Chapter Eighteen –

Hermione paid no mind to her reflection as it wept silently in the mirror. She had no tears left. She hadn't wept for herself; she had wept for the others, Miriam Strout, the caplata, and Severus. Miriam and the faceless Voodoo sorcerer were dead because of her, all dead for reasons she had yet to fully comprehend.

It had been two days since she had stood at the shore, ignoring the cold wind and rain as she had tried in vain to summon the effigies from the depths of the ocean. The tide had carried them away. Although they had not been destroyed, the cursed figures had been truly lost. In the end, it had not matter.

There would be no way to counteract the poison that had tainted Severus' likeness – and her soul. She had been so consumed with finding Lockhart she had not considered herself to be in any danger. Even though Dumbledore declared it to be impossible, Hermione knew it had to be true.

As soon as the stone consumed her husband, the curse would take her as well. For someone who had professed to love her, Lockhart sure had a strange way of showing it.

The Mirror of Truth had reflected their reality and the hopelessness of the situation. Even if they had been able to find the dolls, they didn't have the cure. The curse would take its course, unstoppable even to magic.

A soft knock interrupted her reverie.

"Come in," she called out.

After the door opened slowly, Albus stood in the doorway, his somber gaze lingering on Hermione's weeping reflection.

She stared straight ahead, hardly acknowledging his presence.

"Minerva and I have reinforced the wards," he stated. "That should provide you and Severus enough time…"

Hermione did not reply.

"Are you certain, Hermione?" the headmaster asked, his inflection tinged with desperation. "There must be another way. Perhaps, more time. Another day?"

Gazing into the mirror, a sense of bereavement washed over her. "Severus is gone, Professor Dumbledore. Even his reflection is gone."

Hermione's reflection wiped its tears away.

Gathering his robes, Albus approached the mirror. His reflection appeared next to Hermione's and offered her mirror image comfort.

"Did you see him?" Dumbledore asked, watching his reflection with keen interest.

"Who?" answered Hermione.

"Have you seen Severus' reflection in the mirror since he became incapacitated?" His blue eyes lingered on the enchanted mirror.

"Yes, why?"

The old wizard touched the Mirror of Truth, his reflection matching his movements. "Perhaps it is time to see what Severus thinks."

--

Severus had surrendered to the ebb and flow of magical forces long ago. The pain had destroyed his implacable resolve. His struggle to save Hermione had failed. Although the curse had not yet consumed his flesh, his sanity was another question.

Hermione… Just the thought of her soothed and infuriated him. She was so stubborn and headstrong. Lockhart was out there, stalking her, determined to bend her to his will. Pain sliced though him, stealing his soul and memories.

In the distance, he could see a shimmering pool of calm silvery threads. It called to him, pulled him closer. He should resist it, but he was too tired.

--

Hermione watched as Dumbledore placed the Mirror of Truth at the foot of Severus' bed and took his place on the other side of the bed. She touched the hard surface of her husband's stone hand. Was it her imagination, or was it warm?

The enchanted mirror wove its magic instantaneously, and she watched as her husband's pale reflection stirred and struggled to open its eyes. The mirror, the object that had ratted her out only days before, soothed her shattered heart. Black eyes, dark with worry and rage, snapped open and searched frantically for any familiar sight.

Once the reflection's gaze encountered her image, it seemed to know. It knew everything that had transpired over the last several hours. It was as though Severus realized the hopelessness of their predicament.

"Are you all right?" Severus' mirror image asked her counterpart as he fisted his hand in its wild hair.

"Yes," her reflection replied softly.

Licking her lips, Hermione watched the scene in the mirror unfold. Severus' reflection pulled hers down for a kiss, her reflection's hair shielding the passionate display between lovers.

--

The moment his soul merged with the Mirror of Truth, Severus recognized the familiar, if not irritating, enchanting manifestation. She was there, waiting for him. Hermione's soul touched his. Another soul was there, as well. As her form shimmered into existence before him, he learned of his wife's daring, Lockhart's mechanizations and subsequent demise, and Potter's and Dumbledore's rescue.

But all of it had been in vain. Albus had found that their bond was more a curse than a blessing. Hermione would suffer the same fate as he.

Severus silently berated himself. He should have actively searched for Lockhart. Instead, he had waited, convinced of the purity and goodness of his love for Hermione. Nothing could destroy it. No one could harm them.

His arrogance and complacency had cost Hermione her life.

"Stop it," she reprimanded, her voice barely a whisper.

"Now is hardly the time for self recrimination," Dumbledore murmured sympathetically.

Severus nodded, wincing in pain as he moved.

"Is there anything we can do, Severus?" the headmaster asked, grasping at straws and quizzing the Potions master for a possible antidote.

Hermione sniffled next to him, her head bowed in defeat.

"Even if I knew where to find Aphrodite's tears," replied Severus as he labored to breathe, "we would have to treat the curse at its source. Without the dolls, I'm afraid there is nothing we can do."

"I am afraid we were unable to recover the effigies," Albus stated solemnly.

"I know." There was only one thing left to do.

"No." Hermione gave a strangled gasp.

His old mentor stepped back, a pallor suffusing his usually rosy cheeks

"You must save Hermione, Albus." Desperation slipped into his tone and Severus cleared his throat before making his request. "Kill me before the curse runs its course. End my suffering and save Hermione."

--

All of the training Hermione had received could never have prepared her for something like this. Severus' request had sparked a bitter argument. He had wanted to sacrifice his life to save hers. Not only was that unacceptable, Dumbledore had rationalized that it would not prevent the curse from running its course.

She had seen the pain in her husband's eyes. Every time Hermione closed her eyes, she could see it. She would not let him linger much longer. Once she relieved Poppy, she would ward the doors to the Hospital Wing and wake Severus.

By morning, they would both be gone.

Pulling her robe tighter around her shoulders, Hermione stared at the full moon through the glass ceiling of the greenhouse, her thoughts a jumbled mess. She couldn't remember the last time she had gotten a good night's sleep. Ever since she'd woken up at St. Mungo's, everything had seemed like a dream.

Something tapped on the glass panes of the greenhouse, startling Hermione. Even though Lockhart had been Obliviated and locked away in Azkaban, the wounds he had inflicted were raw and tender. She unsheathed her wand, able to hear the beating of her frantic heart.

The distorted shadow of an odd-shaped bird flitted across the glass roof. Professor Sprout would have a fit if she knew she had birds nesting here. Just as Hermione started to relax as the tittering creature withdrew, she heard a loud smash.

Glass fell from above, shards of it landing in her wildly messy hair. Falling to her knees, she shielded herself as something wet hit her. It fluttered around her as though it was possessed, almost as though it was drawn to her. As if sensing the futility of its actions, the thing ceased its movements and flopped onto the ground in front of Hermione.

Upon closer inspection, she could see that it wasn't an animal at all. It was two little bundles of straw with a long piece of twine connecting them. She picked up one of the lumps, the other dangling precariously beneath it. Realization was slow in dawning as she inspected the crude little doll.

"It can't be," she whispered softly as she lifted one of the dolls to her face and inhaled. It was saturated with salt water. How was this possible? Silent tears fell onto the doll as she cradled it against her chest.

"In the sea," Lockhart had wheezed, telling her, Harry, and Dumbledore what he had done with the effigies. "We flew for days. I didn't want anyone to undo what I have done. If I can't have you, no one will."

Irony was a bitter pill to swallow. Staring at the crude figures, Hermione wept freely. She and Harry had scoured Borgin and Burkes for the source of Medusa's Blood in the hopes of finding the cure.

Aphrodite had entered into legend long ago.

Sniffling and standing, Hermione started removing the glass from her hair. She wrapped the dolls together and tucked them up her sleeve. It was time to go see Severus.

--

Still caught in the enchantment of the Mirror, Severus simmered. The argument over his "suggestion" had been explosive. Hermione had stormed off several hours ago. Albus wasn't speaking to him, much less looking at him. (Good riddance!) And Poppy had had enough manners to keep her opinion to herself.

There was no longer any pain for it had been replaced by his wife's grief. Her grief was so strong that it overshadowed his. Out of habit, Severus glanced at his left arm. The sharp pain was just a dull ache now. Its color was no longer marble-white. His arm actually had a pink hue to it. His fingers wiggled at him, seemingly taunting him with his continuing journey into insanity.

It was a strange sensation. A dull ache spread through his hand and arm like a fire of a thousand pinpricks. Shaking his hand, Severus wondered if he was dreaming.

Of course he was dreaming! He was in the bloody Mirror of Truth. It was surreal, staring at himself as he lay in bed, just moments from death. Dumbledore was snoring lightly, sitting in a chair next to his bed. Somehow he had managed not to throttle the old wizard.

"I feel it too." The old wizard's reflection yawned and stretched, distracting Severus from his study of the real world.

"Feel what?" snapped Snape, glaring at Dumbledore.

The reflection of the headmaster's soul rubbed its jaw warily. "She is angry with you."

"It isn't as though I have much choice in the matter, Albus," snapped Severus, shaking his left hand as he attempted to wake the bothersome limb.

His blue eyes widened in surprise and he grabbed Severus' arm. "You're cured!" he whispered in amazement.

"No. I'm not," Severus replied, snatching his arm away and motioning toward his body. "My condition remains unchanged."

The doppelganger shook its head. "This mirror reflects only the truth. You can not alter reality."

Staring at his body, Severus listened to the explanation and prayed for a miracle.

Dumbledore woke with a start and glanced at the mirror. Smacking his chops, the ancient wizard shifted in his chair and tried to go back to sleep.

"The truth is here, Albus," Severus murmured shakily.

Albus watched Severus move his arm and hand, his features hopeful, yet schooled.

"Release me," Severus instructed. "Remove Poppy's charm. If I am…cured, then we've nothing to worry about. If the curse advances, you must kill me. You must Obliviate Hermione. You need to -- "

"No!" Hermione's shrill protest echoed throughout the Hospital Ward.

--

Making her way to the bedside, Hermione pulled the effigies from her robe and held them as though they were made of delicate porcelain. "I found them…actually…they found me. I was in the greenhouse."

She faced Severus' reflection with determination. "I won't let you do this. I won't let you sacrifice yourself! And just who in the hell do you think you are? Obliviate me?" She huffed, then glared at Dumbledore as though he was part of a greater conspiracy.

Her angry gazed shifted back to the mirror. She felt as though she was having some odd three-way conversation – the type of conversation that should be hushed and solemn. But she'd had enough of this. She wasn't going to let her husband die. She wasn't going to let that Nancy-boy of a prat win.

"There has to be a way," she said, softening her tone, mindful of the pain Severus must be experiencing even though he was under a healing stasis charm. She turned to study Severus' pallor as he lay unmoving in the hospital bed. He wouldn't be able to see her tears, and that is what mattered most. "I'll find a way. I'll find the cure. There has to be –"

"Your tears," whispered Severus' image.

Wiping the offending moisture from her face, Hermione faced the Mirror of Truth and gave a weak smile. "What?"

"You're right, Severus." Dumbledore reached across the bed and touched the sleeping man's left arm. "Your arm is warm. It should be cold, like Medusa's Kiss."

Hermione dropped the dolls and clutched the headmaster's wrist, afraid he would wake her husband and cause the curse to claim him. "Don't. Touch. Him. He isn't himself. He doesn't know what he's saying."

Gently, Albus gathered the straw dolls and examined them and the knotted twine that attached them. She watched in horror as he snapped the rope and pulled the effigies apart. "Hermione –"

"No!" she wailed, pushing Dumbledore away and flinging herself over Severus' body as though she could stop the transpiring events.

Before anything could be done, before anything else could be said, Dumbledore muttered an incantation and her husband drew a shuddering breath.

She wept openly, her mind screaming in protest while she gave a strangled cry. "How could you?"

--

"Hermione…" Severus wheezed, feeling the pinpricks of pain shooting up and down his arm. With his good arm, he embraced her. How could he explain? Even now, he was uncertain how this miracle had come about.

In answer to his silent question, Albus answered, "It was her tears, Severus. Tears of love. If you ever doubt that she loves you, remember this day."

"Hermione?" He spoke her name softly, mindful of his wife's weight on top of him. He could touch her, feel her, and smell her. Ignoring her muffled protest, Severus shifted beneath her. Was the nightmare really over?

"It's Aphrodite's Tears!" Dumbledore theorized. "Hermione's tears must have fallen onto the doll."

Shakily, Hermione pulled away. Her eyes were wide and confused, her cheeks streaked with the evidence of her fear and sorrow.

"It's all right, Hermione," Severus tried to explain, not sure what to say as he was unsure as to how things had transpired. His lips sought hers, nature lending its influence to his desire for his wife. "The curse is lifted."

--

Several months later –

The essay he was grading was bloody awful – even for a seventh-year, and he had twelve more essays to go. At this rate, Hermione would be asleep before he got to the dungeons. Eight months had done nothing to ease the passion Severus felt for his wife. Thankfully, it had been long enough for Hermione's nightmares to end.

She still had a difficult time grasping the fact that her tears had released him from the curse. Severus grinned in remembrance. He had never met anyone more analytical than himself. Hermione had suffered greatly due to Gilderoy's obsession.

She blamed herself for so much. No matter how often he, her parents, or their friends told her it wasn't her fault, she still found fault with her actions. Once the curse had been broken, it released all the Death Eaters and claimed Gilderoy's life. Medusa's Kiss had consumed him quickly, and once done, he had shattered into dust.

His actions were visited upon him tenfold.

Lockhart's death had done little to assuage Hermione's guilt. Others had died -- others before Lockhart had invoked the Dark Magic.

The media, of course, had a field day with the entire epic once they got their grubby paws on snippets of gross exaggerations. The only satisfaction he derived from the articles was that Rita Skeeter had not written them for she had mysteriously disappeared.

Rumor had it that she was an unregistered Animagus and had been squashed as a very colorful little bug. For some odd reason, Hermione did not find much amusement in that tidbit of information.

"You!" a shrill voiced shouted from across the classroom. "You cad! No wonder I refused your proposal. It was anything but charming. Old maid! How could you?"

Pinching the bridge of his overly large nose, Severus set his quill down. He had wondered when she would get to that memory. Albus had been kind enough to lend them his Pensieve, and Hermione had set about reclaiming the memories that had been taken from her.

In all fairness, he had put only the truth in the bowl of memories. He could have lied. He could have romanticized the marriage proposal and everything that had followed, but why start now?

"At least I had the common sense to slam the door in your face," she huffed, putting a hand on her hip and tapping her foot.

Severus smirked. His wife was not a very good actress. Their rocky beginning was fodder for great amusement. Luckily, Hermione had a sense of humor.

"And yet you are still here." He waved his hand around the dungeon classroom.

"By default!" she bantered, referring to their eternal bond.

Standing, Severus walked around his desk and made his way through the student desks. In true Gryffindor fashion, Hermione did not move. She stood her ground, even knowing full well what he would do next.

His smirk turned into a sneer. "And yet you are still here," he repeated, clutching her upper arms and pulling her voluptuous softness against his lanky frame. A blush stole into her cheeks as he teased her with a kiss.

Her response always amazed him. Her lips opened under his gentle persuasion. Touching his tongue to hers, Severus coaxed her to take the lead. He released his hold on her arms and grabbed one of her hands, guiding it to the cloth of his robe and trousers.

She cupped him, rubbing his needy sex through the material and putting an end to any gentleness or playfulness he had been feeling toward her. "I need you," he growled, and pulled her toward his desk.

"Of course you do," she replied and thrust her hips against him suggestively.

Even through the layers of clothing, he could feel the promised heat of her body. "Minx," he hissed accusingly.

Hermione laughed. "And yet you are still here."

He growled and lifted her onto his desk, charming their clothes away and burying himself inside her. Her channel was slick and tight, easing the union and urging a furious tempo. Tonguing a path from the tip of one breast to the other, Severus closed his eyes.

Everything seemed so perfect – this one moment in time marred by the strange feeling that he had forgotten something important. The feeling of her depths constricting around him pushed any unpleasantness out of his mind and he lost himself within the confines of her welcome heat.

With a sated smile upon her lips, Hermione sat up. "I certainly hope your Transfiguration skills are up to par, seeing as you Vanished our clothing."

An evil grin spread across his face. "Can you imagine the headlines if we were to run naked through the halls?"

Hermione punched his shoulder playfully. "They certainly wouldn't get any decent pictures. Your pale arse would undoubtedly blind someone and – Ouch!" she yelped as he pinched her.

"That is enough of your sass, wife," scolded Severus softly as he settled next to her in contentment.

--

A few months later, Severus was reminded of what he had forgotten that evening with Hermione. As he poured through the Daily Prophet, a headline in the gossip column caught his attention.

Hermione Snape, Expecting?

Calmly folding the newspaper, Severus stared at Hermione as she nibbled a piece of toast. What on earth had possessed her to go to a Muggle drugstore and purchase a home pregnancy test?

Setting her toast on a plate, Hermione grabbed her napkin and sneezed.

Severus hid his grin with his napkin and observed his wife. She looked much like the day he proposed, wild hair and red nose. Back then she couldn't afford the potion that would cure her cold. Now, her reticence over taking the Pepperup Potion only confirmed the rumor in the paper. He was going to be a father.

The thought both terrified and elated him. Actually, it terrified him more than it elated him. He certainly couldn't blame Hermione. After all, she couldn't remember the last time she had taken a Contraceptive Potion.

Folding the paper in half, Severus set in on the table and turned in his chair.
"Is there something you would like to tell me, Hermione?"

--

FIN

A/N – Thanks for reading and reviewing everybody. This is my last pre-written SS/HG story. I am currently working on two others. I don't post them unless they are finished. I do have a one-shot story that is complete… It has mature content that is not suitable for children. Anyone of age who wishes to read it, just PM or email me and I will send you the link.