A/N: I own nothing you recognize.
My apologies for the delay. Apparently writing a conclusion is much more difficult than wrapping the main conflict of the story.
Hermione was at her breakfast table the following morning when the Floo call came through.
"Hermione?" Harry's voice was tentative.
"Good morning, Harry. Would you like to come through?"
"Um, are you alone?" Harry's blush was obvious even through the flames.
"Yes, Harry, I am alone. Although, that tells me that you know about my visitor yesterday evening."
"Hold on, I'm coming through." Harry stepped through the flames. He dusted himself off and took a good look at his friend. She looked like herself again. Gone was the haze of sadness he'd seen over the past couple of weeks.
"Hermione, did you get everything sorted out?"
"If you are asking if Severus and I talked, yes, we did. I don't know how everything got so confused. But I understand now that he and Lyra were in the past, and that she's now marrying Oliver. Of all people, isn't that crazy?"
"How do you feel about that?"
"About Oliver and Lyra? It's not a match I would have thought about, but if they are happy, that's great." Hermione's tone was light and airy. Harry breathed a sigh of relief that his friend seemed so relaxed.
"So, is there a next step for you and Snape?" Harry continued cautiously.
Hermione smiled shyly. Harry realized that he wasn't sure he wanted to hear her response.
"We're going to dinner tonight," she said simply. "We'll see where it goes from there."
Harry nodded. "Well, I'm glad you figured out the misunderstanding."
"Thank you for your help in clearing it up."
"I need to get to work. Ginny wants you to come by for lunch next week." Harry excused himself and stepped back into the Floo.
Severus' owl arrived at Hermione's office a few minutes after she arrived. She was surprised that he had selected a quaint little restaurant in Diagon Alley. She had expected that he would want to avoid the more common destinations, but the restaurant itself was quite charming. He asked her to meet her at 7:30. The message was efficient and polite, but it revealed nothing of his feelings about what he hoped for the evening. This didn't surprise Hermione; her reaction, on the other hand, was quite surprising. She found that she was getting quite nervous about the prospect of an evening alone with Severus. What if after all the buildup, they found they had little in common? She shook that thought from her head. This was just her nerves speaking. She sent back an equally polite confirmation. She returned the work
Severus smoothed his robes after he arrived at the Apparition point. He rounded the corner and walked calmly into the restaurant. Hermione was at the bar, waiting with a glass of wine. He thought she looked mildly nervous as well. He spoke to the hostess; then he walked over to Hermione and offered his arm. She smiled shyly before accepting the gesture. The hostess led the two of them to a table near the back of the restaurant.
"How are you tonight, Severus?" She asked after the hostess left them.
"I'm good, and you?"
"I'm good. Busy. It seems that everyone has an idea of how to improve Muggle culture now and wants my representation." She rolled her eyes. "Very few of the ideas have any merit, and many are downright dangerous. But what about you? How have you been?"
"Draco wants to expand the research department. He and Lyra are both a bit overly enthusiastic about this. I'm barely getting any time in the lab. It all feels like paper pushing."
"Could you hire someone to help run the department and just focus on the actual potionmaking?"
"I could, but finding someone capable is a challenge."
"I understand that. I went through three assistants before I found Rachel."
"So what are you going to do about all these requests for your representation?"
"We'll turn down most of them flat. I meant it when I told Draco I'm not interested in corporate law. Besides, there's going to be a department for this, they probably won't need an advocate anymore. Are you working on anything interesting?"
"The Wolfsbane testing went well this month. I'm still struggling with the improved Blood-replenishing potion.
He continued talking about his work. The conversation flowed easily between them. They shared stories, thoughts, and ideas. Neither held back; there were a few tense moments when one challenged the other a bit more aggressively than one would expect of a first date. But both knew that such spirited discourse was appreciated, provided it was well-intended, which of course was the case.
After dinner, neither was ready for the evening to end. However, they both felt some apprehension about their next step for the evening. In an uncharacteristic display of affection, he took her by the hand and led her out onto the street. When it was time to retire for the evening, he escorted her back to her flat. Several minutes of intense kissing ensued on her porch, leaving them both breathless. They both wanted the evening to continue, but refrained from giving in so soon. She stumbled into the flat in a pleasant fog. He headed down the street with a distinct confidence in his long strides.
Several more pleasant evenings passed between the two over the next few weeks. One cold night, she offered for him to stay yet again, and this time he did not hesitate to accept. They spent the next few hours exploring and enjoying each other, before collapsing in an exhausted, yet satisfied heap in her bed.
Not long after that night, he began making inquiries into houses away from the Manor. He knew the time had come for him to fully rejoin the rest of the world, and leaving the Manor grounds was an important step. She would never come to him while he lived on the Manor grounds, and he needed to re-establish himself separately from the Malfoys. He was grateful for his friends of course, but that normal life he sought demanded this.
She was pleased at the cottage he selected in Hogsmeade. They connected their fireplaces via Floo. While they split their time between the two residences, they were soon spending most of their time together.
The relationship did not move quickly, and to outsiders, it likely appeared strange. They were not an overly affectionate couple from the perspective of an onlooker. Publicly, they expressed their regard for one another with quiet, subtle considerations. Though both could be impatient and stubborn, towards one another, there was a fierce protectiveness as well as surprising level of understanding. There were, of course, subtle hints that a more passionate relationship was hidden beneath the surface. Those that knew them well had little doubt that the relationship was every bit as affectionate as it needed to be.
They married about two years after the relationship began. Over the next several years, they welcomed three children, two daughters and one son. He still desired a quiet life, but made peace with spending time with their small circle of close friends. From time to time, though, he did reserve the right to frighten some of his former students when he found them particularly frustrating. He continued his research; she continued to use her practice to help those in need. The happy little family thrived in this simple, quiet existence for many, many years.