A/N: Missed my estimated deadline by a lot, but my muse just wasn't fully cooperating - she got rather long-winded and mushy. Perhaps she was just too upset to let this go. In any case, she refused to let this be an ending, so instead it's a collection of beginnings.
Thank you all so much for reading and reviewing! I hope you have enjoyed this as much as I have.
"I dreamed of two blue orchids
Two beautiful blue orchids
One night while in my lonely room
I dreamed of two blue orchids
So full of love and light
That I wanted to possess each tender bloom
Then my dream took wings
And through a thousand springs
Blue orchids seemed in a world apart
But when I met you
Something pale and blue
Came stealing from the meadows of my heart
I saw my two blue orchids
My beautiful blue orchids
Last night and what a sweet surprise
When you looked at me
It was plain to see
Blue orchids only bloom in your eyes."
- Glenn Miller, "Blue Orchids"
- Epilogue, Part II -
With a sigh, Severus stepped through the staff entrance into the Great Hall. His eyes widened slightly at the drastic change that occurred since he had left the hall after lunch only hours before. He had witnessed Hermione conspiring with Filius and Longbottom several times over the past six months, and it seemed his wife had allowed the diminutive wizard and his side-kick to run unchecked.
The dais, which had been cleared of the staff table as soon as the majority of students left for the holiday, sported four sizeable fir trees, which were situated in order to frame the large window and extensively decorated with twinkling blue lights, silver streamers, and ivory roses. The rest of the holiday greenery had been adorned in a similar fashion, and the large banners and window drapes had been charmed bright silver. A silver-trimmed white velvet runner spanned the length of the hall from the main entrance and up the shallow steps of the dais, widening gradually to fill the space beneath the window. A small, octagonal table sat in the center of the platform, draped in white satin with flowers cascading down the sides. Rising up from amongst the roses and forget-me-nots were two silver candles.
Inhaling deeply, he turned slightly to view the seemingly endless rows of silver-backed chairs. Candles floated at the edges of the aisles, and intermittent rows were embellished with roses.
"Well, Severus – what do you think?"
The dark-haired wizard glanced down at the culprit and then rolled his shoulders. "What I think is that I do not recall inviting near enough people to fill those seats."
Flitwick chortled brightly. "I suppose not, but with all of the families of the invited, the Minister of Magic's entourage, and the students still in residence, near every chair should be filled! I believe the last head-count totaled four hundred and seventeen."
Choking on his own saliva, Snape cleared his throat and then adjusted the collar of his midnight blue dress robes. "Well, I suppose the Weasley clan accounts for at least a third of that number."
"Oh, not quite yet, but they're certainly working on it!" the Charms professor laughed. "I had a feeling you might be in a mood today. I've never figured you as being one for public displays."
"Would you like a pat on the back for deducing that?" he drawled, picking at some of the silver embroidery on his sleeve before folding his arms to his chest.
His colleague grinned and shook his head. "I just saw Hermione, and I wanted to assure you that she looks positively stunning. I've never seen her look more beautiful than she does this afternoon."
"I see," the Headmaster mumbled. "I suppose I do thank you, but I did not suffer the impression that she would arrive in a hideous state."
"Oh, I'm sure you thought nothing of the sort! Now, of course, I've discussed everything with Hermione, but in case you were curious…"
As the half-goblin droned on about how the Hall would be transformed to host the reception and dinner following the ceremony, Severus found himself only half listening as he considered the absurdity of the situation. He had been married to the witch for seven years – quite happily, for four of them – and they had a child together, for Merlin's sake. There was no need for her to don some ridiculous white dress just to prove to him that she was beautiful – he would never see her as anything less.
And the notion that she had never been prettier was laughable! He rather doubted that fixing her hair and painting her face could improve upon what was already there. In fact, the memory that stood out as being the moment of her greatest beauty in his opinion was one that was in stark contrast to the conventional definition.
Sweat dripped down her forehead, and tight ringlets of her hair were plastered to the side of her face. He could feel her quivering as she sank against his chest in exhaustion. Placing his lips against her temple, he whispered. "You're beautiful."
"Shut up," she panted.
"I am not –"
"Please! No more noise," Hermione moaned breathlessly. "Tell him no more noise!"
Healer Fairborne glanced up at her and gave a small smile, while Poppy laughed tiredly. With a sigh, Severus closed his eyes until he felt his wife push forward again. As she gave another primal cry, her fingers dug into his wrists and he set his jaw against the resulting pain. He would suffer in silence for he suspected that even if she broke both wrists it would pale in comparison to what she was experiencing.
As she settled back against him, he kept his mouth firmly closed as per her orders and waited for the next round of contractions to arrive. After she gave another push minutes later, she turned her face against his neck and wheezed, "You're supposed to be talking to me."
His mouth agape, he glanced quickly between the two Healers – who both pretended not to have heard the statement – and then cleared his throat. "I'm sorry – I thought you wanted quiet."
"You're supposed to tell me I'm doing well."
"You're doing well –"
"No!" she snapped. "Don't say it just because I told you to."
Snape sent a glare in Madam Pomfrey's direction when she chuckled, and then grimaced as his wife executed another death grip on his arms. He had known that he had fallen for a bossy witch, but in the past day he had been made fully aware of just how dictatorial she could be. Several times she had barked at him to stop telling her how to breathe – so he had – or not to try cooling her down unless she specifically asked him to do it – so he had not – and when she had finally progressed to the pushing stage – nearly three hours prior – she asked that he not touch her any more than necessary.
It was becoming increasingly difficult for him to figure out what to do for her, but he would keep trying. He did not take her criticisms to heart for he knew how exhausted she must be – he was exhausted, and he had hardly been anything more than a glorified armchair for most of it. Frankly, he was relieved by the fact she was talking to him at all, for there had been a few hours or so where she had been unable to do even that.
"Sev," she whispered, tearing up slightly, "I don't think I can do this."
He inhaled deeply and leaned his forehead against hers. "It will be over soon."
"That's what you said six hours ago."
Severus nodded slowly. "I suppose we should have considered our child would be just as stubborn as either of us."
"It's your fault," she sighed before wincing and tensing up. "I'm not this…ugh… stubborn."
When she relaxed slightly a moment later, he raised an eyebrow in amusement. "I beg to differ."
An angry spark ignited on her face as she glared up at him. "Do you want to be the first father to die in childbirth?"
"You're doing well, darling," he grinned. Deciding it was worth the risk to his personal safety to keep her focused on something other than the clock, he continued goading her. "I have full confidence in your stubbornness prevailing. I know you've survived worse –"
"Oh you think so?" Hermione shook her head. "Why don't you go get crucio-ed every five minutes for an entire day and push a Quaffle out your arsehole – then we'll talk about surviving worse."
Her husband smirked and kissed her forehead. "I do love you."
"You had better," she murmured. "And stop trying to make me angry. I know that's what you're doing."
The wizard exhaled slowly. "Yes, dear."
It was nearing midnight by that point, and only minutes after the bells announced the arrival of July 9th, it was with great relief that Healer Fairborne finally declared the head visible. It went smoothly after that, and within what seemed like no time at all, Emmeline Minerva Snape had been cleaned, deemed healthy, and bundled into her mother's arms.
At seeing how tired his wife was, Snape slipped his arms beneath hers as she cradled their child, in case they were at risk of giving out. The witch responded by tucking her head beneath his chin, and sniffling loudly. "She's so beautiful."
"That's your fault," he murmured, watching intently as the tiny dark-eyed and -haired figure wriggled within their grasp.
Severus had not slept a wink the night Emmeline had been born, but had spent the hours watching over his sleeping family. And as the sound of the large doors creaking open followed by the lively chattering of the entering guests pulled him from his reminiscence, he knew he owed it to Hermione to suffer through the day. If she wished to make a fool of him in front of four hundred and seventeen people, so be it.
"Well, I think I shall fetch a seat before all of the good ones are claimed," Flitwick smiled, before hustling down the aisle and passing the approaching Ministry marriage official.
"Good afternoon," the man exclaimed as he climbed the steps of the dais and came to a stop beside the small table.
The Headmaster snorted under his breath as he realized it was the same buffoon who had actually married them seven years ago. As he crossed his arms behind his back and glanced up at the twinkling stars of the enchanted ceiling, he considered whether or not the choice of officiate had been intentional on his wife's part or if it had just been a happy coincidence. Likely, it was the former as she – the current Deputy Head of the Department for the Regulation, Control, and Protection of Magical Creatures and occasional member of the Minister for Magic's Advisory Committee – held plenty of clout at the Ministry and seemed to have a fair amount of time on her hands since the Werewolf Rights Act had passed the Wizengamot just months prior.
Glancing back at the decorated walls of the Great Hall, he noticed that every picture frame in the room was already packed with former Headmasters and other random portrait occupants of the castle. He rolled his eyes upon seeing that, in the nearest frame, Phineas Black and Everard Burke were violently jostling with each other over the last seat in the front row while Dilys Derwent shouted at them from her own seat, and Albus ignored them entirely as he gazed down upon his successor with a twinkling smile that was even more nauseating than usual.
Blowing out an annoyed breath, he looked instead toward the row of ghosts floating just beneath the enchanted ceiling.
"Looking good, Headmaster!"
Snape immediately snapped his narrowed gaze in the direction of his wife's former assistant. At seeing his glare, Marie waved and then tugged her date – whom the Slytherin was surprise to note was Charles Weasley – toward two unfilled seats in the second row.
"James, get back here!"
Severus's lips quirked into a smile as he watched Potter hand his godson off to Molly before chasing after the escaping four-and-a-half-year-old. The Head Auror managed to catch the squealing child just seconds before he could grab at the decorations on one of the large fir trees.
"Sorry about that," Harry muttered, hauling the dark-haired boy down the shallow steps.
"Might I suggest a temporary-sticking charm?"
The Gryffindor laughed quietly and nodded. "It may come to that yet."
His amusement was short lived, however, as he then caught sight of Rita Skeeter-Leach dragging an overweight, bespectacled, blonde-haired boy toward the front rows. He was suddenly regretting the decision not to read through and revise the guest list Hermione had given him months ago. Despite the fact that the ink-slinger had blatantly hinted at having started another critical biography – this one focused on himself – his wife had still seen fit to include her.
With a disgusted grimace, he panned his gaze across the room, pausing when he noticed a flash of white-blonde hair. The small boy appeared only a few years older than Emmeline and was the spitting image of an exceptionally young Draco Malfoy. The elegant witch attached to the child's hand had to be one of the Greengrass sisters – the youngest, Astoria, if he had to hazard a guess. Watching her shepherding the boy into one of the rear rows, Snape quickly scanned the empty seats until his eyes reached a tall, masculine figure. For a few moments, the man's face was obstructed by the blonde hair of the small girl he held, but when he turned to take a seat, there was no mistaking his identity.
Severus swallowed slightly in surprise when Draco's eyes locked onto his, and the younger man smiled and dipped his head in acknowledgement. It had been nearly a decade since he had last laid eyes upon the young heir. He had testified during his former student's trial and had written him several times in the few years following the acquittal, but they had fallen out of touch after Draco had left Britain. There had been a few post cards – from Greece, France, and Spain – during the first year of his somewhat-self-induced exile, but naught since then.
How Hermione had ever managed to find and lure him back to his home country was a mystery, but not exactly implausible. The witch indeed had a knack for manipulation – er, negotiation – and never shied away from lost causes. Regardless of how she had accomplished the feat, the ex-spy was greatly relieved to see that Draco appeared happier and healthier than at any time since the Dark Lord's second rise.
Before long, all but a handful of chairs were taken, and Filius stood long enough to flick his wand at a number of the wreaths. The buzz of chatter in the Hall quickly quieted down as soft music began to filter down from the ceiling.
Snape glanced around as did the guests, but immediately focused his attention to the entrance when Minerva appeared in the doorway with Emmeline's hand firmly ensconced within hers. The little girl wore a fluffy white dress with a thick blue ribbon tied about her waist that matched the wreath of forget-me-nots placed atop her dark curls. She seemed to be uncertain about the crowd of people watching her as she sank slightly into the skirt of her godmother's robes while they walked down the aisle. When the pair reached the end of the chairs, however, the girl caught sight of her father and pulled away from the Deputy Headmistress.
Snickers erupted from those gathered as Emma charged forward and then lifted her arms above her head. "Daddy, up!"
Snorting softly, the Headmaster did as he was instructed.
"Like my dress?" she asked, placing her small hands on his shoulders. "Mummy says I'm a princess."
As McGonagall covered her mouth and dipped her head, he sent her a warning glance and then gave his daughter a small nod. "I agree with your mother."
Emmeline glanced behind her in concern and then leaned forward to whisper, "Can we go now?"
"Unfortunately not," he smirked, detaching one of her hands. "Now if you would, be a good girl and go sit with your godmother until dinner."
The little girl frowned visibly as he moved to pass her over to the witch and then tapped her cheek as she demanded, "Kiss first, Daddy."
After giving a long suffering sigh, Snape pressed his lips against her cheek and then reattempted the transfer. In the midst of it, however, his attention was again pulled toward the entrance as Ginevra Potter stepped down the aisle, leaving him an obstructed view of his wife. As his mouth parted in shock, he momentarily forgot his present task, causing Emmeline to awkwardly slide down his side until Minerva caught her halfway to the floor. Glancing down in confusion, he grimaced briefly while his Deputy readjusted the girl on her hip and chuckled loudly.
Returning his gaze to the end of the aisle, he noticed that Hermione had pinched her lips together in an attempt not to laugh out loud. After ducking her head slightly, she squared her shoulders and then slowly began stepping forward. A quirk of smile graced her mouth at the murmurs rippling through the crowd.
Her husband swallowed hesitantly as she moved towards him; his eyes working hard to forever engrave the image into his mind. A few tendrils of hair hung about her face as a braid wreathed about her head before disappearing into a knot of soft curls at the base of her neck. The bodice of the dress was fitted to her form, the satin material gathered along her right hip, before widening into a skirt that touched the floor and trailed a few inches behind her. The neckline was cut just low enough to hint at her cleavage, and delicate lace hugged her arms nearly down to her wrists. The sapphire earrings he had given her for her thirtieth birthday dangled from her ears, but she wore no other jewelry beyond the silver band on her left hand. A spray of forget-me-nots and ivory roses was draped over her arm, and tucked into her hair were two blossoms of a blue orchid.
Severus knew that her attire was relatively simple for a traditional wizarding ceremony, but at the moment, he thought she was the most extravagant thing he had ever seen. He suddenly felt quite stupid for having scoffed at Filius's earlier declaration, for this was an entirely different matter that was utterly incomparable to day their Emmeline was born. He could not definitively say which he found more beautiful: the fierce warrior who had fought through more than twenty hours of pain to deliver their tiny princess or the angelic figure now gliding down the aisle.
As she neared the base of the steps where he stood, he suddenly realized that he owed her for this as well. She was not making a fool of him – he was doing that well enough on his own – but was instead boldly declaring to the masses that she had chosen him of all people. No one had pointed her in his direction after the Act was repealed – quite the opposite, in fact – and she had had every right to walk away from him. But she had stayed because she wanted to; because she loved him.
And now she stood, dressed like a queen, before four hundred and seventeen of their closest friends, colleagues, and random acquaintances to proclaim him worthy of possessing her heart.
Severus watched his wife hand her flowers over to Ginny, who quietly slunk back to the open seat between Minerva and Harry, and he knew he would be forever indebted to his witch.
"Hi," Hermione smiled, blinking away tears as she slipped her arm through his.
The wizard returned a smile and then cleared his throat, finally remembering what they were supposed to do. He assisted her up the steps as they moved toward the waiting officiator, softly murmuring, "Are you crying?"
She blushed deeply upon reaching the small table and nodded lightly when the official greeted the crowd. Tilting her head towards him, she whispered, "I've just never seen you look at me like that before."
Severus eyed her in surprise and then wrapped his hand around hers. As the Ministry official continued on with the ceremony, the Headmaster leaned nearer her head. "I should have."
"Indeed." The witch bore a definite smirk as she flicked her gaze up to his face.
"If the two of you could face each other and join hands," the officiant instructed. When they had done so, he cleared his throat and turned slightly toward the Headmaster. "Severus Tobias, shall you continue to keep Hermione as your wife, promising to be her friend, partner, and truest love? Shall you also promise to love her without hesitancy, to honor and respect her, to shield her from danger, to comfort her in times of darkness, and to share with her in mind, body, and soul?"
"I shall," he stated firmly, squeezing her hands.
"And you, Hermione Jean, shall you continue to accept Severus as your husband, promising to be his friend, partner and truest love? Shall you also promise to love him without hesitancy, to honor and respect him, to shield him from danger, to comfort him in times of darkness, and to share with him in mind, body and soul?"
"I shall," she whispered, blinking quickly.
"Do the two of you have rings to excha—"
"Oh, erm," Hermione mumbled, tearing her eyes away from her husband. "We were supposed to skip this part since we don't have new –"
The dark-haired wizard cleared his throat and withdrew one hand from hers. "Actually, I have one to give."
While the official gave a relieved sigh, the woman suddenly glanced up at him in surprise. "What? I thought we decided not to."
"You may have decided," he murmured softly, slipping his hand into his pocket. "I did not, however."
Shaking her head as he produced a small, golden box, she whispered, "Prat."
Snape momentarily flicked his gaze toward the wide-eyed Ministry worker and smirked while he quickly removed the jewelry and banished the box back to their bedroom. Taking up her left hand, he kept the new ring hidden from view while he transferred her original silver band to her right hand. He could practically feel the curiosity vibrating off of her as she nibbled on her bottom lip and stared expectantly at his hand.
"You have made me happier than I ever imagined possible," he breathed into her ear, before gently slipping the ring onto her finger.
Hermione smiled widely at his admission and again looked down at her hand to see the sparkling, white diamond nestled in silver filigree. With a quiet gasp, she snapped her eyes up to his and then threw her arms about his neck, pulling his head down to meet her lips.
"Pardon me," the officiant cleared his throat, "but I hadn't quite gotten to that part of –"
The Slytherin withdrew his mouth from hers in order to issue the man a cold glare.
"Oh, m-my apologies, sir… by all means, c-carry on."
Giggling softly, the witch pressed her forehead against her husband's before taking a step back from him. As she faced the Ministry official, she blushed. "Sorry."
"No, no," he mumbled, shaking his head and glancing nervously in the groom's direction. "You are already married after all – who be I to tell a wizard that he cannot accept a kiss from his wife."
At a sudden rumble of laughter from the gallery, Severus glowered over his shoulder until both George and Ronald Weasley sheepishly sank down in their chairs. Draco Malfoy seemed undeterred, however, and bravely continued leering at him.
"Might we continue?" the brunette asked, squeezing his hand and drawing his attention back to the front of the room.
"Of course!" the official nodded before clearing his throat again. "Hermione, do you accept Severus's ring as a token of his continued affection for you?"
She nodded eagerly. "I do."
"And Severus, do you… accept… erm...Hermione's kiss as a token of her continued affection for you?"
"I do," he stated with a smirk.
"Then by the privilege extended to me by the Ministry of Magic of the United Kingdom – which wasn't exactly necessary in this instance, but nevertheless – I declare that the two of you are still legally and spiritually bonded as husband and wife. Severus, you may – again – kiss your witch."
When Hermione glanced up at him with a smile brighter than the ring on her finger, the Headmaster placed one hand beneath her jaw and slipped his other arm about her waist. Drawing her fully against his body, he lowered his head and pressed his lips to hers gently before nudging her mouth open and deepening the kiss. As the exchange continued, applause and cheering sounded from the crowd while the official waved his wand in an intricate pattern, causing a shower of golden sparks to rain down upon their heads. Finally drawing apart, the Gryffindor witch gripped his velvet robes tightly and breathlessly leaned against his chest while they watched the shimmering sparks ignite the wicks of the two silver candles before gradually disappearing.
"Thank you," she whispered, kissing his cheek as the guests began forming a line to congratulate them.
"I should thank you," he murmured in reply, smiling at her before gesturing toward their daughter, "Since I am the one who has clearly come out ahead in this deal."
After Minerva set Emmeline on the floor and whispered in her ear, the little girl smiled and then ran past all of the people. As she jumped at her father, he clumsily caught her about the waist with one arm and then hauled her up to his chest.
"Not going to drop her again, are you?" Marie quipped upon reaching the head of the queue.
As Hermione snickered and tightened hold of his hand, the Slytherin narrowed his eyes into a glare. "I did no such thing."
"Oh, you did," Ginny smirked from where she had chosen to stand beside the bride. "And Dennis got it on film, even."
The man snapped his gaze in the direction of her hand and spotted the mousy-haired Creevey giving them a thumbs-up as he continued to hide behind his large camera.
"Don't worry, Severus," Molly Weasley smiled, tickling Emma beneath her chin. "Arthur dropped Bill and Charlie, here, at least half a dozen times, and they've come out perfectly fine."
Snape raised one eyebrow in response. "And what happened to the others?"
As Ginny gasped, her father chuckled quietly and shook his head. "Perhaps I did not drop them enough."
"I see," the Headmaster replied before glancing back at the deluge of well-wishers. As the line continued moving forward, he could see Filius and Minerva teaming up at the back of the Great Hall to replace the current arrangement of chairs with what was needed for the dinner and reception. By the time the queue had nearly come to an end, the transformed space was somewhat reminiscent of the Yule Ball so many years before. Round tables adorned in silver punctuated the room, stopping several meters short of the dais, where the small, circular table had elongated into one large enough to seat the bridal party.
Seemingly sensing that he was not paying full attention to their guests, Hermione tugged lightly on his arm and then held out her hands. "I can take her for a moment."
The wizard raised one eyebrow in question until he realized that the young Malfoy family was nearing the front of the line. Nodding slightly, he passed the little girl over to her and then slipped one arm behind her shoulders.
"Uncle Severus," Draco smirked, holding out his hand. "You look well."
"As do you," he replied as they shook hands. "Despite your apparent inability to use an owl."
A sheepish look crossed the blonde's face as he shrugged and then gestured to his slender wife. "Sorry, sir. I guess I just got a little busy."
"I can see that."
"You remember Astoria?"
Snape dipped his head in greeting as the witch smiled. "I do, yes."
"Well, this here is Scorpius," Draco stated, proudly resting a hand on his son's head. "He's just turned six last month, and hiding back there is Corona, who'll be four in February."
At the sound of her name, the blonde girl poked her head out from behind her father's robes. With large grey eyes, she peered up at the bride's gown and smiled bashfully.
"Though, it seems you have been busy as well, sir," Malfoy winked towards Hermione. "You've even managed to turn Granger here into something with actual class."
The witch rolled her eyes as she set her slightly-fussy daughter on the floor. "Well, it certainly appears that Astoria still has her work cut out for her with that particular task, doesn't it?"
With an amused sneer, the younger wizard glanced back at his former mentor. "I always did peg you for picking the fiery type. Of course she'd have to be to survive your sunny disposition, wouldn't she?"
"Yes, and you had better bear that in mind henceforth," Severus warned, moving his arm to rest around his wife's waist.
"Message heard and received," the blonde grinned before bending down to address their curly-haired daughter. "And just who is this lovely, young lady?"
"This is Emmeline," Hermione replied, holding onto her hand. "She'll turn four this July."
Astoria crouched down next to her own daughter. "Corona, Miss Emmeline is almost as old as you are. Can you say 'hello' to her?"
Giving a shy nod, the youngest Malfoy took one step forward while Emma tugged her hand out of her mother's. A moment later, the two little witches wrapped their arms about each other in a friendly embrace.
"Well, that's certainly a first," Draco laughed, scratching the back of his head. "She's only ever done that with family, you know."
As the girls separated and returned to hold their respective mothers' hands, Astoria smiled elegantly. "At least I know now that she'll have a friend in her year of school."
"Now we'll just have to find one for Scorpius," her husband remarked, glancing appraisingly about the hall, "of course we'll have to sift through the sea of gingers to find someone even halfway suitable."
Severus snorted and his wife bit down on her lip as they all heard Ginny give an affronted groan. Clearing her throat, Hermione asked, "You're returning to England then?"
Draco nodded as he lifted Corona and held her against his chest. "Tori's grandmother has been ill, so she'd like to be closer than France. Plus, mum doesn't really like to leave the cottage at all, so I thought it might cease some of her whining if the children are nearby. And now that Hogwarts finally has a proper Headmaster, I figured why not?"
An amused snort drew their attention to Minerva's arrival at her colleague's side. "I never thought I would say this, but it is good to see you again, Mr. Malfoy. However, you are holding up the queue, and the elves are anxiously waiting to begin the dinner service."
"I suppose we'll just have to chat another time," he sighed, shaking Snape's hand again and then giving a theatrical sigh before giving Hermione a half-hug. As he steered his family down the dais, he winked at Ginny. "Weaslette."
"Ferret," she snapped with a frown.
"And just which batch of tiny Scarheads are you on?" he queried, eyeing her swollen stomach.
The redhead narrowed her eyes. "I don't care whose party it is, I will hex you."
"Easy now," he quipped. "And tell Potty I'd like a word with him after supper."
A few hours later, after the dinner plates and dessert platters had all been cleared away, Severus sat at the bridal table, ignoring whatever it was that Potter and Draco were supposedly discussing with him. His eyes were fixed upon the center of the open space where Hermione and her matron of honor had taken her large bouquet a few minutes prior. As Ginevra perched on a chair, holding the spray on her lap, his bride crouched on the floor with their daughter standing beside her as she dismantled the bundle and handed out individual roses to each of the young girls that had gathered near them.
A small smile graced his lips as he watched her interacting with all of the children. She practically glowed as the youngest girls hugged her or kissed her cheek before scampering off with their treasures in hand. He knew exactly how her eyes sparkled whenever she thought about Emmeline or spent time herding the Potter boys, and he had once overheard her telling Ginny that she had always been a bit jealous of the Weasleys since she had never had any siblings of her own. He understood how lonely it could be as an only child – of course, his childhood had been undeniably different than hers – and though Emma had plenty of Potters and Weasleys with whom she could play, he knew that it was not quite the same. Several times they had discussed having at least another child sometime down the road, and recently he had begun to wonder whether or not they were ready for a second mouth to feed.
In watching her now, he decided that maybe it really was time.
Clearing his throat, Severus excused himself from conversation and pushed his chair back from the table. Taking one final sip of his champagne – off-handedly noticing that his wife appeared to have been so diverted by everything else that she had not even touched hers – he gracefully stepped around the end of the table and descended the shallow steps.
As Emmeline happily bounded off hand-in-hand with Viola Weasley – Ronald's youngest – and Corona Malfoy, Hermione picked herself up from the floor and handed her last handful of flowers to a few students who were unable to visit their families for the holidays. The wizard slowed his approach as they, too, gave her a quick hug, and once they had left, he moved to stand immediately behind her. When he ran his fingers down the small of her back, she inhaled deeply and leaned her head back against his shoulder.
"Would you care to dance?" he asked; his lips hovering above her ear.
The witch nodded straightaway, turning in his arms. As she accepted his hand and placed her other hand on his shoulder, charmed snowflakes fell from the ceiling as a spirited waltz began to play.
Snape lifted one eyebrow as he took in her hopeful gaze. "You really were expecting an actual dance, weren't you?"
"Of course," she smiled, tilting her head as he led her through the first rotating steps. "I've found myself a wizard who actually knows how to dance – why wouldn't I want to show him off a bit?"
Snorting softly, he twirled her about quickly before slowing and dipping her slightly. He then pulled her back to his chest and returned to their original pace for a few minutes. "You have Narcissa Malfoy to thank for that. She took great pleasure in instilling a sense of breeding within me."
"Is that so?" she asked as he dropped his hand to her waist and walked her about in a circle. "You're not about to tell me that Draco is secretly yours, are you?"
"Absolutely not," he replied with a bemused smirk, drawing her back to his chest. "Had he been, I would have taken him over my knee years ago. No, she was simply bored and thought it amusing to turn a graceless street urchin into something more sophisticated. There were no knitted hats lying about, but spontaneous lectures on table manners instead."
Hermione smirked as they entered into another series of twirls and kept her eyes locked onto his. "Perhaps I ought to send her a Christmas card then, if she's the one responsible for polishing you into a Prince."
"She merely painted a rock," he stated, shaking his head slightly as he dipped her once more, "but you, my queen, are the one who took care of the rough edges."
As they slowed to a stop and applause sounded from the guests standing about the edge of the dance floor, a blush graced her cheeks and she raised her head to catch his lips. Slipping her hands around his neck, she murmured, "Though there are a number of rough edges that I'm particularly fond of."
"Well, those certainly won't go anywhere," the wizard replied with a mischievous grin, "though I invite you rub them as hard and as often as you like."
Laughing loudly, she leaned against him and tucked her head beside his neck as they began to sway in time to the next song. Taking in a deep breath, she ran one hand along the velvet robes covering his chest. "I like this color on you. You should wear it more often."
"We shall see," he smirked, covering her hand with his.
"I know that means 'yes'."
"Unless you say it," Severus clarified, "in which case it means 'no'."
"And so intelligent, too," the witch snickered, kissing his cheek. "I don't think I could have found a better man even if I tried."
Grinning, he nuzzled his nose along hers. "As long as you keep thinking that…"
"Always," she whispered, meeting his mouth with hers.
A short while later, their dance was interrupted by a tap on Hermione's shoulder.
"We just wanted to say a quick good-bye," Marie smiled, throwing her arms around the bride. "You look positively radiant, boss."
When Charlie finished shaking Severus's hand, the blonde witch switched places with him. Pulling the groom into a hug before he had a chance to prevent it, she smirked. "And I know poor Julian will be devastated to hear that he missed seeing you looking so divine."
Hermione laughed at her husband's groan and possessively slipped her arm through his.
"Oh, don't worry, boss," Marie grinned, looking up at Charlie as she grabbed his hand. "I'm quite satisfied with my dragon-rider."
The ginger-haired wizard blushed deeply as they mumbled their final good-byes and then quickly slipped off of the busy dance floor.
"They're leaving rather early," Hermione commented, grinning as she stepped back into her husband's arms.
The Headmaster snorted and rolled his eyes. "Well, I don't think they've left in order to ride dragons."
"Obviously," she smirked, watching over his shoulder as the younger witch eagerly tugged her boyfriend out of the Great Hall. "I think they're well-suited, don't you?"
Severus eyed her speculatively before exhaling at the ceiling. "You've had something to do with that, haven't you?"
"Perhaps," the witch mumbled. "But you were the one who suggested I talk to him when I needed to find someone worthwhile to head the Dragon Research, Restraint, and Rehabilitation Bureau."
He lifted one eyebrow as he glanced down at her. "I do not recall suggesting that you immediately set to marrying him off, however."
"Oh, no – that was Molly."
"Of course it was," he sneered, glancing over to where the eldest Weasleys were dancing. "Because a dozen grandchildren could not possibly be nearly enough. Merlin, in a few generations' time, I'll have to add another House just to house them all."
Hermione snickered quietly. "Well, Charlie will be forty next year, so it is about time he thought about settling down."
"She seems a bit young for him –"
"Oh, please," she sighed, shaking her head at him. "She's twenty-five – the exact same age I was when I married you, and you were how old again? It certainly wasn't thirty-nine."
"Well, you are too young for me, most assuredly," Severus smiled. "I can hardly keep up with you."
The witch rolled her eyes. "Oh, you keep up just fine, Mr. I'm-too-old-to-shag-on-the-sofa. Or did I mistakenly allow some other talented gent under my skirt the other night? It was rather dark, you know."
"Alright," he sighed good-naturedly before kissing her forehead. "I concede the point."
She grinned mischievously as she sought his mouth for a quick kiss. "I think you'll just have to reprise the performance – with the lights on – so I can be sure that you really are capable of such a feat."
The wizard snorted and then whispered against her ear. "Another night, yes. Tonight, however, should be centered on the marital-bed, I think. We shall revisit the marital-sofa again soon."
Blushing slightly, his wife met his eyes. "I'm going to hold you to that promise."
"And I am exceptionally glad that you are willing to hold me at all," he quipped.
Hermione beamed as she tightened her grip about him and tucked her forehead against the side of his jaw. After the song ended a moment later, they drew apart at the sound of a throat clearing.
"Someone's ready for bed, it seems," Minerva smiled, turning so that they could see Emmeline pressed tightly against her chest. "We've had a minor row."
"Oh?" the brunette asked, sweeping her daughter's curls out of her face. "How bad?"
"Well, Jamie Potter stepped on the back of her dress – accidently or not, I suppose we'll never know," the elder woman shrugged, "but, in either case, Emma gave him a pretty good wallop to the head."
When Severus snorted in amusement, his wife smacked him against the chest and then held up one finger in warning. "Not funny."
"Matter of opinion," he shrugged.
"Oh, he's perfectly fine," McGonagall smirked. "The tears were easily switched off with another bite of cake. Apologies were exchanged, and then Ginny took him and his brother up to bed."
"Alright," Hermione breathed, leaning forward to kiss her daughter's cheek. "Good night, darling. You're going to stay with Gramma Minnie tonight, but we'll see you in the morning."
"Kitties?" the little girl asked after her father wished her a good night.
"By all means," he nodded, kissing the top of her head, "take them with you."
As the Gryffindor Head chuckled and whisked the girl away from the dance floor, Hermione sighed and rubbed her forehead. "As much as it pains me to say, I really hope she isn't placed in Gryffindor."
Snape's eyebrows nearly shot to his hairline. "Pray tell?"
"Well, considering she already has both the Headmaster and Deputy Headmistress wrapped around her finger," she replied, "it would be nice to know that her Head of House would still be willing to keep her in line."
"Does anyone ever manage to keep Gryffindors in line?" he quipped, drawing her toward his body again.
The witch rolled her eyes as they assumed their dancing position. "At least they make an attempt. You used to be quite good at it, as I recall."
"Until you came around," he murmured against her head. When a flash of light occurred, the wizard pinned a glare on the shorter man holding the camera and then frowned. "Is he quite done yet?"
"I've hired Dennis for the entire night, so no," she laughed. "We'll have plenty of photographs for our grandchildren to inherit."
Hermione giggled as she looked up at him. "Oh, there will be grandchildren."
"Not if I have anything to do with it," Severus growled.
His wife snickered into his shoulder. "Have you seen our daughter? Someone will be willing enough to risk even your wrath –"
"I blame you," he interrupted. "Had it been up to my genetics, we wouldn't have that problem."
"Please," she groaned, shaking her head. "She has your coloring, your eyes, your height… You are just as much at fault as I am."
The Headmaster scowled over her head. "Well, I suppose disfiguring Potions accidents do sometimes happen…"
"Shut it!" Hermione cautioned, before kissing his cheek. "Perhaps you'll have better luck with the next one, then."
His eyes snapped down to hers.
"I expect we'll find out how well you fared," she murmured casually, "say end of August, beginning of September?"
Severus stopped them mid-turn, nearly causing a collision with the Longbottoms. "You're – we're expecting?"
"Yes," she gasped with a smile. "I wanted to wait until today to tell you. I mean, it's not a ring, but –"
The rest of her statement died away as his lips descended upon hers. As dozens of couples moved about them, they stood in place for several moments, exploring each other's mouth as one of his hands ghosted down her side to rest protectively against her stomach. When they finally separated to much cheering from their guests, Snape eyed her carefully and then laughed. "You're going to ruin this one, too, aren't you?"
"Only one way to find out," she shrugged, running her hands through the hair at the base of his neck. "We'll just have to wait and see."
"Have you had enough dancing yet?" he whispered, nuzzling his nose against hers. When she nodded, the wizard scooped her up into his arms.
Hermione wrapped her arms about his neck and stared at him in disbelief. "What? Are you going to carry me up seven flights of stairs?"
"Not exactly," Severus murmured. "I am Headmaster, after all."
She laughed brightly as the busy Great Hall suddenly melted into the quiet privacy of their bedroom. "Cheat."
"I am merely utilizing my exceptional talent for magic," he smirked, carrying her toward the foot of the bed.
The witch watched him brightly as he gently set her on her feet in front of him. "I do hope you're planning on utilizing your other exceptional talents as well."
"Indeed," he chuckled, slipping his hands down her sides to cup her bottom.
"Aren't you going to recite poetry or serenade me first?" she teased as he began kissing his way down her neck.
The Slytherin sighed at the base of her throat. "Don't be ridiculous. I do not do poetry, and I certainly do not sing."
When he lifted his head, she tilted her head coyly. "What? You expect me just to give it up that easily?"
Snape grinned as he slipped his arms about her waist and began loosening the laces of her dress. "Well, I did buy you a ring."
When she smacked his shoulder, he trapped her hand for a second. "I think I know where Emmeline learned that."
"Ha ha," Hermione sneered before undoing the buttons of his dress robes and pushing them from his shoulders.
"It was a rather expensive ring," the man argued softly as he freed one shoulder from her lace sleeve and then proceeded to press his lips against her bare skin.
Her eyes fluttered shut and she gripped the fabric of his shirt. "Is that so?"
"Mmm," he mumbled, turning his attention to her other side. "Goblin-crafted… and I rejected their first two proposed designs."
"What?" she gasped, slipping her left hand onto his shoulder so that she could look at it in the moonlight. She had noticed earlier that the filigree of one side included the figure of a lion, while the other side hosted his mate. Spinning it slightly on her finger, she now smiled at seeing that their tails were intertwined at the base of the ring. "They couldn't have taken that very well."
Severus snorted quietly against her exposed collarbone. "That's why it cost three times as much as the original estimate… before the engraving charge."
Her eyes widened slightly. "You had it engraved?"
The wizard rose to his full height as he watched her eagerly slip the jewelry from her finger and peer at the inside of the metal band.
My light. My love. My life.
As her eyes scanned over the tiny etchings, he could see her chest beginning to rise and fall with a greater pace, and there were tears in the corners of her eyes when she finally glanced up at him.
"I thought you didn't do poetry," she whispered.
A grin broke across his face as he took the ring and once again gently slid it into place on her finger. "I made an exception."
Smiling, she ran her hands up his chest and then placed them behind his neck as she rose up to meet his lips. "And would you ever make an exception for singing?"
With a snort, Severus shook his head. "Not when my task is to have you naked and wanton in my bed. Singing is undoubtedly not one of my exceptional talents."
"Fair enough," she murmured softly, kissing his throat. "Have you finished with my laces yet?"
"Mmm-hmm," he managed as her fingers undid his top two buttons. His eyes closed briefly as her mouth continued moving over his scars. When she suddenly pulled out of his grasp, he opened his eyes and stared at her in mild confusion.
Grinning devilishly, Hermione backed several steps away from him before shrugging out of her sleeves. Slowly, she pushed the bodice of her dress down her torso and over her hips, revealing the lingerie she had donned beneath it.
Snape froze in place, mouth hanging slightly agape, as he watched her step out of the folds of white satin. His eyes hungrily raked over the sheer, dark blue lace which did absolutely nothing to hide her curves – or her barely-there knickers, for that matter – and came to an end just below the swell of her backside.
"What do you think?" the witch asked, tilting her head as she sauntered toward him.
He swallowed heavily as he forced his eyes away from her smooth legs and back to her smirking face. "I think I'm going to need more jewelry."
She giggled delicately as she pressed herself against him and slipped her hands through his hair. "I'll settle for extra nappy-changing."
"Done," he stated immediately, lifting her from the floor. As their lips crashed together, the man blindly carried her to the bed, laying her down in the center of the mattress and positioning himself above her. He finished undoing his shirt and casting it aside without releasing her mouth, and only pulled away long enough to hastily grab his wand to magically rid himself of his trousers, boots, and socks. At the present moment, he did not believe he had the focus of mind to do any wandless magic.
When he returned to her, Hermione ran her fingertips along the sides of his face and whispered, "We've done pretty well together, haven't we?"
A small smile played on his lips as the wizard nodded and then kissed her gently. "I told you we'd eventually figure it out, didn't I? We're just stubborn enough to make it."
"Not malcontented?" she laughed against his lips, moving her hands to trace the length of his torso.
Severus shook his head. "Not at all malcontented."
"Happy, then?" she smiled as he touched his forehead to hers.
"Ecstatic," he smirked.
Hermione nipped at his lower lip and gently slipped one hand beneath the waistband of his pants. Her voice was breathless as she whispered, "Fantastic."