DISCLAIMER: I don't own the characters or setting – those belong to JK Rowling, to whom I am eternally grateful for creating the Potterverse. I'm just taking a couple of her characters out for a spin, but promise to return them, only slightly the worse for wear.

A/N 1: This story is AU in that Severus Snape did not die. A rather brainy brunette saved him after Nagini's attack in DH. As much as is possible, I'll make this canon-compliant, though I'm ignoring the epilogue.

A/N 2: OMG! It's over! I can't believe it. To all of you who have read this and enjoyed it – it wouldn't have been anywhere near this good without Felena1971. If you like this and you want more of our stuff, be sure to add WordNerds2008 (User ID# 1673268) to your author alerts – that's our new joint account, and where most of my new stuff will probably be posted.

Epilogue


Part one: Hermione

"I'm so glad you could all be here," I say, as we all take our seats at the small table. It's crowded, but I don't mind. "It's wonderful to get everyone together."

I've never played hostess before – it's not a terribly comfortable role for me. But the cottage looks clean and bright, and we've brought in food from the Three Broomsticks, next door. I'm not really much of a cook, so Severus and I take most of our meals there. Hannah Abbot, er… Longbottom, now the proprietress since Rosmerta retired, has permanently reserved a small, private table in the back for us. It's not Hogwarts Dining Hall food, but it's pretty good, and Severus appreciates no longer sitting at the staff table, where he always felt rather exposed.

Even without a huge hall full of students, and fellow staff sharing the same table, we don't have total privacy, of course. The Daily Prophet still keeps a close eye on us. When we moved in together, it was front-page news, though I must admit that not many of our friends or acquaintances seemed terribly surprised by then.

We had gotten through the end my training program with our secret relatively intact. I wrote up our research on Cruciatus-Induced Damage and the potion we gave the Longbottoms, and received top marks on my dissertation. Healer Dennison and Healer Gustavson, the Advanced Training Coordinator, made strong recommendations to the St. Mungo's Board of Directors, resulting in a generous offer, which I accepted. For a year, I struggled along in my new job. It's not that the work was too hard, or the work environment not stimulating enough – I just missed Severus like an amputated limb. I still saw him at night, but it just wasn't enough. Whenever something interesting happened at work, I wanted to share it with him right away, and it was so depressing to have to wait, sometimes for six or eight hours…

He missed me, too, though he tried not to let me know it. He had said he would throw himself into terrifying first years with renewed vigor, but Hannah and Neville said that it just didn't seem that his heart was in it anymore. He wasn't taking nearly as many house points as in the past, and students rarely complained about excessive Potions essays.

It was obvious to me that we needed to find a way to be together the way we had been during my advanced training year. There had to be a way that I could be a Healer, and he could be a teacher, and we could still spend hours developing new potions and brewing interesting things.

I have Frank and Alice to thank for helping me find the way. As much as Neville keeps saying Severus and I saved his parents, his parents – indirectly – saved us.

When Frank and Alice were released from St. Mungo's, but needed fairly constant supervision, Hannah bought the Three Broomsticks from Rosmerta and moved there with her new in-laws. While she liked being at Hogwarts with Neville all the time, it had become clear to her that she was not a teacher at heart. A true Hufflepuff, she has flourished in her new job running the pub and the inn, and taking care of Frank and Alice and her customers. Neville spends as much of his free time there as possible, with the three people he loves most in the world.

I stop in frequently to check on the Longbottoms' progress, and I had always admired the little cottage next door, with its window boxes overflowing with flowers and its bright red door. When it went on the market, I couldn't resist taking a look. I'm not sure why, really – because I barely spent any time at all in my flat in London. I was either at work, or at Hogwarts with Severus. What did I need with a cottage in Hogsmeade? But as soon as I walked in the door, I fell in love with the place. And as soon as I saw the basement, I knew I had the solution to our problems.

When I made the proposal to Severus, it took him a full week to decide. He had become rather set in his ways, and a change of that magnitude was a tremendous leap of faith.

And now, we've taken another leap, which is why we have a house full of guests.

Hannah's gotten the evening off so that she and Neville could join us. The rest have flooed in from London. Ron's brought his new girlfriend, Cordelia, a tall, suntanned blonde, and one of Ginny's teammates on the Holyhead Harpies. I would have preferred to have only my closest friends here tonight, but when he asked if he could bring a date, I couldn't say no. In many ways, it makes my announcement a bit easier.

Severus loathes this sort of event, of course, but he is very kindly indulging me, because I told him how important it is for me to share good news of this magnitude with the people who are important in my life. He summons the champagne from the kitchen, and nine goblets.

"Champagne," says Ginny, a note of suspicion in her voice. "And a big party. What's the occasion?"

"She's pregnant," says Luna.

"Luna," I gasp, "how did you know?" We haven't told anyone, and I'm not showing yet. But Luna has always had preternatural powers of observation.

"Your breasts are fuller than the last time-" I shoot her a sharp look, "-the last time I saw you…" She smiles innocently.

Great. Now everyone's eyes are on my breasts.

"So it's true?" Ron looks wildly from my breasts to Severus and then, finally, to my face. "How in the name of Sir Nicholas's neck ruffle did that happen?"

Severus rolls his eyes. "I have maintained for decades that sex education should be a required class at Hogwarts. Perhaps Potter can explain it to you. He has impregnated your charming sister twice already."

"It is true," I say, wanting to stop the two of them before they get started. "I mean, it's true that I am pregnant. And also, of course, about Harry and Ginny. But this is not how I was planning to share the news!"

"And where is little James Sirius tonight?" Severus asks. He almost spits out the name. Poor little Jamie won't stand a chance with his "Uncle" Severus, bearing the names of his two worst school enemies.

"He's staying with his cousins," Ginny answers, addressing the entire table, and attempting to ignore Severus's tone. "Gabrielle is visiting Fleur and Bill for the weekend, and offered to babysit so Harry and I could get a couple of days to ourselves before the next baby comes." She pats her rounded belly lovingly.

"Actually," says Harry, taking Ginny's hand and giving it a squeeze, "would you mind, Hermione, if I took this opportunity to talk to Severus and Luna about something?"

"Er, no…" Does he know that Luna is our occasional 'houseguest'? Would it bother him enough to say something to them? In public? Surely not…

"It's about this baby that's coming," he says, looking adoringly at Ginny. Gods, I hope he means his own baby, and not mine.

"We've already decided that the baby will be named Albus if it's a boy, and Lily if it's a girl," she tells us.

Phew. He meant his own baby.

"Those are lovely names, Ginny," says Hannah.

"We were hoping you wouldn't mind if we also named the child after one of you," says Harry. "Albus Severus, or Lily Luna."

"I love it," says Luna, nodding so vigorously that her dirigible plum earrings swing wildly forward and back.

All eyes turn toward Severus. I know he is uncomfortable with this many people in the house, and our private lives being discussed, and now being put on the spot by Harry and Ginny. Please, I will him, say something nice.

"A weighty name for an infant," he says. "I cannot say that the child would thank you for it." He looks around the table at the expectant faces, meeting my eyes last.

Be nice, Severus, be nice. It's an honor to have a child named for you.

"But I am honored by your choice," he concludes. "I approve."

A collective sigh of relief escapes from around the table.

"Have you two decided what to name your baby yet?" asks Neville, and now everyone is looking at me eagerly. Thank Merlin at least this time they are looking at my face.

"Not yet," I tell them all. "We've only just learned we're pregnant two weeks ago."

"So," asks Ginny excitedly, "when's the wedding?" I stood up for Ginny at her wedding, and I imagine she expects to stand up for me at mine, as I have no sisters either.

Severus and I exchange a glance. Ever since we found out that we are going to have this baby, he has insisted that we should marry. I have insisted that I don't want him to marry me just because of the child. Unless he knows that he would marry me without the pregnancy, I won't do it. We have been fine living together all this time without a piece of paper to formalize our relationship. I love him, and though he still can't seem to utter the words, I know he loves me. We live and work together in harmony. We have created a wonderful life, doing Potions research and development, and running our own apothecary in our basement Potions lab. I consult on interesting cases at St. Mungo's and other wizarding hospitals, and Severus is a frequent guest lecturer at Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. We can raise a child together without being legally married. But he seems intent on doing it "properly," as he says.

"We're not sure," I say evasively.

"Your name is so well known, Hermione," says Cordelia. "Will you take his name and become Hermione Snape?"

I flush and look at Severus, who I know would prefer that traditional approach. But it's true I have made a name for myself with my maiden name. It would be very odd not to use it professionally, assuming we were to marry at all. "I- I'm not sure," I stutter. "We're still negotiating things."

"Negotiating about the name?" Ron laughs. "I started finding bits of parchment all around the house with 'Ginevra Molly Weasley Potter' written on them when Ginny was only ten!"

Ginny blushes furiously and punches her brother in the shoulder, hard.

"Just don't hyphenate it," says Harry, chuckling. "Granger-Snape sounds too much like a biscuit."

Cordelia and I are the only two who laugh – she must be muggle-born, like me.

"Ginger snaps," I explain to the rest of my friends. "They're a bit like Minerva McGonagall's ginger newts."

"Ginger snap!" cries Luna. "Hermione Ginger-Snap!" She gasps for breath and wipes away tears of mirth. "You must be rubbing off on Harry, Ron. He was never that funny before!"

"Er, I guess so," says Ron, clearly still finding Luna a bit mental. Harry, more used to Luna than Ron is, just grins and shrugs at him.

"Perhaps this is an opportune moment to serve the food," observes Severus, smirking.

Oh, thank you, my darling man. Anything I can do to change the subject. "Yes," I announce. "Let me get our food from the kitchen."

With a wave of my wand, the excellent repast soars out of the kitchen. Each plate lands with a slight bounce on my sunny yellow tablecloth.

"Let's toast to Hermione and Severus, and their future child," suggests Neville, raising his goblet.

"To the Ginger-Snap family," says Ron. Ginny punches him again, and Luna has another giggle fit.

Everyone drinks anyway. Even Ginny and I have just a sip. It's hard to be grumpy about my silly potential surname when I'm surrounded by friends wishing me well.

"Thanks everyone," I say, and I am slightly embarrassed to find that I am a little choked up. Severus, sitting next to me, must have heard it in my voice, because he puts his hand on my knee and gives a supportive squeeze. "And now, let's eat."

"Merlin, Hermione," says Ron between mouthfuls. "Your cooking has improved since our Horcrux hunt!"

"Maybe a little," I tell him. "But I didn't make this food. This is all courtesy of Hannah and her staff at the Three Broomsticks."

"Excellent nosh, then, Hannah," he says. "How'd you get away for the night, by the way?"

"Thanks, Ron," she says. "I have cooks and waitresses who can handle the pub, and actually the only people staying at the inn tonight are you four," she gestures at Harry, Ginny, Ron and Cordelia, "so no worries there either. And we've got one of the nurses from St. Mungo's spending the evening with Frank and Alice."

"How are your parents doing, Neville?" asks Luna. "Did the dirigible plum necklaces I sent them help at all?" She twirls her left earring unconsciously.

"They're doing pretty well, I guess," he answers. "Over time, they've got their memory pretty much all the way back, but they're still physically quite frail. And they've had a little of their magic come back, but it's sporadic and they can't control it very well. Hannah's been incredible, taking care of them every day for the past year and running the Three Broomsticks. I don't know what I would do without her."

"You'll never have to find out," she promises, and leans over to kiss him on the cheek. "They like the necklaces, Luna. Thanks for making them for us."

"So, Neville, you're our main link to Hogwarts now," observes Harry. "You'll have to keep us updated on all the news."

"What news?" he shrugs. "Hogwarts is Hogwarts. I love how even through changes in Headmaster, teaching staff, and student body, it always feels like home. For all of us."

"Not me," says Cordelia. "I was recruited for the Harpies from Salem Institute."

"I didn't know that," says Hannah, interestedly. "Was Professor Variella your Transfiguration teacher? She took my spot at Hogwarts this year."

"Yeah," she says, and now that I am listening for it, I can hear her American accent. She's spoken so little this evening – it must be difficult to be in a crowd like this, where the rest of us know each other so well. "Variella was my favorite teacher. She'll do a great job for you."

"She is doing fine," says Neville, "but of course no one could replace you." He grins shyly at his wife. "Or you, either," he says to Severus.

"I shudder to think what has happened to Potions instruction at Hogwarts," Severus says. "Brewster Mingleson is far too soft with the students, especially the first years. I had hoped that someone educated in the rigorous atmosphere of Durmstrang would be able to uphold my teaching legacy, but I was sadly mistaken."

"Don't worry, love," I tease him. "You can still scare the pants off the first years when you substitute teach or guest lecture."

"I do," he says. "It is most gratifying. Like coming home."

"See?" says Neville.


Part two: Severus

As soon as the crowd dispersed, I dragged Hermione into our bedroom and ravaged her. Perhaps she was correct that time at Grimmauld Place when she joked that social gatherings turned me on, as yet again I could not wait to bury myself in her. It doesn't hurt, however, that she glows with health. Pregnancy suits her.

I can only hope that fatherhood suits me. I warned her when we first began to discuss parenthood with any seriousness that my own father was abusive, and that I have had little to no exposure to proper paternal behavior. She tells me I will manage just fine as long as I always do the exact opposite of whatever I imagine my own father would have done in a situation.

Even if her simplistic solution were effective, I have other concerns. Genetics can be a risky business. What will I do if the child turns out to be a Squib? There is always a slight chance that two magical parents might produce a nonmagical offspring.

When I voiced this apprehension, she burst into gales of laughter. "My main worry is that the child could be smarter than the two of us put together, Severus. And that would be a terrifying prospect."

Then she became more serious and told me that if our child were somehow born without magical abilities, she knew we would love it just as fiercely. Frank and Alice Longbottom are living essentially as Squibs now, she reminded me – fully aware of the wizarding world, but not truly able to participate in it – and their son worships them. How she can compare my pride in my future child with Longbottom's relationship with his damaged parents is beyond me.

We now lie, sweaty and sated, in our four-poster bed. She insisted on a four-poster for those occasions when we are both in the mood for a bit of bondage. I concurred immediately. It was much harder, however, to reach consensus upon a color scheme for our bedroom. I suggested my house colors, and she suggested hers. We attempted a compromise by mixing our house colors, but all of the combinations reminded her of either Christmas or money. In the end, we combined my favorite color and hers, and decorated the room in black and a deep, vibrant purple. Against this dark backdrop, her skin is luminous.

She rolls over to face me. "Do you really miss Hogwarts so much?"

"How can I miss it, when you keep surrounding me with former students?" I tease her, stroking her arm. Her breasts are, as the sharp-eyed Lovegood told our assembled guests today, fuller and even lovelier than ever. "The school was my home for more than half of my life, Hermione. But this is my home now."

"Our home," she says, catching my hand and kissing my palm. "And I love it. I love the life we're building together, Severus. And I love you." She sighs with satisfaction.

"It has been an extraordinary journey," I say, nodding my agreement. "When we first met, no one – least of all the two of us – could have predicted that we would ever live and work together like this. I derive immense satisfaction out of proving everyone wrong. The only downside to the arrangement is that it meant proving ourselves wrong as well."

"Severus Snape," she chuckles, rolling back to face the ceiling and stroking her belly fondly. "It wouldn't kill you to use the word LOVE. You avoid it as if it were made Taboo."

"And this amuses you?" Even though she regularly invites me into her mind, particularly during sex, she still surprises me sometimes.

"I know you love me, but you've never said it out loud," she says. "I don't know how you expect me to marry you if you can't even tell me that you love me."

Is that the only reason she is so hesitant? I am not given to declaring my emotions, preferring to let my actions speak for me, but… if it gets me what I want… I retrieve my wand from the bedside table and summon her quill, her enchanted ink bottle, and her old journal – the silver and purple one I gave her for Valentine's Day. She arches an eyebrow, and sits up to watch me.

I love you, Hermione Granger, I write in shining silver ink. Let this serve as documentation of my affection. Now: say you will marry me.

I hand her the journal, and though I see her eyes get slightly misty, she tosses it dismissively onto the bed beside her.

"I was wrong about you, Severus," she teases. "You are not Gryffindor material after all. These are lovely words you have written, but you are not brave enough to say them."

She is only half joking. I know she does not doubt my courage, but I can see this is something important to her. She has issued me a challenge, and I need to determine the rules and the stakes. "If I say the words aloud, you will agree to the marriage?" I had expected my written declaration to meet her requirements.

"I would be far more inclined to accept your proposal, yes." Her brown eyes sparkle with amusement.

"This is blackmail, witch! What difference does it make whether you hear the words aloud or see them on paper? Or read them in my thoughts? Come, and look into my mind again and see for yourself how I feel."

"And what difference does it make whether you have a wedding and a marriage certificate or not, if you have a committed, loving relationship? Come, look into my mind again and see that I consider myself bound to you by love, not by law."

"That does not suffice, Hermione." I grab the journal and cross the room to replace it in the drawer of her writing desk. I know that she is bound to me by love, as I am bound to her. But it is no longer enough – not with a baby on the way. How can I make her understand me? "You have studied Potions long enough to know that procedure is important. One cannot just have quality ingredients near the cauldron and hope for success. The next step must be taken. The ingredients must be incorporated into the potion, or the desired results will not be achieved."

"Oh, for Godric's sake, Severus! I am not hanging around on the lab table. I'm in the goddamned cauldron already. That's what I've been trying to tell you. I have made the commitment."

She is no longer amused.

"But the potion has not been stirred correctly," I explain, making stirring motions in the air, "so that the essences of the ingredients are fixed together. Forever."

"We stirred the potion just fine," she says, her eyebrows drawn together, making her frustration with me evident. "Our essences are fixed together, Severus – I've got the results growing inside me."

"You are intentionally mistaking my meaning, Hermione. You are the cleverest witch I have ever known, and yet you insist on this too-literal interpretation of my words."

She rises from the bed and stands before me, fists on her lovely hips – a fighting stance. "If you would just come out with it and say what you mean, I wouldn't have to guess. I still do not see why you need us to be married, or stirred, or whatever." She mimics my stirring motion, then throws her hands in the air in exasperation.

"And I do not see why you do not want to be married. You wanted to live with me and have a child with me. Should you not want the marriage as well?"

"Severus," she says softly, reaching out and taking my hand in hers. "You are mistaking my meaning now. It's not that I don't want to be married to you. I have no problem with the institution of marriage, and I love you and plan to spend my life with you. I would marry you right now if I knew that you wanted to do it for some other reason than because I happen to be pregnant with your child! You never mentioned a desire for marriage until we conceived. Have your feelings for me suddenly changed, now that we are having a baby? How am I supposed to feel about that?"

"You take everything too personally," I tell her, and withdraw my hand. "You can be so infuriating!"

"It's a marriage proposal, Severus. How else should one take it, if not personally?"

"My feelings for you have not changed at all, Hermione. If it were just the two of us, for the rest of our lives, no – I would not need any formal recognition of our status. We have everything we need. But now that you are carrying our child, it is no longer just the two of us. We will be a family."

"I didn't realize society's conventions were so important to you, Severus," she says, and at least the teasing tone is back. "You can be so old-fashioned."

Something I said softened her again. I must be starting to get through to her.

"We will be an unconventional family," I say, drawing her back to the bed, and sitting beside her, "in many ways that we cannot avoid. Our child deserves what conventions we can provide. Imagine having Severus Snape and Hermione Granger for parents – two people who, like it or not, are still very public figures. Imagine having a father with no natural fathering instinct, who used to be a Death Eater and a spy, and who killed Albus Dumbledore. Imagine Harry Fucking Potter, savior of the wizarding world, coming to your birthday parties, and the Daily Prophet reporting every time you cut a new tooth."

Her eyes have been growing wider and wider as I go, and now she is nodding along with me.

"Dear gods, Severus," she says, her eyes filling with tears, "you're making sense. You may be right!"

"Was there ever any doubt?" I ask sardonically. "Any amount of stability and normalcy would be a relief for the child," I continue more gently. "Whether or not we need to be married for ourselves as a couple, we need it for our family. You love me, I love you, we plan to spend our lives together as a family, so we ought to get married and be a family."

"Severus, you said it! You said you love me!" She launches herself at me, and kisses me, her eyelashes wet against my face.

I brush the tears from her eyes with my thumbs and cup her chin in my palm. "Of course I love you, witch! How could you possibly believe otherwise?"

"I didn't believe otherwise, darling," she sniffles. "I just needed to know you could say it. That will help our child more than any marriage certificate, you know. All he will need is to see and hear that his parents love each other, and love him. Or her."

"Then you are still not convinced? What more can I do to get you to agree?"

She bites her lip, deep in thought, her arms still around my neck.

"Big wedding," she finally says. "All our family and friends present, held at Hogwarts, where we met…"

My worst nightmare, essentially. But if she is saying yes… It is only one day, after all, and then I would have what I want for the rest of my life.

I pull her onto my lap, and kiss her gently. "Whatever you like, Hermione."

"Are you serious? You would do that for me? I was joking!"

Relief floods through me. "Joking?"

"How about this, instead," she says, "you, me, my parents, Harry and Ginny as witnesses, private ceremony officiated by Kingsley Shacklebolt, and then we escape to our honeymoon in Bali."

That does sound far less painful. "Where would we hold the ceremony?"

"Well, since everyone except the two of us is in London, we could do it in London. We wouldn't need much space…" I can almost hear the ideas simmering in her head as she considers potential sites.

Then a smile lights her face. "How about at Grimmauld Place, in the library? Harry and Ginny would love to host us, I'm sure of it."

"Only you would want to get married in a library, Hermione." It is an appropriate place. It was in that library that I first committed myself to her, while talking with Lily's portrait. It might as well be the place I make it official. Potter might even bring the portrait of Lily back into the library for the event. She would like to be there, I think. And if Potter, Black, and Lupin have to watch me wed Hermione, so much the better, really.

"So do we have a deal?" Her eyes shining with love and excitement, she waits expectantly for my answer, as if there were any doubt.

"Absolutely, my love." I fall back onto the bed, pulling her with me while she squeals with delight. "Have I made you happy?"

"Absolutely, my love," she says, grinning, straddling my hips. "Want to see how happy?"

"I do," I say. "Open up, witch, and let me inside."

This time, she understands my words exactly as I mean them. "Legilimens," I whisper, as she looks deep into my eyes, and guides my erect cock into her tight passage.

Gods, it is incredible to be with her so deeply and completely, to share her awareness of the presence growing in her belly, and to find inside her so much love and joy. I lose myself. I am found.


A/N: I will be taking a bit of time off of fanfic before I try anything else big. I'm going to try to write something original for National Novel Writer's Month in November. I may put up a one-shot or two in the next few months, either here on my own account or possibly on my new joint account with Felena1971, WordNerds2008 (user ID# 1673268).

I really had a wonderful time writing this, and I'm so happy that so many of you had fun reading it. I've made some friends along the way, and I'm going to MISS our regular communication now that I won't be getting reviews & sending review replies. How about one last reply, everybody? : sniffle :