News of the upcoming Halloween Ball had certainly lifted everyone's spirits around the castle over the following two weeks. For the students, naturally, it was their favourite topic of conversation besides the next Quidditch game of the season, but amongst the staff also the Ball was discussed at length at meal times. Minerva was unnaturally jubilant, and even the ghosts seemed excited. Severus would not show it, of course, but he was very excited too, albeit for a very different reason.

Although Halloween was a celebrated Muggle holiday, it had held such crushing memories for him for so long that it was difficult for him to remember a time when it was associated with anything other than murder, hatred and regret. That's when it hit him, that he had the power to change that. If he wanted to, he could make the date significant for an entirely different reason, one that had memories of joy and light. Sarah had explained to him that Halloween was also significant date in the Wiccan calendar and was one of the eight sabbats, known as Samhain. This all but sealed his decision to suggest the idea of a Halloween Ball to Minerva. The more he thought about it, the more it seemed like the perfect point in time to erase any last residue of the stain of Lily and his life's sacrifice for her, and to start his life afresh.

So now here he was in the Great Hall on the evening of Halloween, dressed in his dress robes of deep, lustrous black velvet. The exquisite tailoring set off his tall, lean frame handsomely. Ivy-green silk could just be seen peeking out from the collars and cuffs of his frock coat. His raven hair hung in thick and glossy curtains around his pale face. Although he was usually impeccably dressed, Severus had taken extra special care getting ready this evening. Not that Severus was a vain man; far from it. The reason for his relentlessly smart attire was because he wanted to distance himself from the scrawny, ragged boy he used to be; the one who was always dressed in mismatching second-hand clothes from the thrift shop, picked on for being different, for being poor.

As soon as Severus had money of his own, the first thing he did was invest in smart clothes. He was on first name terms with Madam Malkin and got a Christmas card from her every year, she valued his custom so highly. Severus was not a man to fritter away money on trivial things, but if he bought something, he would buy the best. His generous salary, with additional weighting for his deputy head and head of house duties, combined with his free board and meals for the majority of the year, meant that Severus had more Galleons than he knew what to do with. It was a far cry from abject poverty he grew up in.

In truth, Severus wanted for very little. Apart from his predilection for elegant attire, Severus' other luxuries included books, Potions paraphernalia for his private lab, and the odd case of Firewhisky and elf-made wine. He also had a Dai Rectebit spell cast on his account for several Galleons to go to St Barnabas, the wizarding orphanage just off Diagon Alley, although the Goblins were sworn to the strictest secrecy regarding this particular transaction. Apart from this, Severus had no use for money. He found he enjoyed spending it on Sarah, and that it made him feel good. He knew that Sarah was not used to such generosity from a man and frequently chided him for spoiling her, although deep down she was very touched and knew he was trying to show her his feelings for her, as opposed to buying her love.

Severus looked around the hall and took in the decorations. Massive pumpkin lanterns flanked the teachers' table, which had, for the purposes of the Ball, been turned in to a buffet table. It was laden with bowls of punch and pastries, sausage rolls, sandwiches, cakes, the finest Honeydukes sweets and confectionery, and all manner of sweet and savoury delicacies. Toy bats had been charmed to swoop across the enchanted ceiling, dodging the suspended candles, and thick tendrils of cobweb were draped over every available wall. Students were milling with excited chatter, some gathering around to watch as Professor Flitwick took charge of organising the apple bobbing and other games in one corner.

Severus felt his stomach tighten as he watched the door swing open, but it was just a crowd of fourth year Gryffindors bustling in amongst a sea of laughter and noise. Where was she? Severus hated waiting, and on this night of all nights, the waiting was making him nervous. He grabbed a Butterbeer from a tray that floated past and took a swig, merely for something to do. He winced after he swallowed; he hated Butterbeer. Just then, a happy-looking Professor Sprout joined him at his elbow.

"Trick or treat?" she roared, grinning madly. Severus raised an eyebrow at her attire. She was dressed in a giant bumblebee outfit. No-one else in the whole school was in fancy dress, but this did not seem to discourage her in the slightest.

"If those are your dress robes, I'd go back to Gladrags and demand a refund if I were you," he replied archly.

Pamona slapped him merrily on the arm. "Don't be such a grumpy Grindylow, Severus! Come and play pin the tail on the Thestral! It's lots of fun!"

Severus fixed her with a look that could stare down a Hippogriff until Pamona finally let him be, with a loud "Sulky snake!" resonating in his ears as she waddled off. He wasn't sure what punch she'd been drinking, but it sounded to him like it had been laced with some of Professor Trelawney's finest sherry.

His eyes scanned the room once more until they settled on a small group of female Slytherin sixth years standing nearby, whispering and pointing at him and giggling behind their hands. Severus glowered at them. One blushed, one started to tremble and one covered her mouth with her hands with a tiny squeak. Such juvenile behaviour, and from my own house, he groused to himself, draining the Butterbeer and dumping it unceremoniously on the next charmed tray that floated by.

"Someone's getting lots of admiring looks."

Recognising Sarah's voice, he spun around. There she was, looking as lovely as he had ever seen her. She was wearing what looked to be the same sexy satin dress robes she'd worn at the top of the Astronomy Tower the night she gave him her memories, although it looked like they had been charmed into a deep, midnight, Ravenclaw blue. Her hair was pinned up on her head with delicate diamante clips and she had a fine pendant at her throat. Severus had to remind himself to breathe, she looked so lovely. She smiled at him warmly.

"You look... " Normally so lucid and erudite, suddenly Severus just couldn't find the words. Exquisite? Beautiful? Amazing? Gorgeous? None of these adjectives seemed superlative enough to describe how he felt. Sarah didn't need to hear a single word more from him, however; his hungry gaze told her all she needed to know. She grasped the crook of his elbow and leaned in slightly.

"And you look so delicious I want to strip you off and eat you right here," she purred, smirking up at him under her lashes. Severus' eyes opened wide and a flush briefly crept on to his alabaster skin before he managed to employ his Occlumency to calm himself.

"Cheeky witch," he growled, smirking right back. He composed himself, and looked at her face intently. She was smiling at him broadly, and practically levitating with excitement.

"Is there something you want to tell me?" he drawled, wondering what frivolity had captured her imagination now.

She clutched his elbow. "Oh Severus, you'll never guess what! Minerva owled me and told me to come to her office before coming to the ball tonight. She said she had a proposition for me." She looked up at him again, her face radiating joy.

"Go on," he replied, not entirely sure where this was heading.

Sarah took a deep breath.

"She wants me to teach Wicca! Here at Hogwarts! And I said yes!"

Severus was totally surprised at first. He had thought Sarah would be the perfect replacement for Madam Pince due to her lengthy librarian experience and interest in being an archivist. But teaching? It took him a matter of seconds for the implication to sink into his brain. This was perfect! They could work here, together! Sarah could teach and learn at the same time. She would be immersed in this world, but still get to practice her Wiccan roots. Severus had to employ his Occlumency with even more might, lest he shout out loud with joy. Now was the time. Years of practice meant he was able to return to his usual straight face, and keep it looking stoic and stern.

Sarah noticed his lack of enthusiasm and he watched her smile droop, crestfallen.

"Aren't you happy for me? For us?" she whispered. Behind them, the ghost band struck up their instruments and began playing a swing version of Celestina Warbeck's "A Cauldron Full Of Hot, Strong Love."

"Well, this gives us an entirely new dilemma, does it not?" Severus drawled, gazing at her intently, his face revealing nothing.

"What do you mean?" Sarah asked with mounting panic rising in her chest.

Severus shook his head ruefully. "This changes everything."

Sarah's mouth gaped open. Her heart pounded with fear and dread.

"I just don't see how this is going to work." His black eyes bored into green, glinting, enjoying the suspense of her temporary discomfort. "After all, there can't be two Professor Snapes."

He swiftly pulled a small, dove-grey box from his pocket, opened it, and pressed it into her hand. Inside, nestled in a bed of grey velvet, was a ring. It was platinum, with an octagonal diamond in the middle, which was flanked by two emerald-cut sapphires. Either side of the sapphires were two triangular-cut emeralds. It was absolutely the most stunning piece of jewellery she had ever seen.

Sarah's mouth continued to gape as she took in the meaning of this, gazing at the light winking off the incredible ring. A shiver ran down her spine. "Severus... you can't mean..."

"Marry me," he said brusquely, his hands on her upper arms, his fierce, coal black eyes burning into hers. "I love you and I never want to let you go."

Sarah trembled as shock gave way to pure joy. "Oh goddess, Severus! Yes! Of course I will!"

She swung her arms around his neck and laughed and cried all at the same time. Severus held her tightly and was aware of dozens of pairs of eyes watching him, but he didn't care. This was the happiest moment of his life and he was going to savour it, gawping dunderheads or no gawping dunderheads.

Eventually, she released him, looking down at the little grey box she still had clutched tightly in her hand.

"Aren't you going to try it on?" Severus asked, taking the box from her. Carefully, he removed it with nimble fingers and took her hand in his. Looking into her eyes with a small smile, he slipped the ring over her wedding finger. It fit perfectly. Sarah watched him before a few moments before launching herself at him with gusto, kissing him passionately right there in the middle of the hall. Severus froze momentarily, but soon he was kissing her back with just as much abandon as students and teachers alike began whooping and cheering.

"I never knew he had it in him," he heard Pamona say to Flitwick loudly. The group of sniggering Slytherin girls looked as if someone had smeared Kneazle droppings under their nose. Minerva flapped her hand in front of her face as her bottom lip wobbled and her eyes misted up with happiness. Almost on cue, Phil Phantom and the Spectres started playing "Love Potion Number Nine," to the deep amusement of everyone in the vicinity.

Later on that evening, Sarah and Severus took a stroll in the moonlight by the lake, arm in arm. The fathomless, still inky water reflected the bright silver orb flawlessly.

Eventually, they stopped at the stump where all those months ago, Sarah had slapped him for laughing at her fear of the Giant Squid, and shortly after they'd first revealed their feelings about each other. Severus sat on the stump and pulled her towards him. Sarah nestled into his chest and he squeezed her gently, a bloom of warmth filling his heart. He exhaled through his nose into the cool night air.

"I love you," Sarah murmured, squeezing him back.

"I love you, too," Severus drawled, stroking her hair. Those words had rarely escaped his lips in his forty years of being on the planet. Now he'd said them, it felt like he couldn't say them enough. The change within him over the last few months was incredible. He felt loved. He felt happy. And, wondrously, he felt healed.

"How did this happen? How could I possibly feel so happy?" he mused aloud.

Sarah smiled up at him, the moonlight shining in her big green eyes.

"Magic," she whispered, kissing his nose.


Author's note:

I would like to take this opportunity to thank every single person who has read or reviewed this story. It was my first attempt at writing a novelette and I'd never written anything this long in my life before! It's been amazing to get such good feedback and very encouraging also.

I wrote this story because I became aware of parallels between JKR's magical realm and Wicca and I was surprised at the crossover. If anything it made me respect JKR's work even more, because she did her research and she did it well (although I noticed she has an irrational hatred of Capricorns!) I also felt that Severus Snape deserved a far happier ending than he actually got.

I have added footnotes throughout where I felt it was appropriate, but I thought I'd take a few moments to clarify. Most things I have written about Wicca are true, including the dates and names of the Sabbats and their meanings. The only exceptions to this are Sarah's own spells. I chose the name Sarah for the character because it means "Princess" in Hebrew. I thought it sweet that the Half-Blood Prince should find his Princess. I have tried to stay true to "Canon Snape" as much as possible, in terms of his personality and also his background. I have my own theories about the nastiness he would have been involved in as part of the Death Eaters, and yet I find it difficult to believe he would have felt no remorse for his actions. I realise much is open to interpretation with Snape but I felt it was important to show not just the snarky side, but the human elements too. He may have veered wildly off course at certain points but it was all for the cause of the plot!

As for Sarah's engagement ring, diamond obviously is traditional for such a ring, but I also wanted to symbolise the colours of their two houses, joined in one ring. The eight sides of the diamond represent the eight Sabbats of Wicca, and the triangular shape also has resonance with Wicca in terms of the hierarchy of learning.

I won't go into more detail, but if anyone has anything further to add or to ask about the story, feel free to get in touch. Other than that, thanks again for sticking with it.

If you'd like to read more of my work, I also post on Occlumency and The Petulant Poetess under the pseudonym "star_girl" and I have recently completed a long fic in conjunction with another author posted on the aforementioned sites under the pseudonum "sevs_starsisters".