THREE FOR ALL

by Warviben

Summary: Harry and Hermione grow closer after Ron leaves them during the hunt for horcruxes. Their lives become even more interesting when Severus Snape joins them after the final battle. Strong warnings for sexual content.

Warning: This fic is for grown-ups. It contains detailed descriptions of sexual activities between two characters (a male and a female) and three characters (a female and two males). If you are not old enough, or if this type of thing is not for you, please stop reading now.

Disclaimer: I don't own these characters or the basic premise for their existence. I guess I do own some of the characters that come later – you'll know who they are.

Notes: This fic was "born" while I watched Deathly Hallows, as I was watching the scene added to the movie, where Harry dances with Hermione (which I thought was very sweet). The way Hermione was looking at Harry, I thought, If Harry made a move on her now, she would be SO his. So I changed things up, had Harry make that move, and here we go.

I've entered this fic under the characters "Harry Potter" and "Severus Snape" because it's what I write. We start off with Harry and Hermione, but don't worry – Severus will make an appearance soon enough, and he'll play a large part in the story from that point forward.

This fic is completed, though it's a little long to post all together. I've broken it up into four chapters.

##########

Harry sat on his bed in the suddenly very quiet and empty tent, the merry tune playing on the forgotten radio a cruel counterpoint to his mood. Ron was gone. Ron had left them. Ron, always more affected by that damn locket, had finally given in to the frustration and despair. He'd wanted answers, and Harry had been unable to provide them. Didn't he know that Harry was frustrated, too? That Harry wished every day that Dumbledore had given him more information, a better idea what they were supposed to be doing here, just one damn clue what to do next? And now Ron was gone, and their pathetic band of horcrux hunters was down to two.

Harry looked across to Hermione. She looked utterly miserable, huddled on her own camp bed, hugging her knees, her eyes red and watery. If she gave in to the hopelessness, too, if he lost Hermione – he couldn't. He couldn't lose her, or he'd give up himself, dig a large hole and crawl into it, and never come out again.

Harry forced himself off the cot and across the tent. When he stopped in front of Hermione, he offered his hand to her. She looked up at him, a single tear track marring her beautiful face, and Harry thought for a moment that she was going to ignore his outreach. Finally, she slowly reached out her own hand and slipped it into Harry's.

With gentle pressure, Harry pulled Hermione to her feet and led her to the middle of the room. Then, with all the awkwardness he possessed (which was a considerable amount), he began to dance with her, holding her at arm's length as he swivelled his hips and moved his feet in time to the music. Hermione stood stiffly at first, but then a small smile graced her lips, and she began to dance, too, copying Harry's clumsy movements. Harry twirled her under his arm, then she did the same to him, her smile blossoming into a laugh.

When she stumbled, Harry pulled her close, into the safety of his embrace, and their movements slowed, a close dance of mutual solace. Harry dropped his chin to Hermione's shoulder, nuzzling her neck with his nose. She smelled like cooking smoke and tree bark and the soap she'd transfigured for them from the blossom of a plant Harry couldn't remember the name of. Harry pulled her closer, and she melted into the embrace, melding her body to his.

Harry inhaled her unique fragrance, the heady aroma going up his nostrils and straight down to his cock. As it began to grow and lengthen in his jeans, he thought briefly of pulling away from her, worried he'd frighten her or offend her, but then he decided, to hell with it. She had to feel him, pressing against her, and she wasn't pulling away. Taking a huge risk, Harry pressed his lips to her neck. When she arched into the contact, he opened his mouth and tongued her flesh, kissing his way up to her ear.

Hermione groaned and turned to face him, and Harry expected that now she would come to her senses, tell him gently but firmly that she loved Ron and couldn't do this, and then pull away. Instead, she pressed her lips to his and kissed him soundly. With a tiny whimper in the back of his throat, Harry threw himself into the kiss, drowning in the heat of her body's contact with his. With a sudden flare of understanding, Harry realized that he had been aching for Hermione for some time now. He'd thought it was Ron he wanted, but now that she was in his arms and kissing him like she might devour him, he was forced to rethink the object of his desire.

Ron. Wait a minute. Ron was his best friend. Hermione was his best friend's girl. What was he doing? "Hermione," he said into her mouth.

"Harry, shush," she said without moving her lips away. "Don't think. Just feel."

With that, Harry felt her backing toward her bed, bringing him with her, their lips still attached. Harry went willingly. Ron was gone. They may never see him again, and he and Hermione were still here.

When they reached the bed, Hermione pulled him down on top of her. They settled themselves comfortably and resumed kissing. Hermione's hands slipped up under Harry's shirt, and her hot hands on his cool skin branded him like an iron. Returning the favor, Harry tugged up the edge of her jumper and rested his hands on her slim waist.

"Take it off," she requested.

Did she mean his or hers? When Harry lifted off of her enough to rip his own shirt over his head, she raised up and began to take pull her jumper off. Oh, she meant both. Harry assisted her when the jumper caught underneath her where she wasn't able to raise up enough. He looked down at her reverently, and she looked back with a happy twinkle in her eyes. Harry ran his hands over her bra, then lowered himself back onto her, his lips missing hers already. He thought he could happily kiss her forever and say to hell with horcruxes and Voldemort and Death Eaters. His hands came up to entwine in her hair and hold her head still. He kissed his way down her neck and buried his nose in the hollow between her breasts. Hermione pulled her bra up, releasing both of her breasts to his eager inspection.

Harry dropped his hands to her breasts, fondling both of them and rubbing his thumbs over the nipples. Hermione arched up into the contact, and Harry nosed his way over to the right one, tongued the hardened nipple, then sucked it into his mouth.

"Mmmm," Harry moaned into her flesh. "You are delicious."

"Harry," Hermione said, her voice rough with lust. "Get your pants off."

Harry was certainly willing to comply with that request, but that damn noble Gryffindor part of him made him pause. "Hermione?" he said, raising his mouth from his feast. "Are you sure?"

"Harry, I've wanted you forever," Hermione told him. "Even when I was with Ron. It was you."

That was all Harry needed. He stood up, undressed as quickly as he could, then helped Hermione out of her jeans. He lay back down on top of her, positioning his eager erection between her legs, rubbing himself sensually through her soft folds. "Oh Jesus, Hermione!" he breathed. "You're so hot and wet."

Hermione spread her legs, changing the angle and nearly causing Harry to shoot off before he even got inside her. He was close, so close, and he needed to fuck her very soon.

"Have you and Ron – ?"

"Yes, Harry. I'm not a virgin. Do it. Fuck me."

Her profanity shocked him and excited him in equal parts. Harry raised his hips enough to get his hand to the base of his erection, and he guided it into her wet heat. He sank in in one slow sensuous slide, and they both groaned.

"Harry!" Hermione moaned.

"I can't –" he gasped. "I need to move!"

Hermione thrust her hips up. "Then move," she ordered.

And Harry began to drive himself into her. He tried to be gentle, but he hadn't been with anyone for months, and he wanted her so badly. She urged him on, though, and he lost himself in the rhythm of the fuck until he exploded in her with so much force he actually saw stars. It seemed like he was never going to stop coming, and when he felt Hermione's orgasm milking him, he managed three more weak spurts before collapsing atop her.

"Holy shit!" he said, panting into her hair.

Hermione's arms went around Harry, and she held him tight. "Thank you," she whispered into his ear.

"Can we talk later?" he asked, satiated sleep stealing over him. They needed to talk, but he didn't think he could even approach coherent at the moment.

"Mmm. Sleep now, love," she said, and she carded her hand through his hair until Harry dropped into the most contented sleep he'd had in a long, long time.

##########

Harry awoke the following morning with Hermione's head on his chest and her hand wrapped around his morning wood. "Good morning," he muttered through the fog of sleep and arousal.

"Mmm, it is," she agreed. Before Harry even registered what she was doing, she slid to the end of the bed and took his cock into her mouth. Before he could protest that he hadn't even cleaned up yet from their bout of sex last night, she was forcing a teasing tongue underneath his foreskin, then pressing it flat against the sensitive vein underneath. Harry's hips snapped up in response, driving his prick deep into Hermione's throat and making her gag.

"Jesus, Hermione, I'm sorry!" Harry breathed.

Hermione accepted his apology by going down on him again and fondling his ball sac. Her movements up and down on his cock sped up, and when she reached a single finger down to rub at Harry's perineum and then beyond, he lost it, ejaculating up into her throat with a cry of "Here I –" before he found himself unable to speak any more.

Hermione kept her mouth affixed to his surging penis, and when Harry felt like he had no more to give, Hermione proved him wrong by sliding the tip of one finger into his anus. Harry bucked up off the bed then with a fresh surge of pleasure. He felt completely drained when he came back down.

"You are wicked," he said to her when she rejoined him at the head of the bed.

"I couldn't resist," she said. "Taste this." She pressed her mouth to his, and Harry could taste himself on her tongue, and he was overwhelmed by the naughty sensation of experiencing the flavor of his come on the tongue of this sensuous creature. Helpless to resist, his own tongue began foraging in her mouth, seeking out every drop of tang that she had wrung from his unprotesting body. Their kiss made his cock twitch as it tried valiantly to come to life yet again.

"You are going to wear me out," Harry told her, in no way complaining.

Hermione smiled and settled down at his side again, her head once again on his chest.

"You want me to return the favor?" Harry asked.

"Later," she said. "I just didn't want you to think that last night was an aberration brought on by grief over losing Ron. I have wanted to do that forever, Harry."

Harry nudged her up so they were sharing the same pillow, lying on their sides, their noses almost touching. Harry suspected that his morning breath could drop a hippogriff, but then, so could hers. "So what you had with Ron – "

"Was real," Hermione said. "I really do love him. But I love you, too. I was conflicted about that, and I wanted to tell you, but the words just never came. And I wasn't sure how Ron would feel about a threesome."

Harry's cock gave a mighty leap at that word. "Wait a minute. You'd want to – with both of us?"

Hermione nodded. "I thought about it all the time," she confessed. "Ron's a great guy, despite the fact that he's currently on my shite list, and I love him and all, but he's rather . . . bland in bed. Too conservative. I used to fantasize about you, about the three of us being together, when we were making love. How do you feel about that, Harry? Does the thought of having sex with a man excite you or nauseate you?"

Harry thrust his hips forward so that she could feel for herself just how he felt about the topic. "I've had a thing for Ron for ages. You, too, I now realize."

"You never said anything to him?"

"I didn't want to destroy our friendship. He seems like the straightest bloke you could ever meet."

"Oh, yes," Hermione agreed. "There's not a gay bone in Ron's body."

"I had sex with a bloke once. Well, two actually," Harry confessed, his face coloring.

"Tell me about it."

"Summer after fifth year, I used to ride trains all 'round London. The Dursleys didn't care where I was, as long as I wasn't underfoot, so I'd just hop on a train and ride it 'til the end, then come back and hop on another. There was this grotty little diner in one of the tube stations – there were two waitresses there that I flirted with. They were older than me, had their own flat together. I went home with them a few times. One night, neither one of them was working, and I was going to just leave. But then this good-looking bloke came in. He was a university student, so a little older than me, had no idea who I was." Hermione knew what an attractive quality that was to Harry. "We got to talking. Before I even really knew what was happening, we were walking back to his flat. He had a roommate, and we . . . all did it together. They taught me a lot. It was incredible."

"You never told us any of this," Hermione noted, slightly accusatory.

Harry's shrug was limited by the fact that he was lying down. "Not exactly the kind of thing you'd go around bragging about."

"I'd like to hear all about it in detail some time," Hermione surprised him by saying. "So you'd had sex with a girl before last night?"

"Yeah. The two waitresses. Usually it was the three of us together. They liked that I was young and could get it up repeatedly. And then there was Ginny," Harry said. "Two times. Once at school, the week before Dumbledore died, and once this summer."

"At the Burrow?" Hermione asked, amazed they'd been able to find enough private time in that mad house.

Harry nodded. "In Arthur's shed. She really wanted to. I wasn't going to turn her down."

"Did you tell Ginny about the waitresses?"

"No. She thought I was her first. I obviously was not her first, but we didn't talk about that, either."

Hermione looked into his eyes and asked, "How do you feel about Ginny now?"

Harry sighed. "Ginny's like from another life, another time. I like her just fine, but I don't know if I see her and I together when I think about my future. Not that I think about that a lot, since I probably don't have much of one. What about you? Has there been anyone other than Ron?'

Hermione nodded. "One boy I met last summer. Ron and I hadn't started dating yet. He was my first. Ron thinks he was my one and only. He can be a little insecure, so I didn't tell him about . . . well, I never knew his name."

"Hermione!" Harry said with a playful air of shocked prudishness. "You had sex with a man whose name you didn't even know? You are a naughty girl."

"Says the bloke who's engaged in multiple orgies, including sex with two male strangers," Hermione shot back.

"Well, I at least knew their names. The birds were Theresa and Celeste, and the blokes were Chad and . . . someone else. Well, three out of four ain't bad." Harry smiled and pulled her close, almost unable to believe the developments in his life in the past twenty-four hours. Ron had left him, but he'd gained so much more in return. "I never knew you had this risque streak in you," he murmured into her ear.

Hermione gyrated her hips against Harry's. "It's later now, Harry. You can reciprocate now, if you'd like."

"Oh, I'd like," he assured her, and he began kissing his way down her body. He stopped when he reached his objective and knelt between her spread thighs. "You'll let me know what you like, yeah?" He'd discovered in his sexual explorations last summer that different women liked oral sex in different ways. Celeste had liked being penetrated, by fingers or a dildo, while being manipulated orally, though she couldn't tolerate direct stimulation of her clitoris. Theresa couldn't reach orgasm with something inside her, and required prolonged and constant contact with her clitoris in order to come. Harry had been happy to oblige – he found he liked the taste of women. He and Ginny hadn't ever had sex orally – their time had been limited, and she'd always been eager to get to the big finish.

"Lips and tongue, Harry," Hermione said. "You can't go wrong with lips and tongue."

"Yes, Professor," he said with a grin before pouncing on her eagerly. He burrowed his nose into the warm folds of her wet vagina, then drew back enough to explore with his tongue.

"That's nice, Harry," Hermione breathed, so Harry kept it up.

"You taste good," Harry hummed.

Hermione reached down between her legs with both hands and pulled the lips of her pussy apart, exposing her clitoris. She wiggled it back and forth with one finger and drew a breath in sharply. "Hot damn that feels good!"

Harry took over worshiping the little deity with his tongue, which had Hermione immediately writhing beneath him. "Oh, Harry. Just there. Yes! That feels – oh!" A large shudder wracked through Hermione's body, and Harry's tongue was bathed in a surge of sweet nectar. Hermione's legs tightened around his head, and Harry thought for a moment she was going to suffocate him. He kept his tongue in place, though, letting her ride out the last waves of pleasure. When she seemed to have finished, he looked up at her, his face shiny with her fluid, and asked, "All right?"

"No, I hated it," she deadpanned. Hermione motioned for him to join her again. "That was brilliant. Thank you." She reached down between Harry's legs and found his own raging need. "Your turn?"

"This could be a never-ending cycle," he mused, thrusting into her hand. "I get you off, then you get me off. Then I get you off."

"Or you could just fuck me. I'll likely come again then, and we can be even for a bit."

That sounded like a most reasonable plan, so Harry set about putting it in motion.

##########

"Mmmm," Harry said, arching into Hermione's touch. "I like that."

Hermione continued with her explorations. Harry was on his hands and knees. Currently Hermione had one finger buried in his arse and was working toward a second.

"That's good," Harry encouraged. "That's great lube you conjured. Now put two in. Yeah," he moaned in appreciation, "that's it. Twist them around. Yeah. Like that. Now scissor them. Have you done this before?" he asked, his tone playful.

"No, Harry," Hermione said with a giggle.

"Natural talent then," Harry guessed. "Do you know the prostate?"

"No, but I'd like to get better acquainted."

"That sounds like a great plan," Harry agreed. "Okay, stretch in as far as you can. You have such short fingers! That's good. A little more toward the . . . there! Oh, Jesus, there!" Hermione rubbed her finger back and forth over the nub, driving Harry crazy with desire. "Oh, Hermione. That's awesome. I'd give just about anything if you had a cock to drive up there."

Hermione pulled out of him, causing Harry to whimper. "Hermione!" he whined.

"Just a sec, love." She got up off the bed and rummaged in her pack. When she returned to the bed, Harry smelt the lube again, then felt something blunt, something much too large to be Hermione's fingers, press up against his hole.

"Hermione?"

"Hush, love. You'll like this."

And he did. A lot. Hermione pushed – whatever it was – slowly into his arsehole. She found his prostate on the first thrust, and he keened loudly.

"That good?" she asked hesitantly, afraid she'd hurt him.

"Better than good," he panted. "Do it again!"

And she did. Again and again. Her arm tired, and she charmed the dildo to move at the same pace and angle on its own. Her hand still slick with lube, she reached around to take Harry's penis in her hand. Harry bucked back and forth between the protrusion in his arse and Hermione's hand, making very undignified whimpering noises, until he couldn't take any more and he came all over her hand and himself and the bed below him.

He wanted to collapse onto the bed, but there was one thing he needed first. "Hermione," he gasped. "Get it out." The dildo was still moving, still striking over and over on his most sensitive spot, no longer pleasurable now that he'd found his release.

Immediately the fake cock stopped moving, and Hermione pulled it out carefully and cast a quick cleaning charm on it.

"What the hell was that?" Harry asked after he'd collapsed to the bed, then rolled onto his back, the pleasant ache in his arse reminding him how long it had been since he'd had a good buggering.

Hermione showed him. "I transfigured it out of a quill." "It" was a replica of Harry's cock and balls, identical in all detail except it was black. Harry took it from her hand and turned it over, examining it with a smile on his face. "This is brilliant, Hermione."

"Maybe next time I can figure out a way to strap it on," Hermione mused. "I'd kind of like to be the one pounding it into you."

Harry felt his tired cock twitch at that idea. "I like that you're kinky!" he said in appreciation.

"But I was thinking that right now, you could try it on me."

"You want me to use this to bugger you?"

"No, I want you to use this," she said, reaching over to stroke Harry's cock, "to bugger me."

Harry's prick leapt at the opportunity. "Are you sure? It's painful the first time."

"You'll be careful," Hermione said, completely trusting him.

"I will," Harry promised. "I'll prepare you very carefully."

And he did. Hermione insisted on a cleaning spell when Harry started with his tongue. Once he had her writhing and begging, he moved on to lubricated fingers, first one, then two, then three. Finally, she insisted she was ready, and Harry positioned himself behind her, reverently stroking the perfect globes of her arse.

"What are you waiting for?" she asked.

"Sorry. Admiring the view. A little more lube, I think," he mused. He stuck several fingers into the jar and began to rub them over his cock, enjoying this sensation in itself.

"Harry. Stop playing with yourself and get busy."

"Pushy bottom," Harry griped, but he stopped his self-ministrations and positioned himself at her entrance. "Okay, this is going to hurt. Are you sure this is what you want?"

Hermione swallowed loudly. "I'm sure," she assured him.

"All right. Here goes." And Harry began to push the head of his cock against her virgin arsehole. It was tiny, and Harry began to fear that he was just not going to fit, when finally, he breached her slightly. Hermione whimpered. "It's all right, love," Harry soothed, rubbing her lower back in comforting circles. "Any time you want me to stop, you just say the word. If you push back against me, it will help some."

Taking his advice, Hermione pushed back on the large protrusion filling her. When she did, the head of Harry's cock entered her diminutive opening. She felt as though she was being ripped open.

"Breathe, baby," Harry crooned. "Breathe and relax."

Hermione released the breath she hadn't realized she was holding.

"Just a little further," Harry said. "Once I get the head through, it's narrower, yeah? Just one more little . . . push." He backed the word up with a gentle nudge, and he slipped through the guardian ring of muscle. She gripped him so tightly, and he had to fight with every instinct in his body which was telling him to take her, roughly and now.

"You're right," she panted. "That's better."

"You're doing great, love," Harry praised. "Do you want to stop now?"

"No. No, keep going. Put it in more. It's all right."

Using a steady constant push, Harry pressed into her until his balls brushed gently against the back of her thighs. "I'm all the way in now. God, Hermione, you are so tight," he said, breathing quickly through his mouth to keep the tenuous hold he had on his control. "How do you feel?"

"Full," she said. "Stretched beyond belief."

"Is it good? Or do you hate it? I wish you had a prostate."

"It's . . . okay. Try moving, just a little."

Harry pulled himself halfway out, then pushed gently back in. He did that three more times, then stopped again, tormenting himself in the process. "What do you think?"

"I think it feels better and better all the time. It still feels really full, but I like the slide. You can move again if you want to."

"I want to, but I'm afraid I'm going to lose control and pound into you. You feel so good around me! I don't want to hurt you."

"We knew it would hurt the first time. I've a potion to help, if I'm sore after. Do what you have to do. I want you to."

Before he got down to business, Harry thought more lube was a good idea, and he pulled himself out of her. He stared down at her arsehole, still gaping open, as though grasping for his penis, and a wave of arousal stuttered through him. He quickly spread more lube on his aching cock and re-entered her in one smooth thrust.

"Oh," she said, the sound was half lust and half discomfort.

Seated deeply within her, Harry reached around and found her vagina, inserting a single finger into her folds. He was gratified to find her wet – he'd thought sure she would be unaroused and that he'd have to start with artificial lubrication. "You're wet," he said in pleased surprise.

"Told you I like it. Go ahead, Harry. Fuck me into the mattress," she goaded.

Harry growled, but before he started to move, he spent a moment stimulating her clitoris. "Think you can come with me?" he asked.

She groaned at his ministrations. "Yes. Do it, Harry!"

Keeping a finger planted firmly on her clit, Harry began to slide in and out of her at a much brisker pace. She exhorted him with breathy encouragement: "Oh yes! Oh there, Harry! A little faster. That's it. Pound into me. Oh, that feels heavenly. I wanna come, Harry. Come with me!" This last order he obeyed like a good little boy, and he felt the come being wrung out of his sputtering cock by her vise-like grip. With every spare bit of concentration he could muster, he kept his finger busy pleasuring her, and she went over the edge of ecstacy with him.

Afterward, they lay there panting, Harry still hard and still buried in her arse. He kissed her shoulder blade. "Want me to pull out?"

"No. I want you to stay in there forever," she said sincerely.

Harry chuckled. "That'll make the horcrux hunt a little more difficult, I expect. It's likely going to hurt when I come out. Are you ready?"

Hermione gritted her teeth. "Go."

Harry pulled out swiftly and surely. Like pulling a bandage off an open wound, going slowly would only prolong the agony. Hermione groaned when the head of his cock stretched her already-abused opening.

"Are you all right?" Harry asked, worried.

She turned on her side to face him. "I'm fine."

"Are you sure? You're so tiny."

"I'm sore. I won't lie and say it isn't so. But it's kind of a pleasant ache, you know?"

Harry knew. "So, you liked it?"

Hermione smiled. "I did."

"And you might like to do it again some time?"

"Yes, Harry. I'd like to do it again some time. But right now, I'd like to take a little nap. After you perform a cleaning spell and get me that potion I told you about."

##########

Harry lay miserably in his cot. Hermione was outside, keeping watch, for which he was glad, because he was still a little angry with her for what had happened to his wand. He knew he shouldn't be – if it hadn't been for her, they both likely would have died in that old house in Godric's Hollow. But his wand – it was useless, as good as gone. He sat up and took the pieces out again, staring at them in despair. He was distracted by Hermione pacing in front of the tent. Hastily, he stuffed the pieces back into the pouch around his neck. He was being ridiculous. It was just a wand, and Hermione was – Hermione had become everything.

"Hermione!" he called next time he saw her shadow fall across the tent.

Hermione stuck her head into the tent. "Everything okay?"

"Could you come here?" he asked.

She approached him slowly, fearful he was still upset with her. When he patted the bed next to him, she sat down.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I've been acting like a child. You're so much more important than any wand. Do you forgive me?"

"Oh, Harry," she said, drawing him into her embrace. "I'm sorry, too," she cried into his shoulder.

"Shhhh," Harry soothed, stroking her hair. "It's all right. We're all right." He cupped her face with both his hands and lifted her face to his, brushing her tears away with his thumbs. "I love you, Hermione," he whispered. "You mean more to me than anything." And he brushed his lips over hers.

"I love you, too," she said into his mouth, and they gave themselves over to the kiss.

##########

"Hermione!" Harry called out to her, his giddiness at Ron's unexpected return and his near-fatal pitch into the icy waters and finding Gryffindor's sword and destroying the horcrux pitching his voice an octave or two higher than normal. "Hermione, come quick!"

Hermione burst out of the tent, her certainty that something must be wrong clearly evident on her furrowed face. She stopped short when she saw Ron, and her bottom jaw dropped.

"Hey," Ron said with a hesitant little wave.

"'Hey'?" Hermione repeated. "You desert us for weeks and then just turn up out of the blue, and all you can say is 'hey'?"

"I'm sorry?" Ron offered.

Hermione huffed and turned and stalked back into the tent.

Harry smiled weakly at Ron. "Let me go talk to her. Give us a minute."

As Harry walked slowly into the tent, his happiness began to dampen with the realization that his new relationship with Hermione was likely going to suffer as a result of Ron's return. It was entirely possible that now that Ron was back, this . . . thing they'd enjoyed together would end. He took a fortifying breath and stepped inside the tent. He closed the flap, cast a silencing spell, and sat beside Hermione on the bed. He took her hand in his, and she leaned over to rest her head on his shoulder.

"Ron saved my life, Hermione. It's a really long story, but he saved me and he took the sword and destroyed the horcrux. I wouldn't be here if he hadn't come back when he did."

"Oh, Harry. I'm actually glad he's back. And I really want to hear that story. But what happens to us now?" Harry was relieved to discover that she had the same concern he did.

"I don't think I can just stop," Harry confessed. "I love you, Hermione."

"I know," she said with an encouraging squeeze of his hand. "You said you like blokes, right? And you said you had a thing for Ron once. So what if . . ." She stopped, not really sure how to word her unusual proposal.

"What if we invite Ron to join us?" Harry guessed, his heartbeat quickening at the mere thought.

"Does that creep you out?"

Harry lowered her hand to his lap, where he'd become half-hard at the idea. "Absolutely not. Wouldn't be my first threesome, now would it? How do you think he'll feel about it?"

"I've no idea," Hermione confessed. "He is very straight and conservative. But I won't give you up, and if he can't handle that, then . . ." She left that part unsaid.

"How do we tell him?"

"I think we have to just sit him down and tell him like it is. We're in too close quarters to sneak around and let him figure it out for himself."

"Perhaps you should do most of the talking," Harry suggested. "He might take this better coming from you."

##########

They sat in the tent, the three of them together again, and Harry told the story of the doe patronus that had appeared out of nowhere and how he had followed it to the puddle containing Gryffindor's sword. Ron took over the narrative here, describing how he had seen Harry go into the water and not come back out. Together they told Hermione what had happened when Harry opened the horcrux and Ron destroyed it. Then Hermione took over, telling Ron about their near-death experience in Godric's Hollow. Ron followed that up with details about where he'd been since leaving them, with news of snatchers and Dark Lord jinxes.

The telling took quite some time, and during the length of it, Ron cast repeated glances at his two friends, sitting side by side on one bed while he sat alone on another. They were touching, thigh to thigh, and Ron couldn't help but wonder if the apparition in the locket hadn't been partly right.

There was a slightly uncomfortable silence in the tent when everything that had happened during their separation had been told, everything but the most important.

"Some things changed while you were gone, Ron," Hermione began gently.

Ron gestured at them with his chin. "I can see that."

"We didn't plan it. It just happened," Harry said quietly, his eyes shining with sincerity.

"Was this going on before?" Ron asked, obviously afraid of the answer.

"No," Hermione said firmly. "Although I have to confess that I had . . . thought about Harry in that way. Ron, I love you. I still love you. But I love Harry, too."

"And you?" Ron asked, looking at Harry. "How do you feel?"

"I feel the same way she does," Harry told him, holding his friend's eyes. "About both of you."

"You mean . . ." Ron couldn't bring himself to say it.

"Yes," Harry said. "If that makes you uncomfortable, I'm sorry, but it's how I feel."

"So what do we do now?"

"Well," Hermione said, "if we all three want it, I don't see any reason why we can't just . . . be together."

"You mean like . . . like a threesome?" Ron asked, thinking how surreal this situation had become.

Hermione nodded. "Harry and I talked about it, how if you ever came back . . ."

"When you came back," Harry interrupted.

"When you came back," Hermione went on. "We'd want you with us. In every way possible."

Ron wanted to misunderstand what she was offering, but there was just no way to do so. He wasn't as bright as Hermione, but he wasn't stupid. He could see what they had between them and he knew perfectly well what they were offering him. He just didn't know if he wanted it. He loved Hermione, sure, and Harry, too, though not in that way, but this was . . .

"I'm not gay," he blurted.

"Neither am I," Harry said. "Not really. I like both. Could we just give this a try? See if we can make it work?" Harry really wanted this, for many reasons.

Ron stared at both of them. Everything inside him was telling him, screaming at him, to say no. But he suspected that if he did, he would certainly lose Hermione as a girlfriend, and he'd likely lose both of them as friends. Oh maybe not today, but certainly at some point in the future.

"I could try, I guess," he finally said, clearly reluctant.

Hermione reached a hand out toward him. "Come here, Ron."

Ron very slowly got up and approached them. Harry and Hermione stood up, and Hermione transfigured the narrow bed into something much larger. Then she turned to Ron and began to undress him, slowly unbuttoning his shirt, holding his eyes with hers.

Harry settled back on the bed, watching the two of them, getting nearly as aroused by watching as he would by touching them himself.

Hermione kissed Ron now, lips and tongues entangling in a remembered sharing of passion. Ron's large hands came up to cup her face as he devoured her mouth. On the bed, Harry unzipped his pants and pulled his semi-erect prick out, stroking it to full hardness as he watched the show put on by his friends.

Hermione pushed Ron's shirt off his shoulders. It fell to the floor unheeded. Her hands caressed up and down his back. Ron pulled Hermione's shirt off, then unhooked her bra and pulled it off. He pulled her into his embrace and held her tightly. "I missed you," he whispered into her ear.

"Me, too," Hermione assured him. "Take your pants off."

Ron cast a quick, uncomfortable glance at Harry on the bed, then looked back when his brain processed exactly what his friend was doing to himself. He wanted to feel interested or aroused, watching his best mate wank, but he felt nothing. The woman in his arms, on the other hand, was making him hard enough to pound nails. He really had missed her. He turned back to Hermione. If he focused on her, he'd be able to get through this.

Once they'd both stripped, Hermione led Ron to the bed and pulled him down. She lay beside Harry and kissed him, her hand covering his as it worked up and down on his cock. Ron made sure that she lay between him and Harry.

Harry could see how uncomfortable Ron was, and he nudged Hermione back toward him. She rolled so she was facing Ron, and they began to kiss again. She pulled her body flush with his, and he frotted against her, needy for her. "Hermione," he moaned.

That sound made Harry even harder, and he moaned in response.

Hermione guided Ron's cock between her legs, and he thrust himself back and forth in her wet folds. Hermione groaned and opened her legs wider. She felt Harry's hand on her hip, and she reached down with one of her own to cover it. She knew this needed to be about Ron now, but she felt bad about leaving Harry out of it completely.

"Hermione, I can't wait," Ron said urgently.

"All right, love." She shifted up to change the angle enough to allow Ron to slide up into her. They both groaned as he went in all the way in one firm thrust.

"I've missed you," Ron chanted as he began to move. "I've missed you."

Harry's hand moved faster on his cock as he watched them. He moved down the bed and raised Hermione's leg at the knee, which provided him with an excellent view of Ron's hard cock sliding in and out of Hermione's vagina, fluid spilling with every pull out of her heat. Harry wanted to reach up and taste, but he knew Ron wasn't ready for that yet. So he watched, and he pulled on his own prick, until finally Ron gave one almost violent thrust, burying himself as deep inside Hermione as he could go, and let loose with an ejaculation that had been building since he'd left them weeks ago.

Harry had learned Hermione's noises well in the time that they'd been together, and he knew that she'd come along with Ron, so he let himself go as well. Directing his cock at Hermione's arse cheeks, he painted her with spurts of pearly strings of come until he had no more to give.

They lay there panting, Ron and Hermione still joined, until Ron slipped out of Hermione with a rush of fluid. This was too good to waste, and Harry rolled Hermione onto her back and went to work, licking up every drop of their combined fluid until Hermione came again on his tongue. When he was finished there, he turned her over, licking up the remains of his own release.

Ron sat up on the bed, watching with horrified fascination that was nothing like arousal. He had the feeling that if he asked, Harry would turn his attention to Ron's come-covered cock and lick that clean as well. Ron's cock shriveled further at that thought. Harry met his eyes once, briefly, the invitation plainly written there, but Ron could only look away. Disappointed, Harry crawled up to lay on the other side of Hermione. He kissed her, knowing that she liked the taste of their shared flavor, then curled up at her side, and let sleep take him away.

##########

Harry sighed as Ron inched away from Harry's hand on the duvet. Ron had been back with them for more than month, and he still hadn't been able to let Harry touch him, let alone even considering touching Harry. Harry wanted him so badly, but he'd respected Ron's discomfort and the fact that he was even willing to get into the same bed with him, even if he did always keep Hermione between them.

The tension lessened slightly when Hermione entered the tent and smiled at them both. "Waiting for me, boys?"

"Always," Harry said, defeat evident in his voice. He was perfectly willing to share Hermione with Ron, but it didn't feel like sharing. It felt like Hermione having sex with Ron while Harry watched or participated on the sidelines. He and Hermione had talked in a private moment, and she'd confessed her frustration with Ron's continued intransigence, but she'd begged Harry to be patient, and he'd promised he would. He was beginning to wonder, however, if Ron was ever going to come around to having the type of relationship they'd envisioned when he returned.

Hermione thought the time had come to force the issue. To this point, she'd concentrated almost solely on Ron, hoping to slowly ease him into accepting Harry in their physical relationship. Poor Harry had been relegated to wanking beside them, and she hadn't had actual, real sex with Harry since Ron's return. She missed him, and she knew he missed her. Harry loved Ron and was being incredibly patient and supportive of his reluctance, and he deserved a reward for that.

"I found some berries and some bark," she told them, slipping out of her shirt. "I'll see what I can do with them later." She lost her pants on the way to the bed. Wearing only her underwear, she crawled onto the bed, surprising both of them when she went to Harry. She pulled her body along his until she was laying along his full length, and she pressed her mouth to his. Harry's arms came around her, holding her tight with relief and want.

"Can I get undressed?" Harry asked, thrusting his denim-covered erection up into Hermione's pubic bone.

"It would certainly simplify things," Hermione said playfully.

She rolled off of him, towards Ron, and Harry jumped to his feet and stripped in seconds. Hermione smiled at Ron and reached up to kiss him. "Join us?" she invited.

Ron clearly didn't think much of that idea, and he gave no answer. When Harry settled back onto the bed, Hermione went back to him, going directly to his groin and licking his straining erection. Harry groaned in satisfaction and pushed up, seeking more, wanting deeper.

Hermione stopped, the head of Harry's cock still in her mouth, and looked over at Ron. "Want a taste?" she asked. She pulled off of Harry and wrapped her hand around the base of his hard-on, waggling it at Ron. "It's delicious." She licked her lips enticingly.

Ron turned a very deep shade of red.

"Come on," Hermione urged. "At least come take a look."

Clearly reluctant, Ron slowly dragged himself down the bed and positioned himself at least two feet away from them. Hermione pointed Harry's cock at him again. "Hmmm?" she asked.

Ron shook his head emphatically no.

"You don't know what you're missing," she said. She looked up at Harry and could see the disappointment at his friend's refusal in his eyes. Perhaps she could make him forget. She devoted herself to giving Harry the best blow-job he'd ever had, and she succeeded in forcing the come out of him in record time.

Ron watched, his interest only in when she'd finish and turn her attention to him. When Harry lay there panting, Ron returned to the head of the bed, certain it was now his turn. Instead, Hermione returned to Harry's mouth and kissed him. Harry hardened again immediately when she used her tongue to force the come she'd held in her mouth into his. He moaned into her licentious mouth. Without breaking the hold she had on his mouth, she slid atop him and impaled herself on his newly-rampant erection.

Ron, feeling left out and more than a little angry with both of them, slid off the bed and left the tent as Hermione rode Harry to orgasm again.

##########

But Ron got the message. The following evening, when bedtime arrived, he engaged with Hermione first, before she could go to Harry and repeat last night's performance. But Hermione wasn't going to let it be that simple any more.

She let him lead until he crawled on top of her and slid into her wet heat. While he was distracted thrusting into her, she reached a hand out to Harry, and when he took it, she pulled him toward them. Willingly, he rolled until he was touching them. Ron, busy with his task, didn't notice. Harry nudged his hard cock into Hermione's thigh and reached out with one hand to caress Ron's arse. Perhaps Ron assumed it was Hermione's hand, or perhaps he didn't notice the hand at all, and he continued to pound into Hermione obliviously.

Harry marveled at the strength of the muscles rippling beneath his hand as Ron fucked Hermione. Finally, finally, he was touching Ron, and moments after Ron reached his climax inside his girl, Harry came helplessly against their legs, his hand clenching Ron's arse cheek.

Ron's afterglow didn't prevent him from figuring out what was happening. In disbelief, he reached a hand down and ran it through the streaks of come on his leg. A look of revulsion washed over his face, and he jumped up from the bed, pulling his still semi-hard prick out of Hermione, causing her to protest the rough treatment.

"You . . . you touched me!" he said, glaring at Harry. "You came on me!"

Harry had no idea what Ron needed to hear to deter him from the monumental freak-out he was apparently about to have, so he remained silent.

"Ron," Hermione said reasonably, sitting up. "You knew this was what we wanted. You said you were okay with it."

"I thought I was," Ron said, panting. "I thought I could . . . But I can't, Hermione! I just can't. I'm not . . . I'm not gay! We had something good, before. I want that back. Why can't we have that back, Hermione?"

Harry drew himself up into a ball and sat with his back to the headboard. Ron couldn't even look at him now. He was watching the disintegration of the very first friendship he'd ever had. All because he couldn't keep his hands and his cock to himself.

"Things have changed, Ron."

"So they can change back! I love you, Hermione. I know I haven't said that before, but it's true. I want you! I don't want . . ." He waved a hand vaguely at the bed, "this."

"But I do, Ron," Hermione countered. "I love you, but I love Harry, too. And I won't give him up."

"Well, it's either him, or me," Ron stated, drawing himself up to his full, considerable height, and crossing his arms over his chest. "You choose. I can't keep pretending that I want this, just to please you."

"Ron," Hermione said, her voice low with warning. "Don't make me choose."

"I'm sorry, but this is the way it has to be. You can have him, or you can have me, but you can't have us both."

"Then I choose Harry," she said quietly but firmly.

Ron's knees nearly buckled in shock. He'd thought that what he had before with Hermione would be enough to make her choose him. "Hermione!" he gasped.

"I told you not to make me choose," she said. "It's not too late. We can pretend this never happened."

Maybe she could, but neither of the males in the room thought it was possible. Both felt too betrayed, Harry by Ron's rejection and Ron by Hermione's choice.

"No. It's too late," Ron said, his voice a cracked whisper. He crossed the tent and began to pack his bag.

"Ron," Harry pleaded. "Don't go. We need you. I'm . . . sorry."

Ron glared at Harry. "You don't need me. I'm too stupid to help with the horcruxes, and you sure as hell don't need me in bed."

"Please," Harry tried again. "Ron, you're my best mate . . ."

"Some best mate you turned out to be," Ron flung at him. "The minute my back is turned, you're fucking my girl."

There was too much truth in that accusation for Harry to deny it, so he didn't.

Ron slung his pack over his shoulder.

"So you're just going to leave? Again?" Hermione charged.

"Seems to be the only thing left to do. Good luck with the hunt."

And he left them. Harry turned to Hermione, and they embraced, and when they heard the sound of Ron apparating away, they both began to cry.

##########

They got used to Ron's absence again. They were glad he wasn't with them when they were captured by snatchers and taken to Malfoy Manor. If Dobby hadn't appeared when he did, they knew they would both be dead. The brave little elf had taken Luna and Mr. Ollivander to Bill and Fleur's cottage. When he'd returned for Harry and Hermione and Griphook the goblin, he'd taken a knife to the chest but still somehow managed to apparate them to Grimmauld Place. As soon as Hermione realized where they were, she'd apparated them all away again, and they'd landed back where they'd been captured. Amazingly, their tent was still there, secure within the enchantments that kept it invisible. Harry immediately set about reinforcing those protections. Then, while Hermione tended to the goblin's injuries as best she could, Harry cried over Dobby's lifeless body. Once Hermione had Griphook stabilized, she and Harry had buried Dobby in a clearing with all the honor and pomp they could muster with their meager possessions.

And then they began to plot with the goblin the impossible task: breaking into Gringotts. Harry remembered back to when he'd first met Hagrid. The giant man had told him that it was madness to try to break into Gringott's, and Harry suspected he was probably right. But their options were limited. They'd run out of other ideas, and this at least gave them purpose.

The fact that they were successful, against all odds, astounded both of them. But they had no time to revel in their triumph. Voldemort was closing in on Hogwarts.

##########

It had already been an eventful night. Harry and Hermione had apparated to Hogsmeade, immediately setting off an alarm. They would likely have been caught by a band of roving Death Eaters if they hadn't been rescued by Aberforth Dumbledore. The shock of meeting the Headmaster's brother had been superseded by seeing Neville, dear sweet Neville, who looked hardened now, like the survivor of a nasty prolonged battle he was.

And then people started arriving in the revamped Room of Requirement, and one of the very first to step through the portrait tunnel was Ronald Weasley. Harry's breath caught in his throat when he spotted his friend, and he offered a tentative smile. He didn't know where Ron had been for the past few months, and they certainly didn't have time to catch up now.

Harry felt fortified, ready to take on anything, when Ron smiled hesitantly back. They approached each other slowly and shook hands. Harry wanted to pull Ron into a hug, but he remembered the way Ron had recoiled from his touch, and he restrained himself.

"Everything okay?" Ron asked.

"It's much better now," Harry said, and he knew he was grinning, which was more than a little inappropriate given the circumstances, but he couldn't seem to stop.

"Hey, Hermione," Ron said.

"Hey, Ron," she answered with a soft smile.

"So, what are we doing?" Ron wanted to know.

They'd decided to split up. Harry went up to Ravenclaw Tower with Luna to attempt to find Rowena Ravenclaw's lost diadem. What he found was trouble, first in the form of Alecta Carrow and then her brother, Amycus. The arrival of Minerva McGonagall had bolstered Harry immeasurably, and he'd used an unforgivable, one he'd actually meant this time. It had felt good, and he didn't have the time to examine why that made him nervous right now.

As they'd raced down the stairs, intent on their plan to get as many students as possible out of the school, Snape had appeared, and Harry had been nearly consumed with hatred. He'd wanted so badly to try out his new-found appreciation for the Dark Arts again, but Professor McGonagall had driven Snape off before he got the chance.

Harry returned to the Room of Requirement, where he immediately spotted Ginny. He was stunned when he realized just how little he'd thought about her over the past few months. He'd thought she was the one he wanted to spend his life with, but now that he'd found Hermione, what he had with her made him realize that what he'd thought he had with Ginny paled in comparison.

Inspiration had struck Harry when he'd figured out that the ghost of Ravenclaw may hold the answers he needed. She had led him to his own memory of hiding a book and placing a wig and a beat-up crown atop the cupboard, so that he could find that precious book again some day.

But before he did anything else, there was someone he needed to talk to.

##########

Harry made his way into the Headmaster's office, which was eerily quiet. The portraits lining the walls all appeared empty – their subjects must be elsewhere in the castle, monitoring the battle and the evacuation. There was only one portrait he cared about, and he made his way behind the Headmaster's desk and stared up at the empty frame.

"Professor!" he called, his voice sounding amplified in the empty office. "Professor Dumbledore, are you there? It's Harry! I could really use your help, sir."

Harry waited. Nothing. "Professor?" he tried again.

Again, nothing. He was just about to give up when a familiar old man appeared from the right side of the frame. Tears of relief prickled in Harry's eyes. "Professor!"

"Harry!" Dumbledore said, beaming down at him. "Dear boy! It is so good to see you!"

"It's great to see you, too, sir. Look, I don't have a lot of time, and I need some answers. You're the only one that can give them to me."

"Have you seen Severus?" Dumbledore asked, his tone urgent.

"What? Snape?" Harry asked, confused.

"Headmaster Snape," Dumbledore corrected gently.

Harry couldn't believe that Dumbledore was insisting on showing respect for Snape, after all the man had done. "I don't have time for this, Headmaster," Harry emphasized the honorific to demonstrate to Dumbledore that there was only one man he considered worthy of the title.

"Have you seen Severus, Harry? It's important."

"I saw him briefly. Just before he jumped out a window and flew away."

Dumbledore sighed. Harry watched him think, calculate.

"Headmaster, if you know anything useful, now would be a really good time to tell me. I've figured out where the last horcrux is, aside from Nagini. Once I destroy it, and the snake, Voldemort will be vulnerable. But I feel like I'm still missing pieces of the puzzle. I don't want to face him not knowing if it will be the end of him if I'm able to kill him."

"Harry, sit," Dumbledore said. "I've a lot to tell you. My sincere apologies for not sharing this information with you earlier. I know it would have made your task easier, but I had my reasons. I will not waste time with them now. This is what you need to know."

And he told him: how Snape had come to him so many years ago, overwrought and afraid, conveying a warning that the woman he'd loved since childhood was in danger; how distraught Snape had been when Lily had been killed despite his warning; how Snape had vowed to keep Lily's only child safe as a means of making penance; how Snape had been sent back into the snake's lair following Voldemort's return and how he'd spent the last three years of his life walking a knife's edge between the dark and the light; how Dumbledore had been cursed by Gaunt's ring, a curse which would have proven fatal almost immediately if Snape hadn't bought him several more months; how Snape had had to make an unthinkable vow with Draco Malfoy's mother; how Dumbledore had coerced Snape into the plan that would ultimately end the Headmaster's life. And then he'd told Harry the absolute worst bit of news: that Harry himself was a horcrux and that if there was any chance of defeating Voldemort, Harry must sacrifice himself.

Harry sat, unable to move, his brain struggling to comprehend the two stunning facts the Headmaster had revealed: Snape was now, and always had been, loyal to Harry; and Harry must die today.

"I am sorry, Harry," the Headmaster said after a long moment of silence. "I should have told you. I wish that the situation was different. I wish that I was wrong."

Harry held up a hand to silence the Headmaster. It was a little late for apologies and second thoughts. Dumbledore let him stew for another moment before adding, "Harry, if you encounter Severus, you must trust him. He is on your side, and he will help you in whatever way he can. He has information for you, too. I fear that you will not see him before events become critical, which is why I have shared what I have with you."

Harry stood up. He couldn't stay here any longer. If he was going to have to die, he'd better get to it. The more he thought about it, the more likely he was to run screaming from here, his Gryffindor bravery in tatters.

"Good luck, Harry," Dumbledore said after Harry had shut the door.

##########

While Harry had been running about the castle, Ron and Hermione had descended into the Chamber of Secrets and retrieved an armful of basilisk fangs, using one to destroy Hufflepuff's cup. Harry had applauded their ingenuity, and had then filled them in on everything he had learned from Dumbledore as they made their way up to the Room of Requirement. They were horrified by the news, but had no time to deal with it, as they'd arrived at the Room of Requirement.

Dealing with Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, and then with the Fiendfyre, had consumed the better part of an hour. Fred's death left them all reeling, but they had to put that aside – Voldemort was summoning Snape to the Shrieking Shack. His unsuspected protector and the man who was destined to kill him, both in the same building – this was obviously where Harry needed to be.

##########

Under cover of his invisibility cloak, Harry made his way through the much-smaller-than-he-remembered tunnel to the Shrieking Shack. When he reached the end of it, he heard the voices of the two men he'd have sworn an hour ago he hated more than any other in the world. One of them still held that title, but the other – the other caused a cacophony of conflicting emotions in Harry that he wished he had time to untangle. The bottom line was that, despite everything, he trusted Albus Dumbledore, even now, and he believed that Snape, though always a bastard, had been doing his best to protect Harry and assist the Light in its battle against Voldemort. Harry peered through the small space left by a large box blocking the end of the tunnel.

He watched the scene before him through different eyes than he would have mere hours ago. He watched as Snape begged Voldemort to be allowed to go out and find Harry Potter, Harry now knowing that Snape had memories he needed to share before it was too late. He watched as Voldemort tried to puzzle out the age-old mystery of the Elder Wand and came to erroneous conclusions. And he watched in complete horror as Nagini attacked Snape. He watched Snape fall to the floor, and Voldemort sail from the room as though nothing had happened.

Harry hurriedly but as quietly as possible levitated the crate blocking the entrance out of his way and pulled himself through the hole onto the floor of the Shrieking Shack. He threw aside the invisibility cloak and crawled to Snape's body. He knelt beside the dying man and pressed a hand to the gaping, profusely bleeding wound at his neck.

"Take it . . ." Snape rasped. "Take it . . ."

"No," Harry said. He knew Snape was referring to the memories that were positively leaking from the man, but he knew what they contained, and they didn't have time for that. "No. I know already. Hermione! What do I do?!"

Hermione crawled up beside them.

"Take it . . . please," Snape said again, a bubble of blood expanding from his mouth and then popping as he spoke.

Hermione handed Ron a vial. "Ron, collect the memories." It would soothe Snape, she assumed, to feel as though he was discharging his final duty, and the less agitated the man was, and the less he moved around now, the more chance they had of saving his life.

"Harry, we need to slow the bleeding." Hermione remembered the difficulties the healers had had when Arthur Weasley had been attacked. She conjured a thick white bandage, folded it into a square, and handed it to Harry. "Press this to the wound."

Harry did as she bid.

"Got 'em," Ron said, capping the vial which now contained a swirling silvery substance. Harry took it from him.

"You two go get Madam Pomfrey. Find her and bring her here now!"

"We're not leaving you here alone, Harry," Hermione argued.

"Hermione, we don't have time to argue about this. He needs a healer, now! I don't care what Pomfrey is doing – stun her if you have to, but get her here quickly. I will not let him die. I'll be fine here. There's no reason why Voldemort would come back here. I'll ward the door after you leave. Go!"

Not liking this one bit, but seeing the wisdom of his argument, Hermione jumped to her feet and followed Ron back up the tunnel.

As soon as they'd gone, Harry sat on the floor, still pressing the bandage to Snape's neck. He gently lifted Snape's head and eased it into his lap. Snape's eyes blinked open. "Potter," he croaked.

"Yes, it's me. You need to stay with me, okay? Hermione's gone for help. You hang on, all right?"

"The memories. You need . . . to see . . ." Speaking was difficult around the blood welling up in Snape's throat.

"Shhh. Don't speak. I know. I know about the memories. I spoke with Dumbledore. He told me everything. I know about you and my mother. I know . . . everything. You've been trying to help me. And I'm not going to let you die on me now. You have to live so I can thank you properly."

Snape closed his eyes, relieved that he hadn't totally failed. Potter knew. He felt the boy's hand petting his hair gently, and he settled into the contact. He knew he was going to die, and that was certainly not a surprising outcome – he'd expected this. But he was surprised by how much he didn't want to die alone on the floor of this Godforsaken place, and even if it was Harry Potter who was here to usher what was left of his soul into the afterlife, he'd accept it.

With what he thought might be his last breath, he said, "Look at me." He would die looking into the eyes of the only person he'd ever loved. Maybe he would find her in whatever next life he ended up in, so that he could apologize to her. Maybe she'd even accept it. Maybe.

Harry's green eyes, wet with tears he was very close to shedding, met Snape's of onyx. He tried to see the mother, but faced with the cold reality of her son, it was Harry and only Harry that stared at him now.

Harry knew why he'd requested that Harry look at him. He brought a hand to Snape's cheek and caressed him gently before slapping him, still gently. This startled Snape and made him marginally more alert. "No! You do not get to take the easy way out," Harry said fiercely. "I still need help here, and you're the only one who can do it. You have to stay with me. Please. I don't want anyone else to die."

And then they heard the high, cruel voice of Voldemort, giving Harry an hour to come to the forest, and Harry knew that this was it. This was where he sacrificed himself, so that everyone else could live. He hoped Pomfrey hurried up – he didn't want to leave Snape alone here, but if they didn't come soon, he'd have to go.

"You can't . . ." Severus spat.

Harry's hand returned to Snape's cheek and caressed it softly. "I must. This has to end. And I'm the only one that can end it."

Snape hadn't the strength to argue with the stubborn boy, and he collapsed back into Potter's lap. Moments later, Harry heard the sound of movement in the tunnel, and he pointed his wand at the entrance, ready to hex anyone who came through that wasn't a friendly. Relief washed through him when Hermione's familiar, beloved head popped into the room.

Behind her was Poppy Pomfrey, who stood in the room and looked at Harry and Severus on the floor, then turned on Hermione.

"You said it was Potter that was injured!"

"Sorry, Madam Pomfrey, but I needed to get you here, and I didn't think you'd come if you knew who needed help."

"Please, Madam Pomfrey. He was bitten. By Nagini," Harry said from his place on the floor.

The mediwitch began searching through the pockets of her robe. Eventually, she pulled out a vial. "Severus created an anti-venin," she explained, holding up the vial for their inspection. "When I knew that he was here, I figured the snake was likely with him, so I made sure I had several vials on me, just in case. Harry, get up from there."

Harry gently lowered Snape's head to the floor. He could see that the man was still breathing, but the life was slowly but surely ebbing out of him and onto the floor. Harry stood and edged away from the rest of them, picking up his cloak as he did so. While their attention was centered on Poppy's life-saving treatment, Harry quietly slipped the cloak over his head and slipped back into the tunnel. He wanted to say goodbye to Hermione, to tell her how much he loved her, but he knew she'd argue, and he didn't have time. He had to do this, for Hermione, and for Snape, and for the Weasleys, and for everyone else.

Poppy dropped to her knees and opened the vial, pouring it into Snape's mouth and then holding his jaw closed until he'd swallowed. She removed the bandage Harry had been holding and replaced it with a clean one that she conjured.

Severus' eyes blinked open, and he sought out Granger. "Don't . . . let him go," he gasped out.

Hermione looked around frantically, but it was too late. Harry was gone.

##########

Well, that had been an interesting end to the day from hell. Harry had gone into the forest, intending to sacrifice himself to Voldemort, hoping that Dumbledore was right and that that would end this somehow, so that no one else would have to die. Instead of outright dying, Harry had found himself in a weird approximation of King's Cross Station, chatting with an ethereal Albus Dumbledore about the Deathly Hallows. Harry was quite pleased to learn that he had the option to not be dead, and that he could likely be not-dead minus that bit of Voldemort's soul that he'd been carrying around with him for the past sixteen years. No wonder he'd been so tired!

It took little thought for him to decide to return. One thought of Hermione, and he was ready to go, regardless of what might be facing him immediately upon his rebirth. That had turned out to be a stunned Voldemort and a circle of concerned Death Eaters. Playing dead, an act surprisingly reinforced by Narcissa Malfoy, had bought him enough time to get back to Hogwarts and make his stand – a stand which had been successful.

Voldemort was gone, Bellatrix had joined him in hell, and many of his loyal supporters were dead or captured. After Harry's simple expelliarmus had ended the bastard, Harry had fallen to his knees, completely exhausted. When he'd felt arms surrounding him, and knew by the scent that he was safe in Hermione's embrace, he turned into her familiar heat and allowed the tears to come.

##########

The post-victory celebration raged in the Great Hall. Harry would like to be elsewhere, but he knew that his presence here was necessary to all those who needed to see him, their reluctant savior, to talk to him, to touch him. He'd finally been able to get some sleep, but he still felt weary to the bone. He guessed it would be awhile before that feeling went away. He'd been doing his best to catch up on eating since he'd disposed of Voldemort, and it was a very nice feeling to have a full belly. He sat on a bench, his back against the wall, with Hermione by his side, her head resting on his shoulder.

"Tired, hon?" he asked.

"Mmm."

"Didn't you get any sleep last night?" Harry had slept in his old bed in the Gryffindor dorm. Hermione had bunked in with Ginny.

"Not much. Ginny and I . . . talked."

"Oh." Harry felt a small amount of guilt. He'd seen Ginny looking at him several times today, her eyes large and sad. When he'd gone off to hunt for horcruxes, it had been with the understanding that when he returned, he and Ginny would pick things up where they'd left off when he insisted on breaking up with her. So much had happened since then. He no longer wanted Ginny, but he'd never wanted to hurt her, and it troubled him that he had. "How was that?"

"It was awkward. She was a friend, and I feel guilty about taking you away from her."

"You didn't," Harry protested. "We can't help what happened. I feel bad for Ginny, but she'll get over it."

Hermione sighed. "I know. But I can't help the guilt."

"Wanna get out of here and go check on Snape?" Harry asked. Soon after Voldemort's body had been removed from the Great Hall, he'd inquired about Snape and learned that the man had survived and was in the hospital wing receiving treatment for his wounds. He was expected to make a full recovery, though it would be a long process.

"Sure."

Harry stood up and offered Hermione a hand. When she was on her feet, they began the difficult trek through the crowd to the door. They didn't get far before they ran into Ron.

"Hey," the tall redhead said, his eyes flicking to Harry and Hermione's clasped hands.

"Hey," Harry said in return. "How's your mum?"

Ron sighed. "She's about as well as can be expected. She and Dad are finalizing the funeral plans."

"You'll be sure and let us know when . . ."

"Of course," Ron assured him.

"Listen, Ron, about . . ." Harry stopped, not sure how to proceed. He'd been so happy to have his friend back for the last couple of days, and he didn't want to lose him again.

"Don't, okay?" Ron requested. "I can't. It's just too weird. You two just . . . I hope you're happy together."

Harry smiled sadly. "I'd like to still be friends, if you think you can do that."

"I don't know," Ron said honestly. "I just don't know. Aside from what happened between us, you hurt my sister."

Harry ran a hand through his hair. "I'm sorry about that, Ron. I'm sorry about how people got hurt. But I'm not going to say I'm sorry about what happened." He looked down at Hermione.

Ron shrugged. "You made your bed. Lie in it." And he walked away.

"Let's go, Harry." Hermione tugged on his hand and they continued their journey to the door.

##########

"He should recover fully," Madam Pomfrey assured them. "His own creation saved his life. After Arthur Weasley was attacked by Nagini, Severus set to work on an antidote. If I hadn't had that available to give to him, he would not have survived."

"Has anyone been here asking about him?" Harry asked. "Anyone from the Ministry?"

"The Ministry is in disarray currently, as you might imagine." Poppy bustled about, straightening and smoothing Snape's sheets. "Minerva told me that she fears that as soon as the remaining members of the Wizengamot get themselves together long enough to elect an acting Minister, their first order of business will be to come after Severus."

"We can't let them take him away," Harry said. "If they do, they'll lock him away and we'll never see him again. We owe him everything."

"There are ample reasons for the Ministry to want to question him, Harry. You weren't here this last year. I understand that there may have been reasons for some of the things he did, but . . ."

"No buts, Madam Pomfrey!" Harry interrupted her. "You don't know the whole story. No one does. And if they take him away, we'll waste valuable time getting him back and the story may never come out. When can he be moved?"

Poppy looked down at her patient. "He's really quite stable. He'll be in a coma-like state while his body heals for some time to come, and then he'll need some time to recuperate and build up his strength, but I suppose he could be moved any time. Why? What are you thinking?"

"I want to get him out of here, before they can think to come looking for him."

"Where will you take him?"

Harry looked at Hermione. "Grimmauld Place?"

"They can get in there, Harry."

"They can," Harry agreed. "But they'll have to go through me. Can we do it?" he asked, turning back to Madam Pomfrey.

"I'll get him ready."

"I'm going to go find Professor McGonagall and let her know what's going on," Harry said. "I'll be back shortly. Hermione, would you stay here, just in case someone comes?"

"Of course, Harry." Hermione drew a chair up next to the ailing Professor's bed and sat down, her back to the wall, her wand clasped loosely in her hand.

##########

When Harry returned, Minerva was with him.

"Good," Madam Pomfrey said. "You're here. You support this move?"

"Yes, Poppy. Everything will come out in the next few days. Severus is . . . well, innocent would probably be going too far, but he was instrumental in bringing down the Dark . . . Voldemort. His actions over the last year here will not earn him any friends, but it was all a necessary part of the proceedings. We would not be free today were it not for Severus. But if we allow the Ministry to get their hands on him now, they may very well kill him."

"Do you have any idea who might be appointed acting Minister?" Hermione asked.

"Rumor has it that Kingsley Shacklebolt is being strongly considered. He would be a fine choice. His work as an auror and his physical bearing will lend a sense of strength and firmness to the position that the people will be looking for as we try to rebuild after so many years of violence and strife."

"Will he be sympathetic to Severus' position?" Harry asked.

"I believe he will be willing to listen to all of the facts. We have Albus' supporting testimony, which will mean more to Kingsley than it would to someone who was not a member of the Order, certainly."

Harry sighed. "If we take him to Grimmauld Place, will you help me with the wards? They fell that day we infiltrated the Ministry. We'll need them back up if we're going to stay there."

"We'll do it now, while Poppy gets Severus ready."

##########

It had taken two hours to raise wards sufficient to satisfy Minerva. Once they were as strong as they could get them, Severus, still unconscious, was moved to Grimmauld Place. Poppy brought with her a carpet bag full of potions and a long list of instructions on how to care for him. Harry let Hermione handle that – she was better at that sort of thing. Minerva and Poppy left them to it, and Harry and Hermione became Severus Snape's caregivers and protectors.

##########

Hermione awoke on their first morning of their new life together to find the bed beside her empty, which was unusual. She stretched luxuriantly. It was over – it was finally over. Voldemort was gone, the immediate post-celebration frenzy was past, left behind them at the bedlam that was Hogwarts. They were safe (relatively), warm and dry and well-fed, and Hermione felt happier than she could ever remember feeling.

She sat up in the bed with two purposes: to begin the process today of bringing her parents home and restoring their memories, and to find Harry. This latter quest was helped along when she heard the sound of singing. Curious, she got out of bed, slipped into her house coat, and left the bedroom.

"Seventy-six trombones led the big parade," Harry bellowed from the shower. "With a hundred and ten cornets close at hand. They were followed by rows and rows of the finest virtuosos. The cream of every famous band."

Standing in the hallway beside the bathroom door, Hermione smiled as she listened to Harry belt out the tune. She went down the stairs to start breakfast, accompanied by Harry's musical stylings. "There were more than a thousand reeds, springing up like weeds, there were horns of every shape and kind."

##########

When Harry entered the kitchen to find plates of food already on the table. Hermione couldn't help but smile at him impishly.

"What?" Harry asked after he'd kissed her good morning.

"You were . . . singing in the shower."

Harry felt the blush creeping up his cheeks. "Sorry," he muttered. "Old habit."

"Don't be sorry. I quite enjoyed it. It was nice. You sing well. Old habit, you say? I've never heard you do that."

"Well, haven't seen that many showers since we've been together, have we?" Harry pointed out. "It's the only place I do it. You could ask Ron – I'm sure he's heard me in the showers at Hogwarts."

Thinking about Ron in the shower had taken on a whole new meaning for Harry, and he blushed harder, for different reasons. To dispel the uncomfortable feeling, Hermione asked, "What is it you were singing?"

"Seventy-six Trombones," Harry told her. "It's from a Broadway musical called The Music Man."

"And how do you come to know show tunes?" Hermione asked, surprised.

"Aunt Petunia had a collection of Broadway show tunes from the forties, fifties, and sixties. She used to listen to them every day, as soon as Uncle Vernon was out of the house. He was very suspicious of anything American, but Aunt Petunia sure loved her music collection. She played them over and over and over. I don't really know the words to any songs but those."

"Well, I quite like it, and I hope to hear some more of your showstoppers," she smiled encouragingly. After a moment of silence, punctuated only by the clink of forks on plates and cups being set back down on the table, Hermione asked, "Do you miss them?"

"What, the Dursleys? No," he said honestly. "Not one little bit. I hope they're okay, wherever they are, and I hope that they get to go back home now, because I know how much they loved that stupid house, but I don't miss them. Not at all."

"I miss my parents," Hermione admitted, her voice breaking just a little. "Now that it's over, I want to see about getting them back."

"Let's floo Minerva this morning," Harry suggested, covering her hand with his and squeezing gently. "I bet she can help."

Hermione smiled. "I'm going to shower," she said, jumping up, in her excitement forgetting she'd not finished her breakfast. "Once I'm dressed, we'll talk to her."

Minerva did have suggestions, the first being that they task an Order member with retrieving Hermione's parents and restoring their memories. Though she wanted badly to see her parents as soon as possible, Hermione realized that there was no benefit to her going herself, as her parents wouldn't even recognize her, and she knew she was needed here.

Two days later, word arrived that the Grangers were back in Britain. Hermione's presence was requested at the memory restoration, to help to explain to the very confused couple exactly what was going on. She spent three hours away from Grimmauld Place, and when she returned, a happy smile was plastered on her face. Her parents remembered her! She'd been afraid that she had messed the spell up and that the memory loss would be permanent, but healers had performed the spell reversal, and it was immediately obvious that Hermione's parents remembered her. Following hugs and tears, the entire story needed to be told, and Hermione then left her parents to the task of beginning to get their lives back on track.

##########

Seven days after arriving at Grimmauld Place, Severus was still unconscious, though Madam Pomfrey assured them that he was better every day. Harry and Hermione cared for him as best they could with their limited medical training. Hermione handled the potion regimen, and Harry handled hygiene – cleaning spells, changing pajamas, and putting fresh sheets on the bed. They sat with Snape for several hours a day, talking to him and reading to him, hoping for some sign that he was emerging from his coma-like state.

They had no visitors with the exception of Poppy Pomfrey, who came every other day to briefly check on Severus' condition, and Minerva McGonagall, who came to bring them news. As expected and hoped for, Kingsley Shacklebolt had been named acting Minister of Magic, and he approached Minerva exactly one week after Voldemort's demise to ask her where Severus Snape was. She refused to divulge his location and provided him with access to Albus Dumbledore's portrait. Kingsley spent two hours with the portrait, and when he emerged, he was convinced that Severus had been working on the side of the light for many, many years. He'd suspected as much – as a member of the Order, he'd worked with Snape, although the last year had forced doubt into his mind about Severus' true loyalties. Dumbledore, even in death, was very convincing.

Though he was convinced of Severus' overall loyalties, Kingsley thought the man had a lot to answer for, both for acts committed in the last year and for things he'd done during the time he'd been a full-fledged Death Eater. He demanded that Minerva produce Severus, immediately, or she would be arrested for obstructing the investigation into the events surrounding the downfall of Lord Voldemort and the goings-on at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry during the last year.

Minerva asked Shacklebolt for one day to consider his request. Out of respect for her and her position, he gave that to her. Minerva flooed immediately to Grimmauld Place after Kingsley left her office.

##########

"Do you think he was serious?" Hermione asked afer she'd served tea to the new Headmistress of Hogwarts.

"He seemed very serious," Minerva told her. "I am not concerned about his threat, per se. I am a bit concerned about how serious he seemed to be that Severus be turned over to them for questioning."

"Did you explain that the man is unconscious and physically incapable of answering questions?" Harry asked.

"I did," Minerva confirmed with a curt nod. "He wants Severus at St. Mungo's, under guard, so that when he does wake, they will know immediately and can take him into custody."

"They can't have him," Harry stated.

"That was my position as well. I gave Kingsley access to the Headmaster's portrait, and Albus explained everything. Kingsley still wants Severus. He assured me that Severus would be given a fair hearing and that he would be treated fairly."

"But you know as well as I do that if they get their hands on him, he's not coming out of there again. He has many enemies, and they won't hesitate to do everything they can to put him in Azkaban for the rest of his life. In his condition, he'll be dead inside of a month! And that's if someone doesn't get to him while he's in the hospital!"

Minerva sighed. "I know, and I'm willing to go to Azkaban myself to protect him."

The thought of her in that place horrified Harry, and he made up his mind quickly. "That's not necessary," Harry said. "I'll go to him. I'll go talk to Kingsley. I'll tell him I've got Severus and that I'm not turning him over, and that if he wants to arrest someone, he should arrest me." Harry stood up. "I'll go now."

"Would you like me to go with you?" Hermione asked.

Harry smiled down at her. "No. Stay with Severus. I'll be back soon."

##########

"Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Minister," Harry said politely as he sat in the office of the new Acting Minister of Magic.

"Harry," Kingsley said with a big smile. "Did you really think I'd deny you an audience? You killed Voldemort. We owe you everything. And please, it's Kingsley."

Harry was happy to hear that he was owed. "I'm here to collect," he stated bluntly.

Kingsley raised an interested eyebrow. "Anything, Harry. As I said, we owe you everything."

"I want Snape."

"I believe you already have him." After speaking with Minerva, Shacklebolt had guessed where Severus Snape was holed up.

"Kingsley . . ." Harry began, his voice a low warning growl.

"Harry," Kingsley interrupted, sitting back in his chair and surveying the boy – no, man – sitting before him. "We only want to talk to him. There are questions about his activities during the last year while he was Headmaster. There are even more questions about some of the things he did in the years before Voldemort's disappearance."

"That was a long time ago. Does anyone intend to question him about the sacrifices he has made since he realized his mistake and went to Dumbledore? Would any of that be taken into account? I know you've spoken with Dumbledore's portrait. You know the whole story, Kingsley. How can you persecute him now?"

"I have spoken with Dumbledore," Kingsley confirmed. "He told me what Severus has been doing for him. I knew a great deal of it, of course, through our work in the Order. But we cannot just look past the crimes he committed, at Voldemort's bidding."

"And at Dumbledore's," Harry pointed out.

Kingsley nodded to indicate his acceptance of that truth.

"You said you owe me everything. I literally gave up my life to ensure that Voldemort would, once and for all, die. I don't want money in return. I don't want an Order of Merlin of any class. I don't want a figurehead job here at the Ministry or automatic entry into the auror program. All I want is Snape, cleared of all charges, free to go where he wants, when he wants, with no suspicion attached to his name. He's sacrificed enough. That is what I want. That is what you owe me. And him."

"Is he at Grimmauld Place, Harry?"

Harry nodded, then looked Kinsgley straight in the eye. "He is. And if you try to take him by force, I would expect resistance. Fair warning."

Kingsley smiled at Harry's bravado. "I would hope it wouldn't come to that."

Harry stood up. "I've said what I came here to say, and I'll not keep you any longer. I'm sure you're busy. You have my terms. I'm happy to discuss this again, but I'm not going to change my mind, and I'm not going to accept anything less than Snape's total pardon."

Kingsley stood as well and extended his hand to Harry. Harry took it and shook it firmly. "Thank you for coming, Harry. We'll give this some thought, and I'll be in touch."

##########

"Any change?" Harry asked Hermione as she exited Snape's room.

"He moaned," Hermione reported.

"Moaning – that's good, right?"

"Well, it's a sign of something good, I think," Hermione said. "He's been so still for so long. I have to think that any change that involves vocalization and movement is good."

"I'm going to have a shower, and then I'll make you some breakfast. Hungry?"

Hermione smiled and kissed his cheek. "Always, for you."

Harry heaved a pretend sigh. "Women – sex is all you ever think about."

"You shouldn't be so sexy," Hermione defended herself.

Harry snorted at that. "Now I know you're balmy. Want to join me?"

"Will you sing for me? If I'm in there, I mean."

"No," Harry said, blushing furiously. "I can't sing while other people are watching!"

"Then I'll stay out here," Hermione said, giving him a quick kiss. "I like hearing you sing in the shower." And she did. Harry had a nice voice and really put his all into it. "Pick something nice for me."

Harry looked at her and smiled. "Mm-mmm. I'm a little bit in love. Never felt this way before. Mm-mmm, just a little bit in love, or perhaps a little bit more."

Hermione laughed, and Harry swept her up into his arms and danced her around the small hallway. She settled into him so perfectly, and Harry was reminded of that first dance they'd shared, when he'd dared to turn it into something other than a platonic dance between grief-stricken friends. He was so grateful that he'd taken that chance, and that she'd responded as she had. He didn't know what he would do without Hermione: she was his everything. He dropped his chin to her shoulder and continued to croon in her ear as he turned her. "When she looks at me, everything's hazy and all out of focus. When she touches me, I'm in the spell of a strange hocus pocus. It's so – I don't know. I'm so – I don't know. I don't know, but I know if it's love, then it's lovely. Mm-mmm. It's so nice to be alive. When you meet someone who bewitches you. Will she be my all, or did I just fall a little bit, a little bit in love."

When he finished, he kissed her ear. "Care to join me in the shower?" he asked, his voice husky with suggestion. "I'll sing more if you say yes."

Hermione pulled away and looked up at him. Moved by the words he'd sung to her, her eyes were shining with tears. "I think you'll be too busy to sing." Harry took her hand and started to make for the bathroom, but she didn't budge, forcing him to stop again. When he looked at her with questions in his eyes, she swallowed once, loudly. "I love you, Harry," she said.

Harry pulled her close again and muttered, "Love you, too," into her hair. They stood that way for many moments until Hermione finally pulled away again and said, "Let's get that shower."

##########

The Daily Prophet was waiting on the table when they arrived in the kitchen, but they ignored it in favor of making breakfast. While Harry scooped scrambled eggs onto plates and carried them, along with a stack of toast and a plate of bacon, to the table, Hermione flipped the paper open.

"Oh no."

"What now?" Harry asked, dropping into his chair.

Hermione read a bit further before answering. "I can't believe he did this."

"Who?" Harry asked before shoveling a large bite of egg into his mouth.

"Kingsley. Minister Shacklebolt."

Harry began to get a bad feeling, and his chewing slowed down exponentially. "What has he done?"

Hermione lay the paper flat on the table with a noise of disgust. "He's leaked to the Prophet that Snape is here."

"What?!" Harry asked, shocked and disbelieving that Kingsley Shacklebolt, Order member and someone Harry had considered a friend, would betray him like this.

"It's all here. How you brought Snape here to keep him from the Ministry. How you went to the Ministry yesterday demanding Snape's freedom. To their credit, they've also reported the actual truth for once, about Snape's role in the war. That's rather surprising."

Harry was stunned. "I can't believe he did this. I thought he was my friend. He knows the truth. How could he put Snape in danger like this? We've got to talk to Minerva. He may not be safe here any longer. We may have to move him."

"Where?"

"That's why we need to talk to Minerva." Harry wasn't hungry any longer, and he dropped his fork onto his plate. "I'm gonna go see if I can talk to her right away."

"I'll clean up here," Hermione offered.

"Let Kreacher get it, if you would," Harry requested. "He was nearly in tears yesterday over me making breakfast. I know how you feel about all that, but he would really like it if you let him do something around here."

"All right," Hermione conceded. She'd come to the realization that she couldn't fight house elf nature. "I'll go check on Snape again. I'm really hoping that moaning was a sign that he's finally going to wake up."

Harry made his way to the sitting room and prepared to floo the Headmistress. He had just opened the floo when the Acting Minister of Magic's head appeared in his flame.

"Shacklebolt," Harry said, making the name sound like an accusation. He was damned if he'd extend the man the respect of the office at this point.

"Harry," Kingsley said. "May I come through? Please. I did not go to the Prophet. I would not do that to you, or to Severus. I'd like to explain in person. May I?"

"Are you alone?"

"Yes."

Harry stepped back. "Come on through."

Meanwhile, across the hall, in the first bedroom on the first floor, Hermione waved her wand over Severus' prone form. His vitals were the same, unchanged from the moment he'd arrived here and they'd taken over his care. She duly noted them on the chart, then sat on the bed beside the unresponsive man and hesitantly picked up his hand. They'd tried speaking to Severus, hoping voices would bring him out of his coma-like state, but as far as she knew, no one had tried touching him.

"Severus." That felt and sounded strange, so Hermione started over. "Professor," she said, stroking the back of his hand with her thumb as she held it between her warm hands. "I know you're in there. You've been sleeping for a very long time. We'd really like it if you'd come back to us."

She was rewarded for her attempt by another soft moan. Snape's hand twitched in hers.

"Professor!" Hermione said excitedly. "Can you hear me?"

Severus' eyes blinked open, then closed again. Several seconds later, they opened again and stayed that way.

"Professor, it's Hermione Granger. Can you hear me?"

Snape opened his mouth, as though to speak, but no sound came out of his long-unused throat. He nodded his head once.

"Oh thank God!" Hermione breathed. "Professor, you're safe. Voldemort is dead."

Severus started visibly at the name, but his eyes searched hers, looking for verification that she was telling the truth. She squeezed his hand in reassurance. "It's true. He's really gone. Harry did it."

Severus closed his eyes again, in sheer relief. He became aware that Hermione Granger, former student, was holding his hand, and that even though he was lying in bed and had been for Merlin only knew how long, he was incredibly tired. But Voldemort was dead – the monster was gone. Severus was alive, and he was free. He'd honestly given himself about a five percent chance of surviving the final battle, when it eventually arrived, and to learn that he had beaten those odds was slightly overwhelming. He felt a tear squeeze out of one eye and knew he should feel embarrassed about that, but he was just too damned tired to care.

He opened his eyes again and stared up at the young woman holding his hand, wondering how he'd come to be here with this particular young person holding his hand, why he wasn't in Azkaban, how Potter had finally dispatched the Dark Lord, whether Potter had survived, how he'd survived the snake bite that he now remembered and which caused him to shudder uncontrollably.

"Are you cold?" Hermione asked immediately. She picked up her wand and cast a warming spell, which settled over Severus like a warmed blanket.

"Thank you," he tried to say, but his useless throat would not allow him to form the words and get them out.

"It's all right," Hermione assured him with a warm smile. "You probably have a lot of questions."

Snape nodded.

"I think that we should have someone take a look at you before we tax you with too much. You look like you need sleep more than . . ." Hermione stopped as voices across the hall began to get loud. "Excuse me a moment, Professor," she said, obviously worried. She got up and hurried from the room, leaving the door slightly ajar.

"Who else knew?" Harry demanded loudly. Shacklebolt had just finished telling Harry that he had not gone to the Prophet, that he would never do such a thing to Harry or a fellow Order member, knowing how much danger that would put both of them in.

"I told no one," Kingsley assured him. "I did, however, prepare a memo detailing our conversation after you left."

"And who had access to that memo?" Harry asked, remembering the hundreds of blue memos that circulated about above everyone's head at the Ministry. How easy would it be for someone to snatch a memo coming from the Minister's office out of the air and read it?

"Only my secretary."

"And you trust her?"

"She's a leftover from the previous administration. I haven't been there long enough to form my own opinion of her trustworthiness."

"Yet you let her have access to something this sensitive?!" Harry snarled. "She's probably reporting to her former boss still. Hell, she may have even been a Death Eater!" Harry's voice was rising along with his temper. "Did you think of any of this? This is inexcusable carelessness that I would not have expected from you. You've put Severus in a great deal of danger. He's owed more than that."

"Let me take him in, Harry. We can keep him safe."

"Absolutely not! Do you think I'm that stupid?! I'm not the boy I was a year ago, Kingsley. I won't be manipulated into doing someone else's bidding."

"I can take him, Harry. I have that authority."

Harry drew his wand and pointed it directly at Kingsley's chest. "You'll have to go through me to get him."

Shacklebolt raised his hands in supplication. "Harry, put that away. There's no call for wands here. I came here alone, didn't I? We're just talking."

"No, you're talking. I'm telling you – you're not taking him. Get out of my house, Kingsley, and don't come back unless you're coming to tell me that Severus has been fully pardoned."

Kingsley sighed. "You're right, Harry. You're not the same boy I used to know. But that's not surprising, I guess, considering what you've been through."

Hermione entered the room and looked warily at Harry's wand, which was still pointed at the Minister.

"Minister," she said with a curt nod in his direction.

"Miss Granger," Shacklebolt said with a cool smile. "How delightful to see you."

"Can I offer you tea, sir?" Hermione asked.

"Kingsley was just leaving," Harry stated firmly.

Shacklebolt looked sadly at Harry. "I am sorry, Harry, that this happened. If there's anything I can do to help you, please let me know."

"You know what I want," Harry said coldly. "Good day."

Kingsley nodded at this obvious dismissal, smiled slightly at Hermione, and stepped back into the floo.

In the bedroom, Severus had managed to stay awake long enough to hear the conversation between the two men. One of his questions was answered at least – Potter was obviously alive. And defending him, quite vociferously, against Kingsley Shacklebolt, an impressive man in his own right but now also apparently the new Minister of Magic. That perhaps explained why he wasn't in Azkaban, thought he wasn't sure he understood completely why Potter hadn't simply killed Snape himself. When the noises in the other room quieted, he finally succumbed to sleep.

Harry and Hermione had no chance to talk about the Minister's visit, and Hermione had no time to tell Harry that Snape had woken up, before Minerva's head popped up in the fire. "I'm coming through," she informed them briskly.

"Good," Harry said. "I was just coming to see you."

To be continued . . .

Note: As Harry indicated, the song he sings first is Seventy-Six Trombones, from the musical "The Music Man". The other is Little Bit in Love, from "Wonderful Town".