It was over. Lord Voldemort was finally finished. His end resulted in countless others perishing as a consequence of the eternal struggle between the principles of right and wrong. Those favored by fate, those who had been fortunate enough to rise up from billowing smoke and remnants of the castle—regardless of who they were fighting for—stood together in mutual silence. The simple fact they lived was the binding tie that brought them together after years of being forced to choose sides. In the face of immeasurable loss and despair, they were, for lack of a better term, equal.

Severus Snape had not expected to see the end of the hellish nightmare plaguing Wizarding Britain. He had skimmed by the skin of his teeth. He had once thought the only peace in his life would come at the end of it. He relished the idea of finally being free of the madness. That was before her. The only thing that forced him to trudge along was her. The moments it became unbearable, he coped by reminding himself why he was fighting.

"I must continue. I must become more than I am. I must not fail. I cannot fail her."

Severus searched the grounds for any trace of her. He stopped dead in his tracks as he was overcome with relief when he saw her hovering protectively over the injured. What's more, when he spotted her alive and in one piece, he wasn't expecting to be seized by such a profound feeling of need. The moment he saw her, everything else ceased to exist. He couldn't contain himself as he crossed the debris-littered lawn. He didn't give the motionless bodies strewn about the ground any thought as he stepped over them. His only thought was centered on getting to her.

Hermione was completely absorbed in tending to the broken and battered. Had it not been for the sound of part of the historic Hogwarts castle plummeting to earth behind her, she would have never seen him. The resounding crash caused her head to jerk around in response, and, subsequently, in his direction. He could see her squinting to see beyond the haze of war to determine who was approaching with such haste. When she recognized the black clad wizard standing fifty feet from her, Hermione brought both hands to her mouth as fresh tears threatened to spill from her eyes.

As soon as he was in reach of her, Severus enveloped her in a strong embrace, practically lifting her small frame off the ground. Hermione responded in kind until she was hit with realization the two of them were not alone.

"Not here. There are people all around us, Severus," she whispered nervously against his ear.

He sat her back on solid ground but didn't let her go. Instead, he cupped her chin with his hand, bringing her face upright so as to see into her eyes. "Let them look," he managed just before he brought his lips to hers.

Hermione had always thought their secret trysts had the potential to evolve into something more consequential. She also knew anything more was highly unlikely, as their situation wouldn't allow for such arrangements. Regardless of that fact, there was little she could do to squelch her desire for such things. Truthfully, a part of her wasn't entirely sure if he even cared for something more. As a result of her fears of the unknown and the inauspicious times, she never brought it up. She couldn't have been more wrong given the way he sought her out for the world to see.

She understood now. She finally knew she was his foundation just as much as he was hers. It was in that precise instant when he pulled her into his arms that everything became as clear as crystal. In spite of all of the darkness and death surrounding the two of them, she knew he would continue to stand as her guiding light, just as he did before. She realized a bright new beginning could, in fact, rise from the ash and ruin left behind by evil, hatred, and contempt— a new beginning the two of them would undoubtedly face together.