A/N: There was a bit of confusion with the two chapters I uploaded last, so if you missed one or the other, please go back and read that first!
After a few breathless minutes, Severus stepped back with an effort, and turned away.
"You don't want this," he said in a strangled voice. "Believe me, you don't."
"What do you mean?" Marya asked quietly.
He turned around, and grasped her arms.
"I have nothing to offer you. This war could go on for years. As long as the Dark Lord is alive, we could tell no one about this. If he found out, I could not guarantee your safety. Nor can I afford to give him access to anything that would allow him another hold over me. No one can know anything has changed. There may never be anything more than a minute here, an hour there. Realistically, I could be dead tomorrow. Is that what you want – secrecy, hide-and-seek, and a dubious future?"
"No, "Marya said quietly, reaching up with both hands to hold his face. "Who would want that? But I am willing to put up with all that if I can have you."
She pulled his face down towards hers, and gently rubbed her nose against his cheek.
"I love you."
"Why?" he asked in almost a whisper, as he wrapped his arms tightly around her waist. The look on his face told Marya this was a question he needed answered, strange though it seemed to her.
She clasped her hands behind his neck, and bent backwards, looking up at him with a mischievous smile.
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," she intoned with mock solemnity.
"I love the way your voice commands a room with barely a whisper. I love the way you move your hands. I love the way you do what is right, even if it costs you. I love watching you work. I love how being with you is never boring. I love the way you face dangers that would make other men quake in their boots, and think it nothing out of the ordinary. I love the way your hair falls over your face. I love your wicked sense of humor. I love the way I feel when you hold me. I love..."
Right then, Severus put a finger over her mouth with a snort. "Enough already. I think I get the general idea."
Marya's face was serious now. "I meant it when I said I think you are wonderful. And I want a life with you in it, on whatever terms."
The mischievous grin came back on her face. "Besides that, you are a darn good kisser."
He bent over her with a wicked smile. "Well, in that case..."
Marya was fixing tea. In just a few minutes, Severus would come home. This was her favorite time of day, and she looked forward to it, to simply sitting together, holding steaming cups, and talking about how the day had gone.
It was hard to believe it had been so long already. She smiled as she thought back to the night on the Astronomy Tower. When he had finally walked her back to her quarters, she had waited until he left, and then had snuck out again and retrieved a certain letter. Uncle Albus had never known how precariously close he had come to losing his Runes mistress.
Severus had driven her crazy more than once, those first few months. First, there had been awkward explanations on both sides. Then, it had taken him almost half a year to manage to vocalize three of the most common words of the English language. It was almost as if he had convinced himself so thoroughly over the years that no woman would want to be with him, that for him it wasn't a matter of if she would change her mind and leave, but when. In which case he wanted to be left with a shred of dignity still intact.
At that moment, the sound of the door opening interrupted her thoughts, and she turned to greet him with a smile and a kiss.
"Tough day?" she asked. After two years, she had learned to interpret the small nuances of expression on his face that no one else would have been able to pick up.
"Hufflepuff First Years. Need I say more?" He laughed mirthlessly as he sat down in one of the easy chairs in front of the fire.
"A simple three ingredient potion, with clear instructions, and somehow the dunderheads managed not only to screw up the potion but to actually make a cauldron explode. I swear that I did not think that was even possible. Quite an accomplishment."
He wearily ran a hand over his eyes. "Half the class is in detention with Filch as we speak. Hope they enjoy every minute of it."
Marya had caught the gesture. "Are you not feeling well?"
"Just a headache."
Marya poured him a cup of tea. As he sipped the hot liquid, she stepped up behind him. Running her fingers through his hair, she gently planted a kiss on top of his head. With a light touch, she began massaging his temples. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Her skilled fingers continued to probe and knead, moving across his scalp, loosening the tension in the muscles of his neck and shoulders. Of course both Marya and Severus knew that a simple potion would have taken care of the headache quickly and efficiently, but by unspoken agreement both of them ignored that fact. Things were much more pleasurable this way.
Severus reached around with one arm, and pulled her onto his lap. He rested his head against her shoulder as she wrapped her arms around him, and for the umptieth time gave thanks for his good taste in wives.
The first year had been difficult, trying to find precious seconds, minutes, and hours together. It had been hard to keep their relationship secret. When the War was over at last, he had asked her to marry him.
Not that things had gotten any easier then. He was so used to living on his own, so set in his ways. Making space for someone else had been an awkward process. It had driven him crazy, this constant togetherness. At times, he was sure she felt that marriage to the Giant Squid would have been infinitely more satisfying and peaceful.
The benefits had outweighed the drawbacks by a ton, though. It had been a new experience for him to have someone who was totally, unequivocally on his side. He could not imagine life without her any more, without someone to come home to, to talk with, to hold at night. She had asked him once where home was. He didn't have a good answer then. Now, he could have answered without hesitation.
- - -
Marya sat with her arms wrapped around her husband. She still turned to jelly every time he smiled at her. She loved him so much. Here they were, two professors, living in borrowed quarters in a school that would probably be their home for many more years to come. She could not have been happier in a mansion on the hill. She remembered a line from a movie she had seen a long time ago, when she was a child. It described her sentiments at this moment to a T.
"Don't forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted."
"He lived happily ever after."
A/N: The line is, of course, from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Thank you to everyone who has reviewed over the course of the last couple months – this has been so much fun for me!
Even if you read this months after it was finished, I would still love to hear from you - leave a review, pretty please!