Hermione came awake again with a start, jolting back into (what she assumed was) the real world and finding herself sitting bolt upright in a bed that she had most definitely not been occupying when she had been sent to rescue Harry.

Her eyes seemed to take an age to adjust to the bright sunlight that filled the room, dominated by a series of high, arched windows all along one wall. It was when her sluggish brain finally kicked in and told her that the sunlight was far too bright, far too warm for midwinter that she realised that something was indeed very wrong.

Cautiously settling herself back amongst the pillows, Hermione surveyed her surroundings, eyes flitting from the bookshelves filled to bursting point with books to the shiny dark wood that constituted the floor and closed door to the empty chair at the side of her bed, slightly squashed cushions revealing that it had, at least until recently, been occupied.

Everything about the room was strangely familiar, and yet no so. Hermione was reasonably sure that she had never been there before, but there was something, her brain niggled her incessantly; she knew this place from somewhere...

Raising a hand to run it through her curls, she was more than a little surprised to discover that her hair had been cut savagely short, ending just above her shoulders, and was very tangled. She looked down at the old- fashioned cotton lawn nightshirt she was wearing, and her confusion deepened, but was tempered with a curious acceptance that she had not experienced before. True, she did not know where she was, or how long she had been there, but she at least appeared well cared for, and not in any apparent danger.

The room was warm, and while Hermione was weak for reasons that she did not know, she contented herself by lying still, feeling increasingly sleepy whilst still cocooned within heavy blankets. Her eyes were drifting closed again, and she was on the verge of slipping into sleep when sudden loud footsteps announced the arrival of someone outside the door to the room where she presently lay.

For reasons that she did not understand, Hermione turned her face away from the door and screwed her eyes shut, forcing her suddenly quick breathing into something that might pass for the even breaths of sleep. She heard the creak of the door opening, and then being closed behind whoever had entered the room. The footsteps, decidedly softer now, drew close, and with a rustling of robes abruptly ceased as her visitor settled themselves in the chair next to the bed. She tried not to stiffen when a hand brushed her new, short, curls away from her face, and was further surprised when the hand brushed her cheek before pressing a little more insistently against her forehead.

"Still too hot," a voice muttered quietly, a voice Hermione was sure she would have known anywhere.

Abandoning all pretence of sleep, she rolled over towards the voice and met a pair of astonished black eyes with her own brown ones.

Severus Snape was looking at her as if she were a ghost, Hermione thought hazily to herself. His eyes were wide, and his mouth half open in apparent shock. He reached out as if to touch her, and then thinking better of it, withdrew, staring at her all the while. Silence deepened between them and Hermione was the first to break it.

"Severus..." she breathed, finding her voice hoarse and husky as if from disuse. "Oh Severus..!"

Sure that she had never been so pleased to see anyone in her life, she fairly flung herself into his arms, relief singing in her soul when she felt him hug her back, familiar arms pulling her close, hands rubbing gently up and down her spine. He buried his head in her shoulder, she felt him place a gentle kiss in the hollow formed by her collarbone and then he was pulling back to look down at her, his eyes full of emotions that she could not read.

It all came back to her then, in a shocking flash of clarity. Stepping through the gateway with Harry, and finding everything to be dark instead of the light she had expected, sliding into unconsciousness, and then...nothing. Hermione frowned at this. No more memories would come. She looked up at Severus, her eyes troubled.

"How long..." she croaked at him. "How long...?"

He appeared to bite his lip in order to prevent some emotion or other seeping out, and then shook his head, face clearing a little. His hands moved to grasp her shoulders firmly.

"Nearly three months," he said heavily. Hermione gave a little cry of disbelief.

"But how..."

"We do not know," he was shaking his head again. "Harry woke up, you did not. We thought at first that you had offered to take Harry's place, but he assured us that you had not. You did not react in the same ways that he did, in any effect. It was almost as though you were sleeping; sleeping though nothing would wake you..."

He hugged her again, squeezing her almost painfully close, and this time it was Hermione who chose to bury her face in his robes, inhaling his sandalwood scent as she did so, feeling herself begin to tremble as her head began to spin.

"It is all right," Snape reassured her softly, a gentle voice in her ear. "You are all right."

"I don't remember anything!" She spoke into his chest, feeling his steady heartbeat against her cheek. "One minute I was coming back with Harry and the next...it was so dark! And then, almost as if no time had passed at all, I woke up here!"

She lifted her head, staring at him wide-eyed.

"Harry...what happened to Harry?"

To her surprise, Snape smiled, his face instantly losing some of it's' age, becoming almost handsome. "Harry is in Canada, with Ronald Weasley. He is...recuperating."

"Recuperating from what?" A terrible suspicion was beginning to dawn in Hermione's mind. Three months. What could have happened in three months? Before Snape had the change to reply, she found her voice again. "I missed it, didn't I? Harry...and V-V-Voldemort?"

"You did," he nodded. "Less than a month ago," his face darkened. "It was...unpleasant. But yes, Harry has fulfilled the prophecy. The shadow has been lifted."

"Did you...?"

It almost seemed to Hermione that he could read her mind.

"I was there, at the end. I saw it all." Absently, he curled a strand of her hair around his finger. "I told you about it..." His breathing became very uneven; he closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose between thumb and forefinger. "Of course, you didn't hear me...you couldn't hear me..."

Hermione saw the pain written all over his face, understood why it had to be so. She had promised him, told him that she would be coming back, that she wasn't going to die, and then she had let him down so spectacularly, through no fault of her own.

"Severus...I'm no sorry...I didn't know, there was no way of knowing that this would happen!"

"You misunderstand me," Snape said quietly, moving his face very close her hers. "It was unpleasant, yes, but I was all the more determined knowing that you were safe from it! Poppy had assured me that there was no lasting damage to be had in letting you sleep, that you would wake eventually, when you were ready. We moved you from the infirmary to here, to my house..." Hermione then knew why everything seemed so familiar. "I wanted to watch you, to be there when you woke up," he dropped a kiss on her forehead, and sighed. "It is all over, and I am glad. My life is my own again."

"And so is mine." She smiled up at him, and was rewarded when a pair of arms scooped her up from out of the bed, blankets and all, and deposited her in his lap. Curling his arms around her, he tucked her head under his chin, smoothing away her curls when they tickled his nose.

"And what will you do with it, Hermione? Will you leave us again? Go back to your cottage, to you old life?"

My old life, Hermione thought. So much had happened, it really had become old. She shook her head into his shoulder.

"No. I made someone a promise, a promise to not leave again. I intend to honour that promise."

"Mr Potter is more astute than he looks." Snape chuckled. "He said something to me, before he went to Canada, something that I did not understand."


"Yes. He said 'be worthy of her', and with such intent in his eyes. Do you know what he meant, Hermione?"

Hermione lifted her head and stared at him for long moments. He watched her questioningly for a time before leaning down into her kiss. Silence blanketed the room until they separated, breathlessly.

"I do know what he meant, yes," Hermione knew she was blushing, and could not help it. "I told Harry how I felt about you," she said simply. "And he was concerned that you did not deserve my...love."

"Love?" Snape echoed quietly. "Are you saying that you..."

"Yes. At least, I think so." She saw the consternation on his face and hesitated. "Is that all right, Severus, do you mind?"

He smiled a little, shook his head.

"I do not mind. I find myself surprised. After all, what reasons have I given for you to love me?"

Hermione's eyes brimmed with sudden tears.

"So many," she whispered. "You rescued me, you pushed me forward, you held me up, you comforted and counselled me...how many more do I need?"

He shushed her tenderly with a kiss, bumping his forehead affectionately against hers.

"No more. Many more than I deserve." He found her hand amongst the blankets, held it in both of his. "You make me feel, Hermione. I could say that I love you, but that in itself would not be enough. I came to find you a broken man, a man with no hope and no future. You make me feel restored; you have given me both my hope and future back."

"Severus..." she whispered softly. Their future, together, was laid out before them. All they had to do was reach out and touch it for it to begin. He was looking at her knowingly, and unless she was very much mistaken, happily.

"Hermione..." he whispered back.

They sat quietly together then, basking in the warm sunshine of a brave new world. Planning, with gentle looks and soft words, the future that they would share together.


A/N: Finished, yay! Thanks to everyone who has followed this story, I really hope the ending hasn't disappointed. For me, it felt just about right, and I'm quite happy with it.

Look for some one-shots from me very soon – I have several in the pipeline, or read some of my other, shorter stories (they're all SS/HG, it's a groove I can't seem to get myself out of!)

Cheers again,

Winter Solstice.