And now we truly come to the end. Thank you to everyone who read this story -- thank you for your wonderful reviews, for your insights, and for your infinite patience with my not-so-regular update schedule. And if you're someone who's read along but never reviewed, perhaps now might be a good time to comment!
I'm going to take a little break from fanfic for a while, but I do plan to be back with another Snape story in November. Not SS/HG, but a story about him and Professor Sinistra. I do hope you'll join me for that one, too!
Epilogue: Brave New World
The house was a saltbox Colonial, set well back from the road. It sat on a generous plot of a little more than two acres.
"All the conveniences," said the realtor, her heels clicking on the wooden floor as she led Hermione down the hallway that connected the rooms at the front of the house with the kitchen in the back. "The owner is a Muggle, but he was very careful to keep the spirit of the house while updating the plumbing and wiring." She paused, then cast a surprised look over her shoulder. "Where is your husband off to?"
"He went outside," Hermione replied. "Inspecting the herb garden, I think. I did mention he runs a mail-order potions business, didn't I?" She felt it better not to tell Meg Bradshaw, the realtor, that Severus had informed her in no uncertain terms that he couldn't tolerate Ms. Bradshaw's studiedly cheerful presence for more than five minutes at a time.
"Besides," he'd added. "I care very little for the interior. I'm more interested in the grounds, and that shed out back."
Meg paused and considered Hermione's comment. "That you did."
"And the shed up in that little stand of trees?"
A flashing smile, revealing a row of unnaturally white teeth. Hermione would never have guessed the realtor was a proud graduate of the Salem Witches' Institute, but she was rapidly learning that this city possessed a peculiar mixture of the Muggle and wizarding worlds, one that was quite new to her experience.
"The owner had that built. He's a writer and used the shed for his work. But now Hollywood has bought one of his books for a movie, and he's off to California. It's set up as an office now, but I imagine your husband could easily convert it to a potions workshop. It's fully plumbed and has both gas and electricity."
Not that Severus required either of those for his work, but the improvements would make life easier. Really, the whole place was just about perfect. And the price seemed quite reasonable.
They entered the kitchen, which, like the rest of the house, was relentlessly up-to-date: stainless appliances, granite countertops, imported tile floor.
"May I just say how excited we are to have you here, Mrs. Granger-Snape? To have one of those who helped defeat He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named as our new Arithmancy teacher? Quite the coup for the Institute!"
Hermione managed an awkward smile. She'd been a little surprised to learn that her reputation had apparently preceded her. For some reason, she'd always been under the impression that her American counterparts didn't pay much attention to what was going on across the pond unless it involved Quidditch.
Really, the whole thing had just been an exercise in the power of coincidence. If she hadn't picked up that issue of Witch Weekly and seen the small advert in the back that said Arithmancy professor needed. Inquire Salem Institute of Witchcraft, she and Severus might well still be back in Yorkshire, muddling along and trying to pretend everything was fine.
There'd been no question of staying at Rosedell; Severus had refused to live anywhere within a ten-mile radius of the Burrow. Secretly, Hermione had been glad to leave. It felt odd and somehow wrong to be with another man in the home she had shared with Ron. Worse, Molly had made little effort to conceal the anger and betrayal she felt at seeing her daughter-in-law take up with another man less than a year after Ron had died. The rest of the Weasleys took it a bit better, but the whole situation had felt awkward beyond words. Hermione had been glad to flee to Yorkshire, even if it meant sharing the cramped cottage Severus called home.
Even there it had been difficult. No one who had a habit of solitude as he did would take easily to having another person underfoot day in and day out, even if that person was the woman he loved. For herself, she had thought she wouldn't mind the isolation of her new home in Yorkshire, but it had begun to wear on her after only a few weeks.
Since she didn't know what else to do, she'd continued in her post at the Ministry. Even that had its drawbacks, not the least of which were the inquisitive stares she received from almost everyone, and the whispering she knew went on the second she left the room. To be sure, the whole situation must have looked very strange to an outsider. Hermione Granger, a widow of barely eight months, taking up with another man? And not just any man, but Severus Snape, her former professor!
She'd borne it as best she could. At least she had her evenings with Severus, where they could talk about the test for Scarbury's they were developing, or the new potion he'd thought of, or the wonderful news that Neville was going to be the next Herbology professor at Hogwarts after all.
At that revelation an odd expression had crossed Severus' face. Hermione couldn't quite puzzle it out. Surely it couldn't be envy?
"Do you miss it?" she asked. "Teaching, I mean."
His mouth had twisted. "Hardly. Not a day goes by where I don't give thanks that I'll never have to grade another first year's botched potions essay again."
And that appeared to be the end of the discussion. For herself, she felt a strange restlessness, as if she thought she should be doing something more. To be sure, her work for house-elves' rights was very important, but she had already made great strides, and the movement had begun to gain its own momentum. Even the research she'd continued with Severus in developing a screening test for Scarbury's felt strangely flat.
When she showed him the notice in the paper, she'd thought he would offer more protest. After all, it was one thing to move from one county to another, and quite something else to pick up and relocate in a whole new country.
But all he'd said was, "I didn't know you wanted to teach."
It was something she'd considered, back before things got serious with Ron. But teaching at Hogwarts while getting married and raising a family hadn't seemed terribly plausible. She'd known even then that Ron wanted to be an Auror. What life could they have had, with him based at the Ministry and she all the way up in Scotland at Hogwarts?
"I thought about it," she admitted. "But you know how life is -- "
He paused then, wand hovering over the cauldron that sat on the stovetop. His shoulders lifted, and he said, his tone laced with irony, "Indeed I do." A graceful wave of the wand over the cauldron, and the air in the cottage filled with the scent of damp earth and wet grass after a heavy rain. He added, "Moving to New England would give me an opportunity to work with an entirely new selection of flora."
After he made that remark, she knew he would offer no protest. No doubt he had felt the strain as well, the burden of cruel, casual gossip, of a past one couldn't entirely escape. Well, they wouldn't be the first to seek opportunity in the New World.
Meg Bradshaw watched her with speculative, heavily mascaraed eyes. Realizing she'd been woolgathering, Hermione blurted, "We'll take it."
Those eyes, bright blue against their rings of black liner, widened a bit. "But you haven't even seen the upstairs!"
"Three bedrooms, right?" Hermione asked, quickly recalling the particulars she'd read on the listing for the house. "One bath up, one bath down?"
"Then I think it will do very well for us."
Truly, the house was quaint and lovely and so peculiarly American in its contrast of state-of-the-art appointments with a house that was almost three hundred years old. Perhaps it wasn't the sort of place she'd envisioned when she first realized she would be sharing a home with Severus, but in many ways it was better. Although Salem was a good-sized town, here on the outskirts one could still feel alone. The forest marched its way right up to the border of the property. He would be able to spend many happy hours roaming through the woods in search of new potions ingredients.
"When would you want to move in?" Ms. Bradshaw asked. It was clear that she didn't intend to argue the point any further, not when she had an easy sale in her reach.
"As soon as possible. Would you have the paperwork ready by tomorrow morning?"
"And you'll be able to take payment in Galleons?"
The realtor smiled, showing off her perfect teeth once more. "Not a problem. We'll work with a Muggle bank, but we can change the money for you. I'll just need you both to sign the loan papers -- "
"Oh, we won't be getting a loan."
Hermione repressed a smile of her own. "We're paying in cash." She didn't bother to add that five years of pension payments with nothing to spend them on added up to a great deal of money, especially when one considered Muggle/wizard exchange rates.
A blink. "Oh. Well, then, I -- " She appeared to gather herself. "That'll be great. You're going to love it here. The Institute is a wonderful school, and the Muggles sort of expect us to be, well, us, so it's quite relaxed. Since we're all playing at witches and witchcraft, no one seems to suspect us of being the real thing."
"The purloined letter technique?"
Another blink. "The what?"
"From the story by Edgar Allen Poe. The concept of hiding something in plain sight."
"Oh." Meg gave a rather nervous little laugh. "I suppose I should know that, with him being a fellow New Englander and all. But I really didn't do too much reading except what we had to study for school."
Hermione wondered just how good the Salem Institute could be if its students were so intellectually incurious. Then she recalled how near impossible it had been to get Harry or Ron to read anything that wasn't directly related to class…and sometimes not even then. Apparently some things never changed, even with an ocean separating the two schools.
"Well, no matter," she said firmly. "The house is perfect, and we would like to get moved in as soon as possible so we have time to get settled before the term starts. What time would be best to meet with you tomorrow morning?"
"Ten?" Ms. Bradshaw replied. She looked a bit thrown off by the abrupt change in topic, but with a hefty commission in sight she wasn't about to let herself get too distracted.
"Excellent. Do you mind if we stay behind and look over the property?"
"No…no. The front door is an automatic deadbolt -- it'll lock behind you after you let yourself out."
Hermione offered up another smile, and the realtor seemed to take that as a dismissal. She Disapparated with a cra-ack! that echoed loudly off the granite and tile in the kitchen.
I think that's the first time I've ever seen someone Disapparate in a skirt suit and three-inch heels, Hermione thought, somewhat irrelevantly.
She went to the back door and opened it. A fresh breeze came down off the hillside, smelling of dry grass and unfamiliar wildflowers. "It's safe," she said.
Severus came around the corner of the house. Even the dark Muggle clothing he'd donned for their meeting with the realtor looked incongruous against the bright late summer day. "Well?"
"I told her I thought it was perfect. She's expecting us in her office tomorrow morning to finalize the transaction."
"And what if I thought it wasn't perfect?"
A frown creased his brow, and then he let out a small chuckle. "No, I find it quite suitable. The office will suit me very well as a workshop once I've made some modifications. And the property offers the necessary privacy."
"Privacy? For what?"
He stepped closer. "For this."
And he reached out to her and drew her against him, brought his mouth against hers. This was how she knew it was all so right, even here, in a strange land, in a life she had never expected to live.
His arms went around her, and she was home.