A/N: So, this is it! The last chapter! I hope you have enjoyed the story. Thanks to everyone who reviewed
Chapter 19- Because of Dumbledore
The sun was bright and the weather was warm as Hermione lounged on the school grounds. She looked around at the students who were also enjoying the weather and celebrating the end of exams. She laid back on the grass, closed her eyes and reflected on the last several months. Severus had returned to Hogwarts after spending close to a month at St. Mungo's. His hands were still heavily damaged but he was beginning to regain some of their use and the Healers had high hopes for a better recovery than they initially thought.
Once Severus had returned, as he was unable to do the practical portions of the Potions classes, Hermione, Professor Sprout and Madam Pomfrey had all helped in following his direction to brew the necessary potions for the students. Hermione felt she had learned more in the last couple months than she had her seven years as a student. Often times in the evenings she and Severus would sit while he explained his theories regarding the new potions he was developing and the improvements he had made on many old ones. They would spend hours discussing all subjects of magical theory, often times heatedly debating. Frequently, Hermione would show up for her first class of the morning with bleary eyes and yawning after only a few hours sleep.
She smiled to herself as she lay on the grass thinking of Severus. He was still irritable and frustrating and prone to bouts of general nastiness, but she saw a side of him now, that she never could have imagined. One that was kind and attentive and fiercely protective. It was strange, no doubt, but oddly it made sense as well. She thought back to her younger years, when Ron was still alive. She had no doubt that she would have been very happy with him and would have had a wonderful life as his wife. But his death had changed her and the kind of life that would have fulfilled her then no longer would. She found herself very happy with Severus and the quiet evenings they had together. A shadow fell over her and she opened her eyes seeing someone standing over her.
"Ten points from Gryffindor," she heard Severus say and he reached down and pulled her up.
"For what?" she smiled up at him.
"For causing the Potions Master to have indecent thoughts," he whispered in her ear and she shivered. She looked over and saw a group of students looking over at them and whispering.
"They're staring," she said motioning to the students. Severus just raised an eyebrow and smirked.
"Then perhaps we should go somewhere more private." He held out an arm for her and she took it. He led her away from the students. They walked for a moment and Hermione realized he was leading her off the grounds.
"Where are we going?"
"You'll see," Severus said mysteriously as they reached the edge of the property. "We are going to be Apparating, but since you don't know where we're going, we'll do side-along Apparition."
Hermione looked at him curiously but said nothing. She tightened her hold on his arm unconsciously as she felt the tightening that accompanied Apparition. The next moment Hermione realized she was in a forest, not unlike the Forbidden Forest, and a blue lake glittering in the background. She looked at Severus.
"Where are we?"
"It is a forest, not all that far from Hogwarts. In fact, the Hogwarts Express goes through it further to the south. I used to come here, on occasion, when the walls of my home became too confining." He did not look at her as he spoke. Clearly this was not an easy thing to share. "Come with me."
He led her away from where they had Apparated and toward the lake. As they cleared the trees, Hermione saw a blanket was already laid on the grass with a small basket next to it. She smiled, delighted.
"A picnic? And you said you weren't romantic."
"I'm not." He tried to act stern. "Would you rather I let you go hungry?"
Hermione just laughed and gave him a look that let him know he wasn't fooling anyone and walked over to the blanket, sitting down. He joined her, sitting somewhat stiffly, as if he wasn't used to sitting on the ground. She looked into the basket and then looked up at him with a raised eyebrow.
"More elf-made wine?"
"Well, it worked so well for me the first time," Severus could not help the corners of his mouth twitching into a smile.
Hermione pulled out the rest of the food- cold meat, fruit, cheese and bread and together they began eating. The food and the wine were good. After Hermione had eaten 'til she was stuffed and drank several glasses of wine she slumped back onto the ground with a sigh. She looked up at Severus who was staring down at her.
"Are you going to miss it?" she asked suddenly.
"Hogwarts?" he asked and she nodded. He thought for a while.
"Perhaps. But I will be keeping busy with my research. Besides I don't think Hogwarts is big enough for two Professor Snapes."
Hermione laughed and unconsciously fiddled with the ring on her left hand. She lifted it up so she could watch it sparkle in the sunlight.
"It's very pretty, you know."
"I'm glad you think so. I never cared much for the Prince side of my family, or the Snapes for that matter, and they were not as wealthy as some of the pure-bloods, but they did have some nice family heirlooms."
"Minerva told me she found a new Potion's professor," Hermione said changing the subject. The topic of Severus' family was never a pleasant one for him.
"Yes. Adrian Abernathy. He was a Slytherin a few years behind me. He will be passable I suppose. He has done some research into increasing the potency of Wolfsbane." Severus looked down at her and brushed a stray hair out of her face. "You would be better though."
"Well, I think my Charms classes would end up a little neglected," Hermione laughed. "You did say that you would only stay one year, if I remember correctly. It appears that you have followed through on that."
Severus thought back to the previous summer and his first meeting with Hermione. He remembered how thin and tired she looked; so unlike the vibrant woman in front of him now. He also remembered with a sly smile how she had insulted him into coming back to Hogwarts using his own tactics against him. 'I should have known then that I was in trouble', he thought.
Hermione took a hold of his hand, pulling him down with her. She wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss.
"What were you smiling about just now?" she asked breathlessly.
"I was just thinking how very sly and cunning you were last summer trying to convince me to return."
"I didn't think I was being cunning. I was terrified and sure I was going to fail. Why did you come anyway?"
Severus thought long and hard trying to remember what had possessed him. "You asked me what Dumbledore would think. Albus was the only person in the world that had ever cared about me. I couldn't stand the thought of letting him down and seeing his school close."
"So we have Dumbledore to thank? I think he would have liked that."
"Yes," Severus said as he bent his head down toward hers. "I think he would." And in the back of his mind, for the first time in years, it was quiet.