AN: And so it ends…
The room was quiet, but for the sound of their ragged breathing and the crackling of the fire. Hermione let go of Severus' hand as she stared around her in surprise. Everything seemed the same as it had been the day she'd fled here after her talk with Dumbledore. The comfy chair by the fire with its pillow shaped just right to press against a belly for a good cry and the stone plinth in the corner with the bust of a fallen hero were exactly the same. Even the small table was there, with its silver serving tray, its empty glass of butterbeer, and a cracked, red-plastic flower pot.
Severus walked over to the marble bust and stared at it in silence. Finally, he reached a hand out and traced a finger down the deep crease between its eyes. "How long I must have been Occluding for this to have happened," he said softly. He shook his head. "I look so lonely."
She walked over and took his hand. "You were," she said quietly. "It was a terrible life."
He turned to her, and she saw the firelight flickering in eyes that were moist from unshed tears. "It's gone now. You saved me from that."
As if those words were a key, the black marble bust and its plinth disappeared without a sound.
Hermione let out a small sob and smiled, happy his life was better, but mourning that last connection to her old life. Squeezing his hand, she said, "You saved me as well. Not just from your Dark Lord, but from myself. I was so depressed. Nothing in my life had any meaning, until you came along. Aside from this room, you gave me my first genuine smile in ages."
He led her over to the chair, which stretched into a small sofa as they approached. "It was the knickers, wasn't it. You're never going to let me forget that, are you?"
She laughed. "Nope. Never."
He let her sit first and then followed her down, dropping his arm around her and looking at the door. "Should we have let them in with us?" He grimaced and turned to her. "I meant Black and Lupin, not those disgusting parasites."
"Why, Severus Snape… Am I detecting concern for the Marauders?"
Instead of smiling, he looked away, staring into the fire. "They helped me," he said in a whisper.
"That was what they were told to do…" she replied, unsure of her words.
He shook his head. "I really did almost hex them. That woman kept after me about being a Death Eater. Asking me if I'd ever participated in human sacrifice, if I'd ever harmed a child…" He closed his eyes. "I wanted to blast her in the face. I actually raised my wand, but Lupin slapped it down. He said… he said, 'You're a better man than that,' and then they helped me get away." He opened his eyes and looked at her in anguish. "But I'm not," he said. "I wouldn't have thought to do the same for them."
Hermione stroked his cheek and said, "But you'll think of it now, won't you? You're Slytherin, Severus. For you, loyalty isn't easily given. It has to be earned. They had almost ten years of torment to overcome to earn yours. However, they're Gryffindor, brash and stupid enough to think such a thing is a challenge to rise up to and brave enough to try. It sounds as if they earned it today more than last night."
He gave her a small smile. "You make it sound like my loyalty is some great thing to be desired."
She tilted her head to the side and said, "Oh, Severus. Don't you realize it is? Gods, it is. You're a powerful and sometimes terrifying man. For the rest of us being on your good side feels like we're finally safe. Like we've been blessed somehow."
He snorted and rolled his eyes. His gaze shifted down to his left arm, and he pulled the other from around her and tugged up the sleeve. They stared in silence at his Dark Mark. It was faded now, just a trace of pale, grayish-blue instead of the writhing, pulsating black it had been.
"This is going to define me, Hermione. Those vultures out there aren't going to tell the world I'm a hero, they'll tell the world I ate babies."
He looked at her and her heart broke to see the tears run down his cheeks. "I never did," he whispered. "I never hurt anyone. Just fiddled with their minds a bit, I swear."
"I know. I know that. We can't begin to care what they think, Severus, or it will tear us apart."
He shook his head. "I'll drag you down with me…"
She pulled at his arm until he wrapped it around her. "It's not just you… They're after me as well. It started with little questions, asking me to tell them about their children, then they wanted me to tell them their future like I was Sybil bloody Trelawney. I'm looking at twenty god damned years of questions about the future and probably a life time of questions about the past after that. No one will ever leave me alone about it. I can't bear the idea of facing that without you."
He tightened his hold on her and crushed her to her chest. "Then we'll face it together," he said. "Always together."
She nodded. "Let nothing fit between us."
He leaned his head down and kissed her and they both let out the softest of sighs. All the stress and strain and terror and turmoil of the last twenty-four hours seemed to fade. As he deepened the kiss, she felt the weight of the world slip away, leaving only the warm welcome weight of his body as he tilted her back down on the sofa. They took their time, needing to renew their bond far more than they needed release. He placed gentle, reverent kisses down her chest as he unbuttoned her robes, and then stretched his neck, exposing it to her with unconscious symbolism as she worked apart the knot on his cravat. They undressed each other slowly and completely, reverently touching and kissing the new scars they carried. When he slipped inside of her, she felt a need to cry from the joy, and so she did.
"I love you," he whispered. "Oh, gods, I love you."
She answered with kisses as he buried himself in her with aching sweetness. Even as their pleasure spiraled in intensity, neither of them felt the need to leap for the edge. Instead they prolonged it, stopping to breathe each other's breath while staring in each other's eyes as if to merge each other's souls with their kisses. When he finally emptied himself inside of her with a soft gasp and a shudder, she felt as if he'd poured his very being into her, and she'd taken it up and wrapped it to keep safe by her heart.
He dropped down next to her curling himself around her and planting lazy kisses on her shoulder as they caught their breath.
"Is it disturbing that neither of us realized when your friend turned this into a bed?" he asked.
She chuckled and shifted until he was spooned behind her. "Not to me," she said. "It just means that the world could have ended in that perfect moment in time and neither of us would have cared."
"It was perfect. The world is perfect when I have you in my arms. It's all the other bloody moments of the day that are flawed and tedious."
She kissed his forearm and said, "You realize you don't have to teach dunderheads any more, don't you?"
"You realize they won't let me, don't you?" he drawled.
She sighed. It seemed like they were right back where they'd started when they'd escaped into this room. "You could come and make potions with me."
"Do you think your employer would let me?"
She shrugged, thinking the answer was probably no.
"Where is the happily ever after?" he asked. "Isn't that in the rules? Why is victory so terrible?"
She shook her head. "I don't know." Remembering what Harry had had to live through in her last life, she repeated herself. "I honestly don't know. The world is a strange place."
He sighed and held her as their sweat dried and the fire crackled. "We'll just hide from it for a little while longer then, yeah?"
"Absolutely." She closed her eyes and settled her head comfortably on his bicep. "Let's stay here for twenty years."
"If only we could," he said with a snort. "Then maybe they'd forget all about us."
She heard the rustling of paper and felt him go still.
"What's this?" he said, gently pulling his arm out from under her head as he sat up. His voice grew alarmed as he said, "Hermione, have you read this?"
She sat up against what had been the armrest and was now a cushy headboard and glanced at the clipping he was holding.
Wizarding World Mourns Once Again
The Wizarding World is still reeling from the shocking death of one of its greatest heroines…
She wrinkled her nose. "Yeah. My friend here showed me that during my private pity party." She gestured to the room. "This was the room it gave me when I needed a refuge. It was exactly the same when we walked in as when I left." She reached behind her and picked up the cup that had held her butterbeer, sloshing the dregs around. "This even has a little foam left in it, like I'd only stepped out for a moment."
He grunted at that, still reading the article. When he was done, he looked up. "You'd have died if you hadn't come here," he whispered.
"So it seems. I don't understand how it would have known that. I tried working out the calculations, but there are just too many variables."
He shook his head. "I don't care how it knew it. I'm just grateful that it did."
She smiled and leaned over to kiss his cheek. "Me too. I'm grateful for everything. Maybe this is our happily ever after. We just need to escape to this room once in a while when the stress gets to be too much."
He smirked at that, but his eyes glittered with pleasure. "I like that idea." He sighed and reached to drop the clipping back on the table. "However, I think it's time our happily ever after came to an end. I'm sure the headmaster has cleared the castle of pests, and I have to give him my report. I've been too busy to tell him everything that happened last night, and I'm sure Black and Potter probably left a few details out about how things went today."
"Did you catch any of the missing Death Eaters?"
He nodded. "There were only three, Travers, Avery, and Gibbons. I knew where they would hide so it wasn't much of a goose chase. All the rest are either dead or rotting in the bowels of the Ministry awaiting trial."
"Then it's really over."
"And we should leave here and go tidy up the loose ends."
He sighed. "We should."
She slumped against him and said, "I don't want to."
He wrapped his arms around her and admitted, "Neither do I."
She worried at her lip before twisting her head around to look at him. "What if we snuck away?"
"We won't get far, we're broke. Although I did hear someone say something about an Order of Merlin…"
"Which we'd have to show our faces in public to collect."
"An obvious flaw."
She huffed and leaned over the edge of the bed to fish her knickers out of the pile of clothes. "Fine. But if there is any reward money, we're leaving."
"A sound idea, but we still haven't decided where we're going."
She found his pants and tossed then to him. "I still haven't been to Amsterdam…"
"And you never will if I have my way. Amsterdam was almost very bad for your health. It's tempting fate."
"You pick then," she said, tossing him his trousers.
He got up off the bed and shoved his legs into them. "I don't care if we end up in Croyden, as long as it's somewhere no one recognizes us."
Her laugh faded away when she looked up to see him staring beyond her with a look of alarm on his face. "Wasn't that red before?" he asked in a quiet voice.
She followed his gaze to the end table and saw the cracked, plastic flowerpot.
It was green.
She reached for it but it faded away before she touched it. Blinking, she looked around the room and asked, "What does that mean?"
As if in reply, the end table itself disappeared. They exchanged a startled look and then began to dress in a hurry. As they grabbed at their clothes, the rug vanished, then two of the three sconces on the wall.
"Do you get the feeling we're being handed our hats and shown the door?" he asked as he threw on his robes.
"Just a tad," she drawled stamping her foot into a shoe. As soon as she stood up, the bed vanished. "Oi!" she cried. "Not so fast!"
"Unless there's a reason it's trying to rush us. Perhaps we need to hurry up."
She looked at him with worry. "Good point."
The fire guttered out and vanished, leaving a plain, nondescript wall. The small room was now lit only by the candle in the sconce by the door. A candle which was burning down at a phenomenal pace.
"Let's go,' he said, shoving his cravat into his pocket and grabbing her hand. "That's a countdown if I've ever seen one. Dumbledore must need us."
She grabbed her other shoe and ran toward the door. Severus threw it open and pulled her through into the Entrance Hall, catching her when she stumbled. They both turned in time to see the door vanish.
Hermione reached out and touched the wall. "I hope it's alright."
Severus nudged her and murmured, "I hope he's alright."
She turned and saw a student, a first-year by the size of him, sitting upright in a chair against the wall. He was staring at them in mute shock, still as a statue.
"Hello, who are you?" Hermione asked as she leaned over to put her other shoe on.
"Snape," the boy whispered.
"The hell you are," Severus replied, staring down his nose at the child. "What are you doing here? You're not a student. I've never seen you before in my life."
"Snape!" the boy shouted jumping up from the chair.
"You will address me by my proper title, or I'll see you in detention."
"Snape! It's Snape!" The boy turned and ran toward the Great Hall, screaming 'Snape' the entire way. A moment later, a streak of silver shot out into the Entrance Hall and zipped under the front doors of the castle.
Severus scowled, his brow furrowed in a terrifying frown. "You see? This is what we're going to have to deal with. Come on. Let's go see the Headmaster. Maybe we can find out more about this reward and get the fuck out of the Wizarding World." He grabbed her hand and started up the stairs toward the first floor with Hermione hurrying along behind him.
"Stop!" a woman cried. They both turned, alarmed, to see a middle-aged witch standing in the doorway of the Great Hall with a small handful of students crowded up behind her. "Please," she said, walking towards them with her hands outstretched.
They started back down the stairs, confused. Hermione was sure she'd never seen the woman before, but when they reached the bottom of the stairs, Severus apparently had. He pulled out his wand and jumped in front of Hermione.
"What the devil is going on here? What the hell happened to you?"
Hermione peeked around him to see the woman blush and pat at her hair self-consciously. "What happened to me was something that obviously didn't happen to you." She looked at him, and Hermione frowned at the way her eyes seemed to drink in his face.
Hermione's hair stood up as she started to see past the motherly haircut and the slight lines on her face, the saggier breasts and slightly wider hips. Lily Potter looked good… for her age.
She stepped around Severus but he kept his arm in front of her protectively. Lily smiled at her with her green eyes and stared at her the same way she'd looked at him a moment before.
"Hello, Hermione. It's good to see you after all this time."
Hermione blew out a breath and gently pushed Severus' arm out of the way. "How long has it been?"
Lily smiled wider, seeing that Hermione was catching on. "Twenty years."
"What are you on about?" Severus snapped. "We only hid in there for an hour at the most."
Lily seemed to be on the verge of crying and laughing at the same time as she shook her head. "No. You've been gone for twenty years to the day." She turned and gestured to the Great Hall. "Won't you come sit? I'll explain."
Severus looked at Hermione with suspicion and confusion all over his face. He raised his eyebrows as if asking her to decide.
"Yes, please," she said. "We'd love to."
Lily smiled and turned, laughing at the cluster of students standing in the hall staring wide-eyed at them. "These are the students that are staying over for the holidays. You have to forgive them. You two are legends. The students have been taking turns sitting in that chair on New Year's Day for twenty years." She smirked and looked back over her shoulder. "They call themselves The Order of the Vigil."
"If we're both heroes,' drawled Snape, "then why was this dunderhead only screaming my name?"
Lily laughed again. "Well, you both have your fans. They tend to be split down the line between boys and girls as to which of you was more important to the cause. Hermione, for coming back in time to save our world, or you, for risking your neck playing spy for months and then finally killing Voldemort in single combat."
Hermione snickered as Severus rolled his eyes. "What bloody single combat? I shot him in the back while he was attempting to bore Hermione to death with speeches."
Lily burst out laughing. "Oh, dear gods, did you?"
"Why would I lie?"
Hermione laughed harder at the shocked look on the boys' faces and the smug looks on the girls'."
She leaned down to the one who sent up the alarm and whispered, "After he'd suffered through six rounds of Crucio and been left mostly dead. He was amazing." The boy's face split into a grin, and he shot the closest girl a smirk.
"Stop it," hissed Severus. "They're already half mad. Look at them! You can see it swirling in their eyes."
Hermione snickered again and followed Lily into the Great Hall.
"It's your own fault in a way," Lily said. "Neither of you told anyone exactly what happened in that room that night. I fear the rumor and supposition has become a sort of national hobby."
"We weren't given the chance," he spat. "It's all well and good for you to say 'that night' in a pretentious tone, but we were just on our way to Dumbledore to explain what happened last night."
Lily's face grew sad. "Yes, that's what I suspected. That's why I stopped you."
Severus and Hermione exchanged a worried look. "Why?" she asked, fearing the answer.
Lily sighed and sat down at the Gryffindor table, gesturing for them to join her. The students clustered around at a respectful distance. "Albus died in his sleep last year. He'd retired about six months before that. He never told anyone he was sick."
Severus frowned. "That bastard always liked his secrets," he said in a quiet voice.
"So he did. A lot of them came out after his death. He'd left behind a memoire."
"Grindelwald," Hermione whispered.
Lily's eyes widened. "You knew?"
"Yeah. I did." She shrugged. "I guess no one's perfect. Who has his wand?"
Severus looked at her with a frown.
"He broke it," Lily replied. "It was found next to his bed in two pieces."
"Why is that relevant?" Severus asked.
"I'll explain later," Hermione said.
Severus growled. "Someone needs to explain something soon. Let's start with why you're here. Did you know we would come through today?"
Lily shook her head. "No. We weren't even sure if you were still in the room to tell you the truth. No one's been able to get in in all this time. Albus tried everything, but the door wouldn't open, nor would it go away. It's been there in the Entrance Hall all this time." She ran a hand through her short hair. "As for why I'm here, that would be because I work here." She smirked. "Someone had to, you see, our previous Potions master disappeared without giving notice."
Snape smirked and folded his arms across his chest. "How much time did you waste trying to update the syllabus?"
Lily flung up her hands, "Oh my gods! Do you know how many Galleons-worth of ingredients I wasted in that first year?"
Severus chuckled low in his chest. "Intimately."
Severus bolted up, wand out, as they all turned to the doorway.
"I should have warned you I called them," Lily whispered. "But I knew how much it would mean to them to be here."
Three men stood there and it took Hermione no time at all to recognize Remus and Sirius. They looked nearly the same as in her time, just… happier. James looked different with his thinning hair and paunchy belly, but the glasses and the way he carried himself were a dead giveaway.
"Look at you, you lucky bastard," he said. "You haven't aged a day!"
Severus was tense as they walked over to him with smiles and outstretched hands. It seemed they'd had twenty years to decide they were all jolly good friends. Hermione nudged him, and he gave them a wince of a smile as he shook their hands. She got a warm hug from James, but Remus and Sirius were more restrained.
"So tell us," said Sirius as they sat down around them, "Where did you go? Where have you been for twenty years?"
Severus shrugged. "It's only been an hour for us. We just sat in that room until we figured they'd all gone away. What happened after we hid?"
James whistled and scrubbed his hand through his thinning hair. The result wasn't flattering. "I returned with Albus and Alastor and they seized control of the situation. It turns out it was the Minister that leaked the story to that woman…" he turned to Remus, "What was her name?"
"Skeeter," he replied. "Rita Skeeter."
"Yeah, that's it. Moody used a spell to force her into her Animagus form. That was a bit dodgy, Sirius was almost caught in it. Anyway, he arrested her on the spot, and Albus made a magnificent speech to the remaining reporters. Then they all fucked off."
"James!" Lily huffed.
He looked around at the students and mumbled, "Sorry."
Sirius took up the tale. "Albus tried to enter the room to tell you it was safe to come out, but he couldn't get in. No one could. Moody even tried to blast the door open, but nothing doing. You two were just… gone."
James nodded. "You've been gone ever since. There was a motion or two in the Wizengamot to have you declared dead, but it was always shouted down in the press."
"We saved your things," Remus said. "All of your belongings have been packed up and stored here." He pulled a slip of paper out of his pocket and slid it across the table to Severus. Hermione leaned over and read, 'Severus Snape and Hermione Granger live at Spinners End, Manchester.'
"I hope you don't mind," he added. "But we were sure you'd come back, and I figured you'd need a place to live."
"I packed up your flat," Lily said to her. "It's all there in marked boxes."
"So you're my Secret Keeper?" Severus asked with a raised eyebrow.
Remus flushed. "Yes, in fact, I am. But you could change that if you wanted. Now that you're back."
Severus looked down at the paper and shook his head, stuffing the slip into a pocket. "No," he said. "This is fine."
"Tell us," Sirius said. "After twenty years we want to finally know, what did happen that night? Even those Death Eaters in Azkaban want to know. It's all a mystery."
Hermione bit her lip and looked at Severus, but he just flicked his hand to her, deflecting the chance to be the one to tell.
She sighed. "Here's the short version," she said.
Between them the retold the tale, each of them adding bits to the other's narrative. Sirius turned green when they got to the part where she was suspected of having an affair with him behind Severus' back.
The others all stared at him as if he'd only just done it, and he looked like he wanted to vomit. "I'm so sorry," he said. "I knew I'd mucked up when I realized who was there, but I had no idea I'd screwed up so badly." He dropped his head to the floor. "The irony is, finding out how badly I mucked up in her other life was why I wanted to apologize to begin with…"
It was Severus who let him off the hook. "You only provided an excuse for him to look into Hermione's mind," he said in a quiet tone. "As she said, she already believed he knew something was different about her, and I agree. I think he simply wanted an opportunity to look in her mind and so he did. The point is, when he ripped through her memories, everything went tits up."
"Severus," Lily hissed. "The children!"
He smirked and drawled, "I'm not a teacher anymore, am I? I gave it up twenty years ago apparently."
Hermione bumped him under the table with her thigh. "Yes, but you're still the adult."
He huffed and turned to James. "Hermione managed to hide the fact that I was a traitor and that we had already destroyed his all but one of his Horcruxes—a feat I am still awaiting an explanation for myself. He did discover that she was from the future and that your son was destined to kill him. He went spare. Bellatrix hit her with the Cruciatus Curse twice, and I volunteered to cast the Killing Curse to prove my loyalty."
"Dear lord!" Remus exclaimed. "What happened when you didn't?"
Severus glared at him. "Who says I didn't?"
"Did you?" hissed James.
"He did," Hermione said with pride. "Blasted me right in the face." They all looked at her like she was demented as she grinned. She looked back at them and rolled her eyes. "Don't you see? You have to mean it. Severus isn't a killer. He knew his spell would fail."
The others all looked at him with wonder, and he scowled. "Don't act so bloody surprised. The only people I ever contemplated killing were you three arseholes."
"But you used the Killing Curse on Voldemort," Remus said, confused.
Severus snorted. "The only person I hated more than you lot was about to kill my girl. You can believe I meant the hell out of that."
"Anyway," Hermione said quickly. "He had hexed a set of earrings…"
She picked up the story again, only to be interrupted one more time.
"…yet as soon as they left he managed to remove the earrings, hand me some Healing Potions, get the diary out of the cupboard, call the Order, and stab the Horcrux with a basilisk fang."
"Bloody hell, Snape," said Sirius. "You're a goddamned beast."
"The fate of the world hinged on my completing my mission, so I did," Severus said, sounding more defensive than proud.
"And then he went into convulsions and fainted," Hermione added.
"Merlin," whispered Remus.
James shook his head. "So you killed Bellatrix and Alecto while he was unconscious?"
"I did, but I had the element of surprise. They were extremely surprised I wasn't dead. I don't know when he regained consciousness, I was a bit busy."
"I think the smell of Bella's guts woke me…"
She finished the story with a rapt audience. When she reached the part where James and Sirius arrived, she shrugged and stopped, not wanting to bring up how terrified she'd been that they would end their rivalry in a horrifying manner.
"And the rest you know," she said in a quiet voice.
"And we don't," said Severus, flapping his hand at them. "So if you would be so kind…"
James scrubbed at his hair again, and said, "I'll keep it short as well. There are hundreds of books that've been written about it, if you want details. We all got a Patronus from Albus telling us to meet at the gate here. It seems he had a way of knowing when you were in danger, and he sent word when it read 'mortal peril'. When your Patronus arrived, we all Apparated right away. Dumbledore blasted the gates off their hinges, and we had a nasty time of it from there to the front door. After that, it was room by room. Dumbledore pinned Voldemort down in the library but was then attacked from behind by the Lestrange brothers. That's when the Dark Lord tried to pull a runner. We cut off his escape and saw him flee into the drawing room. But we couldn't get through his wards until you'd killed him. That's about it as far as the battle went."
He shrugged. "You two went down in history as heroes. You've both been awarded the Order of Merlin, first class, and have an annual stipend—which was why they occasionally tried to get you both declared dead, by the way. By now, you should both have a nice little nest egg to get you started. As for the rest of us, we just went on with our lives. We settled, we got decent jobs, and we made babies. Sirius and I are Aurors, Remus here teaches Defense, and Lily teaches Potions. Did she tell you about Albus? Yeah, that was a loss. Minerva's headmistress now. She does a good job of it."
He finished with another shrug. "Was there anything specific you wanted to know?"
Hermione bit her lip for a moment before asking, "What happened with Draco?"
Lily smiled and reached over to clasp her hand. "He's fine. Andromeda Tonks took him in. He's one of my Harry's best friends."
"He and his friend Ron play for the Chudley Cannons. Draco owns the team. He bought it when the previous owner died. You won't know Ron, but he's—"
"I know Ron," she said in a quiet voice.
"You do? Such a nice boy. He's dating our daughter, Eva."
"You have a daughter?"
Lily smiled. "Two, actually. Eva and Maddie."
Hermione smiled. "That's… that's wonderful."
Lily gave her a sad look. "We wanted to give Harry a bigger family, after… well, after hearing what you said about how lonely he was in your time."
"Good. That's… that's good."
Severus stood up and took her hand. "I think that's enough for now," he said. "If we're spending the night in a house that's been locked up for twenty years, we should probably go see what state it's in."
"Oh, that's not a problem," Remus said. "One of the Malfoys' house-elves volunteered to keep it tidy until your return."
"Dear lord, not Dobby!" she blurted.
"That's the one," he replied as they all stood up. "Is that a problem?"
Hermione shook her head while grinning. "No. Not at all…"
"Have you any idea what you're going to do, Snape?" asked Sirius. "You'd make a great Auror."
"First off, I'm going to buy my girlfriend a new wand. She hasn't had one in twenty years. After that? I haven't a clue. I'll let Hermione decide." He looked at Lily. "I'm never teaching again, I'll tell you that much."
"Really? But you loved teaching! You told me so yourself."
He looked at Hermione and smirked. "I lied. I'd rather drink poison."
James laughed at that and gave his wife a matching smirk that Hermione couldn't quite interpret. She could make a few educated guesses though.
"Call us if you need us, Snape," said James, holding out his hand. "Albus told us to make sure you came to no harm, and we still hold to that. The world will find out you're back soon and things will get interesting for a while."
"You might hear from us," Severus said as he shook his hand, "or we might just run away to America. Hermione owns fruit there. We may have ended up in the history books, but our future is a blank page."
After they'd said their farewells—and scribbled a few autographs—Hermione and Severus headed out of the Great Hall.
She stopped short when she saw a young man standing in the hallway. He smiled nervously at them as the light sparkled off his round glasses.
Hermione walked over tilting her head as she whispered, "Harry?"
His smile grew even bigger as he nodded. "Yep. That's me, Harry Potter, only I'm not the savior of the Wizarding World, you are." He held out his hand in friendship. "Hello, Hermione. It's nice to finally meet you."
She shook his hand, overwhelmed by her need to throw herself at him and hug the breath out of him. She restrained herself with the knowledge that he would probably run screaming if she did.
"Here," he said. "I have something for you. That's why I'm here. I heard my dad Floo the others and came running as well. I've been waiting, because no one knew I had this, and I didn't even want my parents to know."
Hermione blinked and looked down to see he was holding out her journal. Her hands shook as she reached out and took the book.
"How did you…?"
"Dumbledore. Minister Fudge showed up in Godric's Hollow to give it to me. The Headmaster had left it to me in his will." Harry laughed and said, "Actually, he gave me a book on Quantum Arithmancy. I had no idea why at all. I was a crap student, and I'm not sure I spoke more than two words to Dumbledore the entire time I was in school. It took me ages to realize it wasn't really a text book. All I had to do was cast a Finite Incantatem and there it was. It wasn't as bad as trying to open the snitch, but he did seem to still enjoy his little games."
Hermione's brow furrowed. "The snitch? You read it?"
Harry nodded. "There was a note tucked inside it that said I had to."
Hermione blanched, remembering more than a few long entries about how much Harry had annoyed the hell out of her.
He grinned. "Yep, I read those too," he said with a laugh. "I'll admit I skipped over the part about Lockhart. The hearts and unicorn doodles gave it away. He's still a git, but he never was hired to teach. And I swear I haven't said anything to Ron. I think his head's big enough without knowing the famous Hermione Granger once kissed him in another life. However, because of your diary, I practically threw Tonks at Remus. They started dating six months ago, and it's working out pretty well if I say so myself.
"Anyway, I think Dumbledore's point was that you might need a friend when you returned, and well," he shrugged and held his arms out, "here I am."
She threw herself at him, and he hugged her back just as hard. "Great," he said. "This is great!" When he pulled away, he reached out and shook Severus' hand, managing to seem a little star struck.
"This is really great," he said again. "I'll let you two go, I know you haven't had any time to, you know, adjust. Just remember I live in Godric's Hollow offseason. You can Floo me when you're settled, and we'll all go for a meal or something. I think you'll like Draco this time around. He's not the prat he was in your time at all. He's engaged to Ginny by the way. We can invite her too, if you want, and Neville. Or maybe later. You just let me know."
"Alright," she said, swiping at the tears on her face. "I'd like that."
"Excellent." He grinned at both of them and sighed. "This went well, didn't it? I was afraid it would be awkward. Right. I'm just going to go say hello to my mum. I'm looking forward to seeing you both again soon."
With a last hug and a wave, he headed into the Great Hall.
Severus shook his head and drawled, "I live in fear of what he thinks is awkward."
She snorted and swatted at him. "Be nice. You don't even know him."
"Niether do you, but it looks pretty hopeful, doesn't it?" As he led her to the doors, he added, "Did you notice he has his mother's eyes?"
Hermione's laugh echoed in the hall as they headed out of the school.
They both drifted to a stop at the bottom of the steps. Staring out at the expanse of snowy lawn, taking in the sunset, it seemed neither of them seemed inclined to hurry off to their blank future. Severus took her hand in his and just stared at the shoveled walk.
"Marry me," he said.
She grimaced and tilted her head at him. "Severus..."
"Don't get in a snit. I haven't asked you in twenty years."
She rolled her eyes. "You know, I only used that gag once, and you're working on half a dozen in less than an hour."
His smirk faded, and he looked out at the world again. "I'm frightened, Hermione. I don't know this world. The only people we do know are now twenty years older than us. I have the feeling if we continue to be friends with them, they're going to start asking us when we're going to have a family, or who we're going to support in the election, or how about a round of Wizarding golf. I'm too young to be that old. Or we could be friends with their children. That's not too weird, is it?" he drawled, rolling his eyes. He turned to her. "And this hero nonsense... Don't get me wrong, a few hours ago I was afraid of being an outcast for the rest of my life, this is a definite improvement, but still…" Lifting her hand to his lips, he kissed them. "If you won't marry me, can you at least promise to never leave me? You're all I have."
She stepped into his arms and laid her head against his shoulder. "Now you know why I stayed in Hogsmeade after that first night we'd met. You were my lifeline already."
He hugged her tight and said, "I think that worked out rather well."
Nodding furiously, she said, "So do I. You're still my lifeline, Severus. I'm not going anywhere without you. I promise to marry you just as soon as I stop being afraid of the future. Will that do?"
He gave her his beautiful smile and kissed her. "That will more than do." He took her hand again and they faced the world.
"So. Where do you want to go first?" she asked.
"It might sound stupid…"
"I bet it won't."
He turned to her again and said, "It bothers me that no one's been to my mother's grave in twenty years."
Her tears came so suddenly that they actually hurt. She swallowed several times and waved her hand at the path. "Let's go then. Yes, by all means. You can tell me all about her on the way."
He gave her a shy smile and together they set off down the lane toward their future.
They'd almost reached the gates when he said, "Do you realize we shagged for twenty years straight? I am a beast…"
Her laughter rang out across the hills as they passed through the gates and Apparated away with a quiet pop.
Thank you to Drinkingcocoa for such a wonderful prompt. Without her spark, there would have been no ignition. I do hope this was everything you wanted. I tried to tailor it to you, but it was a headstrong little beast and wandered pretty far afield. Special thank you to HebeGB, who Britpicked chapters as fast as I was posting. Without her, it would have taken much longer to reach this moment. Your enjoyment of my crazy posting schedule was made possible by her generosity. Thanks also to MistressBlackSnape, who acted as an early Cheerleader/Alpha reader. I totally left her hanging when I hit the wall on this fic, and I tortured her by making her wait to read the end until it was posted. You owe the fact that I'm still breathing to her restraint. She knows where I live. Lastly, thanks to everyone who took the time to review and comment, who set alarm clocks to peek to see if updates had arrived in the middle of the night, and who had patience with my typos, misspellings, and even posting of the wrong chapter. I adore you all for allowing me the honor and honest pleasure of being able to entertain you.