A/N: Hey HG/SS fans! :) I'm very, very excited to share with you my lengthy, epic story about my favorite ship/couple, Severus Snape and Hermione Granger.

This story begins at the time of the HP epilogue: 19 years after the war. As such, Hermione and Severus are slightly different/altered from JK Rowling's original version and as they should be, since all characters should grow and evolve over time; however, don't be alarmed! Many of the attributes we know and love about these two characters are still there (especially in Snape's case), so don't fret! I have worked very hard to keep all characters "in character" whilst, at the same time, trying to illustrate/acknowledge changes and developments to their personalities over time, so please bear that in mind as you read. I hope you will stick with this story and give it the proper time it needs to progress. I promise a lot of action, angst, and passion if you stick with it! :) Thanks so much!

Important note about this series: Unquestionable Love is not meant to be read in chronological order. As such, it is strongly encouraged to read the original story first before reading the Prequel for plot disclosure reasons, so this is where you will want to begin the journey about the Snapes.

Please don't forget to review as you read! Feedback encourages me to keep writing. Without your thoughts, it isn't worth sharing. Special thanks to my wonderful beta reader, Brittny, for helping me re-edit this story and perfect it!

DISCLAIMER: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I own none of her associated characters. New characters belong to me.

Unquestionable Love

By CRMediaGal

Chapter 1: A New Term

"Daddy, wake up!" squeaked a tiny voice.

The petite young girl vigorously shook the still silhouette hidden underneath a pile of green blankets. Her long and curly black hair swayed with her tiny frame as she reached onto her tiptoes to try to pull the blankets away to no avail.

"Daddy!" called the girl more emphatically. "Wake up! Mummy said you're going to be late!"

The loud voice did not seem to match the little girl's exterior—not her graceful movements, her porcelain doll-like features, or her fragile limbs that barely reached the top of the bed.

The blankets moved ever so slightly and a groan murmured from somewhere beneath them, or was it a growl?

"C'mon, Daddy! Wake up! Hailey's getting sorted! Wake up!"

An extremely pale, sleepy-eyed man suddenly emerged from underneath the blankets. His straggly, shoulder-length black hair was unkempt and hung in his face, half-masking his rather protruding nose. His stark eyes blinked several times, adjusting to the morning rays fluttering in from a nearby window. He moaned again and collapsed back onto his pillow with a heavy sigh. The little girl hopped onto the bed next to him and squeezed his arm.

"Daddy, Mummy wants you up now. Breakfast is ready."

Her voice was quieter this time, less urgent and more soothing. It took a moment for the girl's voice to register a response, but then the tired man's eyes met the little girl's. Despite their blackness, a friendliness and warmth radiated from within them. A barely visible smile formed at the corners of his mouth, and his hand reached out from underneath the blankets to stroke the little girl's cheek.

"All right, pumpkin," the man whispered groggily. "I'll get up."

The little girl's soft curls caught the sunlight, showcasing her tight, perfectly woven spirals. She was a very pretty child, every feature delicate and smooth, and yet her eyes were as strange as the man's; a starkness that contained only the light to reflect any particular emotion.

She grinned, displaying her symmetrical white teeth, and leaned in to hug her father, who did not move from his comfortable repose. Then, with hardly a sound, she jumped off the bed and scurried out of the room. He watched her go, his eyes trailing after her lustrous hair that seemed to possess a movement all its own.

He listened to her voice echo down the hallway as she informed someone, "Daddy is awake!" though he did not move right away. For a short time, he lay still in quiet reflection, his only movement the rising and falling of his chest.

After a lengthy pause, the man eased himself out of the four-poster bed almost delicately, as if every movement were a strain to accomplish. He sighed again and stretched. His somewhat thin, yet, sturdy outline progressed ever so carefully across the room. Finally, he reached an oak closet opposite the bed and made a dramatic wave of his hand. A few lamps throughout the room suddenly flickered to life, brightening the place considerably.

Unbothered by his straggly hair and worn appearance, the man dressed himself swiftly and without much thought or care; a white undershirt, a handsome cravat, a stiff black jacket with at least a dozen buttons lining its front, each painstakingly fastened and followed by a long cloak and leather boots. The entire process, though efficient, seemed to take every ounce of the man's energy to complete.

He had not bothered to change his wardrobe after all these years, and he certainly was not going to start now. He did not glance over at the full body mirror next to his closet, nor did he make use of the comb or hair products that sat atop a fancy-looking dresser. Instead, he turned, strutted out of the room and into the hallway with his robes billowing behind him in dramatic flair.

There was some kind of commotion coming from the kitchen at the end of the hallway and as he progressed through the doorway, the man caught glimpses of a few figures straying back and forth, sitting and standing, their hands active and their mouths moving excessively. They were all dressed in school uniforms except for the little girl who had awoken him earlier, still in her pajamas.

As he entered the compressed but cozy kitchen, he was greeted by incessant chatter and the loud clanging of plates and utensils. The noise made him flinch and he put his hands to his temples, as if overcome by a sudden headache, but then a half-smirk emerged across his very white face.

At the square, wooden table in the center of the room sat four young girls—all between the ages of four and thirteen—three of whom were bantering back and forth between quick bites of their breakfast. They all glanced in his direction when he entered the room, each face resembling the other yet, at the same time, moderately different.

"Morning, Dad!"

"Hey, Dad!"

"I told you he was up!" peeped the littlest one in her pajamas.

"Good morning," he returned in a silky smooth, low voice.

His dark appearance to any other child would have been alarming and rather frightening to behold, but not to the four children seated at the table. The three who had acknowledged him returned to their private conversations, paying him little mind, and his eyes darted to the fourth child, who sat nearest him with her head bent, not partaking in the others' chatter. He reached down and placed a firm hand on her shoulder, his brow furrowed with sudden concern.

"Good morning, Hailey," he offered hesitantly.

Hailey, the young girl with bushy, thick brown hair and bangs, glanced up at her father sideways as she continued to move her spoon around her untouched oatmeal. "Hi, Dad..." she replied, her voice barely audible.

She did not much resemble her younger sister in the pajamas, though they shared slight similarities in the nose and cheeks. Her demeanor, however, was less graceful and more awkward in every possible way, and her features were not as delicate. Her cute button nose was set off by a pair of brown eyes—dark like her father's—and they darted about nervously, avoiding him.

The man in the heavy robes immediately took a seat next to her at the end of the table. The other children did not look their way but kept their own conversation going.

"How are you feeling?" His voice was hard yet genuine.

Hailey shrugged and did not meet her father's gaze. She still did not make any attempts to eat. The mysterious figure next to her leaned over and kissed the top of his daughter's head, where a thin headband was placed, hidden beneath many wild curls. He casually took her arm and squeezed it, not in a harmful way, but lovingly; a strange gesture to anyone else who might have witnessed such a peculiar person as he, but the little girl was not alarmed at all. Instead, she shifted closer to him and let the top of her forehead rest against his chin.

"You'll be fine," he breathed low. "Don't worry."

"Of course she will," came the calm voice of someone beside him.

A beautiful woman in her late thirties appeared before them. She was relatively younger than the middle-aged man, but the look she gave him was one only a husband and wife could share. Her long, soft curls were placed back in a low ponytail and the brown hue of her hair was an identical match to Hailey's. Her slender figure was wrapped in a cooking apron that covered a formfitting navy suit. She dropped a plate full of food in front of her husband and leaned down to kiss him tenderly on the mouth.

"Good morning, Severus," she whispered with a grin after breaking off their little moment.

"Good morning," he purred back, his reply for her alone.

The children, apart from Hailey, did not pay this exchange any mind, seemingly too involved in their private talks to care. The woman sat down next to Severus and placed her elbows on the table, eying her husband and daughter with a thoughtful expression, when her eyebrows suddenly crossed. She took Severus by the hand and linked it into her own, holding it tight. He, however, did not move.

"You look tired..."

"I'm fine, Hermione," he replied matter-of-factly to his wife.

Severus's expression was unreadable. He turned to Hailey and gave his wife a nudge under the table.

"It's this one we should be worried about. She can't go to Hogwarts on an empty stomach."

Hailey said nothing and did not eye either of her parents. Severus and Hermione exchanged tense glances and then turned back to their daughter.

"Hailey, you're going to have so much fun at school," said Hermione as delicately as she could. "Just you wait! And Lily and Surina will be there, too. You won't be alone, I promise."

"But – but what if I'm placed in a different house?" Hailey's voice quivered and she shuffled her feet. She still glanced only at her breakfast and nothing else.

"Sweetie," Hermione began before Severus gripped her hand to interject.

Severus moved wisps of black hair out of his face and gazed longingly at the little girl beside him. "Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff are exceptional houses, Hailey. Your mother and I will be proud of you, no matter what house you are placed in. Don't be so worried about that."

Hailey now met her father's eyes for the first time that morning, and her similar ones were swimming in tears that had not yet escaped. She whimpered before managing to blurt out, "But – but you and Surina were put in Slytherin! And Mum and Lily were put into Gryffindor! I – I don't want to not end up in Slytherin or Gryffindor! I don't want to be set apart from anyone!"

Hailey's hands clasped her face and she began to cry, her quiet sobs coming in uneven waves. The three other children ceased talking and gave Hailey funny expressions as Severus and Hermione tried to console their daughter as best they could.

"What's wrong?" asked Lily, the eldest girl with light-colored curls and kind brown eyes like her mother's. Her stature was rather tall and thin for her age. She possessed a fair complexion like Severus, but her delicate nose, lips and eyes were entirely Hermione's.

"Hailey's upset that she might not end up in Slytherin or Gryffindor," Hermione replied calmly as she tried to reach across the table to take the sobbing child's hand.

"Oh! Well, better Gryffindor, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw, Hailey, than Slytherin!"

The attractive girl burst into a high-pitched giggle, her face turning towards the striking second eldest to her right. She did not seem to find her sister's comment nearly as amusing.

"Speak for yourself, Lily!" The dark-haired one smirked in a manner that visibly resembled her father. "Considering we've won the House Cup and Quidditch Cups the past three years in a row, I'd say being in Slytherin House is a superb—if not better—alternative to Gryffindor or any other house! Right, Dad?"

She and Severus exchanged snickers, but both shared a clear connection that went well-beyond their common house. Like her father, this daughter had black hair that fell straight to just below her waist. It gleamed whenever the sun caught its raven hue. She, too, had dark eyes, a long nose, and was incredibly handsome-looking for the tender age of twelve. Though she was not as abnormally pale as her father or the little girl in pajamas, her complexion was still quite fair, offset further by her eyes and hair. If any of the children resembled Severus the most, then she was a spitting image, indeed.

"Surina," said Severus, more teasing than serious, in the form of a snarl, "We Slytherins respect our fellow houses and housemates."

The daughter named Surina gave her father another sinister grin, not buying his diplomatic remark, and took a bite of her food while Lily scowled, looking at them both with heated contempt. Her cheeks were flushed and her jaw was set at an unpleasant angle.

"Yeah, right!" she spat, glaring back and forth between Surina and her pale father seated on the opposite end of the table. "Proud Slytherins! Always thinking of others and just as respectful as could possibly be! What rubbish!" She placed an emphasis on each word, speaking forthrightly.

Severus frowned at her and his eyes narrowed dangerously. To anyone else, such a glare would have sent shivers down their spines, but Lily hardly even flinched. Hermione noticed the wordless exchange that passed between them and immediately threw up her hands, fully aware of what was about to ensue.

"Stop that! Severus, don't even think about it! And Lily, you know better than to say such things!"

She reproached her daughter and then her husband, who turned away from her as if nothing had happened. Meanwhile, Surina snickered and ate another bite of her breakfast, but then Hermione rounded on her.

"Don't start, Surina!"

Surina gave her mother a dramatic, bewildered 'I'm innocent!' look before returning to her breakfast. Lily also reluctantly began finishing her oatmeal, and the littlest girl in her pajamas simply scrutinized them both. Finally, she said something Hermione could not hear that seemed to get the sisters' three-way conversation going again.

Hermione sighed and returned her attention to Hailey, who had stopped crying and was fidgeting with her hands in her lap. Hermione noticed Severus's attention was focused on their daughter, too. His hand reached behind Hailey and began rubbing her back, his hard face showing evident concern for the troubled little girl. Hermione could not help but soften at her husband's unusually kind gesture. He had never been one for much public display of affection. In fact, his behavior during Hermione's own school years—and even well before then—had been rather spiteful, repulsive and all-around horrid, but the years since the war had softened his hard demeanor, at least when it came to her and their children. She knew, however, that if Hailey were at Hogwarts now, she would not be receiving such comforts from her father that she was privy to in this private dwelling they shared.

Severus, who had continued teaching at Hogwarts after the war, was still prone to instructing 'as he always had—much to his daughters' dismay and headaches—ensuing fear and reproach in most of Hogwarts' students, including plenty of Surina's and Lily's friends, although, being in Slytherin House, Surina admittedly had it easier than her older sister.

Hermione broke the silence, leaning into Hailey from across the table. "It will be all right, sweetheart. I promise. Try not to worry so much. I felt exactly the same way when I started—nervous, scared, anxious—but I quickly realized I had nothing to be worried about. You will, too."

Hailey's brown eyes met her mother's, then her father's, and a meek smile emerged. "All right," she gulped, her broken voice unconvincing to either of them.

Hermione continued to smile reassuringly at her. She and Severus watched as Hailey rose from the table and trailed off quietly after her sisters, who had also gotten up from the table and were putting their dishes away in the kitchen sink. Washing utensils were magically scrubbing and cleaning the plates all by themselves, evidently under some kind of self-cleaning spell.

Hailey, Surina and Lily disappeared into another hallway off of the kitchen, their voices echoing behind them as they rushed to gather their school supplies and prepare to leave. Severus and Hermione, however, remained seated at the table, joined only by their youngest daughter, the peculiar little one with the perfect, dark curls. She sat there for another moment before giving them both a pleasant grin and hopped off her chair, skipping away dreamily after her sisters.

Hermione rested her back against her chair and sighed. She then turned to her husband seated next to her, who was silent and still, taking a calculated sip of his coffee. His expression, once again, was unreadable. Hermione took his hand in her own and placed her lips upon it, kissing the ashen skin gently several times. Severus's eyebrow rose, seemingly surprised by his wife's gesture, but then the hand that she kissed rubbed Hermione's bottom lip affectionately before returning to rest in her lap. They stared at each other for a long moment in comfortable silence before Hermione tightened her fingers around his hand.

"I heard you crawl into bed around four a.m. Did you sleep at all last night?" Severus shrugged, giving her question little concern, which only caused Hermione to bite her lip. Her expression switched from tenderness to angst in an instant. "Are you sure you're all right? You look more exhausted than usual, Severus."

She heard him growl in protest as he took another sip of his coffee, but Hermione ignored his tedious griping. With her free hand, she ran her fingers through his straggly, coarse hair which she adored rather than detested; others would probably feel differently, but she did not care. She stroked his white cheek, which felt alarmingly cold against her skin. Severus's eyelids shut momentarily, his black lashes fluttering, enjoying his wife's caress, before they opened again and his expression turned sour.

"I'm perfectly fine, Hermione," he snarled with the utmost irritation. "And thank you for reminding me how unequivocally horrid I appear. That is exactly how I wish to start off the term, and it is exceedingly kind and considerate of you to remind me of what I am."

His tone made her wince, though she was certainly used to his combative nature and occasional insults. One thing that the war had not done to Severus was make his mood swings any less frequent or severe. Her hand recoiled from his cheek, and he repented his actions in that moment, but her other hand continued to clutch his. Her face hardened, rivaling his own.

"Well, pardon me for wanting to make sure that you're all right! We both know how stressful your job can be, Severus! And I also needn't remind you that your health has never been the same since Nagini…"

Her voice unexpectedly trailed off, leaving her retort unfinished. When Hermione saw Severus's reaction, she instantly regretted her cross words. Severus's eyes darted away from her and, though there was no trace of emotion in his face, Hermione knew better.

Severus remained silent and took another sip of his coffee. He had not eaten much of the breakfast she had placed in front of him, and he did not make any further attempts at eating now. Hermione bit her lip again and observed his blank expression intensely. She could only hope he was not reliving that awful memory in his head. Why did she have to bring it up just as her husband was about to go off and leave her, returning close to the very place where it had happened all those years ago?

Stupid, Hermione! Completely insensitive!

She gazed at her somber husband apologetically and spoke again, this time much more composed, "I don't want to argue with you, Severus. I'm sorry... I – I'm just worried about you, that's all. I always am. Forgive me."

She glanced down at the larger fingers intertwined with her petite hand and the sight, which normally would have given her great comfort, produced little serenity this time. Severus was not squeezing her hand in return as he otherwise would have done. She met his gaze again, and this time his irises were not as numb as before.

His voice was tender, like silk, when he breathed her name, followed by a resounding, "I know. I'm sorry, too."

She felt his fingers lace more tightly around hers and let out a sigh of relief. She hoped against hope that he was not reliving the memory she had just referenced, but she had no way of knowing. Severus's demeanor hinted at nothing.

Since he had apologized and his tone had softened, Hermione cracked a warm smile and placed her hand on his cheek again. Severus only stared back; his visage was weary, even more so than when he had first woken, and the heavy circles under his eyelids were quite pronounced.

"Promise me you'll take care of yourself? If I'm only to see my husband one or two nights every other week until Christmas and can't keep an eye on you myself, I need some reassurance..."

Her voice broke and was barely above a whisper. Severus instantaneously grasped her hand and moved it from his cheek to his mouth, where he planted a firm kiss upon it. He did not possess the emotional strength to argue with her further, though he admittedly wanted to, and it was far too early for such things. Severus hated how she watched him like a hawk whenever he was at home. Even after all this time, he was terribly irritated at being looked after and cared for, abhorring it to no end. But Hermione was well-attuned to how he felt.

It was a small part of why Severus had kept his post at Hogwarts even after the trials and after his name was cleared of all the ridiculous charges set against him, even after his reputation was tarnished and continued to be a liability for the school. The headmistress who had replaced him at least supported him, as did the majority of Hogwarts' staff, and the school remained a place of refuge for the Potions Master to get away from prying eyes; and, he mused silently, his wife's unnecessary concerns.

She was hardly his reason for staying though and being away allowed Hermione to focus on her own career, which Severus took pleasure in seeing her perform; she worked within the Ministry of Magic ensuring that things were run properly, with fairness and equality. It was all quite admirable to him, and that regard only grew as he saw how respected she was throughout the wizarding world. She really was the brightest witch of her age, that beautiful wife of his. Severus loathed seeing her waste her time on something as trivial as his well-being, which would not change anyway...

So, Severus could not bring himself to argue with her now. She was too emotionally fragile, on the verge of tears, and the last thing he wanted was her sympathy or to give her cause to lose her composure in front of him. It only infuriated Severus when she cried. He knew he was unworthy of her tears and, thus, gathered all the calmness that he could muster and continued to grip her now trembling hand.

"I'll be fine," he managed between gritted teeth.

Was that it? Was that all the reassurance he could offer her? His enticing, brilliant wife, the 'insufferable Know-It-All' as he so often called her, who could, more often than not, see through his lies? Hermione's shoulders collapsed and her eyebrows lifted, worried.

He silently berated himself. Of course, Severus. She doesn't believe you. That wasn't very convincing.

"It's all right, Hermione," he spoke soothingly, "I feel perfectly fine and if I don't, I'll let you know." Hermione was rubbing his hand in her lap, not saying anything. "And anyway," Severus continued, "the girls could probably find out for you if anything was wrong—that is, if you didn't believe me. Don't think that I'm not aware that they've become your little spies."

Hermione chuckled. So, he was being playful. She liked when Severus toyed with her. He did not do it often enough. She closed both of her small hands around his, the one she had been holding for a while, and leaned in to kiss his grooved lips—the lips she had secretly begun worshiping when she turned sixteen and barely a woman.

Hermione delighted in how Severus reciprocated, not holding back, and returned her passionate caress with fervor. There was the scent of vanilla coffee in his mouth, mixed with the herbs and spices permeating from the heated flesh beneath his robes. How she loved his smell. It was intoxicating and drove her mad.

Hermione released the hand that had been in her lap for some time and instead cradled Severus's visage in her palms, not wanting to let him go, afraid he might pull away at any moment, and she was not ready for him to go. Not now, not yet.

"Ahem!" squeaked a voice from somewhere nearby.

Severus's and Hermione's lips parted abruptly as their heads turned in the general direction of the voice. Next to Severus was the little girl in the pajamas and she was examining them both, her nose crinkled in revulsion of her parents' display of affection. Her arms were crossed and her black curls fell flawlessly about her round face.

Hermione blushed and let out a sheepish giggle whilst Severus peered down at the tiny girl, his expression wrought with confusion and humiliation. "Erm," he started, lost for words.

The four-year-old immediately held out her arms to him, and Hermione nudged Severus encouragingly. Severus sighed and picked her up with little effort, though an unsettling noise escaped his lips. Was it a gasp, a moan, or had Hermione imagined it? She was not sure but observed him out of the corner of her eye as he held the dainty girl, now seated in his lap. Her small silhouette was only inches from his face and her arms could not reach around his neck.

"Daddy, you promised to take us to the train station today." She paused, waiting for him to respond, but when he said nothing, her eyes widened in alarm. "I'm not dressed yet!"

"Oh! Well, um," Severus turned to his wife for guidance, but she simply returned his puzzled expression with her pleasant smile. Severus smirked in return and held his daughter more securely. "Well, I suppose we should get you dressed then, Jeannie. You can't go to Platform 9¾ in your pajamas, can you?"

The girl named Jeannie—Jean—giggled in reply and shook her head. Her beautifully thick curls waved back and forth. Severus started to get up from his chair when he staggered—his struggle with the small weight in his arms hardly noticeable—but he moaned, nevertheless, knowing that Hermione had seen.

The happiness drained from her face, but Severus did not wait for her to say anything. He turned on his heels, re-gathering his balance, and strode out of the room with little Jeannie in his arms. Hermione heard her daughter's voice echo down the hallway—something about what she wanted to wear—and her eyes followed her husband's swashbuckling cloak before it vanished from view.

The Snape family arrived outside King's Cross station, which was packed with Muggles and, for the most part, they appeared to fit well into the crowd except for Severus. Hermione mused over her husband's handsome, all-ebony ensemble, which was receiving curious glances from a few passersby, but her husband did not seem to notice or care.

Lily, Surina and Hailey were strolling ahead of their parents, still dressed in their uniforms and pushing carts filled with all sorts of odd school supplies, including two owls in a cage that Lily carted. Jeannie skipped in between Hermione and Severus, her hands clasped tightly to each of them, wearing a purple sweatshirt and skirt ensemble that she had picked out herself.

As they entered the crowded train station, Hermione's happy countenance began to falter. Her stomach felt uneasy and her chest suddenly ached. She had been dreading this morning, a time that she had come to despise ever since she and Severus were first married.

He would leave for Hogwarts around this time every year and, while she longed for Severus week after week during the school term, their four children at least were able to occupy her thoughts and keep her from having an emotional breakdown. Now two of her children were Hogwarts students, however, and her third was about to embark on the same path and leave her, too. It was almost too much for Hermione to bear—the idea of almost her entire family leaving her behind—and she felt a notch in the pit of her stomach that was churning and growing worse by the minute.

As they progressed ever closer, Hermione caught sight of the signs for Platforms 9 and 10, and her heart sank. It seemed like no time at all before they were standing before the two platforms and, here, the family gathered.

Lily, Surina and Hailey began saying their individual goodbyes to Severus, who would not be passing through the wall with them onto Platform 9¾. When it was Hailey's turn, she stared pleadingly into her father's face. She opened her mouth to speak but immediately closed it, unable to speak.

Reading her silent behavior, Severus bent close to Hailey and took her chin in his hand. "You'll be all right," he assured her softly. "I'll see you there. Stay with your sisters and you'll be just fine."

Hailey nodded and lingered with him for another moment before rejoining Lily and Surina, who were hugging and chatting to Jeannie, promising to write their little sister as often as possible. Severus seized the opportunity to speak to Hermione, but he noted her stiffness when he attempted to pull her close. Her body went rigid and her forlorn eyes protested quietly. Tears began streaming down her cheeks, and she begged and implored him not to leave her with one silent expression. Severus had come to anticipate this reaction. It happened every year.

A tiny smirk drew across his mouth and, in one swift movement, he gathered her lightweight frame into his arms, his cloak completely enveloping her figure from view. Hermione reacted instantaneously and wrapped her arms around his frock coat that conformed to every muscle in his upper body. He could feel Hermione's fingers digging into his shoulders as she sobbed noiselessly into his chest.

"I'm going to miss you so much." Her voice broke.

"You'll be fine, Hermione," he grumbled in a tone that was subtly compassionate.

"You won't stay away long?"

It was more of a statement than a question, but there was an edge to her tone, a mixture of panic and restraint that only Severus could comprehend. He tore himself away from their embrace, to which Hermione gave a small cry of protest, and his ashen hands gathered her face in his palms.

"I'll see you next weekend." Hermione's pout remained etched on her face and as the tears continued to fall, he added, "Very soon, sweetheart."

Hermione attempted a weak acknowledgement in return, but she still was not ready to let her husband go. She clasped him again even tighter than before and held him to her for what seemed like no time at all. She heard Severus exhale deeply, his breath tickling her neck, and eventually felt gentle strokes through the back of her hair. He probably did not want to hug her in such a public place, but she did not care. She could hear their children murmuring now, or were they snickering?

Hermione was not surprised when Severus broke their hug again for the second time, now visibly uncomfortable. He was humiliated by their public display of affection, even in front of their children, which often amused Hermione and for which she teased him relentlessly. But today, she could not bring herself to laugh or badger Severus. She was just too forlorn.

Lily, Surina, Hailey and Jeannie were examining their parents, each in their own way. Jeannie stepped forward and tugged at Severus's robes as Hermione attempted to wipe away her tears and compose herself.

After some prodding, Jeannie made her father promise to write her, too. Severus cautiously bent down to Jeannie's level, struggling a bit with his balance, and the two hugged and said their goodbyes. When she was satisfied, Jeannie frolicked to her mother's side and waited, a mixture of happiness and accomplishment written on her face.

Severus glanced at each of his girls, his black eyes sweeping over them individually before settling at last on his wife, the only person who was not smiling back. She sighed and only gazed at him, her sad disposition filled with yearning. In an unusual move, Severus reached over and publicly kissed Hermione on the lips. Though his affection was swift, Hermione knew he meant every ounce of it. Severus gave a final farewell to them before shuffling away into the crowd of Muggles.

While he wanted nothing more in that moment than to stay, to see his children off to school, kiss his wife one more time, reassure Hailey that, unlike his own experience, she would have a wonderful time, Severus knew that he must get to Hogwarts. He still needed to prepare for his first Potions lectures the following morning with his First, Second and Fourth Years and then, of course, there was the annual beginning-of-term staff meeting that he could not skip out on even if he wanted to.

Severus moved as swiftly and as far away from King's Cross as his fatigued body would allow. Hermione, who had watched him vanish into the throngs of people, was still staring at the point where she lost sight of him amongst the crowd, hoping against hope that she might spot that towering, dark figure one more time, but Lily broke her concentration.

"Mum! C'mon! We're going to be late!"

Hermione's eyes fluttered and she reluctantly tore her gaze away from where Severus had disappeared. Lily, Surina and Hailey were eying her impatiently, anxiety plastered all over their youthful brows, bringing her back to her senses.

"All right, girls, let's go!"

She took Jeannie by the hand and led her behind Lily, Surina and Hailey, who, one by one, dissolved behind the brick platform and emerged on the opposite side at Platform 9¾. The Muggles were gone and the crowd now consisted of students and parents; witches and wizards; owls, toads and cats; flying parchment and quills; and all sorts of magical, wondrous assortments.

Hermione grinned broadly, remembering this familiar scene from her school days all too well. Then she spotted a dark-haired wizard with round glasses and a ginger-haired man standing close together with women on their arms and several children in the middle of their mix. The two men glanced over at Hermione, greeting her with welcoming eyes, and the ginger called out to her, "'Mione! Over here!" The wizard in the glasses waved in her direction, too, and called her over to them.

"Harry! Ron!" she exclaimed and rushed over to join them, as Lily approached one of the elder boys first in their circle named James. Surina said a quick hello to the four adults before brushing past them to join a few of her friends further down.

Hailey had been reluctantly following alongside her mother but became much more at ease when she took in the sights of Uncle Harry and Aunt Ginny Potter, as well as Uncle Ron Weasley; however, she was even more relieved to spot Albus Potter, a handsome boy with messy, dark hair who was starting Hogwarts this term as well. The two, having grown up together, immediately struck up a conversation which eased Hermione's quiet angst. She knew then that her daughter would be fine.

"How's Severus?" asked Harry, after embracing Hermione in a warm hug.

Ron looked away, uneasy with Hermione's husband as a topic of conversation, and hastily asked his sister, Ginny, a question, which did not escape Hermione's sharp eyes. He was still uncomfortable after all this time, and his response never failed to get under her skin, even now.

Ugh! Get over it, Ron, she lamented, annoyed and distracted.

"He's fine," she replied as pleasantly as she could manage, though her voice broke a little. "He just left for Hogwarts a few minutes ago."

"Tell him I said hello, would you?"

"Oh, I will! Though I daresay he won't—"

"I know," Harry laughed, giving her a wink.

"Next time I see him," Hermione continued. "Hopefully, soon..."

Hermione peered at the ground, afraid she might start crying again. She did not want to lose control of her emotions in front of the kids or her friends, not to mention the swarm of witches and wizards surrounding them. Her flash of anguish did not go unnoticed by Harry or Ginny, however, and her best friend placed one hand on her shoulder, giving it a gentle squeeze.

"You'll see him soon, I'm sure, and when you do, tell him I'm still awaiting a reply to the damn owl I sent him last week!"

Ginny leaned in and rolled her eyes dramatically. "Sorry, Hermione, Harry's been going on about your husband's 'lack-of-punctuality' for days! Even though he's a Hogwarts professor and I'm sure has countless other things on his plate at the moment!" The lovely redhead shot her husband the most disapproving glare, making Hermione chuckle.

"Oh, I'm so sorry, Harry. I'll make sure that he gets back to you."

"Please do," Harry urged, his tone turning serious. "It's rather important."

Hermione was about to ask what was so crucial, seeing as she was unaware of the contents of Harry's letter that had supposedly been sent to Severus, when Ron suddenly chimed in, apparently over whatever had made him uncomfortable a moment ago, "While you're at it, 'Mione, can you pass along to Snape that he can feel free to take as many liberties with Hugo as he'd like?"

Hermione glanced down at Ron's son, Hugo, a ginger boy who was chatting excitedly with Hailey and Albus and not paying any attention to their conversation. His comical facial expressions reminded her so much of Ron that it was almost unnerving. In fact, all three of them resembled their parents—a clear resemblance to the 'Golden Trio,' as she, Ron and Harry had been penned back then by The Daily Prophet.

"Are you sure you want me to do that, Ron?" Hermione asked, ignoring Ron's formality with her husband's name. He was still uneasy referring to their former Potions professor on a first name basis. Hermione supposed that she could forgive him for that, at least for the time being. "If you give Severus the go-ahead, you know he won't hold back."

She and Ron exchanged playful snickers. Ron's blue orbs danced wildly, making Hermione giggle, recalling the reckless, amusing boy from her school days.

"Please, 'Mione! He needs a good scare or two! He's been so out of sorts all summer! I'm about to lose my nerve with the kid!"

The short blonde woman at his side—his wife, Lavender, who had had quite the crush on him while they were at school together—slapped him reproachfully on the arm. "Oh, stop it, Ronald! Don't be so hard on him! That 'kid' is your son, after all!"

"And, regrettably, exactly like you to a fault!" Harry added, not missing a beat.

Ron waved his hand at his friend dismissively. "Oh, shove off, Harry!"

A ripple of laughter erupted from the group. Albus, Hug, and Hailey broke off their conversation and stared up at their parents, their noses scrunched and their brows furrowed curiously.

"What are you all laughing at?" Hugo beseeched, his eyes darting from his mother to his father with suspicion.

"Oh, nothing," Lavender declared, obviously amused, causing everyone to chuckle again.

Suddenly, the Hogwarts Express' horn bellowed, sending everyone into a frenzy; the train was ready to depart. Students and parents scurried every which way, rushing around for last-minute hugs and goodbyes before whisking their children off.

Hermione grasped Hailey firmly in her arms before hustling her onto the train with Albus and Hugo. She turned to see Surina running towards her with a few Slytherin friends at her heel. Surina threw her arms around Hermione's neck. Then, with a quick "Bye, Mum!" she leaped onto the train and disappeared. Hermione's eyes searched for Lily in the crowd, but she suspected that her eldest must already be on the train. She was so prompt and usually one of the first onboard—just like Hermione had always been as a student—perhaps a little too eager in her punctuality but very excited, nonetheless.

As she searched the glass windows of the train, she spotted Lily with James Potter, Harry's eldest, and a few other Gryffindors a few rows away. She could not see Surina but gathered that she must be further down in the Slytherin section with her friends. Hailey was seated one car row away from Lily with Albus and Hugo, and the First Years were chatting animatedly to one another.

It was the first time all week that Hermione had seen Hailey excited about going to wizarding school and she suddenly wished Severus was there to see their daughter now: enthusiastic and in high spirits, ready to start her first year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. But she knew Severus would see their daughter soon enough and that gave her comfort.

Hermione pressed her hand to her mouth, choking back the tears that were threatening to escape her sad eyes, and forced a smile for her children. The train started to drift away from her, and all she wanted to do was run after it. Jeannie was at her side, jumping up and down and waving eagerly to her sisters as the train whisked away into the distance.

Harry and Ron were on either side of Hermione, and she felt a familiar, comforting hand reach around and clutch her shoulder. It was Harry, and he was beaming at her.

"They'll be fine, 'Mione," he murmured softly, knowing exactly what his longtime friend was thinking. "Severus will look after them."

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