AN: Many Many Manythanks got to my fine beta team, astopperindeath, Dressagegrrrl and Hebe GB. They worked hard and fast to help get this up, and they also got to listen to me whine, and offered me advice all the way up to five minutes ago. Seriously.
"Well then," Lenore said as the last of her bags were being loaded onto the Thestral carriage. "I find that even with six months notice and our tragically ironic version of marital counseling, I'm still without words to say, now that the moment has arrived."
"It's mutual," Severus replied.
Lenore stuck her hand out, and he eyed it sadly, before he encased it in both of his own.
"Everything that we wanted to say has been said, Severus, but let me just say again that I am sorry. For everything," she raised a hand before he could speak, "and I thank you. For everything. Now, go on, I'm anxious to leave, now that the last of the students are gone. I must make sure that I am unpacked in time for the Zimmings girls to arrive for dinner. I won't feel comfortable until I hear whether their father actually stayed sober like his letters said he had."
She adjusted her hat and smoothed down her elegant cloak before lifting her head and looking him with a crease of sadness on her brow. "Be happy, Severus. I need you to be happy."
"And you as well, Lenore," he replied solemnly.
He helped her up into the carriage and stayed to watch as it took off down the drive and around the bend. She never looked back.
He finally turned and headed back up through the nearly deserted castle to the Headmaster's office. Dumbledore's portrait was empty and the other headmasters had already started their summer-long nap, as he sat down behind the desk and took out the ledgers. He wanted to finish all of the accounting before Minerva took over the following morning.
He desperately wanted to smoke. He'd quit at New Year's, his first ever resolution, but there were still times and places where it seemed just the thing he wanted to do most. It put him in a grumpy mood when he heard the spiral stairs start to move.
The door opened and Minerva walked in.
"A little birdie told me that you might need help in vacating my new chair," she said.
Severus just raised his brow and then turned to see Albus 'asleep' in his frame again.
"I will be perfectly willing to give you this chair when I have finished my—"
"You are finished, Severus," she said, walking slowly around the office and staring at the empty shelves. "I won't claim to understand everything that has been going on over the last six months, but I have been watching you.
"I thought you'd lost your mind when you announced that you were resigning. You're leadership is what brought this school back from the edge during the darkest moment in its history. I thought for sure, a man as young as yourself would go on to create a legend in that chair. When Lenore told me that the two of you were splitting up at the end of the year, I was worried. No, before you ask, I've not told a soul. I know how private you are." She walked over to the door and lifted his cloak off the peg.
"I've been watching you, my boy. I expected to see even silent suffering, I know you've been unhappy these last years, but instead, I've seen something utterly new. Silent happiness. I've never seen you look so at peace, before. Ever.
"Now this little birdie tells me that the source of that happiness is waiting for you, but you won't budge until you run out of things to settle for me. Well, I'm a big girl, dear, and have been the Deputy Head for longer than you've been tall. So, I will say it plainly. Get out, Severus. Get out of my office. I've already ordered you another carriage."
Severus glared at her and then swung his head and looked behind him at his sleeping mentor. He looked back at his quill and sighed.
"Very well." He dropped it into the ink and closed the ledger. Standing, he turned and opened the secret compartment behind his desk and pulled out a large, and ornately carved key.
"Gibby," he called.
The elf appeared, with a pop.
"Please take all of my things down to the front steps." Before the elf could leave, Severus reached out and stroked a finger down one of the elf's ears. "And thank you, for everything you have done for me. Take good care of Minerva for me."
The little elf looked at him with misty eyes and nodded before disappearing with a surprisingly loud pop.
He placed the key he had been holding on the desk in front of him and tapped it with his wand, carefully enunciating as he performed the ritual to transfer his authority. The both of them felt the magic shudder around them as he dropped the wards of the school, relinquishing his duties.
Minerva stepped forward and reversed the magic and the small hairs on their necks rose as the wards were reinstated.
"And that is that," he said in a dry voice.
"It has been an honor to serve under you, Severus."
He smiled, shyly. "I will always be available if you have any questions or need any advice from someone not stuck to a wall," he said with a smirk.
"I shall take full advantage of the offer," she said, with a smile. "Where are you going? I know you sold your parents house years ago."
"I'll be living outside of Thornham, in Norfolk," he replied.
"Oh! What luck! You'll have a neighbor! Our Hermione lives in that area as well! Did you know she's been doing great things with damage from Memory Charms over at St. Mungo's? She's got quite the career ahead of her! You should look her up. She'll be a lovely neighbor to have. You two have a lot in common."
Severus just raised his eyes and looked at Minerva, and if he hadn't been so nervous, he would have laughed. When understanding dawned, she looked like she wanted to swallow her face.
"Oh," she said. "So that's the way of it." Minerva began to smile broadly and nod her head. "I can see that. I surely can," she said. "Does anyone else know?"
"Not the who, no. No one living anyway," he said, with another sneer at the portrait behind the desk.
"I can hold my tongue," she said.
"Once you sit in that chair, you will find you have a lot more reasons to than my small secret. Just remember, you are never alone, and you will never truly have privacy from this lot." He waved a hand at the tapestry and then the walls.
He turned to the portrait on the wall behind the desk and said, "Good bye, Albus. I shall miss you."
Albus lifted his head and smiled warmly. "Go be happy, Severus. You have put it off far too long."
"Honestly, the students only left this morning. Tomorrow wouldn't have been that bad."
"Term might have ended today, Severus," the portrait said, "but, the war ended nine years ago. You've not been happy in all that time, you've only existed. Whereas you devoted yourself to making other people's lives better, you never bothered to do the same for yourself. It's time, my boy. It's time."
Severus winced as the Knight Bus came to a screeching halt outside of a little cottage near the sea. His bags and trunks bounced off his Shielding Charm and slammed into the wall next to him.
He looked out at the tiny thatched-roof cottage, with its curtains lit warmly from within. It had trimmed hedges and a neat yard, with a small Muggle car in the driveway.
He felt his gut clench even tighter than it had been for the last hour and a half.
He hadn't sent her a message. He was afraid to. Now that the hour was upon him, he was terrified that something would go wrong. Fate was cruel, and Severus Snape had been her whipping boy for far too long.
"Off you go now," the conductor said, as he heaved both of his trunks up onto his massive shoulders. Severus picked up his two bags and followed him through the sleeping passengers and stepped off the bus. He turned to thank the conductor, but found the doors had already closed with the bus zipping out of sight in an instant.
He looked at the cottage and frowned.
Severus and Hermione had agreed that what they'd shared would not suffer from time apart, and they had actually seen very little of each other since New Year's, only meeting twice at The Leaky Cauldron.
He'd wanted to give Lenore the respect she deserved and deal with the end of their relationship, without sneaking off to see his mistress every weekend. He'd also had his hands full showing Minerva the ropes, on top of seeing the school through their exams, and the usual trivial minutia involved in the end of the year.
Hermione had also been very busy starting her new career and he didn't want to be a distraction. She'd taken to her field of study like a duck to water, and had immersed herself in her studies to the point of obsession.
They'd written to each other every day, and their infrequent visits had always been islands of tranquility and affirmation in a sea of chaos, stress, and doubt.
But now he was here. It was real. He was committed to this woman but could not bring himself to set aside the niggling fear that she might have come to her senses. He was terrified that there time apart had made her change her mind.
He felt like a fool, standing on the path with all of his worldly goods at his feet. Where would he go if she turned him away?
He took a deep breath and set his shoulders. He Levitated his belongings and they floated after him as he made his way to the door.
He raised his hand to knock just as the door was whipped open.
She was dressed as a Muggle and stood there with her car keys in one hand, and her wand in the other. Her beautiful face reflected first surprise and then shock. They just stared at each other.
"I couldn't wait any longer," he finally said, running a nervous hand through his hair. "I hope you don't mind. Were you going somewhere?"
As if his words released a coiled spring, she launched herself at him. His eyes widened, but he caught her and turned, letting her momentum spin them in a circle, before he pulled her close and hugged her.
"Hello, Hermione," he whispered into her hair.
"Welcome home, Severus," she cried into his robes.
"Home," he said with a sigh. He set her back down and repeated his question. "Were you on your way out?"
She gave him a shaky laugh, as she clung to him. "I was just going to go out and drive in circles. It helps clear my mind. I've been going crazy waiting for tomorrow. I didn't think I was going to ever get through this night. And now you're here!" She hugged him tighter, and he could feel the moisture from her tears as they soaked through his robes. "Gods, you're finally here."
He wrapped his arms around her and rested his head on top of her wild curls. "Yes. I'm finally here. I'm finally home."
Severus Snape looked down upon the woman he loved and felt his heart constrict at the sight of her.
She'd welcomed him with tears and a shower of affection and enthusiastically showed him all the places she had prepared for him—the shelves and cupboards, and the room she had set aside to be his office. She'd helped him unpack his things, and never moved more than a foot away from him the whole time, as if she feared he would disappear if she moved too far away.
He listened in fascinated enjoyment, as she chattered on excitedly about her research and the people in her department. He was tremendously proud of her work, and took great pains to tell her so.
She had been thrilled for him when he told her about starting his new job in a week, while they had relaxed with tea and biscuits in the sitting room. From what he didn't say, she'd quickly caught on that he was now an Unspeakable, and she had immediately peppered him with a thousand questions that she knew he couldn't answer.
He'd never felt so happy in his life.
Now she was in his arms again, naked, and open, and so incredibly giving that he thought he would burst from the joy.
He leaned down and kissed her again, knowing he would never get enough of her, while he thrust into her slowly, just to hear her tell him she wanted more. His thoughts repeated over and over in his mind. She wants me. She needs me. She loves me.
Gods, she was beautiful. His entire life had been spent searching for this moment in time. This magical place where he was complete. He would devote the rest of his life to making her happy as well.
Her cries became demands and he met them willingly, increasing his pace and changing the rhythm until the entire bed shook as she screamed and he groaned. When he felt her inner warmth pulling at him, shivering around him as she climaxed, he gasped and felt his own release wrenched away from his control. He came with a ragged moan and she pulled him down on top of her and held him close. He let her simply hold him, cherishing the sensation of feeling welcomed in her arms, and kissed her sweat-drenched neck. He rolled off of her and pulled her with him until they were tucked together like puzzle pieces.
"Gods, I love you, Severus," she said, resting her head against his shoulder.
"As I love you," he replied breathlessly.
"Nothing has felt right without you these long months. I know that makes me sound like some pathetic woman who can't live without a man, but that's not it at all. It's not that I need you, it's more like you're a wonderful gift that I haven't been able to open for six months. Does that make sense?"
"Perfect sense," he answered.
"I have this irrational fear that you will disappear. That I will wake up in the morning and find it was just another one of my dreams. I'm afraid you will have to put up with a clingy woman for the next few days, while I adjust to the fact that I get to keep you after all."
"I have a week, before I have to start my new job. I can spend every moment making it real for you," he murmured. "Besides, if you think I'm going to mind having a beautiful woman want to be with me every moment of the day, you have a rather inflated idea of my ego."
He stroked his hand up the curve of her hip and along her waist, until he palmed her breast, and was shocked at the sexual thrill it called up, even as he was still recovering. She leaned up and kissed him, a simple kiss that turned into a lingering exploration, and he closed his eyes as she nibbled on his lips and explored his mouth leisurely. He started to stroke and tweak at her nipple again, for no other reason than he could, and when she sighed and pushed her breast deeper into his hand, he pushed her back and leaned his head down to kiss and lick and suckle them.
Never in his life had he experienced this kind of slow lovemaking, so he took his time and gauged each and every sigh or shudder. His was only aware of the sound of her breathing and her soft cries of pleasure as he slid his hands down between her legs and started to fondle her again. There was no urgency this time, just an exploration of her body and her limits.
He slid his fingers inside her while thrumming her nub with his thumb. He smirked when he made her come again, while he bit and sucked on the pulse point in her neck. He leaned up and kissed her lips again, pulling her against his side.
"A girl could get used to that," she said, in a dreamy voice.
"You should go ahead and plan on getting used to that," he quipped.
She snuggled against him with a giggle and kissed his chest, but instead of settling down for sleep, she shifted and continued to kiss him as she made her way down to his mostly flaccid cock. He wanted to tell her it was useless, but she seemed not to care. His breath blew out of him in a groan, as she sucked him completely into her mouth.
His eyes fluttered shut as he felt himself harden again and she backed up and gave him a devilish smile. He sighed as she pushed his legs father apart and laved his sack while stroking his now hard length. She slid her warm mouth onto him again and proceeded to pleasure him methodically. He couldn't help thrusting up into her mouth.
What had started as a way to confirm their love, and then shifted to an exploration, had now descended into the realm of carnal fantasy. His mind was filled with a thousand and one things he wanted to do to her, noises he wanted to hear from her, acts he wondered if she would be willing to allow.
He swept her hair out of her face and gathered it into a loose fist and watched her.
It was her own moaning that made him start to slide over the edge. The look on her face as she licked him and stroked him with her hand was the most erotic thing he had ever seen, but when she moaned, when he felt her pleasure vibrate to his core, he knew she liked it. She wasn't just trying to please him, she enjoyed pleasing him. His climax rushed up so fast he barely had time to gasp out a warning and try to lift her head away, but she sank her mouth down farther. He felt himself lodge in her throat as he blew apart, emptying himself into her mouth with a shout.
He felt completely boneless as she slid back up his body and tucked herself up next to him, with her head resting just where his chest met his shoulder as if the hollow had been carved solely for her.
"Oh, Hermione," he gasped. "I can't tell you what I feel right now. There just aren't the words."
She slid her arm across his chest and hugged him. "You deserve to be loved," she reiterated firmly. "I will spend the rest of my life loving you, Severus."
He wrapped his arms tight around her and whispered, "Thank you."
"This is your fault!" she screamed, through the tears and pain.
"You knew it would end like this, Hermione. You knew what we were getting into better than I did," Severus said, his face twisted with guilt and remorse.
"I hate you! I hate this! I don't want this anymore!"
"Now you are just being foolish," he said, scowling at her, as her words and her nails drew blood.
"Fuck you! Fuck you, Severus! And fuck this hospital! And fuck you too, you arse-faced shitting cunt!" she screamed at the Midwitch.
Severus's eyebrows shot straight up. "Now that was a worthy effort," he said with admiration and pride. "No more of this tiny toe-nail shite, you usually spout."
"Go fuck yourself, you bastard!"
"A bit less yelling and a bit more pushing please," said the placid Midwitch. "Ready? Now, push, push, push!"
Severus winced as her nails sank into the palm of his hand again, as he leaned over and tried to force his own strength into his small wife. They'd been at it for hours and he thought he would lose his mind if this little brat didn't come out soon.
He'd utterly reversed his opinion on bringing children into the world in these last few months as he watched his wife struggle with the constant aches and pains and humiliations that pregnancy brought. Of course, it was a little late now.
She sank back onto the bed, exhausted and weary. Her face was waxy and her eyes were sunken into her skull with dark grey circles. He chaffed her hands and was horrified when she simply started to cry.
"I can't, Severus," she said in a small voice that tore his heart into pieces.
"You can," he said. "You're strong, Hermione. You can do anything." She didn't respond, she just tilted her head at him and blinked as the tears ran down her face. "Don't give up, Hermione. I need you to be strong now. Just a little longer and then you're done. I will do all the rest; I promise."
"Alright, dear. Last one, lets get this little one out here where we can see," said the Midwitch. "And… push. That's it, strong for me now."
"Push, Hermione," he urged, as his wife's scream echoed throughout the room.
"Easy! Okay, and pant, pant, little more, little more and there we are!"
Severus looked over to see a furious-looking infant with a shock of slimy black hair.
"Well, she's got my scowl," he quipped.
"A girl? Let me see!" cried Hermione, reaching for the baby as the Midwitch wrapped her up and placed her on her mother's belly.
Severus cut the cord quickly, finding the ritual a silly distraction, before returning his attention to his wife and daughter. They were perfect. Life was perfect. He ran his fingers down the baby's tiny nose and said a silent prayer that it was her mother's and not her father's, then he leaned in and kissed his beautiful wife on her forehead.
"Thank you," he said.
"It was nothing," she replied, with an impish smile and tired eyes.
"It was everything," he replied.
The Midwitch fussed about, casting healing spells as a nurse came over and cast diagnostic spells over the baby.
"What's her name?" asked the nurse.
Severus looked at Hermione and waited. He'd left the decision up to her, seeing as she was the one suffering, and she'd imperiously vetoed his choices early on.
"Hope," she said. "Her name is Hope."
The ward on the house chimed softly and Hermione quickly closed the bedroom door and hurried to answer it before it chimed again and woke the baby. She opened the door and couldn't hide her shock at finding Lenore Snape on her doorstep. Lenore didn't look any more comfortable.
"I came by to offer my congratulations," she explained. "I read about the birth in the papers. If this is a bad time…"
"Please, come in!" Hermione said, pulling the door open wide.
"I know this is rather awkward, but I wanted to give you something for the baby," she said, thrusting out a package. "I picked them out myself," she added nervously.
"Thank you," Hermione said, taking the package, tastefully wrapped in silver paper with tiny pink swans all over it. "I was about to make tea; would you like some?"
"No, thank you. I don't want to be a bother. Shouldn't you be resting? At least sit down." Lenore pulled a chair out from their dining table and pointed to it. Hermione sat, and Lenore sat across from her nervously playing with her perfectly manicured nails. The ensuing silence was agonizing.
"Shall I open it now?" Hermione finally asked, lifting the package.
"Please. I do hope they're useful. I can return them if you already have too many, don't be afraid to ask."
Hermione carefully opened the package and lifted the lid on the box. She pulled out a miniature set of shell pink robes. There were three more sets in the box, in lavender, deep rose, and butter yellow. "Oh, my, they're beautiful. Thank you Madame Snape."
The older woman made a face. "Call me Lenore. This is awkward enough."
Hermione saw a glimmer of humor on the other woman's face and smiled. "Then you must call me Hermione."
"As you wish." She pointed at the tiny outfit. "The robes are spelled. They resist dirt and stains and they expand to a larger size with a charm. The incantation is on the tag. They're good for two years. There's a warranty, you mustn't lose that. A friend assures me they actually last a lot longer than that if properly laundered."
"I don't think she has anything nearly as lovely as this. Thank you," Hermione said as she laid the robes aside.
A heavy silence descended again, and Hermione took a deep breath. "I know it's been over a year now, but I also want to thank you for what you did for us in the papers after we got married. That was an unexpected but very welcome and generous thing you did."
"You mean my interview? Think nothing of it. I felt I had to. They had painted Severus as such a fool after the press found out about the two of you. Your ex-husband's awful interview angered me. How could he say that you had split amicably and then say those dreadful things?"
"Viktor only ever sees what he wants to see, and if that includes making things up, well…" She ran her hand through her hair and turned to Lenore. "You know Severus and I didn't carry out some drawn out, torrid affair behind your back while I was working there, don't you?"
"I do. Severus told me everything, Hermione, except the who. I had no idea who you were until it hit the papers. He was intensely protective of you. However, he was bluntly honest about everything else in our sessions with the counselor. I know you didn't come bursting in and destroy our marriage. Severus would never have strayed if we hadn't already broken it beyond repair. We were miserable. We just had trouble seeing that until you came along. That's why I could refute Mr. Krum's ridiculous allegations with good conscience. I thought it smacked of attention seeking, and I disliked the idea of him using my life to get another groupie into the sack out of pity. I'm glad it helped. It certainly died down fast enough. I haven't read a thing about it in the birth announcements."
"Thank you. It means a lot to me that you know the truth. It was painful enough without being as tawdry as he made it out to be. I never wanted to hurt anyone. You are a very gracious person to come here as you've done."
"I… needed the closure," Lenore said to her hands. "Severus always wanted a child, and when I heard you had given birth, I guess I wanted to… I don't know if I can find the words. I was happy for him. I wanted to do something to show him that. I have no living family left and to be honest, I felt a bit… familial." She grimaced and gave a self-conscious little laugh. "I know that sounds a bit creepy, but don't worry. I won't be making a habit of popping in unannounced. I've just been trying to work on whimsy lately. I thought I would kill two birds with one stone, so-to-speak."
Hermione laughed and folded the robes.
"Would you like to see her? I can bring her out, she's due to wake up soon anyway."
"I would," Lenore replied, with a small smile.
Hermione bounced up with a bigger smile and pushed open the bedroom door gently. She walked quietly over to the bed and leaned down to carefully pick up the baby.
"Don't." whispered a voice in the doorway. Hermione turned, and saw Lenore had followed her across the kitchen and was staring hard at the bed, where Severus was sleeping deeply with Hope cradled to his chest, with her fist stuffed into her mouth.
There were tears in Lenore's eyes. "Leave them be," she said softly.
Hermione stepped away and joined Lenore back in the kitchen, closing the door silently behind her.
"There can only be a few moments like that before they are too big," Lenore said. "It would be a sin to disturb them. Besides, I've seen enough. She's beautiful, and he's obviously happy. He could never sleep that deeply before. He would have hexed anyone that moved that quietly before he even woke up."
She reached into her pocket and pulled something out. Taking Hermione's hand, she poured a tinkling silver chain into it. Hermione saw a small, crystal Unicorn charm dangling off it. "This is for the baby when she grows up, from her creepy Aunt Lenore."
Hermione held up the chain, listening to the soft music it made as the chain moved. "This is Goblin made," she said with awe.
"I want her to have it."
Hermione's eyes grew wide. "But surely…"
"No. I won't be having any children. I don't think I will ever change my mind on that. I'm very content with my life as it is. If I ever feel a pang for lack of a baby of my own, I will just send you more clothes. Let's just leave it at that, shall we?"
They both turned at the muffled cry from the other room.
"I should go. You have a family to take care of now."
"Thank you so much for the gifts. I am very glad you stopped by."
Lenore gave her a small smile and walked to the door. She turned back to say something but stopped and stared at the man in the bedroom doorway holding a tiny infant to his shoulder.
"Lenore," he said. "You're looking well."
She nodded her acknowledgement. "You also," she said. "Congratulations, Severus. I just popped in for a moment to wish you well, and now I must be off. Hermione, take care of yourself. I am glad I stopped by."
With that, she left.
Hermione waved to her from the doorway as she Disapparated.
She turned back to the kitchen and walked over to take the baby from Severus, who was inspecting the new robes for Dark magic or Curses. He'd done the same to all the baby's gifts.
"Really, Severus. You take this protective father thing too far sometimes."
He handed over his daughter with care. "I admit in hindsight I might have been a little rude to do so in front of Molly and Arthur, but I've often had good reason to be paranoid, Hermione. It has served me well in the past, and just because my damaged ex-wife appears to have accepted our happiness with a gracious gift, there is no guarantee of that. More often than not, if it seems too good to be true, then likely it is."
Hermione arched her eyebrows in questioning challenge, and he smirked, realizing his error, his demeanor softening.
"Except you, my dear. You simply are too good to be true."
"Thank you. And since you put it like that. Here. Check this too." She lifted up the necklace, as Severus's eyes grew wide. He took it from her with care.
"This was hers."
"I know. She said she wanted Hope to have it when she grew up a bit."
"You don't understand. Julius gave it to her. She never took it off."
"Oh," Hermione said softly.
"I'm not sure I want my daughter to have this," he said, when he finished checking it.
Hermione snatched it out of his hand.
"It's not just about you," she said. "It was given to Lenore with love, and I suspect she gave it to Hope with at least a desire for fondness. I'll put it away and we'll discuss it again in a decade or so." Hope started to squirm and root around, and Hermione wandered back into the bedroom, unbuttoning the front of her robes. "There's a bit if cake in the cupboard," she called over her shoulder.
"I don't want cake," he said, following her. "I want to watch."
"I'm beginning to suspect you wish you could nurse her yourself," Hermione said with a laugh. "Don't you ever get tired of watching?"
"Not yet," he said, sitting down on the bed and pulling her between his legs until she was leaning back on his chest. He rested his chin on the top of her head and wrapped his arms around her to help cradle the baby. Hermione helped their daughter to latch on and they watched in awe as the tiny thing guzzled ferociously.
"How can she eat so much and stay so small?" Hermione asked.
"Because when you're not looking she throws it back up on me," he replied.
Hermione laughed and twisted around to kiss him on the neck.
"I love you, Severus," she said. "You make me very happy."
He bent down and kissed her cheek.
"And I love you. You've made me happier than I could begin to express."
Hermione closed her eyes and listened to the slow steady beat of her husband's heart and smiled.
And a special round of thank yous to all of my reviewers. To all those that I could not reply personally to, know that your comments and opinions were treasured. To all of my first time reviewers, you made my days brighter, and to my regular cast of characters, know that I adore you all. I do.
This is the bestest hobby I ever took up. Seriously. Much better than collecting navel lint. Much.