Hermione's screams filled the shack, her body writhing in pain on the floor. Froggate loomed over her, his face twisted with malice. Flicking his wand again, he laughed mercilessly at her torment.
"Please…Stop," Hermione begged him.
"So you can go back to HIM!" Froggate spat, his chiselled features hardening.
Gathering what strength she had, she said, "He's a better man than you'll ever be."
"He's poisoned your mind!"
Hermione glared at him with an expression of determined defiance, her taunting gaze daring him to do his worst, even while her body trembled with the anticipation of more pain.
A hellish fury burned in his cold grey eyes. "Have it your way, then." He raised his wand. "Avada Kedavra."
Severus awakened with a jolt, his chest heaving. It was just a dream. Reaching for his wand he flicked it, lighting a candle by the bedside, the soft glow of the flame sending shadows dancing across the walls. The last lingering image of his nightmare faded as he stared down at Hermione sleeping soundly next to him. He lightly ran his finger tips over her soft silken skin, reassuring himself that was she real…that she was safe. After drawing the bed sheets up around her, he rubbed a hand across his unshaven jaw; he hadn't had a nightmare in months.
Knowing he would not be able to fall back to sleep, Severus slipped quietly from the bed. He lifted his dressing gown from a hook on the back of the bedroom door, putting it on before leaving Hermione to sleep in peace. Whispering a wandless charm, the small lounge in their new quarters was illuminated with light and the fire blazed to life. Sitting alone on the sofa, he listened to the wind howling through the castle's turrets. Soon his mind drifted back to the night he'd walked away from that shack in Alleghany Forest, leaving Froggate's body to rot where it lay. As he had apparated to re-join Hermione at Hogwarts he'd known he would have to answer for his actions. But, his own fate had mattered little; he would willingly kill again if it meant protecting Hermione and their child. To his utter astonishment, however, Harry Potter had arrived several days later with word that Froggate's death had been deemed accidental, and no further investigations would be carried out.
Hermione had slipped her hand into his, her voice trembling as she'd asked, "T-Then Severus won't be arrested?"
"No," Harry had said. "A report has already been submitted to the Ministry, and a statement given to the Daily Prophet – neither of your names have been linked to Froggate's unfortunate demise."
"Why would you risk your career?" Severus had asked. He would have understood Potter sticking his neck out for Hermione…but for him?
Harry had fixed his green eyes squarely on his old Potions professor. "Because, Professor, after all you've done for the wizarding world you don't deserve to spend the rest of your days rotting in Azkaban."
Potter's words had left Severus speechless. Even though he had shared his memories with Harry, he would not have blamed the younger wizard for still harbouring resentment towards him. That day Severus had seen Lily's son in a new light; he saw past his Gryffindor colours…he saw past who his father was.
"Severus," Hermione's groggy voice drew him from his thoughts. "What are you doing up? It's the middle of the night."
"I couldn't sleep, and didn't want to wake you," he said. It was a half-truth. "Go back to bed, it's cold out here."
Ignoring him, she padded across the lounge, settling herself beside him on the sofa. She wrapped an arm around his waist resting her head on his shoulder. Severus held her close, caging the macabre thoughts that still lurked in the dark corners of his mind.
"What are you thinking about?" Hermione asked, combing her fingers through his hair.
Staring at the fire's orange flames, he said, "You."
Hermione's lips curved in a warm smile, but it quickly faded as she glanced up at him. His pale features were as impenetrable as granite, but his eyes failed to hide the roiling thoughts tormenting him. Lowering her gaze, she felt her throat tighten with emotion. Had the nightmares returned? She didn't dare voice her thoughts though as Severus was not aware she knew of them. Some nights his terrified cries had chilled her to her core, but she had lain still, not wanting him to know she had heard him. It had been so hard not to reach out to him, to comfort him, but he would only have pushed her away. I don't need your pity, Hermione…that's what he would have said. Instead, she had waited until he had slipped from the bed, then silently wept into her pillow.
Kissing him lightly on his throat, she said, "Come back to bed, Severus."
"You go," he said. "I'll only keep you awake with my tossing and turning."
He was wrong.
She couldn't sleep unless he was with her. The evenings he was on duty, walking the hallways, she lay awake, afraid to close her eyes…afraid that she would be snatched away again. The warmth and protection of his body next to hers was the only thing that drove her fear away. However, she kept that herself. Severus had his own demons to battle; he didn't need to battle hers as well.
Wriggling free from his embrace, she rose to her feet, walked across the lounge and disappeared into the kitchen. If he wasn't going back to bed then neither was she.
"What are you doing?" Severus asked, arching an eyebrow.
"Making a cup of tea," she said, then poked her head around the kitchen door. "Do you want one?"
Severus frowned. "You have lessons in the morning, Hermione."
"So do you, Professor," she shot back, then smirked. "'I'll take that as a yes then for tea."
He narrowed his eyes as he heard her rattling in the cupboards. She was a stubborn little witch. He was half minded to go into the kitchen and put her back into bed himself. But, he wisely decided against it. She would protest, loudly, and it would only awaken…
Severus climbed at the same time Hermione exited the kitchen. "It's all right, I'll see to him," he said.
"He's probably cold," Hermione said. "There's an extra blanket in the second drawer, and when you…" Her voice trailed off as she realised she was telling Severus things he already knew.
"Just see to the tea, Hermione," he said, then added with a slight curl of his lips. "And a bacon sandwich wouldn't go amiss right now."
She arched an eyebrow at him, mimicking one of his infamous glares. If their son's cries weren't increasing in pitch with every passing second, Severus would have enjoyed engaging her in a battle of wits. Instead, he turned on his heels and walked across the lounge.
"It's all right, Lucian," he said soothingly as he reached his arms into his son's cot. "I've got you."
Holding Lucian in one arm, Severus scooped up a blanket and wrapped it around his son's tiny frame. Speaking softly into Lucian's ear, he gently rocked him until his cries became little more than helpless whimpers. Carrying Lucian back out into the lounge, Severus settled himself onto the sofa again, cradling his son in the crook of his arm. He ran his hand lightly over the black wisps of hair crowning Lucian's head, once more staring in awe at his perfectly formed features.
This was his son.
Severus still recalled the overwhelming emotions that had gripped him the moment Lucian had been placed into his arms. He had never thought he could feel such love for another living being. It was both exhilarating and frightening. It was all consuming. He and Hermione had both decided to name their son for his godfather; the man who had given Severus a second chance. Lucius Malfoy. A half-smile touched his thin lips, remembering the barest hint of emotion that had clouded the blond wizard's steely-blue eyes the day Severus had asked him to be his son's godfather.
"If only the students could see you now," Hermione laughed softly as she set a tray down on a small coffee table.
Severus arched an eyebrow at her, then handed Lucian over to Hermione, his stomach growling at the smell of bacon smothered in brown sauce. As he ate his sandwich, he watched Hermione run a tender finger along their son's cheek. She had taken to motherhood so naturally, while he felt as if he was stumbling around in the dark.
"He's going to look just like you, you know," she said, still staring at Lucian.
"Merlin help him," Severus muttered.
Hermione swatted his arm. "Do you honestly think it was your charm and charisma that attracted me to you, Severus?"
Severus merely grunted and continued eating. He wasn't sure what she found so attractive about him, but still, he couldn't deny the satisfaction it gave him every time he heard her say it. Although if his son was to take after him, he just prayed he had inherited Hermione's nose.
Finishing the last bite of his sandwich, he moved closer to Hermione, draping an arm around her shoulder. She leaned back, resting against his chest. He heard her sigh contentedly, and soon her breathing deepened, settling into a steady rhythm. Sleep still evaded Severus, but he was more than content to keep a quiet vigil over his family.
Once more a fierce, almost overpowering need to protect them gripped him. Ambrose Froggate may be dead, but he was certainly not the last of his kind. Severus' face blackened at the thought of the Charms professor, his arm instinctively tightening around Hermione. As long as he was alive, no one would ever have the chance to harm her or Lucian again. Sighing heavily, he closed his eyes, remembering how he had once longed for Death's embrace. He had no one, nothing worth living for.
Now, he had everything to live for.
A/N: I just want to say thank you to everyone who has followed this story from begining to end! I've had so much fun in writing my first SS/HG story! Also, I want to say a HUGE thank you to Jenni! You are amazing and your support has gotten me to this point. And Tracy, thank you for all your help!