A/N: Once more, I want to thank my fabulous beta, anogete. This story would be a mess without her! Thank you also to my wonderful readers and reviewers. I have been so flattered and honored by your thoughtful and lovely comments! Please forgive me for the lengthy delay in posting the ending to this tale!
Obligatory: None of these things belong to me; they all belong to JKR. I just like to have a bit of fun with them, and no profit is desired.
Sleep did not come easily for Hermione as she lay on her side in the bed of her rooms in the dungeons of Hogwarts. Whether it was because she had slept for so long in her heartbreak-induced sickness, or because she could not stop thinking about Severus, she did not know. She could still feel their healing encounter emanating from her core and spreading through her body like a balm. Why couldn't things be as simple as they had been this morning, with him taking her into his arms and soothing the pain left by his absence? Why did the magic between them really have to be magic? Why couldn't they have come together without the assistance of a power beyond their control?
A tear spilled from her eye as she reflected on the last year. Her entire view of herself had changed in the time since Severus' heart had reached out to its missing piece in her. She was still herself, still Hermione Granger, but to know that magic had shaped her to save the heart of Severus Snape made her feel somehow different. Was everything she had ever done completed for this one task? Was there a step in her journey that was not meant to lead her to him and to help him save his beleaguered soul?
Her heart raced, not in the fear it should have felt, but in anticipation as the mattress compressed behind her. She did not need to turn to see who it was, for a thrill in her chest identified him.
One of his strong arms grabbed her about the waist and pulled her body to him, her ear coming to rest beneath his mouth.
"I am not a nice man," Severus whispered into the waiting ear, his voice quiet but still possessed of its usual silkiness.
"I have never had much time for nice men," came her even reply.
"I am quite old."
"Albus Dumbledore is quite old."
"I have little patience."
"I will not test it."
"I am easily startled."
"I'll approach you with caution."
"I am possessive."
"I would be yours completely."
There was a pause, but he continued on. "I have crooked teeth."
"You have got me there, Severus Snape. You have got crooked teeth." She tried to maintain as serious an expression as possible, yet a playful tone crept into her voice. "Sorry, what do you expect from a woman with dentists for parents?"
He grasped her arm firmly and turned her around to face him. What she saw took her breath away. He lay there, looking at her with his dark, impenetrable gaze, dressed only in a plain white t-shirt and a pair of black boxer shorts, no doubt a remnant of his half-Muggle upbringing.
"If only the explanation for what I have done to deserve you could be given so easily," he muttered, tracing two of his fingers along her jaw.
"You would probably have to get Dumbledore in here to explain the whole thing again. I'm afraid it's quite bewildering," she explained with a contented smile at his touch.
"You never told me that you knew the consequences my walking away from you would have," he mumbled with a frown deepening the lines on his face.
"After all the other things I have said to you, it would have made me a prat of the highest order, wouldn't it have?" Her tone became serious as they studied one another.
"You would allow yourself to die if I had not the heart to make this decision?" His caress on her face turned to a tight grip.
"That's sort of the whole issue, though, isn't it? You do have the heart. You have it because someone or something has seen that I came into your life to keep it safe. If you walked away, there would be no reason for me to haunt you."
For the first time in a long time, Severus let out a relaxed chuckle. "Now I know that it must all be true, for what other fickle mistress would put my heart in the hands of a Gryffindor but fate?"
Hermione allowed his laugh to penetrate and soothe her body. "Have you doubted the Animus Redimio, then?"
Severus sighed. "I have always known. Ever since the day that you were kidnapped and brought to me, I knew. The dread that gripped me when I was forced to strike you could not have been anything else. To hurt one to whom you are bound is a sin of the highest degree. I tried to hurt you again and again to make myself believe that my fate was different, but I was wrong. It seems that my heart would not give up on me."
"It must be a smart organ," she quipped, flashing a bright smile.
"She is," he replied, his hand moving down to rest on the center of her chest. "I have tried to give myself a hundred reasons why I should not be here, Hermione. I have tried to fight it, fight you, but I have failed. Our bond scared me, for I was afraid that even the very power of magic was trying to rule my life."
"What changed your mind?" She looked down at the hand that still lay lightly on her chest.
Severus took a deep breath. "You. I realized that, the Animus Redimio aside, I would have come to love you anyway."
Her bright, brown eyes widened at his words. "You… you love me?"
His laugh made her insides warm yet again. "I gave myself to you that day we escaped the Death Eaters. I finally surrendered myself to someone, and it was you. Could you doubt it?"
"If you say that it is true, I believe it, Severus." She lifted his hand gently from her chest and placed her own over it, pressing both over his heart. "I also believe that anything is worth saving this."
"But it should not have to mean the difference between your life and death." Severus looked down at their hands as Hermione interlaced her fingers with his. "Magic has a cruel sense of humor."
"Maybe it isn't as cruel as you think, Severus. Dumbledore told me that it isn't just about the magic. It's about what those bound together truly desire, what they need for their happiness. Couldn't you choose to see it as magic setting right in your path what you may have otherwise spent your entire life trying to find?"
"And what of you?" His voice was so quiet, it was almost a wordless breath.
"Me? I'm certainly glad that it has set in my path what I would rather die than be denied." Her smile shone with sweet sincerity.
"Do you know what you would be getting yourself into if you became involved with me?" She said nothing, but her eyes asked for him to continue. "I have never been with a woman before, because I know that I would require her to belong to me completely and forever. I have lost too much in my life to risk losing anything so important. I gave myself to you, and you gave yourself to me. I meant it that night: what you gave me, I will never give back." He took a deep breath. "I am not some innocent, bumbling school boy like the ones who have ogled you. I am a man, a man whose life has been dark and haunted. I will not always be gentle, and I will not always be able to spare you the inevitable results of my past. But I will trust you, and I will give you what little I have to give. Merlin knows it is not much, but it will be yours, and I will not ask for its return. If you tell me that you will still have me despite all these things, I will believe you."
Hermione abruptly sat up in the bed and pushed Severus down on his back. With a wave of her hand, the candles in the room burned brighter, and she moved to straddle his hips. Her small hands gripped his surprised face, and, without a word, she was in his mind, not to read his thoughts but to lay all hers bare to him. She showed him all of her memories of him, including times she doubted him and mistrusted him in her younger years at Hogwarts. She showed him her attention to his potions skill in class, her understanding of the brilliance of his publications and research, her respect for his work in the war. She showed him her dreams, her slow realization of the messages he and Dumbledore had been giving her, and her understanding of the deep conflict he felt and betrayal he assumed he had experienced from the Order. Finally, as if she were showing him the finale of the grand story of her memories of him, she showed him the pure love she had felt when they shared a bed for the first time, the love she knew had been there for quite some time, even before she knew about the bond. He watched as she feared for his safety, her desperate pain when he came to the final battle dressed as a Death Eater, and the even greater pain she felt when she believed he would walk away from her. Then, he saw himself in that moment as they lay together on her bed in Hogwarts, her ready acceptance of all he had said and the man that he was, flaws, weaknesses, and all.
When she had broken the connection, they continued to stare at each other, breathless, neither knowing how to proceed or what to say.
"Hermione…" Severus finally moaned, breaking the silence. With one swift motion, he flipped their positions so that he was lying on top of her. He fingered the straps of her maroon camisole, and she realized a bit belatedly that she had got into bed with only the revealing shirt and matching knickers. He smirked at her sudden discomfort. "A bit underdressed?"
She blushed deeply. "Next time I know you're going to sneak into my bed in the middle of the night, I will try to remember to wear my dress robes." She looked over his sparse apparel. "What's your excuse?"
He smiled more widely and embarrassment crossed his own features. "I did not have time to consider my wardrobe before I knew I had to come to you." He waved his hand, and, to Hermione's astonishment, their clothes disappeared from their bodies and appeared in a pile on the floor. "Is that better?"
She could feel his erection pressing against her leg, and it deepened the arousal she had felt since the moment his arm had pressed her against his body in her bed. "Yes." She lifted her hips in an attempt to claim him.
He gasped and pulled back. "Hermione, wait…"
Hermione smiled indulgently at him and sat up in the bed, patting the space next to her. He obliged, and soon they were curled into each other, still very naked, and surrounded by the soft blanket that topped the bed. "What is it, Severus?"
"I love you very much, but…"
"And I love you," she interrupted. "But what?"
He breathed a sigh of relief, realizing that this was the first time that she had said the words, and he had taken for granted that she did, indeed, love him. "But I am afraid. You need to tell me what you want, Hermione. I know you have tried to placate me by leaving it to me, but you must tell me now, before we begin down a road from which we cannot turn."
Hermione considered his severe features for a moment. He was not handsome in the traditional sense, she admitted to herself. His nose was as large and crooked as all the popular insults of him mentioned, and the deep crease between his brows betrayed years of anger and anxiety. His whole appearance suggested neglect, from the greasiness of his hair to the stain of his teeth. Still, there was something behind those dark, forbidding eyes that promised passion, and try as she did to talk herself out of wanting all of him, flaws included, she couldn't. "I want you, Severus, and I did long before I knew the consequences of not having you. I have wished, ever since I was brought before you as your captive, for you to let down your guard with me and allow yourself to be loved by someone with no ulterior motives. I want us both to know that we could be destroyed by the other at any moment, left bereft and hopeless, but trust, with every ounce of our beings, that it will not happen. I want you to put your hands on me, not because you feel guilty for what your life has wrought on me, but because you desire me. I want all of you, even the parts that have earned and will continue to earn you scorn from the entirety of our world for the rest of our lives. I want you to look on me and see in me the promise of all your life has not been, and I want you to surrender to it as I have surrendered myself to you. If you cannot accept that, I would rather you walk away now and leave me to die, because the death of my heart caused by knowing you do not want me every bit as much as I want you would be worse than the destruction of my body."
He grabbed her by the chin, his unrelenting grasp forcing her to stare into his face. "You are a silly girl, Hermione Granger. Could you doubt that I want you? Gods, I know you could destroy me, because you almost did when I thought you were dead. I have feared the intimacy of life with another for so long, and yet here I am, on the precipice, ready to fall at your feet, give myself to you, and beg your forgiveness for all that I have done and all that I am."
Hermione reached up to stroke his cheek. "You will never need my forgiveness, Severus Snape. You need only your own." A lone tear spilled from her eye as she watched the man before her blossom from the shell he had been for so many years.
Severus swiftly wiped the tear away with his thumb and smoothed the salty liquid over Hermione's lips. "If I take you now," he whispered darkly, "there will be no turning back. The first two times, you had your chance to walk away, but this time, I will make you mine. I will have your innocence and your love, and you mine, and we will be forever bound to one another."
"Take me, Severus." Her eyes fluttered closed as his hand snaked down to stroke her sensitized nipple. "No hesitation, no regrets. Love me, now."
He could feel the heat radiating from her body, that delicious warmth created by snuggling against soft sheets in bed. It overwhelmed his senses, and he was unable to resist succumbing to her command.
Slowly, he slid down the mattress, and Hermione followed, both lying on their sides and entwining their arms around each other as they began a slow, tender kiss. His flagging erection sprang to life again, tickling the inside of her leg.
He pulled away from her lips and gazed into her eyes, feeling warm puffs of breath on his face. "You have completely bewitched me."
Hermione couldn't speak as he gently pushed her onto her back. Kneeling over her, he ran his hands up her sides until he reached her armpits. With a gentle insistence, he coaxed her arms over her head and held them down with light pressure in his right hand. "You have me completely at your mercy."
He covered her body with his, his insistent erection pressing itself between her legs, begging for the release he knew only she could provide. "I love you, Hermione," he gasped as, with a jilted thrust of his hips, he joined their bodies.
Hermione writhed beneath him in a mixture of relief and ecstasy. It was as though each of his now more measured and powerful thrusts were a promise never to leave her again. She pulsed against him, trying to keep him sheathed inside of her as his frantic movements threatened to separate them. He was almost brutal in his motions, his teeth clenched and his eyes wild. "Severus," she whimpered. "I am not going anywhere!" Her voice was almost a whisper as she looked into his dark eyes. He was staring at her intently, as though trying to gauge if she could handle him in her life by witnessing him nearly losing control in her bed.
He stilled his movements and looked down at her. "Have I hurt you?"
She smiled lovingly at him and brought her hips up to grind against his. "No, and you never will be able to again."
Her sudden boldness and unexpected words caused Severus to take a few more gentle turns about her body before bringing them both to completion, hers a gasping, "Oh!" and his a trembling sigh. Before collapsing breathlessly beside her, Severus whispered against Hermione's ear, "You are mine."
The next morning, Severus and Hermione packed all of their belongings and made to return to Spinner's End after Hermione had visited with her friends, and Severus had spoken with Albus.
There was only a short time left before the end of term, and Slughorn agreed to finish out the year teaching Potions. Hermione suggested to Severus that he return to Hogwarts in the fall with her as his very capable apprentice. Once they had achieved some stability in their lives and in the wizarding world, she reasoned with him, they could leave the school and do whatever they wanted. However, for now, Hogwarts was a place that was precious to them both, and it seemed natural to begin their life together there.
Long months of sorting out dark wizards from the magical world lay before them, and no one was quite sure how everything was going to look in the near future. There were many wounds, both physical and emotional, that needed to be healed. Families had been shattered, lives had been lost, and many secrets and lies waited to be uncovered. Those who had not fought basked in the glory of a world free from Voldemort, but those who had witnessed his downfall, and the deaths of many on both sides of the war, knew that the enjoyment of victory was not always so easy.
Within the shabby walls of Spinner's End, however, one conflict had seen its end. The Animus Redimio satisfied, the discomfort caused by its command diminished and was replaced with love, a love that was forged by nature and strengthened by the wills of those enraptured by it. One stomach settled, and one heart relieved, two mere mortals accepted the mysterious gift that had been given to them.
A/N part deux: Well, this is it, the end of this story. I know there are some loose ends, but that leaves me with a wonderful chance to have my own little alternative universe to write in after DH, doesn't it? And I will, I just can't say when I will start on a sequel. I am working on a little comedy, and I wrote a piece for the SSHG exchange, so I won't be disappearing! Thank you all again for being so wonderful!