As with all good things, this too, must come to an end. I want to thank everyone for all of the wonderful reviews, which have piqued my interest in reworking a couple of other fics I've started writing (no, they aren't posted anywhere except my hard drive), but never finished. They both need replotting, so it'll be a while before I get there, and it certainly won't be updated this often, but not too far away, I hope. Enjoy this little nugget of an epilogue!
A warm breeze blew across Hermione's face as she sat on the grass outside Prince Manor watching butterflies and bees flit from bloom to bloom. She had only finished her N.E.W.T.s a week earlier, and the school year had officially finished the previous day. After the big battle, Professor McGonagall had hurried to fill vacancies in the teaching staff and pushed to open the school by November first. While holidays had been short—they only took three days off for Christmas and two for Easter— and testing was two weeks later than usual, they had managed to pack nearly all the study of a regular school year into the shortened terms.
Arrangements were made for students like herself who had been married after the announcement of the school's closure the previous spring, and Hermione had lived at home and Flooed over to the school every day for classes—at least until her baby was born in early April. After three weeks off, she started up again part time to prepare for her tests. Neville Longbottom and Lavender Brown, among others, had married the previous summer, and they also Flooed in for classes every day. Ron and Harry had stayed in the dorms, grateful to have something as normal as school to return to, even if Harry found it hard to deal with the upswing in attention he received during the first few weeks.
Now Hermione watched Harry switching back and forth between his regular form and that of his Animagus as he tried to take Sophie's attention from Ron, who was flying around as a dragon, shooting fire into the air. The two boys doted on her daughter, a fact Hermione found herself constantly surprised over.
Ron landed on the ground nearby, then changed back into himself and walked over, sitting down beside her. "Two weeks of bliss before I start Quidditch practice," he said. Only a few weeks earlier, he had been scouted by the Wimbourne Wasps to be their keeper. The only way it could have been better was if it had been the Chudley Cannons, his favorite Quidditch team ever.
"Glad to hear you aren't going to work yourself too hard in the meantime. Not going over to the shop any, are you?" Hermione asked.
"No way. What do I need with their peanuts when I'm getting so much more playing games?" He grinned, then scooped up Capuchin Harry and began running away with him and threatening to throw him in the fountain. Harry changed back and took Ron down with him on the grass not far from the fountain. It was a moment of frivolity that Hermione was grateful to see. During the summer and well into the winter, things had been so difficult, first with the fight ahead of them, and then dealing with the aftermath. It was good to see them acting like teenaged boys sometimes.
Another reason it had been a difficult winter and spring for Hermione was Ron took his time coming around again after learning about her soul mate's identity. Though she had seen signs of his relenting, it wasn't until Hermione brought her new baby to show off to everybody the Sunday before resuming classes in late April that things changed. Ron had sidled over behind the group, then slowly worked his way up through the crowd. Before Hermione knew it, he was holding little Sophie and cooing at her. From that day forward, things began to improve.
It probably helped that Severus never returned to teaching. Though Professor McGonagall had offered him the Defense job again, he had been content not to continue his old life. Too many parents would have caused a fuss if he had taken the job, regardless of whether the courts found him innocent or not, and as teaching had never been his favorite thing, he decided not to resume the profession.
As Hermione had reviewed the household accounts, she realized that there were some residuals that hadn't been accounted for in his first perusal. Careful to use their resources wisely, she and Severus had decided to do research at home, rather than taking regular jobs. One of Severus's patents had already been purchased by a major potions supplier, and with the sale of his home on Spinner's End, which he had always hated anyway, Hermione saw a bright future for them.
When Sophie began to fuss, as her two entertainers were still wrestling some yards away on the grass, Hermione picked up her daughter. Dark, curly hair covered Sophie's head, and Severus' black eyes peered from the tiny face. Hermione traced each feature with a fingertip, still in awe of the perfection before her. Her little family would be making its first trip together to see her parents, who had finally unbent enough to accept Severus despite the age difference and his history.
Tentative letters before Christmas had blossomed into something more between mother and daughter through the spring so now their relationship was nearly on an even keel. Things were still fairly tense, but Hermione had every reason to believe that they would continue to improve. News in the paper about Severus' contributions to the war—articles that had both gratified and embarrassed her husband—had gone a lot way toward calming her parents' concerns.
"Thank goodness she has your nose," Severus said behind her. Hermione turned around and smiled up at her husband.
"I'm afraid she has also received my hair."
He sat beside her, dressed in a black shirt and trousers, but infinitely less formal than she had ever seen him in the public areas of the school. Private research and married life seem to have suited him well as his wrinkle lines had relaxed and he smiled much more often. "Then she'll look just like her beautiful mother, and who could ask for more than that?"
Severus leaned over and pressed a kiss to her temple, then relieved her of their daughter to distract himself from the two boys ambling back toward them. "How is my little Potions genius doing today, huh?" He lifted Sophie up to his face and pulled faces at her.
"I really think you should have him checked for any stray curses, Hermione," Ron said as he sat beside her. "There's no way the bat of the dungeon would ever act like that."
"He'd really scare the kids into behaving if they saw him now," Harry said. "They'd all be sure he was going mental."
Hermione swatted at both of them, then leaned back and enjoyed the fresh air. Severus and her two friends were still a bit touchy with each other, though they were all making efforts for her sake. When she wasn't pulling out her hair in irritation, she decided to content herself with their being able to be in the same room without hexing each other. It was certainly more than Severus had ever managed with James or Sirius. "Have you heard an official date on your Auror training?"
Harry twisted a piece of grass between his thumb and forefinger. "August first. They want to wait for my N.E.W.T. results before I get an official invitation to work there, but I've been assured I'm a shoo in. I'm starting to wonder if it's what I really want. The Ministry is a bit of a mess right now."
Severus let out a huff of laughter. "That's an understatement. Ever think of teaching? You'd probably do a slightly better job of teaching Defense than Lockhart."
Harry rolled his eyes and looked ready to say something nasty in return, but Hermione intervened. "Actually, Harry did a bang up job of teaching us all in the DA. He'd probably be smashing, if he could stand all the Colin Creeveys of the world fawning over him."
"No, thanks. Auror training sounds like a party compared to teaching. I've got a couple weeks yet before I have to make any real decisions about life." Harry lay back on the grass and slung an arm over his eyes to keep out the sun. "I understand France is nice this time of year. I've never been out of the country. Care to join me for a jaunt, Ron?"
"Gabrielle is a bit young for you, don't you think, mate?" Ron asked, then leaned away when Harry's hand smacked against his chest.
"She's twelve; that's just plain sick. Besides, Ginny would shoot us both if she heard you even suggest that. No, there's only one woman for me." Harry sat up and ran a finger down the baby's face. "You're the one, aren't you, gorgeous. You and me all the way."
Sophie grinned at him, adoration clear on her face.
"Don't even think about it, Potter." Severus glared, but Hermione could feel he was actually quite pleased. "That's my daughter you're talking about."
"That's probably our cue to leave, mate." Ron stood and offered Harry a hand up. When they were standing side by side, Ron placed a hand on Harry's shoulder. "You know, I understand the women in Italy are supposed to be beautiful. I wouldn't mind spending some time on the beaches there." He wiggled his eyebrows.
"And Luna would kill you as surely as Ginny would kill me if we did more than look." Harry grinned. "And if we offered to take them along, your mum would go spare."
"Then perhaps you ought to go sweet talk your women for a while." Severus gave them both scathing looks. "I'd like a little time alone with mine." He set a hand on Hermione's shoulder, then pulled her near, pressing a soft line of kisses to her jaw.
Hermione felt a strange trill of glee run through her that was definitely not her own. Severus enjoyed making the boys uncomfortable. The glee accompanied a wave of something very much like desire that was coming from her. A glance at Ron's face showed Severus's tactics were succeeding.
"Yeah, we'll see you later." Ron turned away, looking a bit green around the gills.
Holding back a laugh, Hermione stood and gave each of them a hug goodbye. Before they could Disapparate away though, Severus spoke up. "Potter, the Ministry is in chaos, but they could use leaders like you. People who have convictions and are willing to place them above their own political gains." It was a difficult thing for him to admit, Hermione knew.
Harry turned and gave Severus a long look. "Thank you, sir. I'll remember that." There was more respect in his voice than Hermione ever remembered hearing before. It made her smile.
When she turned back to her husband after the boys Disapparated, Severus was scowling. "Ginny better keep that boy on a leash, because he's certainly not getting anywhere near my daughter."
Hermione laughed, then called Biscuit, the house-elf who worked in the nursery. When the sweet elf had taken Sophie away for her afternoon nap, Hermione turned back to her husband. "Now." She threaded her arms around his neck and settled in his lap on the grass. "You made some promises to me a few minutes back, and I don't care if you were just trying to turn the boys' stomachs. I expect you to follow through." She ran her lips along his cheek bone.
His hands came up to her lower back, cradling her closer. "I wouldn't want to break my word to you." His lips came over her mouth and shut her up.
When he pushed her gently back onto the lawn, Hermione smiled against his lips. There was nowhere else on earth she wanted to be.
A year and a half earlier she hadn't any idea life could be like this. Now she wouldn't give up that chocolate chunk biscuit she had eaten at dinner one night for anything. The thought crossed her mind, as it often did, that she owed the twins a big thanks.
Nah, a refresh on their freckles would be much more fun.