A/N: Last chapter! This is the end of the line! Much slush, very much lemon-flavoured (warning), terribly terribly wildly OOC, but an absolute joy from start to finish. I apologise if it seems rushed, I just wanted it done. I am appalling at endings, so advance apologies if it's not what you're expecting. It just felt natural to end it there.

Big hugs to everyone who stayed with me for this trip. I'd be lost without the reviews, there's no way this would have happened without them. It's been a blast, but worry not, there will be more from me soon, promise! In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, go read my other fics!

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Hermione ran straight to her rooms, and was relived to be challenged by no one on her way there. The halls were deserted, and she reached her door without encountering a single person. Once there, she slammed the door behind her and sank to the floor, leaning against it heavily. Her heart was racing and she was not surprised to find herself physically shaking with a combination of fright and exertion. Curling into a tight ball she squeezed her eyes tightly closed and breathed heavily through her nose. Memories flashed through her mind; over and over she relived the moment when she had kissed Severus a second time, and was flooded with a sudden warmth that stopped her shaking. She had not expected that kissing him would have such an effect on her, it had been remarkably tender and . . . Hermione caught herself uncertainly. Her fear caught in her throat, she winced. In those few seconds when she had been close to him she had felt more alive than she had in five years, yet it was almost as if she could not cope with the feeling, forcing her to reject both it and him.

She caught her lower lip between her teeth and worried it. It was difficult for her to see Severus Snape in this new light. That she could care for him, even love him was almost impossible for her to accept. Her heart longed for it, for him, but her head was warning her off and forcing her to push away what was being offered. It was causing a painful conflict inside her as she struggled to properly commit her feelings for Harry to the past so that she might feel anew. Her love for him had been dimmed with the passing of time, yet it remained unfulfilled, unacknowledged and vibrant in its intensity. Eclipsing it all were the unexpected events with Severus in recent days, events that gave her hope that she was still able to feel for another. She had seen a little way past his barriers, and the glimpse of the man beneath was intriguing. Hermione wanted to know him properly, to see who he really was beneath it all. Guilt and fear were conspiring with each other to stop that, and she was hopelessly confused and frightened.

A sudden and loud knocking on her door made Hermione jump sharply and she flinched, but did not move from her position on the floor. She knew who awaited her on the other side of the door, and she could not face him feeling the way she felt. The knock came again, more insistently this time and she placed her head on her knees and closed her eyes. Please go away, she thought, please.

"Professor Granger . . ." Severus' voice floated through the door, sounding maddeningly calm. "Please open the door. I must speak with you." There was a long pause, during which she fancied she could hear him breathing. "Hermione," he whispered, "please . . ."

He spoke her name with such gentle passion that unbidden tears filled her eyes. Choking back a sob, they coursed silently down her cheeks as she began to tremble again.

"I did not mean to hurt you; I know that you are frightened." Unbeknownst to her, he was sitting on the floor on the other side of the door; they were back to back and separated only by wood.

Hermione closed her eyes again, refusing to accept that he might understand her vulnerable position. She heard him sigh softly.

"Look," he whispered. "Look, I am sorry. Please do not do this . . ."

She had heard enough, her heart was aching and she did the only thing she could to make it stop. Wiping her tears away with the back of her hand she struggled to her feet and struggled to unlock the door. By the time she wrenched it open he was also on his feet, and then they were standing in front of each other again. It seemed as there was no time to waste as Hermione fairly launched herself onto him, pressing her tearstained face into his robes and desperately breathing in his musky scent. His arms went about her too, and she felt his hands in her hair as he pressed her close. His own breathing, hoarse and raspy, matched her own as she cried angry sobs into his chest, and he comforted her in his own inexperienced way, hands circling her back reassuringly, quiet voice murmuring words of comfort. He was her comfort, she thought suddenly, and he could be her salvation, if she would let him.

Hermione cried and found herself so fed up of crying. She was distressed and frightened, unable to see a way out of the situation in which she had placed herself, but as her tears slowed and finally stopped she was gradually more and more aware of the fact that her sense of right and wrong appeared to have abandoned her. She looked within herself for guidance and found that her conscience had no answers to give. The decision that she would now make had only to be based on what happened, what *was* happening right at that moment. She sniffed, and raised head to look up at Severus. His expression was watchful, guarded, and only relaxed when she reached up a hand to gently touch the side of his face. Her fingers traced the line of his jaw, trailing away along the side of his neck and stopping where his clothing started. His eyes flickered closed; the beginnings of a smile lifted the corners of his thin mouth.

Hermione looked at it, looked at *him*. He opened his eyes and looked at her, letting out a gentle sigh. All barriers were down, there was nothing and no reason to stop them doing whatever it was they now wanted to do. Hermione took a moment to listen to her heart. It thudded painfully in her chest, nervous with anticipation but not telling her to stop. She was no longer sure that she could stop, not now. Stepping backwards, she picked up his hand and held it. Elegant, pale and long fingered it curled slowly to grasp her hand, fingers entwining with hers. She smiled, looking down at their joined hands. This was right, she thought, this was more than right. Pulling on his hand she led him slowly, but not hesitantly over to the archway in her sitting room that led to her bedroom. Standing there she stretched up and wrapped her arms around his neck, kissing him properly. He responded as she knew he would, and the sweetness she felt was unfamiliar and exciting. She pulled back to look at him in wonder. He stroked her face, eyes darkening.

She led him a little further into the room, lit only by moonlight and starlight. With gentle persuasion and several passionate kisses he was sitting on the edge of her double bed, minus the four posts, but complete with gothic metal arch headboard. With a tiny, tiny hesitation born of shyness Hermione unhooked her cloak and let it drop silently to the floor. Her outer robes followed it swiftly, and then she was fumbling with the buttons on her fitted shirt, trembling hands giving away her nerves.

Severus put his hands either side of her waist and tugged her a little closer. Looking up at her he put his hands over hers.

"Let me," he breathed, and she tensed as he slowly undid one button, and then another and another, revealing creamy skin and a wispy bra. Easing her shirt off her shoulders he pulled her down into his lap, hands running up her spine to gently undo the clasp at the back. Stripping her bra away he gathered her into a close embrace, kissing her and not allowing her to become embarrassed. She squirmed a little in his lap, delicious friction that promised more.

The rest of her clothes and all of Severus' followed quickly after that, they were both lost to an encroaching urgency that would not be denied. Lying stretched out on the bed together Hermione admired the way their bodies complimented each other. Pale but toned, he was sinewy and strong. She had not expected this, but then she had not expected him.

Her head was spinning now, but not unpleasantly so, as he moved slowly against her, gently, oh so gently, beginning the tender process of making love to her. He could not have known because she had not told him, but he couldn't have failed to see the fleeting look of pain that flashed across her face as he began. It was quickly enough forgotten for Hermione, and it was not until afterwards, when they were lying together underneath the duvet that he nudged her sleepily and kissed the top of her head.

"You should have told me," he admonished her softly.

"Told you . . . ?" Hermione stretched against him, and then realised what he meant. "What difference would it have made, Severus?"

"I know you wouldn't have given this up to just anyone," he said.

"I'm glad that it was you," she was honest and it was heartfelt. He tucked her head under his chin and stroked her hair.

"May I ask you something, Hermione?" She smiled as the rasp of his voice vibrated in his throat against her forehead.

"Anything."

"Do you think that you can save me?" His question was so unexpected, so strange, that she lifted her head to look at him in astonishment. His eyes glinted in the starlight.

"Save you?"

"Yes, save me. Save me from the man that I've become." His melodic voice was steady, but was beginning to waver slightly at the edges.

"Do you need saving?" She smoothed his raven hair, kissed him. He smiled sadly.

"Very much so. I am lonely. I have made so many mistakes, chosen the wrong path so many times, but I still have hope. I want you to be my path; I want you to save me."

Hermione's breath caught in her throat, and she managed a shaky nod.

"In that case, would you do me the honour of saving *me*? I know all about being lonely, and I know about making bad decisions. I'm not sure where this is going to take us, but I do know that it feels right, so right . . ."

She believed her words, she had no other choice. Everything seemed to have happened so quickly, she knew that they had only scratched the surface of what they could have in the last few days. It was a daunting prospect and frightening, but also exhilarating and liberating. Hermione felt herself at last freed from the shadow of the last man she had loved, the man who had died before she had the chance to tell him.

"I never thought that it would be you," Severus said thoughtfully. Hermione's eyes twinkled.

"No."

"But I'm glad that it is."

"I'll consider myself at least halfway to being saved then."

"Good. Sleep now." Holding her, he relaxed into the pillows, spiky eyelashes making tiny shadows on his cheeks. Hermione watched him as he slid into sleep, and found the resolve to carry on. She did not know what the future would bring, at that moment in time it somehow did not seem important. What was important was that she had finally managed to find a way to let go of the past.

He was her way. He was her path now.