Around nine o'clock the next morning, Severus stood indecisively in front of the storage cabinet in his work room. What should he make? Something complicated enough to occupy his thoughts, to give him something – anything! – to think about other than the wedding; something time consuming enough to fill the morning, but not so long he wouldn't be able to finish….
He pulled out a few jars, then put them back, before finally making a decision.
Limax Mortis was an extraordinarily fiddly draught, but only took about three and a half hours to brew. It also had the distinction of being one of the most aesthetically pleasing concoctions in the potions catalogue: a silvery gray, with iridescent highlights in blue, purple, and green. And it wouldn't be a waste of time – Hagrid would be quite pleased to have it for the school's lettuce patch.
He smiled ruefully as he took the jars and bottles he would need out of the cabinet and arranged them on his work table. The potion brought back memories – when he had told Persephone Blakenhurst in their fourth year that her eyes were as beautiful as Limax Mortis, the results had not been remotely what he had hoped for.
By now he knew, of course, why it wasn't a good idea to compare a girl's eyes to Slug-Killing Potion, but at the time her reaction had been enough to put him off romantic similes for good. Hannah had never been spoiled with compliments….
As a concession to his leg, he transfigured a chair into a high bar stool that afforded him good access to the work surface, and picked up the knife.
Once he was able to call his time his own again, it might be interesting to teach Hannah some of the more practical aspects of potion brewing, he thought as he began to shred the barley husks.
She was doing well as far as the theory was concerned – she had upheld her end of the bargain and, after plugging gamely through several more Potions manuals, was beginning to have a firm grasp on the basics: why certain parts needed to be prepared certain ways, which properties of one substance enhanced the properties of another… He had been pleased at how quickly she had learned.
There was no reason why she couldn't next learn how to practically prepare and handle the ingredients.
As the steady motion of the pestle reduced the dung beetle wings to a glistening black powder, he thought he might even let her try her hand at preparing one or two of the simplest potions, those which depended more on the magical properties of the ingredients than the magic of the brewer. Even without magic of her own, the presence of a wizard in the room would provide enough of an aura for her to be able to manage something like a simple Calming Draught.
The thought brought a smile to his face – she would be so pleased to actually participate hands-on in something that was part of the magical world.
His pestle stopped mid-movement. What was she doing now? Did the morning seem as interminably long to her as it did to him?
He put down the pestle, and let his hand slip to the small box in his pocket. He pulled it out, opened it, and stared at the golden band inside. In just a few hours, this small ring would swallow up his old life, would irrevocably make everything different… Oh Merlin, this was not going to do. He firmly snapped the box shut and resolutely turned his thoughts back to measuring, dicing, and shredding.
Just after noon, he put the last stopper in the bottled potion, standing back for a moment to admire the row of glistening flasks lined up like toy soldiers along the wall. One of the things he liked most about brewing was that you actually had something to show for your time at the end of the day – unlike teaching, where the rewards were much more intangible and the results of your labors hard to judge.
He carefully pulled the headmaster's watch out of his pocket. The window in the middle blinked "WEDDING!! 2 HRS 48 MIN!!" in a violent shade of fuchsia. With a sigh, he snapped the top shut. He would be glad when this day was over.
At the Burrow, Molly Weasley, dressed in her Sunday best, set down a platter of sandwiches next to Harry, Ron, and Hermione, who were playing a game of Exploding Snap in the living room. "…Now, there's a meat pie in the fridge, all you have to do is heat it up. Don't forget to turn off the oven when you've finished. I don't imagine we'll get back too late, but in case we do, make sure to feed Pig and Errol. And…"
"We got it, Mum," Ron interrupted, rolling his eyes. "Really, we can handle it."
"And don't forget, you promised to…"
"…to weed the spinach patch, I know, I know," Ron said in exasperation. "We'll do it. You and Dad go and have fun."
As Mrs. Weasley bustled out of the room, Harry put down a card with a shake of his head. "I still can't believe Snape's getting married."
"Yeah – thought I'd see Fred and George join a nunnery before I'd see that," Ron said with a grin.
"Men can't join a nunnery," Hermione said waspishly.
"Whatever." Ron turned to Harry. "So what d'you think – the Imperius Curse?"
"Aw, come on, he teaches Potions," Harry said with a smirk. "I bet he slipped some Amortentia in her tea or something."
"You know," Hermione said, dealing everyone a new round of cards, "it's possible she's actually in love with him."
Both the boys broke out into guffaws.
"In love with him? With Snape?" Harry gave an exaggerated shudder. "I mean, can you imagine? Snape?"
"I suppose you're right," Hermione said in a deceptively mild voice. "Falling in love with someone like Snape – what a silly idea. Someone brave and selfless enough to throw himself in the way of a deadly curse to save some ungrateful brat and his friends. What could I have been thinking."
Harry had the good grace to look embarrassed for at least a moment. "Well, uh, yes, of course he did… I guess he does have his, uh, good points… But…" He grinned at Ron. "But still, you have to admit…the idea of Snape…well, you know, snogging anyone…"
"I wonder how he manages," Ron interrupted. "With that enormous nose of his and all."
"Huh. I didn't think that'd be that hard to figure out. Not for you, anyway." Hermione stood up, smiling sweetly at Ron, eyes narrowed. "It's not like yours is all that much smaller, you know. Now, if you'll excuse me — " she threw down her cards, which promptly exploded, showering the boys with bits of soot and ashes, "– I have some letters to write. Or something."
Touching his nose self-consciously as Hermione tossed back her hair and strode out the room, Ron raised his eyebrows at Harry. "Whatever's got into her?" he asked in an injured tone of voice. "We were just having a bit of fun…"
Harry shoved a triangle of sandwich in his mouth and shrugged. "Dunno." He chewed and swallowed. "Never mind her. She'll cool down soon enough. Always does." He pointed at the cards in Ron's hand. "Your turn."
"Saeran, we really haven't time for this," Anwyn said, tapping the toe of her shoe against the wooden floor. "I wish you'd leave the crying until the actual wedding."
Saeran, sitting at the kitchen table, wiped her eyes with her already damp handkerchief. "I'm sorry. It's just… Well, I really didn't think this day would ever come."
"Neither did I," Anwyn said bluntly. It hadn't been that long since she herself hadn't held a much higher opinion of her nephew than the rest of the Wizarding world. "And I'm as glad as you are that we were wrong, but really, we've got to get going."
They had spent the morning putting the finishing touches on the cake. It had turned out quite nicely, if she did say so herself. Four of Hogwarts' house-elves had come just a few minutes ago to take it away. House-elf magic did come in handy at times – Apparating the three-tier cake to Hogwarts would have been quite tricky, even if they could have Apparated closer than just the main gate. "Oh, really, this is quite enough. Pull yourself together. Your future daughter-in-law is waiting."
In the absence of any female relatives on Hannah's side – her own aunt, bedridden with a difficult pregnancy, had owled her regrets – they had offered to speak the bridal charms over her and help her get ready. Anwyn had got the distinct impression Severus had been rather glad to know the two of them would be gainfully occupied in a way that kept them out of his hair.
"I know. It's just…" She blew her nose and smiled a quavering smile up at her sister. "They do suit, don't you think?"
"Yes, yes, they're utterly perfect for each other, and it'll be a beautiful wedding, and they'll live happily ever after. Now please can we go?"
"All right, all right." Saeran pushed back her chair and stood up resignedly. "Let me just powder my nose, and we'll be off."
Remus Lupin ran a hand over the heavy fabric of his new dress robes – he wouldn't have wanted to go to Severus' wedding in the ragged mess that had until recently passed for his special occasion wear – and allowed himself one small moment of pure, unmitigated envy.
He was happy for Severus. Really, he was.
But the fact that it was Severus Snape getting married today drove home his own unattached status with painful immediacy. So Snape had found a woman who had managed to look beyond the greasy-haired exterior and a Death Eater past and find something to love.
Not anything at all surprising there – he himself had come to rather appreciate Severus' qualities over the last few years.
It was just that there had been a short time when he had fleetingly hoped…
He sighed and firmly quashed the thought. He would go to Severus' wedding and wish him happiness and mean every word. The man deserved whatever good thing came to him.
And if nothing else, today at least showed that there was still hope. If Severus could find himself a bride, maybe somewhere out there, there was a woman who could look past his own … "furry problem" and assorted flaws. Not that he, stuck at Hogwarts for most of the year, would have much of a chance of meeting her even if she was out there.
All that was left then, Remus thought with a wry twist of the mouth, was to pray that Dumbledore would hire another English instructor next year. Preferably one under seventy and without a moustache.
After all, a wizard could hope.
In his quarters, Filius Flitwick sat on the sofa, a snifter of cognac in front of him and a rather smug smile on his face.
When Hannah had sent him that letter last year telling him that she would be spending several weeks in St. Comgan, the very place Severus had just announced he would be spending his holidays, he had taken it as a sign. In a place that small, they were bound to run into each other sooner or later. Not that he'd held out much hope that it would lead to anything even if they did, not with the history between Severus and Frank Hannigan. But he figured it wouldn't hurt to at least give Hannah a fighting chance to make an impression…
It hadn't been an at all difficult thing to cast a surreptitious Steer-Me Charm on Severus, keyed towards a certain brown-haired English teacher.
Oh, it hadn't been anything strong, mind you, just a very mild bit of – insurance. To make sure that Severus would not immediately run the other direction when they did run into each other. Nothing more.
After that, it had been up to them. You can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink.
He smiled primly. Well, he supposed that, technically, you could – but it wasn't at all a nice thing to do.
He had strenuously stopped himself from interfering after that. Except for going to see Dumbledore and telling him that he knew the perfect candidate to fill the Composition teacher position, but he would have done that anyway, of course. He'd known Hannah would give her right arm to be part of the magical world again. So, really, you couldn't call that interfering.
He raised his glass. "Health, happiness, and a long life." They hadn't made it easy for each other, those two. For a while he had despaired that they would ever make a go of it, but as they say – all's well that ends well. And all had ended very well. Or would, in just an hour.
Severus eyed his reflection in the mirror critically. It could be worse. His robe was more than a decade old, but it was cut well and made of good material, and luckily fashions for wizards were much less volatile than fashions for witches. It would do well enough. His teeth were hopeless, of course, but at least his hair was, for the moment, passable.
He glared at the baby-blue bottle that had arrived via owl early this morning, accompanied by a short, handwritten note.
Rinse, lather, repeat.
Can't wait until this afternoon. So happy for you.
Your loving aunt,
Leave it to Anwyn to give him that for a wedding present.
Bernie Bluett's Grease-B-Gone Shampoo. Bernie Bluett, who had been one of the first N.E.W.T. students he had taught, as well as one of the dullest. Who still had been bright enough to enhance Muggle shampoo with a simple cleaning potion and market it to the wizarding world. And who had consequently raked in the Galleons by the bucket. While he, Severus, still labored in obscurity, teaching ungrateful students a difficult subject.
Well, it might come as a surprise to his aunt, but he actually did own a bottle of the stuff. Not that it made any difference. No matter what he did, his hair always looked oily again within a few hours, and delaying his shower until late in the day had been the only way of ensuring that he would look at least semi-presentable for the wedding.
And presentable he looked, or at least as presentable as he would ever be. Time to go, then.
When he arrived at the Room of Requirement, the door was propped open. Severus took a deep breath as he stepped through. The headmaster had not exaggerated – the castle had delivered spectacularly. Suffused light from the stained glass rosette above the altar streamed in colored beams against the heavy flagstone floor. A carpet, woven in muted reds, greens, and ochres, ran up the center aisle, lined on each side with well-worn pews of dark, polished oak. The altar itself, adorned with fat white candles in brass candlesticks and an arrangement of flowers, was covered with a simple linen cloth. Even the flowers had been chosen carefully, Severus noted with approval. Myrtle and white roses for love, hawthorn for hope, iris for faith.
"I have the prefects guarding the corridors to this room," Dumbledore said, lighting the candles with a backward flick of his wand as he walked towards him. "I thought it would be a wise precaution. We don't want a gaggle of students listening in during the ceremony."
Severus nodded. He wholeheartedly concurred.
The headmaster picked a piece of folded cloth up from the small table by the door that also held a quill, ink well and guest book, and held it up for Severus' perusal. "A gift from the house-elves. Gwinny just delivered it."
The white cloth was lavishly embroidered with every symbol remotely applicable to marriage that the elves had been able to think of – roses, hearts, Celtic knots, jasmine, apples, runes, rings, maple leaves, cupids… He didn't know whether to groan or smile.
Dumbledore neatly folded the cloth back up and replaced it on the table. "We can wait back here." He nodded to where two chairs were pushed back into a small recess in the back corner. "Do you have your ring?"
"I do," he said, fishing the box out of his pocket and handing it to the headmaster as he sat down. "You have Hannah's?" Normally, as the groom, he would have been in charge of keeping both the rings, but Hannah had been reluctant to give hers up any sooner than was absolutely necessary.
"Yes. I stopped by her quarters before coming here." Dumbledore pulled her ring out of his pocket and added it to the box that held Severus'. "Quite a commotion, that place. Your mother and your aunt were there, as well as Filia Flitwick, and just as I was leaving, Pomona Sprout arrived – apparently she put herself in charge of the flowers." He pointed to the bouquets on the altar. "Those are her work as well, I believe." The headmaster shook his head. "I do feel quite grateful that apparently for once she managed to stay away from the Venomous Tentacula and the Fanged Geranium."
Within a few minutes, the guests started arriving. Minerva and Filius, the witnesses, sat down in the front row. Binns smiling his usual pleasant and vacant expression, drifted into the back pew. Madam Pomfrey came in together with Madam Pince, followed closely by Sybil Trelawney. He watched as each of the guests signed their names, and then briefly touched the tip of their wands to the square of cloth.
Madam Hooch, carrying a broom, chatted amicably with Madam Vector. Stella Sinistra gave him an encouraging smile as she entered, firmly guiding Nettie Nequam by the elbow. Molly and Arthur Weasley waved and beamed enthusiastically at Severus before taking up seats on the groom's side of the chapel.
Severus turned sharply to Dumbledore. "Refresh my memory," he hissed out of the corner of his mouth, "but if I recall correctly, the Weasleys are not on staff at this school."
"Well, I…" Dumbledore looked slightly uncomfortable. "Don't be angry, but I've taken the liberty of inviting a few of the old crowd. After all the hardship we've gone through together, it seems only fitting to let them share in the moments of joy, as well."
"How many?" Lips a thin white line, Severus let his eyes roam over the room. He should have noticed that the chapel seemed too large for the few guests they had invited.
"Not many at all. Just some of those who have known you the longest. Emmeline Vance, Hestia Jones – she's a distant relation of yours, did you know? – Aberforth, Arabella, Tonks, the Weasleys – not all of them, of course, as you can see. Just Molly and Arthur. It shouldn't be more than twenty or so in all."
Snape didn't trust himself to speak. This was his wedding. What right did Dumbledore have to…
He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, willing himself to calm down. What was done was done. With an effort, he made himself think of the watch in his pocket and the speech that had accompanied the gifting of it. He was sure the old man had meant well. He generally did. No use crying over spilled potion.
He watched as more and more guests trickled in. Tonks, Vance, and Jones all came in together. Hagrid, too large to fit into any of the pews, leaned against the back wall. The gamekeeper had decided to dress up for the occasion and looked positively ghastly. Remus Lupin arrived at the same time as a tiny, wrinkled, pink-cheeked witch who had to be Flitwick's sister. Arabella Figg, Madam Sprout, Argus Filch, accompanied, as always, by his cat…
Slowly, the pews filled.
Finally, right on the hour, his mother and Anwyn hurried in. At an encouraging nod from Dumbledore, he rose from his seat. Somewhere up in the choir, a bodhran started beating, slowly and solemnly.
Three o'clock. Time to start.
Severus took a deep breath. With measured steps, feeling the eyes of the assembled congregation following him, he walked to the open door of the chapel. And stopped. And waited.
As the minutes ticked away, he felt himself get unaccountably anxious. He knew Hannah was supposed to be fashionably late. There was nothing to worry about. This was planned.
And yet, the thought would steal into his head – what if she didn't come?
He squelched the idea ruthlessly. This was ridiculous. He knew her too well. She would never…
He exhaled a breath of relief when, right then, he saw her turn the corner.
His heart pounding, he watched as she walked towards him. The willow green gown she was wearing… Anwyn was right, the dress was perfect for her. Now that he had seen her, he couldn't imagine her in anything else. Her hair had been artistically arranged, partly swept up in a complicated weave, the rest falling down her back in gleaming curls. She wasn't wearing a veil. Instead, a wreath of small white flowers circled her head - a lovely, old-fashioned touch that suited her well. She was carrying a bouquet of red and white roses. Her eyes looked larger and darker than usual – she did not customarily wear make-up, but today something had been done to her eyes, and her cheeks, and her eyebrows, and her mouth…
She was beautiful. Beautiful, and utterly foreign to the pony-tailed, never quite put together woman he had fallen in love with. This was someone he didn't know. For a second, he felt a surge of panic. Which died away immediately at the shaky smile that lit up her face as she came towards him. That smile, he recognized.
"You look lovely," he whispered, as he offered her his arm.
"Do you really think so? Oh, I am glad," she whispered back, a quiver in her voice. "Are you as nervous as I am?"
He gave her quick smile. "Quite. Shall we?"
Taking a deep breath, Hannah smiled back. "Let's."
Slowly, in time with the beat of the drum, they made their way through the door and up to the dais in front of the altar, where Dumbledore stood waiting. Severus, walking stiffly and straight-backed, with just the slightest hint of a limp remaining, again was uncomfortably aware of all the eyes following their every step up the aisle.
When they reached the front, the steady beating of the drum ceased. For an endless moment, there was silence, except for the shuffling of feet and the shifting of bodies in the pews. He felt Hannah's hold on his arm tighten.
Dumbledore cleared his throat and took a step forward.
"Dearly beloved, we have gathered here today to witness the joining of this man and this woman in holy matrimony." The headmaster's eyes traveled across the room as he smiled at the many familiar faces. "We are here to celebrate the fact that Hannah and Severus have found that they can walk more easily through life while holding on to each other, while touching each other's hand. We are here to witness their first step on that journey.
"As many of you know, the road that brought them to this place has been a long and broken one, a road filled with hardship and disappointment. But that road has led them here, to this day and to each other. Ex tenebris, lux."
His voice lowered as he addressed his words directly to the couple in front of him. "Today, in front of this congregation, in front of witnesses both visible and invisible, you will commit to each other for the remainder of your natural lives. It is not a commitment you have entered into carelessly or with closed eyes. I know neither of you will take lightly the responsibilities of marriage." He looked back up at the congregation. "If anyone here knows of a reason why these two should not be united in marriage, speak now, or forever hold your peace."
After a moment of silence, he smiled at them, a twinkle in his eyes. "This, I suppose, is the time when I am meant to look at my vast life experience and bestow upon you a treasury of clever and sage advice for your married life. I could make a long and tedious speech about not going to bed angry, of cultivating the art of conversation, of being generous with each other, and of the importance of replacing empty toilet paper rolls. But I am not going to do that.
"You both know that you will encounter bumps in the road. You know that there will be times when you will hardly be able to stand being in the same room with one another, and other times when you will fall in love all over again with this remarkable person you are marrying today. Neither am I worried that you will take each other for granted. You both know full well the gift you have been given. Whatever obstacle or blessing awaits you, I feel confident that the two of you will muddle through just fine.
"So if you don't mind, I am going to skip right ahead to the important part of the ceremony. Please turn and face each other."
As Anwyn dashed forward to take Hannah's flowers from her, Severus held out his hands to his bride. Her eyes shone as she placed her hands in his. The nervousness that had been there earlier seemed to have melted away. She looked calm now, calm and confident.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his mother approaching – she had retrieved the cloth from the table by the entrance. For a moment, he saw Hannah's expression waver. He gave her hands a soft squeeze – normally, this part of the ceremony was performed by both the mothers together.
At a nod from Dumbledore, Saeran shook out the cloth and draped it solemnly over their joined hands. He felt his skin tingle with the magic of the spells and charms for health, protection, and good luck that now permeated the fabric.
Saeran lifted her wand and added the final charm to those of the guests before looking up at her son and her daughter-in-law. "As you go forward into married life, you go with the approval of your family and friends. We celebrate with you the bond you are forging today. You have our blessing and our love."
As his mother folded the cloth back up, Severus looked into Hannah's eyes with a half smirk and watched her blush. As was tradition, Saeran would later give them the cloth to put under the sheets on their wedding night.
Dumbledore took a step forward. "Are you then ready to make your vows?"
"We are." Their voices came softly, in unison.
"Do you, Severus Snape, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife, to have and to hold, to love, honor, and comfort, forsaking all others and being faithful only to her, as long as you both shall live?"
"I do." For a moment, he felt as if he had stepped into another reality and was watching some other Severus getting married to some other Hannah. It seemed…surreal. Like a scene from a dream.
In the back of the church, he heard Hagrid blowing loudly into his handkerchief.
"Do you, Hannah Hannigan, take this man as your lawfully wedded husband, to have and to hold, to love, honor, and comfort him, forsaking all others and being faithful only to him, as long as you both shall live?"
"I do." Her voice came steady and sure.
The headmaster pulled the box with the rings out of the pocket of his robe. "You have chosen to give these rings to each other as a symbol of the bond between you. Severus?"
He took the ring from Albus, and for the last time (he fervently hoped) slid it on Hannah's finger. "In token and pledge of the vow I have made, with this ring I thee wed."
A moment later, he heard Hannah repeat the same words as she slid the wedding band on his finger, and again was caught up in the strangeness of the scene. If a year ago someone would have told him that this was where he would be today…
"Then remains the Binding. Will you please kneel?"
Shocked back into reality, Severus felt himself flash cold. Somehow, when they had gone over the ceremony, this detail had not registered. His leg was by now quite strong enough for walking, but kneeling and then standing up again was quite a different matter….
A split second later, he saw recognition flash across Dumbledore's face. A barely noticeable twitch of the old man's wand tip, and Severus felt himself grow nearly weightless. Without his bodyweight to support, it was an easy thing to lower himself to the kneeling position.
He felt his heart speed up as he looked into Hannah's eyes, the light from the stained glass window dancing across her face. At Dumbledore's nod, he held up his left hand, and Hannah put hers against his, palm to palm, at a slight angle, so that their rings touched. The two witnesses, faces solemn, took their places at the headmaster's sides and pulled out their wands.
Minerva went first, her wand tip drawing fiery lines in the air – Berkana, the rune of new beginnings. "Now you are two people, but from this moment, there will be but one life between you." The rune hung brightly in the air for a moment, glistening with golden-green light, before the lines dissolved, trickling down in faint phosphorescence as the glow twisted itself around their joined hands.
Filius' turn: Gebo, the rune of partnership. "From now on, you will be each other's companion. You will feel no cold, because you will be to each other shelter and warmth." The light around their hands grew brighter as the rune dissolved into shimmering ribbons.
Last, Dumbledore: Wunjo, the rune of joy. "From now on, you will take joy in one another. You will hold each other's heart and happiness in your hand."
The light intensified, swirling ever faster in glowing spirals, tendrils starting to snake out, slowly moving up their arms.
Three voices spoke together. "According to your wish, we Bind you, heart to heart, mind to mind, body to body, soul to soul; ancient magic, ancient mystery, ancient power. From this moment on, two will be one."
Severus' heart beat a harried staccato as he watched the light move towards him. In a moment, the Binding would be completed, their souls would intertwine. What would she feel when his soul touched hers? His soul, which not even the Dementors had wanted? He did not think he could bear it if she flinched…
The light enveloped them both, and then he could feel her, taste her, sense the essence of her, as her soul and his mixed and mingled. Exhaling sharply, he closed his eyes. This was…wonderful. As the spell knit them together, he allowed himself to relax, to enjoy the moment. His fears evaporated like fog in the sunlight. There was no doubt now that this was right. He could feel her inviting him in, like the opening of a door to warmth and welcome. It felt like touching solid ground after years at sea. It felt like coming home.
For a minute that seemed like an eternity, the light held them, and then slowly began to ebb. It was with regret he felt her presence inside of him recede, leaving only a faint imprint of her touch.
He opened his eyes to see that Hannah was smiling, her eyes still closed, head slightly tilted back, a tear slipping down her cheek. She looked happy – impossibly happy. It gave him a sharp, sweet pang to think that it was being Bound to him that could put that look on her face…
Dumbledore nodded at the witnesses, and Minerva and Filius took a step back.
"You may rise." Dumbledore watched, misty eyed and smiling, as they rose to their feet. Severus felt the weight of his body slowly returning once he was upright again.
"Then remains only one thing." The old wizard drew himself up to his full height. "By the power vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife. Severus, you may kiss your bride."
At the few weddings he had been to, this had been his least favorite part. It had always seemed contrived, a meaningless display for the entertainment of the guests.
It did not feel like that now.
She had raised her face in anticipation, that same quiet joy still radiating from her, and he bent down, cupping her face with both hands. He had kissed her before, many times, but this – this was different. This was the first time that he kissed his wife. As he felt her lips part slightly beneath his, soft, warm, and welcoming, there was a sense of newness, of beginning. It felt like kissing her for the first time all over again.
Dumbledore cleared his throat as he faced the audience. "If you all will stand – it is now my great pleasure to introduce to you Mr. and Mrs. Severus Snape."
The applause that had begun in smatterings when they had kissed grew louder and louder as Severus took Hannah's hand and turned to face the congregation. More than one of the guests was blowing his or her nose; others were clapping wildly; all of them were smiling. Severus' chest ached with a sudden sense of belonging as he looked at the upturned faces of the people in the room, these people whom he had known for years, whom he had lived with, fought with, fought for. Colleagues. Comrades. Friends.
He helped Hannah down from the dais, and together they were slowly walking back down the aisle, showers of sparks in all colors of the rainbow shooting from the wands of those present, raining down around them like firefly confetti, when there was a sudden shout from the back.
"Wait! You're not done yet!" Rolanda Hooch, carrying her broom, pushed her way up the aisle. "It's tradition!"
She plopped down the broom on the floor in front of them. At a flick of Flitwick's wand, it rose, hovering horizontally a couple of inches above the ground.
Hannah looked up at him, eyes laughing. "Are you ready, my husband?"
And it was at that point that it became real to him. He was a husband now. She was his wife. He looked at the broom and saw a line that was both start and finish, a divider firmly putting paid to forty years of loneliness and misery, a two-inch-wide no man's land between what had been and what would be.
Taking a deep breath, he smiled at his wife. "I believe I am." Balancing on his good leg, he grasped her hand more firmly, and on the count of three, they jumped the broom, together, into a new life.
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A big thanks to everyone who has been on this journey with me, reading and commenting, and especially to my wonderful betas -- Bellegeste, lalaluu, and Verity Brown. If you haven't read their stories, please give them a go! An extra thank-you to Lisa and Roberta for their steady support and the occasional (much appreciated) kick in the pants. :-)