Author's Note: Okay, dear readers, this will be the final installment solely from Severus' POV. I know that some of you have been really enjoying his side, so I hope you're not too disappointed, but now that he and Hermione are coming to know each other so much better, writing two completely independent sides to this fic has become increasingly unnecessary. And I've found that I simply lack the energy lately. Rest assured, you'll not lose his POV entirely, as I will be alternating between the two in Part 2. There may also be the occasional foray into other POVs.

Once again, I hope that you enjoy this chapter, and I look forward to seeing you as I move into "When A Phoenix Cries: Part 2".


Professor Moody stood at the front of a training room in the Room of Requirement. It was vaguely similar to Hermione's but a bit smaller, without the jogging track, and no bathing area that I could see.

I was joined in the room by Potter, Lupin, Black, Regulus, Ferris, and Longbottom. By default, I was sitting next to Regulus, the Slytherins keeping as much distance as possible from the Gryffindors. Hermione was not present. Due to the continuing complications with her magic, attending this particular session would be impossible without sharing that secret with the gaggle of Gryffindors.

"Silence," Moody called once everyone was seated.

When all talking had ceased and all eyes turned toward him, he began. "Welcome to your first Order training session. Make no mistake, when you walked through that door, you left behind your status as a student of this school and became a trainee of the Order of the Phoenix. In this room, you will not be coddled, indulged, or sheltered. This is not a game. You are being trained to fight in a war. The training that you take from this room will be the difference between life and death, not in theory, but in fact. Do not expect it to be pleasant or fun.

"If there is anyone who is having second thoughts, you may leave right now or you will be in for the duration." He paused, eyes touching on each of us while he waited to see if he had any takers.

Potter was smirking, but it faded when no one returned it. Sirius was staring at his brother with concern in his eyes. Lupin was gnawing on his lip and staring into space. Ferris and Longbottom were sharing their concerned, determined look between them, hands clasped together. Regulus was staring at his knees looking somewhere between resigned and depressed.

Personally, I was actually somewhat relieved. I'd already known that this was serious. It was good to know that our training would be treated that way. And that the Gryffindor's antics would receive little tolerance – at least from this professor.

"Is that why Wilkins isn't here?" Potter blurted when none of his friends responded to him. "Did she decide to leave?"

I made a concerted effort to glare a hole through the prat's head. To even insinuate that about Hermione after she'd been the one to recruit every last one of us…!

Moody just chuckled. "Mr. Potter," he drawled, "Miss Wilkins could teach this class. She won't be wasting her time here."

"Godric knows we need Defense skills like that for our 'record keeper'," Potter huffed quietly, but not quietly enough.

"Mr. Potter, thank you for volunteering for the first demonstration," Moody said amicably. "Come on up here, my boy."

Looking slightly put out, but still smirking like a fool, Potter left his unresponsive posse to stand at the front.

"Okay, Mr. Potter. For this demonstration, I am a Death Eater. You are fighting for the Order of the Phoenix."

Potter was just starting to nod when Moody's wand somehow materialized in his hand and Potter went flying across the room to land on a conveniently placed pile of cushions. There had barely even been time for me to recognize the wickedly powerful Impedimenta for how swiftly it had been executed.

Moody sighed, "Mr. Potter, you are dead."

"You didn't even warn me!" the git sputtered as he struggled to his feet, rubbing at his chest like it hurt.

It was a fantastic effort to avoid bursting into hysterics.

"I just told you that I was a Death Eater," Moody said as though speaking to a particularly slow child. "Death Eaters will not warn you before attacking."

The next two hours were among the best of my life. Moody paired us off, giving ten minutes to each pairing before we switched, dueling with fewer restrictions than we'd ever been allowed in class. The Marauders couldn't match me in a fair fight. In two hours, I managed to put each of them on their asses many times. They got in a few hits, but not nearly as many as I did.

That right there made joining the Order worth it.


"So, what happened in the meeting after I left? Or is that confidential?" I asked lightly, playing with Hermione's fingers while we lay on her bed. I'd met her in her room after the Defense lesson, and we were currently catching our breath after some rather remarkably intense snogging.

Lately, I quite loved my life.

"Not really," she laughed softly, "It was mostly just discussing assignments with the older members. The only really interesting part was in observing the people, getting to know a bit about who they are – how they think and interact."

"Anything surprising?" I inquired, pleasantly surprised by how open she was being.

She shook her head. "They were largely what I'd expected. Mostly Gryffindors. Loyal, brave, eager to take direction…"

I smirked at the last. "So, if there was nothing special going on, why did Dumbledore keep you there?"

"What, you're not buying the record-keeping bit?" she chuckled.

"I don't know about everyone else, but knowing what you did over Halloween makes me just a bit skeptical that he really sees you as just a record-keeper."

She sighed, "Yes, that was a bit thin, particularly for Albus. It's possible that he simply wasn't overly concerned for fooling everyone, but I find that unlikely. He has a reason for everything he does. He's setting me up for something. I'm just not sure what yet."

I blinked in surprise. "You're saying that you don't know why he did that? You two hadn't worked it out in advance?"

"Do you imagine that Albus and I spend a lot of time plotting together?" she asked with amusement.

"Well… Yeah, I guess," I frowned. "You're always writing in that journal, and you admitted that you were in his office after the meeting last night."

"Okay, admittedly there is some time spent plotting," she reflected, "but generally only about the Order itself. Not about me."

I took a moment to consider that. "You and the headmaster really sit around plotting about the Order?"

"A moment ago, you were surprised that I suggested we didn't!" she complained.

I frowned, giving a moment of thought to my response. "Well, I suppose it's something different to draw conclusions and have them confirmed," I said finally. I didn't want to insult her – truly I didn't – but it did make me a tad nervous. Considering that I was a member of said Order.

"You make it sound rather macabre," she frowned. "I only meant that he asks my opinions about some things and I give it."

That was interesting. "Why would the headmaster be interested in your opinion?" I wondered, then quickly added, "Don't misunderstand me. You're really intelligent and all, but you're a student. And I don't think he treats any other students like that."

She lifted the hand that I was holding to press a light kiss to the back of my hand, probably to prove that she wasn't offended. "Again, I have no idea what Albus is thinking or planning the vast majority of the time, but I think…" she fell silent and I turned my head to see her brow furrowed in concentration. "I suspect," she continued at length, "that he is grooming me for whatever position he wishes me to hold in the Order after we graduate."

"What kind of position?" I asked worriedly.

"I can't be sure…" she said pensively. She bit down lightly on her lower lip, drawing my eyes down to her impossibly sweet mouth. "Severus, I…" she continued, the unease in her voice dragging me from my daydreaming.

I rolled over and propped myself on my elbow so that I could see her face more clearly. I took advantage of a stray curl as an excuse to touch her face, and let my hand trail down to her cheek and linger there. "What is it?" I asked gently.

Her eyes met mine and they softened. She lifted her own hand to place over mine as she turned slightly into my touch. "My past is complicated, Severus," she said quietly. "Really complicated. I…" She frowned apprehensively.

"Please, Hermione," I whispered, afraid that she was going to shut me out again.

Her eyes slipped closed for a moment, and she sighed before opening them again. "How much do you know about Occlumency?"

I wasn't used to her being this difficult to follow. "I'm well versed in the concept," I admitted, waiting to see where she was going with this.

"I'm learning it," she said after a brief hesitation. "Would you be interested in learning with me?"

"This has something to do with your past?" I wondered, trying to connect these seemingly abstract things she kept saying.

She took a nervous breath. "I'm learning Occlumency specifically to conceal the truth about my past," she said warily. "I want to tell you, but…"

Oh. Merlin, what hadn't she told me about her past? Was there another reason the Death Eaters had targeted them? "You need me to learn Occlumency," I finished her thought.

She nodded, watching me uncertainly.

She needed for me to know Occlumency before she could tell me about her past. So, presumably, there was at least one Legilimens that she was trying to keep it from. So, had she lied to me when she'd told me bits about it before?

There was an uncomfortable conflict of old anxiety and new trust fighting for supremacy inside me. The familiar pangs of self-doubt insisting that she was going to let me down warred against an entirely new wash of faith that told me Hermione was different. That she'd never betray me.

It was her eyes that decided the battle. Great actor or not, her eyes echoed the sentiment of my own heart. I didn't think that was something that could be faked.

A strange, welcome warmth burned away my doubts, and I kissed her. Because I was terribly concerned that I might actually cry if she kept looking at me like that. She returned the kiss with an urgency that matched my own, her hands fisting in my shirt where I trapped them between us as I drew her body flush against mine.

A small moan from her finally forced me to break the kiss before I got too carried away. For a long moment, the only sound in the room was our labored breathing as it gradually evened out.

"You are going to tell me the truth, right?" I whispered, "Eventually?"

"Of course," she replied immediately, her eyes worried. "Severus, I do want to tell you. Truly. It's just… It's dangerous, okay?"

I searched her eyes once more and found only honesty. With a weary sigh, I nodded, leaning down to place a gentle kiss on her swollen lips, "Okay," then rested my forehead lightly against hers. "Okay."


In the morning, Hermione would give me no details about the Occlumency lesson, insisting briefly that she could tell me about it "later". Annoying as that was, I'd made the decision to trust her, and I intended to stand by it. So I laboriously withheld my questions until we were on our way to meet… whoever it was, about the Occlumency lessons.

"Can we talk freely now?" I finally asked when we were almost halfway to Hogsmeade.

"Yes," she said with a small smile that looked at least a little guilty.

Relieved, I didn't have to think about my first question. "Who's teaching you Occlumency?"

"Alek's grandson," she informed me, which I found both relieving and intriguing. While I knew nothing about Professor Moody's grandchildren, I trusted him. "He's an auror and very skilled in both Occlumency and Legilimency," Hermione continued.

I frowned pensively at the intriguing part. I'd expected our teacher to be one of the older Order members, but I was sure I'd have remembered if I'd seen any of Professor Moody's relations at the meeting. "Was he at the meeting?" I inquired.

"He's not a member of the Order," was her reply.

"Isn't that dangerous?" I pressed. "I mean, he must see some of your memories, right? In the process of training you?" Wasn't the Order supposed to be some big secret?

"He's Alek's grandson," she said with complete unconcern. "He's trustworthy."

While that made sense, it did seem a bit thin to me as far as an explanation for being able to trust him. Still… Hermione wasn't stupid. I found it much more likely that she was withholding her reasoning than that it was really that thin. I decided to let it go for now. "So where are we meeting him?" I asked instead.

"I'm not exactly sure," she said with a suspicious little smirk as she led us off the beaten path into a little thicket of trees.

Before I could press her again, another voice interrupted us.

"Severus. Good to see you," Professor Moody's voice greeted cheerfully.

"Professor Moody," I said, surprised to see the man appear in front of us from beneath a perfect disillusionment charm.

Moody chuckled, "We're not in class, lad. You can call me Alek."

"Okay," I said, a bit uncomfortably. I liked Moody, but stepping outside the student/teacher formality was not something I'd been expecting of my acquaintance with him. Probably I needed to get used to things like that. It wouldn't be much longer before I ceased to be a student.

Moody – Alek – then turned his smirk on Hermione. "You didn't mention that you were bringing company this week, Hermione."

So she'd known that we were meeting him here, I gathered, slightly annoyed that she'd left out that detail.

"Bit of a last minute decision," she replied, surprising me with her suddenly careful neutrality. By the way she talked about the man, I'd gathered that they were more casual than that.

"Really?" Moody – no Alek, damn it – asked, raising an eyebrow doubtfully. Still, he seemed to dismiss it quickly. "You're ready?"

Hermione nodded, stepping closer to take his hand. When they both looked at me, it took a beat for me to realize that we were apparating. With anyone else, I'd probably have been a bit uneasy about the double side-along, but I trusted that Alek was skilled enough to manage without leaving any our more important bits behind. I took his free hand and he disapparated almost instantly.

"What is this? Two of them now?" a grumpy voice growled behind us while my eyes were still adjusting to the dim light of the room in which we'd appeared.

Alek, again, looked amused for just a moment before he disapparated.

I turned with Hermione to face the displeased man who was evidently to be our instructor. His gaze fell on my face and his frown deepened further. "No," he said at once. "I agreed to teach you, girl. Not your boyfriend."

So, I assumed that he'd seen me in her mind. From the sound of it now, I was afraid that my Occlumency training was about to end before it began.

I looked between Hermione and the gruff auror warily.

"He's not just my boyfriend, as you well know, Alastor," she replied with a bit of heat.

It took more effort than it should to avoid grinning at the casual way in which she called me her boyfriend.

"Of course not," he auror replied with a feral light in his gray eyes. "The 'love of your life', wasn't it?"

I blinked in surprise, looking at Hermione again.

"I meant that he is also a member of the Order," she replied coolly, but she didn't deny his assertion. And I didn't miss the faint color in her cheeks.

Merlin, did that mean it was true, then? I couldn't believe she'd have told this man that, but if he was teaching her Occlumency, he could have gotten it directly from her mind. I tried to remain as cool as she did, but it was really hard when my heart was pounding and my stomach seemed to be filled with hyperactive pixies. Did Hermione love me?

"You really want him in the same room with me?" Alastor was saying and I struggled to focus on the conversation.

"Alastor," Hermione's tone was a warning. Her glare a threat.

"Is that the best you can do, lass?" he asked with disappointment. "Because there's lots more I could say."

Despite being incensed at the man's treatment of Hermione, I kind of did want him to continue.

Hermione stared at the older man for a long moment while I watched her features even out to calm calculation. She sat down opposite Alastor, her posture impeccable. "Severus Snape is one of the most powerful wizards I have ever met," she said placidly, utter sincerity verily radiating from her.

I sank slowly into a chair, watching her warily as she continued to address the auror.

"His value to us in this war is virtually incomparable."

I watched her eyes glaze over a bit and realized that the same had happened to the auror. He'd entered her mind with a wandless, silent Legilimens, I comprehended, impressed.

The room was completely silent for somewhere between two minutes and an eternity. Then they both blinked, but continued staring at each other, the auror's expression now calculating rather than aggressive.

Hermione raised an eyebrow expectantly while the auror turned to look at me like he was assessing me again – or for the first time, as he'd not actually given much evident thought to me before, apart from whatever he knew from Hermione's memories.

"All right," he decided abruptly. "Double lessons it is then. How much do you know about Occlumency, boy?"

"Quite a lot, academically speaking," I admitting, glancing briefly at Hermione. Her face gave nothing away except that she was pleased, but not surprised by Alastor's sudden acceptance. I'd have to ask her about it, but now wasn't the time.

"Excellent," the auror smiled, but I didn't find it particularly comforting. "Let's get started then."

I was unprepared for the depth of my fear when I realized that we were evidently going to begin straightaway. I had long found Occlumency a magical discipline of great fascination, and I'd read about it extensively. I did, in fact, fancy myself something of a natural talent, but I held no illusions as to any chance I may stand against Auror Moody. This man was a master. This man was going to smash through my pitiful shields without pause…

And into the memories beyond. Memories that I never wanted anyone to see.

The blackthorn wand rose before my eyes and I felt my mind go blank with panic.


"Worthless woman. You're pathetic!"

The sharp snap of flesh hitting flesh with heavy force sounded from the sitting room.

I slid down the wall until my bum was on the floor, curling my arms around my legs and sobbing as silently as possible. "Mummy, mummy, mummy," I chocked almost soundlessly. My worthlessly small body trembled. I knew that he was hurting her, and I wanted to make him stop, but I knew that I couldn't. I'd tried. He'd hurt me too, and Mummy had cried more.

I shoved away that memory of weakness, only to find another immediately upon us.

"WORTHLESS, FOUL WHORE!" The ugly shout reached me in my room and my heart stuttered painfully.

Father was home.

After a moment of terrified stillness, I was up out of my chair, feet thudding down the stairs. Each footfall echoed loud in my ears. Each creak of the steps screamed at me the way he made her scream.

I froze in the doorway, my eyes stuck on Mother where she was crumpled on the floor, blood on her face. Finally, they shifted to the man standing over her. A man I'd not seen in months as I'd only just returned from school. Being away so long had clearly changed nothing. I didn't think I'd ever go back for my second year. I couldn't leave her alone with him again.

"Severus," Mother whispered. "Go to your room, Severus."

"No!" I all but shouted, cringing instinctively at the sound of my own voice. One look at the man who turned to face me proved that I was going to pay for raising my voice.

"How dare you talk back to your mother, you filthy little brat!" he howled, clenched fist rising as he stepped toward me.

"No, Tobias! Please! He didn't mean it!" Mother gasped out.

Oh, I absolutely meant it, I thought darkly, but said nothing.

Father didn't listen to her.

I cringed against what was coming, preparing myself for the pain. Willing myself to silence. I wouldn't give him the satisfaction of hearing me cry out.

The fist landed, and then I was on the floor. A boot was next, and another. I heard my mother screaming and buried myself in her voice, ignoring the words she cried.

The pain was acute, but distant, as I fell into the terrible familiarity of the situation once more.

I found the invading presence in my mind and shoved, desperately protecting myself. I felt the presence reel back, and then-

Father's shouting led me into the sitting room once again, just in time to see the first blow fall. I threw myself between them without pause this time. I wasn't a little boy anymore. I was fourteen years old and I would not stand for any foul muggle laying a hand on my mother.

The blows came at me, as I'd expected, and I endured them with defiance and all the dignity possible when one was being viciously beaten.

"NO!" I realized that I was screaming aloud as I came back to Auror Moody's dingy sitting room.

Moody was staring at me with surprise concealed behind his eyes. Hermione looked deeply sympathetic. I wondered if her first time had been as bad.

I returned my focus to Moody, my eyes narrowing as the man began to chuckle.

"Naturally talented, indeed," he said with a small, hard smile. "That, my boy, was the most impressive first attempt I've ever seen. You're sure you've never done this before?"

I eyed the man warily, his enthusiasm felt a touch too bright. "I've studied the theory, sir. As I've said," I replied cautiously.

"Leave off, Alastor," Hermione cut in, her tone bored as she reclined in her seat. "He's Slytherin enough for both of us, I assure you."

The auror gave her a sour look, but did not call her down for word or manner. His lips edged toward a grin though as he spoke, "Your turn." He neither drew wand, nor spoke an incantation, but I deduced from her small flinch and glazed eyes that he'd entered her mind. Again.

It was about three or four minutes before it ended this time, and both grimaced as if in pain. I knew that Legilimency could be quite painful depending upon how one went about it, but it hadn't hurt me. Physically. I wondered if I'd merely been too distracted to notice the pain or if her experience had been different for some reason. Perhaps because her training was in a more advanced stage? Either way, I was relieved to see that it seemed to pass quickly.

Hermione's cheeks were blazing though as she glared furiously at Alastor. It made me wonder just what he'd seen, but I wasn't about to ask. I was too afraid that she'd answer and then expect me to do the same.

"You son of a bitch," she snarled at him, though it seemed more reactionary than aggressive.

The auror just chuckled at her. "I may have to target those kinds of memories more often," he grinned. "Now that I know how to motivate you."

Though his mirth at her expense bothered me, I took my cue from her. She didn't seem like she was going to hold onto the anger, so I tried to move passed it as well.

Then he turned his attention back to me. "You were easier to figure out. You jumped right to the bottom of the barrel, didn't you?"

I glared in return as he made light of the worst memories of my life. Well, admittedly there were many such memories, but that didn't make any of them pleasant. While I was still trying to decide if I should be angry with him or pleased at my success, I felt Hermione's fingers close over mine and she squeezed my hand lightly. She waited until I looked at her to speak.

"Annoying as this prat is, he's actually right," she explained gently, ignoring said prat, who huffed in amusement. "There's no time to learn this gently."

Two words, in particular, stood out. "No time". I considered my response briefly, acknowledging the fact that we weren't actually alone. Of course, if she was letting this man into her mind, he probably already knew more than I did in some respects, and she clearly trusted him with her secrets. While I remained wary, I decided to take my cue from her and trust his confidence. "Why is it so important to learn this quickly?" I inquired.

"Oh, you didn't tell him," Alastor said, as though that news was a source of tremendous amusement to him.

"Obviously, you can see how that would be counterproductive until he's learned this," Hermione bit out in reply.

"Obviously," the auror agreed, though he still seemed quite delighted. I got the uncomfortable feeling that he was expecting some sort of fantastic reaction on my part when I learned the truth. The truth that he clearly knew.

"I am curious though," the auror went on, "if you're going to make him take a vow as well."

A vow? As in, a Vow? And then it made sense. That's why she trusted him with her secrets. Not only was he an Occlumens, but she'd made him take an Unbreakable Vow. I was pretty sure that she wouldn't ask as much of me, but it did make me feel considerably better to know that she wasn't trusting this man based solely upon his relations or profession.

"The two of you seem quite… serious," he said with a suggestively twisted brow that led me to believe he was speaking of something more personal than his earlier allusion to her feelings toward me. "But teenage romances can be very unpredictable," he finished, his tone almost commiserate. It got under my skin to hear him even suggest the possibility of Hermione and I breaking up.

Hermione paused a moment, closing her eyes briefly before responding as though she had to put considerable effort into her calm response. That made me feel a bit better. "Regardless of our romantic standing, Alastor," she said evenly, "Severus is a member of the Order, just like me. That is not going to change any time soon."

Evidently not the slightest bit dissuaded by her logic, Alastor was still grinning when he spoke again. "Does he even know who you're hiding from?"

I saw the anger flash behind her eyes before she buried it. She clearly wasn't enjoying the way Alastor was leading this conversation. Rather than responding to him though, she turned her attention back to me, looking passably clam once more. "I am, of course, concealing my past from Voldemort and his followers," she explained evenly, though I wouldn't have pressed her to explain in front of Alastor.

I did my best to contain any response to her using the Dark Lord's name yet again. I'd never heard her say, "Dark Lord", "You-Know-Who", or "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named". Like she avoided the monikers on principle. Then again, perhaps that was exactly what she was doing. Proving that she wasn't afraid, or something.

"But they are not the only ones," she went on, ignoring her own use of the name, as always. "I am also trying to keep it from Albus."

I knew that my surprise was pathetically obvious, but I'd gotten it into my head that she and Dumbledore were doing something behind everyone's backs. I'd thought of them as kind of a single unit in that. It had not occurred to me that they'd be hiding anything truly important from each other. A foolish assumption, obviously.

"Not all of it, of course," she said quickly when she saw my reaction. "He knows the basics, and I've told him some of the details, but it would be extremely dangerous for me, and others as well, if he were to learn everything."

I forced myself beyond my surprise and tried to work through the situation as logically as I knew how.

She was hiding things from Dumbledore. The very woman who'd recruited me and many others to following Dumbledore's little army was keeping things from the man. She'd told him some but not all, which suggested that he may have been aware of it. Well, he probably was. She was just now learning Occlumency, and it was Albus Dumbledore that we were talking about. So, he must have allowed her to keep her secrets, but then why would she need to worry so much? Did she expect him to change his mind?

Dumbledore seemed to favor her heavily, even above Potter and his merry band of miscreants, but surely that only went so far if she was hiding things from him. I struggled to assess the dynamic between them, but quickly found that I didn't have nearly enough information. I would be watching more closely in the future though.

Her warning that the truth of her past was dangerous was beginning to take on a new meaning. Obviously, I'd been aware that there was significant threat involved if the Dark Lord wanted her secrets, but by large, he and the Death Eaters were a relatively abstract concept. Dumbledore was most certainly not. He was very real, very intimidating if he was a threat to us, and he was right there, eating in the same room as us every single day. We lived in a castle that responded to his every whim.

Hermione was insane!

"You know that we'll never be good enough to keep Dumbledore out completely," I warned, wondering if I sounded as frantic to her as I did to myself. "Even if he can't see everything, he could destroy your mind if you fight too hard."

She sighed heavily and nodded grimly, "Yes, Severus. I am aware. I don't know what I'd do if it came down to it, but I don't think Albus would risk destroying me. Not so long as I remain useful."

"Useful?" I sputtered, fighting the need to panic at the very thought of the danger I hadn't known she was in. "This is the man we're following? A man who'd kill you for his own benefit if you weren't useful enough?"

She shook her head quickly, "Not for his own benefit. Albus would never do that. But if he believed that the fate of the war depended upon gleaning every secret from my mind that he could, I think it is possible."

The way she said "possible" made it sound a lot like "probable".

"Fuck, Hermione!" I exclaimed unintelligently.

Both of her hands closed tightly around mine.

"Stop coddling him, girl!" Alastor snapped testily. "Yes, boy, she is in danger. I'm in danger. You're in danger. This is war. Any of us could die at any time."

"Alastor, stay out of this," Hermione growled.

"If you wanted me out of it, you should have told him before you got here," he retorted at once. "You think your mollycoddling is helping anything? You think you're old enough to fight in this war, boy, then you're old enough to face the truth. You and your girlfriend could die any time. Get used to it now, because it's only going to get more dangerous."

I closed my eyes and tried to truly wrap my head around what he was saying. Hermione could die. I couldn't help but recoil from the thought. I couldn't imagine my life without her now. I didn't even want to try. She was the best thing that had ever happened to me. The idea of going back to what I'd been before was incredibly repulsive.

Still, Moody was right. I needed to deal with it. As appealing as the idea may have been to take Hermione and flee the country, I somehow didn't think she'd agree to that. Even if we could manage it fiscally. Hermione was a part of this war. I was too now.

I took a deep breath and willed myself to calm down and think rationally. I had to cope with the danger to her because there simply was no other option. She cared about this war and she was going to be part of it to the end. I knew that I'd be at her side all the way.

"All right," I said at last, turning my hand over to give Hermione's a squeeze in return. "If we're going up against Albus, we'd better get back to work." Hermione looked relieved by my acceptance, Alastor looked approving.


By the time the lesson ended, I felt completely wrung dry. I'd never felt this physically and emotionally exhausted during my time at Hogwarts. It reminded me almost painfully of some days at home, except for the fact that it wasn't literally painful. It had lasted several hours, and even with the breaks in between when he coached us and when he was in Hermione's mind, it was incredibly grueling.

Alastor had not been kidding in the slightest when he'd commented on having found the right kind of memories to get the reaction he wanted from me. Every time he entered my mind, he went right for those memories of the worthless muggle I tried not to call Father. The fact that he seemed impressed by my skill and quick progress was small compensation for being forced to relive those horrible memories time and again. This time with a complete stranger looking over my shoulder the entire time.

After some of the things he'd let slip about Hermione's previous memories, I was concerned about him doing the same to mine, but he never did. Professionalism, perhaps. Or maybe a courtesy considering the manner of my memories, I wasn't sure, but at least he never alluded to more than the fact that they were quite unpleasant, which I'm sure Hermione could tell by my expressions when it was happening.

Based on the subtle hints the auror threw out and Hermione's expressions, I thought that embarrassment might just be the commonality of the memories that Alastor was viewing in her mind. She certainly seemed to blush a lot, and once or twice I caught a look in her eyes just after she came out of it that was positively mortified. I very carefully avoided letting on that I'd gathered anything at all about the content of her memories, even when Alastor was throwing out suggestive comments. I didn't think she'd want me to know any more than I wanted her to know what I was going through every time the sod rummaged through my mind.

The most interesting bit that I noticed about the differences in our experiences was that Hermione and Alastor both looked pained after she'd pushed him out, though I had yet to feel any pain. And Alastor hadn't shown any that I'd noticed with regard to me. I could only guess that he was doing something slightly different with her given the fact that she'd been training longer than I had. It was not a part that I was particularly looking forward to reaching, though pain wasn't anything new to me. I knew I'd handle it as well as she did.

When the lesson finally ended, I was a bit surprised at Profess- Alec's return. Though I was glad I didn't have to try to apparate us both back. I was pretty sure that Hermione couldn't apparate at all based on what she'd told me of her magic since her birthday. I tried really hard not to think about how much that unnerved me, considering the ever-mounting threats to her life that I was continually discovering. In a duel, she'd be as helpless as a first year, she'd told me. A first year. And she was pitting herself against the most powerful dark wizard alive, and the most powerful on the side of the light too, evidently, even if she wasn't necessarily "against" Dumbledore.

So, when Hermione mentioned that she was going to practice her magic after dinner, I made a point to be nothing but completely encouraging. I wasn't much for praying, but I was seriously considering offering up a few prayers with regard to her getting her magic sorted.

I'd been in my room less than fifteen minutes when the knock came, and finding Hermione at my door concerned me. She'd gone up to practice her magic, but she'd have barely had time to walk up there and come back down. Had she changed her mind? Why?

"Can I come in?" she questioned, and I realized that I'd just been staring at her blankly.

I nodded quickly, lowering the wards as I stepped back. I'd given her the password to mine, as it seemed only decent considering that I knew hers, but she'd not used it since. She always asked permission to come in.

"Is everything okay-" I started to ask, only to be cut short by her lips as she pressed herself to me.

Quickly forgetting that I'd been concerned as her arms circled my waist and her body fitted against mine, I returned her kiss with enthusiasm, still vaguely astonished at the fact that she actually seemed to enjoy kissing me despite my over-large nose and too-thin limbs and everything else about myself that seemed clearly objectionable. I definitely wasn't going to question it though, not when she was kissing me like her life depended on it.

I reached out blindly to swing the door shut, and then I was pressing Hermione against it, drowning in her caresses while her tongue in my mouth was rapidly robbing me of all sanity. I never wanted it to end.

The next that I registered beyond our two bodies was that we'd somehow crossed the small room when we fell onto my bed. And then she was on top of me, straddling me, her body pressed flush against mine. Her hands were in my hair, on my face and neck, my chest and shoulders, everywhere at once, and I attempted to return the favor. When my hand brushed against her breast, she whimpered and her entire body trembled.

Concentrating on not coming in my pants, I made the next touch more deliberate. I wasn't sure how far she wanted to go, but she didn't protest the caress. If anything, her kiss was increasing in intensity. I cupped the soft mound through her shirt and reveled in the fact that she didn't seem to mind in the slightest. That she actually seemed to approve.

When my second hand took up the task on her other breast, she ground her crotch down onto mine and I groaned almost incoherently, before my hands shot down to restrain her hips and I broke the kiss. "Wait," I gasped. "Just… I'm gonna…" I swallowed hard. "Just give me a minute."

"Sorry," she panted quietly, lowering her head to rest against my neck.

I shook my head weakly, "It's okay." A bit too okay, actually. The urge to thrust my hips up into her again was almost irrepressible, but I knew that I wasn't ready for her to see me come in my pants.

When we'd both mostly caught our breath, I resituated us so that we were lying in the small bed properly, and I spooned up against her back, pulling her tight against me.

We lay there like that for so long that I nearly fell asleep, but the Occlumency lesson from earlier that day kept popping back into my head, and I was curious about some of what had been said. I knew by her breathing that she wasn't sleeping, so I decided that it was as good a time as ever to see if I could get some questions answered. "How did you convince Alastor to train me?" I wondered.

She stirred slightly, nuzzling herself a little more firmly against me before answering, "I just showed him your potential as I saw it," she said, her tone nonchalant. "Some of my memories of you dueling, standing up to bullies, and your intellect. You really are pretty impressive, Severus. It wasn't that hard."

I frowned at her back. She was usually a better liar than that. Or maybe I was just getting to know her better. I didn't know that the words themselves were a lie, for she might actually think so highly of me, but the way she said it… It was a little too casual. Her explanation a little too detailed in some areas and vague in others. She was lying.

When my silence began to drag on, she rolled over to face me, a concerned frown on her face.

"Do you lie to me a lot?" I asked fairly neutrally.

Her eyes widened slightly. "Okay, that wasn't completely true," she said, her voice trembling very slightly. "I… Severus, please believe that I hate lying to you more than anything in the world. I would never, ever do it if I didn't feel it was absolutely necessary."

"Why is it necessary?" I asked cautiously, commanding myself to reserve judgment until I'd heard her out.

"Because of Albus, mostly," she said quietly, her warm brown eyes begging me to believe her. "I just… You're amazing at Occlumency, Severus. It won't take you very long to learn it, and then I swear to you…" she took a deep breath, "I will tell you everything."

I studied her for a moment, but I really did believe her this time. And I did trust her. As much as was possible under the circumstances. "Just promise me one thing, Hermione," I said quietly.

She nodded immediately.

"Don't lie to me again."

Her brow drew down slightly.

"I understand if you can't tell me everything, okay? But no more lies. If you can't tell me, just say as much. I won't press it. At least then I'll know that I can trust what you do say."

She exhaled a nervous breath and quickly closed the small distance between us on the bed, burrowing her face into my neck and snuggling into my chest. "I promise," she whispered.

I wrapped my arms around her and held her firmly. Her body fit against mine as though it was made to be there.

"There is something else that I was wondering about," I mentioned warily.

I felt her tense a bit, but she waited for me to continue.

"You told Alastor that I was one of the most powerful wizards you've ever met," I offered.

"You are," she replied, as though she considered it painfully obvious. She drew back enough to look at me. "Severus, there's not a single student in our year that could match you for power alone. Not even James, though he's probably the closest. Well, he and Lucius."

"You could wipe the floor with me," I pointed out.

"If my magic was functioning properly, maybe," she allowed, "but that's only because I've had more training. On raw power though, it seriously doubt…" She stopped herself, frowning. "Okay, honestly, I have no idea. I…" She sighed. "When my magic shifted, it changed completely. I think I may actually be more powerful than I was before."

She was giving me details that she'd previously withheld. I took that to be a good sign for the success of our new honesty policy. What she'd said though… "I didn't think that was possible. I mean…" I hesitated, then continued carefully, "I've heard of a dark ritual that is supposed to be able to increase your power, but…"

"Well, I can promise you I've not been practicing any dark rituals," she said with a slight smile that I took to mean I hadn't insulted her.

"Do you know anything about how it happened to you?" I asked carefully, aware of the fact that she'd already told me otherwise, so I was really just asking her if she'd lied about it before.

She hesitated a moment, and then nodded, "Yes," she said quietly, rolling onto her back to stare up at the canopy of the bed.

I forced myself to remain neutral while I waited for her to continue.

"I do know why it happened," she continued, her voice barely above a whisper. "It is very rare. Maybe even unique. I don't know. I can't… I can't tell you why yet."

I nodded pensively, and decided to change the subject. "You told Alastor that I was… invaluable to the Order," I said carefully, "and I know that we kind of already talked about this, but…"

She rolled to face me again, lifting her hand to brush along my cheek. I couldn't help but lean into the touch a little. "I believe that, Severus. Truly, I do," she said quietly, staring into my eyes again. "But you are more important to me than the Order or the war or any of it. Please believe that. You're…"

The way she was looking at me… It reminded me of something else that had been said today. And of what hadn't been said. "Alastor said… Well, he called me…"

She blushed and averted her eyes, so I figured she knew what I was having a hard time saying.

"You didn't contradict him," I ventured. "Was that just because you didn't want to argue about it in front of me, or…"

She sighed heavily and nodded, still not looking at my face. "Or," she agreed.

My heart did a stupid little dance as I watched her staring at my chest and blushing. "You… love me?" I barely managed to whisper.

She glanced up to meet my eyes for just a moment before lowering her gaze again, her blush deepened. "You're the best friend I've ever had," she said quietly, almost mumbling. "And I'm… Well, obviously I'm attracted to you. And I'm… always thinking about you, and I don't ever want to think about not being with you," she finished very quickly, then huffed a brief sigh and looked at me again, her eyes almost defiant. "So, yes, I guess that's my idea of what love is."

My heart seemed to swell up a few times larger than it should be. It was making it difficult to breathe. But surely I didn't really need something as petty as air. Not when I had this… utterly amazing witch telling me that she loved me. Me. Merlin, I hadn't really ever believed that anyone would love me like that. Not after Lily. But Hermione did. That combination of embarrassment and sincerity I was seeing was real.

She dropped her eyes again. "Look, I don't expect you to say it back," she said quietly. "I'm sorry. Alastor was just being a prat bringing that up."

"Are you apologizing for loving me?" I demanded incredulously.

She looked at me again, her eyes wary. "I'm not really sure," she admitted uneasily. "Maybe for admitting it too soon?"

I laughed briefly at the very absurdity of this conversation, then leaned forward to capture her lips again.

She moaned quietly and melted in my arms, and I vaguely wondered if it was possible to die from being too happy. If it was, I was in really serious danger of meeting such a fate.

I forced myself to break the kiss when I realized that there were tears in my eyes. I buried my face in her hair and willed myself to not fall apart. "I love you, too, Hermione," I whispered, hugging her against me.

Upcoming! "When A Phoenix Cries: Part 2": Old Magic – Hermione continues her daring game of cat and mouse with Albus as her position within the Order of the Phoenix begins to shift. Hermione begins to unravel the mystery of her magic, discovering help from a most unlikely source, but at a cost that just may prove too high. Friends will be lost and others found while Severus and Hermione struggle to cling to each other through the rising turmoil of war.

Too dramatic? Ah well, I hope I've piqued your interest, at least.