So it was true, Snape thought as he lay in agony on the floor of the Shrieking Shack. You really could live a lifetime in the few minutes before death. The 38 years of his life so far did not pass before his eyes; instead a future he had never imagined unfolded. He was amazed by the rich detail. But why had he fixated on Hermione Granger, he mused as darkness descended. Why not dream about a life with Lily? Ah well, too late to unravel the mysteries of his subconscious. Still, it had been a very pleasant dream: Love, laughter, joy. He would never have the reality but the memories would last forever. Or as long as he lasted. It would have to be enough. And it was, he realized with surprise. All he had ever wanted ...

Snape woke up disoriented as he died. Where was he? The Shrieking Shack – St. Mungo's – the Potions dungeon – the Headmaster's tower? Reality coalesced around him and he sighed with relief. Spinner's End with Hermione beside him. He jerked suddenly and involuntarily as he remembered the dream. Hermione stirred next to him and he rolled over to hold her.

"What's wrong?" she asked, sensing his disquiet.

"Just a dream." Snape dismissed it

But of course that wasn't enough for Hermione. "Tell me."

He did.

Hermione was silent for a moment. "So you dreamed that you died instead of marrying me."

"It was a bad dream. A nightmare in fact."

"Or wishful thinking. I should have been warned when you proposed and compared marriage to hanging. Well, it's too late now. You may have taken 40 years to have regrets but you're stuck with me."

Snape smiled. Hermione was delivering a mock rant but he felt her concern. She knew logically that Snape was in excellent health and that 81 was late middle age for a wizard but emotionally the number had triggered anxiety because her father had died at 81.

"Are you all right now?" Hermione asked. "Is there anything I can do?"

"There is one thing that might make me feel better. A life-affirming act, as it were."

"You want to have sex at a time like this?"

"It's not an uncommon reaction after a brush with death."

"Well, we are awake." Hermione's hand wandered. "And you seem very eager despite your dreadful ordeal."

"Besides, it is my duty to serve the Minister of Magic in any way I can."

Hermione giggled. "I have an entire Ministry to serve me but you're the only one who can service me."

"I should bloody well hope so," Snape said.

So they did what they had done thousands of times before, each with similar thoughts. How could this be exciting and comforting at the same time? So familiar and yet never boring?

Hermione moved above Snape. His hair was longer now and there was more silver among the black. Hermione still thought it was awfully attractive. She curled up contentedly when they finished.

Snape watched Hermione. Her hair was shorter now, a sleek bob that suited the shape of her face and the texture of her unruly hair. It still tickled his nose when she lay against him. And he still liked it.

A/N: That's my version of a Granger-Snape relationship. At one point I planned to end it with Snape's death in the Shrieking Shack but I just couldn't do it. I wanted him to live this life not hallucinate it. I also thought about having Hermione die unexpectedly, leaving Snape alone after he assumed that she would outlive him. But I couldn't do that either. So it ends as it began: Married, with sex.

Thanks to everyone for reading and especially those who took the time to review. Special thanks to neelix for helping this American sound more British. And of course J. K. Rowling. We owe it all to her.