AN: Thank you so much to all of my wonderful readers, both the lurkers and the wonderful, marvelous, creative, passionate and opinionated reviewers whom I have tortured most horribly.
I adore you all.
Ever so much.
A final thanks to my team: Dressagegrrrl, for her inspirational cheerleading when this was still a wobbly newborn. Hebe GB, for her above-and-beyond editing, Britpicking and Regency checking in the face of Life, Death and Taxes, And Astopperindeath, who was the last person standing between you and my attempt at puntuation. And errors you did find were due to my dreadful habit of adding bits just before I post, when no one can stop me.
"But why do you have to move out? I don't like it. I don't like this at all."
Severus looked at his son, shocked all over again by how much he had grown. Was his boy taller than him now?
"We've been over this before, Nigel. Now is as good a time as any. You are heading back off to Eton in a few days and Grace is off to Hogwarts again. You won't even realize we're not here anymore. Simon will look after your interests while you're gone, and only Violet is coming with us. You will have Mrs. Cropper here to run the house in your absence. You have nothing to fear."
"But you won't be here. I liked it better knowing you were here while I was at school. It all seems different now. I just don't like it."
"Oh for heaven's sake," he huffed. "You can see the bloody roof from the window. We're only moving to the other side of a large lump of ground."
"Yes, but only Simon and I will be able to see it! Everyone else will be Confunded or Obliviated."
"Nigel," Snape snarled, losing his patience.
"That's 'my lord,' to you." The young man smirked.
Severus knew the boy was intentionally treading on the thin ice. He'd been stretching his wings in these little ways for the last year.
"I'll put 'my lord' over my bloody knee. Don't think you are too old."
Nigel laughed. "You've never put me over your knee in my life."
"Perhaps if I had you wouldn't have grown into a cheeky little rogue."
Snape packed another handful of books into a box and shrunk it. Nigel slumped into the chair in front of the desk.
"Can I use this office when I'm at home?"
Severus sighed and came around the desk and dragged his hand through his son's carefully styled hair, making him huff in annoyance. The boy fussed with his hair and gave an exasperated smile.
"Nigel, this office is yours. It always was. Well, when it wasn't your grandfather's bedroom.
"You must know I could not stay forever. In a few more years people will start to realize that I am not aging. It will be the same for Hermione. If we live in the Dower house, then you can come as often as you want, and when we come here, we can wear an appropriate glamour.
"Your siblings are creating havoc. If they're not levitating the furniture one day, the bloody walls are a different color the next. You know how much Simon hates it when I have to Obliviate his wife, and his children will soon be too old for the things they say to sound like the fancies of childhood."
"You wouldn't have to if Clara could keep a secret."
"Yes, but we all know she couldn't carry a secret in a bucket." He sighed and leaned against the desk. "It's just over that hill, Nigel. You can come over and spend all day with us when you're at home. You're sixteen, now. This will be good for you. You'll have a bit of freedom, and yet not so much that you'll feel alone. You will be able to have your friends from school come to visit without having to pretend your younger siblings are all ill. Simon will be here, Filch will follow you to the ends of the earth, Grace will never venture far from you, and I'll just be over there. You won't ever be alone."
"But that's just it," the boy said in a small voice. "I already feel alone. I don't like it when people leave. You were always leaving when I was small. And then Mother left one day and never came back again. And Lady Wrenham simply left after dinner one Sunday and went home and died.
"Every time someone leaves, I feel like I want to be sick."
Severus sighed and gripped Nigel's shoulder. "I know, lad. I wish I could tell you that what you feel is silly, but it's not. Someday someone else you care about willleave and not come back again. That's life, and life is a nasty lump of shite sometimes. That's why you have to hold onto the good parts and keep them as best you can."
Nigel nodded, and a moment later their interlude was broken by a shrill cry and the sound of little feet pounding down the hallway.
"Come back here! Papa! They woke the baby and they have my wand!"
Severus sagged as the hallway was filled with whoops and cackles. A quick "Accio,"—followed by a disappointed squeal—and Grace's wand sailed into the room and into his hand.
"You and Grace were always so quiet. What am I doing wrong?" he muttered.
"Grace and I were always afraid," Nigel said. "I think this troup is beastly because you're doing something right."
Severus looked at his son, wondering for the millionth time when he had grown. "Your mother would be very proud of you; you know that, don't you?"
"I should. You and Simon say it three or more times a week."
Just then five-year-old Helen Joy, and four-year-old Laura Alice went thundering past the doorway, chased by a highly irritated Grace, holding baby Calvus John, and followed by a huffing Violet.
"When does Hermione get home?" Nigel asked.
Severus looked at the clock. "Her shift at St. Mungo's ends in about twenty minutes."
"We should have time to get them back in bed before she gets here."
"You must be joking," Severus said.
"Perhaps you could stun them?"
"Don't think it hasn't occurred to me. Hermione would have my head."
Nigel snorted as they headed after them.
Hermione sat down heavily on the settee next to her cat and took the glass of wine her husband offered her with a grateful smile. Her familiar didn't even open his eyes. He just set to purring as she scratched behind his ears.
She took a sip and sighed, lifting a hand and scrubbing at the short mop of curls on her head.
"Difficult day?" Severus asked.
"Extremely. There was an outbreak of Dragon Pox, five Apparating splinches—they get so distracted with the school year starting again—and three people came in with spell damage, one of whom was admitted. On top of that, I was in the middle of a conference on a case when my charm failed and my breasts started leaking." She flopped her head back against the cushion. "It was a frightfully busy day."
"And you loved every minute of it."
She laughed and held out her hand. He took it, kissed her fingertips, and then sat down next to her, wrapping his arm around her shoulders.
She beamed at him. "I did. It was marvelous. It will be even better next year when I certify as a full Healer. Then I won't have to keep finding someone else to sign off on my paperwork."
"And you won't be nursing."
"I don't know about that. I'm still thinking of making sure Calvus has a playmate."
"I think you should continue thinking. Your children are horrid little creatures. Even the baby. He's developed a highly annoying habit of wetting his lullies five minutes after he's been changed. I came home today to find Violet covered in orange and purple stripes. They have been running amok all day. I thought the little beasts would never go to bed. I have belatedly come to the realization that grandchildren are far more preferable. I just hand them back to Simon and walk away."
"You said that after Laura, and yet Calvus was your idea. I seem to recall a tone that came suspiciously close to wheedling."
He snorted. "Slytherins do not wheedle. We persuade."
"Ah. I see. I believe there are times when the difference can be so subtle as to not exist for us blunt Gryffindors." He scowled at her in mock offense and she rubbed her head against his shoulder. "Are you serious about having no more children? When I came home this afternoon to feed the baby, I had to pry him out of your arms."
"He was sleeping."
"He was gurgling at me," she said with a laugh. "You were sleeping."
He smiled and squeezed her shoulder. "Today they were especially troublesome. If you ask me when they have been angels, you might receive a different answer."
"Then I think I might be waiting a long time before I ask again," she said with a laugh. "How was the rest of your day?"
He took a long sip of his wine and settled his head against the back of the settee. "I packed up my Potions stores at Spinner's End, but didn't trust being away too long for fear of what the girls would be into, so the library will have to wait. Tomorrow I shall start setting up my new lab. I cannot wait to move. The sooner we have a house-elf, the happier I will be. Even Violet has been muttering about wanting one, since I explained what they are."
"About that, I have been giving it more thought and—"
He blew out an exasperated breath. "No, no and no. We have been over this. They do not want a wage, Hermione. They will resent your meddling. If you would just accept the status quo, life would be much easier."
She narrowed her eyes at him. "If I had accepted the status quo, I would still be a Muggle governess."
"Yes, but you would still have been my governess, and I would still have found a way under your skirts eventually."
"Yes, but then I would have just been disgraced."
"Continually. I would have disgraced you as often as I could, until you had no choice but to marry me."
"You would have made a terrible rake, trying to despoil the maiden just so you could marry her."
"I never made any claims towards being a rake."
"You never made any claims toward being a gentleman, and yet you are the finest gentleman I know."
He smirked and kissed her on the top of her head.
"I saw you have started to pack up the office, as well," she said. "Do you think we are being ghoulish? Lady Wrenham has only been gone these four months, and I fear we are dashing into her house with too much haste."
"We have wanted that house for years now. It would only have been ghoulish if we had helped her into her grave so we could have it."
Hermione snorted and snuggled down into his embrace. "I miss her. She was formidable, but I did so like her. Nigel took it especially hard."
"Nigel doesn't do well when it comes to death, for obvious reasons. We spoke about it a bit earlier. I'm more worried about Grace."
"Oh?" Finally, she thought with a mental smirk.
"Yes. I think you should have a talk with her."
"Why?" she asked.
"What do you mean, why? Have you not seen her this summer? She's grown most peculiar. She swears she will never put off mourning, claiming she looks good in black. And her hair, Hermione! What the devil has she done to her hair? It used to be thick and curled like her mother's. Now she…" He waved a frustrated hand. "Something is wrong with her."
"Nothing is wrong with her. She is her father's daughter."
"What on earth is that supposed to mean?"
"She wants to please you. She has realized that you are proud of how much she looks like you and is trying to accommodate your vanity."
"Accommodate my vanity? By cutting her hair off at the shoulders and making it lank and greasy? Why on earth would she think that I—" His eyes narrowed, and he shifted to look her in the eye. "This is about the nose, isn't it? That cheeky little Slytherin. This is her revenge for the nose."
"Severus, you have a fine nose. Indeed, I adore your nose. It is a noble and talented nose. But even you must see that it does not look particularly attractive on a young girl."
"Her face will grow into it," he huffed. "It is not nearly as bad as mine; she has never had it broken. She's too young to know her mind. I think it sets a terrible precedent to go about changing bits and pieces of one's face because one is dissatisfied. Where will it end? It is far better to accept yourself as you are."
"It doesn't have to be a permanent change. There are spells that can change it back to the original shape. We use them all the time when someone disfigures himself by accident. I think it would help her through her difficult years to feel good about her appearance."
"Why do I get the feeling we are now talking about your teeth?"
"Because, in a way, we are. You must have known I would empathize with her."
He scanned her face, lifting a hand and stroking her cheek as he did so. "You were in on it," he crooned. "The two of you plotted this out this entire summer, didn't you?"
Hermione hid her smirk with her wine glass, taking a deep drink as she tried to school her features. "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"Oh, dear, dear, dear. I do believe my wife just lied to me." His eyes sparkled with promise. "That cannot go unpunished."
She smiled as her body responded in a very predictable manner. She did so love this man.
"Let us discuss my sentencing later," she said in a lowered voice. "Right now, I think you need to make a decision about your eldest daughter."
He lifted an eyebrow and flicked his eyes at the doorway and then back at her. She nodded.
"Oh, very well," he said in an aggrieved tone. "You may fix her nose."
There was a squeal out in the hallway and Grace came dancing into the room, reminding Hermione of the little girl she had first met.
Nigel came striding in after her.
Severus' face grew serious as he stood up and looked at his daughter. "But no more. If there are any other body parts you take issue with, you will have to wait until you come of age." He grimaced and turned toward Hermione. "Except the hair. If you can fix the hair, do so."
Grace threw herself into her father's arms while jumping up and down. "Thank you, Papa! I won't change anything else, ever. I solemnly swear!"
He scowled. "Slytherins don't swear to anything unless it is life or death and there is no alternative."
Grace laughed. "True. But if I do take a solemn vow, I shall remember this day. 'I solemnly swear on the nose of my father...' It sounds like a most excellent vow. Don't you think so?"
Severus looked down at his daughter with his lips pursed. "No."
Hermione laughed, as she set her wineglass down and stood up, pulling her wand from her sleeve.
"Can we do it now?" Grace asked, her enormous black eyes dancing with excitement.
"We might as well."
"Will it hurt her?" Nigel asked, concerned.
"It will be tender afterwards, as it adjusts to its new shape, but the procedure won't hurt. Come over to the mirror," she said to the girl.
Grace pulled a miniature painting of Elspeth out of her pocket and handed it to her step-mother.
Hermione studied it carefully for the last time and then set it down on the mantle. With a few swishes of her wand, Grace's nose shrank, the hook vanished, and the tip turned up just slightly. Another flick and the girl's hair returned to its former ebony glory, cascading down past her shoulders to her elbows.
Hermione turned her toward the mirror, and Grace squealed with delight. "It is perfect! Just what I wanted!" She threw her arms around Hermione and squeezed her painfully tight, as Hermione hugged her back. She paraded her new nose in front of her father and brother and then dashed out of the room to go write to her half-dozen closest companions with the glad tidings.
Hermione grinned at her husband, but her smile faltered as she saw the sad expression on his face. "You don't really mind, do you?"
He turned his head from the doorway to her and shook his head. "No. I just didn't realize she wanted her mother's nose. You did a fine job."
Nigel clasped his hands behind his back and cleared his throat. "Could you change my nose?"
Snape scowled at him. "What the devil is wrong with your nose?" He stabbed Hermione with a look. "This is the sort of nonsense I wished to avoid. They are too young to know their own minds!"
Hermione ignored her husband's escalating rant and asked Nigel, "What do you want it to look like?"
As she suspected he would, Nigel pointed at Severus. "His."
Severus shut up immediately and stared at the boy as if he had sprouted another head.
"I could tell the lads at school I broke it over the summer."
"I would not be able to fix it in the future without drawing too much suspicion and your children would inherit this nose, not the new one."
"I don't care," Nigel said stubbornly.
"Why don't we just see what it looks like? Try it out for a day or two before you make a final decision?"
He walked up and stood in front of the mirror looking, not at himself, but at his adoptive father behind him, who was still and silent.
In a matter of moments, Nigel was sporting a more masculine version of the nose Grace had just discarded. It was Severus' nose, just noticeably straighter. Hermione thought he looked rather distinguished. She left him to preen in the mirror, turning his head, this way and that, and backed over to where her husband was still standing motionless. She placed her hand on his shoulder and realized his was trembling slightly.
Nigel turned toward his father and planted his fists on his hips, striking a pose. "I think I look dashedly handsome now, don't you?"
Severus swallowed audibly before he walked over and pulled his son into a fierce embrace.
Hermione made her excuses and went to check on the rest of her brood to give the two some privacy. Out in the hall, she ran into Simon, carrying a sheaf of papers.
"How is the baby?" she asked. "Has the colic abated?
"She's splendid! In fact, she slept through the night last night. You have my profound gratitude for the potion."
"I'm glad it worked. Keep it nearby and use just two drops when she acts up. She might start reacting to something else and grow out of her garlic sensitivity, but Clara should avoid it for a good while yet."
Simon gave her a shaky laugh. "I think we've both decided to give garlic the cut direct for the foreseeable future. You would think we would be less panicked by the fourth baby, but…" He shuddered. "Well, we all survived, and I shall keep your potion close."
"Excellent. If you're looking for Nigel or Severus, they are in there," she waved at the drawing room door. "And if you want your nose done, I'm afraid the surgery is closed for the day."
His look of confusion was highly amusing, and she chuckled. Simon rolled his eyes at her and headed into the drawing room.
She paused and listened at the door.
"Severus, I have a list of furnishings you might want to go over in case you need any of it for the Dower—Egad!" Hermione stifled her impending fit of giggles. "Oh, I say, Nigel. You look rather sporting!"
"Thank you! Do you want one? I'm sure Hermione could change your nose as well."
"Good lord, no! I love the bastard too, but not enough to make myself look like I could chop wood with my face. Damnation, am I going to have to have Clara Obliviated again?"
Hermione tucked the blanket around Calvus and backed away from his bassinette. Her sleeping son was perfect in every way. Just like the others. Her daughters were already showing their intelligence, usually in mischief that made them all want to scream, but it was undeniably there.
She crept over and kissed Helen and Laura's sleeping faces, before setting a ward and backing out of the room.
Her heart was full. Her family brought her more happiness than she had ever thought herself entitled to.
Grace and Nigel had showed remarkable depth of character this evening, and she suspected her husband would bask in the glow for weeks to come.
She headed into her bedroom to find Severus pulling his shirt off over his head. He had already removed his boots and stockings, and so was now before her in nothing but his breeches.
He was flawless.
During the early days of her apprenticeship, she had learned a spell to reduce scarring. He had demanded she practice on him. She had been reluctant to do so, but he had been adamant. What were signs of what he had surmounted to her, were symbols of his many private hells to him. And so she had methodically erased as much of his terrible history from his body as she could. Curse scars were resistant, and so she had only managed to reduce them to silver lines here and there. The rest were gone. The whip marks and knife wounds, the hexes and jinxes, now only survived in his mind. She knew he would carry them always.
The wide silver slash, from his jaw to his collarbone was much changed from the thick purpled ridge it had been. She was rather fond of it, although he scoffed when she said as much. She was glad of it. It was a powerful symbol of how close they had repeatedly come to never finding each other.
She could never conceive of growing used to the sight of him. The fact that her professor was now her husband and lover still had the power to make her toes curl.
She walked over and ran her hand across his warm skin, eliciting a raised eyebrow.
"Were you never told that it is rude to stare, madam?"
Hermione blinked slowly and came back from her reverie. "I thought that was what one was meant to do when presented with art," she replied, kicking off her kidskin slippers.
He smirked, obviously pleased with her compliment.
She started unbuttoning the sleeves of her Healer's robes, but he reached for his wand on the table and, with a flick, she was naked. She laughed as her robes settled on the chair next to him.
"And now, madam, I believe we still have a matter of discipline to discuss."
She tried not to giggle and detract from the moment, as he walked over and cupped her face in his hands. He leaned down and kissed her, before pulling back and running his hands up into her shortened curls.
"About that spell you used to fix Grace's hair…"
She grimaced. "Oh, no, Severus. Not that. You know I cannot abide all that hair."
His expression was unrelenting. "I rather thought the nature of a punishment implied a certain amount of suffering."
"Well, yes, but I rather thought it would be more fun than this."
"This is what I want. You can save any other ideas for another time. I believe the theme of the day is altering appearances. Besides. I am well aware that you will just cut it off in the morning."
"I'll cut it off before I sleep," she muttered.
"You won't have the energy," he promised.
Hermione felt her belly swirl and reached her hand toward the chair and called over her wand. With a whispered spell, her head started to itch.
His black eyes drooped to half-mast, as he watched her hair flow down her face, twisting and curling on its way to her waist. By the time she stopped the spell, his face was filled with lust.
She couldn't help but smile at how much power she had over the man.
The air was filled with her soft cries, as Severus held firmly to the hips of his magnificent wife above him. He looked up at her with no small amount of awe. She always affected him this way. She was so bright, and pure and clean, and filling her always made him feel renewed again.
Seeing her with her head thrown back, her long chestnut curls wild from the pleasure he gave her filled him with an unquenchable hunger and a deep sense of pride. Seeing the effects his lovemaking had on her body satisfied him down into his soul. The thicker hips, and heavier breasts, the marks from carrying his children, all of it just made her more pleasing to his eye. It was as if she had absorbed his terrible scars and transmuted them into these glorious symbols on her own body.
She was perfection. He knew he was dreadfully selfish in his thinking. Her muttered complaints told him she saw herself differently, but he always quieted her with a kiss, and she never bothered to change them.
He groaned at her rising cry, thankful for Silencing Charms. She was so passionate. So demanding. So giving.
He was so in love with her.
What never failed to astonish him was that she loved him just as much. It was obvious in every look, every gesture, every conversation. She had made him her life, and yet still managed to create a life of her own. It was as if she was unaware she was supposed to have limitations, and so exceeded them every time.
Her pace faltered, her building climax inhibiting her coordination. He tightened his hands on her hips and thrust up into her, continuing the rhythm she had set.
When he felt her start to shudder, he growled. He lived for this moment. The most incredible sight in the world was when his wife broke apart in ecstasy.
She sank her teeth into her lip as her face scrunched up and relaxed in waves. The line between her eyes, which was slowly becoming permanent, deepened and her voice rose up an octave.
"Oh, Severus…" she moaned.
He plunged into her, lifting her and pulling her down to meet each stroke until her own movements were nothing more than clumsy attempts to keep up. When she threw back her head and screamed his name again, he moaned at her beauty.
He pulled her down before he felt the last of her shudders and rolled them over, kissing her fiercely.
He pushed up on his arms and lost himself in his own pleasure, passionately taking what she gave so freely. His release rushed up at him, and his voice broke, as he emptied himself inside her. He collapsed down onto his elbows and dropped his head down to touch hers as his heart tried to pound its way out of his chest.
Her silken hands ran along his sides and she gently placed kisses along his temple.
"Why aren't we one person yet?" she asked only in half-jest.
He laughed. "It's not for lack of trying."
He pulled out with a hiss and fell to the side, reaching for his nightshirt and tossing her nightgown into her lap.
When he could more or less breath again, he asked, "Do you think Nigel is serious about keeping that nose? I rather liked his face the other way."
She let loose with a throaty laugh. "I think he is serious about honoring you. If you let him off the hook, he will wear it for a few days and then allow me to change it back before he sets off for school."
"I shall talk with him in the morning, then. And it would appear that I am overdue for a long talk with my Grace as well."
"Not so overdue. Just due. It is a terribly confusing age. She will most likely need another talk at Christmas and another at Easter. Being the daughter of Severus Snape has its burdens, but for the most part, her issues are just normal for her age. Well, as normal as anyone in this family is."
When they were decent, he canceled the Silencing Charm and removed the spell from the door that always made the children go look for the next oldest child to bother instead of their parents. He pulled her into his arms, and she curled around him, placing her head in the hollow just below his shoulder.
"Could you imagine how dull we would be if we were normal?" he asked.
"Yes, in fact, quite easily." She rolled her head and kissed his chest. "I think we would be terribly bored."
Their breathing synchronized, as he stroked his hands through her temporarily luxuriant hair.
He quietly murmured, "I love you."
She hugged him with one arm and a leg. "I know. I love you too, Severus."
He kissed the top of her head and pulled her tight against him, before flinging his other arm across his eyes.
Severus woke with a thudding heart and found he couldn't move. He kept himself very still, as he oriented himself in the dark. He had no idea where he was. Nothing looked familiar.
He tried to reach for his wand, always under his pillow when he slept, but his arm was pinned down.
As he shook off the last traces of his nightmare, his eyes finally registered what they were seeing. The bedroom was different because they had moved, that was all.
The Dower house still took some getting used to.
He smirked. Obviously for everyone.
He shifted his arm out from under Helen and tucked the blanket around her shoulder, while carefully moving Laura's sweaty head off his leg. She'd managed to soak through the blankets. He lifted his head and saw his youngest son, sleeping in his bassinet next to Hermione's side of the bed. Folly, their house-elf, had a tendency to park the bassinet next to their bed if the baby was having an especially difficult night. Hermione must have used a Silencing Charm for Snape to have slept through the fuss.
He turned onto his side and wrapped an arm around his wife, palming a breast under the blankets as he planted a sleepy kiss on her short curls.
She sighed in her sleep, and snuggled against him, as he let his eyes slide closed again. In a moment, he was slumbering again.
Laura moved her head back onto her father's other leg and began to drool in her sleep.
And there you go...