Hermione sighed; this was NOT going to be easy.

She'd already put off telling him, knowing that this would likely be the last thing he expected – or wanted – to hear.

Screwing up her courage and heaving one last sigh, she went to find Severus.


He was in the kitchen, dicing onions to complete the mise-en-place needed for the day's class and the private party booked tonight.

Hermione stopped in the doorway and watched him, his face a Zen-like composition of equal parts concentration and relaxation. His hands were deft and graceful as he efficiently transformed the onions from a bunch of irregular globes to piles of perfectly even cubes.

She waited until he had chased the last bit of onion off the maple cutting board and deposited it with its mates in the stainless steel container before calling for his attention.


He didn't stop his actions, moving to the sink to wash the knife and clean the board, just as he had done a thousand times before. "Hmm?" The response seemed incongruously casual in light of what was about to be said.

"I think we need to talk." Hermione struggled to keep her voice from cracking. She was nearly successful. It was that last word that did her in and it caught his attention.


The rather snarky comment he'd considered lobbing back at her died in the back of his throat when he heard the tremor in her voice. For some reason, he looked at the clock – class was due to begin in less than an hour, he thought idly – then he put down the knife, shut off the water and turned toward her.


It was all Hermione could do to hold back her tears as she watched him school his face into careful yet deliberate indifference. She swore she could actually see him gathering his courage and pride, preparing for the devastating news she was obviously about to deliver. Her already shattered heart broke into even tinier pieces.

Right, she thought, out with it; it's not going to get any easier if I drag this out.


Severus' mind was reeling with the knowledge that she was finally ready to move on with her life. Without him.

Frankly, he'd been expecting it since their first night together. A young, brilliant, beautiful woman like her – whatever had she been thinking, staying with him this long?

They'd been together for four years now and Severus had spent almost every one of those 1467 days expecting that, at any moment, Hermione would tell him goodbye. He'd never said a word about it to Hermione, knowing she'd wrap indignation and false certainty around her like a straitjacket and – just as all the permanent residents of St. Mungo's did – insist that he was the crazy one. And now the time had finally come. He was rather disheartened to realize that, in this case anyway, being right carried no pleasure at all.


The silence between them stretched as Hermione struggled to maintain her composure. There was no way she could look at him now, knowing what was to come, so she looked around the kitchen she had come to love.


Over three years ago they had wandered through the residential section of Hogsmeade and came upon an odd little house that didn't seem to fit in with its neighbors. It wasn't noticeably different from the other cottages in its architecture but both of them had remarked that it seemed somehow out of place. A small placard – barely noticeable in the window nearest the door – stated that it was available to let. They made a few enquiries and struck an arrangement to buy it.

Selling her childhood home had been easier than she'd expected and, combined with Severus' savings (he had insisted that they be equal financial partners in this venture), they'd had no difficulties negotiating the acquisition of what they considered would be their home and their future.

Hermione had sold nearly all the furnishings in her house, keeping only the guest suite to serve as their bedroom furniture, the glass-fronted bookshelf from the living room, and the kitchen table and chairs.

In a matter of a few weeks, they had not only completed the sale of Hermione's house and closed the purchase of the Hogsmeade building, but they had also converted the small upstairs rooms into their living quarters and re-fitted the downstairs into space that would accommodate their burgeoning business.


The success of their catering business and cooking classes had been greater than the couple had anticipated. Not all wizarding families had had house- elves to handle household chores, so they had expected a reasonable amount of interest in their services. The unexpected boost to their business, ironically, was due to Voldemort.

The war had taken a significant toll not only on the wizarding population but also on Gringott's' accounts. The economic laws governing supply and demand and the resulting impact on prices were just as iron-clad in the magical world as in the Muggle universe. As resources such as wands, potions ingredients, and skilled teachers of hexes and charms were allocated more and more to the war, their costs skyrocketed. Fortunately, the need to procure, process or deliver these items meant that there was more work to be had and at better wages. Magical folk, whether witch, wizard or the occasional liberated house-elf, were able to find lucrative employment in numbers that hadn't been seen since the Grindelwald days.

As wonderful as that may have been for the local economy, it played havoc on the traditional magical home life. There was neither time nor energy (nor, truth be told, desire) to engage in any foraging, shopping or superfluous wand-waving when the tired witches and wizards returned home at the end of the day. The increased affluence of the population, along with the continuing post-war celebratory mood, also meant that entertaining was more popular than ever. Hermione and Severus capitalized on the opportunity to provide catering to this newly employed and increasingly sociable clientele.

Within the first six months of beginning to sell prepared meals for individuals and families and offering special event catering, they began to get requests for instruction on how to prepare many of the more popular dishes. The requests quickly became demands.

Given the traditional reluctance for wizards to abandon the old ways – they were still writing with quill and parchment, after all – the request for cooking classes came as a surprise to the couple. As best as they could tell, this interest arose as a way for the magical folk to demonstrate their anti-Voldemortian acceptance of things Muggle without actually endangering their time-honored lifestyles. Hermione had the distinct joy of explaining to Severus that this was a "win-win" situation. She then had the difficulty of explaining what a "win-win" situation meant.

After a brief but intense debate over division of labor, it was agreed that Severus would concentrate on the catering side of the business and Hermione would focus on the classes. The intensity of the discussion had little to do with who was going to do what. It would have taken nothing short of a "do-this-or-I-leave" ultimatum from Hermione to get Severus to teach another class, even if it was to adults who willingly chose to take the classes in question and Hermione still broke out in hives whenever she had to cook a meal for anyone other than Severus. The heat in the argument had everything to do with making sure the other party didn't feel taken for granted. The dispute came to an abrupt halt when Hermione cried, "...but what if you wind up resenting me because you never get to teach these dunderheads?"

It had taken a good 15 minutes before they'd been able to stop laughing.


And so it had gone for most of the past two years – Hermione taught classes twice a month, covering various topics from how to select the best ingredients and dealing with Muggle vendors to her most popular class, "Seduction through Dining." Severus handled all of the contracted catering except for the most complex events. They worked together to cook the ready- to-eat meals that were sold on Mondays and Fridays. It had been perfect.

Now it was over.


Severus knew he was being perverse. He could let Hermione off the hook and simply tell her he was leaving, giving her an out and saving his pride but his inner git demanded that he remain silent, forcing her to actually say the words.


Hermione suspected he knew what was coming; surely it couldn't be a surprise. Knowing him as she did, she also guessed that he wasn't going to make it any easier on her. She let go of one final sigh and said the words she knew would change their lives forever:

"I'm pregnant."


This was not how she'd planned to give him the news. She'd spent hours working out her speech, beginning with an annotated treatise on how their own relationship had been such a pleasant surprise, in direct opposition to their expectations. Her carefully constructed argument would have led inexorably to the conclusion that This Could Be A Wonderful Turn Of Events Despite the Fact that You Hate Children.

She had even considered referencing the 0.0437% failure rate of wizarding contraceptive methods, lest he think she might have been trying to trap him into a permanent commitment but she ultimately decided to leave that fact out. It would be too distracting as they would likely both want to triple- check those calculations and review the past 2 months' calendars of intimacies to prove everything out.


Severus was silent.

No, Severus was stunned. Paralyzed would have been an appropriate term; catatonic, even. Shocked and awed beyond anything he could have imagined.

He'd been so sure he'd known what was coming but Hermione's words were as far from what he'd anticipated as ... well ... he couldn't even imagine a scenario as far-fetched as what she had just revealed.


It was probably the most inappropriate response he could give but he couldn't help himself. Severus Snape began to laugh. Not a snicker or a mean-spirited smirk, but a full-on, side splitting guffaw, tears included at no extra charge.

She assumed Severus was having a hysterical reaction and stepped forward to slap him into coherence. Just as she raised her hand to deliver the sanity- inducing blow, he grabbed her into his arms and, still gasping for breath, said the very last thing she could have expected:

"Oh, thank God; I thought it was something bad."


After a great many questions, it was finally clarified that Hermione was really and truly with child, Severus wasn't going to run screaming away from her, Hermione hadn't been planning to send Severus away, and marriage was not only appropriate but actually desired by both parties.


Realizing that tonight's students were scheduled to arrive soon, Severus kissed his soon-to-be wife and as was his custom, retreated to their rooms until the class was over. "Retreated" this night meant taking the stairs three at a time, a lopsided grin plastered firmly on his face.


The last student had rounded the corner leading back toward town and Hermione had cast "scourgify" to get the last bits of spilled béchamel off the counter. Her back was to the stairs and even though he strongly suspected she knew he was there, Severus couldn't resist the temptation to creep up on her from behind. He put his hands on her hips and pulled her back against him once he was sure she wasn't going to jump and either misfire her last cleaning spell or crack his jaw. He'd learned from painful experience to take that precaution with her.

Hermione turned to face him, relieved that he didn't appear to have changed his mind about their situation. His eyes were warm as she smiled shyly up at him. "You're still here!" She laughed a little as she said the words, though whether it was because she was teasing him or because she was surprised at the reality he couldn't tell.

"And here I'd thought you'd finally given up stating the obvious, Miss Granger. In fact, I was rather hoping you'd give up talking completely. At least for the next few moments..." and with that, Snape ran his fingers lightly along her jaw line, tipping her face up toward his and softly brushed his lips against hers.


They made their way slowly upstairs. They stopped frequently to kiss, to touch, to reassure themselves that there was no penny waiting to drop, no chance that they'd misunderstood the other's meaning.


As soon as Hermione whispered, "Nox," Severus was decided. Despite the realization that this was not going to make for an engagement story they could share with friends or family, he knew it was right. He gently pushed Hermione to her back and kissed her deeply. His hands were stroking her and he found her to be even more ready for their joining than he was, as impossible as that seemed.

He pushed his hardened length into her slowly and then paused, holding his weight off her with his forearms but letting his body cover hers and let his voice fall to its lowest notes, finally giving voice to his deepest hope.

"Hermione, will you marry me?"


Hermione stretched luxuriously under the covers as the early morning light. A soft chuckle rumbled next to her.

"You remind me of a cat every time you do that." Severus' voice was just- woken deep but she could hear his grin. She opened her eyes and smiled lazily up at the man who was watching her.

"You're still here," she whispered, as she scritched her fingers over the stubble on his cheek.

"Back to the obvious, are we?" His voice rumbled softly through her. He let his hand tickle a path from her ear down her throat, aiming for her breast when two projectiles hurtled through the door.

Even after the passing of years, Snape's reflexes were lightening-fast; he shielded Hermione with his body and with one hand, caught the first missile as it grazed over the top of their bed.

"Ian, that's NOT FAIR!" A voice redolent with righteous indignation shouted from somewhere near the foot of the bed. "Your hiney is miney!"

The bullet that Snape caught – the one named Ian – peered up to see a fearsome gaze from the powerful wizard who'd caught him in mid-flight. As usual, the glare had absolutely no effect and the non-stop chatter began.

"G'morning Da! Morning Mum! Love you. Didja sleep well? We've already been up. Me 'n Ryan's been playing tag. Can we have peas porridge for breakfast? What is peas porridge anyway? We've learnt that song, you know, 'Peas porridge hot, peas porridge cold, peas porridge in the pot nine days old. Some like it hot – '"

"And some like it QUIET!" Severus' voice boomed. The fact that he could feel Hermione's body shaking with barely suppressed laughter did nothing to fortify the glower he was trying to fix on the boy.

Before he could launch into his now daily speech that included the phrase: 'you need to settle down and be more gentle around your mother,' the four year old boy wrapped sticky fingers around Snape's neck and gave a wet kiss to his father's prominent nose. Severus tried hard not to consider what might be the source of the messy hands and Ian clambered off the bed, ostensibly to find his older brother who had wisely made himself scarce during Ian's distracting prattle.

"'Your hiney is miney?' Where on Earth do they get these sayings?" Snape grumbled but there was no fire in it. He leaned over his wife's belly, hard and round in her eighth month with their third child. As he kissed it and said to Hermione's navel, "You, young lady, shall never utter such inanities."

Hermione's giggles returned at that comment. "Good luck, love. Even if she is paying attention in there, given her parents' personalities, I'm certain she's already made up her own mind on how she's going to be."

Snape considered Hermione's words. She was probably right. And nothing could make him happier.


Author's Notes:

"Mise-en-place" – (French, literally "everything in its place") A culinary term referring to having all necessary ingredients and equipment prepared and arranged before beginning to cook.

And lest you worry that my final chapter would not include any culinary links, here's a recipe for béchamel, a wonderfully useful white sauce found in everything from soufflés to fettuccine al fredo: http : // www . foodnetwork . com / food / recipes / recipe / 0 ,, FOOD _ 9936 _ 3522 , 00 . html {remove the spaces for the link}

As an additional note, I've been reading Jacques Pepin's autobiography, "The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen" and I HIGHLY recommend it. Not only is he an amazing chef but he's an amazingly good storyteller as well. If you're more interested in recipes without a family background, try "Julia and Jacques: Cooking at Home" – two great educational chefs (Julia Child and Jacques Pepin) give their individual takes on hundreds of classic recipes.

The "Your hiney is miney" line is thanks to, in honor of, and in response to a challenge from the Immaculate Grey Lady who, incidentally, had a really crappy weekend. I hope this gives back at least part of her million- dollar smile. I also hope she gets back to work on "Mephistopheles" and "Disturbances." The former, because I worry that I'm failing her as a beta; the latter, because I miss Weasel!!!!