sincerity, then nodded.
Remus handed him a piece of leather. "Now tie that mess back and let's get you married."
The Quidditch pitch caught the dying sunlight perfectly, reflecting light in a way much stronger than the night before the battle. More alive, the colors holding hope rather than the ominous, soulful emotion of that last evening on the edge. Hermione stood with Tonks and Ginny admiring their work. It had taken an exhausting day of Charms to create what Hermione had wanted. She couldn't wait to see the look on Severus' face, but would have to watch from under the stands where she was hidden until it was time for her to appear.
"It's beautiful, Hermione," Ginny said as she reached out to tuck a stray hair back into the style she had battled for hours to achieve.
Hermione smiled. "I hope he likes it. He thinks I've been silly keeping him from everything."
Tonks said after a deep breath, "If he doesn't like it after all the work it took, I'll hex him myself. Leaving the important bits in working order, of course."
"Thanks, Tonks," Hermione laughed.
Ginny crossed the the other side and peered through the fabric facing the grounds. She shushed them, saying, "Here they come."
Tonks moved to look with her and reported, "Yeah, not a clue. Looks kind of frightened actually. Is he usually that pale?"
"Oh, get on then. Leave him alone," Hermione laughed as she pulled them back.
When Remus and Severus passed into the pitch, the three witches moved to the other side and pushed a banner aside to watch them enter.
"Seriously, Severus, I think you looked better when fighting Voldemort," Remus said with a trace of amusement. "Feel all right?"
Severus only groaned and glanced up at the pitch only long enough to ensure they were on the right path. With his hair tied back, there was nothing to hide the look on his face as he approached the imposing spires of the Quidditch pitch. Remus went ahead and stood at the entrance, which was covered by a hanging tapestry.
"Ready?" Remus asked with a smile.
"As I will ever be."
"Look, Severus," Remus said, reaching a hand out to Severus' shoulder. "In a minute, I think you'll see just how much she loves you. If Tonks and I can have just half of what you two have... well, I could be very happy."
Remus stepped aside, pulling the tapestry with him.
The light's reflection was the first thing that struck Severus, forcing him to shield his eyes. Blues, grays and the rose color of the dying sun all reflected off of a perfect blanket of snow. Severus stood transfixed, unable to do anything but take in the scene. Not only was the entire Quidditch pitch covered in a thin layer of pure white, there were also snow flurries floating on the evening breeze. Every so often, a surge in the wind spun the falling snow into swirls. They would take on a short life of their own, twisting and turning over before dissipating back into the mix.
While Severus stood, speechless, the audience turned to see his arrival, and more importantly, the expression on his face. Few knew why they were sitting there on a summer day with snow falling all around them; however, no one could deny that it obviously meant something to Severus.
Remus' voice shook him out of his thoughts. "Go stand up where Neville is. See? Even Harry and Draco are behaving themselves. I'll follow you."
Severus moved slowly and commented in his mind at just how much effort did it take to marry just two people. It seemed like half the school had come, along with a collection of Muggles who were clearly Hermione's family. An older man in particular was watching him intently as he passed by; no doubt Mr. Granger.
"I think he's going to be sick," Draco muttered.
Harry and Neville both snorted and stood with restrained smiles as Severus arrived, while Draco appeared completely innocent. Minerva then approached Severus and shocked him by kissing him on the cheek. She wiped a tear away, then turned to stand at his side, indicating that he should turn as well.
Severus forced himself to look out over the audience, noticing several students and the entire Order in attendance. Hagrid was easy to spot in the rear, holding onto Buckbeak's chain; Buckbeak was in the process of happily pushing his beak around in the snow.
Severus was in shock at what Hermione had done. To remember such things and then act on them was impressive enough. To do it on this scale was amazing. No one had ever done anything so personal for him. It all looked so absolutely stunning, and, at the same time, so simple. There were so many arbitrary things about the wedding he had dreaded pertaining to dress, social responsibilities, and customs. In the end, this one gesture turned it all into a personal expression of her love.
He almost didn't see her until Minerva touched his arm. To say she was breathtaking would be an understatement. Everything else fell away except the vision of her as she approached. He forgot all his apprehension at following along with what he thought was silly tradition, of still living in fear of presenting himself as anything but fearsome.
In that singular moment, it was his turn to forget to breathe.
Her father had joined her, and she walked with her hand on his arm. Severus decided he now appreciated Muggle fashion. The dress was simply amazing. When they reached him, her father kissed her on the cheek and gave her hand to Severus. He looked Severus in the eye and nodded before returning to his seat.
Hermione smiled after her father before looking into Severus' eyes.
"You remembered," he whispered as the Ministry official found his mark in a parchment. Another Muggle was there, wearing all black.
Hermione tilted her head slightly, a warm smile spreading on her face as she said, "Someone told me once that it is the accumulation of small acts such as these that express true love."
"Indeed, however, this is no small act. This is..." he said, looking past the Ministry official to where the snow was completely untouched, "… incredible."
She smiled. "Too romantic?"
"I wasn't aware that there was a limit to romance," he said with a grin. "Certainly there must be a book on such things."
The ceremony itself was a blur. The Ministry official spoke of love and life-long dedication to one's partner. Soon he was asking for their wands. Severus instinctively felt uneasy about handing over his wand until Minerva's expression told him he had better obey, and quickly. The official held the two wands together and passed his own wand over them. A strange glow briefly ignited around them, intertwining with itself. The Muggle made a strange sign towards them at that point.
"Severus," the official said, indicating that he should place the ring on Hermione's finger.
"Severus Snape, do you take Hermione Jane Granger to be your wife; to be with none other, to promise to stand by her side, encourage her, love and honor her, be open and honest, bound by your love, for as long as you shall live?"
"Hermione Jane Granger, do you take Severus Snape as your husband; to be with none other, to promise to stand by his side, encourage him, love and honor him, be open and honest, bound by your love, for as long as you shall live?"
"By the powers granted to me by the Ministry of Magic, I declare you husband and wife," he said, and handed them their wands.
Minerva said, "Severus, in Muggle tradition you may kiss the bride."
When Severus only looked at her, Minerva leaned forward and said, "Severus, the bride is Hermione."
Hermione laughed and didn't wait for him to take it upon himself. She reached up and pulled him down to kiss him with as much passion as she dared show in public, especially with her parents watching. She leaned into him and it was as if they were the only two people in the world. As they kissed, thunderclouds that had waited patiently off in the distance swelled and multiplied across the sky. Like gathering forces, the mass stretched at a long angle as it glided towards the pitch, blocking the sun. The first bolt of lightening struck as the last twilight left the sky, silently illuminating the pitch, throwing sharp shadows across the white of the snow. Tonks glanced over at Remus and smiled as she indicated the looming storm.
When the first cool mist of rain fell, some of those in attendance cast spells to keep dry, while others remained transfixed on Severus and Hermione's kiss. In the space of only a minute, the sun had set and a fierce thunderstorm had moved in, all while the two of them held each other in that ultimate, meaningful kiss of a lifetime. No one said a word, leaving the sound of the rising wind to stand alone. A distant rumble rolled just before another flash lit the grounds once more.
"Couldn't have planned it better myself," he murmured. "Nature even approves."
Taking the opportunity, Severus moved to whisper in her ear, "They are only words, in the end, and nothing more, simple reminders of emotion, moments in time, memories. Things I never thought I'd ever express to anyone, I say to you. I have nothing to offer but the hope that you know what you mean to me, that with everything I say, everything I do, no matter how ordinary, it is a silent reminder of this bond. I swear that you will always be my partner in all things, and most importantly, my best friend. This needs no declaration in front of witnesses, as I am bound to you hopelessly, and never wish to be free."
Hermione stood motionless, ignoring how everyone continued to watch them. Only a moment or two had passed, but it seemed like an eternity. The rain had begun to fall in earnest, carrying the scent of the earth on the night breeze and the thunder reminded her that she was still connected to the rest of the world, rolling, silence, then a distant rumble.
Hermione leaned close to him and said, "That's all I need, Severus. Nothing more. This, don't ever lose this."
With the same fierceness that had been in her voice that night, he swore, "Never."
Final author's note:
Just like my Severus here, I am speechless at times like these. 'Of Debts' is one long daydream shaped into a novel.
To Ariadne: What can I say to express my thanks? Without your help as a beta, and more importantly, as a friend, this rewrite wouldn't have been possible. I learned more than I could ever dream about writing and how to "trust that style." That alone is more valuable than anything else to me. This is exactly what I wanted.
Thank you to everyone who reviewed. You'll never know just how much your words meant to me. It's been quite a journey and a memory I will cherish forever. Thank you for allowing me and my vision of a lovestruck couple into your lives for a little while.