These characters and their setting are the property of J. Rowling and her associates and affiliates.

Chapter 19: Epilogue

"You look curiously despondent," said Dumbledore, who had invaded Snape's office with the aparent dubious intent of dispensing cheer.

Snape did his best to scowl and bear it, hoping he wouldn't have to swallow too many lemon drops to get the meddling old man to leave. He didn't relish the thought of telling the headmaster what was really bothering him, but of course it wouldn't come to that. If he just kept his cool, Dumbledore would eventually give up. Short of Occlumency, there was no real way his employer could make him spill his guts, and he knew Albus was too much of a gentleman to use that in anything other than an emergency. Severus continued to keep quiet while desperately willing his superior not to notice his nervousness. Dumbledore eyed him shrewdly.

"This is Quite a change from your usual glee at seeing our students leave, Severus-- and highly unlike you." He gave Snape a knowing look. "But I think I know what's troubling you. It is Miss Granger, is it not?"

Severus looked up at him sharply, watchful wariness evident in every line. How in Merlin's name had he found out?

"What do you mean?" he asked in alarm.

"Oh, I have eyes, Severus. I couldn't fail to see how you've been looking at her. And... I've noticed the way she looks at you on occasion as well."

A fierce wave of incredulous joy shot through Snape upon hearing that. Was Albus right? Could she really have looked at him like that? But he quelled that thought swiftly. It couldn't be true. It was outside the realm of reason! Dumbledore was most certainly hallucinating. But... Why wasn't the old man angry at him? Why wasn't he in trouble? Dumbledore should be shocked that one of his teachers was leching after a student!

"You needn't look at me like that!" scoffed the headmaster. "These things DO happen, and far more frequently than people suspect. And I have absolute trust that you've been a perfect gentleman around her. You're too much a stickler for rules to have been anything else! Oh, don't think I condemn you, Severus, my boy. I know exactly how you feel. After all, I was young once myself..."

Snape's eyes bugged in disbelief. "You're not telling me that YOU...?"

Dumbledore's face turned mildly admonishing. "I also followed the rules, Severus. It is always good to do so-- even if I'm now often accused of encouraging students to break them. But I never condone the breaking of serious regulation-- only foolish little school rules. Conventions are there for a reason. But happily, the strictures regarding you and Miss Granger will soon be over. In a few short days she will no longer be your student."

"But she will leave here!" Snape spat in frustration. "She will go on with her life, go on to bigger and better things, and she'll forget me as soon as she's out. I'll probably never see her again."

"I suppose it would be completely out of the question to suggest to you that you court her..." was Dumbledore's dry suggestion. "Your intentions are eventually honorable, are they not?"

"Well of course they are, but..."

Severus sighed bleakly. How did a teacher go about courting a former student? What was the protocol? Did he send her candy and flowers out of the blue? Should he show up at the Granger door, get down on one knee, and formally ask permission to woo her?

It wasn't as if they had the proper history to begin a courtship. They didn't have an equal, casual friendship to build on, or a situation where they could run into each other often. How could it be possible to slowly craft a relationship, to convince her the idea even had merit, if he could only see her sporadically? It would never happen. Maybe they did have all the right qualities for a successful partnership, but as in potion making, the ingredients had to be combined in the right way and in the right setting. With him here at the school, bogged down with Dumbledore's summer potion projects, and her out there fancy free, he wouldn't stand a chance. Some young man on the spot would catch her eye and claim her.

Dumbledore broke into his reverie. "Of course the easiest way to solve your problem would be to keep Miss Granger here. And of course there is a way. Why don't you make her your apprentice?"

"How could that possibly solve my problem?" Snape growled sourly.

"Well," the headmaster began patiently as if talking to a very stubborn child, "She would be here... working closely with you... and sharing quarters very nearby your own..."

"I realize that, Albus! I'm not a DUNCE! But she'd be my student again!"

Albus shook his head. "You're being extremely obtuse, you know..."

"What's the matter with you?" Snape shouted, jumping up explosively and pacing around the room. "Don't you understand? I want to f—k her, Albus! Shag, shtup, screw, bang, tumble, YOU supply the terminology! Does the word "Coitus" register? I WANT her... CARNALLY! And yes my intentions are ultimately honorable, but I can't help the fact that I want her NOW! How can I possibly take her as my apprentice? I'd never be able to keep my hands off her, no matter how hard I tried. Eventually I'd violate the student/teacher boundaries and you'd end up having to FIRE me!" He glowered at Albus.

"Dear dear, Severus," said Dumbledore sadly. "Words can't express how disappointed I am with you."

Snape slumped, hanging his head in shame.

"This isn't like you at all, my boy. Not up to your usual standards. Normally you're far sharper than this! Why, in all the years I've known you, this is the very first time I've ever seen you... fail to do your homework."

Severus stopped pacing and looked up, confused. "Homework? What the hell are you talking about?"

Dumbledore's reply was mockingly stern. "Have you ever bothered to READ the rules of apprenticeship?"

The Potions master just stared at him blankly.

"Obviously not, I see. And shame on you! How can you call yourself a serious teacher if you're not up on all the rules and regulations?" He paused and considered Snape's stunned expression. "Close your mouth, my boy. You'll let in flies." Severus shut his mouth automatically.

The headmaster snapped his fingers and a scroll appeared. "I suggest you read these rules now. I'll even supply you a copy." He handed the scroll to the almost dumbfounded Snape and the old familiar twinkle flashed in his eyes. "My gift to you, Severus. I think you'll find it illuminating. Enjoy!"

He turned with a chuckle and left the room while Severus grabbed the scroll and untied it with eager, slightly trembling, fingers.

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Hermione descended the stairs on the way down to the dungeons with a flutter of sad expectation in her heart. She was going to see him one last time, even if it was just to pick up the Cheerleading manuals and her computer. It had been a task she had been procrastinating for weeks. After all, once she had them back, there would be no future excuses to see Professor Snape out of class. It was silly of course, but Hermione had felt, however illogically, that if she kept putting it off, that moment of parting might somehow never come. She had liked to think there was always one more meeting to look forward to.

But she had left it off for too long. The professor himself had sent her an owl that morning with a quick, terse, very "Snapish" type note.

Miss Granger,

Come to my office to pick up the Cheerleading material you left with me.

Tonight after the Leaving Feast would be acceptable.

S.S.

She had felt a little ashamed after reading that summons. He must think her forgetful and negligent to have left her things with him for so long-- or perhaps even daft. (If anyone knew how she felt about Snape they would certainly say she was crazy!) And well, she thought soberly as butterflies staged a brawl in her stomach, she had been busy with the N.E.W.T.'s. Terribly busy. She had spent every possible moment studying-- hours and days at a time. The fact that she had thought of him, seen his face in her mind throughout all of it, was something she had to keep secret. She could only imagine Snape's sarcastically raised eyebrow if he knew.

Snape was sitting at his desk when she entered the office, shiny curtains of raven black hair half obscuring his odd, homely face. He was scratching something onto a parchment but paused as she entered, looking up to pierce her with dark, agate eyes.

"Miss Granger," he said. "You have neglected to take back your Cheerleading manuals... and your computer."

"I'm sorry sir," she said quickly. "I was a little preoccupied, you see."

"The N.E.W.T.'s. Yes, I understand. Knowing you, I suppose you studied every waking hour... and quite a few of your non-waking hours as well."

"Um, yes. I rather did."

He nodded. "I was the same way. But now that they're thankfully over, you can go on with the rest of your life. I'm sure you did well. You were one of the best students Hogwarts ever had."

Hermione blushed a little under this unexpected praise.

"For a Gryffindor..." he added sardonically, an eye brow raised her way.

"Yes sir." She suppressed a smile.

"So what are your plans upon leaving?"

"I don't know really. I'm sure I will have to look for work. Mr. Weasley says he has a few possibilities for me at the Ministry." She sighed. "I can't imagine a life of office work though. It just doesn't sound very exciting. But the only other offer I've had is for research and development at Fred and George's joke shop, and that sounds a little too exciting. I think it's sad that the Wizarding World doesn't offer university degrees. What I really would like to do is to keep on studying."

"You could always apprentice yourself," he said softly.

"Yes, I suppose I could." was her absent reply. Hermione picked up the top book in the pile on the desk. It was Cheerleading: The ultimate guide." She looked at Professor Snape. "You know, I could leave the books with you. That way you'll have references if you're going to help next year's team." And maybe I could come back sometime to visit, and pick the books up later...

Snape frowned slightly. "I don't suppose I'll be going on with it next year. It was an experiment, you know... and a punishment from the headmaster as well." He smirked at Hermione from a wry face and she worked hard to keep her expression bland. She knew it had to be a punishment!

"Now that the point has been proved," he went on, "I can't imagine I'll be forced to continue. It would be problematic anyway. Our present team is losing six members since you, the Patils, and the Miss's Ramsbottom, Sweet, and Brockelhurst have all just graduated. Whoever takes the team next year will have to build it up from ground level. I certainly wouldn't attempt to do that without you, Miss Granger. You were the actual coach, after all."

This time Hermione did smile. "I think you'd make a great coach!" she told him warmly.

"I'd rather be a Faculty Advisor than a coach. I do know my limitations."

"I understand," she said looking sad.

"You and I made an excellent team ourselves, didn't we?" he added quietly.

"Yes. We did." Hermione had a lump in her throat. "And it was so much fun. It was one of the best times I ever had and I'm really going to miss it." Her voice trembled a little as she added. "I'm going to miss you too, Professor."

Tears were stinging in her eyes, so she didn't look at him. She didn't want him to see her foolishness. This was it. This was really goodbye. If only there was some other way she could still be near him... She heard, rather than saw, the professor get up and walk around his desk to approach her. Perhaps he saw the tears. Perhaps he felt sorry for her, or maybe she had irritated him and he was just going to hurry her out of his office. Hermione wondered if she could give him another quick hug before running out of his life forever...

"I shall miss you as well, Miss Granger," he said, in a hushed tone. "If you do indeed leave. Though you needn't actually leave at all. Why not remain here at Hogwarts and continue our partnership? You could stay on as an apprentice, keep on with your studies, and coach the new team on the side."

Hermione shook her head. "That sounds wonderful, Professor. But it isn't possible. There are no apprentice positions open for next year."

"There's one in Potions."

She looked up at him in surprise. "Potions!" she exclaimed. "You mean, be your apprentice?"

"Well, that would be the logical conclusion, would it not?" His lips twitched ironically.

"But you don't take apprentices! Everyone knows that. You never have!"

He moved closer. "That is true. I don't, or rather I didn't... until now. I will make an exception in your case, Hermione. I'll take you and only you," he said softly. "If you are willing..."

Their eyes met and suddenly Hermione realized that he wanted her-- really wanted her, and that he also knew she wanted him (and that he knew that she knew...) There was a breathless minute where reality seemed suspended, and then he reached forward and brushed his hand against her face. She didn't move, didn't dare break the spell. He was touching her... coming closer... fingers tickling into her hair. Without thinking about what she was doing, Hermione leaned forward, eager for what would follow. And then he was kissing her, mouth gentle but insistent, warm, sensual, incredibly fulfilling...

Hermione kissed him back for a few seconds, her mouth opening joyfully to his, and her arms moving up to encircle him. He was kissing her! He actually wanted her! Oh how tender he was, yet so wildly exciting... Strong, lean arms tightened around her as he pulled her into a passionate embrace, and Hermione felt like melting. This was what she had always wanted. She could do this forever.

Then reality hit an instant later. Hermione suddenly stiffened and her blissfully closed eyes opened wide in alarm. What was she doing? This was a TEACHER! What the world were they thinking? She tried to pull away from him, twisting her head and bringing her hands up to push against his chest. Snape, however, didn't seem willing to let her go.

"P...P...P...Professor..." she began breathlessly.

"Severus," he corrected, kissing her again, and she gasped as his tongue tickled deliciously around her mouth. A bomb seemed to explode somewhere in her gut sending hot, tingling fire all through her. Her limbs trembled. Oh how she wanted him-- every bit of him! But she couldn't. She just shouldn't! She had to stop this, and soon. Another few minutes and she'd never be able to stop.

"S...Severus," she stammered, gasping for air between kisses.

"Less talk, Hermione," he whispered, his sensual tone sending her waves of desire. She rallied every ounce of her strength.

"Severus, wait..."

"Hush, sweet. I told you no talking. You're making it hard for me to properly seduce you..."

"But that's just it!" she squeaked. "We... we really shouldn't be doing this!"

"And why shouldn't we?" That dusky velvet voice was the last word in eroticism.

She moved a little more away from him, anguish fighting with guilt and resolve. "Because we shouldn't! It's wrong! You... you wanted me to be your apprentice. Aren't there rules or something? I mean about masters and apprentices.. um... doing this sort of thing?"

Snape's lips curved into a smirk. "No," he replied with a gleam of wicked, smug triumph. "Actually there aren't. Where there are very strict rules concerning the conduct of teachers and minor students, the rules governing the behavior of master and apprentice are really quite broad. A wide range of personal relationships are allowed for in the contract-- including sexual relationships, up to, and including marriage." Then he paused and looked at her seriously.

"Oh, and by the way, I'll throw that in the deal too," he added while Hermione only stared. "Since I was planning to make the offer eventually, I might as well make it now. All things considered, being married to me would definitely make being apprenticed to me far more bearable for you. As my wife, you'd be my equal. You'll need it."

Hermione continued staring for one glorious moment and then she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly. "Yes!" she whispered. "Yes!"

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Severus wrapped his arms around the sweet young thing hugging him tightly and pressed her deliciously close to him. He could feel the strong, lush contours of her, the warm promise. Another miracle had happened to him, and Hermione was somehow his. His to hold, his to love, and his to keep if he had anything to say about it. And it had all seemed to happen so suddenly. Snape had been prepared for a long, hard campaign, a difficult interval of careful wooing. Who could have thought the girl had already fallen for him? Who could believe he could be so lucky?

He had called her into his office, having waited carefully until the latest possible time to do so, all the while wondering if she had merely only forgotten her Cheerleading books and videos, or if she simply didn't care about them anymore. They had talked and reminisced about the team, and then he had asked her to be his apprentice-- to stay at Hogwarts, study under him, and presumably go on coaching the team...

There had been a tense, electrically charged moment after he had made his offer, and Snape knew that moment was critical. Pivoting on top of an unsteady fulcrum was his future and all that he had ever desired in life-- desired without ever knowing he had done so. It was all up to her. Either she would stay with him and give him a chance, or she would leave him sadly alone. He knew the cards were stacked against him. Why should she pick apprenticeship with him when so many opportunities abounded?

And then she had looked up at him in radiant joy. Their eyes met, and suddenly Severus knew in that moment that she wanted him, had wanted him all along, and that she was his for the taking. Snape couldn't help the instinctive reaction. Being the essential Slytherin, of course he had to take her. There was no other logical course of action.

Before he even knew what he was doing, he had reached out to caress her face and let his hands explore the wealth of her hair. Her eyes had widened a little, and she had leaned forward ever so slightly into his touch. He could hear her breath catch in her throat, sense her pulse quickening. Desire surged within him and he swept her into a tender embrace and kissed her, exulting in the feel of her soft lips, the warm, lush, sweetness of her. He had wanted her for so long and now she was actually here in his arms...

The wild rush of exultant desire had carried him a little away. The incredible joy of actually touching her, holding her, led Severus to lay all his cards on the table, throw caution to the wind, and propose to her too-- and he hadn't meant to do that just yet. The plan had been to seduce her first and let nature innevitably take over from there. Jumping the gun might scare her away. He might lose her before he ever actually had her. Snape waited anxiously. Had he ruined it all? But suddenly she was in his arms again, a warm willing angel who held him tight and whispered "Yes! Oh yes!"

When she finally let go of him, there were tears in the corner of her eyes and he kissed them. He liked the taste of tears, and looked forward to sampling other more intimate delights. Severus was a thorough lover and he planned to do nothing halfway with Hermione. He'd make sure she enjoyed him as much as he enjoyed her, and given the extent of her incredible athleticism, he envisioned hours of exquisite pleasure...

"So that's a yes?" he murmured.

"Yes," she whispered back.

He rubbed his nose gently against hers. "Yes to what, apprenticeship or marriage?"

"Both actually." She sounded breathlessly shy.

"Good!" he said with a triumphant smirk and gave her a long, deep, lingering kiss in which his tongue explored every inch of her open, willing mouth. He felt her body tremble against him as he pulled her deliciously closer. Snape could tell by her response that, though she wasn't a wanton of long experience, Hermione wasn't completely innocent either, and that suited him. He looked eagerly forward to her imminent ravishment. To the victor went the spoils.

Yet he couldn't help feeling a tiny stab of apprehensive regret at the sound of her soft ecstatic sigh. She was still innocent enough- far more innocent than he was. She was all brightness and optimism, while Snape was more than a little dark. The combination was dangerous. This girl deserved better than what he could give her. In a very un-Slytherin moment, he decided to give her a warning. He pulled her warm, willing form temporarily away from him.

"Miss Granger, I must tell you. You may not know what you are letting yourself in for by accepting me. As much as I want you, love you, and truly have the best intentions concerning you, I will most definitely disappoint you." His gaze was suddenly sober. "No matter how hard I try to prevent it, conflict is sadly inevitable, Hermione. I'm a difficult person to get along with at the best of times, and life with me will not be easy." He paused ruefully. "It's likely to be one, wild, rollicking ride more than anything else."

She looked up at him, her warm, brown eyes gleaming with mischief and mystery as her arms slid around him again. Snape suddenly knew he had little to fear. Hermione, Gryffindore to the last, considered herself equal to any challenge.

"Bring it on!" she whispered.