A/N: My sincerest apology for the lengthy delay, your patience has been sincerely appreciated :)

When last we left, Severus and Hermione awoke together in bed and nearly kissed but were interrupted by a floo call from McGonagall. They part ways and meet back in McGonagall's office, where they find Sirius and Remus in a heated exchange, for reasons yet unknown. With the object responsible for the castle's magical bond still damaged and hidden somewhere in the castle, potentially siphoning the magical energy of those remaining in the castle, they split up for the day to continue their stealthy search, with the hopes of finding said object without having to tell, and potentially alarm, the rest of the faculty. Remus and Severus set off to search the Room of Requirement while Hermione leaves with an irate Sirius to search the Hufflepuff House. We now return to that morning.

Hope you all have been well and that you enjoy this chapter. Much love to each and every one of you & Happy Monday :)


"I think hell is something you carry around with you. Not somewhere you go."

-Neil Gaiman

"Homenum Revelio," Sirius said gruffly with his wand sharply pointed at the doorway to the Hufflepuff Common Room, a rigid, uncharacteristic scowl set upon his tired face.

Hermione stood beside him and eyed the long hallway behind them, leading to the kitchen, keeping a look out for anyone who might be early to breakfast. The last thing they needed, on top of having to hunt for this unknown magical item, hiding like a needle in a massive haystack, was to have to explain why they were trying to break into the Hufflepuff quarters. So she kept a look out as her companion focused on his spell.

"Looks like Pomona is still in there," he huffed quietly after a moment. "We'll have to wait," he sighed. Pocketing his wand, he turned from the stacked oak barrels guarding the common room to look across the empty hallway.

"Over there will do," he pointed to a darkened alcove, catty-corner to the common room entrance and just down the hallway from the kitchen, where elves could be heard already preparing breakfast.

"Don't want anyone seeing us skulking about," he whispered as he brushed past her and quickly crossed the stone-cobbled hall and waited in the shadows behind a large stone pillar, the silhouette of his face dark and brooding, cloaked in shadows.

Hermione nodded and quietly followed, just as she had done on their long, surreptitious walk to the lower-floor with Sirius stomping ahead, careening down hallways and running down staircases, causing Hermione to have to walk at twice the pace to keep up with his long, determined legs. She knew this new found sense of urgency to start the day's task was not due to his worry about the castle but was fueled instead by the steady thrum of white-hot anger.

Hermione eyed him cautiously now. Even in their darkened hiding spot, she could see the muscles in his jaw clamped as tight as a snare drum, his shoulders set rigidly still, his hands clenched in tight fists at his sides, his mahogany eyes, usually so warm and gentle, now shone bright with a volatile fire.

Stuck beside him in the quiet alcove, Hermione finally plucked up her courage and asked softly, "A-are you alright, Sirius?"

But he did not answer, only setting his jaw even tighter at the sound of her voice, glaring straight ahead.

Although he remained silent, Hermione could tell his mind was chock full of words, brimming with tomes on his rage. She eyed him, wishing she knew how to draw him from the mire of his own making, just as he had once done for her. But given his rather persistent silence, she knew that talking was the last thing he wanted to do.

She silently marveled at how incredibly like his godson he was; stubborn, obstinate, so infuriatingly confident he needn't share how he was feeling, he could handle it all on his own. An island unto himself. But he was wrong and she knew it.

She loathed being shut out and ignored, just the same way Harry had done to her countless times. She felt gripped by the unwelcome feeling of uncertainty, a feeling that was becoming far too common as of late. Not knowing the exact cause of his distress and thus not knowing how to fix it, the brightest witch of her age was, for once, stumped, and so she settled for the heavy silence. She had, after all, enough on her plate to worry about without adding to it.

Twenty minutes passed painfully slow with the pair waiting in awkward, stilted silence. After a near run-in with Aurora and Hagrid, who were walking to the kitchen for breakfast, Sirius let out a heavy sigh while glaring at the Hufflepuff rooms to open.

"Hurry up, Pomona," he quietly moaned, crossing his arms tight in annoyance. "We ain't got all day, you pain in the ass," he angrily grumbled.

"It's not as if she knows we're waiting to break in and secretly search her quarters," Hermione said pointedly.

"Well…all the same, she's supposed to be up and at breakfast by now. The old bag could get a move on," he countered, running a rough hand through his inky curls and glaring at the door, willing it to open.

Hermione only pursed her lips in vexation at her partner. She knew from dealing with Harry's sour moods over the years, that trying to reason with an irate man was about as useful as pissing in the wind. So she remained beside him, silent and alert until finally, the common room door slowly swung open and out waltzed Pomona, quietly humming to herself with a small, genuine smile on her round face as she straightened her frizzy bun of unruly hair and headed towards the kitchen.

Sirius and Hermione eyed her cautiously from the safety of the shadows. When Pomona finally reached the kitchen portrait and the sound of clanking pans and muffled chatter, along with the heavy scent of bacon and cinnamon rolls, reached them, the pair shared a relieved glance. The kitchen door thudded shut and silence returned.

Checking the coast was clear, they silently slipped across the deserted hallway to stand once more at the Hufflepuff entrance.

Each house had a particular test of admittance and Hufflepuff was no different. Although no riddles or passwords were required, a test of equal measure was imposed. The door leading to the common room was blocked by a set of large oaken barrels, stacked higgledy-piggledy atop one another, that stretched from the ground to the ceiling, at least ten feet high.

To gain admittance, one had to tap against the different barrels in the correct order. If the order was incorrect, the barrels would spurt, according to several Hufflepuffs that Hermione had known over the years, a copious amount of vinegar and drench the poor sap who had unfortunate luck of forgetting the week's particular tune.

Pulling a small scrap of paper from his trouser pocket, Sirius brandished his wand with a huff as his eyes swept across the note, his lips pursed in annoyance.

Glancing at the large barrels precariously balanced above them, looking so imbalanced that they might fall atop anyone who even dared breathe near them let alone tap them, Hermione eyed Sirius with not a small bit of worry.

"You sure you know how to do this? One wrong tap and not only will we smell like salad dressing for the next month," she whispered, "but we'll also get caught," she noted with unease.

"Would you please calm down," he said with exasperated patience, his eyes not straying from his instructions, "Minerva wrote the right order down. Even an idiot like me can't mess it up," he added rather sharply, gripping his wand tight.

He cast a silencing charm and glanced upward, eying the barrels a long moment before gently beginning to tap his wand against the hollow-sounding barrels. His wand moved up, down and back again, his arm having to reach at times to gently touch the barrels stacked above them. With each correct tap, he gradually picked up speed and confidence as his eyes scanned the paper. Soon a soft, song-like pattern only they could hear seemed to fill the air around them, sounding beautiful and melodious. After tapping the final note, he pulled his wand back to see the common room door slowly swinging open. A small, cocky grin pulled at his full, ruddy lips as he smirked at Hermione, his anger draining slightly.

"Told ya I knew what I was doing," he said over his shoulder.

"I'm sorry I doubted you. I should've known a Marauder would know how to break into any room in this castle," she gently teased, trying to assuage his foul temper.

"Don't sweat it, love," he said, his voice tight, his words clipped. "No one believes I can do a damn thing, not even you." He once more brushed past her, stomping ahead as if she weren't even there.

She gave a sigh and followed him without comment. They stepped through, the door swinging shut behind them, encasing them in a perfect silence.

The Hufflepuff common room was perhaps the most soothing and lovingly appointed rooms in all of the castle, so much so that as Hermione came to a stop in the softly-lit, sun-soaked room, she almost wished she would have been sorted into the house so she could've had more opportunities to bask in the room.

The small, round windows, facing east allowed for an abundance of morning sun to pour in and fill the space. Between the sunshine, the smattering of honey-hued, polished tables and the abundance of yellow drapes and carpet, the room looked as though it had been covered in liquid gold. The room was also in excellent condition, having suffered minimal damage in the battle. Vining plants and ferns climbed the walls giving the room the feeling of being in a garden rather than indoors. Plush armchairs and several sofas rounded out the space, with the surrounding walls covered in book-lined shelves. The redolent smell of morning buns wafting in from the near-by kitchen only added to the cozy ambience. Hermione noticed a large portrait hung above the fireplace, presumably in honor of the house's founder, Helga Hufflepuff. But she was absent at the moment, her portrait sitting empty.

"Alright, let's be quick and quiet. Remember, we're looking for anything damaged with a significant magical pull," Hermione reiterated as her eyes swept across the large room, noting Pomona's quarters off to the left, followed by a long, narrow corridor flanked with individual dorm rooms.

Sirius merely gave a halfhearted nod and stalked to the tall bookshelves that flanked the fireplace and began searching, silence filling the air once more as their long, laborious task commenced.

Hermione's shoulders sagged as she turned and began scanning the many pieces of art that decorated the dusty walls, a curious ache of worry filling her empty stomach.

This is going to be a long day, she thought sourly as she wordlessly cast the searching incantation.

~~~0000~~~

The seventh-floor corridor was empty, save for an exhausted Gryffindor and a determined Slytherin.

It had been hours since the pair had walked in silence to the deserted hallway, each far too preoccupied with their own thoughts to attempt conversation. Their task was simple: gain access to the Room of Requirement and look for the object. But just as they had each learned as young men, wandering these halls as students, simply knowing of the room's existence and asking nicely wasn't enough. Each had taken turns standing before the occluded entrance and attempting to gain admittance, but as minutes passed quickly into hours, and the sun climbed high into the cerulean blue sky, still no doorway had materialized and the pair were growing tired and frustrated with their seemingly impossible task.

"Severus, it's no use, I don't think it's going to open," Remus said to Severus, who was still pacing before the wall with a look of determination tinged with aggravation, painted upon his sweaty face.

"No," Severus replied firmly, wiping his brow and squaring his shoulders, "just let me try once more."

"It's been three hours and nothing. Time is precious, we should really spend it looking elsewhere."

"Just one more try, Remus…please," Severus asked beseechingly.

Remus acquiesced, offering a small smile and encouraging nod. He patiently leaned once more against the far wall.

Severus knew he could do this, he simply had to clear his mind and concentrate on the task at hand. For he knew that the real obstacle wasn't getting the door to appear, even a patient second-year could manage that. No, the real task was quieting his mind long enough to ask for admittance, which he had, surprisingly, been unable to do all morning.

He tried to empty his mind and focus and yet...he simply couldn't. For he realized his thoughts were filled with but one thing, the one thing he seemed unable to ignore: her.

He would close his eyes and see her perfect lips quirk into a smile. He would draw a deep breath and smell only the subtle scent of her hair. He would tighten his grip around the smooth, cool, yew wood of his wand and only feel the warmth of her skin beneath his fingertips. His whole body felt different today, as if every molecule had been eternally changed by her and although completely preposterous, he knew he couldn't deny this feeling. He felt…good, surprisingly so. How positively indecent it felt to awaken with her in his arms, he was unaccustomed to pleasure and found its lingering effects rather distracting.

And as much as this aggravated him, he realized the real problem wasn't that she was distracting him but rather that he didn't terribly mind it. He had spent a life time full of weary days, full of drudgery, obligation, with no joy in sight. And thus he didn't want to banish her from his mind for her presence there felt too sacred, too comforting, too joyful a thing to turn away from.

He drew a deep breath, trying once more to focus and realized that his clothes still smelled of her, of her hair and skin, of her very essence, and the thought made him feel both beautifully at ease and irrationally angry.

Concentrate, damnit! he thought angrily as he stared balefully at the wall where he knew a door should appear, if only he could summon the requisite thought.

He stopped his furious pacing and stood right before the wall, setting his shoulders square as he closed his eyes. With all his might, he gently yet firmly pushed her out of his mind for a moment, though he was truly reticent to do so, and allowed a deep breath to first fill his chest, then his whole body. Leaning into the breath, feeling lighter than the air that filled him, he finally felt a wave of calm sweep across him as his mind cleared. Laying his palm flat against the grey stone, he began once more to ask in supplication.

Please, he echoed within his own mind, please, I need the object that holds the bond. I️ need to fix it, to help the castle. I️ am in desperate need of this. Please…open to me.

A wave of magic flowed through his palm, like a hot breeze, traveling quickly up his arm and across his cool skin, seeping right through him. The cold stone that had been beneath his palm suddenly morphed into the unmistakable grain of a wooden door, as a sigh of relief escaped his lips.

"Damn…you really did it," came Remus' surprised voice.

Severus opened his eyes to see the familiar oaken door now before him where there had been only solid, weathered stone.

"Well done," smiled Remus as he stepped forward and stood beside him.

Checking once more down the hall for anyone and seeing it empty, the pair pushed tentatively against the heavy door and peered carefully into the room. The smell of decay, burnt wood and mold hit them full-force as they stepped blindly into the pitch-black space.

"Lumos!" Remus called out and his wand tip erupted with light, casting the massive, cavernous room in cool, blue light.

Before them lay a charred, decimated sea of abandoned objects. Veritable towers of furniture, books, desks and knick knacks were blackened and stacked clear to the ceiling, undulating like massive waves for as far as the eye could see. It felt even larger than Severus had remembered and a distinct feeling of dread rose in his throat.

"Merlin, this is going to take forever. All of this stuff is ruined, it could be anywhere," Remus noted, his worried gaze drifting across the vast space of broken and ruined detritus.

"Maybe not," said Severus, sweeping a critical eye over the mounds and towers, pushing aside his own gnawing sense of doubt and worry. "If this room does indeed provide what has been asked of it, then the object we need should be here," he stated confidently.

"Only one way to find out," said Remus, with a deep sigh, holding his wand tight. "You take the right, I'll take the left."

And off they each set to wade through the scattered puddles of grey, putrid water and the burned remains of countless years spread out before them, stretching endlessly in every direction like spilled sand, each item a memory, a part of Hogwarts' history. They simply hoped the one piece they genuinely needed was hidden somewhere within.

~~~0000~~~

Hours had passed as Sirius and Hermione performed a thorough search of the common room and each of the many individual dorm rooms. Beds, paintings, sculptures, jars, tapestries, and still, no object had been found that possessed even a small amount of magical pull. They worked in silence, for each time Hermione opened her mouth to point out an area that needed searching or even attempt friendly banter, the animagus would either give a noncommittal grunt or ignore her completely, clearly favoring the silence as he stewed in his misery like a greedy piglet rolling in its own filth. The heavy silence and his foul mood, coupled with her aching back and sore feet, were beginning to wear on her. As the lunch hour came and went and still no object was found, the pair moved onto the final room in need of searching, Pomona's private quarters.

Pushing against the ornately carved door and entering the final room should've given them each a sense of relief given its rather meager square footage, but one glance around the cramped room, which was covered floor to ceiling with baubles, pottery, framed art, small figurines and every manner of bric-a-brac, and any hope of finishing soon, quickly vanished. The room was in fact so filled and packed with furniture, belongings, scattered clothes and books that Hermione couldn't even tell where the floor ended and the mess began.

Gobsmacked, Sirius stepped over a pile of discarded parchment and empty quill bottles, and pulled open an adjoining closet door. An avalanche of hats, robes, boxes, and books that towered well above his head immediately spilled out and damn near knocked him over. Hermione gave a yelp of surprise as the mess pooled at his feet, surrounding him in sea of perfumed garments and refuse. He gave a snort of incredulity as he shook his head, hopeless and spent.

"Perfect," Sirius groaned, "just perfect. The way this shit day is going, it makes perfect sense that I would get stuck searching a hoarder's room."

Hermione bit her tongue but not without extraordinary effort. She felt her exhaustion swell within her just staring at it all. It was a strange weariness seeping into her skin, her magical energy slowly diminishing as the hours had passed. Each time she cast the searching spell, felt like pulling teeth. The longer they searched without result, the more empty and tired she felt and staring at the mess before certainly didn't help.

The rational part of her mind knew that this feeling was due to her stress and worry over the castle and her preoccupation with her angry partner but another part of her felt it come from a different place entirely. Some small, intangible part of her could've sworn the malaise was due, somehow, to Severus not being with her.

Simply put, she missed him, craved him, in fact. It had only been a handful of hours since she had last seen him, but she longed for him in a way she couldn't describe. The warmth of his hands against her bare back, the smell of his skin, the weight of his body, she wanted all of it and the longer she was parted from him, the sharper this longing became. Like a fire spreading fast and sharp beneath her skin, the urgent pull to be with him fueled her desire to work as quickly as possible, finish this last room and get back to him.

She drew a deep breath and pulled her wand from her pocket, ready to focus and wade through the disaster even if her partner was less than enthused.

"Alright it's a lot, but the sooner we get started, the sooner we'll be done," she said, wiping the sweat from her brow as she approached a long dresser, covered with several dozen bottles of perfumes, lotions and elixirs.

As she pointed her wand at a shimmering, aquamarine bottle, she looked over her shoulder to see Sirius still scowling from the doorway, unmoving.

"Are you going to help me or stand there all day?" she countered with a quirked eyebrow.

Sirius reluctantly stepped forward and began searching. Each tackled different sides of the cramped room, but where their work in the other rooms had been perfectly silent, each exceedingly cautious in their searching, the air now was filled with banging and clanging as Sirius cast aside any precautions. He plowed through Pomona's possessions with great speed and little concern, snapping his wand against paintings and casting aside piles of books like candy wrappers. He huffed and puffed and stomped about the room like a child having a tantrum, and in truth, he was just that. And it was beginning to grate on Hermione, her usually endless reserve of patience now running dangerously low.

As he sharply tapped his wand against a large copper planter causing a loud crack to echo around the room, Hermione could no longer concentrate on her own spell and turned to glare at him.

"Be a bit more quiet, would you or we'll get caught," she quietly chided, eyeing him now with unmistakable irritation.

"Pomona's long gone, probably half way across the castle by now, we're fine. No one can hear us," he huffed as he skulked across the room to examine a small painting and adjoining bookshelf.

"Well, I can't focus on my wand work with you grousing over my shoulder, so knock it off," she demanded, adding a pointed glare for good measure.

"My apologies, princess," he volleyed back, this voice dripping with sarcasm. "Thought you were the brightest witch of your age, didn't realize a little noise would bother you so much."

Her eyes followed him and she momentarily abandoned her task. She sighed as she gathered her courage, knowing that they would accomplish precious little until they talked about the rather obvious, temperamental, elephant in the room.

"Alright, it's clear to me that you have quite a bug up your ass today and I, for one, am not going to put up with your mouth a single second longer. So do you mind telling me exactly what happened this morning and why you're so pissed off?" she demanded, watching him closely.

"Nothing happened, I'm fine," he said dismissively, not even bothering to turn and look at her.

She crossed her arms and smirked at this. "Well, that's a bullshit answer if I've ever heard one," she replied evenly.

"Sorry to disappoint, that seems to be all I'm good for lately," he snapped.

"That's it," she announced, sitting down on the edge of Pomona's bed with a huff.

Sirius turned and fixed her with a glare of his own.

"What do you think you're doing? Pomona could be back any minute and we need to finish up," he hissed, his voice gaining an even sharper edge.

"I'm sitting. And I'm not getting up till you tell me what in the bloody hell is bothering you."

"I said, I'm fine," he slowly enunciated, his voice laced with venom, "now drop it, young lady."

"Make me," she boldly countered, narrowing her eyes in defiance.

"Damnit, woman! Am I not allowed to have a shitty day?!" he yelled in exasperation, his earlier anger blooming once more. "Must I constantly be upbeat?!" he snapped, his cheeks flushing a sharp crimson and his mouth twisted in rage.

She stilled at this, taking in the acid tone of his voice, the hot, volatile anger shining bright in his eyes. She had heard stories of his impressive temper but had never before witnessed it first-hand and the intensity of it surprised her. She realized this wasn't a simple sour mood plaguing him and decided to tread a bit more lightly.

"Of course not, everyone's allowed a bad day," she replied evenly, backing down but only slightly. "This just seems like something in particular is bothering you," she pointed out, "and I'd rather listen to what it is than suffer your rudeness. So just…tell me," she softly implored.

"I said I was fine," he sulkily murmured, his anger draining.

She heaved a tired sigh at this. If neither anger not concern could draw him out of his mood, she didn't know what else to do. "Fine, have it your way, keep it all to yourself, see how far it gets you," she acquiesced, standing on tired legs to return to her work.

She pointed her wand at a small, porcelain statue when she heard his heavy sigh.

"You know, I honestly don't know how you do this!" he snapped once more, his voice fraught with exasperation, causing Hermione to halt once more and turn to look at him.

"Do what?" she asked, confused.

"Work so hard when no one gives a damn! Why even bother?!" he yelled, kicking a bronze urn so hard he dented the side.

"Sirius, god damnit, talk to me!" she pleaded, laying a firm on his shoulder which caused Sirius to sigh.

"It's Remus," he finally admitted, his mouth twisted in pain at having to simply say his friend's name aloud.

"Yeah, I gathered that much from the shouting and the broken glass this morning. So…what's happened? What has he done?" she asked, clearly worried.

"The unthinkable," he uttered, looking away.

"Sirius, just tell me, I'm sure it's not as terrible as it seems."

"No, it's the worst."

"Sirius, you're worrying me. Just tell me-"

He gave a deep sigh as he shook his head, finally relenting.

"Remus…"

"Yes?"

"Remus…has-"

"Remus has…what?"

"He's hired a nanny!" he blurted out, his eyes wild with hurt.

Hermione stared at him a long beat, her face crinkled in confusion.

"A…nanny?" she asked slowly. "For Teddy?"

"Yes! Can you believe the nerve of that bastard!?" he demanded.

"Ugh, what an prat," she deadpanned. "I can't believe you still associate with him."

"Ha, ha," he barked. "This," he said adamantly, his face like thunder, "is a betrayal."

Hermione would've laughed at the preposterousness of it all, if he didn't look positively enraged.

"I'm sorry to have to be the one to point this out," she countered, "but you're acting awfully upset over such a trivial thing. Why is this so terrible?" she asked, genuinely bemused by the circumstance she found herself in.

"Well, for starters, I don't like the girl he's hired," he offered huffily, crossing his arms.

"Why not?"

"I don't know, I just don't like her," he answered petulantly, looking away.

"Come now, that's a child's answer. Explain it to me, what's the problem?" she prodded. "Is she not good with Teddy? Is she inexperienced?"

Sirius pursed his lips a long moment before answering.

"No," he reluctantly admitted, "evidently the twenty-two-year-old who showed up on my doorstep but one day ago comes highly recommended and has been apprenticing for the past five years in Sweden," he parroted with a good bit of sass, giving her the distinct impression that he himself had received this exact speech.

"So, she's well-trained…well, that's good," she replied with a tentative smile. "So…what's not to like then?"

"Nothing's the problem, alright?!" he snapped, running a rough hand through his dark, roguish curls. "She's young and smart and bloody gorgeous and to top it all off, she's amazing with Teddy! Got him to sleep just like that last night," he growled with a irritated snap of his fingers.

"You should've seen it, Remus was fawning all over her. 'Oh, Claudia, you're so good with Teddy! Such a gift to have you here to help!'" he feigned in a sickeningly sweet falsetto.

"Oh!" he shouted, his eyes now wide with indignation, "And little miss perfect also informed me that swaddling is outdated! Said it was dangerous for Teddy! Can you believe it? The nerve of this little swot! I've been swaddling babes before she was even born!"

"I'm sure she was just trying to be helpful," she gently replied.

"Oh yeah, she's helpful alright," he bit out, "just swooped right in like a bloody vulture. Remus hires her without asking my input and she just gets to waltz in and take over. I was doing a damn fine job with our boy, I'll have you know!"

"I know you were."

"But now my name is mud. She's taken over and I get pushed aside. Really pisses me off!" he shouted, flopping onto Pomona's satin duvet with utter disgust. "Just the thought of her laying about my house, taking care of my boy! How dare he do this to me!" he raged, his face contorted with pain and anguish.

Hermione eyed him sadly, feeling foolish now that she had taken his foul mood so personally. She pocketed her wand and sat down beside him, laying a sympathetic hand on his knee.

"Sirius…could it be that perhaps…you feel jealous?" she asked carefully.

"What!?" he snapped, looking incredulous. "Why would I be jealous?" he bristled.

"Because Remus is your best mate and you've been caring for Teddy for months and you feel like you're being replaced," she noted softly, her eyes shining with sympathy.

"Replaced?" he asked, "Chucked out, is more like it," he grumbled as he kicked at a stack of exam packets on the thick carpet.

"I'm sure he didn't mean to hurt you," she tried, moving her hand from his kneee and placing a comforting arm around his slouched shoulders, pulling him in close to her. "And maybe he doesn't want to impose upon you and Andromeda."

"It's not an imposition, they're my family," he nearly growled, his voice thick with emotion.

"He's just trying to…figure this all out. Set up some kind of normalcy and routine for him and Teddy."

Sirius give a small nod at this, his body relaxing against hers as he stared ahead.

"You're his rock, you picked him up when no one else could. You've helped him so much, he wouldn't have gotten this far had he not had you," she said softly.

He nodded at this, some of his angry ebbing away as he roughly wiped away a small tear from his cheek.

"He loves you like a brother, he'd never hurt you on purpose," she said, resting her head on his shoulder.

He laughed sadly at this, his eyes unreadable. "I know…I know."

Staring around at the room, he sighed. "I just…I'm trying to do good by him and he just…" he faltered.

"He didn't think about how this would effect you," she uttered softy, rubbing her hand soothingly across his back. "He didn't even think to ask you or include you," she replied, understanding perfectly well how the thoughtlessness of others, even unintended, could cut like a knife.

"Yeah," he softly admitted, reaching up to roughly rub at his tired face.

"Damn hard being the strong one, isn't it?" she said, smiling gently at him.

He chuckled softly at this, remembering how he had said those words to her in his kitchen not too long ago.

"Sure is," he admitted with a sad smile.

She smiled, slipping her hand into his, a comfortable silence now hanging between them.

"I'm sorry I snapped at you, kitten," he uttered, his cheeks tinged red now more from shame than anger. "I've gotten better at controlling my temper and my tongue over the years but sometimes, I…I slip up."

"It's alright," she reassured him.

"No, it isn't," he said adamantly, still clutching her hand tenderly. "You're one of the only good things I have in my life and I should never have spoken to you like that. I don't…" he paused, looking pained, "I don't ever want to be the man I once was, hurting the ones I love most with my brashness, my callous words, with my selfishness. I want to be better than that. I'm so sorry, love. I'm sorry you had to see me like that."

"Your feelings were hurt. It's natural to lash out," she consoled.

"You just mean so much to me, I-I don't know what I'd do if I lost you," he admitted, looking tearful.

"Hey, you're not going to lose me, I'm not going anywhere," she pledged, gently cupping his cheek and looking deeply into his eyes.

"Even if I yell?" he asked.

"Even if you rant and rave and throw your best fit. I'm still going to be here," she said softly.

He smiled at her, his warm eyes holding hers with gratitude.

"Thanks, love. Can't say I've heard that much in my life."

"Anytime," she smiled. "Just remember, you're not alone, you've got a family now. Just talk to Remus when you get a chance and clear this up. Life's too short to hold grudges," she advised, squeezing his hand.

"Yeah, yeah," he reluctantly agreed, straightening up. "I will, when I get a chance. You're right, as usual," he said, his usual charming grin back where it belonged.

He stood and offered her a hand up.

"You're sure you're alright now?" she asked.

"It's fine, really. Don't know why I'm getting so pissy about it anyway. None of my business what he does. Teddy is his child and he'll do as he sees fit. It'll free more time for me anyway. Kid was cramping my style to be honest," he lied, feigning disinterest to cover just how much the child did indeed mean to him.

Hermione chuckled softly to herself at the sight. "If you say so," she replied as she turned to tackle the last stack of books to her right.

"Hey," Sirius asked, his voice warmer now, "since Mary Poppins has taken over, and my lousy services are no longer needed, what do you say we finish up here and you and I go out tonight? Get a proper drink and have a good time. It's been ages since I've been out."

Hermione stared at him incredulously. "Are you mad?" she demanded, half joking and half serious. "You want to go out for a drink?"

"Yes."

"With me?"

"Again, yes."

"Tonight?!"

"Don't see why not."

"You don't see why not?"

"Give me one good reason why not," he demanded with a grin.

"I can give you several," she retorted. "First off, the castle is still an absolute wreck and we're trying desperately to get it all fixed so students can return soon and maybe have a normal school year. Secondly, some damaged, mysterious object is potentially sucking us all dry of our magic and I have no clue where it is! And even if this object just suddenly dropped in my lap, I still have no way of knowing how to fix it. Not exactly the best time for a cocktail," she smirked.

"Yeah," he agreed, "I suppose you're right."

"But I'll take a rain check," she smiled.

"Yeah, for when the world isn't coming to an end. Perhaps in a few hundred years," he quipped.

"I promise, as soon as we find this object and sort out a fix, things will settle down, and you and I can go and paint the town red. Alright?"

He stilled at this, fixing her with a sad smile.

"Can't always put everyone else first, kitten. Because people will take and take until there's nothing left of you. There's always gonna be some crisis, some catastrophe. Sometimes, you have to put yourself first," he replied, a twinge of sadness seeping into his smooth voice.

She paused at this, wanting to dismiss his observation but a small part of her knew he was right.

But before she could even properly reply, a gentle tap tap tap of wand against wood sounded from outside of the common room door. They each froze a long second, listening to the song-like pattern emerge and knew they were moments away from being caught without any plausible way of explaining their current whereabouts.

"Shit," Sirius hissed. Quick as flash, he magically threw the contents of the closet back from where they came, grabbed Hermione's hand, and hurriedly pulled them around the long leather sofa that sat off to the side of the bedroom.

Tripping over their own feet, Sirius hastily pulled Hermione down and she landed square atop Sirius, their bodies flush against one another just as the bedroom door opened and the unmistakable sound of Pomona's soft humming filled the now silent room.

They stared wide eyed at one another in perfect silence, hearts beating frantically against each other as they listened to Pomona's steps growing closer to their hiding spot.

The door to her bathroom opened and she walked in, pausing a moment to shuffle through a drawer before turning and walking back across the room. They waited several long beats before hearing the sounds of the common room door opening and closing, causing them both to sigh in deep relief.

"That was close," Hermione breathed as she rested her head against Sirius' chest, trying desperately to catch her breath, her body still splayed atop his.

"Sorry I couldn't mange a better hiding spot," he chuckled softly, the mellifluous sound vibrating through his firm chest.

"Better than I would've managed," she looked up smiling, his arms still wrapped snug around her.

He grinned at her, his lips pulling into a real smile, making his tired face suddenly look so much younger and at ease. His hands, still resting on her back felt warm, soothing even, against her aching muscles.

Her stomach dropped suddenly, tightening in the most unexpected of ways as she realized how tightly he held her, how her legs rested so snugly between his own and most surprisingly, how natural it all felt.

"We should really get going in case Pomona decides to pop back in again," she finally offered, shaking off the strange flutter that still tingled deep in her belly.

A crestfallen look crossed his face as she pulled away and stood. "Can't find anything here and besides," she said evenly, recovering her usual aplomb, "Remus and Severus might need a hand."

"Oh, fine," he relented, standing up, "let's go help that sulky bastard I call my best mate and your boyfriend," he teased with a knowing grin.

"He's not my boyfriend," she corrected, blushing slightly.

"That's not what Minerva was saying this morning," he smirked.

"Oh, I'll wring her neck," she sighed as she pursed her lips.

"Oh, stop," he gently cajoled, "it's the first good news the poor woman's had in ages. Let her have her fun," he said, pulling her through the bedroom door and back out into the common room.

"Even if it's at my expense?" Hermione asked with feigned hurt.

"You're young, you'll live," he wisely pointed out.

"Fine," she conceded, "she gets a pass."

Eyeing the soft sunlight fading from the room, Hermione noted the late hour and said, "Alright, let's head to the Room of Requirement. Almost dinner time and people will be headed back down to the kitchen soon."

As they crossed the common room and reached the oaken door, Hermione felt a sudden pull to cast one more look around the room before departing. As she did, she saw Helga Hufflepuff glide silently back into her portrait frame and take her seat.

"Helga Hufflepuff?" Hermione called out, causing the former headmistress' head to snap up in surprise and her eyes to widen. Seeing that she wasn't alone, the older woman quickly stood and glided towards the edge of her portrait, clearly intending to leave once more.

"Please! Don't go!" Hermione called out, rushing to the portrait and pulling Sirius along with her.

Helga had the good grace to know when she had been caught and so, with a guilty, tight smile, took her seat once more.

"Helga, can you tell me, do you know anything about the bond that holds the castle's magic or the object that holds it in place?" Hermione asked, looking up hopefully at the portrait.

But at this, Helga remained silent. While she might have been amenable to staying put, she clearly was less enthused about speaking.

"Minerva's already asked all the portraits if they knew of the object. No one knew anything," Sirius said, looking at Hermione. But Hermione only shook her head, undeterred.

"If this object really dates back to the founding of the castle, one of the founders must know," she insisted.

"But these portraits only hold as much knowledge as the witch or wizard would have provided. The real Helga might have not have known anything about it or if she did know, she might not have told her portrait," he pointed out.

"Please, Helga," Hermione said pleadingly. "We're trying to fix this bond and we can't do it alone. We need your help."

But Helga sat perfectly still and silent, Hermione's words falling upon seemingly deaf ears.

"Were you not the founder who taught all who sought knowledge? Who saw this school as a safe haven for all witches and wizards? If you don't help me find this object there might not be a school for any of them to return to," Hermione implored.

Helga heaved a deep sigh at this and finally glanced down at Hermione with a sad smile.

"It is not my place to discuss it, dear," Helga answered, looking down at her hands.

"So you do know it exists?" Hermione pressed, stepping closer to the painting.

Helga only looked away, shifting uncomfortably in her velvet wingback chair.

"Who made the object? Was it you?" Hermione asked, her heart pounding and her mind abuzz.

But once more the headmistress fell silent.

"Please, Helga, I'm begging you...tell me," Hermione pleaded.

Silence.

Sirius sighed. "Let's go," he finally offered, looking just as exhausted and frustrated as his partner. "If she does know something, she ain't telling us," Sirius uttered as he took Hermione's hand and began to pull her back to the door.

Hermione reluctantly turned and let Sirius lead her to the door, frustration and worry weighing heavily upon her.

"She loved him so much you see," Helga softly uttered, causing the pair to stop and turn in surprise.

"Who? Who are you talking about?" Sirius demanded.

"She longed to be with him, that's all she ever wanted," Helga admitted, her face mournful.

"Who? The woman who made the object? Who did she love?" Hermione demanded.

"She loved him but he could never love her, at least…not the way she deserved," Helga murmured.

She rose from her chair and without another word, glided silently away from her portrait.

"Helga! Helga, please!" shouted Hermione as she rushed once more to the portrait. But her words were uttered in vain and the portrait remained empty.

Hermione turned, eyes wide as her brain kicked into overdrive, turning the words over in her mind to try and solve the puzzle.

"So the object was created by a woman…a star-crossed love, an unrequited love," she muttered, almost to herself, trying to tease apart what kind of object Helga could've been alluding to.

"She said, 'she loved him…but he couldn't or wouldn't love her…'" Sirius repeated, clearly just as confused by the vague message.

The words spun round and round until finally, like a lightening bolt striking her dead on, Hermione's eyes went wide as recognition hit her.

"Oh god, follow me!" she shouted as she rushed to the door, grabbing Sirius by the arm along the way.

"Where are we going?!" he demanded as she drug him back through the oaken door and sprinted down the corridor, back towards the main hallway.

"The object that holds the bond!" she cried, racing with all her might. "I know what it is!"

~~~0000~~~

Hours spent wading through waist-deep broken tables, suits of tarnished armor, and crushed glass left both Remus and Severus incredibly exhausted as the evening drew near.

Breathing hard, wiping dirt and sweat from his brow, Remus leaned heavily against a charred shelf of books, his whole body covered in soot, his slacks soaked from the putrid, standing water, with a look of pure defeat upon his haggard face.

"It's not here, Severus," he said weakly, almost breathless. "Even if we looked at every, single item in here, I️ just don't think it's here," he admitted, hopelessly glancing around at the destruction.

"No, it has to be," Severus replied, still casting the incantation though his eyes could barely focus and his arms felt like lead.

"What makes you so sure?" Remus asked.

Something sharp and urgent pulled at Severus, something deep inside, urging him to keep going. So he pushed through his exhaustion, his eyes scanning the wasteland before him.

It must be here. It simply must, he thought.

His mustered all his strength and let his eyes sweep one last time across the wreckage.

Off to his left, his eye caught a glint, something bright and warm. It felt peculiar somehow and most certainly out of place, and the pull from deep within him sharpened.

His eyes narrowed as he walked towards the glimmer of light that shined upon him from between cracks of shelves and mounds of rubble.

He pushed aside wooden beams, charred trophies and sodden books, his body moving now without conscious thought until finally his eyes fell upon it. Even from ten feet away, it looked remarkably unharmed and just as he had remembered it from all those years ago. He stood stock still, his heart suddenly pounding and his palms sweating as Remus came up behind him, his own hazel eyes going wide at the sight. They shared a raw look of astonishment as they cautiously stepped closer.

~~~0000~~~

"Would you slow down! Someone's going to see us running and think something's up," Sirius hissed as he raced to keep up with Hermione who was now sprinting at full-speed down a hallway.

But Hermione couldn't stop her feet even if she wanted to. As they ducked into a disused passageway, her feet pounded even faster still, racing through cobwebs and kicking up a cloud of dust in her furious wake. Her mind was on fire as all the puzzle pieces fell together into a perfect picture, the old, sweet feeling of triumph shining in her eyes and the unmistakable feeling of pride blooming fast and hard in her chest.

They rounded a corner and met the long, zig-zag staircase that lead to Gryffindor tower and she finally came to an abrupt stop.

"I can't believe I️ didn't think of this sooner," she breathed as her eyes swept upwards to the very top of the stairs and her gaze settled upon it: the tattered, worn tapestry of the nymph and knight that hung beside the doorway to Gryffindor House.

"What is it?" Sirius demanded, completely breathless and utterly confused.

Hermione smiled. "The answer we've been looking for."

Without waiting for a reply, she sprinted up the steps, a renewed and powerful energy flooding her whole body.

~~~0000~~~

There, stood by itself, in the midst of the refuse and burnt remnants, was a large, ornately decorated mirror with the words 'Erised stra ehru oyt ube cafru oyt on wohsi' softly carved across the top into the rich, glinting, golden frame. The soft glow of the gold coupled with the shining glass cut a stark contrast against the darkened grime that surrounded Severus and Remus.

They gingerly stepped over heaps of broken glass and charred wood to get a better look, but both knew immediately, without stepping even one inch closer, exactly what they were looking at.

"The Mirror of Erised," Remus whispered.

~~~0000~~~

I've found it! I've really done it! Everything is going to be just fine! Hermione thought as she bounded up the last step and pulled her wand from her pocket.

Sirius came up behind her, panting and bent over at the waist as he climbed the last step.

Her heart pounding with both nerves and joy, she pointed her wand at the tapestry and recited the incantation.

~~~0000~~~

Severus nodded, eyeing the perfect mirror with a mixture of awe and sudden apprehension. "How do you know of this?" he asked, tearing his eyes momentarily away from the mirror to eye Remus.

"Sirius and I️ found it," Remus answered, his eyes still glued to the mirror, "our fifth-year when we had detention with Filch. How do you know about it?"

"Same as you, except I️ found it in our third-year."

"Did you look into it?" Remus asked.

Another nod.

"What did you see?"

Just seeing the mirror before him, Severus felt his stomach clench painfully tight. He had been thirteen when he last gazed upon this mirror, the looking glass showing him his heart's deepest desire. The vision that greeted him had been no surprise at all. He saw himself all grown, with Lily beside him, smiling as she slipped her hand into his, her stunning green eyes looking upon him with love and devotion.

Severus shook his head at the painful memory. "I️…I️ don't recall. What did you see?"

Remus only sighed, his eyes finally dropping to his feet, "I️ saw the impossible, like everyone. I️ saw…I️ saw myself being loved and accepted."

Severus nodded, understanding without having to say anything.

The mirror looked just as pristine and well-kept as it did all those many years ago and given that all the other objects around it looked completely decimated from the Fiendfyre, it was clear to both wizards that something was definitely amiss.

Without another word, Severus raised his wand and cast the incantation.

~~~0000~~~

Hermione watched the tapestry intently, awaiting the telltale sign of damage to appear. And yet, nothing came. No sign of damage at all.

She blinked, her smile faltering slightly as she cast the incantation again, but once more, no sign of damage came.

"Perhaps," she said meekly, "it's just not damaged in a magically discernible way," she stated firmly, trying to stay as confident as possible. "Or maybe I'm just not casting it correctly."

She cast the incantation a third and then a fourth time. Still nothing.

"Love," Sirius said gently, watching from beside her, "I don't think this is it."

"No!" she snapped, her eyes now wild with uncertainty. "It has to be! Helga said it was made by a woman and-and, it's a star crossed love. This tapestry shows that!

"Here," she bit out, pocketing her wand, "let me touch it and you'll see! I felt its magic just the other day."

"Hermione, no! It could hurt you!" Sirius warned, lunging forward to stop her.

But she ignored him. She was right, she just knew she was.

~~~0000~~~

Before the spell had even left Severus' lips, he knew. For just being near the mirror, although outwardly undamaged, was producing a powerful magic pull, one that made even simple actions, like raising his wand, a draining and difficult task.

The elegant swish of his wand reveled a jet black ribbon of smoke wafting gently from deep within the mirror, indicating not only damage to the mirror itself but also a severe magical pull.

Remus could feel it, as well. Reaching forward, he took a gentle but firm hold of Severus' arm and said, "We should go now. It's not safe to be near it."

But Severus could barely hear his friend or feel his insistent tug. His ears filled with the sound of waves, pounding water rushing and flowing through his mind and drowning out all other noise. His mind, full of thoughts mere moments ago now felt curiously empty, save for one. One desire alone over took him and compelled him like none he had ever felt before; to be closer to the mirror, to look and see, to know what shone back now.

Severus stepped closer, as if he were being pulled, a stunned and curious look upon his face. Remus' eyes went wide and tried, now with both hands, to pull Severus away.

"Severus, no! Don't go near it! Don't touch it!"

But he had to see. He had to know what would shine back at him.

~~~0000~~~

Side-stepping Sirius with ease, Hermione reached forward and wrapped her small hand around the bottom fringe of the tapestry and closed her eyes.

~~~0000~~~

Not even the firm grasp of the werewolf could stop Severus. Dragging his friend forcibly with him, Severus lunged forward and was just able to shake free of Remus as he stumbled before the mirror. Standing before the glass upon shaky legs, his whole body went numb and as he took in the unbelievable sight before him.

What shone back was just Severus, just as he was, alone.

He stood there a long moment before she appeared by his side. Smiling as her hand slipped into his, her warm, honey-brown eyes were so vibrant and enchanting, her wild, caramel-hued tendrils gently framed her angelic face. A gold wedding band gleamed from her slender finger. He glanced down to see her belly swelled and full, her other hand wrapped protectively around her burgeoning growth. He looked up to meet her gaze and she smiled up at him so lovingly, with such exquisite tenderness, he could barely breathe. She rested her head upon his shoulder and looked so perfectly content to be with him, as if it were the only place she could possibly belong.

"Severus! Step back!" Remus shouted from the floor, his own body slack and weak.

But Severus couldn't step back, not for anything. Hermione looked absolutely breathtaking and Severus wanted her. He reached out to touch the mirror, his head swimming, his body swaying, the waves rushing through his ears.

Reaching a shaky hand up, his fingers longed to touch the glass, to luxuriate in the feeling of her and to know, at last, true love...her love. Standing closer now, he could see a hairline, jagged crack, one so slight it almost looked invisible, running the length of the mirror, but that mattered little to him. He reached a hand forward and his laid his palm flat against the cool glass.

~~~0000~~~

She gasped as her eyes shot wide, her body suddenly shaking.

"Hermione, what is it?! Are you hurt? What do you feel?" Sirius asked, still beside her, wide-eyed with worry.

She slowly tore her eyes from the tapestry, a stunned and saddened look on her face.

"I feel…nothing…absolutely nothing," she breathed. She glanced up at the tapestry, truly looking at it for the first time since they had arrived and what she saw stopped her blood cold.

The nymph and the knight were completely rigid and unmoving, frozen in place.

She released the cold fabric from her hand as if it had burned her. She stepped back, her legs wobbly, with the rare look of complete disappointment painted upon her face.

"The magic that was here is now…gone. This…this isn't the object," she sadly admitted. "I was wrong."

~~~0000~~~

What had been cold glass just a second before now morphed into a scalding, hot pane, the glass almost shimmering with raw heat. It radiated from the mirror and through Severus' hand, burning the skin of his palm to an angry, blistering red and though he knew he should pull away, the part of his mind responsible for rational behavior seemed to be shut off. And so he remained before the mirror, the perfect vision of Hermione's pure love a sight he would gladly risk harm to gaze upon.

But just as the cold had turned into scorching heat, so did the vision change.

In the blink of an eye, his blushing bride, so happy to be at his side, vanished and the whole world tilted. Blinking hard again to try and see through his own vertigo, what he now saw stopped his heart all together.

Hermione now lay at his feet, her body prone and unmoving. He saw himself kneel beside her and place a hand upon her cheek but it was cold to the touch, his hand slipped to chest, feeling for a pulse but the look of anguish that crossed his face told him all he needed to know. He saw himself move a shaky hand to her belly, tenderly cradling their unborn child, but he felt nothing, no kicks, no flutters.

He watched on, both horrified by the sight and utterly incapable of looking away, as the mirror version of himself cradled her lifeless body against his own, his pale face covered in bitter tears, his whole life destroyed. He saw himself tilt his head back and howl, from his soul, a gut-wrenching cry of pain and despair. The sound echoed in his head, pounding through his skull, finding no outlet, no reprieve. It was only then that the mirror cooled and his hand was freed from the burning glass as the vision faded to black. He crumpled instantly and felt himself on the verge of unconsciousness. He could feel Remus' hands upon him, pulling him across the floor, shouting at him, but nothing could replace the sound of his own anguished cries, filling every crack and crevice of his mind.

Nothing that is but the firm, unshakable feeling, settling deep in his old, broken heart: what he saw in that mirror, her death, the death of their child, his palpable sorrow, it was all his doing, all his fault. His love, even in his own mind, would lead to nothing but ruination and despair for anyone unlucky enough to receive it.

With this sobering realization, Severus finally closed his eyes and let sleep overtake his frail body.

~~~0000~~~

Turning from the portrait on weak and shaky legs, Hermione suddenly looked dazed and unsteady on her own feet. She reached for Sirius who immediately took hold of her to keep her woozy, swaying frame upright.

Looking up into his eyes, she gasped and looked physically pained.

"Something terrible is happening," she whispered, her hands icy cold as she clutched Sirius, her body trembling and her skin clammy.

Before he could answer, a patronus appeared at the foot of the stairs. It was a silvery wolf who bounded gracefully and powerfully through the air, and came to a halt before the tired pair.

"We found the object and Severus has been hurt!" came Remus' panicked voice from the mouth of the wolf. "Come to his quarters! Now!"

And as suddenly as it materialized, the patronus turned and sprinted away, vanishing from sight as it leapt through a solid wall. Silence filled the air for an eternity, Hermione's heart clenched to the point of breathlessness, her whole body numb and cold.

Severus. The image of his wary face flashed across her mind as she had left him just that morning. He had looked so worried for her, so reluctant to leave her side. And now he was the one who had been hurt. She found herself rooted to the spot, as stunned and immobile as the nymph hanging in the tapestry over her shoulder.

It wasn't until she felt Sirius pull her roughly along, hustling her back down the steps, her feet moving without thought did she snap out of her daze. Rushing down the stairs, she turned her head and glanced back up one last time at the tapestry. She saw the knight, doubled over his horse, a look of sheer agony on his face while the nymph lay at his feet, tears frozen upon her face.

A/N: Lots of wonderful guesses about the tapestry being the object holding the bond. I had always envisioned the tapestry as a simple plot device, first to illustrate Hermione and Severus' relationship and then later as an indicator of the castle's magic fluctuating. Hope you all aren't too disappointed about the bond being held by the Mirror of Erised, it's simply my favorite little bit of magic from the series and I absolutely wanted to include it somehow. Anyway, more to come on the Mirror in the next few chapters. Will try my level best to get the next chapter out in a timely manner. In the meantime, love & hugs to you all :)