Disclaimer:   Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR (as if you didn't already know that).  Inspired by Ramos' 'Unfinished Business' (well worth reading) although this is a separate entity and not part of her wonderful story.  It is loosely based on my own experience with the death of a loved one.

Vigil

You never could tame that hair of yours.   Despite your best efforts (and several concoctions purchased in Hogsmeade) it refused to be mastered and, in time, you accepted the fact that you would, in your words, have an owl's nest perched atop your head.  I think it might have made you laugh if I told you that I wouldn't have minded getting my hands stuck in those unruly cinnamon locks but I am a very private person…such admissions are beyond my ability.

Many things are beyond my ability.  This is something you knew full well and, despite that, you saved my life.

Why?

Did you somehow know that my feelings for you had changed in the years following your graduation?  You always were a most perceptive student but I was a member of a group where keeping your innermost feelings hidden ensured one's continued survival.  Having feelings and, more importantly, caring for someone created a liability…and Voldemort exploited every liability in order to maintain control without question, loyalty without hesitation.

Madness.  Sheer madness.

And so many died to ensure that the madness ended.

Well, we did achieve success and victory but the cost was so very high.

Much too high.

And I am left here to contemplate what could have been.

Perhaps there could have been an 'us'.  I don't know.  There were times, in the days leading up to the final battle, where I saw something in your eyes…something that mirrored what I hid deep inside.  Perhaps that is why I am so angry sometimes.  Angry at you for being so typically Gryffindor.  Angry at myself for not having quicker reflexes.  Angry at the world for being able to continue on…while you could not.

It was Potter who approached me.  I was holding you, staring at you…I didn't even realize he was there until he cleared his throat.  Weasley was behind him but he was busy attending to Minerva, who had lost a great deal of blood.

Potter looked at me and then he looked at you.  He merely stood there in disbelief, the grief obviously not hitting him yet, and glared at me.

He muttered something about how it should not have been you and I could not have agreed with him more.  You forced me to live.  You forced me to watch you die.  All that was left was the small smile on your still face.

And now I sit with you as you lie serenely in this white coffin.  My Hermione, who was never truly mine, I pass this sacred vigil with you.  Evil spirits dare not approach during the watches of this night, not while I am here with you.  It is the only thing that I can do for you now.

I suppose I could tell you that I love you but that would be maudlin.  You are not here.  Your ghost will never haunt this castle.  I will have to tell you when I myself make that long, cold journey we are all fated to.

At the very least, I am no longer afraid of death.

"Severus," a voice calls to me, rousing me from my thoughts.

"Severus, the visitation is to begin in ten minutes," the Headmaster looks old and weary.   Yours is only the first of many such visitations.

"Thank you, Albus," I reply.  "I will only be a few moments longer.  Please ensure that no one interrupts me…I…I just want to say goodbye."

I look at him and his eyes widen slightly in surprise.  Even this man, long credited for knowing everything that happened within these hallowed walls, did not realize just what I felt for you.

"Of course, Severus," he replies sadly, walking away and leaving me alone with you.

To say good-bye one last time.

You are so beautiful in your white gown…like an angel ready to take flight.  Hesitantly, I touch your cheek.  It is still soft.  Soft, but cold.  Leaning down I rest my head on your chest and fight back the howl of anguish that is in my heart.  It hurts so much.

Collecting myself somewhat, I raise my head…touching your cheek once again as if to memorize the feel of your skin under my fingers.  I reach over and kiss your cold lips.

Our first kiss.

Our last kiss.

With a shudder of barely repressed grief, I stand and make my way quietly to the doorway where Albus is standing, discreetly writing something on a parchment.  He looks up at me and a worried expression crosses his face.

"Severus, will you be all right?"

I almost laugh at him for asking such a stupid question.

"I won't harm myself, if that is what you are wondering," I reply, my demeanour calming somewhat.  "She saw fit to sacrifice her life for me and I will not disrespect that sacrifice by squandering the life that is left to me.   I will continue in my work and, when the time comes, I will be able to stand before her and not be ashamed."

Albus simply nods and pats my shoulder.  "I do not know what to say, Severus.   I do not wish to minimize your grief with trite sayings and condolences that come across as insincere.  If, at any time, you wish to talk, my office door is always open."

I think that is the most decent thing anyone could have said to me.

"Thank you, Albus.  I will," I reply.

I walk out the door and see small groups of people, talking quietly among themselves as they wait.  I walk over to Potter and Weasley, who are standing together, off to one side, and saying nothing.  Much like myself, they feel a grief that is beyond words to describe.  Perhaps that is why it hurts so much…it cannot be defined or quantified in any way.  It is simply there, raw and aching.  Something almost primal.

I clear my throat and they look up at me.  I can see the resentment in their expressions and understand.  Why should I be alive when she is dead?

Why indeed?

"I think it might be best if you had a few moments before the others are allowed in," I say quietly. 

They look at me in surprise.  I think they see something in my eyes, in my tired expression that stills their anger to some degree.  At the very least, they do not look as if they are going to hex me on the spot.  That is, in itself, positive.

Getting up, they pause for a moment, as if thinking of something appropriate to say.  I shake my head and motion towards the door.  Potter nods and, pulling on Weasley's jumper, walks towards the door.  Perhaps we will have a chance to talk later.  I don't know.  I am only thankful that none of the children of former Death Eaters are here.  I would not have them near you, Hermione.  Their sympathy is false and their condolences insincere.  I do not want to hear the words and know that the meaning behind them is lost.  Perhaps that is why what the Headmaster said made such an impression on me.  There is nothing dishonourable about admitting you don't know what to do.  It is certainly preferable to cliché and artifice.

I make my way back to the Potions classroom, sit down on my accustomed chair and gaze at the spot where you once sat, working diligently on an assignment, assisting your friends whenever you could, thwarting my best efforts to stymie you.  Sighing, I get up and walk over to the desk, letting my fingers gently caress the well-worn surface. If I close my eyes, I can picture you with that intense expression and the hand that always went up at every question.

Sitting down heavily in the chair that you used to occupy in the years when you were a student, I place my head in my hands.  I have no tears to shed for you, Hermione.  I have never been one to cry but my grief for you is very much real.

I can only think on what might have been…and how much I wish you were still here…even if it were only to put up your hand in that annoyingly quick fashion of yours.

I promise I would not deduct any House points.