Disclaimer: It's not mine. There are five books in hardback on my desk right now staring at me without my name on it. I waved my wand but they still all say 'Rowling'.

This is it! The end! Thanks for your patience and the long wait. Many thanks to all reviewers and betas, especially: Klingon Mistress, June Williams, Luna Writer, MA Long, Katherine Tomblin, Keket Amunet, Lori Drout, heartnut, Shannon, Shabopo, and XxphoenixX.

Chapter 25: Can't Hide Love

And so Snape's torture continued until he awoke, half-rested and weary.

Snape's arms and legs felt tight and contracted, either from lying too long in one position, or from his grotesque posture— his instinctive inclination to curl up in ball to protect his soft, fleshy middle from attacks was responsible for his present condition... that and a lengthy bout of Crucio. He had been hexed before, and badly. Once Poppy had worked on him for two months before he recovered. Snape suspected that tonight (what day was it anyway?) was likely his dying day. From his sensitivity and reactions to his surroundings, he didn't like his chances.

Lying on his side, the sweat caused his hair to stick to the side of his face and press each individual strand between the cot and his skin, leaving impressions on his cheek. He could feel his pained shallow breathing, each expansion of his lungs making him wince. It hurt to even blink. How can one describe the effects of the Cruciatus? Neville's parents were tortured hard and fast by unskilled Death Eaters. They had lost their minds in a matter of forty minutes.

Voldemort was master of pain and understood exactly how much a man could withstand before losing the ability to provide information, before bleeding, before insanity, before succumbing to death. He was especially knowledgeable about the limits of his own servants.

Snape imagined for a moment what he looked like from the ceiling. He was faced away from the door, and his hands were drawn up to protect his chest, his loose fists near his neck. He clutched his vest weakly, with some vague recollection of why that might be important. Feeling something cool and hard press against his skin, he fingered the item between the buttons of his garment.

The vial. He thanked the deities and found religion in his moment of desperation. He snuck a sip of the precious elixir, careful to move so minutely that it could scarcely be noticed by onlookers while causing him as little discomfort as possible. When you are a prisoner, and are trapped by wolves, the victim feels any breath or twinge is magnified to his captors, making one panic unnecessarily. Snape did his best not to slow his erratic heartbeat as he wedged the vial back behind his vest and waited for the potion to work. The most beautiful music hummed in his veins as Hermione's blood coursed through him. Of course her gift was accompanied by that of her other two sisters, but in Snape's mind Hermione was healing him. For a few blissful seconds he was back on that imaginary plane, on that grassy hill with her. He reached out to her, but found himself unable to touch her.

She isn't real. Not here she isn't.

He regained feeling and strength in his limbs, feeling immediately stronger, and more rested. It shocked him that one tiny yet priceless sip of such a potent substance seemed still too large of a dose to cure perhaps days worth of Cruciatus.

He opened his eyes and was aware that he was on a cot in the white room, and knew this setting was the last place any Death Eater wanted to be. Most captives never returned from this room, certainly no Death Eater turned spy. Snape realized that his wand was still with him, partly because Lord Voldemort found it amusing, and partly because he probably had not the strength or the audacity to fire back at his punisher. At the same moment he realized he had his wand, he also realized he was not alone in the room.

As a defensive reaction, he jerked himself upright from the bed, staring into the cold reptilian gaze of Voldemort and a rather smug looking Lucius Malfoy.

Oh Bugger.

Snape had been in horrible situations before, and as far as Gaia knew, this was, in some small measure, normal for him as far as Death Eater things went. So she lingered in the recesses of his mind.

Voldemort then opened his mouth and uttered the words that erased all possibility of safety. "How is it that a Mudblood can command powerful magic from a wand such as yours?"

Snape didn't have a comeback for that one.

Lucius looked over confident in the thought that he was not about to be on the receiving end of Voldemort's punishment. He hoped that Severus would not make good on his threat to poison him. It wasn't like the Dark Lord had given him a choice not to talk.

So Lucius, you were finally made to speak. It was only a matter of time. "I-I don't know, my Lord." He looked down, and when he chanced a glance upward, he was staring down the length of Voldemort's wand. He swallowed hard, unable to still the boiling terror churning inside his stomach. He was discovered. Everything was known or would be… No more spying.

"What connection must there be between you that would allow such a thing to occur? How… very… rare…" Voldemort whispered as he advanced on him, and then, using the tip of his ebony wand, tilted Snape's dark gaze upward to meet his own angry red slits.

He could feel surprisingly cold dead air exhaled from the Dark Lord's flat nostrils, and see him hiss his comments behind pointed clenched teeth. The creepy sensation hit him as Voldemort viciously probed his mind, the tendrils of a wicked man trying to pry apart his very soul. Snape spun out images of the interrogation of her, of the goddess who created a shield between them, of how he tried to reach for his own wand but got burned. Voldemort almost seemed satisfied with the vision and then... hit the barrier that had protected the girl.

"She protects you!" Voldemort threw Snape across the room and he collided with the wall. Voldemort pointed his wand at Snape's chest and all Snape saw next was a blinding flash of light.


"Arghh!" Hermione sighed and threw down her quill, destroying the fifth parchment ruined by her distraction. She was trying earnestly to complete the book of poetry for the wizard's anniversary present to his wife. It was beautiful, and while Hermione tried to observe the document impersonally, as rows of letters and words instead of phrases of love and yearning— more than once a tear had escaped her lashes, dropping violently to the paper, the ink bleeding outward... again. Damn. She crumpled up the paper and again made a shot at the wastebasket and missed.

She cursed herself, her posture was poor, and she was slouching. Her shoulders would kill her at this rate. She reached up for a long stretch and bent a little at her waist in each direction, sighing her torment to the ceiling.

That's not what's bothering you, and you know it.

She couldn't stop thinking about Severus. Had he returned? She hoped at least Minerva would send word. Or maybe she couldn't? It might look suspicious. Hermione chewed the inside of her left cheek and resumed her previous pacing. The night before, she hadn't slept well at all and had finally dared herself to sleep in MeMe's bed. Hermione used to cuddle with her when she was a young girl. Her grandmother always smelled like perfumed talc, and MeMe would tuck her in with a glass of water. Those memories provided no comfort to Hermione, for when she awoke not two hours later in a half warm bed, she was still painfully aware that she was alone.

She stared at the ceiling and wondered if because of her emotional attachment to him, perhaps she would instinctively 'know' if something was wrong. Her mother had done that to her a number of times, and quite frankly it freaked her out. She figured Muggle or not, mums have special mojo. Of course, Harry wasn't at all accurate when he thought Sirius was in danger, but then he was letting his emotions get carried away… And a number of times she was in real danger at school but her mum didn't ask…

Stop it. You sound like Lavender.

It was wishful thinking on Hermione's part that she would somehow know if he was hurt or dead. That special bond they shared was one night only, she mused. Severus probably went to a Death Eater meeting and came back, as usual. No one told her or sent her anything because his disappearance was considered typical, even ordinary. The very thought that members of the Order could think such a thing was ordinary or acceptable roused a fury in Hermione making her cheeks flush angrily once more. It had been days since her initiation into the Order. Glancing at her botched work, and then at the clock she rose to her feet and straightened her work desk, putting away her calligraphy and inkwells.

She looked over at her rather copious notes about the Ministry project, wishing she could stay and work on that project a bit longer before leaving. She still hadn't written a satisfactory reply. She had a million ideas, none of which she had been able to discuss with a soul. In particular she had wanted to check out her ideas with Severus. He was practical, methodical, and reasonable. He could point out potential flaws and contradictions in her magical plan as well as potential disasters she might miss.

What if everyone crossing the seal were forced to tell the truth all the time? People who had made commitments to persons outside of the Ministry would be breaking all kinds of promises. It could even backfire on members of the Order.

What if people felt compelled to be more understanding or fair-minded? Then quiet people who had steeled themselves for a serious talk with their boss about a raise would back off and would be walked over. People who were notoriously unfair would be inconsistent with how they normally act. People would know. They would find out. Hermione's visions about how this would play out always ended with death, torture, or Azkaban prison. The Ministry was an enormous political animal filled with a lot of hard working people who had honor and loyalty. It was just hard to know who those people were. Coming up with good subtle charm ideas for the seal was stressing her out. It was political nightmare.

She rubbed tension from her shoulders to discard the unpleasant weight of work to move on to something more enjoyable. Grabbing her bag and coat off the back of her chair, she sealed the office door behind her with its magical ward as she always did. She was rather proud of her recent efforts to better conceal it by putting a tasteful moving bookcase in front of it. Since only she could unward it, she felt rather safe if someone were actually able to find her place, much less break in.

She tossed her bag over her shoulder, and began the short walk to practice. Hermione shook her head and a tendril fell loose from her haphazard bun. It was a physical attempt to shake the concerns from her mind, but they weren't going anywhere. She could hear the echoes of her steps on the damp street on the way, and knocked into a passerby on the street because she was staring at the sidewalk rather than minding her surroundings.

He grumbled at her, something which was half an insult and a swear. She had deserved it but only acknowledged him with a guilty look.

Hermione detached herself form the usual banter at practices, hoping she didn't seem too antisocial. Every noise around her seemed exaggerated and sharp— the shuffling of scores, the tapping of the conductor's wand against the black metal stand, and Tom slamming his office door.

She went through the motions and mechanically did well enough, but her peers did notice that she wasn't her usual self. Hermione had a habit of being melancholy between practice and performance but this evening was somehow different. Stevens half-hoped the performance wouldn't fall flat, and the other half hoped that her emotional turmoil might contribute positively to the performance.

Eventually evening came and Hermione stood decked from head to toe in black lace, her sultry voice hiding her true emotions. Hermione sang through several tunes until the last. The droning slow notes permeated her until she was inextricably woven into the music.

There was a moon out in space
But a cloud drifted over its face
You kissed me and went on your way…
The night we called it a day

As she sang, her voice cracked in places over the notes. She could barely contain her sorrow as each word hit her like a bludger to the heart. Hermione could not stand to be ignored. Things had ended before they even began. In the back of her mind she wanted that strange bond to linger, but all this time, she thought… it was wishful thinking. She wanted something that could never be. She made it difficult for him by preventing him from speaking his mind the morning after. She didn't even know he was ending it.

I heard the song of the spheres
Like a minor lament in my ears
I hadn't a heart left to pray
The night we called it a day

Soft through the dark
The hoot of an owl
In the sky
Sad though his song
No bluer was he than I

The moon went down… stars were gone
But the sun didn't rise with the dawn
There wasn't a thing left to say
The night we called it day…

There wasn't a thing left to say
The night we called it a day.

There was no clapping, though it was likely her best performance. The sad thing was that it was over, and while Stevens was very satisfied by her gut wrenching performance, he felt guilty for squeezing it out of her. And especially for choosing that to be the last song of the evening. All the patrons left depressed. And Stevens knew he'd get a tongue lashing for it.

She stumbled her way to the back to change, and turned slowly after hearing her name.

"Hermione, that was fabulous!" Danny paused in his excitement noticing her expression. "Hermione, are you alright?"

Hermione stared at him for a moment blankly almost looking through him. She had forgotten that she bought Danny a seat to celebrate his acceptance into Oxford. "Give me a minute," she said blankly, her voice empty. But she did not move.

Danny walked up to her gentle figure and reached his arms out to gently hug her. Her romantic problems were acknowledged and complications were left unspoken and unexplained. He respected her space enough to let her bring it up. He had harassed her about it enough when he knew her as Kate.

Hermione came to her senses and pulled free, not unkindly, refusing his unwanted gesture. "I'm sorry, Danny. I'm glad you liked it. I'll be back in a minute."

She adjourned to the bathroom and slipped on a pale green linen skirt and blouse. She splashed her face with water and patted it, though it didn't rid her of the horribly intrusive thoughts that there was nothing between her and Severus and had never been.

Hermione looked in the mirror at her form and her face. The music was gone and she could hear the sounds of the janitors sweeping up in the back, and the shuffling of feet as people made their way to the door. When she sang, the club was dim and warm, a romantic setting as long as she wasn't depressing the patrons with the lyrics. The florescent lights were bright in the ladies bathroom, effectively extinguishing the melancholy atmosphere she had just departed. Suddenly a wiser perspective came into view.

Severus said no such thing to her. He couldn't. He left things rather open actually, and she had meant that she would wait for him. But for God's sake, it had only been three weeks! Hermione couldn't possibly believe herself to be ready to give up on a relationship with him yet.

'I'm glad they didn't fade. Hermione, ever since you left… you stayed with me. If something had happened to you…'

In the plain light of the bathroom and in her recollection, those were not the words of a man who had told her 'no'. But it still pained her that she had not heard a yes. She straightened her shoulders, looked herself in the eye in the mirror, and picked up her bag.

"Danny? You ready?" She smiled apologetically.

"How about you? Are you up for tonight?"

"I'm better. Sorry about before. I didn't want to back out on you, we've been planning this for a week!" Hermione put on her best smile, but Danny could see she was hurt.

"Hermione…" he hugged her with one arm, and they exited the back door. Walking together down the sidewalk toward her flat, they talked amongst themselves. "He's still on your mind then."

She snorted, and rubbed the bridge of her nose with her fingers. "Yes, I suppose there is nothing I can do about that. I just can't stop thinking about him."

"Hermione, there will be plenty of times for us to sit and catch up." Hermione made to protest, but Danny shushed her. "There will. Do what you have to do, but don't go home tonight. Go out and do something for yourself. Have coffee… you like that." He laughed and patted her shoulder, giving her a warm smile.

A light went on in Hermione's head. She wouldn't go home. She knew exactly what would make her feel better.


Snape dreaded this moment—the point at which his services to the Order would no longer be useful. He said the password to Dumbledore's office and the stairs raised him to the door of the Headmaster.

Snape never thought he would return. Staring down the length of Voldemort's wand, knowing death awaited him—no one could escape Voldemort if he wanted to kill you—death had always seemed a certain thing. For Snape, there had always been a mild comfort in that. Snape suspected after years of spying he might find an odd sense of peace knowing that it was finally bout to end. His life, his obligations, the emptiness gone.

Of course, he had always longed to die in the final battle—successfully spying for the entire duration of Voldemort's reign, his role as spy only discovered at the last possible and most inopportune moment… too late for Death Eaters to punish him for, too late to turn around Voldemort's failed plans that Snape helped to destroy. Of course he would love to survive, and gloat, and contemplate a future free from servitude, but Snape wasn't ever that optimistic.

Until recently.

At the end of Voldemort's wand, instead of picturing serenity as he had imagined, he was afraid for who he was leaving behind. Snape felt he did have obligations—no, not obligations… he had love, a life beyond service to Dumbledore, beyond the Order, beyond his role as teacher, beyond any fanciful dreams of research in potions and professional advancement and fame.

The last place he wanted to be was here.

Dumbledore bolted to his feet and embraced the younger wizard, taking Snape entirely off guard. The last time Dumbledore had hugged Snape like that was the day he had come to tell him of James and Lily Potter's deaths.

"Severus, my boy…" Dumbledore rumbled. "We have been so concerned about you." He pulled back from Snape and held his shoulders at arms length, his eyes twinkling madly in an effort to discern his health from a single glance. "You look remarkably well. Were we worried for no reason?" His eyes met Snape's inky black depths.

Snape had a look of regret on his face, standing in front of the man to whom he still owed so much. But his eyes held also something different, hope and someplace else he ought to be. "Headmaster, we need to… debrief." His emphasis on the word said enough to the elder professor, and Dumbledore sat down shakily in his chair.

"You can no longer spy, can you?" The question was said on mere breath and Dumbledore's eyes lost their twinkle.

When Snape merely nodded, that merriment came back and shone again on Dumbledore's face. The elder wizard felt something akin to elation in his gut. Dumbledore whipped out that ugly red polka-dotted handkerchief and blotted his eyes, blowing his nose hard into the soft linen. They always thought they would hear of Snape's death when Voldemort found out his role as spy and here he was sitting in front of him, looking completely well.

Snape didn't know how to react to Dumbledore. He wasn't sure he was reading his cues correctly.

Dumbledore finally examined Snape's dejected expression and explained clearly, "I am very happy that you are finally free of a burden you've carried admirably, and under great stress for 20 some years. Do not despair. There are other ways you can and have been helpful. I daresay many of our peers will feel relieved of your safe return."

"They will come for me." Snape said, knowing he would be hunted.

"Perhaps so, perhaps. If they dare to come to Hogwarts, I believe there will be people standing to protect you," he said with a promising smile. "And you'll be no more hunted than Harry or others I might mention."

Snape sighed, really feeling his freedom now, but distracted by duty. "What can I do to help?"

"I know of a certain young man who needs more training in Occlumency and non-verbal cues. Miss Granger managed to discern his correct loyalties in about 30 minutes. Perhaps you'll tell me a bit of what happened?"

It took Snape the better part of three hours to debrief with Dumbledore, and when they were finished, for the most part—after developing a lengthy list of Order business, and things he needed to do to prepare Victor further.

Distracted by an odd thought, Snape looked up from his cold tea and asked, "What day is it?"

Dumbledore smiled, but it was a weak smile. No matter how healthy Severus looked to old eyes, Severus had suffered, and suffered enough—especially if he had to ask which day it was. "Saturday morning."

Snape made to stand from his chair, stretching a bit to get himself to an upright position after sitting for so long. Dumbledore could not miss the faint hint of a smile hidden behind Snape's cheeks.

"I'll see you Monday, Severus," Dumbledore said knowingly. He winked at him and Snape exited the stairs swiftly with almost a bounce in his step.

Minerva was right, he had to admit. Snape had lost something important the day Miss Granger left in January. It was invisible at the time because of everyone else's worry for the missing student. Once she left for the second time, the change in him was obvious to those who knew him well. He would be incomplete without her. In helping her settle in her apartment and seeing her at the Order initiation, Dumbledore knew the same was true for her as well. There would be no separating them.

Go get her.


Arthur was tinkering with a marvelous contraption called a 'juicer.' Of course, it didn't juice anymore, as Arthur had taken it entirely apart, its innards displayed in a colorful array of wires, gears, rubber washers and miscellaneous plastic parts. Molly was thankful that the knocking and banging was finally over. She always muttered something about him finding the proper tools, but then he might hurt himself in the process as he muddled his way through.

Saturday's were usually pretty relaxed at the Burrow. Ron preferred to spend his summer working for Fred and George's shop, and staying out-of-doors practicing Quidditch moves on the Cleensweep his mum bought him for becoming a prefect. Ginny took a summer job at Fortesque's next to WWW. The unfortunate consequence of this was that the Weasley household was fairly vacant, and while the lengthy stay of Granger's was pleasant, it was wonderful for Arthur and Molly to have time to themselves, to a point. The house was feeling pretty empty, and both parents were feeling it.

Molly had been busying herself with housework, but everything was done. No dishes to wash, no books left unread. The house was spotless, and she was left to resume her worry over Severus, who had disappeared without a word about one week ago. She wrung her cloth out one more time muttering under her breath.

"Love…" Arthur was at her side, abandoning his hobby to console his sighing wife. "Honey, you're going to wear a depression right into the table." His hand covered hers, and pulled the well worn cloth from her fingertips. She had been worrying the poor table to death.

She turned into his chest, Mister Weasley standing a great deal taller than her, but reduced his height by leaning a bit against the kitchen table in order to be closer to her. He kissed the top of her auburn hair.

"I'm worried, Arthur."

"I know dear."

"Never been this long before."

"I know dear." He rubbed her back and she sighed into his chest, hugging him.

She sniffed and stepped back from him. "I'm being silly," she said into her handkerchief. "Of course he's all right," she said, trying to convince herself.

"You're not silly, dear," Arthur said seriously, plenty concerned himself about the Order's best spy. Severus and he may have never been particularly close, but plotting against the Dark Lord in closed quarters like Grimmauld Place had brought them to some kind of understanding. The Order members had their own special kinship.

A knock at the door brought them out of their reverie, and Molly left to answer it.

Snape stood there, looking quite well and shocking Molly so greatly that she jumped and threw her arms about him without thinking. Tears leaked from her eyes, and Snape stood stiffly, not expecting such a welcome, but quickly realized with a feeling of warmth settling in his chest that people were very worried about him and deeply concerned about his health and well-being.

I can't breathe…

As quickly as Molly hugged him, she pulled away and wanted to scold him like one of her errant children. "Where have you been? Gone so long… no word…so worried…"

"Molly, why don't you pour us some tea?" Arthur suggested, to give Snape some breathing room and also give his wife something useful to do (that always seemed to help when she was nervous). Molly backed away from Severus, still keeping an eye on him, as if he'd disappear.

"Molly, thank you, but I can't stay." Snape shifted his feet uncomfortably and saw that Hermione was obviously not here, but still felt compelled to ask. He was so anxious to find her, he felt about twelve. "Do you know where I might find Her- Miss Granger?"

This was the second time he had come asking Molly such a thing and she was beginning to become a might suspicious about their resident spy.

"Severus Snape," she said pointing a sharp finger, "you better tell me if that girl is in trouble, so help me…"

"Molly, please. She is not in danger, I merely wish to speak with her. Do you know where I can find her?"

Arthur was pretty quick on the uptake and had seen how distressed Hermione looked at the Order meeting when Minerva had told her of Severus' disappearance. His gut tensed a bit imagining the unlikely couple, but somehow the similarities and compatibility began to emerge. No wonder she left. Snape had endured enough judgment without him appointing himself to the jury. He stood to escort Severus out the front, and spoke in a low friendly voice. "You might try her parents in Reading, but I know she has her own place now. No point for you to ask where it is, of course. She's a careful one."

Severus nodded, grateful for Arthur's quick summary and candor which he needed.

Molly trailed behind her husband eager to listen in and catch what she was obviously missing.

"Did she… look well at the Order meeting? Her initiation…" Severus was crushed he had missed it, he remembered his own initiation. It was like a healing of sorts and a feeling of belonging that so completely transcended what the Death Eaters had offered. The magic of friendship in all it's simplicity, coupled of course with utter and complete commitment. While he felt the tiniest bit hesitant to agree to the terms— who wouldn't be?— it was a bit like the unconditional love one would show to your family, your true family, something he had not really experienced from his own parents. We wondered if it was as powerful an experience for her.

"All went well, but everything fell rather flat on your absence. We haven't celebrated yet, not like we usually do of course. With you gone, no one really felt like celebrating." Arthur clapped Severus affectionately on his shoulder and lightened the mood, "But here you are! I'm sure you have much to tell, but we can wait, can't we honey? Good luck then." Arthur smiled and Molly waved as Severus made to disapparate.

Severus disliked many people. People in general irritated him. Everyone. But he liked Arthur Weasley. He had been consistently friendly in a genuine way ever since they had met. Arthur was no pushover and could certainly hold his ground and put his foot down. He didn't need to parade or make a show of force when someone like Lucius showed up. In that yielding way, Arthur had more finesse and grace than Malfoy would ever have.

From there he left to her parents' home in Reading, still marveling over Arthur's tact and lack of comment on their relationship which he had obviously deduced. Snape's probing questions hid none of his feelings. Snape was usually so guarded with his emotions, he found himself a bit surprised at how much he was willing to risk to show his caring for her.

Hermione's mother was just coming to the door to pick up the post and gasped when she saw him. Was he always the bearer of bad news? Of course the Grangers associated him with the search for her, and likely assumed the worst.

"Dr. Granger, good evening."

"Professor Snape do come in, and call me Wendy please."

Once again he hadn't intended on staying long, but was pulled into her simple hospitality, feeling a bit guilty for wanting to interrogate and run. He hoped his impatience wasn't showing too clearly on his face. Concealing his emotions was a habit, but today especially he was feeling freer than he had in years.

She poured him some tea, and make excuses for her husband Robert who had gone to tend to an emergency at the office.

"I was wondering, after all that's happened… How is Hermione doing?"

"Quite well, I think. She's waiting I think, to settle in before pursuing a more formal career. She just rented a flat a little over a week or so ago…" Wendy could tell by the expression on his face, that this wasn't actually the direction that he was hoping for. Wendy had good instincts and a knack for sizing people up. She quickly added, "That wasn't exactly what you wanted to know was it?"

"Not exactly," he admitted reluctantly, surprised he wasn't trying to make a better impression on Hermione's mother. He was certainly hoping they could work out as a couple. Certainly a positive relationship with her parents would be important, much as Hermione loved them.

"So you were inquiring about her… emotional health?" Wendy asked, a bit surprised, as Snape's reputation for coldness preceded him. Amazingly, on most occasions of late, Snape had been especially kind and considerate where Hermione was concerned. So helpful in trying to locate her… Ron had mentioned something about him being present when she returned.

After a few moments of rather awkward questions, Wendy's eyes widened in realization of her daughter's earlier cryptic responses. Her lips parted but refrained from forming a rather wide look of astonishment, then changed to something more contemplative, and shockingly… approving.

She took a breath and exhaled, meeting his eyes consistently. "She looks distracted quite a bit lately. She doesn't talk with us much, sticks to discussion of work, exams, and activities rather than talk about her disappearance. I couldn't reach her for a few days earlier this week. Minerva sent me an owl and asked me to look out for her, but didn't mention why she was so preoccupied." Snape looked pensive. "That wouldn't have anything to do with you now, would it?"

Snape didn't quite know how her mother would react, but was quite taken aback when her eyes shone with emotion, something akin to approval or understanding.

Snape smirked and blushed a bit at her frank guess about their relationship— feeling a bit unsettled at how easily Arthur and Wendy accurately deduced his feelings. He stammered, and couldn't quite respond but Wendy saw the affirmative in his eyes.

She smiled. "Hermione is miserable without you." Snape felt a bubble of hope swell inside him at the confirmation of her daughter's feelings. "She won't talk about it, but it's so obvious. She sings Friday and Saturday night in a club called Rue Nineteen in London. Afraid I can't tell you how to get to her flat, but of course you probably already know that."

"Thank you Wendy." He stood to leave, and she shook his hand, more of a welcome than a good-bye.

"You're welcome. I'll tell her you stopped by. I'm sure she'll be glad to know you asked about her." Her smile shone on him as he left, hopeful that her daughter would once again smile like she should and talk more openly about her experiences. No wonder she was so hushed up about it. She wondered how on earth she would break the news to Robert.

It was ten o'clock when he went by the bar where her mother said she moonlighted. Hermione had already left for the evening. Tom recognized him though, and made some smartass comment about him no longer being her 'driver' anymore. Apparently she had sung there that evening, and 'Myra Winters' was captioned on the painted wooden marquis in the window.

He nearly could kick himself for not topping by her neighbor's home earlier. He returned to Reading and called on Jake. Jake raised an eyebrow at his arrival, once again wondering why he should help a man who didn't give him any clue about Hermione on their first visit. After cracking an inappropriate joke about her disappearing again, which resulted in Snape's resulting look of pained concern at the mention, Jake also began to get a clearer picture of their relationship and adopted a more serious approach with the stiff man in front of him.

Jake sized him up quickly, pulling together the fragments of her conversations with Hermione and Harry. Finally he did manage to say he hadn't seen her but had a suggestion or two.

"Or, don't you know Hermione? If she's anywhere, she's off reading a book. Probably in some library," he had said.

That jarred Severus' memory and he immediately apparated to Grimmauld Place. She had spent last summer there and he recalled her precocious nature. He had seen her quite often, invading his space by occupying the library in flannel pajamas… and during that time she was penning his book.

The ink poisoning… How had he not known? She treated him with genuine kindness and respect and he had callously disregarded her, as he always did. It wasn't pity. She did it out of concern and desire to speak with him, as an equal. And while he wanted to take her on as a student for a project, he couldn't bring himself to converse with her. The poem came back to him. She had written it here: She avoids even fleeting glances. If he were to look on her, would he know? If he found her— If he truly saw her as she is would he honor her with conversation and companionship?

Those words filled him with guilt. Severus regretted his old habit of pushing people away and wanted to make up for that.

Hermione was right. As much as she wanted to feel him, to lay with him, she regretted that it was so wrongly backwards. There were no dates or long conversations other than those of her independent study. And while both had been tempted to extended her studies well into the evening and discuss other subjects, they were always aware of the time and of curfews, and of the blasted teacher/student relationship. That was over now; she had taken her NEWTS and passed with some of the highest exam scores ever recorded. Now that she had graduated from school, there would be no more opportunities to give her cause to speak with him, to work alongside him, to be in his company.

He had turned around twice. You don't deserve such a beautiful creature. She's better of without you. She had a bright future ahead of her. She'll get over you… find someone younger… less jaded… someone better…

Then something stronger took a hold of him and he turned around again. Snape didn't want her to find someone else. He remembered the vision of her face so focused on him, so content in his embrace. He fought back and forth with himself in his onslaught of self-doubt. This was an argument he could not have with himself— if he truly respected Hermione, he would be discussing his concerns with her.

Severus entered the front door and walked silently in. Everything was quiet and still, seemingly untouched. The piano where Hermione had played for them was unmoved and dusty. He regretted how he had treated her so coldly that evening. He caught his breath when he walked to the left and saw the light on in the hall.

She was sitting there in the study with her eyes closed, legs crossed in the comfortable leather chair he called his own. He had found her in it more than once that summer. He allowed a smile to play across his lips.

"You are in my chair, Miss Granger," he said silkily.

Hermione opened her eyes slowly and looked at the tall figure of her dreams standing in the doorway. She smiled and said quietly, "It's not your chair anymore."

Severus' smile faded. Had he waited too long?

Hermione noticed right away that he misinterpreted her statement, and looked on him kindly. "I meant to say," she rose from her chair brushing the leather arm with her fingertips, "you haven't sat here in so long… it doesn't smell like you anymore." Her voice held a twinge of regret. She was sitting here to be close to him, as close as she could considering how he had pushed her away. She smiled at him and waited for him to make the next move.

She wanted to smell him. She sat here thinking about his fragrance as he had been reminded of her own last summer. He was unwilling to acknowledge it then, but he enjoyed her scent. The delicate fragrance of her soap… like jasmine and vanilla.

"You are difficult woman to locate," he said.

"I've been told that. How long did it take you?"

"This time? Four hours." Her jaw dropped in astonishment. Gods those lips. "I regret I missed your performance at Rue Nineteen. Jake reminded me you preferred the library and I thought of this place."

Her eyes locked with his, uncertain of what was really being said here. Her heart hammered in her chest and she felt it could be heard from where she sat. Could there be something?

"We really didn't get a chance to talk last time I saw you. Perhaps, if you would like companionship… we could talk? Though I'm not quite sure why you might think it an honor." A sappy misquotation from her poem, but he hoped it was a way in.

"I would like that." She wanted to say 'love that' but didn't want to pressure the man. He was well aware of her feelings. She thought about a previous dream, and her one fantasy she could make come true. She came to her feet and stood to face him. "I'll be right back, wait here."

Her eyes always twinkled when she smiled, he thought. They became crescent moons and her lashes hit her cheeks. He tentatively reached out to grasp her hands, but did not kiss her. She was too fast— her fingers skimmed his own and slipped past him through the sliding doors.

He wondered what she could be up to, and for several agonizing minutes she was gone. In the distance he could hear her knocking about in the kitchen and then a dripping sound. Then the smell hit him… cinnamon and coffee. Amazing and wonderful scent memories. Severus closed his eyes and remembered how many times he had sat with an ordinary cup of coffee at Hogwarts, warming his fingertips and wishing it were filled with coffee worth drinking. Drinking coffee she had made.

Hermione resisted the urge to hum and carrying two mugs back to the library, she eyed Severus, who had made himself quite comfortable in 'his' chair, and handed him a cup. Without notice she transfigured the chair he had been sitting on to become elongated, having two dents for a comfortable seating instead of bickering over the one. She sat and inhaled the aroma from her own mug. "I've been wanting to do this for a long time," she said in low quiet voice.

"Indeed." His eyes never left hers. She remembered how he liked it, cream no sugar.

She blushed remembering her dream of bringing him a thermos of coffee.

"Now, now Miss Granger, I am a skilled Legilimens. Are you going to explain?" he asked silkily, a bit of threat implied.

Her jaw dropped and she couldn't come up with a suitable answer. "I had a dream after the start of the school year where I brought you coffee…"


"You really know how to put people on the spot. And don't call me Miss Granger either, I'm not your student anymore."

"So Dumbledore has informed me." He stroked the lip of his mug with his fingertips and gazed at her. When he said that, she knew. They could have a relationship. He nodded to her.

"What? How, I mean… but your status as a spy for the Order…"

"Has been blown to pieces yesterday evening," he supplied, the words tumbling out nonchalantly.

Hermione sat upright, her jaw slack, her hazel eyes filled with emotion. "But-but, you're okay… What happened?"

"Lucius told the Dark Lord about you use of my wand," he said with a trace of disdain. Still a personal matter, borrowing someone's wand. "Still haven't figured that one out. He took one look at me and when our eyes met he knew you and I were… connected." A look of contentment crossed his face. Feeling connected to her made him pleased.

Hermione blurted out, "But he could have killed you!"

Severus smirked and set his mug on the side table. "He tried to… but what can I say? I was blessed." Severus stroked the side of Hermione's face in thanks and she hugged him, laying her head on his shoulder, her face turned inward toward his neck. She shuddered when she breathed; relieved he was finally discharged from that burden. Gaia protected him, though Hermione had wished he could keep that protection a while longer.

Severus felt his heart fill up with how tightly she held to him, longing to be held and cared for so intensely. It was one of those fierce hugs she had seen her give Harry, Ron, Molly, Ginny and Hagrid. He hugged her back and permitted himself to hold her as tightly, dropping his defenses, finally accepting her.

She closed her eyes and smelled him. He was real. She was real. The spell was done and they could just be. Unhurried, but no passion lost for it.

He chuckled recognizing her obvious attempt at inhaling him. It was completely deliberate and non-subtle. He understood perfectly. She was close enough for him to catch the fragrance of peaches in her hair. Not a bad trade. "Hermione," he pulled her away to look in her eyes. "I'm surprised to feel as comfortable as I do with you now. I'm used to… keeping people at a distance. But now…" he traced her cheek, gracing a lock of her hair with a long finger. "I can't seem to live my life alone anymore."

She gazed back at him, not quite knowing what to say, feeling like she was holding something rather fragile. After a while, she dared to look more deeply into his eyes. "There is so much I want to ask you… I just…" she sighed exasperatedly. "I don't know at all what I am doing," she muttered.

Snape laughed. He grasped her hand and began rubbing it with slow firm squeezes, periodically tracing circles on her wrist with his thumb. "It would be rather arrogant of me to presume I know better how to guide us through this, but I'm afraid that even my advanced age has not afforded me with a wealth of knowledge about healthy relationships."

"Advanced age? Give me a break. Flamel was a man with 'advanced' age." Hermione smirked. "Yes, well. As often as I think you could use a bit more diplomacy in your classroom, I think we get along pretty well, one to one."

Snape looked like he had just been taken down a peg.

"Oh, really? Is that based on our research? Or… in another arena?" Snape suppressed a devilish smile as he achieved his intended effect. Hermione was blushing furiously, but trying not to, if such a thing was possible. She was all the more beautiful for it. He leaned closer to her. "I'm not easy to get along with."

"I seem to remember we did fine all of last semester."

"I need space."

"So do I. I think we are both more similar than you'd like to admit, Severus."

Snape allowed his eyes to close. "Say that again."

Hermione smiled. "I think we're both…" Snape glared at her impish smile. Hermione leaned forward, almost nose to nose with him. "Severus."

He bent his head until his lips were a scant inch from his, until he could feel her breath against his own lips… and then he kissed her.

Hermione felt her heart settle somewhere in her throat as the man famed for his nasty disposition was quite literally robbing her of all coherent thought.

When their lips parted, just briefly, he whispered. "This won't be easy."

Hermione leaned back again, and placed her hands firmly on his cheeks. "Who are you trying to convince here? You came to me remember? Do you want this?"

"Gods, yes." That was the understatement of the century.

"I know this won't be easy. I don't want easy. I want to feel complete. I want real. As long we have each other," she whispered and kissed him again. "We'll have something the war can't touch."

He knew she wasn't trying to oversimplify. She knew how complicated it would be. Dangerous enough for each of them on their own paths. Perhaps safer for them together. Those issues would be discussed— but not now.

The pull of their attraction could still be deeply felt, but it was manageable. If anything, Hermione wasn't saddened by the loss of the intense desire, she was relieved because the chemistry between them was still palpable even in ordinary conversation. And they did make a good try. They resumed their discussion about the two remaining ingredients left from their experiment and managed to talk pretty solidly for at least fifteen minutes.

"I think you might have something there with the valeria…"

Severus pulled her face to his and kissed her deeply, cutting off her speech. "You talk too much," he murmured against her lips.

For once, Hermione didn't argue and gave herself over to the sensations traveling down her spine into her belly. He hugged her tightly to him, pressing her as close as their bodies would allow, he whispered apologies into her hair and against her neck as he kissed her. "Hermione, I'm sorry I let you go that morning, we should've talked then." He kissed her again, nipping at her neck and jaw. "I really want to talk to you about these things…."

She snorted, "Mmhmm…Potions is such a turn on," she jibbed.

When his throaty laugh could be felt against her neck she gasped. "…but somehow I have temporarily lost interest for the subject," he purred in her ear. He traced the outer edge of her ear with his tongue and a delicious chill spread goose bumps across her flesh. Suddenly she was feeling way too exposed in a house frequented by too many Order members for where this was headed.

Gods, how did he do that?

"Oh Severus, don't you think we should…"

"Oh yes, definitely." He said with a devious grin which once belonged to the 'Big Bad Wolf.'

"Take this somewhere else?" She asked smiling against his mouth, her tongue danced across his parted lips, teasing him cruelly until he claimed her.

He pulled her gently to her feet, still kissing her delicately, sweetly, breaking off from his previous passion from earlier, but not leaving her wanting. "Hermione, I wanted to take this more slowly. I felt you deserved that much from me," he said holding her face and looking at her seriously. She looked disappointed, he could see it in her eyes. She didn't want him to stop. "You have made your feelings known and that you want a relationship with me, though for the life of me I can't understand why."

She nodded, waiting for his next sentence. She wasn't about to interrupt him again.

"But I haven't really talked about my… feelings for you. I regret not telling you more earlier, but it didn't seem appropriate that evening. There was no time, and I didn't want the disappointment for either of us by making a declaration I couldn't follow through on. I won't make empty promises to you Hermione. I care about you more deeply than anyone I have ever known, and I still don't quite understand it or why. I love you, very much. I have been the happiest in my life just knowing that I love you."

Tears of joy streamed freely down Hermione's rounded cheeks. She never thought Severus would be the one to apologize, but then there were a lot of things she didn't know about him and was relieved that he cared for her enough to let her take this journey with him.

She was smiling at him like he held every good thing. When Severus saw that look, even when they weren't sexually intimate, he felt very hopeful for a long and happy future with someone who met all of his needs, and knew could care for him the same.

"I love you too, Severus." In all of her life she couldn't imagined she had ever wanted anything more than to be wanted this way— to be loved so strongly and to return that affection equally deeply. He was her match, she knew it.

He looked at her for a long moment and stared into her glittering eyes. He pulled her close to his body and murmured his 'I love you's' to her, amazed that he was able to say such a thing to any woman, and be free to say it, and really mean it.

Hermione felt the warm rhythms of desire flow through her once more, beautifully creeping along her skin to her toes. "Severus, do you want to come to my flat?" He smiled at her, happy to finally help her settle into her lonely apartment. He hadn't yet told her about the observation period and preferred to kept that private until he was out of hexing range.

They necked and kissed all the way up the stairs, fumbling with her key and the wards to let them in the door. She put her things down, but his hands never left her waist.

"I love your hair," he said, pulling it free from the loose band she had securing it.

She couldn't help but snort, which he made a face at. He was trying bit of romance, and he was being honest. Her giggle broke the mood a bit and she felt it. She covered her mouth with her hand in embarrassment. "I'm sorry. It's just that I've always hated it, so it's amusing that you would find it attractive."

"You have more than a few attractive qualities, Hermione," he said huskily, his eyes bore into hers to assure her of the fact before kissing her lightly, then leaning her over his knee, pressing into the kiss, grasping her bottom firmly with one hand.

He moved to pull up her shirt, and she began to feel a little self-conscious, wanting the light off. Severus noticed her hesitation. "Hermione?"

"I'm sorry, it's just… It feels awkward with all the lights on. Can I light some candles?" She asked and blushed a bit.

He hadn't anticipated any shyness, as she had been so bold with her advances before. But this was only her second opportunity for lovemaking, and she was somewhat 'under the influence' on their last encounter. He enjoyed it that she hadn't lost her modesty, her innocence about these things after all that happened. If done properly, he could use it to both of their advantages. Anticipation can be very exciting.

"Hermione, you can do whatever makes you feel comfortable. But I assure you, you are very beautiful. I enjoy looking at you." His intense gaze was rather overpowering and while she felt a little like prey, it was exciting to know he desired her so much. The tables were turned so to speak. He waved his wand with a string of soft incantations. Candles floated everywhere, their soft light bathing the room in a warm glow. He didn't even look away from her, nothing would distract his attention.

Kissing her briefly, teasingly, he pulled away from her, parted lips, flicking his tongue across hers, then her jaw. Each time his mouth left hers, she leaned forward, not wanting him to stop, wanting more. He ran his fingers through her hair and let them travel down the length of her body, skimming her shoulders, back, waist, hips, and when he could reach no further, he imperceptibly began to sink lower. Bending at the knee, kissing his way down her chest, he gently bit at her nipples, leaving them erect beneath the wet fabric where his tongue had ravished her. Letting his hands slip down her bare legs, he growled in appreciation of a skirt choice today.

His lips began to curl, looking up at her from his squatted position, and could see her vainly trying to maintain some sort of control over herself. Chewing her lower lip, he could see he wasn't going to be able to suppress much after this. He snaked his hands up her legs again and then down, and then up a bit more and down, hovering around her knees, letting the warmth of his hands radiate out to her skin.

Hermione's mouth parted and licked her lips as she watched his hands… God those hands… disappear underneath her skirt. He rubbed circles on her pelvis and drifted lower to her thighs. She could not suppress a groan of frustration as she willed him to move to her center. A wicked smile eeked across his face as his pinky traced the outline of the edge of her underwear, sending a delicious thrill through her. It aggravated and pleasured her that he found her slow torture amusing, and that's why she let him. She felt her knees weaken, but also she missed his mouth.

"Come here," she growled and grasped his neck to pull him up to her. She kissed him greedily and pushed him into the bed, getting on her knees. They faced each other, grasping and pulling and tugging at each other's clothes and curves and skin. He reached up under her skirt again, grasping her bum. When she let out a surprised squeak, he flipped her over as he had done before and her memory was jogged instantly to what she had found so arousing before, yet unable to tolerate in her former condition. She groaned before he even touched her.

"My, my Hermione," he murmured into her ear, as his fingers slowly unfastened the button on her skirt. "Eager are we?"

She could only moan. The friction between her taut nipples and the bed coverlet was arousing and the thought of her vulnerability at having her back to him. The possibilities… oh. She was open to anything.

He inched her skirt off of her, gasping a bit as she lifted her bottom off the bed to allow him to remove the garment. Once again her rounded flesh was exposed, though instead of a thong, she wore lacy underwear, which he was pleased to feel was damp already from her arousal. He hooked a finger around them and pulled them down, tracing a line down the inside of her cheek, down her leg. He was still fully clothed, and found the thought of taking his time rather enjoyable.

His clothing, while finely tailored, felt scratchy against her skin, though it didn't seem nearly as much of a distraction as his hand slowly sliding up her legs to her bottom. She let him guide her through his little scenario. It was obvious he had something in mind and she was too out of it to think about what he was planning and just let him tell her what to do. He leaned in close to her neck and his lips brushed her ear. "Part your legs slightly," he breathed, and snaked his hand in between her thighs.

She gasped to herself and felt warm despite gooseflesh. Severus was pleased with the result, and decided to test the boundaries a bit. He rubbed her bottom and then gave it a gentle slap, returning to stroke and finger her delicate flesh on the inside of her thighs but never quite touching her where she so desperately yearned for him to be. Her moaning and gasps were indicators of her pleasure, the ecstasy of stinging deep inside her surprised Hermione to say the least. He slapped her bum again and rubbed again causing the most delicious sensations, but after four or five spanks she quickly came to her senses and couldn't take anymore.

Her face was in the pillow, which somewhat muffled her whimpering. She enjoyed that this was pleasurable for both of them, but at the time it seemed too orchestrated and mechanical, a far too impersonal pastime for how she was feeling. She wanted to see him, to look into his eyes and have him know she loved him.

He reached back behind her and pulled his wrist slightly, indicating her wish to change positions. "Severus…" She rolled over and leaned upward to look at him deeply. She touched his face, so delicately that Severus felt his heart unravel at her gentle emotion filled action. Her eyes glittered and without breaking eye contact, Severus reached up to unfasten his vest. Hermione chewed her lower lip in anticipation of feeling his skin next to hers, becoming one.

"Gods you're so beautiful," he whispered.

He discarded his shirt and vest on the floor and Hermione caught a glimpse of an ornate vial in her peripheral vision. It was empty. She gasped and tears fell freely to her cheeks. "Oh my God…you needed it."

"Shhh, love. Shhh. I'm fine. You saved me." He lifted the long necklace over his head and set it on the dresser. "You saved me in more ways than one." He kissed her more deeply than he ever had.

They made love slowly, tenderly, their bodies undistinguishable from one another, their rhythmic movements small but consistent as they held each other so closely they could scarcely do more but kiss and look at one another, savoring each sigh and endearment.

They knew they were home. In the middle of a war, but no more running, no more loneliness… just the two of them and the rest of their lives.

Whatever God would give them, they would cherish.

FINIS (Epilogue coming)


The title for the chapter really doesn't have do much to do with this chapter, except perhaps that Snape's feelings are now so transparent and seems to care less. I frankly listen to a lot of Earth, Wind, and Fire and that song keeps running in my head. As a bonus, I've posted the lyrics at the end of the reviews.

Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! All y'all— so much for all of your support and assistance in helping me to write. This has been so much fun. It took me forever to post this chapter because I didn't want it to end. So sad! I can see a sequel, but I can't picture it yet, so it may not happen. There will, at least be an Epilogue.

Thank you for your patience while waiting for me to post. Unfortunately another reason for the delay was that my husband and I miscarried and we'll have to try again. Thank you for your sweet comments and prayers. They are appreciated. We got pregnant easily and the doctor said we can try again right away. We are still blessed.

Your enthusiasm and ideas were exciting and enjoyable to read. I will eventually go back and tweak chapters and then slowly upload to ashwinder once I figure out "again" how to format properly since I operate in Word.

The Night We Called It a Day, sung by Diana Krall on The Look of Love album. I highly recommend all of her work.

drs- Thank you for your feeback. And don't encourage me to take my time, otherwise I'll never finish! wink

BlackMajenta- ha! I did read that as goodness at first! Thanks you for your glowing review (my head is swelling like Aunt Marge). Bawling is good… release your feelings Luke and let them flow through you! (Sorry about the Star Wars ref…. eeek!) I hope this chapter aims to please, I can't help but feel a little downhearted that it's coming to a close.

magnetic-starfish- thanks a bunch!

Hiro No Tsuki- Thank you for your review and complements. It's always a struggle to keep characters in character. Though with the SS/HG pairing (for myself it seems a stretch, though I'm a die hard shipper). I suppose Severus isn't particularly romantic and is devoid of mushy qualities. I imagine people in love are unpredictable, so I bet none of us could guess. I know J.K. Rowling had called him a deeply horrible person (or something to that effect), but I imagine as the books progress we slowly see more of the professors and their complicated lives. I'm sure as first year students no one really seemed to know or care which teachers were married, split-up, had kids… etc. I'd be fascinated to know what she really thinks. In the meantime, we get to play and fantasize until she writes a new book that has statements which contradict what had been written here, and then I'll have to start all over again!

BabyGidGirl- Posting now! Thank you for spurring me on!

Fallen-Angel-Flying-Devil- Thank you, and pass on my thanks to your friend for recommending it!

Miss Becky Malfoy- Thank you! This is it, and an epilogue to come.

Stacey Pointe- Snape: 'Thank you for your touching concern Miss Pointe, but it is entirely unnecessary. Ten points from your house.' Hee he, couldn't help it! Thanks for your review.

bumblebeeday- Thank you for your review, and I strain to keep it lively. I'm envious of the authors who write much darker fics and keep Snape and other characters in sharp contrast by writing them in extremes. I prefer more subtlety myself. Except for the girl power thing. Hermione is pretty superherolike already just because of her intelligence and attitude. I tend to go overboard with other qualities, but I couldn't help but add music. I love it. I can't imagine that none of the students there have talents or hobbies (at least during the summers… swimming, track, running, singing, musical instrument, ballet, painting, archery…)

Yellow Dog Bushytail- Thank you for your review. I tried not to describe Snape's physical appearance too much because what we see and what he sees it different. I imagine is face to be pasty pale (probably in the dim light of the dungeons) but I bet he might tan well if exposed to sunlight. It's not his fault the melanin and retreated into the depths of his body. I imagine his hair is a shiny black and that it is lank from potions fumes and with running about like his does and researching, personal hygiene it's not always his first priority. (I have several sweet nerdy friends who do the same thing). I imagine he is a cruelly, withdrawn private person. He may be self-pitying. We will never know. I assume he has not learned to reached out because

A. In his childhood, people misjudged or prejudged him.

B. Others were afforded opportunities he didn't receive making him quite bitter.

C. Was rejected by peers and perhaps parents.

D. Was overlooked by adults who thought he was intelligent enough not to need assistance, or scrutinized him overly because of his dark interests.

E. Had problems dating because of school rumors and teasing, affecting self-confidence.

He decides that he doesn't need friendship because it never produced anything useful for him. That is in the extreme of course, and the friendships he does possess are amicable understandings, and exchange of information and favors… not really divulging secrets.

Thank you for your comments about the spell. I read someone's comment in another fic and they said plainly, it's hard to write a sex scene without losing the emotional component and the connection between the characters which makes it so compelling in the first place. I couldn't write a mean ending. J

Adrienne Druscilla Daae- Thank you for your reference to the Order initiation. I reads one spectacular one. For some reason I think to myself, the Order is a simple society with high obligations. No foolish wand waving is needed to make the huge commitment more wonderful. I haven't heard Bob Marley's version but I will seek it out. Listen to Annie Lennox's version. Just awesome!

cittykat0733- You should. I was desperate to read more idea about the Harry Potter series and stumbled into it. Read everything you can get your hands on. There are tons of different ships and it's exciting to think that there is still so much I haven't read. I love the SS/HG ship, but I didn't expect to. There is so much good fiction and there are lists of fic recs from fanfiction fans out there. Go to join the yahoo wikkt site if you are of age. Ashwindersycophant hex is an excellent website for SS/HG ship with shoot of sites for Remus, Slytherins, Death Eaters, SS and related info. Whispers is also a great site.

HazyDayClearNight- Thank you and I totally agree with your assessment of Lucius. He is such a sick creepy bastard. Whenever I picture his cool veneer in my head he gives me the willies. A new tale is spinning in my head. I'm not sure if I can keep a lid on the bunny or not.

Beornthryth- Thank you. I appreciate your review. I couldn't bear to not have a happy ending. I needed closure for me. J

Morianna- Thank you! Here's the last chapter, and thank you for reading. I'm happy top feed your addiction.

crissy- He's okay!!! I couldn't kill him, I love the ship to much to sink it.

Sara lily Potter- I get like that too. Thank you for submitting a review. I'm sure their might be some acceptable elements somewhere in here for a book, but I doubt J.K. would approve. Thank you for saying so. It has been reviews like yours which have encouraged me to consider writing original work. My husband encouarges me too, but it first came form all of you! You give me tremendous confidence. Criticism is welcome too.

Fanfiction Fan- Thank you! Here's the happy ending!

franflutewitch- Gaia was right there! Thank you for your feedback. I think Ron was pretty fair, and Harry pretty unfair. Ron at least spoke his mind and told Snape off for hurting her emotionally. Soon soon, maybe a new story will emerge, or even better, the plot for the sequel.

alkin- Thank you for your extremely thorough and long review. I still have to go back through and fix glaring errors and typos, and quiet and quiet, there and their etc… Ugh. Thank you for your comments about virginity. It is a shame how it is portrayed as weakness for either sex, blaming men for being gay or 'boys' and women for being less of a woman or prudes or frigid or viewing them like 'meat.'

I like Harry very much as a character, and I could definitely see myself writing some fanfic with him as a central character instead of only Hermione and Severus (gotta love the ship). And I like Luna. She's cool, and I've met people like her, so frequently underestimated and typecast. She's gonna do something cool in a future book, just you wait.

I don't think I've read that one, but I plan to. Where can I find it? Eeek, hope you weren't disappointed with the happily ever after. After all, it's really not all roses at this point. There are consequences, and Hermione is still afraid for her family. And Snape has been found out as a spy. Now Gaia did give Snape an out, but she did not defeat Voldie (How could she? Not in the prophecy).

Ahhh, there may might could possibly be a sequel, but it will take some doing before I have enough time and enough brain juice to have a sufficient plot. The Ministry job is cool and that could go places. Your feeback is welcome, and as long as you support your ideas, I would hope that any author including me should receive criticism with appreciation for all of the hard work and time spent to give that kind of feedback. Thank you.

ebonyink- And now you have your answer. Each of them have a Gaia. I now that's sounds strange, but each can be used one time only. Happy reading!

Eiseman04-Thank you for your review. Can you recommend a story summary that would be more eye-catching? It was hard to be concise. The last time you reviewed you were at Chap 20. What do you think now?

Lori- Thanks for your review, funny you should talk about making it to the library… I nearly laughed out loud reading that, already knowing what was going to happen in this chapter.

robin777- Thank you. Some of the Slytherin's out there must rock to some degree… otherwise why would we be thinking Severus is so hot? I like Pansy as uber cool with the super self-confident I-don't-give-a-fk, I do what I want attitude! Go Pansy!

jen – None from fact and its all made up. Though I'd like to think that a woman who saves herself for the right person or only one person had a lot more personal/inner strength. It takes a lot of character to do that. Having a sexual relationship too early in a relationship can really stifle or threaten true intimacy. Saving that until the right time shows real maturity (Now stop screaming y'all—that does not mean that people who have sex early are immature or don't have strong relationships… I'm not saying anything like that.) and a desire to keep that part of their lives sacred. What a gift not only for someone else but for yourself. Steps down from soapbox . I can't help it. I work in obstetrics.

Celtic Words- Oh god, it was 60? Holy crap. I just type until I'm done. That's it. I try to edit, but I have difficulty chopping. I think the fics will improve if I can be more concise and say the same thing. Thank you for your feedback. I can see how I'm improving. I'm very tempted to rewrite parts of The Burden of Sight based on my experiences here.

mjk306- Thank you, here you go!

E.A.V.- Tahnk you, hope this chapter proves to be a good close to the story!

Veeshan Dragonheart- Thank you and I love him, can't let the greasy man go.

zoltaire- Thank you for the praise. I liked posting longer chapters. I'm always so glad to read my faves and see extra long chapters that I don't want to end. That's why it was so hard to write this one. It's been a fun ride, thank you. Please exit to your right.

Rosemerta- Thank you. Even despite the loss, it was the best eight weeks of my life. We'll try again soon.

Whizbees- I thought it might take a long time but here it is! Yay! Thank you so much for following me through this. It's been so fun, and I worry about never having another plot bunny as vicious attack me and scream at me to write. Thanks.

ghzowy- Thank you! I hope you check for posts frequently, because here's the end!

Jenn- Thank you for your encouragement and feedback. And thanks for your congratulations. We still feel blessed.

fyiagcg- Boy, don't I know about sleep deprivation. Good grief I have lost sleep over fan fic reading. I have merely vowed not to stay up until 4am in the morning to do that anymore (but periodically, it still happens). Everybody talks about Bob Marley… gotta look that up. Go check out Annie Lennox. She rocks, both with Waiting in Vain and Everytime We Say Goodbye.

Coffee1- Thank you so much for your review. Sorry to take you away from your homework. And glad to hear so much positive feedback about the faith woven into the fic. I'm pretty happy with the wand scene also. I like Olivander's character. That was it's own plot bunny written a bit ago. My husband hasn't read this, but he is proud, and he can hardly believe that I wrote it all!

NightQueen- Thank you for your kind review. I'm glad that you enjoyed it. The feedback keeps me going and you all give me ideas for other fics.

kawiineko4eva- Thank you! Here's the finale.

Helena- Thank you for patiently waiting (ha!) for the happy ending—I couldn't have Severus have an easy way to the finish, though I don't think two or three weeks post NEWTS was terribly long to wait.

otakuannie- Thank you. I'm glad you think I have twists. I'll have to go back and read. After re-reading, I can't see the twists so much anymore, but it's great to hear different points of view. It's hard to imagine what it would be like to read it for the first time.

duck- No brain damage! And your sister can learn to 'share', unless of course you monopolize the computer as much as I do. Maybe she can ask for one for Christmas?

JasperPress77- Ooooh! I didn't abandon! I swear. Thank you for cheering, in spite of the nasty cliffie!

alliekiwi- Thank you, and sorry about the mom, mum thing. It's habit for me ugh, and I still have to go back and change it. I tried to change the earlier ones to mother instead of mom, but yikes still they taunt me! Back to Chapter one. J

Luna Writer- Hey Luna, I e-mailed you as soon as I got your review. Did you get the knots? I sent a list of the knotwork descriptions too. Happy Christmas. And thanks for all your help and feedback through the many chapters.

Fiona McKinnon- Thank you for your support! We were saddened by our loss. My husband wanted a girl, my father in law 'knew' it would be a boy, and I just wanted a healthy baby. We'll tyro again soon. It was easy to get pregnant, only took three months and we'll get there.

silkenroses15- Yeay! Thank you so your excited review. I get like that too about most all fics I read. They're just absorbing. Glad you like it. Here's the big finish!

wackoramaco87- Thank you for sticking by me! You have been with me practically since I posted Chapter one! It's practically done!

A Perfect Lie- Thank you for adding the story to your faves, and it's been so fun writing the angst. I wriggle in my seat when typing. Maybe that was because of improper posture when typing. Or the Earth Wind and Fire, playing on my I-tunes. Hee!

kat6528- Severus wasn't gone yet! Yay! Thanks for your review!

Tabii- Thank you, glad you had the emotional connection. ;)

heartnut- Okay heartnut. I'm dying to hear what you think now that it's over. Thanks you so much for reading through and your consistent comments and feedback. You've been a great support.

Shauna- Thank you for your feedback and glad you got so caught up!

lyress- Thank you so much for reading through the fic! You've been with me practically from the beginning! I like thinking that everything in between the girls is not all hunky dory, though I'm sure some members of the 20 will still believe all the members are on the same page. It leaves things pretty open for a sequel if I do one!

Christina- Thanks! Go South!

missingthecat- Thanks. I hope you like how the fic ended.

azulkan2- Thank you. Hoped you liked it! Thanks for following the fic so closely.

sam- Thank you. I liked moving her forward.

SimplyScribbling- Happy dance! I'm done! Thank you so much for cheering me on!

Ezmerelda- How much trouble? Hmmmm….. near death. I'm sad to leave it at this, and will likely struggle with the Epilogue. For now I'll say: Happy Christamas, It's been wonderful.

Lyn Piton- Oh no! We're done. I like the changes inside the group also. They knew in the beginning the culture beliefs and bigotry of some of the purebloods. Hard to imagine after being on the receiving end of potential violence, how they could dismiss it. Thank you fro liking my Ron. I see him as just a regular boy. He may follow his stomach and be bit juvenile, but in the books he seems so real. Lets it all hang out. Gotta love the Weasleys.

Vasquez 1987- Thanks. Viva Luxembourg! I hate to say, but I'm not sure what you were referring to. Greta hiding place? For who? Were you talking about another fic maybe? Sorry.

fanfiction fan- Thank you, hope it was worth the wait!

Min Hee- Thank you! Bad evil chemistry assignment. Reading is much more fun!

tomato- me glad you like. Thank you for reading.

kbluesmom- Thank you! I'm glad you were excited. After all the angst and excitement, I hope Chapter 25 is not a let down. I postponed posting it because it didn't 'feel right' but then, I didn't want to put it to bed.

June Williams- Sorry… no marriage proposal. It was hard enough for Severus to even have an opportunity to tell the disappearing woman that he loves her! Thank you for sticking with me and for all the feedback and corrections.

DeepWaterAngel- Nope, not yet. But I might soon. Thanks for reading.

Athena Linborn- Thank you! Your misery is now gone! Except that perhaps it's over.

strawberry22- Thank you. That one assignment could be sequel in an of itself. But I haven't figured it yet. Thank you so much for your support.

steph2bwld- Thank you so much for being there. I hoped you like the ending. I couldn't bear to keep them apart. It's too right. I don't think a happy ending is cheap, but at leats it was somewhat difficult.

SycoCallie- Eeek! Get some sleep. Thank you, and I rather like an understand Ron. I expect he will reach that point sometime in the future (though for most men I know it's in their twenties…) J Thanks a lot for reading and reviewing! Hee hee… cupcakes.

Dragonmaster Kurai- All good things must come to and end. I hope you liked it. Tear… so sad to see it close.

Angie S- Thank you for your review! Hope you like the ending!

ellie- Wee! Hope you like the finale. Thank you for reading!

Kylara- Too much homework! Ugh! Hope this is another welcome distraction, even though the bar isn't that long.

saturngurl123- Thank you fro the NEWTS feedback. I like the DADA practical too. And if there is a sequel there will likely be focus on what happens to the 20 that following summer and how their parents treat them and which alliances they form. Thank you so much for you reviews and support!

Okay… EARTH WIND AND FIRE lyrics here: Can't Hide Love

You want my love and you can't deny
You know it's true, but you try to hide
You turn down love like it's really bad
You can't give what you never had
Well bless your soul, you can fool a few
But, i know the truth and so do you

You can't hide love, you can't now
You can't hide love, it's got ya
Betcha you want my love, i betcha
You can't hide feeling inside

You can't pretend there's nothing there

Girl, i look in your eyes, i see you care
So why not stop trying to run and hide
You won't find out, if you never try,

You can't hide love, you can't now
You can't hide love, it's got ya
Betcha want my love, i betcha
You can't hide feeling inside

Love has found the time to kiss you
Can you find the time to listen
Life found the time to bug you
Can you find the time for blessing.