A/N: And here it is - finally, the final chapter! I had hoped to have this up for Valentine's Day, but hey... close enough. Thank you all for following this little story, and hopefully this makes things a little better for you, knowing that somewhere in some universe, Severus Snape got his happy ending. I love you all and always enjoy reading your comments. Also, I did set up a Twitter due to a number of requests from readers, so if you would like to follow me (georgesgurl117) for more up-to-date information on things or to tweet me questions, please do so!
Though the flashes of color and muffled pops of the Muggle fireworks ushering in the New Year had died away long ago, Severus remained standing near the window, watching silently as the moonlit snow fell from the sky. A rustling noise drew his attention, and he glanced over his shoulder to see that Hermione had turned over in bed. He eyed her in concern for a moment until it was apparent that she was still asleep.
Relieved that she had not woken, he rubbed his face with his left hand. A smile crept outwards upon his noticing the silver band on his fourth finger gleaming in the pale light. It was not exactly a new adornment given the fact they had been wed since the previous Spring Equinox – a date which Hermione had thought terribly apropos due to its association with rebirth and regeneration – but it still managed to bring a flutter to his chest to know he could call her his wife.
The wedding ceremony itself, which had taken place in one of the Ministry's halls, had been as low-key as Molly Weasley had begrudgingly allowed it to be, even though it had been attended by nearly every ginger in Wizarding Britain. Closing his eyes, Severus could easily picture Hermione standing before him in a simple, ivory gown with her hair draped over one shoulder in a loose braid, and her eyes sparkling with tears as she made her marriage vows. Brendan had also stood with them throughout the brief service, fidgeting in his first set of dress robes, before eagerly scrambling up on the table to watch his father sign the parchment making his paternal claim official.
The reception that had followed, however, had been as raucous as one could expect a Weasley production to be. Food, drinks, laughter, dancing, and the unavoidable squabbling had carried on until darkness fell. The night had culminated in an admittedly impressive display of Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes, including 'Sniping Snapping Snapers', the newest addition to their product line. Severus had had half a mind to lop off the obnoxious wizard's other ear, until he noticed how excited Brendan was to have his new surname on a series of Whiz-bangs. Though he did cast a chilling glare in George Weasley's direction, he had remained jovial until the end of the show, at which point he had carried a deeply-slumbering Brendan up to bed before he and Hermione could escape the horde of suggestive looks to enjoy what could finally be considered marital relations.
As the wind suddenly picked up, slapping snow against the frosty glass, Snape turned away from the window and crept down the hallway. Easing open the door so as not to let it creak, he entered Brendan's bedroom and snorted softly at seeing Teddy Lupin's blue hair practically glowing in the moonlight as he slept on the spare mattress.
Brendan was fast asleep in his own bed, wrapped tightly in his sheets as his warmer covers had started sliding off of the bed. Taking great care as to not spring the elaborate death-trap of toys the two boys had managed to produce, Severus moved over to the side of his bed and, keeping his arm-sling steady, bent down to drape the blankets back over the boy's shoulder. After pausing a while to watch his steady breathing, he gently touched his son's head before picking his way back out to the safety of the hallway.
Upon reaching the staircase, the wizard peered over the railing and sighed deeply upon seeing the blonde head above the back of the sofa. With one last glance in the direction of his sleeping wife, he gradually descended to the main floor, making sure not to jostle his arm. Approaching the couch, he silently took a seat near his ruminating houseguest.
A full minute nearly passed before Draco pulled his gaze away from the fire burning merrily in the grate. "Sir."
"I'd hoped you would be able to sleep."
The younger man exhaled slowly and shook his head. "No, and I don't… I … no."
"And you don't want to, is what you were going to say, yes?" Severus stated, tipping his head. "You're afraid you might not wake up from the nightmare… that you'll discover this reality was, in fact, the dream."
Grey eyes locked onto his.
"You thought I wouldn't understand?" The man raised an eyebrow and glanced toward the clock. "It's nearly three in the morning. Do I appear to be sleeping to you?"
A sad smirk appeared on Draco's face as he ducked his head. "So it doesn't go away, then."
"It may… eventually," Snape murmured. "I would like to be able to tell you that it does completely, that the fear passes… but I long ago promised never to lie to you. Frankly, the more joy I find in life, the more afraid I am to wake and find it gone. But to give up, to let that fear dictate your actions, would be the most asinine decision you could make. Despite what certain people may have claimed in the past, you are not a sniveling coward."
The blonde snorted and leaned his head back on the couch. "So you are the Professor Snape I remember."
Severus quirked a small smile. "When you start to find your courage, you'll find the insomnia eases. A few sleepless nights are far better than all of them. Until then, well… you can assist me in brewing some Dreamless Sleep tomorrow evening."
Draco gave a single nod before casting an uncertain glance behind him.
"If you'd prefer to sleep out here for the time being, you are more than welcome to do so."
"What?" Snape sneered. "You think I duped the Weasleys into building an addition solely so you and your mother would have more than a cramped office to share? Leave the egocentricity to Potter, would you? This house was in sore need of increased square footage."
The pureblood shook his head good-naturedly before returning his eyes to the fireplace. "Just for the books alone."
"Indeed." He breathed deeply as he studied his former pupil.
As a boy, Draco had often demonstrated the typical Malfoy bluster and arrogance, but that had long ago been stripped away. Instead, the War and subsequent years of imprisonment in Azkaban had hollowed him into a ghost of his former self. While he had always been slender and fair-skinned, he was now gaunt with dark circles beneath his eyes and a pallor that rivaled the dead. He was also several inches taller than Severus remembered, though that should not have been terribly surprising considering how young the boy had been when last they had been together. That fact had hit him with full force during the first parole hearing when he realized the child whom he had supervised for so many years had celebrated his eighteenth birthday cowering in the corner of a dank, frigid cell with no one but dementors to offer their well-wishes.
While Kingsley Shacklebolt undoubtedly patted himself on the back for having rid Azkaban of the dementors during his first official year as Minister, it had still taken more than six months of the Malfoys' sentences to accomplish the feat. Having himself spent six weeks in Azkaban after the first fall of Voldemort, Severus could very well imagine the emotional and psychological damage one could accrue in half a year. Additionally, he knew that the Wizarding prison did not truly require its traditional dark guards to break a man. The conditions and the building could suck out a soul and extinguish a life all on their own.
With a pained sigh, Snape closed his eyes. He remembered the seemingly endless days of darkness where one could scarcely tell the difference between night and day except for the slight difference in temperature. There were no books to read – no light to read them in, besides – and no house-elves to pop in with fresh linens or cleaning charms. The only options for activity in Azkaban were contemplation and sleep, but even that frequently proved difficult as it was often interrupted by one's own shivering. He had never been so grateful for a fireplace as he had in the months following his release from Azkaban. Warming charms had helped, of course, but there was something about being able to visualize the bright source of heat that better fought the chronic chill that resided in one's bones.
It did not surprise him in the least that Draco had either remained in or snuck back into the sitting room every night since his release eleven days prior. Narcissa had done similarly during her first few weeks of freedom, even though the weather had been undeniably warmer in the spring. Since she had never taken the Mark and had, in essence, saved both The-Boy-Who-Lived-Again and The-Bravest-Man, the witch had been granted parole at her first hearing in March. The Ministry, however, had refused to release any of the Malfoy assets, and, having nowhere else to go, the witch had graciously accepted Hermione's offer for housing.
Despite their efforts and testimony, the Wizengamot had rejected Draco's first application for parole in May and scheduled a secondary hearing seven months later. While her son had not seemed shocked to be sent back to prison, Narcissa had been inconsolable for days, refusing to eat until Hermione managed to goad Andromeda into visiting her younger sister. Following several months of media campaigns organized by members of the Order of the Phoenix, the Wizengamot had finally approved of the young Malfoy's release shortly before Christmas.
"You know, it's still bloody weird to see you…like that," Draco mumbled.
Severus raised an eyebrow as he followed the vague gesture to the sling he wore. Forgetting his earlier melancholy, he could not help but smile as he watched his newborn daughter sleep. Born the second week of December, Amara Nadine Snape had been named also as a result of her mother's predilection for apt meanings and definitions. Though he had teased Hermione for her need to research absolutely everything, he could not argue with the message of 'unfading hope'.
"I never imagined I would see you holding a baby."
With a smirk, the former spy glanced up again. "I'll have you know, Mr. Malfoy, that you were the first baby I held. The only one I held, actually, until Amara."
"You're joking!" Draco exclaimed, shaking his head. "I don't remember that."
"Of course not," he scoffed. "You were a bloody infant at the time."
"Yes, I suppose. I just meant that I've never seen any pictures, I guess."
"I'm sure there were one or two. Your mother was certifiably insane with the need to document your drooling on everyone and everything."
A brief smile touched on the pureblood's face before he shook his head. "I don't think I've seen more than a few."
Snape let out a deep sigh and rubbed his face. "After the Dark – After Voldemort fell the first time, someone implicated your father as a follower. The Aurors raided the Manor… made a mess of everything, and took any documents or photos they could get their hands on. Much of it, I believe, was never returned. Your mother was quite upset by it. Understandably so."
Deciding a change of topic was in order, he readjusted his arm. "Would you like to hold her?"
An odd expression – some mixture of fear, guilt, and longing? – appeared on Draco's face, giving the older man pause. "Are you certain?"
"Yeah," he nodded. "I wouldn't want to… erm… she seems rather peaceful right now."
Severus pinched his mouth into a thin line as he noticed an unmistakable flash of shame in the grey eyes before they ducked away. Making up his mind, he carefully extracted the sleeping infant from the sling and moved closer to the young man. "Here."
Draco snapped his head back. "Wha – no! Please, sir… I don't want to hurt her."
"I'm sitting right here." He frowned. "What possible harm could you bring her?"
"But… I just… I…"
Seeing that the blonde's gaze flicked to his left arm, Snape exhaled slowly. "Draco, look at me. You aren't going to hurt her; you aren't going to taint her. Do you understand me? It doesn't matter that you took the Mark or were in Azkaban. I did both of those things, didn't I? Furthermore, I killed a man. I helped cause the death of many more – some of them friends. I stood by and watched while children were tortured. I didn't want to do any of those things, but the fact of the matter is I did do them. Between the two of us, you are by far the better person.
"Now, sit up a bit straighter and bend your arm. Make sure to support her head."
Amara woke up shortly after her father transferred her into another pair of arms, but remained quiet. As she looked up at him with her dark eyes, Draco gasped in astonishment. "She's so small."
"I'd say you were about the same size," Severus mused.
"Huh. She's beautiful, sir."
"She is. And you can count yourself lucky; I have yet to allow Potter to hold her."
The pureblood snorted and glanced up at his former Head of House. "Why let me, then?"
"Because I thought she might help you to see that life goes on and circumstances improve."
As the two men huddled together on the sofa, Hermione hesitated halfway down the staircase. Having woken up alone and feeling that another nighttime feeding was imminent, she came in search of her husband and baby. However, she had no wish to interrupt them yet, so she gently sank down onto one of the steps to watch them.
The sound of a small sniffle drew her to look over the railing to see Narcissa leaning against the wall. As if sensing she was being watched, the blonde woman raised her eyes to the staircase. Hermione gave a smile, which they shared for a few moments until she heard Amara beginning to fuss.
"What did I…" Draco murmured in concern.
"No, no!" Hermione exclaimed, revealing her presence as she hastened down the rest of the steps and over to the sofa. "It's not anything you did. She's merely hungry."
"Quite." The witch smirked as she leaned down to pick up her child. After Severus helped her steady the squirming newborn in her arms, she pressed a quick kiss to his cheek. "Wake me whenever you come to bed. Please."
When he nodded, she turned and made her way back toward the staircase. She shared another brief smile with Narcissa before climbing up to the second floor.
Watching her leave, Draco let out a sigh and rubbed his face. "I'm sorry."
Severus turned his head quickly. "Whatever for?"
"You have a family, and I'm interrupting it."
"No one is complaining."
"Yet," Draco sneered. "I can't believe, though, that Granger is too chuffed to have me in her home, around her children."
Sighing, Snape shook his head. "Hermione is the reason you're here. When the Ministry refused to release any of the Malfoy properties or assets, she jumped in and offered to house your mother. Though she had not discussed it with me prior to suggesting it, I was not – am not - opposed to it. We discussed it thoroughly after getting your mother settled in, and we both were in agreement that the two of you could stay here as long as it took to get your feet underneath you again. As long as you pull your weight around the house and remain civil to Hermione, there won't be any issue."
The younger wizard frowned in contemplation. "I never truly disliked her, you know. I mean, it did piss me off that she always out-performed me –"
"I wouldn't say that at all. You more than held your own."
"Fine, it pissed me off that it always seemed like she was a better student than I was. But beyond that…I just… with everything Father told me, I thought I wasn't supposed to like her." Draco shrugged and glanced toward the stairs. "But she's actually a rather impressive person."
"I realize this, yes," Snape scorned, folding his arms. "That's why I married her."
The blonde snorted in amusement. "Don't get your knickers in a twist, Professor. I have no romantic inclinations toward your wife. I suppose I wouldn't mind being friends someday… as long as she doesn't punch me again."
"She'd only do so if you deserve it. And if you do deserve it, you'll have to deal with me before she even has the chance to get within striking distance of you."
"Noted. I'm sure you are still quite scary… even though you've been domesticated."
Severus narrowed his eyes into a glare. "I assure you, Mr. Malfoy, that having a family to protect has not made me less dangerous to cross."
With a soft chuckle, Draco nodded his head. "I understand that, sir… but I don't understand why you're helping me. Mum released you from the Vow. I saw her do it. You don't owe us anything. We owe you. I owe you. It's my fault that you had to –"
"No," the ex-spy snapped, holding up a hand. "Nothing that happened was your fault, Draco. You were Marked because of your father's mistakes, and even had I not entered into a Vow with your mother, I still would have been expected to kill Dumbledore. If anything, the Vow improved the Dark Lord's opinion of me and convinced your Aunt Bellatrix to shut her bloody mouth for once. I do not blame you for anything I had to do, or anything that happened to me. Without the Vow, your mother would have had no reason to feel indebted to me, and I very likely would not be alive today. Hermione and Brendan would still be on their own, never knowing that I loved them, and Amara would never exist.
"That is partly the reason why I am helping you. However, there is also a part of me that wants to help you because when I was in similar circumstances – friendless, penniless, hopeless – I would have sold my soul just to have someone provide me assistance." He slid up the sleeve on his left arm far enough to expose the faded, grey Mark. "In fact I did, and it was the greatest mistake of my life. Despite our vastly different backgrounds, I have always felt a kinship of sorts with you, from the very moment I first held you. I swore to myself then that I would look out for you, protect you whenever it was possible. If I can step in now and be the influence that keeps you safe and on a better path through life, then I will have succeeded. It doesn't matter that I am no longer your professor or Head of House, I will always feel responsible for your well-being."
As he explained, the young Malfoy stared at him in disbelief. Failing to hold back his tears, he tipped forward and pressed his head against the man's shoulder.
Shocked by the action, Severus momentarily tensed before wrapping an arm around Draco's shoulders. He felt his own eyes beginning to sting as he rested his cheek against silky, blonde hair and murmured, "You have a second chance, Draco. Don't let it go to waste. Whatever wrongs happened, whether they were done to you or by you, you have to try your damnedest to let them go. You cannot embrace the future unless you first release the past. It's hard and it hurts, believe me, but it's fucking worth it."
"What if I can't?" Draco whispered.
Snape inhaled deeply and tightened his hold. "You can, and you will. The Malfoy reputation and fortune may lie in tatters, but you will earn them back, and they will be worth all the more."
Groaning, the young wizard pulled away, frantically wiping away at his tears in embarrassment. "How the fuck am I supposed to do that? I don't… I don't even have… I never graduated. I didn't finish seventh year – half of my courses were a joke anyway – and I know McGonagall negated my last semester of sixth year after… after what happened. Without those, I'm not eligible to take the NEWTs, and even if I were, I haven't even used a bloody wand in seven and a half years! I'd be lucky to even pass one subject."
Severus leaned forward to touch his shoulder. "We will deal with it. Minerva is still feeling incredibly guilty, so I do not imagine it will take much convincing on my part at all for her to re-instate your sixth year work – no one else managed more than you anyway – and as for your seventh year, I was Headmaster of record, so I will petition those Heads of House to sign off on your completion. With their signatures, I will have Minerva issue you certification from Hogwarts. You'll have to study for the NEWTs, of course, and when you feel you are prepared to take them, I am more than certain that Minister Shacklebolt will ensure you have an appointment to do so.
"Until then… Well, St. Mungo's has asked if I would assist them in establishing an experimental treatment and research department. They've claimed I would have complete control over hiring assistants."
Draco straightened in his seat. "And you would hire me?"
He shrugged, glancing briefly at the stairs before dropping his voice. "In the fifteen years I taught potions, I do not believe I encountered a student as adept at it as you. However, should that ever be repeated, I will make life so miserable for you that you will long for the days of Azkaban."
"Ha! You're afraid Granger'll kick you out of her bed if she finds out she wasn't your best student."
"Laugh now, Mr. Malfoy, because I guarantee you will not be should she ever learn of that fact." Smirking, the man stood from the sofa. "In the afternoon, Potter and I are taking the boys flying. If you think you can manage not to hex The Boy Wonder – and I do understand it can be a struggle – you would be welcome to join us. Should you be interested, we can head out early, and you can spend some time getting to know your cousin's son before his idiot godfather arrives."
With another smile, Draco nodded. "I think I'd like to. Thank you, sir."
After wishing him a good night, Snape made his way toward the staircase. He stopped briefly on the first step when Narcissa stepped out from the shadows, squeezing his hand in gratitude before sweeping across the room to sit with her son. Breathing deeply, he continued up the stairs and down the hallway to the bedroom, where Hermione sat up against the pillows, dozing off as Amara nursed.
"Mmph, Sev'rus," she mumbled, opening her eyes at the sound of the door clicking shut.
He gave her a weak smile as he discarded his robe and climbed into bed beside her.
"Hey." The witch glanced up at him in concern. "Are you alright?"
Nodding, Severus slipped an arm around her, pulling her closer to his side. As she turned her head, he pressed a kiss to her forehead and then placed his head on her shoulder.
His wife shifted her hold on the baby so she could touch one hand to his head. "You're worrying me a bit. Could you please say something?"
Giving a loud sigh, the wizard sat up straight and pinched the bridge of his nose. After clearing his throat, he met her questioning gaze. "Thank you."
"Thank you?" she repeated, confused. "For what?"
"For everything," he murmured. "For marrying me, for bearing my children, for your non-stop fussing… for loving me… for being brave enough to kiss me nine years ago… for having the courage or stupidity not to run away when I told you what must be done… but most importantly, for reminding me that life was worth living. If it weren't for you, I don't know where I'd be now, but it certainly wouldn't be any place I'd want to be."
"You're welcome," she whispered, staring up at him expectantly. "I can't exactly move that much right now, so would you come close enough that I can ki –"
Severus bent down to seize her lips, swallowing the rest of her request. "I love you."
"And I you," Hermione replied, touching her forehead to his. "I'm glad you were able to talk to Draco."
"As am I." He helped her readjust her position so she could lean against him instead of the headboard.
"Do you think he'll be alright?"
Her husband nodded, smiling as he peered over her shoulder to watch their daughter suckling. "He will be, given time. I thought perhaps it would help if I shared with him some of my experience… as well as a bit of the advice Dumbledore gave me."
Hermione glanced up at him. "You've never actually said what he said to you that night at the museum. I thought about asking, but…"
"But you weren't exactly sure you wanted to know," he surmised. When she nodded in reply, he squeezed her hip with his hand. "He told me I had a second chance – one that even he had not anticipated – and that I shouldn't let it slip through my fingers by living in the past. He said it was imperative that I forgive myself – and others, of course – so that I might be fully prepared to enjoy what life has to offer."
"He did?" she gasped. "Hmmm, maybe I'll have to stop being mad at him, then. Maybe."
Severus snorted. "Of course, he did also think it prudent to insinuate that if I did love you, I might consider allowing you to move on with your life instead of holding you to schoolgirl promises made during moments of great peril."
"Oh, that bastard!" the witch hissed. "If I ever go back to that place, I swear I am going to give that interfering arsehole a piece of my mind."
Smirking, he kissed her temple and smoothed his thumb along her arm. "If you're not careful, one of those might be her first word."
With a roll of her eyes, Hermione glanced down at their daughter. "And if that were the case, why do I have the feeling you would be immensely proud?"
"Because I would be."
"Mmm… I'm hoping for that one especially."
"You are awful, you know that?"
"I am aware of that, yes." Severus grinned as he tipped her chin up and hovered above her mouth. "And yet, you still chose me. So what, madam, does that say about you?"
"That I'm madly in love with you," Hermione whispered before pressing her lips to his.