Epilogue: Once, Twice, Three Times, Always
One Year Later
Severus sat on the windowsill of his attic office, looking out of the tall windows onto the town of Cokeworth, which was blanketed in a layer of fog.
It was the last time he would ever see this view, today the last day he would set foot in his childhood home.
His office stood empty, his potions ingredients, cauldrons, books, desk, and even Solomon moved to the new house he would share with Hermione beginning that evening.
Severus moved from the window and looked around the barren room with its large windows, white walls and luminous glow. Admittedly, he had fashioned it after the room in Limbo; it had been a way to remind himself of his choice to start over, to be a better man.
But he no longer needed this room. Over the past two years, he'd discovered that he'd been a better man all along; he'd just needed Hermione to give him the chance to show what was already in his heart.
He heard footsteps coming up the stairs, and there was Hermione, his love—and he knew now that it was true love, love like he had never felt for Lily, love that buoyed his heart and his hopes on even the gloomiest of days.
Hermione smiled at him beneath a halo of wild curls, a sheen of sweat on her forehead from moving boxes all day, and walked towards him. He wrapped her in his arms without hesitation and she gave him a squeeze in return.
"I think that's everything," she said. "Are you ready to go?"
"Absolutely," said Severus, smiling down at her.
He couldn't wait to leave. Not because he was running from his past, but because he'd made his choice for his future—their future. Pulling Hermione closer, he Apparated them towards it without a doubt in his mind or his heart.
Two Years Later
Hermione ran as hard as her legs could carry her, her feet slapping loudly against the pavement. Her blue robes fluttered behind her like wings, her lungs gasping for air as the street sign that read Grimmauld Place passed by in a blur.
She launched herself up the steps of Number Three and through the red front door that opened as if expecting her.
"Severus! Severus!" she yelled in the foyer, tossing her shoes haphazardly from her feet and running through to the kitchen at the back of the house.
She stopped as she crossed the threshold, pausing to smile at Severus as he stood over the stove, flipping vegetables in a cast iron frying pan.
"Severus!" she shouted again, and he had barely turned to face her when she flung herself against him, wrapping her arms around his neck and bouncing on her toes.
"My, aren't you in a good mood this evening?" rumbled Severus, releasing the pan and curling his arms around her in return.
"I did it, Severus, I did it!" Hermione squealed happily. "It got approved and Kingsley's signed it! It's law, Severus, it's law!"
"I'm so proud of you, pumpkin," said Severus, leaning forward and giving her a kiss. "I knew it would get through."
"I know you said so, but I kept having nightmares that the Wizengamot—"
"Shush," said Severus, nipping at her bottom lip. "Even the dunderheads in the Wizengamot aren't stupid enough to argue with you."
Hermione's cheeks glowed a pale pink, and her eyelids drooped as she pushed herself closer to her lover. He was unfailingly supportive, her perfect man; she'd never questioned being with him for a second.
"I'd like to argue that we pause before dinner to celebrate," she said wantonly, curling her fingers into his hair.
"I won't argue with that," purred Severus, flicking off the burner with his wand.
As quickly as Hermione had bolted up the street, she and Severus ran upstairs to their bedroom.
Three Years Later
Maroon leaves danced above Hermione's eyes in a soft breeze, like a school of fish against a sea of sky blue.
She and Severus lay shoulder-to-shoulder on a picnic blanket beneath the tree she had planted on his old grave, his fingers making gentle circles against the back of her hand.
"I can't believe it's been more than a year since we were here last," said Hermione, staring at the little maroon fish fluttering overhead. "It still feels like our place."
"I expect it always will," said Severus, his lips twitching into a half-smile as he titled his head sideways to look at her.
"Should we make it official, then?" asked Hermione, with a sudden idea.
"And here I was hoping I was going to be the one to ask," said Severus nervously, looking up at the leaves once more.
"Ask what?" asked Hermione curiously, and she sat up, curling her legs under her and blocking the little red fish from Severus's eyes with her face.
"Ah, and I see it still is," said Severus, chuckling. He reached into his robe, and Hermione thought he was going for his wand.
"Look at me," he said, reaching up and turning her chin towards him with his fingers. "I was thinking to do this in another position, but now that I am here, I think it's perfect."
"What are you talking about, Severus?" asked Hermione, her eyebrows curling in confusion. Severus took her left hand in his own, and the look in his eyes made her feel as though she might melt from the love in them.
"I want to be with you always, Hermione. I want to lay here and watch you soar against the blue sky, grasped in your hands," he said, and then his other hand came in front of her, holding a silver ring with a blue stone in its centre that glittered in the sunlight and was surrounded by four smaller diamonds. "Hermione, will you marry me?"
Hermione laughed, and Severus gave her a confused look.
"That wasn't quite what I meant by making things official, but of course I will marry you, Severus. Yes, yes!" she said happily. "Oh, you wonderful man, yes," she said softly, and then she leaned forward to kiss him deeply, her breasts pressing into his chest, her hand cupping his cheek as his own hands rested on her waist.
"I love you, Severus," she said against his lips before pulling away, and he smiled at her, adoration still present in his eyes. Pushing himself into a seated position, Severus took the ring and slid it over her finger, marking her as his fiancé.
"I love you, Hermione," he said, bringing her fingers to his lips and then settling them in his lap. "What did you mean by making things official, then?"
Hermione grinned and stood up, plucking her wand from her robes. Severus sat up and turned to better watch what she was doing.
With a few flicks of her wand, marks began to appear in the trunk of the tree. They glowed red for a moment, then turned back into the dull brown of scarred tree flesh.
Severus smiled at reading the marks, thinking they did capture things rather perfectly.
For carved into the tree, wrapped in a heart, was 'SS+HG Always.'