DISCLAIMER: All characters seen here are the exclusive property of JK Rowling. She's the genius, I'm the fangirl who can't resist playing with her creations.
Portions of dialogue in this chapter are quoted from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, pages 753-759.
It was nearly six months before he kissed her lips.
By that time, he had kissed her forehead, her neck, the delicate white undersides of her wrists, and each new burn and scar that her hands had acquired as the months had passed, but never her lips. There was something sacrosanct about them, in his mind. He was almost afraid to touch them.
He rarely used her first name, either. She was Miss Granger always, except in his most ardent moments. She bore it with good grace, laughing at him for it, and smiling with more and more ease as days and weeks went by.
Always, always, she was the loveliest woman he had ever beheld.
He kissed her for the first time in the laboratory storeroom, on a Sunday afternoon, shortly before teatime.
He couldn't say afterwards what finally pushed him to it. She wasn't meant to be in the storeroom. She was meant to be in London, buying books for the library at Spinner's End, which they had set about enlarging.
And so, when he walked into the storeroom, his thoughts occupied with teaching simple jinxes and hexes to first years, and checking to see whether he had enough boomslang skin, he was completely surprised to find her there, taking an inventory.
"Severus!" she cried, her face lighting up.
"Miss Granger. I believed that you were in London."
"I'm just back, and I thought I'd step in and start the weekly inventory before tea. What did you need? I'll fetch it for you."
He moved forward, stretching a hand out as if to take something from the shelf behind her. Instead, he wrapped his it around her waist and drew her close to him, crushing her to his chest and enfolding her in both of his arms. "I need only you, Hermione," he whispered into her hair, inhaling its sweet fragrance when he drew breath.
She nuzzled her face into the side of his neck, the sensation strangely changed when he felt it through scar tissue. "I love you," she murmured.
"And I you." He pulled at one of her curls, twisting it around his fingers.
She raised her face to him then, looking up and smiling a tender, womanly smile, one that her lips had learned to make only in the months since he had first taken her into his arms. Before he knew what he was about, he had bent down and pressed his mouth to hers.
If she stiffened in surprise, it was for a moment so brief that Severus didn't notice it. Her arms tightened around him, and her mouth responded delightfully to his. An age of waiting and desiring was satisfied by that kiss, and a new one begun.
They did not emerge for a long time.
0 0 0
Nineteen Years Later...
Autumn arrived unexpectedly, September first dawning crisp and cool, with hardly a previous day of chill to herald its coming. Hermione disentangled herself from Severus, getting out of bed for the third time that morning. Bending over to kiss him once more before she dashed out the door, still buttoning the sleeves of her robes, she set off in a hurry so as not to be late to meet Ron and the children in London. She left Severus behind, muttering irritable things into his pillow about Ronald Weasley's bloody inability to take his children to meet the train without help.
She Apparated to the Leaky Cauldron with just enough time to have a cup of tea before Ron, Hugo and Rose arrived. She was waiting outside for them when they finally got there, puttering up in an ancient car that appeared barely able to contain Ron, the two children, and Rose's trunk and owl.
"Good gracious, Ron," she said, surveying the car. "Where did you find that?"
"Dad fixed me up with it. Hop on in, Hermione. It doesn't go terribly fast, and we don't want to be late."
"Hello, darlings," said Hermione, bestowing kisses and sweets on the two children in the back of the car. "How's your mum?"
"Brilliant!" said Hugo. "She was in The Prophet this morning!"
"Did the Harpies win, then?"
"Katie Weasley," said Ron, grinning, "leading Holyhead to victory again."
"Where's uncle Severus?" asked Rose, sounding disappointed. "I thought he was going to be here. I already put on my new robes so he could see."
"He had to stay at home and take care of Aurora. She's too little to be left alone. You'll see him when you get to Hogwarts, though, and I'm sure he'll love your new robes; you look absolutely lovely."
"Is she awfully big?"
"She's a baby," said Hugo matter-of-factly. "Babies aren't big."
"She could be big for a baby."
"That she could," said Ron. "What's the weather like in Hogsmeade, Hermione? I wasn't sure if I should have Rose wear her cloak or not."
"She might as well leave it off until they're across the lake. Dudley's no better than Hagrid at keeping the first years from getting soaked through to the bone, poor things. I ought to talk to Severus about it. It can't be healthy."
"Don't be daft. It wouldn't be first year at Hogwarts without starting it off with an introduction to the giant squid."
"It's real?" squeaked Rose, bouncing in her seat.
"'Course it is," said Hugo knowledgeably.
"Here we are," said Ron. "Everybody out."
It took several minutes to get the children and Rose's luggage extricated from the car. Hermione and Ron loaded the trunk onto a trolley (with a little surreptitious wandwork by Ron when he thought that Hermione wasn't looking) and let the children push it together through the station.
"Where are they?" squealed Rose, as soon as they'd made it through the barrier and pushed the trolley down to the last carriage, which Ron insisted was the best.
"I don't see them yet," said Hermione, squinting through the thick clouds of vapor that surrounded them all, and then-- "Here they come, Rose."
"Hi," said Albus Potter with a tone of greatest relief at having found them.
Rose positively glowed.
"Parked all right, then?" said Ron, shoving his hands in his pockets and grinning at Harry. "I did. Hermione didn't believe I could pass a Muggle driving test, did you? She thought I'd have to Confund the examiner."
Hermione, who had been picking grass out of Hugo's messy red hair, glanced up. "No I didn't," she said, somewhat untruthfully. "I had complete faith in you."
Harry and Ron disappeared into the fog, lugging trunks and cages onto the train, while Lily Potter made her way over to Hugo and began an anxious conference about Sorting.
"James says Al's going to be in Slytherin," said Lily conspiratorially.
"If you're not in Gryffindor, we'll disinherit you, but no pressure" said Ron, re-emerging from the fog just in time to catch the comment. He ruffled up Hugo's hair, which did nothing for his overall appearance. Hermione thought fleetingly of a very similar-looking redhead standing on the platform with a smudge of dirt on his nose, many years ago.
"Ron," she said, disapprovingly. The younger children laughed, but Hermione didn't miss the uncertain look exchanged by Rose and Albus. "He doesn't mean it," she said comfortingly, slipping each of them another sweet.
"Look who it is," muttered Ron, and Hermione glanced up just in time to catch sight of Draco Malfoy through the mist. Her stomach clenched anxiously, and she moved her hand to her sleeve, checking for her wand with an habitual gesture. He noticed them only a moment after they noticed him, and he nodded sharply before turning his back on them.
"So that's little Scorpius," said Ron softly. "Make sure you beat him in every test, Rosie. Thank God you inherited your mother's brains."
"Ron, for heaven's sake," said Hermione softly. She had developed a substantial soft spot in her heart for young Slytherins since marrying their most beloved Professor and, for his sake, was trying to be charitable, even to Scorpius Malfoy. "Don't try to turn them against each other before they've even started school."
"You're right, sorry," said Ron. Then, casting another look towards the Malfoy family, which was rapidly disappearing in the fog again, he nudged his daughter gently. "Don't get too friendly with him, though, Rosie. Granddad Weasley would never forgive you if you married a pureblood."
"Hey!" cried James, sprinting through the mist, panting for breath. "Teddy's back there," he cried, pointing in the direction from which he'd just come running. "Just seen him! And guess what he's doing? Snogging Victoire!"
Ron and Harry laughed.
"I'm just going to go have a word with them," said Hermione to Ginny, unnoticed by the rest. "I won't be a minute. Severus and I want to see if Teddy and Andromeda will take Aurora for us while we're away next month. He's taking me to France for my birthday."
Ginny nodded, and Hermione set off through the dense clouds of steam. By the time she was back, the children were loaded onto the train and waving goodbye as it slowly began to pull away.
Harry stood still, following its motion only with his eyes, his hand in the air as he watched the train carry his thin, green-eyed son away.
"He'll be all right," murmured Ginny.
Harry dropped his hand, linking his arm in hers. "I know he will."
"Well," said Ron, holding Hugo in his arms, "that was harder than I thought. I understand why mum always acted the way she did."
"Yeah," said Harry, running his hand through his hair.
"Makes me glad that Severus and I live at the school," said Hermione, thinking forlornly of their days riding to Hogsmeade on the train. "I don't think I could bear to put Aurora on the train and not see her for an entire term."
"She's still so little," said Ginny, patting her arm. "Believe me, by the time she's eleven, you'll be glad to have her sleeping in a dormitory and not running about underfoot all the time."
Harry checked his watch. "We ought to go. My lunch hour's nearly over."
Hermione hugged Ron, kissed Hugo (to his great dismay), squeezed Ginny's hand and received another hug from Harry. "I'll let you know the next time I'm coming in to London," she said, smiling brightly. "Severus sends his love."
"Oh," said Harry, reaching into his pocket and pulling out a small book. "Give this back to him. Tell him I really enjoyed it."
She took the book and smiled. "I will."
Turning on her heel, she disappeared, arriving at the gates of Hogwarts where, so many years ago, Severus had met her and asked her to be his wife, the very day he'd first declared his love for her.
The walk up to the school was pleasant, the air just chilly enough to make her feel awake and alive. Inside the castle, her husband and baby daughter waited for her. She took a deep breath of early autumn air, and smiled as she opened the doors to the Entrance Hall.
Nothing had turned out as she'd expected it to; all of it was better than she could have dreamed. She descended the stairs to the dungeons and the home they had shared since their wedding night. Severus drew her into his arms with a welcoming kiss as soon as she was through the door. A cross-breeze blew through the room and slammed the door shut behind her, waking the baby.
She went and gathered their daughter into her arms, shushing her gently.
"All's well, my love," she murmured, leaning into Severus' chest as he came up behind her and slid his arms around her waist. "All is well."
It's been an amazing experience, writing this fic. Readers, reviewers, idea-bouncers and pseudo-betas, you all have my neverending thanks. I never imagined, when I started this, how long it would go, and how many wonderful people I'd meet along the way.
I've already begun a new story. Keep your eyes open for it, everyone!