It's God that heals. Time only tells.
Severus looked down at his daughter, Aelia. Their little sunbeam was three years old, brilliant, inquisitive, playful, and happy. She was a copy of Hermione and she owned his heart just as surely as her mother did.
Warm brown eyes looked back toward the bungalows and the figure reclining in the chair shaded by palm trees in the distance. "Will Mamma come to da party?"
"Yes, Sweetheart. She just needed a nap before everyone gets here." he answered.
Aelia looked at her Gramma and Papaw Granger and began to quiz them on who would be there - Unca Hawwy, Aunt Ginny, James, Unca Won, Aunt Gabby, Unca George, Aunt Ang-ina, Fwed, Gamma Mowwy, Gwampa Awtur, Mr. Kings, Unca Biew, Aunt Fweur, Vic-tau, Aunt Dwomeda, Teddy, Aunt Minnie, Hag-id, Unca Nev-iew, Aunt Susan, Amy, Unca Fank, Aunt Awice, Aunt Yuna...
When she was assured that most of her favorite people would be there, Helen tried to convince her granddaughter that she needed a nap before the fun started. Aelia was not convinced. First she frowned, then seemed to decide on avoidance and bent to pick up another shell. Severus gave her a look, which she likewise ignored. The little imp gave him a brilliant smile and handed him her sea shell. Fighting back his own smile, Severus shook the sand off it then stuffed it in his already laden pocket.
Two shells later and Aelia began rubbing her eyes...then fussing when the sand from her hands got in them.
"Aelia, stop. Let me help you." Severus bent to cleanse the sand out of her eye. "Time for your nap too, Sunshine."
"Not sleepy," she whined.
"Hmm," he answered, picking her up. She pointed to a seagull and said she wanted to fly first. And so began the usual negotiations, part of which included being lifted to fly, ice cream was mentioned, and Gramma Helen promised to read a book.
Watching his daughter's brown curls toss and blow in the sea-breeze, Severus, as he frequently did, felt a twinge of regret for how he'd treated Hermione when she was young. Dan and Helen often noted how Aelia reminded them of Hermione when she was little. And his daughter - she was precious. If anyone dared to treat Aelia the way he'd done Hermione, Severus would throttle and hex them to within an inch of death. The irony was not lost on him. It was a constant reminder of how Hermione had changed his life. He barely recognized his old self anymore.
Before it had practically fallen in his lap, it was something he'd never allowed himself to dream or hope for: a wife he loved with all of his being, fatherhood, and friendship. It was all Hermione's doing. She was perfect - kind, brilliant, cunning with a hint of vengeful, loyal, beautiful, and one of the worst liars he'd ever seen. Severus would never understand how he'd been so blind that he'd never once spotted the potential in all the years he'd known her, or why he'd been unable to view her as anything but annoying. And that didn't even take into account Harry, who was now like a younger brother to him. It was a testament to the poisonous, blinding power of anger and bitterness.
Despite it all, she'd waded in and saved him - from death, from bitterness, from loneliness. She'd befriended him, forgiven him and loved him. And now...Severus had all he'd ever wanted. He was blessed and he was happy.
Hermione watched her husband walk hand in hand with their daughter down the beach, followed by her parents who walked hand in hand behind them. Summer and Christmas hols frequently found them here, in Australia, where her parents had stayed. Never completely free of their notoriety back home, she and Severus were glad to have family away from Britain. Portkeys were easy enough, and there was a sense of freedom here.
This secluded beach, in particular, was one of their favorites. It was where they'd been married a mere week after their engagement, officiated by Kingsley and attended by the SevenS, Neville, Luna, their dates, her parents, some of the Hogwarts staff and the Weasleys. Here, they'd spent the remainder of their summer on honeymoon until Hogwarts term resumed (excepting trips to their friend's weddings), and here they returned at least once a year. They were pretty sure this is where both of their children had been conceived as well. It was a good place for them.
Hermione smiled and contemplated Severus as the sound of little girl squeals and laughter replaced Aelia's brief stint of whinging. Who'd have envisaged, years ago, that the dreaded Potion's Master, Severus Snape would become such a wonderful father, son-in-law, friend, husband and lover - master of maneuvering his women-folk into pleasant moods and indulging them into happiness?
Often Hermione thought back to those who had come before: his mother, Lily, even Minerva, Albus and others that had known him. How had they missed the wonder of who he was? Love and acceptance, respect and letting him know he was important to you were the simple keys to his heart. Basic things, yet so few had offered them.
Not for the first time, she pondered if all that was so wonderful about him would have remained without the hardships he'd endured - just as with Harry. Hermione could easily see Harry, indulged by James and Sirius becoming a prat instead of the humble, courageous, selfless and loving person that he was. Similarly, what would Severus, with his prodigious brain and skill and proclivity for the dark have become without Lily's love and friendship as his sole lifeline? Would more love and less hurt have moulded him into remarkable man he was now? How much of that man was forged by the difficult road he'd walked in life, and how much was who he'd been all along?
Impossible and pointless questions. As much as Hermione wished she could wipe away the pain of the past, it was part of who they were, and it was impossible to remove one part without removing some of the most precious parts as well. Life was not perfect, but there was such beauty. It convinced her anew, every day, that there was One who guided and watched over them all - One able to take the most ugly, terrible things and renew them.
Just look at the evidence she had daily before her. Because of all the ugly that Severus had been through, he didn't trust easily, but when he did, he was unswervingly loyal, fiercely protective and gave without limit. More beautiful still, his love. It had been hidden for so long, but when Severus loved, it was deep...fathomless, even. And Merlin, was he observant, diligent and meticulous in all things. It still moved her to awe and tears sometimes.
Hermione smiled at the sight of her family ambling back toward her. Aelia was tilting her head back and forth as she sang from her perch on her father's shoulders, and Severus laughed suddenly at something her father said. Beauty and new life from ashes - it was everywhere she looked.
The trick was remembering to open your eyes. That's why these getaways were so good for their family. When life got busy and filled with routine, it allowed them to slow down and contemplate the changes in their lives - not so as to dwell in the past, but to reflect and realize the wonder of all they had. Gratitude - it was a potent remedy for malcontent, and the strongest preventative against taking each other for granted that she knew of.
When they returned from their short walk, Severus gazed at her with that look as their daughter regaled her with tales of her little adventure. Hermione listened patiently then brushed back fuzzy brown curls and kissed her daughter's head.
"Go with Gramma and Papaw for your nap, and we'll see you later, Sunshine," Severus instructed their daughter.
Aelia looked mutinous for a moment until she spotted her father's implacable, commanding expression, then heaved a huge sigh and took her Gramma's hand. Hermione smiled at her Mum in thanks.
Did you promise her ice cream again?" Hermione asked him.
Severus attempted not to look chagrined. "I may have agreed to ice cream."
Hermione chuckled and shook her head. "You spoil her too much. What are you going to do when she gets to Hogwarts and expects a bribe for everything she's asked to do?"
"Retire," Severus answered as he maneuvered himself into the chair with her.
Hermione shook her head again. "It's forbidden. You enjoy your job too much."
It was a surprising thing, but it was true - so long as he delegated the nonsense, as he called it, and Minerva, Filius, Poppy, Pamona and Hagrid stayed exactly where they were. Thankfully, they all seemed healthy and content.
"You mean to keep me there, herding the next lot of Potters and Weasleys?" he asked.
Hermione laughed. "And Lupin, yes. And you know you're looking forward to it."
"And shaking in terror," he groused. She smiled and sighed as he wrapped his arms around her from behind and placed his hands on her six months round belly. He felt awash in awe and contentment in the perfection of the moment - lying in the shade with his love, listening to the sound of the ocean, feeling the movements of their unborn child beneath his hands.
"Happy Anniversary, Hermione," he whispered in her ear. "These have been the best five years of my life, and I love you beyond words."
Hermione turned in his arms and looked up at Severus with misty eyes and a happy smile. She knew what he meant. There were no words for how much she loved this man. She returned the words, but she also held him close and put everything she felt into the kiss she gave him.
When Severus looked at her with his un-guarded, onyx eyes, Hermione knew love and happiness. In his eyes, she saw her little bit of heaven, the promise of the Far Off Country they'd talked about so long ago. It was true, they lived in a broken world full of broken, fallible people...but life was beautiful, and the best was yet to come.
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