Epilogue-Two Years Later
"Severus, by now you should know that honestly is the best policy," Albus sagely offered from his portrait in the headmaster's tower, earning a sharp glare from the already scowling black-haired wizard.
"I don't even understand why you'd want to be bothered with such tripe," Phineas Nigellus Black grumbled from his portrait across the room. "But then again, you've always been an odd one."
"I'd close my mouth if I were you, lest a bit of turpentine manages to slip from my hand and make way to your painting," Severus sneered. The elderly wizard's harrumphs were lost behind his beard, and he abruptly stood up and swept out of his frame in a flurry of ornate green robes.
"Dear old Phineas," Dumbledore chided warmly. "Pay him no mind. Now as I was saying, perhaps it's best if you just go on with your plan, instead of a lengthy deliberation." Severus continued scowling, arms folded across his chest as he stood in front of his desk, although he was obviously still listening. "If there's one thing that I can say about you, Severus, is that you know your mind. Why start doubting yourself now?"
"Very well!" Severus snapped. "Albus Percival Wulfric Brian meddling Dumbledore! I'll carry on, but so help me, if things go badly, you and Phineas will both meet your maker when I make good on my threat. And you know that I will not hesitate to do so."
"That's the spirit!" Dumbledore trilled happily, his blue eyes twinkling as he smiled at Severus from over the tops of his spectacles, ignoring the ominous words.
Severus met the twinkling blue orbs with a fierce glower of his own. "I mean it! I'll have a bottle of turpentine in this office faster than you can trill lemon-drop!"
"Very good, Severus. And Happy Christmas! Do send Miss Granger my regards."
With one last scowl in his predecessor's direction, Severus swept down the stairs of his office and hurried out the door, black robes trailing behind him.
Hermione had been in an extremely good mood ever since she'd crawled out of bed on Christmas morning. The day before, the last of Hogwarts' students had gone home for the holiday, and only a handful of older children remained behind. Dinner had gone by much too slowly for Hermione's liking, as she was eager to start her own private holiday with the headmaster.
After making sure that Midnight was sorted back in her bedroom at the other end of the castle, Hermione took her time walking down to Severus' rooms in the dungeon, foregoing using the Floo, reasoning that no one was around to see her.
Of course, Peeves had caught wind of the curly-haired Potions professor, and sought to bother her until the Bloody Baron gallantly offered his assistance and chased the bothersome poltergeist away. Finally making her way to Severus' chambers, the two remained in his sitting room, exchanging pleasantries and indulging in a bit of wine before Hermione grew impatient, snatched the glass from Severus' hand before placing both down on his coffee table with a thunk, and nearly attacked his lips with hers.
The two had barely spent any of what Hermione distinguished as 'quality time'; both of them completely exhausted after dinner was over with, most of the time falling directly asleep without precursor in either her room or Severus'. She had been looking forward to having him all to herself over the Christmas break, and refused to waste time with merely chatting.
Severus had been surprised by the sudden yet welcomed affections, and eagerly accepted Hermione's kisses. Her slim fingers had just began undoing the buttons on his frock coat when he gave what sounded like a low growl underneath his breath, before standing up with Hermione still in his arms and carrying her to his bedroom.
Explosive was an understatement to the long session of lovemaking that had taken place, and by the third go the two were covered in sweat and laying at opposite ends of the bed, only their legs touching and tangled in the sheets. Eventually they found their way back to one another, and in the wee hours of the morning, Hermione had been curled up against Severus' chest, his long fingers pulling through her curls and lulling her to sleep. She had been right on the brink of unconsciousness when she heard Severus tell her that he loved her, and that had enough for her to open her eyes and look up at him.
Finding his own eyes closed, Severus continued stroking her hair as if he'd said nothing out of the ordinary. Hermione half expected for him to gripe at her to not become a mushy, sentimental mess, but when he remained silent she laid her head back down, telling him that she loved him before falling asleep moments after.
The next morning she was unable to stop grinning, even when Severus' eyebrows furrowed up high on his head. Feeling as if she had a secret that no one else knew about, Hermione's good mood refused to be swayed, even when she'd finally gotten Midnight from her chambers and the cat began chewing on her favorite pair of slippers.
Later that day, Hermione and Severus exchanged presents-both of them chuckling when each of their gifts contained a set of books that neither owned, and Hermione's second present to Severus consisting of a lavish, black silk dressing gown. Severus fussed that he had no need for such a flamboyant garment, until Hermione made him take off the ratty robe that he'd worn ever since she could remember. She had been highly unsuccessful in trying to coax him to get rid of it, and secretly decided that for Christmas she would replace it with the black silk.
Severus glowered at her the all the while tying the sash around his waist, soon appreciatively running his fingers over the slippery material covering his arms. Mockingly raising her eyes to the heavens when he gave a smirk of approval, Hermione hastily snatched up the old grey robe and wadded it up into a ball.
"Instead of worrying about my robe-which by the way, was my favorite-perhaps you ought to examine your own present a little more closely?" Severus coolly suggested, settling back into his armchair and allowing Midnight to jump onto the chair and curl up in his lap.
"What are you talking about?" Hermione asked with a slight frown. Picking up the box that her book had been placed in, she came up with nothing. She threw Severus a curious glance, snorting when she found that he was soundly ignoring her, Hermione pulled the heavy book into her lap and opened it, wondering if there was some sort of clue as to what her enigmatical wizard was going on about. The first page held nothing but the index, save for the second page. Flipping through the book and coming up with nothing, Hermione was about to ask what it was she was supposed to be looking for when the weight of the pages caused the back cover to flop open, and it was there that she noticed something written in Severus' spidery handwriting.
'Love asks me no questions,
And gives me endless support...'
Deeply moved by the written words yet feeling like an idiot for the tears that suddenly appeared, Hermione reached into her robe's pocket for a tissue when her knuckles brushed against something hard. Her fingers closed around the object and she pulled out a small velvet box, opening it to reveal an antique ring with a simple gold band and a single, oval-cut diamond in its centre.
"Is this what I think it is?" she asked quietly, more for her benefit than for Severus'.
Severus was still close-mouthed, appearing to focus his attention on the cat all the while watching Hermione from his peripheral.
"Severus?" Hermione asked. "Do you-?"
"And you're purported to be bright," he drawled, although his words lacked bite. "I had hoped to have a somewhat intelligent witch for a wife, but perhaps I was overreaching a bit."
Before he was able to look back down, Hermione had flung herself off the sofa, knocking a loudly hissing Midnight off Severus' lap before taking his place.
"Does this mean you accept?" he asked in between Hermione fervently pressing kisses to his face.
"Yes, you daft man, what do you think!" she shot back, not bothering to wipe the tears that were now falling down her face.
"Well then, give me the ring and I'll properly put it on you, and for Merlin's sake, stop your blubbering!"
"I'm sorry! I can't help it!" she burbled, using her right hand to dry her face. Severus had taken hold of the ring and was now sliding it on her left unmarried finger, his dark eyes appraising her hand before smoothing his fingertips over it. It was rare that the couple was at a loss for words, but the silence was comforting.
Hermione knew that Severus hated overly showy displays and was doing her best not to gush incessantly, yet the wide smile on her face threatened to split her flushed cheeks. "Walk to the castle battlements?" she calmly suggested, slightly raising one eyebrow.
"If you like," Severus agreed, tapping Hermione's thigh in a gesture for her to let him up. Following behind him to the bedroom, they hastily abandoned their nightclothes and replaced them with warmer garments. "The the cat comes with us; he'll not tear up my sitting room again. Does beastly need to be put on a leash, or do you think he's capable of restraining himself from jumping off one of the parapets?"
Hermione had taken a shorter time to get dressed and was curled up in the armchair, happily staring at her engagement ring again when she heard Severus' jibe from the corner. She let out a snort of laughter and shook her head.
"Well, one thing's for sure," she began, walking over to Severus and allowing him to drape the cloak around her shoulders. "Your sense of romance is definitely a hidden gem, but that macabre sense of humor is priceless."
With that, Hermione stood on tiptoe to peck at the thin line of Severus' mouth, paying no heed to the smirk he was returning as she swept back out into the sitting room. Hermione was patiently waiting at the doorway to the suite when she heard Severus bellow out, and then a loud meow, shortly after the glowering wizard stalking out and slamming the door shut behind him, Midnight tucked in the crook of his arm.
"So I ask for your hand in marriage, and your familiar tries to kill me. Perhaps you should tell him that not even a wayward cat is going to get rid of the likes of me."
"Oh, stop exaggerating, Midnight did not try to kill you," Hermione chided, chuckling as she took Severus' offered arm, reaching across him to tickle Midnight under the chin with her free hand.
The two, plus cat, were on their way back down from the castle battlements when Hermione announced that she wanted to go visit Dumbledore's portrait. Severus had surprisingly told her about the conversation he had with his portrait, omitting the rude comments that came from Phineas', and Hermione giggled uncontrollably when she heard about the way Severus threatened the white-haired wizard.
The little group finally burst came through to the door of the headmaster's office, Hermione walking in first, Midnight in her arms, a wide grin on her face and her cheeks still pink from the cold. Severus' face was also a bit flushed, but his countenance was more subdued. He hadn't minded Hermione wanting to visit Dumbledore, but hoped that Phineas wouldn't open his mouth and let loose one of his rude yet always expected remarks.
However, it appeared that the two wizards had done a bit of celebrating in their frames, as Dumbledore had a half empty bottle of brandy next to his chair, his cheeks more rosy than usual, and Phineas was actually madly grinning for the first time that Severus could remember.
"Well, Sheverush," Phineas slurred, wobbling slightly and holding onto the back of his chair. "I'll confess that your bride ish a looker, even if she'sh a Gryffindor."
Severus glowered at the portrait, Hermione smirked at him, and Dumbledore laughed heartily and beckoned an unsteady Phineas back over to his frame and poured him another glass of brandy, all the while winking at the couple.
"How do you think he'd feel if I stuffed his portrait into one of my old handbags again?" Hermione muttered to Severus under her breath, making his lip curl up. "I know of just the one I'd use too, it's in the back of my closet at home."
"I believe congratulations are in order, Miss Granger?" Dumbledore warmly inquired, peering at Hermione over the tops of his spectacles.
"Yes, thank you," she smiled, walking forward to Dumbledore's portrait and holding up her hand to show him the ring. Slyly looking over her shoulder to see where Severus was in the room, she found him sitting at his desk, petting Midnight who was comfortably curled up with his head resting atop a book.
"I told Severus that everything would work out," Dumbledore continued to trill.
"Yesh, but you know Shnape, alwaysh on about shomething," Phineas added, now back in his portrait in the midst of unbuttoning his heavy green robes. "Damned robes," he muttered thickly. "It feelsh like hell in thish frame!"
Hermione was doing her best to keep a straight face. The only drunken portrait she remembered seeing her entire time at Hogwarts was the Fat Lady, and she was nowhere near as amusing as Phineas was.
"Phineas, why don't you have a sit down?" Dumbledore, who was obviously more adept at holding his liquor, kindly suggested to the teetering wizard. Phineas gave a short nod, flailing out an arm for a second before heaving himself into the high-backed chair and closing his eyes.
"Well then, so have you two thought about little ones of your own?" Dumbledore asked, turning his attention back to Severus and Hermione, causing the headmaster to wrench his hand away from the black cat and roughly shove back his chair, its legs scraping loudly against the marble floor.
"I believe you've overindulged with that brandy, Dumbledore," Severus snappishly retorted, his black eyes flashing at the portrait. "Perhaps you need a rest as well." Hastily grabbing up the cat with one hand and a wide-eyed, silent Hermione with the other, Severus unceremoniously began leading his fiancée out of the office.
Dumbledore was silently shaking with laughter at the dark look on Severus' face. He gaily called goodbye to the two, his voice abruptly cut off by the sound of the slamming office door.
"Nosy, meddling…" Severus continued to fuss, still guiding Hermione by the wrist down the empty corridor, his boots clacking loudly in the open space. Midnight and Hermione both dared not utter a peep, as if the sound would further agitate the wizard.
"Well, you know Dumbledore," Hermione lightly replied after awhile. "He's not one to bite his tongue."
"Besides, no dunderheads," she went on teasingly. "I'm sure you've had enough to last three lifetimes."
At that sentence Severus came to a stop, and looked down seriously at Hermione. "I'm not completely adverse to the idea, if that's what you're delicately hinting at."
"Marry me, decide if you want to keep me around, and then we'll discuss dunderheads of our own," Severus smirked, putting a long finger under Hermione's chin and urging her gaped open mouth shut. Midnight meowed between them as if in agreement, and Hermione's lips curved up into a grin.
"Let's go then."
"Might I ask where?"
"To your laboratory."
"Hermione, its Christmas day. That's the last place I want to visit."
"Well, I'm getting low on a certain potion, and I thought that we'd need to get a bit more practice in…"
Her words were cut short as Severus placed Midnight down at his feet, taking Hermione's hand in his and continuing on in a brisk canter, both their cloaks picking up wind and fluttering behind them, making the black cat run just so he could keep up.
A/N: I can't believe this is done. What started out as…what? No idea, turned into this. Thank you EVERYONE for the reviews, ideas, constructive criticism, alerts and favorites. My first beta, Gnrkrystle, hugs and kisses for helping me out from the start. CRMediaGal, Mrs HH, Worrywart and Old-Adventures, fellow writers and lovely ladies in general that gave some chapters a once over for me and graciously shared their thoughts and idea on how to polish up things. I feel that I should also mention TeddyRadiator and Aurette because I received sound advice from both when I was in the midst of writing this, having some of those horrible moments of self-doubt that I think we all experience at some point or another.
No idea what I'd do without you wonderful people, thank you. This is actually currently being given the go-over by a new beta, StGulik, who is the best, so I can finally get this thing on Ashwinder.
Now, I've already started two more SSHG fics. One is going to be novel-length, starting right after the summer of OoTP and will go past DH. The second…was going to be a PWP but I'm five chapters in and it's already plot thick, but hey, I'll need to write lemons to satisfy that urge while I write this other long fic.
And I'll say thank you once more, and will shut up.