A/N: Thank you to everyone who has come on this journey with me. What a wonderful experience it has been! Forgive me for the lack of review replies for the last chapter – I've had a horrid cold, so have been saving my dry eyes in order to do some proper replies for this particular, very special, chapter. Do let me know what you have thought of the story, and thank you all again!
And to add - a guest reviewer has made me aware that despite being an Australian, I've sucked myself into the AU puddle so well that my seasons are reversed in this fic, hahahha! Good lord. I have no excuses. Let's just pretend that this alternate universe has alternate seasons.
Merlin's knickers – Australia? Snape? You don't do things by halves, do you?
It wasn't as shocking as you seem to think it might've been – I did not need to sit down, though I confess to pilfering some of Ron's firewhiskey.
I think… and this was the shocking part for me… it does make sense. Not so much the Snape part, I'm still trying to wrap my head around that, but your decision. You've done so much here, but I can see how it might be nice to get away from it all. Just promise me you'll keep the Floo open for us, and give Snape ample notice so he doesn't hex our bollocks off when we arrive.
I'll miss you. Even though you've been at school and we've been in training, I'll still miss knowing that you were close enough to Apparate to. Which is a bit selfish, but I was glad for it all the same. Now you'll be at the end of the earth. Funnily enough, I can't think of somewhere that would be better for one of us to be! Bugger England – the war is over, but it's going to take years to clean up the mess. Get out while you can, but come back every now and then, won't you?
As for Snape…I'm still trying to come to terms with the fact that he's alive. Let me think on it.
Look, I'm just warning you – Harry has been writing a massive letter that he plans to send to Snape. He's had Ginny read it at least ten times since she came home for a quick visit today, and she did try to burn it, but he bloody charmed it so it wouldn't get damaged! Something about kissing Snape's arse sometime in the future?
All right, I'm kidding; it's an overly detailed 'thank you'. He might not want to read it – Merlin knows that I ruddy well don't – but I skimmed it enough to know that it might give him a bit of closure. I've no idea if he even wants anything of the sort, given you are a gift enough, but he might.
Just thought these might come in handy.
Don't think I'll ever forgive you for sending bright bloody green lace knickers to me at the breakfast table! Could you not have simply given them to me?
(A very angry) Hermione
It was a mail order catalogue! Plus, you wouldn't have accepted them, you big prude!
How do you know? Perhaps I might have…
Is there something about your trip that you're not telling me?
Gin – here's an idea: stop sending me letters, and come and sit with me at breakfast instead! And bring Luna. There's a matter of utmost importance that we must discuss. A hint: I have seen evidence of your hypothesis regarding a certain Professor's delectable backside.
As always, your verbosity is almost overwhelming. No, I don't do things by halves, and yes, I'm off to Australia and to Severus.
I won't be seeing him again until after the NEWTs (speaking of which, forgive me because I simply do not have the time to write too much at the moment – there's only a week to go!) so I don't know what he'll do about Harry's letter, but I've forwarded on your warning. It's probably best Harry gets it out anyway, otherwise he'll be a blubbering mess when we all actually see each other.
Do you really mean that? About me, that is? Thank you, Ron. Not that I would've changed my mind or anything, but your opinion does mean a lot to me – you and Harry are as good as my brothers, after all, and I love you both. Parvati is a lucky woman. And I am, too. I am so very lucky. Oh, don't gag.
How is training going? Your practical exams are coming up soon, aren't they? Why have you got all of this time to write to me? Get back to your desk, or I'll send you a howler.
Love to you and Harry,
Dear Mr. Potter,
The letter you have sent seems to be charmed to fly around my study unless it is opened, therefore I offer you the following:
Your thanks are not needed, but they are appreciated. Your apologies became irrelevant a long time ago, yet the account of the entirety of your wrongdoings provided a welcome laugh. The bottle of scotch was thoughtful. I have enclosed one of my own personal brews in return.
You are welcome to share a drink of it one day with Hermione and myself, and if Mr. and Miss Weasley must accompany you, then they may do so.
Please note the 'one' day, and do not take it to mean 'every' day.
So glad you've kept the bedside table – my last exam is this afternoon! When should I come to you?
I want you in my arms no later than Monday evening. I say Monday evening knowing that it is Thursday for you now; your mother has been coming over every morning asking when you will be here. I have agreed that it would be sensible for you to spend the weekend either celebrating with your newly free (good grief) friends, or with your parents before I lock you up in my cave for at least a week. Jean's words, not mine.
Severus – tell mum I'll try and be there on Sunday morning. With all of the time difference, I'm not sure that I can survive the party this evening and arrive lacking a hangover. I shall try my best. Love you.
My Hermione, are you or are you not a more than competent brewer? Anyway… against my better judgement, please accept the most potent Sober Up potion known to inebriated witches and wizards the world over. S.
I love you – I really, really do. I love you… I hope you love me too. When I fall into your arms, then everything's okay! You're my sunshine and my love on a rainy rainy day… on a rainy rainy day!
Hermione… I am impressed that you managed to spell every word correctly. How is your head this morning?
…I dictated it. And, like you said it would be, my head is perfectly fine! I could do last night over and over again!
Please do not.
Yes. Right. Ha! Off to the International Floo terminal now!
I love you.
By the time you find this letter, you will be here and your own bedside table will be on the other side of our bed, matching with mine.
I want you to know that if I was told of the events that would occur during my time as Headmaster, I would have ignored each and every letter. I thought that I had to die, dear heart. From the end of the first war until the time I received your first letter, I was sure that my ending was guaranteed.
You saved my life. And yet – I have no debt towards you, there is nothing tugging on my heart to force me to love you, to desire you to be in my life. There is nothing to force me. I have taken no Unbreakable Vows, given no promises.
All I have done is be witness to the strong, brave woman that you are. And in turn, you spent your strength on me, of all people.
For everything that I have done – you are more than a reward for me, Hermione. You are what I have always wanted. Even before I could put your face and your name to the woman that haunted me in my dreams, I wished for someone like you.
And what is a man to do, now that he has such a woman loving him, desiring him? Believe you me, I can barely believe the words as I write them, but I know you as well as I know my own self and so I dare not waste any of our precious time on senseless doubts.
There is nothing else but to ask this of you, Hermione: be my wife.
Marry me – now, next week, next month or next year. Whenever you choose. Be my wife, be the mother of our children, tie yourself to me in every way possible, as I will tie myself to you.
I love you.
He was mowing the lawn when she strolled up the street, swinging a handbag as if she did the walk every day. She was a natural at quiet life already, his Hermione.
The methodical movements of pushing the mower up and down the front and back lawns had been a pleasure since he'd discovered the old machine in the back shed after moving into the blue weatherboard home. Tinkering with it became a side project to researching the potion that would eventually return Jean and Richard's memories, and by the time it worked, he took it around the lawns at least once a fortnight. What had started as a matter of pride (he'd fixed it without magic, after all) became a simple way to remind himself that the harrowing days of rushing from one master to the next were gone.
He was a man of the earth now; once he had been a man of water, never once controlling where his life would lead, yet he could look up from the grass and see a home, a garden. A laboratory out the back, and-
An impatient wave of his hand turned off the mower and he swung around, coming face to face with the woman who held his heart. Oh, she was lovely indeed – hair flying every which way, sandals on her feet, jeans and a white singlet with those bare shoulders that always seemed to glow pink in the sun. Her lips that he knew to be soft were curved into a smile that became a wide grin when he stared at her, his face a mixture of elation and surprise.
He wasted no time in striding to the gate and pulling her inside, drawing her into his embrace. The months had gone so slowly without her!
"Hello," he mumbled into her hair, revelling in the way she laughed delightedly. His hands roamed over her back, her waist, as he took in how it felt to hold her again. "You're early."
"I couldn't stay away," she whispered, the sound half muffled from where her cheek lay against his t-shirt covered chest. Her hands scrunched up the old blue fabric until she could slip them under it and stroke his back. "Mum and dad kicked me out of the house – apparently I was mooning too much."
"Good, good," he breathed, unwilling to ever let her go again. It was almost disappointing when she pushed gently until she could move her head enough to tilt it towards his, but then his mouth met hers, soft at first, then hungry, demanding. He poured everything that he did not have the words to say into it, until he couldn't even think of anything except taking her inside. When her tongue slipped into his mouth, so languid and full with the taste of her, he groaned and threaded his fingers through the sprawling curls of her hair.
They pulled apart, and the reluctant grumble out of her mouth made him close his eyes and sigh.
"Won't you take me inside, Severus?"
Oh, bliss! He laughed then, a great joyous laugh that burst from within; she was here!
"You're home!" he exclaimed and then cleared his throat, still retaining some of his buttoned up exterior when it came to obvious declarations of happiness. Throwing the hesitation aside, he said, "I've missed you, love."
"And I you. Now take me inside," she ordered playfully, grabbing his hand and dragging him into the house.
All of her belongings were put away hours later. Severus hardly lifted a hand, content with watching her meander around the house in nothing but a singlet and knickers as he stretched out on the bed, the thin sheen of sweat on his body from their earlier activities barely dissipating in the hot afternoon sun.
Hermione didn't have much, and he was glad that he'd salvaged what he could from Spinner's End, as well as what he'd bought himself. Her clothes fit in neatly with his in the wardrobe and chest of drawers under the window, and the shrunken feminine items were soon filling up the bathroom, giving a tangible weight to the presence of a woman in the house.
He loved it.
Along with the portrait already in the sitting room, her own frame for Phineas was placed on the veranda out the back.
"You'd think I did all of this for shits and giggles," the former Headmaster said, his stern façade cracking just slightly in response to Hermione's hoots of laughter. "What makes you think that I'll even spend any time here? I'll have you know that the Headmistress' office has much more in the way of intelligent company." But despite his words, his eyes crinkled at the corners when Hermione put a hand on the canvas, smiling widely.
"I'm sure you're right, if by intelligent company you mean a bunch of halfwits," Severus drawled after dragging his sated body out of bed, echoing his words of a lifetime ago when he'd first entered the office as Headmaster.
"Hmm," Black hummed noncommittally. "Takes one to know one."
"Indeed," Hermione purred, imitating both of the older Slytherin men, jumping away from Severus' swatting hands.
"Oh!" she cried, darting away from them and heading into the bedroom. "I've forgotten something."
He trailed after her, and his nervous heart stuttered. "What is it?"
She pointed at his rosewood bedside table, then pulled out a tiny cube-like item from her pocket. A wave of her wand sent her own to the other side of the bed, a relic from when she had ever so sneakily nicked it from the Headmistress' office.
"You brought it," he remarked silkily, moving to stand behind her as he wound his arms around her waist. "Is there anything inside?"
Hermione started to shake her head, but he squeezed her curves and said into her ear, "Tsk, tsk, love – have a look, why don't you?"
With his heart in her hands, she turned and kissed him on the cheek with a dazzling smile, then walked slowly forward to open the drawer.