warning: There is some sex in this chapter, though nothing truly graphic. Still . . . if you're under fourteen, you may want to skip it. This has now gone on record as the longest ff I've ever written, though it's nearing completion in several more chapters.

The ballroom had been decorated to resemble a hidden woodland bower, with green flowering vines hanging from the ceiling and the walls were covered with strands of green ivy entwined with beautiful sparkling ribbons of gold and twilight purple. The floor was a lovely golden oak inset with sparkling gemstone chips and a real stream ran across the southern end of the hall for the selkies and merpeople to relax in. It would shoot up geysers of warmed colored water every few minutes, making the water folk's hair shimmer with brilliant colors. There were tables and chairs with damask gold cloths for the fae and tree-bowers for those, like the dryads and sylphs and butterfly fairies, who preferred to sit ensconced by a living tree.

The guests spilled out of the huge room and into another larger grassy area with tables set up for those of the equine persuasion—like centaurs, pegasi, hippogriffs and fauns. All manner of fodder and fruits were upon that table, as well as fountains and troughs of fresh cool water. Clearly, Titania had spared no expense for this fete, which brought together fae and mortal Houses once again, for the first time in two centuries or more, reaffirming the ancient tie between them.

All kinds of winged fae soared and drifted above their landbound kin, from shimmerlings to wind sprites and ethereal spirits. An invisible orchestra played beautiful ballads while Titania escorted the newlyweds to the royal dais, where they dined along with Harry, Draco, Nesmay, the Hogwarts crowd, Philip and his family and the royal fae. Gauzy-winged fire fae, dressed in the royal livery with tresses that appeared to be living flame, served them from golden plates.

Ron's eyes grew larger and larger when he saw the feast presented to them. It was as large as a medieval royal banquet and then some. There was food of all kinds, from roasted swan in plum sauce to barbecued wild boar ribs. There was chicken with rosemary and grilled salmon with herb and butter sauce. There was lobster and crab, raw oysters, and shrimp in a dozen different ways. There was partridge and pheasant stuffed with cherries and chestnuts and venison roasted with wild onions and garlic. There were salads of wild greens, with and without nuts and fruit, with dressings of oil and vinegar and fresh raspberry vinegrette. There were vegetables, roasted, fried, boiled, and stewed. The bread was small rolls of a golden color, that melted in your mouth and tasted divine with butter and wild clover honey.

"Blimey, Harry! All of this looks so good! Where am I gonna put it all?"

"Uh . . . just taste a little of everything," Harry said.

Pitchers of summerdew, frost wine, and all kinds of juices and sparkling waters were served, in an unending stream from silver and crystal carafes. The Hogwarts friends were careful not to imbibe the fae liquor, not wanting to end up sleeping away the rest of the night. The medallions they wore would protect them from becoming ill or poisoned from some fae ingredient, but not from summerdew's main side effect, which was to send a mortal to sleep. They all toasted the new couple's health over and over, until Hermione declared that if she took one more sip of merlinna juice she would float away.

"But it tastes divine," she said, smiling at Draco, who clinked a glass with her and sipped some more of his sparkling pineapple juice.

"It does." Katie agreed. "This whole banquet is divine!"

"And we haven't even gotten to the dessert," Nesmay told her, taking another bite of her barbecued rib.

"Dessert?" groaned Ron. "Aww, Merlin! I'm so stuffed I can barely breathe."

"Here," Harry dug a potion from his pocket. "Swallow this. It's a Stomach Soother, it'll take care of indigestion for you."

"Thanks!" Ron grinned and chugged it down.

Severus peered down the long table, trying to make sure his children were behaving. Satisfied that they weren't starting a food fight and using their utensils and napkins properly, he turned back to his seatmate, Princess Morgana, and continued telling her about the Tri Wizard Tournament Harry had participated in. Sarai was instructing Prince Aubrey on the finer points of knife throwing, using the tip of her dagger to scratch a diagram on a piece of birchbark given to her by a wood sprite.

The feast lasted several hours, until Titania figured it was time to have her subjects work off all of that food with some dancing. The Queen of the Seelie Court stood and clapped her hands, making all of her subjects and their guests immediately hush and pay attention. Magic enabled her to be heard without raising her voice in every corner of the hall and the expanded addition as well.

"Friends, family, and honored guests, I bid you all welcome to this wedding feast. As you know, no fae celebration is complete without dancing, and I invite all who wish to join me on the floor. But first, we must have the traditional wedding dances, to ensure good fortune and happiness for Severus and Sarai in their marriage. The first dance of the evening belongs to the bride, groom, and their mothers, to honor she who gave them life and to ensure new life springs from this union." She clapped her hands. "Musicians, play us a lively air!"

As the music began, Titania turned to Severus and held out her hand, her eyes glittering. "Severus, I am aware that she who gave you life has passed on, but you are a son-by-marriage to me. Would you accept me as a substitute for Eileen Prince Snape this evening?"

Severus rose and bowed. "It would be a great honor, Your Majesty."

Titania took his hand in hers and led him out onto the dance floor, which was set smack in the middle of the room. They were joined by Sarai and Julianna.

Katie whistled. "Wow, Harry! Your dad's dancing with the Faerie Queen Herself!"

"Merlin! That's just . . . amazing!" Hermione said.

"Why?" Ron wondered.

"Because she's substituting for his mother," Nesmay explained. "You see, this dance is to honor mothers and their children, but Severus' mother is dead, so Gran has taken her place. By doing that, she's showing that he's high in her favor."

Ron gazed at Titania, a bedazzled look in his eyes. "She could pretend to be my mum . . ."

"Ron!" Hermione smacked him on the back of the head.

Draco snickered. "Leave him be, Hermione. He wouldn't be the first to get all bewitched by Titania. Almost everyone does. It's part of her glamourie."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Just so long as you don't go all calf-eyed, Malfoy."

"Me?" Draco looked very innocent. "Lady Bookworm, don't you know true love defeats fae Glamour every time?"

Hermione looked skeptical. "Is that true, Nesmay?"

Titania's granddaughter nodded. "Oh, yes. Love is one of the most powerful emotions, and a strong emotional attachment will shred a glamourie and render it powerless."

"See?" Draco said smugly.

"You're lucky I love you, Malfoy," Hermione whispered. Then she focused upon the two couples.

They were forming a square, a dance the fae had learned from mortals called a cotillion. Most dances the fae preferred had mortal origins, though the fae generally added their own flares and moves. The fae loved to dance, and used any excuse to dance often. Their natural grace and uncanny sense of rhythm and timing made them more than a match for even a mortal dance master. In the court, it was consider a mark of good breeding for a lady or lord to dance well, and dance competitions were often held between nobles to see who could dance the most complicated dance, dance the longest, or fastest.

Now, Severus was no dance master, but he had learned the court dances as part of his education as the Prince heir, and could do the steps adequately. Titania glided about him, measured and calm, and then they switched partners, with Severus now dancing with Julianna and Sarai with Titania. They formed a delicate figure, stepping and turning about each other, following the beats of the music, and leaving silver sparkles in their wake as they tread about the floor.

They switched partners two more times before ending the dance where they had started. Everyone applauded, and Severus bowed to Titania and the two women curtseyed before the queen left the floor. Julianna followed, for the next dance, a waltz, belonged to the bride and groom.

Sarai gazed up into the eyes of her tall husband and gave him a rare smile. By nature she was serious, as was he, and yet she found that just looking at him made her smile, made her giggle like some giddy schoolgirl, though she was long past the age for that behavior. "Our dance, beloved. Are you ready?"

"For the waltz or this marriage?" he asked, teasingly.


In answer, he placed an arm about her waist and spun away with her across the floor. They made an incongruous pair, the petite half-fae warrior and the tall half-blood sorcerer, yet somehow they fit together. Those watching marveled at how well they matched, and all could feel their magics entwine, bound together forevermore by vows of love and fidelity.

There was a glow about them, a look of utter joy in the former Captain's eyes and a light upon the face of the solemn Potions Master that made one stop and stare. To the fae, whose long lives often made them capricious and bored with one partner, a true love match was rare. Even rarer was the fact that Severus and Sarai had been apart for so many years before finally being able to tie the knot, demonstrating a depth of devotion and faithfulness that was often lacking in fae marriages. So this was a marriage to be celebrated and remembered, and would be talked about for years to come.

"They make a beautiful couple," Katie murmured to Harry, dabbing her eyes with a napkin.

Harry nodded. "Yeah, they do." Then he asked, "Uh, Katie, why are you crying?"

"Can't help it," she sniffled. "I always cry at weddings."


She shook her head. "Never mind. You're a boy, you wouldn't understand."

Harry exchanged glances with his brother. "Do you get it, Draco?"

Draco assumed a lofty expression. "Of course I do. Girls are naturally more emotional than boys, they relate more deeply to this sort of thing. They look at Dad and Sarai and imagine themselves out there dancing like that one day—"

"Why, Draco, that's amazing!" exclaimed Hermione.

"—and they get all weepy eyed and snivelly and ruin their make-up," finished the other with a snort and an eye roll. "That's why you always need to carry an extra handkerchief and it's also why girls are always in the bathroom forever. Oww! Hey, what was that for?" He glared at Hermione.

"And here I thought you actually understood romance!" snapped his girlfriend. "I should have known better."

"What? What did I say? Who was talking about romance? I was telling the truth!"

"Never mind!" Hermione scowled, turning around and nibbling on a handful of sugared nuts in a crystal bowl that had been placed in front of her plate.

"Big brother, sometimes you're dumb as a stump," Nesmay put in, shaking her head.

"Aww, shut up, Nessie! Who asked you?"

"Just saying. You'd better apologize quick, or else you'll be left standing by the wall instead of dancing tonight." The girl advised.

"Apologize? For what?"

"You're so smart, you figure it out," Nesmay replied cheekily.

The band struck up a quick tune. The fae girl looked at Ron and grinned. "Oh, a reel! Come on, Ron! This is a tune I actually know the steps to, because there aren't too many of them." She grabbed the startled Gryffindor's hand and pulled him out of his chair.

"But . . . but . . . Nesmay, I don't know how to dance to this," he stammered.

Nesmay ignored him, cheerfully dragging him along in her wake. "It's easy! Just follow along with me."

Other couples had now come out onto the floor and formed three large circles. Nesmay joined one with her uncle, Balin, and several other cousins. Ron blinked, clutching Nesmay's hand like a lifeline. His other was clasped by a pretty golden-haired fae lady in a swirling seafoam dress that . . . revealed a good deal of her bosom. Whoa! She's really . . . err. . .stacked! Ron quickly tore his eyes away, swallowing hard. The last thing he needed was to offend one of the nobles and end up in a duel.

The music's tempo increased, and suddenly he found himself spinning about in a circle, rather like the skipping games he used to play with the twins and Ginny when he was small. Faster and faster they twirled, until they separated and he found himself facing Nesmay, who was grinning and stamping her feet, back and forth and then kicking them up.

"Look! Like this, Ron! See? One, two, three, and four!" On four she kicked her left foot, and then the right. Then she brought her heels together with the toes pointed out, stepped back, forward, and kicked out again.

Ron did his best to imitate her, finding that it really wasn't hard. "I . . . I'm doing it!"

"See? It's easy!" Nesmay laughed, then she took his arm and they began to skip in a circle. "Right, then left, now join together!"

They moved to the right, then left, and then joined back up with the others, making one large circle again. Ron was panting, for the reel was fast paced, but he hadn't stepped on Nesmay's feet yet or tripped over his own. He knew he had a goofy grin plastered over his face, but he didn't care. He was actually having fun and he didn't feel like a clumsy idiot.

They separated again, and he tried to match Nesmay's flying feet. "Thought you told me you couldn't dance!" he gasped. "Was that a fib?"

"Not really. I can't dance any of the normal court dances, like the minuet and the waltz. I step on my partner's feet. But reels I can do, they're fun!"

"You can say that again!" The skirling music was in his blood now, and he followed the beat of the music without conscious thought.

Suddenly, the tune changed into something a bit more stately and slow. Ron faltered. "Oh, no! What do I do?" he cried, panicking.

He felt his arm clasped by the blond fae woman that had danced in a circle with him. "Relax, handsome! The gavotte is not quite as hard as you think."

Before Ron could protest, he was whirled away by the fae lady into the mix of dancers. "Nesmay!" he called.

"Oh, don't worry about her! She's barely out of leading strings, darling! Let an expert show you how it's done." His partner smirked, then her arms tightened about him and he couldn't find any breath to say anything.

Colorful silks and glittering trains swirled over and around them, but Ron barely paid attention to the array of garments. He had eyes only for the lovely lady, who led him in a gliding spinning motion all across the floor. His head was whirling and he was drunk on the sensations and scent of merlinna blossoms in the lady's hair. He felt energized and thrillingly alive and he never wanted the dance to end.

But it did and as they came to a halt, he spotted Nesmay nearby, dancing with her royal uncle Balin. He waved at her, but then felt two slender hands cup his face and pull him about.

"You dance quite well for a mortal!" his lady giggled, her emerald eyes sparkling. "We shall have to do it again sometime, eh?"

"Uh . . . sure! Err . . . I'm Ron Weasley."

"My name is Tirala of the House of Whitestorm," she said. Then she bent and kissed him gently on the mouth. "Till we meet again, firehair!"

Then she gently withdrew and glided across the floor to speak to another member of the court.

Ron was gaping like a landed fish. "She . . . kissed me! Wow!" he murmured. Nesmay came up and touched his shoulder.

"Ron? Are you all right?"

"Huh? Oh . . . yeah . . . perfect . . .She kissed me!"

"Who, Tirala? She's a tramp," Nesmay snorted.

"Yeah . . . but Merlin!" sighed Ron dreamily, staring after the sea-gowned fae.

Nesmay groaned. "Bright Lady save me!" She gave the lovestruck redhead and cuff on the ear. "Wake up! She's part siren, she'll as soon drown you in your sleep as kiss you."

"She . . . would? But she seemed so . . . nice."

"When she wants to be, sure. But don't be fooled, Weasley. Sometimes a pretty face can hide a fickle heart. Or so Uncle Balin always says, and he ought to know, since he's broken his share of maiden's hearts himself." She tugged Ron off the floor. "C'mon, we'd better sit this one out, it's a slow one, and my feet are killing me in these bloody slippers."

As soon as they returned to the table, Nesmay kicked off her detested court slippers and massaged her feet. Harry and Katie were the only ones at the table, everyone else was on the dance floor, including Draco and Hermione.

Ron eyed the Slytherin and the Gryffindor in astonishment. "They're dancing? After how mad she was at him?"

"He finally apologized to her for being an insensitive beast," chuckled Katie. "Now he's remembered his manners, and she forgave him."

Draco was gently swaying back and forth, holding Hermione close and murmuring something.

"Humph! She gave in too easily. She should've made him sweat a bit more," Nesmay commented.

"Hey! Be nice!" Harry ordered.

Nesmay stuck her tongue out at him. "Highstars don't suffer fools lightly, my Lord Snape."

"Good thing he's not one then," Katie smiled, then drew him to his feet. "Come on, love, let's take a turn about the floor."

"B-But Katie . . . I . . . err . . ."

"Now, Harry, don't even try to tell me you can't dance. You and I danced at the ball, remember? And you're a Snape, and naturally graceful." She told him, leading him onto the floor.

While Ron and Nesmay were resting, some fae servers came along with platters of desserts. There were cream cakes and puddings, tiny fruit tarts, cream puffs and sherberts, biscuits and pies of all kinds. There was a gigantic marzipan and sugar subtlety of Prince Manor, with Severus, Sarai, Harry, Draco, and Nesmay figurines standing before the manor. It was a work of art, and yet everything about it was edible. Each guest was given a small slice. Tea and coffee were served as well as thick chocolate milkshakes, for the fae had a weakness for mortal sweets.

Ron happily filled his plate with all kinds of sweets and dug in. "Mmm . . .Nesmay . . . . this is like the best wedding ever!"

"It's the only wedding I've ever been at," she admitted, eating a slice of strawberry chocolate torte. "Uh . . . you have cream on your nose."

Ron blushed, then wiped it off. His mum would have been appalled at his lack of manners, so he was glad she wasn't here and only Nesmay was, who seemed to enjoy dessert as much as he did.

Soon the others returned to the table and after dessert they all danced the jeweled silver coin dance, where anyone who wished had to pay a forfeit of a jeweled silver coin to dance with the bride. They were all given a small pile of coins, which were standard fae currency, and everyone went and placed them into a small embroidered bag at Sarai's waist. The coins were meant to ensure prosperity and friendship in the new couple's marriage.

After that, most of the fae brought gifts for the new couple, some of which were set upon a long table, but others which were presented in person. Severus and Sarai sat in chairs in the middle of the floor as the guests formed a line and each gift was presented. Some were standard magical items, like a swansdown Cloak of Seasons, meant to keep the wearer warm, cool, or dry in all kinds of weather. There were Boots of Swiftness and a Bag of Holding. There were practical gifts of hand embroidered tapestries and rugs, as well as a Carafe of Endless Drinks, which would refill itself with whatever drink the holder requested however many times he wished. The only exception to this rule was that the holder could not request alcoholic beverages if they were underage. There were magical pots that could make soup on request and platters that would keep food hot or cold for hours. They received all kinds of potions and elixirs and salves for healing and other things. Severus received several cauldrons as well as cauldron stirrers.

One ancient-looking fae lady wearing a dress that had been in style back in the Elizabethan era, her hair snow white and very faint wrinkles at the corner of her eyes approached. She carried a beautifully carved wooden cane with a unicorn head, and a long package was slung across her back. Her brilliant amber eyes were filmy and it soon became apparent that the fae woman was blind, or nearly so. Since such maladies did not touch the fae until they were very ancient, Severus was sure she must be over a millennium old. "Who is that?" he whispered out of the corner of his mouth to his wife.

Sarai turned from handing Harry a small silver cauldron, he and Draco were writing down each gift and whom it was from, and looked at the ancient woman. "Sun and Stars! That's Lirael, the Ancient One! She is the oldest of all the Seelie Court and she is almost never seen outside her keep any more."

"Just how old is she?"

"No one really knows exactly, even she herself has forgotten, for the fae don't really keep close track of years like mortals. But she is at least a thousand years old, perhaps a century or two more. It is said that she taught your famous wizard Merlin when he was a child, and she was old then. She was once a great sorceress and teacher of nearly all our mages at one time. It is said that she has forgotten more magic than most mages today ever learned. But she stopped taking pupils long ago, before I was born. That she has come to the wedding . . . she was invited, but I never thought she would come . . .it is a great honor."

Lirael tapped her way up in front of them, then halted. Her face lifted to peer up at them. She lifted a sparkling monocle from about her neck and held it up to her right eye. "Well met, young Sarai! A shimmerling delivered yer invitation but I fear I forgot about it till now." She cocked her head and gave Sarai and Severus a worn smile. "My memory . . . isn't what it used to be, my girl."

"Ancient One, it is we who are honored by your presence," Sarai said respectfully. She started to rise, but the ancient fae waved her back to her seat.

"Sit down, sit down, Captain. If age garners respect, then keep breathing in and out and ye shall have as much as I . . . someday. This is yer day, and what a wonderful day it is! I have waited long and long for a union such as this. . . . I wish ye joy of it. 'Tis said that yer new husband is a peerless Potions Master. About time someone at this court is bringing back that old art . . . it's long been neglected here. The court needs new blood . . .and I hear that those mortals are quite lusty in the bedroom too!" She gave a wicked chuckle. Then she turned to look at Severus. "Aye, he's a looker, he is! I'll wager those pretty hands of his are good for more than stirrin' a cauldron!" She squinted through the eyepiece and said, "Laddie, what be yer name?"

"Severus Snape, milady. I am the Heir to Prince Manor." He inclined his head to her, suppressing a fierce blush by the slimmest of margins.

She extended her hand and clasped his. "Well met, laddie buck!" She released his hand and flipped it over, scrutinizing it. "Ahh . . . as I thought. Strong hands . . . strong and filled with life . . .and Power, aye . . .were I five hundred years younger, lass, I might fight ye for him . . ." She gave Severus' hands a proprietary pat before saying, "Ah, but I see that yer heart belongs only to the lass here, aye? That is well." She cleared her throat. "Once I too was mistress of a cauldron, back when the Art of Potions was new and filled with mystery, an art mastered only by the most dedicated and brilliant . . .From one Craftmistress to another . . .I give ye this, young Severus." She reached behind her and pulled the long package from her shoulders.

Severus took it reverently and opened it. Upon his palms was a four foot cauldron stirrer, simply carved of golden wizardwood. It fairly vibrated with magical energy. "Milady . . .is this what I think it is?"

"If ye be thinking it's a Stirrer of Efficacy, laddie, ye'd be right!" cackled the Potions Mistress. "Put that in yer cauldron and give it three stirs clockwise an' three counterclockwise and it'll triple the potency of any brew. Hee hee! Leave it to steep in yer brew an' it'll increase the volume by three as well."

"This is a most magnificent gift," Severus said, stroking the golden wood. "I had thought they were all lost."

"Well . . . they were, in a manner of speaking. Ten were carved by a student o' mine, this one is the last left. Now 'tis yours, laddie. An happen ye have more than enough stirrers, young Severus, it can double as a stick to whack eejit colleagues or naughty children with, aye?"

"He's already got one of those, and he knows how to use it," Harry blurted out, then he turned red when the gathered fae began to snicker at his blunt honesty.

Lirael turned her head and winked at him. "Indeed, boy? Then best ye mind ye never give him cause to use it."

"I do, milady," Harry hastened to reply.

"Yer son, young Severus?"

"Yes, Ancient One. My son, Harry Albus Snape, the Heir Apparent."

"He'll do ye proud." She nodded firmly. "And for ye, young Sarai, my blessing and good wishes for ye an' yer family for as long as the stars hang in the sky." She lifted her cane and waved it about in a strange pattern. Magic glowed in the air and then settled over the warrior and her husband in a swath of golden sparks. "Fare thee well!"

With that, Lirael vanished, gone as quickly as she had come, leaving the assembled fae with something to gossip about for a long time, especially those of Oberon's faction, who had been sneering and whispering behind their hands at the half-blood groom and his mortal guests all night long.


By one in the morning, the party had started to wind down, and Harry and his friends were dozing in their chairs, stuffed full of sweets and milkshakes. Severus and Sarai had finished their last dance and were ready to return to Prince Manor. Princess Morgana opened a Portal to the manor, and she and her brothers assisted the bride and groom with bringing the sleepy teenagers through and Transfiguring their clothes into sleepwear. Once all of them were settled in their beds, Severus and his bride retired to their own.

When he would have banished their clothes, Sarai halted him with a gesture. "No magic tonight, Severus love. I know we've done this before, but tonight . . .tonight let us go back to the first time."

"When I was a fumble-fingered dolt?" Severus asked, with a faint disparaging note in his voice.

"Sev! Bright Lady, you were never that! Inexperienced, but never clumsy," she laughed. Then she turned her back to him. "Would you mind undoing these?"

He set his fingers to the row of pearl buttons and undid them all as rapidly as he could. Then he slipped the gorgeous gown off her shoulders, where it lay in a puddle of silk and velvet about her feet. He breathed in sharply, once, twice, then his hands began to glide gently over her shoulders and down her back. He felt her quiver as desire spiraled through her.

"Severus!" she murmured. Lirael had been utterly right when she had complimented his hands, those slender long-fingered hands that could bring her to a fever pitch of arousal with the merest brush against her skin. She shut her eyes. She had danced this dance before, and had never been disappointed with his lovemaking, even that first awkward time, when they had been just learning each other's bodies. Now she leaned back into his embrace, exhaling slowly, reveling in the fire that he coaxed from deep within with his fingers.

Severus ran his hands down her slender length, cupping her breasts gently, teasingly. He paused, his breath tickling her ear, and murmured, "How's that?"

She made a soft growl of assent, something that sounded like "More".

His hands dipped lower, curving about her muscular hips and firm bottom, while he lowered his mouth and began to kiss her neck, dozens of kisses, that etched a trail of fire down her. His own passion was surging through him, and he struggled to control it. "It's been too long . . ." he said huskily. But he forced himself to go slowly. They had all night after all and he wanted to give her pleasure before taking his own.

His hands paused, rubbing gently against a ridged scar upon her thigh, legacy of a knife thrust. "My beautiful warrior."

"You mean your scarred warrior," she reminded. She had no illusions about her body. The battles she had fought and won were branded in her skin, never to be forgotten.

"They are badges of honor," he whispered. "And I love you no less because of them. After all, I have my own share."

"I know. But sometimes . . .I wish I had chosen a different profession. Soldiering has made me old before my time, I fear. I wish I had known you long before, when I was truly innocent and my skin did not bear the map of war upon it. Like the way your Lily knew you."

He was startled, having never seen this side of her, she had always been the more self-confident, or so he had thought. He gently turned her to face him. "Sarai . . . when I knew Lily, I was barely an adult myself, and in any case that is all past. She was the love of my youth, a breath of spring, but you . . .you are my love for all seasons. I love you, Captain, precisely because you are scarred and imperfect. Just like me."

"Ah, Sev. Two battle-scarred warhorses, put out to pasture."

"I'll give you the first, but as for the second . . . I am far from retirement, and I shall prove it."

He captured her mouth, kissing her with infinite tenderness at first. Then he deepened it, until she gasped, entwining his fingers in her hair and pulling her close. He felt her tremble slightly as he drew back and said, "Let us forget what has been before. Tonight belongs to us, here and now, and that is all that matters."

She stared up into his eyes and suddenly all of her doubts vanished subsumed by the ancient desire and love she saw reflected in his eyes. She shook her head. "Pay me no mind, love. I am being foolish. I don't know what's wrong with me."

"I do. The same thing that's wrong with me. For so long we have had to snatch our pleasure when and where we could, for we never knew when duty would summon us away. We learned to live in the moment. But now . . . now we can take our time . . . and learn all over again what we thought we knew . . . and it's frightening, because we keep expecting it to be taken away. But it won't be. Not ever again. I have all the time I need . . . to memorize every inch of you . . . over and over . . ."

His fingers resumed their leisurely caresses and his mouth followed suit, as he put into play all he had learned during their years together, showing without words just how much he loved her, all of her. Her self-control splintered and she cried out.

Her nails scrabbled at his shoulders. "You're still wearing clothes, damn it!" she hissed.

He arched an eyebrow. "Take them off then."

She did, ripping off several buttons in the process. Then she slowed, perusing him leisurely, running her eyes and her fingers over him. But her impatience got the better of her and she pulled him down on the bed, where she could explore him at her leisure. Oddly enough, it felt as if she was doing this for the first time, and in a way she was. Soon she had him at the verge of his control, torturing him by inches with her sweet lips and strong callused hands.

It lent a feeling of poignancy to their lovemaking, and when at last they finally came together, it was with a wild gentleness that left them breathless and sated, with all doubts behind them.

She rested her head upon his shoulder, her curly hair fanning out on the pillow. "Not bad, eh, for two retired warhorses?"

He propped himself on his elbow and gazed down at her, giving her a smirk. "Why, Sarai . . .you ought to know this old horse is just getting started."

She laughed. "Good. Because the night is young, Severus mine. And the old war mare has a few good rides left."

She rolled over and he pulled her down on top of him.

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The third time left both of them in a hazy afterglow, satisfied and sleepy, curled in each other's arms. Severus' eyes were at half-mast, as he smiled drowsily at his wife. His wife. A part of him still marveled at that. After all the years of worrying and waiting, of dreaming and hoping, of longing and fearing, she was his own at last. Now they could begin to live the life he had always wished he could, back before Voldemort, before his days as a secret agent, when all he'd ever wanted was to perfect his brewing and have a wife and a family who loved him. Such a simple dream, but it was a dream that had eluded him for over fourteen years. Until now.

"Sev?" his wife yawned. "Is something wrong? You're not sleeping."

"I'm not quite ready for sleep. I'm just . . .musing on the incredible fact that I'm finally able to call you my wife. There were times . . . so many times . . . that I feared it would never be. That I would come here and wait and you would never come back . . . That you would have been cut down defending the queen or the young prince and once again I would be alone."

"I know." She snuggled closer to him. "I was afraid too, that you would be killed or broken beyond repair as you spied upon that hellspawn Voldemort. And there would have been nothing I could do to prevent it. Sometimes . . . sometimes I used to wake screaming . . . you died a dozen horrible ways in my dreams . . . and each time I feared it was a vision and not a nightmare. I hated the fact that I couldn't be with you, that my oath to Titania bound me to the land and my kindred, but I also knew that I could not repudiate it. Not and still keep my honor. It was a double-edged sword and I cut myself till I bled upon it."

"As did I. But somehow we survived, mostly by being too bloody stubborn to lie down and die. And now we have each other, and the children, and time to spare if I use the timeclock."

"You would bend time for me?" she repeated. "I thought that was only to be used in dire need."

"It depends on the heir. The timeclock can be used twelve times by the current heir and then it passes to the Heir Apparent. I have used it twice so far. I planned on using it again so the boys and Nesmay could recover from Jarillion's treatment. And so we could spend time with them as well. We all need time, Sarai. To heal and to grow as a family. To me, that's worth using the timeclock."

"You're right. I need time to accustom myself to being a mother. I hope I'm not too terrible at it. I'm used to commanding soldiers in battle, not children."

"You'll get used to it. You can't be any worse than I was a year ago when I first brought Harry to the manor. I lost my temper with him so badly I caused him to have a flashback from his time with bloody Vernon Dursley."

"Over the summerdew?"

"Yes," Severus grimaced. "I've made plenty of mistakes, Sarai. With all of them. But there's no such thing as a perfect parent. Or children. And my boys can drive a saint up a wall sometimes. So can Nesmay. It's a challenge."

"But you love it."

"Some days, yes. Other days I wonder what the hell I was thinking attempting to raise two hellions and the daughter of my worst enemy. But then I'll look at Harry and see how much he reminds me of Lily, or Draco and remember how he nearly went dark, or Nesmay, whose temper rivals my own, and I'll remember that they need me and suddenly it's all worthwhile. Every last aggravating minute."

He kissed the top of her forehead. "You'll see. Together we'll muddle through, Sarai." Then he yawned. "Good night, love."

"Good night, Sev," she kissed him back. Her last thought before she followed him into realm of dreams was that the Ancient One had been right. Her Potions Master really did have the most amazing hands and they could do so much more than stir a cauldron.

Next: More family bonding, plus an unexpected request from Ron and some startling news.