A/N: Well this is it, the final chapter. If you've made it this far, I sincerely hope you've enjoyed this story. It has been intense and tumultuous, which pretty well sums up my life during the time of writing. But it is also a love story which I hope comes through in the end. As always, I couldn't have done it without the support of you, my loyal and generous readers. This past two years of writing has been extraordinary. I didn't ever imagine that I could write anything that anyone would be interested in reading . . . so this entire journey is beyond anything I could ever have dreamed of. I have entered a new chapter in my life, as most of you know. And thanks to your support and encouragement I am considering taking my writing a step further with an original fic and hopefully publication. This means that I might not have as much time for SS/HG but they will always be my OTP and my HEA. I hope to keep in touch with all of you who I have loved hearing from throughout. Take care and my sincerest thanks, DSxx
Severus was as close to panic-stricken as Hermione had ever seen him. A wildness had captured his eyes, such that she could imagine the churning chaos closing in on him, as it had with her on so many occasions. No doubt he could see the world unravelling—all of his plans to protect her falling apart.
But there was nothing else for it.
She had to make him understand.
"You told me that I'd finished your story."
His gaze jumped about distractedly, his dark brows drawing together as he tried to make sense of her words.
She slipped the hand that she'd placed against his cheek into his hair and grabbed on tightly, trying to get him to focus.
"Severus, you told me that I'd finished your story," she repeated urgently, sensing that their time together was almost up. "Now I want to finish my own . . . with you." He shook his head faintly but she ignored it, holding on tighter. "I want you to finish it."
"I . . . can't."
"Yes," she persisted, tugging his face towards her. "Yes, you can."
She smiled then, her conviction growing as she heard the words, her own, spoken aloud.
"You must go to the Ministry and tell them that I cast the reversal." His head was shaking 'no' again but she tugged him more forcefully, steadying his gaze upon her. "Tell them that I went into hiding—I failed to return after leaving a note. Tell them that I was untraceable for a week and a half until you caught up with me at my parents' house . . . after the reversal had already occurred."
His gaze narrowed. He was clearly unconvinced but she ploughed on.
"Tell them that you're confident that I will take it no further . . . that my intention was only ever to perform the reversal on my parents and that I am now safe."
"And why would they believe such a thing?" he snapped bitterly.
"They may not. But tell them that you will be responsible for me . . . If it happens again, you will accept the repercussions, personally."
He snorted. "So after already losing you for a week and a half, they would be confident of such a claim?"
"Tell them you will be watching me more closely from now on. In fact, I will rarely be out of your sight."
The frown returned, his eyes shuttering slightly as though on the verge of comprehension.
She released his hair then, rubbing him gently behind the ear before trailing her hand back down to his cheek, nestling her thumb-tip in the cleft of his scar.
"Tell them that you will be leaving Hogwarts . . . with me . . . as soon as a replacement is found for the Headmaster position. And that this is the final role that you will ever perform in their service. Or in the service of anyone."
He blinked then . . . slowly . . . as the realisation gradually surfaced, boiling up from the depths of his eyes. After a few moments, he swallowed, and she noted the faint tremble of his parted lips.
"I don't need your pity." His words were a strangled whisper.
"You don't have my pity," she stated firmly, attempting to dispel his doubts. Still she gazed at him, keeping her heart and mind as open as possible in case he needed further reassurance. "You have my heart. And I can only hope," she paused, suddenly anxious that she may have somehow misread him, ". . . that I have yours."
He stared at her then and she felt herself shrinking further under his scrutiny. He still had the capacity to intimidate her with a look, to fell her with a word . . . but this time his piercing gaze had her questioning . . .
Had she somehow got it wrong? Was she about to find out that she'd made a huge mistake . . . that she didn't really know him at all?
Reaching a hand towards her, he placed his palm against her cheek, and she felt his index finger resting lightly upon her temple.
She caught her breath.
Then again . . . there was always that option.
To remove everything once and for all . . . as though it had never been . . . except in the weft of her body . . . and the weave . . . of her dreams.
"This is alright, isn't it?" Harry nodded appreciatively as his gaze swept around the garden, an open bottle of beer in one hand and the other fist shoved deep into his pocket.
Hermione knew that her grin was ridiculous, but she couldn't seem to temper it, she was just happy—beyond happy, in fact . . . she had been verging on delirious the entire day. Being able to invite her friends and family around for lunch . . . to her house . . . to their home, was so surreal that she had almost worried that she would slip back into that trance-like fog again—the one that had dominated much of her life only a matter of months before.
But he had been there to reassure her . . . soft kisses in her hair . . . hands on her shoulders, trickling down her arms as she'd stirred potatoes at the stove. Then her hands had sought him out, gliding over his chest as he'd set the beer, his own brew, on ice.
"We like it," she responded shyly, squinting a little in the sunlight.
Harry grinned knowingly. "I'll say. I've never seen you so happy . . . and Snape . . ."
Hermione lifted a hopeful eyebrow, finding that she was suddenly desperate . . . needing to know that her friends accepted the man she had chosen—the man that she loved so dearly, that she adored so fervently that she could spend hours simply watching him . . . tending the garden . . . reading, her head resting on his lap. Her heart would fill with his quiet, with his contemplation. And she would feel it all restoring him, leaf by leaf, page by page.
"He smiled at me when he answered the door," Harry laughed. "I didn't think he was capable of it."
Hermione's smile broadened as she imagined Harry's shock at seeing the man whose features had lifted visibly, casting aside years of strain, who now wore tidy but casual Muggle clothes and who would even laugh . . . spontaneously. When that deep bass rolled out, it was still so unexpected and infectious and she would inevitably end up joining in.
"We're both really happy." She lifted one shoulder in a small shrug. "I sometimes have trouble believing it . . . after everything . . ."
Harry nodded and took a swig of beer before wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. "Yeah."
They grew quiet for a moment.
"How are you going?" Hermione asked, looking over to the swing seat where Ginny and Luna were in deep conversation, glasses of white wine cupped in their hands. "You and Ginny?"
Harry looked into his beer bottle, as though studying the answer in its depths.
"You know." He tilted his head a little to the side. "I was angry for a long time . . . after finding out that she'd lied."
"She was scared of losing you."
"Well . . . she nearly did." He looked at her, his green eyes hardening behind his glasses.
"We've all done things we're not proud of." Hermione reached out and touched his arm. "I know I have. And you've still managed to forgive me."
"Have I?" He gazed at her for long enough for her to begin to worry. Then the corner of his mouth lifted. "Yeah, it's just that I wasn't there when you needed me . . . because of her lies."
Hermione squeezed his arm reassuringly. "I had someone else."
He nodded slowly. "You did." Then he looked over her shoulder and she knew that he was studying Severus. "But you didn't really say what he did that was so helpful."
Hermione suddenly hooked her arm into Harry's and turned her face away, hoping to cover the flush rising in her cheeks. "He just encouraged me . . . to be more."
"Did he?" Harry sounded sceptical.
"Well . . . in a fashion," she murmured, heading with him towards Ginny and Luna.
"There's certainly more to him than meets the eye." Harry glanced his way again.
"Oh yes," she breathed, her own eyes flickering over to Severus, drinking him in as she always did. He was sitting in a plastic chair on the patio, gesticulating with his usual air of elegance as her mother trilled with laughter before slapping him lightly on the knee. Hermione smiled. Her mother adored him, and Hermione loved it.
"So this all seems pretty serious." Harry nodded toward the back of the house as they approached. "Is it a long-term thing?"
"I hope so. My parents have helped with the deposit—they made a bit from selling their house in Australia. Severus has started brewing again for the apothecary. And I'll be taking my N.E. next month. Then hopefully I can move on and find a job that I enjoy."
"At the Ministry?"
She chewed the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. "I'm not sure that their values align with mine."
Harry frowned at her. "Is this about the House-elves again?"
She laughed. "No, it's just a matter of being wise enough . . . to learn from the past."
His eyes roved over her face. "Sounds like another story?"
"For another time," she responded quickly, smiling at Ginny who was beckoning them over.
"And remember, Harry." She suddenly turned to him. "We've all been through a lot. And we have all coped differently. No one's perfect. Not me. Not Ginny. Not even the boy who lived."
Harry grinned. "I'm as good as."
Laughing, Hermione pushed him away.
Severus filled Mrs Granger's glass with white wine before dismissing the bottle back to the ice box.
She considered him over the rim of the glass as she took a sip, the mirth in the corners of her eyes fading a little. It seemed there was something more serious that she wished to discuss.
Finally she said it,
"I still don't completely trust my memory. Do you find that?"
Severus paused, considering his own glass, tilting it so that the sun played off the rim. "It's difficult . . . after that sort of experience."
"Do you think it's real?" she continued. "Or am I simply imagining it . . . anxious perhaps?"
He released a slow breath. "There is a sensation . . . of knowing . . . that comes naturally with our thoughts. It gives us confidence to trust ourselves. When that has been compromised, it can be challenging for that trust to be restored."
She watched him closely, her eyes—so much like Hermione's—intently scanning his face.
"You see, I'm worried. My mother has Alzheimer's disease. I sometimes wonder if it might be the beginnings of that. I even wonder if what happened may have caused . . . damage."
The staccato delivery and the way she now avoided his gaze made it clear that she was attempting to keep her emotions in check. Severus put his glass down on the arm of his chair and leaned forward a little to address her.
"There is no physical damage. But your anxiety will make any perceived deficit worse. You need to create opportunities to validate yourself . . . to demonstrate that your capacity remains, but be gentle, don't force it. It is also the case that our memories of any given situation will never be entirely accurate. And that is as it should be."
She blinked a few times before nodding her acknowledgement. "Yes, you're right, Severus." She swallowed, her face pinching a little before continuing. "I suppose it is also an odd sense of guilt—to now understand how frightening it is to lose that trust . . . that sense of familiarity. And yet I put my mother through it every time I visit. She doesn't remember me. She must wonder who this stranger is . . . constantly reinforcing what has been lost. I wonder it would be better for me not to see her at all."
Her voice had ground down to little more than a whisper.
Severus reached out, placing his hand on top of hers.
"Without memory there is no past. But there is a present . . . and future. When you live in the present . . . joy comes in moments, not memories. And you can still have rich moments . . . always."
She broke down then, turning her hand to grasp his as she pressed the other to her mouth. She remained that way, shuddering silently until her breaths had slowed to sighs and the whites of her knuckles had faded. Finally she stood, turning her shimmering gaze to him.
"I'm just so grateful that you found one another," she murmured, giving his hand a gentle squeeze. "You are exactly what she needs."
Then she released him and headed toward the back door in short, quick strides.
He sat back.
What she needs.
It was still almost impossible to fathom.
He turned his head. Across the garden Hermione lifted two slender fingers in a small wave. And then she was approaching, framed in sunlight, her mass of curls aflame. And it happened to be how he always saw her. Perpetually gilt. Like a gift. One that he received every day. Over and over again.
What she needs?
He had been wrong. He understood that now. One could not live as an emotional isolate. Not without becoming a mere shell, rotten on the inside.
But how did one live as the opposite —an emotional gourmand? Simultaneously empty, aching with need, and full, bursting with adoration?
How did one live with this? This soft, sensuous woman now sinking into his lap . . . now kissing him, filling him with a whole new emotion, one that he knew only as 'Hermione'—love magnified until it stole his breath away.
How did one live with her?
Quite wonderfully . . . as it turned out.
By accepting that, despite everything, sometimes life was good.
By letting gratitude be enough.
And by giving everything of himself to her, laying himself bare because he trusted her more than he had ever trusted anyone, including himself.
She had been gradually restoring his memories, a fraction at a time—helping to reunite the traces . . . to relieve the deep-set torment. And she had challenged him to accept and forgive by opening and giving of herself, by guiding him, easing him through each difficult revelation with the impassioned cajoling of her body and the penetrating insight of her mind.
Even now, as she sat completely encompassed by him, he felt her hand slip protectively around his shoulders.
And that was the crux of it all. That they could be both the strength and grace that one another needed.
Then, of course, there was the fact that just being near her made him extremely hard.
"Do you need to take a potion in the future . . . before such occasions?" He could hear the smile on her voice as she leaned into his ear. "To ensure that the little Slytherin doesn't make a scene?"
"Well . . . compared to the rest of you." She kissed his neck. ". . . My substantial Slytherin."
"That's not helping," he warned her, shifting his hips a little to accommodate the straining bulge in his trousers.
"Yes it is," she breathed, sliding her hand down to his crotch.
He inhaled sharply and caught her by the wrist. "Disobedience of that sort has serious repercussions, as you well know," he rumbled under his breath. "What particular punishment were you hoping for tonight?"
She nipped him on the earlobe. "Well Headmaster . . . I thought I'd leave that up to your discretion."
He growled, holding her closer.
Despite having enjoyed the day more than expected, he had a good mind to now Imperius the lot of them and march them out the door so he could tie her to the patio furniture and fuck her in every way imaginable.
She snorted in his ear. "I don't think these chairs will be up to the job."
He chuckled, turning to capture her lips again.
She knew him too well. Better than anyone had ever cared to know him.
Which is why she was perfect.
And why she was his—a fact that she seemed to be rather proud of, making sure that the 'S'-shaped bruises on her backside were never allowed to fade.