Good grief, it's the epilogue! Writing this story has been an absolute adventure for me, and thank you SO much for joining me along the way! It's been blissful to read the lovely reviews, encouraging comments, and suggestions, it would be no lie to say that every review has kept me going, especially on tough days. Enjoy the epilogue, and I hope to see you on my next fic!
Ten years later ...
Hermione came out of the cottage door and into the garden after washing her face free of the make-up she had been wearing all day. It was high summer and she was sweltering, despite the loose, flowing dress she wore. She had taken off her shoes and was walking barefoot on the grass, which felt a little crunchy after the long spell of dry weather.
They had spent the day at the wedding of her best friend Ron Weasley to a lovely witch he had met in the Auror office, where he was now a fully qualified Auror and had been for seven years now. Flora Weasley was a determined, brave girl who reminded Hermione a little of Tonks, and she was more than a match for Ron's inherent laziness, which would slip over into full-time sloth if he were not kept in check.
They already had two children together, with Keah making three, but Ron had only just got around to asking Flora to marry him a few months ago. Molly was so relieved to see the engagement finally take place that she had pulled out all the stops to throw them a fabulous wedding in the grounds of the Burrow that had all the magic and love of Bill and Fleur's, just without the Death Eater invasion at the end, which was a bonus, as Ron had mentioned somewhat controversially in his wedding speech.
The Death Eaters were gone, of course, the last of them snuffed out by Fiendfyre. Voldemort's ideals had died with them, and the wizarding world was peaceful. However, even ten years later seemed too soon to joke about it. Some things would just never be funny, Hermione supposed.
It had been a wonderful wedding, full of family and friends and joy. Ron's oldest daughter, the shockingly red-haired Keah, was on her summer holiday after completing her first year at Hogwarts where she had predictably been sorted in Gryffindor, and her delight at seeing her father finally settle down with Flora, who she couldn't have loved any more if she'd been her real mother, was very emotional for those witnessing. For all his faults, Ron had done a fine job raising his daughter by himself after the tragic circumstances of her birth. Keah was a true Weasley, kind and mischievous in equal measure.
Draco and Harry, who had formalised their relationship and bonded a few years previously, had been in great spirits at the wedding, despite Draco's mounting panic, that had been increasing all summer, about Willow leaving for Hogwarts on the first of September.
Teddy was already there of course, having just finished his second year, and was full of tall stories to aggravate the tiny blonde girl he considered his sister, having been raised together. Teddy was a proud Hufflepuff, as was his mother before him, and found it hilarious that Draco was practically wetting himself about Willow being Sorted into Slytherin, (due to her parentage it was almost a given that was where she would go) and alternating this with wetting himself that she would not be in Slytherin, since he considered that all the other houses were a bit shit.
Draco had been a constant source of hand-flapping, problem-making, over-protective amusement ever since Willow had received her Hogwarts letter from Professor McGonagall earlier that year.
Willow had recovered well from her difficult start in life. Her early years had kept Harry and Draco back and forth to St Mungo's with every cough or sneeze, and it was true she had suffered some nasty illnesses that a stronger child might have fought off, but as she grew older she grew stronger, and although still small and insubstantial, a heavy gust of wind could knock her over, she had a Malfoy's confidence and wound the three males in her family around her little finger. Hermione privately had no doubt that Willow would be sorted into Slytherin, and would do very well there, the house no longer being the bastion of pureblood superiority it had been during her own schooldays; but a house for the tenacious, the cunning, and the ambitious.
Harry had now been an Auror for six years, taking a year longer than Ron to qualify but moving through the ranks faster since then. He was already at supervisory level, and Hermione had no doubt that he would became the department head at some point in the future.
With no need for income once he had sold Malfoy Manor, Draco had given up work almost entirely to raise Willow, although he still came over to the cottage fairly regularly to assist Severus when needed, and he planned to return full-time once she started Hogwarts and finally complete his Potions Mastery as Severus' apprentice, which was probably a wise idea since he was likely to drive Harry completely insane with his worrying during the school time.
Severus. She looked at her striking husband, still as attractive to her ten years later as he had been right at the start. He was relaxing on the old swingseat in the garden, having kicked off his shoes and socks, unfastened the buttons at his collar and rolled up the sleeves of his white shirt. It really had been too hot for formal wear at the wedding today, she was glad to be a female and able to get away with a light summer dress as Severus had been hot and bothered most of the day in full formal dress robes.
He had been true to his word and had indeed expanded beneath the cottage and down into the cliff, creating a wonderful laboratory from where he had restarted STS Potions, deciding from the start that he would scale down the intense basic-remedies production. This was since Draco was no longer working for him with any kind of regularity and he refused to employ anybody else, opting to concentrate on brewing Wolfsbane, for which he was the only supplier, and his own private research.
The potions researching had been his dream for so long that he could scarcely believe he was finally doing it. And getting paid for it! He spent two days a month at St Mungo's potions research department, and they paid him a consultancy fee for his findings. There had been several trips abroad to potions conferences and symposiums, and he had been published many times in prominent potions journals. He was outstanding in his field, respected and much sought-after as a potioneer and speaker.
And best of all, when she returned home from work she was greeted by dinner and the lips of her husband, except when he was so engrossed in a piece of research or a particular brew that she could have pranced down to the cellar naked and he wouldn't notice. She knew. She'd tried it.
By Merlin, she loved this man. For his work ethic, his intellect, his bravery, his sensitivity, his sensuality and yes, even his sheer bloody-mindedness. There had never been a moment she had regretted the choice she had made to bind herself to him. In return, he loved her with a fierce passion bordering on obsession. He never let a day go past without assuring her of his devotion, and she never had to worry about him enjoying the attentions of other witches. He appeared wilfully blind to any interest shown to him, which had been quite comical at some potions events; he was disinterested to the point of being rude, to flirting witches trying their luck with the wealthy, mysterious professor.
As the sun was beginning to fall in the sky the temperature had gone down to a bearable level, and the garden was pleasantly warm, with a salty sea breeze blowing in from the ocean that cooled their hot skin.
She walked towards him, glasses of cool lemonade in her hands, and set them on the small table. He took one, and downed it in one, gratefully. In no mood for false politeness, she took another glass and did the same thing, letting out a relieved gasp for breath at the end.
"You will burp now," he teased, holding out his hand for hers.
"How rude, of course I won't," she replied, taking his hand and allowing him to pull her towards him, "and if I do, it will be her fault, not mine," she grinned.
"Ah yes," he said, leaning forward and planting kisses on Hermione's swollen belly, "this little lady who keeps her mother awake at all hours, makes her back hurt and of course causes all the burps she thinks I don't notice."
Hermione swatted him lightly on the shoulder.
"Do you mind?"
"Not at all. Now come and sit down, you have been on your feet most of the day; you will retain water in your ankles if you are not careful."
She sank down on the swingseat, battered with over-use but still their favourite place in the cottage, and lifted her legs up atop the comfy seat, stretching out and leaning on Severus for support. He placed his hand on her stomach and rubbed soothing circles on the taut skin.
"It will not be long now, my darling, I promise you."
"I know, another month. I can do it."
He leaned forwards and dropped a kiss on her forehead.
And to think that people had thought that Severus Snape would never be a good father. In fact, even Severus himself believed he could never be a good father. Well, that was a load of rubbish, the proof of which was running across the lawn to them now, his white shirt that had been so pristine for the wedding now covered in chocolate cake, grass stains and pumpkin juice, the smart little trousers long discarded for a pair of eye-wateringly awful shorts with dragons on them.
"Zeph," she called, "do you want some lemonade? Me and Daddy are having some."
He ran over, in the slightly awkward way that a nearly-three-year-old runs.
"Yus Mumma," he replied, "Me want."
"Say please, Zephyr," Severus prompted, gently.
He barked out a short laugh.
"That will do. Here you are."
He passed the glass to his son, who had difficulty holding it in his sweaty hands, so Severus held the glass steady and tipped it slowly as the little boy drank the sweet lemonade that was such a treat. Molly had made the pink lemonade especially for the wedding, and had pressed a jug on them to take home.
Zephyr Granger-Snape had made his impending arrival known as Hermione was completing her third year as the Head of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures.
She had quickly worked her way through the department, and succeeded Esther as Head when her friend was offered a high-ranking place on the Wizengamot. Hermione was proud of everything she had achieved as department head, in particular, the passing of legislation that greatly improved life and working conditions for house-elves. Finally, SPEW had come to fruition, with no need for hand-knitted bobble hats, now she could really do something effective.
When she found out she was expecting, it was an easy decision to take an extended sabbatical from work to raise her child. She was Hermione Granger, and Hermione Granger did not do anything unless it was to the best of her ability. Child-rearing would be no different.
Zeph would be grown and at Hogwarts before she knew it, it was really no hardship to spend his childhood years at home with him, and actually she loved it. The little girl inside her was planned and much-wanted, to complete their family in the most perfect way.
Severus helped his son to drain the contents of the glass, who was clearly enjoying the normally-forbidden sugary drink. He smacked his lips once he was done, and grinned at his parents.
Hermione had said that Zeph was the image of his father, and at first he hadn't believed her, but as the boy grew older it was difficult to deny. His poker-straight black hair, pale skin, skinny legs and signs of the family nose meant this child was nothing but a Snape. He sometimes wondered if Hermione was secretly annoyed that her son looked nothing like her. Privately wondered, of course.
The difference between Zephyr and the childhood Severus was love, good nutrition, direction, approval and purpose. Zeph was glowing with health and happiness, all due to Hermione's instinctive care.
He supposed it was the same with him, brought to life by her love and care.
Gathering his beloved son onto his lap, the son he never thought he would have, his dark eyes drooping, he allowed him to wrap his hot, sticky arms around his neck and rest his head upon his strong shoulder. Zeph soon became heavy with tiredness, and his eyes began to close, his long black eyelashes feathering his soft white cheeks. He was a beautiful boy.
Hermione was leant against him on his other side, her curly hair under his chin and his daughter alive and moving in her belly under the touch of his hand which rested lightly on the swollen ripeness of her pregnancy bump.
Not for the first time, and certainly not for the last, he marvelled about how he, Severus Snape, could have ended up so damn lucky.
His arms were full.