Can I say a huge THANK YOU for the tremendous support for this story and all the lovely lovely comments I have received throughout. It has been a pleasure to write for such fantastic readers. Long may it continue.

SEPT 2010: I have a new poll on my profile page - pop over and vote. It would be much appreciated and very interesting to me!

So - it's a long one. I hope everything is tied up satisfactorily. This is clearly just the end of the beginning for Hermione and Severus, and perhaps one day I will explore further, but for the purposes of this story, it is enough. In the meantime, I will leave it to your own imaginings to come up with what happened next.

Until next time ... enjoy! Much love, LL xxx

Monday was a similar story.

Hermione now sat normally at high table. Her friends had accepted her absence and often gave her a cheeky smile or wave as she glanced across at them from her elevated position next to Severus. Despite all that had happened over the weekend, she was able to concentrate on her imminent exams with remarkable clarity. She studied either in the library or in his rooms, and by the time Monday night came, she felt as if she had done all she could in preparation for them. She could tell he was impressed by her focus and dedication.

At the back of her mind she knew that the governors were meeting on Wednesday to discuss the 'ball issue', as they were terming it. McGonagall had been rational and equable since that meeting on Saturday night. If anything, she had given their relationship her blessing. Hermione knew she would work to lessen any punitive elements within the governing body.

Hermione was still met with curious looks and hushed tones wherever she went, but they were growing less intrusive. She and Severus made no attempt to avoid each other around the castle, and noticed that the more they were seen together, the less inquisitive the student population seemed about them. They did not engage in any public displays of affection, but walked freely around and always sat together in the Great Hall.

It made a huge difference to both of them for Hermione to be able to go to his rooms without having to hide in the shadows and hurry silently from one corridor to the next. Sunday and Monday nights passed in blissful ease. Hermione had greeted Filch with a cheery hello at ten o'clock on Monday night, just before she flung open the door of the Potions' classroom and walked proudly in. He had scowled.

Hermione ensured she slept long and well on Sunday and Monday, but not before she had turned to the man next to her and assuaged the need within. Her body, mind and soul felt primed as never before, and the heightened intellectual state she was experiencing seemed to be reflected in her body, more alight for his touch and presence than ever.

Even Severus had noticed her increase in ardour, if that was possible. As soon as her books were shut, she would rise and walk to him, often kneeling swiftly to take him in her mouth or discarding her clothes rapidly, lying on the floor, stretching her limbs towards him, her moans of desire soon transmitting to his groin.

She was more vocal than ever, something he admitted to adoring, and her constant moans and mewls of lust simply spurred him on.

Tuesday morning dawned bright and cold. Hermione rose early and showered, dressing in crisp clean clothes. They were not school uniform, but bore a remarkable resemblance to it. She clearly needed to feel academic.

They spoke little. Severus could tell she was thinking about what lay ahead. She had Herbology and Arithmancy first of all; neither would tax her too much.

Just before she turned to go, Severus beckoned her over and turned her around. Then around her neck he placed a chain with a golden symbol hanging from it.

"For luck," he said, leaning down to kiss her.

Hermione looked down at the object around her neck. It was a complicated pattern of interweaving loops, forming an intricate but beautiful design. It looked as if it was from an ancient culture. "Severus, I don't need you to give me anything. You are too kind, really." She studied the object curiously. "What is it?"

"It is an Ancient Egyptian symbol of intelligence and cunning. The high priests would wear a similar object around their necks at times when they required great skills of intellect. It will inspire you, I am sure."

"It's exquisite, but ... cunning, Professor Snape?" She eyed him with a teasingly suspicious stare. "That's a particularly Slytherin expression. This isn't enchanted is it? I intend to rely on my own brain power and nothing else to see me through these exams."

"Are you suggesting I am encouraging you to cheat?" He sounded rather defensive.

Hermione smiled warmly at him, keen to dispel the implication. "No, not at all. I'm only teasing you. It's beautiful; I'm overwhelmed. I just wondered if it had any extra significance. I know it will inspire me." She looked up at him. "Anything that reminds me of you will undoubtedly inspire me. Thank you, my darling." She reached up to kiss him warmly.

"Of course, you do not require luck or extra help, be it magical or otherwise. But ... I will be thinking of you – a new experience for me, I confess. I normally try to distance myself as much as possible from the tedium of exams."

"Are you invigilating?"

"Yes. Tomorrow – Transfiguration. And then Defence Against the Dark Arts on Thursday."

She shot him another warning look. "Now don't go distracting me, sir."

He smirked a little. "I will not. But ... you may distract me, if you so desire."

She kissed him again. "Thank you again for my necklace. It means everything to me."

Severus smiled with genuine pride. "Come to me later. I will be waiting. I will go over some details for tomorrow with you."

"Amongst other things?" she teased.

He simply smirked, holding the door open for her.

After breakfast, Hermione made her way to the Herbology exam. There were only ten students taking it, and she found herself remarkably relaxed but equally still tingling with anticipation. Various extraordinary plants were set before them, the invigilator conjured a floating clock to hover in the air, and they began.

The time flew by. Hermione worked attentively, although she was aware of the heavy golden necklace around her neck, providing a comforting reminder of his presence. She was so intent on her scrutiny of the plants and the detail of her answers that she was surprised when it was announced that there were only fifteen minutes left. Luckily, she was just finishing the last question. She completed it and checked through her paper with five minutes to spare. The invigilator waved his wand and the answer papers flew towards him, followed by the plants and tools they had used, which disappeared neatly into sheds and baskets.

"That concludes your Herbology NEWT. I hope it was successful for you all. You are dismissed."

Hermione left the greenhouse with a smile of satisfaction. She could not think of any errors she may have made.

It was a similar story in the afternoon with Arithmancy. It was a subject she had excelled in and the paper seemed ridiculously easy to her. She finished with nearly an hour to spare and found herself essentially able to redo the paper mentally, checking through as thoroughly as possible. Again, she was very happy with her solutions.

The exam ended at five o'clock, and with a spring in her step she ran off to the common room for a quick shower before supper.

She bounced into the Great Hall with a broad smile on her face and sat down next to Severus, planting a kiss on his cheek, which created an audible murmur around the hall.

"Oops!" she whispered to him. "Forgot where I was for a minute!"

He smiled at her. "How were they?"

"Good, I think. Yes. I'd even go so far as to say I enjoyed them."

"Miss Granger, sometimes it amazes me that you have any friends at all. You are a student. You are not supposed to enjoy exams."

She laughed and elbowed him in the ribs. "You forget, Professor. I am not technically a student. Well, let's hope not anyway, at least in the eyes of the governors."

They fell silent, reminded suddenly of the meeting tomorrow.

They continued eating quietly. At one point she reached under the table and squeezed his hand firmly. He quickly encircled his fingers in hers and gripped them. She looked across and smiled reassuringly at him.

After supper they returned to his rooms and went over some last minute revision for Transfiguration and Potions, both of which were the next day.

"You do realise I expect you to get the highest NEWT Potions mark there has ever been, don't you?"

She opened her mouth in disbelief. "That's a pretty tall order! You are kidding, I presume?"

He merely smirked.

"Who has the highest mark so far?"

He did not look at her, but his voice drawled deep, "Me."

She grinned back. "Surely you don't want me to beat you?"

"We shall see."

They made love tenderly and gently that night. Hermione's mind was focused on the exams and the governors' meeting. Neither of them mentioned it again, but they both knew it was niggling them.

It was an early start. Transfiguration started at 8:30. Severus was invigilating and had to leave earlier than Hermione to set things up. Hermione hardly had time to bid him a proper goodbye. She held his gaze hard after they kissed before he spun away from her.

She stood alone in his room for a moment, a slight sigh escaping her, wondering how they would be feeling at the end of the day.

Luckily, Transfiguration was, for Hermione at least, straightforward. She was glad it was, as she kept finding herself glancing up at her invigilator, who was looking at her constantly with a faint smile of devotion on his face. She would smile back, then reapply herself to her task. The spells were things she had become a master of over several years, and she completed them with no faults or mistakes far before any of her fellow students.

Severus was caught by a colleague after the exam and Hermione had no time to talk to him before having to leave for a bite to eat before the Potions exam.

It was only during the exam that Hermione realised fully what a brilliant teacher Severus had in fact been. It was a difficult exam and she could tell her fellow students were finding it heavy going. Even she had to wrack her brains at times to come up with the correct ingredient or method of preparation. But whenever she thought she was stuck, she would close her eyes, grip her necklace and hear his velvety voice in her mind, imparting the correct solution. It felt at times like a type of legilimency, but she knew it simply to be her memory recalling a vivid lesson. She glanced at the others. After much furrowing of brows and wringing of hands, they too seemed to alight upon the correct way forward. All of Severus Snape's students had been well taught.

The exam finally finished. Hermione breathed a deep sigh of relief. It had not been easy, but she was pleased with how it had all turned out in the end.

"God, that was tough," moaned a boy named Joseph Trimble, on the way out. He had returned to Hogwarts for the week, just to retake some of his NEWTs which he had not passed in the summer.

"Yeah – it's over now though. Well done, you," congratulated Hermione.

"I think I did a lot better than last year when Snape wasn't teaching. That's why I had to resit. The teaching was crap – I flunked it. Couldn't get the job I wanted – they told me I'd have to take it again."

"I'm glad you approve of Professor Snape's teaching, Joe," Hermione smirked at him.

"Yeah, well I mean, I haven't been in school like you, but most of the revision I've done has been from my notes from Snape's classes from previous years – Snape's a miserable bugger, but a bloody good teacher, I'll give him that." He suddenly remembered who he was talking to. "Oh – shit – sorry, Hermione. You know what I mean though ... great teacher ... I mean it."

Hermione lowered her head amidst a chuckle. "It's alright, Joe. I know what you mean. Don't worry. I used to think he was a miserable bugger too. Still do sometimes."

She walked off with a broad smile. It soon faded as she passed McGonagall's office and saw several governors emerging.

She tried to read their expressions, but found them set in impenetrable inscrutability.

She lowered her head and tried to hurry past, but McGonagall called her back.


Hermione turned to her and managed a weak smile.

"Come up, my dear. I shall send for Severus too."

She ushered Hermione up the stairs and told her to sit and wait while she got Professor Snape.

It seemed an age before they arrived back together, silently, although in reality it had only been a few minutes.

Severus sat rigidly next to Hermione just as he had the night of the ball.

McGonagall cleared her throat and lowered herself into the chair opposite them.

"As you know, the governors met today to discuss the events of the ball and how best to deal with them. I am pleased to say that they concurred with my decision to suspend Lawrence Filmore. After hearing all reports and statements, they declared his behaviour entirely unacceptable and did not hesitate to enforce the judgement.

"With regard to your ... relationship ... with Professor Snape, Miss Granger, the governors expressed a certain amount of surprise, not least because many of them knew full well the vehemence of your feelings towards Severus before the war. However, they also know of your remarkable intellect, maturity and experiences. And they did bear in mind the fact that you are technically no longer a normal student. In light of that, they even went so far as to say that they found your relationship ... understandable. As such, they do not intend to take any action against you.

"The same goes for you, Severus. Although there was more – discussion, shall we say, about your part in this liaison, they did not feel that there had been any undue influence on your part. If either of you were to remain in the school after this week, I think perhaps they would have considered things differently. Rules about student-teacher relationships are there for good reason, even if the people in question are both consenting adults. There is the question of bias, unfair favouritism and advantage. You are lucky that this liaison was only discovered recently, and that you, Hermione, are who you are. They did accept your resignation, Severus, and I suppose, were glad that you had made that decision for them. But they bear neither of you any ill will. Indeed, many even went so far as to say it was a 'good match'. So, as far as your relationship goes, no further action will be taken.

"Most of the discussion centred on the fact that you raised your wand in anger to a student, Severus. However, when the nature of Mr Filmore's words became known, most of the governors commented that you had shown remarkable control in not speaking a curse or a hex. I think many of them felt that they themselves would not have been so restrained. They do not blame you for your actions, and again, find them, in the circumstances, understandable. However, they feel they must prevent an incident like this from happening again, and do fear a little for the reputation of the school. Therefore, they have decided to withdraw two months' salary. You shall be allowed to keep your wand."

McGonagall stopped speaking. Hermione and Severus looked hesitantly at each other.

"Is that it?" Hermione asked after a moment.

"Yes. That is it." The Headmistress smiled at them. "I think, all things considered, that we should be very happy with that. Let us speak no more about it."

Hermione glanced at Severus to judge his reaction. Two months less salary. They could live with that, surely. She smiled nervously at him. His face was unreadable. Then suddenly, he inhaled sharply and sat up straight.

"Good. Thank you, Headmistress. If you will excuse me." He stood up, inclined his head to McGonagall and turned to leave the room.

Hermione smiled at McGonagall with a whispered thanks and hurried after him.

"Severus! Severus! Slow down!"

She eventually caught up with him halfway down the corridor. "Well – what do you think? That's good, isn't it? I think that's the least we could have got away with."

At first he did not look at her, and his face remained glum. She was filled with anxiety. Surely the outcome was as good as they could have hoped for.

"I don't like sitting like a first year in front of a desk which only last year I was sitting behind."

"I know. But – you had to, and now it's done. So ... move on." She spoke remarkably abruptly.

He turned his head to her, a faint look of surprise on his face. Then his features at last relaxed.

"You are right." He sighed. "As usual, you are right." His face flinched mildly but perceptibly. She knew he did not like being shown up by her emotional maturity. She smirked to herself. At last a small smile broke out across his face. "Yes. It is good. I'm sorry. I want the whole thing to be over with."

She held his hand and stroked his face. "I understand. Well, it is over now. All done. And only one more day of exams and then – the rest of our lives."

He smiled again and took her hand. They stood silently for a moment, letting the moment sink in. It could have been much worse.

After a long time, he simply repeated her words. "The rest of our lives. Thank you."

She looked at him curiously. "For what?"

"For the rest of my life."

She kissed him.

"Why do you think ..."


"I mean ... after the final battle ... why do you think ... it was me?"

He sighed, thinking hard.

"When two people, magical people, are so perfectly compatible, when they are connected mentally and emotionally, a great energy is created between them. When you touched me, you must have imparted much of it to me."

"But ... I admit ... I did not think of you in that way then ... far from it ... at least, I did not think I did."

"I acknowledge it was only later, when you came back to school, that I too realised the extent of my feelings about you, but ... I confess to finding myself thinking about you before - last year, when you were away with Potter. I tried to bury the feelings, thought I had, but there was something absent in the school – a brightness, a light, a spark of brilliance. I missed it. I missed you."

She held him tight, moved by his words.

"But, I do not understand. For there to be a connection, the feelings must be mutual, surely. During that time, I was thinking about Harry ... about Ron. I thought I was completely in love with him. I had waited so long for him to acknowledge his feelings. When at last he did, it had simply been such a long wait that I confused the relief for love. You had always been there, present within me, associated with very strong emotion, but I thought very negative emotion. I suppose when I saw you dead, as I thought, those emotions manifested themselves within me as what they truly were, although it took me a while longer to realise it consciously."

They stayed holding each other, then eventually, after a final kiss, Severus turned and led her to the dungeons. But before they reached them, he stopped abruptly and turned to her, suddenly remembering.

"How was Potions?"

Hermione sighed. "Bloody hard, actually. The hardest exam I've ever had to take. But, I think I did quite well. I kept remembering your words ... hearing your voice in my head ... I think I nailed it in the end."

He raised a cynical eyebrow. "Nailed it?"

"You know what I mean," she smirked.

They arrived at his rooms and Hermione fell on the bed exhausted. "God, I'm knackered, and I've still got Charms, History of Magic and DADA tomorrow. Last ones though. Thank god for that."

He lay next to her and stroked her belly. "Do you want to go over anything?"

"No. I think my brain needs a rest. It's saturated. I'm not going to think about anything else until tomorrow. I just want to relax."

"Is there anything I can do to help?" His hand was moving further down, undoing the buttons of her jeans.

"You seem to know the answer to that already."

His fingers had slipped down into her already damp folds and one had pushed up inside her, while his thumb circled her clit idly. She closed her eyes and gave herself over to the warm feeling of relaxed pleasure he was drawing from her. She came quickly and almost immediately fell into a deep sleep.

She did not know that her lover continued to lie next to her, simply looking at her, his hands running lightly over her body, for the longest time.

Hermione slept a long, exhausted sleep. She was filled with a strange nervous anticipation about her remaining exams, which was tempered by sweeping relief at the decision of the governors.

She spoke little in the morning, focusing on the mental exertion that lay ahead. With a quick kiss, she disappeared to her first exam.

The Charms paper was not a hard one, and Hermione emerged feeling as if she had merely ticked off another box. Much the same could be said for History of Magic; her knowledge had always been exceptional in that area. At two o'clock, Hermione faced her final exam. The last test of her intellect at Hogwarts School; Defence Against the Dark Arts.

She walked in, more apprehensive than she had ever been about a test. The E she had received in her OWL had haunted her, and although she felt more confident in her knowledge now, she still had misgivings about the whole situation. She entered the hall and was immediately met by a pair of piercing black eyes staring ardently at her. It took her by surprise. She had forgotten Severus would be invigilating this one.

She held his gaze for a moment and allowed any insecurities to wash away. Then with a deep breath, she sat, and the exam began.

Hermione found it remarkably straightforward. Most of the answers she was able to write thoroughly simply through personal experience. In terms of what she had learnt in school, it seemed that it was the years she had been taught by Lupin and Severus himself that provided her with the most material. By the end of the exam she felt herself glowing with satisfaction, a sure sign that she had succeeded. She put her quill down and fell back in her chair, her eyes rising to meet Severus'. He was smiling at her tenderly. She returned it and checked over the paper.

The exam ended and she handed it in. After Severus had taken them to the exam officer, he returned to find her still in the classroom.

"The end."


Hermione looked around the classroom. It was McGonagall's old room. The place was full of vivid memories for her, but standing there now, she felt merely a glow of happy nostalgia."It's strange. Now that it's over, I don't feel any remorse or sadness; just satisfaction and anticipation. I'm ready to go." She turned to him, and after a slight pause, asked, "Are you?"

He took his time to respond, not looking up. Then his head moved up and he met her eyes. "Yes."

"Term finishes at midday tomorrow. I'll have to sort my stuff out tonight. Harry's expecting me at Grimmauld Place tomorrow night and we've got those flat viewings on Saturday. You could ... come and stay with me tomorrow if you want." She was almost nervous asking him. "I suppose you have lots to sort out here though."

"Not really." The abruptness of his answer startled her. "It can all be dealt with by magic in a few minutes."

"So ... will you be able to come with me when I leave tomorrow?" Again, her voice was hesitant.

He took a while to answer. She almost gave up.


Severus spoke suddenly, his head darting up to meet her eyes. Hermione could not prevent an enormous grin breaking out across her face. He smiled with amusement and reached down to kiss her.

They left the classroom and walked slowly up the corridor. Hermione stopped and turned apprehensively to him. "Severus?"

He looked at her.

"Do you mind if I spend the night in my room tonight? It's just ... you know ... the last ..." she was searching for the right way to say it.

"I understand."

"Are you sure?"

"I should imagine we will be spending ... considerable time together from now on. I can always have a bite of my apple, if I get too ... desperate. I think we can both survive one night apart in this place. Indeed, most of our time in this school has been separate. Perhaps it is right that that is how it should end."

She smiled up at him and squeezed his hand. "I'll see you at supper. I'm going to go and sort some things out."

Hermione returned to the common room. She looked around, remembering the laughter, tears, moments of anxiety she had experienced there. It would always be a special place, somewhere she hoped to be able to return to in future. But, she had to admit, without Harry and Ron, or even Draco to torment around school, things just weren't the same. It did not have the same connotations as before. She was so excited about her life at the moment; about Severus, about her job and finding a place to live, that as she walked to her dorm to pack, she was filled with happy warmth at the memories, but a tingling excitement about leaving at last. She remembered how she had struggled to fit in when she returned, and how her relationship with her Potions Master had been the only thing that had kept her here, if truth be told. She was ready for the next day.

At six o'clock, Hermione went to her final supper at Hogwarts School. She contemplated sitting with her friends at the Gryffindor table, but as she looked at them, giggling stupidly again about some trivial matter, she realised fully how little she belonged there. She took her place beside Severus gladly.

Although there would still be breakfast in the morning, this was the last proper meal of the term, and McGonagall gave a short speech wishing everyone a happy Christmas. She bid a short farewell to Hermione, commending her intellect and efforts in the war. Hermione blushed. It was not expected or necessarily the right place to do so, but she greatly appreciated it. The students applauded one of their most famous pupils. McGonagall then turned towards Severus. He flinched slightly.

"And we are also saying goodbye to a long-serving member of staff. Someone whom we all have very strong opinions of, I am sure. But those opinions have been formed due to his remarkable ability with magic, his attention to accuracy and detail, the expectations he has of you, his overwhelming knowledge of his own subject and many others, and his sheer force of personality, all of which combine to make this man an extraordinary teacher and human being. I need not tell you the role that Professor Snape played in helping to defeat Lord Voldemort, placing himself in grave danger time and time again, the last time to the point where he nearly sacrificed his own life. It gives me immense delight to see him so well, and ... so happy ... now and I wish him and Miss Granger all the best in the future. The school will not be the same without him, but I am sure his presence will live on for ages to come, and hopefully, Severus, you may come up and impart us with your knowledge on some occasions in the future.

"The staff and I have this little token of our appreciation for all you have done for the school and the wizarding world over the years."

McGonagall held out a package, wrapped in beautiful gilded paper.

Hermione glanced at Severus. He looked surprised, unsure, almost embarrassed. She nudged him. He stood and walked over to the Headmistress.

He took the gift with a small smile and a nod of his head, and was just about to walk back to his seat, when a ripple of applause broke out, mainly from the older Gryffindors, strangely enough. But the clapping spread rapidly through the hall, and before long, the entire student body were on their feet, cheering loudly, their hands raised above their heads, clapping.

Severus turned to them, a look of astonishment on his face. He stood there for a while, letting the sound of their appreciation wash over him, then turned to Hermione. She too was on her feet, as were the rest of the staff, applauding loudly. She had tears in her eyes.

Then his head darted back to the students and he raised his hand. They immediately fell silent.

"Quiet, all of you, or I shall have you in detention." The familiar low coldness was back. He turned towards his seat. The students' faces fell. Then he slowly looked back out at them. "Oh. I had forgotten. It seems I am no longer in a position to administer detention." He paused, before drawling with a smirk, "You lucky, lucky lot."

Then he raised his wand, and with a flick of it, thousands of twinkling lights flew out from it and spread through the hall, hovering several feet above the students. Then all of a sudden the lights changed into chocolate drops and tumbled like a gentle rain down onto them. They squealed with delight and grabbed for them, laughing and falling over each other. Severus allowed himself a smile of satisfaction and returned to his seat.

Hermione could not help kissing him full on the lips when he returned. His smile broadened and he looked down at the package McGonagall had given him.

"Are you going to open it?" Hermione asked.

His hands moved to the wrapping and he undid it. Inside was a small but beautifully ornate bottle containing a pale blue liquid which gave off an iridescent glow. Severus undid the stopper and smelt it. He looked astonished.

"What is it?"

"If my memory serves me correctly, and I have only once come across this before, it is unicorn milk."

"What?" Hermione was amazed, she knew how hard it was to see a unicorn, let alone approach them.

"It is one of the rarest and most powerful ingredients known to us, but almost impossible to come by, as unicorns can never be tamed and would never allow themselves to be ... manhandled, shall we say."

"So how ...?"

"Firenze helped me."

They spun around. McGonagall was standing behind them. She smiled down. "He knew of a gentle female unicorn who had just given birth. Firenze was able to communicate enough to her and she allowed the wood nymphs to extract some of her milk. Your reputation is known even amongst the forest creatures, Severus. It is not just wizarding folk whom you have helped. Use it wisely." She returned to her seat.

Hermione looked in wonder at Severus. He said nothing; she could tell he was moved beyond words. First, the response of the students, and now this remarkable gift from his colleagues.

They finished their meal in silence. Afterwards, they stayed in the hall for some time while students and staff came up to bid both of them goodbye. There was still the next morning, but the end of term was always a mad rush, and the last night in school was more relaxed.

Eventually, everyone left, and they found themselves alone in the Great Hall. Hermione sighed and looked up. The ceiling was normal, the enchantment had worn off. She simply stood staring up at it for a while.

"What would you like?" Severus asked.

She looked surprised.

"Up there."

"I thought only the Head could enchant the ceiling."

"And ex-Heads," he declared.

Hermione smiled. "I want ... the universe!" She giggled at her exaggerated demand.

He pulled her into him and kissed her deeply. When he broke away, he held her head and looked deep into her.

"I will give you anything you desire."

His wand raised and he pointed it along the ceiling, chanting a low incantation as it moved.

Hermione laughed aloud as the ceiling was transformed into the most extraordinary starscape she had ever seen. The air above her was full of nebulae, swirling galaxies, a myriad of planets, mesmerising in their diversity and variety, supernova and clusters of tiny sparkling stars, all alight with colour and motion.

She walked backwards, her head looking up, mouth open in astonishment.

He followed her over to the steps leading up to the podium.

"Will that suffice?"

She giggled again before slumping down to sit on the top step. "For now," she smirked at him, pulling him down to sit beside her and kissing him hard. "I love you," she breathed.

He kissed her back, then broke away. "I love you too." He looked deep into her eyes then spoke deep and silkily, "Lie down."

She glanced curiously at him. "Here?"

"Most definitely here."

"But ... what if someone comes in?"

"They won't. Everyone is off sorting out their things for tomorrow. And I have locked the doors anyway."

"What about the ghosts?"

"I shouldn't think they'll be around here now. They'll be in the corridors, trying to find someone to talk to."

She did not move initially, but his black eyes were so alight with desire and longing, that it transmitted straight to her belly, which churned as it had those first times she became aware of wanting him. Slowly, she lowered herself down so that her back was lying flat on the top step and her legs were bent onto the steps below.

He moved down and ran his hand slowly up her bare leg. She was wearing a dress and his fingers tickled a little as they moved sensuously up her inner thigh. She shivered at the sensation and he whispered a soothing, "Shh," up to her. His hand parted her thighs and he moved his body between them. Hermione was breathing heavily with anticipation and let a soft mewl of desire escape her. She could feel the tingle between her thighs, the throb from that bud of flesh, swelling at his proximity. Her belly twisted again and she arched off the step towards him. His other hand came to press her down again, warm and firm, causing even more longing to grow in her.

He lifted the dress up above her hips. As usual, she wore no underwear, and she heard a slight sigh of wonder from him at the sight of her revealed to him, open, moist, waiting, waiting.

Hermione raised her eyes to the ceiling again and let them fall upon the moving constellations above. Her mind blurred with lust and an almost dreamlike reverie. It was almost as if they too were up amongst the stars, floating, swimming, dancing.

His fingers were at the top of her thighs and she felt one at her folds, parting them, sliding languidly up the slick channel. She inhaled sharply, tensing with expectation. The finger moved inside her, and was joined by another. They rubbed, stroked, coaxed her pleasure out. She moaned with delight.

The fingers came out and rubbed up towards that ripe bud at the top, so close, but just avoiding the perfect point of tenderness. It swelled ever more in thwarted expectation. Hermione groaned, thrusting her fist into her mouth to try to control her lust.

Then she felt a change in the pressure. He had lowered his mouth to her and she recognised his tongue, his lips, licking, laving, taking in her essence. His tongue sought deep inside her, consuming the pleasure which flowed from her. She groaned loudly, but managed to remain still.

He kissed tenderly up her soaking folds until he reached her clit. It jerked as his tongue made contact; she almost came immediately. But he withdrew it quickly and circled it languidly instead, deliberately teasing, denying it its ultimate release.

Hermione felt fingers inside her again, strumming. And then more, in her other, tight passage. She arched off the step. A slight grunt was caught in his throat as he struggled to concentrate on his task while she moved against him.

Despite only using his hands and mouth, Hermione felt as full as she could. The fingers inside her were drawing such deep satisfaction and pleasure out of her she almost sobbed uncontrollably. His tongue and lips continued to inflame her clit, now so engorged, so ready, she could feel its need transmitting itself to the tightening muscles in her abdomen. The feeling spread like fire through her body, and then at last his mouth moved to encircle the bud of flesh fully. He pulled it deep into his mouth, his tongue stroking hard over it simultaneously.

Her body dissolved. A rippling flame of pleasure washed over and through her, radiating out from her core, but flowing right through to her toes. She shook helplessly, crying his name out into the vastness of the hall.

At length, he raised himself to look at her. She managed a bleary smile, but he hardly took it in, as almost immediately he had released himself and plunged deep and hard into her.

She grunted with the shock of it, but her body was still so primed, that she thought she may come again immediately. The grunt turned into a moan of triumph. It was joined by his own guttural cry of deepest pleasure.

Severus knelt on a lower step, and pulled her roughly towards him, her hips perfectly aligned with his thrusts. He furrowed his brows, trying to stem the pleasure from engulfing him too quickly, but the sight of her beneath him, lying prone on the steps of the Great Hall, made it almost impossible.

Hermione moved her eyes to his and saw his face above her, framed by the stars and galaxies he had conjured for her. She felt apart from herself, as if she was one of the stars, looking down on the extraordinary sight of these two people so perfectly joined, body, mind and soul. Her pleasure swelled rapidly again as he stroked ever harder within her. Hermione's features creased and her mouth opened in wonder as once again her body melted into ecstasy.

"Oh god oh god, Severus. It's you, it's you. Always you, you know it. Oh god ..." Her voice morphed into a sob of complete rapture.

He felt her pulsing around him but did not come immediately. His mind took in her words, took in the sight of her face crumpled in abandon, her body coming apart upon him. Only after he had fixed the images, sounds and feelings on his mind, knowing they would sustain him for years to come, did he allow himself to give his own body over to the rapture about to consume it.

He held her eyes and stopped moving. His face distorted into an expression of complete wondrous shock. Then with a deep guttural cry he came, exploding into her with more force than ever before.

"Hermione! My Hermione, my Hermione!"

He could not prevent his eyes closing and his head falling back uselessly, such was the extreme pleasure tearing at his limbs. When it was over his body sagged onto hers, heaving to draw in enough breath. She drew her hands around him to pull him in as close to her as she could.

They spoke not a word, lying at the top of the steps in the Great Hall, listening to the other breathing.

Eventually, still in silence, they rose, adjusted their clothing, and went their separate ways for the evening.

Hermione said little to anyone that night. They supposed it was with sadness that her time at school was finally drawing to a close, but in reality, her mind was consumed with thoughts of their coupling in the Great Hall. She could never have anyone else, of that she was sure. There was no one else.

As she lay for the last time in her bed, looking around the Gryffindor Tower room that final night, she did so with a remarkable sense of hope and conviction, in the knowledge that she was doing the right thing; the only thing. Hermione turned over in her four-poster bed, snuggled into the covers, and went to sleep.

The next day dawned chilly but as she pulled back the curtains, the white winter sun poured in to the room. There were no lessons that morning. The students spent their time sorting things out. She dressed, left her room for the last time, and headed out to the common room. There was a slightly teary farewell to some of her friends, amidst promises that she would come up to visit often. She gave Ginny a long hug.

"What am I going to do without you up here?" Ginny was clearly upset.

Hermione smiled warmly. "You'll be fine, Gin. You know you will. I'll be seeing an awful lot of you, you know."

"It won't be the same."

"Maybe not. But that doesn't mean it won't be as good, just different."

Ginny didn't look convinced.

"And just think – you don't have to put up with that bloody Professor Snape anymore!"

Ginny caught her eye, and the two girls dissolved into giggles.

Hermione headed for the door. With a final look at the common room, she whispered her own goodbye to it, and left.

Waiting at the foot of the steps leading to the main castle exit was Severus. She smiled at him.



"Do you have everything you need?"

She nodded. "My trunk has gone on ahead. It's going to Grimmauld Place. You?"

"I have sent things to Spinner's End for the time being."

They walked towards the door. Standing beside it was Professor McGonagall.

She hugged them both. "Well, you two. This is it. Not quite how I imagined either of you departing, but still ... I find myself strangely satisfied. Goodbye, Hermione. Goodbye, Severus. Thank you." She paused. "That is all I can say. No words are adequate at times like this."

She smiled at them and Hermione thought she could see, for the first time, a dampness in the stern Headmistress's eyes.

"Goodbye, Headmistress. As you say, it is impossible to express oneself adequately, but ... thank you. I will be back ... often. This place lives in me." She hugged her headmistress and former head of house again then stepped back.

Severus stepped forward and extended his hand. "Goodbye, Minerva. For all you and this school have done for me over the years, I thank you. Like Hermione, although I leave here with great hope for the future, I am sure I will be back – just to check up on you of course. Don't let things slip." The corners of his mouth twitched up, but apart from that, he sounded deadly serious.

McGonagall rolled her eyes. "Now be off with you! You're not the only ones with better things to do than be stuck in an empty school during Christmas!"

With that she practically shooed them out. Severus stepped beyond the castle doors, but stopped and looked back over his shoulder. Hermione linked her arm through his and rested her head on his shoulder as they gazed back at it for a while. He looked down at her and smiled, then together they walked down the hill, away from Hogwarts School.

"I hadn't really thought about how to get to London. Do you want to apparate from beyond the grounds? Or use your method. I suppose we could even take the train for a change."

He shrugged slightly. "There's no rush. You mentioned a while ago that you wanted to do something."

She looked at him curiously. "What was that?"

"You wanted to go to Hogsmeade."

"I always go to Hogsmeade."

He rolled his eyes. "With me."

"Oh!" Realisation dawned as she remembered their conversation of several months before. "Yes! I'd love to. But ... there's not much point now, is there?"

"Why not?"

She smiled and reached up for a kiss. "Come on then."

Arm in arm they took the path that led to the village. Many students had had the same idea, and giggled excitedly as they passed the two of them. To many, their relationship was still a source of amused fascination. After half a mile or so, they stopped. It was at this point that the path turned around a hillside and the castle would disappear from view.

They looked back at it a final time.

"No regrets?" Hermione asked.

"You've asked me that before."

"And what was your answer?"

He looked down at her. "How can I possibly have any regrets with you in my arms?"

She smiled. "I'll take that as a no."

And there, with Hogwarts Castle high on the hill behind them, and clusters of excited schoolchildren rushing past, Severus Snape leant down to kiss Hermione Granger. And together they stood, clasped together for an age, as the first snow of winter started to tumble idly around them.