Disclaimer: I own nothing Harry Potter, except a DVD of each movie. I also own some socks and several cats. Yeah, okay, the cats own me.

Authors Note: This is my first foray into the world of fan fiction, and the first thing that I have written outside of Christmas cards in at least five years. Please review, and please, PLEASE be as brutally honest as you wish! I welcome any hints, suggestions or disdainful finger-pointing. Thank you SO much!

Rated for later chapters and intended plot development.

This story is dedicated to my husband, who has been telling me to write for many years…and is now allowing me to do so. I will love you forever.

Hermione stood in front of the mirror in her room looking at herself. She turned this way and that, trying to get a feeling as to how the others would see her.

Why do I even care?

Her mahogany curls were pulled back loosely at her neck with a thin piece of white leather. Her dress was modest and subdued… a white button-down blouse, a black knee-length skirt and the high-laced granny boots that had been a present from her parents last Christmas. She remembered the enclosed note card fondly; "We've seen in pictures that these seem to be a favorite among young witches," her mother had written. "We think that you will look simply smashing in them. Then again, we think that you look smashing in everything."

Will anyone else think I look smashing? Why do I even care? After all that has happened, HOW can I even care?

She found herself staring into her own eyes as her reflection stilled. In them she saw so much… a child laughing, a young girl learning, a woman loving… and so little… a boy crying, innocence dying, a life ending. Her own eyes looked darker, and she knew why. Before they had held only the light of hope and confidence, unsullied and pure. Today, they were shadowed. Shadowed by betrayal, by hatred, evil and death. By things that she never should have had to see and would now never be able to forget. A familiar Muggle phrase came to her mind; "I wouldn't wish that on my worst enemies." Pointless, Hermione thought. She had faced her worst enemies… and they had seen it, too.

How do any of us begin to care again?

With a small shake, she stepped away from the mirror. This was not something she wanted to do… but she had to. They all did. Dumbledore had asked, and they would deny him nothing.

She pulled a scarlet robe – one of her dressier ones - from her closet and closed the door behind her. As she stepped into the hallway, a quiet thought drifted through her mind… gossamer and then gone.

I hope that he's okay.

Severus stood in front of his window with a glass of firewhiskey in his hand. It was a magic window, looking out onto the Forbidden Forest that could never be seen from the wall of a dungeon. The sun had almost disappeared, and the night was cloaking around Hogwarts in a swirl of dusky blues and purples. This had always been his favorite time of day… the winding down, the prelude to relaxation. After a long day of dealing with students who tested his patience at every turn, he enjoyed the coming of the night. It was a truly beautiful sunset.

Why do I even care?

He knew that Minerva would be on her way. She respected his privacy and rarely Flooed him, choosing instead to walk to his door and knock. It was a change that he welcomed, but wished he had never had to. Dumbledore would seldom walk down to knock, preferring instead to just pop in through the fire with a smile, a twinkle and an ever-present bag of candy. Harkening back to a Muggle tale he knew from his childhood, Snape realized that dressed in red, Albus would make the perfect Santa Claus.

A fist tightened inside him.

Would have made.

Tossing back the rest of his drink, he grimaced against the pain in his throat and in his heart. The burn from the firewhiskey would be only momentary… the pain of losing his chosen father would last a lifetime. He had known loss… his mother, his friends… his child. Few had hurt this deeply. Only one would last this long.

How do I begin again?

As he crossed the room to place his empty glass on the table, he caught his reflection in the mirror. He had lost weight. They all had. The robes of wizards could only hide so much. His eyes seemed older somehow… not cradled in wrinkles, as Albus' had been, but tired in a way that the innocent could never know. His was not a physical exhaustion; it was so much deeper. He had seen and done things in his short lifetime that no Pensieve could bury. They were not just etched in his memory… they went beyond any place of redemption. His soul was scarred.

He had dressed simply for the evening… a silver gray button-down shirt and black trousers. His forest green Slytherin robe lay in wait over the back of a chair. He wanted nothing less than to be a part of this tonight. He would do this for Albus. Even in death, he could not tell him no.

He knew the others believed him now. The letter that Dobby had delivered to Headmistress McGonagall after the war had explained everything. The letter had been opened in the Great Hall as they all gathered, and there had been a collective gasp and muted crying at the sound of Dumbledore's voice.

Why do I even care?

The Spoken Letter had told everyone the complete story that until that day had been known to only Albus and Snape. It exonerated him of all predispositioned guilt and presented him as a champion. He could still hear the kindly voice of his friend. "I have learned in my lifetime that a hero – a REAL hero – is the one who holds on to what he knows to be true. What he knows to be right. Severus Snape is a hero. He is my hero."

Stupid old man. I've never held on to anything. And I've made a life of not being held on to.

The knock on the door brought him from his reverie. The ache in his chest was there – it was always there – but he could live with pain.

Could I live without it?

Hogwart's new Headmistress stood in the hallway waiting for him. A gentle smile graced her face as he stepped out. "Good evening, Severus. Are you ready?" When did you lose so much weight?

"As ready as I'll ever be, Minerva." Oh, love, when did you get so old?

Their eyes met, and Severus knew she was thinking of him, too. He had long suspected that the feelings between Albus and Minerva had gone beyond friendship, but he was not a man to ask. Their simple looks, their shared smiles and their easy way about each other told him volumes, anyway. A story that he would always be on the outside, looking in at. He could never be a character in such a tale.

Why do I even care?

Tucking her hand into his arm, she patted him reassuringly. "It will be fine, dear. They all want you there. This is a new beginning… for you, for me, for all of us. And for this school." She looked around at the hallowed walls, the ancient doors. "We have to keep it a home, you know." The sadness in her voice was palpable.

"I know."

And so they went toward the Great Hall. Toward the party that their beloved Headmaster had asked that they have when they defeated Voldemort. Toward the throngs of people who would now start to feel their way around him…try to figure him out… try to figure out themselves when they were with him. He would go toward the people that he lived with, in the only place he would ever call home.

And he would never belong.