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Return to Prince Manor by Snapegirl
Chapter 63 : A Family at Last
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 12

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They had dinner in the queen's private apartments, a small intimate gathering of family. In addition to Titania, there was also her youngest son, Balin, who had come of age last year. He was now a century old, as the fae measured time. He was the one who had invited them to hunt manticores and chimeras in the Deep Wood last year. There was also her middle son, Aubrey, a serious fellow, who greeted the Snapes, Sarai, and Nesmay cordially. Balin grinned outright, and said, "Well met again, Wizard Severus, and Harry and Draco. I think you'll have a better time at this dinner than you did last year in the forest."

"I'm sure we will, Lord Balin." Severus said, bowing to him.

He turned to his old bodyguard. "Sarai, it's good to see that you haven't lost your touch. I heard you took down a frost giant in old Jarhead's palace. I always figured you were a match for anything, Amarsi."

Sarai chuckled. "Not quite, my lord. Though I do my best. Have you been keeping up with your sparring?"

"Ah . . . yes," the prince said hesitantly. "But no one spars with me quite the way you do."

She arched an eyebrow. "You mean, your teacher doesn't knock you down when you become too careless? Or give you a swat with a practice blade when you leave yourself vulnerable?"

Balin laughed. "Rhian is good, Captain, but he doesn't push me quite so hard."

"Perhaps we could spar again soon, cousin." Sarai offered. She moved to sit beside Severus.

Balin turned and smiled at Nesmay. "Glad to see you're up and about, little niece." He gently drew her into an embrace. "You had us worried, you know."

Nesmay was startled. "You were worried about me, Uncle Balin?"

"Yes. You never should have had to suffer at that insane bastard's hands," the prince said, his eyes flashing. "If Oberon were here right now, I'd call him out for what he did."

"And end up with three feet of silveron in your gullet, little brother," Aubrey commented wryly.

Balin turned. "I know how to fence, Aubrey."

"Oberon knew more, little brother."

"Enough! You will not mention his name again," Titania declared frostily.

Both her sons nodded deferentially. Balin escorted Nesmay to a chair beside him and they all sat down.

Nesmay was wearing new spidersilk trousers and a long tunic in a royal blue color, with a purple shirt beneath and a sash that held her wand and a small belt pouch. She also had new black boots, which were a bit stiff. She seemed more at ease with her relatives now than before, but was dying of curiosity to find out what Severus wished to discuss with her.

Wind sprite servants came around with bowls of warmed rose water and heated towels to wash their hands. There were gold-rimmed place settings, and the utensils bore the royal crest upon them. Harry felt awkward at first, unused to such opulence, but he soon relaxed when Sarai showed him how to figure out the silverware. "Start from the outside in. And don't worry if you make a mistake, no one will laugh at you here."

"Well, I might," Draco whispered, snickering. Harry kicked his ankle under the table.

The meal was delicious, venison in a wine sauce, crispy fried potatoes with onions and sage, fresh greens in oil and vinegar, wild carrots in a honey glazed sauce, wild mushroom soup, and several kinds of fruits and small sweet cakes sprinkled with sugar. Each dish was served by a small wood sprite, half the size of a fae, dressed in the royal livery. For drinks there were summerdew served in a cordial sized glass—only the fae royals drank that, Severus declined and so did Sarai. Nesmay drank frost wine and the boys had merlinna juice.

Once everyone was finished, Titania clapped her hands and invisible instruments began to play a spritely air. "I hope all of you found your dinner satisfactory. I asked Fernwood, my chef, to prepare something filling and tasty. I commend her for exceeding my expectations. I am very grateful to have this time with my family, especially my granddaughter. However, I do have an announcement to make. In three days time, in the Garden of Eternal Spring, Severus Tobias Snape, Lord of Prince Manor, and Captain-Lady Sarai Kinsalari Valinek shall be joined in matrimony, in the ancient rite of bonding. I have called you here so that you may act as witnesses. Morgana could not make it, she had other duties to attend to as my heir, but she too shall be a witness."

"Will you be performing the ceremony then, Mother?" asked Balin.

"Of course." Titania answered. "Sarai, I have taken the liberty of informing your parents, they will be leaving their home and traveling here on the morrow."

"Thank you, Your Majesty." Sarai said. "You are most kind."

"And most eager to have a reason to celebrate, considering this latest turn of events," the fae queen admitted. "The ceremony will be in private, for that is something only family may witness. But the feast following will be for the entire court and any friends you may wish to invite."

Severus cleared his throat. "Might I invite Lord Philip Anthony Snape, my Nightwalker ancestor? He wished to stand as my best man."

"Of course. He is family, is he not?"

"And his wife and his twin sons will be guests at the feast," Sarai added.

Harry was happy to hear that, for he had missed his Uncle Phil and Julie and the twins. It would be great to see them again.

Draco wondered if Duncan Wavestrider would be there as well. He was tempted to ask if they could invite Hermione and Katie. But he was unsure of the protocol in a fae wedding. Still, it couldn't hurt to ask. "Dad, what if we wanted to invite Hermione and Katie?"

"And maybe Ron too?" suggested Harry. "Would that be all right?"

Severus looked at Titania. "Your Majesty, the mortals my sons are speaking of are their girlfriends and students of mine. Is it permitted to have mortals attend the wedding feast."

"It is, though you must chaperone your guests yourself, and you are responsible for their behavior." Titania told them.

Harry and Draco both grinned. Then Draco said, "Two days isn't a lot of time to send out invitations."

The queen smirked. "Fear not, little dragon. The invitations shall be delivered by shimmerlings, and get there in the blink of an eye, once you give me the addresses."

Balin lifted his glass in a toast. "Congratulations, Severus and Sarai. May you be blessed and happy in your union!" He tossed back a shot of summerdew as if it were water. Harry's eyes nearly bugged out. He could have never done that. Then again, he wasn't a full fae.

"May you know long life and prosperity." Aubrey added.

"May you have many children and love each other for all that you are," Titania said, then everyone drank.

Later on, Severus sent the boys to bed, and then he and Sarai escorted Nesmay back to her room. Once within her quarters, the Potions Master turned to her and said, "I wished to speak with you in private about the contract drawn up for your apprenticeship, Nesmay."

"What about it?"

"I wish to amend it."

"Amend it . . .b-but why?" she squeaked. "Don't you want to teach me anymore? I promise, I'll try my best not to misbehave or . . . or blow up any more shops . . ."

Severus held up and hand before she could speak further. "Nesmay, did I mention anything about breaking the contract?"

"No, sir. But . . . why do you want to amend it then, if you're not going to send me away?"

"I wish to add to it." Severus answered. "Your grandmother and I spoke at length while you were asleep today. Due to the kidnapping, your instruction was interrupted, as was your time with Ollivander rebuilding his shop. That was not something you could control, however the fact remains that you still owe a debt to the wandmaker which you need to fulfill, and I still owe you at least three months of tutoring. I feel I can fulfill the contract best if you were to come and live at the manor with me indefinitely."

Nesmay was puzzled. "I . . . don't understand."

"I mean that I would like to make you my official ward," Severus said. "The contract makes you my apprentice for a certain length of time, but I think you need longer for me to teach you the mastery of your powers. The queen also believes that you need a safe haven, and you shall not have that here at court, given the political maneuvering that went on previously. Despite her punishment of your uncle and cousin, Titania knows there are many who agreed with him, and some of those might try to harm you, despite her protection. I agree with her. Your uncle had his own faction at court and they will hold you responsible for losing their patron. So . . . I suggested that you come live with me, at the manor. Since you are of royal blood, I cannot adopt you, as you are of higher rank, and your grandmother wishes for you to be eligible for the succession. However, I can make you my ward, which means you will be provided for and raised by me until you are of age, and tutored by me in magic. You shall still bear the name of Highstar, but for all intents and purposes I shall consider you my daughter. Is that agreeable to you? Or would you prefer if I leave the contract as is?"

Nesmay was silent for several long moments. Of all things, this was the last thing she had ever expected to discuss. She felt overwhelmed that Severus would offer her such a thing, knowing who and what she was. Being an apprentice was one thing. But being a ward meant quite another.

"You don't have to give us an answer tonight," Sarai murmured. "You can think it over."

"Do you . . . really want me?" Nesmay asked softly. "Or is this just . . . because you feel sorry for me?" It was an impertinent question, she knew, but she wished to make sure that Severus truly wanted her and was not making the offer because of guilt or pity.

"No, Nesmay. While I do feel bad that you were treated abominably by your uncle, that is not why I'm offering to make you a part of my family. I am offering because you deserve the chance to have what all children ought to have growing up, a good home and a decent family. Your grandmother, though she loves you, cannot always be there for you, she needs to oversee her kingdom. But I have no obligations beyond my duties as a professor, and I can be there to guide and instruct you and . . . to love you as well." Severus cleared his throat awkwardly. "I know what it is to grow up without a father, mine was never there for me, and when he was there, he made my life hell. You will never know your father, but that doesn't mean you don't need one."

"Or a mother." Sarai said. "I know I am not my cousin Aislinn, but I promise to teach you and love you as she would have, child. If you will have me?"

Nesmay stared at them, tears of joy welling in her eyes. "I will! There is no one I want more." She looked directly at Severus. "When I was little, and living with my tutor at Graystone Manor, sometimes I used to dream about my father. I was afraid of him, for I knew he was an evil man, but at the same time I wished I knew him. He made me sick and ashamed, but I would have given anything to know what it was like to gave a father like everyone else. But now when I dream about having a father, I see you in his place, Severus. It would be an honor, sir, to be your daughter."

Abruptly she rose and hugged Severus hard about the neck.

Severus held her, and whispered, "Likewise, hedgehog princess."

"Thank you!" she whispered, kissing him on the cheek.

Then she went to hug Sarai, who said, "Welcome to our family."

Nesmay smiled and then went to sign the documents consenting to the wardship, which Severus had in his pocket.

The next morning, several shimmerlings went to deliver the invitations, which were written out in gold ink upon the purest white parchment, with golden fairy dust sprinkled inside the envelopes. Appropriate clothing was also provided by the queen's wardrobe mistress. All of their recipients were deeply honored and excited to be part of this wonderful event. It had been decided that Severus would go and fetch the three students with a Port Key, bringing them to the manor and using the gate to cross over into the realm of the fae. He would also provide them all, including his sons, with temporary charmed amulets which would protect them against fae glamour and any kind of after effects from eating certain fae foods and drinks. While it was untrue that you would be forced to remain in the fae kingdom if you ate their food, it was fact that some foods and drinks did not react well with human physiology. Also, some of the fae could be capricious pranksters, and mortals were considered fair game. Wishing to prevent any kind of emergency dosing with potions, Severus decided to make charmed pendants for the girls and Ron to wear. Luckily, Sarai helped him, so it did not take too long.

The day of the wedding dawned with a light misty drizzle, considered good luck by some of the fae. But the mist and wet soon burned off as the sun rose, until by midmorning it was fair and bright, with a cooling west wind. Severus had departed to bring his students to the manor, and from there to the Seelie court. He left his beloved asleep, knowing he wouldn't set eyes on her again till the ceremony, for it was considered ill luck for the groom to see his bride in all her finery before the vows were spoken.

Sarai woke instantly, as soon as her mother, Juliana, and several of her fae kinswomen, including Nesmay and Morgana, entered the bedroom. They were singing the traditional fae wedding blessing, which entreated the bride to rise from her bower and seek her bath. Within minutes, the Captain found herself surrounded by her laughing kinswomen, draped with a soft robe of golden silk and satin, and led down the hall and out a side door. The women meandered down to a concealed grotto, where a large pool of water, fed by the ancient River Trealis, flowed. Laughing and clapping, they urged her into the pool, warmed by the sun and a bit of fae magic.

Some of her attendants joined her in the pool, scrubbing her back with lavender oil and her hair with strawberry and freesia soap, playing like seals, indeed one was a selkie, in the water. Sarai quickly abandoned her warrior dignity and frolicked among them, for the bath was a ritual meant to symbolize the leaving of her old life, and childhood, behind and embracing the new life of a wife and mother.

Once the bath was done, her attendants brought her back to her room, where they all helped her dress. Titania's dressmaker had outdone herself, creating a gown that emphasized her slender body and enhanced her. It was made of the best quality spidersilk and glittergem fabric, so named because it looked as though gems were glittering from within the fabric. The dress was gold and white, the colors of royalty and decorated with hundreds of embroidered flowers and leaves and pearls about the bodice. The sleeves were flowing and sheer, like a breath of wind, as was the overskirt. The train was not quite as long as a traditional gown, but the gown billowed about her.

"Just like Severus' robes!" giggled Nesmay irreverently. "You look beautiful, Sarai."

Sarai smiled at her. "Today, I feel beautiful, little daughter." She hugged Nesmay.

"Hold still, Sarai," her mother ordered, she was attempting to braid small sprigs of heather and other wildflowers into her daughter's dark locks. "There! 'Tis done!" She stepped back to admire her daughter. "Ah, such a bride you make, cara mia! Bellissima!" Juliana declared, her speech still containing the cadence and rhythm of her Italian roots.

Morgana fastened on her a lovely silver bracelet with a star sapphire in it, while a dryad slipped kidskin slippers upon her feet. A bouquet of traditional flowers, which included heather and lilies, rested upon a table. One last application of golden dust and a final misting of plum blossom scent and the women declared she was a bride even the queen would envy.

"Impossible!" Sarai snorted. Titania was one of the most beautiful fae in the Seelie court, possessing an ethereal extraordinary beauty that drew all eyes to her. Sarai was a half-blood, and not half so compelling. "The queen is the queen and I'm just a guard captain."

"Take a look in the mirror, Sarai. For the warrior has become a princess," urged Juliana.

Sarai turned about to peer into the full length mirror hanging on the opposite wall.

Both eyebrows rose. "Sun, Moon, and Stars! I . . . hardly recognize myself!"

The gown and the crown of flowers softened her angular features, and her bronzed skin set off the pale gold of the bodice and complimented the ivory silk perfectly. The selkie, Oshalla, had done something with a jar of cosmetics that made her green eyes even brighter and wider and her lips fuller. Her tousled curls had been tamed somewhat, and she thought, How astonishing! I really do look like a princess.

Juliana came and put an arm around her. "You shall make your Severus very happy. Very happy."

Sarai turned about, then said, "But what do I do until the ceremony? That's not for another three hours. I'm not used to being . . . ornamental."

The others just smiled and smirked. "Well . . . " said her mother. "You sit here and listen to us give you advice on your new marriage and how to handle your new husband."

"Mother!" Sarai stared at her. "But I . . . that is . . . Sev and I have . . ."

Juliana tilted her head. "But there's a difference when you're married, cara. Especially on the wedding night."

There is? What's different about it? Nesmay thought, then she blushed as she realized what they were referring to. But sex was not a taboo topic in the courts, though Nesmay was a bit young to listen to her elders discussing such an intimate topic. Hmm . . . this could be . . . interesting . . .

The others smirked and began to share a few of their own experiences. Nesmay sat, still as a mouse, wide-eyed . . . until Sarai spotted her and told her to go and get dressed for the ceremony. Nesmay groaned, but obeyed, foronce they remembered she was there, the attendants stopped talking.

Adults! They take the fun out of everything, the girl thought, before withdrawing.

She had some wood sprite attendants help her with her own gown, which was a turquoise glittergem fabric, not a full length ball gown, but one that drifted lazily to her ankles, accented by opals and pearls about the bodice and the cuffs of her three-quarter length sleeves.

"Now the slippers, mistress," said Willow, holding out the matching satin shoes encrusted with pearls.

Nesmay groaned. She hated wearing court dancing shoes. You couldn't run in them and after one night they had holes because the soles were so thin. She would have preferred her riding boots, or to simply go barefoot, like the sprites and dryads. But she knew that neither her grandmother nor Severus would approve, and so she gritted her teeth and put on the detested things. Later on she would take them off and stuff them in her pocket when no one was looking, and the Glamour her feet to make it seem as though she was wearing the shoes.

Then she went off to see if she could locate Draco and Harry. They were supposed to be meeting their friends at the Gate nexus outside the palace.

"Nervous, Sev?" Phil asked, baring his fangs in a friendly fashion at his younger descendant. The vampire was dressed impeccably in a suit and tails, which would have looked cliché upon anyone other than Philip. But being Philip, he pulled it off with a suave air that would have made Bella Lugosi drool in envy. He was currently serving in his role as best man by helping Severus get dressed and keep occupied until the ceremony. He carefully brushed off Severus long cloak, which was a rich midnight blue velvet with a cloth-of-gold hem.

Severus looked up from arranging the cuffs of his doublet. "Not really. Well, perhaps a bit. I'm being foolish, because I know Sarai isn't going to jilt me at the altar." He sighed irritably and tugged his tunic sleeves straight. His tunic was a pale ivory, with a midnight blue doublet over it with jet buttons. Skintight black trousers and thigh-high suede boots that matched the doublet completed the ensemble. A black leather belt held his wand and a small case of potions. His hair was pulled back in a tail and tied with a simple ribbon.

"I think all grooms are a little nervous on their wedding day, even if they're reasonably sure their bride will be meeting them at the church." Phil said. "I know I was, both times."

"Both? You were married more than once?"

"When I was sixteen I was handfasted to a noble lass of a good family that my father wished to ally with us. But she died before we could ever truly marry. I still recall being nervous, because we had never met and I was worried she might not like me." Phil gave a self-deprecating chuckle. "Centuries later, I met Julie, and even after all that time and experience . . . I was still nervous."

Severus just looked at the vampire askance. "I would have never guessed you would ever be nervous about such a thing."

"I hide it well," Phil grinned. He clipped the cloak to Severus' shoulders. "There! You look like you just stepped from the pages of the Brothers Grimm. Tall, dark, and breathtaking as hell. Sarai will have nothing to complain about."

Severus checked his watch. They still had two more hours. He hoped that his sons and their friends weren't getting up to any mischief in the palace. He felt like standing up and pacing, he was both excited and anxious and just wished the whole bloody ceremony was over already.

There was a small mini bar in his suite, and Phil poured two classes of bubbly fruity merlot. "Wine?" he held out a glass to Severus.

Severus hesitated, then took the glass. He took a cautious sip. It was good, sweet and tart. "Not bad."

"Why don't you tell me about what happened to the boys and your new ward over the summer?" Phil suggested.

"All right," Severus acquiesced, and then he began.

By the time the tale ended it was almost the afternoon. Philip was outraged on the behalf of the boys and Nesmay and said that if the queens' hadn't given the evil twit the punishment he'd deserved, then Phil would have had to extract some vampire vengeance upon him. "As it is, he'll live a long life with his cowardice and the knowledge that he was an arsehole. I'm glad the children will be all right. That's all that really matters in the end. And now you know why no one but an utter fool crosses Titania."

Severus nodded.

Afterwards, Phil suggested they play a few hands of Dragon's Wild.

Nesmay didn't have to go far to find Draco or Harry, she practically ran into them coming around the corner to her room. Both of her new "brothers" were wearing brand new outfits, tunic, trews, and doublets with slashed sleeves and half cloaks. Harry was wearing royal blue, black, and silver, while Draco had on green, black, and silver. Their wands, like Nesmay's, were tucked into holders on their belts. And both of them looked rather uncomfortable in the formal court attire.

"I look like a dork," Harry muttered to Draco. "Like I'm playing dress up."

"You sort of are, Phoenix," Draco smirked. "I mean, you're dressed like a fae noble."

"Well, I am nobility . . . sort of . . . through the Prince line." Harry mused. "But I don't feel like I'm a noble."

"That's because you weren't raised like I was." Draco said, swirling his cloak around him. He sniffed loftily.

Nesmay rolled her eyes. "Starseekers! Quit griping. You two look fine . . ."

"We do, Nessie?" Draco turned and saw her.

"I told you never to call me that," she growled. Then she added, smirking, " . . . for a pair of dorks."

"Real nice, Nesmay," Harry scowled at her. Then he did a doubletake. "Merlin's socks! You're wearing court dress and shoes?"

Nesmay grimaced. "Only for your father's wedding, Harry."

"What did he bribe you with?" Draco asked slyly.

"Nothing! I'm doing it because I respect him . . . and he's legally my guardian now."

Both boys blinked. "So . . . that makes you our sister then," Harry stated.

"Yes. Do you . . . mind?" Nesmay asked uncertainly.

"No. I always wanted a sister," Harry said.

"Me too. So now I can tease you forever . . . Nessie," Draco grinned annoyingly.

"Bite me, Draco!" she snapped, she had learned that expression from Harry.

Draco merely smirked, making her want to smack him. "Aren't your friends supposed to be here?"

"Yes. We left them waiting in our room and came to get you," Draco said. He looked her up and down. "Nice dress, little sister. Weasley might just pass out when he sees you."

She blushed. "Don't try and flatter me, Draco." Then she turned and made her way down the hall to the suite Harry and Draco shared.

Draco looked at Harry. "What did I say now?"

Harry shrugged. "I don't know. Girls aren't rational sometimes. Come on."

They caught up to Nesmay, and Harry opened the door and went in, followed by Draco and Nesmay. Katie and Hermione were sitting on the divan where he'd left them, and Ron was examining everything in the room with interest.

"Crikey, Harry! This clock is made of solid gold!" his friend exclaimed. "Do you know how much this would be worth back home?"

"Gold's not really worth all that much here. We prize silver more. It's more useful." Nesmay said.

Ron spun around. "Err . . . hi! You must be Harry's cousin, right?" He came forward and held out his hand. "I'm Ron Weasley."

"Nesmayallindra Highstar. Well met, Ron. But you can just call me Nesmay. Everyone does except my grandmother." She clasped his hand.

"Your grandmother is Queen Titania, right?" Hermione asked.

"She is."

Ron blinked. "Then you're like a princess?"

"Well, in a way. I was born on the wrong side of the blanket, as they say, so I'm not in the direct line of succession, but my mother was Aislinn, Titania's youngest daughter, so I'm of royal blood." Nesmay answered. "I'm also Wizard Severus' ward now, so that makes me Harry and Draco's foster sister."

"That's great!" Katie said. "I always told Harry he'd make a great older brother. I'm Kathryn Bell, Katie to my friends." She shook hands with Nesmay.

"She's also my girlfriend," Harry added.

"And Hermione's mine," Draco said. He put an arm about her.

"Pleased to meet you, Your Highness. I'm Hermione Granger." Hermione also extended a hand.

Nesmay chuckled. "I'm just Nesmay, Hermione. The title's only given to a legitimate child in direct line of succession. Welcome to my home."

"I'm so excited to be here," Hermione said, her eyes glowing. "I've never been anywhere except Cambridgeshire and Hogwarts. This is so . . . amazing!"

"You haven't seen anything yet, 'Mione," Draco told her. "Just wait till you see the banqueting hall. And the gardens. And the stables and kennels, with the misthounds and magesteeds."

"I can't wait! But will there be time?" she asked worriedly.

Harry checked his watch. "Yes. We have about two hours. We'll need to be in the Garden of Eternal Spring by noon. Right, Nesmay?"

"Right. Don't worry. I asked Mileena, one of the Queen's Blades, to send a shimmerling to remind us about the time." Nesmay said.

Katie bounced to her feet. "Then let's go. By the way, Nesmay, your dress is absolutely gorgeous. I can't believe the queen actually gave us these beautiful clothes!" She smoothed her hand down her silk gown, which was a flattering sea green with turquoise and aquamarines and leaping dolphins embroidered along the bodice and sleeves. She had a headpiece to match and shoes also.

"Thanks! Gran is a stickler for court protocol, which means dressing to standards, and she doesn't want any of her guests embarrassed by wearing inappropriate clothing." Nesmay explained.

"I can't believe how good this looks on me," Hermione said. She wore a dress similar in style to Katie's, but hers was a flattering damask rose color, with pink pearls and bright pink sapphires and cats embroidered on the bodice.

"I can," murmured Draco, gently kissing her cheek. "I missed you, bookworm."

"Missed you too, Dragonheart," she whispered back.

Ron rolled his eyes. "Please, you two! If you're going to go all googly eyed, get a room." He was dressed similar to Harry and Draco, though his ensemble was scarlet, black, and gold.

"Jealous, Weasley?" Draco asked.

Ron shook his head. "No. Zara and I have been writing to each other." He fingered the pendant Snape had given him. "Your dad gave us these, Harry, so we could eat and drink without worrying about getting sick or something."

"Yeah, we have them too," Harry said, he was wearing his beneath his tunic, strung on the same chain as his medallion.

"Will there be dancing, Harry?" asked Katie, as they walked down the hall.

"Of course! There's never been a faerie revel without it!" Harry laughed.

Ron looked worried. "Uh . . . Harry . . .I'm not really good at dancing. And I . . .uh . . . don't have a partner." He was blushing fiercely.

"Oh. Err . . ." Now Harry felt bad. He hadn't meant Ron to feel like a third wheel.

"I'll be your partner, Ron," Nesmay said. "I'm not too good at dancing myself, even though I was given lessons as a small child. My dancing master said I was as clumsy as a mortal knight with hobnail boots." She shook her head. "That way if we step on each other's feet, we'll have an excuse to sit out."

Ron cast her a grateful look. "Thanks, Nesmay."

They walked out into the bright sunshine into the courtyard and were greeted by an enthusiastic Cafall, who had been out hunting with the queen's pack of hounds. He bayed and jumped at them, causing the girls to yell, "No! Down! Your muddy paws will ruin our gowns."

Cafall sat, looking rather abashed, his tail wagging. But then Nesmay petted him and said, "I know, you're happy to see us, and if I wasn't in this court dress, I'd play with you, but . . .Come on, the stables and kennels are over here." She led the way to the huge barns that housed the fae steeds and hounds, Cafall trotting beside her and the others behind.

The Garden of Eternal Spring:

Sarai had always loved spending time in the Garden of Eternal Spring, one of the lovelier gardens of the Seelie court. It was a garden that was a cross between tame and wild, that had sections which were perfectly trimmed and landscaped and other portions that were left deliberately wild, to celebrate the timeless beauty of nature. There were sculpted rock pools and lily ponds within it, hedges of climbing roses and fruit trees. The air was filled with the aroma of hyacinths and lavender, the scent of new peaches and cherry blossoms drifted upon the breeze, causing several witnesses' stomachs to clamor for food. A breeze sprang up, hard enough to shake the overhanging tree with pink cherry blossoms, which drifted down to fall all over her and Titania, who was standing beside her, wearing a gown of royal purple. It felt odd, to have her queen standing beside her, when for so many years she had stood before her Blade. But Titania had told her that on this day, the day of her bonding, she was equal to her monarch.

They stood on a small rise, carpeted with spring wild flowers, before a stone pathway that led to a large arch which had colorful flowers entwined about it. Unlike most mortal ceremonies, it was not the groom who waited for the bride to come to him, but the other way around. Sarai shifted slightly in impatience, wondering what was keeping Severus. All of the witnesses were here, including Phil. Only the groom was absent.

Then he was there, in a swirl of midnight blue velvet and silk, standing tall and proud beneath the arch. Sarai felt her breath catch. He looked magnificent, a true warrior mage, and though he was not blessed with the immortally handsome looks of his fae cousins, Sarai found him even more attractive. His crooked nose and slender face were imperfect, but it was those very imperfections that gave him character and made him unique. She had lived among a race of perfectly beautiful women and men for so long that she cherished those who were different. And Severus was the most wonderfully different man she had ever known. He was by turns aggravating and sarcastic, tender and funny, fierce and brilliant, tormented and insecure. She loved him for all that he was, even when he made her long to slap him silly with her practice blade.

She gave him a welcoming smile, her eyes shining with appreciation and love.

He returned her smile with one of his own, and began to walk towards her. Invisible instruments began to play a wedding march as he strode down the pathway. He looked neither to the right or left, but kept his eyes right on her, and in them was all of the love and acceptance she could ever wish. It was perhaps the greatest gift he could offer, the gift of himself and the heart he had once buried in a grave with a red-haired witch named Lily.

She held out a hand, and as he reached her, he clasped it tightly. He did not speak then, but he did not need to. She could see in his eyes how happy he was and how much he loved her. Together, they turned to face Titania.

The fae queen gave them a smile, then held her hands above her head and cried, "Kinsman, today we invite you to witness the bonding ceremony of Lady Sarai Kinsalari Valinek, former Captain of the Queen's Blades, and Lord Severus Tobias Snape, the Heir to Prince Manor, Wizard and Potions Master. It is my great pleasure to officiate at this ceremony, and join together both the Seelie and mortal realms. Attend and bear witness!"

Titania drew several lengths of colorful ribbon from the air, like a magician pulling handkerchiefs from a hat, and she wound them about both Severus and Sarai's wrists. The ribbons signified a betrothal had been made and would now be concluded. "These are the bonds of betrothal, soon to become the bonds of matrimony. They bring together two hearts, two bodies, and two minds and make them one."

As she spoke, the ribbons began to glow with a gentle light.

She then turned the two to face each other and said, "As the ribbons have bound your hands, so shall the vows you speak bind your spirits." She turned to Sarai.

"Do you, Sarai Kinsalari Valinek, take Severus Tobias Snape to be your husband? To be his constant friend, his partner in life, and his true love? To love him without reservation, honor and respect him, protect him from harm, comfort him in times of distress, and to grow with him in mind and spirit?"

"I do," Sarai answered firmly. The ribbons flared up in joyous affirmation.

Titania looked at Severus. "Do you, Severus Tobias Snape, take Sarai Kinsalari Valinek to be your wife? To be her constant friend, her partner in life, and her true love? To love her without reservation, honor and respect her, protect her from harm, comfort her in times of distress, and to grow with her in mind and spirit?"

"I do." Severus said, and his declaration rang in the air. The ribbons were now glowing gold and purple.

"I grant you my blessing and that of the Bright Creator. Bring forth the rings, so that all who see them shall know of their pledge." She beckoned to Harry and Draco, who came forward and knelt, one on either side of the couple, holding small pillows with the rings balanced on them.

Sarai took the one Draco held and Severus took Harry's. Sarai slipped the ring upon Severus's finger, it was a fine Celtic eternity knot of gold and silver.

"I give you my heart
At the rising of the sun
And the setting of the stars.
To love and to honor
Through all that may come.
For all our lives together
I give you this ring, and with it my vow

Of love and fidelity

Till death's last embrace."

Severus then slid an identical ring upon her finger and repeated the same vow.

There was a brilliant flash of light and the enchanted ribbons were absorbed into the pair, making the bonding complete.

Severus felt a rush of passion and love flow through him then, so strong that he trembled for one brief moment. But then he allowed himself to surrender to it, and he drew Sarai to him and whispered, "Together at last." Then he kissed her. It was electrifying and wild and gentle all at once. It was sweet agony and ecstasy, the fulfillment of everything he had ever dreamed. He never wanted it to end.

But at last he drew away, flushed and grinning, and everyone applauded and cheered. "I love you, Sarai."

"And I, you," she replied, then she kissed him back, just the way he had kissed her. "Forever and always."

When the second round of cheering had died down, Titania said, "The binding is true, and may the blessings of all the elements and the Bright One be upon you till the end of your days. Congratulations!" She bent and kissed them both on the cheek. "Now, to the feast!" She stepped down from the rise, leaving the two silhouetted for a moment against the sky, and gestured.

Flower petals of every kind fell about the new couple in rainbowed droplets, and a bevy of silverlarks flew up behind them, singing joyously.

Laughing, Sarai grasped Severus' hand and they raced down the aisle and through the arch, followed by their sons and daughter, a family at last.

Hope you all enjoyed this chapter. I intended to post it sooner, but my mother became ill suddenly and I had to take care of her. She is now doing better.

The wedding vows Sarai and Severus spoke are taken from the ancient Celtic handfasting vows, and the ring vows are based off an ancient Celtic ring verse as well. Next: The Snapes return home and begin bonding as a family

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