Celena wanted to dwell and dwell on that glorious night long after it was over, but it was exam time, and soon it was her duty to examine hundreds of frightened, fidgeting, nervous students, some of whom didn't even know the difference between boomslang and bezoar, who weren't familiar with a single magical property of glowing nettle. Her O.W.L classes should do pretty good, though, she estimated; and some of her N.E.W.T students even received exclamations of utter delight from the examiners, which got her hopes up for at least a few "Outstanding" N.E..
Students were already longing for vacation, and many of the teachers did too. But now Celena knew that she will not be able to spend this summer quietly, helping her parents run "Costello Concoctions" and enjoying her mother's excellent cooking, visiting Fleur and Bill at Shell Cottage and taking long walks with Fleur along the shore. A decision began forming at the pit of her stomach, at the very core of her being as she lay awake on the long warm nights. And on the last day of exams, after the students got up from their chairs and breathed a collective sigh of relief, she made her way among them as they filed out of the classroom, carrying with them their sweet, childish woes and worries, complaining or else talking excitedly. Celena shivered slightly with the thrill of finally making a move, as she approached a tall figure in billowing black robes and looked up.
"Professor Snape," she said, "we have a pending conversation, I think."
He looked at her with a mixture of resignation, defiance, and – what was it? – she couldn't be sure. Before she knew it, they were walking in silence, through the grounds that were filled with students celebrating the end of exams, past the Quidditch pitch, past the greenhouses, where emptiness stretched out all around them.
Is he ever going to say something? Or will she have to break the uncomfortable silence? She had no idea what else to say. And then suddenly, she was in his arms, his face very close to her own, and he was saying quietly, his voice hoarse:
"Walk away now, Celena, walk away, because I cannot bring myself to do it."
Celena felt her head swim, and her knees seemed to be made of marshmallow, but she found the strength to reach out for his hand.
"Think," he continued, his voice pleading, "I entreat you to think! I'm much older than you, and you know my past. I have already walked down the path of love and hatred, treachery and bitterness, hope and despair. Many years in the dark, without a trace of hope. What can I possibly offer you?"
"Your past isn't unblemished," said Celena, "but bigger and better men than I respect you for it."
"The Dark Mark will forever remain burned into my skin," he ploughed on, "and they will not let go. The Death Eaters will continue to hunt me down, especially now that the Order is on a mission. They might try to get to me through you if they know we are involved. I could put you in danger. I have no right – I couldn't possibly live with that –"
Celena drew herself closer to him and ran her fingers through his hair and across the lines on his face; she looked into his eyes, smiled slightly, and said:
"Nice try, Severus."
Fleur's words rang in her head again – "You admire 'im!" – and she did, she knew that now. He had a dark past and was not a smooth-talking charmer as the young men she had previously associated herself with, but he was loyal, and brave, and steady in his affections. Celena ran a gentle hand across the deep scars on his neck and pressed her lips to his.
"Does this mean you will…" he started, breathing heavily, when they broke off.
Severus Snape was not a man of romantic effusions, but at that moment he could do enough to speak clearly and warmly, if not very eloquently, and offer himself to her, hand and heart, and give her such a confession of feelings that was very graciously and encouragingly received. Within half an hour, everything was settled between them, their destiny decided, and, the happiest of beings, they walked across the Hogwarts grounds, hardly knowing where they were going. Even though Celena could not exactly recall what was said between them, those were minutes of exquisite felicity.
They were married a week later, in an intimate and discreet ceremony at Fleur's parents' summer cottage, which they delightedly volunteered for the occasion. Only a limited number of people knew about the wedding. Snape insisted on the secrecy.
"I cannot put you in danger," he said a day before they became a husband and wife, "for now, you are away from the center of their attention, and I intend to keep it that way. As my wife, you will be constantly threatened. Do not be mistaken – there is nothing they are incapable of. It will be this way for an indefinite period. You will not even be able to wear your ring."
Celena looked disappointed. He cupped her beautiful young face in his hands and said in an urgent voice:
"You see, this is precisely why you shouldn't marry me."
But Celena only smiled. Despite all he said, she knew he was not a man to give up because of fear.
No one from the Hogwarts staff, except Professor McGonagall and Hagrid, knew their secret. Only a handful of guests were invited: Celena's parents, Uncle Remus and his family, Fleur and Bill and Monsieur and Madame Delacour. Quite unexpectedly, Harry Potter and Ginny Weasley arrived as well. Harry shook hands with Severus, who seemed at a loss for words.
"Congratulations," he said, "I hope you have many happy years together, Professor Snape – Mrs. Snape - "
"You look lovely, Celena," said Fleur, pulling her into a tight embrace and, to Severus Snape's astonishment, standing on tiptoe to kiss him on both cheeks. "And you too, very 'andsome today, Severus."
Celena was wearing a long, flowing, simple white dress with wide pointed sleeves, tailored precisely to her small waist. The hem on her dress and sleeves was embroidered in silver. Snape decided to forgo his usual black, and was wearing dark blue robes.
"'Ave you decided where you are going to live?" Fleur asked briskly. She was always very practical.
"Uh, as a matter of fact, Fleur –"
"I understand – eet was all so sudden! I thought I wouldn't have ze time to find a dress! Anyway, I know ze perfect place for you two – a cottage in 'Ogsmeade, it looks so lovely, you must at least check it out. I'm sure you will love it."
After the ceremony ended, everyone congratulated them again, with many handshakes and hugs.
"I wish yeh much happiness, Celena," said Hagrid, squeezing her shoulders. He looked as though he had had too much champagne, "though I must tell yeh, it wasn' anythin' any of us expected –"
In the meantime, Professor McGonagall was shaking Snape's hand.
"So, Severus," she said, with an unusual twinkle upon her normally stern face, "you are full of surprises, it appears! I confess I was astonished at first – but I am certain you and Celena will be very happy, you are perfectly suited to one another when one thinks of it."
"Thank you, Minerva," Snape nodded. He was not used to being the center of attention, and was feeling distinctly hot in the face.
"I understand this might not be the right moment," continued McGonagall, "but I surmise we will be in shortage of a Potions teacher next year once again. Do you know anyone you can recommend?"
"Actually, I think you will need a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher," said Snape, a trace of a smile upon his lips, "if you let me have my old post back."
"What? Severus, am I delirious, or are you actually resigning your dream job of so many years?"
"Teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts did not quite live up to my expectations," explained Snape, "after this year, I felt how much I actually miss my dungeons, and inhaling the fumes of a Shrinking Solution or Befuddlement Draught."
"Oh well," sighed Professor McGonagall, "here we have proof, once more, that the Defense Against the Dark Arts job is jinxed. I don't remember whether someone ever lasted more than a year."
They danced a bit to the sounds of a wooden wireless, as of course, there was no band to play live music. The newlyweds opened the dancing, and Bill and Fleur followed soon after. Hagrid offered a hand to an apprehensive Professor McGonagall. Celena found herself counting the minutes until the guests would be gone.
The respite will be short – that was her last thought when they were alone at last, and his lips were once again on hers, and his hands on the fastenings of her gown. Soon, it would all begin again – messages to and from the Order and mysterious disappearances into the night, searching for information and planning and scheming, spying and hiding. But for now, it was just the two of them, and the rest of the world was gone. She inhaled the warm, sweet, scented summer air that drifted in through the windows. The world was full of uncertainty, but tonight, they were beginning a new life.
And it held a promise.
- The End –
If you liked this story, you will probably enjoy the sequel – "Celena Costello: Under a False Name", which focuses on the Celena's relationship with Severus and the beginning of their life as a married couple.
Footnote: I have been told that the love story of Celena and Severus is reminiscent of Marianne Dashwood and Colonel Brandon (Sense and Sensibility). Although I love S&S, I never thought of that while I was writing this story, but now I believe I must have been subconsciously influenced, because there really is undeniable resemblance: a young, pretty woman (Celena/Marianne) is used extremely ill by an unscrupulous young man (Timothy Whitechapple/ John Willoughby), who gets himself engaged to another without bothering to let her know, choosing affluence over affection. In the meantime, the lady is silently admired by an older bachelor with tragic history (Severus Snape/Colonel Brandon), and before long she is able to distinguish who is the worthier character of the two. The resemblance is heightened by the fact that the amazing Alan Rickman acted out both Colonel Brandon and Severus Snape in the S&S and Harry Potter movies. To be sure, Celena is a little older than Marianne, and more level-headed (which helps her get over her romantic disappointment with less pain), but still the template is alike.