To say that Hermione was shocked was to say nothing.

She did have a bad feeling about that ruse of a date from the start, but if she'd refused Roger, all those weeks of listening to him blab away would've been for nothing. And willingly undergoing that pure torture for the sake of saving an innocent teen who was supposed to save the world from a madman was one thing, doing all that for nothing — was quite another.

Besides, Hermione repeatedly discussed that with Severus, repeatedly. At least three times, the last one being right before they left the cottage today. Ugh… didn't matter now. She should've known better than to take his word for it and insisted that he stayed behind this time.

Hermione sighed and walked out on the street, hoping that the silly man's jealousy fit didn't make him run too far and he was on the porch or somewhere nearby, but luck was not on her side this evening. There wasn't a soul to be found. She stepped down on the road and looked around, trying to decide where to go. He could be literally anywhere. That's why before attempting to go in either direction, Hermione circled the cottage on the off chance that Severus simply sat in the tiny garden behind it, but it was empty too.

"Ugh… Stupid, stupid man. Why do you always insist on presuming the worst…" mumbled Hermione, returning to the street and taking off toward the beach. It would probably have been wiser to just give Severus some time to cool down and wait for him to come back, but Hermione didn't give a damn about what was wiser at the moment. She needed to set the man straight. How dare he accuse her of cheating of all things?! They — were — not — together!

"Men…" she grumbled under her nose, stomping purposefully forward. "Why do I always have to do everything myself?"

And all dressed up?! Since when were simple everyday blouses and plain skirts considered 'dressed up'? She wasn't even wearing her heels, for God's sake!

Half an hour later she strode along the edge of the lake toward the dark silent figure of Severus Snape who stood motionless with his hands in his pockets, looking at the sky above. He either didn't notice or ignored her — no matter which — it was of no consequence. Hermione walked up to him confidently and stopped very close, facing him.

"Severus," was all she said before grabbing his head in both hands and kissing him square in the lips. His eyes widened comically and he froze, but Hermione didn't care. He'll get over it. She was goddamn tired of tiptoeing around the man. If he wanted her — well, there she was. It was time to act the grown ups they both were. After keeping their lips pressed for several more seconds, she ended the kiss, but didn't let go of him.

"You're a very smart man, Severus, but… Come on, how could you be that daft!" exclaimed Hermione, shaking her head. She then pressed her forehead to his heaving chest and gently stroked his upper arms, feeling the warmth through his thin shirtsleeves. He was trembling. "How could you think that of me?" she whispered. "I told you I love you. I told you I couldn't stop loving you even when I tried. And I did try, believe me." She looked up into his eyes. "I dated different men. Intelligent, beautiful, powerful, easy-going men of different age and social status. And I dumped each and every one of them because I couldn't stop thinking about you, couldn't stop imagining you instead of them sitting across from me in a restaurant, holding me, kissing me, making love to me. I told you this, didn't I? Didn't you believe me?"

"I did." He looked so adorably contrite and red-faced, that Hermione couldn't help but smile at him.

"Then why?"

Severus sighed, finally relaxing his muscles a bit. "Forgive me. I have no explanation beyond my stupidity and insecurities. …Please?"

"I forgive you," she smiled again.

Severus smiled back. It was not a big grin, but it was warm and timid, and it made Hermione's insides melt.

"Now," she continued. "I think we need to talk, don't you agree? Would you prefer we take a walk or just return to the cottage?"

"It doesn't matter," he shrugged in reply. "Whatever you choose is fine with me."

"Let's walk to the cottage then."

Hermione habitually took his arm and they unhurriedly set toward their destination, silent for some time.

"So," she started cautiously, looking straight ahead.


"You have feelings for me."

Severus kept quiet for a long moment, apparently deciding what to reply. "I…"

Suddenly another couple walked out of the cottage they were passing and followed them at some distance, chatting quietly, and it forced Severus to fall silent. Hermone was about to cast Muffliato and continue the conversation, despite her racing heart and sweaty palms, but one glance at her companion made her reconsider. Severus looked thoughtful and, putting it mildly, — worried. In other words — panicking. These days he wasn't using Occlumency as heavily as he did before, and Hermione was able to read him easier. Not that it was helping her much at the moment.

3rd street was located about ten minutes walk from the beach, so by this point they had already reached it, and turned left. The cottage was somewhere in the middle of the street, and the rest of their track went by in silence, even though they once again were alone. Hermione's head was swimming… from nerves, or happiness, or anticipation she couldn't tell. She imagined this moment so many times in the past decade, but if anything, all that preparation seemed to have only made things worse now. Severus Snape was a force of nature, one needed to be an utter idiot without a hint of a brain or even a tiny bit of self preservation to believe otherwise, and even she had no hope in hell of controlling him. Hermione preferred not to delude herself, taking his occasional bouts of insecurity and shyness as signs of his weakness, or her occasional ordering him around as a sign of his inability to make up his mind and act accordingly. She knew: if Severus Snape made a decision, it was almost impossible to sway him. He was that stubborn. Right now she had no idea what he was thinking, and it quite literally made her tremble with fear. She wasn't sure he was ready for a romantic relationship in general, and for any sort of confessions in particular yet.

On the other hand, Severus did try to show her who he was behind those impressive walls of his. It had to be a good sign, right? How much he must've been trusting Hermione to allow her to see the real him… The magnitude of sheer responsibility this placed on her nearly choked her, adding to the jumbled mess of emotions inside.

The pair of them climbed the stairs on the porch to their cottage, and Hermione pushed the door open. It was now or never… She already made her move, all that was left was waiting.

Forty minutes earlier

Severus could not believe what was happening. During their three weeks on the island, he felt himself gradually relax to the established routine and, all sporadic disruptions in a shape of the baboon Brown notwithstanding, feeling more and more confident around Hermione. She turned out to be even more intelligent and knowledgeable than he previously assumed, so Severus truly enjoyed every minute they spent together. Even when they argued about one thing or another, it felt more like friendly banter or debate than an actual fight, despite the high levels the decibels inevitably reached on occasion. It occurred to him a few times that he would never have allowed himself to yell at Lily like that in the past, but seeing as that kind of thoughts usually tend to make him rather nervous, he preferred to ignore them.

And the more time had passed, the more Severus realized that, no matter what they were doing, he wasn't capable of stopping himself anymore. Wasn't capable of controlling himself as tightly as he was used to. There was just something totally disarming about Hermione with her smiles and her eyes that simply did not allow him to be anyone but his true self. It scared the hell out of him, whilst making him feel a tiny bit better and lighter every time she accepted some new fact or emotion or opinion he revealed to her, and Severus liked watching her doing that. Each time, the moment he let something of that sort slip his tongue, Hermione's eyes shone with understanding, with tenderness, or — and it was the best — with pride. No one had ever looked at him with pride in their eyes, and by this point Severus was already addicted to it.

And he felt proud in return too, of course. Proud to walk around the streets with such a gorgeous young woman on his arm, sensing passerby's stares at them; proud to be watched and cared for by her; proud to feel worthy of her obvious trust; proud of being chosen by her, a hated, foul-mouthed, ill-tempered dork that he was.

Severus still preferred not to analyze it all too deeply, though. It made him nervous and uncomfortable, so for the most part he spent these weeks just going with the flow, so to speak, enjoying the journey without thinking much about the future, as well as the present, truth be told, and ignoring the steadily growing 'something' in his chest.

And look where it got him. It was all ruined now. Severus felt ashamed of his outburst even while he was saying his last words, but he couldn't prevent them from falling out of his mouth try as he might. The door to the cottage snapped shut with the sense of finality, and Severus couldn't contain himself any longer — he let out a loud sob and leaned on one of the pillars of the porch for a second, taking deep calming breaths. Maybe not all was ruined, or at least not completely. It was stupid to hope, deep down Severus knew it, but he wasn't able to quelch the feeling nonetheless. Hermione showed him that there was another way, that he didn't have to die tragically at the age of barely forty, feared and hated, and Severus was desperately gripping at it. He realized, quite suddenly, that he wanted to live this life, and he wanted to be loved by this woman, and the last three weeks showed him just how possible it was.

With one last deep breath, he wiped his face, getting rid of the remnants of tears, and walked down the steps of the porch, stopping on the empty road. Severus had every intention of getting back to Hermione and somehow making it up to her for the outburst, but not right this moment. First he needed to get his own thoughts in order.

The weather was nice — as always here — so Severus decided to take a short stroll. For about twenty minutes, he mindlessly wandered around the streets, thinking about nothing in particular (or at least tried to), until he found himself on the beach. It was dark and quiet. Just as the sky above him, the lake surface was still and black, reflecting myriads of bright stars. Lights of a town on the other side of the lake were too far away and didn't seem much different from the stars, which created an overall breathtaking picture.

Severus stopped and for several minutes gawked at the view in complete awe, feeling peace spreading inside him, covering his very soul like a warm blanket. All thoughts vanished, taking worries with them. It reminded Severus of the first night at the Astronomy tower, when he lay with his head on Hermione's lap, feeling her warm fingers combing his hair and massaging his skull.

Ugh… He needed to talk to her. Really talk. Hermione's done so much for him, was still doing every moment of every day, even now Severus was sure that she was searching for him, worried. Honesty was the least of what he owed to her.

Resolved to finally get some balls to sit down with the witch and tell her the truth, Severus closed his eyes and took a deep breath, intending to return to the cottage.

"Severus," suddenly called Hermione, appearing seemingly out of nowhere, and he abruptly looked down, toward the voice. He inhaled, but didn't get a chance to utter a word, because she pulled his head down and kissed him without preamble. Shocked, Severus froze on the spot, which was a good thing, because otherwise he was sure he would've done something incredibly foolish, like bolting the hell out of there. It was the first thought that zipped through his mind, but thankfully it was gone just as quickly. In the end, it didn't do much good, however… In his stupor, Severus wasn't able to do more than imitate a statue, and didn't kiss her back. All he was able to do was stare down at the wonderful woman kissing him and hope that he wouldn't have a heart attack.

"You're a very smart man, Severus, but…" Hermione whispered, opening her eyes and releasing his lips. "Come on, how could you be that daft!" she exclaimed and pressed her forehead to his chest. Severus felt his face growing hot.

"How could you think that of me?" she continued whispering. "I told you I love you. I told you I couldn't stop loving you even when I tried. And I did try, believe me." Hermione locked gazes with him, and Severus' heart skipped a beat. "I dated different men. Intelligent, beautiful, powerful, easy-going men of different age and social status. And I dumped each and every one of them because I couldn't stop thinking about you, couldn't stop imagining you instead of them sitting across from me in a restaurant, holding me, kissing me, making love to me. I told you this, didn't I? Didn't you believe me?"

"I did," Severus choked out, listening to her words echoing around his mind mixed with the sound of his pulse.

"Then why?"

He sighed and forced his muscles to relax. This was Hermione — the kindest woman in existence.

"Forgive me. I have no explanation beyond my stupidity and insecurities," he managed to say. "…Please?"

"I forgive you," Hermione smiled. He couldn't help but smile back.

"Now," she continued. "I think we need to talk, don't you agree? Would you prefer we take a walk or just return to the cottage?"

"It doesn't matter," he shrugged in reply. "Whatever you choose is fine with me."

He was in no state to remember his own name at the moment.

"Let's walk to the cottage then."

The way back was tense… and that's putting it mildly. They attempted a conversation, but didn't manage to say more than a couple of words to each other. Severus nearly lost his resolve at least three times, so by the time they finally got inside, he was feeling physically sick from nerves. Hermione seemed nervous too, which did not help the situation. At least his breathing calmed and his heart rate felt somewhat normal again.

The living room was brightly lit, and it painfully contrasted with the almost complete darkness of the street. Severus squinted his eyes for several seconds, rubbing them. When he opened them back, Hermione was sitting on the couch, watching him. Uncomfortable, he walked to the kitchenette and poured himself a glass of water, but then his eyes landed on the mug he poured it into, and he dumped the water into the sink, feeling even worse. He put the mug back and leaned his hands on the countertop, hanging his head down with his eyes closed and sighing deeply.

"For fuck's sake, get a grip on yourself! She's not going to eat you for falling for her," Severus scolded himself silently, remembering quite vividly Hermione's unexpected confession weeks ago. She had a lot more reasons to feel sick from nerves then than he did now… after all, all he basically needed to do was to say the words back.

That particular realization nearly triggered another panic attack. Somehow he went and fell in love with Hermione fucking Granger — the most beautiful (and not just in terms of physical appearance), smart, kind, and capable witch he had ever seen in his entire life. Not that Severus hadn't noticed those feelings before now — they were softly simmering under his skin for quite a while — but the prospect of defining and admitting them even to himself terrified him, literally made him break out in a cold sweat.

Forcing himself to ignore it, Severus straightened and took a seat on the opposite side of the couch, boring his gaze into Hermione's face. She seemed to have also calmed down: her expression was open, not a single worry wrinkled her forehead, but most important were her eyes — they held such warmth in them, it took Severus' breath away. A small smile graced Hermione's lips, as if promising that everything was going to be alright. For some reason, Severus found himself believing it.

It was still hard to talk, looking at her, however, watching her looking at him, so he turned his gaze away, instead watching the empty fireplace. After a moment he stopped sensing Hermione's burning gaze on him, which meant that she must've turned away too. Severus didn't check, though he was grateful for the reprieve. There was only one tiny thing left — decide what to say. Technically, he already admitted to having feelings for the witch, what else was there?

"What are your plans for —" Hermione started saying, but Severus interrupted her.

"No…" He threw a quick glance in her direction. "No, please, Hermione, I need to say it."

"Ok," she agreed, nodding. "I just… I want you to know that it's fine if you can't. If you're not ready, or —"

"I will never be ready, Hermione, and you know it," Severus whispered and rubbed his face. "I am not accustomed to expressing my… my feelings, but I want you to know that I have them. I confess, I had doubts initially about this whole endeavor, about you loving me…" he stopped and glanced at the witch fearfully, dropping his voice to a whisper, "I'm sorry… I'm sorry. I… It has nothing to do with you, really, I just… Well, let's say I'm not spoiled in regards to being shown any sort of affection, never has been. I don't think my own mother had ever said that she loved me. I sincerely doubt she even felt it. And the less said about my daddy dearest the better. There hasn't been anyone else, so it's hard to… to accept it. When I was a child I often wondered if it was something I was doing wrong or the world hated me just on general principle. I mean, I understand why people would hate and fear me now, but back then… I was just a kid. I didn't do anything wrong yet," Severus sighed and crossed his arms on his chest, for a moment falling silent and watching how Hermione started a small fire in the fireplace.

"Anyway… That's not what I wanted to talk about. I hope you understand now why I had reservations, if not — sorry. My thoughts are in a little bit of a disarray, it's hard to make sense. I'm also sorry if I offended you, it was not my intention." Severus' gaze shifted to Hermione's serene face, and this time stayed there.

The room became warmer, and the sound of the fire quietly cracking also was having a strange calming effect. Last time the two of them spoke like this, Severus was literally forcing the words out, glad for the cover of darkness, now, however… Now the speech flowed naturally, talking was becoming more and more easy with each passing second. Severus never thought he'd have that sort of innate connection with anybody.

"I understand, dear, don't worry about my reactions, just say whatever you feel you need to say," Hermione replied quietly, smiling at him.

And she meant it from all her heart, Severus knew it in his very bones. He wasn't able to even nod in response… He was once again dumbstruck by the onslaught of all sorts of emotions those simple words raised in him. No one had ever put him and his needs and wishes first… No one, ever. Only Hermione. His angel. He blinked a few times, trying to dispel the tears that threatened to fall once again, and took a deep breath, looking straight into Hermione's eyes. There was so much warmth, kindness, tenderness, understanding, love, hope in them…

"I love you," he whispered, suddenly feeling ready to take on the whole world if only she would continue looking at him this way. His face stretched in a happy smile for the first time in years. Hermione started crying. "I love you, my angel," Severus repeated louder and scooted closer to her on the couch, squeezing her in a tight hug. "Please, don't cry, or I'm going to start crying too," he mumbled into her hair.

Hermione sniffed and wrapped her arms around him. "Sorry. I'm sorry. Those are happy tears, love. I never thought I'd hear those words from you, I wasn't allowing myself to even hope that there might be a time when you'd see me as anything more than an annoying know-it-all."

"Oh, you are a know-it-all, Hermione, there can be no doubt about that," Severus smirked, feeling so incredibly light, he feared he'd float away. "I just don't think it's all that annoying. More like precious."

Clearly amused, she leaned back a little to be able to look at him. "Is that so?"

"Yes," breathed Severus, pressing her back to his chest. "Everything about you is precious, Hermione. I don't think you even realize how much."

There. He said it.

Time went on. On the second evening after that conversation — on Thursday, the 22nd of August, 1996 to be precise — they went on their first date, and Severus couldn't be happier. It took him another couple of days to realize that, actually, he could. Friday night was the last one that he spent alone and unexpectedly miserable, and it was enough for him to brave Hermione's bed on Saturday. Since then they were virtually inseparable.

Sunday was the last day of their vacation in America and simultaneously the first day Severus was capable of a friendly-ish conversation with the infamous Roger Brown. Not that it really mattered much at that point… But it clearly made Hermione happy, so Severus didn't question it. Shortly after that, the two of them left for Europe, and spent the rest of the time until they caught up to themselves living in Hermione's flat in Paris.

Severus loved every moment of it. It didn't matter how tiny the flat was, for once he welcomed the closeness. He craved it more and more with each day, as if trying to make up for all the time he lost throughout the past years. Remembering Hermione's words about how much she loved the flat, he adamantly refused to allow her to magically extend the place — which brought a positively radiant smile on her face — so they only transfigured the couch, making it somewhat wider, and did a little bit of rearranging of the furniture in the room to fit everything more or less conveniently. Naturally, no one was opposed to the extension charm on the wardrobe and especially on bookshelves, since Severus needed to have a space for his own possessions.

Once again, he was amazed at how easily and readily Hermione shared everything she had with him, and if on the island he felt a little uncomfortable with it, now Severus found himself copying her and, more importantly, enjoying it. Somehow it made him feel more confident and secure in their budding relationship.

Every morning while Hermione went running, Severus cooked breakfast, then they would work on their little Horcruxes problem, brew together, or do other things. Hermione would make lunch, and in the evenings they would cook dinner together, or order a take out, or simply go to a restaurant. Some days when they didn't have any plans, they would traipse around different cities all over the world, enjoying the views. Life was amazing.

In the middle of October, Severus started his own private brewing business. They rented the attic in the next building, and set up a lab there. Orders came regularly, and with two sets of hands, were ready quickly, so everything went smoothly. When Hermione wasn't helping in the lab, she was working on her Arithmancy mastery project, because she wanted to get it all done as soon as possible.

Just like he said — life was amazing. Not even in his wildest dreams could Severus ever imagine that he would experience something like this. A couple of times he found himself wondering if maybe he did die that day in the tower after all, and all of it was just his imagination, or Heavens. There was only one problem with that — he didn't see himself ever getting to Heavens, so… it must be his new reality. Hermione was always there to confirm it. She was always there, period. In good days and in bad days — she was his anchor, unwavering constant, his very soul.

Severus was aware that it probably wasn't good that he felt so dependent on his witch, but she didn't seem to mind it, and he had little care for the rest of it. He had someone to call his own, someone who was just as happy to call him hers, so whatever the world at large had to say about it — it could stuff it.

In November Severus reached the point where he was comfortable enough to allow Hermione to do that full check-up that she asked for in the beginning, and was pleasantly surprised to discover that his health wasn't as bad as he always assumed it to be. Regular nourishment and general lack of stress did their thing, helping his immune system kick in in full. There still were a couple of issues that needed medicinal assistance, however, but between the two of them, potions weren't a problem. Hermione even taught him how to do and read that medical scan she always used, letting him practice on herself. It in itself was quite a fascinating piece of magic, so he didn't mind learning it, but the fact that Hermione was making an effort to be just as open and trusting as she was asking him to be, one more time brought home just how serious she was about him and their relationship.

The things that Severus discovered while making those scans shocked him a little, the following discussion shocked him even more, but he accepted everything Hermione told him without an issue. He had a lot of nasty scars that resulted from even nastier things too. On the good side, he found out that he was not afraid to talk anymore. However hard the topic might be, Severus always knew that in Hermione he would find only support. They swapped a lot of stories about the past, his and her alike. It turned out that he wasn't the only one with a difficult — read: abominable — childhood, though Hermione definitely managed to cope with it far better than he did. 'Hermione' wasn't even her first given name… Apparently, her birth father named her Candace, and 'Hermione' was only her second name, given by the Grangers — a nice kind couple that took her in when she was a nine years old homeless child they met on the street.

The woman switched names as easily as gloves, he noticed, and it baffled Severus. He didn't hold much affection for his name either, but couldn't imagine calling himself anything else. He always was and will forever be Severus Snape, and that was that. Hermione's official name was Mary now, and she easily answered to it, but he couldn't bring himself to call her that either and was trying to talk her into changing it back to Hermione Granger.

It took months, but somehow one morning in late April she did agree to officially revert back to Hermione, only not Granger but Snape. Yes, he proposed, and yes, she immediately accepted, though, after the initial wave of emotions died down, they decided that the wedding itself would have to wait until the end of war, because he sincerely doubted that the Dark Lord would be just as thrilled about it as the two of them were.

And, of course, it couldn't always have been sunshine and flowers… The bloody soul-splitting fucker made sure of that. During the ten months they had, out of five remaining Horcruxes, Hermione and Severus were able to find and destroy three: the real locket, the diadem, and the cup. It was not easy, to put it mildly, especially breaking into bloody Gringotts, where they had a couple of really close calls, but they managed.

The locket was the easiest. Upon seeing R.A.B's note in Hermione's memory, Severus was able to determine two possible candidates for the identity of the author: Regulus Arcturus Black who disappeared some time around 1980 or so, and Regina Burton — a Dark Lord's groupie of sorts back during his initial raise of power. He never met her and didn't know her middle name (or if she even had one), so they decided to start with Black. One trip to the Grimmauld place later — when nobody was there, naturally — and Salazar Slytherin's locket was destroyed by means of Fiendfyre.

The next trip was to Hogwarts. Hermione had suspicions that Riddle's visit there all those years ago might have had a different purpose. He wasn't that stupid to think that Dumbledore would give him of all people the DADA position, so there was a chance that he went to the castle to drop something off. Arithmancy confirmed that suspicion, so during the winter holidays they went to the school. Thankfully, it was almost empty: only five students and about a third of the staff remained during the break, making the pair's snooping around easier. They talked to several portraits and ghosts, checked over the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff towers (just in case), the Chamber of Secrets (brought quite a few bits of the Basilisk with them) and the Room of Hidden Things. The diadem was lying there peacefully, simply begging to be destroyed, and Severus didn't have the heart to refuse it its wish. Hermione wasn't the only one capable of wielding the Fiendfyre, after all. And to personally get rid of a piece of the Dark Lord's soul felt so good. It felt like they actually did have a chance of winning.

The last trip was to Gringotts, and that was when Severus was able to truly appreciate Hermione's honed skills as a cursebreaker and her experience in breaking into places. If not for that, they both would've been dead, more so… their bodies would've never been found, because likely there wouldn't have been anything to find. Goblins were paranoid little bastards, they guarded their territory fiercely. But Hermione wouldn't be Hermione if she wasn't' able to find a weak spot and use it. Overall, the two of them spent about fifty hours in the tunnels under the bank, and walked what felt like hundreds of miles, but they did manage to get in and out of several vaults that belonged to different prominent and most trusted Death Eaters. In the end, the cup turned out to be in Lestrange's vault, and after destroying it, Severus took great pleasure in placing a few nasty surprises on several Bellatrix' things. It was childish and stupid, but he couldn't stop himself, nor did he regret it afterwards.

The rest of the Horcruxes had to wait until they caught up to themselves for obvious reasons, but it was a good progress nonetheless. They both had other things to keep them busy anyway — like preparing the ritual they would need to perform on the Potter boy to get Riddle's soul out without damaging the vessel, for example, as Caruso suggested — so it wasn't that big of a problem.

Finally, the 28th of June came. Severus woke up at the usual time, and just as usual, found Hermione stirring awake in his arms. The morning progressed like any other during the last ten months, only with a touch of sadness and a weird sort of longing gripping Severus' chest. In a couple of short hours, they would be returning to the warzone, and he hated it with all his being.

He sat at the table, pushing his food around the plate, lost in thought.

"Dear?" Hermione called softly, gently squeezing his forearm. "Are you alright?"

Severus took a deep breath and put a fork of scrambled eggs into his mouth, chewing slowly. "Honestly? Do you even need to ask?"

"Indeed," she snorted, releasing his arm and also returning to her own food. "I feel the same. But we'll manage, you know it, right? We must, Severus, we have a family and whole life waiting for us on the other side of this shitty mess."

He smiled for the first time that morning. Merlin, how much he loved her talking about their future together.

"I thought we already are a family?"

"Yes, and wouldn't have all of it been so much better without dark lords looming above our heads?"

"Definitely, love, definitely."

The rest of the breakfast was spent in silence. After that the two of them went about packing and returning the room to its original state with utmost care to the smallest details, because, according to Hermione, the laws of time travel demanded such precision. Severus bowed to her superior knowledge of the matter and patiently did everything that was asked of him.

At 11:00 am sharp, Severus shrunk his luggage, threw one last glance at the place where they spent so many happy hours, and followed Hermione out of the door.

"So…" he drawled when they stopped in front of the building. "We have at least a little over two hours to kill. Where to, my lady?"

Hermione beamed at him. "I am at a loss, my good sir. Perhaps you have suggestions?"

Severus smiled and kissed her hand cordially. "I do, in fact, have one." He suddenly got serious. "You remember that clearing with bluebells you took me that day when…"

"Sure. Do you want to go there?"

He shrugged. "It's just a thought. It was so peaceful there."

"Okay then, Forbidden Forest it is," Hermione smiled and squeezed his hand. They started moving toward the diner to apparite.

"Are you sure?"

She glanced at Severus. "Yeah, why not? I love that place. It never fails to bring me calm. We can also get a new bunch of flowers, while we're at it."

"My thoughts exactly."

That's how half an hour later they found themselves seated under the same tree as last time with the same amount of bluebells stored in the special containers they always carried with them. Neither talked.

Severus was unable to stop his mind from returning to the day Hermione brought him here for the first time, from comparing how he felt then with what he was feeling now, and once again gratitude filled his chest to the brim. He turned his head and looked at his fiancee. His fiancee, for Merlin's sake. Last year, the most Severus dared to hope for was that this amazing woman beside him would be his friend, today, however… Today he was ready to march to the Dark Lord and demand the bastard killed himself already and the sooner the better, because Severus was tired of waiting for the moment when he'd be able to officially call Hermione his wife.

Severus' mind instantly supplied him with the picture of the snake-faced reaction, making him smirk for a moment, then shake his head.

Hermione tore her gaze from the line of trees at the sound and looked at him questioningly.

"Nothing, love, I just imagined for a second the Dark Lord's face if I went to him and told him to stuff it already because I really want to get married," replied Severus, making her snort loudly before she turned back.

Gods above, how did he get so lucky as to find this woman? Oh, wait, right, it was all her. She was the one who found him, and just on time. Severus couldn't even fathom what would've happened if she didn't show up at that tower back then. Absent-mindedly, he reached to the open collar of his cream-colored shirt and tugged the pendant out. Yes, he nearly made the biggest mistake of his entire life.

"You know what I thought about between the moment I slid off the Astronomy tower and the moment you caught me?" he whispered all of a sudden, looking straight ahead. For some reason it became vital that she knew how much he wanted her even then. There was a moment of heavy silence. "What?" Hermione whispered, breaking it.

"Please… That's all, just 'please'. And you know what? I think it helped."

A storm was waiting for them in the near future. A storm, full of pain, blood, rage, and terror. But in the bigger picture, none of it mattered much, because when the world around was crumbling into dust, and the darkness seemed endless, when the pull of the bottomless pit of despair was insurmountable, and life was an unbearable living hell full of pain and misery, all one needed to do was say "please". And who knows, maybe one's angel would hear their plea and come.

"No, I'm sure it did," Severus continued. "Because you came… My angel."

The end

Soo… That's it for now, I guess.

I have several ideas for the one-shots I promised earlier, but I will not start working on them any time soon (sorry about that), because I'm going to focus solely on my other two WIP's. It turns out, dividing attention between three completely different stories is not really productive to either of them.

Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this little journey on over a hundred written pages, haha. Share what you think of it…Please? :)