196. Wanting

"Speaking of doing whatever you wanted—" I unhooked the first of his buttons. "You never did seem to want anything." I slipped the next button through is hole.

"Oh—it was not for lack of wanting," his voice went husky as his eyes followed my progress down his frock coat. "Ilsa, we can wait."

I frowned at him. "Well, if you'd rather, but don't on my account. I've been waiting all summer, you know."

He grinned at me with crooked teeth and eyes crinkling at the corners, as he swept me into his arms and headed for the stairs.

197. Magic

We lay tangled in the sheets, the afternoon light deepening as Severus summoned a bottle of Chianti and glasses from the kitchen and had them racing each other up the stairs. I was amused, but watching him wield magic brought new questions.

"Are you—upset that I'm not magical?" I asked tentatively, accepting the glass.

He froze and looked up at me. "Potter said Ginevera told you tales of my youth."

"No, I'm not asking about your politics; I'm asking about our relationship."

"Although I am exonerated in the magical world, I still must disguise myself when I go out."

198. Life

He took a long drink before continuing. "This is really the sort of life I had thought I would like to live, you know, a long time ago. We will go to London for school in the winter and we will spend our summers here—with, perhaps, a visit to Yorkshire." He slanted me a small smile. "Potter is arranging for commissions for me to brew; everything he touches seems to turn to gold," he sneered almost fondly. "You are vastly different than what I have known—but despite everything, being with you is like coming home at last."

199. Endings

"How long have you loved me?" I asked over our lamb chop dinner.

"Hear my soul speak: The very instant that I saw you, did my heart fly to your service. Shakespeare." He smiled at me.

I rolled my eyes. "I don't believe you."

"Well, I felt protective of you from the moment I saw you, of course. Love came later, slowly, as you wore away my defenses, and in the end I didn't fight it hardly at all."

"But then you regretted it?"

"Only inasmuch as I thought you had been coerced." His dark eyes sought mine over the candles.

200. New Beginnings

We disembarked at King's Cross Station, arm in arm, and headed for the exit. University was starting in a week and we had an apartment to set up, as well as a dinner engagement with the Potters and Hermione.

I had spent the end of the summer painting and sketching in the second bedroom studio in the mornings and reading with Severus in the evenings.

I shook my chestnut brown hair out of my eyes and smiled at my casually dressed husband.

"If there is love, there is hope to have real families, real brotherhood, real equanimity, real peace. The Dalai Lama."

A pancake breakfast with real maple syrup for my beta renaid, who has traveled this long road of vigorous posting, short chapters, and word count with us. Taste the fruit of our labors and be pleased, dear readers!