Once the fire dies, once the revelers are danced out, once the mead and wine have been drunk, don't forget to congratulate yourself. Give yourself a bit of credit—you did it! You entered into communion with the gods. That's nothing to sneeze at. According to the Christian religious ethos, Yahweh is so powerful that, were you to actually behold him, you would be instantly blown into dust, consumed by his power. Our gods aren't nearly so difficult to have fun with. They want to be consumed by you.
~Chapter Twelve: The Morning After the Night Before – The Witchhiker's Guide to Beltane
"We are much too hard on ourselves. Really we are. We beat ourselves up, we ‘should’ on ourselves, we compare ourselves to others, we postpone self-love until we reach a stage of perfection that is impossibly unrealistic. We are so hard on ourselves, but how are we to know better? It’s not like there is a book that lays it all down. It's not like we downloaded perfection. We are still writing that book, writing it with the blood of lessons learned, writing it with ink that is forged in the fires of transformation. We are learning as we g(r)o(w). So let's give ourselves a break. Often. Kindly. Gently. Really. It’s a huge thing to grow beyond the parameters of our familiar ways of being. Berating ourselves won’t get us anywhere. A little self-love will go a long way."
"Oh, my, that was the best Beltane band I've ever heard. I can't remember when I've danced so much! Circe, my poor feet are going to be sore tomorrow," Pomona Sprout declared, raising one pudgy foot from the water and waving it about.
"I have a good salve for that," Hermione said, sipping her wine. She leaned back into the crook of Severus' arm and yawned. The warm water along with his equally inviting body combined to make her relaxed and a little sleepy. "And it's already tomorrow by several hours, Pommy."
"This is quite relaxing," Harry said, across the way. He was up to his neck in one of the fourth floor's hot springs. His glasses were fogged, but he didn't seem to mind.
"Too right," Ron agreed affably. He was sitting in one of the two shallower pools, with the water up to his freckled chest. "I'm beginning to understand why you enjoy working here so much, Hermione."
Severus tensed, but Hermione tried to assure him with the touch of her hand on his thigh. "Well, it's one of the perks, but not the best one by far," she replied blithely, stroking Severus' bare leg.
The dancing, drinking and overall Dionysian debauchery had carried on for several hours after the actual ceremony ended. The WWW had long since packed up their broom-cams and departed, and at three in the morning, Minerva told the revelers they didn't have to go home but they couldn't stay at Hogwarts. As soon as the last group Apparated from the castle grounds, Minerva cocked her eye to her staff and commanded, "Fourth floor. Let's all have a nice drink and a soak. Bathing costumes are mandatory. That means you, Rolly," she said, to her pouting Flying Mistress.
Severus had been strangely quiet as they joined the others. He had relaxed in the springs' soothing waters, but he seemed withdrawn and pensive as everyone performed the post-mortem of the evening. While some of it focused on the positive aspects of the ritual, it was inevitable that the primary conversation centred around Rita Skeeter's psychotic attempt to sabotage the Ministry's big moment and destroy Severus.
Harry had taken Ron, Minerva and Magister Honeyclutch's statements before contacting his fellow Aurors. "Looks like it's Azkaban for Rita," he'd said. "I also spoke briefly with her boss, what's his name? Big, sweaty bloke, looks like a Christmas pudding with legs. Smoklehouse, or something like that.
"Anyway, he didn't sound too surprised when I told him what she'd done. He said he'd been 'somewhat concerned' about her behaviour recently. Been drinking a bit, showing signs of paranoia. She had become obsessed, he said, with trying to embroil Hermione in a scandal involving Severus. Of course, he knew nothing of her intentions, whether he did or not."
"She hated me," Hermione said. "And she hated Severus. I threatened her last year with exposure if she continued to hound him." She shook her head contritely. "In a way, this is my fault."
"Pack it up, 'Mione," Ron said sympathetically. "I'm not wild about Snape meself, but I'd never try to frame him with murder! The woman was mental. I mean, this sounds like one of those Muggle detective stories with Shylock House."
"Sherlock Holmes, Ron."
"That's another thing: why are you even here, Ron?" Hermione demanded, and felt Severus tense again. "I thought you were in Europe."
Ron favoured her with a sly look. "I was supposed to be. Then I got Floo'd by our favourite dung beetle." The entire group sat in rapt fascination as Ron told them how Rita Skeeter had enlisted his aid to try and convince him Severus was going to sabotage the ceremony and harm Hermione.
"It was a completely mad idea, but sort of clever if you think about it. From what I've ascertained, apparently she waited until she was sure I wasn't paying attention, and Snape left the circle."
Harry nodded in agreement. "She used a very illegal high-lacewing-content Polyjuice. Volatile stuff, as you know. The empty vial was found in her bag. She also used some kind of charm to change her voice to sound more like Snape’s. I've never seen it; it's not a licensed spell. We're investigating it, but it looks like it has some sort of trigger that acts in tandem with the Polyjuice.
"I think her plan was for Ron to make a scene, then she could injure him and try and pin it on you, Professor. If it had all gone according to plan, she could have slipped away into the cornfield while we were all running around like headless chickens. We would have found you on your own, and your only defense would have been that you'd been knocked out by some unknown, unseen person. Priori Incantatem would have shown the spells had come from your wand. It would have been your word against everyone else's."
He grinned. "But just as she was about to kill Ron, the cavalry arrived."
"Did it ever." Hermione turned to Severus. "What do you remember?" He looked about the room uncomfortably, and Hermione instantly wished she hadn't asked. "I'm sorry; I realise it's a bit personal. You don't have to answer, Severus. I can imagine it might be something you'd rather keep to yourself."
"Well we don't!" Rolly Hooch said adamantly. In a tone best described as whining, she begged, "C'mon, Severus, we're your friends. I would have defended you, no matter what. I knew from the moment that malodorous bitch showed up dressed in that getup something wasn't right."
There were murmurs of ascent all around the pool. Severus ducked his head. "Thank you," he said quietly. "It's... it's nice to be believed in."After a moment, he continued quietly. "I remember being stunned, and waking up and seeing the Dark Mark in the sky. It was like some hideous déjà vu. The last time I saw that mark in person was the night..." he swallowed, and flicked a sharp gaze toward Harry. "The night your mother and father were killed."
Harry gave him an understanding look, but Severus still looked ashamed. "I could hear screaming and..." his voice faltered.
"Severus, it's alright," Harry said. "You don't have to go on."
"I do! I do," he said, in a crabbed and hurt voice. "My actions caused the death of your parents that night! All I could think about was that I must not allow Hermione to be hurt. She was in an enchanted sleep. No one could wake her but me, and I was trapped. My head was pounding; I couldn't concentrate enough to do wandless magic. I was useless.
"I kept thinking, 'I must make sure Hermione's safe'. It never occurred to me that Mr. Potter was in danger, or that anything else was going on, for that matter. I just had to save Hermione. If something happened to her, I couldn't live with myself. It was bad enough then; but this is the woman I—" He took a deep breath. "And then, as I struggled to free myself, I realised I wasn't alone.
"I felt this enormous pressure, as if something was squeezing into my body with me. It was like being trapped in the cupboard with Hagrid."
"Now, Perfessor, I tole ye, that was an accident!" Hagrid rumbled.
Hermione looked at Severus. He shuddered. "Don't ask."
"Don't worry," she replied, with a matching shudder. "So, you were trapped—"
"In my own body, it seems," he answered hastily, his face flushed. "It has—I have experienced a similar feeling more than once, since the night of the Consecration and Blessing."
Magister Honeyclutch nodded his head vigourously. "Of course! You told me you had received the Blessin's of Cernunnos. He would have stayed near." He seemed transported with the knowledge.
Severus frowned in concentration. "It was disturbing, like being Legilimised, but it was also exhilarating. All that power. It felt like fire in my veins. I could sense his thoughts, and I could hear and see what was going on. He was furious that Hermione had been threatened." He turned to her. "I think if you had given the word, he would have destroyed the entire grounds."
"He would, and he could," Magister Honeyclutch added, his voice serious. "Severus, I realise this is all overwhelmin', but can you tell me what it was like to commune with the Great Father?" He leaned forward, his eyes as bright and guileless as a little boy's. "After all, you shared your consciousness with Cernunnos! What was it like? Was it marvelous?"
Severus looked at the older man, and suddenly a smile as big as Cernunnos himself lit up his face. "It fucking was, actually."
The Magister clapped his hands like a child, and sat back with a satisfied air. "I knew it! Well done, my friend Severus!"
Ron shook his head. "Yeah, it was probably dead wicked, being a god and all, but it's pretty scary how close Rita came to getting away with it. It sounded pretty convincing when she was trying to set it all up."
"So what gave it away?"
"Well, she didn't have her facts straight, did she? I mean, the minute she started talking about Hermione pining away for me, I knew something was up. Hermione hasn't pined for me since our sixth year."
"Then why do you keep pestering her to marry you, Weasley?" Severus asked, his voice tinged with scorn.
To Hermione's amazement, Ron just sat back, a self-depreciating smile on his face. "Oh, I just do it for Mum's sake. She's been nagging me to settle down and get married for the past two years, but I wasn't in any hurry, was I? So every so often I'd make this big proposal, knowing full well Hermione was going to say no, and it got Mum off my back for a few more months."
Hermione sputtered, nearly choking on her wine. "You WHAT? And when were you going to tell me this? You've been embarrassing me for years with these silly proposals! What if I had said yes —"
"As if you would! I knew you were never going to marry me. We'd have driven one another barmy in a month! As long as I kept asking you, Mum was content to leave me alone. I could do whatever I wanted." He blushed. "I will admit, though, I told her if you turned me down at Christmas, I was going to stop asking. The lads were starting to rag me something rotten." He shrugged with irritating insouciance. "And to be honest, I met someone last month I actually want to marry." He smiled fondly. "And I think this time when I pop the question, the answer will be yes."
"That's—that's wonderful, Ronald," Hermione said, and in her heart she meant it. "Even though I think you’re a complete arse for dragging me into this year after year."
He smiled that lazy grin that Hermione had to admit was charming. "Aw, thanks, 'Mione. I knew you'd be happy for me. Hell, you'd be ecstatic—you won't have to constantly look over your shoulder at the next big do." He nodded at Severus. "Besides, it looks like you're doing alright here. You two kept that quiet, ay?"
"Pot, kettle, Ron. You haven't exactly kept us in the loop either. Not like you at all," Harry countered. "I'm beginning to think you're actually serious about this one. So, is it anyone we know? Care to give us a name?"
Ron gave Hermione a quick glance, then took a deep drink of wine. "David."
In the silence that followed, Hagrid said, "David, huh? Thass an unusual name fer a girl, Ron."
Rolly gave the half-giant an affectionate clap on the shoulder and helped him from the pool. "Never you mind, Rubeus. Why don't you and I give the house-elves a little holiday and head down to the kitchens? We'll bring back some sandwiches for everyone. Come on, I could use the ballast. And on the way I can tell you about the time my Aunt Dolly from Cockermouth..."
Everyone was quiet as they left. Hermione looked at her friend, and felt she ought to say something, but she knew it would probably be totally inane. Surprisingly enough, it was Severus who saved her. "I believe you were regaling us with the sordid pact Rita Skeeter attempted to make with you."
Ron shrugged modestly. "Nothing more to tell, really. As I say, she was talking utter bollocks, but something told me to go along with it. I figured if she was actually telling the truth, I was needed here, and if she was desperate enough to be up to something dodgy, I'd better come along in case there was serious trouble."
"She didn't suspect you of duplicity?"
"Nah, I played it really dumb. She thought I was an idiot."
"That shouldn't have been too difficult."
"Oy, watch it, Snape!" Ron laughed with the rest of the party. "Anyway, when I got here earlier, I snuck up to the castle to find out what was really going on. That's when I ran into Mr. Filch. He looked about as worried as I felt. Well, we started chatting, and ended up putting two and two together."
"Yes, and that reminds me," Minerva interjected, fixing her caretaker with a gimlet eye. "What exactly is your involvement in all this mess, Argus?"
Filch, who seemed to suddenly find something fascinating on the trim of his old-fashioned bathing costume, mumbled something unintelligible.
He looked fairly miserable. "I just wanted to be like Professor Snape."
Hermione looked up at her companion, who was staring at Filch in disbelief. "Why on earth would you, or anyone for that matter, want to emulate me?"
Filch ducked his head. "Well, you were a Master spy, wadncha? I know all about what you did during the war. It were heroic," he said, with great dignity.
"Rubbish," Severus replied, not unkindly. "Argus, I did what was necessary to try and atone for the mistakes I made." He gave Hermione a meaningful look. "I'm no hero, in spite of what people say. And I'm certainly no one to look up to."
"I know why you did those things, but that weren't the point," Argus continued earnestly. "I've talked to the old Headmaster's portrait a lot, and he told me how you kept all them plates spinnin' during the war. And you never let one drop, not one."
He pointed to Hermione, then to Ron, then to Harry. "These three alone coulda dropped at any time, and that woulda been the end of it. You kept them going while you spun the whole school with one hand and the Carrows with t'other. And you were so good at it no one even knew it were you doing the spinnin'."
Severus tried to interrupt but the old man was talking too fast. "And telling You-Know-Who one thing, then doin' another, and keeping the Headmaster alive, then having to—well, you did terrible things, because you had to, and great things, because you wanted to. You cared." He stopped and sighed.
"I know I'm an old fool, and a Squib, and to most of our world that means I'm no damn use to anyone." He looked from Severus to Minerva to Filius. "But you've always tried to make me feel useful, like I had a right to belong here. Well, when this Beltane mess was announced, I knew that Skeeter woman would find a way in. I didn't know how, but I knew she would, 'cause she did during that Tri-Wizard muck."
He looked apologetically at Minerva. "So I went to Rita's office and fed her a batch of cobblers about being underpaid and underappreciated and wantin' revenge. She gobbled it up. I told Professor Dumbledore m'plan, and he told me if I could keep her distracted and back-footed, I could keep her out of the way."
Minerva huffed in indignation. "That meddling old oil slick. And neither of you thought to tell me what was going on?"
"I knew you were worried about the ritual and school and all the things you have to worry about, and I didn't want to add that awful woman to your troubles. Plus she'd been so cruel to Professor Snape, and I didn't want to open that sore for him. And I knew how she felt about Professor Granger—she were vicious about her in the papers! So I decided to help, and do it in a way that no one would find out and fret over.
"I asked the house-elves to help. They love all of you so much, and when I explained m'plan they were better than good. They helped me keep m'eye on Rita. Even the Druids from Knappogue were in on it. There wasn't one moment she were in the castle grounds that me or the others didn't know where she was or what she was up ta.
"I told her the wrong dates, and sent her on wild goose chases and had her barking up the wrong tree. I kept her too busy to find out anything you were all doin'.”
Severus shook his head in wonder. "So while we've been swanning around, wearing ridiculous costumes and getting massages and pissed, you've kept Hogwarts safe with this spy network of yours."
Filch looked morose. "Some network. I failed, didn't I? Somehow or 'nuther she found out, and it almost cost young Weasley his life."
Filius patted Filch's shoulder consolingly. "Mr. Filch, that wasn't your fault. On behalf of the staff, I want to thank you. Thank you for taking such good care of us. And I mean that sincerely."
"Hear hear!" the group answered, toasting him.
Severus added, "Once this is made public, my guess is there will be a new chocolate frog card coming out sometime in the future."
Filch looked embarrassed, but shyly pleased. "Give over! They don't award chocolate frog cards for Squibs."
"No," Hermione said softly. "They award them for heroes."
Severus sighed heavily, and Argus risked at glance at him. "I never wanted to be a hero, Professor, any more than Professor Snape did. I just... wanted to act like one."
Hermione felt her heart turn into mush. She looked at Severus, who was looking at Argus with a brow furrowed in thought. Suddenly he removed his arm from around her. "Excuse me, Hermione," he said, rising from the water.
He quickly donned his robe and left the room. For a moment, everyone was silent. Argus looked as if he might cry.
Casting about for the proper thing to do or say, Hermione turned to Honeyclutch. "Magister, all things considered, was it a complete disaster?"
Honeyclutch sat back, and paddled his feet playfully in the water. "Well, I'm not the rest of the Wizarding world, my dear, but I don't think so. The purpose of the Beltane is to banish the darkness and make way for the fertile months of the year." He glanced over to a nearby table, where a large beetle roamed restlessly in a jar. Hermione had placed a Muffliato and wrapped a piece of parchment around the jar, so that Rita would not be able to hear or see anything going on around her.
"I'd say you met your objective." He tipped his head toward the door. "And he was splendid. I've only seen Cernunnos in the flesh once before," he said wistfully. "It was a special, defining moment in my career, but it wasn't a patch on what happened tonight! Think of it, dear; the great Father, come to life to protect you!"
Hermione was still for a moment. She glanced around the room. Her fellow teachers, her two best friends, all those who knew and cared for her were with her in that room. She was going to sleep soon in the arms of the man who had fought a god to try and protect her. All in all, the evening had been pretty damn special, when you put it that way.
The door opened, and Severus strode into the room. "Is everything alright, Severus?" Minerva said warily.
Severus grunted in agreement, then moved to where Filch sat, trying to look small enough to be unnoticed. Severus squatted down at the edge of the pool, and put his arm on Filch's shoulder.
"Argus, you said you didn't want to be known as a hero. Well, there is one fundamental problem with that. When you are surrounded by people like these Gryffindors, you're going to be treated like a hero whether you like it or not. Because sometimes, Argus, we get what we deserve, especially when you get caught."
Silently he retrieved a small black leather box from the pocket of his robe, and opened it. From inside, he drew out an Order of Merlin, First Class.
As one, the entire group stood where they were and raised their glasses while Severus recited the traditional words. "All those within the sound of my voice, know ye this day, that Argus Filch is hereby awarded this Order of Merlin, First Class, for his heroic efforts to thwart sabotage and attempted murder during the Ceremony of the Feast of Beltane on this, the First Day of May, in the Year 2008."
They raised their glasses and gave three huzzahs as Severus solemnly pinned the medal on Argus' swimming costume. Argus looked embarrassed but pleased. "Don't be daft, lad! It's a kind gesture and all, but you can't give away your medal."
Severus looked surprised and rather offended. "Argus, while I appreciate what you've done, I'm not nearly that philanthropic. It took almost having my throat torn out to earn my medal, and it is safely tucked away in my desk." He pointed to the badge on Filch's chest. "That is your OMFC."
Argus peered down at the engraving. "That's my name," he said, his voice hushed with surprise. He looked up at Severus with complete bafflement. "That's my name on it. Is this a joke?"
Severus slipped into the water beside Hermione and picked up his wine glass. "I've just had a Floo call with Minister Shacklebolt. He saw the broadcast, of course. When I explained the part you played in this little ceremony of ours, he asked me what I thought would be appropriate recompense.
"I reminded him that he has authority to grant the Order to whom he sees fit, and he agreed that this was a prime opportunity to exercise that authority. Your official documentation is owling its way here even as we speak." Wryly, he added, "To be perfectly frank, I think he was so glad to get rid of Rita Skeeter he would have pretty much given you anything you wanted."
Filius raised his glass. "Friends, a toast. To Argus Filch. The Hero of Beltane."
"To Argus!" the group repeated, and drank to his health.
Dawn was breaking over Hogwarts. In spite of a feeling of abject exhaustion, Severus was restless, his mind whirling. The events of the day continued to play in his mind, and he knew that once again, he'd added another string to this strange bow of his life—a thoroughly mad moment in time the likes of which he would probably never see again. It seemed to be a recurring theme for him. Wonder what it would be like to have a quiet life? he mused. Pretty damn boring, in all likelihood.
He felt a tug on his sleeve, and Hermione smiled up at him. "Too gee'd up to sleep?" At his answering nod, she asked, "Me too. How about a walk around the lake?"
They walked under a fading canopy of stars, the world around them quiet and hushed, waiting for dawn, waiting for light. The same stars that looked down on them now had looked down on the night of Cernunnos' rebirth, the night he arose to claim his own goddess.
As Severus thought of that first moment the Oak King cast his restless, urgent gaze on his consort, he realised he and the Wizarding world were fairly insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Years from now, when he and Hermione and even Hogwarts were all dust blowing through the forgotten legends of time, Cernunnos would still be there, standing in the shadows, waiting to find his love and so the world could be born again.
He wanted to share this profundity with Hermione, but he was too damn tired. They slowly made their way around the Black Lake, watching as the Squid lazily broke the surface, clocked the two professors, then sank slowly into the fathomless depths. "I'll bet he was on Argus' payroll," Severus quipped, and Hermione laughed.
"Probably. Everyone else was. It was sort of nice though, wasn't it?"
"Well, being protected, without even knowing it." She reached up and stroked the lapel of his robes. "I seem to recall another master spy with a penchant for keeping his recalcitrant charges alive in spite of themselves."
He sighed. "Not all of them. But I wanted to. I never believed that was good enough. But I'm starting to realise at the end of the day, I am only one man. I did the best I could—I do the best I can, and I have to accept that's enough."
She put her arms around him and hugged him tightly, never breaking their stride. They walked over to the fallen log that had sat by the lake as long as Severus could remember, its surface smoothed to a satiny sheen by the backsides of generations of Hogwarts students. Severus took Hermione's hand and he led her over to the end with the small indentation; it had always been his preferred spot even as a boy.
They sat in comfortable silence, listening to the world around them stirring, watching the fading stars leaving their part of the world to begin their journey through another. Gradually the tense knot between his shoulders loosened, and he stifled a yawn as his body relaxed. Severus knew himself well enough by now to know that, by the time they walked back to the castle, he'd be almost asleep on his feet.
As he was about to suggest they return, Hermione sat up and peered out over the water. "I don't believe it. There it is," she said, her voiced hushed with wonder.
"There what is?" he asked, looking around. They were on the castle side of the lake; on the far side was the Forbidden Forest. "What is the significance of this particular spot?"
"The night we met in the Head's study for the Consecration and Blessing, right before it was over, I had a-a something, I don't know. A vision, I suppose." She frowned. "It's strange, but I'd completely forgotten about it until just now."
"Go on," he urged, intrigued in spite of his weariness.
She paused for a moment to gather her thoughts. "In was dark, and the moon was very full. I was standing here, looking over the lake toward the forest, and suddenly a man appeared right over there, across the lake." She pointed to a spot where the waves of the lake had deposited stones and bits of silt, building it up to a more-or-less beach. "He was so beautiful, and I felt instantly drawn to him."
She turned to him and put her hand against his cheek. "I didn't know it then, but it was you, dressed as Cernunnos." They rolled into one another's arms. "I remember in that very moment I wanted to hear his voice more than I wanted my next breath," she whispered, her soft lips teasing his ear. His body was engulfed in a delicious shiver, and he kissed her, moaning softly at the sweetness of her mouth. He plunged in greedily, giving in to his most selfish, hungry self, trusting she'd let him know if enough was too much. She yielded like ripe fruit, taking as she gave.
"That's what I love about you, Granger," he rumbled, as he broke away from the kiss. "You trust me."
"Why wouldn't I, and what did you say?" She blinked at him owlishly. He tensed, and she pulled him back, a slow smile spreading over her face. "Uh uh. Don't you dare, Severus Snape. You said love and trust in the same breath. Give me a little credit for loving you, and trust me as well."
He knew he should, and eventually would. "As long as you give me a little time to work up to it," he admitted. "I have had... issues with trust in the past."
She gave him a wry look. "Do tell. But all things considered, I'd say your issues were justified." Her expression grew mischievous. "So we'll take it a step at a time."
She looked down at their makeshift bench, and rubbed her hand along the smooth surface. "You know, I told you about my vision, but I never told you about my fantasy."
Thoughts of dozing in front of the fire with a glass of wine vanished from Severus' mind, and he was instantly alert. She had that bright, hard gleam in her eye, the one that precluded soft whispers, wicked intentions and dirty talk. "I'm straining with anticipation," he drawled.
It came as no surprise that she was willing to tell him in great, juicy detail. They had, after all, spent the last six days doing everything but. It took an indecently short amount of time to bend her over the log and sink into that warm, tight heaven that was his lover, his love. Severus tried to take it slowly and be tender with her, but she growled in impatient frustration and pushed back against him with such strength he was almost knocked backward. "I know you can be gentle, Severus," she moaned, rotating her hips in that way that made his bollocks tingle, "and I'm sure I'll want that later, but right now I want you to fuck my brains loose!"
"If you insist," he grunted happily, grabbing her hips hard enough to leave a bruise. He pulled her back on his cock with the force of a god, and her answering cry was as sweet as any goddess'. Soon their cries of release joined the songs of the waking forest.
As he sat in sweat-soaked, muzzy-headed satisfaction, his back against the log, Granger in his arms, they watched the sun rise over Hogwarts. The early morning sky bloomed into an iridescent swirl of coral, pink and blue. "It's so beautiful," Hermione whispered, her voice hushed with awe and wonder.
"You're doing it again."
"Whispering. No one else is around."
She chuckled. "True." She sighed contentedly. "This is what it's about, though. The dark circle, growing warm by the fire; Cernunnos returning to his goddess. This is what we represented, you know. Darkness before the new dawn."
Severus bundled her closer; the temperature had dropped. "Perhaps this is what he felt, the first time he saw his goddess waiting for his kiss to bring her to life."
"You're very eloquent for this time in the morning."
"Just wait until I've had my coffee."
Several tranquil moments passed. "Sev'rus?" Hermione called sleepily. He made an acknowledging sound, somewhere between a hum and a snore.
She turned and looked up at him. "Will you marry me?"
He stared at her for a moment, searching her face for any sign of mockery, but it was just a knee-jerk reaction. He knew better; Granger wouldn't mock about something like that.
"I suppose someone has to," he said finally, and she relaxed against his chest. "But if Weasley tries to use our wedding as a high-profile opportunity to propose again, I really will have to hex him."
She laughed out loud, and he pulled her close, feeling very pleased with himself.
And so there we are, my friends. You have lit the Beltane fire, you have welcomed the god and the goddess, you have danced and loved and blessed your community. Does that mean a perfect harvest? Does it mean that you won't have any problems, drop your toast marmalade side up or not fear the darkness anymore? I should Coco.
Who can say what will happen? The earth is a fickle mother, and the god and goddess are like their counterparts all over the planet –bloody minded and indifferent to our petty little life squabbles. You never know what they're going to do, and if you don't like it, hard cheese. So why do we do it? Why do we reenact this ritual every year, not knowing what results will follow?
We do it because the gods need us to love them in order to exist. And if they exist, so do we. It's that old circle within a circle within a circle. The Beltane ritual, any ritual, for that matter, reminds us that we don't have any control over the gods, and knowing that, we can face anything they throw at us. Blessed Be!
Epilogue: Surviving The Morning After and Beyond—The Witchhiker's Guide to Beltane
"Never blame anyone in your life. The good people give you happiness. The bad people give you experience. The worst people give you a lesson. The best people give you memories. "
Everyone deserves someone who makes them look forward to tomorrow.
Magister Honeyclutch's yellow robes were almost too bright to look at, Minerva thought. They made her eyes water, but the man conducted an excellent handfasting. She looked on approvingly as he addressed the assembled staff, colleagues, house-elves, families and friends of Hermione Granger and Severus Snape, and beamed his jolly great smile.
The bride was resplendent in a light, diaphanous robe of coral, with flowers in her long honey-coloured hair. Her groom was in a severely tailored robe of darkest green, trimmed in sable fur. Matching velvet green buttons marched down the front of the robes from throat to ankle, and his long black hair gleamed half-way down his back like the sleek sable at his wrists.
The service was nearing an end, and Minerva noted approvingly that her staff were doing their part—as members of Severus’ and Hermione's Coven, they had already been charged with providing support and care to the couple. Pomona and Hooch were standing close to one another, their own little support group.
Sentimental Hagrid and Poppy kept one another's hankies near, and Filius, dear Filius, stalwart as always, stood by her side. She thought back to their plans for Beltane, and smiled. It had been fun; strange, and dangerous, but fun. Typical Hogwarts, really.
And Severus and Hermione. All it had taken was a little quality time together. Well, that, and Hermione's steadfast belief that one could learn anything from a book. Honestly, who ever heard of a Beltane ritual that involved the High Priest and Priestess bathing and kissing one another in private?
Minerva smiled down at Filius. "Well done, Mr. Sebelius."
He grinned. "And you, Mr. Slunt."
As Cornelius wound the traditional silken cords around the clasped hands of the wedding couple, he said warmly, "And so my friends, as you go forth into your new lives as husband and wife, here a few things to remember:
"Love, but not as a need—as a sharing. Love, but don't expect—give. Love, but remember your love should not become an imprisonment for the other.
"Love, but be very careful; you are moving on sacred ground. You are going into the highest, the purest and holiest temple. Be alert! Drop all impurities outside the temple.
"Severus, never love Hermione as a mere woman. Hermione, never Severus as a mere man; if you do, your love is going to be very, very ordinary; your love is not going to soar very high.
But if you love one another as Cernunnos loved his Queen, then love becomes worship. Now, Severus, I hope you don't mind, but your hands are occupied and your lovely lady wife is tearin' up."
Everyone laughed, including Hermione, as Honeyclutch conjured a huge yellow silk handkerchief and blotted the tear that escaped down her cheek. "Sentimental Gryffindors," Severus muttered, but a blind man could have seen the affection and happiness in his harsh face. "Those better be tears of happiness."
Hermione sniffed, then murmured, "No offence, Magister, but if you don't hurry up and finish this, I'm going to go spare. We've spent two nights apart, and if I don't get my honeymoon shag soon, Severus will think I don't love him anymore."
It was worth it to see Severus' face flush that alarming shade of red. Instead of losing his rag, he merely shrugged with authentic Slytherin resignation. "You heard the witch, Magister. Please finish this Handfasting before my dear wife loses what little propriety she possesses and ravishes me in public."
"Certainly, friend Severus!" Honeyclutch exclaimed, hugging himself with joy. "Now, by the gods and goddess, I declare you joined on this day, to spend your lives in true lovin' harmony. Passion, fire, tenderness, joy, sorrow, loss and riches will ye bear, but if they be borne with love, you will be forever blessed. So mote it be!"
The guests shouted in agreement, "So mote it be!"
The Magister opened his arms, and exclaimed, "Friends, I give you Hermione and Severus Granger!"
The crowd cheered as the couple jumped over the broom, and later as the toasts were drunk and the congratulations meted, Hermione looked up to see Ron heading her way with a handsome man in tow. They were holding hands.
"Congratulations, Mr. and Mrs. Granger!" he exclaimed, shaking Severus' hand. "You could have knocked me over with a feather when I heard you were adopting Hermione's name, though. I don't think I'll ever break the habit of thinking of you as Snape."
"I shall consider the source, and tolerate it accordingly, Mr. Weasley," Severus replied dryly. He glanced at Hermione fondly. "We decided that perhaps Granger-Snape was too pretentious, and since I have never held any regard for my surname, Granger it is."
"No, it's good. It suits you," Ron answered, looking from one to the other. "I think you two make really good sense, in a scary sort of way." He turned to his companion. "Speaking of making sense, I'd like you to meet David Holdsworth, my partner. David, meet Hermione and Severus."
They shook hands with the dashing young man, and Hermione looked from him to Ron in affectionate amusement. "It's lovely to meet you, David. Now I don't have to avoid Ron at every major do anymore." She smiled at her old friend. "How's your mum?"
Ron grinned. "She took the news very well. Hell's she's just thrilled I'm settling down."
David added pleasantly, "She was very nice. Said I needed fattening up; she's been feeding me ever since I arrived at the Burrow."
While the two couples were talking, Harry and Ginny joined them. The sextet were chatting when suddenly they were accosted by a young woman in flashy robes of mind-bending orange. A riot of flouncing brunette curls all but overwhelmed her small head. "What a shot! The Golden Trio, plus spouses! Jules, try to get all of them in the photo!" she squealed, in a grating American accent. As the flash powder burst in their faces, the young woman stuck her hand out to no one in particular and announced confidently, "Hi! I'm Veronica Moniker, reporter for the Daily Prophet!"
She gave them all a smarmy little shrug, squinting her eyes in what was supposed to be friendly confidentiality. "Who da thunk it? My first assignment for the Prophet, and it's the wedding of the year! Now, friends, what do we think of—oh, MERLIN’S BALLBAG!"
With a wild look in her eye, she drew her wand and aimed directly for Severus' shoulder. "Take that, you little bastard!"
Everyone dove for the ground, as she sent a zapping spell into the air. "Damn! Missed again!" She narrowly missed clipping Ron's ear as she sent another zapper into the air.
"What the—are you mental?" Ron barked.
"No! I'm trying to get that damn bug! Hold still, you little pest!"
"What is the meaning of this?" Severus roared, placing himself between the lunatic and Hermione. "How dare you show up here and attack us? I'll have you arrested, you idiot woman!"
Veronica Moniker straightened and re-ordered her mop of curls. She seemed incredibly unfazed by Severus' threat, especially in light of her previous behaviour. "I'm very sorry, Mr. Granger, but I swear, I would never have come to England if I'd known it was so infested with beetles. They're everywhere, and they give me the heebie jeebies!"
She rolled her eyes as she tossed her hair for emphasis. "I was promised the nicest office at the Prophet, and they've had the exterminators in twice. They still can't get rid of them! I swear I hear them buzzing around my head in my sleep!" Suddenly, she brightened. "Oh, there's the Minister of Magic. I've been dying to introduce myself." She took off after Kingsley Shacklebolt at a run, waving at them over her shoulder. "Excuse me, folks. Oh, by the way, Congratulations. We'll talk soon!"She blew a kiss to the entire group, then dashed away in earnest, her long-suffering photographer Jules in tow.
The six of them looked at one another in bafflement. "So that's Rita Skeeter's replacement. Well, it looks like the Daily Prophet has really upped their game," Ginny said breezily, rolling her eyes.
"She was rather... excitable," Harry muttered. "I never actually saw what she was firing at, to be honest."
"Neither did I," Severus added. They looked at one another with dawning apprehension.
"You don't think...?" Ron asked, uneasily.
"Nah, couldn't be," Harry said quickly, glancing around. "There's no escaping Azkaban. Besides, where could she go?"
"Good point," Severus agreed.
The silence stretched. "Perhaps an insect-repelling charm wouldn't go amiss," said Hermione.
"I'll contact Azkaban," Harry said bleakly.
Now our time together is at an end. And ere ye depart to your pleasant and lovely realms, we do thank you for attending our rites. Until we meet in this circle again, we bid you hail and farewell...
Hail and farewell.
A Glossary of Terms Used in The Witchhiker's Guide to Beltane, as compiled by Sebelius Slunt
Altar - An area or surface built or designed exclusively for magickal or religious workings and ritual.
Amulet - A natural object, often of stone or fossil used as a protection device to the holder.
Athame - (AH-tha-may) The ritual knife often associated with the element of air and the direction of east, thought some traditions attribute it to fire and the south. The handle is traditionally black or of natural wood.
Balefire - A synonymous word of 'Bonfire', a balefire is a communal bonfire of the sabbats, most notably used at Beltane, Litha and Lughnassadh.
Bane - A negative force or energy. Another word for bad, negative, or in opposition.
Banish - The removal of negative energy or force. To rid the presence of unwanted entities.
Bealtaine - (Bee-Al-tin-aye) The old Irish word for 'Beltain'.
Beltain - (Bell-tain) A grand sabbat also known as Walpurgis night, May eve, Roodmas, celebrates the symbolic union and mating of the goddess and the god. Often celebrated April 30 or May 1, the true occurrence is more often May 5-7th. A time of fertility and growth. A very important day to most Pagan paths.
Besom - (Beh-som) A witch's broom used to sweep a sacred area and in effect, purify the sacred space. Legend comes from early fertility rites where besoms were 'ridden' over crops to enhance the coming bounty.
Bind - Restraining one's self or someone, using magick.
Bolline - (Bowl-in) A curved knife, often white hilted, used for the magickal gathering of herbs and other natural reagents. Whereas the athame is a religious knife, the bolline is its practical working sister.
Cauldron - Often replaced by the cup or chalice in ritual, this tool is used for making brews or magickal potions. It symbolizes the womb of the Goddess.
Chalice - A ritual tool used in libation, this feminine principle tool represents the element water and the west.
Chakra - One of the seven major energy centers in the human body. These are at the third eye, head, throat, chest, navel, abdomen and groin.
Circle - Sacred space where all magickal rituals and workings are performed. The circle not only protects the practitioner from outside energies but contains the working energies within.
Consecration - Blessing an object (usually a ritual tool) to purify it and empowering it with positive energy.
Coven - (Kuhv-en) A group of witches who work and rite together utilizing the greater empowerment of the sum of its members, as opposed to the power of those members added individually. Containing both male and female members, traditionally a coven has 13 members but may contain any number of members.
Dedication - The acceptance of the craft (of any way), as one's path and religion, followed by intense study to gain the necessary knowledge and preparation to be adept at this tradition.
Deosil - (Jesh-il) The working act usually in ritual or song of moving or dancing in a clockwise motion. This is used for positive works and is also known as "Sunwise".
Dowsing - A divination method using a pendulum or stick to answer questions similar to the popular "Ouija" board. Some forms of this include water finding where a dowser uses a forked stick or the like to find water underground.
Drawing down the moon - Used primarily during an esbat to draw down the powers of the moon into a female witch. Very powerful when a sabbat and esbat conjuct.
Drawing down the sun - Used to draw down the powers of the sun into a wizard. Very powerful on the Equinoxes and Solstices.
Element - The primary elements are earth, air, fire, water and spirit. Each of these 5 represents a point on
the pentagram. The elements and their directions are extremely important in Pagan ritual.
Esbat - (Es-bat) From the french word esbattre, meaning to frolic, the esbat is the powerful ritual time of the full moon. There are 13 esbats in a year, all known by moon names.
Evocation - The act of summoning the presence of spirits, dieties or elementals to your sacred space.
God - The aspect of a masculine deity.
Goddess - The aspect of a feminine deity.
Handfasting - A Pagan or Wiccan marriage ceremony which traditionally takes place at a specified period of time depending on one's tradition.
Initiation - The transformation of one's ideals and values into the ideals and values of a particular path. Please note one can be in dedication but is not yet initiated whilst an initiated is always in dedication.
Invocation - The drawing of an aspect of a deity into one's self using magickal ritual.
Mabon - (May-bun) The Pagan Thanksgiving, or second harvest. Mabon falls on the autumnal equinox, when the light of the year shifts toward darkness. It is a traditional time for feasting.
Magick - Aleister Crowley said it best: "Magick is the science and art of causing change to occur in conformity to will."
Pagan - (Pay-gun) One who follows or practices an earth-based or nature religion.
Pagan Rede - Summed up as "An ye harm none, do what thou will".
Ritual - A mental ceremony using a prescribed set of rites and tools to perform magickal acts or workings.
Sabbat - (Sabb-at) One of the days of Power. These are comprised of the eight solar festivals that celebrate the wheel of the year.
Skyclad - Nudity in ritual is said to be done "skyclad".
Spell - A specific ritual designed to change one condition or thing. Also known as spinning, weaving, casting and spellcraft.
Talisman - An object empowered to protect its wearer. Note this differs from the amulet as it is empowered, not naturally protective as is the amulet.
Triple Goddess - The 3 aspects of the mother goddess in one, maiden, mother and crone. A symbol widely found throughout the civilized world. The representation of the triple goddess is the waxing, full and waning moon.
Wheel of the Year - The never ending seasonal shift throughout the 8 sabbats or days of power. In Pagan mythos, the goddess turns the wheel bringing everything to season.
Widdershins - (Widd-er-shins) The working act usually in ritual or song of moving or dancing in a counter-clockwise motion. This is used for banishing or negative works. This is the opposite of deosil.