Of Informants and Admirers by SSHG Exchange Mod, anogete
Summary: After receiving anonymous letters from an amorous Death Eater and a mysterious informant, Hermione finds herself working with Severus Snape to bring about the defeat of Voldemort. By anogete for Acciobook7
Categories: The Little Green Book, The SSHG Exchange > Winter 2007 Characters: None
Content Notes: None
Contest Entry: None
Genres: None
Challenges:
Series: None
Chapters: 2 Completed: Yes Word count: 12013 Read: 143 Published: 08/17/2017 Updated: 08/17/2017
Story Notes:
Recipient: acciobook7 (Emily)

Title: Of Informants and Admirers
Author: anogete
Rating: PG-13
Warnings: None
Timeline: Through HBP, not compliant with DH.
Summary: After receiving anonymous letters from an amorous Death Eater and a mysterious informant, Hermione finds herself working with Severus Snape to bring about the defeat of Voldemort.
Prompt: Book 7 never happened. It's Hermione's seventh year at Hogwarts and she is receiving anonymous letters from a certain blonde-haired death eater (I'll give a hint... his name rhymes with "oocius"), attempting to sway her toward the Dark Side. Snape somehow finds this out and tries to put a stop to it... and then...
Authors Note: A huge thank you to (name withheld) for being a wonderful person and beta.    

1. Chapter 1 by SSHG Exchange Mod

2. Chapter 2 by SSHG Exchange Mod

Chapter 1 by SSHG Exchange Mod
CHAPTER 1

Hermione smoothed the piece of parchment on the table in front of her. The elegant, unassuming letters formed words and sentences that held such a sinister intent. Who did this wizard think she was? A romantic and stupid girl without friends? She huffed in indignation and brushed a stray hair from her forehead.

"What number is this?" Ron asked, leaning over her shoulder to get a better look at the letter.

"Don't crowd me, Ron," she replied, leaning away from him.

"It's the fifth one." Hermione and Ron looked across the table at Harry. His voice rang out in the silence of the deserted Hogwarts Library. His eyes looked weary, yet still nervous and on edge.

Looking down at the parchment in front of her, she sighed. Three months ago, she had received an anonymous letter by owl post. The message had been subtle, but Hermione, being a clever young lady, had sussed out the heart of it straightaway. It had been an attempt at cajoling her into joining forces with Voldemort and the Death Eaters. As if that would ever happen, she thought.

A second letter followed only days after the first, praising her astounding intellect and her quick wit, promising power and knowledge. The third arrived three weeks afterward, and the fourth a month later. They were much the same as the first two-a series of flattering remarks and offers of a position of power in a network of knowledgeable peers. She knew very well the wizard was offering the position of slave to Voldemort and various other senior Death Eaters, and she was certainly not interested.

The letter in front of her was the fifth to arrive. She had received it by owl only a few hours before while studying in her dormitory.

Miss Hermione Granger,

Until now I have been unable to provide you with a method of contacting me. However, I have enjoyed sending these furtive letters in an effort to make you understand what an amazing witch I see in you. I have every hope that one day soon we will have the pleasure of conversing in person. I would very much like to gaze upon your face as we make idle talk of the weather before retiring to my library to engage in that most precious quest for knowledge.

I know you must think me mad, but please do not make judgments so quickly. We are on different sides of this conflict now, but I have faith you will come to understand my side of things since you are such a brilliant young lady. You may have been misled and believe that Lord Voldemort and his supporters desire death for all those of mixed blood. This is untrue. I have the highest respect for you, despite your Muggle parents, and I'm sure those of my peers worthy of your time would agree with me. We prize intellect, ability, wit, and cunning. You, my dear, have all those in abundance. Exceptions have been made in the past and will be made in the future in an effort to bring those worthy individuals of mixed heritage into the fold to participate in our revolution. You would be a most valuable asset to our cause, and, dare I say, to me as well. After these months of writing to you, I find I've grown quite attached to the thought of sharing quiet evenings with you in the pursuit of pleasure, whatever you may deem pleasure to be.

One day soon, Hermione, I will include a way to respond to these letters I so lovingly write to you. I hold every hope that you will have kind words to say to me when I do.

Forever yours,

An Admirer


She could barely manage to stop her eyes from rolling again as she finished reading it for the hundredth time. "I'm insulted. How could anyone think I'm vapid enough to fall for this?" Hermione slammed her hand down on the letter.

"Well, Voldemort's cronies aren't known for their brains," Ron replied with a shrug of his shoulders.

"What about the others?" Harry asked, patting the three parchments perched on the end of the table.

"Well, those are obviously from Professor Lupin," Hermione replied, pulling them closer to her. Shortly after the second letter from her Death Eater admirer arrived, she started receiving unsigned letters written by someone asking her to ignore the repeated attempt of her admirer to sway her to Voldemort's side. Unlike the prose of her admirer, these letters were short and concise, giving her little information, but reminding her that her admirer was a murderous Death Eater.

Hermione could think of no one other than Remus Lupin who would send her these warnings. He was still deeply under cover among Fenrir Greyback's pack of werewolves, and he was frequently unable to communicate with those in the Order.

"If it was Lupin, then wouldn't he be feeding you information to pass on to the Order? Why wouldn't he sign the letters with his name?" Ron asked.

Hermione rolled her eyes. "What if someone intercepted his letters to me? He'd be in great trouble. Of course he can't sign his name or tell me who he is. It's just a matter of safety and vigilance."

"Vigilance. You sound like Mad Eye, now," Ron replied.

Harry finally spoke up and interrupted his two friends. "Then who is your admirer, Hermione? He seems to know quite a bit about you."

"I bet it's that greasy git of a traitor." Ron threw himself back into the wooden chair beside Hermione and crossed his arms over his chest.

"You don't really think he'd do that, do you?" Harry asked.

Hermione glanced over the parchments in front of her. "Professor Snape may be a possibility. He knows more about me than the other Death Eaters, and he'd target me in an attempt to weaken you, Harry."

Ron huffed and settled back into the chair, looking smug at deducing the mystery before either of his friends.

Just as Hermione opened her mouth to elaborate, an insistent pecking at the window interrupted.

"An owl," Harry remarked, pointing at a brown owl sitting on the ledge. Hermione stood and walked over to the window with a writhing stomach. She wasn't expecting letters from anyone, and that could only mean the owl was bringing her tidings from one of her two mystery correspondents. Sure enough, her name was neatly written on the outside of the folded parchment. She pulled the string off the owl's leg and ruffled its feathers in thanks. It hooted and pushed off from the ledge, flapping wide wings through the icy wind outside.

Hermione closed the window with a shiver shaking her shoulders. "I think it's from Professor Lupin," she said, taking her place at the table again.

Ron leaned over her as she unfolded the thin parchment to reveal a short letter.

I have faith you do not heed the ridiculous words your admirer has sent you. He is a skilled manipulator, and he wishes to control you.

I also have information that may help in your operation against You-Know-Who. Due to present circumstances I am unable to give you a reliable or safe method of contacting me. However, I may be able to find a way to contact you in person. If someone asks you what your favorite piece of Muggle literature is, you may rest assured that person is me. Please know that I have only good intentions and wish to help your cause in any way I can. As always, do not attempt to contact me.


Hermione read the letter a second time aloud for Harry and Ron. When she finished, they all sat back in their seats and looked at each other in silence.

"Do you think we should take these letters to the Order?" Hermione asked and not for the first time. She had wanted to take her very first letter to the Order minutes after she received it. Harry and Ron had been reluctant, wanting to let the lead play itself out before they mentioned anything. Hermione suspected they just wanted to keep some small bit of information among themselves to spite the leadership of the Order for keeping Harry in the dark so often.

"No," Harry replied. "You're safe here at Hogwarts. Plus, you think this is Lupin. He'd never put you in danger."

Hermione nodded her agreement and placed the newest parchment with the other three from her helper.

-------------------------------------------------------------

The Weasley twins had managed to convince the owner of Zonko's Joke Shop to allow them a small table to sell their more popular items. Each time the students were paraded to Hogsmeade for the scheduled outings, a mass of students blocked the door to Zonko's. They were, no doubt, gathered around Fred and George Weasley, handing over Galleons for Skiving Snackboxes and Smart-Answer Quills. It raised Hermione's ire rather quickly, and she detoured around the store on her way Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop. Of course, her two best friends were at the front of the line in Zonko's. She had learned not to expect more of them.

Despite the heightened security and additional professors in attendance, Hogsmeade visits were much the same as they were before Voldemort went on the offensive. Hermione smiled as Professor Flitwick walked past her, his short legs churning dust up from the street. With a quick tip of his hat, he made his way to disperse the crowd of students at Zonko's.

"Excuse me."

Hermione gasped in surprise and turned to look into a narrow alley between two buildings she had just passed. She could have sworn someone had spoken to her from the shadows of the alley, but couldn't quite place the voice. It sounded too soft and somewhat garbled.

"What is your favorite piece of Muggle literature?"

Hermione's heart stopped. In a fraction of a second, she made the decision to trust the person who had been sending her letters of warning, especially when she was fairly sure her mystery helper was Remus Lupin. She ducked into the alley and discerned a shadowy figure pressed against the wall on the opposite side.

"Professor Lupin? I'm so glad to see you. Everyone has been so-" Hermione stopped when Snape stepped out of the shadows to reveal himself to her. Her stomach dropped into her feet, and she turned to run away. She had heard Harry retell the story of Dumbledore's murder too many times to stick around long enough for Severus Snape to get his claws into her. On instinct, she whipped her wand out of her sleeve and pointed it behind her, throwing a minor jinx his direction to slow him down.

The alley entrance was only a step away when she felt a cold hand clamp around her wrist, immobilizing her wand hand. She opened her mouth to scream for help, but suspected it was all for nothing. Snape was too smart not to protect the alley with a silencing charm for just this sort of contingency. Frantically, she lashed out at her attacker with all her might, pushing him away with her free hand and kicking his shins with the toe of her boot.

Snape growled in frustration, throwing Hermione against the brick wall behind her. She brought her wand up to bear on him, but he was faster, hitting her soundly with a spell to immobilize her. He brushed his robes off and leveled his icy glare at her, making Hermione want to bolt out of the alley in a fit of panic.

"You were told to expect me. I gave you the code from my letter, did I not?" His voice was as she always remembered it; he must have disguised it to entice her into the alley with him. Hermione could only hope Flitwick had already dispersed the crowd at Zonko's. Harry and Ron would be sure to find her without the distraction of Puking Pastilles.

"What have you done with Professor Lupin?" Hermione demanded when she realized the immobilizing spell had no effect on her speech.

"Lupin? What in Merlin are you talking about, girl? You think Lupin sent you those letters?"

"Yes," Hermione replied, lifting her chin up in defiance.

"He's off playing werewolf, Miss Granger. He has no idea of the inner workings of the Death Eaters and therefore, would have no knowledge of the letters you are getting from your secret admirer. What a ridiculous assumption to make about the identity of your informant. I really expected better of you." He watched her struggle against the bonds of the spell.

"And you think I'd believe it was you? You murdered Headmaster Dumbledore; Harry saw you do it."

Snape's eyes narrowed in anger. "As much as I believe I owe you no explanation, Miss Granger, it appears I will have to provide you with one if I am to use you as my conduit to the Order. Dumbledore and I were aware of the events converging on us as your sixth year passed. He demanded I give my word to kill him should the situation with Draco arise. He wanted to save the boy's soul from being blackened by a murder."

He paused and watched her with curious eyes. When he was satisfied she was listening, he continued. "The Headmaster was dying at the time I killed him. Had any of you dunderheads been intelligent enough to search for residual poisons or curses within his body, you would have discovered I merely sped the process up by a few hours."

Hermione was silent for a long moment, digesting what he had just told her. Finally, she spoke up. "I-I thought you were the other... one, the one who was trying to convince me to join Voldemort's side."

Snape sneered at her. "Hardly, Miss Granger. Do you really believe I would write such romantic drivel? Your secret admirer is Lucius Malfoy. He wants you enslaved or dead, and he doesn't mind lies or manipulation to achieve the end result. When I discovered his plot to lure you into his web, I sent you my first letter, warning you away from him.

"You actually thought I would fall for his letters?"

"Of course not. I knew you would see through what Lucius believed to be his subtle attempt at seduction. However, it was the perfect opportunity to gain your trust by enforcing your own belief that your secret admirer was, pardon my language, full of shit."

Hermione could feel the immobilizing spell loosening its grip on her body. In a moment, she'd be able to move freely. "And why would you need my trust?"

"So I could feed you relevant information, which you, in turn, could pass on to the Order," he replied, looking as if he wanted to throttle her for being so dense. He also looked deadly serious.

"You're telling the truth, aren't you?" Hermione whispered, watching his dark eyes as they steadily met her gaze.

"I have nothing more to lose. If I am able to provide information to prevent some of these coming attacks, then I will do so."

"You have your life to lose," she reminded him.

"My life is worth nothing to me. Will you work as my contact or am I wasting my time?"

Hermione felt the spell holding her dissipate into the air. She was able to move though she showed no outward signs of it. "Why should I trust you?" she asked.

Snape tilted his head in a silent question. Finally, he spoke up. "I can offer you no reason for that. All I can say is that I am most assuredly sincere when I tell you I want to bring about the downfall of the Dark Lord once and for all. If that means I must deal with the likes of an insufferable Gryffindor, then so be it. And, if you are expecting me to produce a phial of Veritaserum from my robes and allow you to question me while under the influence of it, then you are sorely mistaken, Miss Granger."

She chewed on her lower lip while she contemplated his words.

"I'm quite aware that spell wore off several seconds ago," Snape said. "There is no need to pretend you are still under the effects of it."

Hermione shifted in place against the wall.

"If the arrangement is disagreeable to you, I will Disapparate away from here, and we'll call it even," he offered.

She shook her head. "No, I think I believe you. At least, I think I believe you want to be rid of Voldemort. As long as you provide consistently reliable information, I will pass it on to the other Order members."

"It would be best if you did not reveal your source. You believed me to be Lupin. Perhaps you can name him as your contact until he returns from his mission with the werewolves."

Hermione nodded, still unsure she was doing the right thing.

"On Tuesday night, a group of approximately six Death Eaters will invade the homes of Doris Corivane and her Muggle husband and Nesta and Cesar Wright, Muggle sympathizers."

"Are you serious?" Hermione watched her former professor with wide eyes.

"Quite serious, Miss Granger. I expect you to use this information wisely. I'll contact you in the future when I have additional news to pass on to the Order."

Hermione watched Snape step back into the shadows of the alley. An abrupt crack told her he had Disapparated away already.

------------------------------------------------

Hermione brushed her fingertips together, watching grains of salt sprinkle over the bright red tabletop. The chips she had ordered several minutes ago were already cold and unappetizing, not to mention overly seasoned. Her eyes continued to dart between both entrances of the small fast food restaurant in Bristol. Snape had asked her, in a coded letter, to meet him at this location. He was late, and it was making Hermione nervous. She still didn't completely trust the man.

Their first meeting in the alley of Hogsmeade had been over three weeks ago. However, the information he had given her had proved to be truthful. The Order immediately sent out six members to both residences in peril. Thankfully, both attacks were subverted, and three Death Eaters were taken into custody, with the other four escaping by Disapparation.

Despite the success, Hermione felt horrible when she had to lie about her informant. Tonks had been at once angry and relieved when Hermione claimed Lupin had passed the information along to her. The situation got even worse when Tonks pulled Hermione aside to question her about Remus's health and state of mind. The young Auror was obviously worried about the man she loved, and Hermione found it very difficult to lie. With a grim face, she tried to comfort Tonks as much as possible without giving too many details.

Hermione glanced at the digital clock above the door as another minute passed by without Snape appearing. She had been watching the customers come and go, but none of them looked like her former professor. Just as she resigned herself to leaving without seeing him, a figure slipped into the booth across from her.

She froze as she recognized Snape. His hair was pulled back in a low ponytail while a grey knitted cap covered his head. Instead of the voluminous robes she was accustomed to seeing on him, he wore a narrow trench coat with a dress shirt and slacks. "Sir," she said in acknowledgment.

"I am quite aware of my tardiness, so there really is no need to discuss it. No one has died since we last spoke, I trust?"

She shook her head, still unable to reconcile this man with Severus Snape. They sounded similar, but he seemed so different outside of his wizard apparel. "Doris Corivane and her husband were taken away by Order members before the Death Eaters arrived. Nesta and Cesar Wright sent their two children away, but insisted on fighting beside the Order when their home was invaded. I'm sure you know we were able to capture three Death Eaters."

"Yes, the stupid ones. Don't consider it a smashing success, Miss Granger. They were small players in the grand scheme of things. Their capture did little to hurt the Dark Lord and his supporters."

Hermione caught his eyes for a brief moment and saw the depth of weariness there. "How are you, sir?"

"Excuse me?"

"Are you... doing well?"

"What sort of ridiculous question is that?" he snapped at her. "I'm here, aren't I? If I am able to Apparate to this den of filth in Bristol, then I am, apparently, fine."

"Sorry," Hermione muttered, dropping her gaze to the tabletop and her half-eaten chips.

"In three days there will be a raid on the Ministry by no fewer than sixteen Death Eaters. They will abduct and kill several Ministry employees in Magical Law Enforcement and Magical Transportation. Those taken will be replaced by Polyjuiced Death Eaters. If this plan succeeds, the Ministry will be vulnerable to future attacks and will no longer provide any support to the Order."

"The Ministry isn't giving us any support right now, Professor."

"Certain persons as the Ministry have and will continue to support the efforts of the Order or you would never been able to manage the situation with the Corivanes and Wrights. They are covering for you because everyone is looking the other way on the subject of the Order. If Death Eaters gain additional positions of power in the Ministry while under Polyjuice Potion, the Order will suffer the consequences. It is vital you persuade the Order and the Ministry to safeguard against this raid."

Hermione shifted in her seat, uncomfortable under the intensity of his gaze. Every now and then, Snape would say or do something that would remind her exactly how intelligent and powerful he was. In the past, it had oftentimes been a simple comment during class that had made her understand who he was and what he was capable of. This was one of those instances, but they weren't in his classroom this time. His severe intellect and forethought rocked her back on her proverbial heels, and she realized with mild shock that she actually admired this man. Even after the murder of Headmaster Dumbledore, she still held Snape in high regard. He had offered a perfectly viable explanation of his actions to her, and she found herself hard-pressed not to believe him, especially when he continued to pass on important information to her-information that was helping her save lives.

"I understand, sir. I'll do everything I can," Hermione replied in a soft voice, the awe she was feeling creeping into her tone.

Snape nodded and moved to stand. Before he could slide out of the booth, Hermione spoke up again.

"I received another letter from my admirer four days ago."

"Yes, I'm aware of Lucius's letter to you."

Hermione smiled shyly. "I feel silly for believing you were the author of those letters."

"Don't judge yourself too harshly, Miss Granger. Lucius informed me of his plan when he was in the midst of penning the second letter. He asked for my assistance, which I gave because I had no other choice. I am the co-author of all letters afterward."

"You?"

"I know you must find it surprising I could write anything remotely resembling an amorous letter."

Hermione smiled. "Well, yes, it is a bit surprising."

"I led Lucius to believe his absurd letters would woo you, but I knew you would not fall for such romantic drivel."

"Thank you for your high opinion of me, sir."

Snape sneered and slid out of the booth. "Concentrate on the Ministry raid. I'll contact you when I have further information."

Hermione watched as he turned and pushed through the door. She sighed and gathered up her uneaten chips to throw them in the trash bin. Severus Snape was much more complicated than she had ever dreamed possible.

-------------------------------------------------

The raid on the Ministry had been averted, but with costs. An employee of the Magical Transportation department and two Aurors Hermione did not know had been killed by Death Eaters during the battle. Many more would have lost their lives had there not been a warning. Everyone still believed she was secretly communicating with Remus Lupin. Hermione had no idea what she would do once Lupin returned from his mission. She hated lying to Harry and Ron, but they hated Snape more than Voldemort and wouldn't understand even if she explained the situation.

Earlier in the day, she had received a letter from Snape, telling her to meet him in a small hotel in Edinburgh just after dinner. It was the first contact from him in two weeks. The sun had set an hour before, and the bitter wind whipped her hair into a frenzy as she crossed the nearly empty parking lot of the hotel. The room was easy to find; it was on the first floor corner of the building. She pulled her mittens off, shoved them in her coat pocket and knocked softly.

Snape answered the door with his wand out. Hermione nearly tumbled back onto the sidewalk when she saw the tip of his wand only inches from her nose. Instead, she clutched at the doorframe and followed him inside once he had turned toward the darkness inside.

The room was spotless; he had obviously rented it for just this purpose. A stiff comforter with floral print was draped over the queen-size bed. A narrow pathway between the foot of the bed and the television stand allowed one access to the bathroom. She could see soft, yellow illumination spilling out of there. Snape slowly lowered himself into a high-backed armchair beside the television. She could see the tension and pain in his face as he grasped at his abdomen.

Before Hermione could inquire about his injuries, he cleared his throat and spoke. "There will be an attack on Hogsmeade tomorrow at five o'clock in the evening. I do not know the extent, though I suspect there will be at least twenty Death Eaters involved. All of them will be seasoned duelers. The Order may want to cut their losses and simply evacuate the town." His voice was beaten and weary. Her stomach turned over at the thought of someone hurting him. It wasn't that long ago that she'd have volunteered to cast a nasty curse on him, but she had seen a new side of him in the past few weeks and was beginning to feel as if he were a friend-someone she could trust.

"You're hurt," Hermione said, sitting on the foot of the bed across from his chair, her knees only a few inches from his.

"Did you hear what I said, Miss Granger? There will be an attack on Hogsmeade in less than twenty-four hours."

"I heard you very well, sir. I will pass the information on to the Order. We'll stop them."

"Don't be so confident, girl. You're in over your head," he snapped.

Hermione frowned at the white knuckles of his hand as he clenched the arm of the chair. "I think you're in over your head as well. What did they do to you?"

"None of your business."

"I-I know a few healing spells. Madam Pomfrey has been teaching me in my free time between classes. Maybe I can-"

"It will pass," he said, interrupting her nervous offer of assistance. "It is simply the effects of one too many Cruciatus Curses."

Hermione shifted in her seat and leaned forward. "I think I can help you. Madam Pomfrey gave me permission to borrow a book from the Library that gives details on how to lessen or cure some of the more dangerous and damaging curses. There was a-"

"Spare me, Miss Granger." His voice was tight with pain when he interrupted her a second time.

She sighed and tried to approach the subject in a different manner. "Who did this to you?"

"The Dark Lord," Snape whispered, his lips barely moving. Hermione could see one side of his face clearly as it was illuminated by the light from the bathroom.

"Why?"

"Isn't it obvious? Two of his schemes have been foiled by the Order. He believes one of us has been passing information to Potter and those around him. I am one of the suspects-the most likely suspect."

"But... but, you must protect yourself, sir. Let me talk to the Order. I'm sure I can convince them to listen to you, to allow you to come back. You could just leave the Death Eaters and wouldn't have to fear for your life once Voldemort finds out you're spying."

Snape shook his head. "I'm staying exactly where I am, Miss Granger. I will continue to pass information to you until I am killed."

Hermione felt tears of frustration welling up in her eyes, threatening to tip over her lids. "No! You can't do that."

"And why not?"

"We need you."

Snape tilted his head back and looked down his nose at her. "You need me to remain where I am and act as a spy."

"But don't you want to live?"

"Not particularly," he replied in a flat tone.

Hermione swallowed the lump in her throat and blinked her eyes rapidly. Two fat tears cascaded down her still-cold cheeks. "Don't say that," she whispered softly in the silence of the room.

"What is it to you whether I live or die?"

"I happen to care about you!" Hermione replied in an angry voice, finding her temper again.

Snape sneered. "Don't be ridiculous."

Hermione curled her hands into fists in frustration. "Believe it or not, sir, I do care about you. I don't want you to die, and I don't want you to suffer. I don't appreciate your belittling of my feelings just because they make you uncomfortable."

She expected him to open his mouth and let forth a tide of angry words designed to hurt her or put her back in her place. He didn't. Instead, he sat there, frozen and silent, watching her as she caught her breath and slowly unfurled her fingers to smooth the skirt of her school uniform.

The wind picked up outside and rattled the window across the room. For several long moments, it was the only sound in the quiet room.

Finally, Snape softly said, "Miss Granger, I am where I need to be. I will stay there and continue to pass information on to you until I am unable. It is the only thing I can do to atone for my past actions. I owe Albus at least that much."

The lump was back in her throat. "I just don't want you to die," she whispered, lifting her gaze to look him in the eye.

"I am afraid that is inevitable."

Hermione felt another tear fall, tracing a hot, salty path down her cheek before sliding into the corner of her mouth. Snape seemed uncomfortable with her display of emotion, shifting in his seat and averting his eyes.

"I can still help you with the pain," Hermione said as she sniffed and brushed the wetness off her face.

"There is no need. I'm fine." He still wasn't looking at her.

"You're holding your stomach. I can see you are still in pain."

"Miss Granger, I don't have all night to argue with you about this. Lucius Malfoy is expecting me at his manor this evening."

"Let me just try the spell, sir. It can't hurt and will only take a moment."

She watched him and held her breath as he weighed his options and considered her offer. Finally, he gave a slight nod. "Fine. You may attempt this spell of healing you're intent on using."

"I'll need you to lie down," she said, standing and gesturing toward the bed.

With great care, Snape rose from his seat and took the two steps across the floor to the side of the bed. Hermione clasped her hands tightly together as she watched him slowly sit on the edge of the mattress before swinging his feet up and lying down. There was just enough room for her to perch herself on the bed at his side.

Gently, Hermione placed one of her trembling hands on the hand he was using to grasp at his abdomen. She lifted it away and laid it on the bed. "I need access to the affected area. Is it just your stomach that hurts?"

"For the most part," he said through teeth clenched in pain. "Although, I do have quite a headache."

"Let me just..." Hermione pulled her wand out and pointed it at his stomach. She placed her free hand on his chest, just to the right of his heart. Drawing in a deep breath, she closed her eyes and concentrated on the spell she would need to soothe his pain. A quickly muttered incantation and her wand tip began to glow a very pale blue.

Snape exhaled a shaky breath and inhaled deeply. She could feel his chest rising and falling beneath her hand. When she opened her eyes, she could see him, lying beneath her, staring up at her with dark eyes and facial features mostly hidden by the shadows of the room. She could feel his heavy gaze upon her while his heart hammered in his chest.

"Did it work?" Hermione whispered.

"Yes." His voice was soft and dreamy.

Slowly, she slid her hand up his chest and neck so she could cup the side of his face. Hermione placed her wand tip at his temple and recited the words to a simple headache relief spell she had picked up from Madam Pomfrey. A moment later, she felt his face relax and heard him sigh.

"Better?" she asked, her hand still resting on his cheek.

"Much," Snape replied. "I never was very good with healing spells."

Hermione smiled at him. "You can't be good at everything."

"I... Thank you," he muttered, turning his eyes away from her.

She brushed the pad of her thumb across his high cheekbone. "You're welcome."

A tendril of her brown hair fell over her shoulder and rested against his shiny black hair that lay across the pillow. Hermione licked her lips and leaned closer to him, watching his breathing quicken.

"Miss Granger," he said softly.

"Hmm?" She flicked her gaze from his mouth to his eyes. His expression was hard to place, something she had never seen on him before.

"It is late. I should go."

The words jolted some sense back into her. Hermione abruptly pulled back from him. "Yes," she agreed.

Once she stood, Snape sat up and brushed his mussed hair back over his shoulder. "Thank you for your help," he said again.

Hermione wrapped her arms around her body. "It was nothing. When will I see you again?"

"I do not know," he replied, settling a weighty and serious gaze on her before gathering his robes about himself. "Things are complicated. I will be in touch as soon as I have more information. Remember: Hogsmeade at five o'clock tomorrow evening. There will be at least twenty of them."

"Yes, I know." Hermione swallowed the lump that had returned to her throat. "Goodbye, sir."

"Goodbye, Miss Granger." With that said, he turned and walked out the door into the freezing winter wind outside.

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She hadn't heard from him in over a month. Every time she turned around, she expected Harry to proclaim Snape's death with a triumphant grin. Hermione shook her head and looked down at the Arithmancy book on her lap. She was being overly harsh toward her friend. Harry never found satisfaction in anyone's death, and he wouldn't announce Snape's with glee, even though he desired it greatly. It was just so difficult to continue lying to everyone, especially her best friends. Her anxiety over Snape's well-being only made the emotional turmoil that much worse.

She snapped the book closed and pressed her trembling hands against the cover. Snape had been in trouble the last time they met. Voldemort was sure to be even angrier after his Hogsmeade attack had been foiled so many weeks ago. Just the thought of the seven Death Eaters lined up in front of The Three Broomsticks in chains made her smile. She could only hope Voldemort accused someone other than Snape of tipping off the Order. If not, then her informant, the man she had grown to care about, may very well be dead.

There was no way to contact him, and that made Hermione feel helpless and crazy with anxiety.

Remus Lupin had returned to the Order over three weeks before, looking the worse for the wear. His friends and fellow Order members had descended on him with praise and thanks for his help in averting the previous attacks. Hermione had kept her distance until Harry and Ron had sought her out, demanding an explanation. Lupin denied acting as her informant, they had said. She did the only thing she could think of-she told them the truth only partially. She did admit to covertly meeting with a former Death Eater for information from Voldemort's inner circle, but she claimed not to know her informant's name. The boys were understandably upset and worried for her safety, and she had spent the past month assuring them that she was in no danger.

Since her last meeting with Snape, she had received two letters from Lucius Malfoy. She analyzed them for hours, looking for any hidden message Snape may have placed within the words, if he was indeed the co-author. She even searched for words or phrases her former professor used often in an attempt to convince herself he was still alive and well. She could find nothing. The last letter had provided her with a way to contact Lucius, though he had still withheld his name, signing it only as her admirer. Hermione was tempted to write him and attempt to draw out information about Snape's current state. She didn't; Lucius was too dangerous to trifle with.

And, as if she didn't have enough to occupy her mind, she kept flashing back to the moment in the hotel room when she had almost kissed Severus Snape. She was uncomfortable that such a thought could bring about such longing in her heart. He was a noble man who was willing to sacrifice his life to save her and all the others. Perhaps he already had lost his life. The idea made her want to cry, to thrash about her room and sweep Lavender's carefully placed porcelain kittens off the shelf on the opposite wall.

She missed him more than she liked to admit to even herself, and she could still remember the sensation of his heart pounding beneath her hand as she had healed him that evening. The way his wistful dark eyes had looked up at her then brought tears to hear eyes. He didn't deserve to hurt or to die for the cause, not anymore.

A fluttering of wings outside the bedroom window caught her attention. Spring was well underway and the sky was still light, though dinner was fully underway in the Great Hall. A small owl sat on the sill, watching her with large black eyes.

Hermione's stomach jumped into her throat as she rushed across the room to retrieve the missive from its leg. With shaking hands, she unfolded the parchment and prepared to cast the decoding charm on the letter. It was from him; it had to be from him. And, it was from him, but the decoding charm was unnecessary. The words were written in a hurried, shaking scrawl.

Need to speak with you. Apparate to 15 Terrace Road, London. Urgent.

Without a thought for her safety, Hermione grabbed her coat and flew out the dormitory door. Everyone was at dinner, so she had no problem sweeping through the castle in record time. The evening air was still a bit chilly, and she was gasping for breath by the time she passed through the gates of the school. A brief pause, a look at the address, and a turn took her from Hogwarts to a shabby area of London in front of a line of row houses. Still gasping for breath, she ran up the steps of the one in front of her, barely turning the knob before pressing into the door with her body.

The house was empty, and the floors were dusty. She found him lying beneath the front window in a pool of blood. "Sir," she cried, dropping to her knees beside him, pulling at his overcoat in an attempt to find the source of the blood.

His cold hand found hers and stopped her fussing. "Miss Granger, he plans to strike Hogwarts at nightfall tomorrow."

Hermione looked into Snape's eyes to find them glassy and flat. He had lost too much blood. "What happened to you?"

"Did you hear me?" he asked before his body shook in wracking coughs. She could see blood seeping from the corners of his mouth.

"Yes, tomorrow at nightfall. Hogwarts. What did he-" She abruptly stopped when her hand came into contact with the ragged wounds on the right side of his neck. "Oh, Merlin..." Hermione muttered, pulling his coat away from the wound so she could get a better look.

"Leave it, Hermione." His voice was thick with blood.

With one hand pressed to his throat to staunch the bleeding, she pulled her wand out with the other. "I will not leave it. You'll die."

"Let me."

"No!" she screamed.

"There's... nothing you can do," Snape replied through labored breaths.

Hermione knew he was telling the truth. The damage was beyond her. Her healing skills were basic, and without supplies and several phials of blood-replenishing potion, he would be dead in minutes. Gritting her teeth in determination, she pulled him into a kneeling and then a standing position. His head lolled to the side as if he had already lost consciousness.

"Well, well... What do we have here?"

Hermione froze when she heard the cold and cultured voice of Lucius Malfoy float across the room. He was standing in the doorway, the waning light from the sky outlining his statuesque form.

"Don't come any closer," she warned, pointing her wand at him as she struggled to keep Snape upright. He was obviously still coherent because he was standing mostly on his own, though leaning heavily on her for support.

Lucius tapped his elegant cane against the bare floorboards. "And here I thought I was seducing you. It appears Severus has beaten me to it."

"He never..." Hermione replied, clutching her professor's waist as he leaned into her. She was covered in his blood, but she hardly noticed.

"He's been contacting you, telling you our plans and secrets, hasn't he?" Without waiting for an answer, Lucius continued. "The Dark Lord had his suspicions. We've had Severus under quite a watchful eye for the last two months, but with the final battle approaching, we couldn't afford any possible defectors."

"What happened to him?" Hermione demanded

"Nagini happened to him," Lucius replied, taking a step forward. Hermione shook her wand, reminding him that she was armed. "The Dark Lord allowed her to bite Severus on the neck. I'm surprised he isn't dead by now."

"He's not going to die," Hermione replied. "I won't let him."

Lucius laughed. "So loyal. Do you care for him that much?"

"I care for him more than you do."

"Oh? Do you know why I'm here, Hermione?" Lucius tilted his head as he watched her. He looked predatory and hawk-like. "The Dark Lord has dispatched a group of Death Eaters to find and bring back Severus's body. I came to find him before them-to ensure they won't find him."

"You came to save him?" she asked, incredulous.

"To save him, if I could. If I couldn't, then I planned on hiding his body to prevent the others from desecrating it."

She was still gasping for breath from all the excitement. Had it really only been minutes ago when she had received the note from Snape? Hermione narrowed her eyes at Lucius. He looked truthful, or at least as truthful as a Malfoy could be.

"Why?" she asked.

"He was my friend. Severus and I have known each other for more years that you've been alive." He glanced over his shoulder. "I don't want to rush things since we're just getting to know each other, but the others will be here any minute. If you want to escape with your life, then I suggest you do it now."

"What? You're worried about my life?"

"Only because Severus was worried about your life. He was very sly about it, but I knew he cared for you when I asked him to help me write those letters. You do know they were from me, don't you?"

Hermione nodded.

"Yes, well, Severus would be upset with me if I allowed you to fall into Death Eater hands. In his memory, I'm letting you flee."

"I'm... not dead... yet."

Hermione jumped and nearly lost her grip on Snape when he spoke up.

"Severus," Lucius said, his eyes wide and an honest expression of surprise written across his haughty face.

"Leave me... and get her out of here," Snape said through clenched teeth. "If she is harmed..." He left the rest unsaid.

"I knew you cared for her." Lucius crossed the floor to stand only two long strides from them.

"Hermione, go," Snape whispered, trying to pull away from her arms. She held on tightly as he wavered and nearly fell to the floor.

The tell-tale sounds of Apparation sounded just outside the door of the building.

Hermione met Lucius's eyes. His mouth was a tight line, and his body was tense. After what seemed like an eternity, but was likely only a fraction of a second, he spoke. "Can you Apparate with him?"

She nodded, dumbfounded at the question.

Lucius glanced over his shoulder. The three Death Eaters were on the steps. He looked back at Hermione. "Take him. Go."

Without thinking, Hermione pulled Snape closer and turned, taking them both away just as she heard Lucius Malfoy's voice shout, "Avada Kedavra!"

She Apparated to the only place she could think of-St. Mungo's. The Apparation room was quiet and nearly empty. A Welcome Witch was standing off to the side, noting something on a clipboard when Hermione turned around to get her bearings. Snape slipped and fell to the floor, and Hermione could finally see what a sight they were, covered in blood, under the harsh lighting in the admission area.

"What is this?" the Welcome Witch asked, hurrying over to Hermione's side.

"I'm fine. Help him. He's been bitten on the neck by a snake."

The Welcome Witch examined Snape's neck. "A snake?" she asked, looking up at Hermione doubtfully.

"Yes, a snake," she snapped back, pushing the Welcome Witch out of the way and trying to find Snape's pulse. "Go get help!"

The Welcome Witch hurried off, returning seconds letter with five others and a floating stretcher. Despite the Welcome Witch's protestations, Hermione accompanied Snape back to a room where three Healers cast diagnostic and healing spells over his body while two younger trainees poured blood replenishing potions down his throat.

"Will he be okay?" Hermione dared to ask after they had been at work on him for fifteen long minutes.

A tall wizard with a lined and grave face turned to her. "It is still too early to tell. There many be neurological damage from the venom that we are unaware of. For now, he is as stable as we can make him."

Hermione's heart was beating so hard, she felt like her lungs could barely expand with each breath she took. "Thank you," she whispered, moving to walk around the wizard and stand at Snape's bedside.

"I believe," the Healer said, blocking her path, "that you need to answer a few questions."

"What sort of questions," Hermione asked, looking past the wizard at Snape.

"Why you brought a Death Eater to his facility for care would be one of those questions."

Hermione felt her gut twist. She hadn't thought of the implications of bringing Snape here for treatment. In her mind, he was not a Death Eater; he was a loyal member of the Order. Unfortunately, she was the only one who thought that. "I-I can explain everything. When you call the Aurors, could you please request Kingsley Shacklebolt or Mad Eye Moody? They know me."

The elderly Healer eyed her for a moment, sizing her up, trying to determine how truthful she was. "I will do so, though I can make no promises they will come."

"Thank you," Hermione said, nodding her head. She looked down at her hands to find them covered with sticky blood.

"You should wash up before they arrive," the Healer said, looking down at her, his face slightly kinder.

"I don't want to leave him alone." Hermione shifted her eyes to the narrow hospital bed Snape was resting on.

The Healer nodded to the door of the room. Hermione turned to see three wizard orderlies standing in the doorway. "They will not let anyone in or out, including you, until the Aurors arrive. You can wash up in there." He pointed at the door to a small bathroom adjoining the hospital room.

"Thank you," Hermione muttered again. When the Healer turned to leave, she remembered the most important thing. "Sir! Could you please contact Hogwarts and send a message to Harry Potter. Tell him Hermione Granger needs to speak with him, and let him know I am here."

With a curious look, the wizard agreed before leaving her alone in the room with Snape.
Chapter 2 by SSHG Exchange Mod
CHAPTER 2

She spent several minutes at the small sink, trying to wash Snape's blood out of her hair and off her body. Her clothes were ruined, but a young woman, not much older than Hermione, brought in a pair of drawstring trousers and a large jumper for her. After she was somewhat presentable, Hermione pulled a chair up to Snape's bedside and washed his blood-streaked face with a flannel she had taken from the bathroom.

Within a few minutes, she heard a commotion in the hall. Kingsley came through the door, trailed by three other Aurors she did not know.

"Hermione," Kingsley said, relief written across his face. "How are you?"

"I'm fine. I need to talk to you about Professor Snape."

Kingsley's face hardened when he noticed Snape's still form on the bed behind Hermione.

"Don't," Hermione warned, holding her arms out to both sides to block the Aurors from him. "He's my informant, Kingsley. He's the one who has been passing information to the Order through me."

"Hermione, he's deceived you," Kingsley said, softly.

"No, he hasn't. He's been truthful all along. Please let me explain. You can give me Veritaserum or bring in a Legilimens if you want. Just, please, don't take him away or hurt him."

"All right. For now, we'll leave him here. I'd like to ask you some questions."

"I want to stay here with Professor Snape. Can I answer them here?"

Kingsley glanced at the two wizards and witch standing behind him. "I suppose."

"Can I tell you one more thing before you question me?"

He nodded. "Go ahead."

"Voldemort is going to attack Hogwarts tomorrow at nightfall. He's going to try to kill Harry," she said, wringing her hands in nervousness.

"Go," Kingsley said to one of the wizards behind him. The Auror hurried out the door, no doubt to inform everyone of the news.

---------------------------------------------------

Hermione watched Kingsley and his three co-workers leave with Snape's wand. They said it was a precaution, though Hermione knew Snape made them nervous. They had questioned her with Veritaserum for well over an hour. Kingsley tried to be as kind as he could, but she knew he was under pressure from his superiors to ensure Snape was not a threat. She felt exhausted and weak by the end, and now she took a moment to pull a chair up and rest her head on the edge of Snape's bed.

"Are you hurt?"

Hermione's head shot up so she could see Snape. His voice was rough, but his eyes were open.

"No," she replied, nearly breaking into sobs of relief. "I-Lucius let us go. I think he may have killed the Death Eaters that were pursuing you."

"And how did you talk the Healers here into helping me?"

"I didn't. They helped out of duty, but they nearly tossed you out on your arse when they saw the Dark Mark," Hermione replied with a weary smile.

"How long have I been out?"

"About two hours. They were unsure about the venom. They thought it might have harmed your brain and nervous system. How do you feel?"

"I'll live."

Hermione smiled. "I'm glad."

"And Potter? Did you tell him about the attack?"

"I told Kingsley and the other Aurors when they questioned me, and I've sent a message to Harry that I need to speak with him. Apparently, Lucius has defected."

"Lucius?"

She nodded. "He contacted Auror Headquarters just before Kingsley left. He says he has information on Voldemort."

Snape gave a small nod of his head before closing his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, she said, "I was worried about you; you really frightened me."

"Don't be silly, Miss Granger," he whispered, turning his head to look away from her.

"I'm not being silly. I care about you." Hermione paused before taking a deep breath and pushing on. "I care about you a great deal. You're a good man. I don't know what we would have done without you."

He shifted in bed and winced at the stab of pain from his neck. "Thank you," he mumbled, obviously uncomfortable with the conversation.

"I'm so happy you're alive. For a moment there, I thought I was going to lose you." Hermione whispered, leaning over him and pressing her lips to his forehead.

"Hermione..." He exhaled her name with a soft breath.

She pulled back just enough to meet his eyes. They were shining back at her, but he was as unreadable as ever. The memory of their previous meeting in which she healed him came back to her. They had been in a similar position, and she had wanted to kiss him so badly.

Without a word, she dipped her head and pressed her lips softly against his. He made a small noise deep in his throat before tilting his chin up to kiss her back.

"This is a bad idea," he whispered when she pulled away.

"No, it isn't," Hermione replied, kissing him again, this time tracing his lips with the tip of her tongue.

She smiled against his mouth when she felt one of his hands cradle the back of her head, pulling her closer to him.

"What's going on here?"

Hermione jerked back and glanced at the doorway. Ron was standing just inside the door, his jaw dangling. Harry was a step behind him with wide eyes.

"I can explain," she said, glancing from the boys to Snape, then back again. It was going to be a very long night.

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"I can't believe you didn't tell us, Hermione."

Hermione looked away from Ron's face to study the stone floor. "I told you I was sorry, Ron."

"We would have understood about Snape if you would have told us his side of the story," Harry replied.

"You hated him, Harry. You would have said I was mad and tried to keep me from meeting with him."

The three friends were quickly striding down one of the halls of Hogwarts. A subdued buzz of anxiety and anticipation had taken over the castle in the last few hours. Preparations were well underway for Voldemort's attack, though everyone was trying to be discreet about it to avoid any leaks that would cause the Death Eaters to pull back in favor of another time. Hermione had gotten a small amount of sleep after she left Snape at the hospital, but most of her morning and afternoon had been spent in nervous preparation for the battle.

"It was dangerous for you to do it alone," Harry said, touching Hermione's shoulder and stopping her.

"Harry, you know I had to do it. He was truthful with me, and he had important information that helped us." Hermione had turned to look at both boys.

"There is one thing you didn't explain," Ron said, scuffing his shoe against the floor.

Hermione closed her eyes and asked Merlin to open up the ground beneath her so she wouldn't have to tell her friends why, exactly, she had been kissing their former Potions professor when they had walked into his hospital room. Finally, she said, "I don't want to talk about that." She had told them the full story in front of Snape while they were all at the hospital, but she had conveniently left out her private conversation with him before the boys had arrived.

"I'd like to know why you were kissing Snape, too," Harry said.

She winced and turned to continue walking down the hall. "I think we should concentrate on Voldemort right now," she said over her shoulder.

Holding her breath, she waited for her friends to follow her. After a long moment of silence, they started jogging down the hall to catch up with her. Just as they turned the corner, making their way to the Great Hall, Hermione ran into a wall of black fabric.

"Where have you been?"

Hermione looked up with wide eyes to see Severus Snape in his customary teaching robes. Her palms were pressed against his firm chest to soften the collision. "Sir, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be at St. Mungo's."

"I will not sit idly by while this confrontation happens." He lowered his voice and leaned closer. "And I will not leave you alone during this time," he whispered, soft enough for Harry and Ron not to hear.

"I-I... They let you leave St. Mungo's? I thought there were three Aurors there to guard you."

"One Auror, and he wasn't very good at his job. They needed the others here at Hogwarts."

Hermione's eyes widened even more. "You didn't hurt him, did you? If you hurt him, then they'll think..."

Snape wrapped his fingers around her arms and slowly pulled her hands from his chest. "I did not hurt him. I made him believe I am still in the bed, though I suspect the staff have discovered I am missing by now."

"If you did anything illegal-"

"I didn't do anything illegal, Hermione."

"You're hurt; you shouldn't be here."

"Don't start with that," he replied, releasing her arms. "Has Lucius given them any useful information?"

Hermione swallowed the urge to kiss the man in front of her. Harry and Ron would restrain her, thinking she'd gone crazy, or they would faint and hit their heads on the stone floor. A lot of good an unconscious savior would do them. "He's at Auror Headquarters right now. Draco and Narcissa are with him, and they're all talking. I don't know how useful the information is, but they've called a meeting in the Great Hall to inform us of some details of Voldemort's planned attack. I can only assume they garnered some of that from the Malfoys."

"The students?"

"They've been evacuated. Some of the older students stayed to fight, but all of the younger ones have been sent to an Order safe house."

"Severus!" Everyone turned to see Minerva McGonagall walking up the hall behind them, her lips pressed tightly together.

"Minerva," Snape replied, nodding his head at her. "Must I explain my tale all over again, or have you heard it from Miss Granger?"

Instead of stopping a few feet from him, McGonagall swept him up in a brief embrace. "I knew you didn't betray us," she cried, pulling back and looking at his color. "I haven't heard from Miss Granger herself, but I've spoken to Kingsley. Severus, you look pale."

"I'm always pale, Minerva," he replied in a dry voice, looking bored with the conversation already.

"More so than normal. You should be at St. Mungo's recovering. What are you doing here?"

"I will not sit by and watch this happen. I want to fight."

"No," Hermione and McGonagall said in unison.

McGonagall gave her student a curious look before turning back to Snape. "You need rest, Severus. You'll be no help if you overexert yourself."

Hermione suppressed a smile when she saw Snape roll his eyes. "I'm not a child; I think I can handle myself," he replied.

Suddenly, a loud voice boomed through the castle, asking everyone to report to the Great Hall for further instructions.

McGonagall bit down on her reply to Snape's stubbornness. "Well then, I'll see all of you in the Great Hall." With that said, she turned and hurried down the corridor.

Harry and Ron, eager to hear the news from the Aurors, followed after, throwing Snape and Hermione a wary look.

"Come on, Hermione," Ron said as they passed by.

"I'll be there in just a minute," she replied.

Once her two friends had turned the corner, she looked up at Snape. "I'm happy you're doing well," she whispered shyly before dropping her gaze to the ground again.

"Why did you kiss me?"

Hermione jerked her head up at his abrupt question. "I... Well, I, I don't know. I wanted to, I suppose."

"And?"

She shrugged and worried her lower lip with her teeth. "I meant what I said. I care about you... a great deal. I wanted to kiss you, and you didn't seem averse to it."

"Are you saying you are... attracted to me?" His eyes were dark, unreadable pools of black.

Hermione wasn't sure what answer he wanted to hear. If she gave the wrong one, she ran the risk of him shutting her down, and that wasn't what she wanted. "I think it is safe to say that I feel close to you."

One of his elegant brows lifted slightly. "How close?"

"Close enough to kiss you, obviously."

He took a step closer to her, and Hermione found her back against the corridor wall. "And do you frequently kiss your friends?"

"No, I've never kissed Harry or Ron." She felt like her heart was beating in her throat.

"So, just me then?"

Hermione swallowed, her throat suddenly dry. "You and Victor Krum."

"The Bulgarian Quidditch player?" Snape seemed slightly amused.

Hermione nodded. "He, uh, he looks a bit like you, I suppose. So, maybe I am attracted..."

She trailed off as Snape leaned forward, letting his lips hover just a few inches from her own. "I don't know how I would have got through the last few months if it weren't for you, Hermione," he softly confessed.

"But I didn't do anything." Hermione could barely breathe. He was so close, his clean scent overpowering her, his energy making her body quiver.

"You were there, and you believed me. That meant more than you know." Snape paused for a moment, watching her. "You saved my life," he added in a whisper.

Hermione exhaled a trembling breath, unable to break eye contact with him. When she finally parted her lips to respond, he descended on her, pressing his lips tightly against hers.

Just as his tongue slid between her lips, the announcement to report to the Great Hall sounded again. They both pulled back from one another. Snape grabbed her hand. "Take care, Hermione. I will not see you die here tonight."

"The same to you, sir," she whispered, still in shock over the kiss.

"Severus," he replied. "I can count the number of women I've kissed on one hand, and they've all called me by my first name. I shouldn't think you would be any different, Hermione."

She nodded and repeated his given name just before he turned to continue down the hall toward the meeting. After composing herself, she hurried after him.

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Hermione pressed her back against the wall as another curse flew past, blasting the stone exterior of the castle and leaving a small crater. As much as she still didn't trust Lucius Malfoy, she wished they had allowed him to fight beside the Order and its supporters. They weren't quite outnumbered, but Voldemort's supporters were vicious, and any additional hands-or wands-would have been appreciated.

She knew it was a distraction, but she had managed to keep Severus in her line of sight during the hour they had been fighting with the Death Eaters. For a man who had been on his death bed only twenty-four hours earlier, he was causing untold devastation to his opponents.

Harry hit the Death Eater in front of her with Petrificus Totalus, and the black-robed figure hit the ground with a thump. She caught Snape looking at her for a brief moment during a lull in the fight. His hair was windswept, and his robes were torn in several places, but he looked glorious and very dangerous. She had a difficult time reconciling the man in front of her with the man who had kissed her in the hall only a few hours before. Since then, they hadn't had any time alone, but she was constantly aware of his eyes on her. Perhaps Lucius was right; perhaps Severus really did care for her.

"Trouble!" Ron called over his shoulder, pointing in front of them. Hermione strained to see through the low covering of fog that had rolled in shortly before the battle began. Just over the top of the sloping hill was a forbidding figure in dark robes. She could just make out the glint of red eyes before her stomach dropped to her feet. Voldemort, she thought with dread.

He was surrounded by three masked Death Eaters, all four of them killing anyone who crossed their path. Hermione looked over to Harry and saw an expression of grim determination on his face.

Snape stepped up beside Harry. "Don't let him intimidate you, Potter."

"Oh, I won't," Harry replied, his voice full of anger. Hermione hit a Death Eater sneaking up from the side with two jinxes, knocking the wizard to the ground. She used a Summoning Charm to retrieve his wand, then broke the thin stick of maple over her knee.

Hermione looked up to see Severus watching her again. His face was impassive, though she could see his anxiety in his eyes. "Be careful," she mouthed to him.

"His snake," Ron muttered, pointing in the grass several meters in front of Voldemort.

"It's a Horcrux," Harry reminded everyone, "and it needs to be destroyed." She knew he had been hard at work all year, trying to continue Dumbledore's work and find all the Horcruxes. The only remaining one had to be Nagini.

"I'll be more than happy to take care of that for you, Potter," Snape replied, barely contained rage in his voice.

Only a few short seconds later, Hermione found herself in the midst of streaks of shimmering energy as curses flew all around her. She could hear screams and see moving shapes, but the onslaught of spells from both sides was only intensifying the properties of the fog, making the battlefield look like it was covered with multi-colored smoke. She managed to knock two Death Eaters to the ground, breaking their wands once she had the wood in her hands.

Once she made her way forward, she found Nagini's body in the grass. It was covered in blood and in multiple pieces. Just ahead of her Ron was dodging curses from Bellatrix Lestrange. Her mask had fallen off, and her hair was whipping around as she threw another Cruciatus Curse at Ron. Hermione nearly stepped in to help Ron until she noticed Harry and Snape a few meters to the left.

Snape was dueling with two of the Death Eaters who had been protecting Voldemort, but he seemed to have things in hand. Harry, however, looked to be in danger. The bright blue stream of power from his wand was being intercepted by the angry red stream from Voldemort's. It was obvious that the evil wizard was overpowering her friend, and Hermione stepped into the fight without much of a conscious decision.

She leveled her wand at Voldemort and screamed, "Expelliarmus!"

The streams of energy locking Harry and Voldemort together exploded. Hermione felt a rush of power enter her body, and then found herself flying backward in the air. The last thing she remembered was hitting the ground and losing her breath.

-------------------------------------------------

Her head was throbbing, and the bright light on the other side of her eyelids was not helping. Slowly, Hermione cracked her eyes open.

"She's awake!"

She closed her eyes and winced at the intensity of Harry's voice. This must be what a hangover feels like, Hermione thought as she threw an arm over her face.

With her arm to block the sun, she managed to open her eyes again. Harry and Ron were standing beside her bed with huge smiles on their worried faces. "Blimey, Hermione, you scared us," Ron said.

The sound of the curtains across the room being shut brought on blessed darkness. The dimly-lit room was much more tolerable. She smiled at her friends, and then turned her head to search the room. A shadowy figure was standing by the windows, and Hermione's heart leapt into her throat.

"Sev..." Her voice broke on his name.

He stepped forward and strode over to the other side of her bed. "You shouldn't speak," Severus said softly.

"Madam Pomfrey says you'll get your voice back soon," Ron assured her.

Harry nodded. "They had to call in two Healers from St. Mungo's to help you. We were afraid to move you off the field outside until they looked at you."

Hermione turned her head to look at Severus again.

"I asked for the Healer who cared for me while I was there-the one you spoke to about my prognosis," he explained

She gave him a weak smile.

"That was a very stupid thing to do," Severus added.

"Yeah," Harry and Ron agreed.

Hermione tried to open her mouth and defend herself, but all that came out was a croak.

"But you did save my life," Harry added with a grin. "So, thanks for that."

She wanted to laugh, but her head hurt too much to allow it.

After a long moment of silence, Harry and Ron excused themselves, promising to return with something to eat from the kitchens.

Severus pulled up a chair and sat down at her bedside. "I am sure you want to inundate me with a thousand questions about the battle. Potter, as I'm sure you can guess, was able to defeat the Dark Lord. You were knocked unconscious by the backlash of their spells when you broke the connection. It gave Potter the time he needed to strike. The Healers say you'll survive, though they were unsure when they first arrived."

He paused and looked away from her. After several seconds he continued in a rough voice. "Don't ever do that to me again, Hermione. I thought you were going to die."

Hermione reached out and grabbed his hand, bringing it to her lips.

"Silly girl," he whispered, leaning forward and brushing his mouth over her forehead. He pulled back, a small smile lifting the corners of his lips. "I do believe we were in this same position, only reversed, a week ago."

Hermione's eyes widened.

Severus chuckled. "Oh, yes, Hermione. You've been unconscious for almost seven days. Minerva, I believe, has a few choice words for you on your reckless behavior. I have no doubt she'll be along momentarily to regale you with them since you're still unable to speak."

With a trembling hand, Hermione grabbed a fistful of his black hair and pulled him closer. Her voice was barely a hoarse whisper, but she managed to say, "I'm happy you're okay," in his ear.

"And I, you, Hermione," he said before kissing her lips. Though she wasn't able to speak very well, she managed to moan her approval and deepen the kiss.

Severus shifted his weight from the chair to the bed, pulling her up into his arms.

"Well!" Minerva McGonagall said, her tone expressing exactly how scandalous she considered the picture she saw when she entered.

Severus reluctantly pulled away, and Hermione groaned in frustration. Once she was able to get out of the infirmary bed, she was going to lock herself in a room with Severus Snape and forbid anyone from entering for at least twenty-four hours.

"What is going on here?" Minerva asked.

Hermione smiled and looked up at Severus. She could barely speak, so the explanations were all up to him this time.    
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