Author's Notes: So, here we are at the final chapter. Many thanks to the wonderful PP admins for their patient attempts to drill punctuation rules into me, to my lovely beta peskipiksi, and to all you wonderful people who have left me such encouraging reviews. At this point I think I should also thank the incomparable Miriam Margolyes for inspiring my take on Sprout.
Disclaimer: any recognisable characters/locations are JKR's.
"Now!" the unfamiliar wizard repeated, more loudly this time. Severus and Hermione exchanged a swift look then gradually stepped away from each other, moving until they offered two targets rather than one. Their opponent moved his wand from side to side erratically, trying to cover both of them.
"Do you know who I am?" he shouted, somewhat shrilly now.
"No," responded Severus in a bored voice. "Petrificus totalus!"
"Incarcerous!" contributed Hermione.
The young wizard dropped to the ground, paralysed and bound with thin ropes.
"Well, that was a little disappointing," observed Severus as they approached the prostrate form. "Am I getting older or is the opposition getting younger?"
"Both," replied Hermione. "Do you know who he is?"
"I don't think so. There is something vaguely familiar about him—"
They both turned instantly in the direction of the new arrival, wands raised once more.
"Whoah!" Ron exclaimed, putting his hands up. "Friend!"
Hermione laughed in relief. "Ron, you twit."
"Ah, Mr Weasley," said Snape. "Better late than never. I believe we have something of yours." He waved a hand nonchalantly towards their captive, who was observing their conversation from his position on the lamp-lit grass with angrily bulging eyes.
"Sorry about that," said Ron with a grimace, walking over to them. "He Apparated away just as I arrived at his flat, and it took a moment for the locator spell on the Trace to kick in."
"How has he got a Trace on him? He's of age, surely?" asked Severus.
"We can put them on adults now, under special circumstances."
"That's rather reminiscent of a police state, isn't it?" Severus observed with a frown.
"It's been a useful tool for capturing Dark wizards," responded Ron defensively.
"Alright," interrupted Hermione, "can we have the discussion about civil liberties later? Who is this, Ron?"
"Meet Gideon Goyle – Gregory's younger brother. He appears to have inherited the brains while big brother got the brawn. He was educated at home but went to Hogwarts for his NEWTS after McGonagall did that big push a couple of years back to try to reintegrate the Death Eaters' kids."
"Well, that seems to have been a resounding success in this case," commented Severus drily.
Ron shrugged. "By all accounts it was. At Hogwarts, he gave the impression of being quiet and hard working. He had a special flair for Herbology and Potions, which at least explains how he managed to develop the plant poison."
"It doesn't explain why, though. And why Pomona?" asked Hermione.
"Why don't we find out?" asked Ron cheerily. With a wave of his wand he removed the Body Bind curse, leaving the ropes in place, and moved their prisoner into a sitting position. "OK, then, mate. Answer the lady. Why did you try to kill Professor Sprout? Bad marks on a test?"
"She scarred my father for life!" spat out Goyle. "It's bad enough that he's in Azkaban, but she threw Bubotubers at him during the Battle of Hogwarts – the sap nearly burned his face off. Everyone thinks she's so sweet and kind and Hufflepuff, but she's a two-faced, deceitful bitch!" He glared at them defiantly then began to cough and splutter as soapy bubbles started foaming from his mouth.
"Do not speak of Pomona Sprout in that way." Severus' voice was low and dangerous. "I suggest you remove this vermin from my sight, Mr Weasley."
"My pleasure." Ron hauled the gently foaming Goyle up from the ground by one arm. Ron was at least a foot taller than the younger wizard. "Come on. I've got a nice comfy cell in Azkaban waiting for you." He paused then, turning to Hermione and Severus. "How did you two find him, anyway?"
"He found us," explained Hermione. "This is one of only two sites where the main antidote ingredient grows, so he must have set some sort of alarm ward."
"You've got what you need, though?"
Hermione nodded and waved the plant at him.
"Excellent. Right, I'll probably see you later. Have fun!" And, gripping Goyle tightly, he Apparated away.
Hermione turned to Severus with a sigh. "Shall we try that again? I'll see you at the house."
"Not so fast." Severus stood behind her and wrapped his arms around her loosely. "We Apparate together. I'm not risking any more incidents."
Hermione leaned back into him, putting her free arm around his. "Is this just an excuse to get your hands on me?"
She felt his deep chuckle as he spun them away into darkness.
Disappointingly, he released her as soon as they arrived in his garden. Well, what were you expecting, you silly girl? she scolded herself as she walked rapidly with him towards the laboratory. It's hardly the time or the place for anything else. And you're just friends, remember?
Hermione stood anxiously at the end of Pomona's bed with McGonagall. Completing the antidote had, fortunately, proved straightforward, and she watched as Severus explained its administration to Madam Pomfrey.
"The poison entered through her lungs, so the antidote will prove most effective if delivered in the same way."
He had placed a bowl of boiling water on the bedside table, close to Pomona's head, and now he added several drops of the antidote. He moved his wand in a circular motion, muttering an incantation.
"There. I've erected a shield around the bowl and her face so the vapour will remain concentrated in the right area. You'll need to replace the water when it cools and add another three drops of the antidote."
"And how long do you think it will take to work?" asked Poppy, any sign of concern hidden behind her professional calm.
"It should begin to have a cooling effect almost immediately, although it is likely to be a few hours before she regains consciousness."
Poppy nodded with satisfaction. "Well, I'll take over now. Thank you, Severus. Go on, you three – get some rest. Leave the patient in peace."
"If you're sure, Poppy," said McGonagall. "Let us know as soon as there's any change."
"Of course. Now, off you go. Out of my ward." She made a flapping motion with her hands. Her tone was stern, but her smile rather spoiled the effect.
"What do you plan to do now?" asked McGonagall as they left the hospital wing. "You must both be exhausted. I can arrange somewhere for you to sleep here if you'd like to wait around until Pomona wakes."
They paused in the corridor. Hermione glanced at her watch and was surprised to see it was only two o'clock.
"I know it's the middle of the night, but I don't think I could sleep. My body clock's all over the place, and I've had more excitement in the last couple of days than I've had all year."
Severus laughed softly. "I know what you mean. I think I might go for a walk in the grounds to clear my head. Fresh air's as good as sleep sometimes."
"That sounds like a good idea," said Hermione. "Do you mind if I join you? Or we can walk in opposite directions if you'd rather be alone," she added flippantly.
Severus inclined his head with a half smile. "Even if we walk in opposite directions we'll meet at some point, so we may as well go together."
"Was there a deep philosophical point in there somewhere?"
Hermione realised that Minerva had been observing this exchange with a slightly quizzical expression.
"Well, I'm going to retire to my office," the headmistress said decisively. "Enjoy your wanderings, you two. If you do change your mind about sleeping, the governors' quarters will be ready."
"Thank you, Minerva," replied Severus. "Goodnight."
"Goodnight, both." She walked briskly away from them, the clicking of her sensibly heeled shoes echoing through the hushed corridors.
Severus and Hermione headed down the staircase towards the entrance hall in companionable silence.
"The castle's always at its best at night," observed Severus quietly as they crossed the expanse of the hall. "No students."
"Well, not many," qualified Hermione. "There are always one or two miscreants at large."
"True. Though I'm sure you were never among that number."
"Now, now. No need to be sarcastic."
"There's always need to be sarcastic."
"It's the lowest form of wit, you know."
"Therefore to be used on the lowest form of person. Bollocks, no, sorry, I didn't mean—"
Hermione silenced him by placing a finger on his lips. They'd reached the front door now and stood close together in front of it.
"Will you stop apologising for what you say? You should know by now that I'm not remotely easily to offend. I find it quite endearing when you just blurt out what you're thinking. Merlin knows you spent enough years having to act one role or another. I like the fact you feel relaxed enough around me to be honest." She started to move her hand away from his mouth, but he grasped it suddenly in his and pressed a soft kiss to her palm. He dropped his hand back to his side, keeping hold of hers, and tugged her slightly closer.
"You have no idea what it means to hear you say that," he began in a low voice, dark eyes focused on hers intently. "I've felt for a very long time that the only time I can be myself is when I'm alone. In Cornwall no-one has any expectations of me, but I have to hide the magical half of my nature. As far as most of the wizarding world is concerned I'm a caricature – villain or hero, the effect is the same. Even Pomona sees me as a project, someone she needs to rehabilitate back into normal life.
"But you— You came over to me after that lecture and started chatting away like I was just one of your old teachers. No fear, little respect," —he gave her a slight smile at that point— "and you acted like it was perfectly reasonable for us to be friends."
"Well, it is," she protested.
"Yes, I've come to believe that as well. The only problem is—" He stopped and took a deep breath then huffed it out. He looked at her uncertainly. "Do you really like it when I'm totally honest?"
She squeezed his hand. "I may regret this, but yes, I do."
"Very well, then. The only problem is, I've started to feel much more than friendship towards you. You're attractive, you're intelligent, but most importantly you make me feel as if you actually like who I really am."
"That's because I do. Oh, hell, if we're being honest— I love who you really are."
Hermione took his other hand in hers, but he frowned at her slightly as he responded. "I know when you say 'love' you mean as a friend. And that's all we can ever be, however much I'd like something more. You want fireworks, I know, and you're not going to get that from me."
"Have you finished telling me what I feel? When I say 'love' I most certainly don't just mean as a friend. And fireworks? Does imagining what your hands would feel like on my naked body count? Or admiring that really rather lovely arse of yours while you're digging? Or how about wishing that when you hug me you'd kiss me as well? Or the fact that when you smile at me, my heart genuinely beats faster, even though I'd always thought that was romantic drivel. But I haven't said or done anything because you'd got me convinced you still just thought of me as an ex-pupil who'd become a friend."
A slow smile had spread across Severus' face as she spoke. He leaned back against the oak door, pulling her hands so she came with him, then releasing them so he could wrap his arms loosely around her waist. She linked her hands behind his neck, grinning happily up at him.
"I know we've been a bit busy for the last couple of days," he said, "but I really wish we'd talked about this earlier."
"Yes, we've wasted so much time."
He drew her close and kissed her softly on the lips. "Better?"
Then she kissed him, and his arms tightened around her as his mouth opened to hers. Tentatively at first, their tongues danced around each other, then suddenly her hand was in his hair, and he pulled her body closely into his own, caressing her buttocks and back as they explored each other's mouths urgently. She ran her free hand down his side, finding the bottom of his t-shirt and pushing it up to rake her fingers down the bared skin underneath. He groaned into her mouth, and she gasped softly in response and pressed her lower body into the hardness she could feel between them. He dragged his mouth away from hers and began to kiss down her neck.
"How far away are those governors' quarters?" she asked breathlessly.
"Too far," he muttered between kisses; then he raised his head and grinned at her boyishly. "No, you're right – we can't stay here. Knowing our luck, Peeves will be along any minute."
He took her hand again and led her swiftly back towards the staircase. She almost had to run to keep up and laughed delightedly.
"Are you in a hurry?"
He paused. "Are we still being honest? Then yes, I'm in a hurry. I've just discovered that, for some reason best known to herself, a gorgeous, young, bright witch has decided that she finds me attractive, and I want to take full advantage of that fact before she realises it's the sleep deprivation talking."
"What if I tell you I'm not going to change my mind and have in fact been fantasising about you taking advantage of me for quite some time?"
"Then I'm in even more of a hurry."
By the time they reached the entrance to the governors' quarters they were rather out of breath – from the speed of their ascent up the stairs as well as the after-effects of a couple of pauses for passionate kisses. Severus flung open a large iron-studded door, revealing a short corridor. He led Hermione inside.
"There should be a couple of bedrooms and a bathroom," he explained, opening a door at random and peering round it. He opened the door wide then. "Will this do?"
Hermione took in the sight of the huge four-poster bed, luxuriantly draped in purple and silver, and totally failed to notice any other furnishings. "That will do very nicely. Though, as you may have noticed on the way up here, I would have quite happily shagged you against a wall."
"Maybe later, you shameless woman."
He led her inside and closed the door before pushing her back against it and kissing her deeply. She responded enthusiastically, enjoying the delicious press of his body against hers and the feel of the taut muscles of his back under her fingers.
She pulled her mouth away from his long enough to gasp, "Bed!", at which he swept her up in his arms, still kissing her, and carried her over to the other side of the room before depositing her none too gently in the middle of the soft quilt. He stood at the edge of the bed, looking down at her with an enigmatic expression in his dark eyes.
"It's not too late to change your mind, you know."
She shook her head. "For an intelligent man you're surprisingly dense sometimes. I'll put this in words of one syllable. I love you. Get your kit off and your arse in this bed. Now."
"I've always loved your peerless grasp of the English language."
She fluttered her eyelashes at him. "Get yourself down here, and we'll see what else I can get a peerless grasp of." She shook her head ruefully and rolled her eyes. "I can't believe I just said that. I've spent way too much time with Pomona."
He threw his head back and laughed: the most genuine expression of happiness Hermione had ever heard from him. Then he flung himself down on the bed next to her.
"I give up. Go on then, woman. Have your wicked way with me."
So she did.
Severus lay with his arms wrapped around a naked, sleeping Hermione and wondered what exactly had happened that his life was suddenly so perfect. He had no idea what had prompted him to his uncharacteristic bout of frankness in the entrance hall earlier but, Merlin, he was glad he'd spoken.
Hermione shifted slightly in his embrace but didn't wake. She must be exhausted, he thought fondly. A couple of hours of vigorous and extremely satisfying love-making would have that effect on a person. Smug? Me? What he lacked in experience and finesse he hoped he had made up for in enthusiasm. She hadn't complained, anyway, and he knew she'd have been quite willing to issue instructions if she felt the need.
He shifted his position slightly to pull her even closer. As he did so, he heard a nearby creak, then a soft tapping on the door.
"Severus? Hermione?" came a whisper. Shit! He recognised McGonagall's voice.
"Be there in a moment," he called out softly, climbing rapidly out of bed and frantically looking for his jeans on the moonlit floor. He located them and pulled them on quickly, zipping them extremely carefully owing to his lack of underwear. He ran over to the door and opened it a fraction. McGonagall was standing there in her tartan dressing gown, lamp held aloft.
"Don't worry," she said quickly. "There's nothing wrong. I just thought you'd like to know Pomona's regained consciousness. Poppy insists she needs to sleep naturally now and won't let her have any visitors until later, but I thought you'd like to know straight away."
"That's wonderful news. Thank you, Minerva."
"No, Severus, thank you. I don't know what we'd have done without you. And Hermione, of course. Shall I tell her the good news or would you like to? Which room is she in?"
"I'm here," came Hermione's voice from behind Severus, and to his surprise and slight horror she appeared next to him in the doorway, with her hair sleep-tousled and wearing his t-shirt. Any hope he had that McGonagall might have thought they were innocently sharing a room was inexorably dashed when Hermione slipped her arm round his waist and nestled in to his side. With a mental shrug he put his arm round her shoulder.
"I heard. I'm so pleased she's going to be OK," Hermione continued.
McGonagall looked from one of them to the other, expression changing rapidly from shock to amusement. "Pomona was right then," she observed. "How long has this been going on for?"
Bemused, Severus replied, "About three hours. What do you mean 'Pomona was right'? What's the interfering old baggage been saying now?"
Minerva laughed softly. "Only that she thought you two were perfect for each other. You didn't really believe she'd have gone to all that trouble to encourage you to spend time together just for the sake of you being friends, did you?"
"Actually, yes." He looked down at Hermione. "What about you?"
She shook her head. "I had no idea. As far as I was concerned she just wanted to encourage you to be more sociable. She gave me the impression she'd given up on trying to find you a woman."
"Me too. She lulled me into a false sense of security."
"And look where that got you." Hermione smiled up at him cheerfully.
"Indeed." He kissed her lazily, eliciting a slight cough from McGonagall.
"Well, yes," the headmistress said archly. "I'll leave you to it. Sleep well." She gave them a meaningful look then turned to walk back down the corridor.
"Minerva!" She looked back in response to Severus' quiet call. "Don't tell Pomona about us just yet. I think we should break the news in person."
Minerva nodded. "She'll enjoy that. Good night, both."
Severus closed the door and leaned back against it.
"I thought she took that very well," observed Hermione brightly as she climbed back under the quilt.
"For a moment there, I wasn't sure if she was going to pass out or hex me," responded Severus, pushing himself away from the door and going over to sit on the edge of the bed. "Not very subtle of you, really – standing there looking for all the world like you'd been shagged to within an inch of your life."
Hermione stretched and smiled with an air of self-satisfaction. "Which I have. And in our new spirit of being honest with the world and each other, I didn't see any particular reason to hide it."
"Well, I'm not going to argue. I've certainly got the better of the deal here, and I don't mind who knows it." A sudden thought occurred to him, and he chuckled. "I don't imagine your friends will accept the situation as easily as Minerva."
Hermione shrugged. "Don't be so sure. Ron guessed you fancied me before I did. He said it's the only reason you'd have let me change your mind about him."
"I think you must have been an extremely good influence on him, you know. It's the only possible explanation for his unexpected flashes of intelligence."
"Am I a good influence on you, too?"
"At the moment, my love, you look like an extremely bad influence. Incidentally, what are you doing wearing my favourite t-shirt?"
"It was the first thing that came to hand." She looked down at the Ramones print on the front. "I've wanted to ask you about this for ages. Is it a relic from your teenage punk phase?" She looked at him impishly.
"I bought it in a music shop in Truro five years ago, actually, but it is a reminder of my teenage punk phase. The original fell apart years ago."
From her slightly stunned expression, he was gratified to realise he'd actually managed to surprise her.
"You were really a punk? I thought I was joking! What – spiked hair and a safety pin through your nose?"
"Don't be ridiculous. All that nonsense came later. No, I'm talking about the early days. The summer of 1976. The Sex Pistols played in Manchester, and the Buzzcocks were formed just up the road from where I lived. It was all leather jackets, ripped clothes and long hair, so not exactly a stretch for me sartorially. Rather conventionally, it started as an 'up-yours' to my late, unlamented father, who made some comment along the lines of 'Why don't you dress like a normal boy and not one of those shirt-lifting wizard bastards?'" He mimicked his father's Mancunian tones perfectly. "Happily, I discovered that the only thing that irritated him more than me dressing like a wizard was me dressing like a punk. The music was pretty good too."
Hermione shook her head in disbelief. "I learn something new about you every day." She shuffled closer to him and put her arms around his waist. He kissed her gently on the top of the head. She tilted her face up then, so he transferred his attentions to her mouth. She returned the kiss with enthusiasm, gently scraping her nails down his bare back. The sudden pressure of the zip of his jeans reminded him rather painfully about his lack of underwear.
He pulled away reluctantly and stood up to remove the offending garment. Hermione grinned up at him. "Excellent idea." She pulled the t-shirt up over her head. "Am I right in thinking we're not going to sleep?"
He looked frankly at the expanse of delectable flesh now revealed to him. "Honestly, my love, I'm not planning on wasting time sleeping for at least a week."
Eventually, and with no little reluctance, they did have to leave their bedroom. Not least in order to visit the recuperating Sprout.
She was sitting up in bed when they reached the hospital wing, tucking into her breakfast with obvious enthusiasm. A vast bouquet of yellow roses was haphazardly arranged in a vase on her bedside table.
"Darlings!" she cried out effusively as soon as she saw them. She grasped their hands when they reached her side, breakfast forgotten for the moment. "I don't know how to thank you both; I really don't. Poppy and Minerva told me what you did. You were absolutely brilliant."
"It was our pleasure," responded Hermione.
"Thorn in my side as you are, I suppose I would miss you if you kicked the bucket," added Severus airily. "And Minerva would only have complained about having to find a new Head of House." The glint of humour in his eyes belied his harsh words.
He and Hermione pulled chairs up to the side of the bed and sat down.
"Beautiful flowers," commented Hermione, nodding towards the roses.
"They are, aren't they," agreed Sprout. "Aberforth brought them in first thing this morning. Would you believe he's gone all soppy? Kept going on about how nearly losing me made him realise how much I meant to him. I was still feeling a bit woozy, but I distinctly remember him mumbling something about making an honest woman of me."
"That's wonderful!" exclaimed Hermione.
"Aberforth's a good man," concurred Severus, "although goodness knows what he wants with you."
"Well, I don't know," said Pomona. "I suppose it is time I stopped sowing my wild oats and maybe thought about settling down. I told him I'd think about it. Anyway," she continued eagerly, "what about you two? Do you have anything to tell me?"
"I don't think so," replied Severus. "You have only been unconscious for a day and a half, after all."
"What about Saturday?" Pomona prompted. "How did you get on without me?"
"Oh, we were fine, thank you," answered Hermione blandly. "I helped Severus with some of his work, so it was very productive."
"Yes, in fact I was going to ask if you minded letting Hermione come alone again next week," added Severus.
"Really?" Sprout leaned forward eagerly. "Why? What are your plans?"
"We'll just be continuing with my curse scar research."
"Oh." Sprout sagged back against her pillows, a slightly crestfallen expression on her face. "I had hoped— Well, never mind."
"What had you hoped?" asked Severus, raising an eyebrow. "That Hermione and I would discover that we were actually madly in love while we were working on your cure and would end up rutting all night like a pair of sex-crazed Nifflers?"
Pomona sighed. "Minerva's been talking, hasn't she? I'm sorry; I was just so sure you two were made for each other. I didn't mean to interfere." She braced her shoulders and looked at them brightly then. "It's good that you're friends, at least, though."
Hermione and Severus exchanged a glance. Hermione tried but failed to stop the giggles escaping as she looked back at Pomona.
Pomona looked from one to the other, taking in Hermione's laughter and Severus' uncharacteristically content expression. Hermione could see realisation gradually dawning on her face. Her eyes opened wide.
"What? No! Really?"
Hermione looked assessingly at Severus. "Madly in love, at least. I'm not sure I'm keen on the sex-crazed Niffler comparison."
Severus looked at her with laughter in his eyes and a half smile playing around his lips. "Sorry about that – the image just sprang to mind for some reason."
"I'll forgive you." She rested her hand on his thigh and smiled back. I really want to get him back in bed, she thought. Sooner rather than later. She realised Pomona was still watching them, beaming.
"Oh, I am so delighted for you both," she said, reaching for their hands once more. "I knew it. I absolutely knew it. And tell me, my dear," —she looked into Hermione's face intently, eyes alight with mischief— "did you get your fireworks?"
Hermione leaned towards her conspiratorially. "Between you and me, he goes off like a rocket."
And with that, she achieved the impossible. Pomona Sprout blushed.
Severus Snape and Hermione Granger were married at midsummer, in a quiet ceremony on the beach below his – their – house. The ceremony was followed by a less than quiet reception in the village pub. Pomona Sprout wore a new, feathered hat of the brightest Hufflepuff yellow. And an exceedingly smug smile.
By the end of the evening, the pub was crowded with a mix of wedding guests and local well-wishers. Pomona sat at the bar, gin and tonic in hand, watching the newly-married couple affectionately. They'd escaped the throng and sat at a corner table, heads close together, deep in conversation. Every now and again one of them would laugh.
"They look happy," observed Frank, the landlord, as he poured a pint.
"They do indeed," replied Pomona with some satisfaction.
Frank put the pint on the bar next to her, ready for Aberforth, who was currently doing the tango with Mrs Granger.
"It's nice to see," he continued. "Severus always seemed like a good man, but there was something a bit, I don't know, lost about him. He deserves some happiness, and she's a lovely girl. Honest. No nonsense about her."
"Oh, she is," concurred Pomona. "I've known them both for years. They're perfectly suited – I've always said so. And everyone needs someone to keep them warm at night." She looked towards Aberforth's wildly dancing figure fondly.
"That they do," replied Frank. Pomona picked up a note of wistfulness in his voice and looked back at him with interest.
"What about you? Is there a Mrs Frank?"
"There was. She left me a few years back. Ran away with a brewery rep from Exeter. She always was one for the bright lights. I'm more of a good-chat-and-a-whisky man myself, but, well, I'm getting a bit long in the tooth for all that dating rubbish."
Pomona eyed him speculatively as she took a sip of her drink, a blissful idea having occurred to her.
"Tell me, Frank. Do you consider yourself to be broad-minded?"
He gave a snort of laughter. "Never met a pub landlord that wasn't. Comes with the job."
Pomona knelt up rather precariously on her stool and bellowed across the room, "Minerva! Over here! There's someone I'd like you to meet."