A/N: The following "sprinkle" of one-shots are dedicated to a very dear friend of mine, Asia, whom I offer these to with love and appreciation. She's been supporting my writing since I nervously first stepped into fanfic some three years ago(!), and, in addition to her steadfast friendship, she's also gifted me with numerous beautiful photo manips over the years for my Unquestionable Love stories, all out of the goodness of her heart and without me asking them of her. You can find links to them on my Profile, and I highly encourage you to check out her wonderful work. She's so talented and her SSHG pieces are a real treat to our fandom.

As compensation for gifting me with such wonderful artwork, and for all her unwavering support, I approached Asia recently about possibly gifting her with some SSHG prompts she'd like to see brought to life. She bestowed me with some wickedly angsty scenarios (yes, be forewarned!) to write about, so here are the results!

Asia, I sincerely hope these little stories meet with your expectations. To anyone else who chooses to follow, I'm humbled to have you along. And feel free to let me know what you think about these angsty pieces. Without your thoughts, it isn't worth sharing. Many thanks, as always, to my lovely beta, Brittny, for helping me bring Asia's prompts to fruition.

Disclaimer: Harry Potter is copyrighted to and belongs to JK Rowling. I'm just playing in her sandbox. No money, just fun.

Breaking Barriers: Told in Three Parts

By CRMediaGal

Prompter: Asia (aka PiccolaScintilla)
Post-Hogwarts, and Voldemort is still alive and at war with Wizarding Britain. Hermione and Severus are secretly in love with each other, and Severus is still a spy for the Order. During a meeting with surviving Order members, Severus shows up badly injured, which prompts the reveal of their secret love affair and newfound understanding by all as to where Severus's loyalties truly lie.


"Sometimes you have to embrace the darkness to stop it."
― Megan Shepherd

The nagging twist in Hermione's gut told her that something must be horribly wrong. Severus was late. Not that that was particularly unusual. He tended to show up at these late-night gatherings following the rest of them, seeing as, unlike everyone else situated comfortably in the Lupins' cozy dwelling on the outskirts of civilisation, he had a deranged psychopath to toe the line with, in addition to following Dumbledore's and the Order's every finger-biting command.

The only other person to ever acknowledge the spy's tardy entrance (as subtly as she could attempt) aside from Dumbledore was Hermione. She was the only surviving Order member who seemingly gave a damn whether the wizard showed up for these meetings at all or stayed away, either by force or by choice. No one else was particularly assuaged to see Severus Snape come sauntering into the room in those billowing black robes of his and wearing that formidable sneer of disdain that kept everyone easily at an arm's length.

At one time—well, for many years, in fact—that had been Hermione, too. Unforeseen circumstances had brought her and her former professor together. She'd been severely wounded following the battle at Hogwarts, thanks to a curse which was intended to hit another target and backfired; it wound up knocking her sideways and leaving multiple slashes on her back. Having already been stationed on the edge of the school grounds, Hermione crawled her way into the Forbidden Forest amid the chaos and destruction, bloodied and battered but alive. It wasn't long after that unfortunate blow that the school was overrun, the Dark Lord and his Death Eaters scouring the grounds in search of survivors. Those worth taking hostage were immediately seized and tortured; those too weak to be taken into custody were murdered on the spot and discarded.

By night-time, and on the brink of consciousness, sweating and breathing raggedly from exerting what little energy she had left, Hermione succumbed to her inflictions and passed out somewhere in the thick of the forest. When she next awoke, she was in a dimly lit room at Grimmauld Place, laying in a comfortable four-poster bed, and had been placed in the most unexpected hands: Severus Snape's. Naturally, he'd griped profusely about looking after her—not that it was a particular luxury she desired herself—but, after some time passed in his persistent and steady company, the man's acerbic tongue grew less bothersome, for it wasn't enough to conceal the delicacy with which he attended her wounds. His words may have been cutting and bordered on rude most of the time, but his impressive nursing tactics most certainly were not.

Whilst Hermione slowly recovered, confined to bed rest for over two weeks without visits from friends, Severus had fed her every meal, administered each potion and ointment himself, and went as far as to refute anyone who attempted to intervene in her care, including Harry and Ron and even Ginny, all of whom, like Hermione, didn't understand the man's stubborn insistence on taking care of her when he'd overtly repudiated her for years.

"You don't have to do this," Hermione tried to reason with him on more than one confusing occasion. Her quiet attempts to dissuade the professor were met by the same squinted eyes and puzzling sort of frown.

"I wouldn't if you were fine, would I, Miss Granger?"

As it turned out, that confounding remark could be interpreted more than one way. Was he taking care of her strictly because it was necessary, because he didn't think Potter, the Weasleys, or any other Order member capable of the task; or was it, in fact, because underneath that spine-inducing sneer of his he actually cared about her well-being?

Such perplexities were only the beginnings of the intrigue and attraction that would follow and grow in the months to come. Those dexterous hands, too, hadn't helped Hermione make better sense of matters, either; but, ultimately, she wouldn't have had their paths play out any other way—not if it meant falling head-over-heels in love with her snarky bastard in the end.

Loving Severus Snape wasn't easy. A relationship with Ron would be a breezy walk in the park by comparison, but, no, Hermione wanted nothing else but this.

No one else but Severus.

As she would discover in the months ahead, Severus's terribly wounded heart wasn't so easily accessible, and, even in private, he wasn't as openly affectionate a lover as she. Although Hermione never saw the need to question his regard for her, being with someone who wasn't an open book was trying in many respects, not to mention entirely new territory. His affections hadn't been declared yet, only sensed, and yet, any verbal communications weren't a necessity from Hermione's view.

Severus Snape was reticent and restrained, his emotions ranging from passive to dogmatic without warning. He could be emotionally cruel and dismissive to her one moment, particularly when he was under tremendous strains from the Dark Lord or Dumbledore or both masters at once, and clingy and all over her the next, as if he were fearful she might disappear on him in a cloud of smoke.

Yet Hermione wouldn't have had the convoluted puzzle that was Severus Snape any other way—no matter how damaged, irrevocably broken, or fragmented around the edges he may be. He wasn't her pet project to alter and fashion into a Glamour more fanciful and romantic. He was hers and she was his—in all their messy, unsophisticated glory—and it was far from perfect, but it was enough.

Of course, no one knew. It had remained their unspoken arrangement; their enticing little secret, which didn't dirty Hermione's soul, though it did leave her pining for translucence and clarity. Perhaps whenever this bloody war finally ended (provided they both came out alive, which Hermione hated to think about), they might be able to start fresh; to be honest and open with everyone they knew instead of hiding their affections for one another behind brief hooded gazes or brushing hands in corridors when one was coming and the other was going.

They never discussed the future. The one time Hermione had tried to broach the sensitive topic Severus turned taciturn and withdrew from her, the echo of his silence speaking louder than words could candidly express, so she never approached him about it again. The future was too raw, too unpredictable, too horrible and frightening.

Thus, Hermione couldn't prevent twiddling her hands beneath the dining table, where she and the rest of the Order, or what was left of them, had congregated for tonight's meeting. Dumbledore, seated at the head, had started prattling off about the need for more provisions for their group stationed in the Forbidden Forest, but most of Hermione's attention had been on the open doorway at the edge of the room, anxiously waiting for Severus to come strolling through the empty archway. Even if he came sweeping in in a quiet rage, she wouldn't have cared, so long as he showed himself safe and unharmed.

A half hour ticked by at a gruesomely slow pace and, still, there was no sign of Severus. Hermione must have been obvious about checking the clock on the mantle behind the table, because at one point Harry eyed her inquisitively from across the table, mouthing to her in a not-so-subtle manner, asking what was the matter. She shrugged his question off as nonchalantly as possible and turned her head away from the doorway lest she be tempted to keep directing her gaze elsewhere and attracting unwanted attention from her friends. In the case of Ron, it wouldn't have been an issue; he was practically asleep beside Harry, his elbow stretched lazily across the table with his chin slumped in his hand; Minerva McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey were looking on at Dumbledore, their countenances weary but alert, and the Lupins, seated to Hermione's right, were mute and simply holding tightly to each other's hands.

Dumbledore had just started expounding on the latest reports from Kingsley Shacklebolt and Neville Longbottom when the front door could be heard opening and closing, which prompted everyone to turn their heads. Hermione instantly perked up at the familiar sound of impending dragon-hide boots and nearly shot like a canon out of her chair when the very hooked-nosed, ashen-coloured wizard she'd been worried sick about materialised under the archway.

"Severus?" Dumbledore acknowledged first before any of the others, a hint of panic in his voice.

Hermione's initial relief washed away in the next seconds she took in his startling appearance. Severus's coveted black robes were tattered and torn, all but ripped to shreds, and a large trickle of blood had stained the front of his coat. His face, too, as unnaturally pale as it had always been, was covered with a nauseating mixture of blood, sweat, and purple bruises.

Before anyone else, including Dumbledore, could rush to the man's aid, Hermione found her legs reaching him first—no consideration for her public display of concern apparent as she quickly seized him around the waist and uttered his name with such profound alarm that it jolted Ron straight out of his near comatose-like sleep. Harry froze as well, staring on at his frantic friend and the ill-esteemed professor in astonishment.

"Severus, what happened?" Hermione whispered urgently in his ear. He bent forward, issuing a painful-sounding groan, and inclined his head against hers.

"Hermione," he rasped too quietly for anyone else to hear.

Before he could relay anything else to her, Madam Pomfrey and Dumbledore had rushed over and were inquiring as to what had happened, for the moment ignoring Hermione's peculiar attention in light of the wizard's fretful condition. Hermione wouldn't be pushed aside, however. She stood firm where she was, with her hands firmly hugging Severus around the waist.

"Dear boy," Dumbledore murmured, those twinkling eyes of his settling on Severus's shattered face, "you've been through too much this evening."

"D - Dark Lord," Severus convulsed as he tried to relay a message, "suspects... He - He knows..."

"Hush, Severus," Hermione insisted, wrapping her arms around him tighter, "don't try to speak. We need to get your injuries checked out."

"I agree." Madam Pomfrey fussed about removing what was left of Severus's cloak, not missing the ache-filled flinches and moans he made as she did so. "You're bleeding terribly and completely drenched. You need to lie down at once."

Dumbledore stepped closer, as did the rest of the Order, with the exception of Harry and Ron, who remained at a considerable distance, watching what was unfolding like two stunned codfish fresh out of water.

"Severus, did the Dark Lord divulge any information about his plans?"

"Oh, for goodness' sake, Albus," Madam Pomfrey clucked angrily and waved a finger at him, "Severus is in too much pain right now to discuss the Dark Lord with you! He needs medical attention!"

Dumbledore threw up his hands in a swift effort to keep the peace. "I'm simply trying to get to the bottom of what's happened, Poppy."

"I have to agree with Albus, Poppy. If there's any crucial information to report," Remus Lupin chimed in, though somewhat sheepishly, "best to get it out of him now before he passes out."

"Oh, for the love of Merlin!" Madam Pomfrey huffed. McGonagall joined the elderly Mediwitch in pursing her lips disapprovingly at both men. "Your meddlesome tactics can certainly wait a day or two! Look at him! This is nonsense. Severus needs to— Miss Granger, where are you going? Miss Granger! Stop! Where are you taking him?"

"To lie down," Hermione snapped over her shoulder; she and Severus were already slugging their way down the hallway in the direction of the stairs, Severus leaning on her most of the way.

"But Miss Granger—" McGonagall's Scottish cadence crept out from down the hall, but Hermione ignored her protests, too.

"Bring up whatever potions he needs, a hot water bottle, and any other provisions you think necessary. He probably won't each much, but we should have some water and food on hand in case he gets hungry. He hasn't eaten since breakfast."

"No... Don't want...food..."

Severus inhaled sharply as they began ascending the stairs towards what he assumed would be his usual occupied room on the fifth floor. Hermione had other ideas in mind, however. Seeing as the man could barely walk, she wouldn't be having him hike all the way up to the fifth level; her own quarters on the first would suffice, whether he saw fit to row with her about it later on or not.

Angst-ridden footsteps came barrelling up behind them but stopped short of the stoop. "Miss Granger, surely Minerva or I can take matters from here," the Mediwitch suggested with a twinge of anxiety in her tone, but Hermione shot her efforts down without a second thought.

"No, it's all right. I'll look after him. He'll stay in my quarters for the time being."

"Your quarters, Miss Granger?"

"Yes. Until he's well."

No additional arguing followed Hermione's take-charge approach, though she could hear them continuing to whisper excitedly with one another at the bottom of the stairs. It wasn't apparent whatever Harry or Ron were thinking of this whole strange debacle, but their befuddlement and concerns, if any, weren't at the forefront of Hermione's mind. Right now, the person who needed her most was Severus, and he was suffering. Thus, just as he had nursed her back to health so many months ago, Hermione was convinced that her touch—her love—would suit him best now.

"You just...ousted us...I believe," Severus grumbled, pausing to utter several harsh-sounding coughs as they reached the top step.

Hermione didn't think twice about turning on her heel and fervently kissing his wet, bloodied cheek. If any of the Order members were still gathered at the bottom of the stairs and peering up at them then, they'd have surely seen what transpired. Hermione couldn't have given less of a damn.

"I don't care," she hissed with feeling; she gathered Severus closer and led them towards the sanctuary of her room. "I'm going to look after you, whether any of them approve of me doing so or not. Their opinions matter shite now. Let's get you to lie down."

There was a forceful knock at the door not five minutes after they'd entered Hermione's room. She had Severus situated on the bed, though not all that comfortably as he was currently experiencing a high level of pain.

Madam Pomfrey entered her quarters carrying a handful of potions, as well as levitating an assortment of healing supplies that were promptly placed on the bedside table. Hermione was kneeling on the bed and in the midst of unbuttoning Severus's blood-stained frock coat, having already removed his boots. She'd placed a warm, wet cloth over his forehead as well, though he barely comprehended the bustle of his surroundings. His eyelids, droopy and in want of sleep, had fallen shut, whilst his body fought off the excruciating pains that kept striking from every angle.

"Lie still," Hermione hushed him soothingly by stroking his cheek and running the wet cloth around his face, washing away dried blood and perspiration.

She paid no mind to Madam Pomfrey watching her closely or listening in on the words of comfort she offered him. The Mediwitch was mostly tight-lipped and worked without complaint. After her first few attempts at coaxing Severus to drink the potions he needed went unsuccessful, she relinquished control without issue and silently handed them to Hermione in the hopes that she might have better luck tempting the wizard to do as he was told.

"Severus, you must take these potions. They'll help with the pain."

To Madam Pomfrey's utter amazement, a suffering Severus slightly parted his lips to allow Hermione to administer each potion of hers without protest—A true miracle!—minus an intermittent coughing fit as she cradled his head underneath her arm and held him close. Her steadfast attention was peculiar but not in the least bit uncomfortable or untoward to Madam Pomfrey, who was accustomed to nursing Severus back to health on her own, and not always to greatest success. The man was stubborn as an ox and wouldn't take her direction most of the time.

Thus, it was exceedingly comforting to her to see Severus being so tenderly looked after. She didn't dare express this yet, though. Such a revelation was still too fresh and would likely take some getting used to for everyone, most especially the two young men presently downstairs and harping on about their friend's sudden mystifying interest in Severus Snape.

Once the last phial was emptied, Severus sunk his head against Hermione's chest and drifted into an uneven sleep. Hermione didn't dare disturb his rest by moving, however, and silently agreed to let Madam Pomfrey take over all other necessary treatments, such as casting a number of healing spells, running a series of diagnostic checks to ensure that Severus was stable, and cleansing the injuries on his chest and arms with Dittany. It momentarily shocked him out of sleep, but he soon recovered and nodded off again, whilst Hermione held him close and Madam Pomfrey wrapped the remaining scars in proper bandaging.

Hermione kept Severus braced to her chest and bent her head to his, massaging her finger tips through his scalp as he slept. If he ever muttered something incoherent or began to stir on account of pain or discomfort, she'd kiss his brow, his lips, or a bruised cheek and softly encourage him to go to back to sleep. He'd follow her instructions with stupendous ease, sometimes mumbling her name before going quiet and still.

Madam Pomfrey caught such delicate moments a number of times as she worked over the injured wizard but never requested that Hermione step aside. It was clear that the hell-bent young woman had no intentions of leaving Severus's side anyhow, but it was also apparent to her that, despite Severus's inability to communicate, a large part of him wanted Hermione there.

After an hour or so, Madam Promfrey stepped away from the bed and wiped her brow. "He should sleep on and off for the next several hours." She turned to Hermione, still hunched over him as she had since the start and running her fingers through his hair. "Perhaps you should try to get some sleep as well—"

"No," she interrupted, albeit calmly. "I'll stay up in case he wakes."

"It won't hurt you to get some sleep yourself, dear."

"No, really, it's fine. I'll stay up."

"If you insist..." A short pause later, "Miss Granger?"

With reluctance, Hermione peered up at the elderly woman standing at the edge of the bed, expecting to find an unfavourable expression written into the hard lines of the woman's face. However, Madam Pomfrey was regarding her tolerably, the look in her soft, grey eyes a combination of sadness and hope.

"You're very...kind to look after him this way."

She'd obviously chosen those words with considerable care, as if afraid to misconstrue what was staring her straight in the face: love. A small, knowing smile crept across Hermione's mouth.

"I wouldn't want to be anywhere else, Madam Pomfrey."

The Mediwitch returned Hermione's tender smile and headed for the door, halting as her hand came to rest on the handle. "It's late. I'll be just down the hall if either of you need anything. When he wakes, notify me. He'll need several more spells and potions before those wounds will properly heal. I trust he'll be in and out for the next few days but hopefully not in too much pain."

"All right... Thank you."

Hermione started to peer down at Severus once more when Madam Pomfrey unexpectedly addressed her again. "Thank you, Miss Granger, for..." A sudden lump in her throat prevented the Mediwitch from speaking a moment as Hermione looked on, waiting. Once she'd recovered, she added quietly, "It's nice to see someone around Severus who accepts him for who he is rather than what the rest of the world has so wrongly perceived him as. Forgive me, I just haven't seen it before... Not since Lil— Never mind. I know he claims to prefer it that way, but I've never believed such rubbish. Everyone needs...someone."

Hermione's composed smile widened a bit, though her voice was contained when she replied with despondency, "Yes, Madam Pomfrey, I agree, they do. Especially him. He... He deserves so much better than what he's gotten."

"Yes, well... I wouldn't say everything that's come Severus's way has been a total loss..."

That observation made Hermione blush to the roots of her frizzy, pulled-back ponytail. Thankfully, the room was too dark for Madam Pomfrey to sufficiently make out the hot flush that surfaced on her cheeks. However, the lines that spoke to the many years of service Madam Pomfrey had made to her practice suddenly aged her another ten years as she regarded Severus solemnly.

"He's been through hell the past several years, especially since the Dark Lord returned, and I've usually been the one to treat him at his worst and most detrimental moments. I daresay you may know more about this harrowing side to his life than you let on, Miss Granger. Particularly in his dreadful dealings with that demented psychopath Albus keeps shamelessly returning him to, he's suffered terribly. Most who've known him a while aren't oblivious to his suffering; they simply aren't aware of the extent to which he's bartered away his life for our cause. I do wish young folks like your friends, Mr Potter and Mr Weasley, better understood his sacrifices. Then perhaps they wouldn't be so...resentful of him...for being who he is."

Hermione's smile had long since faded as she listened to Madam Pomfrey speak of Severus with such thoughtful regard. It was just the sort of understanding she'd been searching for when it came to the actions of the complicated man that she loved, and her grim frown in that moment expressed her knowledge of the words left unsaid. Her sombre gaze fell upon the badly beaten Severus in her arms, unmindful of being the topic of such rare concern.

"I know..." Hermione forced herself to examine every dark blemish, every deep cut along his fine features, and grazed a loving hand down one of his cheeks. "I understand we all have sacrifices to make in this war, but I think he's overpaid his dues long enough."

"On that point, Miss Granger, we both can most definitely agree."

"Perhaps..." Hermione abruptly turned to the Mediwitch, her mouth opening and closing several times before settling on a disgruntled sigh. "Never mind."

"Yes? Go on, Miss Granger."

Hermione chewed on her formulating idea a moment longer, studying an intrigued Madam Pomfrey anxiously from across the room at Severus's bedside. "I think it's time Professor Dumbledore understood that his ever-reliable spy can't return to the Dark Lord anymore."

Madam Pomfrey cocked her head sideways. "Oh?"

"Not if he keeps returning like this, he shouldn't! It isn't fair; it isn't right. Hasn't he been through enough?"

"I wasn't trying to instigate an argument, dear."

Hermione let out a long-suffering sigh and rubbed tiredly at her forehead. "I know, I know. I'm sorry for snapping at you, Madam Pomfrey. I'm angry with the situation; not you. I do think Professor Dumbledore's played his cards with Severus's life long enough, though. Surely, I can't be alone in thinking it's time all of this stopped?"

"No, you aren't alone in that line of thinking." Madam Pomfrey's kind eyes drifted from a freshly feisty Hermione to a dozing Severus and back again. "Unfortunately, I'm uncertain as to how you'd convince Severus to agree to stop. He seems to think it's his burden to bear; that he's meant to suffer this way..."

"If Professor Dumbledore wouldn't allow him to return to the Dark Lord ever again, he wouldn't. I know he wouldn't."

"I'm not so sure about that, Miss Granger."

"He'd do it...for me," Hermione finished in a shaky breath.

Her soft-spoken but confident remark appeared to have tugged at the Mediwitch's conviction, for she eyed Hermione in a gentler fashion. "Well, if you'd like my support, you'll have it."

Hermione's smile returned, this time in a reflection of earnest. "Your input could come in very handy, Madam Pomfrey."

The elder witch projected a reassuring, aged smile, one that boasted Hermione's confidence. "It's well-worth a try. I don't think my voice is the only added support you'd receive, for that matter." Without elaborating further, the bedroom door creaked open and Madam Pomfrey stepped out into the gloomy hallway. "We can discuss this approach of yours later, Miss Granger. At a more suitable hour, yes?"

With those parting words, Madam Pomfrey nodded a noiseless 'good night' to Hermione and shut the door. For the first time in ages, Hermione felt a surge of purpose swell in the middle of her chest. She would confront Professor Dumbledore about Severus's dangerous espionage role, and the others as well, including her best friends, about what had been, for too long, a tiresome, burdensome secret: hers and Severus's relationship. The man she loved had paid his penance more than was ever necessary, and it was high time Harry, Ron, and the rest of the Order well understood the whole truth.

The Severus Snape she knew was, at his core, a good man—the very best, as a matter of fact—and they'd have to secure other methods for trying to win this war that didn't involve throwing Severus to the adversary likes of Lord Voldemort anymore. He deserved a fighting chance at life as much as the rest of them, starting with her.

And damn it all if I won't see that it's done!

Severus suddenly groaned in his sleep, which redirected Hermione's distracted thoughts back to him in his present compromising state. She leaned into the warmth of his body to leave a trail of delicate kisses along his sweat-laden brow.

"Things are going to be different from now on, Severus. You won't have to conceal who you are any longer. I promise you. Neither of us has to hide anymore..."

Hermione kept a vigil at Severus's bedside the rest of the night, staying awake into the early hours of the morning. Her hand eventually went numb from stroking Severus's scalp so long and, at some point thereafter, her eyelids closed and she bowed to sleep at last.

A few twitches and low moans later, neither of which came from her, brought Hermione round. It was roughly five in the morning, which meant they'd both managed a couple hours of rest, but, as Hermione suspected, it wasn't meant to last.

"Severus?" She startled awake and enclosed his body, which had abruptly began convulsing, with both arms. His eyelids fluttered but wouldn't open. "Severus? Severus, can you hear me? Please stop! You're going to hurt yourself!"

The trembles worsened, though, leaving Hermione with no other option but to cast a body bind on him whilst she sought out Madam Pomfrey's help down the hall. She could tell by his frozen, wincing expression that, and even with his eyes squeezed shut, he was undergoing an agonising after-shock to being hit with the Cruciatus Curse. She hastily rushed to Madam Pomfrey's room, who awoke at once and staggered back with Hermione to her room wearing a lopsided nightcap and shabby robes Hermione surmised the woman to have owned for more than one decade.

Madam Pomfrey released her body bind on Severus's immobile form and began another round of healing spells that lasted several minutes. She thoroughly checked his bandages as well and rewrapped a particularly nasty gash across the length of his sternum. Dittany hadn't quite worked to its full potential on some of the deeper gnashes, so Hermione administered more potions to ease any lingering pains and convulsions. Minutes later, Severus entered a much deeper sleep than the first, moaning with relief before going still on the bed.

"He'll rest at least the remainder of the morning with that Sleeping Draught in his system. I'll check on him later this morning and instruct Kreacher to bring you both some breakfast. Hopefully you can get him to eat something with greater success than I've managed in the past."

"Oh?" Hermione questioned as she tucked Severus in beneath several coverings.

"Mmm. Usually he just wound his mouth tightly and tried to tune me out, the stubborn bugger!"

"Well, I'll give it a try," Hermione issued, giving the Mediwitch a feeble but resolute smile.

Madam Pomfrey patted Hermione's shoulder and took her leave again. It didn't take long for Hermione to succumb to sleep after the shock of Severus's reawakening wore off. Unlike previously, however, she tucked herself into bed beside him and snuggled against his slack, battered figure beneath the sheets. If either of the boys were daft enough to barge in on her later that morning because they wanted answers, they'd have to risk catching her with their one-time professor in bed, even if it was just that. The amusing reactions she'd surely seduce for her actions would be worth the headache and strife.

No more hiding, she reasserted as she dozed off, one hand draped across Severus's bandaged chest. No more lies.

Hermione sucked in a tense breath, forgetting to exhale slowly and steadily. Her stomach had been doing somersaults for the past hour, but she wasn't nervous, only trepidatious about confronting Harry and Ron over what was sure to be an immensely awkward conversation. The timing would never be right for facing her friends about her relationship with Severus, though, and it couldn't be put off much longer. She'd managed to avoid them for two days now, and both boys were apparently nagging every member of the Order, including Madam Pomfrey, about her and when she might be coming out of hiding to speak to them.

At this point, Hermione wouldn't put it past the headstrong duo to disturb Severus's much-needed rest and storm in unannounced, demanding an explanation if she didn't show her face soon. None of the explanations she'd offer them would help the boys to better understand her attraction, however; she could most certainly count on their disgust, which made approaching them about it all the worse. Harry, especially, would probably view her relationship with Severus as some sort of betrayal; not that Hermione ultimately gave a damn what either of them thought, but she couldn't deny that the notion would hurt if that was to be the case.

After all, it wasn't their place to have a say, which Hermione reminded herself as she showered and dressed for the morning, realising she hadn't changed in over forty-eight hours. Her relationship with Severus was just that: hers.

No one else's.

After chalking up the courage to go downstairs, Hermione finally emerged from her closed-off bedroom, and made her way down to the kitchen with a nervous step to her gait. As she descended the stairs, she could hear a general commotion of plates being piled high with food, the sound of tea steaming, and the trickling of coffee being poured. She could also hear Harry's and Ron's distinct voices the closer she drew to their location, and a host of ugly scenarios began playing out in her mind. To the boys, Severus Snape may forever be the greasy git of the dungeons who wanted for nothing and served to merit little, if any, of their respect; but, damn it, she had to at least try to make them understand. She'd either wind up as their still swotty but fiercely loyal friend, or they'd pass judgment on her for choosing to be with a man they'd despised since childhood and stomp off like petulant children; Hermione could only hope for the former and sucked in a breath as she timidly opened the kitchen door, where a loaded breakfast buffet was in full swing.

Aside from Ron and Harry, who were quietly chatting with Ginny off to the side of the room (Ron was busily stuffing his face with as much egg and toast as he could manage like always), Molly Weasley, Remus and Tonks, and an unexpected Neville were present as well. Hermione had no idea when Neville had arrived at Grimmauld Place but was momentarily distracted, thrilled to see him unharmed. It had been months since they'd last seen one another, and the lanky chap was the first to leap to his feet and embrace her in a friendly greeting. Did he know about her and Severus? Had the others clued him in yet?

"Oi, Hermione! It's so good to see you!" he exclaimed, beaming from ear to ear.

"Neville! When did you get here?"

"Last night. Tonks met me half way between Hogwarts and here." He stepped back and shot her one of his roughish grins.

"How are the others?"

"Hanging in there. It's wicked to have a full breakfast, though. We've been living off potatoes, dried berries, and all sorts of unexciting rubbish for months, so I've definitely missed a real gourmet meal."

Neville turned to Molly to give the proud matriarch a polite nod of appreciation. The plump, redheaded witch returned his acknowledgment by pointing adamantly to the various pots and pans filled with delicious-looking cuisine, as if their aroma hadn't already drawn everyone's attentions and avid appetites.

"You be sure to take as much of this back with you as you can when you go, Neville."

"I will, Mrs Weasley, for sure!"

Hermione caught Molly's eye, but the woman quickly turned her back to pour herself a cup of tea; or maybe that was just to busy herself and avoid eye contact. Neville, for one, didn't appear to have noticed the awkward silence that had replaced the buzzing and chatter as soon as Hermione had entered the kitchen. If he was aware, he was choosing to be a gentleman about it and ignore the obvious strain in the room. Hermione could feel weight of several pairs of eyes on her, impolitely judging her from every direction, and did her best to ignore them.

"How is it that you're up after those two?" Neville inquired jokingly, tossing a smirk towards Harry and Ron who, still huddled with Ginny in a corner, only frowned in return and said nothing.

"I was tired; haven't slept much since..." Hermione had started to stop herself when she reminded herself that now was the moment; she mustered her inner courage to keep talking. "Since Severus got back from his latest summoning."

Neville's eyebrows nearly rose to his hairline. Was he pretending to be surprised that she'd acknowledged the elephant in the room, or was he genuinely stunned by what he'd heard?

"Oh... Um... How is he?" Neville asked after Severus once he'd resumed composure.

Before Hermione could respond, however, Harry's jarring tone rang out from across the short gap between them, his words slicing the air like a knife. "Yeah, how is your precious Snape doing, Hermione?"

If a couple of the older adults had been purposely averting their eyes, they were all now blatantly staring outright. The atmosphere had gone so still that had a pin dropped to the floor one would hear its every squeaky bounce.

Although Harry's aversion towards her wasn't completely unexpected—least of all to Hermione—it still caught her off balance, nonetheless. She and Neville both turned to the glaring young man in round glasses, and her reaction took on an intensity and offence that matched his.

"He's quite badly injured, actually," Hermione answered between clenched teeth. She was determined to keep her cool through this, no matter how trying that may prove.

"Then you could try letting Madam Pomfrey do her job rather than interfering as you've been."

Hermione blinked hard at him. "Excuse me?"

"You don't know everything there is to know about everything, Hermione," Harry didn't hesitate to blast her, "including how to heal someone. Let Madam Pomfrey handle Snape."

"I've not been interfering; I've been assisting. And I don't need you to tell me what I can and can't do, Harry, thank you very much."

"Really? 'Cause you've been bossing me around since we were eleven-years-old, so I think I've earned the right to tell you a thing or two now."

"Harry..." came Remus's warning tone from the opposite end of the room.

"Oi, Harry," Neville also chimed in, clearly uneasy with what was going on. "Why are you giving Hermione such a hard time? She just came downstairs, mate."

"Giving her a hard time?" Harry challenged as Hermione braced herself for the onslaught of all his pent-up misunderstanding. "How 'bout how she's apparently been in the leagues with Snape this whole ruddy time and hasn't spoken a word about it to anyone, including me and Ron?"

Ron, who had been entirely too quiet and not even chewing the remnants of his breakfast, turned beet red at the utterance of his name. "Leave me out of this, Harry," he pleaded softly to his best friend, who shot him an affronted glare.

"Leave you out of it? Oh, so now that Hermione's here, you've gone soft and no longer want to question any of this?"

"I'm right here, you know," Hermione hissed, crossing her arms squarely over her chest. "You can both say whatever it is you're dying to get out. Well? Go on, then!" As Harry started to open his mouth, however, she added bitingly, "But you will allow me to answer when all is said and done."

Harry's jaw tightened. He took a decisive step forward and balled his hands at his sides.

"Fine. You and Snape?" he started and stopped, supposedly waiting for Hermione to begin some sort of dissertation about their relationship, which she refused to do. Instead, she stared her friend down in challenge, prompting utter bewilderment to flash across Harry's face. His anger briefly depleted as his shock and confusion over the revelations of recent days rose to take its place.

"My god, Hermione! You and - and Snape?" When she only continued to stare at him, her demeanour unruffled or fazed by his disbelief, Harry scrunched his nose in contempt and scratched at his messy black hair. "When? Why? How could you—"

"Don't go there, Harry. Don't you dare 'how could you' to me. You have some nerve."

"Me?" Harry's mouth dropped and a similar semblance of puzzlement stretched to the others around the room.

"Yes, you! All of you!" She made a point of meeting everyone's eyes; some of them at least had the decency to look ashamed, particularly Remus, but the majority gazed back at her, befuddled. "Have any of you ever once asked yourselves why Severus acts as he does? Why he never lets anyone close enough to understand the hell he's going through? Why he repeatedly sticks his neck out for all of you day after day without expectancy of anything in return?"

"What are you talking ab—"

"He puts his life on the line as much as the rest of us, Harry. He stands before the Dark Lord on a regular basis and risks his life to extract information for our benefits; he lies for us and covers our tracks and throws the Dark Lord off kilter to keep you safe; he returns to us beaten and cursed and on the brink of mental and physical collapse, and does he ever once ask for consolation or company or a helping hand from any of you? No! And not once have you—yeah, you, too, Ron!—ever had the decency to show him a sliver of the respect he deserves!"

Harry's cheeks flared scarlet. "Perhaps if he didn't act like such a—"

"Watch yourself, Harry," Hermione warned through a snarl that surprised them all and took a step closer; Harry didn't sway, but Ron smartly shuffled backward against the wall. "I know he's difficult; I know he's been exceptionally hard on you—"

"A right foul git is more like it!"

"But, ask yourself how he interacts with everyone else in this house and you may find yourself in similar company. You're not somehow exclusive to his unpleasantness and general dislike, Harry."

"Then how can you—"

"And if you stopped and thought about it rationally for five minutes instead of blaming him for everything like you always have, you might come to realise that Severus's temperament has nothing to do with you."

Harry was too stricken to reply. Hermione could see the hurt and resentment reeling in those bright green eyes, their depths wrestling and grasping to make sense of things, but the struggle was acute and not easily turned asunder. Hermione seized the abrupt lapse in their row to take a calculated breath and finally approach him without anger, now trusting herself not to lose her cool.

"Listen, Harry," she spoke evenly and reached for his arm, "I can understand why you're upset. You think I've betrayed your trust; that perhaps I've gone mad and this is just a crazed phase, yes? I can assure you this isn't some fleeting fancy of mine or me off my rocker. And the last thing I'd ever consider doing is betraying you. I'd hope you'd know me well enough by now to not think so little of me. You're my best friend.

"But I... I'm tired of hiding; I'm exhausted and done with concealing how I feel about Severus. I love him, Harry, and he loves me. We're in love with each other, and what we have is real and genuine and as good as anything you have with Ginny, or Remus here has with Tonks. Believe it or not, he respects me, and I respect him. I don't expect you or anyone else here to see things from our perspective, but I'd appreciate you all at least trusting us to understand the depth of sincerity that lies between us and its truths. Our love is real—the best sort—and it's between us, not any of you."

If the dead silence in the room could have possibly jacked up several notches, it certainly felt so following Hermione's jaw-dropping confirmation of love. She, too, sensed the intensity in the room heightening by the second but felt disconnected from the implicit buzzing that hovered over her genuine affirmation regarding hers and Severus's relationship. Her eyes darted from Harry to Ron and Ginny behind him and slowly rotated around the kitchen, waiting for the signs of dismay and animosity to drop on her like ten ton bricks. She was, therefore, pleasantly surprised, if not overly apprehensive, when no one proceeded to bark absurdities at her, though their astonishment at the news continued conveying its prevalence for several moments more.

"Hermione," Remus cleared his throat from behind her, where he was seated at the kitchen table with Tonks and baby Teddy, who was taking a bottle from his mother and otherwise quiet, "I know this all may seem highly irrelevant and none of my business, but I only have one question I wish to ask you..."


"When did your relations with Severus begin? Not, erm... Not while you were still at Hogwarts, I hope?"

Hermione rattled, surprised by such an assumption. "Goodness, no! No, it didn't start until I was recouping from the battle; when Severus was taking care of me. Things just sort of progressed slowly from there."

"I should've known he'd try to get his greasy hands on you," Harry muttered under his breath.

Ginny made something akin to a hissing noise behind him, warning Harry to shut it unless he wanted to wind up on the receiving end of Hermione's wand, but it was too late. Hermione had overheard his insensitive comment and whipped her head around to shoot daggers at her pouting friend.

"It wasn't ever like that, Harry. Don't presume to know anything about our relationship. I don't expect you to like it, but I do expect you to come to terms with it and, if nothing else, respect my decision, because it is mine." She paused to place her hands on her hips. "Besides, I'm an adult and don't require yours or anyone's permission to fall in love with whomever I choose. Bear that in mind the next time you make an ignorant comment like that about matters you know little about."

"You're right," he grumbled through his teeth, "I do know very little. You've kept it all a secret! From everyone!"

Hermione narrowed her eyes. "I think it's becoming increasingly clear why I did, isn't it? If the reasons are unfathomable to you then I make no apologies."

Harry looked as if he was on the verge of spewing something else his good conscience would later regret when Molly interrupted them both with an accusatory appraisal of her own. "But, Hermione, think reasonably a moment! He's a spy; he's already a liability. You're putting yourself at great emotional risk by taking up with—"

"With all due respect, Mrs Weasley, we're all doing a lot of emotional risk-taking these days, don't you think?"

Despite her valid point, Molly's critical scowl enhanced. "Well, if I may be so bold as to say it, he's also much older than you, dear. Golly, he's only a little over a decade younger than me, I should think! How do you know his intentions are so honourable?"

"Now, wait just a second there, Molly," Tonks finally piped into the heated discussion, and with a light-hearted chuckle that knocked the intensity down a couple notches; Molly appeared ready to go on the defence, though, seemingly aware of the challenge that was coming her way. "That isn't fair. Age in a consensual relationship can only be measured by the two people involved; not anyone else. Speaking from someone who knows what that's like, if it isn't important to Hermione and Severus then it's of no importance to any of us."

Molly pursed her lips, clearly not in agreement on that score, but she said nothing else on the subject, only issued an exasperated sigh and rapped the side of her tea cup, annoyed.

With the silence resettling upon the room, Hermione drew her eyes around her one last time to make sure everyone saw the sheer resolution she carried. Harry's temper had waned a little, though he continued to eye her sorely, as if she'd stolen his last chocolate frog.

"So," she spoke assertively and with her chin raised, "now you know the truth. I'd appreciate it if you'd keep your opinions about us, whatever they may be, amongst yourselves. Things are going to be tough enough for Severus in the weeks ahead, and he doesn't deserve any added aggravations that may back-peddle his recovery. All I ask is that everyone, at the very least, give him some space and maybe offer him a little more civility when he comes around. I believe he's earned that."

Hermione straightened and backed away towards the kitchen door. "I'll need to speak to Professor Dumbledore when he arrives. As of today, Severus will no longer be a spy for the Order."

Remus jerked in his chair, her friends cocked their heads in surprise, and Molly put down her cup. "What?" Remus inquired in shock; he inclined forward in his seat, his shoulders hunched. "What do you mean Severus will no longer be spying for us?"

"I mean, I won't be allowing anyone to make him a liability any longer," Hermione answered in a measured and insistent tone of voice.

"But, Hermione—" Molly started.

"Severus has been spying for Professor Dumbledore and the Order for two decades. Two nights ago, he barely came back to us alive, and it wasn't the first time he's returned clinging to any shred of normalcy. Enough is enough."

Remus cautiously rose to his feet. "Hermione, I know you mean well, but you aren't permitted to make that decision. That choice resides with Professor Dumbledore and Severus alone."

"Which is why I'll be speaking to Professor Dumbledore on this matter the next time he comes to Grimmauld Place. Seeing as Severus is in such poor shape, I'll be speaking on his behalf."

No one was able to reason with Hermione further. She swiftly turned on her heel and stalked away out of sight, leaving behind a speechless group of friends, one-time supporters, and now, she feared, bitter detractors.

"Why would you do such a thing, Hermione? The audacity! You might've cost us valuable information for the cause!"

"Oh, yes, the cause," Hermione mocked as gently as possible whilst stirring Severus's scorching hot cup of chicken noodle soup with a spoon. "Always about the cause. What about you, Severus Snape? When was the last time you considered your own welfare for a change?"

"Pushy... Irresponsible..."

Severus grumbled a number of choice words under his breath but refused to provide Hermione with a sufficient answer and fisted one of his hands into the sheets. It was the third day he'd been awake and able to speak, let alone keep anything of substance down his stomach. They'd chatted off and on between his uneven sleeping patterns and potion intakes, as well as frequent checks by Madam Pomfrey, and it was only recently that the wizard had been made abreast of the conversation Hermione, the Mediwitch, and a supportive McGonagall had had with Dumbledore on his behalf.

Naturally, as they'd all anticipated, Severus was furious upon learning of the three witches "going behind his back." Beyond the ice-piercing ire he bore Hermione for a number of hours following the news, she could detect a glimmer of amenity in those rich, colourless eyes as well; of an unspoken gratification for doing something for his benefit; of caring enough—of loving him enough—to ensure that he'd never be put directly in harm's way ever again.

Admittedly, the thought of never having to return to face the Dark Lord or do his dirty bidding was like the weight of a second body being lifted off his shoulders. Severus expected his Dark Mark would burn and pain him in the months to come when he didn't answer the Dark Lord's attempts to summon him, but, to openly defy the evil zealot at long last? To publicly stand on the side of good amongst his allies, the Order, and Hermione? That was far more than Severus could have ever wished for or hoped to live long enough to experience.

And it's all because of her. Because of Hermione...

As Hermione relayed to him in detail her private conversation with Dumbledore, Severus listened with increased emotion. If her speaking to Dumbledore had been a long and onerous affair then helping Severus to come to terms with why she'd both ousted their relationship and seen to his safety all in a matter of days was even more arduous a conversation, but one that was well-worth having.

In the end, Dumbledore had acquiesced to what a staunch Hermione had requested: for Severus to be free of all spying obligations in the future, though he relinquished his hold over Severus with great reluctance. Severus, meanwhile, hadn't known whether to be outraged or touched by what Hermione had taken the liberty of doing without his consent. Should he be offended by her interference or relieved that their relationship was finally out in the open, and that he was free of (nearly) all ties to a sick and twisted master? Should he ever trust the meddlesome witch again, for that matter, seeing as she'd gotten up to quite a bit of mischief in his absence?

Ultimately, Severus bent to Hermione's will, content in the knowledge that, thanks to a fierce young woman who actually loved and cared for him—and Merlin himself could only surmise how that was possible—his backbreaking days tiptoeing amongst evil incarnate were finally over. That, and he had Hermione, who loved and accepted him fully, every flaw and damaged part of him.

Severus repositioned his head against a handful of pillows and stared up at the lovely creature feeding him his evening meal, the irritated lines on his face dissipating in place of a dawning awe and appreciation for what she'd done. "Despite the fact that I'm still thoroughly irritated with you," he snarled, baiting her on, "I realise that I haven't thanked you properly yet."

Hermione smirked down at him before blowing on another spoon full of his soup. "Oh, rubbish. You've thanked me more than once, Severus. You needn't keep repeating yourself. I know you care deeply, even if you like to pretend that you're somehow unaffected by how wonderful and irresistible I am."

Ignoring her playful goading, Severus agreed to sip the spoon she'd brought to his lips and, afterwards, reached up a hand to gently caress her jaw. Hermione took the opportunity to place the cup of soup aside and gazed down at him attentively, her smile as sweet and accepting as it had always been.

"No," he murmured and tugged on the back of her neck, bringing her towards him, "I meant, I haven't thanked you like this..."

Hermione's face was brought closer to his, where he proceded to envelope her lips with an outpouring of warm, appreciative kisses that left her breathless and at his mercy. Her hands cradled his face and eagerly sought more of his masculine taste, till he determined they'd snogged enough and reared back against his pillows, staring intently up into her receiving eyes.

"Well," she managed light-heartedly once she'd caught her breath, "if that's what you meant by thanking me good and proper, you can feel free to thank me anytime you'd like."

Hermione laughed against his mouth, but Severus stared on, regarding her with all seriousness. "I will," he declared quietly, earnestly. "Every day. For as long as I have breath."

And then he kissed her again, desperate to once more sense Hermione's wholehearted acceptance, and she readily and selflessly gave it to him, just as she had openly before her friends days ago; just as she would continue to do so eminently, and without hesitation, before the entire Wizarding world in the years to come.

A/N #2: Part II (next prompt) to follow soon. Reviews are always greatly appreciated.