'What are you doing?' Hermione demanded as she watched him put his wand away. 'We need to keep going.' she insisted, sweat dripping from her brow.

It was well into the night and they were once again in the room of requirement dueling. They had been at it for hours. Spells flashed back and forth at a rapid speed. She had improved greatly since they first begun yet still wasn't satisfied with the progress she had made.

Harry shook his head, 'you need a break, Hermione.' He looked at her flushed and pale face and frowned. 'You look like you're about to faint.'

Hermione rolled her eyes and shook her head defiantly, 'no, keep going. I don't need a break.' She straightened her back and prepared to start again.

'Hermione, you're exhausted. Don't do this to yourself.' Harry stepped toward her, his heart wrenching at the look in her eyes. She looked so tired.

'I am fine, Harry.' She took a deep calming breath. 'One more, please.'

Harry shook his head. 'No.'

Hermione looked at him, incredulous. 'No?' She put her hands on her hips in a display of defiance.

Harry nodded and with a flick of his wrist sent her wand flying towards him. 'No.' He repeated as he caught it deftly with his left hand.

'Harry, I need to practice.' Hermione said angrily, her eyes flashing slightly.

Harry ignored the glare being sent his way and walked up so he stood right in front of her. 'You need sleep, Hermione.' He told her earnestly.

The past couple of weeks after the funeral had seen a noticeable shift between the three. The mood was more solemn, the weight of the attack still lingering in their thoughts. Ron was with Luna more often than not and Hermione had taken either to the Library or the Room of Requirement. She had dark circles under her eyes and had begun to lose a lot of weight.

'I don't need sleep.' Hermione said as she stared him in the eyes. 'I need to be stronger and faster.' She snatched her wand back.

Harry sighed as he looked at her, meeting her glare head on. He shook his head. 'For goodness sakes, Hermione. Just stop it.' He took her wand back and threw it in the corner of the room.

'Hey, what the hell was that?' Hermione snapped angrily as the wand clattered to the ground.

'You need to stop. You need to breathe. You need to eat. You need to sleep.' Harry said, his green eyes flashing. 'You need to take care of yourself.' He took her face in his hands. 'You're doing too much, Hermione and I'm worried about you.' He told her.

Hermione opened her eyes that had closed at his touch. Her brown eyes were wide and weary. She shook her head again and stepped out of his reach. Walking towards where her wand had fallen, she picked it up and turned back. 'There's nothing to worry about.' She said as she pocketed the wand. She wiped her sweaty fringe away from her forehead. 'I'm fine.'

'Why are you doing this to yourself?' Harry asked as he blocked her way to the door. 'You're making yourself sick. When was the last time you had an actual meal? Or had a full nights sleep?'

'Harry. Let me go.' Hermione tried to move around her only to be blocked again. She sighed and met his eyes.

Harry shook his head. 'Answer.'

'I ate dinner with you tonight.' She muttered, 'you were there. I ate. Consumed food. Nutrients. It was delightful.' She raised an eyebrow as though challenging him to disagree.

'Hilarious, Hermione.' Harry rolled his eyes. 'A few bites of Sheppard's pie hardly counts.'

This time Hermione rolled her eyes. 'Well I ate enough to duel with you for a few hours. I'm still standing. See?' She did a sarcastic little curtsey and pushed past him. 'If you won't help me than fine, I'll find someone who will.'

Harry didn't see Hermione until breakfast the next morning, hoping in vain that she'd have come to her senses. However, as the brunette entered the Great Hall, Harry knew that wasn't the case. Hermione barely said a word to him as she took a place opposite him. She glanced up at him and with deliberate slowness began piling her plate with fresh fruit. 'Oh look at that would you?' She said as she pierced an apple with her fork. 'I'm eating.' She grinned at him. 'Happy?'

'You're a real comedian, Hermione.' Harry was overly cheerful. 'Although don't strain yourself, I don't want your wit and humour to result in any overexertion on your behalf. I imagine the rest of the Hall would find it alarming when you faint and fall off your seat.'

She rolled her eyes and ignored his comment, instead pointing to the newspaper that lay in front of him. 'Any news?'

Harry nodded absently as he buttered some toast and put in on her plate. 'Generally speaking yes, with it being a newspaper and all.'

'Look who's the comedian now.' Hermione muttered. 'Seriously though.'

Harry shrugged as he poured her a cup of juice. 'Death, war and destruction. The Usual. Ministry is struggling to maintain a sense of calm with the public – nothing new there. Although, they are trying oh so hard.'

'Why good morning my fellow classmates.' A silky voice announced. 'How are we today?'

'You're perky this morning.' Hermione remarked as Draco sat down next to her and started filling his own plate with food. She rolled her eyes as Harry placed some scrambled eggs onto her plate.

'I got nothing to complain about.' He said with a smirk. He met Harry's eyes and grinned, his silver eyes dancing.

Hermione snorted in a very unladylike fashion. 'Are you sure? I could think of a few things off the top of my head.'

'No way!' Harry exclaimed, mirth dancing in his eyes as he came to the realisation. 'You sly dog. Who?'

'Who?' Hermione looked at him as though he grew an extra head. 'What are you talking about?' She looked back and forth between the two guys.

Harry grinned. 'Draco had a good night, Hermione.' He accentuated the 'good.'

Hermione eyes widened in shock, her mouth forming a small 'Oh.' She looked at Draco who looked mightily pleased with himself. 'Well, who was it then?' She nudged his shoulder.

'Couldn't possibly say, Granger.' Draco produced his trademark smirk. He looked at all the food on her plate and changed the subject. 'Why are you eating a small feast for breakfast may I ask?

'It's just, I love food so much Draco.' Hermione smiled sweetly, 'I can't help myself. I think I might be half Weasley.' She grinned at Harry as she ate some eggs. 'Delicious.'

'And the comic is back.' Harry said sarcastically. 'I was beginning to miss her.'

Draco looked between him in confusion. 'Have I missed something?'

Before anyone could respond a small boy walked hesitantly up to Harry. 'Um, excuse me?' He blushed as three pairs of eyes flashed his way. He cleared his throat and handed Harry a note. 'This is for you.' He all but ran away.

'And here I thought I was the only one who could do that.' Draco said wistfully as he watched the boy hurry out of the hall.

'What is it?' Hermione asked as Harry unrolled the paper.

Harry sighed, 'Dumbledore wants to see me before class.' He checked his watch. 'I better go, I'll see you in defense?' He stood up and hiked his bag over his shoulder. He looked at Hermione, at her plate and finally at Draco. 'Draco, can you please make sure she eats all of that?'

'Yes, sir.' Draco gave a mock salute.

'Now you want me to be supervised?' Hermione wondered as they both ignored Draco.

Harry nodded, 'Yeah well, until you realize what you're doing is insane, then maybe I'll consider a probationary period.' He looked at her and his eyes softened. 'Eat.'

'You wanted to see me Sir?' Harry asked as he wondered into the oval office.

Dumbledore stood by one of the portraits, an unreadable expression on his old and weathered face. 'Yes, Harry. Sit.' He waited until the young wizard took his seat before beginning. 'I've been thinking of all the suggestions you came forth about the possible whereabouts of the Horcruxes.' He paused, 'and I would like to go in search of one today.'

Harry felt his breath catch in his throat. He and Hermione had come up with a few places Voldemort would hide them. 'Where?'

'His old orphanage.' Dumbledore answered. He took hold of the Gryffindor sword that was mounted on the wall and examined it. 'I've arranged to meet with the owner today.' He attached the sword to his hip as though going into battle before casting a spell that made it invisible. He checked the time. 'We best be going.' He held out his arm and looked at Harry expectantly.

'Now?' Harry said surprised as he stood up. 'What about my classes?' Even as he said it, he felt ridiculous.

Dumbledore smiled as Harry clutched his forearm. 'No time like the present, Harry.'

It was raining when they arrived. Sheets and sheets of water poured down on them as they hurried under the shelter of the porch. Harry looked at the house in front of him, warn and old. The sound of rain hitting the tin roof echoed loudly as Harry took in the dreary place.

So, this was where he grew up. Harry wondered with a slight shiver. He noticed Dumbledore watching him, blue eyes gauging his reaction.

Harry raised an eyebrow. 'Can we go inside?'

Dumbledore nodded and slowly pushed the old creaky door open. A wave of warmth and light greeted them, a stark contrast from the weather outside. The sounds of little feet pattering across the old floorboards reverberated throughout the old house. Harry stood awkwardly at the front door, uncertain of the next move. A door to the left of them opened and an elderly lady emerged. Her eyes widened in surprise at her new guests.

'May I help you?' She asked in a kindly voice. The corners of her eyes crinkled when she smiled. She looked very motherly to Harry, like an older Mrs. Weasley even. As these thoughts whirled around his head, Harry had to restrain from laughing as the lady took in Dumbledore, and although clearly curious about his attire, she decided to bypass it.

'I was wondering if I could talk to you about a previous child?' Dumbledore implored politely, his eyes gentle.

'That depends on who's asking Sir.' The woman replied with a smile of her own.

Instead of paying attention like he knew he was supposed to, Harry took more notice of his surroundings. Children's pictures adorned the walls, brightening the place up and adding a much needed sense of cheer and happiness. His eyes scanned the wall when he stopped suddenly, one catching his eye. He felt his heart tug as he admired the drawing. It was a simple picture. A child was holding hands with their mum and dad, the sun shining down on them as a dog walked ahead. Everyone in the picture had a smile on their face. It was such a simple drawing. Such a simple concept but it still left Harry floored. A memory from his own childhood flashed into his mind.

He was six and at school. His teacher had asked them to draw something that they wanted for Christmas that year. To six-year old Harry, the answer was simple. He took extra time with his picture, choosing his coloured crayons with deliberate care and was the last person to finish. When it was time for pack-up, children were asked to present their picture. Most of them had drawn dolls or games they wanted. His tubby cousin Dudley had drawn food. When the teacher asked Harry what he wanted, the small boy with large green eyes pointed to the three stick figures that were walking in the sun, 'a family.'

The voice of his headmaster dragged him from his reverie.

'Pardon, Sir?' Harry said as he tore his eyes away from the picture.

'If you'll follow me.' Dumbledore smiled.

Harry looked between the two adults and frowned. The older lady looked incredibly anxious, a crease in her brow evident. She eyed Dumbledore uncertainly before turning on her heels and walking out of the room. They followed.

'That wing is no longer in use.' The lady spoke as they wove in and out of different rooms. 'No one is allowed in this area of the building.' She took out a key and unlocked a rusted door.

'Why?' Harry wondered as he closed the door behind him.

The lady looked at him, a troubled expression on her face. 'You'll see.'

The rest of the walk went quietly. Finally, they walked through a small corridor and came up to an old wooden door. 'This is the room.' She announced before abruptly turning around and marching off in the direction they'd come.

Harry eyed the door, his fingers brushing against the old painted name that had been written.


Harry looked to Dumbledore before turning the handle. Harry wasn't at all surprised with what lay beyond, considering he'd seen Dumbledore's memory of coming to visit Riddle. There was bed. Wardrobe. Small window. Desk and chair. What made the room remarkable was the atmosphere that surrounded it. Every aspect of the room seemed dark and tainted. Like someone was there watching them, Harry felt the back of his hair stick up.

'Riddle, you creep.' Harry muttered as he wondered around. He watched Dumbledore take in the room after soundproofing the room, his blue eyes scanning and seemingly seeing what was invisible to Harry and every other normal person.

What he could see was a small picture that adorned the wall next to the bed. It was so old and faded that Harry could hardly make it out. There were boys though, and they were at a cliff, all smiling for the camera. Harry looked into the dark, uncaring eyes of a young Tom Riddle.

'There's a presence here.' Dumbledore spoke quietly.

Harry nodded, his throat closing up. He pocketed the photo and looked around the room again. Dumbledore was right, there was something here that wasn't natural.

An unsettling feeling embedded itself in his stomach as he knelt on his knees and looked under the bed. His heart began to race as he felt around, until finally he found was he was looking for.

'All orphans think alike.' Harry murmured aloud as he lifted up the loose floorboard. Standing up and pushing the bed aside, Harry and Dumbledore looked inside. A small shoebox was there, black and faded. Harry stared, unnerved at the striking similarities between him and a young Riddle.

'It's too simple.' Harry said as they stared in silence. The shoebox had a strange aura, it was though it was both appealing to anyone to look at what was inside whilst repelling anyone from coming near it. It kind of looked like it had a heart beat.

Dumbledore nodded in agreement, then began to wave his wand around, strange and unfamiliar words flowing from his mouth. Harry watched, eyes wide as lights flashed before him.

A wave of powerful dark energy began to rise in the room. Harry's eyes were fixated on the shoebox as it began to rattle. Dumbledore continued to chant, his words blurring together until finally the box exploded and the entire room shook. Harry was thrown backwards, and onto the sidelines. He watched in fascination at the scene unfolding in front of his eyes, a small locket lay opened on the floor.

Dumbledore stumbled as figures emerged out of nowhere. A girl. And a boy who looked remarkably like Dumbledore himself. 'You killed her.' The figure said as tears ran down his headmasters face. 'You're no better than HIM.'

'No.' Dumbledore shook his head. 'Please, no. I didn't mean to.'

Slowly, Harry could actually see a darkness enter his mentor. The walls were caving in, shouts and screams echoed around the room. The girl cried silently. Her eyes sad and haunted.

'You killed me, Albus.' She spoke, her voice accusing and angry.

'Forgive me.' Dumbledore sank to his knees, his eyes now adopting an unusual dullness. 'Please.'

Not knowing what to do, but knowing that Dumbledore was struggling to fight against the darkness that was enveloping him. Harry shouted anything that came to mind.

'IT'S NOT REAL, DUMBLEDORE. FIGHT.' Harry yelled, his voice barely loud enough to be heard over the increasing shouts of the unknown. 'YOU'RE A GOOD MAN. GOOD, SIR. YOU'RE NOT LIKE THEM. FIGHT.' Harry caught his blue eyes, which began to sparkle again. 'LOVE. FIGHT FOR LOVE.' At that, Dumbledore rose, his cloak billowing around him as he unsheathed the sword of Gryffindor. He let out a strangled yell as the blade came crashing down and then, silence.

Utter silence.

Harry rushed toward his headmaster who had crumpled in a heap on the floor. 'Sir?' Harry shook his shoulder. 'Are you ok?'

Dumbledore raised his eyes, tired and weary. 'I'm an old man, Harry.' He tried to smile.

'But you did it.' Harry grinned as he picked up the locket, now empty of all evil. 'You destroyed it, Sir.'

The old man shook his head, 'WE destroyed it, Harry. Thank you.'

After they'd transported back to Hogwarts and summoned Snape to help restore Dumbledore's health, it was lunch time. Harry's eyes scanned the Hall for Hermione but couldn't spot her. He easily spotted Ginny at the end of the table.

'Hey Gin, do you know where Hermione is?'

The young red head looked at him with wide eyes. 'Where have you been?'

'With Dumbledore, why?'

'Hermione fainted in defense.' Ginny said, 'she's ok.' She assured him, 'she's resting in the tower.'

He made record time back to the Common room and found Hermione lying on the couch, her eyes closed while Ron sat next to her.

'Where the bloody hell have you been? Ron demanded, loudly enough to alarm Hermione and wake her up. Harry glared at him as he knelt beside her.

'You ok?' He asked, all thoughts of the Horcrux and Dumbledore vanishing from his mind as he took in the girl in front of him. He brushed a stray hair from her eyes. 'Don't you dare say you're fine, Granger.' He whispered softly, earning a small chuckle.

'Madam Pomfrey gave me a potion. I'm sleepy.' She smiled at him drowsily. Harry rolled his eyes at her and clutched her hand. He looked up at Ron.

'What happened?'

Ron sighed, running a hand through his hair. 'Well, it was time to duel. She was up against Parkinson. She was absolutely owning as well by the way.' He smiled at the memory. 'Then she just got really pale and lost balance.' He frowned. 'Then hit the floor.'

Harry shook his hand, returning his attention back to Hermione. 'What am I gonna do with you?' He muttered.

'Take me to bed?' Hermione whispered.

Harry smiled, 'I would love nothing more. But I can't make it up the girls stairs.'

Hermione shook her head slightly. 'Not mine. Yours.' She let out a small yawn.

Harry glanced at Ron who was watching in amusement. 'What would our Head of House say?' Harry remarked as he scooped her up in his arms.

'I don't care.' Hermione muttered tiredly.

Harry laughed and turned to Ron, 'thanks mate, I got her.'

'Your bed is so much better than mine.' Hermione said as Harry gently set her down. She curled up, hugging his pillow tightly.

Harry laughed quietly, 'I'm pretty sure they're the same.'

'No.' Hermione poked an eye open and looked at him. 'It smells like you.' She sighed. 'I always feel safe. Come lie with me.'

Harry smiled softly, 'why not, already missed half the day anyway.' He took off his shoes and snuck in beside her. Hermione let go of the pillow and turned towards him, curling her body to fit against his perfectly.

She kissed his neck softly, breathing in. 'I'm sorry for being so stubborn.' She whispered as her eyes drooped.

'I know.' Harry murmured back, pulling her body closer to his.

Just as he was about to drift off himself, he felt a pair of lips on his. Opening his eyes he met her whiskey coloured gaze. 'I love you, Harry.' She smiled before returning to the crook of his neck. He would tell her about the Horcrux later. Rest came first.

'I love you, too.' He said. The image of Riddle's photo flashed before him only to be replaced by a child's picture. This time it was two people holding hands.

He smiled.