A/N: *waves* Hello, yes I know it's been a while in regards to this fic and I am grateful to each and every one of you that have waited patiently for an update. This fic is a tricky one for me to write as the origins of it are tied up in a lot of real life, personal crap that gets dragged up whenever I open up a chapter. Sometimes though, I do find it easier to write and this chapter came from that. I won't make promises that another will be forthcoming soon but I hope I will be inspired to continued for a while.

For those waiting on an update to To Sir…With Love, that's on its way in the next couple of days.

Explanations

Hermione reached out and took hold of Severus' hand as they descended the stairs from the top floor of Grimmauld Place, the sound of voices below jarring after they had grown so used to silence and secrecy since his return to the school. She smiled hesitantly up at him as he pressed a kiss to the crown of her head, lacing their fingers together as they reached the final landing.

The house was already wide-awake, the two of them having slept late after their disturbed night and the upheaval of their relationship being revealed. Hermione had been surprised she had slept at all but Severus' warm body beside her had soothed her as it always did and they had both found the rest they needed. It had been with reluctance that they had left the bed but they knew they had many questions to face and that Severus needed to re-establish himself within the Order.

"Hey you two," said Harry, appearing from one of the bedrooms, "Ready to face the music?"

"As we'll ever be," said Hermione, "Have we been mentioned?"

Harry smirked, "Just a bit," he said, "Molly isn't happy."

"I imagine she isn't the only one," said Severus, "Not only are they coming to terms with the fact that I am not the enemy, they're also dealing with the concept of us being together."

"There's a lot of talk about it being inappropriate," said Harry, "Fred and George keep stirring things by saying you two were never any good at being appropriate anyway."

Hermione groaned, "And I imagine that isn't helping in the slightest but if Minerva says a word I'll happily remind her of her relationship with George despite the fact she claims she always considered herself a teacher. I'm beginning to think we should just go back to Switzerland."

Severus raised her hand to his lips and pressed a kiss to the back of it, "Ask and I'll take you but I fear Dumbledore will drag me away with issues that require my attention," he said, "I should go and face the music. You don't need to come and bear their comments if you don't want to. However we look at it, you're the innocent party in this and I don't want you to face their ire."

"We're in this together sweetheart," said Hermione, "And let them say what they please and I'll happily tear them apart in return."

"Well, when you're done we're in the drawing room at the front of the house," said Harry, "A safe haven if you guys need it. Everyone of our lot wants to spend time with you, even Ron despite the fact that he was a bit of a git last night."

"We gave him a fright, it was to be expected," said Severus, "We'll be along as soon as we can. You and I need to have a talk as well when we have time."

"Sounds serious," said Harry, with a frown, "Should I be worried?"

"No," said Severus, "But we do need to talk. Now go on, leave us to face the music and enjoy what you can of your holidays in this old place."

Harry nodded, "Good luck," he said, "I'll see you in a while."

He walked down the stairs in front of them, heading into the room they had clearly claimed as their own away from the Order. Severus and Hermione followed, their pace far slower as they prolonged the inevitable censure they were about to face but they drew strength from one another as they finished their descent. Hermione moved to precede him down to narrow corridor but he pulled her to a halt, turning her to him and capturing her head in his hands, leaning down to kiss her before she had time to register his intent.

The kiss was a world away from the gentle, lazy kisses they had indulged in in their mountain retreat. It was all Hermione could do to remain upright as he plundered her mouth, her hands hanging on to his waist as she moaned against his lips. She caught the sorrow on his face as he released her though and recognised the intent behind the kiss.

"Hey," she said, "Don't worry. There is nothing any of them can do or say that will separate us. The scheming of both Voldemort and Dumbledore hasn't come between us so they have no chance. Please relax. I'm walking in there with you and I'll be walking out the same way."

"I'm sorry that I have brought this on you my love," he said sadly, "I hate that they will look poorly on you for this."

"Well they can kiss my…"

"Severus. Miss Granger," came Dumbledore's voice as the door before them opened, "If you would step inside, we have much we need to discuss."

Hermione looked up at the man beside her, returning his supportive smile before she tightened her grip on his hand, the pair of them stepping through the doorway together.

xxxx

It was several hours later when Hermione returned to the room she had taken at Grimmauld Place, her head pounding and her body fatigued far more than she had ever known. Despite her tiredness though she could not bring herself to lie down and sleep, knowing she would not be able to rest until Severus was once again with her.

The interview with those of the Order had been long and arduous; the pair of them questioned on their motives to the point where she had felt as though she was being accused of secretly bearing the Dark Mark. Severus had defended her for the most part but she had stood her own ground as well, coming to his defence when several members accused him of having forced her to continue their relationship.

She had spent the entire time longing for the secrecy and anonymity they had enjoyed in Switzerland but she knew, even if they went back there, they would never again find the peace they had shared.

Dumbledore had tried to send her from the room when talk had turned to Voldemort's plans but she refused to move, Severus supporting her with promises that anything he shared with the Order would be as easily shared with Hermione. The information he offered was scant and to the point, his cards played close to his chest when so many in the room looked upon him with suspicion.

She had hoped to at least be able to retire to their shared room to discuss what they planned to do next but Severus had told her he needed to remove their possessions from the house they had been staying in. Their use of magic to return to England would have made them all the more visible to anyone who could have been watching for signs of either of them and he wanted to try and protect the secrecy of their relationship from anyone who had not now been made privy to it within the Order. She had wanted to go with him but to carry her whilst he apparated after already having made the journey once would have exhausted him to the point where it would be dangerous for them both. She had reluctantly agreed to let him go alone, hating the fact that they would need to be separated for several hours as he gave himself time to recover between trips.

She huffed down on the bed, running her hand over the sheets on his side of the bed. It seemed as though the world had not stopped changing direction since he had been regressed to his youth over a year before but the flip that had occurred in the few hours since they had received Dumbledore's letter still had her reeling. She wasn't sure whether to cry or be relieved that, at least in part, they would no longer need to hide away but the greater exposure brought with it new risks. An ill judged comment from any of their friends could reveal them to those who were their enemies or their own complacency could mean they forgot themselves when they were in public.

She raised her head and hastily brushed away her tears as a faint knock came on her bedroom door, tempted to ask the visitor to go away but instead she called out for them to enter.

"You alright?" asked Harry as he appeared around the door, "They won't tell us anything but I can't imagine that was fun."

"I've had better days," said Hermione, forcing a small smile, "You might as well all come in."

Harry offered her an apologetic smile before he stepped into the room, Ginny, Ron and the twins following in behind him. Ginny was the first to cross the room to her, enveloping her in a warm hug that lingered longer than one of greeting before she was passed on to her other friends.

Silence descended once they had all said their hellos and Hermione huffed out a humourless laugh as she returned to her seat on the bed.

"You can talk to me you know," she said, "And I'm not going to shy away from questions if I'm able to answer them. I'm sure I can say the same for Severus as well."

"Where is the old bugger anyway?" asked Fred, with a cheeky wink, "Thought he'd be hiding up here with you. That's why we made Harry knock first."

"He's gone back to Switzerland to get our things," she said, "It was easier for him to go alone. He'll be back later and I'm sure he'll want to see you all. He's missed you."

Ron frowned, "But why didn't he tell us he was on our side?" he said, "Especially after Harry found out."

"Because he didn't want to put any of us at risk," said Hermione, reaching for her patience as she heard the hurt and the apprehension in his questions, "He's brilliant at hiding things from Voldemort but even Severus is vulnerable under torture and there's no guarantee that Voldemort won't turn on him one day. When he was first changed back, we didn't know if he would ever be able to come back and so he made me promise to make everyone believe he was truly on Voldemort's side. He didn't want anyone coming after him or trying to help him. When he did come back, it was just safer to keep up the pretence. The more people that know the truth, the more likely it is for it all to be exposed. Severus would be killed but only after Voldemort had tortured every last bit of information out of him about us, especially Harry. He's taken so many risks to protect us all and now we need to make sure we protect him. Ron please believe me, he's our Severus still. He's on our side."

Ron sniffed, crossing his arms in front of him, "Just wish he'd told us," he said, "And he's been a right arse in Dark Arts."

"Well he can hardly be nice with Page watching him like a hawk," said Ginny, "I had been wondering though. I've caught his gaze a couple of times and the look in his eyes was so sad and so much like the younger him but he would always turn away the moment he realised I'd seen him. I wish I'd known."

"But you wouldn't have been able to do anything," said Harry, "And Hermione's right. Now we all know we have to be careful. We can't let on that we know."

"He keeps being a git in class and that won't be hard," said Ron, "He took ten points off me the other day for sneezing."

Hermione rolled her eyes, "You've been giving him plenty of cause to take far more than ten points in some of our classes," she said, "And he's going to have to keep behaving like that. To every else he needs to appear to be on Voldemort's side."

"What I don't understand is why he and Minerva changed back in the first place," said George, "I thought the Ministry couldn't find a cure."

Hermione sighed, "I really don't want to go into that," she said, "But I will tell you that Severus' hand was forced. He didn't want to change but can we change the subject please? It's been a rough enough day without raking over old ground."

"Sure thing," said Fred, settling himself down on the floor beside the bed before he leaned over his crossed legs with a grin, "I suggest we discuss instead what exactly you were doing running off to Switzerland with your teacher Miss Granger. Didn't realise the old dog would still have it in him."

Hermione laughed as the playful teasing began, the easy banter reminding her of many evenings spent in the common room as they each poked fun at each other. Despite her mirth though she felt a little tug on her heart that Severus was once again not their to share in it and she sent out a silent wish that he would not be too long in his journey, knowing he needed to reconnect with their friends even more than she did.

xxxx

Severus stumbled as he hit the ground in the park nearby to Grimmauld Place, the dizziness that came with apparating over such a large distance not easily shaken off especially when he had taxed his magic a great deal in the hours since Dumbledore had sent for him. When the world continued to tip, he settled down on a nearby bench, steadying his breathing as best he could as he closed his eyes against the lamp lit park.

He had only intended to rest for an hour or so in Switzerland before returning to England but sleep had overcome him and he had woken to find the sun already setting over the pine covered mountainside. He had been tempted to stay but the absence of Hermione was enough to have him hurrying to collect the last few items they owned, glad for the charms that allowed him to pack everything into one small bag for the journey home.

He knew they would both miss the sanctuary not only in the physical sense but also in the fact that the secrecy that had become their life had now been broken. He was glad in a way that the majority of their friends now knew the truth but it also brought with it new fears. When he had parted from them all previously he had been their age, his adulthood and the trials it had brought all but forgotten in the final, lazy summer afternoons they had spent together at the Burrow. Now it was not just his outward appearance that marked their differences, his secrets and his mission an even greater barrier to the friendships he had once known.

Once he had fully integrated with his Gryffindor classmates he had endeavoured to always be honest with them but the very nature of his work for the Order meant he would have to keep secrets from the all, Harry especially and he knew that every lie and omission would hurt him deeply. He was tempted to make his excuses and return alone to his home, limiting their contact to moments at school but the balm their presence offered was too much to resist especially when separation from them meant separation from Hermione also.

He opened his eyes, night starting to encroach on the park as he got to his feet and made his way across the short distance to the house. He didn't allow himself to hesitate on the steps, opening the door and stepping into the neglected hallway. The familiar sound of voices echoed from the kitchen but they were all older members of the Order and he had no desire to spend any more time than necessary in their company.

He opened the door to the room Harry had offered them respite in that morning but it was dark and cold, clearly not having known habitation for several hours at least. He hoped that they had not all been shipped off to Hogwarts or another safe house, knowing it would be easier to reconnect with them somewhere they wouldn't be required to constantly look over their shoulders.

Knowing that Hermione would not have gone anywhere without him, he turned back to the stairs but he paused as he saw a figure emerge from the doorway to the kitchen.

"You'd be best placed to leave them be Severus," said Dumbledore, "That isn't your world anymore."

"Maybe not," said Severus, keeping his eyes on the stairs before him, "But I prefer it to the one you inhabit. Unless I am needed for anything to do with the Order, if you don't mind…"

"You will only lead them into darkness Severus," said the older wizard, "Miss Granger especially."

"Last time I checked, I was not the one leading this circus," said Severus, heading up the stairs, "Goodnight Headmaster."

He didn't wait for a response, taking the stairs two at a time but rather than the tension leaving him as he moved up through the dilapidated floors, it grew. Whilst his friends had been pleased to see him in the most part when they had discovered the truth about his allegiance he was concerned that the intervening hours would have dimmed their enthusiasm for his return.

He almost headed back down the stairs as the youthful, joyful voices echoed down from the room he and Hermione had taken, her laughter joining that of her friends' but the sudden cessation of the sound made him pause on the landing.

The door opened, Ginny's face appearing in the gap before she smiled brightly, "I thought I heard something," she said, "How long have you been hovering there? Get in. We've been talking about you."

He was certain the shock was all too apparent on his face as she grabbed hold of his hand without any ceremony and dragged him into the room.

"Look who I found lurking," she said.

He didn't get a chance to register the reaction from the others, Ginny barely managing to step aside before Hermione launched herself from the bed and into his arms. His worries evaporated the moment he took hold of her, burying his face in the fall of her hair as she clung to him.

"I've missed you," she murmured, her hands fisting into the material of his coat, "Was everything alright?"

"It was fine. I've brought everything back with me," he said, "Have you been alright?"

Hermione raised her head from his chest, smiling up at him but he still saw the faint tears in her eyes that told him that she had missed him and worried for him.

"I've been well taken care of," she said, stroking the backs of her fingers over his cheek, "And now you can be. Our friends are here for us now."

Her words brought his attention back to the others in the room and the fear that had grown as he had climbed the stairs to the room reinstated itself. He kept hold of Hermione as he turned to take in those gathered, the warm smiles of the majority and even the slightly wary expression worn by Ron far more welcoming than anything he had received by the members of the Order.

"Hello you lot," he said, hating the catch in his own voice but he could do nothing to prevent it as he felt tears burn his own eyes, "I'm sorry it's been so long."

"Better late than never…old man," said George, "Just glad to have you back."

"I'll second that," said Fred, "Just wish you could have told us."

"I wanted to keep you all safe," said Severus, "Can you forgive me?"

"For not telling us, yes," said Ginny, "But you've got a lot to make up for after giving us all so many detentions and taking so many house points."

"I'll take that under advisement," said Severus, keeping Hermione's hand held tightly in his as he sat down on the edge of the bed, "And I'm not expecting you all to trust me again straight away, I know there has been a lot of deceit but I will try and put to rest any fears if I can."

"Way I see it," said Ron, from his perch on the rickety dresser chair, "You're not much different from what you were. You were a young, lanky, ugly git. Now you're older, not so lanky but you're still ugly as sin. Not really much difference."

Severus laughed, knowing that despite his playful words he still had a long way to go to regain Ron's complete trust but relieved that he was comfortable enough to tease him as he had done when they were the same age.

"I'm a lot older, or at least I feel that way at the moment," he said, "But I promise that I am no different…well, I'm different but I hope we can still be friends."

"Of course we can," said Ginny, "Hermione explained everything she could to us. I'm just sorry this happened to you. It must have been so hard."

"It's getting easier," he lied, feeling Hermione's hand tighten in his as she too realised that whatever trust they had in him now would soon have to be lost forever.

He refused the let the melancholy overwhelm him though, forcing a smile onto his face and letting the familiar teasing banter that had filled the Gryffindor common room act like a balm upon his soul. He envied the ease of the young people before him, their hearts still open enough to offer him their trust once more despite the lies he and Hermione had initially woven to keep his allegiance from them. He had expected to answer difficult questions but instead he found himself being filled in on the news of their absent friends, teased over his secret getaway with Hermione and playfully scolded over his behaviour towards those he was still in charge of teaching.

Their time together moved well into the night, Fred and George liberating food from their mother in the kitchen to negate the need for them to head downstairs but their sanctuary was breached as the clock struck midnight. Severus was grateful that it was Arthur rather than Molly that had come to usher his children and Harry to bed, his own part in Severus' meetings with the Order having been the least judgemental. He still wore a frown as he watched them all bid goodnight to one another, the lines on his brow deepening when the twins left with a tease about Hermione keeping up an old man into the early hours but he left without a word of reproach.

Severus waited until the door finally clicked shut before he sighed, scrubbing a hand over his face before he turned to the woman sat on the bed beside him.

"That would have been easier if they were shouting at me," he said, mirroring her sad smile as she clasped his hand in both of hers.

"I know," she said, raising his hand to her lips and pressing a kiss to the back of it, "But at least you can spend some time with them until…"

"Until I'm required to betray them all," he said, "And then…"

"And then I will still be there for you," said Hermione, "Don't let this upset you now, you need to rest."

"I'm sorry I was gone for so long today," he said as Hermione left the bed, rifling through the small case he had carried back from Switzerland with him.

A quick spell soon had her nightdress in her hand, a small bag following as she breathed a sigh of relief, "I've never been so glad to see a hairbrush," she said, extracting it from the bag, "I just wish you hadn't needed to bring everything here."

"Once we apparated out our security was compromised and I can't risk you being found with me," said Severus, shrugging off his jacket before he toed off the heavy black boots he wore, "The only safe houses we can use are here and Hogwarts now that the Burrow is gone. I can have Dumbledore make arrangements for you to return to the school or go to your parents' if you would prefer it to here."

Hermione frowned, "Well my parents' is out of the question, no way you could go there at the moment," she said, "We'd have more privacy at Hogwarts but I think we both need time here. Questions would be asked if we went back to the school anyway."

"I could always go to my house," said Severus, "Molly and the others might ease up on you then."

Hermione shook her head, "No," she said vehemently, "Wherever we go, we go together. Besides, if you weren't here I imagine I would have many more sessions where I would be encouraged to come to my senses."

"I live in fear of the day you finally do," said Severus, feigning pain as she swotted his arm with the back of her brush before she tossed it aside.

"Never going to happen," she said, moving to sit astride his legs and wrapping her arms around his neck, "Although if you do decide to abandon me here and head home then I may need to rethink that statement."

"Well then," said Severus, pressing a kiss to her lips, "I shall have to endure the pointed stares and remarks and remain here. It's only a week until term starts, I'm sure I can bear it."

"I promise when we have some proper privacy again, I'll make it worth your while," said Hermione, stroking his hair, "Feel like there are too many eyes and ears here. I've got used to it just being you and me."

"I think we're going to struggle to find much alone time even when we are back at the school."

"The others may have your evenings but your nights are mine," said Hermione, "We should get some sleep. You look tired."

Severus nodded, "I'm exhausted," he said, "Apparating so many times and for such a long distance would have been tiring even if I were still twenty years younger."

"I didn't envy you that trip today," said Hermione, climbing off his lap, "I'm going to see if I can find anything resembling a bath tub on this floor. Will you still be awake when I get back?"

"I'll try to be," said Severus, "But no promises."

Hermione smiled, "I'll be quick," she said, "We can make the best of this Severus, I know we can."

"We can try," he said, "Go on, or I will be asleep before you get back."

He watched her leave the room, hoping that she didn't encounter anyone along the way that would try to persuade her to find another room to sleep in. Whilst he knew she would never abandon him, he hated that she would be pulled from pillar to post by those who did not accept their relationship. He could not hold it against any of them though, knowing that they were only looking out for her and he was certain that he too would share their concern if he were not part of the relationship they were judging.

He shook off the thought, heading towards the small bag and weaving a spell over the contents, essential items they would both need sailing from the concealed depths and settling themselves around the room. Once that was done, he extinguished the majority of the candles before lying back on the bed, promising himself that he would remain awake until Hermione's return. He knew that he would fail in his aim though, sleep claiming him long before she returned to his side.

xxxx

The room they had claimed at the top of the house proved to be a sanctuary when the next day dawned, breakfast having set the tone for the day when silence had fallen the second they had walked in. Their friends had thankfully eased some of the tension as they welcomed them into their conversation but Hermione knew Severus felt out of place as he found himself sat with people many years younger than him rather than those he had first attended school with.

She had left him with a heavy heart when Dumbledore had requested his presence at a meeting with the Order, forcing her to go off alone with Harry and the others into the small living room they had taken to spending time in. It was only an hour later when she had felt the pull of her books over the pursuits her friends were undertaking to entertain themselves, knowing she would need to spend some time revising in preparation for her upcoming exams.

Glancing towards the kitchen as she headed to the stairs she realised that the meeting was over, the door standing open and the long table devoid of occupants. With a frown, she headed up the stairs, unsurprised to find Severus in their room, his eyes on the pages of the book in his hand but she knew he had long since stopped reading the words. She could not blame him for having sought solace in the quiet of their room and, rather than break the silence, she smiled at him as she crossed to the case on the floor beside the bed to retrieve her schoolbooks.

She soon lost herself in her work but she was aware of his presence all the same, knowing that he was watching her study as much as he was reading his book. It was several hours later when the faint knock came at the door before Ginny, Harry and Ron came into the room, their prolonged absence enough to prompt their search. Their arrival dispelled the quiet but it was a welcome interruption and Hermione was glad that they had sought them out once Fred and George had returned to their shop on Diagon Alley.

She smiled as she finally noticed Severus begin to relax amongst their friends, talk turning to Quidditch between the four of them whilst she kept half an eye on her books. It was only when she heard his deep, easy laughter that she realised what a weight had settled in her heart since their return, worried that the distance between the once firm friends would be too great a gap to bridge. Despite the fact that she had little interest in the subject she soon put aside her books to join their discussion, happily settling herself on the floor at Severus' side as he and Ginny went head to head on the virtues of their respective teams.

"Regardless of how you put it, the skill of the Chasers is never going to make a jot of difference if you are up against a world class Seeker," said Ginny.

"But the skill of a Seeker is still somewhat dependant on luck," countered Severus, "They may be highly capable of catching the snitch if they see it but that is entirely dependant on them spotting it within the field of play. By the point it's spotted a competent Chaser could have scored a significant number of points to make the catching of the snitch a moot point."

"You could argue the same if you have a great line of defence," said Ginny, "You've got three people focused on stopping a Chaser whilst a Seeker can move without hindrance for the majority of the match."

"You sound like a pair of television pundits arguing a Saturday match," said Harry.

Severus laughed, "Would be interesting to see what the Muggle populace would do if Quidditch suddenly made an appearance on Match of the Day."

"My Uncle Vernon would have a coronary," said Harry, "Before he wrote a very strongly worded letter to the BBC."

"The BB who?" asked Ron, "I'd forgotten that you two speak in code half the time."

"You're not missing much, believe me," said Hermione, finally raising her head from her Arithmacy book when she realised she had read the same paragraph three times over, "I'm just enjoying the fact that we can all be together like this again, even if you are talking sports. Feels like we're back in the common room."

"Except you two aren't sneaking off to do your potions homework," said Ginny, earning a disgusted groan from her brother.

"I was about to suggest we went and found some dinner," he moaned, "But you've put me right off."

Hermione frowned, "I'm not sure I want to go downstairs," she said, "We hardly feel welcome down their right now."

"Fred and George will be back in a bit," said Harry, "And we could go and sit in the front room."

"I imagine you'll be welcome without me," said Severus, "You go on down."

"Not without you," said Hermione, "If they don't like you being there, they can go elsewhere."

Severus shook his head, "I can't expect them to," he said, "Their concerns are valid given everything that's happened. They're just worried about you, about all of you. I can't blame them for that."

"Mum gets her wand in a knot over the slightest thing these days anyway," said Ron, "And it is a bit weird what with you looking like that. We could bring some food up here if you want. If we sit down there we're only going to get lectures about homework anyway."

"Hardly to most palatial surroundings," said Severus, "But it would be preferable, if you really don't mind. I don't want to make things difficult for you."

"Why change the habit of a lifetime?" said Harry, "And hanging out up here is no different to hanging out in the front room. We'll get some food and bring it up."

He got to his feet, Ron and Ginny following suit but Severus's voice stopped him from going any further.

"Actually Harry, could I borrow you for a moment longer?" he said, "It won't take long."

"Ha! You've got detention!" teased Ron, "Come on Gin."

Ginny hesitated for a moment before she followed her brother from the room, closing the door behind them.

"Do you want me to go too?" asked Hermione, realising what Severus wanted to discuss but he waved her down.

"Not necessary," he said, "We won't be talking about anything you don't already know about."

"Am I missing something?" said Harry, "Because you're starting to worry me."

"Nothing to worry about," said Severus, "But important. Hermione informed me that you are in possession of a particular annotated book which is the reason you're achieving so highly in your Potions classes."

Harry blanched, "Maybe."

"Harry, that book was mine," said Severus, sparing him any prolonged worry, "I had that book when I was a student and used it, along with several others, to base my lessons on. It's why I rarely asked you to refer to your text books in my classroom."

"You're the Half Blood Prince?" said Harry, "But…why?"

Severus smiled ruefully, "Long story," he said, "But needless to say the boy I was then…the circumstances I was in…he is not the boy you came to know when I was regressed, nor was he the man you know now. Back then, I was angry and I was frightened and, because of that, I developed spells and curses that could easily land you in Azkaban. You've seen the effects of one of the curses when Lucius attacked me last year. You're better than that Harry. I would ask for the book if I thought you hadn't already been exposed to the content but I know you've read it so instead I'm going to ask you to promise me that you will never, ever use those spells against anyone. Will you promise me that Harry?"

Hermione watched the exchange between the two men before her, knowing that there was so much that would have to remain unsaid between them but hoping at least that they could come to agreement over the book. The tension in her drained away as she watched Harry smile and hold out his hand to Severus, the pair of them shaking on the promise they made. She smiled as Severus looked over to her, seeing the relief on his face that the conversation she was sure he had been worrying about since she had told him of the book was over and resolved without an argument.

She laughed softly as his relief turned to surprise as Harry reached out and pulled him into a sudden hug, the embrace lasting longer than a brief embrace between friends and Hermione knew there was much being said that words could not express. Her laughter grew louder though as Harry sat back with an arch look on his face though, his words killing off any tension that remained in the room.

"I tell you what though," he said, "I knew you could be dramatic Severus but Half Blood Prince? Seriously?"

"Says the boy who lived," countered Severus, "Between us we could definitely hold the monopoly on ridiculous titles."

"Says the man marrying the brightest witch of her age," said Harry, "I think we've got it covered on all bases."

As it always had done in the expanse of Gryffindor Tower, the lighthearted teasing chased away the world outside and Hermione hoped, for the brief time they had at least, that Severus would find peace in the friendships that were proving to remain strong.