A/N: For anyone hoping for explicit content, there's none of that on FFnet anymore. It's against the TOS. Inquisitorial Squads remove stories. PENIS!

The Epilogue – Begin!

Under a bower of vines, ripe with lush grapes, they stood clasped hand in hand. He was winter personified. Four layers of black, with gleaming jet buttons that caught the light and glinted like the dark fire in his endless eyes. She was sunshine, come to spread her warmth through every icy layer. Her gown was a coppery golden tapestry that was as rich as her smile and as expansive as her glorious crown of amber curls. With eyes only for his beloved wife, the groom muddled through the ceremony. He fiddled with her ring. She threw her arms recklessly around him. The scene played out again. It was their favorite photograph on the mantle. Bonnie Granger had gotten her wish. Mostly.

The next photograph featured Severus looking quite dignified in his Panama hat as he proudly presented to the camera his first catch, a fish only slightly bigger than bait. The Muggle photograph was stationary, which did not detract one whit from Severus' accomplishment. He wore the singular expression of a big game hunter having caught the great stalking lion.

On prominent display was a miniature canvas tent, quite ordinary from the exterior, and a trinket that neither occupant of the small flat was particularly fond of. In fact, they both had ample reason to despise the object, yet they seemed incapable of letting it go because the Snapes took the good with the bad. It tied them together, like healthy morning breakfasts and enchanting Date Nights, their dedication to the Project and fondness for antiquing. The miniature tent also fit right in with Hermione's dogged pursuit of the 'eclectic' decorating theme. She was going to ensure their disparate styles meshed if it killed good taste or not. The tent had been on the mantle ever since Severus had moved out of the backyard and into her heart.

In the same room two very lazy cats reclined on the couch, while doing their utmost to shed their wealth of fur. Crookshanks was gently cleaning Ushanka's face and ears when giggling laughter resonated from the bedroom. Both heads whipped in the direction of the bedroom, ears funneling to the sound. They were at it again, making kittens. Crooksy settled down, his golden eyes gleaming. As he delicately sniffed the air, he wondered how Ushanka felt about kittens. Crookshanks was fixed, but stranger things were known to happen to magical cats, and he was willing to make those kinds of sacrifices. Ever so slightly, Ushanka's whiskers twitched in warning. The gesture was meaningless to humans, but it quite effectively translated as, "Try it, and I will claw your face off." Sourly, Crooksy turned to groom himself. The cats deftly ignored the sounds coming from within the bedroom with practiced ease.

By cool morning light, his inky, heavily-lidded eyes met hers, and she could feel his gaze darken as his breath quickened. Reaching up, she stroked his cheek with a feather-light touch and he turned his head to kiss her palm. He smelled of rich sandalwood and musk, intoxicating scents that lingered on his skin. Hermione nuzzled him, pressed against his skin, and deeply inhaled his scent. She kissed him then. His lips opened gently to her own and she could feel his ardor. Pressed to her, he was beauty and strength. Her husband, a man who'd been set free of the shackles of his past and struggled to find his future. Hermione felt him grow hard against her, very near to where she wanted him to be.

"My love, my love," Severus chanted, his voice mesmerizing. He moved his fingers in achingly sweet whorls. She arched her back. Sensations overflowed.

Her fingers trailed over his chest where sparse black hairs grew around his nipples and led to his flat belly, where a tantalizing treasure trail headed lower. He threw his head back and groaned when she followed the trail to its conclusion. She ground herself against him. He moaned and struggled to catch his breath. Hermione marveled at her husband; he had been thoroughly unexpected and unwanted, but now she could not imagine life without him.

She peered into eyes as black as ebony as he gathered her to him. He was everything now, the past did not matter, their future was beautiful. He was beautiful. She'd never realized how attractive he was until she'd seen him brew, standing tall and powerful in their lab. It took her breath away in a way that it never could have when she'd been a schoolgirl. Severus in his element. In his full glory. A spasm wracked through her, a jolt steaming across her nerve endings. She shivered as he clutched her.

His groans affected her and she started to quiver. Hermione placed her thumb against his lips and traced them; thin and concealing crooked teeth, with a mouth that could deliver sharp reprimand and infinite pleasure. She moved her hand until it rested in the silken inkspill of his hair. Hermione loved the soft baby-fine texture of his hair just before he spent a day working with noxious potions. A sweet spasm of bliss came crashing, sending golden fireworks behind her eyelids. Hermione reflexively gripped his hair and Severus gave a strangled cry.

Hermione gripped his tangled hair and pulled him to meet her mouth in a greedy, fervent kiss. As they parted, she looked at him with a wicked gleam in her eye and asked, "What are you making me for breakfast?"

Severus was off the hook. He always wore the same thing and nobody held any expectation that he'd change, but Hermione needed to choose her clothing circumspectly. Narcissa had expectations and the Grangers did too. Honestly, it had been a bit of a joke to introduce them and never once did Severus or Hermione think that the Malfoys and Grangers would get along. Hermione forgot that Narcissa was a committed feminist. Severus had no idea George knew so much about wine. And everyone simply adored the subject of horticulture. It was depressing, really.

Her hair was charmed into a perfectly plaited coif. She was presentably dressed in robes that were quite fashionable enough for a Manor garden party and would also meet with her mother's approval. Looking in the mirror, Hermione sighed, wondering if she would ever get old enough not to worry about her parent's approval. She envied her husband, too, doubting that he'd ever spent an eternity standing in front of the wardrobe dithering over what to wear. It didn't take the gift of sight to predict: black with buttons, 50/50 percent chance of white cravat.

Satisfied with the tiny golden rampart lions on pastel rose, perfect for a spring day, Hermione checked her timepiece and gave a small jump. She stuck her head into the spare bedroom that served as their study. "Severus, we're going to be late." He was hunched over his makeshift worktable again, and Hermione gave a longsuffering sigh.

He looked up, wearing the expression of a student caught with a Skiving Snackbox. "Be right there," he pleaded, stuffing a box in his pocket. Hermione gave a quick nod and left. True to his word, he was by her side at the Floo minutes within minutes. A healthy pinch of powder later and they were gone.

Sometimes, when Hermione was feeling uncharitable, she thought garden parties were Narcissa's way of keeping people out of her house. But every time those thoughts rose to mind, Hermione knew she was just being jealous. She considered buying a great big manor house, steeped in history, full of ancient wizarding lore. Why not buy it all? It wasn't as if Lucius hadn't sent property brochures to her office to tempt her.

She scanned the gathering crowd and found Narcissa speaking animatedly to one of the members of the board. Fascinating in ice blue robes, an artful confection of flawless corkscrews, and trimmed in pearls from the coronet on her head to the tiny slippers on her dainty feet, Narcissa was a vision of perfection. Delicate and feminine, pretty. Is that who she was trying to compete with, Hermione wondered? Is that who she was? Her head tilted ever so slightly as she tried to imagine herself in Narcissa's place. She could do the job. Of that there was no question. She could learn all the pure-blood protocols and seating arrangements. She could immerse herself in the full-time job of hostess and social director. Learn to affect business and politics through introductions and charming small talk. Yes, Hermione imagined she could take on such a role with great success.

Narcissa smiled and laughed lightly, though it was unclear at Hermione's distance whether the guest said anything humorous. No, it was better this way, she affirmed. She had what she wanted: a fulfilling life, rewarding work, and a happy home. Occasionally the hot water changed temperature in the shower, not enough to make her pull out her wand, but enough to make her curse beneath her breath. Ever since Severus had taken up his fly-tying hobby in earnest, she'd wished for more space. And more bookshelves. Hermione sighed, thinking that perhaps they did need a bigger flat, eventually. A hand touched her elbow, giving her a startle.

Lucius leaned in to murmur in her ear. "We're going to make an announcement in just a bit, but your father and husband have disappeared."

Hermione rolled her eyes. "Stream," she answered curtly. She wouldn't be surprised if the salmon were running.

"Ah," Lucius said, his voice carefully neutral. "Of course." He was new to the brotherhood of the rod and reel, but already found rich potency in the Dark magic of killing one's feast. The wooden rod was an extension of his wand arm and with it he was a powerful oceanic god. When he lashed out with gentle mercy at the water's depths, taunting with seductive powers, the fish responded. They came to him. He was their Siren. "I shall retrieve them."

Lucius turned on his heel and fled. Hermione watched him retreat and knew they'd be out there until the sun set. She'd better tell Narcissa she was on her own today.

As it was, Narcissa handled the news with exceptional grace and poise.

"Of course he did, darling. Think nothing of it," she said, looking unruffled.

The announcement was made. Speeches and toasts were given. Narcissa quietly orchestrated the sequence of everything with aplomb, not that anyone noticed her guiding hand, except for Hermione. The board overseeing the integration of Muggleborns into Hogwarts, or HUMP, as it was fondly known (Hogwarts Unites with Muggleborns Program), had met its fundraising goals from an anonymous benefactor. The Malfoys were happy to host the party. Most guests naturally assumed the Malfoys were the benefactors. The only whispering in the crowd centered on how generous the Malfoys had been of late, taking on so many ambitious projects. Narcissa smiled enigmatically and accepted an invitation to tea from a witch who hadn't spoken to her since before the first war.

Hermione mixed and mingled, occasionally keeping an eye on her mother. Dr. Bonnie Granger, who had perfected the art of asking questions of people while their mouths were wide open and she was poking them with sharp pointy objects right where it hurt, was quite adept at holding conversation with magical folk. Every time Hermione looked over, the only thing she noticed her mother was missing was a big bright lamp. The wizards looked just as pained and equally unable to answer. When the Malfoys had started these charity fêtes, Hermione had initially hovered about her parents, fretting for them. Now she never bothered. Her parents were able to hold their own quite well. It almost made Hermione think rational Muggle logic had driven wizards underground.

Guests were leaving. Narcissa set the elves to tear down the party. The three women set off for the stream where the men were certain to be found. Outside the fishing hole, tree branches were draped with robes, jackets and one single black cassock. Bonnie clucked disapprovingly to find her husband's tweed sport coat draped against a tree.

"Midge," Narcissa called sweetly for an elf. The elf appeared. "Please take these clothes inside and have them cleaned. Return when you've finished." She shook her head as they entered the woods. "Boys. They get older and they get prettier, but they don't get any smarter. I remember when I married Lucius. I thought he was so mature." She smiled easily and laughed. "I was so naive. And now here I am, a mature woman, and I'm still waiting for him to grow up."

Bonnie snorted. "It never happens."

Hermione furrowed her brow. Severus was mature, she thought. A grown man. Very mature. Except when he wasn't. Excluding when he was acting childish. And immature. She slid a look to the older women walking to her side. Was that the wisdom of the ages?

The sound of the stream rushed up to meet them. Loud and steady, it coursed through the air, and as the trees parted they saw three men standing in the middle of it. The women stopped.

Her husband was wearing his waders over his trousers, which was an odd sight she didn't think she would ever get accustomed to. Sleeves rolled up on his shirt, exposing nice firm muscles that moved with the playful force of his whip-like rod. Severus' lure sizzled through the air. Back flexing, arms rolling with fierce intensity, he was pure magic.

"Yeah," Hermione said slowly. "They sure are pretty to look at."

A woman snickered. Hermione didn't pay any attention to who it was. Midge set up a picnic at the clearing and the women put their feet in the water. They were ready to grill a fish just as soon as one was caught.

"So Hermione," Narcissa asked casually as little fish nibbled at her toes. "Have you given any thought to what you'll do once your project is wrapped up? Lucius has been telling me you've made great strides to clearing the nests."

Her mum looked up sharply at her with unabashed curiosity. Learning the true nature of her daughter's work had not been well met. They quarreled about it. Not because her parents didn't support the cause, though they weren't keen on their daughter taking risks. They had a difficult time swallowing the fact that they'd been lied to again by their daughter.

Hermione didn't have a rebuttal. She'd kept them at arm's length, fearing their disapproval. She expected they would be far more tolerant of a lowly editor's assistant position than a leader of a dangerous secret undertaking. Not so, apparently. The Grangers felt the split between the Muggle and wizarding world was not so insurmountable that they had to be shielded from everything. From then on, Hermione resolved to be more open and honest. Her parents wouldn't have it any other way.

Hermione watched as Lucius had a house elf tie his line and thought about her response. Closing nests eliminated an immediate public threat, but for them, a whole new world of possibilities opened up. What could she say? She was ready for all the snakes to graduate from their caverns. Particularly after Xerxes had asked Severus, "Who's this Monty Python chap and is he an awfully powerful snake?" The Chorus of Bruces simply had to go. Not that her baritone singing husband discouraged them in the least. Bastard. Their arcane project had yielded more than a lifetime worth of mysteries to research. There was a new strand of magic to investigate. Severus had unique potions ingredients to test. They were thinking about starting a family.

Hermione smiled mysteriously. "Oh, I'm sure we'll find something to do."

Now we've come to the last epilogue

for the tale of our dark pedagogue

Batt'ling snakes not so tiny

For his dear cursed Hermione

He deserves -she agrees!- quite the snog!

When they named her as his next of kin

He began to get under her skin

And the know-it-all fit

With that greasy old git

Our tale ends; let their new life begin!

Limerick by Christev


This story was a work of pure Hufflepuff love, by christev, mischievous_t and morethansirius. It is dedicated to the Master Plot Mistress, mischievous_t. Mischievous_t gave the guidance, clear vision and insistence that took this tiny spark of an idea and made it into a story worth telling. Thank you, t. We love you!

Christev provided the beta beat-down, wrote limericks and made banners. She was always available on the day of posting for last minute corrections, wibbles and hand holding. As if that wasn't enough, Christev beta'd chapters 1-14 from her hospital bed. Amazing!

Morethansirius breathed life into the story by fangirling it at the top of her lungs from the rooftops, cheerleading, writing lovely limericks and making banners. Her enthusiasm was infectious and she epitomized Hufflepuff house spirit. Woo-hoo!

And if you haven't checked out Lastseeninorbit's youtube channel, please do so. She's very talented and she's done an absolutely fabulous job of recording this story and many others.

Thank you ladies, I love you and appreciate you so much!

If you enjoyed the story please give a shout out to the beautiful Hufflepuff girls who made this possible.