A/N: This chapter is dedicated to semperadreamer. Thank you for translating this story and making it accessible to the Italian fandom!
Also very special thanks to Mark Darcy / Trickie Woo beta reading the entire story and correcting my mistakes.
Samara Ravenhood inhaled the scent of books and sighed. The manor house, usually filled with the sound of children's laughter, was now quiet except for the occasional clatter from the kitchen, where Trixie was preparing dinner. Here in the library, her sanctuary, padded with book shelves, the silence was onerous. She was alone. Her husband had gone into the forest to look for mushrooms, while Samara had travelled to London with the kids earlier that afternoon, to send them off to school on the Hogwarts Express. Now she was back at home to find he had not yet returned, and she missed his company,
Outside, a beautiful September day, golden and sweet like a ripe apple, was drawing to an end, as the last rays of sun disappeared over the edge of the forest. It was not the type of day to abandon oneself to melancholy. And yet, her heart was filled with longing for the past, mourning of lost youth, and a feeling that it was all slipping away too quickly.
If only she had a timeturner... But the only way she had to hold on to those fleeting moments of happiness was through photographs. And so she walked over to the heavy oak desk in the centre of the room, opened the top drawer, and pulled out a thick leather-bound album. Sitting on the edge of the desk, she put it down in front of her. Her hand stroked lovingly over the soft tan leather, imprinted with a raven and a snake, before opening it at the first page. It had been Granny Poppy's wedding present, and what a thoughtful one - a treasure trove for collecting the memories of a happy marriage.
The first photos were of their wedding - nineteen years ago, how time flew...
A much younger Samara and Severus stood by the fountain in Hogwarts' courtyard, smiling at each other, his arm around her waist, her hand resting on his shoulder, leaning in for a tender kiss.
Samara smiled, thinking how pretty she had looked that day, so young, so radiant. Now her hair was turning grey at the temples, crow's feet had appeared around her eyes, and her breasts were giving in to gravity.
On the next page there was Rowena with baby Godric, with his fluffy coat and tiny short tail, jumping about gawkily on his long spindly legs.
Then followed several pages of pictures from their years of travelling the world – from Egypt, Kenya, India, Australia and Peru.
Finally, a picture of Samara in a bed at St. Mungo's, holding a newborn baby, her face sweaty and tired, but smiling at the little bundle in her arms.
And Severus, cradling baby Helena gently to sleep, the expression on his face one of pure wonder.
Her heart filled with love as she looked through more baby pictures:
Helena, now walking, holding her teddy bear.
Helena 'helping' Samara and Trixie make cauldron cakes.
Helena, unwrapping presents under a mighty Christmas tree.
Three-year old Helena with her play-cauldron, and a piece of wood for a wand, picking flowers in the garden to make a 'potion'.
Severus and Helena, building a snow man under the old apple tree.
And then Samara at Melissa's wedding, with little Helena dressed up as a flower girl.
She turned the page, and there she was again, holding another newborn, a boy this time, the first picture of baby Frederic. How tiny he had been!
Samara got a little teary-eyed as she looked at the other photos:
Freddie in his cot, screaming his head off.
The Ravenhood family, gathered on the sofa beside the Christmas tree, Samara holding little Freddie, and Severus with Helena on his lap.
Helena giving her little brother a cuddle.
Then another Christmas: A beaming Helena sitting beside a stack of books, the complete works of Beatrix Potter, while Freddie was just unwrapping his new play-broom.
Six-year old Helena proudly reading her brother the story of Peter Rabbit.
Samara smiled. From a very early age, Helena had shown a love of books and reading. She was so much like her father. And who was better apt to satisfy her thirst for knowledge, and foster her love of learning, than Severus. She was his pride and joy, and he doted on her. Freddie, on the other hand, preferred running around in the forest to the quiet of the library, and was often at odds with his father.
The next picture was of Freddie building a sand castle on the beach. He had been trying to make it look just like the drawing on the inside cover of "Hogwarts – A History". Severus had been dismayed, when he realised that this was the only reason the boy kept asking for the book, and that he never actually read a single page of it. And Freddie had been pouting because his father failed to see the merit in building the best ever Hogwarts sand castle, turrets decorated with sea shells and all.
Samara turned over another page.
Helena and Severus in the library, Helena tugging at her dad's sleeve, pointing at a book on one of the top shelves.
Samara in a blue summer dress, with Helena and Freddie outside Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour in Diagon Alley, Freddie clutching a free catalogue he had picked up from Quality Quidditch Supplies.
Then there was a picture of Freddie and Godric galloping around the orchard. Godric had grown up to be a magnificent stallion. The picture must have been taken only weeks before he suddenly disappeared.
Severus with ten-year old Helena, brewing a swelling potion to make giant Jack-o-Lanterns for Halloween.
Helena in her new school robes, her proud father teaching her to perform Wingardium Leviosa with her new wand.
The last photo was of Severus taking a beaming six-year old Freddie for a ride on his broom, his arm wrapped securely around the boy's waist.
For some reason, as the children had become older, they had less often remembered to take pictures, something Samara regretted now; it was an opportunity that would never come back. Funny also, how only the happy moments of one's life made it into the family album. And so there was no photo to remind her of the anguished time when she had spent day and night beside Freddie's bed at St. Mungo's, after he had taken his father's broom without permission, and flown it into the West Tower. It had happened while Samara was at work, and the moment that Severus had burst into her office, the unconscious boy in his arms, had been the worst of her life. He had sustained a fractured skull, and severe internal bleeding, and her stomach still twisted into a knot when she remembered the desperate hours fighting for her son's life.
And then there were some loose photos just slipped in between the pages, still waiting to be stuck in.
The first one, taken about a year ago, showed a group of black horses: Rowena, now with silver streaks in her mane, Godric, who had suddenly returned one day, his girl-friend in tow, as if he had never left, and Nocturna with her newborn filly foal.
The second and third ones had been taken only a couple of weeks earlier:
One was of Helena, and showed a serious-looking young woman, wearing a Ravenclaw jumper, and her Prefect's badge that she had received over the summer. Her long black hair fell down to her waist, framing a thin, pale face with an aquiline nose and prominent cheek bones. Her piercing blue eyes, with their inquisitive look, betrayed a keen mind.
The other showed Freddie, sporting his new school robes and wand. His curly brown hair was tousled, and he had a cheeky smile on his face. Only a small scar on his chin reminded of his terrible accident. He looked so much like Samara's younger brother, the uncle after whom he had been named, except that he had inherited Severus' eyes.
Now her little one, too, had flown the nest, and gone to Hogwarts, only to return for the holidays. All those years, her children had been her life, and now that she was relieved of her maternal duties for the first time, it left a gaping void. But as she closed the photo album, a happy thought bubbled up in her heart. Yes, babies grew up, irrevocably. But as the circle of life repeated itself, there would be new babies to cherish and coddle, grandchildren and great-grandchildren to look forward to.
Outside, the sun had gone down, and it was getting darker. Samara pointed her wand at the fireplace. Within an instant, flames were licking merrily at the carefully stacked up logs, filling the room with flickering warm light.
Her eyes fell onto a brand-new book lying on the desk, bound in emerald green linen. 'Defence Against The Dark Arts – Curriculum For Our Modern Times, Volume 7, by S. T. Prince' was written in silver letters on the front cover. So Severus' new book had been published in time for the start of the school year. She opened it, and smiled when she read the dedication; it was the same as always:
'To Samara, my love. And to Lily, gone but never forgotten.'
Finally, this project of his, which had become a labour of love over the years, was finished, leaving him free to move on to the more advanced topics he always wanted to write about.
Suddenly, Samara noticed an envelope that had been stuck in between the pages. Intrigued, she opened it, and took out the two sheets of parchment it contained. The first one was a note from Severus' editor:
Dear Mr. Ravenhood,
Please find enclosed a courtesy copy of your latest work, fresh off the printing press.
I have also taken the liberty to forward a letter to you, which has been directed to us for your attention, but rest assured that nothing was revealed regarding your identity.
The second sheet was a letter bearing the seal of the Ministry of Magic. Samara's pulse accelerated with excitement as she read:
Dear Mr. S. T. Prince,
I was informed by your editor that you are writing under a pseudonym, and that this is not your real name. So please excuse this form of address, as we had no other way of contacting you.
I have followed with great pleasure the publication of each volume of 'Defence Against The Dark Arts – Curriculum For Our Modern Times'. The education of young witches and wizards in this subject is obviously of great concern to me. From my own school days, I remember that teaching in DADA was often haphazard and chaotic, and your series of books, for the first time, has created a foundation for consistency and quality in the class room.
It is lamentable that not more of the leading scholars of our age find merit in the education of the next generation. And so I felt compelled to propose to the Minister of Magic to award you the Order of Merlin, First Class.
The award ceremony shall be held on the 17th December 2017 at the Ministry of Magic. The Minister and I sincerely hope that you will accept this honour, and look forward to finally meeting you.
Head of Auror Department
She gasped, when she saw the signature. With a grim look on her face, she slipped the sheets back into the envelope, and put the book back as she had found it. An Order of Merlin! Severus had not mentioned this with a single word. And knowing him all too well, she suspected that he intended to completely ignore the letter, as well as the award. But he had not reckoned with her!
Her husband's reclusiveness, while initially a necessity, had over the years become more and more a matter of choice and habit. More than twenty years had passed since he killed Dumbledore on that lightening-struck tower, and he could no longer be convicted after such a long time. It was all well that he valued his privacy, and wished to avoid the attention of the press, even though it meant that he had to forego things like accompanying his children to King's Cross, where he might be recognised by somebody on the platform. But how much further was he going to take this? Was he willing to miss Helena's graduation, for instance? It was time to put an end to this game of hide and seek, and Samara was going to find a way to convince him.
She became aware of his presence even before she raised her eyes, and saw him, and when she met his gaze, she felt a flutter go through her stomach. Her husband was standing in the doorway, the sleeves of his white shirt partly rolled up, casually leaning against the frame. His black eyes burned into hers across the room. After all these years he could still turn her knees to jelly simply by looking at her.
"Did you find anything?" she asked.
"Enough fly agarics to last for years." The baritone of his voice melted her gloomy thoughts away, and caressed her soul with velvet gloves.
His black hair, shot through with silver, fell onto his shoulders in a silky mass. Her eyes rested on him, watching the play of light and shadows dancing across his face. She noticed how his expression had softened slightly over the years, compared to the stern look of the younger man in the wedding picture. She assumed the reason was that he had smiled more over the past two decades than at any time before in his life.
He walked over to her, and perched on the edge of the desk next to her. She caught the smell of sun-kissed skin, and wind-swept hair, drifting off him and making her breathing grow heavier. His eyes briefly glanced at the photo album still on the desk.
"Reminiscing about the past?" he asked with a trace of mockery carrying in his voice.
"Just getting to terms with the fact that the children are growing up. To think that Helena will already be sitting her O.W.L.S. this year – it seems like yesterday that I put her on the train for the first time... And now Freddie is gone as well."
"You might have him back sooner than you imagine. I wonder when we'll receive Minerva's letter, saying he's been expelled," he sneered.
"Don't say such things, he is a good boy."
"With an unfortunate talent for trouble, breaking rules, and no interests other than Quidditch and brooms."
"You are too hard on him, Severus. He is only eleven."
"Helena was very different at that age."
"Helena is not the norm. Do you have any idea how hard it must be for him, to never live up to your expectations, to never have your approval?"
"My approval needs to be earned, otherwise it would be meaningless. You, on the other hand, are indulging him too much. Let's hope they teach him some discipline at Hogwarts."
"I miss him already," she sighed.
"Well, I dare say there are certain advantages to being on our own again..." He paused, fixing her with a penetrating gaze, while his hand slid to the back of her neck, and into her hair, pulling her closer. "Now we can make love anywhere in the house, like we used to."
The low, velvety sound of his voice reverberated softly in her ear, striking a chord deep inside her. She felt his breath feathering against her neck and shivered.
"We could start here..." he murmured, as he gently tilted her head back, and his mouth found the sweet spot on the underside of her jaw, making her cry out when he grazed it with his teeth. And then his lips locked on to hers in a long sensual kiss.
She didn't need any more convincing. He drew her against his body, and held her close. His chest was like a strong rampart against her worries, his arms around her like a safe fence protecting her from her fears. And the place within, filled with the heat of his body and his masculine scent, was her home. She leaned her head against his shoulder and closed her eyes, while his mouth breathed hot kisses along the hairline behind her ear, sending thrills of joy down her spine.
She lifted her head, and looked up into his eyes, loosing herself in their welcoming darkness, ensnared by their intense gaze. Yes, it would be a wonderful thing to have more time alone together, more time to spend with this amazing man who was her husband. So much of their life had revolved around the kids, over the past years, and she feared she had neglected him somewhat.
Her hands reached around his neck, playing with a strand of his hair, before trailing down, brushing over the faint scars on his throat, to gently knead the muscles of his shoulders, feeling their toned shape, the depression above his collar bones. Those shoulders had carried so much responsibility over the years, and yet never bent under its weight. His shirt was in her way, so she undid the buttons one by one, and pulled it away, revealing the soft, fragrant skin of his naked torso, hers to ravish with her lips. She allowed her hands to wander lower, tracing the line of black hair along his abdomen, still flat but slightly mollified by the comforts of family life, down to where it met the waistband of his trousers, below which his growing desire was making a tent. She wanted him, badly.
His hands dexterously undid the zipper of her summer dress, and pulled the bodice down to her waist. He lifted her up on the desk before him, positioning himself between her legs. There were no words for how much he loved her, only the language of tender caresses and passionate kisses. His hands stroked up along the length of her thighs, gathering her skirt up to her hips as they did. Then he removed her underwear, and lowered her down on her back. His eyes beheld her, as she lay stretched out before him, naked but for the fabric of her dress crumpled around her waist, illuminated only by the dim glow of the fire.
"You look beautiful," he said, his voice hoarse.
She didn't seem to believe him, knowing only too well what half a century and two pregnancies had done to her body, and a doubtful smile flitted across her face.
"Don't deny it, you do. Nobody sees you like I do," he whispered as he reverently caressed her breasts, letting their softness droop into his palms.
She moaned, and arched up towards his skilful touch, towards his knowing hands that found the right spot without being told. Her body was as familiar to him as his own, and he knew just how to give her pleasure, increasing her craving for him until her eyes were begging him to take her. Only then did he enter her, slowly, inch by inch, until he filled her all the way. He paused to look her in the eyes, allowing them a moment to enjoy the intimate connection they shared, before picking up a slow rhythm.
The crackling of the fire mixed with their moans, and the sound of heavy breathing, as their pleasure built to a crescendo. Before long, their intermingling bodies glistened with sweat, and when their primeval dance reached its completion, they clung to each other exhausted and satisfied.
They picked their clothes off the floor, and got dressed, before strolling into the sitting room, where the delicious smell of roasted meat greeted them.
"Next time on the rug in front of the fireplace," he whispered in her ear, making her smile.
Trixie had already set the table. She had even lit some candles, and now came shuffling in from the kitchen with a bottle of wine. Samara noticed there were only two place settings on the table.
"Are you not eating with us, Trixie?" she asked, a little concerned.
"Trixie has eaten already," the little elf replied with a shy smile, her ears blushing. "Masters are having a romantic evening."
Samara and Severus looked at each other. Had they been that obvious?
"Thank you Trixie, that is really sweet," Samara said while the elf poured the wine. They sat down, and enjoyed their food in silence, exchanging glances across the table.
"Do you think Freddie has been sorted already?" Samara finally asked, pushing her plate away, nervously shifting around in her chair.
"Be patient. I'm sure Minerva will let us know once the feast is over."
She sighed, hardly able to conceal her excitement.
"If you think there will be another Ravenclaw in the family, you are mistaken," he teased her.
"He will definitely be in Ravenclaw," she insisted confidently. "For three centuries, every single member of the Ravenhood family has been sorted into Ravenclaw."
"Yes, but as you said yourself, he is not like Helena."
"Pah, I know you're just hoping he'll be in Slytherin."
"Indeed, and who could blame me. Being surrounded by women who are smarter than I, and keep getting their way, I need someone to back me up."
"I thought getting your way was a Slytherin trait," she retorted.
"Apparently not," he replied, arching one eyebrow. "Besides, Slytherin could really do with a good seeker."
"I thought you were never going to let him near a broom again!" she exclaimed.
"Hm, I may need to reconsider," he said with a mischievous glint in his eyes.
"Well, you can forget it, because there is no doubt he will be in Ravenclaw."
Samara crossed her arms, and pushed her chin out in defiance, while he regarded her impassively, an amused look on his face, sipping his wine as they waited.
Suddenly there was a puff and a crackle in the fireplace, and the outline of Minerva McGonagall's features seemed to appear amongst the embers.
"Severus? Samara? Just wanted to let you know, Frederic has been sorted into Griffindor. Congratulations!"
Samara and Severus looked at each other, stunned, before bursting out into laughter.
T H E E N D
The rest is left to the reader's imagination...
Will Severus accept the award and attend the ceremony? And what will be the look on Harry's face?
Will Helena ever teach potions at Hogwarts?
Will Freddie fall in love with Lily Potter?
Tempting... But this really is the end. I will not be writing a sequel!
Finally - a word to all those "quiet" readers: So you read to the very end of the story? You must have enjoyed something about it then - I mean, nobody *made* you read all nineteen chapters. There is a button down there that says "Review This Story / Chapter". You can click on it and leave me a quick note. Come on, you have had your fun, now let me have mine! ;-)