DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
AN: I can see how the ending of the last chapter felt abrupt, but to me, Hermione's last line meant, "I publicly acknowledge my relationship with Severus, and I'm happy about it." And Severus's actions earlier that morning meant, "I am willing to expose myself emotionally and trust another person not to hurt me." And those were the two barriers I was trying to get them past, so to me, the task which I had set out to write was completed. However, I'd still like to share with you my little vision of how their life together would have proceeded. And, yes, give you one big, fat, juicy grape (well, actually a lemon) to go home with.
WARNING: This chapter is rated M (R).
Survivors - Epilogue
"I hope you're not planning on mentioning the appointment tonight. There'll be enough false congratulations as it is." Snape stood looking tensely into the middle distance of their bedroom while his wife adjusted his collar.
"Of course I'm going to mention it. They'll all know in a couple of weeks anyway, and they'll be so disappointed that we kept it from them." She smoothed the material down and plucked away a long gray hair which had drifted down onto his robe. "And no one's congratulations will be false." She smiled up at him, putting her arms around his waist, which was just as slim as it had been thirty years earlier. He wore his hair in the same style as well, shoulder-long and straight, but it had become thinner and gray, and left him with a prominent forehead.
He looked down at her brown eyes behind the small round glasses she had to wear all the time now. They were full of warmth and love, which had grown with the experiences of their shared life. Though he had continued to be ostracized and vilified, Hermione had stood behind him and given him a reason to keep living; more than that, to thrive. She had encouraged him to take up his potions and spell research again, and he had contributed much to both fields, which success had led to him being viewed with something approaching regard in the wizarding world, or at least among the more educated members thereof. His name would, however, forever be associated with the murder of Dumbledore; their daughter had already encountered some not insignificant prejudice, which she met with characteristic temper.
He sighed, trying hard to put on a vexed face. "They'll expect me to make a speech," he said, as if this were an extremely distasteful proposition.
Hermione laughed and squeezed him tighter against her. "It'll be good practice for the start of term feast."
He cocked an eyebrow and put his arms around her comfortably round form as well. "I shall be doing away with that, to start with."
Hermione's face fell. "No, you can't! That's been a Hogwarts tradition for over two hundred years."
"A mere fad, then," he said haughtily. "I always found the interminable wait for dinner during the Sorting and speeches tedious in the extreme, and resented being made to sit through them year after year. As Headmaster, I intend not to do anything I dislike, if at all possible.
"We will set the departure of the Hogwarts Express at half two in the afternoon, rather than half four. They may have tea on the train." Although still called a train, the vehicle in question was one of the newest generation of magnetogliders, originally developed by Muggles, to be sure, but cleverly adapted to the quirks of magical fields. The new technology meant that the trip from London to Hogwarts, previously an all-day undertaking, could now be made in just over an hour. This had necessitated a late departure, in order to maintain the tradition of an evening feast upon arrival. "Upon their arrival," Snape was saying, "we will handle the Sorting as quickly and efficiently as possible. I may even be able to convince the Hat to dispense with those silly rhymes. Then it's off to their common rooms, and let their Heads of House deal with them. Dinner will be a normal affair."
"You're a spoil sport, you know that?" she said with a smile.
"My job will not be to encourage fun, it will be to impose and enforce rules in order to guarantee the highest possible quality of instruction. Now, I suggest that we get going. You've made us late with your talk of this Headmaster business." He stepped back, but not before giving her a quick kiss on the cheek to soften the impact of his words.
Hermione smirked. "I do tend to go on, don't I?"
"A Muggle restaurant?" Snape stopped short in the lane, a look of aversion on his face. "Could we not, just this once, patronize a wizarding establishment?" They had Flooed in to Diagon Alley, whereupon Hermione had revealed their destination for the evening.
"It belongs to friends of Catie's," she explained, pulling her husband along. "She assured me they're giving us a private room, so we can 'do our tricks', as they put it, without startling the other customers."
"Hecate," Snape said, putting proper emphasis on the first syllable, which their daughter had dropped as an adult, "spends entirely too much time in the company of Muggles. She doesn't show the proper respect for her heritage. Not unlike many of her generation, I might add," he grumbled, giving a passing youth in Muggle clothing a hard stare. There was hardly a witch or wizard under fifty who wore wizarding dress outside of uniforms or formal attire anymore.
"Tonight she's Catie," Hermione admonished him. "And she's the hostess, and you're the guest of honour. Honour, Severus. She loves you and is trying to honour you."
"I didn't ask her to," he frowned.
"But she wants to. We all want to." Hermione squeezed her husband's hand, feeling the fine bones underneath the pale skin. She had always loved his hands, feeling them in hers, and feeling them on her. They looked delicate but harbored great strength and expressiveness.
Snape looked down at his companion, feeling a familiar surge of affection. He had learned that, although he was generally unworthy of such attention, the mere act of accepting it was a declaration of his love for her. He wasn't good with emotional words; they bogged him down, distracted him and embarrassed him. But he had found that there were many more ways to let her know how he felt about her; much more mutually satisfying ways.
The first time they had made love, really made love, not just had sex, had nearly sent him back into his shell for good. He had been unprepared for the overwhelming rush of pure emotion that he had experienced at witnessing the ecstacy which he had wrought in her, at the knowledge that he had wanted only her pleasure. It had felt so good that it had physically hurt, and his self-protective mechanisms had recoiled from the utter giving up of self that that experience had been. And also from the realization that, once having experienced it, he would crave it again and again. But his personal code of honour, although warped in the eyes of some, hadn't allowed him to reject her again in order to maintain his solitude. And so he had sacrificed himself, as he had so many times before, this time not for a Cause, but for a person. He had let himself go, had willingly allowed another human being to have power over him.
That had been the hardest step, and it hadn't been immediate. The memories of being controlled by father, and, later, master, through humiliation, intimidation, and physical pain, were too powerful for that. But Hermione had continued to love and accept him even when he balked at her. He knew he hadn't made it easy for her, but he had made a consistent and conscientious effort never again to assume the role of the intimidator himself in their relationship. He had been mostly successful, more so with Hermione, perhaps less so with Hecate. Whenever he had caught himself belittling or teasing their daughter, or being tempted to slap her, he had removed himself from the scene; this was in and of itself perhaps not a bad thing, but the result was that, in the main, it had been Hermione who had done the disciplining in their household. He had the feeling that Hecate saw him as a distant father; admittedly, he had been. But he had certainly been better than Tobias; hadn't he?
They had passed through the Leaky Cauldron (under new management since Tom had retired a good decade earlier) and out onto the brightly-lit streets of London. The organic diode lamps illuminated the city to near daylight intensity. Snape much preferred the muted, homely glow of the luminous globes in the wizarding alley. They didn't have far to go, so they walked, not drawing too many odd looks despite their robes. It was hard to shock modern Londoners.
The restaurant was in one of those ancient granite buildings that used to house department stores. Online shopping and cheap import shops had spelled the death of most of the large emporiums, and the buildings had mostly been converted to cramped, overpriced living quarters, some with businesses on the ground floor, like this one.
"You must be here for Cate's party!" a young, bald man greeted them with a toothy smile as they entered. He seemed to have been waiting for them; or at least, for strangers in robes. He was about to lead them through the crowded room when he suddenly turned and did a double take. "You're not-- Are you Professor Snape?" he asked, looking at him curiously.
Snape drew himself up to his full height, which was just slightly greater than the other man's. "I am he," he acknowledged in a tone of voice that betrayed the expectation of a challenge or insult to follow.
"Flip my jig!" the man exclaimed, his face suddenly lighting up in real pleasure. "So you're Catie's old man!" He grabbed Snape's hand and started pumping it up and down. "Thrilling, what she's told us. Wish I could believe half of it." He grinned. "Come on, then, think they're all ready." He gestured for the wizarding couple to follow him to a door in the back of the room.
"Did he say, 'Flip my jig'?" Snape whispered to Hermione incredulously.
"He did," Hermione nodded, holding onto his elbow as they squeezed past the diners.
"Hmgph," Snape grunted.
"He's here!" the restauranteur announced, throwing open the door to the private dining room with a practiced flourish. It was about half as large as the main dining room, but instead of the cramped clusters of chairs around tiny tables, there were two long banquet tables set up parallel to each other. The room was illuminated, Snape was pleased to see, not with electric lights, but with the same magical candles that were used in Hogwarts.
The loud murmur inside swelled quickly to shouts of greeting as Severus and Hermione's presence was noticed, and then expanded into applause from the two dozen or so witches and wizards who were assembled there. There were some colleagues from Hogwarts, including the recently retired Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall; a couple of members of the old Order of the Phoenix, among them Kingsley Shacklebolt; a few professionals and researchers with whom Snape had worked amicably over the years,; and the Snapes' three best friends: Remus Lupin, Ron Weasley with his wife Chee Sook, and Draco Malfoy with his current companion. The couple stood at the front of the room, Hermione with a wide grin and Snape with a look of discomfiture.
"There you are!" A tall, striking-looking young witch wearing the wide trousers and skimpy halter top that was the current rage of Muggle fashion broke out of the group and approached them with a grin that matched Hermione's. She embraced Hermione warmly, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
"Hi, Catie," Hermione smiled. "This looks wonderful."
"Happy birthday, Father," Hecate said to Snape, seemingly not knowing exactly how to approach him. She settled for placing a hand on his shoulder and kissing him quickly on the cheek.
"Thank you," Snape replied formally, as ever slightly disconcerted to see his own black eyes looking back at him from a face that was in nearly every other way a replica of Hermione's. She had also inherited his flaccid black hair, but she dealt with it in a manner reminiscent of her mother's one-time drastic response to her own hair problems: she had it cut down to a few millimetres in length.
"Thanks, Enzo," Hecate said to the Muggle who had escorted them in.
"Anything, Catie," he replied affectionately. "Any more show up, I'll fly them back for you."
Snape raised an eyebrow at his daughter. "Fly?"
"Private joke," she muttered, rolling her eyes, and shooed Enzo out with a playful swat. "Now then," she said to the guests, rubbing her hands in anticipation. "What should we have first? Presents, cake, or speeches?"
Snape was already steeling himself for a long, boring, and above all, embarrassing night, when he caught Remus snickering out of the corner of his eye, and Minerva's eyes twinkling merrily.
"Gotcha!" Hecate burst out, pointing at Snape with a look of glee. Everyone else smiled and chuckled.
"Catie," Hermione admonished her, but she, too, was suppressing her amusement.
"I know how much you hate all that stuff," Hecate said, still smiling mischievously. "So come on, sit down, the sooner you eat, the sooner you can get out of here."
"Thank you for going along with this, Severus," Hermione said some time later, when the meal was well underway. It had been, it must be said, punctuated a couple of times by toasts and congratulations, offered mainly by the academics, and Snape had graciously accepted it all with a polite smile. "It's important to them, you know," Hermione murmured, leaning close to him. "Hecate and your friends. To show how they feel about you."
Snape grunted noncommittally. "How much longer do we have to sit here? My legs are beginning to fall asleep."
"Until they're done paying you their respects," Hermione replied. "And I'll make sure your extremities don't fall asleep." She squeezed his knee under the table.
Snape gave her a sideways look, the corner of his mouth twitching.
It was nearly midnight by the time Hermione and Severus were able to Floo back to their own house. Truth be told, the wizard was tired. At seventy-five he wouldn't consider himself elderly yet, but pushing the boundaries of middle age. When he thought back to how spry Albus had been during all the years that he had known him...and by the time Snape had started at Hogwarts, Dumbledore had already been over 130. Amazing.
True, mentally, he was as sharp as ever, perhaps even more so; he was able to combine decades of accumulated facts and experiences more quickly, efficiently, and creatively than he ever had. Just in the past five years, he'd registered thirteen new potions, including three that worked in non-humans, achieved major improvements in six more, and made important progress toward spellwork to manipulate time. Up until now, time manipulation had always had to be done mechanically, through a Time Turner or a Flashback, which enabled an individual to relive a short interval of their life. Snape, and others, believed there was also a way to remove oneself from the flow of time by means of a spell.
In terms of his magic as well, then, Snape felt as powerful as ever, if not more so. It took less effort for him to cast spells, and their effects were stronger and lasted longer. His potions were among the most potent available, and he commanded a high price for them.
Physically, however, he had to admit he was no longer in his prime. He couldn't take the dungeon stairs with quite as much verve any more, and he used magic more often to move items around, especially heavier things like cauldrons and vats of liquids. And, he didn't feel the urge to bed Hermione as urgently or as often as twenty, or even ten, years ago. However, tonight, with the occasion having caused him to reflect back on their life together (had he even had a life before her?), his affection for her was surging and making itself physically apparent.
"And? How does it feel to be seventy-five?" Hermione asked as she changed into her nightdress, seemingly reading his thoughts.
"Must you keep reminding me?" he growled, all the while eyeing his wife with approval. She had always had soft, fleshy curves, and the years had only emphasized them.
"It makes me feel important, being married to such a venerable wizard." She flipped her hair out of the back of the gown and adjusted the material around her bosom, flashing Severus a sly smile. She knew that look in his eye all too well. "Go and get ready for bed, Severus."
Ten minutes later, Hermione was already lying comfortably under the covers of her bed when Severus came out of the bathroom, extinguished the light, and slipped into his own bed next to her. He had made a brave effort over two years to sleep in the same bed with her, but had finally admitted, rather shamefacedly and with dark circles under his eyes, that it simply wasn't working for him. The subconscious knowledge that there was someone else right next to him was too disturbing to his sleep. They had found the solution of two beds side-by-side to be acceptable to both of them. They were both able to slide over to the other person for intimacy and contact; in fact, they started out that way most nights when they both went to bed at the same time. But Severus was also able to withdraw to his own space, which he needed.
Now, Severus immediately moved over his own mattress and onto Hermione's, putting his arm over her and nuzzling her neck.
Hermione giggled throatily. "Goodness, that doesn't feel like a seventy-five-year-old." She ran her hand up his arm and onto his bare chest. It excited her that he hadn't even bothered to put on his pajama top. She slid her hand down to check-- nor pants. Oh my.
"And how would you know?" he responded, placing gentle kisses up her neck and jaw until he reached her mouth.
"Mmm," Hermione answered, eagerly welcoming Severus' tongue against hers with a flood of pleasure. If it had been entirely up to her, they would have made love more often, but she knew that his age, and its physical manifestations, were slowly catching up with him. True, there were potions and spells that could encourage or enhance his libido, but she felt that there would be something tawdry about using them. He probably would have, for her, had she said anything. After he had died of embarrassment. And so she would never mention it. She had knowingly married a man who was twenty years her senior, after all, and not (just) for the sex. Their sex life hadn't been fantastic, or entirely easy, in the early days and weeks. But she knew that Severus was trying, and she had tried, too, to be patient and understanding, and as they had grown closer emotionally, their physical intimacy had also grown in intensity and depth, until neither of them was left wanting in any capacity. She could honestly say that Severus completely fulfilled her, in every way: physically, emotionally, intellectually.
His breath was hot and fast on her now, moving down to her neck again as he caressed her breast with his hand, scratching over her nipple through the nightgown with his thumbnail. Hermione wriggled up against him and stroked his back, gently pressing his body closer to hers. It was true, what she had said about feeling important to be married to him. Even before he had become venerated publically for his achievements, she had recognized his power, and that had been a great aphrodisiac. Now, too, she was well aware of the increase in his abilities, and the knowledge that he was still faithful to her, and that he was deeply emotionally bound to her, only increased her desire for him.
He shifted down and started to tease her with his teeth instead, while with his hand he gathered up the skirt of her nightgown and shoved it up so that he could massage her inner thigh, letting his thumb brush over her most sensitive spot, then applying an intermittent, gentle pressure through her knickers.
She was cradling his head against her breast and was about to move her leg farther away in order to give him more access and signal her desire, when she suddenly remembered; she pushed him back and sat up.
"It's your birthday today," she whispered, then leaned down to take his lower lip between her teeth. She hitched up her skirt and straddled him, running her hands up and down the length of his body and kissing him deeply. She could feel the hard ridge of his excitement under her bottom, and she rubbed herself against it.
"Evanesco," Severus muttered against her mouth, and she suddenly felt hot skin slipping over hot skin. She lost more undergarments that way. Deciding to act before he Vanished her nightgown as well, she straightened up and luxuriantly removed the garment. Severus' hands were quick to reach out and feel her waist, squeeze her hips. She leaned forward and was immediately rewarded with his fingers expertly plying the heavy orbs of flesh brushing against his chest. She could just barely make out his eyes in the semi-darkness; they were open, watching her, alert to her every response. She loved that he watched her, that he wanted to see her reacting to him.
She slid her pelvis back and forth against his, and heard his breath catch, then increase in intensity in response. Reaching down, she lifted him up to the right angle and positioned herself just over him, letting him just brush her opening, dipping down briefly, then away again. It was a decisive moment; he had lost his temper with her more than once at this point and flipped her over, snatching the control away from her. But tonight the sensations were not overwhelming him, driving him to distraction; they were more mellow, with a deeper tone, more like pure dark chocolate than fancy, syrupy confections, and he enjoyed the fact that Hermione wanted to please him perhaps more than the physical pleasure itself.
Finally, she lowered herself all the way and leaned forward again to kiss him slowly and languorously, at the same time clenching him tightly inside her, before she began to move again. They had been together for thirty-two years. Thirty-two years of discovery, disappointment, delight, despair, drama, diapers, depression, and devotion. It wasn't all present at all times, but tonight, it was. Tonight, as they moved together, the reality of their shared life was expressed in every breath, every gasp, every contraction, and every tear.
Afterwards, Severus lay with his thin arms around his wife, and held her until she slept, recalling another night, long ago, when he had done the same thing. And now, as then, he gave up a little bit of comfort, a single night of sleep, for the woman that he loved.
AN: Gosh. Moved myself to tears with that, I did. --sniff-- That's really all, guys. Hope you enjoyed it. Send cookies if you did. Cheers!