Chapter 15 - Epilogue

"Jamie! Hey, Jamie Potter!" Jamie turned around at the sound of her name coming from below her, and nearly cursed whoever had called her. The second she had turned around, the stairway had decided to move. She tightened her grip on the banister to keep her balance as the stairs groaned and shifted their position. She looked daggers down at Emrys Snape as he climbed nimbly up the unstable stairs, not even placing a hand on the railing.

"Emrys! Now we're going to be late for Defence…" she complained.

He huffed up to stand by her. "I'm sorry, but my mum forgot to tell you in class that you are invited to our place tonight. Your family, Roger's and mine - all together for dinner tonight." He gave her a little push along the new corridor that the stairs had moved them to as her eyebrows shot up in surprise.

"Really? Well, that should be nice. Alright, then, thanks for letting me know."

"No problem, let's run or we'll be late for Professor Lupin!" The two Gryffindors took off running down the corridor skidding into their seats just as the bell sounded.

Severus was relaxing in the parlour watching A.J. cruise around the furniture. The ten-month old had started this precursor to walking the previous week and was revelling in the freedom it afforded him. Every now and then he would manoeuvre over to his father's legs, request with his arms up in the air that he wanted to be picked up, hug his dad for a few moments and then wriggle down off the warm lap and start around the room again. Severus figured they had maybe one or two days left before the boy started walking unaided; he was barely touching the furniture as it was, now.

"Sir, the Potters are at the door, shall I let them in?" Gustav's inside portrait enquired.

Severus turned at the sound. "Yes, Gustav, they are expected tonight, as are the Lupins." He got up to head toward the door sparing a glance toward his son to mark where the child was.

"Very good, sir." The door unlatched with a soft 'snick' and Severus stood just inside to welcome his guests.

"Harry, Ginny, thank you for joining us this evening… Miss Potter, I believe you will find my children down the hall in the girls' room." Jamie nodded her head in reply and herded her younger siblings down the hall to Brigida's bedroom where she could hear the radio blaring, and laughter as small explosions indicated an Exploding Snap game was underway. A few moments later the Lupin boys had joined them. Alisha eventually left the room as the noise level increased and her tolerance level decreased.

After her ordeal at the hands of Narcissa, she periodically found herself in fits of depression where she just wanted to be alone and hide away where no one could reach her. The adults seemed to think this was normal for someone who had gone through what she had at her age, but she couldn't shake the feeling that something was not quite right with her anymore. She still had the dreams of being in the dungeon - broken, cold and unable to move. At other times she dreamt of the actual abuse and would wake up screaming at the remembered pain – but when fully awake, could never remember what the dreams had contained.

Those nights she would wander out of her dormitory and head for her parents' rooms where she could curl up on her bed with her bear and feel safe. Severus or Esme would inevitably find her there – parental ESP always in action – and sit by her side offering comfort, potions and love as needed.

Her favourite dreams were ones where a man held her in his strong arms and she felt safe and protected. Sometimes she felt that the arms belonged to her father, but increasingly she was feeling as if they sometimes belonged to someone else, and that perplexed her as she could not see the face to whom they belonged.

Tonight she didn't want to be alone, but she didn't want to be around noisy siblings either. She wandered down the hallway towards the parlour where she could hear the adults discussing the events of the day. A loud squeal alerted her just in time as her smallest brother launched himself to her from where he had been cruising at Professor Potter's knee, making his way to her in record time. He didn't notice he was walking unaided at all – but the adults did. Severus groaned as he realised this meant that his youngest was now within reach of everything! Potter and Remus laughed at his consternation.

"Iss, Iss!" came from around the corner of the divan as Benjy Lupin barrelled his way towards her as well. Both boys reached her at about the same time and she sat down on the rug, laughing, as the toddlers climbed all over her. Her depression vanished like a cloud of smoke as she rough-housed with the two boys. She congratulated A.J. on his accomplishment, and missed seeing her parents cast an appreciative glance in her direction, happy to see their eldest and youngest interacting together, and to see a smile on Alisha's face.

As Wizby announced that dinner was served, Gustav summoned Severus. "Sir, there is a Mr Constantine at the door…"

An eyebrow shot up but Severus nodded and went out into the hall casting Muffliato as he went, ensuring no one would hear the conversation.

"Derek, to what do I owe this pleasure? You are making me miss a dinner-party." He stood in front of the young man in his imposing-teacher stance.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I thought you ought to know that what is left of the group is planning on meeting tonight at ten p.m. I tried to let Professor McGonagall know, but she wasn't in the tower, so I thought I would try here."

"How many?" Snape asked quickly, switching the imposing- teacher stance for one that was much more concerned about the information that was to follow.

"About fifty, sir. That's all that are left."

Severus thought a moment, and making a quick decision, cancelled the muffling spell and walked towards the door. "Very well, come inside and wait in my office." He led his former student into the flat and through the door on the left-hand wall that led to the joint office space for the two professors. "Sit there," he said sharply, pointing at a hard wooden chair that was positioned against the wall. "I'll be right back."

Severus headed back to the dining room where Esme took in his demeanour and deduced quickly that something was up.

"Severus?" she enquired.

"I'm sorry, Esmerelda, but Derek Constantine is here with some news. I need to borrow Minerva, Harry and Tonks for a few moments. Don't wait to eat, go on ahead. We'll be back as soon as we can." Esme nodded in resignation and continued to serve up the food as the requested adults excused themselves from the table and followed Snape back to the office.

Several moments later, Harry and Tonks returned to kiss their spouses goodbye and left the rooms almost at a run, both looking as if Christmas had come early, Tonks' hair flashing pink and purple in her excitement. Minerva and Severus were slower in their return to the table and when they did it was in the accompaniment of Derek Constantine. He took the seat that had been vacated by Harry, which put him conveniently next to Alisha. He smiled shyly at her as he placed his serviette in his lap and helped himself to the platter of meat that she passed to him. She coloured quickly as their hands met, which was not lost on her parents. They shared a quick look between them that clearly said 'We will discuss this later'.

"Severus, is there anything going on between those two?" Esme asked from her seat at the dressing table, as she ran her brush through her hair in preparation to plait it for the night.

"I don't think so, but she just turned fifteen and I think this may be her first major crush. He rescued her, there is bound to be some hero-worshipping attachment on her part." He thought a bit as he changed into a nightshirt. "I do think there may be some real attraction on his part towards her, though. I'll have a talk with him soon and see what his intentions are towards her. Should I warn him off, do you think?" He grinned a bit evilly at the thought.

"Just remind him that she is only fifteen and that this may only be a school-girl crush," she decided, shooting him a look that was a mixture of exasperation and humour as she noted the evil grin. "You really want to intimidate him, don't you?"

"Of course I do! It's my first chance at being the protective father of the datable daughter. I've been waiting for this for years!" He chuckled to himself as he headed to the bathroom to wash up for the evening.

When he returned, Esme was sitting up in bed reading a book. She smiled at him as he crawled in next to her. She closed the book on her finger to mark her spot and looked over at her spouse. She thought he was still just as handsome as the day they had met at the bookstore, albeit a bit greyer and with a few more lines, but yes, just as handsome. She leaned over to give him a quick peck, but he pulled her in for a more passionate embrace.

"Do you think the raid will work?" she asked him a while later.

"I think so. We'll hear in the morning. Derek seems to think this should be the remainder of the hardcore supporters here in the UK, so it should be very profitable. Harry and Tonks were nearly salivating at the thought of capturing that many Death Eaters." He chuckled at the remembered look on their faces when they heard the news.

"Good." She nox-ed the branch of candles on her bedside table after laying down her book, and cuddled contentedly in Severus' arms.

The next morning was the day of the leaving feast, and the news quickly spread through the four tables like wildfire as the owls delivered the morning mail and Daily Prophets.

Crackdown on Former Death Eaters read the headline, followed by a large article with pictures taken as the prisoners were led into Ministry holding cells pending their trials.

"So this is why your Da was late for dinner last night!" Roger exclaimed to his best friend as they shovelled eggs and bacon into their mouths.

"Yeah, Derek was the guy who rescued my sister in February. I wondered why he had shown up last night. Did your mum say anything?"

"Nah, she never talks about that stuff at home. Besides she got home after I fell asleep. Where are you sleeping tonight?"

"Dorm. You?"

"Me too. Hey, as of tonight we're no longer firsties!" The two boys grinned at the prospect of no longer being at the bottom of the pecking order and hurried up to finish their breakfast. There were going to be several pick-up games of Quidditch at the pitch and they wanted to be there early. The house captains would be scouting for next years teams, and Emrys and Roger were going to put in an all-out effort today.

The boys smiled as Jamie joined them at the table, followed by Brigida, Nancy and Alisha.

Alisha looked over at the younger children as she served herself. "So, who's going out and playing Quidditch this morning?" She smiled as the expected hands of Emrys, Roger and Jamie shot into the air, but was amazed at seeing Brigida's join them.

"You're playing Quidditch?" she enquired of her sister, a bit incredulously. It was family legend as to how much Brigida and brooms did not get along with each other. But Alisha had not seen Bree during flying lessons with the Potters.

Brigida nodded her head, tossing back the two plaits that she had styled her hair in that morning. "I'm no longer afraid of flying, and I've been practising in class. Mrs Potter has been giving me pointers," she said defiantly. Emrys had seen his sister improve and felt that she wasn't a complete disaster on a broom anymore, so he readily agreed with her. "Sure, why not? Are you guys ready?" he asked the rest of the group.

Roger stuffed another piece of toast in his mouth as he jumped up from his spot on the bench, and Brigida gulped down the last of her pumpkin juice before joining the rest as they headed out the doors.

Somehow word got to Severus that Brigida was playing Quidditch on the pitch with all of the team captains watching. He hadn't seen her fly since the first lesson and was curious as to how she had obtained the courage to play a full-fledged game. With no lessons that day, he hurried down to the pitch followed closely by the rest of the available teachers and adults in the school. They reached the stands and found seats just as the first game started. The teams were made up of groups of house-mates ranging from first through sixth-years. The first quick game was between a group of Ravenclaws and one from Slytherin. Severus made a mental note of potential players for the following year as he watched the game ensue.

Three games later and Emrys' group was called to the pitch to play against a Ravenclaw group that included Brigida. Emrys and Roger were the Beaters for their team, and Brigida, amazingly enough, was Seeker for the Ravenclaws. Severus watched as his daughter flew lazy patterns in the sky, searching the arena for the elusive golden ball. She pulled a few feints to intimidate Jamie Potter, who was the Seeker for the Gryffindors.

Jamie had been flying since she was old enough to sit a broom, and her father had played pick-up games of Quidditch with her for years. Brigida had one term on the broom, but Severus noted with pride that she flew just as well as the Potter girl.

His breath caught in his throat as he watched Jamie dive for the pitch, Brigida hot on her tail. Brigida pushed her school broom to the limit, and she managed to pull up alongside Jamie, both of their hands reaching for the Snitch flying tantalizingly ahead of them. Just as Brigida's fingers scrabbled across one of the wings, the Snitch jogged to the left, directly into Jamie's hand. Brigida let her arm fall dejectedly to the handle of her broom as Jamie soared away triumphantly to join her team-mates as they celebrated their win. Brigida flew down to the ground and walked towards the broom shed to put her broom away.

Severus watched his daughter walking towards the shed and quickly excusing himself, made his way after her, catching up with her as she shut the door to the shed.

"I'm very proud of you, Bree," he said to her as he walked up to the castle with her, a fatherly arm around her shoulders.

"I didn't catch the Snitch," she grumbled. "And it was so close, Da!" She looked up at her father, a dejected look on her face. "I could feel it at the tips of my fingers!"

Severus gave her a quick squeeze. "I know. You did very well, otherwise. You were quite a match for Miss Potter, you know, and she's had her father teaching her for years!" he pointed out.

"You really think so?" asked Brigida as she looked up at her father.

"Yes I do. I can honestly say you were one of the best Seekers out there today," he assured her.

She brightened up at the praise and gave her father a quick hug before they ascended the stairs to the castle entrance.

"Now, go get showered and changed for the feast tonight. Is your trunk packed? Don't forget we're…"

"…heading to the cottage after the train leaves. I know Da! Yes, I'm almost packed!"

"Cheeky! Be off with you now!" he said, giving her bum a swat as she laughed on her way past him, heading to the Ravenclaw corridor.

"Well, another year gone by," Esme said as she sat next to Severus the next night in the parlour of the cottage. She handed him a glass of wine and curled her legs up beside her as she leaned into his one-armed embrace. The children were all in bed, sound asleep, after a busy day of moving back to the cottage for the summer, checking all their old haunts, and swimming to their hearts' content.

Wizby had tutted to herself at the amount of dust in the house upon arrival and had immediately started cleaning, humming little tunes in her contentment. A.J. had started climbing on his own that morning and was keeping his siblings and parents on the constant alert, as he was without any inborn fear of heights at all; in fact the higher, the better.

"Did you see Bree's face when the Ravenclaw Captain asked her to try out next term?" Severus asked his wife. "It was priceless!" He chuckled to himself in remembrance.

"I didn't make it to the games yesterday, did she do well?"

"Quite well! If the Snitch hadn't jogged into Potter's hand, Brigida would have caught it, I'm sure."

"Really?" She mulled this over as she sipped her wine. "Should we get her a broom? She's never asked for one."

"Let's wait and see. Emrys saved up for his – I think she should do the same, although she has almost half of the cost of a good broom in her account already."

"Perhaps a half and half deal?" his wife suggested.

He shrugged. "Perhaps." He noted her empty glass as he set his own on the table next to the divan. "Are you done? Ready for bed?" He plucked the glass out of her hand and set it next to his own.

She yawned at the suggestion, nodding her agreement. He helped her up and, taking her in his arms, gently kissed her, letting his fingers loosen the knot at the nape of her neck, causing her hair to tumble over his hands, falling to the floor in silver and auburn waves.

She leaned into his kiss, breath quickening as his hands roamed, first through her hair and then around her face, down her shoulder blades and into the small of her back, pressing her closer to him where she could feel his rising passion. Her own arms came up to snake around his neck, pulling his head closer to hers as she opened her mouth to his questing tongue, revelling in the familiar feel of him inside her, causing her own excitement to grow.

Severus gently laid her down on the soft rug in front of the fire, spelling off their clothes and proceeded to make slow, languorous love to the main woman in his life, marvelling once again – before he lost himself to the sensations – that he was lucky to have her.