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Hermione sat next to Ron on the train, which was speeding away from Hogwarts after Headmaster Dumbledore's funeral. Harry and Ginny were sitting in the seat opposite, holding hands. Ginny was gazing morosely out of the window. It was quiet on the train; the usual happy chatter of laughing students headed home for the summer was absent. Hermione had “Hogwarts: A History” open on her lap and she gazed unseeing at the page. Her mind was a confused jumble of thoughts.

Severus killed Dumbledore.

No. I don't believe it.
Yes. Harry saw it happen.
No. Why would Severus do something like that?
How could he?

There had to be some other explanation for what he did. After all, hadn't Snape said to her the day after Boxing Day:

"No matter what happens. No matter how terrible my actions appear. Don’t believe the worst of me. I am, and will be until the Dark Lord is defeated, acting on Dumbledore's orders."

Hermione closed her eyes and let her mind drift back to Boxing Day...

~~~***~~~

It had been a typical Christmas at the Granger's. Relatives filled the small house and there had been much laughter, too many gifts and too much food. Hermione had been invited to the Weasley's as usual, but her parents' letter asking her to spend the holiday at home this year was so heartfelt, she couldn't say no. The tension between her and Ron because of his relationship with Lavender had also weighed heavily in her decision.

Now that the actual day was past, Hermione sat on the futon in her bedroom with a book in her hands and gazed unseeing at the wall. She wished she could go to Hogwarts. She loved her family dearly, but she missed the magical world, which was coming to feel more like home to her every year.

A gentle knock on her bedroom door startled her out of her thoughts. "Come in."

The door opened and her mother's smiling face appeared. "Hermione, we thought we'd go to the pictures. Would you like to join us?"

"No thanks, Mum. I think I'd rather stay home. After all the excitement yesterday, I'm craving a bit of quiet. Maybe I'll take a walk or something. You don't mind, do you?"

"Of course not, dear. We'll probably nip round the pub after, so we may be late getting back."

"No worries, Mum. There's plenty of food in the house if I get hungry. Have fun!"

Her mother waved and withdrew, closing the bedroom door softly. Before long, Hermione heard the front door slam. She heaved a sigh of relief. Alone at last. She tried to read, but felt restless and put her book aside with a frown. Perhaps some fresh air was just what she needed. Hermione tucked her wand into the back pocket of her jeans and shrugged into her coat, hat, scarf and gloves. Then she headed down the stairs and stepped out into the cold late afternoon air.

The young witch walked toward the town square, enjoying the storefront decorations, the fairy lights and the quiet of the twilight hour. As sunset changed the sky to indigo, the full moon soon shone silver-white in the evening sky. She had turned for home, and had just passed the pub, when she heard the first howl. The hairs on the back of Hermione's neck stood up and her heart pounded as she quickened her pace.

A second howl was followed closely by a third. She glanced around and then drew her wand, holding it in her hand, hidden by her coat sleeve. She well remembered that howl, and she knew it was no dog. Soon Hermione heard the vicious snarling and growling of a canine fight emanating from the alley just ahead.

The alley that stood between her and home.

Hermione gripped her wand tighter. She crept forward carefully, watchfully and with grim determination. The snarls and growls became louder and more violent, culminating in a yelp of pain. She flattened herself against the brick wall of the building. Her heart pounded adrenaline through her body as she approached the source of those terrible sounds. She reached the corner and pressed her face against the brick, peering into the alley with one eye. Her blood froze.

A massive grey-black werewolf with matted fur and ragged ears was advancing—hackles raised and teeth bared—on a smaller lupine, which was crouched, wounded, bleeding and growling, against the back corner of the alley. Hermione's eyes widened. She had seen the smaller werewolf before—on Hogwarts grounds—under the Whomping Willow her Third Year.

It was Remus Lupin. And from the look of things, he was in real trouble. The larger werewolf charged forward, teeth bared, aiming for the throat of his opponent. Lupin managed to turn at the last moment. Instead of tearing out his throat, the razor-sharp teeth ripped into his side, and he fell to the ground with an agonized yelp next to the far wall of the alley.

The ragged wolf gathered himself for another attack and Hermione knew she only had one chance. She pointed her wand around the corner and thought:

Stupefy!

The silent spell hit the big werewolf and he dropped like a stone. Hermione entered the alley, holding her wand in front of her like a sword. The stench of blood and filth assaulted her as she crept past the unconscious grey wolf. She breathed through her mouth as she moved around him and advanced cautiously toward Lupin. She stopped about a meter away and was not surprised to find that, in spite of his grievous wounds; the former professor growled and snapped his jaws at her.

"Hello, Remus," she murmured. "I don’t know if you can understand me or not—but I'm going to try to help you." Hermione pointed her wand at him. "Stupefy."

Lupin collapsed as he lost consciousness. Hermione moved closer to examine him and her eyes widened in horror. He had several nasty bites, but the worst was the wound on his side. A large piece of his fur and flesh had been torn away to the bone, leaving a gaping, bloody hole and several ribs exposed. She used her wand to ease the flap of flesh back into place and then covered it with some newspaper she found nearby. She sat back on her heels, fighting down the nausea which threatened to overwhelm her. Hermione knew she needed help. If a healer didn't treat him soon, Lupin would surely die.

But whom could she contact? Hermione kicked some boxes and trash over the grey wolf to hide him, and then she hurried toward her home ticking off names in her head as she ran.

Not Harry, not Ron...none of the Weasleys. Dumbledore was away on another one of his mysterious missions, so he was out. Professor McGonagall. Yes. Her Head of House would know what to do.

Hermione reached the house and bolted up the stairs to her room. She threw herself into her desk chair, retrieved a piece of parchment, found a quill and dipped it into the ink.


“Professor McGonagall—

I rescued Professor Lupin from an attack by another werewolf who I'm pretty sure is Fenrir Greyback.
Lupin is badly hurt and I don't know what to do.
Please send help, as I'm not sure how long he will last without medical care.
I had to use magic, but it was the only way to save him and myself.

Thank you from Hermione.”

She rolled up and sealed the parchment, and then hurried down the stairs to the sitting room. In a large cage in the corner was the Tawny Owl her parents owned. He hooted at her quizzically when she opened the cage.

"Mercury, I need you to take this to Professor McGonagall just as fast as you can." She tied the roll of parchment onto his leg. "It’s a matter of life and death." He hooted in reply as Hermione carried him to the front door. "Please hurry." She threw him into the air.

Hermione ran back to her room, grabbed her backpack and dumped the contents onto the futon. She stuffed a blanket inside then hurried to the bathroom where she added some gauze, a nearly-full bottle of peroxide and a tube of antibiotic ointment. She threw the backpack over her shoulder, dashed downstairs and out into the back garden. She retrieved her old wagon and a torch from the shed, and took the lot back to the alley.

Everything was exactly as she had left it. Both the brutish-looking werewolf, who she was convinced was Fenrir Greyback, and Lupin were still unconscious where she'd left them. Hermione hurried to Lupin's side and crouched down. As she emptied her backpack, she couldn't help noticing how shallow his breathing had become.

"Hang on, Remus." She opened the bottle of peroxide, poured it over the worst of his wounds, and watched it sizzle and foam as it worked. When the foam had settled, she daubed the wounds with a piece of gauze and then squeezed the ointment onto the horrific tear in his side. It was hardly adequate for the job, but it was all she had. She emptied the tube and tossed it aside, then folded the rest of the gauze and laid it gently over the wound. After she finished, she covered him with the blanket. She'd done her best until help arrived.

Hermione knew she could not lift Lupin, nor should she try. Mentally thanking Snape for teaching nonverbal spells this year, Hermione looked over her shoulder to make sure she was alone, then drew her wand and pointed it at Lupin.

"Mobilicorpus."

She guided the large wolf-body into the wagon and rearranged the blanket so his head and wounds were not visible. His nose, his tail and hind legs were sticking out, but Hermione hoped that if anyone saw them, they would think he was just a big dog. She cast a warming charm over him and then tucked her wand into her pocket. She pulled the wagon out of the alley and headed home.

It was the longest, most nerve-wracking walk Hermione had ever endured. She thanked her good fortune it was a cold Boxing Day, so there weren't too many people out and about. Everyone she passed nodded or made a comment about the "dog" in the wagon. She stopped for no one. The curious were brushed off with a hurried comment about a beloved pet attacked by another animal. When she finally rounded the last corner and her house came into view, Hermione felt a little of her anxiety subside. Finally, finally she reached the front garden. She pulled the wagon through the gate and was making her way up the walk toward the front door when she heard the familiar crack of Apparition. Relief flooded through her. Help had arrived with perfect timing.

"Thank goodness you got here so quickly, Professor—" Hermione turned and her jaw dropped.

"...Snape?"

Severus Snape was standing in her front garden, holding his potions bag. Her heart skipped a beat. She had expected Madam Pomfrey or perhaps Professor Slughorn. To have Severus Snape at her home was almost beyond belief. He was bad-tempered, to be sure, but she'd always admired his intelligence. Most of her friends were convinced that he was working for You-Know-Who, but the way Hermione looked at it, if Dumbledore trusted him, then she did too.

"Close your mouth, Miss Granger." Snape said with a touch of irritation. "We must get him out of sight."

Hermione recovered quickly and nodded. "Of course. We can take him inside, there's no one else at home right now. My room is at the top of the stairs."

Snape glanced around and then cast Mobilicorpus, and Lupin's body rose. Hermione shoved the wagon behind a shrub, grabbed her backpack, and then led the way through the front door. She shrugged off her coat, took off her hat and removed her gloves as she led Snape up the stairs and into her bedroom.

She gathered her books off the futon, pulled it flat, and then stepped aside. "You can put him over here." She banished her books, coat, hat and gloves to her wardrobe.

After Snape set Lupin down, he removed the blanket and the gauze. He examined the wounds intently while he removed his cloak and laid it on the futon beside the unconscious werewolf.

"What did you use on these wounds?"

"Some peroxide and an antibacterial ointment. The werewolf that attacked him was—" Hermione couldn't suppress a shudder. "Filthy. I didn’t know how soon someone would get here and I was afraid of infection."

Snape grunted in acknowledgement as he opened his satchel. He withdrew two potion bottles and a pair of dragon-hide gloves. “I will require your assistance for a moment, Miss Granger."

Her heart leaped into her throat. He was going to allow her to assist him?

"And then I will require you to stay out of my way."

Then again, maybe not. Bollocks. Hermione smothered her disappointment. "Yes, Professor," she managed. "What do you want me to do?"

Snape handed her a bottle. "After I get his mouth open, give him this one. It's Blood Replenishing potion." He answered her unasked question.

Hermione nodded and uncorked the bottle. Snape pulled on the gloves, sat on the futon and pulled Lupin's head into his lap, snout up. Then he gripped the wolf's snout and jaw, pried open his mouth and nodded to her. Hermione uncorked the bottle and poured the potion in. When the bottle was empty, Snape held the wolf's mouth closed and rubbed its throat. After Lupin swallowed reflexively, Snape lowered the werewolf's head gently, got to his feet, then took the other bottle and sprinkled it across his wounds.

"Is that Essence of Dittany?" she asked.

"Yes. I find that it is an excellent healing potion on its own. It's also excellent as an addition to a poultice. I keep some with me at all times." He paused long enough to meet her gaze. "And so should you." Snape cast a cleansing spell and removed his gloves as he moved to stand in front of her desk. He waved a hand over it and her parchment, books and other things cleared a space. Another wave turned the smooth surface into stone similar to the tables in the potions classroom. He moved the desk chair to one side, summoned his satchel, and opened it. He removed a couple of silver knives and then the ingredients he needed, laying them out neatly on the new working surface.

"Miss Granger, I require your size two copper cauldron."

"Yes, sir." Hermione scrambled to retrieve the requested item from her wardrobe. He took it from her, set it up on her desk and lit a fire under it.

As Snape busied himself preparing his ingredients, Hermione took off her trainers, and then curled up in her desk chair. She loved observing him at work and hadn't gotten nearly enough chances during school. And she had definitely never been this close. Watching Snape work on a potion was almost like watching ballet. His movements were both graceful and precise as he cut, measured and stirred the ingredients for the poultice. With the suddenness of a Stunner, she realized that she was in the presence of a true 'Potions Master'. Her next thought was that Professor Snape had never received anything like enough credit, nor respect, from anyone. Especially her friends, who regularly slagged him off. Professor Snape might be unpleasant in class, but he was an expert in his field and didn't deserve their disdain. Hermione was overwhelmed with the realization that Severus Snape was quite a remarkable wizard indeed.

Attractive too, came the unbidden, surprising observation. Hermione focused her attention on the wizard before her and scrutinized him as objectively as she could. His attractiveness could not be said to be in the same category as pretty boys like Pierce Brosnan or Gilderoy Lockhart. His nose was too large and his skin too pale. And then there was his hair, which was usually oily from hunching over simmering cauldrons all day, and always seemed to be in his face. Although, today, it fell forward in a smooth black ripple like the finest silk and was as shiny as a raven's wing. He would never be considered 'handsome' in the conventional sense. But once you considered his eyes…you could get lost in those fathomless black eyes. Hermione surmised that Snape's attractiveness came down to his eyes, his intelligence and his grace with a wand or stirring rod. She focused on his hands, slim and elegant, as Snape continued to work.

I wonder how those hands might feel against my skin? That thought sent exciting shivers of warmth zinging through her body. Hermione didn't realize that her gaze had become hot, and a bit predatory, as her imagination took flight.

Snape glanced at her and did a small double-take. His eyes widened in surprise, and then quickly shuttered. He returned his attention to the cauldron-full of ingredients in front of him and scowled as he continued to stir.

"You are staring, Miss Granger."

Hermione flushed. "Forgive me, Professor. I can't help it. I am enjoying watching you work. When you were teaching potions, it was always such a treat for me when you would demonstrate a technique yourself. It didn't happen often enough. Now that you’re teaching Defense Against the Dark Arts—well—I am going to say something I bet you never thought you'd hear: I miss your expertise in Potions class."

Snape's lip curled as he poured the rest of the Dittany into the cauldron and murmured an incantation as he stirred. When he'd stirred the prescribed number of times, he pointed his wand at the mixture and said, "Fervens." Steam rose from inside the cauldron as it warmed.

Snape flicked a glance at her. "I was under the impression that you are a member of the—" He paused fractionally. "Slug Club." Scorn dripped from his words.

"Well, yes," Hermione said. "But that club is really more about Professor Slughorn's ego, isn't it? I may be a member, but for your information, I don't think he is a more skilled potioneer than you. I never have done." She huffed.

Snape's snort conveyed his disbelief.

Hermione played her trump card. "Obviously Professor McGonagall doesn't either—because she sent you, not Professor Slughorn, when I owled her."

He remained silent, but Hermione had the impression that Snape was pleased. He donned the dragon hide gloves once more, levitated the cauldron over to the futon, and then reached into it and scooped some of the glutinous mash out. He bent and gently smoothed it over Lupin's wounds. When he finished, the werewolf whined and then was still. Snape covered him with the blanket once more and then cast another Stupefy.

"I've done all I can do for the moment." A muttered Scourgify cleaned the gloves, cauldron and desk. He removed the gloves and a wave of his hand returned his things to his satchel. Another returned her desk to its normal state.

"I guess you'll be taking him back to Hogwarts now?" Hermione asked.

Snape frowned. "It would be dangerous, perhaps even fatal, to Apparate him in this condition. The Knight Bus is out for the same reason. Since Dumbledore wants him alive to carry out that hair-brained scheme of his--werewolf diplomacy, I ask you!--I daren't risk moving him until he's more stable."

"He can stay here overnight, Professor." Hermione offered. "I'll watch over him and owl you if there is any change."

Snape's eyebrows climbed to his hairline. He crossed his arms over his chest. "Do you honestly believe that I would leave you alone and defenseless, during the full moon, with a werewolf in your bedroom?" He said with considerable disbelief. "I don't like to think what Professor McGonagall would say. Or do." He looked into her eyes. "I will have to remain here with Lupin."

Hermione felt as though she was plunging into the depths of his inscrutable black eyes. A shiver radiated across her body.

"Remain here?" She whispered. "Of course, you must remain here." Hermione couldn't tear her gaze away, and Snape's magnetism drew her from the chair. She walked toward him until she stood a hairsbreadth away. Her heart was thundering in her ears and desire pooled low in her belly. Even though Snape hadn't moved, she could see his pulse quicken in his throat. Before she could talk herself out of it, Hermione stood on tiptoe, closed her eyes, and pressed her lips against his. His lips were soft and warm—and unresponsive. She opened her eyes. Snape's eyes were impossibly close, impossibly black and impossibly intense.

"Miss. Granger." Snape's breath was warm against her lips, and his sensual baritone sent another thrill through her. She'd heard the tiniest of tremors when he said her name.

Hermione made no attempt to move away. "Yes, Professor Snape?" The energy that crackled between them was intoxicating.

"What the bloody hell do you think you're playing at?"

Hermione wouldn't have answered that question, even if she was so inclined. Her one thought was that she might never have another chance like this, and she didn't intend to waste it.

"Kissing you." She closed the infinitesimal space between their bodies. "Been wondering what it would be like." She captured his lips with hers once again.

Her heart sang when Snape cupped her face with his hands, took control, and devoured her lips with his. She wrapped her arms around his neck and melted against him. He teased the line of her lips with his tongue and, when she opened, he plunged in and explored her mouth. He released her lips, nibbled his way along her jaw until he reached her ear.

"Curiosity satisfied?" He traced the shell of her ear with the tip of his tongue.

"Not. Even. Close." Hermione went in for another taste. Delightful shivers fluttered through her and Snape wasn't immune. Hermione felt his reaction in the form of his impressive erection between them. He tore his lips from hers with a suddenness that surprised her, and then crushed her to him and buried his face in her hair. Hermione was astounded to feel him trembling. Instinctively, she wrapped her arms around him and held him.

His voice was hoarse with longing. "Miss Granger—Hermione—we... should not…continue..."

She tightened her embrace. "For tonight," she whispered, "...there can be no 'should' or 'should not'. There is no one in the world except for you and me...Sev-Severus."

He tried to pull away. "You. Are. A. Student."

She tightened her embrace. "I am of age. And...I-I think it will be a very long time before things are 'normal' again in the Wizarding world. Is it so wrong for you, or me, to steal a bit of closeness and comfort before everything goes to hell?"

"No, it isn't wrong. In fact, that is precisely what you should be doing. With someone...else...someone your age…someone who does not have the responsibilities to Hogwarts and the Order which weigh upon me." He pulled back slightly, brushed her hair from her cheek, and looked directly into her eyes. "I fear what we are contemplating is an act of recklessness. Folly." He dug his fingers into her shoulders for emphasis.

Hermione met his gaze defiantly. "I've noticed that your responsibilities always manage to preclude any sort of closeness or comfort for you." She cupped his face with her hand. "And I know that you need those things too--more than just about anyone, I think. War is coming. In wartime, the usual rules do not apply." She pulled his head down and breathed, "I'm offering you both closeness and comfort--for this one night." She kissed him softly. "Make love to me, Severus."

Snape's resolve shattered. He crushed her to him and lowered his mouth to hers once more. His kiss was unrestrained, almost savage with need. Snape ground his hardness against her, and ignited an erotic firestorm which flamed though her body. Hermione fisted her hands in his hair, oh, Merlin, it's as soft as it looks and kissed him back hard. He relinquished her lips to blaze a trail of hot, open-mouthed kisses down her neck. At the same time, he cupped her breasts and teased her nipples to hardness through the fabric of her clothing.

Hermione was a quivering mass of sensation. Snape drew responses from her body that guys her age never had. This was a man's touch. Certain and experienced. It was erotic, electric, and sent sparks crackling along all of her nerve endings. Severus slid his hands from her breasts in order to undo the buttons on her blouse. He slid it off and feasted on her with his eyes. Another shiver skittered across her body and left gooseflesh in its wake. He found the button of her jeans and flipped it open. It seemed to take him forever to slide the zip down. When Hermione tried to hurry him along, Severus gently—but firmly—placed her hands back at her sides. His mouth twitched up on one side in the closest thing to a genuine smile Hermione had ever seen.

"Don't be in such a hurry."

Then he bent and captured a lace-covered nipple in his mouth and suckled. Hermione gasped. He released it just as suddenly and his glittering black eyes met hers. "I intend to savor the beautiful gift you've offered to me tonight."

Snape Summoned his wand. He cast a Muggle-repelling charm and Silencio on the room, and then he conjured a curtain between the unconscious werewolf and the bed. Lastly, he cast a contraception charm on himself. He toed off his shoes, pocketed his wand, and then shrugged off his robes. After draping them over the chair, Snape turned to her once more. He stood perfectly still as he looked her over from head to toe.

Hermione quivered under his examination and wondered what he saw when he looked at her. She knew her hair was a wild tangle of curls haloing her head. Her cheeks felt hot and her skin prickled in gooseflesh. Her nipples were hard and ached to be touched once more. Hermione felt warm wetness between her legs. Her jeans were undone and hung loosely on her hips.

His eyes flashed with heat when they met hers once again. "You are exquisite." Hermione flushed with pleasure.

Severus raised his hands in order to unbutton his frock coat. Hermione covered them with hers and stopped him. "May I?" She asked. "Believe it or not...I've fantasized about undoing all those buttons..."

His mouth quirked into the half-smile she was coming to adore and he dropped his hands. Hermione slid hers along the wool-covered planes of his chest until she reached the top button. She slipped each one through it's buttonhole slowly until they were all open. Then she pushed her hands underneath the coat, over his shoulders and slipped it off. She sent it over to the chair with a thought. She repeated the process with his shirt and added open-mouthed kisses every time she opened another. When she finished, she flung the shirt away and devoured him with her eyes.

Severus' skin was pale to the point of translucence. It seemed the man never met a dungeon he didn't spend all day in. His ebony hair fell past his well-muscled shoulders and the strands across his face stood out in stark relief against his pale skin. A fine dusting of black hair drew her eye across his chest and down his flat belly. The line disappeared into the waistband of his impressively tented trousers. Snape's hips were slim, his legs were long, and if he didn't touch her soon, Hermione thought she might just go mad with desire.

Severus seemed to sense her thoughts. He pinned her in place with his scorching gaze and reached behind her, unfastened her bra, and pulled it off. Hermione fought the reflexive urge to cover herself and instead, kept her eyes locked on his. Severus gathered her into his arms, pulled her close, and lowered his mouth to hers. He kissed her slowly, savoring her mouth and lips. Hermione threaded her fingers into his hair. She pressed her breasts against his chest, and reveled in the feeling of his bare skin next to hers. He abandoned her lips to kiss his way downward until, finally, he tasted her aching nipple. He drew the hard peak into his hot mouth and sucked while he pinched the other with his fingers. Hermione arched her back and gasped as the twin sensations sparked and spread outward, reigniting the conflagration within. Snape did not neglect the other breast, trailing fiery kisses across her chest to suckle there, too. He trailed his fingers along the curve of her back when he reached the waistband of her jeans he hooked his fingers underneath and pushed them to the floor.

His hands caressed her bum and pulled her hard against his erection with a growl.

Hermione ground herself against his hardness for a moment then leaned forward, breaking the intimate contact, and kissed his chest. She ran her hands over his shoulders, along his chest and then down his quivering stomach. She found his trouser buttons and went to work on them. Severus made it difficult for her when he slipped his hand into her knickers, and a finger into her pussy. She gasped and then turned the tables on him by pushing off his trousers and boxers, freeing his cock, which sprang to attention. Hermione wrapped her hand around the shaft, eliciting a groan of pleasure from him. She stroked it with agonizing slowness, exploring its velvet encased steel. When she got to the head, she pushed the foreskin back and spread the pre-come over the head. He grabbed her wrist with a growl.

"If you keep that up, it'll be over too soon."

Severus banished the rest of their clothing to the chair, then he lifted Hermione into his arms and carried her to the bed. He laid her down gently and she opened her arms in a silent invitation to join her. He smirked, mounted the bed at her feet, and crawled between her legs. He gently pushed her thighs apart, and kissed her mons. Hermione gasped when he spread her nether lips, and she nearly screamed when he took a long, slow taste.

No one had EVER done THAT. Oh, Merlin, it was amazing.

Severus explored her leisurely with his tongue. Passion magnified within Hermione when he licked and teased her clitoris until pleasure drove every coherent thought from her head. Her entire world was reduced to Severus Snape and his magnificent tongue. He brought her to the brink of orgasm once, twice and a third time, without tipping her over the edge. She had never experienced anything that felt so good. She arched her hips and he pressed her back down and continued his assault on her clitoris. And then, she felt him slide two fingers into her, and then out again. His tongue on her clit, combined with the slow, sensual slide of his fingers into and out of her pussy, had Hermione bucking her hips, and begging him for release. When she thought she would go mad from the ecstasy, Snape added a third finger, and simultaneously sucked her clit hard. Hermione wailed as her orgasm exploded across her body. It felt so good, so good, yet she needed something more...

"Oh, gods, Severus—please… I need...I need..."

Hermione arched her hips in entreaty. His eyes never left hers as he knelt between her thighs and pressed the head of his cock into her. She felt her body stretch to accommodate him and a moan was ripped from her. When he was fully seated, Severus paused with a frown.

"Merlin, Hermione," he gasped. "Are you... a virgin?"

Her eyes met his. "Not anymore." She breathed.

"You didn't feel the need to inform me of this because...?"

He was driving her insane with desire and he hadn't moved yet. "Because...if I had...you wouldn't...and I-I didn't want such an insignificant thing to stop...this...oh, Severus, it doesn't hurt...it's wonderful...please, please don't stop..."

"So very Slytherin of you..." He leaned forward and captured her lips in a luxuriant kiss as he rocked his hips, pulling out a little, then pushing back in as he helped her body to adjust.

Hermione regretted nothing. His lips caressed hers gently and she felt so full and his cock felt so good and so right and this was the best feeling in the world. She mewled an entreaty and then Severus began to move in a slow, steady rhythm. Hermione pushed his hair back and saw that his face was contorted with the effort he made to go carefully.

"Severus, please," she gasped. "I need more...want more. I trust you." She touched her nose to his, looked deep into his eyes and whispered. "Let go."

A moan was torn from his lips. Severus closed his eyes and drove into her hard and fast. Her hips rose to meet his thrusts and a keening whine was torn from her throat. When he reached between them and rubbed her clit, Hermione shattered. Her pussy convulsed around his cock and with a last thrust, Severus' entire body stiffened. He groaned with pleasure as his orgasm overtook him. His cock pulsed as his hot seed filled her, and then he collapsed on top of her, breathing hard. Hermione wrapped her arms and legs around him and buried her face between his neck and shoulder.

Once his breathing returned to normal, he raised up on his elbows, cradled her face in his hands, and looked into her eyes. She felt him slip into her mind for a moment and she knew he saw nothing but warmth and affection. Severus leaned his forehead against hers and sighed. "Oh, Hermione. I'm overwhelmed and humbled by you."

Emotion filled her until it overflowed in the form of tears. She slid her hands into his hair and pushed it back. He looked into her eyes again as he brushed her tears away with his thumbs. "And I, you, Severus."

He kissed her softly, slipped out of her, and then cast a cleansing charm with a thought. He settled against the pillows and pulled her into his arms.

Hermione laid her head on his chest with a contented sigh and let his heartbeat lull her to sleep.

~~~***~~~

The next morning, Hermione awoke to Severus’ enigmatic black eyes gazing down at her. When she smiled, he leaned down and caressed her lips with a lingering kiss. He pulled away gently, and cupped her face with his hand. He studied her for several minutes in silence until, with a sigh of regret, he rose and pulled his trousers on. Hermione watched in silence as he vanished the curtain he had created the night before and checked on Lupin. She noticed idly that the poultice had dried on the wounds. Lupin appeared to be merely a sleeping wolf. Snape examined him with satisfaction.

"Lupin is strong enough to Apparate with me, now,” he said. “I must get him back to the castle at once."

"Of course."

Hermione told herself that she would not cry but her eyes stung as she watched Snape shrug into his shirt and coat. He turned to face her and she made no attempt to cover her nakedness or her distress. He walked over and sat down on the side of the bed, stroked his knuckles across her cheek, and looked deeply into her eyes.

“Hermione,” he said. “I will treasure the memory of last night for as long as I live. It was a gift beyond measure."

She looked away. "Damn it. I wasn't going to cry." A tear she couldn’t stop trickled down her cheek.

Snape took her chin and gently turned her to face him. Using his thumb, he wiped the tear away. "Hermione, we both know that we have to put this behind us—until after the war."

"I know." Her smile was watery. "I-I thought it would be easier--before."

She watched him as he looked at his hands and the silence stretched between them. He composed his thoughts, then lifted his head and looked into her eyes once more.

"Hermione, you are a remarkable person. You have been called the cleverest witch of your age. I believe that to be true." His mouth twitched into a smile at her expression. "Does that surprise you? I suppose it must since I can't say such things at school." He sobered. "As you know, there are terrible things happening—and more to come. Things that I must be a part of, for good or ill. Things that I hope do not touch you in any horrific way, although, because of your friendship with Potter, I know that hope is in vain." He sighed heavily and rubbed his temples. "I am not saying this very well, I have been so long out of the practice of speaking softly, I seem to have lost the knack. What I want to communicate to you is simply this: Do whatever you can to survive the coming difficulties. I vow to you that I will do the same. If by some miracle we both live and the Dark Lord is defeated…perhaps we can find each other again when it's all over." He focused his dark eyes on hers. "I would like to...explore the possibilities...with you. If you wish. The decision will be yours when the time comes."

Hermione's eyes filled with the tears she could no longer hold back. "I do wish it." She pulled herself into his lap and sobbed against his chest. Severus held her close and rested his cheek on her head. After a few minutes, Hermione's tears stopped. She felt his heart beating, and tried to memorize the sound. She also committed to her memory the feel of his strong arms around her, his warmth, his scent. After several minutes, she sighed and raised her face to look at his. This was not a face one could forget. She smiled through her tears, reached up and pulled Snape’s head down so she could kiss him. She caressed his soft lips with hers and hoped it would not be too long before she felt them again.

After she drew away, she whispered. "You take your own advice, Severus Snape. I expect you to come and find me after the war."

He squeezed her, gently moved her off of his lap, and rose. He looked into her eyes and said solemnly: "I will, I promise." Then, he strode over to the futon, wrapped the still-unconscious Lupin in his cloak and hoisted the werewolf into his arms. As he prepared to Apparate he said:

"One more thing. No matter what happens. No matter how terrible my actions appear... Don't believe the worst of me. I am, and will be until the Dark Lord is defeated, acting on Dumbledore's orders."

She cocked her head and looked at him. "I have faith in you, Severus. And I will continue to do so. I promise."

The relief on his face was palpable. "Thank you. One day I will tell you what your promise means to me. You understand, nothing can appear to be changed between us at Hogwarts?"

Hermione gave him a watery smile and nodded. "I expect you to be the same miserable git everyone else thinks you are."

"No worries there. I'll see you in class after the holidays."

"Okay."

"Good-bye, Hermione."

“Good-bye, Severus."

With the familiar loud crack, he Disapparated.

~~~***~~~

The Hogwarts Express chugged its way back toward London and Hermione pondered all of the things that Snape had said that day. "No matter how terrible my actions appear. Don't believe the worst of me. I am, and will be until the Dark Lord is defeated, acting on Dumbledore's orders." Including killing him? Hermione wondered. Had Severus known even then what direction his life would take? Acting under Dumbledore's orders was the only way the horrific events of the last few days made any sense. Yes, Hermione thought. I still trust him. And I'm going to keep my promise.