Disclaimer: Anything that you recognise isn't mine.

This is my first ever fanfiction. I've recently gone through all the chapters and edited them to try and improve them. Reviews and constructive criticism are welcomed and greatly appreciated.

I hope you enjoy this story!

Chapter 1: Reflection.

The snake coiled, ready to strike again. She tensed, preparing to dodge its next strike, throwing spell after spell at its leathery skin. The serpent effortlessly avoided her every attempt, twisting sinuously this way and that, exposing his long, sharp teeth. Screaming and flinging herself sideways, she barely escaped the snake's vicious attack, but the sheer effort she put into evading it caused her to fall to the floor.

A terrible hiss came from the snake's mouth, and she knew that it was over. The huge body of the serpent blocked her escape, and her wand had flown out of her hand as she fell. She huddled in a corner, closing her eyes tight as the snake reared its head, hissing, about to plunge its fangs into her flesh –

Hermione Granger abruptly sat up in bed, gasping for breath. Quickly, she glanced around, half convinced that the snake had found its way in her room. From the soft light of the candle that stood on her bedside table, she could see the familiar outlines of the furniture in her bedroom, silhouetted in the gloom. As her eyes focused, she came to her senses, and realised that she had been in the grip of a nightmare.

Hermione's shoulders slumped in relief as she tried to still her racing heart. Just a dream, just a dream she told herself over and over. Just a dream.

" 'Mione?" came a soft, sleepy mumble from next to her. "You okay?"

"I'm fine, Ron," she whispered back. "Just a bad dream."

"Mm... One of the usual ones?" he grunted.

"Yes," she sighed tiredly. Hermione had been plagued by bad dreams since she and Harry had travelled to Bathilda Bagshot's home in Godric's Hollow. What happened that night was permanently lodged in her memory and, try as she may, she couldn't prevent it from troubling her sleep. She also often had nightmares about the events of Malfoy Manor, and these ones were so vivid that there were times that she had woken up screaming in terror. Although she knew that Bellatrix and Nagini were dead, and had been for months, it still did not quell the fear that frequently woke her at night.

"C'mere," Ron said, holding out his arm. Hermione snuggled against him gratefully, feeling completely safe in his embrace. They lay in comfortable silence, the only sound their slow breathing.

At almost nineteen years old, Hermione could finally start living her life. After all, so far, most of it had revolved around fighting in the biggest war the Wizarding World had ever seen. Of course, it had been necessary. Harry had needed help as the Chosen One to defeat Lord Voldemort, and what kind of friend would Hermione have been if she had turned her back on him? She had also been helping to create a better world, both for wizards and Muggles. Creating a world where her family and her friends could live safely together had spurred her on, whether she survived to see it or not. Luckily, she did.

However, there had been many, many losses during the fight. Hermione thought about all the devastation the war had caused. The Weasleys were still grieving for Fred, everyone in the Order was lamenting the loss of Remus and Tonks, and plenty of other families had been ripped apart along the way. Everyone was still pulling together to try and rebuild the Wizarding World, but it was proving difficult. The words of Albus Dumbledore, speaking in her fourth year after the death of Cedric Diggory, echoed in her mind.

"...in the light of Voldemort's return, we are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided. Lord Voldemort's gift for spreading discord and enmity is very great. We can fight it only by showing an equally strong bond of friendship and trust. Differences of habit and language are nothing at all if our aims are identical and our hearts."

How very true, Hermione thought.

Ron started snoring loudly beside her. She smiled to herself, thinking of the happiness she'd found with him. That was one of the good things to come out of the war – her relationship with Ron. Strange, really, how it had taken a war to get them together. There had always been something between them, but both were too shy to act upon it. Well, Hermione thought, at least we got there eventually.

Nights like these were rare, though. Ron and Harry were both training to be Aurors, which meant that they were away for weeks at a time. Hermione missed the company of the boys immensely, but every now and again they would come and visit her, and Ron would stay the night. But the time she spent with Harry and Ron was very limited, and the next morning they would depart again and continue their training. Hermione herself was very busy too, focusing on her own career, but she often felt lonely without the company of her two best friends. She supposed that this was natural – after spending so many years at school with them, spending very little time apart, it would take a while for her to adjust to their new lives.

Choosing her path had been difficult, but eventually she had decided on trying a career in the Department of Magical Law Enforcement. Though the work was sometimes extremely tedious, she had felt that the Ministry of Magic needed some serious help in that department, and after the War, new laws had to be put in place to prevent anything so catastrophic from happening again. She just didn't have the enthusiasm to become an Auror like Harry and Ron. Even though she would be accepted with very little training due to the events of last year, and would be expected to lend her skills to the Auror department, she didn't have the heart for more fighting. She had had enough adventure during the previous year to last her a lifetime.

The beep of the Muggle alarm clock next to her brought her out of her reverie. The display read four in the morning. Hermione groaned. She had to get up at six, and she'd hardly got any sleep as it was. Still, she mused, glancing at Ron and smirking, that was probably my own fault.

She closed her eyes and waited for sleep to come. Merlin knew she would be exhausted in the morning as it was, so she needed as much sleep as she could get.

It still felt strange to look upon the pale, unblemished skin of his left forearm. After almost twenty years of serving under the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named, the Dark Mark had long become a part of him. Staring at the stark whiteness, Severus Snape still couldn't quite believe that the War was over. Almost twenty years of living his double life had come to a sudden and abrupt end.

He knew that eventually the war would end. It had been prophesised that the Dark Lord would meet his maker eventually. He just never thought that it would occur within his lifetime.

It almost didn't, Severus thought to himself bitterly. If Nagini had had her way, he would have been dead before the war was over. The memory of the pain Nagini had inflicted upon Severus was enough to make him feel sick. Of course, the fangs Nagini possessed only opened a wound for her to inject her deathly poison into her prey. If allowed to circulate, the venom in his bloodstream would have undoubtedly killed him. Luckily he had carried a bezoar with him whenever he was around the Dark Lord, as his favoured method for killing traitors was to feed them to Nagini, and this would surely have been his fate if he had been discovered as a double agent. Without it, he would have died almost instantly. Immediately after Voldemort had left the Shrieking Shack, Severus had quickly rummaged for the bezoar in his robes and shoved it down his throat. Just in time too, as the boy he had needed to find had then appeared before him, as if Severus had conjured him by sheer force of will. Severus could still remember the look of surprise upon the boy's features. Usually, he would have cursed the boy for sticking his nose in where it wasn't wanted, but it just so happened that he had kept himself alive for the boy, hoping against hope that somehow he could fulfil the mission that Dumbledore had left him.

But what had surprised Severus the most was the absence of any contempt or hatred in Potter's expression, only wide-eyed shock in those green, almond-shaped eyes. Lily's eyes Severus thought with a pang. It had been those eyes that had persuaded him to give Potter his memories. He had decided it didn't matter anymore - it wasn't as if he was going to live, and Potter needed to know the truth, one way or another. So he had given his memories, some of the best and worst memories of his life, to Potter, and had looked one last time into those eyes and succumbed to death.

Or so he had thought.

It couldn't even have been a minute before he came out of his unconscious state to see Potter leaving. He was obviously thought dead. He had tried to call out to Potter, to ask for help, but his voice had been badly damaged from Nagini's attack, and all he could manage was an almost inaudible gurgle.

He was weak, losing more blood by the second. Desperately, he had started to crawl towards the tunnel that led out of the Shack. It took all of his strength and determination to keep going, to battle through the pain. If he wanted to live, he had to get to the Hogwarts grounds where someone would find him. Whether it was friend or foe who found him, he couldn't foresee, but he had decided that he would cross that bridge when he came to it.

It seemed he was crawling for hours, though in reality it wasn't that long. Every stab of pain just made him more determined. Pain was good. If he still felt pain, it meant that he was alive, and therefore still in with a fighting chance. Where this desire to live had come from he didn't know, but he knew that he wasn't ready to die yet. He shuffled along the seemingly endless tunnel, hoping that he could reach the end before he bled out.

Finally, he had seen the light at the end of the passageway. With one last, stupendous effort, he had pushed himself through the opening, narrowly avoiding the branches of the Whomping Willow. But the energy involved in pulling himself out of the tunnel had cost him, and he had lain on the ground, panting. His head fell limply to his left, looking towards the castle, the lights blurring together. It was then that he saw the impossible.

A silhouette was running towards him. He tried to call out, but didn't have the strength nor the ability to produce the volume required for it. The figure loomed ever nearer, and he hoped that he could be seen despite the camouflage of his black robes against the night. Wearily he closed his eyes, waiting for the person to see him.

"Oh, good Lord!" came a gasp above him. Severus slowly opened his eyes, and was blinded by the lighted wand above him. But he recognised the carrier.

"Minerva," he rasped. "Help...me. Please..."

That was all Severus could remember until he had woken in the Hospital Wing two days previously, his throat feeling excruciatingly painful. Madam Pomfrey had taken care of him for a month before he had awakened. Severus had noticed during the last two days that whenever she came to check up on him, she wore a very ugly look upon her face, as if she would prefer to leave him untreated. Obviously, she didn't know where his true loyalties lay. That much was true of the whole wizarding world. But they would all know soon, and he would be a free man.

Suddenly feeling very tired, Severus lie back on his bed, his arms crossed behind his head. The reality of his freedom still hadn't caught up to him. Never before had he not had a sense of purpose. All he had now was a large expanse of time in front of him, and he hadn't the slightest idea about how he wished to fill it. It was all very disconcerting and confusing. For twenty years he'd had a use, a goal which he was determined to reach. Now it seemed that his usefulness had evaporated, that he had fulfilled his purpose.

Get a grip, he snarled at himself. Stop wallowing in self pity. If your objective has been completed, then you must find a new one. Stop being pathetic.

The fact remained though, that he had simply not expected to survive. If the Dark Lord had discovered his true allegiance, which had always seemed to be more and more likely as time went on, Severus had known it would mean instant death. How ironic that the Dark Lord had not known his true allegiance while Severus was still in his service, but had attempted to kill him anyway, before he had achieved his ends. That was just his bad luck – or maybe his fortune. Had the Dark Lord not tried to kill him, it would have been difficult to give Potter the information that he needed, as Potter would have tried to attack him if he approached.

Having served the same purpose for so long, it was time that he started down a new path. As he reclined, he pondered for a while thinking of all the possible avenues his life could take. He could leave Hogwarts, could open his own apothecary... or he could just vanish off the face of the earth and live the rest of his life in complete solitude and peace. Always, through the last twenty years, he had wished that his life could be so simple. Yet the idea of a life of solitude seemed suddenly highly unappealing. Leaving the castle also seemed unwise, as the wizarding world was a cruel place for former Death Eaters. Staying at Hogwarts seemed very beneficial for him at the moment, provided, of course, that all the staff believed his innocence. If they didn't… well, he'd think about that if the situation arose.

The thoughts running circles around his head made Severus feel very drowsy indeed. He applied Occlumency, creating a blissful calm in his mind. With a sigh, he removed his arms from behind his head, extinguished the candle burning beside him, and settled down to sleep.

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