/AN/

This story, originally posted under the title "Out of the Darkness, and Back In" has been quite a trip. I am thrilled to be able to say that it is finished. Period. The End.

On the other hand, it is also a bit sad. But that's just my own, personal sadness to see this story end.

I do hope you've enjoyed this trip with me. (and for those that read it, yes, I hope and intend to work on Lost Little Children next.) Thank you all for taking the time to read what I have written.

/END AN/

Epilogue

Hermione caught sight of her best friend across the Great Hall. She waited for Ginny to look her way before throwing the red-head a grin and a wave. She watched the Medi-witch laugh out loud at Hermione's situation. She had been dragged out into the middle of the dancing students, the bright colors of the costumes flashing by her as Draco twirled her around in a dance much faster than suited the current song.

Every so often, she would catch sight of a scowling Severus. That wasn't unusual of course, when they were out among the students. However, Hermione knew full well that this scowl was aimed at one blond DADA Professor. If they were any closer to the Potion Master, Hermione was almost certain she'd see merriment dancing in his eyes. Carefully concealed, certainly, but that hadn't been an obstacle for Hermione for quite some time.

Glancing up at Draco's face revealed that he was well aware of where her thoughts were. It also revealed that he was as amused by the situation as she. Really, the whole thing was a joke, Draco pushing Severus' buttons. Hermione wasn't sure what reaction Draco was hoping for, as there were several ways Severus could take this.

Draco spun her faster as the tempo of the band started to pick up, and as the material of their costumes spun and mingled around them Hermione was reminded of the last time green and white material had wrapped around them during a Halloween Ball.

*~*~*~*~*POV*~*~*~*~*

Severus watched the two people most important to him twirl and laugh, out among the students on the dance floor. Even though he was silently laughing, it wasn't hard to maintain the scowl on his face. Albus had yet again mandated that each professor sign up for at least one chaperon shift for the ball, despite knowing full well the significance of the night. Discreetly checking the clock had Severus quite frustrated that they still had two hours before the three of them could retire to their rooms.

Severus was not a man prone to overly sentimental reminisces, nor was he prone to the giddy feeling that had begun to build in his chest earlier in the evening. However, given the circumstances, he was allowing himself some leeway. Of course, it in no way had anything at all to do with the fact that Hermione told him he was to 'loosen up and enjoy the ball' or he would 'certainly regret it.'

Regardless, he found himself reminiscing about his Hermione, and her absolute determination to bring about her desired results, once she set her mind to a course. Severus found himself grateful for her obstinate resolve, where it was a quality that annoyed him in most anyone else. That could have something to do with the fact that without that quality in his Hermione, the current circumstances may never have come about.

Thinking of that almost had him cracking a smile as he watched Hermione call uncle out on the dance floor. She was laughing, and barely able to keep her feet as Draco escorted her off the floor, and back in his direction. A discreet glance around, and an equally as discreet nod at Draco soon had his Hermione propelled into his arms. Wrapping his hands around her waist was an automatic reaction to the impact of her body against his, though her smile had him, quite voluntarily, pulling her flush against his body in one fluid move.

Unfortunately, they were in public, so the embrace was rather short-lived, so he made to help her into a seat, as if she had accidentally fallen against him rather than fallen by design. Draco returned his smirk as the blond pulled the chair that he deposited his Hermione in, over from a nearby empty table.

Severus stoically watched as Hermione's laughs subsided, and the three of them spent a pleasantly silent moment amongst the noise, watching the loudly costumed students enjoying the traditionally decorated Great Hall. Before long though, necessity broke the companionable, and relative, silence.

"How long until our shift is over Severus?" Hermione turned to speak to him as she pulled a booted foot into her lap and began to rub her ankle. Severus raised an eyebrow at her actions, and waited for the shake of her head, indicating all was well, before he answered her question.

"Marginally less than two hours ma chérie. Regret signing us up for the second shift already?" Severus' smirk grew as his Hermione caught the mirth beneath his sarcastic tone. She cut narrowed eyes at him, before sending him a grin.

"Not at all Severus. I just thought that it was about time for you and Draco to patrol out in the gardens. In the snow." Severus didn't trust the wide, innocent smile Hermione sent his and Draco's way. "Wouldn't want those students to get away with mischief for too long without taking points, now would we?"

*~*~*~*~*POV*~*~*~*~*

Draco caught Hermione's tone, and his eyes widened. That was a tone he'd not heard since their seventh year, when Hermione had discovered her love of, and rather disturbing natural talent for, playing all manner of practical jokes and pranks. He had, back then, more than once thought of what a shame it was that the twin Weasley's had graduated – as they might have found a formidable opponent in a prank war.

He saw how Severus was suspicious, but Hermione had been very, very good – and none of the professors had ever been aware that it had been their Head Girl that was responsible for the pranks that had plagued the school that year. At most, they had figured it was a seventh year, but Hermione had left no other clue. If that tone still meant the same, Draco knew he and Severus were in for it before the night was through, and they were all able to retire to their rooms.

Of course, he also well remembered what usually happened after she had successfully pulled one over on him. He well understood the confusion in Severus' eyes when he caught sight of the downright devilish grin that suddenly appeared on Draco's face.

"Of course chérie. Severus and I will make a circuit of the gardens and courtyard. I'm sure Severus will enjoy docking points off any students stupid enough to be cavorting out in the snow." Draco's theory was that whatever Hermione had planned would be much easier to avoid if there were two sets of eyes looking for it, and the first thing that would be coming out of his mouth would be to tell Severus of what threatened them.

"But, wouldn't you find more students if you split up? Not to mention, be able to get out of the snow that much sooner." Hermione's expression didn't change, but Draco could practically hear the muscles in her cheeks creaking to maintain that innocent smile. 'Oh, Severus don't fall for this,' was the only thought that passed through Draco's mind. Alas, Severus was paying more attention to Hermione, and thus missed the subtle signs Draco was trying to send him. A sharp nod later, and Draco watched as his chances of warning Severus slip away.

"A good suggestion ma chérie. I shall take the gardens then." Draco watched Hermione's face carefully, and saw the subtle light up of her eyes, telling him that her plan was working. This was his last chance to at least do damage control, the reasons for which was self preservation. If Severus got hit by this prank he was now sure Hermione had planned, he would get equal blame – and Draco did not want to know what that would mean for the both of them that night.

"Severus let me take the gardens. There are always more Gryffindors in the court yards." Draco grinned at the other man. Then his gaze slid to Hermione to gage her reaction. "You know that always lifts your mood." This time that light in her eyes was missing, letting him know that he'd be the target of the prank. Given that, Draco was sure he could catch the prank before to much damage was done – and Severus wouldn't be in a foul mood later that evening. He watched Severus nod, and Draco turned to head to the gardens, sincerely hoping to find some students he could take points from.

*~*~*~*~*POV*~*~*~*~*

Severus was a little curious after Draco's suggestion, and the blinding smile that Hermione aimed at him as soon as the blond had turned his back to walk away. Before he left, he wanted to make sure his Hermione would be alright. She had come so far since that day, but she still tended to get a bit nervous in such large crowds. Severus drew her attention by laying a hand gently on her shoulder. Hermione turned and gave him a sweet smile.

"You'll be alright then, chérie?" Severus appreciated the smile on her face and the light in her eyes, and her understanding that he could not return the gesture here in public. He watched her nod before she opened her mouth to speak.

"Of course Severus. I believe I owe Albus a dance, actually. Ginny will be happy to keep me company after that. It is only a bit more than an hour and a half left to go. I think I'll be alright for that long without your esteemed protection, Severus." Hermione's grin let Severus know she was teasing him, but he scowled at her anyway. He turned and stalked away to the sound of her laughter.

As Severus headed to the courtyard, he found himself pondering the situation. His Slytherin instincts for self preservation (for lack of a better term) were raising his suspicions. Something was a bit off with that exchange, but he couldn't quite put his finger on it. If Hermione had been acting just a bit more like the Gryffindor she was, he'd have easily been able to figure it out. However, he well knew that her time with Draco in their seventh year, and her time with them both since, had her thinking more and more like a Slytherin. Which meant she was well on her way to making subtly into an art form.

As he emerged into the cold air and snow coating the courtyard, he shook the thoughts off. There was no use in dwelling on an issue he wouldn't figure out until Hermione wished him too, now when there were students to terrorize. In fact, there appeared to be a couple just on the other side of the next pillar. Gliding around to stand behind the students – a Ravenclaw and a Hufflepuff, of all things – Severus stood with his arms crossed. He knew he presented a looming figure as he cleared his throat and the students jumped out of their skins.

"Ms. Lennox, Mr. Grant. 10 points each for being out of bounds. Return to the Great Hall immediately, and perhaps you can avoid loosing any more points before my class Monday" He sneered at the 6th years both quaking in their boots. Internally, his smirk was quite pleased. It was good to be the most feared professor in school. He continued on his way, picking up the sounds of students who had found a carriage to take shelter from the snow in. It was a quite night, the music from the ball only barely reaching his ears out in the snow covered courtyard.

Severus, of course, had a charm on, keeping himself warm. It was, however, a charm not taught to 5 years or below, the students having not learned how to maintain that type of spell until the end of their 5th year Charms class. Thus, Severus well expected to find 5th years, 4th years, or possible a combination thereof, taking refuge in the carriage he now approached. Judging by the muffled sounds and the movements of the carriage, these students would be a bit further along than the kissing couple from earlier. Oh, how Severus was looking forward to catching these two in the act. This was going to be worth at least 50 points. Each.

Severus allowed a smirk to appear on his face, taking pleasure in the anticipation of busting these students. The expression on his face when he reached for the carriage door was one Hermione had called his evil-git face, he knew. The students would be well aware that he took pleasure in taking points from them.

What happened when the door opened, however, was far from what he was expecting. It only took a moment for him to move into action, but that moment of surprise was all it took for him to be covered from head to toe in a layer of snow. There were no students in the carriage after all. It was, instead, so full of charms that Severus immediately knew what had just happened. It not only provided the last puzzle piece for nailing down what had bothered him about the earlier exchange with Hermione and Draco, but it also finally fell into place who had been the clever little culprit for all those pranks five terms before – Hermione and Draco's seventh year.

Since nothing further happened - after the initial explosion of snow from the carriage that magically coated him in the snow – and he had warming charms in place, Severus just stood still in his shock. Though he'd certainly never call it shock. Were any students, and even some professors, see his face at the moment they would turn tail and run, hoping against hope he did not notice them and turn his anger in their direction. In truth, he was going over the details, trying to figure if Draco had also been involved – now, or then – or if he had been trying to warn Severus.

After a few moments of standing still, going over the details in his mind, Severus started to notice the other part of Hermione's little prank. It was defiantly just Hermione's doing, as Draco would never dare pull a trick like this one. The snow that touched his skin had not melted as he would have expected, furthermore, the snow that had been on his clothing had melted, soaked his clothing, and re-solidified on his skin. Severus wasn't shivering only by virtue of the warming charm. That, however, was not stopping the sensation Hermione had intended. It was also having the exact affect she intended as well.

Pulling out his wand, Severus was prepared to chuckle over this, and tease Hermione in kind later that evening. However, when he intoned the incantation "Finite Incantatem," nothing happened. His eyes narrowed and he quickly tried other finite spells without success. Severus was ready to torture Hermione when he realized that the charms wouldn't be removed except by her. Quickly checking the time with his wand, Severus realized there was only half an hour left till he could drag her away from the ball.

He went to cast a concealment charm to hide his arousal, then realized that Hermione must have included that on her list, because he could not see the evidence through his 'Sherlock Holmes' costume. The sack coat, and even the calf-length overcoat common n the 1890s were fitted too closely to conceal nearly as much as his normal robes would in this situation, and his ire was cooled by her thoughtful inclusion of the concealment. It did not, however, halt his plans for his revenge.

Passing by a window on his way to find the clever Hermione had him discovering that you could no longer see the snow that coated him, even though he could certainly still feel the effect. That was enough to slow his pace to his more standard stride as the mask slid into place. He even managed to deduct 15 more points from Ravenclaw, and 20 from Gryffindor on his way into the hall.

*~*~*~*~*POV*~*~*~*~*

Hermione walked among the tables in the Great Hall, chatting with Ginny. She was keeping an eagle eye out for both Severus and Draco to return. Her prank had been set in such a way that her wand would vibrate like a muggle pager when Severus opened the carriage door and triggered the charms. That had happened maybe 10 minutes prior – and with less than 20 minutes before their shift was over, Hermione was starting to think her prank failed.

She had made sure that it wouldn't affect anyone but Severus or Draco, and since the both of them shared the kink that she had exploited she hadn't really cared who got caught by it in the end. Even if she meant it for Severus - the reason she had smiled so brightly at Draco's back as he had left for the gardens after falling for her bait - getting Draco would have been just as satisfying.

Now, though, she was starting to think that Draco had doubled back in order to warn Severus of the possibility, and that they had found it and set if off without either of them being affected. It wouldn't work if neither of them were standing directly in front of the carriage door when it was opened. With an internal sigh, she decided that if her prank failed, she would simply keep trying until she achieved the results she wanted.

Ten minutes before their shift was due to end, Hermione's hopes for success soared again as she watched Draco come in from the gardens, one last pair of students only moments ahead of him. He had a disgruntled look on his face as his eyes scanned the crowd, looking for her. She watched Draco's eyes and saw when he caught the red hair of her best friend, and then the white of the scarf covering her own hair. Hermione grinned as her eyes met his, and watched as he frowned at her. She knew he'd realized that he had fallen into her trap – since no prank had been out in the gardens. She figured she'd get it for that too. All part of her master plan, really.

It was only another minute or so before Draco managed to maneuver his way through the crowd of celebrating students. It was when Draco had nearly reached her and Ginny that Severus came stalking into the hall. The look on Severus face, to everyone else, spoke of annoyance and a fair bit of temper. The fact that he was drenched would provide ample reason for that. Hermione, and Draco she knew, saw behind that mask to the reaction he was concealing. She saw Severus' frustration, amusement, and best of all his arousal. Her prank was working just the way she wanted it to.

The initial affect she had planned was his complete inundation with the snow. As the snow melted, as it would quickly do against his skin and clothing with the warming charm she knew he would have up, it would produce the deluge he now experienced. That is when the prank got more complicated. Coupled with a concealment charm to hide the predictable affect, and ultimately the purpose of the prank, were the series of charms that produced the sensations over every inch of skin. Hermione had discovered, to her absolute delight, the three of them shared a particular fetish. Which is why when the second part of the prank activated, Severus had felt as if hot wax had been poured over his skin; and why now he felt as if he was covered in the solid, cooled texture that inevitably arrived once the wax had cooled.

His frustration and arousal was exactly the state she'd wanted him in when they returned to their shared quarters to celebrate their first anniversary as a menage-a-trio. With a glance at the clock, Hermione noted that their shift was over, and she spotted the professors arrive to take over the last shift of the night. A nod and a smile to Ginny later, and Hermione just slipped past Draco's questing fingers and headed for the entrance to the Great Hall. She had no doubt that Draco would be hot on her heels, and no doubt that Severus would quickly notice their progress to the exit, and join them.

The trek to their rooms was made in silence, and Hermione imagined they made a peculiar sight to any on lookers. The Muggle Studies professor and the Gryffindor living in Slytherin territory leading the way, the aristocratic DADA Professor and last remaining Malfoy only a few steps behind her, and a soaking wet Slytherin Head of House stalking angrily behind them. Hermione couldn't help but giggle then entire way to the dungeons.

The minute she passed through the portal into their common room, she had intended to take off at a dead run, but Hermione miscalculated how close Draco really was. The now deviously grinning blond snatched her off her feet with one muscled arm wrapped around her waist, and in one smooth motion, turned on the balls of his feet and tossed her across the room and into the arms of a delightfully aggressive Severus just as the man closed the portrait guarding their privacy behind him.

The word and actions that followed, while leaving Hermione pleasured down to her very core, did not matter nearly as much as the feelings that resonated down to her very soul. She was with the two men she loved – and she'd never felt more cherished, more loved, or more protected than when she was wrapped in the arms of her men. The past did not matter here, and their future was laid out before them. Though they'd only had a year together, Hermione knew deep in her heart that there were many more to come. Whatever happened, whatever they faced, Hermione had no fear. Her men, her Severus and her Draco, had brought her safely out of the darkness.

THE END.