Until We Meet Again
"Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything."
C.S. Lewis - A Grief Observed
Severus exercised caution, despite his excitement, as he unfolded the parchment and small bag from the leg of the dark, medium-sized, predatory bird that gripped the back of the kitchen chair. He'd passed nearly a week of miserable days awaiting a note from Hermione. Sitting in his home, alone, miserable and dwelling on her absence was not 'holing himself away' precisely, he reasoned, and therefore, he was not breaking his promise to her...exactly. And now his hope was renewed with the arrival of the fierce-looking bird. Deciding that he would like to keep his fingers, Severus offered the hawk-like creature meat by plate instead of by hand, then hastily sat in a nearby chair, unrolled the scroll and began to read.
"July 10, 1999
I miss you terribly. In effort to cope, I've jumped in headlong. Staying busy has lessened my anxiety and kept me somewhat functional. I hope that you're doing well and that Crookshanks is taking good care of you. It's everything I can do to stay here and not come check on you...and curl into your arms. Unfortunately that wish is only gratified in my pleasant dreams for now. I love you and I miss you, and only remembrance of why I took this on in the first place keeps me on course. Accordingly, I am endeavoring to make the most of it – which is relatively easy to do. It would take someone more broken than me to not be fascinated by the foreign and wonderful things that surround.
The magnificent kite who brought you my letter and gifts is named Teju. It's an Indian word that means 'pleasant,' and that is what he is. I've no doubt he could use his deadly-looking talons and beak to perilous effect if he were threatened, but he's incredibly sweet and gentle otherwise, and actually loves to have his feathers stroked. He leans into it and looks as if he'd be purring if he were a cat. I got him here in Delhi, and the shopkeeper explained that he's hardy enough for long-distance trips, though he should rest 2-3 days between long trips, depending on the distance."
Severus looked up and saw Crookshanks and Teju checking each other out. He almost jumped up to forestall catastrophe until Crookshanks stretched and leaned against the bird and the fierce looking thing leaned back. Severus snorted. He supposed he should be thankful that Hermione's penchant for...exceptional pets didn't descend to Hagrid's level. Severus had grudgingly taken on Hermione's ugly half-kneazle cat when she departed. They were both grumpy at being left behind by their favorite witch and displayed their irritation freely with each other. Despite this, the beast frequently insisted on sitting in his lap. The look on his face read: 'I'm not happy with you right now, but my mistress instructed me to keep you company, and so I shall. Just try and stop me.' They were getting used to each other, but neither found the other an acceptable substitute.
When he was satisfied that Hermione's pets wouldn't maim or kill each other, Severus returned to the letter.
"I wish you were with me and could see the things I've seen. I've spent several days diving into both the Muggle and Wizarding culture here and am excited to continue doing so for the next few days. Unfortunately, I am coming to think the Wizard's integration with sentient magical creatures is somewhat reflective of the caste system in this country. I'll be spending more time with them in the next few days and will find out then if my initial impressions are correct.
The Ministry members and magical community have been warm and kind for the most part, though attempting to hold a logical discussion that even approaches a philosophical issue can be quite trying. I never realized that the obvious assumption that two things which are contradictory cannot both be true at the same time was not a universal one. The 'everything goes and is equally true' philosophy is baffling to me and makes no sense. I'm sure that, logical as you are, you would find it the same. I suppose, in some ways, that explains their inconceivable number of deities.
There's been a bit of difficulty finding common ground in that sense, but the discussions have otherwise been productive and good. There is staggering poverty in the streets and an undercurrent of dark mystery and intrigue, but mostly I've noticed that it's colorful and vibrant. The food is rich and flavorful, and I love the music. When they sing and dance it is with joy and without reserve. I wonder if it would tempt you to join in as well?
One of the most wonderful things has been the virtual anonymity in comparison. They are aware of our war, but only vaguely, in most cases, and though I frequently have to field questions, I face almost no personal assumptions, merely national ones. I can walk virtually unrecognized wherever I go. If it weren't for the discomfiting questions and the issues that drive my research I could almost consider this a holiday.
About the gifts...I have included letters and gifts for you, the boys, the Weasleys and some of the staff. They're in the bag that Teju brought, if you would be kind enough to dispense them for me. You'll find labels on everything. I hope you like the box I sent. It is for the letters I promise to send and fill it with. I got one just like it and hope you send enough to fill mine in return. Send Teju back in a couple of days with a return letter and the bag. I'm anxious to hear from you.
I tried the picture frame a couple of times, but you weren't there. The shifting time differences will make it a bit difficult to set up a schedule, I suppose. Maybe we can work it out for once a week? Will next Tuesday, 6 pm, your time work?
Be well, Severus. If you are well, I can go on. I love you.
Severus traced his fingers around the words, 'I love you,' for a moment and set the letter aside. He opened the black, velvet drawstring pouch, looked inside and smiled to himself. It was another one of her weightless, undetectable extension charm bags.
Among the letters and gifts he retrieved from the bag was the dark, ornately carved box that she'd sent him. There was a note attached to it.
"'Tenn' enomentielva' It's Tolkien elvish for 'until we meet again.' Fairly safe from guesswork, don't you think? H"
Severus tapped the box lightly with his wand and said the password. It opened with a quiet click. After re-reading the letter she'd sent a few times, he placed it in the green-silk lined box and closed the lid. He felt both better and worse, but overall better, he thought…maybe.
Whatever Hermione had said, the hours kissing her and holding her the night before her departure had made it harder to let her go, just as he'd known it would. It had burned her deeper into his soul and conscience and made the ripping away all the more injurious. At the time, he'd been powerless to look into her soft brown eyes and deny her request - it was what he'd wanted most in that moment anyhow - but he'd been paying the price for it since. She plagued his dreams and his thoughts, and though her letter brought back his longing, it also brought an air of her presence which calmed him. The words weren't nearly enough, however. Her absence was still everywhere he looked.
Her letter did give him impetus to get up and do something with himself. He didn't want to be left in the position of having nothing to tell her save, 'I've done nothing except sit in my chair and miss you.' Nor did he want to give anyone else opening to report the same.
The day Severus received her first letter was the day he returned to Grimmauld Place and threw himself into the continuing renovations. As a bonus, the physical exertion gave him perspective; when he was busy, he didn't feel quite so abandoned and crippled. Also, he could collapse into his bed and fall to sleep while his thoughts of Hermione were pleasant and not tortuous.
Admittedly, his thoughts and moods concerning her swung up and down according to when she'd last sent a letter. He was glad that she was a good correspondent and endeavored to keep up lest her missives slowed.
About once a week they indulged in talking face to face via charmed 7S picture frames, but it was hard to see and not hold. Longing led to sad silences, and it was harder to pretend well-being with visual evidence to the contrary writ on one another's faces.
With the letters it was easier to pull off a normal tone. It was like having one of their usual debate-laden conversations, except on a bit of delay, plus hearing about all the admittedly interesting things she was seeing and learning. Her writing was vivid and descriptive; he could almost see and hear the way she looked as she 'talked' on the page.
Hermione's worldwide travels included not only visitation of foreign Wizarding culture but Muggle culture and sentient Magical creatures as well. As she went about solidifying and laying international ties, Hermione was getting quite the survey of ideologies, worldviews, international politics, and integration methodologies. Somehow, she even worked in undergraduate studies in Muggle statistics in the midst of it all. Severus found her comments and observations entertaining and thought provoking.
Kingsley obliged Severus by filling him in on the details of Hermione's travel plans and security measures and allowing input. He also shared him the ever-growing mound of preliminary reports that Hermione regularly sent back.
Severus snorted. "I warned you, did I not?"
Kingsley grunted. "You didn't lie."
Despite his amusement, Severus did take mercy and offer his assistance in going through the reports. He much preferred the letters she sent, however.
The only thing that was a downside to her letters, though it wasn't really a downside, were the nearly unanswerable questions she posed him. The more she traveled, the more her thoughts and queries tended toward the philosophical. It's not that it wasn't interesting and thought provoking, because it was, but it sometimes necessitated more introspective thought than he was comfortable with, and he didn't exactly retain the upper hand in the debates. This was a novel predicament with anyone save Dumbledore, in which case unfavorable ground had mostly arisen from secrecy and lack of information. Never before had it occurred with a peer or former student. It made Severus feel as though he were standing on sketchy ground, which wasn't exactly comfortable.
In December, she wrote from the States.
"I've not really thought about this before my travels, but how do you view truth?' she asked. "As fixed and absolute or as variable, different for each person?"
There is less segregation of the Wizarding world according to blood status, and more integration with Muggle culture and technology here. (I suppose they gave up the idea of aristocracy a long time ago.) It really is a mixing pot, both among the Muggles and the Wizard-kind. Wiccan practice if observed (non-magically) by Muggles and influences what is called New-Age culture.
I don't think we realize in Wizard Britain (or even secular Muggle Britain) how influenced we are by the Judeo-Christian worldview - practicing or not. (Did you know that Ariana Dumbledore's epitaph comes from Matthew 6:21, and the Potters' from 1 Corinthians 15:26?) Much in Western culture is influenced by certain assumptions inherent in that worldview – things like reality is observable and knowable, truth is absolute, and the laws of nature are fixed. Wizards detect and manipulate things according to laws that Muggles have no awareness of – and though magic effects more than we fully understand, even we operate with the understanding that every effect has a cause. Not so in Eastern culture, which is making inroads here. The idea that my truth is my truth and yours is yours is putting down roots.
What do you think? Is truth absolute? If not, how do we operate without a measuring stick? If so, where does it come from?"
Severus thought long and hard about that one. In the end, he agreed with Hermione that truth must be absolute, otherwise it required you to make a claim that there was no absolute truth – to say in essence, 'It's absolutely true that there's no absolute truth,' which made no sense. He had no answer for 'where does it come from?' however.
Severus shared the debates with Kingsley during their weekly meetings, and more than once the man said, "Glad she doesn't put all of that in her reports."
Severus saw the boys less frequently, but when he did see them, Harry took to asking what the question of the week was.
Hermione's questions kept his mind busy, but not busy enough. Neither did school duties, nor the cat, nor anything else. At all times he was aware of what had almost been within his grasp. It made it easy to maintain his formidable persona.
Severus declined the invitation to the Burrow for Christmas dinner. Hermione was disappointed when he declined an invitation to spend the holidays with her and her parents in Australia, but she seemed to understand, without him having to say so, that it would be worse it he saw her and had to let her go again. And so, Severus spent Christmas alone, at Hogwarts. He didn't listen to any Christmas music, he didn't indulge in infantile snow fights, he didn't go down to visit Hagrid. He did remember that he didn't like the holiday.
Fifteen days after Christmas, he was subjected to an unwelcome attempt at a party – for him. It was one more way he discovered how much difference Hermione's presence made in his life last year. She'd made things tolerable and even welcome that were otherwise the opposite. It was not a happy birthday revelation. His letter to Hermione brimmed with his displeasure.
"January 9, 2000
If you think I cannot detect your manipulative hand in certain events, you are very much mistaken. Desist, witch, or I shall skin your cat.
P.S. Enjoy New Zealand"
While her return letter was much lengthier, it did include this response:
"I do believe that was the shortest letter you've ever sent. You must really be peeved at me.
Just so you know, you credit me too much for said event. I'll not apologize for my small hand in it. (See, I am getting better and am not afraid to argue with you and stand up for myself.) It saddens me to think that you found no pleasure in the small company of those who genuinely care for you and wish you well. Did you make no effort to accept the regard of your friends – and yes, they are your friends? You are worth the love and regard of those who know and respect you, and I have it on good authority that there was no attempt to put you in a broad spotlight. Therefore, I will dare to say this. Unless you make a better effort, I shall not desist, I shall redouble my efforts. If that does not motivate you, please consider that I took on this tour to prevent you from being put in the position of bearing the sole burden of my well-being. Make the most of life, Severus, and refrain from placing me in a reverse role.
I miss you. Please don't be angry at me.
Please don't skin my cat."
Severus sighed at that. He'd lost track of the score, but once more, the point went to Hermione. At least she never rubbed it in.
Severus began to get more involved in his plans and agendas as time went on. One of the only good things about having their world shaken up and nearly destroyed was that however traditional and un-accepting of change Wizarding Britain was, change was now easier to affect. Ancient Wizard knowledge and traditions had been guarded by the purebloods of their world, and though most of those remained convinced of their superiority, even they could see the necessity of sharing instead of hoarding that which they valued lest it be lost forever. Also, so many of them had crossed the line into atrocities that caused an outcry against them, so many had died, been imprisoned and been fined, that their monetary and political power was much subdued.
Many of the purebloods that remained were glad to be free of the monster that Riddle had revealed himself to be, and glad that however decimated, they were able, once more, to self-govern their lives and their properties. There was no shortage of those who hated him, called him traitor, and blamed them for their losses, but as Severus labored to restore dignity to his House and to preserve the wealth of knowledge and tradition they guarded, he gained more acceptance and cooperation here as well.
When the one year mark rolled around, it wasn't that Hermione's absence was more tolerable so much as Severus was no longer grasping at her like an impoverished child hoarding the only toy he'd ever had, nor driving all else away like a snarling, starving dog with a bone to guard. She too was changing and growing into herself, Severus was glad that Hermione continued to give him assurances that he remained sure in her love as she transitioned, and glad to see evidence of her healthier state. Even if it made her more ready to voice argument – more sure and formidable in debate.
The ongoing debate of the second year revolved around a topic that they had touched on the night before she left England. Severus had meant it figuratively when he said that her love for him was evidence of a deity smiling down on him. But in her travels, comparing, and searching, Hermione continued to consider the idea seriously. Apparently this was driven by how the war had turned out, improbably, in their favor.
"I've run the arithmancy," she wrote. "There were so many things that could've gone wrong – things that if even minutely different or changed from the one out of a hundred variable outcomes, would have spelled disaster. Albus Dumbledore was a great man, and so are you, but even both of you together are not that great. Even the mistakes came to rights. Statistically, it's nearly impossible that it all came about without someone much more powerful, omniscient and omnipresent than you Albus Dumbledore combined – by the magnitude of millions. Is it more logical to place faith in blind chance or in that which probability points to?"
Severus argued that too many bad things existed and had happened in this world for him to seriously consider that there was some benevolent being watching over it all.
Hermione rebutted by pointing out that if there is bad, then there is good, and if there are both, then there is a basis upon which to differentiate between the two, and that basis was a moral code that was universal to mankind, and the existence of a universal moral law implied and author. Therefore, Hermione surmised, the existence of bad/evil was a poor argument against a supreme being.
That set him to thinking about the specifics of conscience. Severus initially didn't think concede the kind of basic moral law she described, but she had plenty of examples from different cultures around the globe to back up her claim.
When he asked her where Riddle and various Death Eaters fell in this scheme, she asked if he thought it true that your conscience could be damaged to the extent that you ignored it. Severus had to look no farther than his own past to acknowledge this. His desire for power and importance had outstripped his conscience, and only the threat against Lily had awoken it within him again. He'd witnessed, time and again, the process of moral decay amongst his Death Eater brethren. The first step was buying into the re-definitions and rhetoric. Once you bought that, it was easier to ignore the value of human life, and once you'd devalued life, it was a progression of steps to becoming a heartless monster who reveled in death. After much thought and debate, Severus accepted her supposition of a universal moral law.
Then had come the harder questions, "Who wrote the moral code and planted it in within us? What's the logical explanation for conscience and consciousness - where do they come from?"
Debating Hermione was not an easy undertaking. While Severus fully appreciated the fact that Hermione was no dunderhead, by the time the second year mark approached he'd come to the conclusion that a life with Hermione would never be short of unending questions and uncertain ground. He wasn't quite sure if he loved her in part because of it or in spite of it, but he knew he'd take it all, and he was ready for her to come home.
Severus made himself wait until June before he began to count down the days.