A/N: Here it is, the final installment—and on a certain snarky Potions professor's birthday, no less! Seems like the perfect way to end this story. I'll save my sappy closing remarks for the end. *sniff*
Many thanks to my wonderful beta reader, Brittny.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox.
Epilogue: Five Years Later
"Daddy!" a little voice shouted somewhere nearby; Severus startled but otherwise kept his eyes shut. "Daddy! Wake up! Time to wake up!"
"Shhh, Surina," Hermione's soothing tone could be heard as well, just as a pair of small hands pressed down upon Severus's back. "Daddy's not awake yet. Let him sleep."
"But he promised!"
"He will, Surina. Now, come away and we'll make breakfast."
The little girl named Surina, however, did not adhere to her mother's instructions. She reared over Severus and patted his disheveled mound of black hair, spread out over his pillow, with one of her tiny hands.
"Daddy?" Severus let out a sleep-filled moan, though it sounded more like a growl; it was a noise Surina was accustomed to hearing, however, and got her snickering happily, as well as someone else. "Daddy doesn't want to get up yet."
Suddenly, another lightweight body hopped onto the bed on Severus's opposite side. The dark wizard didn't so much as flinch, even as whoever it was came crawling towards him in a playful manner of wanting to catch the former spy off his guard. His keen senses detected a wonderful, comforting scent, one that was entirely different from Hermione's. The natural aroma of a small child penetrated his senses, and it was no longer Surina's alone.
"Daddy," said the second little being, who reached out and gently prodded his shoulder, hidden beneath a pile of blankets. "Daddy, wake up!"
"I told you," Surina giggled, covering her mouth with her hand.
The second child tried again but was quickly told to desist by her mother. "Lily," Hermione quietly chided her eldest, "don't do that. He's tired."
"But we're going to Diagon Alley! Daddy needs to get ready!"
"Not until after breakfast. Your sister isn't up yet either."
"Can't we get them both up?" Surina whined.
"No, girls. That's enough now."
"But we want to go, Mummy!"
"We will, Lily. Once Daddy and Hailey are up, we'll get going."
"Enough, you two," Severus interrupted in a low, drawn out mumble, though his body didn't move from its comfortable, slouched position. "Merlin, I'm up, all right? I'm up."
"Daddy's up! Daddy's up!" Lily squealed, and soon Surina was joining in on the commotion.
Some hopping up and down on both sides of the bed caused Severus to groan into his pillow, though he was secretly smitten by the children's sweet laughter that echoed all around him; not that anyone would ever suspect the surly wizard to enjoy such a disruption to his sleep.
The smile that formed on his face was obscured by his curtain of long, lank hair. Rolling onto his back and forcing his eyes open, Severus was overtaken by two round faces that closed in on him, polar opposites in appearance but with a smile that connected them as sisters.
The eldest, Lily, age five, was pale like Severus, with dark brown eyes and wavy, chestnut hair that stopped at her shoulders. Wearing a bright yellow nightgown, she was every bit the essence of sweetness—the equivalent to a tranquil summer's eve. She reached out and gently touched Severus's shoulder to ensure he wasn't about to close his eyes again.
The younger of the two, Surina, was clearly her father's daughter in every sense. Raven-colored, straight hair stopped just below her chin. The four-year-old's pallid complexion matched his own, only, to everyone she came in contact with, she was a handsome little girl—striking, yet not at all unsightly as the professor had deemed himself to be in his youth.
"Hi, Daddy!" the two girls greeted him with beaming smiles, leaning in to smother Severus with hugs and affection, whilst Hermione sat back in their bed, watching them all with stifled laughter.
"Morning," came his muffled grumble of a reply, his face hidden by a mixture of bronze and black hair.
Their infectious laughter filled the room, and Severus received several delicate pecks to his cheeks—kisses that would melt the moodiest, most miserable of men, including him. Severus was hardly perturbed, however. Such assaulting greetings had become his morning ritual whenever he was home, and he wasn't about to will them to stop.
"C'mon, Daddy!" Surina urged into his ear. "Get up!"
The two sisters pulled on his arms, grinning down at Severus as he reached out to pinch their cheeks, sending them both into louder fits of laughter. "Merlin, you two are obnoxious little buggers," he snarled, though it was underlined by a gentle humor only Hermione and his children could understand. "I'm up, all right?"
Lily tried to tug on Severus's arm again, though she barely made an impact in moving her father an inch. "Diagon Alley, Daddy! You need to get ready! Up!"
"Yes, Ma'am," he replied, suppressing a yawn behind a cupped hand.
"All right, you two," Hermione chimed in, coming into view next to her husband. "Let's go get breakfast ready. How about some blueberry pancakes?"
"Yes! Yes!" they both squealed in unison at the top of their lungs; Severus winced at their high pitches, particularly from ones so small, that seemed to reverberate off the walls and shake the bed. "Mmm, yummy! Yes, Mummy! Yes!"
There was some minor shuffling along the edge of the bed, and then two pairs of dainty feet hit the floor running at full speed. Their voices echoed down the hallway to the kitchen, leaving Severus and Hermione momentarily alone and in a rare moment of quietude.
Severus sighed heavily and buried his face into his pillow once more. "Those two couldn't be any bloody louder if they were a herd of elephants."
"Hey, watch it, you." A sportive smack to his buttocks informed Severus he wouldn't be going back to sleep any time soon; he smirked into his pillow, though his eyes had fallen shut. "You wanted them, you got them!"
"Mmm, indeed. Thank you for reminding me."
"They wanted to get you up an hour ago," Hermione tittered softly, looming over him with her warm weight pressed against his back. Her fingers brushed gently through his hair, weaving strands away from his lax face. "You're lucky I got them to wait this long."
"In that case, I should thank you a second time..."
"Well, considering how much you were tossing and turning last night, I figured you needed an extra hour or two."
Severus let out another deep sigh, sensing a familiar pair of arms wrap around his torso, one leg intertwined through his. "Did I keep you awake last night?" he muttered, which earned him a kiss to the cheek and more snuggling against his neck.
"Only a little," came her soft reply in his ear.
"There's no need, love." Severus stifled another yawn and felt the covers being drawn up to his face. "Go back to sleep," Hermione encouraged in a hushed, supportive tone.
"They'll be back in here in less than two minutes, you know..."
Hermione giggled agreeably and began rubbing his back in a circular motion, aware that his weight was sinking further into hers, his entire body aching for sleep. "I'll try and keep them out of here for another half hour or so, how's that?"
"Mmm. I wish you luck," Severus sleepily replied, nearly sound asleep again.
There was only a minute or two of undisturbed silence, broken only by the occasional giggle from the girls down the hallway. Then, unexpectedly, a squeak of a voice they recognized suddenly called out into the room, "Mummy? Daddy?" and Hermione shot up from her spot next to Severus, her jerky movement, as well as the miniature voice, disrupting Severus from his doze.
"Told you," the wizard issued through another heavy yawn; Hermione found herself laughing, her hand returning to massaging his back.
"Good morning, Hailey. I didn't hear you come down the stairs. Getting out of bed on our own, are we?"
There was some faint pitter-pattering along the wooden floorboards, and Hermione shifted away from Severus to hoist their littlest onto the bed. The third Snape instantly scooted in between her parents, curling up at Severus's back. He could sense her dainty fingers lightly touching his back and shoulder, and then her enchanting greeting followed.
Slowly, Severus rolled over facing her, his normally harsh mouth slightly turned upwards. "Hi, munchkin..."
Severus pried his eyes half way open and found a mound of bushy hair nearly engulfing his face, as well as a pair of petite arms drawn across his chest to issue a proper hug. Her head was resting comfortably against his shoulder, her one hand clutching a favorite, ragged-looking teddy bear.
"You sleep well, little one?" he asked her quietly, to which she nodded against his skin.
"We go to Day-gone Alley?"
"Yes, sweetie," Hermione scrunched her fingers through her daughter's curls that were a replica of her own, "once we've all had breakfast." The sudden loud clamor of pots and pans echoing from the kitchen shot Hermione up from the bed a second time. "I better go see what that ruckus is all about."
"I think they're making breakfast," Severus tried to laugh but was overtaken by another yawn. Warm lips abruptly pressed themselves to his before moving away just as quickly, the clanking sounds from down the hall intensify.
"I fear you're right."
Hermione threw on her slippers, matching robe, and bolted out of the room, leaving Severus alone with Hailey, who was still curled up against him for warmth, her fragrant, childlike scent filling his lungs as he folded his arms around her and rested his eyes again with his head leaning against hers. Her unkempt curls tickled his chin but for some time she didn't move. He was on the verge of sleep again when Hailey spoke up.
"You all right?"
Severus's eyelids flickered open, surprised by the unexpected question. "Of course I am, sweetheart. Why?"
"I had bad dream."
"Oh?" Severus pressed the tot to his chest, feeling her little fingers latch onto his bare skin. "Another nightmare?"
Severus forced a passive-sounding voice. "About me?"
"And what happened in your dream?"
"You were sick. You wouldn't wake up."
"Wake up?" Severus stiffened, and not just at the unsettling image of what the little girl had dreamt, but also at the misery he discovered in her sweet-tempered voice.
"I tried waking you, but you not wake, Daddy. You kept sleeping. You not answer me."
Hailey snuggled in closer, burying her round face in the crook of his neck, her teddy bear brushing against his jaw as she latched onto him, afraid to let go. Severus's lips swept over her forehead and he embraced the toddler as much as he could—a small being who, to his astonishment, held nothing but love for him and didn't shrink from his touch, unlike most.
"Well, it was just a nightmare, Hailey. It's all right now."
"You wake for me, Daddy?" her slight voice whispered into his ear. "If I need you?"
Severus swallowed hard at the actual magnitude of what the child was asking, completely unaware as to what exactly she was requesting of him. "I will always wake for you, little one..."
Squeezing and pecking her brow a second time, Severus eased himself up from the bed, wincing at the stiffness and small aches in his limbs, to hoist Hailey carefully onto her feet on the floor. "No more of this," he insisted in a considerate tone. "Go help your sisters make breakfast, all right?"
Severus patted her behind and the little Hermione look-alike scurried out of the room, clutching her teddy bear with her unruly curls swaying back and forth down the hallway before disappearing out of sight. Severus, however, didn't move but remained seated in bed, his eyes heavy and puffy from too little sleep the night before.
'You were sick. You wouldn't wake up,' his mind kept repeating his youngest's unnerving remarks.
Severus shook his head, willing himself to awaken. Feeling tired and run down was a part of his daily life, but nothing to worry or lose composure over. Throwing back the covers, Severus swung his legs over the side of the bed, where he paused to catch his bearings. A handful of phials were propped on his nightstand, and Severus took each tonic, pausing afterwards to listen to the faint chatter and laughter trickling down the hallway and into the bedroom.
If nostalgia had taught the sharp wizard anything, it was that life had a way of throwing him a curve ball. Many, in fact. At one time, life for Severus Snape had been fairly predictable: he would maneuver the dangerous path of a double agent, trekking cautiously between two very different, but equally perilous, worlds, and, more than likely, not outlive the outcome of all his painstaking efforts to see the Boy Who Lived vanquish the Dark Lord.
By all accounts, Severus shouldn't be alive, and, even now, he was consciously aware of the rare luck he had snatched up in recent years. He wasn't supposed to see the aftermath of the Second War, he wasn't supposed to live to see the wizarding world renewed, he wasn't supposed to make love to Hermione in the dead of winter all those years ago or ask her to be his wife or have three beautiful, healthy children...
Severus Snape wasn't supposed to possess any of this, and yet, miraculously—somehow—he had survived. He had withstood Nagini's bites, outsmarted the venom that, to this very day, still threatened his longevity and for which no cure had been found, and had been fortunate enough to see his wife give birth three times over, not to mention watch his children grow. He continued to fall more deeply in love with Hermione, to argue and make up with her, to give and receive, to wake up next to his wife most mornings—at least in the summer months and on the weekends during the school year—and, one of his favorite activities, have her fall asleep in the safety of his arms.
Severus couldn't help but ponder, as he so often did on mornings such as these, how lucky a wizard he was. I'm still here, his conscience reminded him.
That didn't mean there weren't moments of doubt to be found. He still had episodes of poor health, a few of which had landed him in St. Mungo's, but he had miraculously survived those, too.
Yes, I'm still here...
"Daddy?" Severus glanced over at the open doorway, where little Hailey stood in her baby blue nightgown, her teddy bear still clutched in one hand. "Mummy says breakfast almost ready."
"Is it?" Severus smirked, to which Hailey nodded emphatically and her static curls, larger than her head, expanded.
Severus eased himself carefully out of bed and wrapped a black robe around himself. Hailey sprinted over and outstretched her arms, asking silently for her father to pick her up. It was a simple act that sometimes caught the misunderstood wizard off his guard, even now. How any child wouldn't cringe or shy away at the very sight of him was beyond Severus's comprehension, but as long as his children didn't do so, and he prayed they never would, he would willingly oblige them however they saw fit—within reason.
Gingerly, and being careful not to set himself off balance, Severus brought Hailey into his arms, grimacing from the jolts of pain that shot up his legs and chest; but he forced his mouth shut, not wanting to alarm his daughter or let her suspect anything being awry. She didn't appear to have noticed. Her teddy bear was situated close to Severus's chest, her opposite arm looped around his neck.
"Daddy?" she asked casually as Severus strolled down the hallway, cradling her in his arms; the tot always felt safe when her father bundled her close. "Can I watch you brew your e-lisers?"
"Of course you can, sweetheart. Later."
"I can help?"
"I wants to be a Potions Master!"
Severus shot her a satisfied smile. "You mean a Potions Mistress, my dear."
Hailey curled her nose, confused. "What's that?"
"It's what a lady Potions-maker calls herself."
"Oh... Potions Mist-ess," she tried to formulate the word on her tongue. "I be smart, just like you!"
"I daresay you'll be smarter than me, Hailey."
"Will I, Daddy?"
"I think you will."
"Will you teach me?"
"Of course, little one."
"You - You promise?"
Severus eyed his daughter over curiously once they reached the kitchen, where Lily and Surina were hovering over Hermione at the stove, standing on chairs to watch their mother cook and perform multiple tasks at once with her wand. Hailey was wearing a pout that Severus didn't quite understand; or didn't want to. The sudden urgency in her voice was also perplexing.
"I promise, Hailey."
Severus nudged her nose, which drew out her lovable smile once more. "You believe me, don't you?"
Hailey brought her face to his and tried to give him a proper hug, though her arms couldn't quite reach around his neck. "Yes, Daddy!" she affirmed by planting a soft kiss on his cheek. "Yes! I believes you!"
Later that morning, the Snapes made their way down the cramped, crowded, cobblestone streets of Diagon Alley, Hailey in Severus's arms, his and Hermione's free hands clutching Surina, who was wedged in between them and trying to hop over certain stones, with Lily on Hermione's opposite side. Though the family still received the occasional stop and stare routine from passersby, for the most part, they were left undisturbed to mosey about the various shops, enjoying the morning at their own pace and leisure.
Hermione was grateful the girls weren't of the age yet to start questioning the occasional critical looks that came their way—their inquiries wouldn't come for another several years—and was relieved that no one saw fit to say something outright. At least, not with the children in clear view. She and Severus had been ruthlessly subjected to the lesser hospitalities of the wizarding world in the years that followed, but, thus far, never in the presence of their children.
As they left a tea shop, where the girls picked out individual selections of sweet teas and cakes, Hermione suggested they venture next to the park, a frequented Muggle spot not far from home, which held plenty of privacy so that they wouldn't be disturbed. The girls echoed their excitement at their mother's idea. After Flooing back to the house first to drop off their purchases, the family then headed back out into the overcast autumn day, bundled in their warmest clothes and with the girls' brooms cut to size in tow.
Severus and Hermione strolled a ways behind their children, who frolicked on ahead, running down a wooded pathway that led to the park. Hailey lagged behind her sisters, fighting all the while to keep up, but they were all cackling and hollering merrily as they scampered through the leaves, kicking them up into the air.
"I can't believe tomorrow's Sunday," Hermione found herself frowning, catching Severus's glance out of the corner of his eye.
"I'll stay as long as I can."
"You'd better." Hermione shot him a warmhearted smile, taking one of his ungloved hands in hers, which was naturally cold to the touch. She quickly brought it to her lips. "You're freezing," she whispered, blowing lightly on his exposed knuckles.
Hermione fussed and stepped in front of him, removing her red, woolen scarf, which she flung around Severus's neck, unaware at first of the thoughtful look he was giving her. After bundling the scarf to her liking, Hermione's eyes peered up into his, met by a slight toss of his head when their gazes met.
"You're ridiculous," he scuffed, drawing attention to the scarf around his neck. "And I consider this a grave violation."
"What? Gryffindor colors?"
"Yes," he snarled, curling his upper lip to illustrate his point.
Hermione swatted his chest and stifled her laughter as best she could. "Actually, I think you wear red rather well, love; makes you very debonair-looking."
"Don't be a ninny." He easily pulled her into him, allowing their noses to touch with Hermione continuing to giggle in his arms. "There is something wrong with you, as I've often said."
"But now you'll be cold."
Hermione merely brought her arms around his back and pressed herself to his chest, feeling the warmth of his arms draw more securely around her, too. Hermione shut her eyes and allowed herself to be swaddled in her husband's safe embrace, the edge of her lips curling into a smile.
"I'm fine," she whispered, and snuggled into him. "A childless moment. We need to hang onto these."
Hermione rubbed her cheek against a few round clasps on his coat. "What was Hailey asking you?"
"This morning, when you came into the kitchen... She looked upset."
Severus wanted to go stiff but, instead, tightened his hold around her instead, bringing his mouth to her forehead. "Nothing," he tried to reassure but suspected it wouldn't get him anywhere.
"Another bad dream."
"Oh..." Hermione knew of those, and her own grip on her wizard intensified. "I wish she'd stop having those. Poor thing."
There was a short pause, followed by Hermione piping up, "Do you ever regret..."
Hermione blushed a little, and not due to the chilly autumn breeze. "Regret that we didn't try...for a fourth?"
"Still thinking of that fourth one in the mirror?"
There was no agitation in the dark wizard's reply, only mere curiosity. "Yes," Hermione confessed quietly. "I think of her an awful lot..."
"As do I."
Hermione reacted by tugging lightly on his back. "Why do you suppose she was standing much further back from the others?"
"I don't know." Severus grazed her brow several times with his lips, feeling her gently lean into his caresses. It was a discussion they had had often, usually out of solace. "Perhaps it illustrates uncertainty. Uncertainty as to whether or not it would have been the right thing to do..."
Hermione understood that remark all too well. After sustaining a difficult pregnancy with Hailey, and also in light of Severus's own looming health problems, they had decided against having any more children. Severus had been adamant even before they left the hospital with newborn Hailey that a fourth was "out of the question."
"I nearly lost you!" he had snapped at her when she tried to play off the dangers at the time. "That's it, Hermione! No more!"
Later, Hermione had continued bringing the little tot up, but sporadically, just to see if Severus's firm sentiments had waned. Did he still consider that fourth child in the mirror? Would he always remain entirely opposed?
"Yes and yes," had been his answer. The matter was resolved and Hermione, though with reluctance, had the probability of a fourth pregnancy wiped from her body indefinitely. She never told Severus how she strolled away from that gut-wrenching experience in tears, even before the act was performed...
But her Sytherin was cunning, and, she suspected, probably already knew. And felt guilty as hell. That fourth little girl—with the bouncy, black curls and an adorable, breathtaking smile—would never come to fruition. Even if their fourth child had been a son and not a daughter, the reality was so: there would be no fourth child in the Snapes' future.
And yet, Hermione felt nearly complete. She had three wonderful little girls, after all—all healthy and happy and unique—as well as a loving husband, a brilliant wizard so few understood for his true nature but herself. A man who was, beneath that cold exterior, probably the most loving and thoughtful individual she had ever encountered.
Yes, Hermione convinced herself, and not with all that much difficulty; not now. I am complete...
After a moment of listening to their children cackling in the distance, the autumn breeze whipping against their skin, and the crunching of fallen leaves cascading all about them, Hermione gazed up at Severus, and he down at her, rich caramel meeting charcoal-colored irises. Hermione extended her neck, wanting nothing more than to kiss away the lingering reservations formulating in her head, and easily found herself swept up in their embrace, thoroughly urged on by Severus's earnest response. Severus's thin lips kissed her back, his mouth opening itself to her, wanting nothing more than to devour her whole.
And she loved it.
Caught up in their rare moment of nothing but each other's company, their lips free to work one another's into a stupor, the couple hardly heard their children's repeated calls, until one of them suddenly tugged on both of their coats. Their mouths abruptly parted, their eyesight met by the littlest Snape member, who was staring up at them curiously. Her shaggy hair spread out at her shoulders, whipping and unfurling against the wind.
"Come!" she ordered, smiling up at them both, her voice eager-sounding as she held her broom in hand. She slipped her opposite hand through Severus's and pulled him forward, urging Hermione, too, to follow.
"I believe that's your cue," Hermione laughed, allowing Severus to be lured on ahead of her, watching as the black-haired wizard and the petite child with the oversized coat and hair strolled forward hand in hand, Severus crouching to keep up with her eager steps. Lily and Surina were hovering on their brooms just beyond, watching as the rest of their family approached the abandoned playground they so often frequented together.
Hermione found her stroll slowing as she approached the rest of her family. She held back, watching them all meditatively for a time—Lily and Surina laughing gaily as they tried to out-hover each other on their brooms, Severus grasping Hailey's broom as she took off, making sure it stayed low and in his control, though he was appeasing the little one's demands to fly "higher" and "higher" like her sisters.
Years ago, Hermione would never have fathomed where her life would end up. She didn't see the surly professor when she looked at Severus now—not the nasty, mean-spirited 'Bat of the Dungeons,' who had, at one time, seemed to loathe everyone, including her. That man wasn't recognizable anymore; not after what Hermione had discovered lurking beneath the surface, behind the mask of indifference and aggression.
Looking back on her life to this very moment, however, Hermione couldn't imagine it playing out any other way. What if you had never pushed to get to know Severus? Hermione often pondered as the years passed, just as she was now on this pleasant autumn's day. What if you had never bothered to scratch beneath the surface to discover the real Severus Snape? Hermione already knew the answer, and it made her smile lovingly. You would have discovered him anyway, one way or another. It wasn't just mere anger that earned you a detention that day you confronted him, Hermione.
No... You wanted to get to know Severus for much longer than that...
"Mummy!" Lily's high-pitched squeal interrupted her thoughts. "Mummy! Daddy's making Hailey go higher than us! Help us!"
"Oh, is he?"
"Rubbish," he snarled, reaching out to give Lily and Surina more aggressive boosts with a wave of his hand, to which they screeched with delight. "Inch forward and bend your legs properly."
"We are, Daddy!" both girls giggled.
"Then you'll just have to try harder."
"That's right," Hermione stalked over to join Severus at his side, watching her daughters all hovering individually, though not out of hers or Severus's reach. "You have to work to get what you want."
"Higher, Daddy!" Hailey squeaked, and Lily and Surina demanded the same of Hermione.
"Higher, Mummy! Please! Higher!"
Severus eased an arm around her shoulder and she around his torso. "So much for your pep talk," he snuffed in her ear. Hermione smiled and met his face for another private, tenderly-rendered kiss.
Yes, Hermione repeated to herself, unaware of Severus echoing the same sentiment as well, I am very much complete...
A/N #2: The End or The Beginning, depending on how you look at it.
Thank you so much to all of you who reviewed, favorite'd, and/or put this story and/or me on your Alerts! Your interest and feedback carried me through this process more than you'll ever know, and I'm eternally grateful to all of you who took the time to invest in such a lengthy WIP, as well as to any who may stumble across the Prequel in the future. I hope this story moved you in some way, that it made you think, and/or that you enjoyed the ride as much as I enjoyed sharing it.
The Unquestionable Love saga will continue, though I'm unsure when or in what format it will happen; but future stories about the Snapes will pop up from time to time, so feel free to check my Profile for updates (or—pssst!—put me on your Author Alert if you haven't!) I look forward to sharing more UL stories with you, and it's all because of your interest and support, so thank you again!
Until next time!