Anti-Litigation Charm: I do not own these characters, nor do I make any money from them, nor do I own any stock in the manufacture, promotion or distribution of Murtlap Essence.

A Severus Snape-shaped bar of dark chocolate to the world's greatest beta, stgulik, who is the Queen of Awesome. Thank you, Jules. I literally cannot do this without you.

And a huge thanks to the TPP readers, who have been so lovely and kind in your comments about this story.

As always, for DahlraMuse, who woke me one morning with the full story in my head and wouldn't let me rest until I'd typed it out...

For the long nights you lay awake
And watched for my unworthy sake:
For your most comfortable hand
That led me through the uneven land:

My second Mother, my first Wife,
The angel of my infant life-
From the sick child, now well and old,
Take, nurse, the little book you hold!

And grant it, Heaven, that all who read
May find as dear a nurse at need,
And every child who lists my rhyme,
In the bright, fireside, nursery clime,
May hear it in as kind a voice
As made my childish days rejoice!

To Alison Cunningham, From Her Boy, A Child's Garden of Verses, RL Stevenson

Two black heads rested at her breast, and Hermione shivered with the unspeakable pleasure of feeling the two mouths at her nipples. She kissed the downy black widow's peak of her month-old son, who tugged at her teat just as greedily as his father, nestled at her other breast. Her arms encircled both father and son tenderly, and Hermione smiled that she now had two babies, and not just the one she called husband.

Severus knew he was a lucky man, and he could live with that. He knew others whispered that she was too good for him, but he honestly didn't give a fuck. As Hermione was so often fond of saying, Severus Snape didn't give a fuck better than anyone else she knew.

He meant it when he told Minerva he loved Hermione. He had learned to live again because of her; she had been the one to bring him back to life and given it purpose when he was convinced there was no point in living. She challenged him, respected and adored him. He had been waiting all his life for her; he just hadn't known it until she told him so.

He felt the stirrings of his body each and every time she touched him. Even when she became pregnant, he was insatiable. Especially so, with her irresistible breasts so ripe and lush. Drinking her mother's milk for the first time had been the most erotic moment of his life, and as he so often said, considering their marriage, that was quite a boast. When she nursed, he would watch the bluish-hued milk oozing from her tender and bursting nipples, and salivate.

Ten years after Hermione Granger returned to Hogwarts to finish her education and to kick start Severus Snape back amongst the living, the two of them still burned like fiendfyre for one another. It often amazed Hermione, watching her husband as he stalked his way through his day as the newly-reinstated Headmaster, all bustling, kinetic energy and imposing, benevolent tyranny, that he was hers. He was a good father, which surprised no one but himself, and at fifty, he was, in Hermione's opinion, a sexy beast.

He still held the ability to reduce her to a sodden mess of a witch with a passing caress of his fingertips against hers as he strode by. If they were going in opposite directions, he would flick his dark eyes to hers, and flare his nostrils. That was usually enough to make her wobbly enough to dash to his study during her free hour and bend over his desk. "You really are the horniest little tart I've ever encountered," he would purr affectionately, obligingly opening his trousers. "I have to take Strengthening Potions now, you know," he added, thrusting hard, a satisfied sneer on his face.

Of course she knew. As Hogwarts' Potions mistress, she brewed them.

She often wondered what the rest of the faculty would say if they knew what he did to her beneath the tablecloth during dinner in the Great Hall. Probably the same thing they'd think if they knew the depraved acts they performed behind the velvet curtains of the massive Headmaster's bed. Or in his study. Or on top of the Astronomy Tower...

The little black-haired girl was their third (and last - Hermione and Severus were both adamant about that), and the one who resembled him most. Hermione often joked that Severus had merely spit in a cauldron one day and brewed Erin, so much alike were they. They resembled one another scarily, uncannily, right down to the large nose, which he vowed he would have 'fixed' when she was old enough to decide what sort of nose she wanted.

It amused and touched their friends and colleagues to see the precocious little girl walking beside her tall father, his steps solicitously shortened to enable her to keep up, her hand holding firmly to his, tyranising him in the same bossy, gregarious way as her mother. Her two older brothers adored her, of course, and Hermione tried very hard not to laugh when Erin's scowl matched her father's so much it was like looking into a mirror.

And towering over them all, Severus Snape, husband of Hermione Snape, hero, headmaster, father; he watched over his family with a sense of wonder.

He had lived, he often told his children, two lives. The first one ended one night in the Shrieking Shack, when he had accepted his humiliating death as a fitting tribute to the parody of life he'd led up to that point.

The second had begun when his wife sat on his lap and woke him from his deep death sleep, splashing him with the cold, hard reality of the possibility of leaving his old life behind and embracing a new one.

It became a story they told the children over and over, a bedtime story of sorts. Erin would always start. "Papa, why did you get two lives when everyone else only gets one?"

Drawing her onto his lap, Severus would answer the same way each time. "Because I ballsed up the first one so badly, the gods decided I needed to come back and do a better job of it."

"But Papa," Erin would always ask - she loved this part of the story - "how did the gods bring you back?"

"Why, your mum did it. She brought me back with a bottle of Murtlap essence, poppet."

"But isn't Murlap only used for healing cuts and such?" Young Toby would pipe up. Their middle child loved Potions. "How would it be strong enough to bring you back to life?"

Severus would look at Hermione carefully, and she would give him a flushed smile of promise. "It was a special vial, you see. Completely unique." He would look up at his desk, to the small glass casing which held the little empty bottle. "See, children? Vial 183, Batch 10."

"What made it so special?" Toby asked. He loved this story as well. It was the preferred bedtime story of his children years later.

Severus pretended to ponder. "I think because your mum put a miracle in it."

"What did the miracle do?" Erin always asked at this point.

It was their clever, sweet first-born who always answered. "Mum loved Dad enough to help the gods bring him back to life, and Daddy loved Mum enough to not balls this one up. And to show the gods he meant business, they had us. We're the miracles, Erry."

Severus had such clever children.

They lost their first-born two years before Severus' one hundred and sixtieth birthday, of nothing more than old age. It nearly killed Severus. He could still remember that sweet little black-haired baby, suckling beside him at Hermione's breasts. Norton, they had called him, a sweet boy with his dad's black eyes and his mother's soft heart.

Losing Norton had been the beginning of the end for Severus. He no longer had a younger wizard's ability to deal with such hammer blows to the heart. Losing Lily had been terrible, taking Dumbledore's life had been horrific, but he had been younger and stronger then.

That had been his first life, and anger and selfishness had sustained him through those tragedies. The heart of his second life had never been toughened by despair and grief and bitterness. It had always been softer, and more vulnerable, and losing his boy scored through him with more vicious damage than Nagini's bite.

He turned, as always, to the comfort of his sweet wife. He suckled against her empty nipple, and remembering his sweet little lost boy, he wept until he was cleaned out, and could accept and move on. Gradually they recovered, but never stopped mourning. You are not meant to outlive your children,Hermione told him. The best you can do is keep them alive in your heart, and they will live forever there. His wise, perfect wife, Hermione Granger Snape.

He was old now, older than any of his friends, older than he had a right to be; older, even, than Albus Dumbledore had been on that fateful night so long ago... Severus had outlived them all. His hair was white, and his face still lean and saturnine, his eyes still as dark and mesmerising as they had been when he was a young wizard - angry, bitter, jealous, envious; hopeful, determined, inspiring - loved.

He was frail now, and his days were short. He didn't mind. He'd lived more than he'd ever hoped, than he'd ever deserved, and he wasn't afraid of death. He and that old fellow had already shaken hands once, and Severus knew he'd be seeing him again soon. He felt complete, and satisfied, and whole, and had been for as long as he'd lived his second life.

Hermione was old now, as well, but still soft and plump and sweet in all the right places for him. She too, was frail. But she was still beautiful, and at night, as he lay against her gentle breast, he could still recall the heady, sweet moment when he took her soft, love-ripened flesh in his mouth and it had healed him, as soothing and as full of the promise of renewal as the essence in Vial 183, Batch 10.

He dreamed, and in his last dreams he was Norton, lying soft and peaceful in her arms, a good boy first, last, and forever.

I woke before the morning, I was happy all the day,
I never said an ugly word, but smiled and stuck to play.
And now at last the sun is going down behind the wood,
And I am very happy, for I know that I've been good.
- A Good Boy, A Child's Garden of Verses, RL Stevenson