The day was unusually bright, blasphemously so, and sunlight poured through the dappled clouds and capped each thorny bush and shy, newly emerging flower with a crown of gold. The silent coffin was cold in spite of the sun, and the shine that it reflected seemed demure, gray. The grass sloshed under Hermione's feet, still cushioned with mud from the rain. Her head was bowed, her brow wrinkled with disbelief and confusion. Ron stood beside her, a shovel leaning against his side, distractedly examining his blisters while his face reddened with unspoken shame. With a sigh, Hermione levitated the coffin in to the grave and it settled itself in the ground, nestling into it as if the wood had found its root in the mud and remains of its ancestors. Ron began, grudgingly, his neck burning red as the sun beamed upon it, to fling dirt on to the shining wood, until the hole was filled and it resembled every other grave that sat, quietly, in the family plot. Hermione skimmed the fresh dirt with her heel; the plot seemed so small and insignificant.
"Well," said Ron, stepping back and reaching up his other raw hand to scratch nervously at his scalp. "Should we say anything? A few words, maybe?"
"I don't think there's anything left to be said," she answered, turning back to the manor and beginning to walk away. "I think it's time for you to go home, Ron."
The shovel clanged as it fell to the ground, and the red-haired young man hurried to catch up with her. "Hermione, I hope you're not sore with me."
"A little," she said, walking faster. It was hard to get away from him; his legs were too long. She didn't feel like being in his company at the moment. She'd much rather be somewhere else. "But I think it's time for you to go."
"Yeah, probably" he said, sounding uneasy. They rounded the side of the manor, weaving past the open windows and the puddles that riddled the grass; they all gleamed blindingly in the fresh sunlight. As they approached the front door, Ron stopped in his tracks, crossing his arms across his wide chest, slumping his shoulders. "I suppose I'll be seeing you later then?"
"Yes," she allowed him a tiny smile. "You will."
To his surprise, she hugged him tightly, breathing in deeply his favorite scent that smelled oh-so-much of freshly cut grass and gasoline, and released him. She looked up into his eyes, her expression unreadable, and said, "Thank you, Ron, for saving me, even if you did act like a complete git."
He could only nod as he watched her walk slowly up the path, push open the front door with some difficulty, and turn to wave at him before the door slammed shut, its sound of wooden rejection echoing through the gardens.
He turned, the broken rock crunching under his feet, and began to make his way home.§
Hermione had her knees drawn up to her chest, thoroughly engrossed in a Daily Prophet crossword with pencil smudges smeared across her fingers and a streak of gray from the eraser running across her forehead. The figure beside her in the bed shifted slightly, breathing a deep sigh, mumbling something, and jumped as soon as he noticed that he was not alone.
Severus Snape's eyes snapped open and Hermione scrambled off of the bed, face burning, and she dropped the crossword onto the twisted sheets. He didn't look angry, but confused…and in pain. He slowly sat up in bed with a groan, bringing a pale hand to his bandaged head and wincing. He looked over at Hermione, but didn't even seem surprised at her presence.
The house elves, who had stayed with him all morning, nursing his injuries, crept forward to observe their master more closely. But Hermione waved them away, gesturing that she obviously wanted them to get out of the room. They followed her order and all vanished with a soft "pop".
To her surprise, the first thing he said, his voice grating and laden with sleepiness, was, "Today's my fortieth birthday."
Great. He had bumped his head on a railing and had gone completely mad. "That was yesterday…sir," Hermione answered, her voice wavering. "Are you all right?"
"Yes…" he answered, sounding uncertain of himself. "Yes, I believe I am. Not the best I've ever been, but not the worst, either. Pounding headache, though." He squinted his left eye and looked at her suspiciously. "What are you doing here, Hermione?"
He had called her by her first name. That was a good sign. Carefully, carefully, she climbed back on to his bed, kneeling, reaching out for his hand and hoping to Merlin that he wouldn't pull it away. If Beatrice and Lupin were right, if he did love her, he wouldn't.
"I came back," she answered, embracing his fingers within hers, running her thumb against the back of the warm, soft hand. He didn't pull away, and instead turned his grasp around and gripped her fingers, squeezing firmly. "I was afraid that Ron…that Ron might hurt you, so I came back." An anxious hand went to brush against his chin, coarse with days of unshaven stubble.
He smirked grimly. "How very Gryffindor of you."
She gave him her own smirk in reply. "I thought that you might say that."
"Taking up Divination now, are you?"
She scoffed in mock disdain. "Never."
His free hand went up to frame her face, eyes narrowed as if he was trying to understand something, his brow furrowed in concentration. The tips of his fingers brushed warm trails across her lips.
"You love me," he said, a wave of uncharacteristic uncertainty faltering in his voice.
"Now who's taking up Divination?" was her reply as she bent forward to kiss him. It was short, simple, chaste, and Hermione pulled away smiling. Snape didn't exactly smile, but his face seemed cheerier than usual. His breathing was labored as he bent forward to kiss her again, his fingers entwining in her hair. His mouth opened, beckoning hers to do the same, but Hermione was overcome by sudden shyness. He sensed her uneasiness and the heat from her face and stopped.
When he pulled away, his face flushed, he asked, "Do I look any different to you?"
"No," she said, face burning brightly. "I'm sorry, I was a bit late…but you're still alive. I broke the curse."
"I still look the same?" he said, looking every which way, looking for a reflection. "Then the curse is not broken, it still remains…" His face was becoming grimmer and grimmer, and Hermione's hopes were quickly failing. He found his reflection and gave a loud, mournful sigh. "And I shall remain."
"I don't understand," Hermione said, scuttling backward toward the foot of the bed. "What do you mean? I broke the curse, didn't I? Beatrice said that-"
"I believe," he told her with a glare. "That I told you to ignore that blubbering idiot and anything that she had to say."
"The curse," he said. "Hermione…I used to be handsome."
This had caught Hermione off guard. "What?" she said, in an obvious tone of disbelief that must have insulted him. "What do you mean you used to be handsome?"
"This doesn't seem to be a good time for lengthy explanations," he answered, shifting under the sheets. "So I will keep this in simple terms…" She could tell he was struggling against adding the phrase 'so you can understand' afterward. "But I used to be handsome…straight nose, nice eyes, nice hair…I had no problem attracting women, believe it or not, but after they had talked to me I had the most difficult time in holding their interest. Then along came a hag, and despite my efforts in telling her that I was always told never to open the door to strangers…" A smirk flickered on his mouth. "She felt adamant in her goal to teach me a lesson. Unless I found requited love by midnight of my fortieth birthday, I should remain forever as…" he made a displaying motion of his features, the familiar hooked nose, the bottomless black eyes, the lank hair that needed to be washed of debris and dried drops of blood from the night before. "This."
And she was afraid that he was going to die. Damn Beatrice and her lies.
She crept toward him once again, sitting to look him in the eyes. She could feel her heart beating in her throat as she settled a hand on his thigh. "And what is so wrong with 'this'?"
He looked away, obviously embarrassed. He murmured something that sounded like "everything", though Hermione knew he wasn't so maudlin as to turn to self-pity. Hopefully.
"Shut up," Hermione commanded, in a bold move squirming down and laying her head on his chest, burying her forehead into the hollow of his shoulder. He stiffened from the contact, but gradually relaxed as she placed her hand on his chest and breathed deeply, wanting to just lay there and relax, perhaps fall asleep. "I very much happen to like 'this', thank you."
He sounded slightly amused. "So demanding for a student. You are lucky that I have unnatural feelings for you, otherwise I might feel the need to sacrifice you at my mother's shrine."
"Ah, only true love could prevent such a measure," she said, teasing him.
"Bloody straight. Though…" He fell silent, and his hand trailed little patterns of fire across her back. "Since I haven't changed, I'm only guessing that my manor hasn't changed much either."
"No," Hermione said sleepily. "Not really. There are some new blooms out in the garden, but I don't think they'll last long. Oh…and you do have a rather nice splattering of blood through the entrance room. It's very in fashion right now, as far as interior design is concerned."
"Mhm…" He made a contended sound then posed a very interesting question, one that made him sound uneasy and yet on the verge of laughter, and caused all of the blood to rush into Hermione's face. "How would you feel about marrying me and having lots of sex and babies?"
"Isn't that a bit soon?" she said with a laugh, her eyes opening to peer up at his smirking countenance, with a very good view up his nose. "Sounds wonderful, though I don't know about the babies."
"I was hoping you'd say that," he breathed with a chuckle. "And how do you feel about relocating?"
"Also sounds wonderful. As long as it's not next door to the Weasleys."
"Ah, so cruel."
"But so true. Truth be told, I'd rather steer clear of everyone."
"Especially you," she smiled mischievously while he shot her a curious look. "Time to time, anyway."
"Yes," he agreed sarcastically. "This arrangement might work out nicely as long as you don't touch anything."
"Good luck with that," she replied, planting an emboldened kiss underneath his chin, making him jerk in surprise. "You know, I hear that Siberia is quite lovely at this time of year."
They fell into silence, simply happy to be in each other's company. Hermione's face suddenly flushed white and she made a little choking sound.
"By the way," she said, her expression immediately faltering as she grimaced, remembered the fresh dirt covering a plot in the house elf section of the graveyard, sitting in the sunlight in the garden. She wormed out of his grasp a bit, gritting her teeth. "I believe I owe you a new house elf…"§
My Dearest Hermione, Where on earth are you? Your dad and I are worried sick. We didn't know how to reach you until your friend Ron came over and told us how to reach you. Why haven't you sent a letter? Some notice that you were still alive? Something? For now, I suppose that we'll have to trust that you are alive and well, as Ron told us. I hope that your lessons are going well, and we're looking forward to seeing you again. Ron is such a handsome boy…you're not letting him get away from you, are you? He seems slightly enamored with this Luna girl. He doesn't fancy her, does he? What an odd name, Luna. Write back soon. You're not in trouble, are you? Kisses, Mr. Weasley's bravery in having facing the She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is famous among all the house elves, and the Union of Free Elves would likes to give Mr. Weasley a house elf servant who would be more than honored to serve his noble household. Her name is being Porkpie, and she will arrive on your doorstep in couple days. Cheers! At least it wasn't Potter this time. So now I only hate you a little bit more. Don't let the elves in your bed. Draco Malfoy I'm assuming that you're reconsidering a position at Hogwarts? We have a few positions open that you might see more fit than those I considered earlier. Who knows, you might even find them enjoyable. Pop into my fire sometime, and we can talk. I hope you're having an enjoyable time with Professor Snape, and that this beautiful weather finds you well. Though knowing his manor, it's probably rather drizzly there, isn't it? Enjoy the rest of your holiday, Good morning. I had to step out for a bit to take care of some things, so you have the house to yourself until I get back. You're free to roam the library if you can find it. Your favorites are yellow roses, right? Love, Well done, my boy. Well done. Albus
Dear Mr. Ronald Wealsey,
President of Union of Free Elves
Lost Sock Specialist
Winner of Teen Witch Weekly's Hottest Bad Boy, 1996-1997
Dear Miss Granger,
Headmaster, Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry
Where on earth are you? Your dad and I are worried sick. We didn't know how to reach you until your friend Ron came over and told us how to reach you. Why haven't you sent a letter? Some notice that you were still alive? Something?
For now, I suppose that we'll have to trust that you are alive and well, as Ron told us. I hope that your lessons are going well, and we're looking forward to seeing you again. Ron is such a handsome boy…you're not letting him get away from you, are you? He seems slightly enamored with this Luna girl. He doesn't fancy her, does he? What an odd name, Luna.
Write back soon. You're not in trouble, are you?
Mr. Weasley's bravery in having facing the She-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is famous among all the house elves, and the Union of Free Elves would likes to give Mr. Weasley a house elf servant who would be more than honored to serve his noble household. Her name is being Porkpie, and she will arrive on your doorstep in couple days.
At least it wasn't Potter this time. So now I only hate you a little bit more. Don't let the elves in your bed.
I'm assuming that you're reconsidering a position at Hogwarts? We have a few positions open that you might see more fit than those I considered earlier. Who knows, you might even find them enjoyable.
Pop into my fire sometime, and we can talk.
I hope you're having an enjoyable time with Professor Snape, and that this beautiful weather finds you well. Though knowing his manor, it's probably rather drizzly there, isn't it?
Enjoy the rest of your holiday,
Good morning. I had to step out for a bit to take care of some things, so you have the house to yourself until I get back. You're free to roam the library if you can find it.
Your favorites are yellow roses, right?
Well done, my boy. Well done.
A/N: Extra special thanks to Jen (HunnySnowBunny), Kaliae, and Fire for offering to be my temp betas for the epilogue! Thanks guys for your help. And especially for Laiagarien, since she betaed the rest of this story (quite a bit of work).
Well, I really enjoyed writing this fanfiction, and I hope you enjoyed reading it as much. Maybe I'll write another fairy tale, if I get any more ideas. Thank you for all your support, enthusiasm, and ideas, it really helped me all the way.
Severus's eloquent expression, "How would you feel about marrying me and having lots of sex and babies?" is a variant of something Alan Rickman said in Love Actually. Great movie. Check it out (plenty of British/Irish hunkiness: Alan Rickman, Hugh Grant, Liam Nieson, and the beautiful Colin Firth among others). Also, I believe I subconsciously stole Snape's love for crossword puzzles from Fleab's "Subtle", so go check it out. My apologies, Fleab. He needed a hobby to distract him from Potions and lusting after Miss Granger.
Again, I can't thank you enough, and now for the individual thank yous: artemisgirl, Akasha Ravensong, Kaaera, HunnySnowBunny (well, he already rescued her from the troll, so I think it's her turn), Kaliae, FiresAtMidnight, Anarane Anwamane, charmed piper, Captain Oblivious, Blatant Discontent, Rylee Smith (The whole Gaston complex was a I decided to divide him between different people, and Beatrice being the main villain of this story completely came out of the blue. Originally, I decided that Ron would go mad and try to kill Snape, but I figured that even he wasn't that much of a prat. I think it worked out better this way), sweetevangeline, CassandraTheEvil (hey, I said death threats were welcome. Hehe), oO-Innocent Dreamer-Oo, ak, Aindel S. Druida (sadly...I like My Little Pony. I actually have that movie...used to watch it all the time when I was a kid.), Greenleaf, The Lady Elizibeth, pickles87 (I agree, sometimes impressionism is much better than detail), angelfish2, crystalclear8050, Lana Manckir, Cow as White as Milk, Imhilien (Yeah...he did it to Potter because of his dad, it would probably have been worse to Hermione's kids, since he had loved her...okay, don't have to think about that now), Hermia ((x2)death by spoon sounds particularly painful), lupinite23, Gold-Emerald fairy, EvieBlack, moviebuff101, Jewlzthejujubean, Tomoe, Mouse, and Sara Lily Potter (I'm so glad that I was the one to introduce you to SS/HG. I enjoy writing it so much. And don't worry, there is no doubt that I'll write more (I have some unfinished ones posted currently, also)).
And, of course, thanks to all the shy people who didn't review, but still read and offered their silent support!
Now, in tradition, I shall supply a list of Fanfiction recommendations that you must look up and read right this very second:
Getting the Hang of Thursdays, one of my absolute favorite fanfics, based on the Time-Loop challenge at WIKTT. It's funny, though-provoking, and smart. It's also a WIP, but Hayseed updates regularly (only hindered recently because of personal matters). Go read, you won't be sorry.
Meeting of the Minds, an absolutely gorgeous take on the Marriage Law challenge. Snape is snarky, Hermione is misled by her hormones, and it's all Ron's fault.
The Twenty, a refreshingly original take on the Snape/Hermione pairing, with a mixing of both the religious and the magical worlds.
Ourobouros, a hilarious parody of "moral relativism and baked goods". Meet Voldemort the kindly caretaker and Bellatrix Black, who judges character in nail color.
You can find all of these in my Favorite Stories section of my author profile. And if they're not there, they're supposed to be, but you can search for them, too.
Also, there is a rumor there might be a sequel to Bushy and the Beast. Look for a rather long one-shot, "The Hard Way", coming sometime soon. And yes, Remus's feelings for Hermione will be resolved in that story.
Wonk, the Queen of Cliffies
Well, that was the longest Author's Note ever.