I know it's been a little while since the last update, but I couldn't find a good place to end this! Therefore is a good deal longer than the last chapters.

The response has been overwhelming (wow there are so many reviews you make me very happy). But as always, this chapter is dedicated to Gwen because this is the final part of her birthday present. :) Hope you like it.

WARNING: This is the chapter that the M rating is for.


Hermione's living room was decorated faithfully with a Christmas tree, evergreen with red, gold, silver, and green baubles, and blue and yellow lights. The smell of pine permeated the room, sweet and sharp and mixed with the scents of cookies and cinnamon.

Cookies, at least, Hermione was able to make. If they were slightly burned Severus didn't say anything- he found he liked the taste of burned sugar almost as much as the proud smile on Hermione's face.

December had brought snow and cold, but not the dreary snow that turned to slush and ice. It was the kind of powdery snow that drifted from the sky and settled neatly on everything. Frigid temperatures were nothing of consequence to either Severus or Hermione- both preferred long sleeves and high collars.

Severus was still not entirely sure what Hermione was hiding on her arms- once when they were cooking she had rolled up her sleeves in a carefree moment and suddenly rolled them down again. He had caught a glimpse of what might have been a V, or perhaps and N shaped scar. He was curious but not inclined to press her toward revealing what it was that was etched on her arms. He knew that Bellatrix Lestrange had been fond of carving words into her victims, and that was all he needed to know.

After the Christmas party Hermione had been much more open around him- touching his arm, smiling brightly in his direction, humming as she moved around him. Concentrating on a book or on a potion was difficult when she was around- his first instinct was to follow her movements with his eyes, to carefully memorize her features, to drink in her voice and the way her hips moved when she hummed and swayed and thought he wasn't watching.

He took careful thought in planning his Christmas gift for Hermione. The progression of affairs as displayed by the Christmas party had assured him that keeping himself in Hermione's good graces was essential for his soundness of mind and happiness of heart. Therefore, to gift her with something for her cat was rude, unforgivably, so seeing as he had recently decided that it would be Hermione Granger and no one else.

It had been a decision made for him by Hermione herself- glorious, glorious, Hermione, with her eyes like sunlight and whiskey and a voice like coffee and chocolate.

"I don't know what I'd do without you." It was said with the gravitas of a secret, with all the quiet shame and acceptance, regret and thanks.

"Manage quite well, I'd imagine." He wanted to refuse to admit it, refuse to accept what she was telling him. He was worried he was imposing his own selfish dreams and hopes on her.

"No, Severus. I- thank you." That had frustrated her- normally, Severus read her so easily and now she was trying to say something important and he didn't grasp it- Severus could see Hermione flounder and sudden hope blossomed under his rib cage.

"There is nothing to th-" He was dazed, he tried to brush it away.

"I'm serious, Severus. It's more than the potion or the compan- no, I- no, it's useless." Her nose wrinkled and those deep eyes were so helpless he couldn't have done anything but help.

"I understand." Was his voice normally so rough?

"What?" Now there was hope in her face.

"I understand what you are saying."

Their eyes met, grey so dark it appeared black and sunlight through a glass of whiskey.

I need you now.

I need you too.

So we'll stick together, then?


It was agreed in that instant. No, it wasn't spoken, but everything that needed to be said had been seen. For Severus Snape it would be Hermione Granger, and that was that.

By some unspoken agreement, Christmas was held at Hermione's house. It hadn't been planned per say- rather, Severus had just happened to stay too late, and the snow was rather awful outside, and Hermione's house was warm and the bed in the spare bedroom was already made up. He slept well between sheets that smelled like her soap, and woke as the sun was just starting to reflect brilliantly off the snow. A glance at the rigid horror of his bare neck in the mirror made him grimace and pull on a black turtleneck.

Hermione was already awake, standing at the window, one arm hugging herself and the other holding a cup of coffee. He paused in the doorway to watch her, to let the beauty of the morning and of Hermione to create a picture he wanted to keep with him forever. A delicate blue dressing gown was thin, not warm enough for the tiled kitchen with its large windows that let in the cold. The neckline sagged a bit, showing a delicate expanse of neck and just the top of her spine- normally that wasn't seen at all, but her hair was up in a messy hold. She was outlined in the window, outlined by sun and snow and the glittering brilliance of the two combined. He could just see her reflection in the window, slender form and long fingers and elegant slope of her nose.

It was only a moment before she caught sight of him in the window, turning to smile gently. "Merry Christmas, Severus."

"Merry Christmas, Hermione," he replied, giving her a small smile himself.

"Presents?" she suggested. She sipped the coffee quickly, humming in happiness.

"After coffee," answered Severus. Hermione gestured at the counter, where a cup (his cup, the black one with the silver rim) was steaming softly.

There was a pile of gifts under Hermione's tree wrapped in vibrant reds and golds that were obviously from her Gryffindor friends. But to Severus's surprise, there were an equal number of gifts wrapped in a variety of subdued wrapping papers on the other side of the tree. He turned to Hermione, who was regarding him sheepishly.

"I didn't want you to feel left out," she said, flushing red. "So..."

"So you got me twenty presents?" Severus asked incredulously.

"No!" protested Hermione. "One is from Martha. And another one is from Harold." Harold was the man who owned the small sandwich shop not far from their houses.

He couldn't believe it, he couldn't believe her. The small pile of gifts were more than he had received at one time in his entire life- at home there had been one or two when he was younger and then Christmas was forgotten, at Hogwarts for five years there had been small things from Lily, and as an adult he got gifts regularly from three people: Albus Dumbledore, Minerva McGonagall, and Lucius Malfoy.

"Let's open them, then!" Hermione said cheerfully, sprawling ungainly on the ground.

He followed her lead, pulling a gift over to himself. Wrapped in paper of a soft gold color, it was the approximate size and shape of a book. Severus removed the paper carefully, noting the care that had been giving to wrapping it. Slowly a book was revealed, a thick tome he had once mentioned to Hermione- four months ago.

She was happily pulling paper off a series of gifts- chocolates, books, socks, a portable herb garden, and what looked like a homemade stuffed animal that was a cross between a horse, a narwhal, and a pigeon. While Severus was methodical, Hermione reverted back to childhood at Christmas time.

Soon there was a neat stack of books near Severus, as well as a small flask of a cologne similar to the one he made himself, what he thought was a shakily knitted green scarf, new storage containers for ingredients, a gift card to the sandwich shop (presumably from Harold) and a few boxes of sweets.

Hermione had finished before him and was now watching him happily, hugging her knees with her chin propped up and a smile on her face. "Well?"

He raised one eyebrow. "This was quite unnecessary."

"So you like it then?" asked the woman.

It would be cruel to lie to save face, and he didn't really have any face left to save with Hermione. "Of course." There was a pause, he decided to go with his gut instinct. "I have something else for you."

Hermione's eyes lit up. "Oh?" He had wrapped a book, a safe choice, but had something he was reserving.

Severus was quiet as he stood and rummaged in his pocket. Hermione stood too, a quietness settling over her excitement. She stood before him, close enough for him to see the faint freckles on her nose and every one of her eyelashes.

His hand brushed the metal of the gift, and before he could change his mind (too late now) he was saying, "Close your eyes," to Hermione.

Her eyes met his, and then she obeyed. He lifted the necklace to her neck, clasping it easily because her hair was up. "You can open now."

She did, a hand flying to her neck. The chain wasn't long enough for her to examine it- instead, the she went to the mirror that hung over a set of drawers in the hall.

"Oh- Severus, it's beautiful," she breathed. He personally thought it looked lovely on her- the silver shimmered gently against her skin. The working of the pendent was exquisite- he was very pleased with how it had turned out. The runes for health, happiness, and love were laid over and with each other in a sign that looked like merely an interesting weave of lines, but he knew Hermione would know what they were. He had gone to Salem Village and had it made for her, just for Hermione, and had then spelled protection spells on it himself.

He came to stand behind her, meeting her eyes in the mirror. "You like it, then?"

A gentle smile broke over her face. "I love it." She turned, craning her neck to look up at him. "Thank you."

He wasn't quite sure what made him do it then, at that moment, but Severus leaned down swiftly and brushed her lips with his. It was hardly a kiss at all- just a brush of lips, the smoothness of her skin under where his fingers were holding her face in place with the lightest touch, and the awe of being so close to her.

When he pulled away after a hesitant moment, she sighed, and those wonderful lips parted. Then her eyes opened, and looked, searching into his.

"How long?"

"I don't know."

"What do you know?"

"That I am prepared to love you."

"To love me?"

"To love, and all it entails."

She smiled and moved closer to him, pressing her body to his and nestling her head in his chest. He held her, arms sure for once as they came to embrace her. When she pulled away he let his arms drop, but raised them again when he saw that she was only reaching to kiss him. She was barefoot, rising on her toes to wrap her arms around his neck and pull his face down to hers.

This time her mouth opened to him, taking him in as a supple tongue pressed against his. She tasted of coffee and mint and Hermione, and the shape of her in his arms with the taste of her in his mouth was the most exquisite thing Severus had ever experienced.

Now their days settled into a new pattern. Now when Hermione cooked and hummed and danced, Severus would come stand behind her and kiss the back of her neck. Or when he was reading in the scant light from the lamp Hermione would wiggle her way into his arms and light up her wand and he would read aloud to her. There was a new happiness in her face, a pure joy in the way she moved and how she was always touching him, his arm or his face or his lips, giddy with the happiness of him.

It was dizzying for Severus, the realization that she was so happy because of him- because of a dour old man who rarely smiled. But she smiled enough for the both of them- she was beaming brilliantly when they walked into the library hand in hand.

He wanted to spend all his time exploring Hermione, learning her mouth and her shape and her sighs the way he learned her habits and her expressions and her laughter.

They were still shy around each other- dancing and darting and coming in for small chaste kisses. He liked holding her on the couch, curled up under a blanket and reading or watching the small television set at Hermione's house or talking.

They talked about everything and nothing, they avoided the topics that scared them. Severus worried about his scars, about hers, about how serious she was about how intense his own feelings for her were. Somewhere along the way it was agreed that they would progress slowly, not to rush this wonderful thing of kisses and adoration and newness.

He reveled in tiny, subtle differences in their days. Hermione was off from school, they could relax and read and talk together with no interruptions. The way her eyes lit up completely when he bent to kiss her, telling him without words that she loved his kisses, made him smile against her mouth. The small hand that slipped into his while they walked to the library made him slow his pace to savor the sensation for as long as possible. It wasn't so much a new side of Hermione as a new facet.

Before they had talked and argued, yes, but she had never climbed onto his lap to kiss him senseless when she was losing the argument.

Before they had cooked together, but now food was burning because neither of them noticed the timer going off in the background- somehow Severus had gotten Hermione up on one of the kitchen counters and was quite busy with her mouth and her hair and her neck.

Before they had touched each other, yes, but accidental hand brushes or rare hugs were far from this Hermione who now ran her hands over his shoulders and rubbed them lightly while passing behind him, or ran her fingers through his hair, or let him hold her and kiss her.

He had thought that had forgotten how to do this- and the clumsiness of it all added a sense of innocence. Hermione was just as unsure as he was- it wasn't inexperience as much as time and insecurity. He had slowly come to realize over the past months that Hermione was as uncomfortable in her body as he was in his.

Things came to a head one night in the new year- January, only a week or so before his birthday. Snogging on Hermione's couch was the activity of the night, and Severus had been thoroughly enjoying the heady rush of Hermione's shape under him and her hands moving over his back and her taste in his mouth. A hand slipped under her shirt- the slightly rounded shape of her stomach met Severus' palm, and Hermione froze.

Immediately he pulled away, sitting up to giver her space. Hermione's eyes were closed, and she took a shaky breath. Then she sat up as well, meeting his eyes defiantly as she crossed her arms, gripped the hem of her shirt, and drew it over her head.

She was beautifully made, Severus thought. There was nothing but a flimsy lacy bra between him and her breasts- but between her breasts, from her right shoulder, down across her abdomen to her left hip, crossed a thick ropy scar. By her belly-button was another old injury- a curved slash.

And on her forearms, the work of Bellatrix Lestrange. One one arm the word Mudblood was carved into her flesh, and on the other was a crudely etched lightening bolt. Because she's a muggleborn and affiliated with Harry Potter, Severus figured.

He had no articulate response to give her. Instead, meeting her steady gaze again, he began to unbutton his shirt. It was a process- Severus was in the habit of wearing black slacks and a white button down shirt from his teaching days, and he kept that habit now. His cuffs had already been rolled up- now was just the front row of buttons. Finally, he shrugged it off.

Severus knew he was a scrawny, ropy thing. He was strong yes, with flat wiry muscles that didn't lend themselves to an impressive physique. Years of stress, poor eating habits, and curses had left him thin and his skin slightly jaundiced- his liver wasn't in the best condition either. But since moving to America he had filled out a bit more, and his hair and teeth were better.

His own front and back were littered with scars- when the Dark Lord had been displeased with his followers, he either cursed them himself or ordered Bellatrix to do it for him. And as a spy who couldn't always provide accurate information, Severus had been punished many times.

His neck was a mess too- masses of scar tissue, because Nagini had not just bitten him, she had torn out part of his throat. The venom had scarred the skin farther- it was by no means a pretty sight.

Hesitantly, he reached out to her. She seemed to realize what he wanted- she placed her hand in his and allowed him to guide her hand to his neck.

"I'm scarred too," he said, voice dipping lower than usual. "Do you see just my scars when you look at me?"

Hermione's fingers caressed his neck. It was a sensation that was as dulled as it was sharply in color- he could feel her fingers tracing the lines that had once blazed with pain. "I see a man who was hurt too many times. And I know from looking at you now that I would give anything in the world to have prevented you from suffering so."

His own hand came up to her cheek, his thumb wiping away the tears that threatened to spill. "You are beautiful to me." His other hand traced the long scar that crossed her chest and stomach. He felt the muscles clench under her skin, he could feel the silky smoothness of scarred skin.

She gave him a slightly watery smile. "Kiss me, then."

He obliged.

Clothes were mostly discarded in her living room, and then the decision to at least make an attempt to reach the bedroom was made.

He lost himself in her- Severus was dissolved and his only purpose was to consume Hermione, to kiss her to taste her to take her to make her his because he was already hers. There were noses that bumped at the wrong time and hair that got in the way and absolute perfection- the room and the sheets on the bed were cold but Hermione was burning warm.

After her remembered fingers clenching in his hair and the glorious sensation of settling into the cradle of her hips, of connecting himself fully to her. He remembered her whispering his name, he remembered groaning hers and falling next to her, holding her tightly to him so he wouldn't lose the closeness that being one had created.

There was something beautiful, something immensely powerful in seeing Hermione's flushed face as she gave in to pleasure, in knowing that whatever horrible memories she had that he had taken them away and given her peace for a moment. And he reveled in it himself- inside her he was no longer a former Death Eater, he was a man she was a woman and they had no past and no future, just the present.

They fell asleep in a tangle of limbs and sheets, Severus wearily calling the heavy down comforter over them with a twitch of his fingers and a mumbled spell. He curled himself around her, pressed a kiss to the damp skin behind her ear, and went to sleep.

When he woke he felt utterly content. He was gloriously warm- they were nestled in a cocoon of blankets, sharing body heat. She was still breathing slowly and heavily. He didn't want to rise, didn't want to wake and disturb the peace. And so he didn't- Severus let himself relax back into sleep despite the sunlight spilling into the room.

The next time he awoke Hermione was twined around him, a leg thrown over his hips and her head resting on his shoulder. He was awake now and would stay awake; now he just had to wait for Hermione to wake.

He could see her face in sleep- the smoothness of her skin, how fragile it looked where it was veined in blue over her eyelids, how translucent on the underside of her arm. Her brows were strong, her nose delicate, her chin stubborn. With no little pleasure, he saw the marks he had left on her red on her neck. She was his- wonderfully his.

There was no doubt now- the wave of protectiveness he felt about this other life wrapped around his was profound, dizzying.

Severus had thought that Lily would be the closest he would ever get to love. He had been wrong- so wrong it no longer felt blasphemous to think about her with Hermione's hair wrapped around his hand. There was no comparison- Hermione eclipsed anything he could have ever hoped for.

This was what had been missing, what he had craved without knowing it existed.

It was Hermione waking up in his arms, eyes flying open in shock before she melted into his arms with a smile. The corners of her eyes crinkled, and she ran her fingers over his chest. "Morning," she murmured.

"Good morning," he replied, amused. He slowly untangled his hand from her hair, trying to not hurt her, so he could properly kiss her.

When school started again their routine changed once more. Severus found he disliked sleeping alone- sometimes he couldn't sleep and it was better to be a warm bed with a softly whuffing Hermione than than alone with the roar of his thoughts. He could concentrate on her, concentrate on the way she smelled, the number of freckles she had, the rhythm of her breathing. Sometimes she couldn't sleep either- if was awake too they would talk, the kind of soul baring openness that can only happen in a dark room when the participants are so tired it feels more like a dream than a real conversation.

It was a night like that when he told her about Lily. When she described the look on Draco Malfoy's face when his aunt was torturing her. When he revealed more about Dumbledore than he had ever meant to. When she recounted how every one of her friends had pulled away after the war, from a lost Harry who retreated into Ginny's arms to a grieving Ron who pulled on his bravado and charm to avoid his brother's death and his own confused feelings about the war. He told her about his parents and their sad lives. She cried when she admitted that her parents refused to talk or see her after she had removed their memories.

Other nights it was happier. She told him about the day she received her Hogwarts letter, the queasy thrill of riding on a hippogriff, how she had dreamed of becoming a Healer or a magical barrister before she realized that lucrative positions were not always open to Muggleborn girls and if she did get it, she would be expected to act as an image- as Hermione Granger, Order of Merlin First Class, Defender of Hogwarts and not do any actual work. He told her a few of his happier memories, of Lily and of the days before his mother had gone mad.

He walked her to school in the mornings with her arm tucked neatly into his. The first few days Hermione came home flustered, explaining that all day her colleagues had been questioning her about Severus.

"What do I tell them?" she asked, hand unconsciously rising to fiddle with a curl. "I know that privacy is important to you and I certainly don't want them mucking around in my love life, but-"

He smirked at her, eyes glinting. "I'll take care of it," he promised. "Tomorrow morning." It was true, he was a man who liked his privacy, but he was conflicted. On one hand he wanted to keep what he had with Hermione hidden from the sun, to be theirs and theirs alone, sweet and untouched by any prying fingers. On the other, he wanted to aggressively make his claim, mark her as his in the most visible of ways, declare to the world that Hermione was under his protection, that anyone that called down her wrath would call down his as well because he was bloody well hers too. He wanted there to be no question about his dedication to her, but at the same time he wanted to keep the illusion of alone-ness they had created together.

So the next morning when he left her at the gate to the school, he checked to make sure they were too early for the children to have arrived and bent down to press a chaste kiss to her lips. Her cheeks pinked adorably, and she glared at him. "You said you would take care of it."

"And I have," he said smugly. "If they saw that they shouldn't be asking anymore questions. They have their answers."

Her scowl deepened. "They'll have more questions now."

He kissed her again. "Resolved?" He knew he was smirking now, but he couldn't help himself. It was so nice to hold her here, in the cold.

"No!" she protested. "Severus!" She laughed, pulling away.

He walked home with a tiny smirk on his face. He had potions to make.

It was during a spring thunderstorm in March that Hermione brought it up. It was dark, in Severus' bedroom. Somewhere around three in the morning- Hermione had woken with a shuddering gasp and immediately turned to muffle her sobs in Severus' shoulder. He woke quickly, confused for only a moment before he began to comfort her as best he could.

She calmed quickly- it had been a bad dream, a nightmare, nothing more and nothing less. Afterward, however, she did not want to return to sleep.

"I want to tell Harry and Ron about you," she said, voice breaking the silence of the night. "I want to let them know that I've finally found peace."

He was quiet for a long time, turning it over in his mind. There was safety to his anonymity, safety in being dead. But he understood what Hermione was trying to tell him- the friendship forged one Halloween in a girl's bathroom had been hardened in battle and brought to an heat so intense it had no choice but to fracture once the pressure was released. But the bonds were still there, the need to assure one another that even thought they lived separate lives everyone was safe and happy. Harry, Ron, and Hermione could slip into the old roles of friendship with an ease that was eerie, but soon, for Hermione at least, it became too much. Even so, she knew that if either of them were in trouble she would move heaven and earth to save them and they would do the same for her. Their link was still strong, even after months and years, and Severus could see this clearly, even enviously.

"Just them?"


"Tell them to come here."

"To visit?"

"We certainly are not going to adopt them."

"I was planning on just writing a letter."

"Better to invite them than to have them storming over with an Auror regiment."

"Very well then. Spring Break or Summer?"


"I'll write them in the morning."

Hermione was sitting at Severus' kitchen table, a set of wire framed reading glasses settled on her nose and frown on her face. He knew that face- it was her 'bills' face. She huffed and looked up at him. "Do I even need an entire house?"

He stared at her for a moment. "Mine's big enough for two."

A curl fell into her face as she cocked her head to the side. "And a cat?"

"I like cats," Severus conceded with a shrug.

Hermione straightened. "Alright then. I'll call the realtor's tomorrow." She had hardly finished her sentence before she was being kissed hard. There was a primal joy that she wanted to live with him, to link her life to his. Even though he knew that she wouldn't be able to end her lease until July or move in until the summer, his fierce happiness made him claim her mouth with his.

She giggled when he pulled away, smiling widely. "I love you too," she said happily.

He went back to cooking and she returned to her bills.

Just the prospect of Hermione moving in with him was strange to Severus- the last time he had really lived with someone had been in his days as a Hogwarts school boy, sharing a dorm with four others. He had never lived with a woman- at least, not in the sense of a man living with a woman.

He imagined it would be very similar to the way their lives were being lived already- except all at his house. He would wake up with her in his arms most days. There would only be one kitchen, one bed. One hearth, one home.

Home. Severus wanted a home with her, with his Hermione. It was a beautiful thing, a real home, and he had never really quite had one like the one he was living in now. He found the routine pleasing in its mundane nature, the slow progression of life from fall to winter to spring all the more pleasant with Hermione at his side.

For the most part the newness had faded from their newly sexual relationship- they had fallen into an easy rhythm that combined love and friendship in a manner that was quite enjoyable.

Once they had overcome the almost instinctual sense of fear that came from someone seeing their bare bodies- scarred, marked, not as ruined as they had originally assumed- the trust between them grew. He knew that she had the power to wound him dreadfully with a handful of words and he knew that he could do the same. That was what love was to him- he had given Hermione the capability to hurt him freely, against every Slytherin bone in his body, because he knew that it was only it baring his soul to her that he could be sure she truly loved him. If she could see all the ugliness and pain and guilt without turning her face in shame, he could be worthy of her, and in a way she could be worthy of him as well, for being strong enough to face it head on.

Relearning a woman's body, learning Hermione's body, had been a venture Severus was more than willing to undertake. Hermione was unable to be quiet- he loved that about her. He loved pulling every sound, every moan and breathless laugh and sigh from her beautiful mouth, either releasing them into the dark of the house or swallowing them into his own mouth.

She was a minx, she was a tease, she was delightful in the way she was so curious and so demanding and so happy with him. Even if she would sometimes look out the window with a terribly sad look on her face or wipe away tears in the night, Severus was there. He was there to make her smile, to soothe the tears. He would be there for her. He had promised to love her and all it entailed, in essence promising to be there for her all of her days (or his remaining ones) and he would be.

There was nothing in the world Severus now valued more than Hermione Granger.

The days of spring developed a muggy humidity that made Hermione's hair explode into huge bushy curls in the weeks after Easter. The warmth of the sun increased until the dryness returned, bringing with it fireflies that blinked in bushes at dusk and the end the school.

Harry Potter and Ronald Weasley were set to arrive five days after school ended. Hermione had planned it so they would arrive before she had to move out of her house, ensuring that they and Severus would not have to be in particularly close quarters all the time. In May she started to explain the presence of a man in her life- she wrote about him in couched terms, anxiously reading the letters out to him to ensure they were truthful enough without revealing too much.

"I've met someone here- well, not met exactly. He was an old friend, you see. I mentioned him before- just to say that we've been meeting up and talking about the good old days."

"It's been wonderful, here in America. No, I'm not telling you who my 'mystery man' is, Harry. You'll see when you and Ron come. You know how it is- we were all rather paranoid after it all finished and he doesn't want me to write his name in a letter."

"And about Him- yes, I capitalized it, Ron, don't get all fussy about my grammar mistake I did it on purpose- things are progressing nicely. I did pass on your warning that if he had the gall to harm me he would face you and Harry, but I don't believe it would come to that. He's prickly on the outside but wonderfully sweet on the inside."

"Well, yes I do suppose Crookshanks loves him, and no more that that will have to wait until you come."

"School's out- you and Ron do have your Portkey date, right? I would hate to have gone through so much trouble getting everything ready just for you two to forget and leave me waiting at the station."

In the week before the two boys arrived, Severus grew more and more nervous. Yes, she said that she loved him and was happy with him, but that was only here, in their little American bubble. What would she say when confronted by her English friends? Would she chose them over him? What possible reason would she have to stay with him if they all demanded she leave? Hermione was not a cruel person, no, she wouldn't hurt him on purpose. Rather, she would stay with Severus out of a sense of duty and regret, and lose all her friends because of it. She would grow to resent and hate him- he couldn't let that happen.

But would he be able to let her go if he saw that happen? Could Severus give Hermione up for her own sake? If he could do it for anyone, it would be for her. But how self-sacrificing was he? He would hurt himself to save her, but could he make himself release the best thing that his hell of a life had given him? Or was he so selfish that he would desperately cling to her, go through the motions and pretend she loved him just because facing the truth of her disdain would be so awful?

During the day he would perform experiments, to see how capable he was of distancing himself from her. As much as it hurt he would speak less, he wouldn't surprise her with kisses or lift her feet to his lap as they read. He would be nearly silent on their walks, he would ignore her as much as he was able, just to test himself.

Each night he would cave, he would wait until the lights were off and he couldn't see the confusion in every line of her body and he would press himself to her, possess her. He would run his hands over her body ruthlessly, claim her mouth with a fierce need and pain and fear of loss that made him grip her tightly and hold her to him with a strength born of the desperate desire to keep her. He lost his gentleness most nights, giving in the worry and pain and premature anger- she was his (but only because he was hers and he didn't know if he was Severus any more because he was now Hermione's Severus) and how dare she clear her vision and see him as he really was, through the eyes of Weasley and Potter. He left marks on her body- he didn't hurt her, but he left little red marks on her neck and on her thighs and on her breasts, his marks form his mouth.

She accepted it all, murmuring love and encouragement as he harshly moved over her, saying her name and nothing else over and over again. She let him hold her tight, she in turn pressed his head to her chest and stroked his hair, telling him how much she loved him.

But it was the timeless story, the way he knew it would play out. Like Psyche with her two sisters, the two who were like siblings to Hermione would question her, force her to question herself and her lover, give her a lantern and oil with which to shed light on Severus and his soul. Then she would flee- or he would, to spare her.

In one small fragment of his mind he knew he was being ridiculous, he knew he was doubting Hermione who had given him no reason to doubt her. He knew that he wasn't presenting a good case, that he was pushing her away while trying to pull her in, but he couldn't help himself. An endless litany of the ones who had left him (mummylilyalbusluciustom) ran through his head, and he could only see an ending where her name was tacked on to the end of the that list.

He resolved to right it only the day before they came- rather than distance himself from Hermione, he took her in. He brought her coffee in their bed, they walked to the park and sat by the duck pond, they ate at Howard's Submarine Shoppe. For a surprise he Apparated her to Salem Village, where magical street performers had a show.

When the arrived home he led her to their bedroom and painstakingly undressed her, tracing her outline with the barest touch of his fingertips. He kissed her as sweetly as possible, as gently, a small apology for the night preceding.

Hermione's hands came up to grasp his face, kissing him back with just as much strength. "Severus," she whispered as she pulled away. "Severus, this feels like a goodbye." Her eyes were wet with tears, and a tremor ran through her voice.

He felt helpless. "Is it?" he asked hoarsely. "We- can we exist outside ourselves?"

Her fingers were in his hair, caressing his cheeks. "This is not goodbye," said Hermione fiercely. "Severus- I love you."

Severus wasn't quite sure how to say it, how to string the words together to say the feeling he had that nothing would end up right, that they wouldn't have their love in a month or a year. So he just looked at her, keeping his eyes open as he kissed her soundly.

He was gentle. He memorized her, he took his time to make her come apart with his hands, with his tongue, with himself. She could do nothing but say his name, beg him to say that he loved her. He answered of course, promising again and again, telling her that she was the best thing that had ever happened to him and that he had tried to see what it as like to give her up and he couldn't take it, he wouldn't be able to stand life without her.

It wasn't night anymore, but early morning when they finally fell asleep, exhausted and frightened. Neither was sure would the coming day would bring- Severus just knew that at that moment there was no one he would ever love more than Hermione.

The summer day that dawned upon them was achingly bright and far too cheery- they didn't speak of what had passed the day before when they rose. If Severus lingered a little too long when he kissed her good morning, if she held his hand a little too tightly, they made no comment.

Hermione Apparated to Salem Village alone- Severus remained behind, at his house. The plan was for Hermione to take Ron and Harry to her home, eat lunch with them to catch up, and then Severus would stop by for tea in the afternoon.

The morning was unbearably long, dragging, hot. Severus brewed until he became too distracted and accidentally made an elementary mistake that ruined the base of a potion he had been working on for two weeks. It was a silly mistake but it meant that he would have to start again and the order might be late. He growled with frustration and stomped out of his lab, pausing in the kitchen to check the time again. It was noon- he made a sandwich and ate it standing up, evaluating the time frame before him.

He read for as long as he could stand, going from book to book hoping to find something to occupy his mind. He gave up around one and moped around the house until three. Then he nervously brushed back his hair and prepared for the walk to Hermione's house.

The route was familiar to him, terribly so. He passed Mrs. Mullen, who was out gardening, and a man he knew only as Frank out mowing his lawn. It was a Saturday- children were playing in their yards, and they knew who he was if by sight if not by name.

Her door was as welcoming as always- the wreath had left with the snow, but she decorated with a new one of summer flowers. He waited on the steps for a moment before ringing the bell.

Severus could hear the chime echoing throughout the house, he could hear Hermione's footsteps approaching the door lightly. It opened- he was hit with scent of her perfume and a slight smell of burned meat. She was red-cheeked from smiling, joyous in seeing her friends.

"I thought you were going to make sandwiches for lunch," he said, smirking.

She scowled at him. "We did have sandwiches for lunch."

He chuckled and entered the house, bending down to kiss her quickly. "Are they here?"

"Yeah," she said, grabbing his hand. "And they've been prepped, a bit." From the living room he could hear the low rumble of male voices.

They walked into the sitting room hand in hand. The two boys- men, now, really- looked so different from his memory, and yet so the same. James Potter was alive again in front of him, but older than he had ever seen James. Lily's eyes looked back at him, widening in either wonder or horror. Weasley- tall and stocky now, hair as red as ever, breathed out, "Bloody hell."

"Potter," he said, tone as cordial as he could make it. "Weasley."

Both were reaching for their wands- Hermione stepped in front of him. "Stop," she ordered. "I told you he'd be a surprise and I also told you that I checked and he was safe and that I trust him."

Weasley's mouth gaped open like that of a fish, and Potter's brows snapped together as his eyes narrowed. "Now, Hermione-"

"Don't 'now Hermione' me, Harry," Hermione said, a warning in her tone. "Please. Severus is alive- and you know what his allegiance was. And he's- we're-" She flushed redder. "We're together. So leave him alone."

Weasley was turning a rather fetching pink- "You- him-" he started. "Snape?" It was nearly a squeak.

"Yes," Hermione said simply. "And we're all going to have tea together."

Before he knew it, Severus found himself with a tea cup in his hand, sitting next to Hermione with the Boy-Who-Lived and the youngest male Weasley across from him. They were gaping at him in shock still, while Hermione chattered on.

He focused on her, for focusing on Hermione was infinitely better than focusing on the two men. They all answered her questions in a haze of shock.

"Yeah- yeah, the Ministry's fine," Harry said, sneaking looks at Snape. "Um- Hermione-"

"That's fantastic, you know I was always worried about how that would turn out," Hermione continued. "The American magical government doesn't interfere much, here- the only time we heard from them was when we moved here, right Severus?"

"Yes," he said. "The typical visa things. They smoothed things over with the Muggle government. And if we want to apply for citizenship later we'll have to do it through the Magical government."

Hermione nodded. "They've been great- the teaching credentials I got over in England transferred right over."

"Yeah- did you consider their offer, by the way?" Ron asked, rubbing the back of his head. "For the- you know, the witch's school."

"The Salem's Witch's Institute," Hermione answered, glancing at Severus. "No, no. Not really."

He knew that the boys were dying with their questions, and wanted to ask them when he wasn't there. The pit of dread in his stomach tightened with his own unease, and with Hermione's. The time came for him to leave, and as eager as he was to leave he didn't want to leave her there with them.

"I'll be seeing you tomorrow," Severus said stiffly to the boys. "For dinner."

Both boys glanced nervously at the kitchen. "Err-" Ron started to say. "Here?"

Severus smirked humorlessly. "I have no desire to eat charred meat. At my home. Rest assured that Hermione will not be allowed within ten feet of the stove."

Harry laughed outright- Hermione scowled and smacked Severus lightly on the arm. "Prat," she muttered.

He glanced at her and raised an eyebrow. "I thought I was a godless, selfish, greedy bastard?"

There was a mischievous smile on her face as she answered. "Only in bed." He choked at the same time Ron did- the two men met each others eyes in a moment of shared horror, then looked away. Hermione giggled helplessly. "Sorry."

"Liar," Severus muttered.

She grinned. "I'll see you later tonight," she promised, stretching her tip-toes to kiss his cheek quickly. "Off with you."

He obeyed swiftly. As he left, he could hear plaintive complaints about not needing to know anything about "Snape's love life," and he couldn't help but smile.

That night she did come as promised, still brimming with her satisfied and tired elation of having the three people she loved most in the world all in relatively close proximity.

Snape had been waiting up for her, reading in his usual armchair. When he heard the door open and close his throat clenched. Hermione appeared, hair damp from the summer storm lashing tree branches against glass windowpanes and sending torrents of warm raindrops on the muddy earth.

"They don't like it," she said, walking toward him slowly. Her eyes hardened. "But I don't care." Hot conviction echoed in her words, the wonderful, stubborn determination that characterized Hermione.

He put his book aside, rising in one swift motion to gather her in his arms and press her against him, kissing her roughly as he blindly steered them to a wall. Her legs wrapped around his hips as he held her cold face in his warm palms, tangling his fingers in her hair. He could feel her breasts against his chest, his hardness pressing against the seam of her jeans, her cold fingers brushing his skin as she unbuttoned his shirt.

"Tell me," he ordered her, voice breaking with something (weakness, fear, love) as pressed inside her. "Hermione-"

"I love you," she gasped, letting out a shuddering breath. "Don't ever doubt that I love you, Severus."

She bit down on his shoulder as he came with a strangled noise, slumping down on the ground with her in his arms. The smarting pain of it brought him back to himself, back to the slowly warming woman in his arms. He kissed her again, gently. "I love you too," he told her. "I don't know- you're everything to me, now."

Hermione's smile was a bit dazed. "You silly old man. Don't you know that you're everything to me, too?"

He laughed, knowing it was that or tears- Severus almost never cried, but the well of emotion pushing at the back of his throat told him it might be a possibility. "What am I compared to them? Young, healthy heroes?" He felt his age more severely now- the floor was hard, and pressing into his back and buttocks. He thought hard, twisting with Hermione in his arms to Apparate them the short distance to their bed.

Hermione landed on top of him, and stayed there, sprawled over his body. "You are everything, Severus," she said seriously. "I- there's a lot to be said for young, healthy heroes but there is more to be said for a man who has the capacity to love as much as you do." At his confusion (for that did confuse him greatly) she shook her head and closed her eyes.

"Do you think I couldn't see it?" she asked. Her eyes opened again, wide, to stare into his. She rested a hand on his heart. "I can feel it sometimes, Severus. Sometimes it's overwhelming in its intensity, but I love it. You look at me and I know that you're thinking about how much you love me. I can tell in the way you move, how you hold me, the way you tense if anyone gets too close. You want to protect me, you want to hold me, you want me." As strong as her words were, she looked so vulnerable, a face hovering above him framed with riotous curls. "You say it sometimes in your sleep."

"I don't talk in my sleep," Severus said, surprised.

A half smile lifted the left side of her mouth. "Sometimes you do. You don't say much."

"What do I say?" he asked. It was dawning on him that it was possible that she watched him sleeping as often as he watched her.

The smile deepened. "My name."

"It's true," he said finally. "I do want you. I want you to be safe, to be happy."

She tucked herself into his side. "And I want the same for you. And you haven't been happy the past week, Severus."

"I was afraid of losing you," he told her honestly.

"I was afraid you would do something stupid like leave in the middle of the night. Or just walk out the door and disappear," admitted Hermione.

The rain was pounding on the roof and on the windows as the couple remained quiet for a while. Severus was almost lulled into sleep, with the warmth of Hermione pressing into his side and the lullaby of her breathing with the rain.

"Don't leave me," Hermione whispered.

He moved carefully until he was hovering over her, face only inches above hers. "I won't," he promised.

She wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled her down to him.

Severus spent the rest of Harry and Ron's visit rather secure and smug about his position in Hermione's affections. He was slightly jealous of their drain on her time, but contented himself with the knowledge that they would be gone in matter of days and Hermione was to remain in America with him. All further interactions with the duo were still fraught with ill ease and awkwardness, but both made an effort to be polite and everyone skirted around dangerous topics.

He knew that they questioned Hermione about him to the point where the threatened to hex Ron's mouth shut, but they refrained from bothering him so he was quite content with the situation. They slept in her old house, and most nights Hermione appeared in his bedroom with the sharp crack of Apparition, he didn't have anything to complain about concerning the sleeping arraignments.

When Hermione's two friends finally left after a week and half, their lives returned to contentedness. Hermione moved into his house in June, bringing the ginger menace with her; he found that having a large cat curled up and purring his lap as he read was just as calming as Hermione's humming as she wrote letters or worked on a project. She took up gardening- he just laughed when the bridge of her nose and the tips of her ears turned bright red. The next day he made up an extra strength sunscreen potion, which she accepted with a smile.

The people in the neighborhood soon got used to the (shockingly) unmarried couple living together, even if there were still rumors running around. Neither cared, really- the only community events they really cared about were the few fairs and festivals that their little town held, and neither was particularly religious.

Both Hermione and Severus knew that in time things would settle down and life would continuously move on- and that was enough.

Eventually their nightmares would cease and Hermione's bad days would grow farther and farther apart. Severus would eventually appreciate the color of the flowers in their garden (if only for their uses in his potions) and Hermione would eventually prevent her lover with an unburned roast on his birthday (it wouldn't be until he was well into his fifties, however) and both would eventually become known as "that old British couple."

The Library would be taken over by one of the junior librarians after Martha became too old to do much more than read to the children every Saturday afternoon at story time; after she passed away in her sleep Hermione showed up at three o'clock sharp and settled into the rocking chair without a word of complaint from the new librarians.

Time would move slowly in their little corner of the world, but Hermione and Severus would be content.

And so ends this story.

I hoped you enjoyed it- let me know if you did. It wasn't meant to get so long, but it did. It wasn't meant to be anything serious or dark- I wanted to portray a story that was sweet and nice and cozy but still somewhat true to canon characterization. It was supposed to be domestic and a bit fluffy.

FTOH READERS: I updated on Friday. FF was down, so almost no reviews went through. If you had feedback, could you resubmit it? Or if you didn't see the chapter, it's up! Sorry if things got messed up, but Chapter 14 is there!

If you liked this, I do have another SS/HG story that is much closer to canon.

Thank you for reading! And thanks in advance to everyone who will review- thank you for giving feedback!

Until next story. :)