Disclaimer: Anything you recognize belongs to the goddess, JKR. A follow-up to 'Trust' and 'Faith'. Just a little something I wanted to upload before the GREATNESS THAT IS DEATHLY HALLOWS comes out (I cannot wait and have Godiva chocolate, ice wine and a Kleenex box ready). I just hope that Severus has a chance to redeem himself.

::crosses fingers::

Written in about an hour…a bit of a challenge for myself. Pre-romance (just on 'this' side of pre-romance).

Hope

It was over.

Severus Snape, bleeding and in considerable pain, looked down at the dead figure of the Dark Lord and shook his head.

So much death.

Harry hadn't moved…just stood a few feet away, unmoving in the eerie silence that followed the end of the final battle.

"Are you sure he's dead, Snape?" his voice sounded surprisingly young and it jolted Severus from his reverie.

"His body is dead…all the pieces of his soul are destroyed. He will never come back," Severus winced as he stepped back from the still body.

"You're wounded," the younger wizard commented.

"As are you," Severus pointed out. There were several gashes on Harry's arms and his glasses were broken.

"We need to find the others," he whispered with a note of real fear in his voice. He had not shown any fear during the battle…had finally learned to master his emotions and given the Dark Lord no weapons with which to fight back.

But now, with the battle quickly becoming nothing more than a terrible memory, Harry Potter was afraid.

Afraid to discover who had not made it.

"We will find them," Severus quickly charmed some crude dressings on the more serious of their wounds. "We will go together. Watch for other Death Eaters…I fear they may not yet all be accounted for."

Harry nodded and looked to his left. "This way?"

They both made their way out of the huge chamber and down the stairs to the outside courtyard.

The sight they took in was overwhelming and he watched Potter suddenly falter and lean heavily against a piece of fallen limestone.

There was blood everywhere.

"Potter…Harry…we have to…go to them," Severus came up behind the younger wizard and touched his shoulder.

"What if they're all dead?" he whispered.

"We cannot leave them to lie here…they deserve much better than that," Severus replied quietly.

Harry turned to him and Severus was not surprised to see tears streaming down his face.

"I don't know if I can face that."

"You will face it if it comes to that. For the moment, we must see who needs our help and we must try to send word to St. Mungo's to assist the injured. Delay will only add to the death count."

Harry wiped his eyes and nodded. Getting up, he started towards a group of bodies. Severus went in the opposite direction but kept within a safe distance of his counterpart.

"Keep your wand ready, Harry!" Severus yelled.

The casualties were atrocious and Severus was hard hit by the feeling that their freedom had come at much too high a price.

So many of his former students.

"I've found Ron! He's alive!!" Harry suddenly yelled. Severus ran over to where Harry was holding Ron in a semi-seated position. Lucius Malfoy lay dead nearby.

"He killed Percy," Ron mumbled, one eye swollen shut. "I had to kill him…he was going to kill Ginny."

"Where's Ginny?" Harry asked.

Ron shrugged. "Don't know…saw her running off after MacNair past the gate. Neville and Luna were with her"

"Ron…you are not seriously injured and we need someone to bring medical personnel here…Harry and I cannot heal everyone and our expertise is limited. I'll charm a portkey to take you to St. Mungo's…bring everyone back that you can."

Ron stood up shakily, leaning on Harry. Severus quickly picked up a rock and cast the spell. Within seconds, he was gone.

"We had best search the rest of the grounds so that we can tell the mediwitches and mediwizards who is most critical," Harry suggested. "I'm going past the gate to look for Ginny and the others. You look for Hermione…she has to be here somewhere."

Severus nodded and watched Harry run to where the ruined gate stood. Turning, he realized that he had no idea where to look for Hermione. She had been beside Harry as he finally faced the Dark Lord but she had become entangled in a fierce battle with Bellatrix LeStrange.

Where could they have ended up?

Was she safe?

Was she dead?

Severus turned and walked quickly towards a small copse of trees. This was the direction in which he'd seen the two dueling witches run.

But there was nothing here although the tell-tale sign of dark curses was everywhere.

He found Dean Thomas alive and grieving over the bodies of Seamus Finnegan and the Creevey brothers. Susan Bones was alive as well but Hannah Abbott had apparently been felled by a Killing Curse that had been aimed at Hermione.

He found the Weasley twins alive…barely. A stabilizing charm had been needed to minimize further blood loss. They had killed at least four death eaters each judging from the numbers of dead masked bodies lying nearby.

Further along, he came across the body of Draco Malfoy. Severus stopped for a moment and sighed sadly as he knelt down and closed his eyes. The boy had come a long way after realizing that becoming a Death Eater was not the glorious path his father had long intimated it was. He had managed to win Harry's trust and had played a pivotal role in helping the Order rout out the traitors from within the Ministry of Magic.

And, now, he was dead as well. Severus hoped he had not suffered.

It was only when he came across the body of Bellatrix LeStrange that Severus began to harbour some hope that Hermione was still alive. Bellatrix bore the marks of several curses…including Sectusemprum, which surprised him. It looked as if the harpy had bled to death.

And, several minutes later, he found Hermione. She was lying on her side in an area of lush green grass that seemed oddly out of place in a scene of such brutality.

She wasn't moving…and, in the dim light of early morning, she didn't appear to be breathing either.

Severus fell to his knees. Her hair had fallen over her face and he moved it gently.

"Hermione?" he whispered.

She didn't answer.

Severus was unprepared for the sudden aching in his chest.

"Hermione…please answer me," he whispered again, his throat strangely tight.

Again, nothing.

"You cannot be dead," he picked her up gently and sat with her, holding her close.

She was still warm. Her cheek was badly cut as was her neck. He could smell singed hair and cauterized blood.

"Please," he murmured into her hair. "You can't be gone."

He felt a slight shudder and pulled away. Her eyes were still closed but he could now see a weak pulse at her throat.

"Hermione…can you hear me?" Severus grabbed her hand. "If you can hear me, squeeze my hand."

After several seconds, he felt the slightest pressure on his hand.

"I'm going to get you to St. Mungo's, Hermione. I'm going to lay you down just for a moment and then I will magically transport you to the courtyard."

Ignoring the pain from his many wounds, Severus managed to do just that and, holding her hand as she floated beside him, they made their way back. He picked up the others along the way and saw, with relief, that the courtyard was filled with mediwizards and mediwitches tending to the sick and the dying.

A sudden tug on his hand brought his attention back to Hermione. Her lips were moving. Moving closer, Severus softly asked her to repeat what she'd said.

"Others," she said in a whisper.

"They're alive. The Dark Lord has been defeated. It's finally over, Hermione."

A small smile appeared on her face and she visibly relaxed.

"Stay," she whispered, gripping his hand again.

"Of course," he whispered back.

Sometime later, Severus found himself watching over a sleeping Hermione. She had had several broken bones repaired and would be on a blood replacement potion for at least two days. She was sleeping now but she had insisted he stay with her and, after receiving some mending of his own, he did.

It was very quiet in St. Mungo's and Severus looked at the sleeping woman with trepidation. In the instant when he thought she was dead, a truth was revealed to him that was utterly terrifying.

He loved her.

How had this happened?

He recalled appearing in her parents' home shortly after the death of Albus Dumbledore.

No, not death…murder.

She had wanted to kill him on the spot but, somehow, he had managed to convince her of his loyalty to the Order.

Despite how truly awful he had been to her…she had trusted him.

For the longest time, no one knew. A secret that only they shared. The Dark Lord, convinced that Severus was his most loyal servant, never suspected a thing when he was asked about the location of the horcruxes. Severus commented that he wanted to do the same thing himself but was afraid of choosing poor locations. The Dark Lord, sensing an opportunity to further indoctrinate the former Potions Master, was all too willing to divulge his secrets.

And that eventually killed him.

Potter and Weasley had only discovered his role as a spy (it seemed as if he had spent his entire life spying) a few months back.

It was Hermione who had stepped in front of him and told them about the Unbreakable Vow they had entered into together.

They were stunned and, after some initial grousing, accepted his continued help.

For Potter, it was only after a lengthy conversation with the portrait of Albus Dumbledore, that he felt he had the whole story.

And, he said quite frankly sometime later, he would never want to be in such an impossible predicament.

But, what would happen next?

Severus knew he loved this woman…this trusting, brave woman who had defended him and protected him when he did not deserve it in the least.

"Severus," a soft whisper touches his ear. Turning, he saw Hermione looking at him with tired eyes.

"I am here," he simply said.

A soft hint of pink appeared on her cheeks.

"I'm glad," she sighed as her eyes closed again. "Don't leave."

Severus let go of her hand to caress her cheek.

"I won't…I'll be here," he murmured softly.

She smiled in her sleep and that smile lit a small flame of hope in Severus' heart.

And he smiled as well.