~Several years later ~

"I will place the Sorting Hat on your head. When it announces your house, you will take your place at that table." The tall witch, her reddish hair gone a few more shades towards gray, her hat still as crooked as ever, adjusted her square spectacles and began to read out the names on the long scroll in her hands.

"Ambrose, Stephen."

As the boy came forward, the hat was placed on his head, and the first child of this school year was sorted into Ravenclaw. Headmaster Dumbledore nodded with approval as the Ravenclaw table clapped and welcomed their newest member.

The Grand Hall of Hogwarts had changed little over the years. The only notable difference was a relatively new banner that hung among the other displays of heraldic devices and chivalric tapestries. In it, a young man with untidy black hair stood, head cast down, over a bundle of black and gray robes. A single limp hand protruded from these robes, white, taloned, and scaly. The young man bore a broken sword in one hand and, if one looked closely, his red robes were actually a set of Quidditch practice robes.

The image was known as 'The Sword of Gryffindor,' and was a reproduction of the famous snapshot taken by Colin Creevey moments after the defeat of Voldemort. The photo had been blazed across the entire front page of the Daily Prophet's special edition on the day after the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry had autographed thousands of reproductions in the years since, and the image seemed destined to join 'St. George Killing the Dragon,' at least in the annals of wizard history. One of the first prints of that photo hung in the Headmaster's office, encased in a simple and relatively cheap chrome frame. Only Albus Dumbledore and Severus Snape attached any significance to the rather ugly little square-headed nail that held it on the wall.

Standing near the back of the crowd of children who clogged the space before the Head Table, a young girl with curly black hair waited, her hands clenched in anticipation. Unfortunately, she had a long wait. Student after student went forward and were sorted, each receiving applause from their new houses, until finally Professor McGonagall read out her name.

"Snape, Elizabeth."

Just as the tattered old hat covered her ears, she caught a glimpse of her parents standing in the entrance at the back of the hall, but then she was the only person who could ever see through her father's 'do not notice' charm. As Elizabeth closed her eyes and concentrated a voice spoke, seemingly between her ears.

~Ah ha! Another Snape. So what shall I do with you?~

Over and over again, she chanted the name of her preference in her head, and the voice chuckled.

~Are you sure about this? It will cause quite a kerfluffle, you know! Very well then, it shall be~ "Hufflepuff!" shouted the hat aloud.

The Hufflepuff table applauded, along with a smattering of other students from various tables, but a round of boos arose from the Slytherin table. One boy, sitting among his third year peers, made a megaphone of his hands and booed loudly.

"Mr. Snape! That will be quite enough!"

"Oh, stuff it, Will!" retorted the younger boy, scowling up the table at his fellow Slytherin. "Just because you're Head Boy..."

"Edward Snape! Don't you make me take house points off already!" hissed back the Head Boy. William Snape's short black hair clutched at his head in greedy ringlets, which had earned him the nickname of 'greek god' since his first day at Hogwarts. His younger brother's brown locks were straighter and long enough to be tucked behind his ears, but they both had their father's prominent nose.

Across the room, a girl from Gryffindor turned to seek out an identical face at the Ravenclaw table. Athena Snape and Diana Snape exchanged a look of mutual exasperation at the stupidity of brothers before turning back to their respective comrades with matching flips of their long black braids.

"Yarmouth, Ellen" became the last Gryffindor, and Professor McGonagall took the hat and stool to the side of the room as the girl scurried to join her new house. At the head table, Professor Dumbledore, his beard turned a few more shades to white, his narrow shoulders a trifle more bony, stood and raised his hands for quiet.

"I'm tremendously glad to see you all this evening. Welcome! Welcome to the new students, and welcome back to all those who are returning. Before the feast, I have a few announcements to make.

"First, I would like to announce that the new Quiddich pitch will be completed in time for our first game. Our flying instructor, Professor Weasley, will be using the old pitch for flying lessons, rather than the courtyard as once was tradition. Mr. Filch has informed me that the statues around the courtyard have all been replaced or repaired after a rather unfortunate accident last year, and it would be lovely if they stayed that way."

The students applauded politely. At the Ravenclaw table, a pudgy second- year boy turned bright red and stared determinedly at his plate, while a Gryffindor under cover of anonymity shouted "Good job, Longbottom!"

"Second, I would like to welcome our new Potions Professor, Ms. Victoria Snape. Professor Snape has recently been awarded the title of Potions Mistress, and is, I believe, the youngest person to have ever earned that title. I am quite pleased she has decided to join our staff here."

To Dumbledore's left, a tall young woman inclined her head to acknowledge the headmaster's praise. She might have blushed, or it might have just been the heat in the room, but she certainly noticed when Ron Weasley abruptly leaned forward to get a better look down the head table at the new Potions Master. He hadn't seen Victoria since she was a bossy, knobby- kneed, fifteen-year-old trouble-maker climbing trees in Harry's back yard and arguing hotly as to why the Bristol Buccaneers were a better team than the Chudley Cannons.

She looked much different now.

Professor Snape raised a single black eyebrow at Professor Weasley. She received a cheeky grin in reply - even at the age of forty, Ron Weasley maintained a boyish charm and a devil-may-care air. She turned her attention back to the headmaster, but a toss of her head caused her cascade of black curls to flounce perhaps a bit more than it ordinarily would have.

In the entrance to the Great Hall, Severus Snape's sharp eyes did not miss the byplay. "If Ron Weasley makes so much as a move in Victoria's direction, I'm going to hex him until he'll never be able to hold anything between his legs again, let alone a broom!" he growled into his wife's ear.

"Now, Severus, you know as well as I do that Victoria does exactly as she pleases," whispered Hermione to the man who stood at her side. "If she doesn't like his attention, she'll flay him with that sharp tongue she inherited from you."

"And if she does like it?" he retorted, his tone icy.

"Well, then, she's probably inherited her mother's penchant for older men," Hermione answered with a smile before pressing a kiss to Severus' cheek above his square-cut beard. Like his hair, it was streaked here and there with silver, and the dramatic coloring suiting his craggy, aristocratic face.

"Bad enough that Elizabeth has been sorted into Hufflepuff," he groused. "The thought of Ron Weasley as a son-in-law is more than I can stomach."

"Lizzy hates to cause an argument," Hermione reminded him. "You know all of her brothers and sisters have been pressuring her since Edward was made a Slytherin." The term inter-house rivalry had reached a new definition in the Snape household with two Ravenclaws, two Slytherins, and two Gryffindors all wanting their youngest sister to be Sorted to their respective houses.

"It's just too bad that Henry couldn't be here to see his little sister sorted."

"It's his first day of school as well, Hermione. Though why he had to go to America of all places to go to university, I'll never know." Severus Snape's voice was as brutal and sarcastic as ever, but his wife merely smiled indulgently at his truculent tone. Their oldest son's choice had been received with something less than enthusiasm by his father, but the lad had his mother's stubborn streak and had finally won his father's blessing to attend the college of his choice.

Hermione Snape leaned against her husband's chest and sighed. "It's going to be so quiet in the house, now that all the children are in school. I don't know if I'll be able to stand the lack of noise."

"Hmm," Severus nuzzled his wife's ear and dropped a kiss beneath her ear. "I told you we could have outdone the Weasleys. It would have only been one more."

"Don't even start, Severus," she warned him. "An entire Quidditch team is more than enough children. You and I have put off several projects, and it's time we tackled them. There's things to be done."

"You're absolutely right," he said stoutly. "And the first thing I want to do is to make love to you in the middle of the living room floor."

"Severus!" Hermione protested, laughing weakly as he pulled her in closer and planted another kiss on the back of her neck.

"Hermione!" Severus returned in the same tone of voice, resting his forehead against the back of her head, his nose buried in the loose coil of hair gathered on the nape. "Do you realize that this is the first time in twenty-two years we've had the entire house to ourselves for more than a single weekend? If Harry and Ginny hadn't taken the kids off our hands for a while every summer, I don't think I could have maintained my sanity."

"Umm," commented Hermione thoughtfully. "Well, which should we tackle first - that trial on mermaid scales we talked about last month with Herr Doktor Hermengard, or the mystery potion from our beloved Minister of Magic ."

"Only you would call Arthur Weasley 'beloved,'" interrupted her husband snarkily.

"Arthur is beloved. That nice Auror who brought us that potion to test even said "Fudge who?" when I mentioned him."

"A fitting tribute to the late, unlamented Cornelius Fudge," Severus commented.

"You're avoiding the question." The smile in her eyes belying the growl in her voice. "Where do we start?"

"After we make love in front of the living room fireplace? I don't really care."

"Well then, what are we waiting for?" she purred, nipping at the underside of his jaw.

"Damned if I know," Severus Snape muttered, and pounced. Fortunately the children in the Great Hall were making enough noise to cover the shriek of laughter Hermione let out when he pulled her over his shoulder and proceeded to carry her, feet waving in the air, out the Entrance Hall of Hogwarts and back towards their home.

~The really, truly End~

Authors Final Notes:

I cannot express how very overwhelmed I have been by the response to my story. What began as a tiny plot bunny with exceptionally vicious fangs has turned into a full-fledged novel of more than 110,000 words. If nothing else, all the lovely comments and enthusiasm it has generated has forced me to realize that I can, actually, write.

So - I'm going to give it a try. While I do have a couple of other fanfic pieces bubbling away in my cauldron, I'm going to concentrate on writing a real, honest-to-goodness, hope I can sell it novel. I plan to continue lurking and reading, and possibly adding my two-knuts worth to the fanfic community, but most of my efforts are going to go towards something that might actually support me. (Considering my employer is a really huge corporation that has laid off more than 10,000 employees in the last year, it's not such a bad idea.)

My fondest hope is that everyone who tries their hand at writing gets the kind of support and enthusiasm I've been given. Thank you all, once again, for your cheers and constructive criticism. I'd never have made it without you.

P.S. I forgot to add this to the end of Chapter 20.

Read "The Charge of the Light Brigade" at the following web page: http://www.nationalcenter.org/ChargeoftheLightBrigade.html