Epilog – Is there something missing? Is there someone missing me? (part 2)

00000

He paced for several more minutes before he stopped and looked at the leather curtains, behind which the girl had disappeared.

"Where is she?" he thought with irritation. There was no need to prolong the unpleasant conversation any more than it was strictly necessary. And the conversation was unpleasant indeed. What was remarkable, though, how it turned out that way – one moment he was forgetting to breath, drowning in the pools of girl's unbearably-blue eyes and the next he was as good as demanding to Obliviate her for money. Bloody hell.

Snape stomped across the room once more and shook his head. Coming here he had no intentions to… Well, a thought of asking the girl to agree to a simple non-disclosure charm did cross his mind. And, of course, he wanted to show the girl his bloody gratitude for her healing him. But when she had the audacity to laugh at him, the flames of anger shoot up through his entire being. It didn't help, when the witch began mumbling rubbish, clearly avoiding looking at him. Suddenly, he wanted to mock and ridicule her, make her cry, and beg for forgiveness...

"Where is she?" he thought again after some more pacing. "Where is that damn girl?" Snape turned sharply and glared at the leather curtains.

It was a mistake to come here. What was he thinking? Thankfully, the girl's first reaction saved him from any further humiliation, but he came damn close. What would he have done were the girl not as gullible as to believe his feeble explanations? Really – 'erase the damaging memories...' The only thing 'damaging' was his stupidity. Allowing to be dragged into thinking that he was making lo… Bloody hell!

Snape ran his hand through his wet hair. He should have never come. The hero of the wizarding world or not, some things he had no right to hope for. Trouble was he wasn't sure what exactly he hoped for. The whole the situation with the girl was so confusing that no matter how hard he tried to decipher it he failed miserably at every attempt. All his strong, convincing arguments as to "why not" would suddenly acquire mocking question marks at the end turning into infuriating "why not?" and Snape had to start all over again and again, because the alternative was unthinkable. Or was it? He came here after all.

"Is she ever coming back?!" Snape stomped around the room again, the heels of his boots digging into the wooden boards of the floor with every step. "Where is she?"

Back in Hogwarts, when he saw the dusty box in the dark storage room under the Entrance Hall, he realized that he had been deceiving himself. Truly, how could he have ever believed that he had forgotten the witch with the maddeningly blue eyes, when he thought about her every damn minute of the every damn hour of the every damn day since he first saw her lying in the sick bed, where his own curses had put her?

However, if this discovery weren't embarrassing enough, his ineptness in handling it was downright mortifying. But who would have thought that mere thinking about a woman could be so alluring? Who could have thought that the need to be near a woman could be so overwhelming? Who could have thought that a simple act of taking a woman could make him feel so wonderful, so powerful? So complete? And seeing her afterwards, glowing, smiling…

No. No! It was all in his head. Only in his head. He was simply going the wrong way about dealing with the situation. Then again, his familiarity with 'affair of the heart' (as much as it irked him to use this term) was practically nonexistent. His first date, back when he was still a student, laughed in his face after he tried to kiss her. She went out with him on a bet, she sneered, but no money in the world would make her kiss the greasy jerk. Needless to say, he never attempted another date while in school. And after, trapped between Voldemort and Dumbledore, and his job, and his 'extracurricular' activities for the Order, he never particularly sought (neither was he offered) the company of other sex, and used the services of hired professionals if there was a need.

With no experience of his own what else could he rely on? The romantic literature, which he discarded a long time ago as a complete drivel? The unconnected bits of information he gathered over the years from the overheard conversations on the subject, which sounded foreign to him and gave very little of an insight?

Snape almost growled. Shit! He was getting sidetracked. "Where is the girl?!" He needed to get out of there!

It was all because of the smell here, he suddenly thought. He wasn't aware of it at first, shocked at hearing the girl's voice. And later, while he talked to her, he was too distracted to notice it. But now, all alone in this tiny room, he seemed to unable to take a breath without chocking just a little bit. Among all the aromas and scents floating in the air the only one he seemed to be able to smell was a light mixture of vanilla and peach. Merlin. Out of all the stupid things he had done in his life, this should be somewhere on the top of the list. He had to get out of here as soon as possible.

"Ms. Ardant!" he finally called out.

After a short pause the girl stepped out from behind the curtains. Without a word or glance in his direction she walked to the tall stool at the end of the counter. She climbed on it, turned to look at Snape, and said, "You can cast your spell now, Professor."

Through the whole proceedings he followed her with his gaze, sensing that there was something different about the girl, but unable to identify it.

"We haven't discussed the price yet," he said, eyeing her warily. She was the same girl that left several minutes ago, and yet she wasn't.

"I don't need your money." She sat straighter, her hands folded on her lap, calm, resolute.

Snape pulled out his wand, but paused to study the girl for a moment. What happened to her while she was in the other room? Was it another one of her games? "It doesn't have to be money, Ms. Ardant. It could be a job recommendation or apprenticeship."

"I don't need anything, Professor. Cast your spell." There were no emotions in the girl's voice, and that for some reason irritated Snape.

"Very well." His wand flew up and pointed at her. That was it. One spell, and she'd forget… "Ms. Ardant, I'd prefer to give you a chance to think about it some more…"

"What do you want, Professor? A signed waiver? An oath?" The girl interrupted him coolly, her questions just that - questions.

"I want…" Merlin, his wand pointing at the witch, Snape had no idea what he wanted anymore. And then he looked into the girl's maddeningly-blue eyes and suddenly thought that somewhere, somehow something went terribly wrong. The tip of his wand slipped lower, and he frowned.

The loud bang that came from behind the leather curtains startled him. His eyes darted to the curtains and then back to the girl, who by that time had jumped off of the stool. She didn't move any further, thought. Her hand gripping tightly the edge of the counter, she stood swaying slightly.

He was about to demand to know what the hell was going on, when he realized that the girl was looking intently at the leather curtains. Someone was there! Snape swore – he should have never trusted the waitress, who told him yesterday that the family was away and the girl's friends didn't usually stop by the store during the day. He leaped over the counter. And he should have never believed the girl when she told him she was alone in the house. He hesitated only for a moment before stepping through the curtains, his wand at ready.

There was no one on the other side of the curtains. Instead, Snape found himself in the tiny room, which probably served as a potions lab. There were several shelves of cauldrons and assorted equipment and an opened cabinet with rows of vials, bottles, and bundles of dry herbs. In the middle of the room was a high worktable. Part of it was covered with rolls of parchment and books. At the end…

"Shit!" Over a burner there hung a translucent ball of a containment charm, filled with white smoke. The ball encompassed a small, red-hot cauldron that was beginning to melt, the liquefied rim mixed with the babbling content oozed down its sides.

"Shit!" Snape scowled and in rapid succession waved his wand to extinguish the fire under the cauldron, remove the containment charm, cool the cauldron, and eliminate its content. Freed, the white smoke spread in the air before Snape could deal with it, and he had to struggle through a long coughing fit before he managed to cast an air-filtering spell.

Thoroughly irritated he went back to the shop. "What kind of an idiot, Ms. Ardant… Ms. Ardant?" The girl was standing at the same spot he left her, still clutching at the counter. Her face, impossibly white then, was pained, her eyes – slightly unfocused.

"Blue vial," she whispered and swayed. Snape hesitated between rushing to support her and going in search of her medicine.

"Professor…" The girl bit her lip and swayed again. "There…" She gave a barely perceptible nod towards the leather curtains.

Right. He looked at her one more time and hurried back to the lab.

Fortunately, it didn't take him long to locate the medicine tray. Snape grabbed the only blue vial that was there, opened and sniffed it carefully. It was the same potion the girl brew in his lab last year. The only problem was - he swirled the vial – there was very little of it.

He rushed back to the shop, the vial in his hand. "Ms. Ardant, is there any more…?"

Merlin. The girl was sprawled on the floor as if her legs had simply folded underneath her.

"Ms. Ardant!" He was at her side in less than a heartbeat. "Ms. Ardant." Oh Merlin.

The girl slowly opened her eyes. On her face, which seemed to have lost any color, her blue irises looked strikingly bright. Snape's throat suddenly felt constricted so that he couldn't breath. "Ms. Ardant?"

The girl focused her gaze on him, frowned, and tried to sit up. He moved to help her, but the witch drew back from him, and continued on her own.

Squatted near the girl, Snape waited until she finally managed to sit, learning heavily against the back of the counter. Then offered her the blue vial. He watched intently while she took her medicine and, as soon as he saw some color returning to the girl's face, swiftly got up. "Where is the rest of your stock?"

"Pardon?" The girl looked at him.

"Where is the rest of your stock?" he repeated impatiently. "There wasn't even half a doze."

The girl moved her gaze away from him, took a deep breath, and slowly got up from the floor. Still a bit unsteady on her feet, she dusted her robes carelessly, holding onto the counter, and then headed to the lab. "There was enough," she said quietly, as she brushed past him.

"No, there was not," he surprised himself by insisting. "Even if you…" lost more weight that you safely could? Snape scowled, angry that he noticed it, angry that he almost said it. He shook his head and followed the girl. "There wasn't enough."

In the lab the witch went to the worktable and took the half-melted cauldron in her hands. She turned it around several times as if hoping it wasn't as utterly destroyed on the other side. Then, she sat heavily on a stool and put the cauldron down in front of her.

"Ms. Ardant?" Snape was watching the girl from across the worktable.

She raised her gaze at him and said, "I do not have any more potion, Professor." She, then, looked back at the destroyed cauldron, and added, "If you would wait for a moment in the store… I'll be right with you, so you can cast your…" She waved her hand, either imitating a wand movement, or gesturing him away.

Her pale thin wrist seemed almost translucent. Snape scowled. "How could you allow your reserve to run so low?" He crossed his arms over his chest. "You can buy this potion, you can brew it…"

"I can't afford it! Alright!?" the girl snapped.

"May be if you wouldn't spent your time and resources on some foolish and dangerous experiments," he attacked her without missing a beat, his voice low and cold, "you wouldn't be complaining about your strained budget."

"I am not complaining." The girl frowned. "There was nothing dangerous about this experiment. I had it all calculated." She nodded to her notes. "Here."

"Ah, so you are not arguing about your experiments being foolish." Snape smirked.

The girl was livid then. "Foolish?" she hissed, leaning forward on the worktable. "You…you…"

"Well, let see," his smirk getting nastier, Snape grabbed the girl's notes in a quick move.

"Give me that!" The witch demanded, holding her hand out to him, but he already made several long steps away from the worktable and began skimming through the writings.

His smirk faded as soon as he read the first several lines. This was unexpected. He looked at the girl. "Why are you testing this sequence?"

"None of your business!" The girl stomped to him and stood, glaring, her face pink in anger. "Give. Me. That!"

Snape stared at her down his nose. "This is Auteuil's hypothesis you are expanding, is it not?"

The girl just kept glaring at him.

"I can only imaging how happy Madam Auteuil would have been if she knew that some perfume shop clerk was butchering her concepts." He sneered, wondering inwardly why should he care. Wasn't he in a hurry to get to the point of his visit and get out of there? But then he decided that as a responsible member of Potions Masters community, he just couldn't let an untrained person to put her life at risk like that.

"Actually, she had nothing against perfumes, Professor," the girl hissed through her clenched teeth, "seeing as she created a couple of scents we are still using today. Besides, she always encouraged me to experiment and trust my own judgment."

Snape arched a brow. "And how did you know her? Is this yet another fantasy of yours, which go together with assisting Professor Grumbledam story?" He smirked. "She died when you were what? – one, two."

"I was six! And she was my great-grandmother!"

"You are Madam Auteuil's…?" Snape uttered before he managed to curb his surprise.

"Could I have these back, please?" The small witch used that moment to grab her notes from his hands. She put the parchment back on the worktable and stood, her back to Snape. "Yes, I am Marie Auteuil's great-granddaughter, not that it is any of you business. And before you asked – no, I didn't inherit any of her important notes or papers. Nor her gift for potions, it would seem. All I have of hers is several cauldrons and a set of instruments. Satisfied?" She paused, and then added softly, "And there is no law that says you can't be interested in potions unless you are a Potions Master."

"No, there is not. But it doesn't mean that proclaiming an all-consuming interest in potions gives you the right to play with unfamiliar substances, putting in danger your self and those around you," Snape announced in his heaviest teacher's tone, as if he was about to deduct a million points from an unlucky House. "Besides, the amounts of money you are wasting on these foolish experiments of yours should be used on purchasing your medicine!"

"Amounts of money?" The girl turned and looked at him with incredulity.

"Yes, Albus told me that you are paid quite handsomely for… for what you do. You don't strike me as a person who worries about rainy day. And this…" He looked around, his lip curled in distaste.

"Paid handsomely?!" The girl made several steps towards him, the anger rolling off of her in waves. "The Headmaster told you that, didn't he?! Did he mention the condition that should be met for me to get paid anything at all? Well, did he?" Snape recognized an attack when he saw one, and he knew that he should be ready to strike back, to show this little slip of a witch who exactly she was dealing with. And yet suddenly all he could think was just how close the girl came to him, and how brightly her eyes shone, and how soft her cheeks looked, how difficult it was not to make a step forward and… Shit! Besotted idiot! He forcefully shook himself and concentrated on what the girl was saying. "I guess not. So, let me tell you. I am paid only when I heal people the Order tells me to heal. They have to authorize every single ritual! But since each of the three rituals, I've done so far, were spur-of-the-moment kind of deals, my handsome pay was stiff fines and this stupid illness that doesn't let me do anything unless I am soaked in a stupid potion!"

Annoyed at his loss of control a moment ago Snape struck back without a pause. "Three? Very well. You polished your questionable skills on me twice, but what about the third time? Who did you, no doubt, valiantly save then?"

She looked at him, her maddeningly-blue eyes darker somehow. Suddenly the feeling that somewhere somehow something went terribly wrong was back.

"Oh," he whispered. "The final battle?" The guess was not much of a guess. It was more like a recollection of memory lost for a long time. So, it was her, who… Wonder, what did happened to him there, and how could she… And why… "Why?"

Having blown off her steam, the girl calmed down. As if only then realizing how close she stood to Snape, she looked away, rolled on the balls of her feet, turned, and walked back to the worktable.

Unanswered, his question hung between them, and Snape tried again. "Why?"

The girl ran her fingers over the destroyed rim of the cauldron, glanced at him over her shoulder, and finally said, "I thought you needed it."

"Oh, did I," Snape uttered with a sneer, which even to him felt strained. "What about your little performance in the storage room? You though I needed it too?"

"No, probably not," answered the girl, without turning to him. Then added, "I needed it."

"I do hope it was worth the laugh." He looked down his nose at her small figure, surprised at the feeling of an agonizing tightness in his chest. It was actually a good thing that he couldn't see her face then, her eyes. Who knew what indignities he may still be capable of?

The girl sighed, her shoulders going up and down. "Professor, I don't know if there is anything I can tell you, so you would believe me that you got it all wrong."

"Try me." He didn't really intend to say it, but, well, there was not much he could loose at this point. "Start by explaining why you rummage through my head every time you feel like it?"

"I didn't…" She paused and turned to him. "All I wanted to do was to save you. Every time. I didn't mean any harm. And I am sorry if I hurt you. And Jay…and Val… They had nothing to do with it. They didn't like you and thought it was funny to humiliate you or… But I was never a part of it." As she spoke, the girl was looking him straight in the eyes, her face sad, drawn. "I just wanted you to survive. To live."

Abruptly, the tightness in his chest got worse, and Snape stood, wrestling with the unexpected pain, motionless under the girl's devastating blue gaze. Merlin.

And then somehow everything was clear. He did have it all wrong – the girl never meant him any harm (well, except, of course, those times, when she thought him to be a Death Eater or when she defended her potion-brewing skills). Hurriedly sifting through his memories of her – the smiles, the words, the gestures – he searched for but failed to find any malice, or repugnance, or dislike, that once he was certain were there.

Instead, he saw a beautiful witch, who was bright, and honest, and brave. And kind. A beautiful witch, who, for some unexplainable reason, sought his company, but who he kept pushing away, punishing for his own weakness. A beautiful witch, who saved him time and again without expecting any gratitude. A beautiful witch, who stoically bore the weight of her pain and troubles, the pain and troubles that purchased his life and health...

"Why?" It was still incomprehensible. Even the Gryffindor's righteousness wouldn't be enough to account for the girl's actions. He knew all too well who and what he was, and how he looked, and what he could and couldn't expect from people. And she was young, and beautiful, and…well… He was sure he'd missed something. "Why?"

The witch hesitated, then shrugged. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt to tell you now – your spell will likely to take care of it anyway." She sighed. "I love you. I've loved you since, probably, the very first time I saw you… So. There'll be no more questions, I hope."

00000

It was a stupid thing to do. As distressing as this meeting with Snape went, her confession made it worth. She saw him flinch and step back at her words. His legs hit the bench, and he collapsed rather than sat on it. Gerry bit her lip and turned back to the worktable. Merlin, it hurt like hell.

She ran her fingers over the rim of the destroyed cauldron, and the cold metal warmed up under her touch. Then she could finally let out the breath she didn't know she was holding. Shit. Who asked her to confess? Stupid, stupid, stupid girl!

She knew it from the very beginning, didn't she, that there was no hope. None whatsoever. And yet she hoped. For months. For years. Stirred by the dreams, infected by the first kiss, poisoned by the accidental lovemaking, her heart refused to give in. To capitulate. And then he came, and…

Shit, her breathing ragged, shallow again, Gerry felt she could faint from the oxygen deficiency alone. No, that wouldn't do. No. She had to finish this meeting. Gerry shook her head and forced a deep breath. Another one. Merlin, how could breathing hurt?

Upon hearing Snape's proposition, she thought that even her stubborn heart should be sufficiently persuaded. Well, more like shuddered to pieces. But whatever was left in her chest – a millions of shards or one chunk of charred flesh – she didn't care to examine it just then.

Instead, she focused on reining the agony of the initial blow. Luckily, she had a presence of mind to leave Snape, because it would have been too humiliating to fall apart in front of him. Then, after she once more could think rationally, Gerry realized that what Snape was offering could be considered a way out of this mess. While he would buy himself peace of mind, simultaneously he'd grant her a blissful ignorance. He wouldn't even know he was giving her a salvation.

It took her a long while, but she almost convinced herself that it was a solution.

It took her a longer while to muster the strength to go through with it. Somehow the prospect of getting rid of the pain hurt more than the pain itself.

And yet, Gerry was ready, when she came out to face Snape again. And it would have been over by now had it not been for her forgotten experiment, her stupid illness, and one destroyed cauldron that had been her treasured heirloom. Her control shattered, she said things that she had never meant to say, she argued about matters that should have never been discussed, and then… She confessed…

Stupid, stupid, stupid girl. Gerry bit her lip, almost growling in frustration. She should have never said anything like that to him. Never. What was she after? Pity? Remorse? Charity?

Irritated, she turned to Snape again. May be, if she were lucky, he'd hurry up and cast his spell before she managed to disgrace herself totally in his eyes. Then again, she might have done that already.

She glanced at the wizard, bracing for a sneer or a scowl. Instead, though, her gaze stumbled over an unfamiliar expression on the wizard's face – one of an utter bewilderment.

Gerry swallowed hard, refusing to dwell on it, and said quietly, "Professor…"

He blinked, as if coming out of a reverie.

"If you would return to the shop, I'll follow you in a moment…" She hoped she didn't sound needy. But it seemed Snape didn't hear her. He buried his face in his hands and sat like that for several long moments. Gerry waited, both grateful for delay and annoyed with it. But soon he was looking at her again, and the misery in his black gaze was so startling that she had to look away. And then he was speaking.

"It's impossible. It is not… You are… And I am… It is…" The words were pouring out of his mouth in pained, soft bursts. He frowned, pursed his lips, and then tried again. "It can't be. It makes no sense." He stopped, shook his head, and cried out, "You don't even know me!"

She smiled sadly at that - if only love would be that easy. If only… No, not now. Later, preferably much later, if the need be, she would let herself think about knowing someone she loved. "Professor, we have to go to the store. You know, it's not a good idea to cast spells in the lab."

"No!"

Gerry, who had successfully avoided his gaze for a while, made a mistake of glancing into his eyes. The misery was still there, but now it was mixed with something that she had seen there before, a long time ago, - longing. Her breath hitched, and she squeaked, "Pardon?"

"I am not going to cast the spell," Snape growled, and buried his face in his hands once more.

"You are not?" Merlin, what did it mean? Gerry made a step back, leaned against the worktable, and bit her lip. She didn't know for how long she could hold on, and if this encounter was not over soon…

"I am not," Snape voice came as a whisper from behind his hands that still covered his face. "There isn't going to be any spell."

"Oh," she said, scared a bit of a wave of relief that flooded her.

"Ms. Ardant." His hands falling to his knees, long fingers digging into the black fabric of his cloak, Snape raised his head again. His black stare pinned her to the spot, but she refused to read anything in it. "I must admit that this," he paused, as if considering elaborating, but deciding against it, "is most unexpected. And it seems I've been acting under a complete misapprehension, for which I am deeply sorry."

"Oh," she whispered. Oh indeed. As much as she wanted to retain her memories, the thought that he changed his mind because he felt obligated, made her cringe and inwardly curse her big mouth.

Her annoyance didn't pass unnoticed since Snape watched her face like a hawk. He frowned and continued in lower, strained tone, "I'd understand if you will not be able to accept my apology. My actions towards you were unpardonable. But you see, Ms. Ardant, it is imperative to me to obtain your forgiveness."

"It is?" She might not know the wizard, but she did spend enough time at Hogwarts to learn that Snape cared very little about what others thought of him.

"Yes. Otherwise I won't be able to ask you to move to Scotland."

She frowned suspicious. "Why would you want me to move to Scotland?"

"My ability to travel is limited during a school year. Hence, unless you live in, for instance, Hogsmeade or even Hogwarts, I will have difficult time of it," he explained, uttering every word carefully, as if waiting for her to explode or run away at any moment.

"Difficult time of what?" Then an idea struck her, "Are you planning on watching me?

"What? No!!" Snape looked horrified at the thought. "No."

"Why, then, Scotland?"

"I haven't said, have I?" He murmured, as if surprised by the realization. He swallowed hard and finally unclenched one of his hands from his knee to pinch the bridge of his nose instead. "I am appalling at this, forgive me." Then, his hand back on his knee, he announced solemnly, "Ms. Ardant, I'd like you to move to Scotland, so I can court you."

"You can what?" She must have misheard him. Or began hallucinating. Merlin, she was pathetic.

A flash of apprehension passed across Snape face, but he cleared it with a frown. "I'd like to court you," he repeated stiffly. "Isn't it how it is done? Or do I need to ask you parents' permission first?"

"But…" Gerry started and stopped. What did just happened? Was he serious? Was it just about her confessions? Her heart was suddenly beating so fast and loud that she had hard time concentrating. And when she finally opened her mouth to try and say something, she made a mistake of looking into Snape's black eyes. The misery and longing there were so intense there that she choked on her words and remained silent.

His anxious gaze searching her face, he waited for to continue, to give him the answers to his questions. When he realized that none were coming, he closed his eyes, schooled his face into an unreadable mask, and said softly, "I understand." Then he got up without looking at her and walked to the door.

"Ms. Ardant, if my offer offended you in any way…" He stood tagging lightly at the leather curtain. "I just assumed that your confession gave me the right… My mistake. Please, forgive me."

As Snape was about to walk out, the horror of seeing his retreating (again!) back prompted Gerry into action. "No!" What was she doing letting him go? Even if it was only his pity talking was she that strong to pass by her chance?

The wizard spun around, his brow arched. "Ms. Ardant?"

"Wait!" She rushed forward, but, as she did so, the room around her swayed sideways for the umpteen time in the last hour. "Shit, there wasn't enough potion," she thought while her legs folded under her and she began crumbling down.

Before she hit the floor, though, the strong hands grabbed her and kept her upright.

"Ms. Ardant," she heard his deep, velvety voice whispered somewhere above her head, and, unthinking, she reached out and took a hold of the coarse black fabric of his cloak. Then, ignoring the protests of her dignity, she pulled herself closer the to wizard, pressed her face into his chest, and sighed with relief. The next moment she was embraced, no, enveloped in a cocoon of his arms, and his scent, and his heat, and his rapid heartbeat. She sighed again – her temporary inability to remain upright on her own aside, this felt like heaven.

Several long moments past before Gerry's dizzy spell eased up and she began to consider detaching herself from Snape. Which proved to be rather difficult - she couldn't make herself let go. And judging by the tightness of Snape's embrace, he wasn't in any hurry to let go either.

May be she got it all wrong, and it wasn't about pity.

"Thank you," she finally murmured.

"Don't mention it," replied Snape, breaking up their embrace and stepping back. But as his hands drop down, hers remained holding onto his cloak. The wizard looked at them down his nose, then at her.

"Professor," she offered him a lopsided smile, "about what you just said… You didn't offend me. I am flattered, happy, really." Her fingers, on their own volition, began drawing small circles on the black fabric. "It's just you never…" She gestured vaguely between them, but it seemed Snape understood her.

"Yes," he conceded, "but despite appearances you've been on my mind for longer than I'd care to admit."

"How long?" she asked, moving a bit closer to the wizard.

"From the very beginning," he confessed very quietly after a short hesitation.

"Oh," she exhaled and moved even closer to him. "But why didn't you ever…?"

"There were circumstances," he said, one of his hands slid up her arm. "And as I mentioned already, wrong assumptions." His other hand slid up her other arm. "And I thought it was only because of the dreams. And…"

"And?" she prompted, moving yet closer to him, her body then almost touching his.

"And I could have never imagined," his arms went around her, and once again Gerry was in the heaven of his embrace, "that you would be interested in the least."

"Merlin, you don't even know me." She looked up at him, not sure if she was about to cry or laugh.

"No," he admitted, surprised. "I do not." He was looking down at her, as if seeing her for the first time. And then he smiled.

The smile was so unexpected, and brilliant, and oh, gods, one of those smiles Gerry saw in her dreams ages ago. The one she hoped to see again. And there it was – so absolutely, incredibly real, her heart skipped a beat at the sight of it.

"That is, I believe, our problem, Geraldine." His smile slowly faded, as he sobered up, his dark, probing gaze sliding over her face. "That is why I should court you," the gaze stopped at her lips, and wasn't moving any further, "so we both know each other when I propose to you." As he spoke, Snape slowly lowered his head.

"Well," Gerry murmured, feeling hot and cold at the same time, "if you are planning to propose…" She didn't notice how she got on her toes, her body straining up.

"Of course." His gaze, a black fire blazing in a pitch-black night, darted to her eyes, before returning to her lips. "I want a proper wizarding wedding," he whispered, his face centimeters away from hers then.

"White robes?" Her hands slid up and around his neck, her fingers tangling in his soft hair.

"Of course."

The first brush of their lips was electrifying. Despite her lingering doubts, Gerry instantaneously was dizzy with exhilaration, and desire, and relief. It was a good thing Snape was holding her, otherwise no amount of persuading would make her legs support her.

One kiss followed by another, and then another, and then another. Melting into his embrace, Gerry couldn't get enough of his lips, his tongue, and, judging by the Snape's fervor, he had been craving to kiss her for eternity.

"Merlin, this is…it is…" she tried to interpret the situation inwardly, but quickly gave up, realizing she couldn't form a coherent thought. Not that she really cared to. She surrendered to the heat, and the passion, and the accelerated heartbeat, and the sheer proximity to the wizard.

"Severus," she whimpered, as his lips left her mouth to caress her face. "Severus," she arched into him, as he moved to her neck. "Severus."

Every time she said his name, Snape shivered and drew her a bit closer. Very soon, it was hard to tell where he ended and she began.

"You mentioned a flat," he said then, breaking his kissing exploration only for long enough to utter these words.

It took her several moments to comprehend what he was saying, and another several moments to produce her wand. But even when she had it in her hand, she was so far gone that she couldn't concentrate on Apparation. She stood trying to gather her thoughts, while Snape continued his ministrations.

Once he sensed that something wasn't right, he raised his head to looked at her. "Do you find white robes objectionable?"

The question snapped Gerry out of her daze. What? "No, not really." An expression of his face, a strange mixture of passion and confusion, made his angular features appear surprisingly soft, endearing. Gerry snorted and suddenly broke out in laughter, the bright sound of it echoing in the small room.

Startled, Snape frowned, but soon, his forehead smooth once more, he smiled carefully. As Gerry continued laughing, the wizard's smile spread out into a full- blown grin.

The soft pop of Apparation left the potions lab empty and quiet.

THE END

A/N Thanks to all of you, who read the story. A special thanks to those of you, who left a review.

I'd like to mention that most of the chapter titles came from Evanescence lyrics. There are also some Marianne Faithful, Nora Jones, and Elton John.