Epilogue: Better Known as The End (Finally)
They were in Venice during the first year anniversary of Voldemort's defeat. Severus was giving a series of lectures on medical potions. Hermione was being a tourist, of both the magical and Muggle nature. Severus had been true to his word. The two of them had traveled abroad, but even more fascinating to Hermione were the magical enclaves and sites in Britain. She'd never realized how much lay beyond Diagon Alley, Hogsmeads and Hogwarts. She had been introduced to more people than she could remember. Some had simply wanted an autograph, others had wanted to try and share in the fame she generated as Harry Potter's friend. A few had wanted to use her for their own ends, but she'd been taught by one of the sneakiest men alive. She'd mostly just laughed at those efforts. Young she might have been, but she definitely was not a wide-eyed innocent.
Sitting out at Caffe Florian in the Piazza San Marco, Hermione tapped Severus' arm to get his attention. "Today is the sixteenth of January. Are you going to marry me?"
She'd become even better in the year they'd been together at reading his more subtle expressions. She almost laughed when she saw panic flare briefly in his eyes. His words however showed no outward emotional alarm. "Do you wish me to?"
She did laugh at that so carefully crafted answer. "No, I don't think so. I start work as an Arthimancer next week. We still haven't made it to the United States. No, I'm thinking I'm still too young. Don't you agree?"
"I do," he answered with a nod before turning back to the Muggle newspaper he was reading.
Hermione took a sip of her coffee and waited for a full count of sixty seconds. "I think Ron's getting serious about Luna."
Severus turned her a gimlet eye over the top paper, before ducking his head back down. "That would explain why he has been taking longer between moves in our current game."
She took another sip and let him relax just the tiniest bit. "I got an owl yesterday. Harry's asked Ginny to marry him."
This time the paper lowered. Hermione gave him her most innocent smile.
He studied her, assessing her intent and interest in the conversation. After a long moment, he gave a faint harrumph and the paper went back up. "No doubt there will be a passel of Weasleys and Potters on the way shortly."
Hermione dropped the innocent smile and grinned widely at him, even though he couldn't see her. "No doubt," she agreed, before turning back to her tour book to decide what she'd see tomorrow.
As Severus strolled through the halls of St Mungo's, his first clue that something was amiss was the preponderance of red-headed individuals. Not surprisingly, the Weasleys were still breeding true. Deciding that discretion was the better part of valour, he decided to make a break for it using the side passageways that riddled the hospital and were reserved for employee use only. He'd just reached one of the semi-secret doors when his name was called.
Merlin's Toenails. He had almost escaped.
Resigned to the inevitable, he turned around. "Potter. Weasley."
Potter was watching him with the look of studied indifference they had both cultivated over the years. They would never be friends, but they had learned a level of civil tolerance that served them both well. Weasley, however, greeted him with a broad smile. "I had you on that last game, Snape. I can't believe you found a way out of that Bishop's trap."
Weasley had become tolerable over the years, surprisingly enough. Their remote chess games had continued and Weasley had, quite publicly and on more than one occasion, attributed much of his success in the Aurors to Snape's teachings and tactical knowledge. After two years of politely asking, Snape had finally discussed with Weasley how the Death Eaters were organized, the tactics Voldemort had used and ways to combat those self-same tactics. Snape had refused to speak to anyone else.
"I keep telling you, you lean on your Bishop's too much. There is a predictability factor that leads to your eventual defeat."
Ron grimaced, then brightened as he switched topics. "Ginny's up in the maturity ward."
Harry finally spoke up. "The Healers say it's a girl this time. We're going to name her Molly."
"I'm sure she will bear the name proudly. Have you flooed Hermione? She was most disappointed to miss the birth of James. I believe she would wish to be here this time."
"Ron and I flooed her earlier. She's working on some complicated Arthimantic equation for the Ministry, but said she'd be here as soon as she got to a stopping point."
Severus nodded. "When she arrives she will no doubt find me and then we will find Mrs Potter."
He turned to leave only to have Potter stop him. "When are you going to make an honest woman of Hermione? She deserves better, you know."
Severus saw Ron wince at Potter's question.
"I was not aware that Hermione was dishonest." Ron winced again. Before the situation could devolve, and since Hermione had made the point, repeatedly, that in her words he didn't have to be 'a complete wanker' anymore, he continued. "The decision is entirely up to Hermione."
Potter frowned. "You are supposed to ask her. It's how it's done."
Severus arched a brow and gave Potter his best condescending smile. "Hermione, by her own admission, is both bossy and stubborn and I have discovered that she will do as she pleases. If she wishes a more permanent and binding relationship, she will ask for it as she does most things."
"She does ask you. Every year."
He allowed his smile to widen. "Does she? Does she really?"
While the two of them contemplated that, he gave them a short bow. "If you will excuse me, I have duties to attend to. When Hermione arrives we will come find you."
Hermione slumped against Severus, gasping for breath. Her ear against his chest, she listened to the pounding of his heart. Dexterous fingers, that even now had the ability to drive her to distraction, slid up her back, mapping each of her vertebra on its journey upward.
She stretched upward, arching into his touch and humming her contentment. "Love you," she murmured as she settled back down against him.
"And I you."
She smiled against his shoulder. Twenty years and Severus was still Severus. Not that she'd have him any other way. She'd still never met anyone who challenged, thrilled or annoyed her as much as he did – usually all at the same time.
When his hand switched to carding through her hair, Hermione propped herself up on one elbow so she could see his face. "I'll be as old this year as you were when we faced Voldemort. I've traveled the wizarding world. I've met a thousand people. I have my own vault at Gringotts and a job I adore. I still love you. Marry me?"
Severus regarded her solemnly. She was pleased that no flash of panic filled his eyes nor quickened the heartbeat under her hand.
"I am still your choice?"
The smile she gave him was slow and filled with everything she felt for this wonderful and complicated man. "Always."
Author's Note 1: The Fate of Rink
I figured some of you would want to know the fate of Rink. My original intent was to work him into the epilogue but he just wouldn't fit in correctly. So he gets his own author's note. Soon after Severus leaves Hogwarts and joins St Mungo's, Rink requests clothes from Headmistress McGonagall with Lonny's blessings. He then appears on Snape's doorstep and follows him around until Severus accepts his service out of sheer annoyance, much to Hermione's amusement. Upon the marriage of Severus and Hermione, Rink officially joins the House of Granger house elves.
Author's Note 2: Thank you to everyone that has had a hand in this story. The people that have helped me over the years – my betas, my readers, the talented people over at DeviantArt. You guys have pointed out the flaws, encouraged me when I needed it, nagged on occasion, and have helped me to become a better writer. This story would have died seven years ago if it hadn't been for you.
It has been an incredible (and long) journey.