Chapter 91

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I own nothing you'd recognize.

"Hermione!" he gasped as he recognized the scene as the top of Stone Mountain whihc was clearly outside of the Terminus city limits.

"Yes!" she answered, pleased with her surprise.

"I'm going to get arrested again! I'm going back to prison! You have to take me back!" Snape panicked.

"Severus, if you weren't supposed to be here you'd be paralyzed," Hermione answered patiently.

He calmed himself, recalling the judge's order that if he moved outside the agreed-upon limits he'd be paralyzed. Then he remembered Hermione casting the muffliato spell during the bail hearing. His eyes widened with understanding. "This?" he asked. "This is my Christmas present?"

"Yes," Hermione answered softly. "I pulled a few strings, but this is your Christmas present."

"Oh Hermione," he whispered in awe.

"Well?" she asked.

"It's, it's…" he began.

He breathed deeply, savoring every detail. The snow fell lightly around him, fluffy flakes splashing against his skin as they melted in his warmth. The lights of Atlanta twinkled in the distance, a feast of holiday colors for world-weary eyes. A stillness that can only come with such a night enveloped them, bringing with it a profound sense of peace. He glanced over at Hermione, who was standing next to him on the mountain as though she had just stepped out of his dreams. "It's the best present anyone could give me," he concluded.

"It will only last for one day," she replied. "Come December 26th, the old conditions come back into play."

"I never thought I'd be able to stand here and see Atlanta this way again," he sighed.

"I can see why you fell in love with it," she answered as she gazed out over the horizon. "It really is beautiful from here."

"You should see it at sunrise!" he answered.

"I can only imagine," she breathed as she continued to admire the view. Then she looked over at him and caught his gaze.

"Thank you," he whispered. "Thank you for everything, Hermione."

"You're welcome," she answered.

He sighed, fighting to keep his emotions in check. "I suppose now is as good a time as any to give you the rest of your present."

"Severus, you didn't need to…" she replied.

"Yes, I did," he answered. He took another deep breath for courage and began. "Sitting alone in jail, I had a lot of time to think. If I had the opportunity to create one last potion, what would it be? Nothing that came to mind seemed quite adequate or worthy of my time. I mean, I already published most of my preliminary thoughts on a wide range of potions. Anyone could expand on those ideas. No, my last potion had to be special… revolutionary…something that would be meaningful not only to the wizarding world, but to myself as well."

"Wait, didn't your other potions mean anything to you?" she asked, shivering a little.

He cast a warming spell over them both. She nodded in thanks and he smiled in acknowledgment. "It's not that," he continued. "But if I could never make a potion again, I wanted my last one to be something that could help someone close to me, something that would allow them to remember me. The Malfoys, they were fine, so I was at loose ends… until you moved in and I realized just how devastating the loss of your parents was."

"Okay," she answered, not daring to hope where this was going.

"When I received the inspiration, I began researching the latest work on amnesia potions. I tried to work while you were asleep, sneaking in and out of my room, but I sensed that you could hear me," he continued.

"I could," Hermione admitted. "I figured it was your house though, and the Aurors were tracing your every move, so I had no need to ask what you were up to."

"I would have lied to you if you had," he answered.

"Obviously," she replied with a small smile.

"After a few weeks, I found a potion that looked promising, but ultimately failed because while it could erase implanted memories, it could not restore lost ones…"

"Severus!" Hermione gasped.

"Please allow me to finish," he replied. She nodded and he went on, "I knew peach pits had magical properties, and that a side effect of some potions involving them was that the recipient's memory would improve. Perhaps peach pits were the key to restoring memories. I had an idea of how such a potion would react… and my prototype did react exactly as I expected. Then I needed to test it. I contacted Terminus University, which was more than happy to help.

I will admit that I was unfair to you during the potion testing. I felt guilty about sending you to the library when you believed I was giving my final lecture. On the surface, I was shutting you out, and maybe it was wrong to let you believe that, but I feared if I told you what I was doing, I would get your hopes up only to crush them if the potion failed. I could not allow you to experience that kind of pain again, so I protected you the best way I knew how. I'm sorry if I hurt you."

"No, I understand," she answered through tears of gratitude. "Thank you Severus."

"It was nothing," he answered. "Now, in order to conduct the experiment, I asked the university students to think of a minor event, such as a trip to the park or cramming for a test; memories they could live without. I erased those memories without erasing pertinent information, such as their names. I implanted very innocuous memories inside them, such as taking a trip as a child to a place where they'd never been, or going rock climbing when they had in fact been studying on that day. Again, those were memories which wouldn't be troublesome to everyday life. After implanting the false memories, I gave them the potion."

"What happened?" Hermione asked with a sense of urgency.

Snape smiled. "All of them regained their original memories and lost the false ones."

She squealed, "Severus!" She flew into his arms, crying. "You really?"

"Yes," he whispered. "None have reported ill side-effects as of yet. We're going to publish the findings after Christmas. I, I should warn you that these were benign memories, and their whole mindset wasn't affected by my spell. Still, there is a chance that it could work."

She looked up at him, her eyes full of joy and love. "I just wanted hope Severus. That's all I needed. Thank you! Oh Merlin thank you!"

Hermione kissed Snape with reckless abandon. He caught her lips when they landed close to his; otherwise he was content to bask in her enthusiasm. Finally, he reached into his pocket and pulled out the vial. "Here it is," he whispered.

"Oh Severus!" Hermione answered. "I love you!"