A/N – Well, here is the epilogue as promised. A long epilogue but this story does have a tendency to write itself! Enjoy the fluff. Thanks to the many people who have reviewed over the months – it has helped a lot.

BadBoyLover, Beth Ann, Cassiopeja, ChishionoTenshi, Crissy, Ezmeralda, Goddess-Isis-112, Jasmine Black, Lady Lothian, Lana Riddle, MadAboutHarry, Marston Chicklet, Megamie, Sapphire Rhapsody, Silverose, Strega Brava, Zoe - Thanks!

Firebolt 2000 – No.

Epilogue

Four years later….

"You will wear the carpet out at this rate if you are not careful," Remus observed gently as he sipped from his cup of tea.

The object of this talk, Severus, who was currently pacing the carpet of his sitting room in some agitation, his black robes flying about him like wings, paused to glare at Remus.

"I do not give a damn about the carpet!" he hissed.

Harry, who was sitting somewhat uncomfortably on the couch besides Remus, coughed. "I'm sure Hermione will be all right, professor," he said diplomatically.

The Potions Master turned his head to glower at Harry but at the sound of another cry from the interior of his quarters his shoulders slumped and he sat ungracefully in a chair. Like any man facing the imminent birth of his first child he was reacting in a typical way. Stressfully.

"What if something's wrong?" Severus whispered to the room at large, his face looking pale. For all their powers, there were still times when witches died in childbirth, and to lose Hermione would destroy him. It was that simple. It was impossible to be sour at times when one had a vibrant, cheerful young wife such as Hermione sitting beside him at meals, always keen to discuss new developments in magic and their work. He had even developed a tolerance towards that cat of hers, even though it preferred his chair as the Perfect Place To Sleep And Shed Hair.

Hermione had become an apprentice to be proud of as well as a wife, and several experiments in their shared laboratory she had initiated had produced results he had been able to incorporate into his classes. In time perhaps she would even be able to be a Potions teacher in her own right with the necessary qualifications under her belt……

"I'm sure everything will be fine," Remus said comfortingly, unoffended by his colleague's previous outburst. "You know Madam Pomfrey will have everything under control."

Severus had to admit that Remus was right on that point. Earlier that morning, when Hermione had turned a strained face to him, her hand on her swollen belly as she said, "Get Madame Pomfrey….please….." he had ordered the nearest student to bring the nurse down here as quick as possible while he helped Hermione into the bedroom. Once the capable nurse had arrived down in their quarters with a bulging bag she had briskly shooed him out of the way as if he was an errant student (he had found himself obeying without a fuss).

Inevitably the news that Hermione was about to give birth had spread, and to tell the truth he had felt some lessening of stress when Remus and Potter had come down, Potter looking slightly awkward but willing to offer support where needed. But Severus had never felt so helpless in his life as he did now, for all he could do now was wait. She….they….were going to have a baby.

Two years ago in the warm depths of night in their bed, Hermione had shyly whispered to him of her wish to bear their child, and though at first taken aback he had found his heart softening at the thought of a child with her eyes (but not, perhaps with his nose). They were not a rich couple, but they had enough to get by and there were enough galleons in their savings to provide for an extra but welcome mouth at their table.

Matters had not been as easy as that as Hermione to her sorrow had found it hard to conceive. Severus had consoled her as best as he could – it would not be the end of the world if they had no children, he had told her. It was more than enough for him that she was the companion of his days, the lover of his nights.

However, fortune had eventually smiled upon them and Hermione had conceived. This meant that a portion of his time from then had been devoted to brewing potions to combat her morning sickness and mood swings (he had though, been unable to deal with Hermione's sudden craving for fried onion sandwiches that she ate with gusto, especially at night). Nothing in his life had prepared him for the mixture of emotion he had felt at one time when he had gently touched Hermione's rounded belly, and had felt the life within kick aggressively against his hand.

"I'm sure he, or she, will be on the Gryffindor Quidditch team one day," Hermione had said with a sparkle in her eyes, though she had winced slightly from her baby's kick.

"Are you suggesting that a child of mine will be a Gryffindor?" he had said in a voice of silky menace but with a gleam in his eyes.

"Why not?" Hermione had retorted smartly. "The chances are 50/50 that he or she could be a Gryffindor, and I doubt with our temperaments that Hufflepuff would be the house," she added ruefully.

Severus had to agree with that – he certainly could not imagine any child of theirs being in a house such as Hufflepuff! Certainly he had hopes that his child would be in Slytherin, but at the end of the day it would be up to the child to discover which house it was best suited for. Certainly his father had ruthlessly steered him down the path that led to Slytherin, but he would not follow his father's example. His father…… as time went on, and disapproval from fellow Slytherins at his marriage to one such as Hermione had changed to reluctant tolerance and even some envy at his 'luck', the looks his father had occasionally granted him had become successively sour at meetings of the Slytherin Council. Especially at the last meeting when grudging good wishes had been given to him for his expecting wife. If his father had expected him to come and beg forgiveness then he was doomed to disappointment, for Severus would never do so or ask for a single galleon from his parents.

Ironically, when news 'leaked' from his parents that he had been disowned, it was seen by some people, including students from Hogwarts, that it was a grand and romantic gesture on Severus' part to be with Hermione in the face of his family's disapproval. It had galled him immensely to be seen as someone 'romantic', and he had said so to Hermione in exasperation, until she had pointed out with a twinkle in her eye that if people saw him as someone who had swept her off her feet to whisper sweet nothings in her ear that was fine by her.

Looking at Professor Snape Harry could understand his bad temper – it operated from a sense of frustration and worry that Harry shared. Only the lightest of spells could be used to aid the birthing process, for the use of powerful magic at those times could be fatal to the vulnerable child. Harry had found himself sharing Hermione's happiness at the news that she was going to have a child, with Hermione and Lavender taking several opportunities to go and 'shop for the baby'. "How many toys does a baby need for Merlin's sake?" Severus had grumbled to him.

In the time following Harry's graduation Professor Snape had started treating him as an actual person and not a disliked reminder of his father James. While he and the Potions Master would never be friends, they had grown to have a grudging respect for the other and at times even have a civil conversation.

Since becoming the headmaster's apprentice, Harry had felt as though this was something he had always been meant for as he absorbed more every day of what went on at Hogwarts and the things that went on behind the scenes. It was disconcerting though that Dumbledore was starting to look somewhat frail around the edges these days, as if it was only willpower that kept him going.

After Sirius had been restored to his human form, he had grimly told Hermione that "she had made her bed and now you can lie in it," and then ignored the couple as much as possible, but as time went on Harry found himself the recipient of Sirius's occasional irritated rants over how it was Hermione and Severus seemed to actually have an enjoyable marriage. Certainly the faculty had been surprised the first time Hermione and Severus had actually gone away on holiday together and when they had returned he had shown signs of being out in the sun for a lengthy time. For some reason too every winter after the first snow they would both go down to the side of the lake and engage in a take-no-prisoners snow fight which, Harry reflected, served to reduce the new first-years automatic terror of the Potions Master. It was hard to fear him when he showed he was actually able to have fun occasionally.

Hermione had worked right up to her last month, up to when a combination of orders from the professor to rest and her weariness ("Honestly, I feel like an elephant, Harry") had led her to spend her time relaxing in a private courtyard nearby or on a daybed here in her sitting room.

Harry glanced around. The chairs and sofa in the spacious sitting room did not really encourage you to loll around on them but they were softened with cushions, and the daybed looked comfortable, with a nearby bookcase overflowing with books and magazines. There were two other doors in the sitting room, one that led to the kitchen/dining area and study and the other presumably led to their bedroom. A bowl of dark rose petals that gave off a heady smell was on a small table along with a framed photo of Hermione and the professor on their wedding day. Hermione in her bridal finery was waving from the photo, while the professor was trying to look as if it was beneath him to appear happy on his wedding day, failing when Hermione leaned up and kissed his cheek.

Severus found himself staring at the wedding photo as well and found himself remembering back to the day he and Hermione had wed not many months after they had become engaged…..

The event had taken place in a chapel that was on the grounds of Hogwarts. It was a place associated with death, for the vaults far below held the remains of wizards who had resided at Hogwarts and former students who had had fond memories of their old school. It was also a place associated with life, for it was where local wizards came to get married, attracted by the sense of peace within that seemed to emanate from its stone walls.

Built with the same kind of stones as Hogwarts, the walls had gleamed from the light of the beeswax candles in candelabra. It had been a small, private ceremony, for neither of them had wanted undue fuss. Hermione's apprehensive parents had been there, still accustoming themselves to have a wizard for a son-in-law. Certainly it had been an eye-opener for Severus to have dinner at the home of Hermione's parents, who had been visibly nervous in their efforts not to offend the two wizards in their house. It was a mystery to Severus as to how Muggles could cope with the various machines and gadgets in their homes.

Hermione had looked radiant in her beautiful white silk-and-lace gown (Lavender had surprised them both by providing a design for the gown that actually looked good), and a crown of white flowers that had made her look like a queen. He had worn his usual black frock coat and trousers, though his outer robes had been a dark forest-green with discreet silver embroidery at the edges. Hermione had spoken her vows in a clear, determined voice though there had been a faint blush on her cheeks. As for him, he had felt that the powerful spells he had voiced in the past had paled into significance beside the words he uttered then that had bound them close together, forever.

Hermione's friends had turned up to provide surprisingly sincere support for their friend, though Weasley had for some reason happened to be out of town at the time. What a shame, Severus had insincerely thought to himself. Afterwards they had spent their honeymoon in his castle (which Hermione had already 'renovated') and had lost themselves in each other…..

Severus was recalled to the present when suddenly there came the outraged cry of a baby that was clearly angry at being brought into the world. Severus stood abruptly; his head turned towards the bedroom door and his eyes all wide dark pupils. He was only peripherally aware of Remus and Harry having stood as well, hovering in nervous anticipation.

He could not move, nor could he breathe. He felt that once he went through that door he would be forever changed. After a little while the door clicked open and Madame Pomfrey came out looking haggard, though a smile of weary pride was upon her face.

"My work is done…….you have a daughter, Severus," the capable nurse said kindly. "Come and see."

"A daughter," Severus whispered, feeling a wave of joy rush through him that was so intense it was almost like pain, feeling slightly dazed as he accepted the warm congratulations from the two other men. He had a little girl – it did not matter in the end that it was not a son as he had secretly hoped for.

"Hermione – is she all right?" he asked urgently, brushing away a strand of black hair from his face as he found his feet and advanced towards Madame Pomfrey.

"She's fine – but she needs lots of rest, mind," the nurse said, frowning slightly. "I've told her that she isn't to exert herself in these early days and I expect you to see that she doesn't."

He wasn't a complete ogre, Severus thought in irritation. It wasn't as if he would order Hermione to get back to her studies tomorrow. But he merely nodded his head swiftly and when the nurse stood aside he went into the bedroom, his hands moving restlessly.

Hermione had never felt so weary in her life, but though she was tired she filled with a sense of amazement as she looked down at the baby girl she was holding, clean and snug in a little cream shawl. The nurse had restored the bed and herself to a state of cleanliness, and a cup of restorative potion was by her bed (from the way she was feeling she didn't think she could cope with eating the healing chocolate).

Although the bright blue gaze of her daughter was unfocussed, she was looking about as if she was determined to absorb everything around her, and already she had fine, wispy black hair on her head like Severus. Certainly she had already demonstrated she had the lungs and temper like her father!

She looked up with a smile when her husband came swiftly into the room, pausing and becoming very still when he saw the child in her arms. Then Severus approached the bed and sat down on the side with some hesitancy, as if they were both fine china.

"We have a……daughter?" he said huskily, swallowing a few times as if he could not believe the news and what he saw.

"Yes. Isn't she beautiful?" Hermione said softly, holding the baby out to him. Her normally self-assured, formidable husband looked for a moment as if he was unsure what to do then with slightly trembling hands he reached out and took the baby into his arms.

"She is perfect," he whispered after a moment, staring down at his child. It seemed unbelievable that someone like him could have created this miracle with Hermione. When the baby started crying in protest in being away from Hermione he froze - what could he do? He had no experience with babies after all. But when he found himself murmuring, "It is all right, little one," his daughter hiccupped and ceased crying, staring up at him fuzzily.

"It looks as though she likes your voice too," Hermione teased him.

"If she is as impertinent as her mother I will have my hands full," he retorted, but then looking at his wife he said, "I cannot adequately describe how I feel…..but I do know I will love her with all my heart," he said softly. Even in her tiredness and the extra roundness to her curves she could still make his heart beat faster.

"I know you will," Hermione said simply.

"What is to be her name?" he murmured, gazing down at the now sleeping baby.

Hermione hesitated. "I had thought of Isabelle as you know, but now that I look at her I think……Elaine would be better," she admitted.

Severus considered their child for a moment. "Yes," he decided. The name felt right. Then he glanced at the door. "Harry and Remus are probably wondering what's going on – shall I show them our Elaine before they have kittens?" he said dryly.

Hermione smiled at him warmly. "I thought I heard their voices before - go and show them then." She was glad that her friends had come down to support her and that Severus wished to include them both into their circle.

She reflected on how far she and Severus had come together and was glad to remember the wish of her younger self to bring a genuine smile to a cold and bitter Potions Master.

FINIS

A/N – Well, I had been cautious in writing the sections about the baby, (having no personal knowledge of giving birth myself) so I hope it doesn't seem false. I have been told that as soon as I was born I was staring around the room and looking at everything, so that detail is true to life!

I hope you all enjoyed the story; you've been a great audience. I don't have any visions of a sequel but I assure you that our couple live happily ever with kid(s), cat and snowball fights each winter. As it should be. ~_^