A/N: First of all I want to wish you all a merry Christmas (or whatever it is you celebrate at this time of year, if you do). I hope your day is filled with lots of nice things :) Secondly, thank you to everyone who has read this far, I really appreciate it, and especially a massive thank you to worrywart for recommending and linking the story, I was quite overwhelmed by this kindness. Lastly, and as always, I want to thank my beta, the wonderful Mamacita for her invaluable help.
This is the final chapter of the story. I hope you enjoy it. Dx
Hermione looked around her. She was at the Ministry of Magic. She looked at her watch. It was almost half past eight. The ceremony was due to start any minute. She quickly checked herself in the mirror and smoothed down her beautiful turquoise evening robe, admiring herself as she did so. How young she looked. She had forgotten that she had ever been that youthful and pretty. Nervous, she left the bathroom and headed over to join Harry and Ron, who were waiting for her outside the hall, also looking younger and more fresh-faced than she remembered them being.
'Ready?' Ron asked, taking her hand.
Hermione nodded, trying not to squirm in Ron's grasp. She didn't want to hold his hand but had been given no choice.
'Smile, Hermione, this is a happy night,' Harry said. 'We'll enjoy it.'
'I know,' Hermione replied, trying to smile. But she couldn't help being nervous. After all, she was about to change her entire life.
She wondered if she should explain what she was going to do to her friends, especially Ron. It was after the award ceremony that he had finally taken her home and proposed to her. Surely that was already in his mind and what she was going to do would hurt him.
She took a deep breath. 'Okay, I'm ready,' she said, still sounding anxious. She held tight to both Ron and Harry's hands and the three of them walked through the door.
It was like an explosion, the lights of the cameras photographing the trio as they walked into the room. As they walked across the floor to the podium Hermione could see every face in the room turned towards the three of them, watching every move. Almost everyone was smiling — everyone except for Severus Snape. He was already on the stage, standing next to Kingsley Shacklebolt, the new Minister for Magic, and scowling as deeply as Hermione had ever seen him do. Her heart leapt with joy and her breath caught in her throat at the sight of him.
'Snape looks happy, doesn't he?' Ron said sarcastically as they walked through the room.
'You know he doesn't like all the attention,' Hermione said quietly. 'He's probably wishing he wasn't here.'
'More like wishing we weren't here,' Harry said.
'Why did he come, then?' Ron asked.
'I don't think he had a choice,' Hermione replied sympathetically. 'The Ministry didn't give us any choice, did they?'
The boys grunted in response. Even now, knowing everything Snape had done to help Harry, they still found it hard to be grateful. Some conflicts ran too deep to ever be fully resolved. Hermione sighed although she was trying to smile, aware of the cameras still popping away.
'Why can't you two just try and get on with him?' she asked. 'Is it so difficult?'
'I'm trying,' admitted Harry, 'but it really isn't easy, Hermione.'
'You talk to him if you want, but just leave us out of it.' Ron said belligerently.
Hermione shook her head slightly. 'Time to move on, surely?' she murmured as they climbed the stairs to the podium.
'Now that our guests of honour have arrived we can begin,' Kingsley told the crowd warmly, giving the trio a beaming smile.
Hermione looked around at the other people on the stage. Amongst them were Molly and Arthur Weasley. Their children Ginny and George were there, as were school friends Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood and the new Headmistress of Hogwarts, Professor Minerva McGonagall. Other friends and relatives were in the room beaming at all those on the stage.
As Kingsley got ready to speak again, everyone sat down.
'We are here this evening to pay tribute to the fine men and women who have worked hard to save our world,' he said proudly, 'those people who went above and beyond the call of duty to ensure that we would never again be terrorised by Voldemort.'
Hermione and the others clapped politely as the various Order of Merlin awards were given out, starting with third class, then second and finally on to their category, first class.
She clapped loudly when Severus went to collect his award, garnering a surprised look from her ex-teacher although the scowl didn't disappear from his face. Her applause was also loud as Neville collected his award. Proving once and for all that he definitely belonged in Gryffindor House, Neville had killed the snake, Nagini, and in doing so destroyed Voldemort's final Horcrux, giving Harry the opportunity he needed to face and vanquish the Dark wizard once and for all. In doing that he had also killed the creature that had come so close to killing the man Hermione loved, and for that alone she would be forever in Neville's debt. At last she and her friends were called up and they faced another round of photographs with the Minister for Magic, to a standing ovation from the crowd. Finally the presentation was over and everyone was seated again as Kingsley spoke once more to the room.
'. . . and now the presentation is over, let us celebrate by taking to the floor and dancing,' he concluded happily. A few minutes later the room was cleared of chairs to create a dance floor and a band had arrived to take the place of the people on the stage.
As soon as the music began Harry grabbed Ginny's hand and led her to the dance floor. Hermione looked round desperately. She knew in a second Ron would try to do the same with her, and while they were dancing Severus would slip away from the function, back to Spinner's End.
'Not yet,' she told Ron when he tried to take her hand. 'I need to do something else first, I'm sorry.'
She left him watching in confusion as she headed towards Severus where he was talking quietly to Minerva McGonagall. She waited until they had finished, waiting for him to head for the door with the intention of leaving, and effortlessly cut him off before he could reach the exit.
'Going somewhere, Professor?' she asked with a smile.
'I have no desire to be here a moment longer than necessary, Miss Granger,' Snape said coldly, his scowl set firmly in place. 'I am only here at all because the Minister expressly made me attend.'
'Please dance with me before you go,' Hermione requested. 'Just one dance and then I'll let you leave.' Her smile continued.
For a moment Snape looked as if he was going to refuse but just then there was the pop of a flashbulb. They had just been photographed together. Eventually he gave a curt nod.
'One dance, then, Miss Granger,' Snape agreed graciously, and offering her his arm he led her to the dance floor, although he still wore his scowl.
Hermione could see Ron looking at her in astonishment as she danced with Severus and she knew he had no idea why she was doing so. Severus was a graceful man and danced very well although she had no idea why it surprised her, for he always had done on the odd occasions when they had danced together at Spinner's End. It had always annoyed her that Severus seemed to excel at everything he turned his hand to. But now, as far as Hermione was concerned, there was no one in the room except for her and her lover. It was so wonderful to be back in his arms that she had to work hard not to let her emotions run away with her.
'Are you really going to go?' she asked Snape quietly as they danced.
'Not that it's any of your business, Miss Granger, but yes,' Snape replied. 'I detest these types of functions and wouldn't have attended in the first place had I been given any choice in the matter.'
Hermione nodded. 'I knew that,' she admitted sympathetically. 'I told Harry and Ron that was why you were looking so unhappy.'
Snape looked at her but didn't say anything. Hermione wrapped her arms around him more tightly, trying not to lose herself as she inhaled his aroma. Her heart pounded with desire for the man she loved so much.
'Can I come with you?' she asked, looking into his black eyes to show him she was being serious.
'What are you talking about?' Snape sounded confused. He gave a sharp bark of a laugh. 'Why should I take you with me, Miss Granger? I have no desire for your company and I'm sure you would have a much better evening here, celebrating with your friends.'
'No, that's not true,' Hermione replied honestly, her voice still just above a whisper. 'I really want to be with you, Severus. I want you more than anything in the world and I think you want me, too. In fact, I'm sure you do.' She looked defiantly at him.
Snape scowled deeply at her use of his first name.
Before he could say anything in response she leaned up to whisper in his ear. 'I want you so much, Severus. I really want us to make love.'
Her lips pressed gently against his cheek.
Just as he was about to reply she cut in again. 'Please, Severus . . . take me to Spinner's End with you.'
'How do you know about Spinner's End?' Snape asked harshly, his face suddenly full of anger. 'Tell me, Miss Granger.' His grip on her was hard and painful now.
'Take me there and I'll tell you everything,' Hermione promised, trying to ignore his rough behaviour. 'Please, I can't explain it here. It'll take too long and I'm sure you don't want everyone else to hear.'
Grudgingly, Snape loosened his grip on her, aware that she was right. He didn't know how Hermione knew about his home, but acting roughly would do nothing to help him find out. But how did she know he desired her? He had never told anyone about that, had never even mentioned it out loud. And surely he would have known by now if she were a Leglimens. He nodded curtly, and as the song finished he led her towards the door. Hermione saw Ron still looking at her in confusion but she didn't have time to explain to him. She had to leave with Severus and he wasn't making it easy — she had to almost run to keep up with him as it was. Once they got outside the Ministry building, Snape turned to look at her.
'I assume you don't know the location of Spinner's End?' he asked darkly.
Hermione shook her head. It wasn't true, of course, but he was already twitchy enough about her knowledge of the place without adding the location, too. Without waiting, Snape wrapped an arm around her waist.
'Side-along Apparition it is, then,' he said, and they disappeared with a pop.
A moment later they were standing in the lounge of the ramshackle house that Snape called home. Hermione was vaguely surprised to see that it didn't look much different from the first time she had visited, and that wasn't for another thirteen years. Snape let go of her immediately on arriving as if she were a hot potato and turned to face her, glaring angrily.
'Now, Miss Granger,' he said icily, 'perhaps you would care to explain how you know about Spinner's End.' He didn't mention anything about his desire for her, although he was dying to know how she knew that, too. Perhaps it had just been a lucky bluff on her part, although it hadn't sounded that way.
Hermione sat herself down in the nearest chair, debating exactly what she was going to say. She knew she was playing with fire. She had gone back in time and was completely changing history, something that was both dangerous and illegal. For this to work she had to make Severus understand about them, had to share their future. But would he believe her?
'Sit down, please, Severus,' she quietly requested the scowling man who was looming over her. 'It'll take a while and I'd feel more comfortable if you're not towering over me angrily.' She sounded subdued, as if she was a little scared.
Snape looked as if he was about to say something but instead turned and headed for the drinks cabinet, pouring a large measure of brandy first for himself and then, after some consideration, for Hermione. A moment later he settled himself in his favourite chair and looked at her with that quiet intensity she knew so well.
'Well?' His voice was still cold as he looked at her.
Hermione took a sip of her drink. 'This is going to sound crazy,' she said, 'but I need you to listen to me, Severus, because it's really important.'
He scowled at her use of his first name again but nodded once to show he understood. She pulled the Time-Turner from her handbag and showed it to him. His eyes narrowed as he looked at it.
'It's yours,' she affirmed. 'And I used it to be here now. But I need to start at the beginning.'
She took another sip of her drink to fortify herself.
'In the future you and I are lovers. Not for a while yet, but after I finish college . . . after I become a Potions Mistress. We worked together on the Wolfsbane potion, changing it, perfecting it, and along the way our relationship became far more intimate.' She blushed as she spoke, keeping her eyes focussed on Snape's. 'Turns out the feeling between us was mutual, and what started as a one-off became a love affair that lasted decades.' Hermione's voice turned sad as she remembered the end when Severus had been in hospital.
'How many years have you come back?' Snape asked interestedly, his voice was low.
'Almost seventy,' Hermione admitted.
'I died then?' Snape asked, his voice was curiously devoid of emotion. She could see him totting up his age.
Hermione nodded. 'You were gravely ill, Severus. You wanted to die. I didn't want to let you go, but you needed to.' She could feel the tears pricking her eyes. 'You left me the Time-Turner . . . well, everything, including Spinner's End, in your will.'
Snape nodded once again, showing that he understood, although he said nothing. He seemed to be thinking.
'We loved each other so much, Severus,' Hermione said, her eyes glistening. 'So much happy time was spent here.'
'How long?' Snape asked stiffly.
'Almost fifty-five years.' Hermione admitted.
'Why did we never marry?' Snape asked. He was frowning now.
Hermione shrugged. 'I was already married with children, and I don't think you would have married me anyway. I did try to convince you several times over the years that we should live together at least . . . but you were always adamant that I should retain my relationship with my husband and children regardless of how we felt about each other.' She laughed sadly.
'Married? How did this happen?' He looked confused.
'I married Ron.' Hermione gave a small wry smile. 'He asked me after the award ceremony we've just been at, when he took me home. I went to college in America first and trained to become a Potions Mistress, then got a job at St Mungo's, but then when I was twenty-four I married Ron. We had two children, Rose and Hugo, but my refusal to give up work ruined our relationship. Working with you rekindled the desire I'd had for you at school and eventually, after several years, we got drawn into a romantic relationship as well as a professional one.'
She took another sip of the drink.
'You were always keen that I should try to keep my marriage alive. As much as we adored each other there was never any possibility of us ever marrying.' She gave a small laugh. 'Of course, it wasn't all one-sided. Ron and I stopped having sex before you and I became intimate and eventually he was having affairs, too. I ignored them. After all, I had you, the love of my life, so there were no grounds for complaint. I was actually surprised that he stayed with me once the children were grown. He had always wanted a large family and it turned out that he had several children elsewhere.'
She stopped to blow her nose on a tissue that she had pulled from her handbag.
'But if we loved each other so much,' Snape said still frowning, 'and you and Weasley were no longer in love, why did the two of you not end your relationship?'
Hermione shrugged. 'You wouldn't let me break up the family. I lost that chance when I went home with Ron from the award ceremony instead of you.'
Snape looked at her with dawning understanding. 'And so you've come back?' He sounded astonished.
'To change history, yes,' Hermione admitted. She dug into her handbag again and removed the letter he had written to her. 'You left me this with the Time-Turner. The solicitor gave it to me at the reading of the will. Do you want to see it?'
Snape took a large mouthful of his drink while he pondered. As crazy as Hermione's story sounded, in his heart he knew it was true. And the idea that she had been his lover for so many years was astonishing, although not as astounding as the fact that she had literally turned back time to be with him once again. Finally he nodded and reached out to take the parchment. Hermione silently watched him as he read.
She knew the words the letter contained off by heart. She had read it every day since she had received it, every day over the three years she had pondered whether to do as the letter said and live out the rest of her life with Ron and her family or do as she had finally chosen and return to change the past.
'I love you so much, Severus,' Hermione admitted when he had finished reading. 'I couldn't bear to be without you. I had to do this. You do understand, don't you?'
Snape looked at her for a moment, then nodded. He put his glass and the letter on the table and left his chair to drop to his knees on the floor in front of Hermione, grabbing her hands.
'But why?' He seemed stunned. 'I was never a handsome man, or a pleasant one. And now—' He indicated the livid scar across his face.
'You are far more than how you look, Severus,' Hermione said, becoming emotional once more. 'You are brilliant, intelligent, talented and wonderful to be with. You can be pleasant, you've just got used to being a bully. That's not who you are inside.'
'You came back to be with me,' Snape said again, wonderingly.
'Yes . . . I did. Please, Severus, make love to me,' Hermione said, pleading with him.
'Will change everything, yes.' Hermione nodded as she smiled at him, squeezing his hands tighter.
'But your husband . . . your children. . . .'
'Will never have existed,' Hermione replied quietly. 'But that doesn't matter. I belong to you, Severus — body, heart, and soul — for eternity,' she whispered.
'But how did we get together?' Snape asked curiously. His hands were stroking hers gently, almost as if he couldn't believe she was real.
Hermione blushed and bit her bottom lip. 'That was me,' she admitted. 'I used to have such a crush on you at school. I used to fantasise about you. When I saw you again after ten years away, my desire was rekindled.' She took hold of his hand, stroking it and examining the long fingers. 'It was your hands that did it. They reminded me of all my fantasies, and having been deprived of sex for over two years, I propositioned you.'
Snape looked as if he was about to say something.
'Oh, no, don't worry. You didn't take advantage, Severus. You turned me down flat and reminded me I was a married woman. But I left you with the offer. Just one night, that's all I wanted — one night with you so I could discover what you were really like. Eventually you changed your mind and we had the one night . . . well, a bit longer than that actually . . . at the Leaky Cauldron, and we explored all my fantasies.' She looked into his dark eyes, realising that she was shaking a little.
'It was the best night of my life,' Hermione finished wistfully as she remembered.
'I have fantasies, too,' Snape said. His voice sounded thicker than before.
'I know,' Hermione said with a smile. One of her hands now was now stroking Snape's cheek, not caring about the scarring she encountered. 'We explored those, too. Your fantasies were a lot darker than mine, Severus, but ultimately more satisfying for both of us, I think. But that happened over two years after our original one night at the Leaky Cauldron. You asked me for one night a few years later and I agreed to it, but then things evolved. We came here. We didn't want to risk being caught. You introduced me to all sorts of things I'd never even considered, let alone tried. It was wonderful.'
'Did we explore all my fantasies?' Snape asked sounding intrigued.
'I'm not sure. Certainly a lot of them over the years, although maybe some of the darkest ones we might not have got to.'
'And you were happy for me to involve you in these things?' Snape asked, sounding a little surprised.
'Very. I told you, I belong to you completely.' Hermione's voice was seductive now.
Snape pulled Hermione to him and his lips touched hers gently, much as their first kiss at the Leaky Cauldron had been. She grabbed him back as the kiss intensified, overwhelmingly happy to finally be in his arms once more.
'Take me to bed, Severus,' she whispered as the kiss finished.
Smiling, Snape picked her up and carried her towards the bedroom. 'I already know I'm in love with you,' he whispered as he laid her gently on the bed.
Hermione couldn't stop the tears that sprang into her eyes.
'What's the matter, love?' Snape asked worriedly at the sight of them.
'I always knew, but you never said it,' Hermione told him quietly.
'What — never?' Snape sounded horrified. 'I mean, I know I said in the letter that I hadn't, but I assumed my memory was shot by that point because of the medication.'
Hermione shook her head. 'Just before . . . you know, in the hospital. You told me then . . . and in the letter, of course. But I always knew.'
Snape stroked her cheek, wiping away her tears. 'I should have said it more,' he said gently. 'I won't make that mistake this time. I love you, Hermione!'
Hermione smiled at the wonderful man holding her so tightly, the feeling of love for him overwhelming her. She knew now for sure that she had made the right decision.