"We really should be sleeping," Severus said softly into the darkness. Hermione felt his thumb travel over the back of her hand in one of the many small gestures of affection she'd noticed over the last few hours. Neither of them had been able to sleep so they'd spent the time lost in sleepy conversation.

"This is much more fun than sleeping," Hermione said as she suppressed a yawn. It was getting late and they had a big day of horcrux searching in front of them.

Hermione loved the sound of his voice in the darkness. There was just something so beautiful and comforting about his voice. Especially when that voice was directed at her. She loved the closeness of him as they lay together. It was still so odd to her how much she had come to want him near to her.

"Be that as it may I think my stories of Flitwick's African Safari can wait for another day," he said with a chuckle that was stifled by the fact that his lips were resting against her hair. Hermione smiled and snuggled closer to him. There were worst things in the world than being tired, but he was right, they did need to get sleep.

"Sleep time it is," she agreed. "Severus? I hope that you have sweet dreams."

"You too, Hermione."

Hermione listened as his breathing became more even and the arm that was wrapped around her softened. She felt safe and secure and that was a feeling that had been eluding her lately.

This day had been Hell and she was trying her hardest to just breathe and let go. Something much easier said than done. Every single part of her felt exhausted. She wasn't sure she had fully recovered from Apparating, and even if she had, her earlier act of magic, the one that she didn't think she would ever be able to comfortably think about, had worn her out. Being around Ron and Harry was also hard. She told herself that she had to find some way to deal with how she was feeling about them. They were the only family that she had left and whatever negative feelings she was holding onto needed to be let go.

Then there was Severus. He was probably taking the greatest toll on her energy. One moment she was sure that everything would work out and then the next it felt like she was one step away from never seeing him again.

It was difficult to resolve herself to thinking of him as a coward. He was one of the bravest people she had ever met. He was so dedicated, and intelligent. His depth of knowledge about so many topics impressed her to no end. When it came to feelings and emotions he was more lost than she was. She had grown up in a household filled with love and affection.

She'd spent the last seven years of her life being so close to two other people that they had become extensions of herself. She knew what it felt like to always have someone there for her. To always be loved. To have someone to confide in and listen to. Severus had never had that. She hated knowing that. She felt for him in that respect.

Hermione wanted to change that. She wanted to show him how it could really be. How safe and wanted he could feel. He had helped her feel those things during the hardest period in her life. She wanted to gift that back to him. It wasn't gratitude. It wasn't the need to take care of him as he had taken care of her. She wasn't trying to fill a void left by the trauma of what had happened to her. She wasn't trying to distract herself from everything else going on in her life.

She felt something. Something real, and tangible, and heartfelt. It would be so much easier to have no feelings for him. To pack up and go to the Burrow and forget the last few months had happened. Yet, she couldn't do it. Not without knowing that he would still have a place in her life.

Hermione realized that she had been on the edges of sleep. Fading in and out of consciousness, the only thing keeping her from diving into oblivion was her stream of never ending thoughts. Here in the darkness of night, surrounded by the smell of him and the warmth of being held so tenderly, she felt brave. Braver than she had felt in a long time. There was so much uncertainty in her life but there were things she knew she wanted. One of those things was him.

She didn't need a definition for his feelings, or hers for that matter. She didn't need a commitment. She didn't need to justify anything. What she wanted was for him to not run away from her, or himself for that matter. Feeling better about her course of action, with everything, she fell into an easy sleep.

Sleep was short lived. It felt like she had only been asleep a few minutes when there was a knock at the bedroom door. Hermione roused herself from sleep and managed to coherently walk to the door without bumping into anything. She opened the creaky, wooden, door and saw Ron standing there in the hall.

"Morning, Hermione," he said cheerily. It took a few moments for the world to right itself and for Hermione to remember where she was. She was also reminded of the fact that there was something very important they were supposed to be doing today.

"Good morning," she said, returning his smile sleepily.

"Didn't think you were up yet. Long night? I couldn't find Snape. He didn't leave you alone here did he?" asked Ron as he handed her a steaming cup of coffee.

"No, no. He's around here somewhere." Hermione said sheepishly, all to aware of the fact that Severus was in the bed behind her.

"Right. Well, we were planning on leaving in about an hour and a half, just thought I'd let you know. Harry and Ginny are downstairs making breakfast. She wanted to come along and Harry didn't have the heart to tell her no." There was a significant pause before he continued. "Can we talk Hermione?"

"Uh, Ron…" she said fumbling for an excuse. "I, uh, actually…" she heard a barely audible popping noise behind her. "Of course, come in," she said recovering fairly easily. To her relief the room was empty with no trace of the former occupant. Ron sat down on the old, ancient, bed and Hermione closed the door behind them. She sat down beside him and was pleased to feel okay about being alone with him.

It wasn't about the trauma she incurred just over a few months ago, it was about the fact that it had been so long since she'd been alone with someone other than Severus. She worried about her ability to keep up with conversation, to not let the awkward silences overwhelm her. She was filled with confidence right now. She could do this, she could be herself and have a friendly conversation with her best friend.

"There's something I wanted to ask you," he said and Hermione was almost amused to hear the nervousness in his voice. Of course it was warranted, she hadn't necessarily been very welcoming to he and Harry the other day. Especially after weeks of silence.

"Yes?" she asked with a reassuring smile.

"I wanted to ask you if you needed a place to stay for a little bit? What I mean is, see, I've got a flat up in Chudley, nothing special, quite a dump actually, but there's more than enough room for you, for a little while of course, until you get settled you know? Mum also said that the Burrow's empty with all of us moved out and she'd love to have you stay. Think she's quite excited about teaching you recipes or something. I guess the cooking thing never stuck with Ginny, ya know? Harry's getting a flat in London too and he'd love for you to stay with him, you'd be close to the Ministry and all that. Neville's alone in his Gran's house now that she's passed and he told me there's a spare room with your name on it if you want. And Fleur would be more than happy to let you stay with her and Bill in France if you just want to get away for a bit. I just wanted you to know that there are loads of places for you to stay that aren't this gloomy dump," he said with a lopsided grin.

Hermione almost expected herself to feel insulted by the offer. After all, she was a grown witch, capable of standing on her own two feet, without the need of charity. However, in all honesty, she just felt incredibly humbled and grateful. Over the last few months it had been hard to remember that she still had a life out there somewhere. Still had friends and family that loved her and cared about her and wanted her to feel safe. Unbidden, tears sprang to her eyes and she hugged Ron tightly, drinking in his comfortable familiar scent.

"Thanks Ron, that means a lot. I'll think it over," she said trying to compose herself. All of those options sounded lovely. When this was all over she could picture herself at the Burrow, sitting by the fire reading, after an exhausting day of jam and jelly making. It sounded quite close to Heaven. However, there was something that she wanted even more than that. Something that she wasn't quite sure she could have.

"Well, ahem," Ron said clearing his throat as he patted her on the back. "I should probably let you get ready. Found this at the Burrow the other day in Fred and George's room, I know you don't have a wand so I thought this might be helpful," he said handing her a sack. "There's some Weasley's Wizarding Wheezes in there. The portable swamp, instant darkness powder, and decoy detonators. It's not much but it's better than nothing."

"Thanks, Ron," said Hermione as she accepted the sack and he got up and left the room. Once the door was closed Hermione looked at the bag. "Reducio," she said with a wave of her hand and the bag shrank down to the size of a small purse. With a pleased smile she began to get ready.

An hour later found the five of them gathered in the foyer going over the plan. Harry had taken over the role of leader, which wasn't very unusual.

"This should be fairly safe. The only thing we need to worry about is the small amount of time that we are outside the gates of Hogwarts. There's no reason to believe that Hogwarts security has been compromised. In fact Dumbledore has been spending the last few weeks reinforcing all security measures. Which is going to make in impossible for us to floo, portkey, or apparate on the grounds. It's too risky. So we'll be apparating about ten feet from the front gate where it should open, only allowing the five of us to enter. From there, we go to the seventh floor, find the Room of Requirement, or the Room of Hidden Things as it is also called, locate the Ravenclaw Diadem, and come back here as soon as possible. Any questions?" Hermione noticed that Harry gave a pointed look to Snape but he stayed quiet.

Hermione knew that there was probably part of Harry that was enjoying being "in charge" of Snape. She couldn't say she blamed him, especially after all of the years of animosity that had bubbled up between them. In all honesty, it was kind of fun to go on this adventure with all of them. She missed this.

Since Severus was the most practiced at apparation and used to arriving right at the gate, it was decided that they would apparate as a group with him leading. They stood in a circle each of them touching. Hermione looked over and smiled at Ron who stood across from her. It was when she saw the look of confusion on his face that she realized she was holding Snape's hand. The world started to spin and she couldn't discern anything else.

When the world righted itself they were in front of Hogwarts, standing a mere ten or so feet away from the gate. Severus hurried up to it, a key already appearing in his hand. As he inserted the key, he tapped his wand on it simultaneously, and the gates silently opened and they hurried inside as the gates closed behind them.

Hermione looked up at the vast grounds of Hogwarts. It was hard to believe that it had only been a few weeks since she'd left. It looked quiet and empty and it made her sad. She missed the days where it was full to the brim with students and teachers. Laughter, homework, Quidditch matches. All things that she wasn't going to experience here again. She had graduated, and that time for her was over. She felt like she had taken it so much for granted.

Hermione wondered what Ron was thinking as they walked up the long, winding, drive towards the Castle. He had been avoiding her gaze since they arrived. When they apparated, everyone else's hands had been on shoulders and forearms, she could understand how holding Severus' hand could have been disconcerting. As much as she hated to admit it, she worried what Ron was thinking. It was hard for her to imagine that he wouldn't think less of her if he knew her feelings for her former Professor.

He wouldn't approve, no one would. That thought hadn't really bothered her until now. She looked ahead to Snape who was striding with purpose towards the Great Doors. What ridicule would he face if he allowed himself to be with her? She could imagine the rumors and the whisperings, the articles written by Rita Skeeter.

Was there anything between them that would be easy?

Once they entered the Castle, the oppressive silence began to fill Hermione with a sense of foreboding. During her time here with Snape the quiet had been much needed, now the echoing of footsteps seemed almost haunting.

Ginny apparently thought so to because soon she struck up a conversation with Hermione. Hermione felt like her voice sounded too loud in the hallowed halls and she was waiting for a mysterious phantom "shhhh" as she carried on with the conversation. She and Ginny had gotten to talk a bit that morning over breakfast and Hermione was happy to feel that things felt normal between the two of them.

Maybe everything hadn't changed so much after all.

They finally made it to the Seventh Floor and to the place where the Room of Requirement would appear. They all concentrated on needing The Room of Hidden Things. One use for the Room was hiding all of the things that other people did not want to be found.

A rickety door appeared and they went inside.

Severus had to admit that he was excited about this. He had never actually been inside the Room of Requirement during his tenure at Hogwarts. He had heard of its existence but he had never sought to find it. All he required he had in his rooms down in the dungeons. Rooms he was sorely missing at the moment. It wasn't that he didn't enjoy the adventure of the last few weeks, parts of it were exhilarating and other parts terrifying, but he missed his comfortable routine. Missed the hours lost in study and potion making. He missed his solitude.

He looked over at Hermione and knew that she was worth it. What a strange revelation that was. Any further thoughts were interrupted as Severus looked into the cavernous room, his eyes widening in shock. There seemed to be centuries worth of acquired junk in here. He had a feeling this wasn't going to be as quick as he had originally anticipated. In fact, it looked like it was going to be a very long day indeed.

The five of them split off into two smaller groups and Severus was not surprised to find he and Hermione working near the same area. While most of this stuff was harmless, he did exercise care in digging through the piles of junk. There were tons of books, countless broken trinkets, ruined uniforms, singed tapestries, broken swords, and things he couldn't even hazard a guess to identify.

About an hour into it, the dust was starting to get to him, and a thin layer of sweat had gathered on his brow. It did give him an excellent opportunity to think through some things. Mainly Ron Weasley. He wouldn't go so far as to say he was in competition with someone half his age for a woman he wasn't even sure if he had the capacity to be with, but honestly that's how it felt.

This morning when Ron had showed up at her bedroom door it had been hard to leave. He knew that he had to be respectful of her relationships so he had apparated to an empty room. He knew nothing of what had been said and he wasn't sure that he wanted to. She was easily falling back into her habits and falling back into her life with her friends. He could easily see the writing on the wall. Soon she wouldn't need him, and that was a good thing.

Severus was never one for co-dependency. It wasn't something that had been a theme throughout his life. He had never had anyone rely on him on a personal level and had never in turn relied on anyone else, with the exception of Dumbledore. This relationship with her, the neediness they showed to each other, it wasn't healthy, not for him. It turned his entire world on its ear.

He looked over at her occasionally as he dug through a huge, scorched, wardrobe. Her hair was pulled back into a bushy mass of curls and she was flinging books behind her as she moved steadily forward into a pile of junk. He found it endearing how, in the beginning, she had tried to respectfully stack the books in neat piles. An hour later, the neat stacks had turned into one big, messy, pile.

Severus turned his attention back to his task. He was very used to being single minded in his wants and his needs. The ambiguity that he felt in regards to her was literally driving him insane. Soon, he was going to have to make a decision and stick with it. Pursue her or let her go. He knew what choice he wanted to make. It was finding the courage to go through with it. He continued searching, an absent smile on his face.

"Wit beyond measure is man's greatest treasure!"

It had been at least another twenty minutes when Severus heard her voice and looked up to see her holding a silver glinting object. Hermione had found the diadem. Severus stood up in relief, brushing decade-old dirt off of his black robes.

Snape watched as Hermione gave the tiara to Harry who stuffed it safely in his cloak. As they left the room he had to resist the urge to gather up discarded vials of strange substances. The academic in him thought about all of the interesting experiments that could be run but he cast those thoughts aside. Another time maybe.

The group made it back into the hallway where Ron gracefully informed them that he had to use the bathroom and would be right back so that they could leave. While they waited for him to return, Severus looked down at Hermione and smiled at the dirt smeared across her cheek as she excitedly talked about all of the interesting objects she had noticed.

He reached up to wipe her cheek with his thumb when he was hit with a spasm so violent his hand jerked and he almost inadvertently hit her.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing?" asked Harry, immediately situating himself between the two of them. Severus was almost too overcome with pain to even notice. His arm was on fire, worse than it ever had been before.

"Stop! It wasn't his fault," he heard Hermione say as his legs gave out. It wasn't just his forearm that was burning, it was his upper arm, shoulder, chest, stomach. This had never happened before and he found himself absolutely terrified.

He heard Weasley come back, heard some sort of explanation about the Dark Mark, heard murmurings, and before he realized it he found himself staring up at the ceiling as the realization dawned that he was flat on his back.

He could feel Hermione pulling up the sleeve of his robe and the sound she made when she saw it concerned him enough to resist the unconsciousness that was trying to claim him. He tried to pull up his arm, bring it closer to his face so that he could see, but she wouldn't release her grip on him.

"Don't look," she whispered. He ignored her and continued to struggle. Finally she lifted his arm so that he could see it. He was repulsed by what he saw. The Dark Mark was literally boiling on his skin. All the veins in his arm stood out in stark contrast to his pale skin. His veins were black, pitch black trails running up his arm.

Suddenly everyone started talking at once and Severus couldn't discern what was being said. He had the feeling that whatever Voldemort was doing to him at this moment involved the Crucio. Voldemort knew. Whether he knew they were at Hogwarts Severus couldn't say, but it was obvious that this call to Death Eaters was not to be ignored under any circumstances.

Either their group, the group at Gringotts, or maybe even Grimmauld Place itself were going to be in trouble, very soon.

He heard Hermione reciting the spells that usually helped ease the pain. He waited for relief that never came. He felt her digging in his pocket for his wand, the spells were repeated and still relief didn't come.

"Ginny, your wand core is dragon heartstring right?" he heard Hermione ask.

"Yes, why?"

"That's what mine was. His wand is a little temperamental when I use it. Can I borrow yours for a moment?"

He assumed that she handed it over because Hermione was still repeating the spells and relief still did not come. The pain was just as intense but he was forcing himself to breathe through the waves of it.

"It's not working," Hermione said and he could hear the panic and worry in her voice.

There was currently an ebb in the pain and he felt able to talk. "Leave me here, I'll be fine. Get back and find out what happened." In all honesty, despite the pain, there was a streak of humiliation that his former students should see him in such a vulnerable state.

"Absolutely not. I'm not going to leave you in the castle, by yourself. Who knows what's going to happen. I don't want to doubt Dumbledore's ability to protect the castle but I will not leave you here. Would you like to be conscious or unconscious?" she asked briskly. He gave her a puzzled look in response.

"You're coming with us. I can stupefy you if you prefer, so you don't feel the pain."


She seemed to take it as an answer to the question and not a protest to the whole idea as he had intended it. In the next instant he was steadily floating through the air, by whose magic he had no idea. The next few minutes were a blur of blinding white pain. If he would have been able to speak, he might have swallowed his pride and asked to be stupefied after all.

Reality blurred and next he knew he could see the gate up ahead of them and the area beyond them looked clear. He felt some relief. He had almost expected a line of Death Eaters standing just outside the gate ready for a fight.

He absently heard them discussing the best strategy of exiting. One at a time? All at once? How was the best way to do it? To apparate you had to get a full ten feet away from the gate before there was guaranteed success with no security magic interference. They decided on he and Harry first while the others covered them in case of an ambush.

Severus found that his pride was in tact enough to be annoyed by this decision. He was a liability at this moment and the weakness frustrated him. He told himself that something good had come out of this. His arm was a warning of sorts, it made them more conscious of danger than they might otherwise be.

The next thing he knew, he was floating out of the gate, Potter's hand resting on his shoulder. The next few seconds after that were a blur of yells and bright colors flashing and crackling in the air. The last color he saw was red.

He felt every single one of his years. Bones and joints ached and he realized this was what it felt like to be truly exhausted. It was tempting to fade back into the cool darkness of sleep. His mouth was dry and he found his eyes hard to open but he did it anyway. Looking around, he was relieved to see that he was in a bed, in a dimly lit room. He didn't know what had happened but his first concern was for her. As worry filled him, he sat straight up and instantly regretted it as head began to simultaneously spin and pound. It was then that he realized that there was someone very warm, very safe, and very whole, lying next to him fast asleep.

With a shaky breath he lay back down and sunk back into darkness.

The next time he woke up he felt decidedly better, the smell of strong coffee didn't hurt. His bed was empty and, sure that he hadn't dreamt having her in bed with him, he allowed himself not to worry. He took a few minutes to look himself over while he indulged in the mug of coffee that had been sitting on the bedside table. He was happy to see that as far as he could tell, he was in one piece. His Mark was slightly raised on his skin, swollen, but other than that there were no remnants of the previous day's, he hoped it had only been one, happenings.

Once his coffee was finished he walked down the hall to the restroom and indulged himself with a hot shower. A few flicks of his wand dried his hair and thoroughly cleaned his robes. Feeling much more like himself, he made his way downstairs to find out what in Merlin's name had happened the other night.

As he thought he might, he found them all gathered around the kitchen table. In addition to Harry, Ginny, Ron, and Hermione, the fact that the latter two were sitting side by side did not escape his attention, they were joined by Dumbledore, Arthur, Tonks, Lupin, and Kingsly.

Severus took a seat at the far end of the table and was happy to have another cup of coffee pushed his way. It was then that Severus noticed sitting in the middle of the table were the diadem and Hufflepuff's cup, both of them were now a tarnished, nearly black color.

In his opinion, that was probably a very good thing.

"How are you feeling, Severus?" the Headmaster asked. It took him until that moment to notice the somber mood of the room. Something bad had happened.

"As well as can be expected," he replied casually. There was a dull ache in his head that he was hoping the caffeine was soon going to chase away.

"Yesterday Mad-eye Moody was lost to us, killed by Bellatrix LeStrange outside of her Gringotts vault. He was, however, able to help secure the Hufflepuff Cup, which was indeed as we suspected a horcrux."

Severus spared a moment of silence for the Auror. They had never gotten along but it was still a sadness for the loss of one of their own.

Snape listened as they fully recounted the story of the ambush inside the depths of Gringotts. Kingsley and Mad-Eye had managed to kill two Death Eaters and Arthur had wounded several. Just as he had suspected his group had been ambushed outside of Hogwarts as well. Severus learned that he had been hit with stupefy right as they had apparated. Thank Merlin it had been him and not Potter, that probably would have ended up with both of them horrible splinched.

Harry had apparated him, and the diadem, safely to Grimmauld Place and that's when the real battle had begun. Hermione, with the help of Severus' wand, Ron, and Ginny had staved off the Death Eaters and beat them back. Severus was happy to hear that Hermione had been the one to subdue the most Death Eaters, first allowing Ginny to escape and then escaping with Ron.

He wondered how Hermione had handled it emotionally. He knew there were very few things that terrified her more than the thought of recapture. It sounded as if she had kept her wits about her and everyone had come back alive and mostly unharmed. Ron had a singed eyebrow but it looked as if, even now, the hairs were rapidly growing back.

He listened to more talk of horcruxes. They had discovered the location of the locket and quite possibly the ring. For the first time in a long time it felt like the Order was making real progress in its efforts to defeat Voldemort once and for all.

Soon talk turned to more plans and Severus learned that they had to infiltrate the Ministry for the locket. There was so much to think of, all sorts of contingency and back up plans. Word had it that Voldemort was threatening Wizards all over England into being his spies. No place was safe and those in the Order, or even thought to be in the Order, were being watched as closely as possible. It was no longer safe for anyone.

Dumbledore had come up with a plan that involved a large group of Order members and massive amounts of polyjuice potion to infiltrate the Ministry. It was going to take a concentrated, strategic, effort, but if they could get their hands on one more horcrux, they'd be that much closer to defeating Voldemort for good.

Once conversation had died down, Severus realized that for the immediate future everyone would probably be staying here. He found himself resenting the fact that more than likely there would be little time for him for him to spend with Hermione.

It bothered him more than he wanted to admit. Dumbledore got up and Severus walked with him as they discussed the logistics of making such a large batch of Polyjuice Potion. Long ago Severus had stocked one of the rooms in the basement with lots of ingredients. That most likely wouldn't be a problem. He and the Headmaster talked about how many doses would be needed, and various other dynamics. After awhile Dumbledore wandered off to do whatever it was that Dumbledore did, and then Severus found himself alone, staring out a window into the bright summer sun.

"There you are."

He heard her voice and turned towards it, finding it difficult to hide the smile on his face.

"Yes. Here I am," he said wryly, as she came and stood next to him.

"How are you really feeling?" she asked as her hand boldly covered his as it rested on the warm windowsill.

"Better than I was yesterday and last night. A little sore, but nothing that can't be explained away by my age," he said with a dry smile.

"You were being crucio'd last night weren't you?" she asked softly. He could tell that she was thinking back to her own time, when the pain had ripped through her body.

"Yes, or something similar. It's never happened before in my almost nineteen years of bearing this mark. I didn't know it was capable of enacting that much pain. Are you all right after…. after yesterday?" he asked, trying to phrase it delicately, he didn't want to bring up unpleasant thoughts if she wasn't ready to talk about them.

She nodded and looked at him.

"At first I didn't think about it. They came out of nowhere, flinging spells at you and Harry. I didn't even think, I just acted. Once it was over, after Ron and I managed to apparate, I wanted to look after you and make sure you were okay. It took awhile for it to really hit me, for it to sink in how close I was to going back there, to that chamber, to the cold stone floor. The shock wore off and I lost it but Ron was there, he reminded me that we were all safe."

Severus made himself suppress whatever feelings the thought of Weasley comforting her drudged up. He had been unconscious after all, he hadn't been able to do anything. She had needed someone and he made himself be glad that she hadn't been left alone with her feelings. She had spent so many months internalizing, it was good that she rely on other people. People that would know the comforting things to say and follow it up with something to make her laugh afterwards…

"Being able to go upstairs to you, and lay next to you, knowing that we were both safe was the only reason I was able to sleep. I was so worried about you at Hogwarts. You couldn't see how bad you looked, the veins… I thought Voldemort was going to kill you."

"So worried for my health that you were threatening to curse me?" he said with a teasing smile.

"It was for your own good! You just had to be stubborn didn't you? You got stupefied anyway. I'm surprised I'm even able to joke about this right now." She let go of his hand and then wrapped her arms around him. He hugged her back.

"Are you sure this is wise?" he whispered into her hair.

"I don't particularly care if anyone sees me with you. Ron knows that we stayed together last night. He walked me up to the room. Does it bother you?"

"No. No, it doesn't bother me." He'd had many bad things thought about him over the years. Being seen as a… friend to her was not something he could really bring himself to be ashamed about.

She pulled away from him a little and reached into her cloak. "I found this yesterday at Hogwarts. I wanted to give it back to you," she said as she handed him a book.

He looked at her in confusion until he opened up the cover and read words written in a very recognizable script:

This book is the property of The Half-Blood Prince

"This was in the Room of Requirement?" he asked in surprise. That was one book he had never expected to see again.

"Yes, I knew Harry put it in there long ago. I was keeping an eye out for it. I thought you might want it. As a memento."

Once upon a time this book had literally meant everything to him. It had been his escape from the real world. A testament to his intelligence, it had, in a way, been his best friend, until one day it had disappeared. Silly how a book had come to mean so much to him. Of course this was Hermione Granger, of course she would understand.

"Thank you, Hermione," he said sincerely. He wasn't sure that anyone had ever been so thoughtful towards him. Strange how such a small gesture could affect him in such away. Hermione refused to give up on him and honestly he didn't want her to. Not any more.

He tucked the book safely into his cloak and then his hand found hers again. He was almost ready, almost ready to try to be brave.