A/N: I struggled over the ending of this for bloody hours. It was terrible. But here it is, and I'm relatively happy with it, though the last line could be better... Thanks again to everybody who has made it this far, and I hope you've enjoyed it!
My final statistics (courtesy of MS Word) are:
Words: 50,595 (new personal record!)
Pages on Word (12pt Times New Roman): exactly 89
Characters (without spaces): 237,134
Disclaimer: I own nothing… especially not Harry Potter.
Platform nine and three quarters was just as full of students as always. Students running about, meeting friends from the previous years and making new ones, too. To Severus, being back on the platform always reminded him of his first day at Hogwarts. Though not necessarily a fond memory, it was still an important one. At the moment, he was struggling not to get lost in the endless sea of students and family.
"Dad, hurry up or I'll miss the train!"
Severus hurried up half a pace, though he knew there was no way that missing the train was possible, unless of course they all dropped dead where they stood. They had come to the platform a half an hour early for the sole purpose of being able to take their time. It was not every day that your child had their first day of school. Ever.
"Wow, look, Christine, it's even bigger than last year!"
Christine laughed a laugh so much like her mother's as she carried Stupid II in his cage towards the scarlet train. An eleven-year-old boy followed directly behind her, anxiously looking around for somebody he knew. The boy was yet another spitting image of his mother, with the exception of his short, jet black hair which, thanks to Miranda, was not greasy in the slightest.
"We'll be right back," Christine called over her shoulder, and walked off, the cage in one hand and her trunk dragging behind her in the other.
"Make sure Alden has a compartment!" Miranda shouted over the crowd as a Third Year went running by, balancing a mountain of books.
Christine and Alden disappeared amidst the massive crowd of students that was not getting any smaller, Christine's long ponytail swinging as she walked.
"Every year, more of the same, eh Sev?" Miranda said in mock exasperation, grinning at her husband, who was wading waist-deep in students.
Severus grunted in reply, bodily picking up a small, squeaking boy and moving him over so that he could get past. After a few minutes a pair of eleven-year-old boys stopped in front of Miranda, identical grins on their freckled faces and a glint in their hazel eyes. Miranda groaned and put a hand over her eyes.
"Lord help me, I'm seeing double," she said, and then held out a hand, laughing. "How're you doing, boys? Excited about your first year at Hogwarts?"
"Of course," said one boy.
"Mum and Dad have told us all sorts of stuff," added the other.
"And Uncles Fred and George," continued the first boy.
"They told us a bunch of secret stuff!" finished the second.
"But of course," Severus said snappishly, though the twins didn't seem to notice being addressed this way, nor did they seem to care. "Your namesakes caused me nothing but grief in my teaching years – not a damned thing."
"Oh Professor, do you have to use such foul language in front of my boys?" came a mocking voice, and the voice and Miranda laughed.
Severus rolled his eyes and turned around to see Harry and Ginny standing together, Harry with a little girl, no older than four, on his shoulders. Ginny got down on one knee in front of the twins and gave them each a kiss on the cheek. The twins' names were Fred and George, which seemed to be both blessing and curse, for the younger twins caused just about as much mischief and mayhem as Fred and George Senior had caused before them. The little girl on Harry's shoulders was Lily, and she had red hair like her mother and green eyes like her father.
The twins looked around and then back at Miranda.
"Where's Alden?" asked Fred.
"We've got something to show him," George added.
Miranda narrowed her eyes at the grinning boys and then jerked her head towards the scarlet train. "Christine's bullying people around so that he can have a compartment for the four of you and whoever else you meet."
The scrawny redheaded twins exchanged mischievous looks and ran off, dragging their trunks behind them. Harry looked at his watch.
"We've still got fifteen minutes," he said aloud. "Where are Ron and Hermione?"
"I talked to Hermione this morning and offered to bring Jacob, but she wanted to bring him herself," replied Ginny, ducking as a fanged Frisbee soared over her head.
"Naturally, naturally." Miranda shrugged casually.
A moment later there was a loud thud. Everybody turned around to see a little redheaded boy lying face-first on the ground, glasses broken beside him. Nobody moved, nor did they looked surprised in the slightest. Hermione came running up moments later just as Jacob was clambering to his feet and dropped to her knees.
"Jacob Arthur, you are a walking disaster." Hermione sounded affectionately exasperated as she scooped up the boy's glasses and repaired them. She handed them back to her son, watched as he put them on, and then said, "Remember, Jacob, it's Reparo, got it?"
"Yes, Mum. I've already read Standard Book of Spells, Grade One, remember?"
"Yeah, and he was halfway through Grade Two by the time I rescued him."
"Oh Ron, it's not a bad thing that he's going to school prepared."
Hermione rolled her eyes and straightened as Ron dropped Jacob's trunk down and gave it a good kick for measure. Jacob picked up the handle of his trunk and dragged it off.
"Where's everybody?" he called over his shoulder.
"Getting a compartment." Ginny, Miranda and Harry had all shouted it. Jacob nodded and walked off through the mass of students.
Miranda turned to Hermione with a smile. "So, where are your twins? Lily's here, how come they're not?"
"They're with Molly, thank God," Hermione replied, putting her hands gingerly on her hips and leaning back with a grunt. She tapped her stomach and added, "Twins again, I fear. It's a good thing I have plenty of time to work on that revised edition of Advanced Potion-Making before I have to leave work. Ron tells me he and Harry have been overloaded at the Auror office."
Harry nodded and Lily snatched his glasses off his face, laughing manically.
"Hermione, maternity leave won't do a damn thing against you if you're looking for more time to write, trust me," Miranda assured her with a grin. "At least until you have a new baby to take care of."
"Or two," Ron added, grinning; it was clear that he'd always wanted a ton of kids and it seemed that he was getting his wish.
Soon enough, all the children were back on the platform, saying their last goodbyes to their parents before the Holidays. Miranda watched as Hermione warned Jacob against acting like he knew everything and Ginny warned the twins that sending home a Hogwarts toilet seat would not be tolerated, no matter what Uncles Fred and George had said. Harry roared with laughter during the speech, Lily still on his shoulders, messing up his hair. Miranda knelt down in front of her own son and ruffled his hair back affectionately.
"Now, Alden, remember: just because you can use wandless magic doesn't mean you should. Got it?" She cautioned. "Nobody likes a showoff, trust me."
Alden rolled his eyes and whined, "I know, Mum, you told me a bazillion times already. 'Don't use wandless magic' and 'don't show off too much'."
Miranda grinned and handed him a box containing fifty or so grape lollipops.
"That's right, now get moving or you'll lose your compartment to some big Seventh Year."
"I'll hex him," insisted Alden innocently. "Dad taught me one that makes your toenails grow real fast!"
"I don't advise it," Severus cut in. "At least, not until you've been sorted." Then, as an afterthought he added, "I wonder what house you'll be in."
Alden grinned wickedly.
"Probably Slytherin," he said. "Christine's heir of Ravenclaw, not me," he did a mocking pantomime at his sister and she stuck her tongue out at him.
"Shut up," she said half-jokingly. "At least you get a bit of the Progenitor. You could have been a squib, you know. You came about this close to not existing anyway." She marked a very small space between her forefinger and thumb. "I can do wandless magic too, you know."
"So what?" Alden snapped back. "It doesn't matter – I'm just smart and you're jealous, that's all."
Christine rolled her eyes and gave her little brother an affectionate shove. Alden, with one last hug from each of his parents, darted off after Jacob and the twins, box of lollipops under his arm like a Quaffle. Harry, Ginny, Ron and Hermione walked forward to the edge of the platform, but Severus and Miranda stayed behind with Christine.
"So, Head Girl, got any plans of who you're going to boss around first?" Miranda jested.
Christine shrugged thoughtfully, raising up on the balls of her combat boot-clad feet and then sinking back down. "Probably Jenson," she said. "He gave me a real hard time last year about my boots."
"That's his problem, not yours," Miranda persisted. "Besides, your boots are steel-toed and you could give him a good kick if you wanted. Or you could introduce him to bojitsu. Or you could ask him for a midnight duel. "
Christine snorted and both women laughed.
"Meet a nice boy this year," Miranda said, still beaming from ear to ear. Severus scowled, but neither of the women paid him any attention. "But make sure you warn him about your father," she warned. "Here, take this. I'll send you more by owl post." She handed her daughter a package of candy cigarettes – grape flavored, of course. "Have them in the Common Room to piss people off."
"Headmistress McGonagall says its bad symbolism and a bad influence," Christine said reproachfully, though she was clearly fighting a grin.
"Yeah, but since when has the Snape family ever been a good influence? Just look at your father and I!"
Miranda and Christine laughed again. The train gave a blast of its horn to signal one minute until departure and Christine hugged her mother tightly. Then she turned to Severus, who took an old, battered copy of Advanced Potion-Making from his pocket. He sighed, looking like he was having an internal battle against himself.
"Here," he said. "Take this. It's a wrench giving it away, but you need it more than I do." Christine's eyes lit up; she'd always seen her father scribbling in his beat-up old book and had often wondered about it. Miranda grinned. "I think you'll find it useful," he continued, "just don't use this particular spell if you want to graduate." he opened the book and pointed to an incantation labeled Sectumsempra.
Christine smiled softly and took the book.
"Thanks Dad," she said, sounding genuinely delighted. She hugged him tightly and the whistle blew again, signaling the departure. She wheeled around and said over her shoulder, "Gotta go! Don't get into too much trouble while I'm gone, you two!"
Miranda laughed and Severus smirked knowingly. Natalie Lupin threw open the sliding door and Christine hopped onto the train just as it began moving. Alden, Fred and George, Jacob and Christine all leaned out the windows, waving as the train went by. Harry set Lily down on her feet and she began running alongside the train, crying for her brothers.
"Don't worry Lily!" Fred called.
"Yeah, we'll send you a Hogwarts toilet seat!" George shouted as the train gained speed.
Lily laughed and cried at the same time and ran to the very edge of the platform as the scarlet steam engine turned the corner and disappeared. All the parents said their goodbyes and departed, all with the exception of Severus and Miranda, who stayed where they stood. People exited around them, some apparating and others going through the platform barrier between nine and ten. Miranda sighed and leaned her head on her husband's shoulder.
"I feel so old," Severus said in a low voice, though not a dangerous one.
Miranda laughed, "That's because you are old, Severus."
He looked down at her and sneered.
"Speak for yourself," he said. "You're on the backburner now, Miranda. Is that a grey I see?" He reached out and touched a strand of her hair, which was indeed a grey strand standing out in a mass of brown.
"Proud of it," she said, putting her hands on her hips defiantly and raising her chin to meet his eyes. "Besides, you gave me those. How long have we been married, now?"
Severus shrugged and replied, "A little over seventeen years, I think, judging by Christine's age." He sighed. "She's of age now."
"Now that's a weird thought," Miranda remarked, rolling her eyes. "Soon she'll be bringing boys home and the next thing you know, she'll be married."
Severus' mouth twitched slightly and he raised a brow, but said nothing. Clearly he wasn't looking forward to that experience. Miranda sighed and smacked her lips together, making a loud popping sound. She then took out a lolly and popped it into her mouth, stuffing the wrapper into her robe pocket.
"You're worried, aren't you, Severus?" she asked with a hint of concern.
"Yes," he replied without delay, his dark eyes glued to the spot where the scarlet steam engine had disappeared around.
Miranda patted him reassuringly on the shoulder, replying, "That's the trouble with being a parent, isn't it? It never ends, the worrying."
"I know," was his quiet reply.
"Well," she said, stretching and yawning. "We've got some time to burn before the Holidays. What do you wanna do next?"
Severus shrugged one shoulder and retorted, "There's been some Potion Theory that I wanted to take care of for the Ministry. Scrimgeour's been bombarding me with owls for a bloody fortnight. And then Albus needs me to gather up some information for him about wandless magic amongst normal wizards."
"Severus, don't you ever want a break?" she asked, rolling the lollipop between her teeth.
"What's that?" he asked, offering an arm to her.
She laughed and linked arms with him and they began sauntering towards the barrier, their footfalls echoing off the platform walls.
"I could go for a good escapade; my life's been too quiet for too long," Miranda mused thoughtfully, stroking her chin. "How about you?"
"But of course," he replied simply. "Come now, I have no desire to stand here all day. Life waits for no one!"
Miranda unlinked her arm from his and backed ahead of him a few steps, laughing like she did when they were younger; before children and war; before times of hardship and suffering. "Catch me if you can!" she shouted, and apparated away, still laughing happily.
Severus smirked to himself as he stood, thinking that some things never changed. He pulled back the left sleeve of his robe and eyed the bare skin of is forearm speculatively. Nothing was there, not even a mark. Sighing, he let his sleeve fall back down over his arm and apparated away. He had been given everything he ever wanted, from another chance at life to somebody to share it all with. All of this and more, every opportunity and every challenge that had come in his way that he had accomplished with Miranda.
And he knew that, no matter what happened, he would pull through in the end. After all, they'd managed to get this far without even the smallest scar.