Chapter 18

Dr. Hermione Granger stepped out of her office ready to start the day. It had been a week since she came back from her vacation. Every morning, she thanked every deity she could think of that she had emerged from the escapade still unattached and very much the wiser. I've had my fantasy indulgence. No more mystery weekends, no more men of mystery period. And no more living, added her inner voice. For a while there you lived passionately, fully, dangerously. What's ahead in your future now - neurotic patients, demanding administrators and a good book to fall asleep to. Oh, joy! Oh, bliss!

Hermione ignored the voice completely. It had been making the same pithy comments since she came back. I'm not taking any more risks. Every date is going to be screened, interviewed and subjected to veritaserum. Note to self, make batch of veritaserum next weekend.

Where's the spontaneity in that, the voice whined and pointed out that veritaserum use was illegal. Hermione crossed off her first note and added another. Note to self, demand to meet parents first before sex of any form. No exceptions.

Romance is dead, the voice droned on. There is a David out there just waiting to be found. Hermione had had enough. She took herself to the most raucous ward in the hospital. Perhaps, there she could get some inner peace.

Severus found himself pacing in the lobby of St. Mungo's. Well, he was mentally pacing while standing off to the side dithering. He had spent the week at his townhouse replaying the events of the previous week again and again. He had too many questions and too few answers. The one with his answers was somewhere in the vast hospital. At the moment, he wasn't quite sure if he should see her.

His anger had subsided and sanity returned, if half-hearted. She had fled the hotel that very night after his prank. Call it for what it is, his inner voice admonished, a childish prank. She hurt your pride nothing more. But you certainly hurt her. Severus remembered her face when first she realized she had been wrong. Her reaction had been too naked to have been feigned. He hadn't seen the hurt, the bewilderment not then obsessed as he was in putting one over her. He was no better than a child.

Go on and explain yourself. Ask her for the truth and accept what comes.

Hermione battled the pile of paperwork that had accumulated on her desk during her vacation. Paperwork was proving a better distraction than loud patients. Absentmindedly, she said "Enter" when a knock sounded. She hadn't yet looked up when she heard a voice say "Dr. Granger, I presume?"

Her head snapped upward. She stood up too quickly. Her chair fell behind her with a bang. There he stood in his black robes and forbidding exterior. "Professor Snape!"

Severus inclined his head in acknowledgment. "I will not be staying long, Dr. Granger. I only came to return something that rightly belongs to you."

Severus drew a small envelope from inside his robes. With great deliberation, he opened the envelope and let fall its contents on to her desk - two sickles and one knut.

"I don't understand, Professor."

"Neither do I." Severus pushed the coins towards her. "These were mixed in with the tip you left the wait staff who brought our breakfast. Perhaps you were still half asleep and didn't quite know what you were doing."

Hermione bit her lip. She tried to look away and couldn't. She remembered pulling herself out of their warm bed reluctantly to answer the door. Had she pulled some bill and coins from her purse? Yes, yes, she had. Quite careless of her. Her mind had been on other things.

"I had my suspicions. When we got back to the hotel, I asked then forced Mr. McAdoo to confirm my suspicions. He did."

"That last bit about Sherbrooke, that was all just an act wasn't it?"

Severus smirked. "I wanted to teach you a lesson, to make you feel the same as I had. You were mortified, embarrassed and angry all at the same time. It was highly amusing to watch."

Hermione straightened feeling some of her old spirit coming back. The cold bastard! Her eyes flashed. "Then we're even. I didn't tell you and you didn't tell me. We both had our fun, didn't we? Now get out of my office."

Severus tipped her chin up and held her gaze. "Why didn't you tell me? I deserve an answer at least."

Her words came out in a rush. "I was afraid. Afraid of what you would say, what you would do. You terrorized me for seven years. How else was I supposed to think you would react? I was motivating myself to tell you when we got back."

Severus released her chin and pulled back. True. What could I expect her to think? "I was certain that I was being made a fool of."

"So, you thought to make a fool out of me?"

"Yes, Dr. Granger, I did."

"I must have looked awful." Hermione looked at him. "I felt awful."

"Please accept my apology. It was done in haste and anger."

"I'm very sorry, too, professor. I wish ... I wish things had been different, done differently."

An awkward silence stretched between them. What was there left to say, Severus thought. Ask her, his inner voice prodded. Take the risk, ask her.

"Well, Diana and David had their interlude. I have no regrets. I hope you have none." Severus breathed deeply before continuing. "I need to know something and I will understand if you do not answer. I just need to know. Were you pretending the entire time, from the beginning to the end?"

Hermione was shocked and could not speak. He mistook her silence as her response. Severus drew his robes about him and made to leave. "I've disturbed you long enough, Dr. Granger. I have to return to Hogwarts and prepare for the new term."

Hermione laid a hand on his arm stopping him. "Diana left for good when I found out who you were. Tell me, were you always David, never Severus, ever? Not even when we -"

Severus placed a finger on her lips. "I was Severus when we were intimate that much I will say and no more."

"I was most afraid that Severus wouldn't give me a chance as me, plain Hermione,former student. But as long as you thought I was Diana, I could be with you." She sniffed.

Severus could not speak instead he traced her lips and looked into her eyes. She didn't mean what I thought she meant. "You would be amenable to a continuation of this situation, Hermione?"

Hermione slid her arms around his waist. The man can be so thick. "Yes, Severus, I would, very much. Let's change situation to relationship, can we do that?"

Severus murmured an affirmative while nuzzling her neck. "You realize that David will be banished to outer Mongolia and you will be stuck with ill-tempered, ungracious Severus, for a very long time, perhaps for life."

"I don't know about the for life part, yet, but I wouldn't mind having you all to myself for now." Hermione leaned her head back. "Does David have to be banished? He was quite distracting."

"I am willing to make a few adjustments for you," Severus swooped down to seal their bargain with a kiss.

The door to Dr. Granger's office remained locked for the rest of the day. In fact, Dr. Granger did a most unheard of thing, she took the rest of the day off.

In June of the next year at townhouse number 333, a woman waited impatiently for her new husband to return. They were due to go on their honeymoon but they still did not know where that would be. Her husband came in ripping open a letter.

"Well?" Hermione asked.

"We are off to Shrewsbury, staying at the Albrighton Hall Hotel for the duration."

"And who are we to be?"

"Mr. and Mrs. Albert Pennington, rich industrialist and trophy wife."

Hermione read over his shoulder. "Oversexed blonde?! I am not coloring my hair again!"

Severus pulled at a strand of her hair. "Pity. I was fantasizing about cavorting with a statuesque blonde this time out."

"You've been giving Mr. McAdoo hints haven't you, Severus?"

"Maybe a word here and there." Hermione maneuvered herself on to his lap.

"I'll make our travel arrangement tomorrow. In the meantime, I think we ought to start our research."

Severus swept a hand down her thigh. "Did you have any specific topic in mind?"

"The marital relations of Mr. and Mrs. Pennington."

"A good topic to start with. I agree."

Severus lifted her into his arms. As they ascended the stairs, Hermione read off the couple's bio. "Virile but secretive, wealthy older man blind to the devious nature of his much, much younger wife, who was a former madam."

"How young are you, Mrs. Pennington?"

"A woman never tells, Mr. Pennington."

Let us end this tale where it began, in a postal office with a very common post box - Number 696. The box still sat empty most of the year but it was not so rarely visited anymore. Twice a year, a cleaning spell was cast upon it leaving it shiny and gleaming all year long. Once a year, it became the most important thing to the two people it inadvertently brought together.

To all they seemed an unlikely pair in every way, the mind doctor and the professor. How could he, how could she, the whispers ran. To this day, their secret vice is held close to their hearts, never betrayed by face or word. But in the comforting dark, they reminisce and plan for the next year.


Author's Note: It's all written. Goodness. When I started I did not think doing a mystery/romance cross would be difficult. Little did I know. I hope that you enjoyed the story. My gratitude to those who stuck with it all this time. Everyone's feedback and reviews have been wonderful. I was very worried that the clues and solutions would be incomprehensible but it looks like people enjoyed it and that's the best news.

I was very worried that the clues and solutions would be incomprehensible but it looks like people enjoyed it and that's the best news. The last 2 chapters were necessary for one reason. The mystery and romance portions didn't start together. The mystery was there from Chapter 1 but SS and HG didn't meet until Chapter 3. Merging the two was always tricky. I hope that this last chapter brings everything back full circle.

I wonder if they ever would tell their children or if their children would find out. Must evade plot bunnies and go off to finish other WIPs.Enjoy!