a/n - Well, here's the end. I wondered if we'd make it at times. :P I think everything is wrapped up. Let me know if I left a loose end somewhere, I'll probably reread it later and find a few frayed ends. I hope you enjoy it. It's been fun to write. I'm already working on a darker fic, but I don't plan to post any of it until it's finished. Well, thanks so much for reading this unbelievably long story and I hope you come back for the next! Bye!

Chapter 15

"It's a nice day, isn't it?" Hermione said, grimacing as soon as she spoke.

Her arrival had been pleasantly surprising in the least. Now, as her eyes shined with tears while she wiped away those already shed, her dodging of the question was more than troubling.

"Yes," Snape replied. "Although that obviously wasn't what you were about to say."

"Huh?" she asked, her forehead rising into an accordion-like row of wrinkles.

"Tell me," he said adamantly, keenly aware of his grip on her shoulders. "Whatever it is, just say it."

"Tell you what?"

Something horrible had happened and for whatever reason, she couldn't tell him. He had a choice between patience and stealth and as always, he chose stealth. She was already looking him as though she wanted to will him the information, so he went ahead and pushed on.

Much less structured than earlier, her mind felt twisted and tangled. Without the power of his wand, he would have to wait for her to reflect on the issue and he didn't have a long wait. Like canon fire, a sequence of events went flying by almost too rapidly to decipher.

Severus gone. Tea. An older woman. A spell. Pregnant. Severus. Forgot incantation. Is she his? Pregnant. Severus. Plants. Filthy cauldrons. Weasley. Snape. Carrying his child. Windom. Quit. Severus. Jonas. Severus.

Oh god, Snape thought as he dropped his arms, staggered by the rollercoaster that was Hermione's memory of the time since he left her. She'd certainly had a much more eventful time than he had. The nervous energy he'd suffered before Jonas arrived returned in full, as did a myriad of questions and notions and fears and the conflicting urges to blurt out what he'd seen and permit her to explain in her own time.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked sheepishly.

Snape promptly closed his mouth and blinked. His eyes burned since he hadn't done that for the last little while. Both ventures into her mind that day had offered things that he'd never expected to see--things that he wasn't sure just how to deal with, things that baffled him. The headache he'd managed to avoid upon returning home settled at last, a pulsing pain behind his right eye.

"Why are you looking at me like that?" she repeated, a bit of fear creeping into her voice.

How he would have loved to answer that question, although the speech section of his brain must have been right next to that pulsing pain, or perhaps that pulsing pain was his brain gradually shutting down. Either way, he definitely did not know what to say even if he could have spoken.

"Are you having a stroke?" she asked in all sincerity, grabbing his arms and giving him a shake.

This evidently was what he needed. "I don't think so," he replied, closing each eye one at a time to make sure they were working correctly. Yes, they seemed to working, although that pain at the back his eye refused to quit.

"Then what's the matter?" she asked and Snape had to laugh at her capacity to ask that question of him under the circumstances.

Taking a deep breath, Snape restricted the laugh and asked his own question in slow, deliberate words. "Is there something you want to tell me?"

Her face became impassive again. "Yes?"

Was she afraid of his reaction or possibly his rejection as she wrung her hands and her jaw trembled? Was she afraid saying it aloud would make it true? Whatever was going through her mind, he knew the feeling, the want to say without the courage to do so. Seeing her wriggle like that was awful. He needed to put an end to her torment.

Pulling apart the white-knuckled ball she'd formed with her hands, he took one and led her to the sofa where she sat, every aspect of her appearing unsure.

"Do you need anything?" he asked gently.

"I…I don't think so?" she answered, achieving a poor imitation of a smile.

He took the seat beside her, perched on the edge of the cushion just as she was. Her hands promptly returned to the ball in her lap. It would have been so easy to tell her he knew, but something told him that she needed to say it. That was important and he would not take that away from her. He waited a minute, then two, hopeful that she would begin on her own. Her reticence didn't surprise him as his own brain was happily focusing on her quitting again and cleaning the lab instead of the enormous bit of news she was about to report. Ten minutes was long enough, he decided, taking the initiative to lead her on or calm her down in one way or another.

"What happened after I left?" he asked quietly.

"Well…I went for a tea." Her voice cracked as she spoke.

"Really," Snape replied, trying to think of the best way to goad her on. "Did you find out what's making you ill?" He had to fight back an anxious laugh.

"Yes, I had a physical." She was staring at her hands.

Perhaps this time, he wondered. "Everything else is well, I suppose?"

"Else?" she asked, looking somehow guilty.

He fought back the laugh again. "Besides whatever is making you ill, I mean."

"Of course," she said quickly. Clearing her throat, she added, "Don't be upset."

Nearly choking on that laugh, he said, "I promise I'll not be upset."

She took a deep breath and freed it ever so slowly, her eyes wide in what could only be dread.

He decided that desperate times called for desperate measures, so he asked, "Did Molly finally confess that I'm her illegitimate son?"

"No…" she said, eyeing him strangely, but looking up from her hands nonetheless.

"Then what is it?" Snape asked, trying urgently to retain composure. "Did Ron Weasley confess his love for Elijah? Did they elope?"

"No?" she said, a shy smile parting her lips.

"Miriam Windom is having James Flannigan's love child, isn't she?"

"No!" she said with a tentative giggle. "That's revolting."

"Then what could it possibly be?" he asked, willing her to spit it out.

"I'm…I'm pregnant!" she almost shouted.

There. She said it. Now he had every right in the world to panic and panic he did, however internally, while finally giving voice to one nervous laugh. He'd forgotten the incantation last night. He witnessed her thinking the same thing. He'd been…preoccupied. Not only that, but now he was quite sure he was a moron.

"Well?" she asked, hanging an unbelievable expectancy on that one word.

He nodded. That was all he could do. Nod. The pain still thumped behind his eye and it was apparently impeding his motor function.

Wide eyed, she asked, "Are you sure you aren't having a stroke?"

He nodded again and considered for a moment that perhaps he was having a stroke. This made him laugh again. Watching her face, he knew that was the wrong thing to do. She looked as though she wanted to kill him or perhaps give him a stroke, but she certainly looked like she didn't want to watch him titter like an idiot.

He cleared his throat for the words that would surely come. He waited for them. She stared at him. Finally, he opened his mouth and prayed something meeting her requirements would come out.

"You're…" He cleared his throat again. "You're…pregnant."

"Yes," she answered timidly, seeming unnerved by his return to the land of verbalization.

"Last night…I'm so sorry." That was it? That was all he could come up with to say? At least he was talking.

"I forgot too," she muttered. "I was…"

"Distracted?" he offered.

"Yeah," she answered, taking another slow, steady breath. "I understand if you're angry."

Her statement put a dent in his personal panic. "I am not angry," he affirmed. "Not in the least."

"I didn't mean for this…" She looked more panicked than he felt. "I'm not trying to trap you, if that's what you think."

Again, he had to laugh at the idea. "That is the farthest thing from my mind."

She shook her head, her eyes wildly scanning the room. "It was an…"

He raising a hand quickly and she stopped, sitting very still. Jonas' words had returned to him, loud and clear. He again pulled her hands from the interlaced ball and held them tightly as he said, "Don't say accident."

There were tears lining up in her eyes just waiting for the chance to spill over and those eyes were set upon him, unblinking.

He felt suddenly very nervous again--very, very nervous concerning what they were about to discuss. "Some people believe that there is no such thing as coincidence, no accidents." He paused to swallow absolutely nothing since his mouth had become completely devoid of liquid. "Perhaps this was supposed to happen. Who's to say, because I was…trying to decide how to… to persuade you to…" He was just going to cut out his tongue because he obviously didn't need it to speak!

"To what?"

"To live here," he blurted out somewhat forcefully. He ground his teeth in an effort to relax. "This changes everything."

"Changes what?" she asked, her eyebrows sliding gradually closer together.

Again, he prayed for the words to come. "You're going to have…our child." The phrase seemed so foreign. So did the emotions that were springing forth, claiming his chest, swirling in such frenzy that he couldn't tell whether it was happiness, terror, or that oft-mentioned stroke. "A week ago I was alone…so completely…what I wouldn't have given. And now…I'm going to be…a father?"

"I know," she said with a shake of the head. "I am too."

He laughed. He couldn't help it. Clearly, he wasn't the only one experiencing technical difficulties. "No," he finally managed. "You get to be the mother."

She appeared confused for a second, but quickly donned a smile that became quiet laugh. "Yes…mother…" She looked mildly nauseous.

Snape chuckled. "You know, Molly is going to think that we did this just to spite her."

A loud laugh left Hermione before she said, "Oh god, she's going to have a kitten."

Her words seemed oddly timed and he marveled at the memory they evoked. "I haven't heard that phrase since I blew up the front porch."

Her expression less tense considering, Hermione asked, "What did you blow up?"

Snape sighed, the memory returning in vivid detail. "The summer before my first year at Hogwarts, my grandmother was looking after me for my mother. She brought me a rudimentary potions kit. Smuggled it to me really, my father didn't allow such things. Anyway, I was playing with it on the front porch and after about fifteen minutes, I became bored with the instructions so I mixed… well… things the instructions specifically advised not to mix." Hermione was already grinning and it made him laugh. "Well, the next thing I knew, I was splayed in the front yard. When Grandmother came to see what all the ruckus was about, that was the first thing she said to me. Your mother is going to have a kitten."

A smirk on her lips, Hermione asked, "How much trouble did you get in?"

"None actually," he replied. "Grandmother cleaned me up and somehow repaired the porch. I'm still unsure how she managed that, but she never said a word about it to either of my parents." He paused to laugh. "Although, she did tell me that if I could cause such a spectacular explosion with those simple ingredients, that she couldn't imagine what I could do if I applied myself."

Hermione smiled. "She inspired you."

"Yes, but long before that," he answered. "She was a botanist like Jonas. She loved plants and all the things they were capable of, the powers they held in all their many forms. She taught me how to identify and care for them. It was her passion that made me first want to learn how to apply the science."

"She sounds like a wonderful woman," Hermione said sincerely.

"She was," Snape said, taking a deep breath as he appreciated the calm that had come over him as he reminisced. His grandmother passed away not long before his mother and he'd allowed those events to overshadow so much that somehow he'd forgotten how much he missed her. "She would have liked you."

Inclining her head on his shoulder, Hermione laughed and, to Snape's relief, it was nearly relaxed. "I'm sure she was proud of you."

Reluctant to break the mood, Snape said, "We seem to have moved off topic."

"We're talking about family," she replied softly. "That seems relevant at the moment."

"That it does," he said.

"Your grandmother, what was her name?" Hermione asked.

"Anastasia."

Hermione lifted her head and grinned. "Anastasia Prince?"

Laughing at the look on her face, he replied, "Princess Anastasia? Yes, that was her married name, purely coincidental. Although, she did call me her little prince." He paused as he shook his head and grinned, "I can't believe I just told you that."

Snape put his arm around her shoulders and reclined into the sofa and she fell back with him, laying her head on his chest. The peace that descended fell simultaneously with the first few drops that pelted the windowpane. It wasn't until then that he noticed the gray clouds blanketing the sky, soon dappled gold by a bolt of lightning. He muttered the spell and the room went dark, bathing them both in the silvery light from the great windows as the rain persisted, rising into a downpour that chased away what remained of Snape's earlier panic and replaced it with the beautiful hush that he could never quite resist. A peal of thunder sang in the distance, fading steadily into a velvet roll that surely rang for miles.

Hermione soft voice grasped his attention. "You should know…it's a girl."

He closed his eyes and grinned, knowing she could hear his heart as it leapt with her words, words he still wasn't quite sure what to do with. Quickly staring back at the windows, he let the hush fill his mind, confident that someday he'd get better at this.

Pressing his lips against the top of her head, he closed his eyes and just said it. "I love you."

The best part was, when she briefly stopped kissing him, she said it back.

> > > > > > > > > >

Long ago, Snape finished researching Jonas' Trilorian as it was now known, developing thirteen new medicinal potions in the process with the help of his wife. Fortunately, Jonas survived to see it, but passed on shortly after Snape published his findings nearly a decade ago. It was this work that motivated the board members at St. Mungo's to offer Snape a position heading their potion's department. After discussing it with Hermione, he accepted the offer on the condition that Miriam Windom kept a distance of at least one hundred yards at all times, and they agreed.

His desk was never as neat as he would have liked it, always piled up with new orders and requests faster than he had the inclination to arrange them. Snape was in his office now, the very lab where he'd kindled his romance with his wife and the last place he wanted to be on a Saturday.

"Sir, I'll stay and finish." His assistant, Markus Meriwether, was ambitious yet entirely incapable of working unsupervised.

"I have to take the elixir with me Markus or I would most certainly take you up on that offer." Snape rose from his desk to inspect the boy's progress. As soon as he reached the table, it was clear to Snape that he should have just done it himself. "That looks fantastic Markus, you may go."

"But sir isn't it supposed to be orange?" Markus asked.

It would never be orange with him tending the cauldron. "Yes, it's only a matter of time." Or intelligence, Snape added silently. "Go ahead and go. We'll discuss the finer points on Monday."

"If you're sure…" Markus replied.

Snape was sure he didn't want to make the boy cry…again. "I'm positive. Enjoy the weekend."

"Thank you sir," the boy called as he snatched his cloak from the closet and vanished out the door.

After sighing and shaking his head, wondering if there was any possible way to trade in an unpaid intern, Snape lowered the heat and added a dash of barberry paste. That should counteract whatever damage the boy had done.

Just then, a head poked around the corner, a curtain of black hair falling away from her face, her chocolate brown eyes larger than normal. It was his little Slytherin. "Don't be mad."

"What are you doing here? Where's you brother?" Snape stopped himself there so as not to sound too terribly much like his wife.

"He's downstairs. He's fine," she emphasized as she sidled into the room.

"Explain," he instructed lowly as she rounded the table.

Halting in front of him, looking as guilty as every fourteen-year-old does from time to time, she said, "Do you remember that potions set Uncle Harry got for him?"

Though he tried his best to retain the stern, fatherly expression, a strangled laugh escaped him. "Go on," he said before clearing his throat.

She sighed, "Well, he had it in the living room…"

There went that strangled laugh again.

"Dad, this isn't funny." In that moment, Annie bore a striking resemblance to her mother.

"What did he blow up?" Snape managed to ask, nearly shaking with anticipatory laughter.

She was watching him carefully as she said, "As I was saying, he had it in the living room, so I made him take it out on the porch…"

He couldn't restraint it any longer, almost doubling over in convulsions that he was sure must have thoroughly unnerved his daughter.

He calmed himself long enough to say, "So he destroyed the porch, but he was unharmed."

"Yes," she replied. "I only Flooed him here because he shot himself halfway across the yard."

That sealed it. Snape was now laughing so hard he had to put a hand to the table to prop himself up.

"Are you going to be all right?" she asked in a pitiless, dry tone. "Should I go get someone before you have a stroke?"

"Where's your mother?" he asked between fits, though the answer didn't help him curb the emotion.

"Standing in the doorway, wondering what's going on."

Snape looked up to see Hermione entering the room, looking to him for an answer. All he got out was, "Albus is downstairs. She says he's fine. He blew up the porch."

"What?" Hermione exclaimed as she reached them, a smirk turning her lips. "How?"

"His potions set," Snape barely said.

Hermione joined him in the peals of laughter and Annie looked between them both as though they were insane. "Is someone going to tell me what's so funny?" she asked.

After wiping away a few mirthful tears, Hermione answered, "Your father blew up a porch of his own once."

"Really?" Annie asked. "I never got to blow anything up."

"Neither did I," Hermione replied.

"Oh no," Snape said, unable to resist. "Your mother conserved her energies for such things as setting me on fire."

"I did not," Hermione giggled until her memory apparently placed the reference. "I guess I did…I forgot about that."

"You set Dad on fire?"

"A long time ago," Hermione said, still giggling.

"But why?" exclaimed Annie, adding verve to Snape's laughter.

"She thought I was trying to kill Uncle Harry," he answered.

"The thought seemed valid at the time," Hermione explained with a laugh.

Just then, a theatrical voice grabbed Snape's attention.

"Throttle me if you must, but it was an accident."

Albus had entered the room and was standing at Snape's side, his mop of chestnut curls mussed and his eyebrows lightly singed.

"You've never once been throttled." Snape said, chuckling as he put his arm around his son and pulled him against his side. He couldn't believe that the boy would be at Hogwarts in less than a year. Ovid was right about time, Snape thought, because fly it certainly did.

"Oh, I will be after you see the house," Albus sighed, staring at the floor.

Suddenly, Annie asked, "Did you know Mom tried to kill Dad?"

Albus' head snapped up as Hermione interjected, "I did no such thing."

"No, that was in her third year," Snape said nonchalantly. "Of course, your Uncle Remus almost killed us all that night."

Both children appeared mesmerized by the impending story, but Hermione disappointed them. "Yes, we'll tell you all about that on the way to Aunt Molly and Uncle Arthur's. If we don't get a move on, we're going to be late."

"Your mother's right," Snape said at the let down looks on their faces. "Annie, take your brother home and get ready to go. I still have to bottle a few things and then we'll meet you there."

"Fine," Annie sighed, taking her brothers hand and heading for the door. When they reached the doorway, she looked back and said, "But I want all the details this time. I'm missing the Halloween Feast for this, you know."

"You're missing the Halloween Feast for the party, Anastasia." Hermione corrected. "Now go." The two children turned the corner and Hermione turned to Snape sporting a grin. "You just had to bring that up, didn't you?"

"Yes," he smirked, slipping his arms round her waist. They'd been married for fifteen years that very day and he'd stopped arguing about spending their anniversary at the Weasley's ages ago. "Now, I've got Harry's ready, but I still need to bottle Molly's elixir."

"She needs more already?" Hermione asked. "I just saw her on Monday and she said her rheumatism was better?"

A few years ago, Hermione reopened her private practice out of an office on the third floor that sat vacant after an elderly witch retired. She had operated a similar practice in New Orleans before they relocated, but found that she was pregnant again almost immediately after they'd finished the move. They'd been distracted.

"Molly sent me an owl this morning," Snape replied. "She's overworking herself with the party."

"Uncle Ron…" Hermione shook her head and laughed. "Ron and Lavender are supposed to be helping her."

"You know Molly," Snape said. "She's probably following behind them, redoing everything they've already done." He kissed her gently before returning his attention to the cauldron that was now a satisfying shade of orange. "I know I've said this before, but for two people who have no siblings, our children certainly have an abundance of Aunts and Uncles."

"Isn't it wonderful?" Hermione said softly and Snape nodded.

"Is Harry going to make it this time?" he asked.

"I think so," she replied. "Elijah said he's been planning on it and he'd be the one to know. If Harry gets busy at the shop, we'll just have to Floo by and see him."

Again, Snape nodded. After meeting Jonas, Harry took an immense interest in the plant that saved his life as well as the work that Jonas undertook for the citizens of the city. Harry apprenticed and took over the shop when Jonas' health failed. Not surprisingly, when Snape and Hermione relocated, so did Harry, opening the shop in an available building next door to Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes.

The elixir siphoned and bottled, Snape collected his things and extinguished the remaining fires as he made his way toward the door and his waiting wife.

"I can't wait to see Ginny," Hermione said as they entered the hallway. "She's been so busy traveling for the paper that I haven't seen her in months."

Snape warded the doors and smiled, wrapping his arm around her shoulders as he said, "Well…I can't wait to see the porch."