Otherwise known as: How Luna tore apart the fabric of reality so that her friends could get decently laid, and accidentally saved the world in the process.

A/N: Hello! Welcome to chapter eighty-three! My formatting has dropped out between the original document and here, so I apologise if some of it doesn't make sense without the italics, but I don't have time to go through it all and drop them back in right now. So much word. I would have split it, but there didn't seem to be a proper place to do so where it would still make sense. So, enjoy this mammoth chapter. I hope you enjoy it!

(Epilogue? Hopefully soon.)

Love always, Eli x

Disclaimer: I do not own the works herein, all characters from the Harry Potter Universe belong to JK Rowling, and all characters, storylines, situations, plots and the like do not belong to me. I make no money from this work.

Warnings: Rated M for situations, SO MUCH swearing, violence, sexual scenes... The whole lot, basically.

Iacta Alea Est

Chapter Eighty-Three

"Lavender - Lavender - Lav!"

She shot awake, the scream still on her lips, tapering off into a whimper, then quiet. Over her stood Hermione, her head framed by the twittering cherubs painted on her ceiling, bushy hair a state. Behind her, Lavender could sense Remus's presence, a silent wall of strength that she pulled on until her trembling had stopped, her body settling into itself again. Her skin was damp with sweat, the sheets clammy beneath her.

"You were dreaming," Hermione informed her gently, sliding into bed bedside her and pulling her into the circle of her arms. "Just a dream, honey."

"Not -a dream," Lavender managed to get out, sighing with relief when she felt Remus fold his arm around the two of them from her other side. The world felt like a much less scary place with the two of them there; she felt like a much less scary person. "Memory."

She could sense them sharing a look over her head, and resented it. They worried about her, far too much in her opinion. She was fine when she was awake. It was only in the darkness that the ghosts found her.

"Right," Remus said, squeezing her tightly once before letting go and disengaging himself from their pile of limbs. "It's just as well you're up, anyway. It's Fred and George's name day celebration, and if we're late Ginny will eviscerate us."

Lavender groaned, throwing herself back into her pillows. "Didn't I get enough Molly the first time around?"

Remus frowned disapprovingly, but Hermione gave a choked laugh that said she agreed. She sobered at her mate's reproving glance. "As much as that is true, she's doing us a favour by inviting us, and it would be rude to turn her down. A lot rides on her family accepting Ginny as one of them."

Sticking out her tongue, Lavender rolled over, wrapping the duvet more securely around herself as she did so. "I'm not feeling it today, thanks. Think I'll just stay in bed and wallow in my misery. Oi!"

Hermione dangled the duvet from one hand, having whipped it away from her. "Come on, Lavender. It's been a month. You need to get out some time."

No, actually, she didn't think she did. It was alright for Hermione, she came out the hero of the story. Interacted with the Fates, bargained for a man's life. What had Lavender done? Ripped a bloke's throat out, then stood there screaming for ten minutes when she was released from her trance. Really, there was no wonder Severus had run in the opposite direction.

"He's an idiot," Remus said sternly, picking through her drawers. Lavender wanted to rail about the lack of respect, but didn't have the energy. He tossed a beaded skirt and vest onto the bed before turning to her overflowing jewelry box. "I've always said so."

"He's a genius," Lavender retorted, a wistful note to her voice as she stroked the satin of the pink headband he threw at her. It was the same one she'd worn when they'd first met, she remembered. If she concentrated hard, she could still smell the sweat, ethanol and dust of the Hog's Head in its glue. "He just doesn't like me."

Hermione growled low in her throat, running a fond hand through Lavender's knotted curls. She couldn't remember the last time she'd brushed her hair - days, weeks ago? The last full moon, probably. Gods, but that had been awful, the only thing that stuck out since the event. Everything else was a bit of a blur. She knew that Remus had brushed it every day for a week after the confrontation, before he'd put the comb in her hand and urged her to do it herself. Hermione had washed the blood out of it after that night, but had she ever washed it again?

Everything was fuzzy, right from the moment she'd seen Severus back away from her in horror. That split-second was clear as day, a living nightmare that jumped to the forefront of her mind whenever she relaxed. It had taken a lifetime, it seemed, to understand what she'd been watching, her mouth still open and screaming; screaming from the second the spell had dropped, without conscious thought, as if she'd always been screaming but it had never been given sound before. His posture had softened, released from its precarious pose, and his eyes had shot to her immediately, taking in the blood on her face, her neck. She'd been peripherally aware of the bitter, salty taste of it on her tongue, of her fangs still protruding.

His face, so naturally pale, had gone bloodless; his eyes shuttered immediately. He'd turned away, but not before noticing the marked lack of Dark Lord beneath her. Instead, he'd turned to Lucius, who remained strangling Peter Pettigrew, hate mangling his glorious face.

"Are you going to kill him?" Severus asked, face impassive despite the surge of energy that surrounded him. Lavender noted Remus lunging for Hermione, dragging her into his embrace and refusing to let go. Regulus took Luna, pulling her gently by the hand out of the line of fire. Professor Moody - and when did he get here? When did any of them? - rushed forward, wand at the ready, with Shacklebolt following, the two of them aiming their wands steadily at the blonde.

"Put him down, Malfoy!" Shacklebolt yelled, fury in his face. "You're already under arrest - don't make it worse for yourself!"

"Excuse me?" Lucius raised an impeccably sculpted eyebrow at the Auror, not showing any signs of strain, even though Pettigrew struggled in his grip. "You're defending this - this traitor?"

"He's a member of the Order in good standing, boy," Moody growled, eye twitching with excitement. "While you're Death Eater scum."

"Auror Moody-?" Ginny hurried forward, stepping between him and his target. "You don't understand. Wormtail is the traitor, not Malfoy. We wouldn't have gotten this far without him!"

Moody turned an eye to her, impressive without his magic one, but kept the other on Lucius. "What're you saying, gel? Malfoy's a Dark Wizard. Always 'as been."

Luna pushed past Regulus at this, standing beside Ginny. "There is no law against being a Dark Wizard," she pointed out, calmly. "In fact, dark wizards are required and encouraged by society to keep the peace. At least seven of them sit on the Wizengamot."


"Lovegood," she smiled sweetly. "Luna Lovegood."

Moody took a moment to absorb this, then soldiered on, gruffly. "Be that as it may, Miss Lovegood, this man-" he looked narrowly at Regulus, then Severus, and corrected himself. "These men are suspected Death Eaters. We're taking them into custody."

"No!" Lavender didn't notice the word leaving her mouth, but she was full of panic, imagining Severus transferred from one cell to another, physical torture to the psychological pain of imprisonment. The idea that he might wind up in Azkaban, his hopes and dreams sucked away by nightmare monsters, terrified her. She couldn't let that happen - she would kill them all before she let that happen.

Severus didn't so much as look at her after the pronouncement, but his hands fisted and trembled, and she could feel his fear, too.

"Sir, please don't do that," Hermione said, disentangling herself from her Mate to skirt around them, joining her friends. As she passed, she took Lavender's hand and tugged her along, too. The four of them formed a barrier between Lucius, a now-unconscious and slumped on the floor Pettigrew, and the Aurors. "I understand that you are in a difficult position with this, but I believe we can help you."

"Help us, how?" Shacklebolt asked before Moody could get a word in.

Lavender could see Hermione scrambling for words, but she had faith. Her friend might not be the most eloquent speaker, but her plotting was unrivalled; if anyone could keep the men out of Azkaban it was her. The belief that her Alpha female would solve this problem was ingrained in her wolf, and she fed on that trust now, the only thing keeping her sane.

"You all must be very confused right now, and I sympathise. Much of what just happened was an accumulation of events that have occurred out of your sight, and that was an oversight on our behalf. You can trust us, but I know that you feel you cannot, so I will extend to you the same courtesy I offered Dorea Potter, several months ago, when we landed in her garden." She gave the innocent schoolgirl smile she'd offered every Hogwarts professor for years and watched them soften in response to it.

"If you will be so kind as to allow these gentlemen to return to their homes and regroup - it has been a long night for all of us, you see - my friends and I will follow you to the Minister's office, where we will show you our memories of the past months, and before. These are crucial to your understanding of today's events. You may bring any authenticator you require to assure you that they are undoctored recollections of our lives, and we shall go on from there. Gentlemen, I implore you to take advantage of this offer."

"We could arrest you, force you to give them up," Moody threatened, straining forward. The only thing that seemed to stop him from charging them was McGonagall's swift approach.

"Hear them out, Alastor," she implored softly. "I know as little about this as you do, but I can sense their magic - you know I can. It's my honour as Deputy Headmistress, and three of them are lions, true as anything."

Moody glared at her for a moment, then softened, some fleeting though crossing his face. "Alright," he grunted, reluctantly. "But we're keeping Aurors close to 'em while you're with us. Can't have Death Eaters escaping, no matter what you do. And I'll be callin' the Head Unspeakable to verify your evidence, lass, so you won't get one over on me. Shacklebolt-"

The Auror already had his wand in hand, pointed at his wristwatch as he murmured a charm. The band glowed for a moment, and seconds later the pop of apparation filled the air. "Called on some Seniors, sir," he explained as purple-robed silhouettes converged on the scene.

"Good lad. Now," Moody raised his voice, addressing both them and the remaining Order members, the majority of whom remained kneeling. "I don't think I need to tell anyone this, for it goes without saying - nobody will speak a word of what happened here tonight without my express permission, and certainly not before the Ministry has had time to sort it all out! Understood?"

A submissive murmuring of agreement echoed, and Moody gave a sharp nod. "Well, then. Dawlish, Mack, you're with Malfoy; Compton, Feelan, on Snape, and Doe-"

"I'll be with Severus," Regulus said quietly.

"With the others, then. Keep a close eye." The Auror turned to Hermione. "We'll be Portkeying."

Shacklebolt gave an apologetic smile as he produced a battered old trinket box from his pocket and held it out for them. "No time like the present, eh?"

Lavender eyed it warily, but then her eyes flickered away as movement caught her eye. Three Aurors were leading Severus and Regulus back toward the house, Regulus turning back to mouth reassurances at Luna. All she could see of Severus was the back of his head and robes, but he showed no inclination to look back. "Sev-" she called, and he twitched, but didn't bother to turn.

Hermione clutched her hand and put it to the Portkey, and they were whisked away with a painful yank, but that was nothing compared to the way something broke inside her, with seeming finality.

"Lavender!" That was Hermione's voice, sharp, cutting. Lavender came back to herself, finding herself sat on the bed, half-in, half-out of a jumper that was tangled about her neck. "Oh, this is the absolute fucking limit!" Hermione threw her hands up and marched for the door. "You look after her," she ordered Remus. "Get her to the Weasleys and apologise to Molly for me, but something important has come up." Lavender could have sworn that were Hermione anyone else, she would have cracked her knuckles in threat. With that ominous sentence, she was gone, and Remus climbed up into the bed next to her, gently pulling her arm out of the neck hole of her jumper.

"Is she going to kill someone?" Lavender asked detachedly.

"Only if he doesn't do what she wants," Remus replied, settling her jumper down properly and pressing a kiss to her forehead. "Now come on, love. Ginny made bacon and if we wait much longer, Sirius will have claimed it all, and I'm not in the mood to fight him today."

He offered his hand to help her get out of bed, and she took it, her legs feeling unaccountably weak. "I don't want any," she declared, searching with her feet for slippers. "I'm a vegetarian now."

Remus stopped abruptly, shock crossing his face. "Now that is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. And you talk a lot of shit."

"Gosh, thanks," she said sarcastically as they headed for the stairs. He shot her a knowing look as she caught the scent of frying meat and her stomach rumbled like an earthquake. "Shut up."

Ginny hummed to herself as she transferred bacon to a plate, deftly smacking Sirius' creeping hand away as she did so. She was in a good mood. A rare, brilliant mood. Her mum - her beloved, coddling, terrifying mum - had reached out to them, invited them into the fold. She wasn't going to lose them! It felt unreal, like it was happening to someone else.

Everything had changed that day. They'd gone from outcasts, confused interlopers in their world, to fully licensed magical practitioners with honorary citizenship and, for her, an actual job. Moody, Sirius' boss, had led the way, dragging her into the Auror corps by the ear. His exact words had been "lass, if you think you're wasting that wand-arm of yours on Quidditch and cooking, you've got another think coming!"

Really, it was mental. And she owed it all to her friends, old and new.

She ruffled a fond hand through Sirius' hair as she moved back to the stove, and he caught it in his, pressing a quick kiss to the fingers. Everything had seemed lost when Hermione had traded their future for the Fates' mercy. Only her quick thinking had saved them, and even then it had been a close call.

Moody surfaced from the pensieve with a cough, his face pale. Shacklebolt, Amelia Bones, the Head Unspeakable, Acting Headmistress McGonagall and the Minister for Magic himself all followed, staggering as they attempted to realign themselves with reality, their minds struggling under the weight of what they'd just learned. Each of the girls had contributed a collection of memories, encompassing all of the war years of their youth, and deposited them in the Department of Mysteries' most powerful pensieve, one that was able to host dozens of witnesses at once, and played the memories out at several times the usual speed, like dreams. What, to the girls as they sat in the office, guarded by Aurors, had been merely an hour, had passed to the witnesses as days; days watching the War play out, including their missteps, their actions or inactions, and eventually their own deaths. They were, rightly, disoriented, even the masked Unspeakable, who clutched his cowl with shaky fingers.

None of them spoke for a moment, all of them staring at one another silently, replaying pertinent scenes in their heads. Ginny tried not to fidget with anxiety. So much rode on this…

"These memories are clean. Unaltered." The Head Unspeakable turned to them, tilting his head in respect. "Your clarity of recall must be commended."

"Thank you, sir," Hermione acknowledged politely, even as Ginny railed in her head. Of course they were clear. They were the most traumatising events of their lives. One could not simply forget the contents of that bowl.

"You have given us much to think about," the Minister said, his voice weak. "The layers… Much has occurred out of our eyeline. Secrets upon secrets. That the Fates themselves vouch for you is in your favour, certainly, but Time Travel is illegal. You have harboured several Marked Death Eaters, and committed several other crimes in the course of your… exercise. Miss Brown, it seems, is an unregistered werewolf. Miss Weasley has created and used several Dark curses. Miss Potter nearly levelled a Muggle village with the use of Fiendfyre. The list goes on."

"Now, Minister, is this necessary?" McGonagall asked, folding her arms with a chastising frown. "These girls saved our world. Rid the world of a dangerous Dark Lord. The lives they have preserved deserves some recognition."

"My dear Miss-"

"Don't let's be formal, Minister. The Gods know, after what we've just seen, we're in each other's confidence. Now, I promised to help these girls sit their exams - to the Fates, no less. I can hardly do that if they're in Azkaban. Will you force me to forsake the Fates? How will that play out in the Press?"

"Minerva, really. You wouldn't go to the press with a silly thing like-"

"I certainly would, if it would prevent a miscarriage of justice. Head Auror Moody agrees with me, don't you, Alastor?"

Moody looked amusingly like a deer in headlights. "Yes," he grunted shortly, folding his own arms. "The lasses are impressive. Light. Be a waste of good magic to lock 'em up."

The Minister turned to appeal to Madam Bones, who was here to consider the case on behalf of the Wizengamot. The woman thought carefully, then stepped slightly closer to Moody and McGonagall. "Truly, Minister - they have done us a great service, and the Wizengamot would agree. On behalf of the Old Families, who worship the Old Gods faithfully, I shall also suggest that we bring the girls into this world. It shall make our easier for the public to accept the story. Our records show that they already have covers, we shall merely entrench them. Make them real. As a thank-you."

The Minister looked aghast, but everyone else nodded. "Indeed, that is appropriate," Minerva agreed with a smile. "I shall also fast-track their exams, and contact Molly regarding her long-lost cousin."

"What do we tell everyone?" Shacklebolt asked curiously. "We can hardly say that a bunch of Time Travellers came to kill the Dark Lord."

"If I might?" Luna asked in her airy voice. "I have a solution that might suit all of us."

"Yes, Miss Lovegood?" The Minister asked in a patronising tone, rolling his eyes towards his professional counterparts.

"Well," Luna began, kicking her feet like a child. She was so small and fragile in her chair, even covered by dirt and curse marks - her feet didn't touch the ground, for Merlin's sake! "In the Muggle world, their governments have special military branches for dealing with threats - small team of specially trained Aurors. You could say you formed one of these to battle Voldemort. Us."

Hermione grinned, apparently picking up her meaning. "Oh, yes! You can say you recruited us from around the world, and trained us for this purpose. A diverse team, to please everyone - a pureblood, muggleborn, a werewolf and a Seer." She shot Luna a silencing look when the girl went to protest this title. "We brought him down on your orders - it brings the glory to you, sir, restoring faith in your Ministry, and cements our place in your world."

He blinked at them, his face lightening. Ginny could almost hear his thoughts - another term as Minister, Worldwide adulation, he'd be set in the minds of the nation forever as the Minister who brought down the biggest threat to their country since the Witch Trials.

"Ah… But…" he looked reluctant to say it. "We simply cannot have a werewolf on the team. The law…"

"Then change it," Hermione snapped, her hand flying to clutch at Lavender's knee. "Are you the Minister, or aren't you?"

The man shrank back at the bite in her voice, and Ginny scoffed. Spineless prick. "Of course, of course…" he muttered, and Hermione gave a feral smile.

"We will all be your heroes, exactly as we are, with that story, or we will send our memories to the press the second you renege, and watch them tear you down. It's your choice, Minister."

"We could arrest you," he said with false confidence.

"You just try. We have the Gods on our side."

The thump of running feet jerked her out of her memories and she turned to see a brown blur rushing past the door. "Hermione?" she called, and the figure backtracked, pausing in the frame.

"Yes, Gin?" she replied with her dangerous, sweet smile on.

She eyed her friend for a moment, gauging where she was on the murder-y scale. Not too high. Her wand wasn't in her hand, and she didn't have any offensive weapons, just a whole lot of rage. "Nothing. You have fun."

"I will!" Hermione called, slamming the door behind her.

"She is terrifying," Sirius said, popping bacon in his mouth. Ginny scowled at him, and he held his hands palm up, mouth full. Smacking him with the back of the spatula, she turned back to the stove with a smile.

The Burrow was decorated with all of the enthusiasm of the family, and full to the brim with well-wishers. Fred and George were corralled in a multi colored pen in the garden, babbling merrily at their admirers. Fred waddled in an ungainly fashion around the fence, using one hand on it to hold him up, as he commanded the attention of passers-by, while George sat in the centre, merrily drooling on a miniscule Hogwarts Express with breaks to take a breath and shout at Fred in babytalk. Bright orange and purple balloons splashed the walls and sky with colour, tables set up with streamers, cups and plates of the same colours.

They should have had this ceremony earlier, as was tradition, but with the War Molly hadn't wanted to take the risk. Now that it was over, as the papers gleefully proclaimed (complete with victorious-looking Minister giving numerous statements, and an oft-repeated press release by Hermione, Ginny, and the others - with help from Dorea, who could handle the press like a professional) Molly had finally been able to see her plans come to fruition. Now, she tottered around, high on life, greeting and laughing and entertaining her guests.

"Oh, look, Arthur!" She cried, hustling towards them through the crowd. Arthur followed in her wake, smiling pleasantly, apparently immune to the way all eyes fell on them, some curious, some amazed. The Prophet had touted their heroism widely, and their determination to simply go about life as usual had only fanned the flames. Luna had been asked for an autograph in Diagon Alley a few days before, and Hermione could barely step foot in Remus' workplace without being converged upon by fellow academics, all delighted to meet the 'brains' of their group. Yes, that's right - they'd all been designated roles by Witch Weekly, who'd dug about in their personal lives and taken interviews from everyone they could get their hands on in order to run profiles on the women who'd saved the world; their coven.

Luna had, naturally, been the Seer due to her mother's eccentric reputation - though Pandora had come out claiming Luna as a long-lost half-sister, who still bore the stamp of their family magic in her veins. Ginny had been the Athlete, as her scores in the Auror exam came to light - she had the highest physical aptitude score in decades, despite most of the team doubting her due to her possession of a vaginas. Really, she enjoyed nothing better than shoving it in their faces, especially at their Sunday Quidditch League, where she'd won the match both times she'd played.

Hermione, naturally, had been the brains, as her regular visits to bookstores demonstrated (noone seemed to notice or care that it was also because of her werewolf boyfriend working there). The Unspeakable had reached out to her as a consultant, as they had in the future, but she'd applied to the Goblins instead, claiming that her more intimate work on Horcruxes this time around had lured her into curse-breaking. She says currently in negotiations.

Lily Evans was the Princess, for many and varied reasons, including the fact that her personal history read like a fairy tale: a muggleborn witch, misunderstood and abused by her sister, brought into a world she didn't understand and didn't fit into prevails against the odds and marries the heir to an Ancient and Noble House. She wasn't fond of the title, nor was she pleased with the idea that her accomplishment came from her recent, private handfasting, but she couldn't deny that the attention was flattering. The other girls found it hilarious, especially considering the fact that, by all accounts, the magazine had glossed over her high grades, excellent practical exam results, and the fact that she was the most popular girl at Hogwarts for most of her education.

'Prevail against the odds', indeed.

Lavender was the odd one out, and Ginny had to admit that it was partially a relief that she'd been bedridden the past month considering the way the press talked about her. The way they shifted from seeing her as angelic hero to brutal, feral murderess day-to-day was dizzying, and a surefire way to find an editor hexed if the girl had been on her feet. On the upside, if it was an upside, it seemed she'd become somewhat of a sex-symbol, with the picture of her leaving the Ministry after they had been presented with their Orders of Merlin (also, the last time she'd left the house) being blown up onto posters and pasted to young wizard's walls the country over. It was a good picture, Ginny had to admit; the woman looked resplendent in fitted lavender robes, the colour a few shades lighter than her eyes, which stood in the forefront as she looked directly into the camera with hooded eyes. The tragedy there had been carefully edited out by photographers, who preferred the emphasis to be on her voluptuous form rather than whatever personal crisis she was having. The cottage had been flooded with requests for photoshoots, not all of them seedy, and if she ever felt better she'd have a career waiting for her there. Ginny didn't think they'd know what had hit them if she did, but thought her friend was more likely to go for Skeeter's job.

"Hello, girls!" Molly pulled Lavender into a vice-like hug, apparently sensing her emotional turmoil. "It's so good to see you! Cousin Ginny," she broke her hug to come and take Ginny's hands in hers, eyes searching her face. "My!" She laughed, squeezing tight. "You look just like Aunt Cedrella! How I didn't see that…" she leaned in to kiss Ginny's cheek, and as she did so, gave her a wink. "I was always going to call my daughter Ginevra," she said softly. "You're not fooling me, my love."

Ginny felt tears fill her eyes as Molly pulled her into a motherly hug. She even smelt the same, faintly of cinnamon and flour and baby powder, just as she had even seventeen years after her youngest had left nappies. Her embrace was warm, and familiar, and she could have melted into it, but instead, as was appropriate, she pulled back and grinned enough to mask the wetness on her face.

"Thank you for inviting us, Mrs Weasley," she said, loud enough for the onlookers to hear.

"Nonsense, child, it's a pleasure to have you all. And please…" She looked pained to say the next words, as if she truly did recognise that Ginny was her child, for she would never ask a child of hers to call her by name, "you all must call me Molly, if we're to be friends."

"Molly," Ginny said, the word feeling odd on her tongue, for while she'd forced herself to refer to her mother as such in her head she'd never said the word aloud. "Thank you," she added lamely, for lack of anything else to say.

Molly stepped back, Arthur draping an arm across her shoulders. "Right, then!" he said, as if covering for his wife's emotion. He'd always been like that, Ginny remembered. He might not suit the ideal of the Alpha male husband, but he'd always been protective of her mother, always known exactly what she needed at any given moment. By the time Ginny was old enough to notice it, she'd thought it was familiarity, but it seemed more innate as an adult. "We've got food over there, and dancing in the yard. The blessed boys are in the pen - mischief making kids that they are, we can't let them run riot or they'll set the place on fire. Our other children are about, somewhere, if anyone can find them," he gave a cheery wink while pointing in various directions. "All I would say is don't go in the shed. That's my tinkering shed, that is. In fact, I wanted to ask your friend Lily about some things, if she's around…"

"She and James will be by later," Ginny explained Apologetically. "They're have an appointment, first."

"Nothing bad, I hope?"

Luna and Ginny shared a smirk. "Nothing bad."

The house in Spinner's End hadn't changed at all over the past few months, despite everything changing around it. Regulus had moved in shortly after they'd been publicly cleared of wrongdoing in the War so that he could court Luna properly ('as any proper gentlewizard would', he'd claimed, looking pointedly at a smugly snogging Sirius and Ginny), and as a result the wards were much less, well, fatal, but otherwise from the outside it was the same dingy little hovel from before. She knocked on the door out of politeness, but she wasn't going to take no for an answer so she confringo'd the lock for good measure.

Shoving over the door, she stepped inside with such determination that she almost failed to notice the changes on the inside. The walls had been washed and repainted cream, the wooden paneling at the bottom varnished. And she could see this, too, as the light that had been missing on their previous visit had been replaced. It was enough to make her stop in her tracks, frowning.

Footsteps from above caught her attention, and then Regulus came trotting down the stairs, cloak thrown over one arm. She transferred her frown to him as he grinned at her. "Oh, good, you're here," he said cheerily, leaning forward to kiss her cheek in greeting. "It's about time. Severus is in the living room, moping about. You'll want to do something about that."

"Did you do this?" she demanded, pointing at the floor, now, where the tiling had been cleaned to a high sheen.

"Innocent, ma'am," he replied, getting a kick out of it. Of all of them, Regulus had responded best to their brief arrest earlier that month, continually making references to their few hours in custody. Hermione thought it might have something to do with his 'bad boy' image in the press; the handsome younger son of an Ancient House, who rebelled but came home to the Light in the end, saving the world as he did so. He'd relaxed now that the war was over, too - he and Sirius were tentatively rebuilding the bond they always should have had, and adding to that his plans to marry Luna at Midsummer, he was generally effervescent in his happiness. "That'll be Severus. Apparently, he cleans when he's depressed, which is something he's never done before. If only he'd stop drinking, he'd finally be the world's most desirable roommate." With a smile, he slipped past her to the door. "Will you be at the Weasleys?"

"That depends on how long this takes," she said grimly, her eye caught by the polished banister. "Honestly, has he gone mad?"

Regulus shot her a wry look. "Hasn't Lavender?"

With that snappy comment, he exited, leaving Hermione alone in the house. Some of the rage she'd come equipped with had banked inside her, pushed back by pity, leaving her considerably more calm as she reached for the closed door to the living room - the knob of which was dented but shining. She turned it carefully, and let herself in.

This room was not untouched by whatever cleaning tornado had hit the house, either, Hermione could see, and some of the furniture had been replaced, presumably by the Order of Merlin: Second Class settlement he'd received from the Ministry. Five hundred galleons wasn't much by comparison to what Hermione and her friends had received, certainly a drop in the bucket for Sirius, who'd won the same, but Severus had put it to good use here, buying economically wise furniture that remained comfortable. Books from the floor now resided in bookshelves lining the wall, a coffee table of dark wood replaced the stained and sticky one from before. The surfaces were clean and clear, except for candles and some sparse paperwork. The moulding old sofa had been replaced by a plush one of cream, and that was where Severus lay, cradling a glass of Amber liquid as he gazed mournfully into a clean fireplace grate. Honestly, if he'd gone so far as to clean his fireplace, Hermione suspected that he was as bad as Lavender.

Still, anger came back when she looked at him, so obviously self-pitying. She could see this, and in her mind's eye, also see Lavender, curled up in bed for a month. She'd taken the separation hard, much as Hermione had for the weeks after Remus' death in the first timeline. She remembered being unable to move, to speak, not having the energy to enact any of her basic processes for she was too busy dwelling on the ache in her chest. Harry had been her only savior those long days, coming in to speak to her, to reassure her that he was there, that one day she'd feel better. When she'd finally told him what was wrong, he'd only become more supportive, and little by little he'd pulled her from her shell, dressing her, cleaning her, dragging her into the daylight, tempting her with work.

It had been a long process, and eventually she'd somewhat healed, but even now she could remember the unrelenting pain, the loss that blurred her mind until nothing else seemed to matter, nothing got through. She'd spent the time curled around her stomach protectively as if that might help heal her heart from that, his final rejection.

Lavender's wolf had taken his retreat as rejection, and now, as her own mind had so long ago, was punishing Lavender for not being good enough to keep him. But that wasn't Lavender's fault, and she had an endless well of empathy for the girl who had come to be like a little sister to her. Not so, Severus.

"Get up," she snapped, clapping her hands loudly above his head. He groaned and rolled away, but she followed. "Get the fuck up!"

Rolling onto the floor, Severus flipped over to glare at her. "Ah, the dulcet tones of a harpy," he growled, the sarcasm thick, wincing when she clapped again. "What do you want?"

"You to get your head out of your arse," she replied, just as cruelly. "Or, failing that, seeing as it seems firmly lodged up there, for you to apologise."

He pinched the bridge of his nose tiredly, closing his eyes for a moment. Hermione gave a high-pitched whistle, which he responded to with an aggravated shout. "Is there any need?" he yelled, eyes narrowed angrily in her direction.

"Yes, there's need! Lavender is a heap of misery, thanks to you. She's barely moved from one spot. That last full moon -" she paused when he winced, which only served to ratchet up her anger another notch. "Oh, grow up, you pompous little shit! She's a werewolf - get over it! You're a miserable git, and she doesn't let that stop her, despite how she's literally the sunniest, most happy person I've ever met! At least her condition can be controlled - there doesn't seem to be hope for you."

"Do you have any manners to speak of?" Severus asked, pulling himself from the floor unsteadily. He reached for the glass of fire whiskey and scowled to find it upended on the floor. "You come into my house and insult me, then expect me to do your bidding?"

"For your health, if not mine," she threatened mildly. "You should really shower," she added, taking in the rumpled state of his robes, the hair that reached new levels of greasiness. "I mean, she loves you, but even she won't love you in this condition."

"She?" he asked warily.

"Lavender, of course." Stooping, she picked up the pillow that had fallen with him to replace on the sofa. She froze when she felt the soft satin under her fingers, eyes shooting to Severus, who - blushed?

"You've wasted a trip," he said shortly, refilling his glass from a bottle on the sideboard. This, too, was new and quite pretty, dark wood to match the coffee table, only there were tiny engravings on the corners. She leaned close enough to see that it was some sort of flower, but Severus blocked it with her body. It was enough, anyway, enough to have smug satisfaction curl through her veins. "I don't want to see her and I'm not going to. You can't make me."

"Snape, you sound like a child." She raised her eyebrows.

"I. Don't. Want. Her." He punctuated each word with a smack of his hand on the sideboard, but it didn't make them ring any less false.

"Liar," she accused, shaking the pillow she'd picked up. "Of course you want to be with her," she scoffed, rolling her eyes. "You're nesting, for heaven's sake!"

He froze, holding himself stiff. Acidly, he replied, "I am not nesting. I am cleaning. Reorganising. It has recently been pointed out to me - multiple times - that my house is a dump."

Raising her eyebrows, Hermione pointed about the room. "Clean couches, polished wood and potpourri I could accept. Throw pillows, Severus? Throw pillows?"

Severus sneered impressively, going to snatch the pillow away, but failing. "Perhaps I understand the importance of proper back support."

"This one is purple. With sequins." She turned over the pillow she held and laughed out loud. "For fuck's sake, Severus, it has a puppy on it!"

"Maybe I like dogs!" he shouted.

"You hate dogs, and we both know it. Come on, Severus. Why are you doing this to yourself?"

He succeeded in grabbing the pillow away this time and clutched it to his chest, sneering at her. "I need not answer to you, nosey cow."

"For fuck's sake, Severus - why are you doing this to yourself?"

Why? That was a good question. Severus closed his eyes, hoping to block out the world, but instead seeing her. A mass of blonde hair, lilac eyes, bent double in pain, eyes pleading with him not to leave her. He had left her, though. How could he not?

It had never been Severus' intention to fall in love the first time. Lily had just been there, constantly, and he'd not noticed what had been happening until it was too late. It had taken years to carve her out of his heart, and even then he still felt that numbing, throbbing pain when he saw her. Her scent could still send him weeping, like a child.

Lavender had been unexpected for entirely different reasons. Severus had made a habit out of self-flagellation, using his spurned love for Lily as a shield to protect him from any other. Redheads, brunettes, dark and light, he was never stirred by anyone. Then there was Lavender, which was ridiculous – she was blonde, for heaven's sake, and most of his life he could hardly stand them. Vapid, vacuous little things they were, too concerned with themselves to notice what was going on around them. And she was no different, really, when they first met. Severus should never have let himself fall in love with an idiot.

Except… she wasn't, was she? Yes, she wasn't a clever girl, but she wasn't stupid, either. Plus, she understood him in a way nobody else could – only another damaged, broken child. Severus had grown up the scorn of his father, and Lavender had grown up the bane of her mother. She understood how the unconditional love of one parent does not make up for the hatred of the other, she understood the feeling of being lesser, never meeting their standards for reasons you could not control. For all of her beauty, she got his loneliness, she'd experienced it herself. The outcast girl.

He couldn't deny that it satisfied a petty, vindictive part of him – the only part he'd thought remained, after Lily, before Lavender – to have been the one to break her heart, to reject this nymph of a girl. But the rest of him was empty, yearning for the other part of his soul. He missed her, her unexpected drop-ins, finding her on his fence, waiting to chat about nothing, about anything. She listened to him, heard him. He listened and heard her, too.

"You're a pathetic mess," Hermione was saying now, and Severus rolled his eyes. Did she not think he knew that? Did she think that it was his idea of a reasonable existence, to drown in firewhiskey? "And you're a fucking twat, too. I mean, I always knew that, but at least when you were nearing forty I could admire you for your past actions." She wrinkled her nose as she used her wand to cast a harsh scourify on him, for his sins. Her tirade didn't let up. "But you haven't done those things yet, so I don't feel bad when I tell you to get your head out of your arse."

"Excuse me?" He spluttered, rubbing his arms where her spell seemed to have peeled away the top five layers of his skin.

The devil woman raised an eyebrow. Oh, how Severus despised her. "You heard me. There's no time in war to be a dickhead about love, you know."

"The war is over," he pointed out, and she scoffed.

"Not for you, it seems." She looked pointedly around the room. "Get dressed, we're leaving. You've got a Lavender to fix."

"How does Lupin put up with you?" Severus muttered, rhetorically, though he wouldn't have gotten an answer anyway.

"Besides, it's fate. Spooky, weird werewolf magic, yes, but still Fate. I mean, it's not that I approve – because I don't, just so you know, I think she can do much better – but she loves you. Only the Gods know why, but she does."

"Couldn't they have sent the blonde one? Luna?" Severus said, louder this time. "I like her, she's not an -"

"Irritating, interfering little cow?" Hermione grinned beatifically, showing off her slightly crooked canines. Severus was hit with a flashback to the bitemark on Lupin's shoulder with those tell-tale marks, and shuddered in revulsion. "I've heard it all before." She was hard at work sifting through his living room, now, and he wanted to stop her, because it had taken weeks to get it this way, and he was fond of it, but didn't. At least it stopped her from attempting to touch him – for all of her blather, Severus knew enough about Gryffindors to know that he'd be lucky to escape today without a pity-hug.

Shaking her head, she turned back to Severus. "Well?"

"Well what?" He retorted, scowling ferociously.

"Well, are you going to shower and get dressed, or what? Lavender can't wait around for you forever, you know. She already went back in time twenty years once, I doubt she can manage it a second time just because you're being an indecisive little-"

"Yes, yes, whatever," Severus groaned, scrubbing his hands over his face. "Will you please shut your trap?"

"Nope!" She sang chirpily as she dragged him off the floor and through the house toward his bathroom. "I'm to look over you until you agree to see her, at least talk to her. And don't you even think of apparating!" With a grin, she produced his wand in her left hand. He dropped his own from where it was inching towards his pocket and stared, wide eyed.

"Now, see, the older you would know that I'm an accomplished pick pocket," she chastised, eyes dancing with mirth.

"You're a vindictive little harpy, is what you are," Severus grumbled darkly, still eyeing his wand – his own wand! In that witch's hand!

"That too! Hurry up, now, we don't have all day," and then she shoved him into the room and slammed the door behind him.

Lavender felt him, as it seemed she always had, her entire body stiffening. There was a murmuring in the crowd, even little Bill, whom she had been entertaining with a game of Gobstones, leaning around her to see what was going on. Footsteps, muffled on the grass but clear as everyone else had stopped moving, came toward her. She didn't dare look around.

"Lavender?" He's talking to me, he's talking to me! Her wolf went off on one, delighted, spinning. Her own self stayed frozen, fear swamping her. His voice wrapped around her like a blanket, but she shied away, rejection fresh. He sighed, coming around the front of her, so that she could see his shining shoes.

"Excuse me, small Weasley," he said awkwardly, and Bill scrambled up with a grin. Severus took his place.

Lavender drank in his appearance even as she tried not to. Sallow, more so than usual, and so thin his cheekbones could cut her if she tried, he was still the most welcome sight in the world, still knee-tremblingly attractive. She wanted to both crawl into his lap and snuggle up to him forever, and rail at him for leaving her to suffer this whole time.

He grimaced and pulled something from his pocket, hiding it in his hand. "I am going to apologise to you now," he said, looking at her hands where they fiddled with the stones. "Because I have been a bastard. That isn't exactly rare, I know that - but I don't often apologise for it."

His eyes flicked up, meeting hers abruptly. She found herself snared by them, reading the emotion there. Hesitance. Nerves. Fear. Fondness. Attraction. Not love, but something close, something that might evolve there, and it gave her hope wings. "I'm not very good at this," he grumbled. "Forgive me if I say something wrong. NO-" That word was a shout, accompanied by a panicked look and both hands coming up, all in response to her opening her mouth. Well, really. "Don't talk, you'll distract me."


He must have seen that on her face, for he choked out a rusty laugh. "You're beautiful. One of the most beautiful girls I've ever seen. But, God's, your face makes the most eloquent of expressions. You're mad at me.

"See, I can do this," he gave a tiny, strained smile, and she answered it, amused. "I ran away because I hate werewolves and I was scared."

Well, that statement fell like a rock in a pond. Everyone around them stared, and Severus winced. "I like you, however. I think you're… Lovely. And kind. Too kind for me."

He took a deep breath. "You are annoying and wild and so chatty I often want to gag you, but I am reserved and snappy and miserable, so we might match. Or, that is what your friends seem to think. And I would like to agree. I do not deserve your forgiveness, or your time, or you, least of all, but I hope that you will favour me with it, perhaps tomorrow evening."

Lavender cocked her head. "Are you asking me out?"

"I…" he blinked, then nodded once, uncertainly. "Yes. Oh-!" He pressed something into her hand and peered at her defiantly through a strand of black hair. "Open that, first."

Lavender stared at the box in her hand for a moment in shock, before coming back to herself and flipping it open. Later, she'd hear Hermione say that her resulting squeal had roused all of the birds from nearby trees into the air, but she didn't care. In the box was a lovely, delightfully gaudy necklace with a dainty silver paw on the end, each cushioned pad studded with dark purple gems. Without even a thought, she threw herself across the board, scattering game pieces far and wide, and practically strangled Severus with her limbs.

"This will be why she told me to give you it first, I suppose," Severus remarked dryly, his limbs closing around hers. She didn't miss the way his hands wandered possessively up her back, though.

"Did you pick it yourself?" she asked, pressing a kiss to his cheek, then, unable to help herself, continuing up his face.

"Yes," his response was muffled.

"Brilliant." Pulling back, she planted a kiss on his lips, which he showed no compunction in deepening. It continued for quite some time, actually, with their tongues twining around one another, his hand cupping her neck, her body flushing with desire. Only a clearing throat separated them, and even then it took three repetitions before Lavender realised they weren't going away. "Yes to the date," she grinned, breathlessly. "You can take me to a nice restaurant, we'll have drinks and food, I'll wear a short dress, then I'll bring you back to mine and we'll fuck, and I'll mark you, because mark my words, Severus Snape - there is no escaping me now."

He sneered in response, but she could see the delight in his eyes as he leaned in to kiss her. He needed this as much as she did. He hid it well, and everyone had scoffed, but she knew her mate - and she'd told them that he liked her!

My mate, my mate, my mate, her wolf chanted happily, bounding around her head in glee.

"One more thing," Lavender cooed, her eyes warm as Severus pulled back. He narrowed his eyes in a glare but she was unfazed. "If you think I'm moving into that blasted little bonfire of a hole you own, you're wrong, mister."

He raised an eyebrow disdainfully. "Bonfire is hardly the correct way to describe it, Lavender."

"Well, not right now," she allowed. "But it will be, because if you show any intention of forcing me to live in that hovel, in fucking Manchester of all places, I'm going to burn the fucking thing down."

"I cleaned it. Redecorated. For you."

Lavender's entire face lit up, and she hugged him even tighter. "That's so sweet of you! But I'll definitely be checking on that. Just in case."

It was a good omen for the rest of their lives that he didn't bother to argue, simply rolling his eyes and pulling her in for another kiss. She thought she heard Hermione cheering, and Ginny laughing, Luna clapping, and Lily groaning, and smiled into the embrace. They were happy, now. Everyone was happy. Even her.

Not a bad ending, really.