Hermione had, of course, been correct. News of the werewolf-curing potion appeared in the Prophet the next day (thanks to some string-pulling by Harry at the Ministry), and the article prominently mentioned it was a joint effort between Miss Hermione Granger, friend of the Boy Who Lived, and the ex-professor-ex-Death-Eater Severus Snape, currently awaiting trial. That article was followed by one the day after, an interview with The Boy Who Lived himself, in which Harry Potter explained in an implausibly fawning tone all about how Hermione had saved her former professor from dramatic certain death at the hands of a giant magical snake, how she claimed a blood debt to keep him from Azkaban because the Ministry didn't care to learn how Severus Snape had secretly provided Harry the solution to killing Voldemort, and how the two of them had been hard at work for the last month developing this cure for all the witches and wizards affected by Fenrir Greyback's cruelty. The article was a bit long on the melodrama and short on actual facts, and it pointedly failed to mention that the giant magical snake in question was not, in fact, present when Miss Granger saved her former professor, but it certainly set the wizarding world afire with speculation.

The third article to appear - not surprisingly, written by Rita Skeeter - described a blossoming romance between Hermione Granger and Severus Snape. It had even fewer facts correct than the previous two articles, and it made no mention at all of the potion. It turned out to have the biggest impact on the trial, though - all of a sudden, Severus Snape was no longer the intimidating potions master so many witches and wizards had experienced at Hogwarts. Instead, he was repainted as a dramatic Byronic hero, brooding but with a secret tendre for one specific witch with frizzy mahogany hair and more smarts than were good for her. Hermione actually had to disconnect the fireplace from the Floo Network because so many witches and wizards were popping their heads in, requesting interviews.

"Load of rubbish, all of it," Severus grumbled as he folded the day's Prophet and placed it neatly on the kitchen table. "I'd like to know where those reporters were when the Dark Lord was controlling the Ministry - why not speculate about that?"

Hermione came up behind his chair, wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed the back of his ear. "They'd rather speculate about us, of course," she purred. "I'm sure I'm not the only young witch who ever developed a crush on you, Professor Snape."

Severus groaned, a sound which turned into more of a pant when Hermione nibbled on his earlobe. "Never asked for any of that."

"No, but you got me. And I got you. I'm satisfied." She pulled his chair back from the table and slid around to sit sideways in his lap. "St. Mungo's has put in a request for as much of the potion as we can make, by the way - they've had parents turning up in droves."

The potion ended up having to wait another hour or so. Harry apparated in just as they were finishing for the day, sweaty and exhausted. He clomped down the basement stairs, waving a piece of parchment.

"You're cleared, Severus!" he announced. "The Ministry has withdrawn the charges against you - under pressure from nearly the entire wizarding community, as I understand it. Can't have a secret war hero sent to Azkaban."

Hermione snatched the parchment and quickly read it over. "About bloody time," she muttered.

"Yes, well, it's done now," Harry said, discomfort suddenly coloring his tone. "That decree is also the key, Hermione - tap the spell at the bottom with your wand and then tap the collar and it should come off. I, ah . . . I'll leave you to it." And he practically apparated back up the stairs.

"Ready for this?" she asked.

Severus swallowed. "I suppose." And although he never would have wanted to say it aloud, he realized he would miss the thing. A bit.

Hermione tapped the parchment, then brought her wand up to Severus's neck. There was a popping noise and a tiny puff of smoke, and then the collar fell away. Severus couldn't stop his hand from flying up to rub at the newly-revealed skin - the scar from Nagini was still there, he felt, but it no longer itched like it had before the collar.

They both stood silently, looking at the collar on the floor, for a long time.

"I suppose I'll need to get your wand back sometime soon," Hermione finally said.

"Yes, that would be helpful."

More silence.

"I wonder . . . you know . . ." Severus couldn't believe he was blushing. "Do we get to keep it? The collar? Because if so, I wouldn't object to . . . keeping it around for a while. For special occasions."

Her smile lit up the room. "I didn't want to ask it of you, but - yes, I think I'd like that. For special occasions."

Severus stepped closer and claimed her mouth in a scorching kiss, pressing until they were both panting and breathless. "I like to keep my Mistress happy," he murmured.

The heat in her eyes would have melted metal. "Show me."

So that's it - thanks to all of you who stuck with me through my crazy almost-daily updates for this and "Not the Marrying Kind." I hope this was the happier ending you were hoping for! I've got several other ideas - mostly Snape-related - so feel free to follow my account and get updates whenever I get started on the next one. I can't guarantee everything will be Harry Potter, but most of it will :-)