Disclosure: JK Rowling created and rightfully owns Harry Potter. I simply aim to give you a few happy minutes at bedtime, when we finally get a quiet moment to ourselves, as we imagine our favorite book characters living on past Deathly Hallows.

"I am tired, Beloved,

of chafing my heart against

the want of you;

of squeezing it into little inkdrops,

And posting it.

-Amy Lowell, "The Letter"

July 1999, part 2

Severus had a good feeling when he landed in the Granger's sitting room. This time, everyone was there: Hermione, her mother and her father.

"Severus!" Hermione exclaimed, and then hugged him. He hugged Hermione and then she tucked her hand into his elbow so that he could have a hand free.

He shook her father's hand. "Hello, Ethan. It's good to see you again."

"Welcome back, Severus," Ethan said warmly.

"Hello, Severus," Jean offered from Ethan's side.

"Hello, Jean. I come bearing gifts," he said, looking back at Hermione.

Hermione smiled at him. "You didn't have to do that! Is it chocolate?" she asked excitedly.

Severus smirked. He pulled three packages out of his pocket and wandlessly enlarged them.

"Jean, this one's for you. This is a digest, so to speak."

Jean furrowed her brow as she unwrapped a leather bound journal. "Of what?" she asked, untying the ribbons that held it closed.

"Of Hermione," he answered.

Jean's eyes snapped up towards Severus', and he could also feel Hermione's eyes upon him.

"I know that you can't get the Daily Prophet in Australia. I thought you might enjoy reading about Hermione and her importance in our world. You should be very proud. I was able to find copies of most of the articles from the end of the war forward. There was even an article yesterday that mentions her. I've included it."

"Thank you," she answered, a bit awestruck at the magnitude of his gift.

Hermione had a similar look of awe. Severus chuckled. "I made sure to include the gossip columns, too," he teased.

Hermione's eyes got wide. "You didn't!"

"I did." He then turned to Jean. "I really don't think she's dating all of those men, by the way."

Everyone chuckled as Hermione huffed and blushed.

"Will this get me forgiven?" Severus asked, holding Hermione's package out to her.

Hermione laughed as she unwrapped it and kissed him to thank him for the chocolate.

"That better not be chocolate," Ethan deadpanned as he accepted a box from Severus.

"That," Severus raised his eyebrow as he gestured to the package, "is a much better bribe than chocolate."

Ethan chuckled as he opened the bottle of brandy. "Infinitely better than chocolate. If you ladies will excuse us, Severus and I have some brandy to sample." And with that, he gestured for Severus to follow and headed for the study.

"Ethan! Severus just got here!" Jean said incredulously.

Ethan looked back at her and chuckled. "Yes, and we men will be in the study. It's the middle of the night where Severus just came from, and the man needs a nightcap."

Hermione laughed and Jean huffed as Severus smiled at Hermione and followed Ethan into the study.

"This is an excellent brandy," Ethan mused as he examined the label. He took down glasses as Severus sat down. He poured the brandy into the glasses and gave one to Severus as he took his seat. They both took a sip and Ethan nodded in appreciation. "That's damn fine brandy. God, I always hoped I'd get a sophisticated son-in-law one day! Well done, Hermione."

Severus chuckled.

"Did you and Hermione enjoy your Thursdays?" Ethan asked nonchalantly.

"I have no idea to what you're referring, Ethan."

Ethan smirked and looked at Severus. He examined him for a moment and then nodded.

They sat in companionable silence and enjoyed the brandy in front of the fireplace. Severus wondered what Hermione would think of her father and him sitting without talking. It felt perfectly normal to Severus, but he was sure Hermione would be going stir crazy.

A short while later, there was a knock at the door. "Well, it was too good to last. I think we both knew that," Ethan joked.

"Let the poor man out, Ethan! I'm sure he'd like to see Hermione!" Jean called through the door.

Ethan got up and gestured that they should leave the study. "By the way, I did my best to soften Jean up for you, but you've still got a ways to go."

Severus nodded.

"Hermione says you play chess. We'll play chess next time," Ethan said as they entered the sitting room.

"I'd like that," Severus said sincerely.

Hermione walked over to Severus and put her arm in the crook of his elbow. "Come with me, Severus. We'll make tea." She led him to the kitchen and Severus sat at the table. It immediately brought back memories of their Thursdays together and Severus smiled fondly at Hermione. She smiled back at him knowingly. "I'm so glad you're here," she said quietly. She then turned her back to him and began to make tea. She set the kettle to boil and then sat down with Severus.

"I missed you," Severus sighed, drinking in the sight of Hermione.

She grinned. "I'm glad I got you a day early this week."

"You know, Hermione," he whispered silkily, "we've never tried Wednesday sex…"

Hermione blushed and rolled her eyes. "You are incorrigible!"

Severus laughed at her reaction. She then got back up to tend to the tea. He followed her to the counter and put his arms around her waist as he stood behind her. He kissed her neck softly. "Where is home, Hermione?"

Hermione was silent for a moment. "With you," she whispered.

Severus closed his eyes and tightened his grip on Hermione. He had longed for this moment. Longed for her to see him the way he saw her, as an anchor. Home was where Hermione was. In an uncharacteristic moment of spontaneity, he concentrated on this very moment, drew his wand and said, "Expecto Patronum!"

Hermione gasped in surprise, and Severus let go of her waist so that she could turn around. Her eyes followed the falcon as it circled the kitchen once and landed on Hermione's shoulder. He watched Hermione's face. Surprise turned to something fiery in her eyes. But he knew it wasn't anger. It was pride. She knew she had done that. She had changed him. In a rare moment, she was truly without words. They stood there for a very long moment, simply looking at each other.

"It's you. So powerful…" she was solemn as she spoke to him.

Severus nodded and grinned at her.

She grinned in return. "How long?"


Her brows furrowed. "October?"

Just then, her mother entered the kitchen and looked at the falcon patronus, still sitting on Hermione's shoulder. "Hermione…" she said, in a voice full of warning.

Hermione swallowed hard before removing her wand and vanishing Severus' patronus.

"What's going on?" Severus asked Hermione, confused.

"It's all right, Severus," Hermione answered.

"We do not want magic done in our home," Jean answered for Hermione.

Severus looked at Hermione, barely containing the anger that was beginning to build in his chest. "I don't understand." His tone was icy, but he was proud of not yelling at Jean, which he was very close to doing.

Ethan came in to the kitchen at that moment and quickly took stock of the three angry people in the room.

"Jean?" Ethan asked calmly.

"I do not want Hermione doing magic in our home, Ethan."

"It's all right," Hermione began, but Severus interrupted her.

"It's not all right. Hermione is magical. I am magical," Severus said. He closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose, willing himself not to yell, for Hermione's sake.

"Let's sit down," Ethan said, his voice laced with both sadness and authority.

Everyone sat at the kitchen table. Ethan was about to speak, when Severus forestalled him.

"I need to say my piece," Severus began calmly. "I, or Hermione and I, rather, fought a war. That war was so that wizards and witches such as us could have a place in our world. More so Hermione than myself, really. When it was over, peace was still not enough to make up for the price I had to pay. It was not until I began to know and love Hermione that it was finally worth it. The pain, the torture, the scars, the friends that died, the years of my life that I lost; everything was worth it. Because I knew that because we won, Hermione could simply be Hermione. But still, she can't just be Hermione. At University, she is still treated as a lower class citizen, and it upsets me. But here? This is home! This is your daughter! This is Hermione!" He made a move as to stand from the table when Hermione put a hand on his leg. He acquiesced and stayed seated.

"We love our daughter," began Jean.

Severus interrupted. "This is not love."

"How dare…"

"Hating what she is, is not love. I lived this and it is not love," Severus interjected heatedly.

Hermione sighed and put her face in her hands. "Your father."

"Yes," Severus answered coldly. "My father. And I will not watch this happen again to someone I love. Not to you, and not to our children." His last words were directed straight to Ethan and Jean as a warning.

"It's been very hard for us since Hermione used magic against us," Ethan explained calmly.

"Against you?" asked Severus incredulously. He then turned to Hermione. "You didn't tell them, did you?"

Hermione shook her head and shrugged her shoulders. "It doesn't matter, Severus. I did it, and I would do it again under the same circumstances."

"Told us what, exactly?" Ethan asked Severus.

"You would have been killed. Death Eaters were sent to your house in England to kill you shortly before the beginning of term. I was there when they reported to Voldemort that your house had been abandoned. And if I'm not mistaken, Hermione probably knew without a doubt that was going to happen. She probably ran all of the arithmantic possibilities. She would have never used magic against you. She broke our wizarding laws about magic to save you." He continued. "I'm sorry that our war caused you pain. You, too, are victims. But you are not victims of Hermione."

Silent tears were now running down both Hermione's and Jean's faces.

"I apologize. I should not have interfered," Severus said quietly.

"Severus, I'd like to talk to you some more, if you don't mind," Ethan said, rising from the table. He gestured to the door that led to the back patio. Severus nodded and they left the kitchen. Ethan closed the door quietly behind him.

"Are you still angry?" Ethan asked calmly.


Ethan looked at Severus and sighed. "It needed to be said. You did well." He paused and added sadly, "You will make mistakes with your children, too, Severus."

"Damn it…" Severus growled loudly. His non sequitur caused Ethan to look at him with confusion. "I've done it again," Severus explained. "I haven't even talked to Hermione about children, and here I've threatened you about the way you will treat them. She'll have my guts for garters."

Ethan chuckled. "Well, we're all in the doghouse tonight, son."

Severus pinched the bridge of his nose once more, annoyed at himself, but his heart swelled at being called son. No one had called him son since Albus had died. He lifted a silent prayer to any deity listening that Hermione and her mother were fixing this problem. "I'm tired of seeing families torn apart."

Ethan nodded. They both sat down on a garden bench by the door. They sat in silence, waiting for the inevitable opening of the door.

It finally opened and it was Hermione that stepped outside. Ethan gave Severus' shoulder a squeeze after he stood. He gave Hermione a hug and then stepped into the kitchen. He closed the door behind him, giving Severus and Hermione privacy.

"Come on," Hermione said, offering her hand to pull him up. Her eyes were red, but she smiled at him gently.

Severus closed his eyes for a moment, wondering if anything would ever be the same. He opened his eyes and gave her his hand. She pulled him up and quietly put her arm around his waist. She squeezed his waist before twisting them into darkness and apparating them away.

Severus smirked as he saw Cremorne Reserve, and the flat expanse of rock that they always sat upon when they visited. He smiled despite himself when he saw Hermione transfigure a stone into a couch. It was his couch from Hogwarts. She sat down and pulled him down to sit by her. He then placed his arm around her.

They stayed silent for a few minutes, watching the lights from the boats out at night. Severus cast a warming charm around them.

"Are we normal yet?" Severus deadpanned.

Hermione chuckled darkly. "Not even close, Severus."

"I'm sorry, Hermione. I made of mess of everything."

"No, you didn't," Hermione replied levelly. "That fight was a long time coming." After a pause, she continued. "Everything you said was true. It's not fixed yet, but we'll get there. As you can tell, it's really only my mother that's still hurting."

"I can't believe I just threatened your parents. I never wanted to tell you or anyone about my father's hatred of magic. It just came out. That sounds like a ridiculous excuse, but all of a sudden, I was in the kitchen at Spinner's End again, hearing my father in a rage because I had done magic. I'm actually surprised that I didn't do magic unconsciously. That would have helped your parents resolve their issues," he said sarcastically.

Hermione chuckled. "So, Severus, I was wondering if you would want to have children one day. I think I asked you that in my last letter," she said dryly.

"Merlin, Hermione," Severus growled, leaning his head back onto the couch. "I tell you I love you while we fight in my lab. I tell your father how much I adore you, but don't tell you. I threaten your mother that she won't get to see our children but forget to ask if you even want children. I'm honestly shocked you haven't just hexed me and gotten it over with."

"I thought about it, but your just so damn good in bed."

"Hermione, I'm being serious!"

"I know you are, Severus. I'm not mad at you, though. You have not been in a family for years and years, and all of a sudden, you are thrown into the deep end with my family. And, I think, you're trying to make the two of us into a family…"

Severus couldn't respond to her. A family. There was no way to verbalize how much he wanted exactly that. There was no way to verbalize how fearful he was of exactly that. He knew she would not be content with his silence, but he allowed himself a moment to swim in the thought of having a family. Of having Hermione and kids and in-laws… He wanted to swim in that vision until his fingers pruned.


He nodded to acknowledge her.

"This is all going very fast, Severus," Hermione said weakly.

Severus took a deep breath and looked at Hermione. "You will be glad to know that I actually have no plan, Hermione. To me, that is painfully obvious, but from your view, I can see how you might think I have already decided your future."

"No plan?" Hermione repeated.

"No. No plan. I look at you and I see a blurry picture of a future that could be amazing. But no road map. No timetable. I didn't know I wanted children until I was 39. Why would I expect you to know the answer to that before age 20?"

They sat together in silence, both left to their own thoughts of a future together.

Finally, Hermione broke the silence. "I like your blurry picture. I have the same blurry picture with you in it, and I like it very much." She turned so that she could look at him and smiled. "And my blurry picture does have children in it. Freakishly smart Gryffindor children that blow up Potions Labs," she teased.

"Oh Merlin. Is at least one of them a son? I'm not sure I can handle too many more headstrong women."

Hermione laughed. "It's still a little too blurry to tell right now, but we'll see what we can do."

"I love you, Hermione," he said solemnly, studying her face.

"I love you, too. Now… you must be exhausted, and I am starving. And," she added seriously, "tomorrow is Thursday." She waggled her eyebrows, causing Severus to laugh out loud.

"Yes, I am very tired and very hungry." He shook his head, remembering his conversation with Harry and Ron.

Hermione caught his faraway look. "What are you thinking about?"

"I asked Harry and Ron what your parents were like. I told them that I was apprehensive, but it wouldn't be as bad as Voldemort."

Hermione chuckled. "I take it you were wrong!"

"I might have been wrong!"

"Come on, I need to take my ex-Death Eater turned Spy turned argumentative boyfriend back to my parents' house for dinner." She laughed at Severus' mock look of annoyance at his new title. Severus helped Hermione off of the couch and she transfigured it back into a stone.

They made it through a quiet dinner together with Hermione's parents without any further arguments. After dinner, Severus was shown the guest bedroom. He contemplated sneaking in to Hermione's bedroom that night, but was far too tired. He had been awake for almost twenty-four straight hours and was dead to the world when his head hit the pillow.

He awoke when he felt a dip in his mattress. He opened his eyes to find Hermione sitting on the bed next to him, smiling.

"Good morning!"

He propped himself up on one elbow and smiled at her softly. "Well, you didn't change your mind and hex me in my sleep, so I guess it is a good morning," he said dryly.

"I would have let you sleep longer, but today is the only day I get you to myself for a while, so wake up!" she teased.

"All right. Let me get ready." As Severus unwrapped himself from the covers, he heard Hermione giggle. He raised an eyebrow at her in question.

"You're naked!"

"You've slept with me before, Hermione. I was naked then, too, or don't you remember?"

"I thought that was just because I was there. I wear pyjamas."

"Not on Thursdays," he teased.

She threw a pillow at him. "Go get ready!" And she left his room laughing.

After he was showered and dressed for the day they made breakfast together and ate.

"What's our plan for the day?" Severus asked, cleaning the dishes. "Your parents are volunteering and you're supposed to show me around Sydney, correct?"

"Yes, but you've already seen my favorite part of Sydney and my parents are taking us to the Opera tomorrow. I think that's enough sightseeing."

He raised an eyebrow in question, knowing Hermione well enough to know that she had a plan.

"Take me to Spinner's End," Hermione began.


"Hear me out! I know that you don't like it, but I want to see it. It's a part of your history, and I want you to show it to me. And, if you are going to sell it, I happen to know a little bit about Transfiguration. I could make it look nicer and help you get a better price for the place."

"It's nighttime there, Hermione. Not exactly the time to do redecorating."

"Well, we'd have to travel to Hogwarts first, correct?"

"Yes," Severus responded, confused.

She took a step closer to him as he leaned against the kitchen counter and he smirked at the blatant attempt to get her way, which he knew was coming.

"I know something we could do in the middle of the night at Hogwarts before we go to Spinner's End," she teased, smiling at him. She tapped his leg and he moved them apart so that Hermione could stand between his legs. "It is Thursday, after all."

"Can I ever say no to you, Hermione?" he asked dryly, wrapping his arms around her waist. He knew it was a rhetorical and ridiculous question. He could not deny her anything. She wanted into his life; he would not push her away, no matter how painful her request.

"Merlin, I hope not, Severus," she said coyly as she leaned in and kissed him.

They kissed and she sighed as he ended the kiss. The battered teacup served them again and they landed in front of the gates of Hogwarts, enveloped by darkness. He pressed her back against the gates and kissed her heatedly. She moaned and pulled him in closer.

Severus pulled away from her for a moment. Withdrawing his wand, he sent his patronus to Minerva to let her know that they were there; she would be worried about the wards being disturbed, otherwise.

Hermione turned and watched as his falcon patronus flew into the castle and Severus knew that they were both being transported back to the Grangers' kitchen when she saw it for the first time. Had that only been a day ago? It seemed like years ago. Every anxiety of the previous day and all of the stress of thinking about Spinner's End soared away with his patronus.

Severus undid the wards and they stepped through the gates. He turned back to Hermione after he replaced the wards. Her eyes were heated as she held a hand out for him. They entered the castle and walked down to the dungeons. They entered his private quarters and Hermione moaned as Severus caressed her.

"Have you no decorum?" Phineas huffed from his frame.

"Leave, Phineas!" Severus barked, startled. He verified that Phineas was indeed gone and lowered Hermione gently down onto the couch. He made love to her on the couch, and it was better than any fantasy he had entertained the previous year. How was he ever going to make it this next year without her? He lay on the couch with Hermione's small frame draped over his and could have stayed for hours feeling her warmth seep into his skin, feeling her chest rise and fall with each breath.


He rolled his eyes and chuckled when Hermione broke his reverie. "Yes?"

"Why are you laughing?" Hermione asked, confused.

"Because I know you."

Hermione propped herself up on her elbows so that she could look at Severus. "And what does that mean?" Her voice was incredulous, but she was smiling.

"It means that you are going to make me get up, when I would happily lay here with you for the rest of the day." He smiled back at her and saw her indignation at his statement melt.

She leaned forward to kiss him and shook her head. "Well, then, yes, you do know me."

Severus leaned his head back and groaned as Hermione lifted herself off of his body.

Hermione laughed at his theatrics. He slowly sat up and watched her get dressed. For the millionth time, he wondered how in the world he ended up here, hopelessly in love with Hermione Granger. Still not dressed, he chuckled and acquiesced when Hermione gave him one of her patented looks. He had seen that look on her face a thousand times as she kept Harry and Ron in line throughout the years. And not for the first time, he had the thought that always followed: she was going to be the death of him.

He carefully apparated them to the backyard of his home in Spinner's End. He had planned this in advance. He wanted to start with the good part, the only part of Spinner's End that he enjoyed. Seeing the look on Hermione's face as she took in the garden confirmed his decision.

"Oh, Severus!" She let go of his waist and began walking slowly down the first row in the garden, her wand lit to examine the plants. He was glad to see that they were mostly still thriving, even though he had not attended the garden since he made a short stop during Christmas break. The garden took up the entirety of the tiny back yard of the house and was as heavily warded as the house itself. There was a small footpath guiding between the rows. The garden had been his pride and joy, and his only sanity during those horrible summers near the end of the war.

She recited the names of the plants as she encountered them, gasping when she recognized plants of great value or interest. His chest swelled with pride as she would glance back at him, in awe of his work. Only Potions Masters would be impressed with this garden. Pomona would not see the value in it at all, he knew; she would probably think it quite boring. There were no exotic plants that could strangle you, no flowers that could lure you to your death. After Hermione had toured the space, they sat down on a short garden wall by the back door, looking out over the garden.

"When did you do this?" she asked, her voice still tinged with awe.

"I began the summer before your sixth year. Albus had just returned with his cursed hand and laid out the plan for me to kill him. I was consumed with grief and anger and fear and I could not stand to be in the castle. I was going mad with the overwhelming emotions and I couldn't talk to anyone about it. And then Wormtail was sent to spy on me. There was nowhere to go to gain an ounce of peace. So I went outside and decided to plant this garden. No one questioned me about it; obviously it has potions ingredients, so no one suspected anything covert. The people who knew just chalked it up to me being consumed with my craft."

Hermione frowned at him. "You were going to be the Defense professor that year."

Severus chuckled at her insights. "Again, I'm glad that you were on our side. Luckily, they were idiots. What can I say?"

She laughed at him. "Did you find peace? I like to think of you outside, not tormented every hour of the day." Her countenance turned sad and he treasured her grief on his behalf.

He nodded in response. "I don't think even the Kew Gardens were as well tended as this pitiful piece of earth that year. I wouldn't have survived had I not been outside working with the plants, letting my mind rest."

"Can you give up this garden, Severus?" she asked seriously. "I'm shocked that you would walk away from such a treasure."

He looked at Hermione. His Hermione. He had talked more to her than to any other person, save maybe Albus and Minerva, and still he could not tell her that in comparison to Hermione, this garden was rubbish. Hopefully one day, he could tell her.

"I will walk away from it, Hermione. I won't live here again; I won't let you live here, ever."

She shook her head in wonder, and it didn't surprise him that she didn't understand. She didn't understand that the only things that had ever been nurtured in this miserable place had been his plants. He stood and took her hand. "Let me take you inside."

She held his hand and followed him inside the house. Severus lit the wall sconces. To him, the difference between the garden and the inside of his house was dramatic. The weight of pain settled in his chest immediately, but he sincerely wondered if Hermione would feel anything at all. He looked around at the dusty books and could smell the must that permeated the entire house from top to bottom. Smells could always trigger the memories. He desperately hoped that Hermione was not going to fight him about getting rid of the house.

He didn't need to worry. "Oh, Severus," she said darkly. "What have I done? I made you come back here," and her voice trailed off as she looked around.

"It's all right, Hermione. I'm fine," he said, slightly confused at her response.

"It's like being with a dementor, isn't it? That's what you feel, isn't it?"

Brow furrowed in further confusion, he nodded.

"I feel something so dark in here. Something I don't ever feel with you, Severus. If I feel it a little bit, it must be overwhelming to you."

"Yes," he answered baldly.

She took his hand and led him from the house and back into the garden. Most of the weight lifted from his chest, and he could tell that Hermione felt better, too. Her perceptiveness would never cease to amaze him.

She took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry, Severus. I shouldn't have pressed you."

"I'm not upset, Hermione. You truly wanted to see a part of my history. Maybe I'm the one who should apologize. I knew it would not be pleasant and I still brought you here."

After a moment, Hermione smiled and broke the tension. "Next time we're supposed to sightsee in Australia, I'll take you to see the kangaroos. How does that sound?"

He laughed at her attempt at levity. "Next time, don't make me get off of the couch when I have a beautiful naked witch laying on me!"

She laughed and in an instant, the pain evaporated. He held his arm out to her and she put his arm around his waist, ready to leave.

They took the portkey that Minerva had charmed to alternate between Hogwarts and the Granger's home and landed in the sitting room once more. When they left Spinner's End it was the middle of the night, but it was now early afternoon in Australia. "Merlin, Hermione. All of these time changes are wearying," Severus said, slightly bleary eyed. "Is this what it was like with a time-turner? Did you ever feel jet-lagged?"

"No," Hermione answered. "I never traveled more than three hours back, so I didn't feel it as much."

Severus sat down on the couch and smiled when Hermione lay down and put her head in his lap. He played with her hair and relished the normality of sitting in a sitting room with nothing to do but enjoy the woman he loved.

"I brought a sleeping draught with me. I think we should both take some on Saturday after dinner or we're going to be exhausted at the Burrow. And grouchy," he teased.

Her eyes, which had closed under his comforting ministrations, flew open and narrowed. She laughed despite her feigned annoyance at his jibe and then closed her eyes once more.

"Are you going to be all right at the Burrow?"

"I like Molly and Arthur, and I like most of their children," he deadpanned.

Hermione laughed. "You know what I mean."

"I will be fine. I just saw everyone at the Anniversary Party, and to be truthful, I enjoyed most of the people there. I didn't think people would be as accepting of me after the war, but I was pleasantly surprised. And I thought the Weasleys in particular would be angry with me, because of George's ear and Ginevra's sixth year when I was Headmaster, but they have been very understanding. I'm pretty sure I have you to thank on that account."

"No, not really. Molly and Arthur knew about our relationship because they still treat me as one of the family. But I didn't have to talk them into accepting our relationship or talk them into forgiving you. They never once asked me if I was sure or tried to warn me about you."

"Did they ask you why?"

"Everyone asks me why," Hermione answered nonchalantly.

Once again, Severus was thankful that Hermione was as loving as she was perceptive. He didn't want to ask about her answer, and she didn't make him.

She opened one eye to look at him and then closed it again and moaned when he began rubbing her temples, which made Severus chuckle. "I tell them that I have seen the real you that was hidden for so many years, and that I feel like the luckiest woman in the world to steal you away before everyone else catches on."

"You do not," Severus said in wonderment.

"I do, too," she answered seriously.

He continued to massage her temples and watched her drift off to sleep. Unwilling to disturb Hermione, he decided to lay his head on the back of the couch as he tried to digest everything that had happened that day.

"Hermione, wake up. Severus…" He felt someone rubbing his shoulder and then felt Hermione sit up besides him.

"Mum! Dad!" Hermione said, groggily.

"Did sightseeing make you that tired?" Jean asked them, smiling. It was the first time Severus had ever seen her truly smile when he was in the room and it gave him a sense of hope that was tangible. He smiled back at her and waited for Hermione to explain about their "sightseeing."

"Severus has been to Sydney before, so I asked him to take me to see his family home. So, we did sightsee today, just not around here," Hermione supplied, stretching.

Jean furrowed her brow slightly, but didn't look angry. "Did you have a good time?"

"No," they both answered together, which made both of them chuckle.

Hermione deftly changed the subject by asking her parents how they enjoyed their day at the clinic.

The good mood persisted through dinner and Severus enjoyed hearing Ethan and Jean tell stories about when Hermione was a child. Everyone laughed as Jean told about finding a five-year old Hermione in the study in their old home in England, reading books that were from the highest shelves, thinking she was going mad because there was no possible way for Hermione to reach them.

After dinner, Ethan and Severus played chess and Ethan asked Severus to explain what their research was about. Severus enjoyed talking about their research and having a discussion about science in the Muggle and magical worlds. After two games of chess where Severus soundly beat Ethan, they both relaxed and drank brandy in front of the fire. It was quickly becoming a ritual that Severus knew he would miss when their summer holiday was over.

Severus did not have any words for expressing his gratitude toward Ethan for welcoming Severus into his family this summer. Telling him about his own poor excuse for a father or explaining how much he enjoyed their intellectual discussions was probably never going to happen, no matter how much Severus had opened up emotionally this past year. Instead, what came out was, "Hermione and I will come visit you and Jean at Christmastime this year."

It was a non sequitur, but unsurprisingly, Ethan seemed to understand. He simply nodded and smiled. "We would like that."

Ethan and Jean retired a short time later, and Hermione joined Severus in the study. Hermione transfigured the two wing back chairs into a couch and they sat in front of the fire. Sitting side-by-side and stealing kisses soon shifted into Hermione lying on top of Severus, just as they had at Hogwarts that morning. Severus kissed Hermione and tangled his hand in her hair. He laughed softly when Hermione wandlessly shut the door and he felt the hum of her magic as her wards went up. They made love slowly, trying to draw out every minute of their time together. When the fire had turned to grey embers, they knew they had to leave the study. Still lying on Severus' chest, much as they had started the day, Hermione grabbed her wand from her discarded jeans. She banished their clothes, presumably to their suitcases, and then with a flourish clothed herself in pyjamas and Severus in boxers. They quickly and quietly set the study to rights.

"We need to go to our rooms, Severus," Hermione said unnecessarily.

Severus held Hermione to himself. "When you come stay at Hogwarts in two weeks, I won't have to let you go," he said. "I don't know how many times I can let you go again, Hermione," he said seriously. He felt her sigh and nod into his chest.

They held each other for a few more minutes. Then they left the study silently and Severus watched Hermione go up the stairs to her room.

Severus lay awake for another hour in bed. The thought of another year without Hermione while she finished University made his chest ache. All of the patience and control over his emotions that he mastered as a spy was evaporating into a fine mist where Hermione was concerned. He resolved to regain that patience and let her finish University without his petulance. He finally used his Occlumency to clear his mind of Hermione so that he could sleep.

What seemed like only minutes later, he awoke when Hermione sat down on his bed. Looking at her, he was unsurprised to see that she looked as tired as he felt. "No chipper 'good morning' this morning?" he joked.

"Merlin, no. How late did we stay up?" she responded, voice slightly raspy.

Severus drew her down to lie on the bed and held her tightly with her back to his chest. "About three a.m. I think I finally fell asleep at about four."

"Uggghh," was the only response.

"Then why are we awake?"

"You're sleeping the day away," Hermione said grouchily.

"Excuse me?"

Hermione chuckled. "That's what mum always says: 'Get up, you're sleeping the day away!' Nine o'clock is the limit in mum's home."

He propped himself up on his elbow, and Hermione turned onto her back to look at him. She furrowed her brow when she saw the serious look on his face. "I love you, Hermione."

"I love you, too, Severus," she answered tentatively.

"I want you to know that I'm going to stop being a possessive grouch."

Hermione smiled at him. "You aren't a possessive grouch. You know I miss you just as much as you miss me. I love knowing that if we had the choice, you would want me with you. Besides, I'm the grouch, remember?"

"Be that as it may," he began in a tone of mock seriousness, but smiled when Hermione huffed in indignation, "I am going to stop being impatient. I will be happy with whatever moments I can have with you. Even if they are too early in the morning," he added.

"Well, then get up! You're sleeping the day away!" She gave him a quick kiss and then stood from his bed to leave. She smiled at him, and he remembered for the thousandth time that he would wait another year, and another decade on top of that if he had to.

After Severus showered and got ready he joined Hermione and her parents in the kitchen. He smiled at Hermione, who was still bleary eyed and drinking coffee. He got a stilted "good morning, Severus" from Jean through narrowed eyes which clearly translated into a message that she knew exactly how late they stayed up last night. This was a new phenomenon to Severus, being censured by the mother of a woman he was dating. Well, being censured by a headstrong woman was not really new, but the reason was new. He almost opened his mouth to remind Jean that he and Hermione were adults, when Ethan shook his head ever so slightly while looking down at the newspaper on the table. Severus decided to take his lumps like a man and instead sat down and nodded contritely to her with a polite, "Good morning, Jean," as she served him tea and toast. Ethan gave him a friendlier but much less awake, "Morning." And Hermione continued to drink her coffee, seemingly oblivious to what had transpired.

"Hermione, dear, are we going shopping today?" Jean asked Hermione as Jean joined them at the table.

"Yes, let's do! Will you take me to that store you told me about?" Hermione answered, eyes suddenly bright.

Severus gave Hermione a questioning look.

"Mum and I are going to get something new to wear to the opera tonight!"

"Do I need to," Severus began, but Hermione quickly forestalled him.

"Just wear the suit you brought, it will be great. I'm not buying anything too fancy, I just want something new."

Severus nodded, knowing that there was no suit in his suitcase. Knowing Hermione, she would pick out a dress and then transfigure something complimentary for him. She could transfigure something for herself, he was sure, but this was most likely a mother and daughter thing that he would never understand.

"Would you two like to come along?" Jean asked. The slight tease in her voice was immediately reminiscent of Hermione and Severus laughed.

"My thoughts exactly," said Ethan, in response to Severus laughing. "We men folk will be doing men things. Right, Severus?"

"Right," he answered in a definitive voice. Jean and Hermione laughed at them and rolled their eyes.

"Men things" turned out to be Ethan and Severus taking turns reading the newspaper, sometimes discussing an article, and later Ethan paying bills while Severus perused the library.

Jean and Hermione returned from their shopping trip each with a bag in hand and all smiles. Jean went into the kitchen to find Ethan, but Hermione walked straight to Severus, who was sitting in the sitting room with a book and leaned over to give him a kiss. The moment was so domestic; it was as if plucked from someone else's life. Severus Snape was not a good husband with a beautiful wife and a normal home. And while it was true he was not that man, for one split second, he became that man, and it felt wonderful.

They spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing and not doing much of anything. Much earlier than Severus thought was reasonable, Hermione said that she was going to get ready and called Severus to the guest bedroom. On the bed was a muggle suit that Severus had never seen before. He was pleased that it was black and it was nicely cut.

"That's very nice. It turns out your Transfiguration classes were useful, after all," he teased.

With one flourish of her wand, but still looking at Severus and smirking, she turned the suit orange.

"I believe that is an empty threat, Hermione. I don't think you want me wearing orange, nor do you want me wearing my Hogwarts teaching robes; which are at this moment, my two best options. Your mother would like to be reminded that I was your teacher, I'm sure of it," he deadpanned, as he drew his wand and transfigured the orange suit to his teaching robes.

Hermione groaned and easily transfigured the teaching robes back into the handsome black suit. "You win."

Severus laughed and drew Hermione to him, putting his arms around her waist. "This time, yes. Frankly, winning and happiness and love," at this he tightened his hold on her waist, "are all very new to me, Hermione. I'm afraid I'm going to wake up and find it a dream."

Hermione smiled at him. "This part is a dream, Severus. Our lives will never look like this. We are not normal." They both chuckled. "In a month, you will be back as the most powerful wizard of our age, teaching students how to light cauldrons in an exemplary manner and we will be trying to find a cure for werewolves. This is not our life. But I will still be happy and in love, and I will win an argument or two." She paused and smiled at him. "It has been a nice break, hasn't it?"

Severus nodded. "Who would have thought hell was so lovely this time of year?"

She laughed, which always gave him the irrational thought that everything was going to be fine.

She kissed him and pulled out of his embrace. "I've got to get ready!"

Severus nodded and watched her leave the room. He found Ethan in the sitting room watching a television show on nature. "Is Jean getting ready, too?"

Ethan simply nodded.

"We leave in two hours?" Severus asked.

Ethan nodded again.

"Is this normal?" Severus asked.

Ethan considered the question for a minute before answering. "Not for Jean on a Friday night, honestly. And not for Hermione at all, but I'm not sure on that account. We haven't seen her much in the last couple of years. I do believe our dates for the evening are trying to impress us."

Severus and Ethan eventually left to get ready themselves. Severus looked at himself in the mirror in the suit that Hermione had transfigured for him. He could honestly say that he was happy with the way he looked. He would never be the most handsome man, but he had improved, it seemed, with age. With no grey hairs to be found and the weight of the world removed from his shoulders, he looked younger than he did a few years ago, and much younger than Hermione's parents, for which he was grateful. He still looked older than Hermione, but wisely, she compensated by dressing in a mature fashion, which he appreciated.

Severus and Ethan found themselves yet again alone in the sitting room waiting on the women.

When they came down, Severus gasped. Hermione was the loveliest he had ever seen her. She was beautiful to him, always, but the way she looked tonight was for him alone, and he was amazed that she would take such an effort for him. Her hair was artfully twisted at the back of her head. Her dark green dress was both modest and incredibly sexy. Just as she said, it was not too fancy, but it looked like it was custom made for her. He paused for a moment, wondering if she transfigured it to fit better. He loved that he knew her as the powerful witch that she was.

Her smile as she walked to him confirmed that, yes, sometimes she did know exactly what he was thinking.

"You are stunning, Hermione. I will not be able to take my eyes off of you to watch the opera."

"Then I will sit between the two of you," teased Jean, who had obviously overheard Severus.

Hermione looked at Severus. "You are so handsome, Severus. Our friends back home would not recognize us. Are you ready for our last night of pretending to be normal"?

Severus nodded.

They went to the opera and he enjoyed being an anonymous patron in an anonymous country. For one night, he was not an infamous ex-Death Eater turned Spy, but simply a man out with loved ones. He looked to his right at Hermione as she watched the opera. He remembered those first letters from Hermione talking about Australia. Never in a million years could he have imagined that he would be with her and her parents in the Sydney Opera House exactly one year later.

Saturday was spent with everyone relaxing. Hermione, he knew, was trying to spend as much time as possible with her mother before leaving again. He knew it had hurt her incredibly to lose the closeness with her mother, and was glad that she had recovered much of that closeness this summer. He and Ethan played a few games of chess and Ethan managed to take a game from Severus, which he used as an excuse to break out the brandy one last time.

"Take care of her," Ethan said while they sat together, nursing their brandies.

"I will. We take turns, actually," Severus mused, remembering waking in the infirmary.

Dinner was slightly subdued, as Severus and Hermione's departure hung over all of them like the heaviness of the air after a rain. Jean asked about plans to come back to visit, and both Jean and Hermione's faces lit up when Ethan told them of Severus' plan for them to come back at Christmastime.

Severus and Hermione were leaving for the burrow at 3:00 a.m., so as they bade Ethan and Jean goodnight, it was also goodbye.

Severus and Hermione woke up before the sunrise early Sunday morning and portkeyed to the gates of Hogwarts. They adjusted their eyes to the midday sun and then Hermione waggled her eyebrows at Severus. He pressed her against the gates, just as he had when they went to Spinner's End on Thursday. After a few minutes kissing, he pulled away from her. "As much as I'd like to drag you down to the dungeons, I think we need to get to the Burrow, or Molly will send a search party. I am not foolish enough to get on Molly's bad side."

They entered Hogwarts and went straight to Minerva's office. They knocked, but it was not Minerva's voice that said, "Enter!"

"Filius, what are you doing here?" asked Severus with brow furrowed. "Is everything all right?"

"Yes, yes. Quite fine. I am trying to find some paperwork that Minerva left for me." He then turned to Hermione. "Hello, Hermione! Always a pleasure to see you!"

"Hello, Professor Flitwick," she answered. "It's good to see you, as well."

"Where is Minerva?" Severus asked.

"She has gone to talk to Professor Hudson. She said that an excellent candidate for Defense Against the Dark Arts has approached her about the possibility of teaching. Professor Hudson did a fine job, but was very tired at the end of last year. Of course, we were all tired, but he seemed especially done in. Minerva suspects that he would welcome the chance to retire again. He was really only here as a favor to her."

Severus looked to Hermione. Her eyes were wide. Severus knew that she, too, was more concerned with what was not being said.

"Is the candidate from Slytherin House?" Severus asked. His voice came out in his normal, steady, even tone, even as his heart beat a tattoo in his chest. Hermione's hand squeezed his own, and he wondered how long her hand had been in his.

"She didn't mention. I'm sure we'll all find out soon enough. Are you two here to see Minerva?" Filius then picked up a parchment off of Minerva's buried desktop.

"No," Severus replied. "We're just here to floo through to the Burrow."

"Well, give my best to Arthur and Molly. I'll be off. Goodbye, Severus, Hermione."

They bade him goodbye and watched him as he left Minerva's office. Once the door closed, Severus lowered himself into a chair in front of Minerva's desk, and he felt rather than saw Hermione sit down in the chair next to him.

They sat in silence for a few minutes. He looked at Hermione. There was no need to vocalize the multitude of thoughts running through his head; she knew exactly what he was thinking. He felt his admiration for her grow all the more as she simply sat with him without peppering him with questions or offering platitudes. She grasped his hand again.

"I want Slytherin House, Hermione."

"I know, Severus," she nodded.

Severus let out a slow breath. "Let's go. No use sitting here stewing when I have absolutely no clue what Minerva is planning." He stood up and drew Hermione into his arms. She hugged him tightly.

"Come on, Severus. The Weasleys are excellent at distraction. They'll take your mind off of this."

The green flames erupted and moments later they stepped out into the Weasley's sitting room.

"Hermione! Severus! Come in!" Molly pulled Hermione into a hug and then walked over to Severus. He was about to say hello when Molly pulled him into a hug, just as she had hugged Hermione. His eyes got large in shock as he hugged her back stiffly and Hermione giggled. "We're so glad you're both here," Molly said, letting go of Severus.

"Thanks, Molly," Hermione said. "It's so good to be here again! Where is everyone?"

"Oh, they're in the back garden playing Quidditch, mostly. I think Charlie's upstairs sleeping. He portkeyed in from Romania a couple of hours ago."

They followed Molly to the back garden and they could hear the shouts of the Weasley clan as they got closer. Arthur was sitting in a garden chair talking to Fleur as Hermione, Severus and Molly stepped outside.

As Arthur and Fleur called out greetings to Severus and Hermione, the group in the air playing Quidditch took notice and landed on the ground. Abandoning their brooms, they came to say hello to Severus and Hermione. Bill, George, Angelina Johnson, Harry and Ginny gave Hermione hugs and shook Severus' hand. Ron landed and was walking toward them with a witch that was unfamiliar to Severus.

Ron drew the tall, sandy haired witch to his side. "Hermione, Professor Snape, this is Christine Elliot. She plays for the Holyhead Harpies. Christine, these are my friends Hermione Granger and Severus Snape."

They exchanged pleasantries, and Severus looked at Hermione. She had a smile on her face, and two things struck Severus. First, he was pleased to see that the smile was her real smile; she was truly happy for Ron. Secondly, his chest tightened as he realized that he, and possibly only he, knew Hermione so well that he knew which smiles were faked and which were real. The entire exchange took less than a minute, but it was a telling moment. Hermione squeezed his hand tightly and brought him out of his reverie.

Arthur and Hermione conjured more chairs in the garden. Arthur, Bill, Fleur and Harry sat down to visit with Severus and Hermione while the rest took to the air to resume their game.

"How are your parents, Hermione?" asked Arthur.

"They're fine. They are still happy living in Australia, much to my chagrin," Hermione joked.

"Anything new at Hogwarts?" Bill asked.

Severus looked at Hermione, at a loss of what to say. Hermione chuckled and answered for him. "We just found out not fifteen minutes ago that Professor Hudson might be retiring."

"Who's Professor Hudson?" asked Harry.

"He's the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor and Head of Slytherin House," Severus answered.

Harry's eyes were wide as he practically yelled, "What? You aren't Head of Slytherin?"

"No," Severus answered levelly.

"I can't believe that! Has Professor McGonagall lost her mind?"

"No, she has not, Mr. Potter." The stern voice of Minerva McGonagall surprised them all as they turned to see her walking through the garden with Molly. Everyone stood to greet her.

Harry blushed. "I'm sorry, Professor. I didn't mean any disrespect to you."

Minerva laughed. "No offense taken. I happen to agree with your sentiments."

"Minerva," Severus said in his usual solemn address. Severus tried not to react at all to her statement but his heart was racing and he could hear Hermione holding her breath next to him.

Minerva said hello to the rest of the Weasleys and then turned her attention to Bill and smiled. "I talked to Professor Hudson. It took all of two seconds for him to retire when I gave him the news."

"What news?" Hermione asked.

Minerva smiled at her and Severus. "Bill is going to be our new Defense professor." Arthur slapped Bill on the back as Fleur hugged him.

"And?" Hermione prompted.

"And I am now in need of a new Head of Slytherin. Severus, it's yours if you want it."

Hermione threw her arms around Severus' neck. At that moment, he threw his Slytherin subtleties out the window as he hugged Hermione back and lifted her off of the ground, making her laugh.

As Severus gently put Hermione down, he looked at Minerva and gave her a knowing look. "Thank you, Minerva."

She smiled back at Severus as Hermione beamed standing next to him. "I'll take that as a yes."

Hermione turned her attention to Bill and Fleur. "Why the change, Bill? I thought you and Fleur were happy at Gringotts."

It was Molly and Arthur's turn to beam as Fleur answered. "Because we are going to have a baby!"

The obligatory squealing and hugging of females ensued. Severus walked over to Bill and shook his hand. "Congratulations, Bill, on both accounts."

"Thank you, Severus. I am excited to be coming to Hogwarts. I really thought it would be years before there would be an opening. I approached Minerva last week, just to let her know that I was interested. Field work was exciting, but I don't want to travel anymore, and the desk job I took two years ago wasn't really a good fit for me."

Severus nodded. "You'll do well, Bill. I am happy to help you in any way that I can."

There were benefits to being surrounded by Gryffindors. They asked the personal questions that a Slytherin would not be caught dead voicing. Sure enough, Harry, who had joined their conversation, did not disappoint.

"Where are you going to live?" Harry asked Bill.

"We're going to get a house in Hogsmeade. Minerva said that she would set up a floo connection so that I can go home each night. She invited us to live together in the castle, but that wasn't appealing to Fleur."

"Have there been other married professors?" Harry wondered aloud.

"Quite a few," Hermione answered as she rejoined Severus at his side. "Phineas Nigellus was married when he was Headmaster."

That answer garnered quite a few shocked looks. Not even Severus knew that tidbit of information.

Hermione chuckled. "Her name was Lydia. She was a Gryffindor. A pureblood Gryffindor, obviously. He was crazy about her."

Harry shook his head. "Phineas is a piece of work. Secretive bastard." There was no venom in his voice, though.

Just then, Ginny and the others landed and joined around them. "Did Fleur give you the good news?" Ginny asked Hermione, excited.

"Yes," Hermione replied. "I can't believe you didn't tell me!"

"Well, Mum threatened us within an inch of our lives," George added. "I've got news, too, Hermione."

"What?" she asked, looking between George and Angelina.

"Oh no, not that!" Angelina blurted out.

"Marriage is an outdated institution," George began, but laughed as both Angelina and Molly huffed and shot daggers at him. "I'm joking! But that is not my news," and then added, "right now…" looking teasingly at Angelina. She rolled her eyes at him and he continued. "I am moving to Hogsmeade, too. I'm opening a Hogsmeade branch of Weasley Wizard Wheezes. I finally bought out Zonko's. And I want to make sure my new niece or nephew is being raised properly."

Everyone laughed, envisioning George's version of being raised properly.

Minerva moaned. "I think I am going to cancel all Hogsmeade trips for the next twenty years or so. Severus, Bill, what do you think?"

Severus and Bill deadpanned, "I agree," at the same time, causing everyone to laugh at their teasing.

"Does anyone else have exciting news for me today?" Hermione asked, laughing. "Harry? Ron?"

"No, we're good," Ron chimed in, smiling. "I think you're caught up now."

"We have so many things to celebrate tonight!" said Molly, still beaming. "I'm making a huge dinner and we're going to eat out here in the garden. I want everyone back here for dinner. You, too, Minerva. But right now, Minerva needs Severus and Bill to return to Hogwarts."

Minerva nodded and looked at Severus and Bill. "Paperwork. Merlin, it never ends. But there's only a month until the start of term, and I want to get this done quickly. Meet me in my office in ten minutes." She then turned to walk back into the house with Molly.

Everyone started talking to each other once more, and a few walked off to go into the house while others went back into the field to resume their Quidditch game.

Severus was finally able to talk to Hermione without everyone's eyes on him. "Hermione…"

She beamed back at him, holding both of his hands in hers. "I'm happy for you, Severus. You deserve this."

He gave her a short, but heated kiss, which drew a wolf whistle from George from his broom. "Merlin, Hermione. Please tell me that your blurry picture of our future does not have this many kids," he teased.

"Absolutely not," Hermione whispered. "I have to take a calming draught when I'm here or I break out in hives," she joked. Then she turned serious. "I'm so proud of you."

He smiled at her, not caring who was watching. "I love you. I will see you later," he said softly as he dipped his head to kiss her softly.

When Bill and Severus stepped out of the fireplace in Minerva's office, Filius was already there. He conjured another chair and they all sat down across from Minerva. It didn't take long for Minerva to go over all of the paperwork with Severus and Bill. Once they had all signed their respective contracts and talked over the coming year, Minerva let Bill and Severus return to the Burrow.

Exiting the floo at the Burrow, he immediately stood aside so that Bill could come through. Severus followed Bill into the kitchen to find all of the women gathered together. The laughing and talking immediately stopped when the men entered. Severus looked at Hermione, whose eyes were bright with laughter.

A smiling Ginny looked at the men and immediately put on her best imitation of Molly. "Shoo! Out of the kitchen! No men allowed! Leave, Professor Weasley, and take Professor Snape with you!"

All of the women laughed, and Bill looked at Severus. "I think we'll be better off in the garden. This many women in one room is bad news," he joked. Hermione grinned at Severus, who raised one eyebrow in return. His gesture was not missed and made all of the women start laughing again. Bill and Severus left the kitchen, both men shaking their heads.

There were a half dozen mismatched lawn chairs lined up facing the mock Quidditch pitch. Severus took an empty seat next to Charlie, who looked decidedly worse for the wear. "Hello, Charlie. Are you well?"

"Hello Severus. I'll be fine, thanks."

George, seated on Charlie's other side, laughed and added, "He got hexed by Ginny because he was about to make a move on Hermione."

"What?" Bill exclaimed, as he took the chair next to Severus.

"I didn't know they were dating!" said Charlie. "All I said was that I thought she looked lovely today."

"'Lovely.' Yeah, I bet," teased Bill.

"Anyway, Ginny overheard and hexed me off my broom."

Severus, who had been listening to the discussion with a mix of anger, jealousy, surprise and amusement, looked at Charlie and in his most professorial voice asked, "Do we have a problem, Charles?"

Charlie raised his hands in mock surrender. "No Sir! I'm jealous of all of you, but I'm not an idiot!" He paused as they laughed and then sighed. "I'm even jealous of Percy!"

"Where is Percy?" Severus asked.

George laughed. "You just now noticed he's not here, didn't you?" They all laughed when Severus shrugged. "Percy and Penelope will be here for dinner."

"How can you not get a girl?" asked Bill, shaking his head in wonder.

"For some reason," Charlie began, "there aren't a lot of witches working on Romanian dragon reserves." Everyone laughed and he continued, "Mom's been nagging me for years to find a nice witch and settle down. Now that I would actually like to do that, I can't find one!"

Everyone pondered Charlie's predicament for a moment.

"Germany," Severus said levelly.

"What?" George asked, leaning forward and looking past Charlie to Severus.

"Charlie, do you remember Davis York? I think he was your age."

"Yes, he left after our third year, I think. I never saw him again."

"Yes. Davis was quite," Severus started, trying to find a diplomatic word.

"Weird," Charlie supplied. "There were rumors that he wasn't a wizard. Was he in Slytherin?"

"Yes," Severus answered. "And he was a wizard, but he really wasn't able to do much magic. Every once in a while, a student like that starts Hogwarts, and it's not pretty. Luckily for him, while he was hopeless in Transfiguration and Potions and Charms, he absolutely excelled at Care of Magical Creatures. Very gifted. So, Albus and the Care of Magical Creatures professor and I worked to find him an apprenticeship. I found a large dragon reserve in Germany, and he left to work for them after his third year. He would write to me every year to let me know how he was doing."

"Hermione said that you were nice, but I didn't believe her," George joked.

Severus rolled his eyes. "Yes, well, he wrote that he was doing well with all of the dragons, except, of course, for their very large herd of Andalousians."

Charlie nodded. Bill and George looked clueless, so Charlie offered, "Well, that's completely normal. Andalousians only respond to…"

Severus smirked as he could see Charlie thinking.

"What?" George asked, confused.

"Andalousians only respond to a witch's magic," Charlie furnished.

Cottoning on, Bill and George laughed.

"I hear Germany is lovely this time of year," Bill joked.

"I hear the dragon loving witches of Germany are lovely this time of year," George added, and they all laughed.

Arthur, Ron and Harry came around the side of the house and took seats with the men. "What's so funny?" Ron asked Charlie. "And why hasn't Professor Snape hexed your bits off yet?"

"I promised Professor Snape that I would transfer to Germany," Charlie deadpanned. George and Severus and Bill laughed out loud. Severus couldn't remember ever having a group of men that he could laugh with.

They continued visiting until Molly put them all to work getting the garden set up for dinner.

Dinner was a loud affair, with sixteen people gathered around the table together. They celebrated Harry's birthday with an ornate cake. Severus chuckled as he realized that no one was willing to eat the cake until George took a bite. When everyone was reasonably satisfied that they wouldn't sprout feathers or turn green, they all laughed and ate. Then they toasted all of the family members with happy news. Severus was touched as they toasted him without reservation. Two years ago, he was completely friendless and had no family. Now, he apparently had two families: the Grangers were accepting him into their family, or at least Hermione's father was, and the Weasleys welcomed him as one of their own. Last year at this time, he wondered if life was worth living. That sentiment was now so foreign to him that he could not believe he had ever entertained such a thought.

After dinner, a new Quidditch game started and everyone on the ground broke into little clutches of conversation. Severus enjoyed being a part of it all. He listened to stories about Fred and George growing up, and he let their grief and healing wash over him as they remembered him.

When it became too dark for anyone to play Quidditch, talk began of where everyone would sleep. Bill, Fleur, Percy, Penelope, George and Angelina said their goodbyes, and Severus turned to Hermione.

"Will I see you tomorrow?" he asked.

"Yes, I would love to have dinner with you at Hogwarts. I'll see you tomorrow afternoon?"

Severus nodded. "Have a good night, Hermione."

She smiled at him. "Good night, Severus. I love you," she said fondly.

"I love you, too. I would tell you to sleep well, but I have a feeling all of you females will be up all night gossiping."

Hermione playfully swatted his arm. She then reached up and drew his head down and kissed him.

Severus flooed back to Hogwarts and returned to his quarters.

"I hear congratulations are in order," drawled Phineas.

"Hello, Phineas. Yes, thank you. I am once again Head of the finest house in Hogwarts."

"I'm glad to see that you have not let your Gryffindor taint you."

"Hmmm…. You protest a lot about Gryffindors, but I heard something rather interesting today about you and a certain Gryffindor."

Phineas moaned. "I knew better than to tell Hermione about her."

"Is that why you like Hermione? Does she remind you of Lydia?"

Phineas thought for a moment, and then simply nodded.

Severus marveled at Phineas' uncharacteristic response. "Tell me about her," he entreated. "Hermione said that you were married when you were Headmaster."

"Oh yes. That's when she finally acquiesced and moved into the castle with me. She refused to live in the castle when I had the option of going to our home each night."

"Why didn't she want to live here?"

"Too many children around."

"She didn't like children?" Severus asked, curious.

"Oh, she loved them. She couldn't have any, though. It about tore our marriage apart when we found out. She was so devastated," he remembered sadly. "I always told her that she was enough for me. Merlin, she was more than enough. Anyway, this was years later and she was finally able to enjoy living in the castle with the students. She was a mediwitch, and I was able to make her Matron when our Matron finally retired the following year, the old hag. She loved it. All of a sudden, she had hundreds of children. When Lydia died, it about killed me."

Severus nodded. "She sounds like a great woman. Thank you for telling me about her."

"You're welcome."

"Hermione has not tainted me," Severus said, contemplative. "But she has changed me, Phineas."

"Yes, she has," he replied. "But you have changed her, too."

"Have I?" Severus was sincerely curious. She seemed unchanged to Severus, but as that thought entered his mind, he realized that he had really only known her for a year.

Phineas nodded. "Oh, yes. She is much happier now."

"The war's over. Everyone's happier."

"I'm not just talking about the last year of the war. She spent a lot of time at Grimmauld before and after the war, and I've seen her with her friends. She was needed, loved as a sister, admired even. But never enjoyed."

Severus' throat constricted in pain as he relived those feelings in his own life: always useful, never a joy. "I enjoy her."

Phineas rolled his eyes. "Everyone knows that, idiot. You are as spy-like as a Hufflepuff these days."

Severus growled. "Well, let's be thankful it's peacetime, then," he joked.

After making short work of unpacking, Severus sat down in his wingback chair and began reading a potions journal that had arrived while he was in Australia. After an hour, he called for Wispy.

"Master Snape is back! How can Wispy serve?" the house-elf asked cheerfully.

"Just some tea, please, Wispy." And with those words, Wispy blinked out.

Severus left his quarters to retrieve his notebook from his private lab. When he returned a few minutes later, Wispy was pouring tea into two teacups. "Wispy," he began, "it's only me tonight."

"No, Master Snape. Miss is home," Wispy corrected him, matter-of-factly.

Severus looked down at the elf. "Miss… is…?" and then he followed Wispy's eyes and turned around to see Hermione in the doorway of his bedroom.

Hermione met his eyes and smiled. "Home."

Author's Note: Thank you for reading my story. The experience of writing and sharing this story has been very special to me, but it would not have been near as special without you reading and sharing your life back with me.

Be well, dear friend.