Chapter 1: Aftermath

It was early dawn on the day of Voldemort's final defeat, and Hermione realized she hadn't slept in three days. After helping to move Voldemort's body (Hermione felt it was her right to ensure that it was placed, unceremoniously, far away from the others), she grieved with the Weasleys. Eventually, she began to move around the Great Hall, quietly offering condolences and demurely accepting gratitude. She was quickly recruited by Madam Pomfrey to help with the administration of various healing potions, and it wasn't until Molly Weasley demanded that the poor girl be allowed to eat some dinner hours later that Hermione realized just how weary she was. The adrenaline had worn off at some point during her stint as assistant Healer, and now she was bone-deep tired. As she sat down to eat, she chanced to look up and see the Malfoys, sitting alone and looking nearly as exhausted as she felt. Taking pity, she slowly carried her dinner plate over to them and summoned more food from the kitchen elves. Lucius and Narcissa remained stiff and aloof, but Hermione suspected it was more from uncertainty than anything else. Draco, however, made an effort at civility by greeting her as 'Hermione,' which Hermione gladly reciprocated with a quiet, 'Draco.' She had barely taken two bites of food when Draco innocently asked her whether Professor Snape was helping brew the medicinal potions. All three Malfoys were startled when a wide-eyed Hermione leapt to her feet and ran off without a backward glance, yelling for an Auror and a Healer as she went.

She ran as fast as she could to the Whomping Willow, cursing herself for her forgetfulness. How could we have left Professor Snape's body there? Unpleasant though he had been, he deserved better than to lie unnoticed and unmissed in the Shrieking Shack. Not bothering to check over her shoulder to see if anyone was following her, she fired off her Patronus with another demand for an Auror and a Healer. She shuddered, trying desperately to forget what she had seen the last time, as she entered the passage to the Shrieking Shack for the second time in less than twenty-four hours. As she drew closer to the Shack, though, the smell of death was unavoidable, and she stopped for a moment as she was violently sick. The cold walls of the underground passage felt good against her forehead, and she found that she was unable to force herself to walk the last few steps up into the room where Professor Snape was lying.

As she was berating herself for her weakness, Hermione jumped a foot in the air when someone's hand came to rest on her shoulder.

"Sorry to startle you, Miss Granger, but you didn't seem to hear us calling your name," the unknown Auror said.

"That's perfectly alright. I just stopped to, ah..." Hermione glanced down, and the eyes of the other two wizards in the passageway followed suit. Swallowing thickly, Hermione conjured a glass of water, taking a deep drink and then splashing the rest on her face.

"You don't have to go any further, Miss Granger," the Healer said soothingly. "We can take it from here."

"No, I – I'll accompany you," she said. "I need to see it for myself."

Nodding their understanding, the two wizards moved past her to the stairway, climbing up and into the Shrieking Shack. Taking a cleansing breath, Hermione followed. It seemed only right that there be someone present to mourn the man, and besides, Hermione's curiosity was insatiable as always. Standing up in the shadowy room, she bit back a gasp at the sight in front of her. During the hours since they had watched Professor Snape die, more blood had seeped out of his battered body, and now the pool spread across nearly half the room. His face was so pale as to be translucent. Moving closer while gingerly avoiding the pool of blood, Hermione knelt at his head and brushed the hair out of his face, and considered the visage of the unpleasant Potions Master. His face seemed harsh, even in death. Stroking one cheek gently, she thought that no one deserved to die this way. It was entirely surreal, Hermione thought, to be so casually touching the face of someone who she would never have dared to touch had he been alive.

The Healer cleared his throat, and Hermione glanced up at him, startled. She had nearly forgotten there were others in the room.

"Miss Granger, we need to prepare the body, if you could please step away," he said, a note of apology in his voice.

Nodding, she stood and backed away until she reached the wall, leaning against it for support. The Auror was casting a number of detection charms while the Healer was reviewing a piece of parchment that had materialized in front of him, a frown blooming on his features. Murmuring something to the Auror, he indicated the parchment, and both men studied it intently. They were whispering to one another, apparently debating something. Hermione was too weary to wonder what was causing the delay. Finally, shrugging, the Auror began to help the Healer with Professor Snape's body. Hermione looked at the floor, not wishing to observe the proceedings, and tried not to be sickened by the expanse of glistening blood.

Her eyes glazed over with tears, and she fought to recall a few of the better moments of Professor Snape's life while they worked. There had been the way he'd patted her awkwardly on the shoulder when she'd woken from being Petrified, and the mostly concealed joy he seemingly derived when a student managed to brew a difficult potion, and, hmm, surely there had to be more? She thought hard, but all she could envision was the last time she'd seen him before they'd left Hogwarts: she and Luna had been guarding his office that night, and when he'd fled the room to head to the Astronomy Tower, his face had been stark with terror. At last, she knew why – he knew he'd been on his way to kill Dumbledore. Amazed at his strength and his ability to conceal his true intentions from everyone, Hermione's tears came faster. He deserved better than this, lying in a dusty room while two strangers prepared his body and his most insufferable know-it-all stood silently by. Finally, they were done, and the Healer levitated Professor Snape's body while the Auror quickly cleansed the room.

"If you're ready, Miss Granger?" the Auror asked, gesturing towards the trapdoor.

"Yes, of course," she answered. The Healer went first with Professor Snape's body, and tears threatened once more as Hermione remembered a similar situation occurring during her third year – but Professor Snape had merely been unconscious then. Lowering herself through the trapdoor, her eyes were nearly even with the dusty floor when she saw it: one lone black button lying forgotten near the edge of the wall. Scrambling out of the opening in the floor, Hermione grabbed it, not daring to look at the Auror as she did so. She would keep it as a reminder of Professor Snape's courage. Clambering back down into the passageway, she held her breath, but the Auror said nothing as he followed, slamming the trapdoor shut behind them.

They made for an odd procession as they traveled slowly back to the castle: the Healer, the Auror, a floating Professor Snape, and Hermione stumbling with exhaustion but staying stoically at his side. As they neared the courtyard, people began to spill out of the Great Hall to watch them approach. The silence was absolute: no one knew whether to cheer or lament the death of the mysterious man. After the final battle with Voldemort, many of the onlookers expressed their opinion that Harry had lied to the evil wizard about Professor Snape in order to break Voldemort's concentration. Harry had brokenly tried to explain that Professor Snape had actually been on their side, but as Harry had gone upstairs to sleep without sharing the entire story, most of the assembly felt that he was probably delirious—and mistaken. Noticing the many stares, Hermione wordlessly conjured a black drape to cover Professor Snape. She didn't know him well, but she knew this: he would never have wanted to be the subject of such open curiosity, and would never have wanted to appear so vulnerable.

When they entered the castle, the Healer hesitated, glancing at Hermione. She knew what his unspoken question was: were they to lay Professor Snape with Voldemort and the other dead Death Eaters, or would he be laid alongside the likes of Remus and Tonks, Colin and Fred, all those who had bravely fought on the side of Harry Potter? Lifting her chin, Hermione indicated the Great Hall, and she staunchly ignored the handful of gasps and mutterings as the Healer directed Professor Snape's body into a far corner of the room. Harry had briefly told her and Ron about Snape's memories, and Hermione didn't need any further convincing about the professor's loyalties. Glaring around at the onlookers, she made it clear that he was not to be disturbed, and she gently tucked the drape back around his face where it had slipped to reveal a few strands of blood-soaked black hair.

Someone grasped her arm and yanked her to a standing position. Turning clumsily to see who had grabbed her, she stumbled and fell against Professor McGonagall.

"What on earth are you still doing down here, Miss Granger?" her professor exclaimed, steadying her. "You were supposed to be sent up to sleep hours ago! Someone escort this girl to a bed immediately – Miss Patil, yes, thank you," Professor McGonagall said as Parvati stepped forward, holding out a hand for Hermione.

"I was going to, Professor, really," Hermione said. "Then I remembered Professor Snape-"

"Yes, well, he is most appreciative, I am sure," McGonagall replied dryly. "Miss Patil, please make sure that Miss Granger is not disturbed. Off with you!"

As the girls walked towards their old dormitories, Hermione stopped, suddenly afraid. "Parvati, where are the others? Where's Ron? Harry? Ginny?" She didn't know why they might have left her here, but she could not recall seeing them in the Great Hall.

"Don't worry, Hermione," Parvati said. "They're sleeping, all of them – in fact, even Mr. and Mrs. Weasley are asleep on the couches in our common room," she explained. "You're the last one."

"What about you?" Hermione asked. "Surely you and the others are tired too?"

"Oh, we've already taken a sleep shift," the other girl answered. "Those of us who are well enough to avoid the Hospital Wing have been taking turns sleeping and caring for the others who aren't as lucky." Hermione noticed the way Parvati's face scrunched as she fought to hide the obvious emotional pain of her words.

Hermione nodded, yawning. It seemed that things were rather under control without her help, and she allowed herself to anticipate several long hours of much-needed rest for the first time in… well, too many hours for her tired brain to count. Parvati guided her through the portrait hole, both of them tiptoeing past the sleeping Weasleys, before heading up the stairs to the room that had once been her home for six years. Collapsing into bed, Hermione barely noticed Parvati's spell changing her clothes into a pair of soft pajamas before her eyes fell closed and she drifted into slumber. Though sleep came quickly, it was not destined to last.

A/N: At long last, my fabled sort-of-kind-of-but-not-really follow-up to Almost Love. I am sorry to say that this story will in fact be going in a different direction, and disregarding most events of AL to stand on its own. However, I'm really in love with this story on its own, and I hope that you will give it a chance and enjoy it as well!

Many thanks to the numerous betas who have aided me with this story, and this chapter in particular: Jemmenuie, indey101, katie9635, and two others (I'm not sure of their pennames so I won't post anything until I find out!) (The last few are from ashwinder and I don't know if they have accounts here or not.)

I have several chapters of this story written, but posting updates will be slow, so you have been warned.

I am not JK Rowling, nor would I want to be. What would I do with all that lovely money, anyway? Hire Alan Rickman to talk me to sleep? Psh, no...but yes. Yes I would.