Disclaimer: Not her, not paid, not even very good. Everything you recognize belongs to JKR.

Forgive my gushing, again, but Sempra deserves it. Without her discerning eye, I don't believe my story would be so well received. She corrects my punctuation, breaks up my run-on sentences, substitutes to correct word when my vocabulary fails me, encourages me with leading questions and obligatory pats on the back. This is the final chapter. It has been an exciting ride!

Her Gifts

Chapter 43

Batin came to Hermione after dinner to collect the Pensieve memory. Hermione set her shoulders, walking calmly to Lucius' office, and removed the memory to a vial for safe transport to Snape. Batin popped out with the Pensieve clutched carefully in his arms, returning a moment later for the memory.

Hermione spent an uneasy night, tossing and turning with anxiety. What little sleep she managed to get was plagued with nightmares and disturbing dreams. She knew she needn't be concerned about her memory. Severus Snape was nothing if not honorable. It would be returned to her when he was through with it. She had no way of knowing how much he resented the idea of giving it back.

When Batin delivered the memory and left again, Severus secured the room with privacy wards to prevent interruption. He knew Lucius well enough to know of his voyeuristic behavior. He was not inclined to share this.

Dipping his inky, black head into the stone basin, he found himself in his room, candles flickering softly around him. Hermione had entered the room behind him. His breath caught in his throat at her softness, evident in the pure white scrap of silk she wore. He followed close behind, watching and listening. Her sad smile caused him some vexation, unsure as he was of her motivation. He watched her caress him, touch him with tender hands. Her kisses and caresses were like silent benedictions, offered up in penance for what she was about to do. He gazed in wonder when her tentative stroke brought him to full arousal. No coercion, no potion or spell.

He whimpered when she lowered her head and tasted him. His current erection was throbbing in his trousers. He nearly came when he watched her take him in her mouth as far as she could. He longed to touch her skin as she held his memory-self's fingers to her nipples when she shed her chemise, writhing atop his inert body. He could see she was wet, aroused and ready for him. He leaned in closer to look into her eyes. There was no evidence of spell or potion used on her either.

When she raised herself up and began tantalizingly swiping his memory-self's weeping, twitching head across her swollen clit, then finally sank down onto his shaft, he lost control of his orgasm, shooting into his boxers. He had never witnessed anything so agonizingly erotic before. Momentarily stunned, he almost missed the soft whisper of the incantation she uttered, seated perfectly still atop his pelvis. Even as an observer after the fact, he could feel the magic swirling about the room. There was nothing Dark about it. She had willingly, lovingly, sacrificed her virginity for him, the ugly git of the dungeons. He found himself enraptured by his beautiful seductress.

Mesmerized by Hermione's riding him to completion, hers and his, apparently, Snape had to concede she had not done anything that could be construed as dangerous or malignant. The entire enactment was the most genuinely pious expression of love he had ever seen or heard of. And it had happened to him.

He felt humbled. Honored, even. He had known there was regard from that quarter, but he had never suspected it ran so deep. He exited the memory, shaking. He had previously thought her Gryffindor determination to save him was the driving force behind her motivations to do what she had done. The memory proved him wrong. He was suddenly glad he hadn't terminated the betrothal. He may end up getting his witch after all.

He watched the memory again, just to be sure, he told himself. The third time he fell in, he couldn't deny it was so he could memorize the vision. Good things didn't happen to him as a rule. If he never got to hold her again, at least he could remember this.

He sent for her in the morning after breakfast.

Hermione crossed the threshold with a great deal of trepidation. She had tried to prepare herself for the verbal annihilation Severus Snape was noted for. She was unprepared for the hint of desire she thought she detected as he watched her approach from his reclined position on the bed. She stopped at his bedside.

"It seems I find myself beholden by another wizard's debt," he started, averting his eyes. "Knowing me as you do, you cannot imagine I would be happy about such a situation?" He paused, waiting to hear her response.

Hermione fought for the courage to answer the question honestly. 'To hell with my pride,' she thought, 'this is much more important.' His scorn might destroy her heart, but she was determined to disabuse him of the notion she required a life debt from him.

"My feelings for you have not lessened since last May. In fact they have only grown stronger. It is my understanding that lovers do not hold each other to wizard's debts; that the very fact that such feelings would obligate them to protect the other from harm prevents the forging of such debts in the eyes of Wizarding society. Am I mistaken?" she asked, not pretending she wasn't aware of her Gryffindor brashness in implying they were lovers. If his feelings for her had cooled or, Merlin forbid, disappeared, she would rather know it up front.

Snape managed to withhold the smirk trying to force it's way out, but only just. Her answer couldn't have been more perfect. "So you admit you still have strong feelings for me?" His words came out just the slightest bit on the frosty side. He couldn't resist tormenting her just a little. She nodded. The warmth in his chest that he had felt nearly a year ago was returning. It was surprising to him that this slip of a girl could have such power over him. "Is it your wish to continue our relationship?"

"Only if you reciprocate my feelings. I would not hold you to the betrothal, as it was done solely to protect you. If you wish to dissolve it, Headmistress McGonagall will file the paperwork for us. I won't deny that I wish to pursue a relationship with you, but the boundaries of such a relationship would be yours to determine. I want your love, but if all I can have is your friendship, or even just your respect, then that will have to be enough." She took a deep breath, embarrassed that she had been babbling. "For God's sake, Severus, please stop teasing me and tell me what you want," she pleaded. "I don't think my heart can take much more."

Severus took a moment to contemplate her rambling. Her distress was tantalizing. Her desire to attach herself to him was frankly astounding. He remembered feeling similarly when she'd divulged her feelings to him the year before. An attractive, brilliant young witch desired him. Him! He was flattered, certainly. "I admit I am not repulsed by the notion of exploring a more intimate association with you."

Hermione stood uncertainly, twisting her hands together while she waited for him to finish his statement. Already it was better than she had hoped for when she entered the room. At least he wasn't yelling.

"I find you engaging, when you are not amongst your peers, and far more passionate than I suspected. Your acceptance of my friends is appreciated and your ability to overlook my self-proclaimed failings and still find something desirable in me, without an ulterior motive, baffles me..." He paused to collect his thoughts. "If agreeable to you, I believe we should let the betrothal stand as we consider our alliance. It can always be dissolved later, if necessary." He looked to her for her thoughts.

Hermione felt her heart expanding, realizing that he still had some fondness for her. "I think a long engagement suits me. I would very much like to explore every facet of our relationship. There are many things we don't really know about each other and I'm not one to jump into a commitment blindfolded. I agree to let the betrothal stand, since it will attract less attention than dissolving it and starting over." She couldn't prevent the grin that was forming.

"When you say "every facet", would you be including physical intimacies in that statement?" He purred, reaching for her hand. Her grin split into a wide smile as she giggled. His hand grasped hers, tugging her down onto him where he wrapped his arms around her in a tight embrace.

Her squeals of joy were cut off by Severus' kiss, but not before they were heard by the family anxiously waiting just outside the door.

Finite Incantatum

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