This is the usual disclaimer. I borrowed several characters from J.K. Rowling and promised to give them back and to make no money. Okay, this is the last chapter, and I return all the characters unharmed. I tried to keep Severus, but she noticed and though I negotiated very hard, she refused to let go.

Dear LariLee, thank you again for filling in for i Wondering Witch /i without hesitation; you are simply nice and really a person to like.

This is the final chapter. Please let me know whether you like this story and read also my new story IT WAS NOT ME, IT WAS MY EVIL TWIN

I apologise for the formating. I tried to mark seperate paragraphs, but somehow, it did not work.

Chapter 14

Once every two weeks, Hermione took the time to meet her old pals, this time at The Three Broomsticks. Ginny, Neville, Seamus and Ron were already sitting at the table, chatting vividly, when Hermione rushed in, furious at herself for being late. While she was hanging her cloak, she heard Seamus snarl, "I've always liked DADA but if I could, I would drop it at once. I can't understand how Hermione can stand him. He is the meanest…" That was when he spotted Hermione and stopped; colour creeping in his cheeks. "Oh, Hermione, uhm, hello."

An awkward silence stretched between them; eventually Hermione said, her brows narrowing, "I think I should hear what you wanted to say."

Seamus looked away, embarrassed.

Finally, Ron said, "Hermione, I have always thought that it is your business alone who you date. But I have known you for years and know your standards and your moral attitude. This is not pleasant. Perhaps we should have told you before; Snape has not changed much. He is as cruel and overbearing as he has always been. Maybe, no, of course he behaves differently to you. I did not think he would be completely different now that his camouflage is no longer necessary, things like you kissing a frog and getting a prince. But at least I thought he would be fair now. Well, he has certainly remained a frog, at least as far as the students are concerned. And I really don't know what Harry has done to deserve detention for the rest of the year. It seems to be a kind of revenge from Snape for Harry's behaviour towards you. I know this is not the best situation for you to learn about this, but in fact you should have expected this."

The rest of the night was spent in a not so good mood, and it was early in the evening when everybody went home. Hermione was floored. She knew that Ron had spoken the truth. Harry and Ginny had told her some episodes from the lessons with Snape, and Hermione had become very thoughtful. They have to be wrong. Severus is different now. He'd been a spy before. They are prejudiced against Severus, she tried to convince herself.

She was not that certain anymore several days later when she came to Hogwarts for a surprise visit. The door to Severus' office was a bit ajar and she could distinguish the voices of Neville and Severus.

"Mr. Longbottom, maybe you are under the impression that you would earn good grades for your mere presence or that I would award you additional points for your friendship with certain celebrities. Be assured, your work will only be evaluated for your achievement in class, and so far, you have only produced a painful impression."

"Professor Snape," Neville protested, " I have done my best."

"Well, well, Mr. Longbottom, I am sure, this is your best, but your best abilities are not far from a Squib's. Perhaps you should consider a Muggle profession for your future career. You may see yourself out now; even detention is wasted on you."

Hermione squeezed into a little niche, and Neville did not see her when he left Snape's office, but Hermione saw his face. Though he had learned much in the preceding years he seemed to be reduced to a little child when faced with Severus Snape, and Snape knew and enjoyed it.

In his relationship with Hermione, Severus remained insecure. He had no experience in love affairs, and being in love with a witch twenty years his junior was even more difficult. Granted, he was a hero now, but that was nothing he could Hermione impress with, and the hysteria about the i new hero /i was already ebbing away. Seeing that Snape had remained his usual self, the female students at Hogwarts had moved on to new objects of desire. Severus' social skills were nonexistent; how could he fulfill the expectations of a young woman? She was at university now, surrounded by young men; she was wellknown, a friend to famous Harry Potter, brilliant, friendly and with warm brown eyes to drown in. Of course, the young wizards would see everything he saw, too. She might love him now, but what would happen when she had the opportunity to compare? Contrary to her first years at Hogwarts, she was popular now. She had told him that she loved him, and he had made it clear that she was his. She would never betray him, wouldn't she? Seeing his reflection in the mirror, he was not so sure anymore. Perhaps control was the better part of trust.

Hermione was thrilled. The little study group she had joined was great. Nobody asked whether she was Muggle-born or pureblood, whether she had been Gryffindor, Slytherin or something else, nobody had an interest whether her family was wealthy or not or whether she knew the i right /i people. The only i voucher /i she needed was her intelligence and her willingness to share her knowledge. Obviously, the other students had watched her performance during the lectures and seminars, and eventually, Patrick Seymour, a cheerful, extremely good looking wizard with raven locks and startling blue eyes had approached her and asked whether she would like to join the group. Of course she did! She had felt an immediate companionship with the other three young wizards and four witches. They did not only study but also spent a lot of their spare time together. Patrick seemed to like her and did not hide it, though he knew from the newspapers that she was in a relationship with Severus Snape. He was never pushy, never tried to touch her inadvertantly , but she noticed that he would like a relationship with her if she encouraged him.

Spring finally approaching and the weather becoming warm, Hermione and her new friends decided to do their learning on the lawn of the campus. Patrick showed her a rare Potions book he had purchased in a second-hand bookshop. All members of her group did not only want to become Potions masters and mistresses, but wanted to obtain a doctorate afterwards. This required the concoction of a new potion, and everyone was grateful for old textbooks stimulating the fantasy. Hermione and Patrick were discussing several topics vividly and sharing a lot of laughter, when she suddenly noticed his gaze lingering on her mouth.

Hermione decided to approach the problem in her typical blunt manner. "Patrick, I like you. I really like you, and it's nice to be friends with you..."

"Oh, Hermione, I am glad you say that. I also like very much to be friends with you and perhaps..." He gazed into her eyes.

"You know that I am in a relationship, don't you?" Hermione asked.

"Yes!" Patrick admitted reluctantly, "I hoped it was a rumour, you know, the newspapers always writing about this stuff, Rita Skeeter especially. I've never seen him with you, and I thought... I also could not imagine you with a wizard so much older and, well, not particularly with an outward appearance a girl would dream of. Besides, he's got a certain reputation." Patrick grimaced.

"Patrick, I am really sorry, but I am in a real relationship, It's true, not only rumours; he loves me and I love him. Speaking of the outward appearance, have you ever been judged by your appearance?"

"Hell, yes, that is the main reason that I have no girlfriend yet. The girls have always been interested in my looks, and the smarter ones seemed to think that a guy who looks like me could only be shallow."

Hermione smiled at him. "Then you should understand that I am not that interested in good looks. You are a friend, Patrick, a real good friend, but you will never be more to me." Appeasingly, she laid a hand on his arm.

"Yeah, okay, you have a way with a man's self-esteem." Patrick rose and grinned. "Friends?"

"Yes, friends," Hermione agreed and smiled at him. She laughed aloud, then turned around to grab her books. That was when she, from the corner of her eye, saw a black cat disappear in the tree nearby.

Severus was disappointed, disappointed and embittered. He had been right; he was not a man who was able to keep a woman, but she should have told him. Severus knew he could not compete with the young wizard from her study group. He had checked him out, no ugly past and no girlfriends Patrick Seymour had cast aside. He seemed to like Hermione and vice versa. But Hermione had given Severus no sign that she would end their relationship. Well, he had seen her face after the incident with Longbottom. She had been disappointed in him, though she had not said anything; he had seen it in her eyes. But he'd never thought that she would cheat on him.

They always spent their weekends together, sometimes in Hogsmeade, sometimes in his dungeons, beginning on Fridays with tea. This Friday was no exception. When Hermione entered Severus' quarters, dropped her cloak, and looked at her lover, she knew at once that something was wrong. He appeared as distant and arrogant as he had when he had been her teacher. His eyes held no warmth, and his lips were pressed together. No proper greeting, no kiss, no hug.

"Severus, is anything wrong?" she asked, concerned.

"You tell me ," he answered cryptically.

"Severus, you can't just throw these words at me and think I'd know what your problem is."

"Maybe it's more your problem, maybe I am no longer involved; it didn't take you very long to find a replacement for me. Don't take me for a fool," Severus snapped.

"No longer involved... replacement? What do you... You think I cheated on you?" Hermione asked incredulously.

"Think , my dear? No, I saw you and your young lover, no need for excuses," Snape snarled.

Hermione's eyes widened. "So it was you. When I saw the cat disappear, I had a feeling..."

"Yes, it was me, and as it seems, I was right to watch you. I thought you were different, but perhaps Rita Skeeter was right after all and you were just looking for a famous man. Now that the first wave of excitement is over, you have moved on. Maybe you should have waited with your new lover until he is famous, too," he lashed out. As soon as the hurtful words were spoken, Severus wished he could take them back, but the damage was done.

All colour drained from Hermione's face. "So this is what you think of me," Hermione whispered. "No, Severus, I've never cheated on you. What you saw was harmless. I am only friends with Patrick and told him that it could never be more because I love you and you loved me. But perhaps I was wrong, Severus. You thought me capable of cheating on you; you don't trust me, you spied on me and you saw what you expected to see."

Severus stood there, frozen to the spot. From what and how she had said, he had known at once that she had spoken the truth. She had not cheated on him. Hermione waited, and the silence stretched between them. Severus was unable to utter a word. What could he say? He could not make it undone. What difference would an apology make? He had feared this day would come, he had known. As much as he had tried to change, change for her and for their relationship, he had not succeeded. He was unworthy of her. It was over.

Hermione blinked. She became furious. He did not even try to explain, did not say that he was sorry and loved her. "That's it, Severus? You accuse me of cheating and… You will always think the worst, won't you? A few days ago, I told you that I loved you, but obviously you did not believe me if you thought it necessary to spy on me. When my friends told me that you had not changed, I did not believe them, but you truly haven't. When I saw you with Neville, I could not believe…"

"I know that I failed you, and I accept that our relationship is over now," Severus replied stiffly. He rose and fetched Hermione's cloak, not looking at her. "It is better this way; you will find someone who deserves you. Good-bye, Hermione."

"Good-bye, Severus," Hermione whispered and left his quarters. Her hands were trembling, and she felt numb. It was over and she had to get away, just away. Hoping that she could retain her tears long enough that nobody saw her desperation, Hermione hurried towards the portal. She did not even look back when she heard Ron's voice calling her.

Back in her apartment and the door closing behind her, she sagged against the wall, her legs supporting her no longer. Severus! She loved him. And he had said that he loved her. He had even spoken of being together forever one day, though he had not said the word i marriage /i . Yet, he did not trust her. Why was he so cruel towards his students, why so jealous and distrustful? Hermione sat there, arms wrapped around her, legs drawn to her chest and head on her knees, and wept. Gutwrenching sobs shook her. Eventually, she rose and stumbled to bed, but lay awake, unable to sleep.

Despite his usual harshness, Hermione believed that Severus loved her. The strict man was a passionate lover and brought her to places she had not thought possible. He could be gentle and tender, he could be demanding, and she loved all of it. When he looked at her, Hermione felt beautiful and looking at him made her happy. But inwardly, he had not changed. i I won't change much/i he had said.

Hermione bit her lip and groaned when she realised what this meant. He had actually warned her that he would not transform a large amount. When she had offered him her friendship, she had told him that there was no hero-worship on her part. She had even quoted Dumbledore with his remark about nice people and Death Eaters. She had told Severus that she loved him regardless of what he had done and how he was, but nevertheless she had expected him to become i nice /i so that she could be proud of her personal hero. She had created an image and had expected him to turn into this image. And then, when he had not fulfilled her expectations, she had abandoned him. i She /i had been wrong, not Severus. Love required accepting someone as he was. Not that Severus' behaviour was as it should be, but she had not chosen Severus according to a list of virtues. Nevertheless, she had expected him to shake off the last thirty-eight-years of his life, a life without love and trust. She had heard snippets of how he had grown up before and had insisted that he tell her about his family, and reluctantly he had done so. Even now, when she recalled what Severus had told her, Hermione shuddered.

His mother, Eileen Prince, had been a witch from an ancient pureblood family. She had been a studious and intelligent girl, but timid and plain. She had not had a boyfriend at school and one day made the aquaintance of Tobias Snape, a Muggle. They had met secretly, and after a few months, Eileen had found herself pregnant. She had been abandoned by her family as if infected with plague. i You are dead to us/i they had told her and had disinherited her, leaving her nothing than a dirty old hut in Spinners End, i becoming for a Muggle whore /i .

Eileen had struggled with her new life. Her husband had turned out to be abusive when drunk, but though Eileen was a witch she had never found the strength to defend herself or leave him. It was strange, as if he had drained her off all strength. i If not for you, I would not have married this sorry excuse of a woman/i Severus' father had told him often enough, and Severus had believed it. It was i his /i fault that his mother was so unhappy. Love rendered you weak, Severus had seen, and had sworn he would not be like that; he would seek revenge against those who wronged him. When entering Hogwarts at age eleven, the embittered and disillusioned boy had known more Dark spells than the usual fifth year. He had hated to return to his parents for vacation; only when his sister was born, this changed. Serenita had been an accidenti when Severus' drunk father had raped Eileen. Severus had sworn to protect this little girl who loved him back and had become a beacon in her life.

Eventually, Hermione drifted off into sleep. In her dreams, she saw the lonely boy, his image replaced by the lonely man, saw him stretching out his hand and saw herself rejecting him. When she woke up late the next morning, snippets of this dream still haunted her.

She had known how he had grown up, and she should have accepted him the way he was. She had failed him when he needed her understanding. Being soulmates did not mean to be alike; it meant being like two pieces of a puzzle, helping each other with their deficits and flaws. She remembered times in the lab with Severus, when his patience and calm gave her the strength to continue with an experiment she would have abandoned, times where she would have overlooked things.

Everything had gone wrong last night. Obviously, Severus had always expected this day to come and therefore had not tried to fight or to explain something. She had been too shocked to react. But now she knew. She had to go back, and she had to tell him.

Severus sat at the staff table in the Great Hall, sipping his steaming coffee for breakfast. A casual observer would not have noticed anything different about him. His face seemed to be expressionless, his lips were pressed together firmly. It was Saturday morning, and only a few students were already there. Usually, on Saturdays, Snape had breakfast in his quarters with Hermione. Severus had seen the astonished glance of Potter and had seen that Ron Weasley had pulled him aside, whispering something in his ear. He knew that tomorrow at the latest, everybody would know that they had broken off their relationship. Gossip travelled quickly.

He had decided that going through the motions was the best he could do now. Perhaps, living on with his usual routine would make him forget. For months, he had feared the day she would leave him. It had been inevitable. When he saw how she had dealt with her friends, her family and the society, he had hoped against all odds. She had accepted his solitary and brooding personality. But then he had seen her become silent and disappointed, realising that he would remain the same menacing and unfair kind of man he had always been. Severus had struggled for change and failed. But his crucial mistake had been his jealousy and his mean and unfair accusations. This was how he had ruined everything.

Severus rose. He had only drunk his coffee, not being able to eat anything. He would take his usual rounds in the corridors and then return to his chambers. And woe betide the student who would so much as think happy thoughts in his presence!

The shower had refreshed her, but Hermione's head was still throbbing with a terrible headache. She pulled on a pair of jeans and a shirt and fetched her cloak when she heard a knock on the door. Oh, she had no time for visitors now, she would tell them to come back another time; Hermione yanked the door open and looked at Harry, who entered without further greeting, closing the door behind him.

"You!" Hermione spat. "Oh, I can guess what you want. You've heard that I've split up with Severus and now you are coming to offer your i comfort /i again. But I remember the last time when you dropped me like a hot potato when you realised that Severus and I were an item. I also remember your remark about dogs and fleas. So put a sock in it and get lost, Harry! By the way, you are too late, I am on my way back to Severus."

"Good!"

"See yourself out and don't bother coming... Good?"

"Hermione," Harry said in a low voice, avoiding her gaze. "I have to tell you something very important." He paused, not sure how to continue.

"I am waiting, Harry," Hermione said, crossing her arms over her chest, neither her tone nor her gaze forgiving.

"You know that I have hated Snape all these years, but... Uhm, several weeks ago, I had an encounter with him that showed me that he is not evil. I..." Harry paused again, blushing, and obviously too embarrassed to continue.

"I don't understand. What do you want?" Hermione was confused.

"This morning, Ron told me that he saw you yesterday, coming from Snape's quarters, obviously on the verge of tears. When Snape was alone at breakfast, it seemed clear that you've split up. Ron also told me about your conversation at The Three Broomsticks. He assumed that Snape had finally driven you away with his cruelty and I... I knew that I had to tell you something. You know that Snape gave me detention for the rest of the year, and everybody wondered what I had done. Hermione, I attacked him. I attacked him with the Cruciatus Curse. He did not tell Dumbledore, did not get me expelled." Harry's raspy voice was almost inaudible, and his eyes were brimming with tears. "I don't know what happened between you, but I wanted you to know that he is not evil." Silence stretched between them; finally, Harry turned and headed towards the door when Hermione's voice stopped him.

"Harry, I am glad that you told me."

When Harry gazed into her face, he saw no accusation, only relief. With a last lopsided smile, he left.

She knew his passwords, and as she had assumed he had not even bothered to change them; she lifted the wards and entered. Severus' chambers were empty. Probably he was taking his rounds. Hermione looked around. His usually meticulous living-room was a mess. Books were scattered on the floor, some of them even face down. Two empty bottles of wine and firewhisky lay next to the couch, shards of glass next to the wall. Hermione blinked. What had she done to him! When she had left him, he had not said a word, had kept all his emotions inside, and afterwards all his desperation had broken loose. She sat down on a chair and waited.

When Severus returned to his chambers, he noticed the lifted wards at once. Noone besides himself, Dumbledore and Hermione knew his password. A hostile intruder would not have been this careless, but one could never be too wary. Severus drew his wand and entered cautiously.

Hermione rose when she saw him enter. Severus' gaze scrutinised her. Her hair was a mess, her eyes puffy and red. What did she want? His promise to change, his oath never to be jealous again, his apology? He knew it was futile.

Hermione drew near and looked up to him, hesitatingly laying a hand on his arm . She swallowed and gazed at Severus with pleading eyes. "Severus, I was wrong, please forgive me. I had no right to be disappointed in you. You have every right to be disappointed in me . I expected you to change somehow, now that your role as a spy is over. I told you that I loved you, and then, when I had the chance to prove it, I failed you. I love you so much. Please forgive me..." Tears streamed down her cheeks.

Severus could not believe his ears. She apologised to him ? "Hermione!" he interrupted hoarsely. He touched her face tenderly, wiping her tears away and drew her in his arms. "I love you, Hermione. " Then he stepped back a little, still holding her hands. "There is something I want you to know. I have always thought that an apology is futile unless I am able not to repeat my mistake. I am sorry for what I said to you, more than I can ever tell. I wish I could take back these words; you deserved none of them. But not even now, I can promise you that I'll never be jealous again. From the first day of our relationship, I feared to lose you because of how I am. I tried to change, but..."

"You changed, Severus, more than you know. Harry told me..."

"Potter?" Surprise and hurt flickered across Severus' face. "This is why you came back?" he whispered.

"No, Severus, I was on my way to you when Harry knocked on my door and told me what he did to you. What Harry told me only confirmed my decision. The Severus of the past would gladly have Harry expelled. The Severus of the past would not have apologised, no matter what had happened.." She looked up at him, searching his face.

"You see how I am; I will always believe the worst and will always fail you," Severus murmured. He felt helpless. He so longed to be with Hermione forever, yet he was afraid to disappoint her again.

"I do not mistake you for a prince charming, but I believe in you, Severus, I believe in us; together we will succeed. -- Severus, will you marry me?"

Severus was stunned and at a loss for words, but then his kiss gave her the answer she longed for.

Finally, they broke apart; determinedly, Hermione began to unbutton Severus' frockcoat.

"What are you doing?"

"Paying tribute to my hero, Severus." She smiled again, the smile he loved so much, like the cat who had got the cream pot.

The engagement was announced by Dumbledore in the Great Hall the following day. The party followed a few weeks later. Hermione's parents still did not fully approve of their daughter's choice -- a future husband who was nearly as old as the bride's father did not exactly fill them with joy.

Hermione's mother wondered what Hermione saw in him. Under no circumstances would she consider him handsome. This nose, well, and those teeth! Later on, she pulled Hermione aside. "Hermione, your young man, you should send him to our dental practice as soon as possible; I am positive that something can be done with his teeth. I don't want to think of what our customers would say if they saw our son-in-law like that."

Hermione's parents seemed to be a little consoled though when they saw her obvious happiness and the way her fiancé looked at her. Besides, Harry had spoken to them and apologised for the things he had said about Severus.

It could have been the happiest day in the life of Severus Snape, if not for an observation which rendered him nearly speechless. His sister, Serenita, and Charlie Weasley were gazing into each other's eyes in a way that made his blood run cold. How could he bear to be related by marriage to a Weasley? Before his inner eye, he saw seven redheaded brats calling him Uncle Sevie . Oh, no!

Neville followed Snape's flabbergasted gaze and grinned. Oh, yes!