Severus looked in the mirror. His pale skin, large nose, and greasy hair were still the same as they had always been. One of the negative things about being dead was that he could not easily change his appearance. Before tonight, he had paid little mind to it. However, after Hermione had touched her lips to his cheek the previous night, he couldn't help but want to look better. Unfortunately, he seemed to be a hopeless cause. He would never be handsome, especially if he remained dead for the rest of eternity.

After running a comb through his hair—with no effect at all—Severus went down to his laboratory. It was six thirty, and she usually contacted him around seven. He spent the next few minutes checking on his potion. It was nearly finished, with only four more days to go. Then he would be ready to try it out.

If the potion failed, there were two things that might happen. The first possibility was the best case. He would die again and return back to his current state, and they would have to start over. However, it would be very frustrating to start from scratch after spending so much time on this one.

The second possibility was one that he didn't even want to consider. The most spectacular failure would result in him dying again, but this one wouldn't have him returning to this state. His soul would be gone forever, and he would fall into an eternal sleep.

All of their calculations suggested that the outcome would be perfect. He and Hermione had gone through all possible scenarios where the potion would fail and worked to correct them. But despite all the research they had done, he was still uncertain.

He stared at her for a moment when she arrived. She was wearing a set of light blue robes and had her brown hair pulled back into a plait. Her eyes sparkled as she appeared. For the first time in all that he had seen her, he actually felt that she was beautiful.

A sinking feeling hit him. There was no way she would ever be interested in him. Why would someone young, pretty, and intelligent want to spend time with a surly old Potions Master?

Research, he thought. If they were successful, she would gain fame and fortune. She could publish her findings in every Potions journal. Had that been the reason?

"Good evening, Severus. How are you today?" Hermione said

"I'm still dead," he said emotionlessly.

"I have good news, Severus. I worked all day, and I think I'm finished!"

Hermione held out the hand that held the Resurrection Stone. He put his index finger on the Stone, which felt warm to the touch.

She counted quietly, "one, two, three."

The pull beneath his navel was familiar, yet almost foreign. It had been so long since he had actually needed to use a Portkey, for the dead could Apparate from one place to another with ease, no matter what the distance.

He kept his finger on the Stone as he looked around her sitting room. He hadn't really looked at it closely the previous evening. It was the same room that had once been a part of his quarters, with a few differences. She seemed to have roughly the same number of books as him, but she had put many pictures on the wall of her friends and her family. The colors were more feminine—he had always preferred black, but she had decorated in a variety of pastels.

"Let go, Severus," she said. He took his hand away.

And he was still there.

He smiled.

A look of surprise appeared on her face. It was so rare that he smiled earnestly—and he knew that—that people often became confused at the sight. She had seen him do it a few times, and each time, she had the same reaction: surprise.

"Tell me, Hermione," he said uncertainly. "Why did you do this?" She had worked so hard for him. He had a secret hope that she helped him because she cared, but knew that it was unlikely.

"I'm doing it to help you, of course," she told him.

"Why would you want to do that? Are you honestly saying that your work has nothing to do with fame or fortune?"

She shook her head, looking almost insulted. "In the beginning, Severus, it crossed my mind that if we were to do this, we could become famous for breaching the barrier between the living and the dead." She looked at him sincerely and her voice got softer. "However, as I've grown to know you better, I've come to realize that you deserve a second chance at life. And I want to help you start again."

He put his arms around her. The look on her face was unreadable for a moment, until he realized that her face held the same desire as his own. Slowly, he brought his lips to hers.

The heat from her body burned through him as she kissed him back. He couldn't remember enjoying a simple kiss during his living days, but this one had been rather nice. She pulled him onto the sofa and he began trailing kisses down her neck.

"Severus," she said breathlessly. "What would happen if you stayed the night here?"

A strange feeling washed over him. Was she propositioning him? He couldn't remember a woman ever doing that while he was alive. He wanted to say yes. It had been over ten years since he had been with a woman. But, he knew that sex with a dead man would be unsatisfying for her. He wasn't sure if any couple had ever attempted it, but he did not want them to be the first.

"I'm not certain Hermione. You must remember that I don't even have a heartbeat. Just wait a few days."

She nodded and pulled away.

"I wonder how long you can stay here without having to go back," she said. He could see the wheels spinning in her head—no doubt another experiment was blooming in her mind.

"I'm not certain. I don't want to test it. Playing with life and death is a dangerous thing."

"Indeed." She paused for a moment. "Sometimes I'm afraid of what will happen to us in the future. We're meddling with things that humans are not supposed to meddle with. But then I remember that what we're doing is for good."

He touched his fingers to her cheek. "You're sacrificing so much for me, Hermione. I don't know how I can ever repay you."

"You can make sure the potion works. And don't die again until you have great-grandchildren and are older than Albus Dumbledore."

"I'll do what I can."

Four days later, the potion was finished.

Neither of them knew what to expect. They had decided that he would use the Portkey to come to her sitting room, then drink the potion.

She came to his lab at seven o'clock that evening.

"Is there anything here you, er, want to take with you?" Hermione asked. She looked embarrassed, as if she knew that it was a stupid question.

Everything he had here came from the world of the living. "No, Hermione, just the potion." He picked up the bottle that had been sitting on one of his work tables.

"Are you ready?" she asked quietly. He nodded.

She held out her hand. He took it and let the Portkey take him to her rooms. She set the Resurrection Stone on the table and sat on the sofa.

"Severus, if this doesn't work…" Her eyes were worried. He sat down next to her and put her cheek in his hand.

"If it doesn't work, we'll try again." He was being overly optimistic and she knew it. He didn't know iwhat/i would happen if it didn't work.

She kissed him. He savored it for a moment, then pulled back.

"I love you, Severus," she said. She looked as surprised by her declaration as he was. Nobody had ever said it to him except for, on a few rare occasions, his mother.

He looked longingly into her eyes and pulled the cork out of the bottle and drank.

The potion felt warm on his tongue and as it slid down his throat. The warmth spread throughout his entire body.

He gasped as his heart began beating. His dried up veins and arteries were no longer dry. He could feel the blood—originally her blood—rushing through them.

She was staring at him in fascination. Well, it wasn't everyday that she saw a dead man come back to life.

He watched her. Suddenly her face changed, and he realized that it was because ihis/i face had changed. A pain comparable to the Cruciatus Curse had suddenly come over him. For a man who hadn't felt pain in over five years, it was unbearable.

The blood was rushing too fast, up to his head. He was dizzy and his body felt like it was on fire.

He could feel her holding him and hear her voice saying his name.

"Severus, what is it?" she was asking.

Nothing, I'm fine was what he wanted to say, but the words refused to come out of his mouth. A few seconds later, he completely blacked out.

************************

Hermione felt his body slump in her arms. Part of her was ready to panic, but she knew that she had to keep a cool head.

At the moment, his life was in her hands. And if she didn't save him . . . Well, she didn't want to think about that.

Hermione put her arms around him and pulled him to the sofa, momentarily forgetting about her wand.

His body was hot and his pulse was erratic. She supposed that she should be thankful that he actually had a heartbeat. However, it was difficult to ignore his ragged breathing, which made it seem like he was gasping for air. She went into the bathroom and grabbed a few medicinal potions from the shelf, knocking over several bottles in the process. The sound of the glass breaking brought her to reality, and she realized how scared she felt. What if she couldn't revive him?

She returned to Severus and poured a potion down his throat, using her wand to make sure he didn't choke on it. The potion was one of her own creations, and it contained the same herbs used in fever reducing potions, in addition to ibuprofen and a few other Muggle ingredients. She had found it to be very effective, and Madam Pomfrey had even used it in the Infirmary.

There was little else that she could do that wouldn't counteract the effects of her potion. So now she just had to wait.

Hermione sat on the ground next to him, and put her head on his chest. "Severus," she said softly, "please stay with me. You have so much to live for right now. Please…" Her voice cracked and she felt tears in her eyes. She couldn't lose him, not like this. Having him die again so soon after he had begun living would be such a cruel twist of fate.

She stayed in that position for quite some time, until she realized that his breathing had become less irregular. Hermione took her head off his chest, his shirt wet from his tears and looked at his face.

He looked peaceful. She felt his pulse again. Normal. A sob escaped her throat, this one from happiness. She knew, could feel, that he would live.

******************

Hours later, Severus woke up. He took several deep breaths and realized that he had a heartbeat again.

He was alive.

He looked around him, trying to make out his surroundings. Slowly, he sat up and looked around the room.

A few candles flickered on the walls and he could see the outline of the massive four poster bed that he had slept in for many years.

He had woken up in this room many times in the past, but this had to be the first time that he wasn't alone. His eyes fell on the woman curled up next to him, her hand in his.

"Severus?" she said sleepily.

"Yes." His voice was weaker than he would have liked.

"The potion worked," she said, relieved.

"Thank you, Hermione, for stating the obvious." His dry observation was, unfortunately, followed by a fit of coughing.

She calmly handed him a glass of water, unfazed by both his remark and his coughing.

Almost the moment he gave her back the empty glass, he was asleep again.

The next time he awoke, it was day.

He blinked a few times and looked around. She was still there, but this time she was sitting in a chair reading a book. He watched her for a few moments. Her brow was furrowed in concentration.

"Always the scholar," he finally said.

She jumped then set her book down on the table next to her. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Like I have the worst hangover of my life. What time is it? What day is it?"

"It's two o'clock p.m., Wednesday, December twenty-third. You took the potion yesterday at eight p.m."

He was silent for a moment.

"What happens next?" he asked.

"It really depends on you. Nobody knows that you're alive except for me, so it's your decision. You know your options—you can go into hiding for the rest of your life, you can go straight to the Ministry right now, we can contact the headmistress…"

"No, I don't mean that. What happens next with you and me?" He hated asking the question; it made him feel weak and insecure, but he had to know.

Her face changed and her voice wavered a little when she replied. "That also depends on you," she said softly. "I meant what I said earlier."

I love you, she had said. He had not responded back. Love for him was such a strange thing. The feelings that he had for Lily had grown from friendship to an unrequited obsession. Was that love? Of a sort. He had loved her, certainly, but would he have been happy to spend an eternity with her? He wasn't sure. It was a teenage love that had gotten out of control due to outside circumstances. With Hermione, though, it was different. His love for her was that of an adult, not just an inexperienced, adolescent boy.

"Hermione, of course I feel the same way as you. I'm not a romantic person, but I can tell you that I love you. And as I start my life again, I want you in it."

She sat on the bed next to him and kissed him. He took her in his arms, looking forward to a new beginning.