Severus Snape drifted awake, blissfully free from pain, the last thing he had been aware of. That of Nagini's teeth tearing into his throat and the sight of Lily's eyes in Potter's hated face.
He opened his eyes to that same face. And promptly shut his eyes again, groaning.
"So this is hell," Severus rasped. "Eternity with you."
That wasn't Potter's voice. Severus opened his eyes again, frowning in consternation at the young woman standing beside Potter. What was Miss Granger doing in his own personal hell? Potter made sense, as he'd had a hand in the boy's fate, but Granger? While irritating to teach, she was hardly his idea of hell. Or of heaven. So did that mean, against all possibility, that he was alive?
Looking beyond Potter and Granger at his surroundings, he did appear to be in a hospital, his bed surrounded by green privacy curtains. And that bed seemed to be a standard hospital bed, come to think of it.
"I'm so glad you're awake!" Potter's words brought Severus's attention back to him. He sounded – and looked – far too happy to be addressing a man he loathed.
Severus pinched himself. This was too ludicrous to be real. But as far as he knew the dead didn't hallucinate.
Which meant Potter was alive; that he'd somehow escaped his fate. And that he had, too. But for how long? If the Dark Lord had fallen – and he must have for Potter to be alive – then the wizarding public must be baying for the blood of their former oppressors.
He lifted up his left arm, staring at the unblemished skin where the Dark Mark had been. At last, freedom… Until he was thrown into Azkaban for his crimes, if he survived that long.
A slender hand tentatively reached out, but stopped before it touched him. Severus raised his eyes to the owner of that hand, meeting Granger's earnest gaze. "It's true, sir. He's dead. For good this time."
"We couldn't have done it without you," Potter gushed, his eyes shining with … hero worship? Surely not.
At least Granger seemed to behave more normally, if regarding him with more respect than she had at Hogwarts. As a student, she had respected all of her teachers, with the only exception of Trelawney. And Umbridge, but he refused to count that hag.
A Healer pulled back the curtains and stepped inside, allowing Severus a glimpse of two uniformed Aurors outside.
"You're awake. Excellent," the Healer stated, prodding and poking at Severus's throat with his wand. "Good. Your wound is healed, although I'm afraid it has left a scar. You're lucky to be alive." The Healer waggled his finger in front of Severus's nose, as if it was his own fault Nagini had bitten him.
"You may leave. Ordinarily I'd keep you here for at least another day, but we're short on space." He made a distracted shooing motion as he recorded something on a slip of parchment.
"My wand? Clothes?"
Before leaving, the Healer pointed at the foot of the bed. Granger bent down, his black robes in her hands when she straightened up again.
"I have your wand," Potter said. He shifted uncomfortably. "The Aurors wanted to snap it."
"I see," Severus hissed. The Aurors doubtless wanted him unarmed before they took him to Azkaban. The only blessing was that the adoring public would have no chance to tear him apart before he was imprisoned.
He frowned up at Potter and Granger. If he was to be thrown into Azkaban, why were they present? With Potter's behaviour around him, the boy was unlikely to be there to gloat. And while Granger did have a vengeful streak, she was also a champion of lost causes. Perhaps there was some hope left for him after all… but what could teenagers do to help?
So it was that Severus found himself under house arrest at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, with Potter as his gaoler. Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Minister Pro Tem, had performed the Fidelius Charm himself.
Until his trial, Severus's only company would be Potter. And after that, Dementors, or whatever the new Ministry had replaced them with.
His outburst of "Why didn't you let me die?" at that cheerful thought didn't improve matters. It just made the portrait of Black's mother shriek at him, and Potter linger even more closely on a self-appointed suicide watch.
At least Granger had been granted access to the house as well, although that was a mixed blessing: while a break from Potter, it meant being subjected to Granger's furious concern.
"I did not help save you just so you could wish for death, you miserable bastard!"
"So Potter isn't the only one to blame for my continued suffering," Severus muttered, matching Granger's glare with one of his own.
"There's more to life than suffering! It's about time someone reminded you of that." With that, Granger caught hold of his collar and tugged him down to meet her as she leaned up.
Her lips met his, at first in a chaste, gentle kiss, which quickly deepened to a passionate exchange as he responded. Her hands slipped up to link around his neck as she pressed herself against him.
At the first touch of his tongue to hers, Granger staggered back, covering her mouth with a shaking hand, her eyes wide with horror. "I can't believe I did that…"
Her reaction worked more effectively than a Cooling Charm to return his stirring cock to a flaccid state. That was life as he knew it; as soon as any blessing came within his reach, it was snatched out of his grasp again. Severus scowled, a scathing rejoinder rising like bile in his throat.
Granger pre-empted him. "I'm so sorry, sir. It won't happen again."
"Indeed," he spat, "you wouldn't want to dirty yourself with the likes of me."
"What? No, that's not…" Granger trailed off, twisting her fingers together. "I'm… I'm wi—with Ron. And I betrayed him."
Gryffindor. An impulsive kiss, however impassioned, was a minor betrayal at worst.
"Tell him if you must, but why bother? It meant nothing." There was some truth in that. Although he hadn't been untouched by Granger's kiss, his heart still belonged to Lily.
"Nothing?" To his surprise, Granger sounded disappointed and hurt.
"It was enjoyable," Severus allowed. "However, you and I—even if we… Well, I've no doubt that you care, but you are not a free agent.
"Nor am I," he added. After all, Azkaban was hardly conducive to new relationships.
"If you don't mind me saying so, sir, pining for a dead woman isn't healthy."
"So Potter can't keep his big mouth shut," Severus grumbled. Not that it surprised him.
"Sorry, sir. Harry taunted Voldemort just before he defeated him with the knowledge of your true loyalties… in front of just about everyone at the battle."
Severus covered his eyes with his hand, groaning. It was worse than he'd imagined. "Was Molly Weasley there?"
"Er, yes, sir."
Brilliant. That meant the entire wizarding world would know of his feelings for a dead woman. His unrequited feelings, at that. How humiliating.
He blinked at Granger. Why had she brought up Lily? "Regardless, my attachment to Lily is a moot point."
"What do I have to do to talk you out of suicide?" Granger put her hands on his shoulders, her fingers digging into him in her desperation.
"I meant that Azkaban surely awaits me. Death is preferable to that."
Granger stared at him. "Do you mean to say that you're not suicidal?"
"I never said I was!"
She pinched the bridge of her nose, exasperated. "Severus Snape, you knew you were under suicide watch. Why didn't you say something?"
"I don't have to explain myself to interfering Gryffindors," Severus sniffed.
"Insufferable man," Granger muttered. "If you'd told us, we wouldn't have had to interfere."
"I had to put up with Potter's interference anyway. At least you break up the monotony."
"In that case I'll keep visiting. And you should be thankful for Harry's interference; he's doing his utmost to keep you out of Azkaban. You won't lose your case, sir. We won't let that happen."
"How reassuring," Severus mumbled, under his breath. He eyed Granger appraisingly. She just might present a challenge for the Wizengamot. Judging by her recent actions, she was more unpredictable than he'd given her credit for. Come to think of that…
"Why did you kiss me?"
Granger looked puzzled. After a moment's consideration, she shrugged. "It was either that or slap you."
His trial followed a week later. He was found guilty of murdering Dumbledore, and using an Unforgivable to do it, but pardoned as the act had been tantamount to assisted suicide (frowned upon, but legal in wizarding Britain) and had ultimately helped the war effort against Voldemort.
True to her word, Granger and Potter were instrumental in that verdict being reached, in organising his defence and, especially in Potter's case, giving beneficial evidence. They were so successful in persuading the Wizengamot of his heroism, that not only was he acquitted, but they even awarded him an Order of Merlin (First Class!) for his troubles.
Unfortunately, that award, the accompanying generous stipend and fame (or was it infamy?) meant that he was mobbed by a suddenly-adoring public as a result. While it was a nice change to be greeted by smiles instead of glowers, in the end he found that he much preferred to be feared than loved by strangers. At least then his privacy had been respected; now people continually invaded his personal space, crowding too close for comfort whenever he appeared in public.
Severus had been pleased to escape the masses and Grimmauld Place for Spinner's End. Although just as shabby, at least it didn't reek of Black or feel like a prison. It also had the bonus that Potter didn't know where it was. Nor did anyone else, other than the Malfoys, and they were unable to visit as they were currently under house arrest.
Unfortunately, it didn't take long for his bubble of security to burst. One Friday evening he returned from a tiring day attempting to shop in Diagon Alley to find Rita Skeeter waiting for him in his book-lined living room—scantily clad and Quick-Quotes Quill at the ready.
Potter cleared his throat, adjusting his new Auror uniform robes. "We've charged Skeeter with breaking and entering, and managed to keep you from being charged with anything. I certainly don't blame you for hexing her into St Mungo's…"
"I only wish I could Obliviate myself," Severus muttered, grinding the heels of his palms into his closed eyes, as if that would get rid of the mental imagery that still lingered of Skeeter in lingerie.
"Skeeter'll be lucky not to be squashed like the bug she is when Hermione gets her hands on her," Weasley commented to Potter, ignoring Severus entirely. An interesting approach, considering he was investigating Severus's complaint. Riding on Potter's coattails, he'd been made a full Auror without any NEWTs, and without the three years of training to boot.
To her credit, Granger hadn't joined them. Instead she would be going to Hogwarts to finish her schooling when the new academic year started in a few weeks. As a result, Severus suspected that the Ministry was in for a lesson on how essential she was to Potter and Weasley's heroic deeds. And quite possibly to their continued survival, as not all Death Eaters and Dark sympathisers had been captured yet.
After a day being mobbed by simpering fools in Diagon Alley, it was refreshing to know that some opinions of him hadn't changed. Pity that such people avoided him if they could. Even so, Weasley had loathed him. Now he seemed merely indifferent. Potter and Granger's influence, no doubt, or their obvious support of Severus had made Weasley tone it down to avoid arguments.
There was a way to renew that loathing, but telling Weasley of Granger's impulsive kiss would not be a good way to repay Granger for her help. Besides, it was possible that she had already told him to relieve her guilty conscience. Unlikely, though, as Weasley would surely have tried to attack Severus in that case.
"…I'm afraid there's no way to stop Skeeter from publishing the location of your home in the Prophet." Potter's words pulled Severus from his thoughts. "And anyone who tries hard enough could find it even if she didn't."
So Potter had respected his wishes for privacy? Unusual behaviour for Potter. But now that he had been disturbed, Severus doubted that Potter would keep his nose out for long.
Even worse, what was to stop his crazed fans from descending on Spinner's End? Skeeter had managed to break his wards all by herself. Unless…
"Are you sure you want me to do this? I've only ever seen Kingsley do it, I've never done a Fidelius Charm myself," Granger asked, peeking out of a gap in the curtains at the crowd forming outside Spinner's End. She had arrived by Floo after Potter and Weasley had left, responding to Severus's summons.
"Any others who might do this for me are too busy." Realising that she sounded a little unsure, Severus added: "I have every faith in your abilities, Miss Granger. You only ever needed to read about a spell in order to do it. Having observed it being done isn't much different. Better, as first hand observations are more reliable than any diagram of wand movements."
He wondered where the know-it-all schoolgirl had gone, who would have parroted enthusiastically everything she had ever read about Secret Keeping and added a dozen questions and ideas without stopping for breath. Was that the effect of a year depending upon her wits instead of books? Or had this insecure, vulnerable side to her always been there, but he was only now close enough to glimpse it?
"Did Rita Skeeter manage to hex you, sir?" Granger gazed at him, concern creasing her brow. "I could have sworn you just praised me. You've never done that before."
Severus smirked. "Who would believe you if you told them?"
"Good point," Granger muttered. "All right, I'll do it. We can't have you getting into trouble for hexing people invading your privacy, can we?" Her smile faded. "And there are still Death Eaters at large. Now they'll know where you live."
She drew her wand, brows lowered in concentration as she repeated the complex sequence of movements and incantations Kingsley had recently performed on Grimmauld Place.
With the last downward flick of her wand, darkness enveloped Severus's vision, all light drawn into Granger as the secret lodged in her soul. Severus could no longer feel the chair below him, or the floor under his feet. The disorientation of the void was even worse than at Grimmauld Place, as this time it was his own home that had vanished.
"The easternmost house in Spinner's End is the home of Severus Snape." Granger breathed the words into his ear, sight and sensation returning as if he was awoken from sleep. He could hear the mob outside making a racket as they reacted to his home disappearing before their eyes.
Granger crossed the room to look outside again. "Looks like you'll need to Apparate or use the Floo network instead of the front door. They know where your house is, they just can't see it or get in."
"At least I can live in peace now," Severus muttered, drawing his wand to tweak the wards with a modified Muffliato so that no sound could get in. "No more uninvited guests."
"Not that it's possible for you to have any guests but me. About that… I'm not about to let you become a hermit. Other people will to have to know where you live."
Severus fingered his wand, tempted to try an Obliviate for a heartbeat. But that would be a shoddy way to repay Granger for her help. He also doubted it would work anyway, as Memory Charms worked on the mind, not the soul. While it might make her forget that she'd done it, she'd still know where he lived, as the secret was kept in her soul. And the gaps in her memory would be incriminating. He had no interest in experiencing her encyclopaedic knowledge of hexes.
"I won't be a hermit. Swarming mobs or no, I'll still venture outside. Even with the stipend accompanying the Order of Merlin, I'd rather keep working."
"I'm glad to hear it, sir. But I must insist that you have guests here regardless."
"Very well," Severus grumbled. "Although they must be people I can trust. You did have a point earlier, about the threat from any Death Eaters still at large. They will now know that I have a Secret Keeper, but not who that is. For your protection as much as mine, those I deem worthy of knowing where I live must be able to resist interrogation."
Granger blinked at him. "But only I can tell anyone where you live. Not even you can. So why would your guests need to resist that?"
Before Severus could reply with all the contempt that silly question deserved, Granger answered it herself, her eyes wide, her breathing unsteady. "Oh. Because they would know I was the Secret Keeper, and that knowledge could be extracted by whoever wanted to know."
"And then you would find yourself on the wrong end of a Death Eater's wand," Severus continued. It was imperative that she understood the risks, but now that he thought of it, he had to wonder if Granger was strong enough. Had he chosen poorly? Would she trade her sanity for his safety if she was Cruciated?
"Having second thoughts?" Granger asked softly. "Perhaps I can help there: was there any Death Eater better than Bellatrix Lestrange at torture?"
"No. She was unmatched, especially after Azkaban stripped the last of her humani—" Severus's brain caught up with his tongue, cutting him off mid-word. He stared at her, appalled. "Bellatrix had you at wand point?"
Granger fingered her neck just inside the collar of her shirt. "And knifepoint."
His blood boiled at the thought of Granger at Bellatrix's tender mercies. If not for the fact that the sadistic bitch was already dead, he'd kill her himself. As it was, he'd make a point of dancing on her grave – if anyone had bothered to mark it.
"How long did Bellatrix hold you under the Cruciatus?"
"I don't know. Maybe ten minutes. I'd have to ask Harry or Ron. Why? Are you worried that I'd still break if tortured long enough?"
While that was a valid concern, it wasn't why he'd asked. "What treatment did you have afterwards? Did you see a Healer?"
"About a week's rest and whatever Fleur could do."
"Fleur Delacour, now Weasley?" Severus shook his head dismissively. "She's no Healer."
"We were on the run!" Granger protested.
"Did it not cross your mind to see a medical professional after the Dark Lord's defeat?"
"There were others in far more need than me."
"I'll take that as a no," Severus muttered, rolling his eyes. "Do. If you were exposed to Cruciatus for longer than ten minutes, it can have after effects that haunt you for the rest of your life if not dealt with soon enough."
"Fine, I'll go to St Mungo's." Granger narrowed her eyes. "But not before you tell me whom you want as visitors."
"You need only write the secret down."
She shook her head. "That's not secure enough. A note can be lost."
"I'll be the judge of that," Severus snapped. "Those I choose to socialise with are none of your concern."
Her lips tightened into a thin line, hurt flashing in her eyes. "If your privacy is that important, fine." Granger turned toward the fireplace, grabbing a handful of Floo powder from the mantelpiece. "I thought… I thought you trusted me." She swiped at her eyes with her free hand, her voice raw.
'Shit.' He hadn't meant to make her cry. "Miss Granger, I—Wait!" Severus lunged for her as she threw the Floo powder into the fire.
She ignored him, hiccoughing "Number twelve, Grimmauld Place," as she stepped into the green flames.
AN: Many thanks to Kribu, Septentrion and JunoMagic for betaing.