I've spent the last ten years trying to forget this part of my life. Why am I back now?

I think he wanted me to come back; I think that's part of what he was trying to tell me that day. He wants me to embrace life, because it's something he never brought himself to do, and even in death, he regrets it. And I'm here because I would do anything for him.

I saw him again, not just in my fantasies, in tortured dreams, but really saw him, as I lay on the operating table at Grady Memorial Hospital - the Butler Street Knife and Gun Club, as it's affectionately known. As a cop, a member of the Atlanta PD for the last six years, I'm more familiar with the place than I care to be. I've escorted countless crime victims there, and one or two that I put there myself - in the line of duty, of course. A sixteen year old stands out in my mind. The coroner said he had enough crack in his bloodstream to make an elephant psycho a couple of times over; I didn't shoot until I knew I couldn't get that knife out of his hand any other way. His face still haunts me, though.

It was better after I joined the bomb squad. I didn't see the perps up close and personal, only their calling cards. But he saw through that; he knew why I asked for that career track. And my cowardice, seen through his eyes, shames me.

I knew how he felt about suicide. It was something he struggled with, every day of his adult life. Probably a lot before that, too, although he never said so. It would have sounded self-pitying to have mentioned it, and self-pity was not his style. Not by a long shot.

Suicide, he said, was a way of avoiding responsibility. And he felt responsible for so much. Some of it may have rested at his door, I can't really say. He believed it did, though, and that was really all that mattered. His need to atone for the sins of his youth was what defined him. Killing himself would have been cheating, and if he was nothing else, he was scrupulously fair. As with so much else that concerns him, the knowledge that I once believed that to be far from true shames me beyond bearing. He did nothing beyond what he had to do, to keep us safe, and to keep himself alive, and suffering for his sins.

But back to my story; I was on the operating table in the trauma unit at Grady, with the surgeons extracting tiny bits of razor-like shrapnel from my gut. What I wouldn't have given, that day, to be in the hospital wing at Hogwarts, with Madame Pomfrey waving her wand over me. I'd acquired these horrific souvenirs at the scene of an abortion clinic bombing. The bomber set off the first blast at about four in the morning, when no one was there. This consideration took us off guard. I'd been there about ten minutes, shortly after five a.m., when the second bomb exploded. We were conducting a sweep of the building at the time, and the second blast claimed the lives of two officers and their dogs. I was only there to do the initial dissection of the first device, which had been detonated in the clinic's office. I think that's why I didn't die right away, as my companions did. I was in the office, analyzing the blast pattern, trying to figure out exactly where the first bomb had been placed. Under the receptionist's chair, as it turned out. The second and final explosion came from the underside of a cart full of surgical implements, parked in the hallway that ran from front to back. I had a cinderblock wall between it and the office; the others had flimsy partitions. The coroner's office carried them out in very small pieces.

For all that I wasn't directly in the blast path, it did not inconsiderable damage. The office exploded around me from the force of the C-4, and I ended up nearly sliced to ribbons by pieces of formica countertop and filing cabinet. I think I even sustained a few papercuts, which somehow seemed worse than the rest. I was in shock, of course, so it goes without saying that my perspective was shot to hell.

So there I am, in the ambulance, and I know the EMT's. They're friends of mine, and they're totally freaked at having Officer Hermione Granger bleeding profusely on their gurney. They're telling me lame jokes as the unit weaves through the early morning traffic on Piedmont Road, and I can see the panic in their faces. They're sure I'm going to die, and although they don't know it, the knowledge makes me very happy indeed. I've been waiting for this day for a long time.

Craig and Kevin relinquish me at the Emergency ambulance docks, and everything's a blur as I'm loaded onto another gurney and rushed into Trauma's new OR. I'm a type O, I mumble helpfully. They ignore me, except to stick needles into my veins for various reasons, most of them having to do with typing my blood. I'm vaguely offended that they don't take my word for it. I'm Hermione Granger, after all. If I put my hand in the air, it's because I know the answer. Don't they know that? Apparently not; it's not long before I have a tacky little plastic wristband with all my vital information on it. And then this arsehole with a blue paper mask over his face asks me to count backwards from ten, and puts a clear plastic mask over my face. His looks more comfortable, I think resentfully. And then I stop thinking for a little while.

He's there when I regain some sort of consciousness, only I'm still in surgery, the arsehole still has the mask over my face, and confusion reigns. I dimly realize that my vital signs are not what the doctors would like them to be, and I wish that they would just relax. I'm not worried; why should they be?

"Hermione, beloved," he says, sparing a glance for the scene below us.

I sob joyfully, reaching my arms out to him. He gathers me close, and I feel his sigh as I bury my face in his shoulder. He smells like the Potions classroom at Hogwarts, and I inhale blissfully. He feels so solid, so warm. Maybe he only feels that way because they haven't started transfusing me yet.

He places his hand beneath my jaw, tipping my face up to his. His lips whisper gently across mine, and I arch myself against him, desperate for more. It's been so long, too bloody long. Ten years.

"Why did you leave me?" I sob.

"Shhh, love," he soothes. His hand rubs up and down my back, calming and exciting at once. There's been no one since him.

I beat my hands against his chest. "How. could. you. bloody. leave. me?" I'm beyond logic as the old grief washes over me, fresh as though it had only happened today. Part of me is fully aware that he did not choose to leave me, but that his choice was made to save Harry. I would have expected no less of him, but right now, I hate him for it. At this moment, terrible as I know it to be, I begrudge Harry his life, since it came at the cost of Severus'.

Severus kisses away these astral tears that I'm crying. I look into his eyes, those well-loved black eyes, and see the tears that sparkle in them. He grieves for me, and I can't bear it.

"You can't do this, love." His voice is gentle, but inexorable in its resolve.

"I've been patient," I plead. "It's been ten years. Can't I be done with this?"

"In ten years, you've done nothing but mourn me," he says. It sounds brutal, cruel when he says it. As though I've been wasting my life. "And so you have," he says, the ability to read my thoughts apparently a perk of being dead. Nice to know it has its privileges.

"What more do I have to do?" I'm wailing like a lost child, but I don't care. I'd give much more than my dignity for him.

"Hermione, my love," and I feel the truth of this statement, shining from him like a searchlight, "you have to live. Until you do that, I cannot ask you to be with me."

He has confirmed my worst fear.

"How?" With this word, I convey my anger, my terror, my knowledge that what he asks is not possible.

"You're asking the wrong man." Is that humor in his voice? I've heard it so seldom, even while he lived, that I'm not certain. "I don't know much about living. But I know everything there is to know about denying life when it's offered, and it's not what I would have you do. My only chance to do it right is through you. Please don't deny me this."

Ever the master manipulator, was Severus Snape. I see through him, and he knows I do, but he smiles at me anyway. Anything to get his way, the bastard.

"Please." I beg once more. Does he know how hard it will be?

He knows, and he shakes his head.

"If you give up now, it will be because you were weak. Eventually you would hate me for that. Live, and come to me when life is truly done."

I scream, I cry, I insist it can't be done. But I could never resist a challenge, as he knows. We share one last, desperate kiss, as I find myself pulled back into the burden of physical existence. The machines stop squawking, and the doctors congratulate themselves on their skill. I rage against the gods.

Less than a month later, I resign from the Atlanta P.D. and board a plane for London. I'm not sure what I'm going back to, I'm certain there is nothing there that I want to go back to. But I know that I would do anything for him. Even live.