Disclaimer: Any familiar characters and plot lines pertaining to Harry Potter are the property J.K. Rowling. I'm just taking them out for a spin. This disclaimer stands for the entire story.

"We do not believe in ourselves until someone reveals that deep inside us is something valuable, worth listening to, worthy of our trust, sacred to our touch."

― E.E. Cummings

Most people can't tell you the exact moment they fall in love. Love often has a slow, gradual build up. A sweet, beautiful tightening of the heart, a flutter and opening of the soul. For many, it is a steady realization that one has found a kindred spirit to love and be loved in return.

But this was not the case for Miss Hermione Granger, for she was not most people.

Oh, no.

The love that blossomed deep within her was a sudden shock, a wallop right to the gut. For she knew the exact moment she fell in love. The very millisecond her heart, quite on its own accord, chose to beat for another.

It was the end of her third year, as she, Ron and Harry emerged from the Shrieking Shack holding an injured Sirius Black, with Remus Lupin holding Peter Pettigrew at wand-point. Jubilant that they would be bringing Pettigrew to well-deserved justice and clearing Sirius' name. As the stark, bright light of a full moon shone upon Remus' face, the gentle professor began to transform before their very eyes, Hermoine knew that she and her friends were in mortal danger.

She had read many a book on lycanthrope and could recite myriad facts on werewolves, but nothing could prepare her for the abject horror of watching her dear, sweet Professor Lupin transform into a terrifying, heartless beast. His bones stretched and cracked, his skin became covered in matted brown hair and his eyes shone bright yellow with pure animal viciousness. The fear that rushed through her body was overwhelming and she froze, rooted to the spot. For the first time since arriving at Hogwarts, she was at a complete loss as to get get out of this situation alive.

It was this very moment of pure terror that an enraged Severus Snape burst forth from the entrance to the shack to issue a lifetime worth of detentions to the golden trio for cursing Snape into unconsciousness. Eyes glittering with rage, anger rolling off of his black billowing robes in hot waves, he leaned menacingly over the golden trio with every intention of snarling many a curse and hex.

This was the man she knew all too well, his dismissive sneer every much a part of his facade as his impeccable black robes. And this glare was one she had received many a time over her three years as Hogwarts' insufferable know-it-all. And for the first time in those three years, she was happy to see him, even in his enraged state.

As Snape snarled at the three students, eyes black with rage, he caught sight of Lupin rapidly transforming and just as swiftly as he spewed angry threats, his anger suddenly drained from his face and his expression turned to one of pure concern for his three charges. Without a moment's thought to his own safety, the greasy git from the dungeons swept around, black robes billowing in the clear night to face the werewolf and shield his three least favorite students from certain peril. Completely selfless and totally uncharacteristic, Hermione could not fathom why Professor Snape, of all people, would do such a thing. As a teacher and spy for the Light, she had always known him to show exceptional honor and dedication.

But this was something entirely different. He had never, not once in three years, ever been kind to her, protect her, show anything close to caring about her.

She didn't expect the protectiveness, the sudden bravery and self-sacrifice. In short, she wasn't expecting him to be any thing other than his usual cruel self. And yet here he was. Gambling with his own life to protect them. To protect her.

As he fearlessly faced down the feral wolf, his strong hands gripped Hermione's side and she was momentarily shocked by his touch. His long pale fingers gripping her with a strength she didn't know he possessed, he held her in place, his grip fierce yet gentle. It felt protective and possessive, like the man couldn't bear to see any harm befall her. Where he touched her, she felt a white, hot burning that went clear down to her toes. With her stomach in her throat, she instinctively clung to him, hands digging into his muscular shoulder, hoping to survive this nightmare. His unwavering protectiveness was both daunting and overwhelming in its fierceness. The warmth of his body coupled with his sweet, pungent smell made her dizzy.

She was overcome by panic but she felt some thing else beneath that tide of fear, she felt...relieved.

Just having him there to protect her, to battle this werewolf, so that for once in her life, she didn't have to be the one to come up with a plan and be brave and have it all figured out. She felt safer with him there, and that was truly a bizarre thing to have ever thought about Professor Snape.

As the werewolf stretched to his full height, the ferocious beast let out an earth-shattering howl that echoed across the silent grounds. Hermione let out a shriek before she could stop herself. The frightened sound caught the wolf's attention and he began to lunge forward, straight towards the professor and his charges. But Snape didn't shrink back. He stood tall and fearless, clutching the three terrified students behind him with all his might, willing to accept whatever fate awaited him.

Without a second to spare, Sirius transformed into his animagus form and rammed hard into the wolf, dazing the creature long enough to grab his attention. The dog and wolf tussled hard across the green grass, biting and clawing eachother with pent-up rage. Sirius then chased the werewolf into the dense forest, thus saving Snape and the Golden Trio from a terrible fate. Peter Pettigrew took full advantage of the chaos and terror of the moment to transform as well and he took off into the deep, dark night.

As Ron and Harry dashed out from behind Snape to peer into the dense woods, looking for Remus, Sirius and Peter, Hermione let out a shaky breath, her heart shuddering at how close they just came to dying. She closed her eyes as she gently rested her forehead against Professor Snape's back, clutching his robes in her hands, trying desperately to calm her pounding heart.

He didn't move. Not a single inch. He stood there and let her lean into him, granting her a blessed moment to collect herself and find some comfort in the frightening, random chaos that swirled around them. His hand still clutching her, his own breath finally came out in a woosh.

After a long moment, Snape turned his head every so slightly. Hermione lifted her head at the very moment and they looked deeply into eachother's eyes, their bodies touching, their hearts racing, their faces mere inches apart.

"Are you alright, Miss Granger?" His voice sounded so soft, so full of genuine, quiet concern. Hermione couldn't quite believe the words had really come from his lips.

Those lips that had only seemed to be made to spew insults, slander and cruel remarks. They suddenly seemed so very different. She stared at them, taking in how full they looked, how welcoming they seemed. She wondered what secrets they held, what they tasted like. She longed to know.

The young woman swallowed hard and finally tore her eyes from those sweet lips and met his unwavering gaze.

"Yes, sir. I'm fine..thanks to you," she softly uttered, enjoying how tightly he still held her, how close he was to her.

He nodded, his gaze drifting across her face, making sure she was indeed alright before slowly removing his hand from her side and turning to face her.

"Good. We aren't safe here, we must all return to the castle at once," he stated quietly, yet matter-of-factly.

He turned from her and strode towards Ron and Harry and grabbed them roughly by their shirt collars, all traces of kind concern vanishing as he pulled the boys roughly toward the castle.

But as he approached Hermione, he caught her gaze again, his eyes softening ever so slightly.

"Miss Granger, if you would kindly lead the way."

He released Harry and Ron and the boys stumbled forward, catching up to Hermione, as the the trio rushed back towards home.

Climbing the steep mossy bank, the grounds were bathed in soft moonlight. The lovely surroundings, the soft hoot of a distant owl, the gentle breeze belied the terrifying events of the evening. A casual observer wouldn't have been able to fathom the notion that the quartet had just narrowly escaped a certain death.

The boys frantically whispered about Pettigrew's whereabouts, Sirius' safety, what Dumbledore would say, but Hermione couldn't really hear any of it. Her mind was still on the man trudging ten feet behind her, his wand pulled and at the ready, his body still shielding her and her friends from any danger.

She glanced back to see him eyeing the forest, his body strong and resolute, his rigid posture unrelenting in its sole purpose: protection. She knew then and there they would make it back to the castle safely. He was there and there was no need to fear, he wouldn't let any harm befall them, not while he still drew breath.

As they reached the steep castle steps, their eyes met once more and Hermione felt it.

Fire...pure and absolute. Bright, beautiful and fierce, the likes of which she had never known.

She felt it flood her heart, she felt it cloud her turbulent thoughts, she felt it take up residence deep in her heart. Everything she thought she knew and felt was suddenly and irrevocably called into question.

It was this very moment that Hermione felt her whole world crumble. The puzzle pieces of her existence carefully rearranging themselves into a new picture, one that was so very different from just a few hours ago.

She knew, in this quiet, seemingly unremarkable moment, that her long-held respect for Professor Snape wasn't the only thing she now felt for the towering professor under the stark, cold moonlight.

A/N: This story opens with Hermione at the end of her third year, which would put her at 14, almost 15. If you take into account her use of the time turner she would definitely be 15. However, she is still underage. So this chapter was purely her perspective, her realizing she loves Severus. Nothing about him loving her at this point, just him feeling protective of her. Just wanted to clarify that before moving forward. Thanks again for reading :)