Love is Strong as Death

"Set me as a seal upon thine heart, as a seal upon thine arm: for love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave: the coals thereof are coals of fire, which hath a most vehement flame." Song of Solomon 8:6



"Before I go to the place from which I shall not return, To the land of darkness and the shadow of death, A land as dark as darkness itself, As the shadow of death, without any order, Where even the light is like darkness."



Job 10:21-22



Prologue

"Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:27

Ten years after Voldemort had been dispatched by Severus on a moor in Raven's Hollow in the presence of a black unicorn, Hermione and Severus were now living between Hogwarts, Hermione's cottage in Hogsborough and Severus' family estate.

Severus had made the decision to open up the estate again and slowly began to repair the damage that 15 to 20 years of neglect had wrought. It had not been an easy decision, as the manor held memories of neglect and loneliness for Severus, and Hermione had frankly felt tired at the mere idea of repairing the enormous place but it was a property of enormous historical value to the wizarding community apart from any sentimental consideration.

Of course, Harry and Ron had made fun of Hermione for spending the Hogwarts holidays in such a mausoleum. "My Lady," they called her in pompous voices when they saw her which inevitably made her scowl at them. For one thing, she was not married to Severus; her decision, not his. Secondly, Severus was not a Lord anyway so calling her 'Lady' was ridiculous and wrong. Lastly, she did not own the estate anyway; Severus did. She merely lived there with him when he was on holidays from his teaching duties at Hogwarts.

"Why don't you marry the man, 'Mione?" Ron teased her often. "He has asked you to, you know and besides, we both know that neither of you are going anywhere. You're still inseparable 10 years on!"

Hermione merely sighed impatiently at the teasing and didn't deign to explain for the thousandth time that getting married to Severus couldn't make their relationship any better. Secretly, she was afraid marrying him would change something and she was happy the way their relationship was. As Severus seemed to be happy enough too, she didn't worry too much about it. However, the teasing was wearing thin.

Rather inevitably, Harry had married Ginny soon after retiring from the national Quidditch team a few years ago. Ron had married Padma when they both turned 21 and they already had 3 children. The youngest, a little girl named Molly after Ron's mother, played with Harry and Ginny's little girl named Lily after Harry's mother. Lily had her mother's red hair and her father's green eyes, making her the image of Harry's mother. Needless to say, Harry was very pleased with this genetic coincidence and Hermione could already tell that regardless of how many children Harry had, Lily would always be his favourite. Ron's two eldest children were twin boys, red-haired like their father and serious like their mother in a complete personality contrast to their red-haired twin uncles, Fred and George.

Severus had broached the subject of children with Hermione years ago, more to get an idea of her feelings on the matter than to put pressure on her to have any. In his heart of hearts, he would have liked to have an heir for the Snape estate and name but as he had given the idea up years before he even met Hermione, it was a disappointment he could live with if she decided against the idea. Hermione was ambivalent about children. If Severus had expressed a real desire to have them, she would not have denied him at least an heir but as he had not really brought the matter up more than once or twice over the years, she had never had to really think about it or make a decision. She supposed with wizard medicine making childbirth so painless and easy, and with Severus' wealth able to provide round-the- clock nannies to look after them there was really no objection she could think of to the idea except a personal disinclination which was purely selfish.

It was Christmas and they were hosting the party at Snape Manor. Severus hadn't objected as long as he wasn't expected to change any of the guests' nappies, so they had created a Christmas wonderland in the huge dining hall and main sitting room.

Hermione grinned when she saw that Harry had given Lily a baby-sized broom that only hovered just high enough off the ground for a baby not to get hurt if they fell off. Ginny looked resigned when Lily unwrapped the present and crowed in delight, immediately trying to get on it. Hermione started giggling. Lily was already showing signs of strong magical ability and everyone knew that her name was already down at Hogwarts. She was wearing overalls in Chudley Canons orange which clashed horribly with her dark red hair but they were her favourites and Ginny knew better than to argue with little Lily about her clothes.

Ron's twins watched on with interest but inbetween were busy examining a new book their mother had bought them on magical creatures. Molly, a very pretty and feminine child who shared her mother's colouring and delicate features watched Lily with admiration. Molly quite adored her firey haired and natured friend but was definitely the timid one of the pair. She was sensitive and dreamy and loyal and sweet, and her brothers guarded her ferociously as they considered torturing her their own personal privilege.

Of course, the grandparents were there too looking proud and bemused. The elder Molly was talking nineteen to the dozen with the other guests while Arthur joined Harry and Ron in butterbeer.

Draco and Luna were there too. It never ceased to amaze Hermione that the two were still together. It was not as though they had broken up many times or even had a stormy relationship, it was just that Hermione would never have suspected either of them the type to make it in a long term relationship. They had however and were now part of Hermione's inner circle of friends, something Hermione would never have foreseen taking into account her experiences with Draco at Hogwarts. They were another pair that were teased for never having married although they'd been together almost as long as Severus and Hermione. Whenever someone asked Luna why they weren't married, Luna merely looked vaguely horrified. When the same question was asked of Draco, he just looked worried and started chewing on his fingernails. Hermione still hadn't figured it out.

Uncle George was in evidence with Pandora, his wife of nearly a decade. Luna and Pandora got on like a house on fire and were soon gossiping away in a corner, leaving George to keep an eye on his 8 year old boy and 5 year old girl. Fred was there with his wife too, a woman who had been in Ravenclaw the year below Fred and George at Hogwarts. He had a 5 year old boy that often played with George's little girl. Percy had arrived a little late accompanied by his wife Penelope. They had a rather solemn little boy of eight with his father's red hair and mother's pale blue eyes.

Seamus and Dean were there, having just got back from a European tour of Dean's latest art collection. Seamus had taken a break from his mediwizard career to be with him during this important tour and they both looked very relaxed.

Lavendar was there with her husband that she'd met at Hogsbridge and her 5 kids, including two sets of twins. Patil was chatting with Padma out on the lawn, rocking her new baby in a stroller out in the sunshine. Her husband, a business associate of Fred and George from the joke shop was having a butterbeer with Harry. Charlie was still in Romania with the dragon colony and couldn't make it, and Bill was overseas on bank business but they'd both sent a pile of presents for Lily.

Lily especially liked Charlie's present. It was a charmed, fake, dragon's egg that hatched a little rubber dragon when you picked it up and gave it a shake. The dragon could actually fly too. After a while, it crept back into its egg shell and the egg became whole again. Then you could start over. It kept Lily amused almost as long as the broom.

Hermione was perfectly happy to sit in the shade and chat to whoever came by. She was feeling very contented with life on that sunshiney day. Severus was hiding in a particularly shadowy corner of the marquee, as was his wont and occasionally looking worried if a child with sticky hands came near his robes. Some of the old Hogwarts teachers were there too, and they held court with Severus watching the antics of the newer generations with amusement or worry as personality dictated.

As the afternoon sunshine waned and the cake was cut, the guests began saying their goodbyes and apparating off. Eventually Harry and Ginny, Ron and Padma, Draco and Luna, and Severus and Hermione went in to the main drawing room of the manor house. It was all too familiar to Hermione now. It was the same room where the first Death Eater meeting that she had crashed had been held.

"I loved the Chudley Canons birthday cake Harry," Hermione said dryly as they settled themselves, referring to Lily's birthday only a few weeks before. "Don't you think you might be brainwashing the child?"

Harry gave her a wide-eyed, innocent look. "No, why?"

"Maybe it was the way the cake sang the Chudley Canons cheer every time you stuck a fork in it that gives it away, Harry," she said with a grin.

"Better than boring old 'happy birthday'," he argued. Hermione just rolled her eyes. Ginny sighed deeply and Hermione laughed at her.

"It's no good arguing with him about it," Ginny said, shrugging helplessly and then laughed.

Hermione eyed young Lily crawling around on the floor and suddenly felt a strange shiver across her shoulder blades. Would this little one see Voldemort's return and if so, would she be old enough to defend herself if she needed to? Hermione knew that Voldemort would make a bee-line for herself and Severus should he ever regain his power but would be try and hurt her family of friends too?

She looked up to find Severus watching her seriously from the other side of the fireplace where he was sitting facing her. Sometimes she felt like he could read her mind. He could certainly always pick her mood. She looked away again after they exchanged an understanding look, now was not the time for serious thoughts.

* * *

Much later, after all the guests had gone, Hermione and Severus sat in front of the fire silently enjoying each other's company. Some nights they talked a lot, some nights they read in front of the fire, some nights they merely sat lost in their own thoughts and some nights they just made out. Hermione wasn't sure which she preferred. She grinned.

"What is it? What are you thinking?" Severus' deep voice interrupted her thoughts, having noticed her amusement.

"I'm thinking about making out," Hermione answered with admirable honesty and grinned at him.

Severus almost smiled. "I'm glad your mind is well occupied," he said dryly but with sincerity.

"My mind is always very well occupied," she said, looking at him with limpid eyes.

"So I can see. Why don't you occupy it over here," Severus suggested indicating his own chair. Hermione didn't really need an invitation. She had every intention of going and sitting in his lap anyway. Once she was comfortably settled and preparing for a good snog, he said, "you were worrying about Voldemort earlier this evening, weren't you?"

"How to kill a mood in one second," Hermione sighed, her warm breath brushing Severus' throat. She gazed into space for a moment. "Yes, I was." She admitted, comforted by Severus' familiar scent.

Severus pressed one thin cheek against her soft hair. "What were you worrying about specifically?" He asked, his voice low.

"I was thinking about Lily and how old she would be when Voldemort could rise again and whether or not she would be old enough to defend herself should she have to," Hermione said on another sigh.

Severus was silent. "Lily is going to be an amazing witch. She's already showing very strong ability," Severus mused finally.

"Yes. She has her father's raw ability," Hermione observed thoughtfully.

Severus pulled a rude face that Hermione couldn't see. He still didn't like Potter but he had had to get used to him being around a great deal as one of Hermione's closest friends. If someone had told him during the seven years Potter had been at Hogwarts that Potter would one day sit in the main drawing room of his family home as a guest, he would have thought the person mad. Then again, if someone had told him during that same period in his life that he would one day desire Hermione and come to love her deeply for the rest of his life, he would have thought them mad too. Yet here he was and that was exactly what his life had become.