Sei sulla pagina 1di 289

DRACO: PHOENIX RISING

Chapter One - Draco

Draco stood at the edge of the pond in the gathering twilight, staring impassively
at the dark water. How easy it would be. How tempting to walk into the brackish depths,
to stride unthinkingly onward as the water rose past knees, hips, and chest. To walk until
the liquid death closed over his head and filled nose and lungs and finally choked the last
life-sustaining breath from his body and with it the excess of emotion that had plagued
Draco for the past few weeks. It was a satisfying image.
It was not fear of death that stayed his footsteps. He had recently come to
acknowledge that there were, indeed, worse things than death. Rather, it was the thought
of actually stepping forward into the stagnant pond. The thick mud would suck at his
black boots; the green slime near the edge would cling to his white shirt and waterlogged
reeds would catch on his legs
His face, expressionless until that moment, twitched briefly as his lip curled into a
pale shadow of his usual sneer of disgust.
Draco Malfoy. Saved by fastidiousness.
A small sound behind him betrayed the presence of one of his watchers. Any
suicide attempt would likely be foiled by the minion, anyway. Draco was never quite out
of sight or earshot of at least one of them. The lack of trust in Voldemorts band of merry
men was appalling.
Dracos dismal shot at humor was buried by another onslaught of despair. The
events he had set in motion had grown into a tidal wave of horror he could never have
imagined. If only he had taken the time to foresee the consequences of his actions He
simply hadnt thought beyond his mission. What would he have done differently? In
truth, hed never really expected to succeed.
If you wish to save your fathers life, you will find a way to kill Dumbledore,
Voldemort had ordered. Well, Draco had certainly found a way. A ludicrous plan that
should never have workedwould never have worked but for Snapes timely (untimely?)
arrival.
Draco, Draco, you are not a killer. The words still rang in his mind. The words
of a dying man, one whose wisdom Draco had never acknowledged. The words beset
him for days as he sought to either deny or accept them.
Dracos features were once more still as carved marble, giving no hint as to the
torment of his thoughts.
The truth will set you free. Hah. The truth will bind you in iron chains and drag
you to the depths of hell. The truth was agony. Dracos eyes glittered. He had become
quite the philosopher, recently. All the pesky ideals he hadnt spared a moments
consideration for in the past seventeen years had come to haunt him like a host of
demons. Dracos foundations had been shaken to the core by a few simple words, a burst
of green light, and an avalanche of events that followed.
Dracos watchdog coughed lightly behind hima signal of the mans desire to
escape the growing chill and return to Malfoy Manor to partake of the food and drink that
had once belonged to Dracos family.
You can rot out here with me, Draco thought bitterly. His mind returned, for the
thousandth time, to events after the fateful evening on the Hogwarts tower.
Dumbledores words, Snapes killing curse, the frantic race for the front gates
and Harry, of coursewhy hadnt he been there to save his mentor? Hed always played
the hero before. Draco had expected to confront his little nemesis and although there had
been fighting in the room below the tower, it had been too little, too late. Harrys race
after Snape and Draco had been fruitless, although Draco later had time to ponder how
Harry had known to pursue Snape. Two brooms on the tower, and Dumbledore so weak
he could barely stand. Where was Harry? Had he gone for help? He would have passed
Draco on his way down the steps. It made no sense. Draco pushed the mystery aside.
Harry must have been below. But the two brooms disturbed Draco.
They had escaped with only one casualty. Without the Death Eaters, Draco and
Snape would never have left the tower alive, which had likely been Voldemorts plan all
along. Draco thought it very likely that the Dark Lord had never expected Draco to
succeed in his plot. It had been intended as a distraction and nothing more. A little
mission ending in Dracos death at the hand of Dumbledore, an act that would have
brought a cartload of guilt to the old wizard and a severe case of punishing grief to
Lucius and Narcissa. No matter how the scene played out, it was win win win for old
Voldemort.
Snapes actions had given Snake Face quite the boost. The former Potions Master
was now in high favor. Voldemort was in such high spirits he hadnt even killed Draco
for failing his mission, apparently since the outcome had been satisfying. Azkaban
Prison was now empty since the revolt of the dementors, who now roamed the
countryside willy-nilly sucking the life force from any witch or wizard not strong enough
to fend them off. Perforce, Lucius had been released and had gladly turned over Malfoy
Manor to Voldemort and his henchmen. It was the least he could do, after all. The
Ministry had searched Dracos home thoroughly after Luciuss escape from Azkaban, but
Voldemorts band had been hiding elsewhere until the Ministry cleared out. Occasional
watchers still dropped by, but they were easily overtaken by Voldemort, who now had
several sets of Imperiused eyes in the Ministry.
The days following Dumbledores death were chaotic. Apparating to a
ramshackle, drafty house; delivering the news to Voldemort; the Death Eaters celebrating
long into the night; and the continuation of Dracos tormentan endless barrage of
questions from Voldemort. Draco shuddered at the memory of the repulsive snakelike
eyes burning across the table from him

Too tired and sickened for subterfuge, he recounted the events at Hogwarts. The
Room of Requirement, the Vanishing Cabinet, and the flight through the halls. Finally,
he detailed the events on the tower, although he left out much of his conversation with
Dumbledore and tried to block it from his own consciousness.
Draco, Draco, you are not a killer.
Voldemorts subhuman face cracked into a cold grin when Draco finished. Draco
expected that to be the end of it. He half-expected a muttered Avada Kedavra and
goodbye, Draco. What he didnt anticipate were Voldemorts next words as the evil
wizard sat back in his chair and steepled long, bone-white fingers before him.
Now, Draco, he hissed in a rasping voice that conjured images of dark creatures
scurrying over rotting corpses, Tell me everything you know about Harry Potter and his
friends. Every single detail, no matter how small and insignificant.
As he racked his brain, Draco was surprised at how little he knew. The three
Gryffindors had afflicted Draco for six long years and he barely knew a thing about them.
Harry Potter lives in London during the summer. Its rumored he hates his
Muggle relatives. He never goes home during breaks or holidays. His family never
sends letters or packages. It was strange, but until he uttered the words, Draco had
never considered how horribly lonely it would be to have such a family. Dracos mother
regularly sent letters and packages with sweets and trinkets. Even his father wrote on
occasion. Draco continued, Sometimes he stays with the Weasleysthey took him to
the Quidditch World Cup. He plays Seeker for the Gryffindor Quidditch Team. Draco
scowled at the memory and forced the words out. He flies well.
Voldemorts slit of a mouth ricked slightly.
Better than you, eh?
Dracos face flamed. Better than me, he spat. He took a deep breath and
plunged onward. He flies well, but hes none too sharp. He constantly sticks his nose
where it doesnt belong, but he wouldnt get anywhere without Granger, his little
Mudblood girlfriend.
Tell me about her.
Dracos jaw clenched at the memory of Hermione Granger. He remembered her
audacitypunching him like a common Muggle instead of using her wand. That had
been unexpected.
Shes Muggle-born. Lives with both Muggle parents when shes not four feet
from Potters side. I dont know where. Shes very smart and very competent. Without
her, I doubt Potter could find his way out from under a robe. She always has her head in
a book and has likely been through every tome in the library twice over. Shes excellent
at Potions and can perform most spells on her first try. Snape hates her as much as I do,
although Im not sure why. She also spends a lot of time at the Weasleys. I used to
think she was Harrys girlfriend, but Ive never seen any sign of romantic attachment
between the three of them. Granger often fights with Ron Weasleythe other member
of their little trioand they have gone days without speaking to each other.
Voldemort said nothing, so Draco moved on to Ron. Weasley is the oddball of
the group. Hes dirt poor and has to resent Potter because of that. Its rumored that
Potter has a vault full of gold at Gringotts that he never uses because he doesnt want his
little weasel friend to feel bad. Draco sneered briefly. Although it hasnt stopped him
from acquiring the best brooms available for Quidditch. Weasley would likely fail all his
classes but for Granger. Im sure he hates her sometimes for being smarter than him, and
better at everything. Except flying. Granger is appalling on a broom. It seems to be the
only thing she cant do. Weasley, of course, lives in a place called The Burrowaptly
named since they live there like a pack of rabbits. Too many of them to account for,
nearly. The father works at the Ministry of Magic in one of the Muggle-loving
departments.
Arthur, Voldemort hissed. Yes, I remember the blood-traitor and his shrewish
little wife, Molly. Tell me about their children.
Well, Bill Weasley works at GringottsI only know that because Theo spotted
him there before school started. Charlie works in Romania with dragonscommon
knowledge since the Tri-Wizard Tournament last year. The Weasley clan visited him
there once when they scraped up some extra cash. It was in the Daily Prophet.
Voldemort nodded impatiently
Percy is a sycophant at the Ministry of Magic. None of the Weasleys seem to
like him much. The twinsFred and Georgespend all of their time at their joke shop
in Diagon Alley. The youngest is Ginny. Shes Harry Potters new girlfriend, if the
gossip is correct.
Voldemorts slit eyes narrowed at that. Draco felt gleeful malice emanating from
the wizard and felt a distinct sense of foreboding.
Thats all I know, Draco finished hoarsely. He was suddenly ice cold.
You may go, Draco, Voldemort said softly. His glittering eyes let Draco know
he was lucky to walk out at all. Snape entered as Draco went out, but the former Potions
Master spared him barely a glance. The door shut and Draco sagged against the jamb,
dizzy and nauseous. His hands shook.
Though he did not intend to eavesdrop, Draco could hear clearly as Voldemort
questioned Snape, who knew more, oh so much more, than Draco would have dreamed.
Hermione Granger lived in Caerphilly off St. Christophers Drive. Her parents
worked at a small clinic near the mall. She had three Muggle friends that lived within
walking distance of her house and she spent quite a lot of time with them during the
summer, visiting the mall and wandering about Caerphilly Castle. Her parents took
several weeks of vacation during the summer and when Hermione did not accompany
them, she stayed at the Burrow with the Weasleys.
Harry Potter lived at Number 4 Privet Drive in Little Whinging, Surrey, which
Voldemort apparently already knew. While there, he was also untouchable unless he was
out wandering the neighborhood, as shown by the dementor attack the previous year.
Members of the Order of the Phoenix guarded him almost constantly and would be doing
so for a certainty after Dumbledores death.
The Weasleys were hosting a wedding for Bill and Fleur Delacour in the late
summer and the entire Order would be in attendance, as well as Harry Potter and friends.
However, since the Order knew that Snape knew about the wedding (and would disclose
it to Voldemort), they would likely revise both time and location. They would not,
however, be smart enough to cancel the happy occasion and it was simply too perfect not
to plan some sort of attack. Snape already had a few ideas that he would share with the
Dark Lord when the occasion approached.
They discussed plans for raiding the headquarters of the Order, even though it was
still protected by Dumbledores wretched Fidelius Charm, which meant that although
Snape could get there, he could not divulge its location. They discussed a number of
methods for circumventing the charm.
Voldemort was cackling happily by the end of his conversation with Snape.
Draco quietly left to find a bed, where he would sink into fitful sleep full of dark dreams.

Draco sighed and turned away from the dark pond as the minion approached.
Who was it this time? Not Fenrir Greyback, thank God, since he always looked at Draco
as though he were a tasty midnight snack. Greyback was easily the foulest creature
Draco had ever known. He lived only to inflict pain, kill, and eat.
It was Goyle. He looked remarkably like his son; huge and dim. He currently
wore a hangdog expression common to most of the Death Eaters when they were not in
the presence of Voldemort.
Why you standing out here all alone, Draco? Goyle asked.
Sorry, I get a bit bored with adult conversation, Draco replied, cultivating his
image of non-threatening youth.
Yeah, too bad Gregory cant be here. His mum took him to a safe place where
the Ministry cant get hold of him.
Draco nodded and kept his expression passive, although rage flared briefly behind
his eyes. All of the wives and children had been hidden away, safe from Ministry
officials, andthough unspokensafe from Voldemort. All but Draco and Narcissa.
They were both kept close at hand in order to keep Lucius in line. It sickened Draco to
see his strong, proud father grovel before the Dark Lord. They all did it, though.
Voldemort got a kick out of using the Cruciatus Curse at random moments.
Without further conversation, Draco marched resolutely back to Malfoy Manor.

Most of the Death Eaters were lounging around the dining room table. Antonin
Dolohov leaned back in his chair; his booted feet were propped on the mahogany
tabletop. Draco glared at him, but said nothing. Dolohov grinned as Draco took a seat on
the other side of the table. Lucius was not so complacent when he stalked in moments
later.
This table has been in my family for generations, Antonin. Go home and treat
your own belongings like trash, if you will.
Dolohov removed his feet after a pause just long enough to be insolent. Dracos
mother and Bellatrix LeStrange followed Lucius, trailed by Bellas husband and brother-
in-law. Narcissa sat next to Draco and her hand squeezed his shoulder affectionately as
she passed behind his chair.
Hello, Draco, dear, Bellatrix greeted as she sat on his other side. Draco smiled
briefly and looked at her askance. She had been in Azkaban Prison nearly Dracos entire
life. A mad light shone in her eyes and she seemed to contain a restless energy.
Rodolphus, her dead-eyed husband, sat beside her. He always acted as though Draco did
not exist, which was better than having those dead-fish eyes actually looking at him.
Uncle Rod was quite the guy. Crazy aunt, freaky uncle. Great family you have there,
mum. Three house-elves appeared and began to serve the meal.
Draco looked dispassionately at the rest of the Death Eaters as Lucius sat at the
head of the table. To the right of his father sat Derek Crabbe and Gerald Goyle. Dolohov
was next to Goyle. Then came the Loon Twins: Alecto and Amycus Carrow. They had
never been imprisoned in Azkaban, apparently, but were unhinged all the same. Then
Titus Mulciber, who was just as vicious as Bellatrix, but in a quieter fashion. Next came
Nott and McNair, regular visitors to the Malfoy household.
Opposite his father sat the one they called Lars. He was a huge blond brute of a
man. Strangely, he wore an infectious smile most of the time. He drank like an Irish
sailor. Across from McNair sat Rookwood, Martin Jugson, and Albert Avery. Draco
only knew them by sight. His mother sat next to Avery, then Draco, Bellatrix,
Rodolphus, and Rabastan LeStrange. Nearly all present and accounted for. Except for
Fenrir Greyback, Wormtail, Travers, Yaxley, and Snape. And Voldemort, of course,
though he never ate with the Death Eaters. Draco wondered if he ate at all. There was
also a huge pack of underlings hand-picked by the Death Eaters that patrolled the grounds
and ran errands.
Wormtail strode into the room when they had nearly finished eating, halting all
limited conversations. He scooped up a joint of fowl from the tabletop and ripped off a
chunk.
The Dark Lord has a mission, he said. Bits of food dribbled from his lips. He
sauntered around the table and leaned over Draco, who recoiled in disgust. Wormtail
snatched up Dracos nearly untouched wine goblet. He took a loud gulp and slopped
some of the contents on Dracos shoulder in the process. He slammed the goblet down
with a sigh of pleasure and gripped Dracos same shoulder with his silvered hand.
You get to go, my boy. Hopefully youll do better than your last mission.
Narcissa leaped to her feet, knocking her chair backward.
No! she cried. Hes just She silenced herself at Dracos cold expression
and then continued more quietly. Hes barely of age. Send someone else.
The Dark Lord commands it, Wormtail said gleefully and squeezed. Draco
gave no sign of pain, though agony lanced through his shoulder from the metal grip.
None of their sons are in harms way! Narcissa yelled and gestured at the other
Death Eaters. Why Draco?
Now, now, Narcissa, the Dark Lord likes Draco. He has faith in him, he does.
Wormtails grip thankfully loosened. Besides, he wont be going alone. Crabbe, Goyle,
Mulciber, Jugson, and Avery will go with him. Hell be safe enough.
Whats the mission? Narcissa asked tightly.
Just a little jaunt to Caerphilly to kill a couple of Muggles. Easy job.
Bellatrix laughed. Calm down, Narcissa. Itll be fun for Draco. Get him out of
this dreary house for awhile.
Draco is not a killer, Narcissa said so quietly that they barely heard her. The
words jolted Dracoan unexpected echo of Dumbledore.
Bella snorted. Theyre just Muggles. And hes got to learn. Let him grow up,
Cissy.
Narcissa retrieved her chair and sank into it. Her face was paste-white and she
looked accusingly at Lucius, who was expressionless. His father said nothing. Draco
had noticed the growing chasm between his parentsanother thing he could lay at
Voldemorts feet.
Who are the Muggles? Draco asked, even though he already knew.
Their name is Granger, Wormtail said and laughed heartily.

Draco gratefully entered his room and shut the door. His headache had grown to
epic proportion and his shoulder ached from Pettigrews grasp. Draco had solitude for
maybe thirty minutes, thanks to his rigid policy of taking nightly baths. The water was
already in the tub, steaming hot and lightly scented. After his bath, the door would be
unceremoniously kicked open and one of the minions would sprawl on the cot that had
been set up near the door, in order to guard Draco while he slept. To keep him prisoner.
His brows drew down over silver eyes for only a moment before he walked
decisively to his writing desk and picked up a quill. He scrawled a hurried message,
sanded it, folded it, and tucked it into a pocket.
Cully! he called softly. With a small pop, the house-elf appeared at Dracos
side.
Yes, Master? the creature whined as it bowed nearly to the floor.
Get into the bath and pretend to be me until I tell you otherwise, he ordered.
Cully looked dubiously at the water, but climbed in obediently, wincing at the heat of the
liquid. Draco liked his baths hot. Cully splashed a bit, pretending to wash. Draco
nodded, satisfied, and stepped into the wardrobe to lessen the noise of Disapparating.
He appeared in the middle of St. Christophers Drive in Caerphilly. It was
extremely dangerous to Apparate blindhe could have ended up in a tree or half-
jammed into a Muggle automobile. Thankfully, the street was nearly deserted and he
hurried to the sidewalk. His luck held as he spotted an old woman walking her ratlike
dog. Draco conjured a small bouquet of flowers.
Excuse me, Madam, he said politely. Can you tell me which house belongs to
the Grangers? Ive only been here once and Im afraid Ive quite lost my way.
The old woman sized him up carefully while her little dog sniffed at Dracos pant
leg. He repressed the urge to kick the animal into the street. The only woman finally
cackled.
Well, arent you the handsome one? Didnt think the Grangers little bookworm
daughter had it in her to snag a catch like you.
Dracos polite smile was becoming strained. The old woman pointed.
Right there, laddie. The house with the wisteria arbor. I dont think theyre
home, though.
Thats fine. Hermione told me to wait if she wasnt there. The name sounded
odd on Dracos lips. He had always thought of her as Granger.
He strode to the house and threw the flowers behind a bush. After making sure
the old woman was out of sight, he cast Alohomora on the door and went inside. As the
old woman had suspected, the place was empty. Draco ignored the neat kitchen and
living room and made his way up the stairs. On the next level, the first door he opened
revealed what was obviously Hermiones room.
Draco paused to look around curiously. There were books everywhere, of course.
Three huge bookshelves had been crowded into the room, but they overflowed onto desk,
end table, and even the floor. Unmoving posters lined the walls and above the bed was a
tasteful painting of a Highland landscape. Her bedding was dark lavender without ruffles
and the furnishings were solid oak. But for the books, everything was neatly organized.
Unwillingly, Draco found little to fault with the room.
A tiny pop from below startled him and a voice called, Whos there? Show
yourself!
Draco smiled slightly. Leave it to Granger to have come up with some sort of
warning spell. Triggered by the use of magic? Or merely the presence of a wizard?
Draco placed his note on the desk and Disapparated as Hermione pounded up the stairs.

He appeared back in his wardrobe and climbed out with a quick glance at his
mantle clock. Barely twenty minutes had passed.
You may depart. Do not speak of this to anyone, ever, he said to Cully, who
groveled appropriately and vanished. Draco tore his clothing off, dunked his head in the
cooling tub, and wrapped himself in a dressing gown minutes before the door was yanked
open by Nott.
Night, Draco, Nott grunted as he settled onto the cot. Draco climbed into his
own feather bed and thought about his trip to Caerphilly. He still wasnt sure why hed
done it, but it felt good to take control of his life, even if only for a short time. He was
tired of being Voldemorts puppet. Too bad it was Granger hed had to help out,
though

Chapter Two - Hermione

Hermione spotted the letter the minute she entered her room. She caught a whiff
of a tantalizingly familiar scentcitrus and spice. Who had been here?
She snatched up the note and looked at it carefully. It was cream-colored
parchment, very good quality. It had been haphazardly quartered. She unfolded it and
looked at the brief lines. The handwriting was also familiar, but not immediately
identifiable.
It read: H. Granger. Servants of the Dark Lord will come to kill your parents
tomorrow. The war against Harry Potter has begun. Ignore this warning at your peril.
It was unsigned.
She felt a pang of fear. Whoever had been in her house had gained admittance
easily. If it had been a Death Eater raid, her parents would have been dead long before
her arrival. She had set up a proximity alarm spell on both front and back doors, but she
had never really thought her parents would be in danger. They were no one to the
wizarding community. Useless Muggles. Why would anyone bother with them? The
war against Harry Potter has begun.
She folded the letter carefully and replaced it on the desk. Killing the Grangers
would hurt Hermione and, by association, hurt Harry. If they would kill her family, no
one even remotely associated with Harry was safe. Faces flitted through her mind:
Neville and his grandmother, Luna Lovegood, the other members of the Gryffindor
Quidditch teamDean Thomas, Angelina How far would they reach?
She chewed on a nail and wondered who had written the warning. Who would
know about a Death Eater attack? Only another Death Eater, obviously, or someone
close to them. A family member? Two people sprang immediately to mind, but logic
forced her to dismiss them. Severus Snape and Draco Malfoy. Snape had killed
Dumbledore in cold blood. If he was evil enough to do thatto betray the steadfast trust
Dumbledore had always maintainedthen no trivial act of remorse would be
forthcoming. Why would he try to save a couple of Muggles after slaying the greatest
wizard alive?
And Malfoy? He had engineered the whole thing. Harry said he didnt believe
Draco would have killed Dumbledorehad seen Malfoy lower his wand, but that only
meant what? That he was a bully, but no killer? That he could plot a murder, but not
sully his hands with the actual deed?
She took a deep breath and clamped down on her rage. Because of Draco Malfoy,
Dumbledore was dead. The thought still brought a rush of pain. And Ron had nearly
been killed by mistakethat wouldnt have bothered the pureblood bastard in the least.
She snorted. No. Draco Malfoy would never warn a worthless Mudblood like her. It
was more likely hed be first in line to cast a Cruciatus Curse.
The door opened downstairs and she heard her parents bustle inside. Thank God
theyd gone out to dinner that evening, or perhaps her mysterious note writer would not
have entered. She shrugged off the question of hisor heridentity, although she
retrieved the note and tucked it into a pocket of her robe. It would be a death sentence
should a Death Eater stumble upon it and, according to the note, they would arrive
tomorrow.
She took a deep breath and steeled herself to break the news to her parents. They
would not take it well.

When Hermione returned to 12 Grimmauld Place, it was just past dawn. She was
exhausted and collapsed into a chair as soon as she made her way into the kitchen.
Hermione! Molly Weasley exclaimed. We were about to send out a search
party! Ron is in quite a state!
Ron burst into the room at that moment and raced over to envelop her in a
massive hug.
Dont you ever bloody do that again! he shouted. You said you were going to
check on your parents, but none of us know where they live! What if there had been
trouble?
Hermione stiffened. How did the Death Eaters know where her parents lived
when her closest friends didnt even know? Of course. Snape. He was a teacher. Hed
had access to all the school records. It seemed his betrayal would bring yet more bad
tidings.
Whats the matter? Ron asked as he sat down next to her. He took one of her
hands in his. She smiled wanly at him and took a gulp of the hot tea Mrs. Weasley set
before her. She set the cup down and took the letter from her pocket.
While Ron and Molly looked it over, Hermione explained. She had been up all
night with her horrified parents. She had described the current situation in the wizarding
world. It had been a long tale, beginning with her first year at Hogwarts. She had never
mentioned a single one of her adventures with Harry Potter over the years. To protect
them, she had rationalized. But also to prevent them from flipping out and forbidding her
ever to return to Hogwarts. Which they would have.
As it was, they were beyond appalled. Quirrell-mort, dead unicorns, possessed
diaries, petrification by a basilisk, dementors, a werewolf professor, a psychotic murderer
pretending to be a teacher, Cedrics death, Voldemorts return, prophecies and
Horcruxes, Dumbledores death, Snapes betrayal; and all of it beginning and ending with
Harry Potter.
There had been tears and recriminations, shouting and threats, but at last her
parents had agreed to go and stay with her aunt in London, at least for a short time. They
were both professional people, though. They wouldnt stay in hiding forever. How long
could she protect them? For the first time, she wished she wasnt Muggle-born. If her
parents had been wizards, at least they could defend themselves. She sighed. Not that
ability always mattered. Look at the Longbottoms. Or the Potters.
I need some sleep. You might send someone round to my parents house, later.
Dont let them be obvious, though. We dont want to tip off the Death Eaters that they
might have a traitor in their midst. We need all the help we can get. She gave them the
address, finished her tea, and staggered upstairs for a much needed rest.

Chapter Three Harry

Harry had returned to Number 4 Privet Drive. Unlike previous summers,


however, he was not moping about counting the moments until his return to Hogwarts.
Indeed, he doubted he would ever walk the halls of Hogwarts again. Not as a student, at
any rate. A clatter from below made him pause and his heart leaped into his throat. He
heard Aunt Petunias voice and relaxed. She had dropped something. Harry was
supposedly safe here with the Dursleys, but the one who had told him that was now dead.
Regardless, Harry would only be safe until July 31st. That was the day his protection
endedthe day Harry became an adult in the wizarding world.
Frankly, he could hardly wait. He was sick to death of being protected. He had
been thrust upon the Dursleys as an infant for his own protection. He had been kept in
the dark about his parents and his abilities for his own protection. He had been ignored
by Dumbledore for nearly a year for his own protection. He had been forced to learn
Occlumency from the traitorous Snape for his own protection. He had not been told
about the Prophecy or Horcruxes for his own protection. If only hed known sooner. If
Harry had known what kept bringing Voldemort back, hed have gone after them years
ago. Of course, Dumbledore had known that, and had kept it from Harry for his own
protection.
Harry sighed and returned to his desk to finish the letter hed drafted to Lupin.
The Order members treated Harry differently since Dumbledores death. No more was
Harry the helpless little child that needed to be shielded. They all knew it was Harrys
head on the chopping block. Without Dumbledore to save him. They had a tendency to
treat Harry like he was a walking dead man.
The letter finished, Harry walked to the window and looked out. The Order still
took his protection seriously. He could see Arabella Figg walking along the sidewalk on
the other side of the street. She made about thirty inconspicuous trips to the market daily.
Mundungus Fletcher had been banned from Harry Protection Duty, but one of the others
was out there, somewhere. Either Tonks or Kingsley Shacklebolt or Sturgis Podmore.
Lupin was keeping Harry posted about the status of Hogwarts. It was still unclear
whether or not the school would reopen. Not that it really mattered to Harry.
Harry had been inside his room for nearly three weeks, coming out only for
meals. He sent Hedwig off nightly, bound for Lupin or Hermione or Mr. Weasley. The
Dursleys seemed to have noticed a change in Harry. Whenever Vernon began to bellow
or bluster, the ice-cold disregard in Harrys eyes would generally cause his uncle to trail
off into silence. The few times Vernon steadfastly maintained a full head of steam, Harry
had stalked off to his room and slammed the door mid-sentence. It was the Dursleys turn
to watch the clocksto tick off the moments until Harry was gone for good.
Thankfully, Harry was not cut off from the Order of the Phoenix as he had been
the previous summer. Hermione had devised an elaborate code for their messages based
on Muggle cryptology. Even if their letters were intercepted, the message would make
no sense without translation.
There had been little to report. Azkaban was empty due to the complete desertion
of the dementors. The Ministry had their hands full trying to locate the creatures and
prevent attacks, but so far no one had figured out a way to capture one. Werewolf attacks
were more frequent and a motley pack of the creatures had been spotted near Dover.
Many Muggles had been killed in the area and Muggle authorities searched in vain for a
roving pack of wild dogs. Harry could sense Lupins distress when he read that
particular message.
The Order was still encamped at 12 Grimmauld Place, although there was some
discussion about security, since Snape knew the location. He could not be able to
disclose it, but he could enter at any time. Mad-Eye Moody had devised some Snape-
specific booby-traps with the assistance of Fred and George Weasley, since tricks and
traps were their area of expertise.
Harry spent much of his time lying on his bed thinking about Horcruxes. There
were so many unknowns! If only Dumbledore hadnt been so bloody secretive.
Apparently, the only other person hed even told about Horcruxes had been Severus
Snape. Great choice, there! Harry felt guilty for maligning the Headmaster, but he was
still frustrated. He felt like he was groping in the dark for answers when he didnt even
know what questions to ask.
Hermione was trying. There were dozens of obscure tomes at 12 Grimmald
Place, full of dark magic and darker ideologies, but so far she had only found a single
reference to a Horcrux, which had been a simple explanation of its purpose. There was
no word as to its creation or destruction. Harry recalled Dumbledores withered hand. It
had been difficult enough obtaining the fake-Horcrux from the caveif it had been real,
Harry had no idea how he would have destroyed it.
Hermiones ideas were becoming crazier, a sure sign that she was getting
desperate. She had even suggested a trip to Durmstrang to take a look at the books in the
Restricted section of their library. Harry hoped to save that as a last resort. He first
intended to return to Hogwarts and use Dumbledores Pensieve. Harry hoped the
Headmaster had stored something relevant to the Horcrux search. He wished he had
thought of it before leaving Hogwarts, but the shock and grief of Dumbledores loss had
crowded out rational thought.
When night had fallen completely, Harry attached the letter to Hedwigs leg and
sent her out the window. It was a beautiful summer night. Dudley was out enjoying it
with his nasty gang, but Harry bet Diddykins avoided all dark alleyways these days.
Dobby popped into the room suddenly, startling Harry. Important messages were
sent via the house-elf after it had belatedly occurred to Harry to request his services.
Lupin had concurred, and had gone so far as to make Dobby an honorary member of the
Order of the Phoenix. He had presented the house-elf with a pair of socks embroidered
with a phoenix crest. Dobby ecstatically wore them at all times.
Harry Potter, sir! Dobby said in a stage whisper. He now took secrecy very
seriously.
What is it, Dobby? Harry asked, hoping it was not bad news.
Dobby wrung his hands, generally a warning sign that Dobby was about to inflict
a severe injury upon himself.
Do not hurt yourself, Dobby, just tell me.
Harry Potter told Dobby to keep an eye on Kreacher, Dobby said slowly. He
grabbed both his long ears and tugged at them with his hands, hard.
Yes?
Kreacher has disappeared, Harry Potter, and Dobby cannot find him! Dobby
wailed softly and hurried over to slam his forehead repeatedly against Harrys bedpost.
Harry grabbed him.
Stop it, Dobby! When he was sure Dobby was not going to repeat the torment,
he called, Kreacher? Kreacher, come here!
They waited breathlessly, but the Blacks former house-elf did not appear.
Oh, the shame, the shame! Dobby wailed. Kreacher had better be a dead
house-elf or he will not be able to show his face again! To break faith with his master
Dobby knows, but Dobbys masters were very bad wicked wizards! Harry Potter is the
greatest, most noble wizard ever to live! Kreacher should feed himself to a nundu!
Harry sighed. Dont worry about it, Dobby. Kreacher has likely gone to join
Bellatrix LeStrange. Im sure he thinks of her as his true mistress. Im not surprised.
To be honest, it was something of a relief to be rid of the useless house-elf that had been
partially responsible for the death of Sirius. Despite Hermiones admonitions, Harry
usually wanted only to wring Kreachers neck. The wretched house-elf had been ordered
to keep an eye on Draco Malfoy last year. He had likely kept an eye on him while
repairing the Vanishing Cabinet for Dracos use.
You should get back, Dobby. Nothing will happen here, but the Order might
need you.
Very well, Harry Potter, Dobby said softly and disappeared. Harry sprawled on
his bed. Just another complication in my convoluted life, he thought.

Chapter Four The Raid

It was raining in Caerphilly when the Death Eaters arrived. They Apparated into
the Grangers back yard, which was usefully screened from view by large hedges and
trees. The Grangers apparently valued their privacy.
Jugson spelled the door and they all rushed in, moblike, tracking muddy footprints
on the Grangers fine cream carpet. They divided into small groups and searched the
house. Draco managed to put himself in front of the party heading up the stairs and he
made it a point to enter Hermiones room. Everything was the same as it had been the
previous evening, with one exception. A tiny Thank You card was propped on the desk
where Draco had left his warning. Blank, of course, but beneath it lay a gold Galleon.
Draco almost sneered. Payment? Then he remembered the coins used by Dumbledores
Army, the coins Draco had copied in order to communicate with the Death Eaters and
plan their ingress into Hogwarts He palmed the coin just as Goyle asked, What you
doing over there?
Looking out the window. I thought I saw something.
Goyle joined him and gaped out the window at nothing but the falling rain. Draco
slipped the Galleon into a pocket.
Lets go, he said with a grunt. They tromped downstairs to the kitchen.
They arent here, Avery pointed out when they regrouped. Draco refrained
from comment with effort, though several retorts sprang to mind. Bloody hell, hed been
cheeky in school. He missed spewing sarcasm at will.
Its 6 a.m. on a Saturday! complained Goyle. Where the hell can they be?
Maybe they went on holiday, Draco suggested dryly, unable to completely
reform.
They were here, yesterday. Mulciber checked to be sure we didnt waste the
bloody trip. Which we have.
Draco felt a chill. Thank God he had waited until after dark to drop off his note.
If hed been spotted well, he wouldnt be standing here, would he?
Several loud pops sounded outside the back door. Draco caught a glimpse of
Mad-Eye Moody and scowled. He would not soon forget the day hed been turned into a
ferret. Of course, this Mad-Eye would have no recollection of the act, since the real
spellcaster had been Barty Crouch, Jr. Draco snorted and Disapparated. There was
nothing in his verbal contract that mentioned sticking around to fight with members of
the Order of the Phoenix.

He popped into the opulent drawing room of Malfoy Manor, where his mother
was pacing before the fireplace. She gave a glad cry and flung her arms around him.
Oh, Draco! Thank goodness! What happened?
Draco shrugged. The Muggles werent there. A group of Order members turned
up, though, so I came back. Mulciber probably wont be too happy about that. I hope
Mad-Eye Moody turns him into a ferret. He chuckled. Narcissas grip tightened.
Dont provoke them, Draco. I couldnt bear it if something happened to you.
He stepped out of her embrace and took off the long black cape hed been
wearing. He tossed it on a nearby settee. It coordinated nicely with his black trousers,
black jumper, and black boots. The ever-so-colorful Death Eater uniform. Hed refused
to wear a mask like the rest of them, though. What difference would it make if he were
recognized? It was pretty common knowledge that Draco had joined the Death Eaters
after arranging Dumbledores death. His life wasnt worth a split Knut outside
Voldemorts little circle of friends. Draco sighed.
How long do you think it will be before Snake Face sends me on a suicide
mission? He has little use for me.
Narcissa blanched. Dont say that!
I havent killed anyone, yet, Mother. Snape killed Dumbledore because I
couldnt do it. Did you know that? Even though I knew he would probably torture and
kill you and Father both, I couldnt cast the bloody spell. His voice was bitter.
Unbidden, Dumbledores words came back to haunt him. We can hide you more
completely than you can possibly imagine. What had he meant by that?
Youre not a killer, Narcissa whispered.
He looked at his mother intently. For how long? Lord Voldemort requires his
followers to be bloodthirsty maniacs, you know. Even Father isnt quite brutal enough
for him. It wont be long before they force me to kill and kill and kill. Soon, I could be
just like Mulciber and Auntie Bellatrix.
Tears spilled from Narcissas eyes. She shook her head in denial, but she had to
recognize the awful truth of Dracos words.
I wont allow it. Lucius will stop it. He hates
Dont fool yourself, Mother. If Father even tries to suggest I be shipped off to
join the other kiddies in hiding, Ill be used as a weapon before the sun sets. Fathers
loyalty has been questioned too many times; Snake Eyes wont do him any favors.
A small sound at the drawing room door made Narcissa start. Snape entered the
room and his gaze fixed on Draco. His black eyes always seemed to be trying to pry at
secrets, at which he was quite adept, Draco knew.
Here you are, Draco, Snape said. The others returned and wondered where
youd gotten off to.
Im talking to my mother. Do I need a permission slip for that, now?
Snapes expression did not change. Draco should feel indebted to Snape for the
scenario on the tower. Hed taken action when Draco had not. Hed taken an
Unbreakable Vow to protect Draco. Even so, Draco could not look at the greasy-haired
ex-teacher without a stirring of distrust. Hed never believed Snape to be committed to
Voldemorts cause. Despite the incontrovertible evidence, Draco still didnt trust him.
Perhaps it was merely that Snape was, first and foremost, devoted to Snapes cause,
whatever that might be.
I believe Wormtail is requesting an accounting. Jugson seems to believe you
ran away. The Dark Lord will, undoubtedly, not be pleased that the Muggles escaped.
Draco rolled his eyes. They didnt escape, they simply were not there.
Perhaps you can explain the difference to the Dark Lord.
Dracos lips thinned in annoyance, but he stalked past Snape and walked down
the long hallway to the dining room.
He took his usual seat. Jugson was shouting at Wormtail. Goyle was wrapping a
bandage around Crabbes head and Avery was in a chair with his legs rigid as boards
obviously the victim of a Leg Locker Curse. Mulciber stood looking out the window at
the pattering rain that had just started to fall. He was singing softly to himself and
moving his head side to side like a child. Draco wondered what spell had hit him.
Wormtail slinked out the door, no doubt to return to Voldemort with the bad
news, if the reptilian freak hadnt already guessed by the shouting. Voldemort had taken
up residence in the Malfoy parlour, just beyond the vestibule from the dining room. He
rarely slithered out, thank goodness; although that horrid snake of his roamed the house
at will, turning up most unexpectedly at times.
Where did you fly off to, boy? Jugson demanded, rounding on Draco.
Here, obviously.
Jugsons face purpled. Draco reflected that some of the Death Eaters were only a
couple of fits away from a stroke. Hopefully, Jugsons would be today.
Who would have thought Lucius Malfoys son would turn out to be a coward?
Draco smiled coldly. Really? So you all stayed on and fought the Order of the
Phoenix to the death, then? Not one of you fled?
Jugson scowled, but Crabbe sneered.
Of course we fled! Damned Mad-Eye Moody would have killed every man-jack
of us. Were lucky his aim is bad. Half the bleeding Order turned up. Howd they know
to find us there, Id like to know?
Someone tipped them off, Jugson snarled. Draco rolled his eyes.
As I told Voldemort, Granger is no average witch. Shes sure to have set up
alerts to let the Order know if her house was breached. For all we know, Mulciber could
have set off an alarm yesterday on his reconnaissance.
Several sets of eyes shifted to Mulciber. Let them chew on that one awhile,
Draco thought in satisfaction. Now that hed sown the seeds of discord, it was time to
retreat.
Im going to my room. Ill let you draw straws to see who gets to accompany
me.
He left the dining room and headed for the back stairs rather than use the grand
staircase. His room was at the back of the house, closest to the kitchen, a fact hed
utilized often as a child. Of course, hed been terrified of the dark, creaking stairwell for
years and had usually called on Dobby or Cully to accompany him. Why he hadnt just
had them bring him some food was a question hed only recently asked. Stubborn pride,
he supposed.
Draco scowled at the memory of Dobby. Filthy little traitor, he thought as he
took the wooden steps two at a time. Draco had always been kind to him. Well, perhaps
not kind. There was the time hed pushed Dobby off the roof after ordering him not to
disappear. Hed wanted to see if Dobby could fly with those huge ears of his. Draco
chuckled at the memory of Dobby crashing into Narcissas rose bushes. The house-elf
had been limping and picking thorns from his bum for days. Draco had been grounded
for damaging the roses.
He shook off all thought of Dobby when he reached his room. He slammed the
door, kicked off his boots, and reclined on the cushions of his window seat. It was still
early morning and now he had a long day of nothing to look forward to.
Crabbe came huffing into the room minutes later. Draco had heard him
lumbering up the stairs long before he reached the door. He looked like an escapee from
an infirmary with his head bandaged haphazardly.
Is it really necessary that I be watched at all times? Draco demanded. What do
you lot think Im going to do? Zip off and bring Harry Potter back here?
Crabbe paled at the namean interesting reverse reaction than Draco normally
received. At school, they all sneered at Potters name.
Orders, Crabbe said apologetically.
Fine. Youre going to be pretty bloody bored watching me stare out the window
all afternoon.
Crabbe sighed and sank into a comfortable chair near Dracos fireplace. Despite
the rain, it was warm enough that no fire had been lit. Despite the lack of crackling
flames to lull him, Crabbe was asleep within a quarter hour. Draco sneered. Some guard.
He reached into his pocket and pulled out the Galleon hed taken from Grangers
desk. It looked like an ordinary coin but for a tiny notch carved on one side. It was
barely visible, but a caress around the edge would quickly distinguish it in a group of
similar coins. He held it in his palm and concentrated. The robed wizard on the front
began to melt away and the numbers twitched around the edges.
Draco jerked his eyes away from the coin and focused on a large droplet crawling
slowly down the glass. What the hell was he thinking? Saving her stupid Muggle
parents just to put off becoming a cold-blooded killer was one thing, but actually
communicating with Granger? He shuddered. No thank you.
He was about to return the coin to his pocket when he felt it go suddenly hot. He
nearly dropped it, but recovered quickly and examined it.
Who are you? The words were spelled out around the edge of the coin as if
minted there. Draco rubbed his forehead testily. Stupid Granger. Did she honestly
expect him to just blurt his name out like that? Shed chuck the coin out the window if
he did. He grinned at the image.
Devlin Whitehorn, he sent in a flash of mischievousness.
Why did you help me? she asked, apparently not recognizing the name.
He balanced the coin on the window ledge and spun it idly while he considered
the question. Why had he warned her? Because I felt like it. Because Im a selfish
bastard. Because I dont feel like marching in step like a good little soldier He sighed
and picked up the coin. He didnt owe her an explanation. After all, it was Granger he
was talking to.
Im tired of being used, he sent in a burst of anger, although he wasnt certain why
hed bothered. He was suddenly sorry hed warned her at all, and wished hed never
picked up her stupid coin.
He threw the Galleon across the room. It bounced off the rug and rolled under his
bed in a lazy spiral. Crabbe jerked in his sleep and shifted position in the chair. Draco
gazed out at the rain-washed countryside. He suddenly felt very alone.

Chapter Five Headquarters

Hermione stared at the coin in her hand and felt a sudden rush of sympathy.
Im tired of being used.
She closed her hand tightly around the metal and thought about a reply. What
could she say? That she understood? That she had felt the same way so many times?
Her friends would be horrified to hear it. Hermione felt guilty even thinking it. She
knew they loved her, but sometimes she felt like Harry and Rons personal encyclopedia
and homework checker.
Why did she feel she continually had to prove her worth? Was it pride? She
enjoyed being the smartest, the most competent, and the cleverest. But by the same
token, she also resented the others steadfast expectation that she always be the smartest,
the most competent, and the cleverest. Someday she was going to fail them. Already,
she could feel failure breathing down her neck with this Horcrux thing.
The coin had grown cold. She slipped the chain that held it back over her head
and felt the chill as the Galleon settled on her skin. She had only been asleep for an hour
when the heat of the coins activation had awakened her. She lay back on the bed in a
fog of exhaustion, but doubted she could go back to sleep. It was too bright outside, even
with the rain. She supposed she could draw the heavy curtains, but the Black house was
dreary enough without adding darkness to the mix.
She thought about her new Death Eater friend. Who could it be? Devlin
Whitehorn? Shed never heard the name. It didnt sound even remotely familiar.
Certainly it wasnt one of the names pegged to the wall downstairs. The Order kept
close track of all known Death Eaters. Maybe Hermione would have a new name to add
to the list. Not yet, though. He had helped her, once. She wouldnt betray him until she
had a clearer picture of where his loyalty lay.
She heard movement downstairs. Probably the other Order members in residence
having breakfast. She should join them, but she wasnt feeling quite up to dealing with
Ron, yet. Since Dumbledores death, Ron acted like everyone around him would
spontaneously combust. He was nicer to his brothersalthough Fred and George had yet
to return the favorand treated Ginny like a cuddly stuffed animal. She had nearly
turned him into one the last time he had hugged her, nudged her head with his knuckles
and said, Heres my sweet little Ginny-winners.
He was different with Hermione, too. At first, she had been glad to see him
treating her like a girl instead of a walking textbook. He hugged her often, and held her
hand, but it was not a boyfriend/girlfriend type of affection. It was more like Im-afraid-
you-could-die-at-any-moment-please-dont-leave-me type of affection. She hoped he
would snap out of it once Harry returned. Ron was always a bit lost during the summer.
At the Burrow, Ginny could play Quidditch with him, but here they were trapped inside.
Ginny spent a ludicrous amount of time in her room with the door shut, listening to The
Weird Sisters and writing torrid romantic stories about her and Harry. Those she
carefully rolled up and stashed under a loose floorboard in her room. She had shared a
couple with Hermione, who blushed at the memory. The girl had a vivid imagination.
She needed to sleep. She tried not to think about Horcruxes. She ordered herself
not to think about Horcruxes. She shut her eyes and tried to will herself back to sleep
with a pleasant memory. The Yule Ball. That was always a nice one to relive. She
smiled and remembered dancing with Viktor, swirling through the gaily dressed couples,
and laughing happily. Hogwarts had been decorated so nicely. The grey walls had
barely been visible through all the greenery Hagrid had dragged in. She sighed. Poor
Hagrid. She must send him another owl. Hed been so devastated by Dumbledores
death, she wondered if he would ever fully recover. She gnawed on her lower lip and
wondered if Dumbledore had ever mentioned Horcruxes to Hagrid. Probably not, as the
Groundskeeper could not even keep silent about the three-headed dog guarding the Stone
their first year. He would have let something slip by now
Hermione pounded a fist on the bed in frustration and opened her eyes.
Horcruxes, Horcruxes, Horcruxes. Damn Voldemort! And damn Dumbledore for
keeping the matter so bloody secret. How were they supposed to destroy something they
couldnt even find? To make matters worse, Dumbledore had sworn Harry to secrecy
about the Horcruxes, so they werent even allowed to ask the Order to help them. It was
so unfair!
She climbed reluctantly out of bed and got dressed. She might as well try the
Blacks revolting library once again, although if she had to read one more paragraph
about pureblood nobility she thought she might vomit. She wondered if the Malfoys
were as obsessed with the whole pureblood ideal. Draco spouted the rhetoric constantly,
but she wondered if every book in the Malfoy library related to the subject. She hoped
not. One family like the Blacks was enough.

She went downstairs to see who was in attendance. The kitchen table was
crowded, as usual. People tended to gather in the kitchen, since it was the only room in
the house that had been thoroughly de-Blacked. Many of the Weasleys own possessions
had been brought to 12 Grimmauld Place, including the Weasley clock, even though it
didnt vary much from Mortal Peril these days, which wasnt exactly helpful. The
Burrow had largely been abandoned, as they expected it to be a prime target for a Death
Eater attack.
Lupin was present, of course. He rarely left, as most of the Order had unofficially
elected him their new leader. He had proved to be a master organizer and had created a
rotating schedule for the various duties that made Hermione sigh with envy. Tonks was
seated next to Lupin. Her spiked hair was buttercup yellow today. Hermione grinned. If
Hermione were a Metamorphmagis, she would be going around looking like Gwyneth
Paltrow, but she supposed it was a matter of personal taste.
Next to Tonks, Moody was slurping his tea like a St. Bernard and ignoring
Mollys tsking noises. Elphias Doge sat across the table from Moody, noisily chewing on
eggs and sausages. Sturgis Podmore was on his left, starting gloomily into his teacup.
Bill Weasley and Fleur Delacour were at the far end of the table, holding hands and
looking as though they would slip away for a snogging session at any moment. It
wouldnt be the first time. Arthur Weasley was apparently already gone. Due to short
staffing, he often had to work weekends. Rufus Scrimgeour had made plain his dislike of
those who steadfastly maintained loyalty to Dumbledore, but with Voldemorts followers
on the loose, he needed every able wizard to maintain order.
Ron noticed Hermione lurking in the doorway and leaped up to fling an arm
around her neck. He squeezed happily while she tried to pry his fingers loose and avoid
asphyxiation.
Youre up! Great! Mad-Eye was just telling us about the raid on your parents
house. He glared at his mother. Since some of us couldnt go. Even though were of
age. Molly ignored him.
She escaped Rons arm and sat down next to Doge. Ron took the chair next to
hers.
How did it go? she asked Moody. His glass eye swiveled in her direction. He
grunted.
Not well enough. I winged one of em and Tonks got one with a Leg Locker.
Not the one I was aiming at, since I tripped on something, she complained.
Couldnt tell who all was there, since they had those bloody masks on pretty
sure Mulciber was one of em, though. I got him with a Confundus right when he was
Disapparating. Hope he ended up in Timbuktu. He snorted. They popped out right
quick, though. Ruddy cowards.
Apparently, the tip you received was accurate, Hermione, Lupin said. Too bad
we dont know who your note writer is.
Well, if hes on our side, hed better keep his head down, because I dont plan on
taking names before I curse any Death Eater scum I see, Moody snarled.
Im sure he knows the risks, Alastor, Lupid said calmly. Im surprised any of
them are brave enough to betray You-Know-Who now, when his power is growing.
Regulus Black did, Hermione mused and picked up a piece of toast. Last time,
at the height of his power.
Lupin nodded. I always wondered why. He was a chip off the old Black,
Sirius used to say. Mrs. Black was ecstatic that he roamed around torturing Muggles and
spreading the pureblood idealogy. God, he hated James.
Hermione stared at him with the toast halfway to her mouth. She lowered it to her
plate.
You knew Regulus Black? she asked and then cursed herself for the stupid
question. Of course Lupin would have known him. He was Siriuss younger brother.
Lupin laughed humorlessly. I knew him well enough to not like the little git.
James and Sirius used to torment him almost as much as Snape. He called Sirius Blood-
traitor at school. He hung around with a nasty group of Slytherins, mostly for
protection. Sirius didnt pull any punches just because Regulus was his brother. I would
have felt sorry for him, except that he was a mouthy little weasel. He asked for a lot of it.
Quite a lot like Draco Malfoy, actually. He was handsome like Draco, too. A younger
version of Sirius.
Sounds like he would have been a perfect Death Eater, then, Hermione said. I
wonder why he turned against YouVoldemort. She had been trying to use
Voldemorts name more frequently, since it annoyed Harry when they used the nickname
in hushed tones.
Sirius and James puzzled on that, too. They never came up with a satisfying
answer. Everyone thought You-Know-Who wanted Regulus to do something that went
against his morals, but from what I recall, he was pretty lacking in that department. It
had to be something else.
Hermione shook her head. Whatever it was, it had angered Regulus enough to
send him after a Horcrux. She only prayed he had succeeded in destroying the locket
before Voldemort had caught up to him. It would be one less bloody Horcrux for them to
worry about.
They all froze as an alarm bell tinkled over the stove.
Ill see who it is, Tonks offered. She went out, heading for the attic. With all
the recent activity at 12 Grimmauld Place, they had decided it was getting too risky to
keep Apparating into the street and entering by the front door. All of the protections
Dumbledore had set up still held, but Hermione and Bill had figured out a way to create a
small place in the attic that allowed Apparition. The catch was that anyone appearing in
the attic had to wait for someone to open the door from below.
Tonks returned a few minutes later with Arthur Weasley. Molly rushed over and
hugged him. She was nearly as clingy as Ron, lately.
Arthur, what are you doing back so soon?
Im just taking a short break. Have to get back, but I saw something odd this
morning. Mmmm, sausages!
He grabbed one off the table and talked around bites.
Yesterday afternoon I ran into Jameson Smythe in the elevator. Hes always
been a chatterbox. Im surprised the Department of Magical Law Enforcement even
allows him to go on field assignment, since he cant keep his mouth shut, but desperate
times
Get on with it, Arthur, Moody snapped.
Arthur scowled. Yes, well he told me that he was off to check on Malfoy
Manor. The Ministry has been keeping close tabs on it since Lucius Malfoy escaped
from Azkaban. He picked up another sausage.
Well, this morning I ran into Jameson again. I asked him how his mission went
yesterday and he said, Fine. Just fine. I couldnt get another word out of him, except
he kept repeating, All is well. Most unlike him. I think hes under an Imperius Curse.
Moody stood up.
Im on it.
Lupin held up a hand. Dont be rash, Alastor. We need to think this through. If
the Malfoys are back at home, its possible You-Know-Who is there, as well. If thats
the case, we dont want to frighten him off.
Moody sat down.
What do you mean?
If we rush in there with wands drawn, we might capture a few of the Death
Eaters, but its a good bet we wont catch You-Know-Who, even if he is there, and then
theyll scatter like rats. We need to find out for certain if they are using Malfoy Manor as
their headquarters. If they are, well have an advantage because we will know where they
are. We must set up surveillance. Very carefully. We dont want to tip them off.
Arthur nodded. Ill leave it to you, Remus. Ive got to get back. He kissed
Molly and Ron and headed for the attic.
Its too bad we cant send in a spy, Tonks said. Her features shifted and
Bellatrix LeStrange stood in her place. Lupin swore.
No! Its too dangerous. Both Voldemort and Snape are too good at Legilimency.
Besides, Snape will expect something like that. Unfortunately, the bastard knows all our
strengths. And weaknesses.
Bellatrix pouted and tossed her wild black hair.
You never let me have any fun.
Yes, Im stubborn that way. Not allowing you any fun that could end up with
you being killed. Damn me.
Ron coughed. Tonks, can you drop that disguise? It might not fool You-Know-
Who, but its giving me the shivers.
Tonks was instantly back with her canary-colored hair.
Whats with the yellow? Ron asked. Usually she preferred pink or purple hair.
Im in a sunny mood today because last night Remus and I
Nymphadora! Lupin bellowed. She scowled at him.
I told you not to call me that.
Lupins face was crimson. Hermione giggled.
Can we stick to business? Lupin choked. We need to plan this Malfoy
scenario.
Fine. Youd better not leave me out of it, either, Tonks warned as she took her
seat again. Remus sighed in relief.
Hermione gasped.
Oh no! Ive got HPD this morning! I nearly forgot!
Youve barely slept, Hermione. I was going to stand in for you, Ron said.
Hermione shook her head. Ill be fine. That nap I had did me good. Im only on
four hours today, so Ill be back by noon. Ill sleep, then.
Ron scowled and started to argue.
Honestly, Ron, Harry Protection Duty is the simplest thing. You know nothing
ever happens. Ill stand around, have a little chat with Figgy, and come back.
She hurried upstairs before he could retort and slipped into a pair of jeans and a
U2 concert t-shirt. They had allowed her to purchase clothing for Harry Protection Duty,
so now none of them stood around in wizard robes and pointy hats, thank goodness.
Arthur really adored his three-piece Muggle suit. She checked the time. She still had
almost an hour to relieve Dedalus Diggle, but she wanted to talk to Harry, so she hurried
to the attic and departed.

Chapter Six Harrys Room

Hermione relieved Diggle and started to walk to the Dursleys when she realized
it was not even 9:00 in the morning. So much had happened already, it seemed much
later. She decided to wait awhile and sat on the bench across the street from Number
four, Privet Drive. Due to the necessity of Order members lurking about at all times of
the day and night, the Order had installed a fake bus stop. Sometimes they were joined
by Muggles waiting for a bus that would never arrive. Hermione was certain there had
been dozens of complaints lodged with the local bus line.
When she deemed it late enough, she walked across the street and up to the front
door. She heard a loud bellow as soon as her finger left the door buzzer and shortly the
door was yanked open by a walrus-faced man that could only be Harrys uncle Vernon.
Hermione had only before seen him from a distance.
My name is Hermione Granger, she said brusquely. Im here to see Harry
Potter.
Vernons eyebrows beetled down until his eyes were nearly invisible.
Are you one of them? he asked in a hushed voice.
Im a friend of Harrys from school, if thats what youre asking.
Vernon grabbed her arm and dragged her inside before poking his head nervously
out the door to scan for onlookers. Hermione nearly smiled at his antics. He really was
quite odd.
Who is it, Vernon? Harrys aunt called from down the hall. Hermione
motioned to the stairs.
Ill just pop on up, all right?
Vernons mouth opened and shut, but before he found his voice, Hermione bolted
up the stairs.
Harry? she called softly, as all the upstairs doors were closed tight. One of the
portals flew open and Harry stared at her in surprise.
Hermione? he asked in disbelief. What are you doing here?
I needed to talk to you. Its about You-Know-What. Ron had begun referring
to Horcruxes in that fashion and the name had stuck.
Well, its good to see you, anyway. He gave her an awkward hug and stepped
aside. Welcome to my hovel.
She sat down on his unmade bed while he bustled around tidying up.
The Death Eaters tried to kill my parents, she blurted. Harry stopped clearing
up and stared at her. She told him the entire story and showed him the note. She bit her
lip in indecision while he read the words and then she said, I left him one of our old DA
coins. He picked it up and I spoke to him briefly this morning.
He sat next to her on the bed.
Thats bloody brilliant, he said admiringly. I never would have thought to do
that. What did he say?
Not much. I think hes reluctant to act against Voldemort. Im really surprised
he warned me at all. I mean, he wouldnt have joined the Death Eaters to begin with if he
didnt hate Muggle-borns, would he?
Its hard to say. Look at Snape, the Half-Blood Prince. Harrys voice nearly
cracked with bitterness. Why did he join up?
Hermione shrugged. Attracted to power, I suppose.
Yeah.
Well, the reason I brought you the news in person is that I havent mentioned the
coin to Lupin and the others. I dont want them to try and force me to contact Devlin
Devlin?
Thats his name. Unless he made it up, which is possible, but its all I have at
the moment. Anyway, I think it better that we leave him be and let him contact us. I
dont want to pressure him. Hes got to be under enough strain if hes thinking of
betraying Voldemort.
Harry thought about it for a moment and then shrugged.
Whatever you think is best. It wont be the first secret weve had to keep from
the Order. Speaking of secrets, you said you were here about Horcruxes?
Not completely, but I had an interesting chat with Lupin this morning about
Regulus Black. I looked at the Black tapestry againdo you know he was only eighteen
when he died? He was barely out of Hogwarts. How could he have gotten involved so
quickly? He was our age, Harry. I felt sorry for him until Lupin told me he was a dark-
haired Draco Malfoy.
Harry snorted. Theres you answer, then. Malfoys neck-deep and hes our age,
too. Maybe Voldemort recruited Regulus when he was still in school, like he did Malfoy.
He might even have had the same assignment, which could be why he got cold feet.
I didnt think of that, Hermione said wonderingly. Maybe, like Malfoy, he
couldnt kill Dumbledore.
But, unlike Malfoy, he didnt have an evil traitor to perform the deed when he
failed, Harry snapped. So, it was goodbye, Regulus.
Right, but all that is beside the point. What Ive been trying to figure out is how
Regulus knew about Horcruxes. How did he know about the locket, and how did he find
it? From what youve told me, Dumbledore didnt even guess at the existence of the
Horcruxes until your parents died and Voldemort didnt.
Harry nodded. All the more reason I have to go to Hogwarts.
What? You mean return to school? We dont even know if it will reopen
No, I need to go before school opens, if it opens. I need to use Dumbledoress
Pensieve. Ive only got three and a half weeks of protection left and I dont intend to
wait around for Voldemort to swoop down the instant it dissipates. I plan to be long gone
from here by then.
Harry have you thought about the Dursleys?
I try not to, Harry said dryly.
What I mean is, if Voldemort is willing to go after my parents on the merest
chance it will hurt you dont you think hell try to kill the Dursleys, too? He cant
know how you feel about them.
Snape could have mentioned it, Harry said, but his words were weak. His
emerald gaze went far away and Hermione knew he was searching his feelings. She
looked around his room. Everything in sight was either broken, worn out, or patched.
Her heart suddenly ached for him with such fervor she felt tears prick her eyes. To have
grown up here, where nothing had ever been freely given not even love. Couldnt the
Dursleys have spared even that for an orphaned child? She stood and crossed to Harrys
desk, because the tears had spilled over and she didnt want him to notice. For a moment,
she hated the Dursleys with a fierce passion and Dumbledore, as well. She tried to
wipe her tears away surreptitiously.
Harry was behind her, though, and his hand touched her shoulder.
Whats wrong? he asked. She shook her head and choked the words out
through the lump in her throat.
How could he have left you here, in this horrible place? How could he stand to
do it when so many people loved you from the moment you were born? Lupin, the
Weasleys, even Hagrid would have been better! Molly would have taken you in a
moment. You could have grown up in The Burrow. Not here, not like this! She caught
sight of a broken toy soldier on the desk, held together with carefully wrapped cellotape
and felt another rush of tears. How could he?
Harry turned her gently around to face him. He smiled at her softly.
He had to. My mothers protection was here. No matter what I had to face from
the Dursleys, it was better than what awaited me out there. He gestured to the window.
He knew Voldemort wasnt gone, and the Death Eaters definitely werent. Besides, its
nearly over. Soon Number Four, Privet Drive, will only be a series of bad memories.
Now, cheer up. He reached up and wiped her tears away with his thumbs. She
marveled at how tall hed gotten. He was half a head taller than Hermione, and she was
not a short girl.
She smiled wanly. Youre a really special person, you know that?
Not really. Im just Harry. He laughed and she grinned broadly in return. He
clapped her shoulder. Now, about this Dursley problem. They did take me in, albeit
unwillingly, angrily, and grudgingly. They treated me like a house-elf every minute I
was in their presence, and their oafish son nearly did Voldemorts job for him six times
over. Harry sighed. But, I suppose they dont deserve to die. They certainly dont
deserve what the Longbottoms got.
Hermione shuddered. No one deserves that.
So. What do we do about it? Im certainly not going to sacrifice myself to give
them blood protection.
Hermione giggled. That would sort of make the whole exercise pointless. As I
see it, weve only got two options. We make this house Unplottable, with you as Secret
Keeper or we move them to Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. You told me
Dumbledore mentioned it to them last time he was here.
Harry began to smile. As his grin grew wider and wider, she raised a brow in
puzzlement. He explained.
Aunt Petunia is a neat freak. Im picturing her at Grimmauld Place.
Hermione thought of the musty, dusty, cobwebby, bleak, residence and her smile
matched Harrys own. Soon they were laughing aloud.

Chapter Seven - Draco's Dilemma


Draco was in the library perusing one of his fathers particularly nasty books of
dark magic. Some of the spells he had mastered, but there were a couple that were
intensely difficult. He had the feeling he would need every bit of magic at his disposal
before it was done.
Looking for something specific? Snape asked from the doorway. Draco sighed
in annoyance. His other watchdogNott todaywas already in attendance; he sat at one
of the writing desks with a deck of cards, uninterested in the hundreds of books and
scrolls that surrounded him. Nott nodded to Snape, who ignored him.
Now that you mention it, Ive never seen the spell Potter used on me. The one
that nearly cut me in two. His jaw tightened at the memory. Far worse than the pain
had been the horror of Potter seeing him in a moment of weakness. He had been angry
enough to killhad cast the Cruciatus Curse only because he wanted Potter to writhe
before he killed him If not for the slashing spell, it might have been the end of Potter
and Draco would be a Death Eater hero.
Snape interrupted his vengeful musing. You wont find that spell anywhere,
since I invented it. Its called Sectumsempra.
Dracos eyes narrowed. Then how did Potter learn it?
He found an old book of mine. Did you not wonder how he became such a
Potions expert last year?
Of course. Especially since he had Remedial Potions the year before!
Unaccountably, Snape flushed. At the memory of having to give Potter private
lessons?
Indeed. Regrettably, there are quite a few spells in that book, along with my old
Potions notes. Luckily, Potter is too stupid to realize what he has and since he nearly
killed you, he will be scared to try many others. Who would he practice on? Weasley?
Can you teach me? Draco asked, suddenly realizing he had his very own Dark
Arts teacher. Not Defense Against the Dark Arts, either, but the real thing.
Snape shrugged. Certainly. As time permits.
Wormtail appeared in the doorway.
The Dark Lord wants to see you, he said to Snape. His ratlike eyes shifted to
Draco and he grinned. And you.
Draco shoved down a feeling of dread at that happy news and set the book aside.
Good, he said for Wormtails sake. I was getting bored.
The library was right next to the parlour, so the walk of doom was a short one.
Draco entered the room with Snape and was surprised to find it pleasantly warm. The
fire crackled cheerfully, providing the only light. Heavy black drapes had been drawn
over the huge window that looked out over the manicured grounds. Apparently, beautiful
views were wasted on the Dark Lord.
Voldemort sat in his usual red velvet chairthe one that had once been Dracos
fathers favorite. The snake was curled before the fire as if asleep, but its tongue flicked
out now and again. Snape stepped forward and nodded deferentially.
It is time, Voldemort said flatly. Greyback is waiting.
Snape nodded and turned to depart.
Take the boy with you. Im sure Fenrir will be glad to see him.
Snape gestured and Draco gladly fell into step behind him. Anything to escape
the Dark Lords sepulcher presence.
Get dressed and meet me in the kitchen, Snape ordered.
Where are we going?
The black eyes shifted to him with something akin to amusement.
Youll see. You have five minutes.
Draco sighed and went upstairs to take off his pale blue shirt and replace it with
black silk. He shrugged on his black Death Eaters robes and started out the door, but he
paused at the threshold.
Accio coin, he said brusquely. The Galleon flew out from under the bed and
into his outstretched palm. He pocketed it and went out.

It was still overcast, but not raining, as it had been the previous day. Snape had
Disapparated Draco blindhe had no idea where they were. He wondered if they had
located Grangers parents, but doubted it. Much as he despised Granger, he knew she
was sharper than the average Death Eater. Even Snape.
They arrived next to a dirt road that was barely more than a track, lined on both
sides with stone walls that were falling into disrepair.
Snape stepped onto the road and followed it over a small rise. Draco trailed after
him. The road descended and he caught a glimpse of a house nestled among the trees
below. As they approached the house, Draco saw a group of people milling before the
front gate. There were at least ten of them and he recognized the one that stepped
forward to meet SnapeFenrir Greyback.
The werewolfs cold eyes flicked to Draco and his lips opened to reveal his
horrible wolflike smile.
Hello, Severus. I see you brought my lunch.
Just get on with it, Snape growled impatiently.
Fenrir tsked. No need to rush. He shrugged. Theres no one here. I sent
Eastwyck through the house to trip any alarms. Nothing.
Snape nodded. Come, Draco. They moved through the ragged group and
Draco tried not to touch any of them without looking like he was avoiding contact. They
were foul smelling and filthy, the lot of them. They watched Draco intently and several
licked their lips or grinned ferociously. Draco suppressed a shudder. The only thing
worse than a disgusting, dirty, hairy werewolf was a pack of disgusting, dirty, hairy
werewolves. Thank God the full moon was days away, or the feral excitement emanating
from the pack would have been nearly overpowering. He doubted they would have
stopped themselves from rending him and Snape to pieces.
They entered the front gate and Draco noticed the front garden, once obviously
well tended, was beginning to show signs of neglect. Many of the flowering bushes held
bunches of dead petals and weeds poked their heads through the stalks of limp, dying
bluebells.
As they entered the kitchen of the strange, ramshackle house, Draco suddenly
realized where they were. The huge table inside the kitchen was his first clue. Draco had
not eaten in the kitchen at Malfoy Manor since he was a small child and had parked
himself there for a midday snack. It was obvious the residents of this house took all their
meals in the kitchen, most likely in the absence of a dining room.
The place would have been spotless but for a layer of dust upon everything.
The werewolf pack crowded into the kitchen behind Draco.
Search for anything relating to the Order of the Phoenix, Snape said. Were
unlikely to find anything, but with so many Weasleys, its possible one of them slipped
up. Make it quick.
The motley crew scattered and Draco followed a number of them up the stairs.
They entered rooms at random, so Draco continued on up several flights to the last door.
He wondered how it would have felt to live crowded into this small house with so many
siblings. No doubt it was loud and frantic. The stairs were worn and creaked loudly
when Draco stepped upon them. Several newel posts and stair rails were missing.
The room Draco entered had to belong to Ron Weasley. Several orange Chudley
Cannons posters adorned the walls. One spot was barethe poster must have been
prized by Weasley when so many had been left. On a high shelf were dozens of
Quidditch action figures floating on their brooms and catching tiny Snitches. Draco
recognized many of them, as he had a huge collection of his own. Two beds had been
jammed into the tiny room, which was barely a quarter the size of Dracos own room.
The beds had been stripped of bedding, but a threadbare rug still lay on the floor. Draco
kicked it aside halfheartedly and stomped about, looking for loose floorboards. The desk
drawers were filled with odds and endsquills, ink, piles of wrappers from Droobles
Best Blowing Gum and Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, buttons and balls of string
The small wardrobe was completely empty. Weasley must have taken every set of
clothing he owned. All four of them, Draco sneered to himself.
He left Rons room and went back downstairs to find the werewolves had been far
more thoroughand rather more energeticin their search. Broken items were strewn
through the halls and the smell of dust hung thick in the air. Draco sidestepped over a
broken pot and found himself in a demolished room. The frequency of the color pink
identified it as a girls room, but that was the only remaining factor to distinguish it. The
bed was overturned and the mattress was torn to shreds. The desk was smashed to
kindling and holes had been torn in both walls and floor. The slashed posters were empty
of occupants; no doubt they cowered upon intact posters elsewhere in the house.
Small bottles and jars lay on the floor in colorful shards and their contents
darkened ruined scrolls and torn books. The total destruction of Ginny Weasleys room
was complete. Strangely, Draco felt no satisfaction at the sight. Wanton, excessive
violence was not the Malfoy way. A tiny glass flower caught his eye. It glittered on the
ruined carpet, intact but for a shattered stem. Dracos mother had something similar on
her dressing table, larger and made of finest crystal. Dracos lips twisted, but he could
not define his feelings.
Lets go, theres nothing here, someone grunted from the door. Draco turned
and went out. They all regrouped near the Weasleys front gate with wands drawn.
Incendio! cried several voices at once. A number of werewolves cavorted
merrily and began tearing slats from the fence and ripping bushes from the ground to add
to the growing conflagration.
Draco watched impassively as The Burrow, former home to unknown generations
of Weasleys, became a huge column of flame. Beside him, Snapes features twisted into
a rare smile and his black eyes glowed red in the flicker of firelight.
Does it feel good to know the blood-traitors will weep long and hard over this?
Draco forced his lips into a cheerful smile, though he thought his jaw would crack
from the strain of it. If he could have put a name to his feelings at that moment, he was
certain the word good would not have been anywhere in the running. All he could
think of was Ron Weasleys Quidditch toys turning into so much ash, and a tiny glass
rose becoming a shapeless dollop of red liquid.
Draco, Draco, you are not a killer. Apparently, he was not an arsonist, either.

They watched the fire until the black column of smoke billowed high into the air
and it was obvious the house could not be saved.
Snape nudged Draco.
"Let's go. The smoke might draw Muggle attention and we really don't want to be
here if that happens."
Draco made a face. Greyback and his band would happily rip inquisitive Muggles
to pieces. They returned to the Malfoy kitchen and Draco let Snape report to You-Know-
Who alone. He went straight to his room and stripped off his clothing. It only vaguely
smelled of smoke, but it was enough to sicken Draco. He pulled on his velvet dressing
gown.
"Cully!" he called. When the house-elf appeared and groveled before him, Draco
kicked the pile of clothing. It was on the tip of his tongue to say, "Burn them," but he
knew he'd be taken to task for disposing of his new "uniform."
"My clothes need cleaning. And draw my bath." It was early for his routine bath,
but he felt unclean. Cully disappeared with his clothes. No Malfoy was afraid to give a
house-elf clothing as long as they were in Malfoy Manor. It had been carefully explained
to them that nothing in the house belonged to the elves, ever.
The door flew open and Theodore Nott, Sr. appeared, panting from his dash up
the stairs.
"Damn it!" Draco yelled. "Do you imbeciles honestly think I'm going to
Apparate out of here and leave my parents to be tortured and killed by that freak in the
parlour?"
Nott's face went as pale as a hen's egg and his jaw worked soundlessly. Cully
reappeared with a soft pop.
"Here, Master," he whined, holding out a hand. Draco took the coin he had
inadvertently left in a pocket. Cully conjured jugs of hot water and began to fill Draco's
tub. Nott seemed at a loss.
"Why don't you send my father up here to be my guard dog? It's highly unlikely
we will both jaunt off and leave Mother to the Dark Lord's less than tender mercies, don't
you think? I'd like to speak with him. Feel free to eavesdrop."
Nott flushed, finally.
"I don't like this any better than you, Draco! If I had my druthers, I'd be at the
nearest pub drowning myself in firewhiskey!"
Draco glared at him and walked the coin across the backs of his fingers in
agitation. He did not have any sympathy to spare at the moment. He raised a brow at
Nott expectantly.
Nott sagged a bit and sighed. "I'll get Lucius."
Draco set his dressing gown aside and stepped into the scalding tub while Cully
waited anxiously nearby. Draco expelled a long breath as the hot water soaked into his
skin. The bubbles rose to his chin. He held his breath and went under for a long
moment.
"Shall Cully wash Master Draco's hair?" Cully asked when he emerged. Draco
nodded and Cully soaped his hair with imported shampoo. Draco loved having his hair
washed. It was hard to find moments of pure pleasure at Malfoy Manor, which was one
reason Draco treasured his baths. Solitude, hot water, and a much-needed head-massage.
It nearly succeeded in relieving his headache.
Draco submerged to rinse and when he came up, the house-elf was gone and his
father was present. Draco dragged a wet hand through his hair to pull it out of his eyes.
He blinked for a moment to clear his vision.
"You wanted to see me?" Lucius asked. Draco noticed he'd left the door open.
His father looked as cool and unruffled as ever. His robes were solid black. He always
seemed to wear black these days, as if he were in mourning. It hadn't always been so.
Draco remembered a time they had gone on holiday to the Continent. Draco was six.
They had traveled to France, Spain, and Italy. He remembered his father, dressed in
robes of silver-blue, dancing with his mother on an ancient stone balcony overlooking the
ocean, both of them slightly drunk and laughing as they stared into each other's eyes
Draco's heart nearly cracked at the memory. He wondered if they would ever look at
each other that way again.
Draco spoke to his father in flawless French.
"Do you think the snake can understand French?"
"I doubt it," Lucius replied in the same language. His silver eyes, so like Draco's,
flicked about the room. Although quite large, Nagini was still a snake and could slither
into very small spaces and hide beneath nearly any piece of furniture. They had found
the creature, most unexpectedly, all over the house. The Dark Lord's little venomous spy,
as if he needed another.
Draco picked up his wand from the tub side tray and cast Muffliato for the benefit
of any eavesdroppers. For certain, Bellatrix and the other Lestranges spoke French.
"What does he want?" Draco asked. "I mean, at the end of it all. What does he
want?"
Lucius Accioed the desk chair and sat down. He rested one black boot casually
upon his other knee.
"He wants to destroy everything. I think, at one time, he just wanted power and
control. Last time, he spoke of taking over the Ministry of Magic and of ousting all
Muggle-borns and blood-traitors. He wanted to create laws to return the wizarding world
to a state of purity it hasn't known since the days of Salazar Slytherin."
For the first time in his life, Draco pondered the validity of the pureblood rhetoric
he'd grown up with. There had never been a "state of purity" in Slytherin's time. Wasn't
that why Salazar had rebelled against the other Houses? Slytherin, Grindelwald,
Voldemort, and now Draco himself had been fighting the Mudblood "scourge" for over a
thousand years. And Muggle-borns outnumbered the purebloods at least three to one.
What if it were a losing battle? He yanked his attention back to his father.
"it seems he's gone mad. He no longer speaks of taking over the Ministry--he
talks of destroying it. He's still obsessed with Hogwarts, but no longer does he see
himself as the Headmaster. He sees himself as its conqueror. He wants to open the
school, with himself as its Head--not to teach students how to turn teacups into
butterflies, but to teach them to kill. He plans to train an army and crush everyone in the
wizarding world that stands in his way. When that is done, when he is strong enough, he
will take the war out there, to the Muggles. That is what he wants."
Draco could not disguise his horror. He had never taken a Muggle Studies class,
nor had he spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the Muggle world, but he
had been raised on stories about them. The whole reason one had to be careful at all
times, never to be spotted by a Muggle, never to let them know magic existed because
there were billions of them. How could Voldemort possibly dream of taking on the
Muggle world? He could kill hundreds a day and still there would be more and more and
more and who knew what weapons they had at their disposal? Draco had once
overheard a Mudblood telling a friend that a group of Muggles had once blown up an
entire Muggle city. A city.
"He's insane," Draco whispered.
Lucius nodded and smiled that ice-cold smile that never touched his eyes--the one
Draco had spent hours before the mirror trying to emulate.
"Now you know."
"He'll kill us all," Draco said numbly. Lucius stood abruptly.
"No, he will not. The Malfoys will survive. We will bow and scrape and grovel
and kill and torture, if we must, but we will survive. Do you understand, Draco?" His
eyes burned into Draco's like silver fire. "Do not let a foolish attack of morality blind
you into doing something stupid. We will survive." Lucius move as if to leave, but
paused. "Guard your thoughts well and do not fall too deeply into the trap of the Dark
Lord's words. The pendulum may yet swing."
With a wand flick, he cancelled the spell and went out. Draco thought about his
words. His father had always been good at landing on his feet. He had avoided Azkaban
after the first war, and yet had been accepted back into Voldemort's circle at his return.
He had been respected highly among the Ministry officials and the Hogwart's governors
until Voldemort had abandoned him at the battle over the stupid prophecy. That whole
fiasco had been a huge blunder on old Snake Face's part. Not only had he lost the
prophecy, but he had lost most of his followers, too. It had been temporary, yes, but
Lucius had been far more useful as a Ministry liaison than a Death Eater lapdog, in
Draco's opinion.
Voldemort may once have been a genius, but it looked as if thirteen years as a
vaporous ghost had resulted in madness and a loss of intelligence. Draco leaned his head
against the tub in despair. The Malfoys will survive. To what end? To see the wizarding
world overrun and destroyed by Muggles?
The hot water did not dispel the sudden finger of icy fear that traced its way down
Draco's spine and settled into his belly in a cold lump.
He's got to be stopped. He swallowed hard. That mere thought would be a death
sentence should Voldemort pluck it from his mind. As if on cue, Nott appeared in the
open doorway.
"The Dark Lord wants to see you."
Draco tried on his father's cold smile and squelched an instinctive flutter of panic.
"Yes, I rather thought he would."

Chapter Eight Grimmauld Place


Uncle Vernon was bellowing.
Absolutely not! We will not go hieing off to hide amongst amongst
Vernons words trailed off when he was unable to think of a suitable ending for his
sentence, likely recalling the time Harry had blown up his sister, Marge, without even
tryingand those ranged before him were a lot more competent.
Harry was enjoying the show. Lupin, Tonks, Hermione, and Mad-Eye Moody
had appeared on the Dursleys doorstep late Sunday afternoon, much to the Dursleys
shock, as Harry had intentionally neglected to mention the meeting.
Harry interrupted Lupin, who was trying to reason with Vernona huge waste of
time, Harry knew.
Listen, its your decision, of course. We will not force you to go. Frankly, I
dont care, either way. But should you choose to stay here, I think you should be
prepared. Let me tell you a little bit about Lord Voldemort. Lupin and Tonks cringed at
the name, but Hermione didnt flinch and Moody was too busy staring out the window
searching for threats to react.
Harry told them everything he could recall about Voldemort, beginning with the
night his parents were killed. He told them about Quirrell and about the Chamber of
Secrets. He touched on Barty Crouch Jr. and the dementors. He spared no detail of
Cedrics death and Voldemorts resurrection. He touched on the battle for the Prophecy
and described Dumbledores death, leaving out only the Horcrux search.
Hermione broke in when Harrys voice cracked with emotion.
The Death Eaters tried to kill my parents two days ago. They are non-magical,
like yourselves. Voldemort has control of the dementors. He also has a pack of vicious
werewolves to do his bidding. She threw an apologetic glance at Lupin.
Dudley, who had been grudgingly present for the affair due to a bad cold that kept
him from roaming the neighborhood causing trouble, paled at the mention of dementors.
So you see, Hermione concluded, Voldemort will most likely send someone
after you. Anyone even remotely associated with Harry is at risk, and the protection
placed upon this house will be gone at the end of this month. As Harry said, you can
allow us to protect you, or you can take your chances.
We should give you some time to discuss it, Lupid said diplomatically. Harry,
we will help you get your things together.
The non-Muggles trooped upstairs to Harrys room, although he had never really
unpacked anything after his last return from Hogwarts, except for clothing. Even that
was tidily folded upon his bed (which was neatly made, for once) and ready to be stowed
in his trunk.
Hermione sat on Harrys bed while Tonks went to Hedwigs cage to give her an
owl treat. Lupin paced nervously and Harry perched on the corner of his bed next to
Hermione after moving his clothes aside.
What do you think theyll do? Hermione asked. It was difficult enough to
convince my parents to moveand they dont go through life pretending the wizarding
world doesnt exist!
Moody was parked at the door and his magical eye was pointing downward.
They are arguing, he reported, which was obvious, as they could all hear Uncle
Vernon hollering, even though he was trying to be quiet about it. Petunia wants to go
I think she knows enough to be properly scared. Dudley doesnt want to go, but he
doesnt want to be left for the dementors, either. Boys not quite as thick as he looks.
Vernon wants to stay, but Petunia wants to know how he plans to protect them. Hes
blustering, but she got him, there. He says hell buy a gun, whatever that is. She asks
how he plans to use it if one of them pops into their bedroom and points a wand at them.
Dudley pipes up that a gun probably wouldnt stop a dementor, anyway.
What do you know, Harry said, He really isnt as thick as he looks. Thats a
switch.
Theyve decided to go, but Vernon wants a time limit. Looks like youd better
kill You-Know-Who quick, Harry.
Great idea, Harry said dryly. Ill get right on that.
They went back downstairs and it was decided that the Dursleys would drive their
car. Hermione would ride with them and guide them to Grimmauld Place. The rest of
them would fly.
We will not be taking a ridiculous, circuitous route, either, Alastor, Lupin said
with finality. Were in far more danger from Severus Snape than from anyone that
might follow us. Lets just get there.
They waited for the Dursleys to pack and Harry said nothing when Dudley stowed
a small television, portable stereo, and Nintendo system in the car. Surprisingly,
Hermione didnt mention the lack of electricity, either. She probably knew it would start
another round of protests from both Vernon and Dudley. It was nearly dark when the car
finally pulled out of the drive.
Harry looked carefully around his room to ensure he hadnt forgotten anything.
He waited to see if he would feel any sadness or remorse, knowing he looked at Number
Four, Privet Drive for the last time. Not surprisingly, the only sadness he felt was in the
knowledge that sixteen years of accumulated belongings fit easily into a single trunk. If
Dudley ever moved out, the Dursleys would have to hire a moving truck.
Harry sighed and dragged his trunk downstairs. He wished they could just
Apparate to Grimmauld Place, but Rufus Scrimgeour would jump at any excuse to accuse
Harry of misdeeds, so he had been very careful to use no magic at all. Just a few more
days and hed be able to do whatever he wanted. Lupin could have Apparated Harry, but
his trunk was a bit of an issue. It was easier to fly. Frankly, Harry was looking forward
to it. The only time he felt really free was when he was on a broom.

They managed to beat the Dursleys to Grimmauld Place, even though Mad-Eye
Moody insisted they backtrack a few times, just to be safe. Harry felt a sense of relief
when he walked through the door of the old Black residence. There was sadness, of
course, when he remembered the times Sirius had yanked the curtains over his mothers
portrait, or smiled languidly in greeting, or brooded angrily in the kitchen, but stronger
than the sorrow was his strange sense of homecoming. Sirius had willed the house to
Harry and most of Harrys memories of his godfather resided here, in this dusty, dark
place. The house was suddenly very precious to him and he vowed to someday turn it
into the type of home Sirius would have enjoyed. A place devoid of the wicked stigma of
The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
Harrys reverie was broken by a question from Tonks.
Where is everyone?
Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared in the hallway with a lit wand. His dark face was
grim.
Whats happened? Lupin asked. Kingsley shook his head and turned away.
They hastily dropped their belongings and hurried after him.
The Weasleys were gathered in the kitchen. Molly was sobbing in Arthurs arms,
and tears streamed freely down Ginnys face. Ron looked angry, although his cheeks
were wet, also. Bill and Fleur were dry-eyed, although Fleur was curled in Bills lap and
her hand caressed his face as if to comfort him. Harry was stricken. Was it Fred and
George? Charlie? Percy?
The Burrow has been burned to the ground, Arthur said bluntly before Harrys
questions were uttered. Bill stopped by to get something. All that was left was
smoldering He stopped, unable to continue, and Molly wailed anew. Harry dropped
into a chair, stunned. First Hermiones parents, now The Burrow. What next?
Who who was it?
Greybacks band, most likely, Bill replied. There were a lot of tracks made by
bare feet. And a few sets of boot tracks, so Death Eaters were there, also.
Thank God no one was home, Molly said and hiccupped. If Bill had stopped
by earlier, he might have been he might have been
Stop it, Mother, Bill said sharply. I would have been smart enough to
Apparate out of there immediately, so stop dwelling on what might have been. What has
been is bad enough.
I left all my perfume bottles, Ginny whispered. I didnt want them to get
broken.
My Quidditch figures and my old chess set I didnt bring it because theres
already one here Rons voice was hoarse.
Gideons cedar chest, Molly moaned. I left it in our room.
Harry felt sick listening to the Weasleys recount their lost items. The family had
so little to begin with that every single thing was precious.
Arthur cleared his throat bravely.
Now, now. We all knew this would be a possibility. We have each other, after
all, and thats the most important thing. None of us were so much as scratched.
Molly gasped. What if they attack Fred and George?
Lupin and Arthur spoke at the same moment to reassure her.
They wont blatantly attack in Diagon Alley.
The Ministry has increased the Guard at all wizarding locations in London.
Ill be sympathetic to any Death Eaters that try to attack Fred and George,
Harry said ruefully, hoping to lighten the mood. They could stave off an army with
some of the items in that shop of theirs.
Even Ron smiled at that. Remember the fireworks they used on Umbridge?
And the swamp, said Ginny quietly. That was some swamp.
Before they could get going on a good Fred and George reminiscence, the door
opened downstairs and the Dursleys got their first look at their new home. Unfortunately,
Petunias shriek of horror and Vernons answering bellow woke up the portrait of Siriuss
mother, and bedlam quickly erupted from there. Thirty minutes later, the portrait was
quiet, the Dursleys were sulking in their tiny, dark rooms, and the rest of the Order was
speaking quietly in the kitchen.
Do you think theyll like it here? Arther asked Harry eagerly. Did they bring
many Muggle items with them? Id really like to ask them about
Arthur, I forbid you to torment the Muggles, Molly said with a warning glare in
her eyes. Its going to be difficult enough for them in this awful house without you
asking them foolish questions, especially as we dont know how long theyll have to be
shut up in here
Sixteen years sounds about right to me, Ron muttered to Harry, who nearly
choked on his tea and coughed for five minutes while Ron pounded him on the back. The
elders started making changes to their plan to scout Malfoy Manor, so Harry, Ron, and
Hermione went upstairs. On the way, Ron told Hermione about the destruction of The
Burrow. She was properly horrified.
Oh Ron, Im so sorry. No wonder everyone seemed so upset!
They entered the room Ron and Harry always shared. Harry was glad to see at
least one Chudley Cannons poster had been spared from The Burrow. Ron had placed it
over his bed. It was the only bright spot in the dreary room.
Hermione said, Its a good thing we brought Harrys relatives here. The Death
Eaters are getting serious.
All the more reason to get out of here and find those bloody Horcruxes, Harry
said. I want to leave for Hogwarts tomorrow.
What are we going to tell the others?
Ill leave them a note.
Hermione clucked disapprovingly. Harry, theyll be frantic. Theyre here to
protect you.
Im tired of being protected! Let them do something worthwhile, like stopping
the Death Eaters from burning down peoples houses and trying to kill Muggles!
She rolled her eyes, but seemed to know it was pointless to argue with him when
he was in a yelling frame of mind.
Tell them whatever you want, Harry said adamantly. But, Im leaving
tomorrow.
How do you plan to get there?
Since I cant Apparate, you mean? Well, with so many wizards around here, I
doubt the Ministry will even guess an underage wizard is Apparating
Oh no! You dont dare Apparate without a license, Harry, youll get into terrible
trouble Hermione began.
Really? More trouble than Im in with a psychopathic, deathless wizard trying to
turn me into a pile of ash the instant I step a toe out of my hiding place?
Ron burst out laughing and Hermione glared.
Its not funny, Ronald! Im just trying to keep the Ministry off Harrys back!
The Ministry will never be off Harrys back, Ron snorted. Not as long as the
idiots in charge keep acting like Dumbledore was some crackpot out to discredit them.
See? Even Ron knows.
Hermione flounced to the door. Fine. I see you two are determined to gang up
on me, as usual. Im going to see Ginny.
Hermione! Harry called before she could shut the door on them. She paused
and finally turned around to look at him when he didnt reply. Harry grinned at her.
Are you coming to Hogwarts with us?
She flushed and he knew she was trying to hold on to her indignation.
I wouldnt miss it, she said finally.
The door closed.

Chapter Nine Dracos Conversations

Draco took his time dressing; a miniscule act of defiance. He dropped the coin on
his desk, smoothed his hair once more in the mirror, and headed downstairs. He took the
main staircase this time as a small reminder that he was the heir of the manor.
He knocked lightly on the parlour door and was not startled when Wormtail
yanked it open. He wondered if Pettigrew had time to eat and sleep between grovelings.
The Dark Lord was not seated in his throne, for once. Instead, he stood before the
large table against the right hand wall, perusing a scattering of paper that lay upon it.
Come here, young Malfoy, he said without looking up. Draco approached,
trying to affect a proper sycophantic walk and failing miserably. He managed the
hangdog expression, though, by remembering how Crabbe and Goyle used to look
whenever Draco berated them. Wearing it now, he was surprised neither of them had
ever punched him. Subservience sucked.
Voldemorts horrible red eyes fastened on Dracos and the cringing became a
whole lot easier. It wasnt too difficult to bow down before someone that would curse
you into oblivion as easily as swatting a fly. Dracos palms felt suddenly clammy.
Did you enjoy your outing today?
Draco nearly shrugged, his usual response to adult questioning, but sensed at the
last moment that any such casual display would enrage the Dark Lord.
Assuredly, he said formally. It was quite enjoyable to see the blood-traitors
receive what they deserve. He tried to remember every confrontation hed ever had with
the Weasleys. He felt the familiar stirring of hatred when he remembered Ginny cursing
him; Ron attacking him and giving him a black eye during a first-year Quidditch match,
Fred and George hexing him after the Tri-Wizard tournament I despise the
Weasleys, he added truthfully.
Voldemort laughed; a horrible, chilling sound.
Any yet, none of the Weasels were home. A pity, Draco, that you are yet
unblooded. Perhaps tomorrow you shall have another chance.
Questions rose in Dracos mind, but he forced them aside.
Yes, Master, he said simply. Voldemort showed his pointed teeth; apparently
please with Dracos response.
You are a true son of Lucius. Ever prudent, ever wise, ever thinking.
Sometimes I wonder if the Malfoys do not think too much.
Draco swallowed and his mouth was suddenly dry. He wasnt sure of a proper
response. Voldemort leaned close to Draco, close enough that he could feel the Dark
Lords breath on his face.
Even now, your little mind is spinning away, isnt it, Draco Malfoy? Thinking
thinking thinking Tell me, Voldemort said breathily, too intimately close, What
did you and your father discuss upstairs?
The sudden change of topic sent ice through Dracos veins and he felt his throat
tighten involuntarily.
I asked him about your goals, Master, Draco whispered, giving massive thanks
that he didnt have to lie about that. He felt something rustle across his boot and wanted
to look down, but he could not tear his eyes away from the reptilian orbs that bored into
him. Draco concentrated hard on everything his knew about Occlumency.
And what did Lucius say about my goals?
He said you want to destroy the Ministry and punish the Mudbloods, Draco
replied. Still the truth. He felt a scraping around his calves.
Indeed. And how do you feel about that, Draco Malfoy?
Now he was treading on dangerous ground. Draco thought hard about Harry
Potter. Harry Potter making Seeker as a First Year. Harry as Dumbledores pet boy
winning the House Cup again and again. Harry riding the stupid hippogriff. Harry
nearly cutting him in two with a dark magic spell; he poured every ounce of hatred and
rage into his next words, knowing that any sign of weakness would be the end of him.
A worthy ambition, Master, he gritted.
And does your father feel the same? Voldemort breathed.
Assuredly, Draco said as though surprised at the question. He suddenly
realized the questions had not been meant to trap Draco at all, but had been yet another
test to verify Luciuss loyalty.
Voldemort suddenly turned away and went back to his scrolls as though Draco
was no longer present.
You may release him, Nagini. Draco has not betrayed me. Yet.
Draco looked down finally, to see the huge snake that had curled itself around his
lower legs. The snake appeared to smile and its glistening fangs were uncomfortably
close to Dracos thigh. Reluctantly, it seemed, the coils loosened and the snake slithered
away toward the fire, hissing. Voldemort hissed backParseltongue, no doubt. Before
he turned away, Draco glanced at the huge scroll sprawled open at the top of the heap. It
looked like a mapor a floorplan.
You may go, the Dark Lord said absently. Draco did not need to be told twice.

He lay in bed that night with the book of dark spells in his lap, although he wasnt
seeing any of the words. A candle flickered on his bedside stand, making shadows jump
across the walls of his room. His watchdogAvery this timewas already sleeping on
the cot. As snorers went, Avery was one of the worst. If Draco got a lick of sleep, it
would be a miracle.
He toyed absently with Hermione Grangers coin while his eyes passed over the
words of a complex spell for the sixth time. He kept thinking about his fathers words.
Destroying the Ministry. Obsessed with Hogwarts. Its conqueror. Take the war to the
Muggles. Draco thought about contacting Granger, but he couldnt think of a good
reason why. He was rather surprised that he hadnt heard from her; he had expected to be
constantly barraged with questions.
As if the thought had activated it, the Galleon suddenly went hot. Draco dropped
it in surprise and had to fish for it among the sheets for a moment. The candlelight was
too dim to make out the tiny words, so he lit the tip of his wand in a tiny, bright glow.
Devlin? it read. He sent an affirmative. Did you know? About the fire?
Draco considered pretending ignorance, but he knew what she was asking.
Yes, but not soon enough to stop it. The words made Draco pause. He wondered
if he would have warned them, if he had known beforehand. It was the Weasleys, after
all. Muggle-lovers; blood-traitors; those who hated Draco and his family because of their
wealth and position. Draco sighed. He took no pleasure in the fact that the Weasleys
were now homeless and their meager possessions had been burned to the ground, but to
be honest with himself, he knew he probably wouldnt have stopped it. Of course,
Granger didnt need to know that. His lip curled slightly. So much for turning over a
new leaf.
Is it safe to talk? she asked.
You might have asked that before, but yes.
Youre right. We need a password. So that I know its you and that you can reply
without getting into trouble.
Fine. He rolled his eyes. That was Granger for you. Little Miss Logic.
I know. Ill send a silly phrase first, so if someone else has it, theyll think its
merely a trick coin.
It took three sendings for her to fit all that around the edge of the Galleon. She
continued: Ive got it. Ill send Come to Zonkos and if there is no response, Ill know
you cant reply or that you dont have the coin.
Brilliant, Draco sent, humoring her. He wondered why he had picked up the coin
in the first place, and why he kept it. He certainly didnt plan to spend his spare time
chattering with Potters external brain. It was bad enough listening to her nonstop
babbling in class.
There was an extremely long pause and Draco began to think she had given up.
Devlin? it asked again.
Yes?
Thank you. I forgot to tell you last time.
Draco flushed and dropped the coin. You sure as hell wouldnt be thanking me if
you knew I was Draco Malfoy. The idea struck him as incongruously funny. Draco
Malfoy had Hermione Grangers everlasting gratitude. The devil should be ordering
mittens and skis about now.
He picked up the coin. She had written, You arent very communicative, are you?
Dont you think youre communicative enough for both of us?
I suppose thats true. Can you tell me where you are?
No.
Can you tell me about yourself?
Id rather not.
Can you tell me what the weather is like? He grinned at her frustration.
Id have to look out the window and Im quite cozy at the moment.
Are you in bed?
The thought of Hermione Granger picturing him in bed made Draco nearly as
uncomfortable as speaking to the Dark Lord while a venomous snake crawled through his
legs.
Yes, he admitted.
Are you a young person or an old person?
Not quite young, not quite old.
Male?
Assuredly.
Scars?
A small one on my left buttock where an amorous lover got carried away.
I suppose I didnt need to know that.
I suppose you shouldnt have asked.
Sorry, I just want to know more about you.
Youre probably better off not knowing.
There was another long pause. He almost sent her a question, suddenly reluctant
to end the conversation, but words formed again.
This scar of yoursbite mark, fingernails, or wand-inflicted?
Draco almost laughed aloud at the question.
I lied. My skin is utterly flawless and soft as spun silk.
You are handsome enough to be conceited, then?
No, I look like a goblin. With flawless skin.
Have you told me anything truthful tonight? she asked.
Yes.
Which part?
The last part. Id never lie about my satiny skin.
Goodnight, Devlin Whitehorn.
Goodnight, Granger.
He smiled and put out his wand. Who would have guessed a conversation with
Hermione Granger might actually be fun? He blew out the candle and tried to shut out
Averys snores. He should have told Hermione about the planned attack for tomorrow,
but what good would it have done? Draco didnt know where, when, or why. Hed just
have to wait and see.

Chapter Ten Broken Dreams

Harry awoke relatively early, but lay in bed thinking until he heard Ron stirring.
There was no need to rush off to Hogwarts on an empty stomach. He could hear muffled
activity from downstairs, no doubt Bill and Mr. Weasley preparing to hurry off to work.
Harry wondered if Uncle Vernon planned to go to work today Most likely he would
flee as soon as possible, using his job as an excuse to escape. Harry felt a twinge of guilt
about leaving the Dursleys here with poor Mrs. Weasley and Lupin to deal with.
Ron yawned and sat up right before Hermione knocked once and entered. Ron
cried out and yanked the covers up to his chin.
Hermione! What if we werent decent?
She rolled her eyes. Like Ive never seen you two in pajamas, before. Come on,
then, before Ginny gets up and demands to come with us. You know how she is.
That galvanized Ron out of bed and he yanked on clothing as Hermione
disappeared downstairs. Harry joined him at a slower pace until Ron said, Shes right.
Better hurry. Ginny will set up a huge row and Mum will have our necks. Well have to
sneak out.
Harry nodded and stuffed his Invisibility Cloak into a large pouch that he slung
over his shoulder. Ron threw some Chocolate Frogs on top of it and shrugged when
Harry grinned.
We might get hungry.
They trooped downstairs, trying to look innocent. Mrs. Weasley didnt notice, as
she was talking to Professor McGonagall.
Professor! Harry said happily and sat at the table next to Hermione. Lupin
joined them a moment later and Mrs. Weasley bustled around filling plates and mugs
with short flicks of her wand.
Hello, Harry, McGonagall said. Its good to see you.
You, too, Professor.
Well, Ive got some good news, I suppose. I received word yesterday from the
governors. They have decided to allow the school to reopen. Im not certain how many
parents will feel it is safe enough to send their students but Hogwarts will be open,
nonetheless. She sighed. Now I have the difficult task of locating suitable new
teachers. I can continue to teach Transfiguration, if necessary, although Id rather not
spare the time. This could prove to be a dangerous year and Im not well, Im not
Albus Dumbledore, am I? Who can I possibly find to teach Defense Against the Dark
Arts? This year, especially, when it could be the most important thing the students
learn.
Harry was quiet. Not only did he have no input whatsoever in response to teacher
selection, but the since he wasnt returning to school in September, he also wasnt terribly
interested. He didnt intend to divulge that tidbit of knowledge quite yet, though.
Actually, Professor, are you returning to Hogwarts today?
Yes. There are many preparations to make, and letters to be sent. Heavens, the
letters should have gone out to several First Years already!
Can I we come with you?
Molly made a protesting noise, but McGonagall was already speaking.
Yes, Remus informed me that you wished to use Albuss Pensieve, although
what good it might be to you, Ive no idea. I assume it has something to do with the
matter you refuse to divulge?
Harry nodded.
She sighed. Very well, then. I suppose Miss Granger and Mr. Weasley will be
accompanying you?
Ron glared at his mother so fiercely that she actually clamped her jaw shut and
spun away to slam crockery about without speaking. Harry nodded again.
Hestia Jones entered the kitchen, giggling. Her pink cheeks were pinker than
usual and she seemed somewhat breathless.
My goodness, I have Harry Protection Duty today and I completely forgot he
was here! I went all the way to Number Four, Privet Drive and hung about wondering
why the house was dark at this hour. I had a brief chat with Arabella, who is keeping an
eye on things there, just in case.
Good, you can accompany us to Hogwarts, McGonagall decided. Where is
Mad-Eye this morning?
Spying on Malfoy Manor with Tonks, Lupin replied and cringed a bit. They
had better report back soon.
Theyve only been gone three hours, Remus, said Sturgis Podmore, who had
been dozing in the corner, unnoticed by Harry. Lupin scowled.
Well, wed better get going, then, McGonagall said. I have much to do.
Professor? Harry asked tentatively. Would you mind terribly if we stopped off
first at Godrics Hollow? You know where it is, dont you?
There was shocked silence in the room, as Harry had only mentioned the idea to
Ron and Hermione. Professor McGonagall looked taken aback.
Youve never been there? Mrs. Weasley asked, sounding surprised. Albus
never took you?
Harry shook his head.
Mrs. Weasley looked as though she might burst into tears. Oh, you poor boy! If
only Id known! We should have well, why didnt we ever think of it? Harry
hastened to reassure her.
Its okay. I dont think I was quite ready, until now.
Of course, Harry, McGonagall said quietly. Well take you.
Ill come along, Sturgis said and rose from his chair. I doubt He-Who-Must-
Not-Be-Named is watching the place, but one never knows, eh?

They appeared in what was once a back yard. The grass was knee high and still
wet with morning dew. Hedgerows surrounded the yard, overgrown and tangled. A
graveled path was nearly invisible due to the weeds choking it. A gnarled apple tree in
one corner showed the beginnings of apples peering among the twisted branches.
Harry barely noticed his surroundingshis eyes were fixed on the crumbling
foundation visible in the center of the greenery. A single chimney, intact but for a few
missing bricks at the top, jutted into the air like an ancient obelisk. He walked forward,
ignoring the grasses that slapped wetly against his legs. There really wasnt much to see.
A few burnt out, broken timbers lay at the center of the ruins, almost invisible due to a
mass of vines that had reclaimed the grounds.
Harry felt a lump rise in his throat. This was where it had all begun for himand
ended for his parents. He looked around at the idyllic countryside that surrounded the
remains of the cottage. The cottage had been relatively isolated, like most wizard houses.
A quaint country lane meandered past the broken front fence and through a gap between
the hills. For a moment, Harry imagined growing up in this place. He would have
climbed the tree, played in the dirt of the road, slid down the snowy hillsides in winter,
and run home to comforting kisses whenever he banged his knee. He would have grown
up knowing about magic, playing Quidditch, and waited expectantly for his invitation
letter from Hogwarts Amidst a rush of overwhelming sadness, he felt a terrible
resolve. Voldemort had stolen more than his parents. He had taken away his chance for
a happy childhood. He had eradicated picnics and birthdays and joy-filled Christmases.
Ron and Hermione were suddenly beside him. Tears streamed down Hermiones
cheeks. She always seemed to know what Harry was feeling. He glanced at Rons
stricken face and realized that although he had lost so much on that horrible October
night, the circumstances had gained him the two greatest friends anyone could ever
know. If he had grown up peaceful, sheltered, and loved, he would have been a different
person. Even if he had met Ron and Hermione, they would never have faced the
challenges thrown at them over the past six years. They would never have been as close
to him as they were right now.
The tears Harry had held back began to fall at last and he put an arm around his
friends. They held him tightly, bolstering him before the ruins of what might have been
as they did through every situation in his abnormal life.
They stood together in silence for a long time and then McGonagall stepped
forward and cleared her throat.
Walk this way, she said quietly and pushed a path through the wet stalks and
around the foundation. The group walked silently up the deserted road. They passed no
other houses on the gravel lane that wound through a copse of trees and over a small
bridge that spanned a burbling brook. At the top of a small rise, they came to a wrought-
iron fence partially covered in old-fashioned pink roses. The heady scent filled the air
and already bees were busy gathering nectar. It seemed very peaceful.
The gate looked rusted open and it dangled slightly. Professor McGonagall led
the way into the small cemetery. They passed several groups of gravestones with names
Harry did not recognize and stopped at last before two white marble headstones, simply
inscribed.

James Alaric Potter 1958 1981 Beloved Husband and Father


Lily Evans Potter 1958 1981 Beloved Wife and Mother

McGonagall knelt and removed the stems of dead flora that rested upon the
graves. She conjured two huge bouquets of fresh flowers in vibrant colors and placed a
bundle before each headstone. Then she withdrew with the others and left Harry alone.
Now that he was here, Harry wasnt certain what to do. He had felt closer to his
parents looking into the Mirror of Erisedit seemed as though their spirits had been
present there. Here, he felt nothing. He was strangely comforted by the thought. His
parents were not in this place, in this cold bit of earth. Luna was rightthey were
beyond the veil, reunited with Sirius once more. He smiled softly at the thought.

Hermione watched Harry carefully. She wasnt completely certain this visit had
been a good idea. She read the headstones, which gleamed white and free of dirt.
Someone, it seemed, tended the graves regularly. Lupin? McGonagall? All of the Order
members, most likely.
Hermione saw something odd and stepped forward to look more closely at Lilys
grave. She gasped suddenly as the medallion on her chest went hot. She walked slightly
away from the others and yanked it out.
Another attack. Its that odd Ravenclaw girl. The blonde. Better hurry.
Hermione felt the blood drain from her face. She spun back to the others.
The Death Eaters are after Luna! she cried. We have to go now! Professor, do
you know where she lives?
Yes, but McGonagall stared at her, but there was no time to explain how she
knew.
Ill take Ron through, then. You take Harry. Someone should alert Lupin!
I will, Hestia offered.
Ill go to the office of the Quibbler to tell her fatherhes likely at work by now.
Well meet you there, said Sturgis Podmore.
Without further conversation, they Disapparated.
Chapter Eleven Luna

Draco had been roused by Severus Snape, never a pleasant experience. Today
Snape had simply removed the blankets from the bed instead of dousing him with cold
water, as hed done on a previous occasion.
Bloody hell, what now? Draco snapped. He was irritable due to Averys
damned snoring that had prevented him from getting a decent sleep. He climbed
reluctantly to his feet and moved close to the fire, snatching up his dressing gown from
the back of a chair.
Get dressed. We have to go.
Another house to burn down? Draco asked in a bored tone.
No. Another chance for you to become a true Death Eater.
Draco turned his cold gaze to Snape, who seemed strangely subdued. The former
Potions Master looked ill at ease.
I have something for you, Snape said and walked forward to hand Draco a
small book bound in black leather. Draco took it and examined it curiously. It is a
listing of some of the spells I invented and how to use them. Im not certain how much
time we will have together, so I may not be able to teach you.
Draco was puzzled by the gift, as well as Snapes attitude. Draco had never felt
particularly close to Snape, even though he had proclaimed loudly for years that Snape
was his favorite teacher. He was still an authority figure and, as such, had never ranked
particularly high in Dracos hierarchy.
Thank you, he said simply.
There is something else you should know, Snape said quietly. Someone needs
to be aware of it, in case something should happen to me. None of the other Death Eaters
know, so do not mention it. If the Dark Lord evens suspects that you know, or that I
know... Snape moved closer to Draco and spoke near his ear so quietly that Draco could
barely hear him. The reason he is deathless is that he has split his soul into several
objects called Horcruxes. If anything should happen to me, seek them out.
Snape moved away, leaving Draco more confused than ever. Horcruxes? He had
never heard the term.
Guard well this knowledge, Snape said in a low voice. And do with it what
you will. Keep in mind the lessons Bellatrix and I have taught you.
Why tell me this? Draco demanded. Why me? Why not my fa
I am sworn to protect you. When I am gone, this knowledge may guide you
when I cannot.
Are you going somewhere?
We are going somewhere. As you know, all of our missions carry the strong
possibility that we will not return. I am merely taking precautions. We will depart from
the library. The others are gathering, so do hurry.

Draco did not have time to ponder Snapes words for long. He prepared himself
for another potentially horrific mission. Draco was accompanied this time by Snape,
Bellatrix, Rodolphus, and Mulciber. When they Apparated into the deserted street, he
was glad to see no sign of werewolves. They stood before a strange, small house
festooned with whirligigs, yard ornaments, garland, and fluttering streamers in various
colors and designs.
What the hell is this place? Draco asked in bewilderment.
Lovegood residence, Bellatrix said with a short laugh, muffled by the mask she
wore. The freaks are about to meet something a lot scarier than anything in that stupid
rag of theirs.
Dracos hand clenched around the coin in his pocket. He vaguely remembered
the strange blond girl that flitted around Harry Potter and the other Gryffindors. What
was her name?
He sent a quick message across the coin. He wasnt sure what Granger could do
about it, or if she even received the message, but at least he had warned her. She couldnt
accuse Devlin Whitehorn of shirking his duty.
They fanned out quickly. Snape and Draco approached the front door while
Bellatrix and her husband went around to forestall escape from the back. Mulciber hung
back, watching the windows and staring around intently for any threats.
Snape blasted the door in without ceremony and surprised the Lovegood girl
Luna, Draco suddenly rememberedwho was seated in a chair with a magazine and a
quill in her hand. Snape aimed a curse in her direction, but the girl was not surprised for
long. She flipped her chair over backward and Snapes curse rebounded off the
underside. Luna got to her feet and bolted for the stairs.
Draco watched, wand in hand, as Snape sent hex after hex after the girl, causing
damage to the walls of the room, but missing her completely.
You really need to work on your aim, Draco said dryly.
Shut up and go after her!
Draco loped for the stairs, wondering where the stupid girl thought she was going.
No one with a brain went upwards to escape. He poked his head carefully over the
landing, expecting her to try and zap him with a hex, or at least throw something heavy at
him. She was nowhere in sight. He heard a muffled thump from a nearby room and
sidled toward the door. He peeked in just in time to see Lunas head disappearing down a
shaft in the wall. Laundry chute. Well, at least she was going down this time.
Draco turned and thundered back down the stairs, nearly mowing down Snape.
Basement! Draco called in a singsong voice. He passed Snape and crossed the
room, looking for a door to the basement. There were suddenly several cracks
announcing Apparition and Draco ran for the kitchen. There he saw Bellatrix and
Rodolphus entering through the back door.
I think the enemy just got here, he mentioned and tore open the basement door.
Im going after the girl.
As he lit his wand and headed down the narrow wooden stairs, Draco heard
Hermione shout. She had made quick work of getting here. And Potter, too? Well, well,
well, that was a surprise. Hed expected Potter to be hiding out for the summer, as usual.
The Dark Lord would likely be pleased to hear that bit of news.
He stepped carefully into the basement, wand high and a counter-curse ready on
his lips. Where had the girl gone? And why wasnt she hexing him? Surely she wasnt
stupid enough to have forgotten her wand?
Look, I know youre down here. Im not going to hurt you, so why dont you
just come out?
Draco heard a noise and spun, only to find his Aunt Bellatrix rushing down the
stairs after him.
Where is she? We have to kill her and go! The damned Order of the Phoenix is
here!
I thought I mentioned that.
A green light suddenly struck Bella in the back and she fairly flew down the
remainder of the stairs to land in a crumpled heap at the bottom. Draco stared in
astonishment. He caught a glimpse of robes at the top of the steps and craned his neck
for a better look, certain they were Death Eater black.
Something flashed in Dracos peripheral vision and he turned, wand ready, to see
Luna Lovegood leaping straight at him. They both went down in a tangle and Draco
nearly dropped his wand. The light flickered, but steadied as Draco tightened his grip.
Luna scrambled up and ran for a strange object that looked like a rusty doorknob. Draco
threw himself at her and managed to grab her ankle just in time to feel himself being
whisked away.
Bloody hell. A Portkey.

I think you can let go of me, now, Luna said matter-of-factly. Are you a Death
Eater? I thought so at first, but you dont have a mask. In fact, I know you! Youre
Draco Malfoy, arent you?
Draco sat up and looked around. They were in what appeared to be an
underground cave. Lunas wand was in her hand and its tip provided enough light to see
by. Barely. He shot to his feet.
Where the hell are we?
I have no idea. Father set up several Portkeys around the house for protection. I
only remembered this one when I saw it.
What do you mean you have no idea? How do we get out of here?
Luna shrugged.
I suppose we use the Portkey to get back to the basement. Id rather not do that
until the others leave, though. Are you one of them? What do you want?
She seemed pretty calm and unperturbed, for someone that had nearly been killed
in a Death Eater attack.
Im not really one of them, although if they find that out theyll likely melt me
into a flesh pudding, Draco admitted, not wanting to provoke her into hexing him.
Why didnt you use your wand back there to defend yourself?
Im underage, of course. Do you think I want to be expelled before school even
starts?
I think they make exceptions for near-fatal attacks.
Not necessarily. Harry was nearly expelled when the dementors attacked him
two summers ago. The Ministry is completely corrupt, you know. Rufus Scrimgeour is
nearly as bad as Cornelius Fudge, although I dont think hes murdered any goblins.
Her eyes narrowed.
Harry Potter says youre responsible for Dumbledores death.
Harry Potter says a lot of things, Draco muttered, watching her carefully.
Luna suddenly sat down cross-legged on the cold dirt floor. Draco looked away
from her long enough to scan for a way out. He saw no doors, crevasses, or holes by
which to escape. What kind of imbecile would set up a portal into an escape-proof hole?
He supposed he could Apparate out, but it was risky without knowing where he started
from. What if they were miles below ground?
Im willing to hear your side, Luna said. Its always possible you were
possessed by an Algamothra. Have you been to Sardinia lately?
Draco stared at her, but it was obvious he wasnt going anywhere without her.
The rusty doorknob sat two inches from her left shoe and she had placed a large rock on
top of it. If necessary, he could probably Accio it, but it would be better to persuade her
to take them both out of here. He looked around nervously. He wasnt terribly fond of
enclosed spaces.
He sighed and turned his attention back to Lovegood. She wore a strange gypsy-
like skirt in lurid colors and a teal jumper partially buttoned from the top down. Her
socks looked mismatched and they bunched around her ankles. He expelled a breath and
sat down opposite her. Her earrings dangled strangely and he leaned forward to look at
them.
Are those radishes?
Of course.
He nodded, thoroughly confused. How long do you plan to keep us down here?
Long enough for you to tell me why I shouldnt hex you into a puddle and leave
you here for the Mondrovian Cave Beetles.
I see. Since you mentioned it, I suppose I was responsible for Dumbledores
death. Might as well get that out of the way right off the bat. At least she hadnt taken
his wand. If necessary, they could have a wizard duel. Down here. In the dirty, creepy
darkness.
But? she prodded.
But what?
You said it as if you had more to say.
But, I didnt kill him. I was supposed to, but I couldnt. He was an unarmed old
man! I was supposed to face the greatest wizard of all time in a duel that would most
likely end in my death. Not murder a weak old man in cold blood.
Dumbledore was not weak, Luna said adamantly.
He was that day. He could barely stand. Something happened to him.
Luna muttered something under her breath and Draco suspected she was blaming
some sort of imaginary creature for Dumbledores condition. For a Ravenclaw, she was
rather pathetic. He almost mentioned it, until he remembered that he didnt have Crabbe
and Goyle standing by to back up his sarcastic commentary. He clamped his jaw shut.
Dracos coin suddenly warmed his pocket. He twisted until he could reach it and
lit his wand to read it.
Is that a Dumbledores Army coin? Luna asked. Where did you get it?
Draco ignored her while he read the words.
Devlin? Where are you?
What happened to the password? Zonkos and all that?
This is no time to be snarky! Did the Death Eaters capture Luna?
No, shes here with me. Wherever here is.
What are you talking about?
Portkey. Cave. Long story. Is it safe to return?
Not that he really wanted to return and face Granger. She still had no idea who he
was. The minute she and Potter caught sight of him, it would be Sectumsempra revisited.
Almost. Were searching the house. I think theyve fled.
Luna was watching him with her strange, luminous eyes.
Who are you talking to?
Hermione Granger, he admitted, although saying the words aloud made them
sound completely untrue. Luna must have agreed.
I dont believe you.
Neither would she.
Her oversized eyes grew even larger.
She doesnt know its you!
Draco reevaluated her. Maybe she did deserve to be in Ravenclaw.
Of course not. I dont even know why Im helping her. Im supposed to kill you
and become an obedient little Death Eater.
You said it yourself. You couldnt kill an unarmed old man, so you certainly
cant kill a pathetic, underage girl. Youre no killer.
Draco glared at her.
Ive been hearing that far too frequently.
Then it must be true. Things that are difficult to hear often need repeating.
Theyve gone, the coin revealed in a rush of warmth.
Draco groaned, suddenly realizing the gravity of his situation. On the one hand,
he was glad to be able to leave the cave. On the other hand, Snape and the others would
not be happy about losing him. Most of them would suspect him of fleeing. He didnt
want to think about what Voldemort might do.
She says its safe to go back. Look, if Potter and the others spot me, theyll hex
first and ask questions, later.
Let me go and explain it to them, Luna offered. She reached for the Portkey.
Wait! Draco yelled just as her hand touched the metal doorknob.
Nothing happened. She picked up the useless orb and blinked at him with her
gaze of permanent surprise.
Hmmm. One-way Portkey, apparently.
Draco thought he might kill her, after all.

Chapter Twelve - Portkeys

Hermione appeared in the Lovegood parlour and stared into a Death Eater mask
for a shocked moment. The Death Eater bolted for the kitchen and nearly collided with
two others rushing into the room. Hermione aimed a curse at the lot of them, but they all
disappeared at once.
A jet of light shot past her and she turned to see another black-robed figure in the
doorway, with a wand pointed directly at Harry.
Look out! she yelled and sent a hex at the figure. The Death Eater ducked out
of sight and her spell sent splinters flying from the door frame.
Watch it! Harry cried at her and sent a bolt over her shoulder while yelling,
Protego!
Whatever the spell had been, it rebounded, but the Death Eater in the kitchen did
not pause.
Stupefy! Ron yelled as a jet of green clipped his hair. Rons spell hit the Death
Eater at the same instant as McGonagalls. The Death Eater screamed and fell back into
the kitchen.
The one outside peered around the corner again and Hermione leveled
Expelliarmus at him. His wand spun off and she heard an angry yell. They heard an odd
thumping sound from the direction of the kitchen and then an ominous silence. Harry
approached the kitchen archway cautiously and poked his head around the corner.
Theyre gone! he shouted and took off. Hermione growled and raced after him,
in time to see him leap out of the back door. When would he learn not to be so bloody
reckless?
She stopped on the back stoop after nearly running Harry down.
Where did they go? he asked.
The basement! she cried. They hurried back to the kitchen and yanked open the
door to the cellar in time to hear the muffled cracks of Disapparition. Harry bolted down
the stairs, but Hermione stayed, sensing it was too late. Harrys voice confirmed it.
Empty. Bloody cowards! They never stay and fight unless its six to one odds!
McGonagall and Ron entered the kitchen just as Harry returned to the top of the
steps.
The one outside fled, McGonagall said.
But, wheres Luna? Ron asked.
Hermione pulled out her Galleon. The time for secrecy was obviously past.
Devlin? Where are you?
She was relieved to find both Luna and Devlin safe.
Luna is with Devlin, she said to the others after a brief conversation by coin.
Apparently, there was a Portkey and they are in a cave somewhere.
Who the hell is Devlin? Ron demanded.
Devlin Whitehorn. Hes the one that warned me about the attack on my parents.
And now Luna.
Devlin Whitehorn? Harry asked incredulously.
Yes. Why?
Devlin Whitehorn is the founder of the Nimbus Racing Broom Company, Harry
explained. Didnt you read any of those Quidditch books you bought us?
Hermione flushed. Well, no. You know I think Quidditch is boring. Thats
beside the point. He cant be the real Devlin Whitehorn, can he?
I doubt it, Ron said and shrugged. But, theres no telling who wants to join up
with the Death Eaters, is there? Maybe hes into the whole pureblood thing. Or was, if
hes turned. How long have you been in contact with him, anyway?
Hermione concentrated for a moment. Well, well find out who he really is soon
enough. I told him its safe to come back.
She sighed, rather disappointed to discover Devlin could be a middle-aged
businessman. She had been picturing a young, witty, somewhat tortured man struggling
to escape the bonds of evil that surrounded him. She scowled and shook off her foolish
fancy. He probably did have a face like a goblin.
The coin warmed in her hand and she looked at it.
Slight problem. Miss Sorted-into-Ravenclaw-by-Mistake tells me its a one-way
Portkey. We seem to be stuck in a hole until rescued.
There was a commotion in the next room and they all hurried back to see Sturgis
Podmore and Lunas father appear in the Lovegood fireplace.
Where is my daughter? Mr. Lovegood demanded.
Shes safe, but shes in a cave. Apparently, she used a Portkey. Hopefully, you
can tell us where they ended up.
They?
Shes with a friend.
Mr. Lovegoods brow drew down in consternation.
Well, it depends on which Portkey she used, of course. Many of them lead to
caves. Hopefully she didnt use the one that goes to Nepal on my last visit a group of
trolls had moved in He scratched his head. Well, let me check around. Ill figure
out which one she used. He headed upstairs. Hermione looked at the others helplessly.
McGonagall went outside for a moment and then returned.
I sent a message to Lupin. I told him the danger has been averted. Now, I really
must get to Hogwarts. These side trips have put me seriously behind schedule.
I dont want to leave until I know Luna is safe, Hermione said. And Devlin,
she added to herself. She had no intention of leaving him to be discovered and mistaken
for a Death Eater, even if he was middle-aged and looked like a goblin. Harry gave her a
quizzical look, knowing Luna wasnt her favorite person to spend time with. Harry, you
and Ron go with Professor McGonagall. Ill catch up. It shouldnt take long, now that
Mr. Lovegood is here.
Harry was about to protest when Sturgis Podmore spoke up. Ill stay with
Hermione.
After a bit more arguing, McGonagall, Harry, and Ron Disapparated, bound for
Hogsmeade.
Mr. Lovegood returned from upstairs, carrying a purple goblet with gold lettering
on the side.
Ive been looking everywhere for this! he exclaimed. This is my souvenir
from
Mr. Lovegood, can we focus on finding Luna, please? Perhaps, if we Apparate
to all the caves you can think of
Mr. Lovegood shook his head violently.
Oh no. We never Apparate. Terribly risky way to travel. Luna and I only travel
by Portkey or the Floo Network.
Hermione nearly pulled a page from Harrys book and yanked her hair in
frustration.
Then, can you possibly remember to which cave Luna might have Portkeyed?
One with no exit, perhaps?
Mr. Lovegoods made a humming noise and shook his head.
No exit? That would be extraordinarily foolish. They all have exits. Take this
one, for example He stepped forward and picked up what looked like a stuffed
quailand disappeared. Hermione stared at the empty spot for a moment, and then she
did yank her hair, hard.
If that was another of his one-way Portkeys, I think I will scream!
Wed better hope it was, Sturgis commented from the post hed taken up by the
window. The Death Eaters are back.
She ran to join him, in time to see at least six masked Death Eaters materialize in
the yard. One of them raised a wand toward the house. Hermione grabbed Sturgis and
Disapparated.

She fell to her knees when they reached their destination. Side-Along Apparition
was difficult and shed done it twice in one morning. Sturgis helped her to her feet, but
said nothing. His gaze was fixed on a point over her shoulder and his expression was
grim. She turned around reluctantly, but no Death Eaters met her gaze. Instead, she saw
a lazy spiral of smoke curl from a jumble of blackened timbers.
Why did you bring us here? Sturgis asked hoarsely.
Its close to the Lovegoods. I didnt think beyond escape, she whispered. She
felt physically ill when she saw what had been done to The Burrow, the scene of so many
pleasant memories. Oh God, I cant believe they did this. To what purpose?
Sturgis said nothing and Hermione already knew the answer. She turned away
before the tears could start and held onto her growing anger.
Come on, she said brusquely. We need to make certain Mr. Lovegood didnt
return. Its not far to walk.
She started off. The clouds were beginning to break up and the temperature was
mild. It was shaping up into a beautiful summer day. Hermione was in no mood to enjoy
it. She wanted to go back to the Lovegoods and take on all of the Death Eaters herself.
It was barely fifteen minutes to the Lunas house on foot, which was why Hermione had
chosen it. She had been afraid the Death Eaters would cast an Anti-Apparition jinx on
the house. She and Sturgis would have been trappedbut for an assortment of Portkeys,
one of which led to a den of cave trolls.
Partway back, she felt the coin heat on her chest.
You are planning to find us, correct? Devlin asked.
Yes, but there are complications. The Death Eaters returned.
Looking for me? How touching.
Actually, I think they were hoping to catch Harry Potter.
I know, I was joking. If I caught fire, some of them would throw kindling.
Ill come as soon as I can, she promised.
As they approached the Lovegood house, they circled around to get a view of the
front. Luckily, there was a large amount of undergrowth to hide them. The Death Eaters
were milling in the front yard. There was no sign of Mr. Lovegood. Hopefully, he
wasnt lying dead in the house As they watched, several of them set fire to Lunas
house, as they had done The Burrow. Sturgis nearly burst from concealment in rage, but
Hermione held him back with a hiss.
There are too many!
The Death Eaters suddenly vanished. They waited for a few minutes to be certain
none remained, and then they raced for the house. Working quickly, they rained
fountains of water from their wands and managed to halt the flames before too much
damage was done. Hermione stood guard while Sturgis entered the house.
No sign of him. He must not have returned, or we would have seen him.
Thats a relief, but how are we going to find Luna?
Chapter Thirteen - Dover

Draco had overcome some of his aversion to dirt. He lay stretched out on the
floor with his head resting on his rolled-up Death Eater robes. He amused himself by
expelling various notions from the end of his wand: fireflies; iridescent bubbles, tiny
multicolored sparks that spiraled crazily around the cave before exploding in a mini-
fireworks display; a hoard of sparkling blue butterflies that melted into vapor; and a
shower of sweet-scented red rose petals that now lay forgotten on the cave floor.
Ive been thinking, Luna announced suddenly, after a miraculous two minutes
of silence.
Not about the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, I hope, because Ive heard enough
about those to last several lifetimes.
No, Ive been thinking that my father would never have set up a one-way
Portkey to a place with no exit. That would be idiotic.
Of course. No one in your family would ever be idiotic.
She either ignored, or didnt catch, the sarcasm as she got to her feet.
Exactly. So there must be an exit. We only need to find it.
Draco rolled over onto his stomach to watch her as she plucked her wand from the
center of the floor. She had lit it, candle-like, and braced it with rocks while they waited.
She marched to a wall and examined it closely while running a hand over the surface.
You might have thought of this an hour ago.
Actually, I did, but you seemed interested in the Crumple-Horned Snorkack, plus
I really enjoyed watching you conjurewho would have guessed someone so nasty could
make such pretty butterflies?
For a moment, Draco considered conjuring a nest of venomous snakes, but he
clamped down sharply on the urge by taking several calming breaths. He congratulated
himself on his patience when she said, Aha! Here it is.
A large section of the cave wall suddenly opened up and emitted a welcome draft
of sea-laden air and bright sunlight. Draco scrambled to his feet. He joined Luna on a
ledge overlooking a vast expanse of ocean. Far below, a wave crashed upon jagged rocks
and sent up white spray. To the right, the cliffs curved away out of sight. To the left,
nothing was visible but the rock wall and a few Muggle ships far out on the water. Draco
stood at the edge of the ledge and looked up, hoping by some miracle to spot a path or
ladder or even a weathered rope. As expected, there was nothing but fifty feet of
unscalable rock. Draco sighed and lifted his coin.
Granger, I know where we are.
Thats fabulous!
Well, not really. Were on the White Cliffs of Dover. And when I saw on I mean
literally. Miss Snorkack found a door, so at least were outside. Im going to take us to
the top and try to get our bearings.
Be careful.
Draco knew she meant be invisible. Couldnt have any bloody Muggles spotting
us now, could we? He Accioed his Death Eater robes and shrugged them on. He looked
at Luna, who was peering at the waves below as if transfixed.
I think I see a Merclops, she said. Draco didnt dare ask.
Come here. I need to Apparate us to the top.
She stared at him in horror. Heavens no! Are you trying to kill us? Apparition,
honestly.
Draco clenched his jaw so hard he felt his teeth might crack.
Then, how do you propose we get up there? he asked through his teeth. I dont
happen to have a broom with me.
Cant you cast a flying spell? Even I can do that one. Except I cant right now.
Underage magic, you know.
Draco rubbed a hand through his hair and began to realize why Potters was
constantly in disarray. How could he be around these people on a daily basis without
turning them into something horrific?
He cast Wingardium Leviosa on the girl and then caught her sleeve as she began
to drift seaward. He cast one on himself and then spent the next ten minutes trying to
keep them headed in the right direction, instead of floating about with every breeze. He
was dripping with sweat by the time they floated over the green grass and he terminated
the spell. He looked around through tired eyes.
Any idea where we are? he asked.
Britain? she suggested.
Remind me why I shouldnt kill you.
If she reminded him, he didnt hear it, as he was holding the Galleon once more.
Im seeing a lot of green. Hang on, were in a depression. Let me get to the top.
He walked until he stood atop the rise and looked around. Aside from limitless
green, he spotted what looked to be a pier jutting out into the water.
He described his surroundings in detail.
All right, youre close enough to Dover to walk, if necessary. Ill meet you in
front of Dover Castle, under the arch. Let me know when you get there. Ill Apparate
straight to you as soon as you judge it safe.
Fine, Draco replied, although the thought of walking was nearly as unpleasant as
the thought of finally revealing himself to Hermione Granger.
They made it to Dover Castle without Draco pushing Luna into the Atlantic,
which he saw as a testament to sheer willpower.
Prepare yourself, he said as they reached what he assumed was the correct spot,
She will likely go completely mental. He gazed about, but tourist activity seemed to be
minimal.
Were here, he sent.

* * * * *

Hermione Apparated after a quick apology to Sturgis, whom she had left to wait
for Mr. Lovegood, against his wishes. It took her an instant to get her bearings and she
gasped in disbelief when she heard a shouted Expelliarmus! Her wand flew out of her
hand. She stared at Draco Malfoy in mounting horror.
You! What are you--? She halted at the sight of Luna, whose right hand was
wrapped around Malfoys arm. Lunas wand was held loosely in her left hand and she
smiled dreamily. It was not the sight of Luna clinging to Malfoy, but the fact that he was
not shaking her off in utter distaste that finally penetrated Hermiones shocked mind.
She doubted her jaw could open any wider and she simply could not find words for a
moment.
Malfoy bowed sardonically and managed to make it look insulting.
Devlin Whitehorn, at your service, he said and followed it up with his patented
hateful smirk.
You cant be. You simply cant be she choked finally.
Shes a bit slow today, Draco said to Luna, who sighed and released his arm
after giving it a nice pat.
Ill get her wand, she said. You can explain it to her.
She wandered off across the greensward, humming. Hermione did not take her
eyes from Malfoy.
All right, Granger, I know what youre thinking, since youre terribly suspicious
and mistrusting. Ask me something only your Devlin Whitehorn would know, he
suggested.
Hermione gritted her teeth. Last night I ask you some questions.
Quite a lot of them, actually, and some were rather personal questions to be
asking a stranger, Ill have you know. Never would have guessed you to be so forward,
but I suppose its true what they say about the bookish ones
The questions! she snapped.
Draco grinned wickedly and his eyes seemed to gleam like polished silver. You
asked if I had any scars and I told you I had one on
Stop, stop, stop! Oh God. Hermione could not have blushed any darker. She
was completely mortified. I cant believe this. I simply cant believe it. She had been
teasingand bloody fantasizing!about Draco Malfoy! You you are responsible for
Dumbledores Why did you tell me about my parents? She felt her voice beginning
to rise. What possible self-serving reason could you have to warn me? And to save
Luna? What kind of horrible trick are you playing?
Draco sighed and actually wore an expression shed never seen on him before.
She couldnt quite place it before it was gone. I knew this would be difficult for you,
but I didnt realize it would be impossible. Look, would it help if I gave you my wand?
He stepped forward and held it out to her, grip first. She eyed him suspiciously,
wondering what wicked game he was playing. She nearly snatched his wand, but then
she noticed the tension in his jaw. His fingers tightened slightly when she reached for it
and she realized it was no trickhe really was giving up his wand to her. She drew in a
surprised breath and grasped the dark wood gently. He released it and stepped back, grey
eyes narrowed.
Well, you have me at your mercy, he said. What do you plan to do now?
Hermione didnt answer. Her mind was spinning. She replayed every
conversation shed had with DevlinDraco!over the past two days. Hed been with
Luna long enough to have disposed of her several times over. Or taken her to Death
Eater Headquarters. Hell, shed been holding his arm like they were the best of friends!
She turned and stared at Luna, who had retrieved Hermiones wand and was spinning in
the grass with both arms spread wide. Her blond hair flew out in a tumbled curtain. She
staggered dizzily and fell down. Hermione sighed.
Id suggest you Confunded her, except thats pretty normal behavior for Luna,
Hermione said.
Want to hear about the Crumple-Horned Snorkack? Draco countered dryly. I
know all about them, now.
Hermione shuddered.
No. Wed better get back. I havent a clue what to do with you. I cant take you
to the Order. Even if I wanted to. Which I dont. I suppose it would be a bad idea for
you to return towherever you were?
And try to explain where Ive been for the past two hours? To the Dark Lord?
How about if you Polyjuice into me and go in my place?
Hermione thought about that for a moment.
Do you think that would work? she asked.
Draco rolled his eyes. Youre not seriously considering it?
She wasnt, but it suddenly worried her that someone could take on the shape of
an Order member and walk straight into Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. She set the
idea aside for later study.
Lets take Luna home. Hopefully, her fathers returned from wherever he
disappeared to.
She wont Apparate. Or use magic. Or a list of dozens of other things.
I know. Well have to take a Muggle cab.
Draco looked so horrified she actually laughed aloud.
Contrary to what you may think, Muggle residue will not rub off and harm you.
Says you.
She looked at him critically. However, you simply cant march around in Death
Eater robes. What do you have on under those?
Trying to undress me already, Granger? Ive only just switched sides.
She tried hard not to flush and thought she managed it. Spare me the cheek and
let me see.
He shrugged out of the robes, to expose form-fitting black trousers and a blousy
black silk shirt. With his silver-blonde hair and pale skin, he looked like every girls
vampire dream. That would never do. Hed have Gothic-punk chicks falling at his feet
and trailing him around town.
Luna was sitting up, watching them. Hermione Accioed her own wand without
comment. She pointed it at Malfoy and transfigured his trousers into jeans and his shirt
into a white T-shirt. Draco jumped back.
Blast it! Warn a person before you go rearranging their clothing, wont you?
What the hell is this?
Hermiones teeth worried her lower lip. In Muggle clothing, he was even more
striking than in archaic wizard-wear. Jeans fit him perfectly and the T-shirt made him
look like he belonged on a street corner with a fag dangling from his lips while he
catcalled at girls and planned his next caper. Luna returned and watched curiously as
Hermione tried again.
What are you doing? he demanded and actually gasped at the outfit shed put
him in. Bloody hell! No! Draco Malfoy does not wear orange! Ever. And what kind
of fabric is this? Did you yank it straight off the goat?
Shed put him in the most loathsome creation she could think ofan orange and
brown patterned jumper and khaki slacks. The problem was he didnt look loathsome at
all. He looked like a carefree student recently escaped from prep school. The type that
would invite you to his flat to study and have you sitting on his lap in five seconds or
less. A preppy angel.
Damn you, she growled, realizing for the first time just how handsome Malfoy
really was. Hed always been good looking, but his pure malice had completely blinded
her to it. Now, he looked like a damned Adonis. An irritated, scowling Adonis. Even
his damned scowl was beautiful. She put him in torn black jeans and a red shirt that
looked as if it had been slashed by werewolves. A chain belt dangled from his lean hips.
She realized her mistake as even Luna stared at him with her jaw unhinged. He looked
like a sexy rock star. When the hell had he grown muscles? He was supposed to be thin
and weedy!
What exactly are you trying to do? Draco asked in a glacial tone.
Im trying to make you inconspicuous. To blend in with the Muggles.
I dont think thats going to be possible, said Luna in a dazed voice.
Fine. She restored his clothing to the original vampire-chic. Put your robes
back on, then.
He obediently replaced his robe, and she transfigured it into a fashionable taupe
trench coat, breathing a sigh of relief when he was mostly covered in fabric. He
examined his outfit by shifting from side to side.
Not bad, actually.
Yes, well, you look like an international spy, but at least we shouldnt have girls
chasing you down the street throwing phone numbers at you. Come along.
She turned on a heel and headed for downtown Dover.
Whats a phone number? Luna asked Malfoy. Ill throw mine at you, if I have
one.
Hermione prayed for patience. She knew she was going to need it.

Chapter Fourteen Creeping Parcleps

On the way into town, Hermione decided she should send a message to Sturgis
Podmore, but realized it was a bit risky to do it in the usual way. In fact, it was
impossible. She would just have to wait until they returned. She shot a sideways look at
her new charges.
You know, Luna dear, she said sweetly, It would be really nice if we could just
Apparate back to your house. Just this once. Its really quite safe. Ive already
Apparated several times todaytwice with passengers. And look, Im fine.
Luna gave her a measuring look through her oversized eyes.
My father would be furious. Especially if I ended up splinched into a tree or
something.
You will not be splinched into a tree. I know what Im doing.
You may risk yourself all you like. Cant we just find a fireplace and Floo back
home?
How many wizarding families do you know in Dover? Hermione asked in a
voice that bordered on shouting. Shall we just randomly knock on doors and ask if they
are hooked up to the Floo Network?
Luna pondered the question as though Hermione were serious.
That would probably take a long time, but eventually it would work.
Malfoy coughed behind Hermione, but it sounded suspiciously like a disguised
laugh. She shot a glare over her shoulder.
We could probably fetch some brooms with a simple Accio, he suggested. She
suppressed a shudder.
No, thank you. Shed rather walk back to Ottery St. Catchpole than take a
broom. She threw her hands up.
Fine. Muggle cab it is.
They walked down Castle Hill Road and Hermione scouted for a phone booth.
She located one near The White Horse pub and stepped inside to dial for a local cab.
Malfoy was hovering on the sidewalk, avoiding all pedestrians and looking like he would
leap out into the street rather than allow one to touch him.
Will you stop it? she hissed upon leaving the phone booth. Malfoys eyes
flashed.
No, I will not.
How many times have you been to a Muggle city? If youve managed to avoid
actual human contact, it cannot have been that many.
Malfoy replied, Besides London? No, not many. And never like this. He
moved quickly aside to avoid a brush with a rushing delivery boy. Malfoys never
mingle with MudMuggles.
No wonder youre so insufferably bigoted, then, she snapped. Perhaps if you
mingled once in awhile, you would discover they are actual people and not garbage in
human skin.
He raised a brow at her choice of words and chuckled.
Garbage in human skin. I rather like that. Ill have to remember to use it on
Potter next time I He trailed off when she gasped.
Oh my God, Harry, she breathed. Hes going to
The cab pulled up at that moment, sparing Hermione the rest of that thought. She
put Draco and Luna in the back and took the passenger seat to direct the driver. And to
avoid all contact with Malfoy, she admitted to herself.
They were largely silent on the fifty mile drive, except for Luna, who had decided
to tell her captive audience all about Creeping Parcleps, tiny creatures that crept into your
dreams at night and implanted suggestions, usually mischievous, but sometimes pure evil,
which caused people to do things they normally wouldnt. She strongly hinted that Draco
was under the influence of Creeping Parcleps when he had tried to kill Dumbledore
earlier that year.
Unfortunately, the only one giving any credence to Lunas conversation was the
Muggle driver, whose eyes grew wider and wider as he drove until Hermione managed to
catch his eye. She waggled a finger next to her ear and jerked a thumb over her shoulder
to indicate that Luna was a few tokens short of a board game. The driver looked relieved
and thereafter just smiled indulgently at Luna in the rear-view.
While the countryside sped by, Hermione wondered what she was going to do
with Malfoy. She couldnt take him to the Order. She didnt dare take him to Hogwarts.
Harry would rip him limb from limb. So would the other teachers, most likely. She
could turn him over to the Ministry, but they would just lock him up in the basement that
currently served as the new wizard prison. There was only one place she could think of,
though it had already been proven unsafe.
They made it to Ottery St. Catchpole without incident and exited the cab in front
of Lunas partially burned house.
Sturgis and Mr. Lovegood rushed out to greet them. Hermione was relieved to
see Mr. Lovegood alive and well. Draco loitered by the cab; luckily, because Sturgis
raised his wand with a shout the instant he caught sight of him.
Sturgis, no! Hermione yelled. Ill explain in a minute!
The Muggle driver was still in the car and Hermione leaned in to pay him with a
handful of Muggle bills she had conjured in Dover.
You are inerestin people, he commented.
You have no idea, Hermione muttered.
I ope the barmy girlll be all right.
Well take care of her. She gave him a substantial tip and sent him on his way.
As soon as the cab disappeared over the rise, she turned to find Malfoy and Sturgis
Podmore watching each other like two rival wolves about to tear each others throats out.
Might I have my wand back? Draco asked.
I dont think that would be a good idea, she said. She did pull the wands out of
her shirt, where she had put them for safekeeping. Muggle clothing did not offer many
options for wand storage.
Whats he doing here? Sturgis burst out. Did you capture him?
No. Hes helping us.
Helping us what? Get more of our members killed? Hes the bloody reason!
I know! She put up a hand to stop him. Lets go inside and Ill explain.
She sent off a quick Patronus message to Harry explaining that something had
come up and she would join them when she could. She neglected to explain the
something was Draco Malfoy. She planned to put that conversation off as long as
possible.
Inside, it was decided that Luna and her father would stay at the office of The
Quibbler for awhile. It was unlikely the Death Eaters would strike there and the staff
would allow some protection, should the need arise. Mr. Lovegood gathered a number of
Portkeys into a basket to take along. He and Luna bid them good day, stepped into the
fire, and disappeared in a red whirlwind.
Hermione had a quiet, furious argument with Sturgis that involved a lot of dark
looks shot in Malfoys direction and several angry hand gestures. At the end of it, Sturgis
had been unable to sway her, mainly due to lack of alternative suggestions.
Its decided. Im taking him with me until we can figure out what to do with
him. You can explain it to Lupin. Perhaps hell have a better idea.
Sturgis, muttering angrily, Disapparated with one final glare at Malfoy.
Hermione sighed and joined Draco at the window, where hed been standing while
pretending to ignore their conversation. She felt somewhat apprehensive, now that she
was completely alone with him.
Will you come with me? she asked politely, realizing that no one had bothered
to ask his opinion.
Do I have a choice?
You could go back to your Death Eater friends.
His grey eyes flashed.
There are other places I could go.
She nodded, wondering where he could go that was safe. Running like Karkaroff,
but theyd found him, hadnt they? For a moment, she considered letting him go, and
wondered how long it would take them to hunt him down. Hed be on the run from both
sides. She smiled ruefully. Surprisingly, she didnt want him to die. He had saved her
parents. He had brought Luna back. And he hadnt been able to kill Dumbledore. And
as Devlin Whitehorn, hed talked to her like a real person.
Id like you to come with me, she requested. He raised a pale brow at her and
she gritted, Please.
Ouch. Ill bet that was physically painful, he said and grinned. Ill come with
you, since you begged so nicely.
She resisted the urge to punch him. Instead, she smiled wickedly and stepped
closer to him.
Im afraid youll have to suffer the horrifying touch of a Mudblood. Ill try not
to hurt you.
She reached up and pressed her hand against the curve of his jaw. Her thumb
rested on his cheek and the tips of her fingers touched his silken blonde hair. She felt his
pulse beneath her palm for a moment and watched him carefully, daring him to flinch.
His silver eyes bored into hers, but he didnt move.
She triggered the spell and they Disapparated.

Chapter Fifteen Manors and Memories

Tonks muttered under her breath to annoy Moody. He kept motioning to her to be
completely silent, but after crawling across meters and meters of mud, brambles, and
countless slimy creatures, she needed to let off some steam.
Couldnt we have walked the last half-mile? she hissed.
Moody swiveled his eye to stare at her angrily. Surprisingly, he broke silence
long enough to snap, Why dont we just march straight up there and knock on the
door?
Straight up where? she asked.
Moody pointed. There. Malfoy Manor. Cant you see it?
I dont see anything.
Moody nodded. That figures. They hid it. Didnt do a very good job, if I can
still see it. Its blurred, but its there.
They hid it? You mean, like our Headquarters?
Yeh. Makes ya wonder exactly what they have to hide, eh?
Moody hissed as she was about to reply. Hssst! Someone coming! He pulled
up the hood of his cloak.
A stumpy minion in black robes wandered past their line of vision, but Moody
wore his Invisibility Cloak and Tonks had patterned both hair and skin to blend in with
her surroundings. The minion looked more bored than watchful, anyway.
I dont think they pay their help very well, she commented.
Lucky for us. Lets get closer. Maybe I can see inside.
Tonks sighed and followed as they crept through more mud.
They watched for a long time, but Moody finally sighed. He spoke so quietly she
could barely hear him.
Nothin. I know theyre in there, but the spell keeps blurrin things. Unless a
Death Eater walks out the front door, we wont be seein em. Lets get back.
They froze when a sudden rush of movement caught their attention. Several
minions were rushing about. When they reached a central point, they vanished from
Tonkss vision. She assumed it was the front door to Malfoy Manor.
Somethings up. Think they have an Anti-Apparition jinx on the place?
Why? Plan to pop in there and ask whats goin on?
Tonks scowled and considered bashing Moody over the head with a nearby mud-
encrusted rock.
Im just asking.
Moody grunted. Probly not. They wouldnt want to be seen poppin in and out
around the grounds. Better to Apparate inside. Dont do us any good.
Tonks was quiet.
Dont even think it. I let you go in there, Lupinll have my good eye on a plate.
Sides, you could pop in face to face with whoever youre impersonatin. And you never
been there before, so youd have to go in blind.
Tonks sighed, knowing he was right. It was just hard, knowing they were so close
to something that could help them all. What if You-Know-Who was in there? What
good was being a Metamorphmagis if she couldnt use her abilities?
Well just have to assume theyre there. Bide our time, Moody whispered.
They waited awhile longer, but the minions did not return. Tonks was tired of
biding her time. She wanted to crack some Death Eater skulls.
We need to have a talk with Fred and George. Someone needs to invent wizard
surveillance cameras.
It would be a lot nicer than crawling through the mud to watch an invisible house.

Harry, Ron, and McGonagall stopped in at the Hogs Head for a butterbeer, as
McGonagall said she had a message for the barkeep. Harry and Ron dropped into a chair
while McGonagall talked quietly to the bearded barkeep, who kept shooting odd looks at
them under beetled brows. John Williamson, an Auror that had recently joined the Order,
was drinking in a corner and examining a scroll. When they left a few minutes later,
Williamson joined them, once they were out of sight of the Hogs Head.
He marched ahead as an advance guard and his long ponytail swayed with each
step. He still wore the scarlet robes he favored, although it seemed an odd choice for a
secretive Auror.
The weather was perfect for a walk. Harry was half-expecting something to
happen on the way to Hogwarts, although it was unlikely the enemy knew his current
whereabouts. He breathed a sigh of relief when they reached the gates and McGonagall
opened them with a wand flick. He remembered when Snape had let him in after Malfoy
stomped him on the train, and wondered if they had done anything to prevent Snape from
returning.
He would have asked, but experienced a horrible flashback walking across the
grounds. He remembered cursing Snape, feeling more rage than he would have thought
possible, sending hex after hex and watching them deflected. Guilt nearly overwhelmed
him. He should have been able to stop Snape. He should have at least captured
Dumbledores murderer. How could he have allowed Snape to flee?
He glanced over at Hagrids hut and was glad to see signs of recent repair. He
made a mental promise to stop in and see how Hagrid was doing.
They walked into the school, following McGonagall. Williamson left them at the
school doors with a wave, promising to stop in before he left for the Ministry. Their
footsteps echoed emptily.
Its kind of creepy when no ones here, Ron said in a stage whisper.
Yeah, its like when were sneaking around after hours, but in the day time.
I expect you boys will want to stay in Gryffindor Tower while youre here?
McGonagall asked. Harry nodded. He couldnt imagine staying elsewhere, even though
it would be odd to be there alone.
Lupin is sending your things along.
They followed her to the Headmasters Office and Harry tried not to think of all
the times hed come here to see Dumbledore. He was glad to see the office itself had
changed slightly. For some reason, it was easier to bear. Several items had been
removed, including Fawkess perch. A large vase of flowers now occupied a corner of
the desk. Harrys eyes were drawn immediately to the newest portrait on the wall.
Dumbledores eyes sparkled at him.
Hello, Harry, the portrait said kindly.
Hello, Harry whispered.
I have a message for you. Ah. Here it comes now.
Fawkes swept through the open window in a red flash of wings. He hovered in
front of Harry and dropped a small scroll. Harry caught it and the phoenix flew upwards
and back out the window. Harry walked to the window embrasure, sat down, and broke
the wax seal.
Dear Harry, If you are reading this scroll, it means that I have at last gone to
explore the final mystery. I did not wish to leave you so soon, and so dreadfully
unprepared, but perhaps this will make amends for my lack of vision and reluctance to
give you the tools you need for the difficult road ahead. Alas, the only help I have for you
is little more than knowledge and speculation. To that end, I have left you my Pensieve,
which I know you will seek out as soon as you feel you are ready. Several important
memories have been prepared for you. They have been arranged in chronological order,
for the most part, beginning with that fateful day in October. That one is not my own,
and it will be difficult to bear, but I now know that you are strong enough to carry this
dreadful burden that has been placed on you. I will assist you in every way possible,
even though I am beyond the veil. Faithfully yours, Albus Dumbledore.
Harry wordlessly handed the scroll to Ron and then got up and walked to the
cabinet where Dumbledore had kept the Pensieve. On a shelf above sat several rows of
silvery vials. The first was marked with a label that read: Sirius Black. Godrics
Hollow. (October, 1981.) Harry shut his eyes for a moment and thought about
Dumbledores words. He was not certain he was strong enough to handle that particular
memory, and suddenly knew why Dumbledore had withheld it.
He grasped the vial and tugged the Pensieve from its resting place.
Are you certain you want to do that now, Potter? McGonagall asked
apprehensively. He didnt want to do it at all.
Yes.
He took the Pensieve to the window seat in order to be out of McGonagalls way
while she dealt with her letters. Harry looked at Ron.
You need not stay unless you want to come along?
He half-wished Ron would refuse, as the memories would affect Harry on such a
personal level he wasnt sure he wanted a witness. But, Ron had stood by him through
every adversity. It would not be fair to exclude him.
Ill come, Ron said. Too bad Hermione isnt here. She might notice
something we miss. You know how she is. Ill try and pay attention. For clues, you
know?
Harry nodded. He hadnt thought of that.
Here we go, then. He uncorked the vial and let the wisp of memory swirl into
the basin. He and Ron lowered their faces and the same time and entered the past.

They found themselves in a small cottage. Seated on a comfortable-looking settee


were the two people Harry would have given anything imaginable to reach out and touch,
if only for a moment. His father looked the same as he had in the Mirror of Erised, but so
much more real. He looked relaxed, with one arm around Lily and the other tapping his
wand on the cushion in a catchy rhythm. Harry walked forward and knelt before his
parents to get a better look. Lily was next to James and one hand rested on his knee. The
other held an infant and she smiled down at its tiny face. Harry tore his eyes away from
his mother and looked into his own countenance. Baby Harry cooed and yanked at a
strand of his mothers red hair. His own thatch of black hair was unruly even then.
Lets get this done, then, a familiar voice said behind Harry and he turned to see
two others seated in chairs that had been pulled close to the settee. Sirius had been
shockingly handsome before Azkaban, Harry noted. His black hair was sleek as a
ravens wing and a single lock dangled over his forehead to cover one eye. Harry bet
hundreds of women would have fought for the job of brushing that errant lock back into
place. His chiseled face was serious at the moment, but his dark eyes gleamed with
perpetual merriment, so different and carefree from the Sirius Harry had known.
Next to him sat Peter Pettigrew, looking neatly groomed, but slightly jumpy. He
perched uncomfortably on the edge of the chair, as if he wanted to run from the room.
Harry wished with all his might that Peter could be made real in that moment. Harry
would have ended it right there, before it began.
Are you sure about this, Sirius? Peter asked apprehensively. I still say you
should be the Secret Keeper, not me.
His eyes pleaded with Sirius. He practically begged not to be given the
knowledge. Listen to him, Harry thought desperately. He doesnt want to betray you, but
he knows he will. Beads of sweat stood out on Pettigrews forehead and his nose
twitched nervously.
Nonsense, Sirius said brusquely, the picture of confidence. Theyll never
suspect you, Peter. Its the perfect plan. If anyone, theyll come after me, and this way I
wont be able to tell them a thing.
Lets pray it never comes to that, Lily said worriedly.
Sirius laughed, a barklike sound much less harsh that the one Harry was used to.
One that he would never hear again. It broke his heart to hear it.
Of course theyll never catch me. Im far too tricky for that. This is just a
precaution. We have to protect Harry. Just in case.
James sighed explosively. If not for Harry, we wouldnt be here at all. Wed be
out there, fighting with the rest of you.
Harry turned back to see his mothers green eyes flash.
Dont say youre sorry, James, she snapped and removed her hand from his
knee. James held up a hand with a laugh.
Down, Mrs. Potter! Never think it! I adore Harry. I just hate hiding here like
scared rabbits.
Were not hiding like rabbits. There is nothing to stop us from walking out of
here and being killed alongside the others. This is simply a precaution to keep Harry safe
while were here. Besides, youll be back to work next week.
May we get on with this? Sirius broke in impatiently.
Without further adieu, baby Harry was placed into Siriuss waiting hands. He
merrily joggled and made faces and tickled the baby while the other three solemnly
joined hands. Harry barely paid attention while his mother cast the spell that sealed their
fate. He didnt want to watch at all.
When it was done, James said, All right, Secret Keeper Pettigrew. Tell Sirius the
secret so that he may come and go as he pleases.
Peter obediently told Sirius where the Potter family could be found. Then he
asked, Should I tell Remus?
Sirius and James shot each other a look over Peters head.
Not quite yet, Peter. Not quite yet, Sirius said softly.
Harry looked at Ron, whose face was stricken. Neither of them spoke. Harry
thought the memory was over, but the scene was swept away and replaced by another.
Sirius was opening the door to a small, much cluttered flat. He carried a box.
Peter! Ive brought food. He kicked aside a pile of clothing and set the box on
the table after shoving aside a stack of refuse. Bloody hell, you would be comfortable
living in a sewer with the other rats, wouldnt you? Peter?
Sirius froze suddenly and Harry felt his heart clench with his godfathers.
He screamed Peters name once more and his expression showed stark terror
before he turned and pounded out the door.
The scene shifted again and Harry gasped. He and Ron were flying, although
Harry felt no breeze stir his hair. They flew next to Sirius, who sped through the dark sky
pushing his flying motorbike to the limit. It touched the street and skid to a spine-jolting
halt, but Sirius was off and running for the ruined house before the bike hit the ground.
No, no, no, no, no, Harry heard him moan as he ran beside Sirius. Hagrid stood
near the rubble, holding a small bundle. Sirius raced past him to a dark shape near what
remained of the front door. He flung himself on the ground next to the body of Harrys
father, and grabbed him by the shoulders. Jamess dark head lolled and Sirius pressed a
hand to his neck in futility. Harry felt tears of his own start to fall as Sirius clutched
James to his chest and sobbed in sheer misery, still murmuring words of denial as if the
chant would cause everything to un-happen. Sirius sat that way for a long time, rocking
miserably, until Hagrid coughed quietly behind him. As Harry watched, Sirius set James
gently back on the earth and stood up. His face was like carved marble.
Wheres Lily? he rasped.
There, in the rubble, Hagrid admitted. Don Don go in, Sirius. S too
late.
Sirius looked at the tumbled ruins that Harry had visited just that morning,
although the exposed timbers looked raw as a fresh wound. Harry prayed Sirius would
listen. He didnt want to see his mother Sirius hitched a breath, but seemed to regain
his composure as he turned to Hagrid and noticed the bundle clutched in Hagrids huge
hands.
Is it Harry? Is he alive?
Yeh. Don know why. Got a bad cut on is head, here.
Can I have him? Sirius asked and his voice broke slightly. Hagrid shook his
head and clutched the baby convulsively. The child whimpered, but made no other
sound.
Naw, Dumbledore gave me strict orders. Take Harry to a safe place til he says
come out.
But, Im his godfather! Im all Harry has left!
Hagrids face was set. You can take it up wi Dumbledore, but Harry is comin
wi me.
For a moment, Sirius looked bereft and Harry thought he might break down again.
Harry felt like doing so. Then a terrible expression came over Siriuss features, a glacial
rage that overcame and destroyed the beautiful spark of merriment that had lived in his
eyes. Harry ached to see it go; knowing the Sirius that loved every moment of life was
lost forever, replaced by a vengeful spirit that would never know another moment of
peace. Never again, until a stone archway draped with a torn cloth took him back to
those he loved.
Peter, Sirius snarled, so low that Harry doubted Hagrid even heard him. Sirius
reached up and gently touched baby Harrys head for a moment. Then he skirted Hagrid
and walked away.
Sirius! Where yeh goin?
You can take my motorbike, Hagrid, Sirius called back. I wont need it any
more.
The mists swirled, and Harry found himself sitting next to Ron before the
Pensieve. Rons cheeks were wet with tears, as were Harrys.
I need to take a walk, Harry said raggedly. He left the Headmasters office,
sank down in an empty alcove, and cried until he had nothing left to weep.

Chapter Sixteen Spells and Messages

Harry wasnt certain how long he sat alone with his grief, but at last he got to his
feet and wandered aimlessly until he ended up in the Gryffindor common room. Ron was
already there, playing both sides in a game of wizard chess.
That was brutal, Ron said after a muted greeting. Harry nodded and Ron
continued, Ive been thinking, though. How did Dumbledore know to send Hagrid to
Godrics Hollow? Sirius should have been the first one there. It was him that discovered
Wormtail gone and suspected something was wrong. So, who told Dumbledore?
Harry didnt want to think about it. He was drained of emotion and wanted
something to take his mind off the terrible memory. Ron was right, though. It was a
curious question. Unfortunately, the only two people who could have answered it were
gone.
Pettigrew must have told someone else, Harry said. Someone else was
watching.
They must have left right when You-Know-Who got there, then. They didnt
stay to help.
Harry pondered the thought and suddenly had a very bad feeling about the
identity of the informer.
It was Snape, he said with finality. Wormtail probably told him before he told
Voldemort. The greasy git probably watched it all. He wouldnt have lifted a finger to
stop it, though, would he? As much as he hated my dad. Harry sneered. He probably
stood out there and cheered, until it went bad and his great master was vaporized. Thats
when he ran to Dumbledore with his warning. I bet he sounded so sorry that he couldnt
do anything to save them. Harry slammed a fist down on the chessboard, sending pieces
scrambling to escape. How could Dumbledore have believed him?
Ron shook his head. Maybe well find out in another memory he saved for you.
Hopefully not right now, though.
Not right now, Harry agreed. Ive had enough for one day, I think.
Lets go nick some food from the kitchen, then. Im starving.
The kitchens were ominously quiet due to the lack of activity. The house-elves
had only the sparse staff members to cook for. Harry wondered what the house-elves did
the rest of the time. Was there a house-elf recreation room? Did they go on holiday?
Enough house-elves were present; however, that Harry and Ron were soon loaded up
with more food than they could carry. Harry wondered where Dobby had gone. Perhaps
Lupin had sent him on a secret mission.
Hello! Fancy meetin you here.
Harry smiled at the astonishing sight of Fred and George Weasley walking into
the kitchen as though it were an everyday occurrence.
What are you doing here? Ron mumbled around a mouthful of biscuit.
We heard Harry was here, George said.
So we thought wed stop by, Fred continued.
We have some new tricks.
Cooked up specially for you, Harry.
How did you get here? Harry asked.
Came through the tunnel from Hogsmeade.
You know they cant keep us out.
The Weasley twins joined Harry and Ron in their feast and then guided them to an
empty Charms classroom.
Fitting, this is, George said as he looked around.
Yeah, most of our spells are Charms.
Harry, remember when you said it would be nice if Canary Creams could be
used as a spell?
Well, it got us to thinkin. Usually we work our spells onto objects, like the
Canary Creams or Shield Hats. But, it really wasnt that hard to convert them.
Takes a bit more effort, but not as much finesse.
Like this, Fred said and pointed his wand at Ron. Aviana!
Ron instantly became a yellow canary that chirped angrily as it twittered around
the twins heads, trying to peck them. Fred waved it off and terminated the spell.
That wasnt funny! Ron snapped when he was himself again.
Of course, they can still fly around and peck at you as a bird, obviously. Plus,
the spell doesnt last very long. A few minutes only, explained George.
This one is more effective, Fred said. Ron threw up a hand to ward off the next
spell, but he was enveloped in a huge bubble. He relaxed when he saw it wasnt doing
anything to him, and then scowled and prodded at it sharply with his wand. It did not
pop. It looked like Plexiglas to Harry.
I hope he doesnt cast a spell in there, George commented.
Yeah, it just bounces around. Things darn near impenetrable.
Eventually, whoever is in there will run out of air.
Fred sent the counterspell and the bubble disappeared without a sound.
At least that one didnt hurt, Ron said grumpily. Hot in there, though.
This next one doesnt quite cross the line into the Dark Arts
But it stands next to the line. Maybe with one toe over.
Frankly, Mum would freak if she knew where we got a lot of our ideas. We
nicked quite a few books from the Restricted Section when we were here.
After all, giving people black eyes, causing them to faint, and making them puke
arent exactly what youd call nice magic.
But our spells dont do any permanent damage, Fred explained and flicked his
wand at Ron again. Caecus!
Hey! Hey, I cant see! Rons hands waved frantically in front of his eyes and
his voice was high-pitched and panicky.
Calm down, little brother, George said soothingly. We know the
counterspell.
That was a scary one, though, Fred said.
Yeah, Fred was blind for three days until I figured out the right spell to reverse
it. I had to be both of us whenever Mum came round. It was exhausting.
Take it off! Ron yelled, flailing.
Aspicas, said George and Ron sighed in relief before glaring at the twins.
Stop using me for a test subject!
Quit worryin. Weve practiced these on each other loads of times. Now, well
teach you two.
The twins showed Harry and Ron the mechanics of the three spells and they
practiced on each other most of the afternoon. Harry was pleased to have some new
spells in his arsenal that the Death Eaters did not know.
Wed better get back to the shop, Fred said finally.
Weve got fine employees, but they dont know our stock the way we do.
Well come back soon and show you a few more, Harry. Keep practicing those.
They started out.
Lets go visit our swamp before we leave.
Good idea. We should say hi to Peeves, too.
I kind of miss the old place, dont you?
Not really, no.
Their voices grew fainter as they departed and Harry looked at Ron.
Its been a productive day, Id say.
Ron nodded and yawned. Productive and tiring. Im going to the kitchen and
then to bed.
Great idea. Remind me to send Hedwig to Hermione.
Yeah. What the hell is she doing, anyway? She should be here.

* * * * *
Hermione released Draco as soon as they arrived at their destination. She leaned
close to him as if examining his face.
What? he asked with eyes narrowed.
Interesting. No blood, boils, nor even a rash. You seem to have survived the
touch of a Muggle-born completely unscathed.
He scowled.
Youve touched me before. In that very same spot, now that he thought about
it. But, definitely not as gently.
She stepped away and laughed at the memory.
True. You didnt get out of that one unscathed.
You neednt sound so smug about it. He took in there surroundings. Your
Muggle house? I could have Apparated her on my own, you know. If someone would
return my wand, he said pointedly.
She held up both wands and wiggled them for a moment before tucking them into
her back pocket. He allowed her no sign of annoyance. Is this the best place you could
think of?
Do you think the Death Eaters will come back here so soon?
Draco shook his head. Probably not. Theyll find other targets.
Hermione bit her lip at that. Youre right. Damn, Ive been running about so
much today I didnt even think Oh no! Neville! If they went after Luna, he could be
next. I dont know where he lives or Id go warn him.
She glared at Draco as if it were his fault. You know, the wizarding world could
learn a bit from the Muggles when it comes to communication. She lifted the handset
from a nearby telephone. With this, I can reach any Muggle household in the world.
She dropped the headset back into the cradle and pointed her wand at the fireplace. A
burst of white light sprang from the end and disappeared up the chimney. She tsked.
Well, that will take some time, but its the best I can do at the moment. Are you
hungry?
Without waiting for his answer, she went into the kitchen and rummaged in the
cupboards. He watched her surreptitiously while pretending to look at all the oddities in
the kitchen. She was an energetic girl, he had to admit. She flitted around from cupboard
to cupboard. He tried to remember if hed ever seen her wearing Muggle clothing before.
If he had, it wasnt memorable. What she wore now wasnt memorable, either, exactly.
She had on rather form-fitting pale blue jeans and a simple white shirt with short sleeves.
An odd word was emblazoned across her chest in pink letters. Draco had examined it in
Dover while she had been determinedly transfiguring his clothing. It read ADIDAS. He
wondered what it meant.
She absently brushed her hair back over her shoulder with one hand. He noted
that it could no longer be classified as bushy. Her hair was still rampant with curls, but
they were tamer, now. Less frizz and more loops. The ends nearly touched her waist. If
he were to be completely honest with himself, he would have to admit her hair was
actually rather pretty. In fact, she was rather He clamped down on that line of
thinking immediately. Just because she had developed quite a nice package to put into
her ADIDAS shirt and blue jeans well, damn it, she was still Hermione Granger, the
girl he despised more than any other female on the planet.
What are you doing? he snapped, annoyed at the train of his thoughts and happy
to take it out on her as she traipsed around the kitchen compiling food, pots, and utensils.
Cooking, of course.
Are you a witch, or arent you?
She stared at him for a moment as if wondering what he was talking about.
I see. It must be odd for Mr. Pureblood to watch someone do manual labor. I
was only recently allowed to use magic here, so Im used to doing everything the old
way. My parents werent very comfortable when I used magic. Besides, its two steps to
the cupboard. Rather a waste to use a wand. You can sit down, you know. The chairs
wont eat you.
Draco tugged a small black book from the pocket of his trench coat before tossing
the coat over a nearby chair. While Hermione grilled ham steaks and toasted crumpets,
Draco flipped through his book and sat gingerly in the chair.
Have you heard of a Horcrux? he asked her suddenly.
Hermione nearly dropped the jug of milk she was holding as she gasped. She set
the container on the counter carefully.
Where did you hear that word?
So, you do know what it is.
I know what it is, she snapped. Do you know what it is?
Yes.
She watched him warily, as if seeking a sign of weakness. He did the same to her.
Do you know where they are? she asked.
No. Do you?
Hermione looked instantly disappointed, which confirmed that she did, indeed,
know what a Horcrux was. Dumbledore must have figured it out and told them.
Have you destroyed any? he asked.
Why do you want to know?
You know, I really dont like you very much.
The feeling is more than mutual! she snapped.
He glared at her and she glared back. She turned and slapped the ham steaks on
the toasted cheese crumpets and topped each with a pineapple ring. She joined Draco at
the table and they ate in stony silence. The sandwich was actually quite good, but Draco
would rather have torn out his own tongue than admitted it. Hermione ignored him
completely.
How long do you plan to keep me here? Draco asked when the tension had
grown thick enough to wade through.
Until I hear from the Order of the Phoenix, she said abruptly.
Lovely, he sneered. He was trapped in a Muggle house until Little Miss
Gryffindor saw fit to let him leave. He wondered, not for the first time, what had
possessed him to help her in the first place. He got up from the table and walked away.
He moved around lounge looking at the strange, non-moving family photographs and
bric-a-brac. Hermione returned the dishes to the kitchen and dispensed with the manual
labor in order to clean the dishes with a quick spell. She also zipped them back into
their places with barely a clink. Showing off, most likely.
Why did you ask me about Horcruxes? she asked.
His lips curled into a wicked smile. He said nothing. Her expression of
frustration was immensely satisfying.
She joined him in the lounge and sat on the couch. She gestured to a nearby
chair.
Lets play a little game called quid pro quo. It means
I know what it means, Draco snapped. Who goes first?
He thought he heard her teeth crack as she clenched them together.
She gritted, Ill go first, of course, because I know youd rather have all your
fingernails torn out than volunteer, correct?
Draco sat in the chair with no comment. He smirked, though, because he knew
she hated that.
A Horcrux is a storage device for a part of ones soul, she began.
Voldemorts soul, Draco admitted.
Horcruxes are the reason he did not die. He cannot die unless the Horcrux is
destroyed first.
You and your friends plan to destroy them.
All seven of them.
He was shocked and actually gaped at her. Snape had left out that tidbit of
knowledge. Seven?
She nodded. Two of them are already gone. Hopefully one other, although we
cant confirm it.
Bloody hell. Seven. I may know where to find one, he admitted.
To her credit, she kept her features carefully blank.
Will you tell me where?
He pulled a slip of paper from his black book and handed it to her. It read: Go to
the house of Tom Riddle Sr.
Who gave this to you?
Severus Snape. Right after he told me about Horcruxes.
She blinked at him.
Snape? Whos side is he on?
As far as I can tellSnapes.
She shook her head. Where is the house of Tom Riddle, Sr.? Only Dumbledore
knew.
Turn it over, Draco said dryly.
On the back was a map.

Chapter Seventeen The Dark Mark

Their conversation was interrupted by an owl tapping on the parlour window.


Hermione hurried over and opened it to admit Harry Potters white owl. She removed a
message from its leg and scanned it quickly.
Dont leave, Hedwig. Ill have a return reply. She set the scroll on the end
table and went to the kitchen. While she rummaged for something, Draco picked up the
message, having no qualms about reading other peoples mail.
H, R wants to know what the hell youre doing. We need your help with
something so get a move on. H.
Youre in trouble now, Draco commented.
She threw Hedwig an owl treat and sat down to write a reply. At that moment, a
silvery shape burst out of the fireplace. It actually enveloped Hermione for an instant and
she looked like a semi-solid ghost. Draco watched curiously, but assumed from her
unconcerned pose that she wasnt under attack. The silver nimbus dissipated, but her
face remained pale. She dropped the parchment and quill.
Its Neville. They think he was taken. I have the address now, but well have to
Apparate blind. She stood up and gestured at him impatiently.
We? I certainly dont need to go. Ill wait here for you.
Im not letting you out of my sight. Now, come on.
He rose in annoyance and she stepped close to him again. He was very glad he
was tall enough to look down upon her.
Youre enormously bossy, you know?
Its been mentioned. Here, you might need this.
He was surprised to see her offering his wand. He took it and quirked a brow at
her.
Do you have to touch me again? Cant you just tell me where it is?
Her brown eyes flashed and she grabbed his chin rather ungently. She tugged his
face downward and leaned into his chest while raising her lips Bloody hell! She
wasnt going to!
The squeezing blackness of Apparition drowned all other sensation. When they
arrived, Hermione released him and stepped away quickly with a giggle.
Oh my, that was rich. You should have seen your face. She laughed. Draco
was about to flay her with a scathing retort when his comment was overwhelmed by
someone shouting Hermiones name. She sobered at once and turned. She gasped so
loudly it was nearly a shriek. Draco followed her gaze and saw a green, glowing Dark
Mark hovering in the growing shadows over the house. He had a sinking feeling. Had
they killed Longbottom, then? Hermione hurried toward the shouter.
The shade was growing as evening approached, but it was light enough to see that
they were in a neat garden near double-doors that opened into a large house. A man in a
top hot stood in the doorway, fairly jumping up and down.
Come quickly! he yelled. Shes in a bad way! Ive just located her!
Hermione raced inside and Draco reluctantly followed. They hurried up several
flights of stairs and came to a large, mostly destroyed, bedchamber. The man was
bending over a shape partially beneath the shattered remains of the bed. Hermione
gasped.
Mrs. Longbottom!
They didnt even give her the Avada Kedavra, the man snapped. Just blew
apart the room and left her trapped to die. The bed frame was half crushing her. We got
here just in time. One leg is broke for sure. Bastards cast the Dark Mark too soon, lucky
for us. Unless the Mark was for Neville, Draco thought.
Weve got to get her to St. Mungos, Hermione said.
I know! I was waiting for Jack. Hes looking for the boy. Ill take her and you
can find Jack.
He gently lifted Neville Longbottoms unconscious grandmother and they both
disappeared with a crack. Hermione looked at Draco worriedly.
Whos Jack? Draco asked.
Im Jack, said a voice behind them. A scarlet-clad wizard with extremely long
hair pulled back into a ponytail strolled in. Hermione. The boy is not to be found. It
appears they took him. Draco was glad to see someone of Hermiones acquaintance that
didnt want to kill him at first glance. Apparently, the man had no idea who Draco was.
Why would they do that? Theyve been trying to kill everyone else, Draco said.
Do you know for certain they planned to kill Luna? Hermione asked.
Draco thought about it for a moment. No. Snape brought me through. He said
it was another chance for me to become a true Death Eater, but he may have meant for
me to kill her father.
They wanted to capture someone, Im sure. Theyre setting a trap for Harry,
Hermione whispered. Draco realized the attack on Hermiones parents might have been
an attempt to seize Hermione for the same purpose.
Jack nodded.
Im afraid so. Ill inform the Order. Are you coming?
Hermione shook her head. Ive got to tell Harry.
What can he do? Weve got to find Neville, first. We dont want Potter to rush
off and be captured to no purpose.
Hermione sighed heavily. All right. Im going to stay here for a bit and see if
the Death Eaters left anything for us to work out. Let the others decide what to do about
Harry, she said wearily. Draco wondered how many times she had Apparated that day.
Three that he knew of. She looked like she would gladly collapse at any moment.
The man called Jack nodded and Disapparated.
Do you know where they took him? Hermione asked Draco seriously.
He nodded. I have an idea.
Can we get him back?
No. Not without a massive fight on your hands. You cant find the place,
anyway. Its Unplottable.
Hermione clenched her hands together around her wand. We cant just let them
torture Neville! They cant do to him what they did to his parents. They just cant.
Draco said nothing, since it was his own relatives that had performed the deed she
referenced.
You could go get him! she said suddenly.
He stared at her, dumbfounded. Are you mad? You want me to go on a suicide
mission to rescue your friend Longbottom from a house full of Death Eaters? Do you
think theyll just let me walk in there and escort him out?
You could take me with you. The two of us might have a chance. Her face was
earnest, desperate, and pleading.
I am not Harry Potter, Draco said brutally. I will not go rushing into the jaws
of death and rely on ridiculous Gryffindor luck to pull us through by the thread of a robe.
You are supposed to be intelligent! You know the two of us will never be able to take on
the Lestranges, McNair, Mulciber the Devil, Lars, and the rest. And you know what will
happen if Fenrir Greyback is there? He will tear out your tender throat and laugh while
he does it. If youre lucky, youll be dead when hes through with you.
Tears sparkled in her eyes and she glared at him.
Youre afraid! she accused.
Im realistic! he snapped. I know what theyre capable of and I dont intend to
throw my life away.
Is that the only reason you left them? To save your own bloody skin? she
yelled. Draco reacted as if slapped. He spun on a heel and marched down the stairs.
Stupid overemotional Gryffindor idiot! He would never understand the
Gryffindor mentality. Even the smart ones thought nothing of barging willy-nilly into
colossal peril, against insurmountable odds, just because they thought it was the proper
thing to do.
He stalked outside and noticed the sun had set, tingeing the sky with red and gold.
For a brief, ludicrous moment, he considered Apparating to Malfoy Manor. Not because
she asked him to, but because because its what Harry Potter would have done. His fist
clenched tightly around his wand. Harry fricking Potter.
Malfoy, wait! she called behind him.
He halted and wondered what verbal torment she had for him, now. She grasped
his arm and turned him to face her. He glowered at her and noticed her face looked like
burnished gold in the twilight. Her hair glinted, halo-like.
Im sorry, she said, to his astonishment. I shouldnt have asked you. This
isnt even your fight and here I am, trying to drag you into it. I forgot you would have to
fight your own parents
Draco hadnt. He knew hed never have to fight his parents. No matter what lip
service they paid to Voldemort, they would both die rather than harm Draco. He knew
that to be true above all else. The thought made him suddenly wonder what they were
doing. His mother was probably frantic, thinking him dead or captured by the enemy.
He wished he could send her a message, but that would only put her in danger.
Hermiones hand fell away. I need to do something or I think Ill go crazy, she
said.
Fine. Lets do something, he suggested. Lets go to the Riddle house.
Go after the Horcrux?
He nodded. Probably still dangerous, but somewhat less likely to get us killed.
Hopefully.
She gnawed on her lip for a moment. All right. I feel like Im letting Neville
down, though.
Youd be letting him down more by getting Avada Kedavraed. Im sure your
Order will think of something.
I hope so.
Come on, he said, Ill take us through this time.
She waited as he stepped close to her and reached out. He snaked his arm around
her waist and pressed her fully against him. Her eyes were huge as she stared at him in
surprise.
Youre a little too trusting, arent you? he asked and triggered the spell.
Chapter Eighteen Plots and Counterplots

Harry was tired from his grueling day, as was Ron, so they turned in early. Harry
found sleep impossible, however. Every time he closed his eyes, he would see the dead
body of his father or the stricken face of Sirius Black.
He finally gave up and left Ron sleeping in the tower while he went down to sit in
the Gryffindor common room. Hedwig had not returned and he wondered what
Hermione was doing. It wasnt like her to not even send a reply. He wondered if Devlin
Whitehorn had turned out to be genuine.
Dobby suddenly appeared with a crack, nearly starting Harry out of his skin.
Harry Potter, sir! The Order is coming to Hogwarts! Something has happened.
What has happened, Dobby? he asked and tried to calm his racing pulse.
Dobby does not know, Harry Potter. But, they are coming here to meet because
the new members cannot enter the Order Headquarters. Jack Williamson sent word to
Remus Lupin, but Dobby does not know the message.
Yes, well even if they are meeting here, it would be like them to exclude me and
Ron. Thank you for telling me, Dobby.
Harry Potter asked Dobby to keep him informed and Dobby will do as Harry
Potter requests above all else!
Let me know where they gather. Ill wake Ron and well be there.
Harry sat back for a moment and considered. He was curious to see if Lupin
would bother to notify him. They had been forthcoming with information while Harry
was safely ensconced at Number 4, Privet Drive, but now that he was out where he might
do something rash and dangerous Well, they were just trying to protect him. Or so
they would say.
He went back upstairs and dressed before prodding Ron.
Gway, Mum! Ron growled and smacked at Harry. Have Fred and George do
it!
Harry shook him harder. Im not your mum, Ron. Wake up.
Ron sat up, blinking.
Whats the matter? Is it Hermione?
Harry explained and Ron tugged his clothes on.
Something must be up to bring them here at this hour.
They waited tensely in the common room and Ron massacred Harry in a game of
wizards chess.
Youre not even paying attention! Ron griped as his queen smashed Harrys last
knight.
Harry pushed his chair back.
I know. Hopefully, they dont plan to meet tomorrow, or next Thursday, or two
weeks before school starts. Dobby wasnt very specific.
You mean you assumed he meant tonight?
Before Harry could admit to that stupidity, Dobby popped back into the room.
Harry Potter, sir, they are here. Meeting in the Great Hall.
Thanks, Dobby, Harry said and threw Ron a relieved glance. They were about
to climb through the portrait hole when Lupins silver Patronus enveloped Harry.
Lupins voice came to Harry as though from a great distance, an oddity unique to
Patronus messaging.
Harry, the Order is meeting downstairs. We have news you need to hear. The
mist dissipated.
Well? Ron asked.
They actually told me to come down.
Its bad news, Ron said in trepidation. They wouldnt have bothered if it was
routine.
Harry wanted to believe otherwise, but he had a grim suspicion Ron was right.
They hurried downstairs and entered the Great Hall. It was strange to see the place so
empty, and stranger still to see most of the Order of the Phoenix in one place. Harry
waved at Kingsley Shacklebolt, Jack Williamson, Dedalus Diggle, and others he hadnt
seen in awhile. Dobby waved him to a saved seat.
Harry, we have bad news, Lupin said, cutting the greetings short. Neville
Longbottom has been captured and his grandmother nearly killed. She is at St.
Mungos and we dont know where Neville has gone.
Harry sat down hard at the news. Neville taken? How could he have been so
stupid? As soon as the Death Eaters went after Luna, they should have warned the other
members of Dumbledores Army, at least!
We foolishly though they wouldnt attack twice in one day, Lupin said.
Do we have any idea where Neville could be?
Moody started to speak, but an elbow from Kingsley Shacklebolt silenced him,
except for a muted grumbling. Harry noted the exchange and wondered what they were
hiding.
I dont think it matters. Its fairly clear they plan to use Neville as a decoy to
draw you out, Harry. Theyll let us know where he is, soon enough.
Harry felt sick. He could only imagine the hell Bellatrix Lestrange and the rest of
the Death Eaters would put Neville through.
Weve got to do something!
All we can do is plan our strategy for when they request your presence. Now,
we have a couple of ideas
Harry listened with half an ear, knowing any strategy they planned would likely
be useless until they had more specific information. He noticed Tonks move
surreptitiously down the table to sit next to Arthur Weasley. They chatted briefly and
then Arthur grabbed parchment and began to draw what looked suspiciously like a map.
He pointed out various points on his drawing and talked to Tonks in a low voice. She
nodded several times and asked question.
Ron drew Harrys attention when he asked, Wheres Hermione?
Harry had been wondering the same thing. Jack Williamson spoke up.
She stayed at the Longbottom house to see if the Death Eaters left any evidence
of where they might have taken Neville. He chuckled. At least, that was her story. I
rather think she wanted to be alone with that handsome chap she was with.
Rons eyes narrowed.
What handsome chap? You mean Devlin Whitehorn?
Jack laughed again and raised a brow at Ron. Devlin Whitehorn? Not unless he
has a son or grandson by the same name. Frankly, this lad looked too handsome to be
Devlins kin.
What did he look like, exactly? Harry asked, hardly able to believe Hermione
would have abandoned them to for a handsome stranger. In fact, he could hardly even
picture her with a handsome stranger.
Tall, blond, slender. About your height, Harry. Sterling good looks. Ruddy
familiar, too, although I cant quite place the face Itll come to me.
Harry said nothing. It would explain Hermiones lack of communication, he
supposed, although shed better have a bloody good explanation. Ron was griping
bitterly. Harry noticed Tonks slipping out of the room and wondered what she was up to.
He was an expert at sneaking, and her movements definitely hinted at sneaking.
Dobby, go keep an eye on Tonks, he whispered. Dobby nodded gravely and
disappeared.

* * * * *

Draco kept a tight grip on Hermione when she began to struggle in his arms. He
spoke in a low voice next to her ear.
Keep still or well both be very dead.
Where are we? Hermione whispered when he released her.
My room. Welcome to Malfoy Manor. As expected, his room was empty. At
this hour, the Death Eaters had a tendency to hang out in the dining room or the drawing
room, drinking firewhiskey and reminiscing about the bad old days.
Her eyes flashed at him suspiciously.
What are we doing here?
Im turning you over to the Dark Lord to get back into his good graces, Draco
said snidely. She glared at him, but had managed to catch the sarcasm, apparently.
Draco smiled without amusement. You said you wanted to get Longbottom back, so
here we are in the jaws of death. I hope youre happy.
She inhaled sharply and distrust warred with hope in her eyes.
Where is he?
In the basement, most likely. If hes in the parlour, were out of luck.
Why?
You dont want to know. He walked to his wardrobe and pulled out a long,
hooded black cloak. He handed it to her and grabbed another for himself. He had
dozens. Black cloaks were pretty much the Malfoy signature outfit. This wont fool
anyone, but a quick glance might not draw attention. Too bad we dont have an
Invisibility Cloak like your friend, Potter. Now, be quiet, follow my lead, and try not to
get us killed, he ordered and pulled the hood up to cover his too-bright hair.
He crept to the door and opened it. No one was in sight, so he walked straight
across the hall to the door opposite, pointing at a board on the way and gesturing to
Hermione not to step on it. She hurried to join him and he shut the door. He lit his wand
to illuminate a small water closet.
No one uses this because its broken, he murmured. The reason its broken is
because it hides this. He cast a quick spell and a section of wall opened up to reveal a
staircase leading downward. Intimate knowledge: the benefit of breaking into your own
house. Ive marked the ones that squeak, so dont tread on them. Be bloody silent; we
pass close to the kitchen and its usually occupied. Hermione nodded intently. Nothing
was visible beneath her black hood except a couple of curls and her chin. He sighed and
tucked the wayward curls inside her cloak. She raised her face to look at him curiously;
her eyes looked huge in the gloom.
They crept down the stairs and he sealed the portal behind them. Dracos wand
provided a mere hint of dim light. Several steps were marked with a reddish glow and he
carefully stepped over those. He bypassed the concealed door that led outside and
continued downward to the basement.
He listened carefully for long moments before he readied a spell and opened the
door. On the basement side, it was a blank wall panel and it slipped aside noiselessly.
Dracos spell winged across the room and caught McNair completely unaware. The
Death Eater and the chair hed been sitting in toppled over sideways. Luckily, the
imported Persian carpet muffled the thump. Across from McNairs fallen chair slumped
Neville Longbottom. He had been bound hand and foot to a hard wooden chair and his
chin rested upon his chest. He was either unconscious or dead. Hermione bustled by
Draco and rushed to Nevilles side.
Draco, much more cautious, made certain no other Death Eaters had been
assigned to guard Longbottom. He pushed his hood back a bit to allow better vision. He
noted with disgust that McNair had been eating crisps. Large crumbs littered the
expensive carpet. Uncouth lout.
A crack warned them of Apparition and Hermione straightened to face the danger.
Bellatrix Lestrange stared at Draco in surprise. In the blink of an eye, she raised her
wand and sent a paralyzing spell at Draco. Though hed been expecting it, his Protego
was infinitesimally too slow.
Were dead, he thought just before Hermiones spell caught Bellatrix, who was
suddenly as frozen as Draco. He couldnt move a muscle and watched in amazement as a
house-elf stepped out from behind Bellas robes. He thought it was Kreacher for a
moment.
Hermione Granger! Dobby cried in a loud whisper. What are you doing
here?
Draco watched Hermione step back in shock and raise her wand in warning.
Dobby? What are you doing with Bellatrix Lestrange?
Dobby is following Harry Potters orders. Dobby is keeping an eye on Tonks,
who came to rescue Neville Longbottom. Hermione Granger, you have hexed Tonks, not
Bellatrix Lestrange.
He gestured frantically at Bella. Draco had no idea what his former house-elf was
babbling about, but apparently Hermione did. She sent a counterspell at Bellatrix, who
sagged in relief, a very un-Bella-like gesture.
Wotcher, Hermione, she said with a weak laugh. The voice didnt belong to
Bellatrix, either, and Draco finally got it. Polyjuice Potion, no doubt. Granger flicked
her wand at Draco and he could move again, thankfully. He glared at Bellatrix/Tonks
and hurried over to make sure McNair was out of action.
Isnt that Draco Tonks began, but Hermione cut her off. Draco yanked his
hood back down with a curse. He hadnt planned to be recognized. By either side.
Ill explain later, Hermione said. Weve got to get Neville out of here.
McNair was out cold. Hermione released the ropes that bound Longbottom to the
chair. His face was swollen and bloody. His clothing was torn and showed red in some
places. Hermione gripped him tightly as he sagged out of the chair. Tonks ran to help
her. A crack announced the arrival of a newcomer and Draco leveled his wand at the
sound. This time he did not hesitate. The binding curse flew toward the subject, but was
deflected in a heartbeat.
You! Dobby hissed. He flew at Kreacher and they both disappeared with a loud
bang. Draco swore.
Were about to have company! Sooner than expected, as it turned out. The
basement door opened and a Death Eater rushed into view. Hermione was struggling to
lift Neville. Tonks leveled a Stupefy at the Death EaterNott, Draco noted. A crack
sounded next to Nevilles chair and a jet of light caught Hermione, who collapsed under
Nevilles weight. Draco retaliated with a stunning spell and wondered what Crabbe had
used to take down Hermione. At the same time Tonks cast Impedimenta at Notts
replacement on the stairs. She missed.
Stop holding back! Draco hissed and let fly with a gale force wind that
slammed the Death Eater back up the stairs. He thought it was Lars. Take Longbottom
and get out of here!
Draco hoisted Neville with one hand and flung him at Tonks, and then bent down
and scooped up Hermiones limp form. He Accioed her wand just as three more Death
Eaters materialized.
Thanks, cousin, Tonks called as she disappeared.
Draco Disapparated.

He sank to his knees in Hermiones bedroom, drenched with sweat. He could


scarcely believe they had made it out alive. Maybe there was something to the vaunted
Gryffindor luck. He still held Hermione and her head lolled back against his arm. He
felt for a pulse. It was weak, but identifiable. He cast Finite Incantatum to counter
whatever spell had been used on her, but she didnt awaken. Draco set her on the floor
and stood up. He was completely exhausted. What a bloody long day. The raid on the
Lovegoods, the jaunt to and from Dover, the trip to Longbottoms, and finally the rescue.
God knew how many times Granger had Apparated. Probably at least six more than the
recommended daily maximum.
He pulled back the covers on her bed and then unfastened the cloak from around
her neck. It fell away and he lifted her again. He set her on the bed and unlaced her
trainers. He tossed them aside, followed by her socks. About to pull the covers over her,
he hesitated, looking at her jeans. Draco hated sleeping in trousersit was stifling and
bloody uncomfortable. Shed thank him in the morning for removing them. He grinned.
Well, probably not. Shed more likely hex him into oblivion, which decided him.
He levitated her slightly off the bed and unfastened her jeans. He slowly worked
them down until they were loose enough to grab by the ankles and slide from her legs.
The process was more difficult than it looked. Hed never undressed an unconscious
woman, before. Now he knew how Crabbe and Goyle must feel. He chuckled at his wit,
but his amusement was stifled as his eyes examined what hed uncovered. Hermione had
nice legs. His eyes roved slowly from her ankles up her slender limbs and he sucked in
an amazed breath. Rather than the demure, sensible white panties hed expected, she
wore red silk knickers trimmed in lace. His brows raised sharply in wonder.
Full of surprises, arent we, Granger? he murmured. He immediately
abandoned the briefly entertained notion of removing her shirt. His thoughts were
already treading down a dangerous path without adding fuel to the fire. He allowed
himself one more approving gaze, knowing it would likely be the last time hed see her in
this state.
He released the spell, dropping her back to the bed, and quickly dragged the
covers over her. He sighed, glad that task was done. He looked around, but saw no
suitable place to sleep in her room. Malfoys never slept on the floor. He had no intention
of sleeping without a warning system. He would have slept in another part of the house,
but knew he didnt have enough energy to ward the entire house. There was no help for
it. He reached under the blankets and roughly shoved Hermione to the far side of the
bed. He tucked her wand under her pillow and then removed his clothing down to his
silk boxers.
He cast a quick warding spell around the room and slid into the bed next to
Granger, taking care that no part of her was touching him. If anyone approached this
room, hed be awakened instantly. He slid his wand under his pillow and in seconds was
sound asleep.

Chapter Nineteen Trains and Dust

Hermione awoke feeling deliciously warm and content. She dreamed that
someone was curled next to her, cradling her in sensual heat. One muscular arm was
thrown across her waist and her hand rested gently atop his. She sighed, believing she
could almost feel the steady rise and fall of his chest against her back and the soft
whisper of his breath upon her hair.
Her eyes snapped open. It was no dream!
She instantly recognized the wallpaper that shed viewed thousands of times and
was somewhat relieved to find herself in her own bed, but it was difficult to accept that
she wasnt alone. A horrifying suspicion crept over her and she ever so carefully tried to
move herself away from the man holding her so intimately. His arm slid across her waist
centimeter by centimeter and she began to hope she could free herself without awakening
him. Then she was halted by her hair. Bloody hell, he was laying on it!
Her movement must have stirred him, for he thankfully rolled over and she was
free. She sat up and scooted away before turning to view her bed partner. Draco Malfoy.
She was both relieved and mortified. What the hell was he doing in her bed? And where
were her jeans? Was she under an Imperius Curse the night before? Her last memory
was of trying to stand under Nevilles dead weight, and then Death Eaters Apparating
She looked at Dracos platinum hair tousled across her pillow and nearly rubbed
her eyes at the incongruity of the image. Never in her wildest dreams had she imagined
him in her bed!
She quietly scrambled to the foot and climbed off the bed, praying he didnt
awaken. Hermione glanced at him as she grabbed her dressing gown from the hook on
the back of the door. She shrugged it on and wondered again what had happened the
previous night. Almost, she woke Malfoy to ask him, but she was utterly unwilling to
face his penetrating silver eyes and knowing smirk at the moment.
She needed to contact Tonks. Where was her wand? She checked around the bed
and thankfully spotted the tip poking out from under her vacated pillow. Damn. She
carefully reached across Draco to grasp the wand. She straightened and stepped back.
Unwillingly, she looked at him. The blankets were bunched around his waist, leaving his
upper torso bare. She noticed the hair on his chest was so pale it was nearly invisible.
His skin really was flawless and she remembered the satisfying feel of his body pressed
against hers
She quickly yanked some clothing out of her drawers and fled. She ran
downstairs, feeling as though shed entered an alternate dimension. Everything seemed
strange and disorienting. She had only spent one day in Dracos constant presence and
her emotions had gone from one extreme to the other where he was concerned. She had
gotten used to him as a source of steady and unchanging irritation. Now, she couldnt
predict what he would do from one moment to the next. What had possessed him to go
after Neville, after his determined speech vowing to do the opposite?
A flutter across the lounge caught her eye and she saw Hedwig land in the open
window. Goodness, she had never replied to Harry! She felt instantly guilty.
Wait awhile longer, Hedwig, she said. She cast the first part of the Patronus
spell and crafted a message to Tonks. She hoped they had made it out of Malfoy Manor
in one piece.
How is Neville? Where are you? Is there any news? Im fine, by the way, and
safe for the moment.
She finished the spell and retreated to the kitchen to put on a kettle of water. She
prepared a strong cup of tea and waited for a reply. Thankfully, it didnt take long.
Were at St. Mungos. Neville is still unconscious, as is Augusta. Im fine, except
that Remus is not speaking to me. I didnt mention your friend in my report.
St. Mungos. Thank God. Tonks and Neville had gotten out. And Malfoy had
pulled her out. She jotted a quick message to Harry and sent Hedwig away. She took a
hot shower, dressed, and returned to the kitchen to start breakfast, welcoming the chore to
take her mind off the person sleeping in her bed. It worked nicely until that person
walked into the kitchen wearing only his black trousers and looking like a disheveled
Greek god. She felt her pulse skyrocket and knew it was going to be a long day.

* * * * *

Draco woke the instant Hermione stirred. He was astonished to find himself
snugly wrapped around her and wasnt certain how to gracefully untangle himself. He
heard her sigh softly and was thankful she was still asleep. Her legs were pressed against
the length of his and her silk-clad buttocks rested firmly in his lap, a fact he became
cognizant of with a jolt. His face was nestled in her hair and he recognized the scent,
suddenly. She smelled like apples. He was surprised at how perfectly she fit into the
curve of his body; as if shed been made for that purpose. Unable to move without
waking her, he relaxed and enjoyed the feel of her snuggled against him, figuring he
might as well bask in the calm before the storm.
He knew the exact instant her eyes opened. In less than a heartbeat, she was taut
as a bow string. He was amused at her distress as he imagined the thoughts spinning
through her mind. The amusement lasted only until she started to move. The minute
caress of her satiny skin set his nerve endings on fire. He realized his body didnt care
that she was Muggle-born. It only knew she was female, soft, warm, and in precisely the
right position. It was too much to bear. Before she noticed the increased pace of his
heart rate and the stirring of another part of his anatomy, he stretched and rolled away
from her, feigning sleep.
She scampered off the bed like a frightened kitten. He watched through his lashes
as she snatched on her dressing gown and then leaned across him to retrieve her wand.
He almost smiled at the effort he put into not touching him. He closed his eyes while she
snatched up clothing and departed.
When she was gone, he rolled onto his back and propped his hands behind his
head. I slept with Hermione Granger, he mused. Two days ago, the thought would
have horrified him. Now it was troubling, but definitely not horrifying. Potter and
Weasley would blow their topsnot that Granger would ever divulge that tidbit of
knowledge to them. But, Draco would. In fact, he marveled that he hadnt thought of it
before. It would be excellent revenge on Potter. She would be putty in Dracos hands, if
he put his mind to it. He wondered if Potter or the Weasel had ever seen her in the state
of undress Draco had Probably not. The idiots didnt seem to notice what was right
under their noses.
He heard her moving about downstairs, and then water running. He dozed until
he smelled food cooking and figured it was time to rise. He slid out of bed and tugged
his trousers on, wishing hed thought to grab some clothing from his room the night
before.
He wandered into the kitchen to see the table laden with an enormous amount of
food. Hermione stared at him for a long moment, looking wary and nervous. He smiled
carefully, allowing no hint of a smirk to cross his features, for once.
Are we entertaining the Ministry of Magic this morning? Or a Muggle army?
he asked. She seemed to shake herself.
I thought you might be hungry, she said lamely.
I am, he admitted. He sat down at the table and helped himself to bacon,
sausages, scones with jam, eggs and potatoes, fruit with clotted cream, and plenty of hot
tea. She nibbled and watched him carefully while he ate with gusto. He knew there were
questions she wanted to ask him, but she made no comment. Likely because the answers
were all obvious. Yes, he had Apparated them here. Yes, he had undressed her. Yes, he
had climbed into bed with her. Yes, he had wrapped himself around her as they slept.
Yes, he would do it again, and yes, he was thinking about carrying her upstairs right now
and finishing what he could have started this morning He coughed and took a large
gulp of tea.
You made all of this without magic? he asked, dragging his mind to a safer
subject. She nodded and he was impressed in spite of himself. If he had to live without
magic for a week, hed likely starve to death. When he was finished, he sat back with a
satisfied sigh.
Well, Granger, whats the plan for today? Any more of your minions need
rescuing?
She scowled. Theyre not minions. We call them friends. As would you, if you
had any.
From what Ive seen, friends are rather a headache. They seem to get into quite
a lot of trouble.
She actually laughed. So they do. But they tend to be worth it, in the long run.
If youre done eating, Ill introduce you to a fabulous Muggle invention.
Red silk knickers? he asked hopefully.
She blushed scarlet and seemed unable to find words for a moment.
No, she choked finally. Its called a shower.
He chuckled and followed her upstairs. On the way, he caught another whiff of
apple and reflected dryly that it would have been better if she smelled like coconut or
strawberry, or some other scent he hated. It would have to be apple; his favorite.
In the bathroom, she turned on the water for him, showed him the controls, and
pulled the curtain around the tub. She pointed out the towels and turned to leave. She
halted in the doorway and looked at him seriously.
Thank you for saving Neville, she whispered. And me. You were brilliant.
She hurried out, leaving him bemused and strangely pleased. He tried to recall if
anyone had ever before called him brilliant.

He had to admit, she was right about the shower. Hed have to mention it to his
father if they managed to stop the Dark Lord from destroying everything on the planet.
When he exited the bath, he spent some time in front of the mirror transfiguring his
clothesa chore he hated because it was difficult to get the fit exactly right. Although,
he reflected, Hermione hadnt had any trouble when shed been changing his outfits in
Dover
He turned his black shirt grey, but left it silk, since it was easier to leave the base
material as it was. The trousers he left alone. He pulled his boots on and went back
downstairs to find her pouring over a book. He nodded approvingly. That was the
Granger he was used to seeing.
I thought we could go to the Riddle house, as we had planned yesterday, she
said. I made some calls while you were in the shower and the simplest way to get to
Little Hangleton is by train. We could Apparate blind, but I hate doing that in daylight.
Too much chance of being spotted by Muggles, and we definitely dont need Ministry
involvement when were looking for Horcruxes. If we Apparate to Kings Cross Station
in London, well be able to catch the northbound Muggle train that leaves in twenty
minutes.
She was all business again, which was something of a relief. It would be easier to
concentrate on their objective if she behaved like a human reference book.

The trip to Great Hangleton went as planned. The Muggle train ride was similar
to every other train ride Draco had ever had, except the food and drink on the trolley was
quite different. Hermione bought him a beverage called Coca Cola that could easily have
become Dracos favorite drink. It was sweet and bubbly and excellent. It disturbed him
slightly to have discovered two worthy Muggle inventions in one day.
Hermione had transfigured his trousers into black jeans and his Death Eater
robes/trench coat into a cream-colored jacket with a handy wand pocket. She wore
darker blue jeans than the previous day and a button-up blouse of emerald green. It was
an excellent color on her, although he tried not to notice that. She had partially covered
the blouse with a white cardiganalso for wand storage, most likely, as it was shaping
up to be a pleasantly warm day.
They walked from Great Hangleton to Little Hangleton, pretending to be tourists.
Hermione had slung a camera around her neck to add to the disguise, in case locals
happened to ask questions. The Riddle house was in a sorry state of disrepair. The plants
were overgrown all around it and the roof looked to be collapsing on one corner. Several
windows were broken and it had likely become a refuge for local hoodlums.
Should we try the back door? she asked, eyeing the place apprehensively.
You tell me, Draco said flippantly. You Gryffindors are the experts at
sneaking around and poking their noses where they dont belong.
We are not!
He looked at her pointedly. She ignored him and followed the overgrown path
around the side of the house, pushing brambles and weeds aside as she went. The back
door appeared locked, but a quick Alohomora fixed that. The door gaped opened with a
rusty creak. Hermione looked at him somewhat nervously.
Shall we? she asked.
After you, he said brightly. Frankly, after raiding Voldemorts headquarters to
rescue a captured Gryffindor, he thought Horcrux hunting was a positive lark.

They walked from room to room in the dark, dust-covered, rickety house. The
roof had leaked in several places, rotting floorboards and making their footing
treacherous.
What exactly are we looking for? Draco asked, nudging aside the broken
remains of a table. The house had apparently been stripped of everything valuable, but
several broken or worthless items remained.
I dont know. If Voldemort hid a Horcrux here, we need to think like him in
order to determine where he might have put it.
No problem. Think like a raving, psychotic, megalomaniac freak that recently
returned from the dead.
Aside from the recently returned from the dead portion, you should have no
difficulty, she said.
He aimed a light stinging hex at her buttocks. She yelped and then laughed.
All right, I suppose youre not quite raving.
He raised his wand threateningly and she snatched the end of it to wrench it out of
his hand. He didnt let go and they had a playful tug-of-war that ended when he yanked
the wand sharply, throwing her against him. He wrapped his other arm around her waist
and squeezed.
Stop tormenting me, he warned, looking down into her upturned face. She had
a smudge of dirt across one cheek and her hair was hopelessly tangled. She laughed and
pressed the tip of her wand under his chin.
I have six years of torment to make up for, she said and tapped gently.
I thought it was against the Gryffindor credo to hold a grudge, he admonished.
Its my grudge and I shall hold it as long as I like.
He grinned and squeezed her again. She gasped.
You look like a ragamuffin, he commented. It was true. A damnably attractive
ragamuffin with her head thrown back and her eyes sparkling like that. He thought about
kissing her.
I wont even tell you what you look like, she said dryly. Now, let me go.
Were here for a reason, remember?
You started it, he breathed and began to lower his mouth to hers. They both
froze at a crashing sound on the floor below. He released her with reluctance. She
turned quickly and headed down to investigate the sound. He cursed softly and followed.
Damned Gryffindor luck, he muttered.

Chapter Twenty - Horcrux

Harry stood at the top of Astronomy Tower and looked out over the Hogwarts
landscape. Dawn was just tinting the sky. They had gone to bed quite late, but Harry had
found himself unable to sleep for worry, so he rose early and went for a walk. He
supposed he should go down and utilize the Pensieve, since he seemed unable to do
anything else useful. He sighed as he recalled the last time he stood on this tower. It was
such a short time ago, yet it seemed like forever. His arms rested on the very spot where
Dumbledore had gone over the edge. Harry put his head in his hands. He had been right
about Snape from the beginning. Now it had come to this. Helplessly waiting to come of
age, sitting idly by while his friends were attacked. He had never felt more helpless in
this senseless war that had begun before he was born, and yet seemed to hinge entirely on
him.
He had always thought that when the time came, Dumbledore would tell him what
to dowould stand beside Harry and guide him with the knowledge of how to defeat
Voldemort. Now Harry had to face the grim reality that not only would Dumbledore not
be standing beside him, but also the possibility that Dumbledore hadnt known how to
defeat Voldemort at all.
Maybe it had always been up to Harry. He looked out over the grounds, calm and
lovely on this beautiful summer morning. It was difficult to believe a threat loomed on
the horizon. He turned to leave when Dobby Apparated beside him. This time, Harry
didnt even jump.
Harry Potter, sir! Mistress Tonks has rescued Neville Longbottom! He is at the
wizard hospital.
Harry was flabbergasted. Are you sure?
Yes, Harry Potter. I was with Mistress Tonks, as Harry Potter requested.
Hermione Granger was there before us!
What? Hermione was there?
Yes, Harry Potter. Dobby does not know how she got there or why she was with
very bad wizard
How could she? Harry burst out. Its one thing to go without us, but to not
even send word?
Dobby nodded. And then Kreacher came.
Kreacher? Where did all this happen?
At the home of Dobbys former wicked master.
Malfoys, Harry breathed.
Yes, Harry Potter.
Thats why Lupin wouldnt tell me. Not that it would have done any good, since
I dont know where Malfoy Manor is. He scowled. But, how did Hermione know to
go there? Did Tonks fetch her?
No, Harry Potter. Hermione Granger was there with
Hedwig! Harrys owl landed on his arm and hooted softly. Finally! Maybe
now Ill get some answers.
Dobby sighed.
Sometimes Harry Potter just doesnt listen to Dobby.
Harry tugged the message from Hedwigs leg and opened it.
H Youve probably heard about last nights adventure by now. Ill tell you
more in detail when I see you. I am well and I have a lead on one of the objects we
discussed. I will check it out today and join you this afternoon. H
Harry scowled and stalked back to Gryffindor Tower.
Look at this! Harry snapped once Ron finished grumbling about a fellow not
being able to get any bloody sleep with Harry around.
Ron read the message twice.
So shes off having fun without us? And no mention at all of Mr. Tall, Blond,
and Sterling Good Looks. What the hell?
Its Malfoy, Harry snarled.
What?
Who else could it be? Death Eater, our age, bloody handsome. Doesnt bear a
single mention from Hermione, with good reason! Hes Devlin Whitehorn. Even that!
A Quidditch reference! Who else would think to use that name?
What could he want with her? Why would he send her a message about her
parents? Why warn her?
Its a trick. But shes not stupid enough to fall for any of his lies.
Ron nodded. She hates him as much as we do. Maybe more. Well, probably
not as much as me. But a lot.
Harry agreed, but it worried him.
Shes going to look for a Horcrux. Damn it, I told her how hard it was for me
and Dumbledore to get the locket. Shed better not be going alone.
Well, if shes going with Malfoy, maybe hell get poisoned this time.
The thought cheered Harry immediately.
Youre right! Maybe shes using him like a mine canary.
Like a what?
A mine canary. Muggles dig deep holes in the ground to mine for precious
stones. To see if the air is deadly, they lower down a caged canary. If it comes up dead,
they know the air isnt safe to breathe.
Malfoy. A mine canary, Ron breathed. Its bloody brilliant.
Harry grinned. Yeah.
With the happy thought of Malfoys imminent demise to cheer them, they went
down to breakfast.

* * * * *
Hermione bolted down the stairs like a true Gryffindor, wand out and completely
heedless of danger. Draco would have crept down cautiously, but supposed leaping into
the fray had the advantage of surprising the enemy with sheer disbelief at the stupidity, if
nothing else.
The crash had come from an area directly below where they had been standing, by
which he deduced it was the former dining room. The only furniture left in the room was
a broken sideboard, but Dracos attention was immediately drawn to the huge fireplace
on the outer wall. The windows in the room had been boarded up, so it was quite dark.
Hermione had lit her wand and now she brightened it to illuminate the creature that stood
where the fireplace grate should have been.
Fawkes? Hermione asked in disbelief. The phoenix flapped its golden wings
and cocked its head at her.
Isnt that?
She nodded. Dumbledores phoenix. I think its trying to help us. Draco
scoffed. Surely a stupid bird wouldnt be able to do anything for them. Hermione shot
him a look to let him know she wouldnt appreciate his opinion. It was odd that the bird
was here, he had to admit.
She went to the fireplace and murmured at the bird. Draco walked around the
room cautiously.
Whats the significance of this place, anyway? he asked. I mean, I know who
Tom Riddle wasmy father told me that much, at least.
This is the room where Voldemort killed his father, Hermione said.
Grandparents, too, apparently. Draco stopped walking with a grimace. Morbid
thought, to know he might be standing where a dead body had lain. He edged over to the
fireplace.
Dumbledore said Voldemort made Horcruxes with items that were important to
himrelics from the four Houses, his own diary, and things from his past. He also hid
these objects in places that had meaning for him. Dumbledore found the ring in the
former home of Voldemorts mother. It was there not because he valued her, but because
the connection to Salazar Slytherin was important to him.
She was back to sounding like a history book, but she still had that smudge across
her cheek
This place would be significant because its where hein his twisted mind
triumphed over his Muggle father. You do know Voldemort is a half-blood, right?
Draco made a face. Yes, were forbidden to bring it up on pain of death. Most
of the Death Eaters dont know, but my father spent a long time researching the Dark
Lords past. It pays to know who youre working for.
Or against.
Exactly.
The phoenix fluttered its wings again and Hermione nodded.
Yes, Fawkes, I know the fireplace is important. I have an idea. She raised her
wand. This spell is useless in the wizarding world, since nearly everything is magical or
has been touched by it, but it should serve us here. It detects traces of magic.
Compera Navita.
The fireplace glowed brightly with a reddish light.
As expected. Hermione walked to the center of the room, where a faint trace of
green glowed.
This is old magic, she said. This is likely the spot where the Riddles were
killed. She went back to the fireplace. This is more recent, and still active. It must be
a portal, but to where?
And how do we open it?
Pateo, said Hermione and suddenly the floor of the fireplace dropped away,
revealing a dark passage leading down. Fawkes flapped his wings and hopped into the
room. What do you know? Open. Sometimes the simplest ways are the best.
Sometimes the simplest ways are traps. That was far too easy.
I agree. Hes luring us down there, where the real fun begins. She sighed and
looked at Draco expectantly. Shall we?
Hell no! Will you stop thinking like a Gryffindor for a minute?
I am a Gryffindor.
Well, Im not. The Dark Lord obviously set this trap for barmy people like you
that barge in the front door to face the danger head-on. He walked toward the doorway
leading to the kitchen. Come on. Slytherins dont use the front door, especially when
they are wide open with a welcome sign hanging on the post.
Where are you going?
I thought you were the intelligent one. Where do you suppose that portal leads?
She followed him to the kitchen, where he stopped before a blank wall.
Okay, cast your magic perception spell here.
She looked at him in puzzlement, but did so. To his satisfaction, the wall glowed
with a purple light. Draco chuckled.
As I suspected. This house has a basement. Voldemort removed the door.
Draco cast a vanishing spell and several boards disappeared to reveal a gaping
passageway. Another purple glow met their eyes from below. Damn. He also took out
the stairs.
It looks like he planned for sneaky Slytherins, too, Hermione said dryly.
Bastard. I still say this is better that using the fireplace.
I actually agree with you. However, there might be a better way.
She went back to the dining room. Now, the basement likely encompasses the
same area as the rest of the house. For certain, there is open space beneath this room.
So, we should break up the floor and drop down, he suggested.
Draco lifted his wand, but she put out a hand to stop him.
No! He would have thought of that. What would he do to prevent it? She
snapped her fingers. A booby trap. But what kind? We need to get a look under there.
She bent down and touched her wand to one of the hardwood floorboards. In
moments, she had transfigured it into glass. Draco reluctantly admired her cleverness.
Very nice. Now we have an excellent view of the darkness down there.
She threw him a look and searched the floor until she found a small knothole.
She poked her wand tip into it and cast another spell. Instantly, light shot from every
crack in the floorboards, illuminating the room with golden rays.
Draco peered through the glass floorboard and whistled. It allowed him a limited
view of the area directly below the fireplace. He could see a wall of knives hovering in
the air, awaiting the first person to use the fireplace portal. Hermione joined him.
Crude, but likely only a small taste of what is down there, she said. Lets see
what else awaits us. She went back to the knothole and cast Compera Navita once
more. The white light from below was joined by several multicolored glows.
Draco couldnt make out many details, but Hermione tapped the glass board
lightly.
This is what I was afraid of. It makes our job quite a lot harder.
Directly beneath the glass was a glowing web of yellow lines.
What is it? he asked.
Its like a Muggle alarm system. If we crack a board, it will break one of these
lines and trigger the spell. Im not sure what will happen, but you can bet it will be bad.
Draco sighed.
Any other bright ideas?
She grinned at him. Im not finished, yet.
Hermione turned the glass board back into wood and then carefully walked
around the dining room turning various pieces of wood into glass and back again. She
didnt dare turn the whole floor at onceit would never hold the weight of the house
above. At last she halted, directly in the center of the dim green glow.
I should have checked here first, she said soberly. Draco walked over to see.
Beneath the glass board, he could see a small table draped with green velvet, upon which
rested a golden cup. Hufflepuffs cup, she murmured.
Thats a Horcrux?
Hermione nodded. Now that weve found it, we have to figure out how to get it
out of there.
Draco thought about it for a moment. Turn this board back into wood.
She didnt question him. When it was oak once more, Draco used his wand to
vanish the nails holding it to the floor. Then he carefully levitated the board and set it
down nearby. With the board missing, they could clearly see the webwork of magic that
lined the ceiling of the basement. The largest gap between them was about ten
centimeters. The cup itself radiated an orange glow, but the area around it was clear.
Accio? Draco asked Hermione. She shook her head.
I doubt it will work, but feel free to try it. He did, but the cup didnt move.
I have an idea. Since Voldemort hates all things Muggle, I doubt something this
simple would have occurred to him. Wait here.
She got up and ran out of the room. Before Draco had time to get bored, she was
back with a long stick from the garden and a length of rope.
This used to be a garden rake. It needs a bit of modification, but I think it will
work.
She was busy with her wand for the next few minutes, lengthening the stick and
attaching the rope to it by various means.
Voila. Just like a snake-catching stick. Rather fitting, Id say. Be ready for
anything, she mentioned.
She tucked her wand into her back pocket and gently inserted the stick, now with
a loop in the end, between two of the glowing yellow lines, being extremely careful not to
touch them. Then she lowered the stick, bit by bit, down to the golden cup. Draco felt
sweat begin to bead on his forehead.
Now for the hard part, she whispered.
Ever so carefully, she twisted the stick to maneuver the loop over the lip of the
cup. The difficult part was keeping the stick itself from touching the warding lines. Or
the cup. It seemed to take a dozen tries, but finally the loop dropped down over the lip.
She let out a shaky breath in relief.
All right, Ill hold it here. You tug the end of the rope to tighten it.
Draco pulled the rope by gentle degrees and watched as the loop grew taut about
the cup.
Okay, Hermione breathed and took a better grip. Here we go.
She lifted the stick and they forgot to breathe as the cup rose, tipped, and swung
freely in the air. They froze for the space of six heartbeats and then she started to pull the
cup upward. Draco was amazed and started to think they might actually get out of the
place unscathed. The cup drew closer and closer.
Uh oh, Hermione said.
What?
The cup wont fit through the gridlines.
They both examined the problem while the cup hovered below them. It was
maybe a centimeter too long. The stick shook slightly and Draco knew Hermione had to
be getting tired from the strain of holding it steady.
Do you think we can Disapparate?
No. Not with it still down there. We will go and it will drop.
He sighed. Wait here for just a bit.
He sprang to his feet and hurried to the nearest boarded up window and began to
Vanish the boards. Soon the window opening was bare. He placed his wand in a pocket
and returned to Hermione.
All right. Give me that thing.
What do you mean to do?
He put his hands next to hers and held the stick. Her exhaustion was evident
when she gratefully let go.
Okay, now go outside, he ordered.
No! Im not leaving you!
Why? Because you dont trust me, or you dont want me to get hurt?
Both, she snapped.
Fine! Then at least go and stand by the window. And get that stupid bird out of
here.
Fawkes, youd better go.
The phoenix lifted off and sailed out the window gracefully. Hermione hadnt
moved.
Stubborn little
Dont even say it.
On three, then, Draco said. One. Two. Three! At the last word, he yanked
the stick holding the Horcrux and flung himself toward the window. He felt hands grip
his jacket and then he was tugged through the air at the same time a dreadful cracking,
splintering noise filled his ears. His shin caught the window frame as he sailed through.
He landed on his back in a bramble bush with a painful crash.
As he watched, the Riddle house broke apart and crashed in upon itself with a roar
of shattered timber. A massive cloud of dust and debris billowed into the air. He shut his
eyes as the cloud sprayed over him like a fine mist. Small bits of wood and plaster rained
down on him. He opened his eyes and looked at Hermione, who lay next to him looking
like a dusty ghost. A fine layer of dirt covered her completely and there were small
pieces of debris caught in her curls.
Brilliant of you to wear a white jumper, he commented.
Did we get it? she asked, ignoring him.
The stick was still gripped in Dracos hands. He lifted it and a glint of gold met
his eyes as the cup flashed in the sunlight. Hermione cried out happily and threw her
arms around him.
I dont believe it! We actually did it!
He laughed. That was sheer madness. You pulled us out, didnt you?
She sat back and flicked her wand. Wingardium Leviosa. Simple. She got to
her feet and gave him a hand. They both looked at the cup dangling from the rope.
Taking a breath, Draco reached out and grasped it. It felt cold to the touch, but otherwise
seemed to be only a simple chalice. He sighed in relief, released the rope, and threw the
stick aside.
Wed better go, Hermione warned. That crash will draw Muggle attention.
Draco nodded. She stepped close to him and reached up to touch his hair. She
giggled.
I never thought Id see the day when Draco Malfoy was less than immaculate.
And youve progressed from ragamuffin to dirty vagrant, he retorted with a
grin.
Youll be punished for that one, she warned.
How to you propose to do that?
Like this. She leaned into him, wrapped one arm around his neck and smiled
up at him. You see, were going to Hogwarts.
Before he could register the thought, they Disapparated.

Chapter Twenty One - Speculation

They Apparated into Hogsmeade close to the Shrieking Shack where Harry had
once pelted Draco with snowballs from the safety of his Invisibility Cloak. Draco
wondered if she had chosen the spot merely for the bad memory.
He stepped out of her grasp immediately.
Absolutely not. I am not going up there.
Why not? Youve certainly proven yourself. If I no longer want to kill you,
everyone else should have no problem accepting you.
Everyone else? I doubt that. Your friend Potter has despised me since the first
moment we met.
Well Harrys a special case. But, hes not unreasonable. Ill talk to him.
Hell be fine, she said placatingly.
Youre quite a wretched liar, he said. She flushed.
You have to do this sooner or later. We cant keep hiding out together forever.
Why not? Im starting to like it, he said snidely, twisting the words into a lie.
Her eyes flashed.
Well, Im not. The Death Eaters could return at any time. My parents house is
simply not safe, and now we have to dispose of that. She gestured at the cup still
clasped in Dracos hand. Since we have no idea how to accomplish it, we need Harrys
help.
Draco sneered. Yes, Im quite sure The Chosen One will have no problem
figuring that out.
You are not helping your cause with that attitude!
I dont have a cause!
You most certainly do. After the past three days you cant even pretend you
dont care. You do not want Voldemort to win any more than we do or you wouldnt
have taken so many chances.
She stepped close to him and gripped his jacket in a fist as if to hold him in place.
Her voice was soft and heartfelt.
Look, Malfoy, you came to me and I know it had to be bloody hard for you.
Maybe the hardest thing youve ever done. Can you look at me now and tell me you
regret making that choice?
He looked into her sincere brown eyes and her dirty face and tangled hair and
tried to remember how he used to feel about her. The horrible little Know-It-All that had
treated him like the lowest vermin was gone, replaced by this maddening, earnest,
hopeful girl who looked at him with undeserved faith.
Youre completely mad, he whispered.
Were not talking about me.
Dont look at me like that.
Like what?
Like you have complete confidence in me. Im not worth your trust.
Youre quite an excellent liar, she said dryly. But, I can make my own
decisions. Now, are you coming willingly, or shall I hex you and drag you there
unconscious?
The steel in her voice warned him that she was serious. He made one last effort to
dissuade her.
Can we at least return to Caerphilly and have one last shower?
She laughed in surprise. No. If youre concerned about being dirty, I can fix
that. She tapped him with her wand and he felt the dust strip away from his flesh and
hair.
Ouch!
Infant. Here, Ill do it, too. She cast the spell on herself and an unseen force
seemed to envelop her. The dirt disappeared and her hair crackled with cleanliness. Her
jumper was sparkling white again. Draco was almost sorry to see the smudge on her
cheek go.
Youre right. That does sting.
He set his jaw, but refrained from comment. What do you plan to do with this?
He held up the golden cup and examined it. The engraved badger was as ugly as all the
Hufflepuff crests he had ever seen. Wretched, hideous thing. No wonder the Dark Lord
hid it in a broken down shack. A badger. What a grotesque creature.
Hermione nodded thoughtfully. Yes, snakes are ever so much more pleasant and
cuddly.
Im glad you recognize that.
She conjured a leather pouch and held it open for Draco to tuck the cup inside.
She slung the strap over her shoulder.
By the way, no one knows anything about Horcruxes except you, me, Harry and
Ron. Wed like to keep it that way.
Dracos brow raised and he tsked disapprovingly.
Keeping secrets from the Order? How very un-Gryffindor-like.
Hush. Now come along. No more stalling. She took his arm and towed him
toward the path that led to the school.
You can let go of me, you know.
No, I cant. I dont have the time to track you down if you disappear.
He was surprised. You would come after me?
Someone has to save you from yourself.
He scowled. That wasnt at all the answer hed expected.
They walked until the Hogwarts gates came into view and then Hermione cast a
Patronus. Draco watched the silver otter streak toward Hogwarts. Her Patronus was
interesting. He wasnt as surprised by it as he would have been a few days ago. He now
knew a mischievous, playful person was hidden under all that bossy, overbearing
intelligence.
When they reached the gates, they waited.
What is your Patronus? she asked curiously. Draco flushed. He hated his
Patronus, which was why he seldom cast the spell. It was terribly embarrassing and
there were other ways to deal with dementors.
Never mind.
Why? Is it something horrible? Like a ferret?
He glared at her. Very funny. No. It is not a ferret.
Well, I thought you made a very cute ferret. I wanted to put you in a cage and
take you to my room and feed you ferret treats.
He groaned. Oh, that would have been pleasant.
She smiled broadly. Professor McGonagall was approaching. Draco drew back,
but Hermiones grip on his arm tightened.
Youll be fine, she murmured.
Miss Granger, McGonagall said in surprise, gaping at Draco through the bars of
the gate. She made no move to open it. What is the meaning of this?
Malfoy has decided to join us in the war against Voldemort, Professor, she
stated briskly. We already owe him a great debt. Draco shut his eyes in a give-me-
strength attitude at her words. Surely she could have done better than that?
This is never going to work, he murmured to Hermione. She kicked his ankle
slightly and he winced. McGonagalls sharp gaze narrowed at the exchange.
What are you talking about? Are you under an Imperius Curse?
The question seemed to strike Hermione as funny. She giggled and looked at
Draco playfully.
Am I? Can you even cast an Imperius Curse?
Of course I can, he said hotly. What kind of minion of the Dark Lord would I
be if I couldnt cast a simple Unforgivable?
Well, you never really were a minion of the Dark Lord, or you wouldnt be here
right now, would you?
A minor detail.
Miss Granger! McGonagall burst out, snapping them out of their conversation.
Sorry, Professor. You need to know that Draco was responsible for the rescue of
Neville Longbottom last night. He also warned us of the attack on Luna Lovegood and
my parents, in time to save them both.
You can prove this, of course? McGonagall said dryly.
Tonks can vouch for him, Hermione said confidently.
Tonks?
Feel free to ask her. Well wait.
McGonagall seemed to be having a difficult time processing Hermiones words,
but the sight of Hermione clinging to Dracos arm apparently decided her. She cast a
Patronus that sped southward.
Is there any news of Neville? Hermione asked suddenly.
He is awake and should recover. He was given the Cruciatus Curse repeatedly,
but hopefully not enough to do permanent damage. She glared at Draco. Guilty by
association, he supposed.
So, what possessed you to change sides, Mr. Malfoy? she asked as though she
thought it more likely that the sun would suddenly turn into a pink parasol. Draco
shrugged.
I was bored. All that torturing, killing, and groveling before the Dark Lord got
old fairly quickly.
Hermione elbowed him and gave him one of her patented looks of annoyance.
Can you be serious?
No. And frankly, Id rather not be here at all. McGonagall doesnt want to let
me in, I do not want to go in, so how about you just let me Disapparate and we will all be
satisfied?
Absolutely not, she said adamantly. Draco wanted to beat his head against the
bars in frustration.
Tonks did better than send a reply. She Apparated. Her pink hair looked brilliant
in the sunlight. She grinned at them brightly.
Wotcher, Hermione. Cousin Draco, she said.
Nymphadora, McGonagall said and Draco saw her wince at the name. Is it
true that Draco Malfoy assisted in the rescue of Neville Longbottom?
Tonks nodded happily. Yeah. He was brilliant. You should have seen him after
Hermione was knocked out. Fought like a lion. Nice to see someone in the family has
found some sense.
Draco looked smugly at McGonagall and raised a single brow. Her expression
didnt change.
Very well, Miss Granger. I shall hold you responsible for his behavior.
Draco looked at Hermione as if pleased at the thought. She gave him a warning
stare. McGonagall tapped the lock and it clicked open. The chain slithered through the
bars and she pushed one gate open for them to enter. Draco felt suddenly claustrophobic.
There was no easy way out of Hogwarts; he wanted to bolt for freedom. Only
Hermiones steadying presence and her unrelenting grip on his arm kept him from doing
so. She pulled him through the gate.
The walk to the school felt like a march to the gallows. Hermione had the role of
serene cleric, secure in the belief that Draco was going to a better place. McGonagall
was like the judgmental victim, stoically waiting to see justice done. And Tonks was a
curious bystanderunconcerned, but happy to watch events unfold. She babbled to
McGonagall the entire way, mostly about trivial happenings at the Ministry.
They entered the Entrance Hall and Hermione finally released Draco. Tonks and
McGonagall threw them a curious look, but ascended the staircase and left them alone.
Im going to find Harry. Do you want to go to the Slytherin common room and
settle in?
No, I dont think so. Ill go with you.
She looked concerned.
That might not be the best idea. I should talk to them, first.
I refuse to hide behind your skirts, he said coldly.
Im not wearing a skirt.
Lead on, Granger. Lets see if your precious Potter is as understanding as you
think he is.
Must you always be so difficult?
Is there another way?
She threw her hands up. Fine. Do everything the hard way. She looked at him
critically. I like the trench coat, but it doesnt look right here at Hogwarts. Without
asking permission, she transfigured his coat back into a black cloak, though not the Death
Eater robes they had been originally. She turned her white jumper into a short cape of
Gryffindor red.
It took them a surprisingly long time to find Potter and the Weasel. First they
walked up to the seventh floor to find the Gryffindor opening barred because Hermione
did not know the password. The ugly portrait informed her that no one was within.
They went next to the library, against Dracos advice that Potter and Weasley
wouldnt be caught dead in a library unless Hermione dragged them there. He gave her a
satisfied smirk when his prediction was validated.
Try the kitchen, Draco suggested. Weasley seems to be inordinately fond of
stuffing himself when the food is free.
Hermiones face went red and she turned on him. Weve been here less than a
half hour and Im already not liking you again!
He grinned laconically. Your lying hasnt improved.
Oh, shut up!
They were descending the central staircase when Harry and Ron exited the Great
Hall. Hermione spotted them first.
Harry! she cried. She leaped down the last few stairs and flung herself at
Potters neck. Draco watched Potters arms go around her and he felt his jaw clench
slightly.
She released Harry and pounced on Weasley, who held her far too tightly and far
too long. Potter caught sight of Draco, who hadnt moved from his position on the steps.
Harrys wand was out and leveled in a heartbeat. Draco wondered if The Chosen One
stood in front of the mirror and practiced wand brandishing. Draco left his own wand
tucked into his cloak, knowing Mr. Gryffindor Nobility wouldnt dare hex him while he
was unarmed.
Whats he doing here? Weasley yelled. He had not removed his arm from
around Hermiones neck. Rather possessive gesture, Draco thought. To her credit, she
shook off Weasley and hurried back up to stand next to Draco.
Put your wand away, Harry, she ordered. Malfoy will be working with us
from now on.
Fat chance! Harry snapped, drowning whatever nasty comment had spilled
from Weasleys lips.
Ill give you the details later, but without his help, Luna would be lost, Neville
would still be a prisoner and we would not have this. She opened her pouch and held up
Hufflepuffs cup.
Is that?
A Horcrux, yes.
You told him? Harry yelled. Draco reflected that her friends certainly bellowed
a lot when they were upset. It must be a Gryffindor trait. Slytherins tended to go the
opposite way and retreat into enraged hissing, baleful glares, and hateful get-even pranks.
The Gryffindor way was louder, but quicker.
He already knew! Hermione shouted back, getting into the spirit.
Ill bet he did! Hes probably been sent to take them from us once we recover
them! Harry snarled.
Thats ridiculous. She dropped the cup back into the pouch and continued
matter-of-factly, Now, we all need to set aside our differences and work on the problem
at hand, which is the destruction of this cup and the location of the other items.
Set aside our differences? Ron bellowed. Have you gone completely mental?
Dont you remember who was responsible for letting the Death Eaters into this school?
Its his fault Dumbledore is dead! He nearly killed Katie Bell, he nearly killed me, and
he got Bill mauled by that demented werewolf!
Draco grinned and wondered how Granger would counter that one. Potter was
nodding like a china doll with a broken neck. Hermione rose to the challenge.
He only did those things to save his parents. If you were in that situation,
Ronald, you might have done the same!
Weasleys eyes were cold. No, I really dont think I would. And I cant believe
youre defending him!
Potter spoke up in a scathing tone. Dont you have anything to say for yourself,
Malfoy? Going to let Hermione do all the talking for you?
Draco smiled coldly, but his blood boiled at the very idea of explaining himself to
Potter. He managed to keep his voice even.
She likes to talk, as you may have noticed. Frankly, I dont give a fucking damn
about your opinion, Potter. I dont owe you any explanations and I have no intention of
trotting out my actions for your narrow-minded, judgmental, Gryffindor perusal. Youve
made up your mind about me and I have definitely made up my mind about you, so lets
acknowledge our mutual hatred and move on to the task at hand. The sooner we destroy
the Dark Lords trinkets, the sooner you and he can get on with the job of eradicating
each other and the sooner the rest of us can get back to our lives.
Potters green eyes fairly sparkled with rage. Weasley couldnt even speak and
his face was so red his freckles were invisible.
Was that absolutely necessary? Hermione hissed. Her voice was heavy with
reproach. Draco was suddenly sick to death of Gryffindors. Hermione and her bloody
ideals! What had she expected? That he, Potter, and Weasley would embrace like
brothers? He decided to spoil her naivet.
Yes, I think it was, he said icily. But, thank you for trying.
With that, he reached out and slung an arm around her waist. He pulled her
tightly against him and then leaned down to plant a kiss on her astonished mouth. He
took his time about it, figuring he might as well die for a pound as a penny. Intending to
chastise her, he tasted her lingeringly, letting his tongue glide over her lips in exquisite
torment. His senses were suddenly overcome with the feel, scent, and taste of her. His
own pulse quickened, which was not at all what hed intended.
She was too stiff with shock to respond. Of all the risks hed taken in the past few
days, kissing Hermione Granger with a wand in her hand in full view of her two
protectors ranked quite high up on the list.
He nibbled her bottom lip with his teeth, wishing the moment didnt have to end
so soon, and then released her and stepped back. Her eyes had an incredulous, glazed
look and she barely seemed to be breathing. He felt a bit dazed himself.
You know where Ill be, he said dryly and stepped lightly down the stairs.
The horrified stasis that held Potter and Weasley was broken by Rons cry of pure
rage.
You bastard!
Draco didnt pause, although he flicked a glance at Weasley. To his amusement,
Potter reached out and grabbed Rons arm before he could level a crazed spell at Draco.
Better keep your pet on a leash, Potter, he said as he passed them. Hes liable
to get hurt. He chuckled slightly as he took the stairs to the Slytherin dungeon and left
the Gryffindors behind. Hermione was likely to hate him again after that display and
Draco was both relieved and disappointed by the notion. It was back to status quo:
Draco against the Gryffindor trio. He sighed. Bloody hell. Kissing her had been far
better than hed imagined

* * * * *

Hermione was too shocked to move. Dracos kiss was intensesearching,


teasing, and altogether electrifying. In the space of two heartbeats she felt so weak she
could barely stand and every coherent thought was overwhelmed by the feel of him
pressed hard against her and taste of him upon her mouth.
She nearly staggered when he released her to sweep down the stairs without a
backward glance. She stared after him in bemusement as he stalked past Ron and Harry.
She vaguely noticed Ron leap at Draco, to be stopped by Harry. Her eyes followed his
platinum head as it disappeared above a billow of black cloak.
Only when her gaze drifted back to meet Harrys stormy emerald orbs did reality
snap back into place. She felt a blush creep into her cheeks. Harry ascended the stairs
until he stood next to her.
I hope you have a bloody good explanation for that, he said and walked away.
Ron trailed after him and looked at her with angry disgust.
Kissing Draco Malfoy? he spat. What the hell have you two been doing?
Who the hell are you? He stormed after Harry and she glanced at the dungeon entrance.
At the moment, she would have much preferred to run after Draco than follow her two
enraged companions.
Why had he kissed her? Merely to annoy Harry and Ron? Was there more to it
than that? At the Riddle house, she had thought he was going to kiss her, but the moment
passed and she was certain she had imagined it
She sighed shakily and shook off her preoccupation with Malfoy. Hermione
never knew what to expect from him, anyway. There could be a reason for his action or
it could merely have been an impulsive amusement. She hurried after Harry and Ron.
She caught up with them on the fifth floor while they waited for the staircase to shift.
Look, I know this is hard. Its going to be difficult for you to accept Malfoy
maybe even impossible, but we need all the help we can get, Hermione said. It wasnt
easy for me, either.
Really? sneered Ron. You didnt seem to be fighting all that hard.
All he did was kiss me, Ronald! I suppose I should have turned him into a
mongoose? she snapped.
Yes! Ron yelled.
Well, Im certain he only did it to irritate you and look, it worked! Weve been
through hell in the past two days and I dont think Id have made it without his help, and
Neville certainly wouldnt have. I dont expect you to think hes changed, but there is
more to Draco Malfoy than that annoying faade he constantly projects.
Tonks would have rescued Neville, Harry said doggedly as he stepped onto the
stair.
Oh really? Right after Dobby and Kreacher disappeared? You think she could
have taken on all the Death Eaters by herself? Even I was taken unawares. If Malfoy
planned to betray us, he could have left us both there with Neville.
I dont want to hear another word about Saint Malfoy! Harry decided loudly.
Ron nodded eager agreement.
Fine! she yelled. Bury your head in the sand and dont accept help where its
offered! No one else is going to be able to tell us about the Death Eaters or what
Voldemort might be doing next. Perhaps you should think about that instead of clinging
to your childish hatred!
She stormed away.
Childish? Harry exclaimed after her.
Ill be in the library if you two should care to grow up! she called as a parting
shot.

They arrived in the library some twenty minutes later. Hermione was nearly
obscured behind a stack of dusty tomes.
Find anything? Harry asked sheepishly.
She shook her head. Not a single reference to a Horcrux. I think Im going to
have to go back farther. Maybe the Runic Scrolls will have some mention of who
invented them. It would give us somewhere to start, at least. If we knew how they were
made, maybe we could determine how to destroy one.
I know how they are made. Well, not the spell, but the process. Its created by a
murder, so it isnt like you can undo it.
Hermione sighed. No. Maybe its more like an exorcismto release the soul
trapped inside the object. If nothing else, we may have to apply the Mordor solution. I
dont see how that could fail.
Whats the Mordor solution? Ron asked grudgingly.
Throw it into a live volcano, Harry replied.
We dont have a lot of those in England.
We dont have a lot of those anywhere close by, Hermione said. So,
hopefully, we can find a more viable solution. Let me try in the religious and clerical
section. You two keep checking these. Id rather save translating scrolls from Ancient
Runic for a last resort.
She headed back into the rows of shelves.

* * * * *

Draco became rapidly bored sitting in the Slytherin common room alone. He
thought about contacting Hermione by coin, but wasnt certain how she would react. He
decided to go do some research on his own.
When he entered the library, he was somewhat annoyed to see Potter and Weasley
already there. Weasley was lounging in a window seat, flipping through a large book that
rested on his lap and looking as if he would rather be boiled in oil. Potter sat at a table,
surrounded by books. Hermione was nowhere in sight, which was not a good sign.
Perhaps she was more upset than hed expected.
Harry said nothing, just looked at him through cool green eyes.
Bugger off, Malfoy, Ron said venomously.
Draco smiled lazily.
Wheres Granger? he asked simply to observe Rons reaction. It was better
than expected.
You leave her alone! he yelled, tossing the book aside and leaping to his feet.
Draco tsked. Dont be surprised that she prefers me to you, Weasel. Have you
looked in the mirror, lately? Youve had six years to win her over, but I suppose you did
your best. Only took me two days, but thats to be expected, eh?
Youd better shut your face, Malfoy, before I shut it for you!
Draco sighed. Your threats havent improved, either. Still as empty as ever.
Did you just come here to be your usual unpleasant self, Malfoy? Harry
interjected. Dracos gaze shifted to Potter, who looked surprisingly unperturbed.
No. I wasnt expecting company, he admitted.
Feel free to do what you came to do, then, and stop baiting Ron.
If you were looking for Hermione, shes not here, Ron interjected. Shes most
likely washing her mouth out with strong soap.
Weasleys retort was laughable. Draco decided to let the matter drop. For
Hermiones sake, he would even make a peace overture.
Relax, Weasel. I only kissed her to get your dander up. You know Id never
sully myself with a Mudblood.
He heard a gasp behind him and turned to see Hermione standing behind him with
her arms laden with books. Her eyes were wide and horrified. Draco felt like the wind
had been knocked out of him. Tears swam in her brown eyes and she slapped the books
on the nearest table and fled into the library recesses.
Draco took two steps after her and stopped, conscious of her friends eyes upon
him. Several choice curse words rolled through his mind. He had purposely tried to hurt
her for six long years, yet he had cut her most deeply when he least intended to.
He forced a cold smile attainable only through years of habit and sat down before
the stack of books. He ignored Potter and Weasley to crack open a tome. He turned page
after page without seeing a word.
Hermione returned, marched past Draco without a glance, and sat down across
from Harry. Ron hurried over to sit next to her.
All right, she said briskly. Now that were all here, we can start coming up
with some ideas. Her voice was steady, but Draco caught the wounded undertone. She
conjured a piece of parchment and a quill. What do we know about Horcruxes? Well
go down the list, starting with Who. The first Who, obviously, is Voldemort. I think we
need to focus on the other Whos, such as those that knowor knewabout them.
Professor Slughorn knew, as he gave Tom Riddle information, even though Voldemort
had originally learned about them from another source. I dont think well ever learn
that, but we may be able to determine where Slughorn learned of them. Was it something
he read, some arcane knowledge passed down through his ancestors, or some other
means? If it comes down to it, we may have to confront him. She jotted down several
notes.
The next person of interest is Severus Snape. He seems to know about them,
probably from Dumbledore, but possibly not. For all we know, Snape is the one who told
Dumbledore. Were not likely to find out which.
Draco left off pretending to read and walked closer to the window to lounge in an
overstuffed chair. He threw one leg over the arm of the chair and toyed idly with his
wand. Hermiones voice did not pause.
The next Who is Regulus Black. He not only learned about Horcruxes, but he
learned about Voldemorts Horcruxes. Somehow, he managed to steal one. We have too
many unanswered questions, here. How did he find out? He said he knew Voldemorts
secret, but why would that turn him from being a Death Eater? Sirius said he got in over
his head and tried to back outbecause of what he was being asked to do.
Wrong, Draco said in a bored tone. Hermione hushed and three pairs of eyes
turned to him. He twirled his wand, weaving it through his fingers in a blur. He
shrugged. Regulus was a typical Black, nasty, bloodthirsty and obsessed with fanatical
pureblood idealism. Sirius was the aberrationwhich got him disowned.
The others said nothing, although Ron had made a snorting sound at pureblood
idealism. Draco went on. Regulus had no qualms whatsoever about the dirty deeds the
Dark Lord requested of him. I dont think the Horcruxes would have bothered him
overmuch, either. Actually, the nasty little secret that Regulus discovered was the fact
that his fabulous new Lord and Master was Muggle-born. Regulus had been raised from
birth with the idea that purebloods were royalty and everyone else was fodder. Can you
imagine how horrified and betrayed he would have felt to find hed sold his soul to one
he believed to be unworthy scum? From what I hear, Mum Black would have Crucioed
him at the very idea. You notice none of the other Blacks were standing in line to
become Death Eaters? It was beneath their social circle to begin with. Regulus thumbed
his nose at his family just to join up. It would have been unforgivable for them to
discover the Dark Lord was a Mudblood. I think Regulus went a bit mad at the news and
that is what set him down the path to destroy everything the Dark Lord stood for.
How do you know all this? Harry asked.
Regulus was my mothers favorite cousin. They spent loads of time together. I
think he was half in love with her, even though she was six years older and already dating
my father. She was devastated when he disappeared, but she knew why. She said as
young as he was, he was devilishly clever. He apparently invented more Dark Arts spells
than his friend Severus Snape.
They were friends? Hermione actually spoke. He took that as encouragement.
As close as two egocentric, overachieving loners can get. Apparently, the main
thing they had in common was a deep and abiding hatred for James Potter and Sirius
Black.
Harry was incredulous. Regulus hated Sirius? His own brother?
You find that hard to believe? Regulus was the golden boy of the Black family,
happily clinging to tradition and the Dark Arts. Sirius was the outcast, defiantly
befriending werewolves and Muggle-borns, disregarding everything his family stood for.
Regulus was two years younger. When he came to Hogwarts, Potter and his gang
tormented him mercilessly. He embraced the Dark Arts partly in self-defense.
Where did he learn about Voldemorts Horcruxes?
Draco nodded. Ive been thinking about that and I have a theory. I think it
likely that Bellatrix Lestrange spilled the beans. He stopped twirling his wand and sat
forward, warming to his subject at the novelty of having three Gryffindors intently
hanging on his words. Bella is the most rabid of the Dark Lords followers. To the
point of insanity, as we all know. She prides herself in being the most loyal, most
trusted, most favored. Now, picture young Regulus joining upjust as fanatical, at first,
but by all accounts far more talented. Ruthless and creativea combination the Dark
Lord would recognize and cultivate. Bellatrix would have been furious. She was always
jealous of Regulus, according to Mother. I believe the Dark Lord gave a Horcrux to
Bella. Whether she was to hide it or guard it is anyones guess. She may not even have
known what it was, other than the fact that it was precious to the Dark Lord. Bella, being
overwhelmingly pleased at this sign of trust, probably hurried straight to Regulus to boast
about her favored status. And Regulus, being quite a lot smarter than Bellatrix, would
have known exactly what it was. As soon as he learned the Dark Lords dirty little secret,
he would have made use of that knowledge.
Hermione shook her head. If he was so clever, how was he caught and killed so
quickly?
Draco sighed. That always bothered me. Ive never been convinced he was
killed. If anyone could cheat death and fool the Dark Lord, it would have been Regulus
Black.
But, wouldnt he have come out of hiding once Voldemort disappeared?
Not if he was living like a king in Fiji. He may have chucked it all and fled.
Hard to believe he would have left his adoring mum, but he was ruthless, so its possible.
Or maybe he just slipped up and the Death Eaters caught him.
I wonder if there is any way to determine if hes really dead, Hermione mused.
Does anyone know where he was allegedly killed?
My parents and most of the Death Eaters. Unfortunately, theyre not exactly
reachable at the moment, Draco said.
They would be if we had telephones, Hermione snapped.
Draco grinned. At least she was still speaking to him after a fashion.
I would suggest checking old copies of The Daily Prophet, but I dont think they
wasted much space on dead Death Eaters.
Well check, anyway, Hermione decided. We might get lucky, for once. As
far as I know, that exhausts our Whos. Next, we need to look at What. We already have
the cup, the locket has disappeared, and we have no idea what Gryffindor and Ravenclaw
items Voldemort may have used. Rather than waste time trying to figure out what we
might be looking for, it may be better to concentrate on Where. Once we pinpoint a
location, finding the actual Horcrux should be relatively simple. We got lucky with the
cup, although we have no idea why Snape would help Malfoy find the thing
He likes me, Draco said modestly.
That makes one person, Ron sneered. If you consider Snape to be a person,
that is. He chuckled to himself.
And the other items were in places of significance to Voldemort. If we could
discover places that had meaning to Tom Riddle
The orphanage, Harry said suddenly. Dumbledore told me Riddle was raised
in a Muggle orphanage. The cave he took children to in order to terrify them was the site
of one Horcruxwhy not the place where he first learned he was a wizard?
But, he hated it there. He despised his Muggle roots.
All the more reason to use it as a place to house his greatest triumph. Ill ask
McGonagall to oh, I cant. Well have to go through the old files ourselves. Ill find
out where the archived student records are kept and nick the address.
Ill help you, said Ron.
All right. Where else?
Hogwarts, obviously. Hes obsessed with this place, Draco said.
I agree. We may have to enter the Chamber of Secrets.
Dumbledore was sure to have checked it thoroughly, Harry said.
Ron shuddered. Lets save that for last. Its horrible down there. Full of
spiders.
We probably should have searched it long before now, but youre right, Harry.
Dumbledore was certain to have investigated it properly. Perhaps Voldemort intended
the diary to be kept at Hogwarts all along. A book would not have gained much notice in
a school. Malfoys father actually did us a favor with his nasty little prank, although it
certainly didnt seem like it at the time.
Three accusatory sets of eyes fixed on Draco, who ignored them.
I would suspect the Ministry of Magic, as well, he said.
The Ministry? Harry sounded surprised.
It would amuse him. Difficult for the Dark Lord to smuggle an item in, but his
minions often have free run of the place. Either that or a simple Imperius Curse on a
Ministry official.
Wed never find it there, Ron said. That place is full of weird items.
True, wed have to know exactly what we were looking for. Even then, it would
take us awhile. I might have to figure a way to contact my father and see if he knows
anything. Too bad I didnt have a chance to talk to him about these before I left.
Draco was pensive for a moment. His mother was likely out of her mind with
worry. He needed to send her a message. There was a way, although it was unpleasant
and carried an element of risk.
Hermione continued, Im making a list of all the places Voldemort might have
hidden one, regardless of how slim the chance. I hate to say it, but Godrics Hollow is a
likely location.
Harry blanched. Hermione reached over and squeezed his hand gently.
No need for you to go back there. Ron and I can handle it.
Draco almost snorted. Ron could barely handle dressing himself. Her statement
made it pointedly clear that Draco was not to be included in any of their plans. Hed
have to correct that erroneous assumption.
When Hermione finished scratching on the parchment, she said, Thats it for
Where, unless we can think of any more places. The When doesnt matter and we wont
have much luck with dates, anyway. We really dont know when he made the Horcruxes,
nor when he hid them. Ditto for How. That information seems to be rigidly buried.
Lastly, we already know Why. Because hes terrified of death and hes utterly insane.
She looked at the others.
Where shall we start? Harry, has the Pensieve been any use?
Harry flushed.
Im still working on it. Nothing useful, so far.
Draco raised a brow at that. Harry had obviously left out volumes of information
with that statement. Gryffindors were so transparent. Hermione didnt seem to catch his
omission.
Well, then, I suggest you get back to that, as well as finding out where the
student records are archived. I am starving, so I plan to get something to eat before I
come back here and try to narrow down which locations are the most likely for us to
begin searching. Ron, maybe you can find the archives while Harry is using the
Pensieve. Malfoy I really dont care what you do.
With that, she rolled up the parchment, got to her feet, and stalked out. Ron
looked at Draco with a smug expression. Draco grinned maliciously.
You have your orders, Gryffindors! Snap to it! He snapped his fingers with
emphasis. While youre busy, I plan to relax here and catch up on my sleep. Enjoy
your afternoon.
Draco lounged in the chair with an expression of contentment. He shut his eyes
and listened to Harry and Ron muttering as they stomped out. He chuckled in
satisfaction. Now what was he to do about Hermione Granger?

Chapter Twenty Two Happy Potions and How to Make Them


Draco waited long enough to make certain Potter and Weasley wouldnt return
and then he headed downstairs. He caught Hermione as she exited the fruit painting that
led to the kitchens. She stared at him in surprise for a moment and then her eyes
narrowed.
I decided Im not that hungry, after all, she said casually. Im going to visit
Hagrid.
Draco shook his head in puzzlement. He would never understand the trios
affinity for that freakish, half-giant monster.
I need to talk to you, he said. Her expression instantly chilled.
What for? I dont want you to taint yourself by being in such close proximity to
a loathsome Mudblood.
Draco winced. She really was angry. Hermione stepped around him and started
for the front doors. He turned and went after her.
Look, I only said that to Weasley for your sake.
She stopped and turned to glare at him.
For my sake. Please tell me how spiteful slurs uttered behind my back are to my
benefit.
I was trying to calm the Weasel. He was practically frothing at the mouth.
A state you likely contributed to put him in.
True, but he wasnt putting that weapon on the table.
Regardless. I only said what I did to appease Weasley. He paused and
suddenly realized that he couldnt recall the last time hed apologized to anyone, for
anything. It had likely been years. He continued lamely, I didnt mean it. I dont
think of you that way any longer.
Her icy expression didnt change. Weve already established that youre an
excellent liar. You need not remind me.
She turned and pushed her way out the doors. Draco flushed angrily. Stubborn
wench!
He caught her at the foot of the steps outside. Afternoon shadows were
lengthening about the grounds and a wicked breeze had sprung up. Clouds billowed on
the horizon, promising more rain. Dracos hand closed on Hermiones arm. She glared
at him and tore her arm out of his grasp.
Dont you ever touch me again! she snarled. Her hair, caught by the wind,
twisted across her face in wild strands. I dont want you to sully yourself!
I already said I didnt mean that! he yelled, incensed.
Youve called me a Mudblood a hundred thousand times since we started at this
school! she shouted back. How could you suddenly not mean it? Youre a bloody
pureblood and that will always be important to you. I was an idiot to believe you had
changed! In two days? What was I thinking?
She headed down the path again, walking so quickly that she was nearly running.
Draco tore a hand through his hair. Hed never been faced with such obstinacy. He
pulled out his wand and sent a spell flying after her. A nearby bush reached out and
snatched at her cape, dragging her to a halt. She glared at him as he approached. Her
hands busily attacked the offending branches, trying to break their grip.
Why are you following me? she demanded.
I want you to listen, Draco snapped.
Why?
Im starting to wonder that, myself.
Their stares matched ice for ice. The rising wind did nothing to cool Dracos
growing fury. His cape flapped about his legs and Hermiones emerald blouse clung to
every curve. Draco was suddenly at a loss for words. She was determined not to listen to
him. He clenched his fists and wondered why he even bothered. What was she to him?
A girl that had stupidly trusted him? How many of those had he devastated? Why did he
care about her opinion, anyway?
He angrily sent a spell at the bush, freeing her.
Forget it, he said and set his jaw. Its not worth it.
Draco turned and stalked back to the castle without looking back.

* * * * *

Hermione watched him go and felt a hard lump form in her throat. Almost, she
ran after him, but what would that prove? That she was willing to be an idiot once more?
That she could take one look at him and drown in those silver eyes? That she was foolish
enough to believe in him simply because it was what she wanted? She pulled her cape
tightly around herself, fighting the growing chill that came from within.
She watched Draco until the door slammed behind him as he entered the building.
Why did he have to be such a puzzle? He was so bloody unpredictable and wrapped up
in intricacies. Which Draco was the real one today? The one that kissed her? Or the one
that called her Mudblood? The one that tried to apologize, or the one that stalked away
like a wounded panther?
She turned and continued down the path to Hagrids hut, pushed along by the
wind. Rather than knock on the door, she actually banged into it with both hands held
out to stop herself.
The door opened and Hagrid filled the doorway.
Hermione! I didnt know you was here! Come in out o the wind! Its gotten
right nasty out there. Let me get you a nice cuppa.
She sat down at the table and watched Hagrid bustle around near the fire. It was
always somehow comforting to be in Hagrids cozy home, even though one never knew
what terrifying creatures might lurk in every wooden crate. With that thought in mind,
Hermione asked nervously, Have you gotten any new pets, lately?
Hagrid sighed and set a gigantic steaming mug before her. She wondered if she
would be able to pick it up with both hands.
Naw, I havent felt much up ter gettin out, since
Hermione nodded. Hagrids expression was grim. She knew Dumbledores death
had affected Hagrid more than anyone. Dumbledore had been more than a friend; he had
practically become Hagrids father.
But, Lupins been havin me do some stuff fer the Order. Ter keep me busy, he
said brightly. Im sure glad yeh come ter see me. I know Harry and Rons here, but
they havent come down mus be too busy
Hermione hastened to reassure him while mentally sending a sharp kick in
Harrys direction.
He probably thinks youre off on a mission for the Order. And hes been using
Dumbledores Pensieve to try and find some information on how to stop VolYou-
Know-Who. She had weaned herself away from using Voldemorts pseudonym, but it
still bothered Hagrid to hear his name.
Hagrid nodded sadly. Yer probly righ. I shoulda gone up ter see Harry. Its
just every time I go ter the castle, I keep expectin ter see him comin down the stairs
or standin in the Great Hall
Tears filled Hagrids eyes and Hermione impulsively stood to give him a hug. He
enveloped her in his huge arms, being careful not to crush her, and sobbed a bit. After
awhile, he pushed her away and coughed while wiping a fist across his eyes.
Sorry bout that. I should be movin on by now, yer think?
Hermione dabbed the moisture from her own eyes with the edge of her cape and
shook her head.
Grief takes time, Hagrid, and I think you are dealing with it in a very healthy
manner.
He looked relieved as she sat down again. She felt worse than ever. If she had
come to see Hagrid to cheer herself up, it had backfired miserably. She leaned forward
and tipped her flagon slightly to take a noisy sip of tea. She shuddered delicately. It was
certainly strong enough.
Hagrid sat down across from her and studied her critically.
Yer look tired. Somethins botherin yah. What is it?
She nodded and sighed.
Isnt it odd, Hagrid, how some people are so complicated? The simple people
are so much easier to deal with. Look at Ronhe wears his heart on his sleeve; his every
thought spills out of his mouth without a trace of guile; and his emotions are obvious in
his every expression. You know he is kind, brave, loyal, and honest the minute you meet
him. She stood up and walked to the fireplace and back, unconsciously pacing. And
then there are the other kind. The people that say one thing and mean the exact opposite.
The ones that tell the truth but make it sound like a lie, and tell lies that sound like
concrete fact. The ones who hide every emotion so you never know what theyre actually
feeling; the ones that twist a web of complexity about themselves so thick that if you try
to follow a strand to the center you get tangled in another dozen along the way
Hagrid looked thoroughly confused.
Who yer talkin about? Only one I know like that is Snape. He spat the name.
Never did understand why Dumbledore thought he was so good. Mind you, he never
did nothin ter me except give me that look he hadyah know the one, like we was dirt
under his feet but he did that ter everyone.
Hermione nodded. Yes. He had plenty to hide, didnt he? He needed a
complicated web of defenses to hide his true nature and motives. She nibbled on a
fingernail. And yet, Snape was helping Draco find the Horcruxes. Even now, his
intentions were unclear. Was Draco the same? What was his true nature? The cold,
vicious Slytherin who stalked through the halls and snarled evil comments and lashed out
at everyone before they could even consider doing the same to him? Or was it the calm,
competent Draco that had taken the Horcrux stick from her tired hands and ordered her
out of the Riddle house for her own safety? He was so different away from here
She gasped suddenly.
How could I have been so stupid? Thank you for the tea, Hagrid, but Ive got to
go!
She would have rushed out, but the door refused to budge. Hagrid got up and
forced the door open against the wind. She pushed her way out into the gale and walked
with difficulty back to the castle. Her cape flapped like a flag behind her and she had to
tightly grip the clasp to keep it from choking her. It was going to be a devil of a storm
when the rain arrived.
She had to use magic to get the castle doors open and she breathed a sigh of relief
when they slammed behind her. She tried to smooth her hair and found it tangled far
beyond what a pair of hands could repair. She would find Draco just as soon as she
did something about the snarled mess on her head.

* * * * *

Harry examined the rows of bottles left by Dumbledore, checking the labels
carefully. He hoped none of the other memories would be as intense as the last one hed
experienced. Harry lifted one from the stack.
It looks like this one is next. Albus and Severus, November, 1981, it says.
Maybe well finally learn why he trusted Snape.
We could have used that information about six years ago, Ron said ruefully. He
was sitting in the Headmasters chairHeadmistresss, nowwith his feet up on the
desk.
Yeah. See if you can find any record archives in here. With our luck, theyre
down in Filchs office. Harry wrinkled his brow. Speaking of Filch, have you seen
him? Im surprised we havent seen him and that stupid cat since weve been here. Its
been nice having Madam Pince gone from the library.
Maybe Filch actually takes a vacation. Ron laughed.
Sure, I can picture him touring the Tower of London, Harry said.
Probably has a photo album of all the different torture devices.
With notes on how to recreate them.
They both laughed.
Harry lifted the bottle and carried it to the Pensieve.
If McGonagall comes back, ask her about those archives.
What am I supposed to tell her if she asks why I want them? Ron protested.
Tell her the truth. We need to find out where Tom Riddle used to live. Hmmm,
have to come up with a good reason for that, eh? He snapped his fingers. I know. Tell
her Hermione is making a map of all the locations relevant to Tom Riddle for some
theory she has regarding where Voldemort will strike next.
Brilliant. We wont mention it to Hermione, though, or shell actually start it as
a project, Ron said.
Well, you might want to mention it to her, just in case McGonagall asks her
about it.
Right.
Dumbledores portrait nodded approvingly.
Wouldnt it be simpler to just tell the Order about these stupid Horcruxes? Ron
asked. He pulled out his wand and tried to twiddle it through his fingers like Malfoy. It
dropped on the ground.
We cant. Suppose one of them got captured by Voldemort or the Death Eaters?
Our only advantage is that Voldemort doesnt know that we know about them. If he
knew that we knew, he would gather them up and guard them more thoroughly than they
are now. If Malfoy and Hermione found Hufflepuffs cup so quickly, Voldemort cant
suspect that we know about them. We have to keep it as quiet as possible.
Ron sighed. I suppose. Still, if Malfoy knows, its hard to believe others dont.
Didnt Hermione say that Snape told him?
Ron snorted. How many other people did Snape tell? Hey, didnt Hermione
leave that Horcrux in the library? I thought I saw the bag on the table
Harry winced. You know, we really need to come up with a code name for the
things.
How about You-Know-What?
Harry shook his head. Too cumbersome. Thats why I could never get into
calling Voldemort You-Know-Who. Can you think of something simpler?
What did Malfoy call them? Trinkets?
Thatll work. Who would have thought Malfoy would be useful? Id better go
get that Trinket from the library before it gets misplaced and we end up searching for it
again. Plus, Hermione will kill us both if we lose it. Ill be right back.
Harry hurried down to the fourth floor and saw with relief that the black pouch
still rested on the table near the books. He verified the cup was still nestled within and
put the strap around his neck.
When he returned to the gargoyle statue, he saw that Malfoy lounged idly against
the wall next to it.
There you are, Potter. Good, I was afraid Id be standing out here all afternoon.
Did you find that address, yet?
The address to the Riddle orphanage? Its only been fifteen minutes.
Well, hurry it up. I need some action.
Harry muttered the password to the gargoyle, having no intention of giving it to
Malfoy. It was sugar quill and Harry had been surprised to find McGonagall keeping
Dumbledores habit of naming the password after sweets. The gargoyle leaped aside and
the wall opened to reveal the staircase.
Harry snorted. You wont be going after the thing, anyway.
He stepped onto the moving spiral stairs and Malfoy followed.
Why not? In your eyes, Im expendable. If Im killed in the effort, so much the
better for you. Only Grangers cleverness kept us from running the gauntlet of traps at
the Riddle house. I doubt well be so lucky again.
Frankly, Malfoy, Ill never trust you enough to send you after a Horcrux on your
own. Get used to the idea.
Rons head snapped up when he heard Harrys words and saw the two of them
exit the staircase.
Fine. Weasley can come along and be my watchdog, Malfoy said.
I plan to go after the damned thing myself.
Draco laughed incredulously. And she keeps telling me you arent stupid.
Youre underage. Do you plan to use no magic while retrieving it?
Harry scowled. As far as the Ministry knows, Im still at the Dursleys. If I use
magic anywhere else in Britain, they cant possibly know about it.
Im not so sure. The Ministry seems to be all in a dither about you. It wouldnt
surprise me if they attached a few extra tracking spells on you, just to be safe. Thats
what I would do, but then, the Ministry isnt exactly known for intelligence. After all,
they hired Weasleys dad.
Harrys gaze slid to Ron, but he was surprisingly unruffled.
Ive decided to ignore you from now on, Malfoy, just as I would any other
vermin. Roaches, centipedes, Malfoys theyre all the same.
Harry grinned, a smile that widened when he saw Dracos patented smirk slip just
a bit. Malfoy shrugged.
Good. It will be lot easier retrieving the Horcrux without you yapping and trying
to hex me every five minutes.
Youre not going. And why would you take Ron? Why not Hermione? I
thought you two were great pals after the Hufflepuff cup scenario.
Dracos gaze became positively glacial. Harry mused that grey was the perfect
color for Malfoys eyes. Grey like winter fog, icy road slush, and frozen metal poles that
tore your skin off if you touched them.
Im sure she will be more useful in the library, he said blandly. Harry cocked a
brow at him. Whenever Malfoy made a casual comment, there was generally a volume
of unsaid information hiding beneath it. He wondered about Dracos relationship with
Hermione. What had they been doing the past few days? What was up with that kiss?
Hermione certainly hadnt seemed to mind it at the time. Harry had expected an enraged
slap, followed by a shove down the stairs and a massive stinging hex. Instead, she had
looked about to collapse from sheer bliss. And that scene in the library Malfoy had
called her Mudblood hundreds of times and earned nothing more than an absent sneer or
a return insult. This time, the slur had cut her. Harry could tell. He grinned.
Shes brassed off at you, isnt she?
Malfoy shrugged. Doesnt matter. How long before you have that address? Do
I have to find it myself?
Feel free to look around. Im going to take a jaunt in the Pensieve, if youd care
to wait. He tossed the pouch with the cup in the window seat.
Malfoy shrugged. Ill search the office while youre doing that. I doubt
Weasley has gotten up the nerve to go through the desk drawers.
Ron flushed, but said nothing. Harry walked to the Pensieve and uncorked the
vial he had left nearby. He poured the silver contents into the bowl and watched it swirl.
Malfoy watched curiously.
Back soon, Harry said and put his face into the liquid.

It took Harry a moment to get his bearings, as he fell into a scene nearly identical
to the one hed left. Instead of Ron lounging in the chair, it was Dumbledore. Bizarrely,
his feet were up on the desk exactly as Rons had been. Instead of holding a wand,
Dumbledore held a handful of colorful candy and was popping them into the air one at a
time and levitating them into his mouth.
Near the spot where Draco had stood was Severus Snape. He looked the same as
he usually did: greasy hair, unpleasant scowl, morose expression. In one hand, he held a
large, tattered book with a black cover.
Headmaster, I need to speak with you about a matter of some import, Snape
said.
I assumed so, Severus, or you wouldnt be here. Would you care for a Sugar
Ant? There are different types of cream beneath the candy shell. The ants give them just
the right zing. Delightful, really. Except the green ones. Not certain why they chose
asparagus flavor over lime. I must write to the manufacturer
Snapes pinched expression became even more so. No, thank you.
His tone must have alerted Dumbledore, for the Headmaster dropped his candy on
the desk and put his feet down. He sat forward and steepled his fingers, as Harry had
seen him do on numerous occasions. Harry frowned at the familiarity of the gesture and
forced down a wave of sadness. He needed to concentrate on the conversation and not be
drawn into nostalgia.
Very well, Severus. What is it this time? A student matter?
Snape scowled and sat down in a chair across from Dumbledore. He set the book
upon his lap.
Nothing to do with the school. I have confessed much to you and I think its
time to let you in on the reasoning behind many of my actions, especially those of late.
Dumbledore nodded seriously.
You have decided to trust me at last, then?
Snapes black eyes flashed.
I have entrusted you with my deepest secrets, as you well know. You are aware
of the mistakes Ive made and the agony with which I have approached many of my
decisions. What I tell you now will make some of those decisions clearer.
Harry scowled. November. It could only have been a few weeks since the death
of Harrys parents, at most. He wanted to climb over the desk and shake Dumbledore.
How could he believe any of the tripe spewing from Snapes lips? Mistakes. Agony.
Even Harry could tell Snape wasnt sincere!
The reason I asked you to help me recently is because I know the secret of the
Dark Lord. I told you he will return. I know why he will return.
Dumbledores pleasant expression had vanished, replaced by the serious,
competent wizard Harry had seen so infrequently.
And why is that?
Horcruxes, Snape said simply.
Dumbledores gaze sharpened. Snape nodded.
I see youve heard the term. I heard about Voldemorts plans from a reliable
source. A Death Eater, of course. Snapes face twisted. It would be bad enough if he
had created a single Horcrux. The fact is, Voldemort so fears death that he made
several.
Dumbledore stood. This is very serious.
Snape nodded. Now you know. I havent been able to learn much about the
items.
The knowledge is forbidden.
I did find a single reference in this book. Snape lifted the tome and handed it to
Dumbledore, who took it. Harry hurried over to get a look at the book as Dumbledore
flipped to the page noted by a red silk bookmark.
From Salazar Slytherins personal library, Snape commented.
How did you get this? Dumbledore asked sharply.
Snape rolled his eyes and his thin lips twisted in a sneer. Have you forgotten
who I am? I know quite a large number of dark wizards.
And you are ruthless enough to steal this from beneath their very noses,
Dumbledore muttered.
Quite right. Snapes eyes flashed, but he seemed more proud than angry at
Dumbledores words. Harry read the word Horcrux in stylized print at the top of the
page. The other words on the page were in a dark, cramped looking print that seemed to
squiggle slightly when he looked at them. He frowned. Only books of very dark magic
were written in such print. Dumbledore scanned the page quickly. Harry could only
make out a few words in the archaic type. It seemed to be an introduction to Horcruxes.
Dumbledore flipped the page and then slammed the book shut, much to Harrys
annoyance.
We would both be in severe trouble if this book were even found in our
possession, Dumbledore warned. You carried this openly through the halls?
Snape looked at him levelly. Did you bother to read the cover?
Dumbledore turned the book over. Harry peered over his shoulder to read the
tome.
Happy Potions and How to Make Them by Ernestine Welshmyre.
Well, I suppose that would fool a casual observer, Dumbledore commented.
Harry snorted. Anyone that didnt know Snape! Thank you, Severus. I will give your
words some consideration. Ill return this to you when Im finished reading it and we can
speculate at that time.
Snape nodded. I shall return the book to Spinners End so that it will not get
anyone into trouble. He rose and headed for the door.
Severus. See that no one else is told about this.
Snape scowled. Im not a fool. He stalked out.
Dumbledore sighed when he was gone. No indeed. Never a fool.
He set the book on the desk and cracked the cover once more to reveal the books
true title, printed on the yellowing parchment.
Secrets of Longevity and Immortality by Baptahlah.

The memory ended and Harry was suddenly back in the present-day office. He
cursed roundly.
Malfoy looked at him in amusement from where he lounged in the same chair
Pensieve Snape had vacated.
I didnt think Gryffindors were allowed to use such language, Potter.
Belt it, Malfoy. I think we may finally have caught a break! This was a memory
of Snape talking to Dumbledore. He did tell Dumbledore about Voldemorts Horcruxes.
Snape had a book with reference to them. Unfortunately, Dumbledore didnt leave the
memory of himself reading it, but I may know where to find the book. Snape said he
would be taking it back to Spinners End for safekeeping! Harry began to pace. Now,
if only we can get Snapes address
I know where he lives, Malfoy said casually.
Harry stared at him. Malfoy laughed and Harry was shocked to hear it sound like
a genuine sound of amusement, instead of a sarcastic bark.
Honestly, Potter, you think I hide out at the Manor all summer long? I have a
life, you know. Good old Snape was considered a friend of the family. He shuddered.
Lives in a horrifying house, though, in a wretched neighborhood. What kind of book?
A tattered black book. He gave them the two possible titles and continued,
This is great, Malfoy. You could take us there.
I could take Weasley there. Youre staying here.
Harry scowled, but Malfoy held up a hand.
No way will I be responsible for the safety of The Chosen One. If Snape and a
group of Death Eaters happen to be hanging out at Spinners End, theyll snatch you up
and that will be the end of this little war before its begun.
Hes right, Harry, Ron said, although he sounded like it poisoned his tongue to
admit Malfoy was correct.
Damn it! Harry yelled. First I was a prisoner at the Dursleys and now Im a
prisoner here!
Its only for a couple weeks, mate, Ron said apologetically. And you still have
a stack of memories to get through. Im going to be upset if we go all the way to Snapes
and you find a memory of Dumbledore reading the damned book.
Harry looked guiltily at the Pensieve cabinet.
I wont. I need to get the hell out of here. Come on, Weasley. Draco stood up
and headed for the door with a sweep of his cloak. Harry wondered how he managed to
get that arrogant rustle in his cape when he walked. Probably years of practice before a
mirror.
Ron gaped at Malfoy. Now?
No time like the present, Weasley.
Draco headed down the steps.
How will we get there? Ron yelled.
Brooms.
In this wind? It was howling like a banshee outside the window. Ron looked at
Harry helplessly.
Stay if youre scared, Weasel, Draco called from below.
Take my broom, Ron. Its next to my trunk. It has stability controls. Dont let
him talk you into doing anything stupid. And for Gods sake, dont let him goad you into
a fight!
Rons freckles stood out like beacons on his white face as he got to his feet.
Wait up, Malfoy! he yelled and then muttered, Stupid, thickheaded Slytherin
bastard. If I dont make it back, its been nice knowing you.
Ron trailed after Malfoy looking like a beaten dog following its master. Harry
suddenly regretted offering Ron his broom. He should take his Invisibility Cloak and
follow them. Then again, Ron would take that as a sign that Harry didnt trust him,
which of course, would be true. He didnt trust Ron around Malfoy.
He turned back to the Pensieve with a feeling of foreboding. Maybe he shouldnt
have let Ron go. Still, it was the only lead they had on Horcruxes so far.

Chapter Twenty Three Spinners End

Hermione exited the Gryffindor common room and was nearly bowled over by
Ron rushing in.
Whats the hurry? she asked.
No time! said Ron. Go ask Harry!
He bolted up the steps to the boys dorm two at a time and disappeared. She
almost called after him to ask if hed seen Malfoy, but changed her mind. She didnt
want to get into another row over Draco. He wouldnt have gone to see Harry and Ron,
anyway. She would check the library, and then the Slytherin common room. It shouldnt
be too hard to figure out the password, as it was normally something wicked or vile.
She was wrong about that, as it turned out. Thirty minutes of continuous
passwords had not caused the blank wall to yield, making her realizeyet againhow
little she understood Malfoy. As the only Slytherin in residence, he would have been the
one to set the password, yet nothing she tried had worked.
She finally tugged the coin out of her shirt and concentrated on it.
Where are you?
There was no response, even after she tried twice more. Damn, he must really be
angry. Unless he no longer carried the coin.
Hermione gave up and left the dungeons. She really was hungry now, so she
stopped at the kitchen for a meat pie and some fruit before heading for the
Headmistresss office to see if Harry was still there. On the way, she ran into Tonks.
Where have you guys been? Hermione asked. I havent seen a single Order
member since we got here, except Hagrid.
Weve taken up temporary residence in Ravenclaw Tower. Its easy access to
the Owlery and the top of the castle, in case we need to leave. Although youd have to be
barmy to fly in this weather.
I know, I walked to and from Hagrids and nearly blew away.
Well, Remus wants you all in the Great Hall for dinner at six. See you, then.
Tonks tripped down the stairs and Hermione continued until she entered
McGonagalls office. The Headmistress was present, talking to Harry.
Anything new? Hermione asked hopefully. Harry shot her an Ill tell you
later look and shook his head.
Mostly speculation. We seem to have a lot of that when it comes to Voldemort.
I was just asking the Professorsorry, I mean Headmistress
You can call me Professor, Potter. It sounds odd to hear the other Im afraid
Im not used to it, yet. Its going to take some time.
Harry nodded. In any case, I was asking where Voldemort might have gone
during the twenty years of his disappearance, after he left school until he returned as the
evil wizard we all know and hate.
I can only guess that he sought out wizards from around the world in order to
learn the Dark Arts.
Another guess, Harry said with a sigh. He got to his feet. Well, Ill save this
for tomorrow. Im pretty tired. See you later, Professor. Sorry to keep you disturbing
you. Ill move the Pensieve, if you prefer.
Its fine, Potter. Im rarely here, anyway. Most of my things have yet to be
moved up from downstairs.
Hermione followed Harry out. When they were safely in the corridor, she asked,
Wheres Ron? He went flying past me like a bat out of hell in the common room. Have
you seen Malfoy?
They went to look for something.
Together? Id better go help them before they kill each other. What were you
thinking? Are they in the library? I checked there, but must have missed them
They went to Snapes house.
Her blood froze and she turned to stare at him. Harry flushed under her angry
scrutiny.
They went to Snapes house, she repeated.
Harry quickly explained about the book and Hermione felt the color drain from
her face.
You let them just fly off? In this weather? Without telling me? Have you gone
completely mental?
Harry glared. Well, now you know how it feels to be kept in the dark! Besides,
Malfoy wasnt about to wait. How was I supposed to stop him? He offered to sacrifice
himself to retrieve the book, if necessary, and frankly I didnt see a downside.
Hermione took a deep breath to remain calm. You didnt see a downside to the
possibility of Ron being sacrificed, as well?
Ron is a lot more capable than anyone gives him credit for. Hes not stupid.
Plus, hes with your great friend Malfoy, who knows precisely what Ill do to him if
anything happens to Ron.
Hermione shook her head. If anything happens to them, I will never speak to
you again.
Harrys emerald eyes flashed. If anything happens to whom? Ron? Or
Malfoy?
She matched his stare. Either one.
With that, she flounced down the steps, unsure whether to blast a hole in the wall
or burst into tears.

* * * * *

It was like flying in a hurricane. Draco angled across the wind. They needed to
go south, but the wind blowing from the east kept pushing them steadily southwest. Rain
pelted them in buckets and Draco could barely see. They flew over the lake and Draco
stayed close to the water in order to have some idea where they were going. If not for the
compass on his broom, he would have been lost in moments.
Lightning crackled nearby and Draco laughed with exuberance. Flying in weather
like this always got the blood pumping. He looked over his shoulder at Weasley, whose
face was so white he looked like he wore a sheet. His red hair was plastered flat against
his head and runnels of water trailed down his face. He clenched his hands tightly around
the broomstick as he struggled to keep the broom on course.
Weasley glared at Draco and mouthed something that looked like, Youre
fucking mental!
Draco grinned and urged his broom faster to see if Weasley could keep up. The
coin in his pocket suddenly heated, surprising him and causing his broom to dip toward
the lake for a moment. He steadied it with a curse. Now she wanted to talk to him? He
sneered. Shed had her bloody chance.
She tried twice more and then gave up. At long last, Draco spotted the outer wall
of Hogwarts and angled the broom up to clear it. Surprisingly, Weasley was still behind
him. Draco had half-expected Ron to be in the lake by now. He chalked it up to Potters
superior broom.
He dropped down on the other side of the wall and dismounted lightly. Ron
landed much less gracefully and caught himself with a hand just before going face-first
into the ground.
Taking a rest? Weasley demanded, sounding annoyed even though he was
panting from exertion.
No. You dont expect us to fly all the way there, do you? Draco asked while
combing the wet hair out of his eyes. He nearly had to shout to be heard over the gale.
Then, how do we get there?
Apparate, stupid. We just needed to get beyond the school boundary. Ill have
to take you through, so dont faint or anything when I touch you. I know Im the best
looking thing thats ever been this close to you, but dont get too excited. Before
Weasley could snarl a comment, Draco continued, Get a grip on Potters broom, now;
hell kill you if you lose it.
He reached out and clamped a hand on Weasleys shoulder, reflecting for a
moment that he really missed Apparating with Granger. Who would have expected that
to be an erotic experience? He triggered the spell and in moments they nearly fell over
from the sudden lack of wind resistance. There was a breeze, but nothing like the
howling storm they had left.
Draco released Weasley immediately and started out toward Spinners End. He
hurried up the embankment and onto the cobbled street without waiting for Ron, who
scrambled after him.
The place looked no better in the growing dusk than it did in the daytime. If
anything, the rundown, looming houses looked grimmer and even more dilapidated. Ron
gaped around in disbelief.
Snape lives here? In this foul place? No wonder hes always so bitter and
nasty.
Draco couldnt refute that. Snapes neighbors didnt seem to be the curious sort,
for he saw no curtains twitch as they passed between the silent houses and no one peered
out to see why two young men with brooms and cloaks traveled through the littered
streets.
Draco stopped before Snapes house and handed his broom to Weasley. Im
going to go inside. If there are Death Eaters, Ill try to send you a signal so you can get
the hell out of here.
Before Ron could comment, Draco disappeared. He appeared again inside the
musty house. Even more books seemed to have been added since last Draco visited, and
they spilled over tables and sofas. He crept carefully through the silent rooms until he
was satisfied the place was empty. Then he strode to the front door and flung it open,
startling Weasley at the abrupt motion.
All clear, Weasel.
He turned and lit his wand brightly in order to have some illumination. The light
actually made the place seem more dingy.
This is revolting, Ron said as he leaned the brooms against the wall and shut the
door. I mean, we dont have house-elves, but at least I know how to clean my room.
Draco refrained from comment, realizing that Weasleys room was now a broken
jumble of burned planks.
All right, Weasley, start searching. There are only about five hundred thousand
books here.
They split up. Weasley stayed in the parlour, such as it was, while Draco went to
search upstairs. It took forever. Although they confined their search to black-covered
books, black was apparently Snapes favorite color. Nearly everything in the damned
house was black, including the books. Most of the books were, not surprisingly, related
to potions. 1001 Uses for Boomslang Skin. Materials Matter: Which Cauldron to Use
for Which Potion. Perilous Potions and How to Detect Them. Draco began to yank out
various books and set them aside for future reading.
He went through three walls of books and was working on the fourth when he
heard the stairs creak. Weasley must have finished the parlour, probably without success.
Draco doubted Snape would keep such a book in the front room, anyway. He should
have had Weasley start in the bedroom.
Draco glanced toward the door just as the newcomer yelled, Accio wand! and
Dracos lit wand spun across the room. Just before it went out, Draco caught sight of
Alecto Carrows eager face. Draco tried to throw himself aside, but Amycuss spell
slammed into him and he was suddenly frozen. He cursed himself roundly for being so
inattentive.
Look, Amycus. Its baby Malfoy. And we thought he was dead. What you
doing here, baby Malfoy? she crooned.
Amycus sauntered into the room behind his sister.
What you doin ere, Draco? Snoopin in Snapeys pad?
Yer mummy misses you, baby Malfoy, Alecto said and patted Draco on the
cheek. The pat turned into a painful pinch and she murmured, Yer so cute! Can we take
im home, Amycus? I could chain im to me bed awhile.
Amycus wrinkled his nose. Only if the Dark Lord says you can ave im. Loose
him a bit so we can find out what hes doin ere.
She released the Body Bind Curse, but Amycus cast a rope spell before Draco
could so much as shift his hand. Draco glared.
What you doin ere, Draco? he asked again. An where ye been?
Draco smiled coldly. Thats really none of your business.
Alecto, it im. Draco was suddenly enveloped in pain when Alecto cast a
Cruciatus Curse. The pain was so intense he couldnt find breath enough to scream.
Every nerve ending was on fire, as if he had been dipped into lava. The pain ceased
suddenly and Alecto laughed when Draco drew a shuddering breath.
Lets try this again. Answer the question, Draco, Alecto said.
Go to hell, Draco spat and braced himself as best he could.
My turn, said Amycus. Agony speared through Draco again. He writhed
through a red haze of torment until he wanted to beg for escape. When the pain stopped,
he quivered, feeling an ache in his bones that he knew would take hours to dissipate. He
opened his eyes and glared at Amycus with pure hatred.
Youre dead, he breathed and Amycus threw back his head and laughed. Draco
stared as the laugh was abruptly cut off. Amycus had disappeared. Alecto gasped and a
yellow fluttering caught Dracos eye. A bird? Where had that come from?
The shock only last an instant before Draco reached his bound hands toward
Alecto and shouted, Accio wands! Both wands snapped into his hand. Immediately, he
cast a hurricane force wind at Alecto, slamming her into a bookcase with enough power
to send books flinging into the room. She collapsed in a limp heap and more books
rained down on her from the broken shelves. He spelled the ropes holding him and they
fell away. The bird was flying around crazily, twittering and trying to avoid jets of light
zinging toward it from Weasleys wand.
Draco staggered to his feet just as the canary turned back into Amycus.
Unfortunately for Amycus, he was near the ceiling at the time and instantly plummeted
headfirst into the desk below. It erupted into a heap of dust and splintered wood. When
the dust settled, Amycus was still. Draco stalked forward and waded into the splinters.
I. Hate. Being. Crucioed! With each word, he aimed a vicious kick at
Amycuss unconscious form. He looked at Weasley, who hadnt moved from the
doorway.
Sorry, Weasley said. I was in the kitchen when I heard them Apparate. I
wasnt sure how to warn you.
That reminds me, Draco said and kicked Amycus once more. Thats for
putting me in Weasleys debt. He looked at Ron shrewdly. What were you doing in
the kitchen?
Ron flushed. I was hungry. Its long past dinner, you know?
Draco shook his head, but had to smile. Saved by Weasleys stomach. If you
had been in the parlour when they popped in, it would have been over for both of us.
We were lucky, Weasley replied. One of our brooms fell over, so they only
noticed the one. They heard you drop a book and they both went up.
We were very lucky. Mulciber or Lars wouldnt have been so stupid. Draco
cast binding spells on the unconscious Death Eaters and Petrificus Totalus to keep them
out of trouble.
Lets find that damned book and get the hell out of here before they send
someone to check on these two. Im finished in here except for that bookcase. If you
check that one, Ill do the bedroom.
Weasley nodded and started pulling black books. Draco picked up Amycuss
wand from the floor and tucked the Death Eater wands into his robe before he went down
the hall to Snapes bedchamber. He lit the fireplace for additional light and looked
around in disgust.
No wonder Snape was so unpleasant. There was no way he had ever entertained a
woman in this room unless hed paid her first. A lot. Maybe if the git cleaned up the
place a bit, hed get lucky. And what the hell was up with all the black? If they got out
of this alive, hed have to ask his father to spring for an interior designer. Introduce
Snape to the concept of color. Maybe a nice mint green or buttercup yellow
He shook off the miserable state of Snapes bedroom and love life and started
searching the walls of shelves. Within five minutes, he got lucky. He snatched Happy
Potions and How to Make Them from its dusty retirement and cracked the cover.
Excellent, he breathed. Several book bags were hanging from pegs near the
door. Draco grabbed a sturdy black canvas bag and tucked the book into it. He slung it
over his shoulder and hurried back to the study.
Got it, Weasley. Lets go.
Do we just leave them here? Ron asked.
Hell no! If they report back to You-Know-Who, my parents are dead. Theyre
coming with us.
Draco hefted Alecto, no easy feat, especially as she was still out cold, and tilted
her toward Weasley, who caught her reluctantly.
Do you know how to Disapparate with a passenger? Draco asked.
Only in theory! Ive never done it!
Well, youre about to get a field lesson. Dont worry. If you splinch her, it
wont be much of a loss. Accio brooms!
Both brooms shot up the stairs and into Dracos hands. Ill take the brooms and
Amycus. Meet me at Hogwarts front gates. He could tell Weasley wanted to protest,
but Draco threw him a quelling look and Ron wisely clamped it.
Amycuss eyes were open and aware, but the Body Bind Curse was holding
nicely. Draco knelt down with the brooms in one hand and snatched Amycuss collar in
a choke hold.
Go, Weasley.
Weasley went. As he vanished with Alecto, Draco Disapparated.
They appeared back in storm central, although the wind had thankfully died a bit.
The rain was hammering down, though. Draco released Amycus and was rather
surprised to see that Weasley had made it with Alecto in one piece.
Draco stumbled over to Weasley.
Get someone out here to open the gates. I dont feel like flying back with this
baggage. He nudged Alecto with a toe. Hard. That was an understatement. Draco was
so tired he could barely stay on his feet. It had to be past ten p.m. and he hadnt eaten
since Hermiones massive breakfast. He had been almost entirely on the move since
then, also.
Weasley obediently cast a Patronus. It looked like some sort of little dog that
shot through the bars and away. Loyal to the core, Weasley was.
The rain trickled down his forehead and Draco conjured an umbrella in
annoyance. After a moment, he conjured another and tossed it to Weasley, who muttered
something that might have been thanks. Draco cast a Muffliato on both Death Eaters.
They didnt need to be privy to Dracos conversation.
Why did you come after me, back there? Draco asked in the growing silence.
You could have let them take me and gotten the hell out.
Weasley blinked at him.
It never occurred to me, Ron admitted.
Gryffindors. Never occurred to him to do the smart thing, just the noble thing.
Thank God for Gryffindor stupidity. In this one instance, anyway.
You would have done the same for me, right? Weasley continued. Draco
considered the question. Would he? Bloody hell, he honestly didnt know. Weasley
snorted.
Youre really something, Malfoy, you know that?
Draco nodded. What that something was, exactly, was still to be determined.
So, now that youre in my debt, does that mean you owe me a favor? Weasley
continued.
Dracos eyes narrowed.
That depends. What do you have in mind?
It was Weasleys turn to consider.
Ill let you know.
Draco scowled. Im sure you will.
You might want to get his face out of that mud puddle, Weasley commented
and shifted his wand toward Amycus. Draco glanced down. Amycuss face was nearly
submerged. Draco nudged his chin upward with the toe of his boot. Amycuss eyes
burned with venom. Draco grinned. That would teach the bastard to Crucio him.
Theyre coming, Weasley said. Three tiny figures could be seen far across the
grass. Oh no! We have to come up with a story. What the hell did we go to Snapes
for? We cant tell them about the book.
To leave a message for my father, Draco said calmly. You came along
because you didnt trust me. I wrote a message and placed it inside a certain bookyou
read it. The note told them I was fine and not to worry. We were about to leave when
these two appeared.
Did you?
Did I what?
Leave a message for your father?
Draco scowled. I wish. A plan that simple would never work. For one thing,
my parents are no longer allowed out. For some reason, the Dark Lord doesnt seem to
trust them.
I thought your family was all loyal Death Eaters. What happened?
Were plenty loyal as long as it serves the Malfoy interests. My father was
willing to follow the Dark Lord as long as his goals were rational. Taking over the
Ministry was a worthwhile goal. I mean, look at the way they run things. Fudge was a
disgrace, and Scrimgeour is no better. They spend all their time on political backbiting.
You think You-Know-Who could do a better job? Weasley asked
incredulously.
Of course not. Hes completely deranged. But, Father could.
Oh, wouldnt that be lovely? Lucius Malfoy, Minister of Magic. Death to all
Muggle-borns and blood-traitors.
Draco snorted. Hardly. My father is not stupid. He doesnt like Muggle-borns,
but he would never exterminate half the wizarding world. We all know there arent many
purebloods left. I mean, when I marry, look who I have to choose from. Millicent
Bulstrode, Pansy Parkinson, and your sister.
What? Ron burst out. Ginny?
Dont worry, redheads give me hives. Besides, she hates me more than you do,
after that whole Chamber of Secrets incident. Im sure Ill end up with Pansy, who will
make a fine trophy wife as long as I supply her with closets of gowns and bushels of
jewels. She hasnt a bloody thought in her head, but at least it wont hurt my eyes to look
at her from across the dining table for thirty years, while she tells me all the latest
gossip. Draco shuddered. On second thought, there must be some pureblood girls
somewhere in the world. Maybe India.
Well, I plan to marry the girl I love, Weasley said simply. No trophy wife, no
mansion, just a small house with a nice garden for the kids to play in.
Youre luckier than you know, Weasley. Got the girl picked out already, I
suppose? Draco had his suspicions about that.
Ron flushed. Maybe I do.
Have you kissed her, yet?
Thats none of your business! Ron flared hotly.
Translastion: No. Better get a move on, Weasley. We could all die tomorrow,
you know.
Draco didnt want to encourage Weasley in his pursuit of Hermione, but if she fell
for the Weasel, then it would save Draco from the damnable conflict he had been faced
with lately. It was simple self-preservation, really. The three approaching persons could
be identified, now. It looked like Potter, Tonks and Granger.
She has incredibly sexy underwear, Draco commented. Im sure youll enjoy
them.
Weasley gaped at him. Wha? Who?
Granger, of course. I assume shes the one you have in mind for your little
house, picket fence, passel of brats scenario.
Weasley sputtered incoherently and Draco smirked. Back to normal, just in time.
How do you know?
Been nice chatting with you, Weasel. Time to go. Upsey daisy, Amycus. He
levitated Amycus and propelled him toward the gate just as Tonks reached it. A bit too
hard, as it turned out. Amycuss head clanged against the bars. Whoops, clumsy me.
Tonks opened the gate.
Whatcha got, cousin? A present for me?
Theyre all yours.
Hermione threw herself through the gate and flung herself at Ron. Draco felt a
wrench as Weasley hugged her and shot a smirk at Draco.
I was so worried! If you ever go off and do something that stupid again Ill hex
you and Harry both, I swear I will! You could have been killed!
She released Ron and turned on Draco. And you! While it doesnt surprise me
that you would do something so bloody reckless!
Save it, Granger, Draco said tiredly. Im exhausted. You can harangue me
tomorrow, but right now Im going to bed.
He passed Potters broom to him and took the lead back to the castle, walking
quickly. Ron latched onto Hermione and wouldnt release her. Soon the muted sounds
of them arguing drifted up to Draco, though he couldnt hear the words.
Harry fell into step beside him while Tonks Locomotored the Death Eaters in their
wake.
You got it? Harry asked.
Draco unbuckled the book bag and handed it unobtrusively to Harry under the
guise of stumbling into him.
Thanks, Harry said.
Dont mention it. Except for being Crucioed, it was a lark.
Harry blanched.
Forget it, Potter. I dont blame you. Your Order should be happy to have the
Carrows, although theyre too stupid to know much. The Dark Lord would never give
them important information. They were used only for petty, odd jobs. Pity it wasnt
Mulciber or Lars. Then again, if it had been, Weasley and I wouldnt be here. He
laughed shortly.
Ill read this tonight. Hopefully it will give us something to go on.
Knock yourself out, Potter.
When they got inside, Draco headed instantly for the dungeon. Tonks called to
him, Wait! Lupin is going to have questions!
Tomorrow, Draco said and trotted down the steps.
When he reached the bottom, he heard footsteps behind him.
Malfoy, wait!
Draco stopped. Couldnt she just leave him in peace? He turned reluctantly to
see Hermione hurrying down the steps toward him. To his surprise, she threw her arms
around him and molded her soft body against his. Her lips brushed against his ear.
Im glad youre safe, she said and pressed a kiss against his cheek. Before he
could react, she released him and ran back up the steps. Ron waited for her at the top,
and he gave Draco a glare of pure hatred. Draco smiled widely and waved at Weasley.
Maybe it hadnt been such a bad day, after all.

Chapter Twenty Four Friends

Hermione went to the library, but found herself unable to concentrate. Harry
came to find her.
Its nearly time for dinner. I need your help to come up with a story about where
Ron and Malfoy are, he said hopefully. She glared at him and nearly snapped at him to
do it himself. She felt a bit guilty, however. It was probably her fault that Draco had
been so determined to leave. If only she had listened to him
Well, Malfoy can be hiding out in the Slytherin common room. No one will
question that. He didnt even want to be here, so keeping to himself will not be out of
character. Ron, however that could be a bit trickier, especially if his parents are here.
Did they go back to Headquarters?
I dont know. I havent seen anyone since lunch, and the only ones I saw then
were Lupin and Moody.
Maybe we can tell them Ron isnt feeling well. He ate too many Cauldron Cakes
this afternoon. It wouldnt be the first time, and that story will work on everyone but
Mrs. Weasley, who will rush off to check on him if shes here. If that happens, we need a
backup plan.
All right, Ill tell her I sent him off to find something, which would be the truth,
but bloody awkward if she asks. I wont be able to tell her where.
I hate lying to them, Hermione commented.
So do I, but Dumbledores orders take precedence over our wishes. Harry
smacked a hand down on the table. I should have gone with them!
No, you shouldnt. And leave me here to concoct stories for all of you? She
glared. Im the one that should have gone with them. You should have told me, at
least.
I would have, but like I told you, Malfoy was in a bloody rush. He would have
gone alone rather than wait five minutes!
She held up a weary hand. Lets not have another row over this. We have to
pretend everything is fine. After dinner, we should go back to the Pensieve. You need to
finish that process as soon as possible. Should they actually find the book, it would be
nice to compare that information with whatever Dumbledore has left for you.
Harry nodded, although he looked less than thrilled. Hermione knew that
memories were probably hard to deal with. She got up and gave him a quick hug.
Dont worry. Well get through this.
He nodded and they went down to the Great Hall together.

Dinner was a grueling affair, made easier only by the fact that none of the
Weasleys were in attendance. Bill was working late at Gringotts and his parents had
returned to Number 12 Grimmauld Place the previous night. Hermione was so worried
about Ron and Draco that she couldnt eat more than a few bites and ended up vanishing
half her meal when no one was watching.
Moody, as usual, was demanding action and trying to get Lupin to agree to invade
Malfoy Manor. He suggested burning it to the ground.
We are not Death Eaters, Alastor! Lupin shouted finally. We do not operate
using their methods!
Maybe we should! Moody returned angrily. If we used a bit more force,
maybe they would take notice! Maybe they would stop kidnapping and torturing
children!
Harry nodded, but Hermione agreed with Lupin. They would be no better than
Voldemort if they resorted to those tactics.
Lupin did agree to another reconnaissance of Malfoy Manor, but would not budge
on the use of force. Moody finally jerked to his feet and stalked out.
Ill be at the Hogs Head having a drink! he bellowed as he left. Lupin put his
head in his hands. He looked so much older than when Hermione had first met him. She
wondered if the pressure of running the Order of the Phoenix was too much for him.
Tonks patted him on the back.
There has to be some way to learn his plans, Lupin said. Some way that will
not get more of us killed.
Well figure it out, Tonks said. Dont take so much on yourself.
Harry, you dont plan to do anything rash after your birthday, do you? Lupin
asked casually.
What do you mean? Harry asked warily.
Well, youll be of age, so none of us will be able to stop you, should you decide
to rush off and confront You-Know-Who.
Harry laughed shortly.
Dont worry. I have no intention of confronting Voldemort alone.
The sincerity in his voice seemed to reassure Lupin, who sat back with a sigh.
All right. Lupin smiled wanly. Ill try to stop worrying so much about you.
Harry looked at Hermione and grinned, but his smile was tinged with sadness.
Lupin had once been part of a group of excellent friends. They thought they would be
together forever. Now, two were dead and one was a traitorous spy Lupin had none of
his former cohorts to turn to. Hermione fervently hoped she would never look back on
her school years with such wistful heartache. She suddenly missed Ron terribly.
Come on, she said to Harry. Lets go wait for Ron.
They made a stop at McGonagalls office so that Hermione could examine the
Pensieve vials. The first was Siriuss memory. The next was Snape telling Dumbledore
about the Horcruxes.
Ive seen the next three, Harry said. Dumbledore showed them to me before.
They are Tom Riddle at the orphanage, the history of Riddles parents, and learning about
Slytherins locket and Hufflepuffs cup.
The next one is labeled AD at Borgin and Burkes, she said.
All right, weve got nothing better to do until we hear from Ron. Lets do it.
You can come with me this time.
Hermione was a bit apprehensive. Shed heard about Pensieve memories from
Harry, but had never actually used one. Harry uncorked the vial and poured it in. He
guided Hermione to put her face in the liquid and she gasped when she instantly found
herself in the dark, musty confines of Borgin and Burkes. A tall, scruffy-looking white-
haired man was examining various goods. He looked familiar, but Hermione couldnt
place him. His initials were A. D.? Was he a friend of Dumbledore?
Harry appeared beside her. After a moment, he snapped his fingers.
Its the barman from the Hogs Head. In Hogsmeade!
Hermione looked apprehensively from the man to the proprietor, but neither made
a sound or movement to denote they had heard Harrys outburst. Harry chuckled.
Odd, isnt it? Everything looks so real. But, its just a memory. Nothing we do
or say can affect the sequence of events. You know, I dont think Ill ever put my own
memories into a Pensieve. I dont think I could stand watching myself make the same
mistakes over and over without being able to alter them. You know, there is always
something you wish you had said or done differently.
Hermione nodded and for some reason Draco came to mind.
The barman was talking to Mr. Borgin.
This is all tripe. Where is the good stuff? I need something in particular.
What is it you are looking for, exactly?
I am a collector and I have been searching for Hogwarts items. I need things
from all four founders. I have something of Slytherins; the man was so egocentric he
kept enough crap to stock a museum. I managed to find a trinket of Hufflepuffs and
Gryffindor left some moldy clothing behind. But The barman leaned forward
conspiratorially, Ive yet to find something of Rowena Ravenclaws. Too smart for her
own good, she was. Do you happen to have anything? Borgin made as though to speak,
but the barman raised a hand. I warn you, do not try to pawn off a false item as hers. I
have ways of testing it.
Borgin swallowed and shook his head.
I once had such an item, but it was taken long ago.
Taken? What was it?
A bracelet. He turned and rooted in a cabinet behind him for a moment. Here,
I have a picture. Magnificent, wasnt it?
Harry and Hermione leaned close to the barman and peered over his shoulders to
view the picture. It was a beautiful bangle bracelet encrusted with sapphires and
diamonds. A tiny raven charm dangled from the center.
And you say this was taken?
Borgin nodded. Stolen from our stock. One of our employees, we believe.
Many years ago. It was never recovered.
A pity, said the barman. You have no other items?
The proprietor shook his head and tucked the photo back into the file. Should
you run across the bracelet The two men looked at each other measuringly and both
grinned without humor.
The memory ended and Hermione shook herself. She looked at Harry.
Well, now we know what the Ravenclaw Horcrux is. We just dont know where
it is.
Harry tugged at his hair for a moment. The barman mentioned he was already in
possession of Gryffindor items. You think Dumbledore sent him to Borgin and Burkes?
Dumbledore said the only relics of Gryffindor are here in this room. He walked over
and looked into the glass case that held the Sword of Gryffindor. No way in hell this
can be a Horcrux. I dont think it was ever out of Dumbledores sight long enough to be
turned into a Horcrux. He gestured at the nearby battered Sorting Hat. And the hat
would have mentioned it. Harry walked over and stood before Dumbledores portrait.
I dont suppose you can offer any assistance?
Dumbledore shook his head sadly.
Alas, Harry, I am merely a shadow. But, you are doing fine. Sending for the
book is a step in the right direction. Take care not to make the same foolish mistakes I
made.
What do you mean? Harry asked. You mean like trusting Snape?
Dumbledore shook his head. I do not regret trusting Severus. The answers are
in the Pensieve, Harry.
Harry looked at Hermione, who gasped suddenly.
Oh no! I just remembered I promised to start another batch of Wolfsbane Potion
for Lupin! Id better do that or it wont be ready next month!
All right, Harry said. He looked somewhat dejected.
One more memory, first, Hermione suggested. He smiled at her and pulled out
the next vial.
Thanks. Its easier with a friend, for some reason.
Hermione didnt recognize the room in which they found themselves. A huge
mirror dominated the shadowy place. Dumbledore stood before the mirror and looked
into it with an expression of extreme sadness.
The Mirror of Erised, Harry said quietly. This is the chamber where they hid
the Stone. First year. The place where Quirrell died and I first fought Voldemort.
Footsteps sounded behind them and they all turned to see Snape approaching.
So. I was right, Snape said. He did not sound satisfied.
Dumbledore sighed. You were right.
He will not be pleased that I helped to thwart him.
You could not have known. Quirrell did not have the Dark Mark. We had no
way of knowing he was being controlled by Voldemort.
I doubt he will accept that as an excuse.
Well, we shall have to make certain it never comes into question. If we can stop
him from returning, your loyalty will never be an issue. Dumbledores voice was calm,
but his tone bordered on irritated.
Snape shook his head and his black eyes flashed.
Look how far he got on his first attempt. He very nearly had the bloody Stone.
Its taken him nearly eleven years to get this far. And he would not have gotten
the Stone, Dumbledore said with finality.
Snape nodded. Oh yes. I had forgotten much of this was set up as a test. To
assess the abilities of The Golden Boy. It looks to me as though he won the day through
the aptitude of his friends. And a large dose of luck.
Not luck, but I will agree with you about the friends. Snape raised a scornful
lip and Dumbledore chuckled. You scoff, but I believe Harrys friends will turn out to
be his greatest asset.
Friends and family are liabilities, Snape growled. They can be used against
you.
It may seem that way to you, simply because you never had a true friend.
I dont need any friends! Snape yelled.
Everyone needs friends. If only you
Snape held up a warning hand. Dont bloody start! I sacrificed a loving family
and all chance at a normal life in order to fulfill this destiny that links us. Do not expect
me to became mawkish and reach out for friendship, because I neither need nor want it.
Dumbledore shook his head sadly. It does not have to be this way.
You are the one disappointed with my inability to love. I could care less.
If you were unable to love, you would not be here fighting Voldemort. You do
so because
I do it for revenge! Snape shouted. Nothing more! Do not prattle at me any
longer with your stupid over-emotional ideals!
You are still so very young, Dumbledore said and tsked. Hermione thought
Snape was going to explode with rage, but he controlled himself with effort. His fists
were clenched into white-knuckled balls. When he spoke again, his voice was even. I
see you are in one of your maudlin moods. When you are ready to discuss the true
problem, such as Voldemorts next possible move, you know where to find me. I do not
think he will wait another eleven years for his next attempt.
With that, he spun on a heel and stalked out.
Dumbledore glanced back into the mirror.
One day he will discover his true capacities. I only hope by then it will not be
too late, he murmured to himself.
Hermione stood before the Pensieve again. Harry looked at her in bewilderment.
What was that all about? Harry asked.
Well, it clears up one mystery. I always wondered if Snape was trying to help
Voldemort get the Stone. It seems Dumbledore was right to trust him, at least back then.
What do you suppose Snape meant when he said he had sacrificed a loving family?
Knowing Snape, he probably meant sacrificed on an altar, Harry said coldly.
Hermione shook her head. I dont think so. He sounded so torn. He said he
gave up all chance for a normal life. Do you think he stayed at Hogwarts only to stop
Voldemort?
If so, he hated every minute of it. No wonder he killed Dumbledore.
Hermione frowned. He spurned Dumbledores offer of friendship. Why? What
would cause him to shut himself off so thoroughly?
Harry shrugged. Because, hes pure evil?
He cant be evil, or he wouldnt have been trying to stop Voldemort! That was
Dumbledores whole point. Dont you see? He knew there was good in Snape.
Fat lot of use that did him! There was not enough good to keep Snape from
killing Dumbledore in the end, was there? And apparently Snape changed his mind and
decided to join up after all, eh?
Then, why did he tell Draco about the Horcruxes?
Harry threw up his hands. Well never understand Snapes twisted motives, so
why try?
Hermione chewed a nail thoughtfully. I dont know. I just have a feeling that
Snapes motives play a very large part in this mystery. Why did Dumbledore leave this
memory if it wasnt important?
He left it so we would trust Snape, but that was before Snape killed him!
Will you please stop shouting at me? I really hate it when you do that. Do I
bellow at you?
Harry looked a bit sheepish, but he said petulantly, Well, its true.
I suppose. I need to start this potion. Want to come?
No. Im going back to the common room and wait for Ron.

Hermione had long finished the potion-making process and was back in the
common room with Harry when Rons summons finally came.
Thank God! Harry cried when Rons Patronus dissipated. They are at the
front gates. We need to find someone to let them in.
Tonks, Hermione said instantly. She wont ask so many questions. Our
stories just got shredded. Are they all right? Why didnt they fly back?
Harry shrugged. Ron didnt say.
Hermione sent a quick Patronus message to Tonks, who met them in the Front
Hall. They ruefully explained the problem and Tonks shook her head in disappointment.
Remus is going to be so upset with you.
You dont necessarily have to tell him, Harry suggested hopefully. Tonks
leveled a stare at him. Pink hair or not, she suddenly looked very adult and responsible.
Yes, I necessarily do, she said coldly. Harry flushed and sighed.
Fine. Lets just go get them and Ill face the firing squad when we get back.
When they reached the gates, Hermione felt almost faint with relief to find both
Ron and Draco alive and unharmed. She was surprised to see the two bound Death
Eaters, however, and threw an I-Told-You-So look at Harry, who managed to ignore her.
When Tonks opened the gate, Hermione rushed out and threw herself at Ron. Before she
could stop herself, she began to scold him for being so foolish. She next turned on
Draco, who cut her short. He looked completely exhausted. She took a concerned step
toward him, but he turned and began to stalk quickly toward the castle. She would have
gone after him, but Ron snatched at her arm.
Dont even think about it, he warned.
Think about what? she asked.
I really dont care for the way you just looked at Malfoy, Ron said peevishly.
Hermiones blood froze.
What are you talking about? she snapped. She tried to pull away, but Ron held
on tightly. They trailed after the others and Harry hurried to walk with Malfoy while
Tonks juggled the floating Death Eaters with her wand.
Im starting to think you actually care about that git, Ron snarled. I just saved
his bloody life and Im beginning to regret it.
You saved Malfoys life? She tried not to sound disbelieving. Ron glared at
her.
You think Im a complete screw-up, dont you?
I never said that!
You were thinking it. I bet you yelled at Harry mercilessly for letting poor,
useless Ron go off and nearly get himself killed. He can barely cast a proper spell. Im
surprised he didnt fall off his broom halfway across the lake.
I never said anything of the sort! she snapped. Now, let go of me.
So you can hurry off and kiss Malfoy again? Ron yelled. His face was suffused
with rage. She stopped in amazement and wondered why he was so angry. What had
Draco told him? More lies? Or potentially more damaging, the truth? Ron released her.
Why are you so angry? Malfoy already told you why he kissed me.
Ron nodded. Yeah. I actually believed it, at first.
Well, you know how effortless it is for him to twist things around. Youve
always been an easy mark.
His blue eyes narrowed. Stupid Ron, always falling for Malfoys lies.
Stop doing that! she shouted.
He took her arm again. Come on. Were going to have a nice little chat about
you and Draco Malfoy. He tried to drag her toward the castle, but she dug in her heels.
They had a moments tug-of-war with her arm until she drew her wand and cast a
stinging hex on his hand. He yanked it back with a yelp and put the red area to his
mouth.
Dont you ever manhandle me again! she hissed. Ive been worried about you
the entire time you were gone and then you come back and act like some sort of jealous
Neanderthal! When you decide to start acting like a human being again, I will consent to
have that little chat with you. Until then, you can stay the bloody hell away from me!
She hurried after the others and up the steps into the Front Hall. She caught sight
of Dracos silvery head disappearing down the dungeon steps and ran after him. He
tensed when she called to him, but he stopped and waited for her. When he turned,
Hermione threw her arms around his neck and clung to him for a moment, wishing she
had never brought him here. She longed for a private moment to talk to him. His arms
stayed limp as she held him and she wondered if he would ever allow her to get close to
him again.
Im glad youre safe, she said lamely, leaving volumes unspoken. She pressed
her lips against his check and then turned and ran back up the steps. She met Rons
furious gaze with a raised brow that dared him to comment. He said nothing; merely fell
into step beside her as they headed for the main staircase.
The third floor landing was dark and Ron took her arm, gently this time, to guide
her up the darkened steps.
Thanks, she said shortly.
Hermione? he asked quietly. He stopped walking and she took a few more
steps before turning around to look at him with a tired sigh.
Yes, Ron? she asked.
Ive been thinking about something Malfoy said to me.
I never would have guessed, she said dryly. Ron moved up to stand on the step
below hers. He still had to look down at her a bit; she noted with some surprise that he
was as tall as Draco. Without warning, Ron reached out and caught her shoulders, and
then he leaned down and kissed her. For a moment, she was beyond shocked and her
first bemused thought was that she hadnt been kissed in months and now twice in one
day. Who was next? Harry?
She relaxed and tried not to compare Rons kiss to Dracos, but it was impossible.
It was strange, but she had thought about kissing Ron dozens of times; she had nearly
done so, in fact, when they had studied together in the common room. The timing had
just never been right, and she had been too afraid of it ending their friendship. She
wished now that she had done so. Maybe, if she had kissed him long ago, their
relationship might have grown into something deeper. Rons lips on hers were soft and
gentle, somewhat demanding, but she felt none of the wild excitement that Dracos kiss
had provoked. She didnt feel weak in the knees. She didnt feel cold and hot at the
same time. She felt nothing but a growing sadness. Ron released her reluctantly.
He told me I should do that, he said simply and continued up the stairs without
another word.
Hermione sank down on the step. He told me I should do that. Draco Malfoy
told Ron he should kiss her. She felt like tearing her hair out by the roots in frustration.
When had her life become the complicated mess she suddenly found herself in? She
nodded ironically. Oh yes. The moment she had Apparated in Dover and discovered the
fantasy man of her coin conversations to be none other than Draco Malfoy. Did she even
see the real Draco? Was she still projecting her fantasies onto him, trying to turn him
into something he wasnt?
She thought about Malfoys kiss and a rush of warmth flooded over her senses.
She groaned and buried her head in her hands. That kiss had been no fantasy. But why
did it have to be Draco she responded to and not Ron? It was completely unfair. She
sighed and got to her feet in determination.
She would just have to ignore them both. They had a job to do and emotional
complications would only get in the way.

Chapter Twenty Five The Sons of Horus

Harry stayed in the common room to peruse the book, but Hermione was both
physically and emotionally tired. She went straight to bed and managed not to have any
dreams, for which she was utterly grateful.
She hurried down and had breakfast with McGonagall, John Williamson, and
Kingsley Shacklebolt. She realized her mistake as soon as she sat down and they began
to swamp her with questions about where Draco and Ron had found the Carrows. She
baffled them by protesting complete innocence (which was mostly true) and insisting she
had no knowledge of how they had captured the Death Eaters (which was absolutely true)
and suggested they wait until Ron awoke for answers. Ron appeared shortly thereafter
with a bizarre story that they had gone to Snapes house to leave a message for Dracos
father. Hermione nearly clapped a hand to her forehead at the ridiculous story, but
luckily the truth about the Death Eaters arrival buried the tall tale.
Hermione was impressed at Rons quick thinking, but made a mental note to find
out exactly how he had turned Amycus Carrow into a canary. She was certain she knew
all of Rons spells, but she had never heard of that particular one. More Order members
drifted down to eat, forcing Ron to repeat his story. Hermione finished eating and took a
plate up for Harry, knowing he wouldnt be missed in the excitement of Rons tale.
Harry was immersed in the book. He looked up gratefully when she entered and
grabbed a croissant from the tray.
This is the most bloody confusing thing. It doesnt help that the type makes you
go cross-eyed if you look at it too long. See if you can make heads or tails of it.
She sat down next to him and took the book. It was written in an archaic style
with maddening Dark Arts typeset that gave her a headache after five minutes. She
rubbed her temples.
Theres a spell to diminish the effects of the typeset, but I cant recall where I
even saw it. Probably one of the books at Grimmauld Place.
Dark magic to counter dark magic, Harry said. Does any of it make sense?
Well, I skimmed over the part where it talks about creating the Horcruxes. There
isnt much about destroying them, of course. It does give an incantation, thank goodness,
but it talks about invoking the Sons of Horus and making an offering to Shu. Egyptian,
right? This is old, old magic. She looked at Harry. Have you ever seen any references
to Egypt in the library? I certainly havent! No wonder we couldnt find any information
on Horcruxes. She was indignant. The library had failed her. Ill do another search,
but I may have to go home and look in a Muggle library.
She looked at the book awhile longer, seeking additional clues, but the reference
to the Sons of Horus seemed to be the key bit of information. She finally pushed it aside.
Enough. I need to go to the library. You?
Harry set his tray aside. The usual. Back to the Pensieve. I think Ill wait for
Ron, though. Two heads are better than one when assessing memories.
He might be awhile. Hes telling his exciting story of rescue. She flushed
slightly, thinking about Ron.
What? Harry asked perceptively.
Its Ron. He grabbed me on the stairs last night and kissed me.
Harry grinned hugely. Youre kidding! He laughed. All right, Ron. Its
about time.
She shook her head, annoyed. Its not all right. And its not about time, either.
Its too late, actually.
What do you mean?
I mean, I didnt feel anything, Harry, she admitted miserably. He looked
puzzled.
What are you supposed to feel? It was just a kiss, right?
She almost laughed. What are you supposed to feel? Well, she wouldnt have
known before, would she? She would never have guessed what a simple kiss could make
you feel until Malfoy.
Youre supposed to feel like youre the only two people in the world. Like
everything around you could crumble to dust and you wouldnt even notice. Like youre
drowning, but clinging to a lifeline at the same time. Like youre burning and freezing at
once. She trailed off.
Harry stared at her in amazement. Seriously? Ive never felt anything like that.
Kissing Cho well, it was nice, but it certainly wasnt what you said.
Neither was kissing Viktor. Nor Ron, she said ruefully.
His green eyes narrowed.
Wait a minute, if neither Ron nor Viktor made you feel all drowning and things,
then how do you know youre supposed to no bloody way. Tell me you did not feel
like that when
Dont be silly, she said briskly. Wed better get to that Pensieve so I can get
started on my fruitless search for Egyptian information. Are you finished eating?
Yes. Hermione, I think we really need to talk about this.
There is nothing to talk about. The only thing that matters is that Ron is not hurt.
I can only hope he felt the same last night.
You meannothing?
Exactly. Nothing.
I give that about a one percent chance of accuracy, he said dryly. Her heart
sank at his words. Those were about the odds she calculated, as well.

The next Pensieve memory took place in Snapes office. Dumbledore seemed to
be angry when he strode in.
Did you know? he demanded when Snape looked up from his desk. Did you
know Tom Riddles diary was a Horcrux?
Snape huffed. Of course not. I never even saw the bloody thing. I didnt know
it existed.
Why would he give it to Lucius?
He loved Lucius. The only two he trusted were Lucius and Bellatrix. If he
wanted something kept for him, he would have given it to one of them.
Dumbledore sank into a chair before his desk. His anger seemed to have melted
into frustration.
I never would have expected a diary, he admitted. It makes sense, of course,
for him to use something personal, but it worries me. It worries me greatly.
Snape sat forward. Well, we had eleven bloody years of peace in which to find
and destroy these Horcruxes and how many have we destroyed? Snape slammed a fist
down on the desk. Now, were running out of time.
Dumbledore glared at him. Weve been searching.
Ive been searching! Youve been doing God-knows-what, concentrating so
much on this bloody school
This school holds the future of the wizarding world! Dumbledore said coldly.
There will not be a future of the wizarding world if we do not stop him! Snape
thundered, half-rising and leaning over his desk.
Dumbledore massaged his temples with long fingers.
I know, he said tiredly. I have let time slip away from me. It moves so
quickly these days
Let us dispense with the regretful trips down memory lane and concentrate on
the problem at hand. The Horcruxes are the least of our worries, at the moment. Weve
got to prevent him from obtaining a body.
Dumbledore waved a dismissing hand at Snapes suggestion.
We know what to look for, now. If he attempts to possess
Dont be stupid! Snape barked. Im not talking about possession! Im talking
about obtaining flesh! A new body. It can be done. Im sure hes working toward that
end.
He cannot cast such a spell in the state he is in, Dumbledore scoffed. And his
loyal servants are all in our custody.
Your overconfidence is inspiring, Snape said sarcastically.
Dumbledore laughed. I do hope so. At least Lucius managed to aid us, albeit
unwittingly. One Horcrux has been destroyed.
Thanks to the overwhelming luck of The Chosen One.
It was more than luck that allowed a second-year to defeat a basilisk.
Yes, it was Godric Gryffindors sword.
The sword did not wield itself, my friend.
I have no wish to sit here and listen to you prattle on about the merits of a boy
who cant even brew a simple potion without help from his Mudblood girlfriend.
Dumbledores face hardened.
I have asked you to refrain from using that terminology in my presence.
Snapes teeth bared in a caricature of a smile.
Sorry, he said. Force of habit. Bad upbringing, you know. He didnt sound
the least bit apologetic. Hermione shook her head. It was bad enough when purebloods
like Malfoy used such slurs, but it was incomprehensible when half-bloods like Snape
and Tom Riddle did so.
Yes, Dumbledore said, sounding unconvinced. He got to his feet.
Ill never change, you know, Snape said suddenly. Not really.
Dumbledore smiled beatifically. The mere fact that you mention it makes it
possible.
Snape shook his head and sighed as Dumbledore started out. Blind old fool.
Hermione looked at Harry in puzzlement.
Bloody hell, Harry said. Every memory is more confusing than the last.
Snape warned him about Voldemort acquiring a body. He didnt listen.
Harry nodded, looking sick. Two years before it happened. Two years.
And what about that warning at the end? Ill never change. Was he telling
Dumbledore that he was still a Death Eater?
How could he be and yet help Dumbledore try to stop Voldemort? Everything
about Snape is a contradiction.
Harry glanced at Dumbledores portrait, but Dumbledore was gone. Hermione
grinned ruefully. Probably wanted to avoid any questions brought on by that particular
memory. Harry went over and looked at the vials.
The next one is right after we saved Sirius and Buckbeak. When we found out
about Wormtail.
Hermione shook her head. Im not ready for anything related to that terrible
night. Not at the moment, anyway. Come to the library with me. Maybe I missed some
books on Egypt simply because I was never looking for them. We never thoroughly went
through the Restricted Section, either.
Harry returned the vial. All right.

* * * * *

Draco awoke slowly and stretched. He felt a twinge in his neck and painfully
recalled why he hated sleeping on the beds at Hogwarts. He missed his pillow-soft
feather bed at home. Hell, he missed everything about being at home. His bed, his
clothes, his comfortable fur-lined slippers, his scalding baths, his lazy breakfasts in bed
He propped his arms behind his head and wondered what time it was. The
Gryffindors definitely had an advantage there. In the dungeon, it was always night.
Great for sleeping, not so great for waking up at a decent hour. For all he knew, it was
past noon. He felt pretty good, so it was more than likely hed gotten enough sleep. He
tugged his wand out from under his pillow and lit all the lamps in the room. It dispelled
the gloom, but didnt brighten the place much.
He wondered if Potter and Granger had sorted out the book. He grinned at last
nights memory of Hermione, although he had to wonder why she had run down and
kissed him. Merely to annoy Ron? Frankly, he also wondered why she was no longer
giving him the cold shoulder. She had been so enraged outside Hagrids hut; he assumed
she would never speak to him again. Mercurial, was Granger.
He reached over to the bedside stand and picked up her Galleon.
What time is it? he asked
His coin warmed instantly.
Youre calling me for a time check?
You expected me to call for a different reason?
No. Its nearly 11 am. I thought you might sleep all day.
Maybe you should have awakened me.
I dont know the Slytherin password.
Its apple. Would you have used it?
Apple?
Yes. Garden of Eden? Adam and Eve? Wicked serpent? Apple.
I see. No, I probably wouldnt have used it.
Draco walked the coin across his knuckles for a moment and then asked, Will you
use it now? He winced as soon as the message was sent. Why had he asked that? He
considered the question. Simple, he just wanted to ask her about the book without Potter
and Weasley butting in with their annoying commentary. Thats all.
You want me to come down there?
Yes.
There was a very long pause. He grinned to think of her little mind spinning and
spinning with questions and concerns. Would her intelligence win out over her trusting
nature? Would Gryffindor boldness triumph over demure reticence?
All right. Ill meet you in your common room.
Draco laughed aloud. He would have bet on Gryffindor boldness any day of the
week.
It took her less than ten minutes. He hoped she had left Weasley with his jaw
agape as she bolted. She would have had to run from the Gryffindor common room. Of
course, at this time of day, she had probably been elsewhere.
Malfoy? she called from the common room.
Im in here, he replied.
Well, come out.
No. You come in here.
He fully expected her to argue with him for awhile, so he was quite surprised
when she appeared in the doorway with a wary expression on her face. She was dressed
in a school uniform today, except the vest and tie were missing and the white blouse was
casually open at the neck. No heavy robes, either. Draco had never expected to find the
Hogwarts uniform sexy, but she looked surprisingly fetching. Maybe it was just his
memory of what she wore underneath
You look like a naughty schoolgirl, he said huskily. She flushed.
Im neither naughty nor a schoolgirl, at the moment. I simply forgot to bring any
clothing from home. Ive asked Mrs. Weasley to send my things from from the
Headquarters of the Order. Until they arrive, Im stuck wearing this. How long do you
plan to stay in bed?
Until you come over here and wake me properly.
She scowled. Sorry, I dont have a pitcher of ice water to toss on your head. Ill
conjure one if youd like. She walked over and sat on the bed usually occupied by
Crabbe. So. What did you want to tell me yesterday? When I refused to listen?
Draco shook his head.
Oh no. You missed your chance on that one. Besides, Ive forgotten.
She gave him a measuring look and absently reached into her shirt. She toyed
with the coin, sliding it up and down the chain. Draco waited. There was something on
her mind, obviously. He grinned when she blurted with typical Gryffindor bluntness,
Why did you tell Ron to kiss me?
Dracos brows shot up. Did he?
She nodded and Draco chuckled. Well, well, well. He was listening. Not quite
as stupid as we all thought, is Weasley?
I never thought Ron was stupid. Answer the question.
I didnt think hed actually do it, Draco admitted with a grin.
With you goading him into it? How could he not?
So, how was it?
Hermione flushed again. It was good. Fine. Excellent. Very exciting.
God, you really are the most atrocious liar.
She leaped to her feet and her chin snapped into the air stubbornly.
I was not lying!
A bit better, but still not convincing. Try again.
She gave him a venomous glare and began to pace next to the bed.
You are, without a doubt, the most irritating
How was my kiss?
Her words choked off as if hed strangled her. The flush that tinted her cheeks
most deliciously answered his question better than anything she might have said. She
had to clear her throat before she could speak, and even then her words were barely
audible.
Horrid. Nasty. Worst kiss ever, she whispered. Draco laughed throatily.
Really? Well, damn me. Id better try again.
He reached out quick as a striking snake and grabbed her wrist. She pulled back
with a gasp, but he drew her inexorably toward him. She shook her head in denial, but he
gave a quick heave and yanked her off balance. She fell on top of him and he released
her wrist to wrap both hands tightly in her curls.
Dont! she breathed. Her eyes were wide and frightened, but she froze when he
tilted her head slightly and pressed her lips against his. The kiss hed given her on the
stairs had been a childish peck compared to the assault he launched upon her now. There
would be no interruptions, so he took his time and savored every tormenting instant. He
tasted her somewhat gently at first, to lull her into relaxing, and was surprised when it
worked better than expected. His lips playfully teased hers, tender and undemanding.
With a soft sigh, she melted against him. He was wary of a trick, so did not release his
grip. He deepened the kiss, teasing her mouth open and sliding his tongue inside to touch
hers lightly. She inhaled sharply and he smiled against her mouth. After that, he was
ruthless. He tasted, sucked, nibbled, and played with every part of her mouth; lips,
tongue, and teeth until she whimpered mindlessly and writhed against him.
Somewhere along the way, he lost all control. Hermione wasnt passive. She
returned his kiss with her own, matching tease for tease, taste for taste. Her hands, hot
and silken, caressed his bare chest. It was exquisite torment. His own hands were
tangled helplessly in her hair, though he strove to free them in order to slide them down
to her body, sprawled across his in senseless abandon. He needed to touch her.
He tore one hand free suddenly and she gasped when several strands of hair went
with it. She pulled back to stare at him through eyes glazed with passion. Her chest
labored against his as she struggled to breathe normally. Dracos hand, free at last,
tugged sharply at her blouse and then slipped beneath it. He caressed the satiny skin of
her back and she arched against him with a gasp. Hot desire filled his senses with a rush
that was physically painful. He moved his other hand, trying desperately to free it so he
could move the offending materials out of the wayclothing and sheetshe would tear
them away if he had to.
He realized his mistake in an instant. The fevered kiss that had kept her in thrall
had been broken. Freed from the delightful stimulus, her mind began to function again.
What what am I doing? she breathed. Before he could stop her, she heaved
herself off of him, leaving behind a substantial length of hair still twisted in his fingers.
She backed away quickly and sat down hard on Crabbes bed. Her brown eyes were
wide with disbelief. Her hair was disheveled and her lips were swollen. Her shirt was
askew and half out of her skirt. God, he wanted her.
He shut his eyes and struggled for control. He took several deep, steadying
breaths and fought the heat that strove to overwhelm him. He clenched his fists and
stilled himself against the urge to throw himself across the intervening space and press
her down upon Crabbes bed
Control. Control. Control. He chanted the word until he felt calm returning. He
opened his eyes and slanted them at her with a smirk guaranteed to infuriate her.
How was it that time? he asked with a hint of amusement.
There are no words, she said quietly. He laughed sardonically. He couldnt
accuse her of lying that time. She stood up and walked quickly to the door, out of his
reach, he knew. She tucked her shirt carefully back into her skirt and ran her hands
across her hair in an attempt to smooth it. When she spoke again, her voice was calm.
If youve quite finished tormenting me, its time to get up. We would like your
opinion on some information found in the book. Ill wait for you out here.
She went out and he stared after her in bemusement. So, she planned to pretend
that nothing had happened. Maybe she thought he was just playing a game. Was he? He
thought about her lying across him, kissing him, touching him He drew a ragged
breath. No. Not a game. He had been trying to teach her a lesson and received one
himself. Dont play with fire.

Chapter Twenty Six Cryptic Messages

Hermione walked into the Slytherin common room and tried not to think. The
room was decorated much like the Gryffindor common roomsame style sofas, chairs,
and tables, but all in green with silver trim. The lack of windows and natural light was
disturbing.
She heard him shuffling in the other room and tried not to think about him getting
dressed. She wondered if he had even worn anything to bed. The thought made her feel
hot and panicky.
Dont think about it, she ordered herself, dont even start.
He sauntered out and she felt her heart leap into her throat. She shut her eyes and
pictured a cold mountain lake. Edged in ice. With snowflakes falling. She took a deep,
steadying breath.
Feeling all right? he asked casually. His sardonic tone actually helped calm her
nerves.
Never better, she said brightly and smiled sweetly at him. He gave her a
measuring look and then shrugged. Her eyes skimmed over him quickly, taking in his
white shirtunbuttoned halfway down his chest, damn him; black pants, and usual black
boots. He noticed her gaze and grinned ruefully.
It seems Im stuck with school clothes, too. Maybe we should go shopping.
I could Transfigure something for us. I just wasnt in the mood this morning.
Shopping is more fun, he insisted.
You want to go shopping? she asked derisively. With me?
Absolutely. Lingerie, first.
She clenched her jaw in annoyance. Not even five minutes and he had her
blushing scarlet again.
That will be the end of that conversation, she decided. He laughed.
All right, Granger. Ill stop tormenting you. What did you and Potter find
out?
She was relievedand a bit disappointed, though she shoved that thought aside
angrilythat he was willing to move on to business. She watched him as he walked to
the huge fireplace and examined his reflection in a small mirror propped on the mantle.
His silver-blonde hair was perfect, as usual. He moved with a stunning grace that made
her ache just to watch him. She turned away quickly, wishing she had never come down
here. What had possessed her to seek out the wolf in his den?
She put a shaking hand to her hair and winced when she touched the tender spot
on her head where she had torn her locks free. She glanced at him again and he turned to
look at her with that maddening grin of his. Simply put, she had wanted to see him. She
had rationalized that she wanted to question him about their trip to Snapes house, but in
all honesty, it wasnt true. If she were completely candid with herself, she had been half-
hoping what had happened would happen. She blushed, recalling his hands in her hair,
his demanding mouth on hers, his
Over-analyzing again, Granger? Draco asked dryly. She stared at him in
surprise. How could he know her so well already?
No, she said pertly. I was thinking about the book. Her gaze dared him to
say anything about lying.
Really? I didnt realize secrets of immortality were such a racy subject. Thats
quite a pretty blush youve got there.
The blush darkened, to her chagrin. She had to stop thinking about him! He had
only kissed her to prove a point. To show her that he could be utterly irresistible when he
chose. To prove that raw passion could override common sense and every other rational
thought God, she was doing it again.
I was not over-analyzing. I was merely thinking, she snapped. He was moving
toward her, so she quickly walked to put the couch between them. She didnt dare get
too close to him. He laughed.
Im not going to pounce on you.
She ignored that and remembered the question he had asked long minutes ago.
The book is difficult to read. I know there is a spell to diminish the effects of the
wavering text, but I have no idea what it is.
I do.
She nodded. It was probably taught to Malfoys as soon as they learned to read.
We deciphered a bit of it, though. It references something called the Sons of
Horus. Have you ever heard of them?
He began to casually stalk her around the sofa. She pretended not to notice, but
she drifted sideways to keep the large piece of furniture between them. She tried to shake
off the image of a hunting panther, but his grey eyes were gleaming mischievously.
No.
It also says to make an offering to Shu.
Draco stopped. Shu? Now, that sounds familiar. Where have I heard that
before?
Its most likely Egyptian. Some sort of god, I assume, since it requires an
offering.
Dracos brow wrinkled in thought, but he started moving again, quickly this time.
She gave up all pretenses and bolted behind the couch.
Will you keep still? she demanded. He chuckled.
Why are you running from me? Are you afraid Ill kiss you again?
God, yes! She shook her head, knowing if she spoke aloud he would see right
through her lie.
If I promise not to try to kiss you, will you stay there? he asked. She looked at
him through narrowed eyes, searching for a trick, but she couldnt see a downside.
Yes, she said shortly. Surprisingly, he didnt smirk at her. She held her
ground, barely, as he rounded the sofa and stood before her. She realized her mistake
immediately. He didnt even need to touch her. His nearness was enough to send
warning bells jangling through every nerve ending. The masculine scent of him filled her
senses and she shut her eyes tightly, trying to think of anything else but her ridiculous
urge to wrap her arms around his neck
Isnt this better? he asked. Its so much easier to talk without a huge gap
between us.
Talk. Yes. She opened her eyes and swallowed hard. He had reduced the gap,
for certain. He stood so close to her if she leaned forward a bit, she would be pressed up
against him. Almost, she stepped back, but her Gryffindor pride suddenly reared its head
and she raised her chin stubbornly.
Her resolve lasted all of six seconds, until he reached up and touched her hair
gently with both hands. His thumbs massaged her head where the hair had been pulled.
Did I hurt you? he asked softly. She noted with alarm that she was forgetting to
breathe and pulled in a shaky breath.
No, she whispered. The word was both a response and a request. He smiled
down at her and her eyes slid over his features. He was so beautiful. Pale and smooth as
porcelain. She dug her fingernails into her palms to fight the urge to reach up and caress
the even line of his jaw.
His hands suddenly became brisk in her hair. He tugged and twisted it in a
businesslike manner.
Youre a mess, he said. Wed better fix you up a bit or Weasley will suspect
youve been rolling around in the sack with me. She glared at him when he laughed and
continued, Of course, hed be right, for once.
Can we just go? she asked sharply. The thought of Ron had assaulted her with
guilt. Draco sighed.
If you insist.
He stepped away from her and drew on the black cloak that had been tossed upon
the back of the sofa. In the same motion, he seemed to pull an invisible curtain about
himself. His armor, she knew. She had figured it out in Hagrids hut, why Draco was so
different when he was alone with her. The wall of ice, disdain, and sarcasm was missing.
Since Dover, it had slowly melted away, exposing the real Dracothe human, vulnerable
Draco that he kept under such tight control. The one that refused to let anyone get close
enough to hurt him.
He looked at her seriously.
I need to send a message to my parents. Ive been thinking about it since the lie
we concocted yesterday. It wont be easy, but it can be done. Ill need your help.
Hermione nodded.
Ill ask them where Regulus Black died. Well do it tonight. Here, if you arent
afraid to be alone with me again.
Im not afraid of you, she said adamantly.
He laughed in what sounded like sheer delight. Liar. Lets go have a look at
that book. He gestured fluidly toward the exit and she gratefully went.

Ron was in the library with Harry when they entered and he shot a suspicious
glare at them both.
Any luck? she asked. Harry shook his head.
You were right. Not much of anything Egyptian in this place.
Thats just great. By the time we figure out what the Sons of Horus are, we may
have collected all the Horcruxes. With no idea how to destroy them.
Sons of Horus? Ron asked. I know what they are.
Three pairs of astonished eyes turned to him.
Why is that such a bloody surprise? he demanded. I went to Egypt with my
parents, remember? The Sons of Horus are the jars they use for the body parts in the
tomb. They are supposed to protect the entrails on the Pharoahs journey to the afterlife.
Hermione gasped. The Canopic Jars!
Ron nodded. Thats it. Canopic. They were placed at the four cornersnorth,
south, east, and west.
I just remembered who Shu is, Draco said quietly. Hermione looked at him.
The god of wind, sunlight and protection.
Hermione hurried to look over Harrys shoulder at the book.
I think I know what it means! she said happily. The Sons of Horus is a
reference to the four quarters! An offering to Shu its a circle of protection. She
shook her head. This is heavy. No simple spell; this is ritual magic. Ancient and
powerful.
The same magic used to create the damned thing, Draco said.
Hermione looked at Harry shrewdly. Didnt Dumbledore say he destroyed the
ring alone?
Harry nodded. She continued, Ill bet he dispensed with the ritual and tried to
destroy it himself. He told you not to make the same mistake. Wed better do it
correctly. None of us wants a withered handor worse. I wish we could find some
information on the names of the Sons of Horus. It would be nice to do this according to
the book, but we may have to improvise. Harry, get me whatever you can find on casting
a circle, since none of us has ever done it before
I have, Draco said nonchalantly.
I dont even want to know why. Fine, then Malfoy can look for that information.
Try to remember, this will be white magic, not the Dark Arts. Protection is the key word.
You might also read the Horcrux section in the book. Maybe you can find something we
missed. Harry, you find a way to invoke the elements. There are dozens of spells, so Im
certain you can find one thats appropriate. Ron, we need to find a place to do this.
Somewhere we wont be interrupted. I suggest we do it at midnight. No one will be
looking for us and the time seems appropriate. Ill start gathering some of the items well
need, from what I can remember. If you find anything else we have to have, we can
collect it later.
There was no argument, so she smiled and went out. It felt good to be doing
something, rather than sitting around blindly searching for information. The weather was
calm again, as she discovered when she headed for the greenhouse. The storm had blown
itself out, leaving everything clean and wet. The sky was cloudless.
Inside the greenhouse, she took a basket from near the door and used her wand to
cut sprigs of various plants: Angelica, basil, horehound, mistletoe, and nettles. She
would stop by Snapes former storeroom to pick up myrrh and frankincense. At least
they didnt have to sneak into there any longer. She hurried back inside and stored
everything safely in the Gryffindor common room. She was surprised when the coin
warmed on her chest and she looked at it quickly.
Were in the Great Hall. Your werewolf friend popped in and invited us for
lunch. Ordered us to lunch, I should say.
Thanks. Ill be right there.
Lupin was probably wondering what they were all up to. He had to know they
wouldnt be sitting idly around waiting for something to happen. She checked her watch.
They had a full afternoon to prepare for the ritual, plus she needed to help Draco contact
his parents.
Moody was having another tirade when she arrived. Apparently, he had just
returned from Malfoy Manor and he was not pleased. In fact, he was yelling in Dracos
face.
Once a Death Eater, always a Death Eater, I say! he bellowed. Now, where
did they go, boy? I can cast a Cruciatus just as well as your ilk!
Dracos eyes were frigid. He and Moody faced each other across a hand spans
distance.
Do it, Draco dared. Moodys wand jerked upward and pressed into Dracos
chin with a snap. Malfoys jaw clenched, but he gave no other sign of emotion.
Hermione ran forward, but Lupin got to them first. He grabbed Moodys wand hand.
Stop it, Alastor! Leave him be!
Youre shielding Death Eaters now, Remus? Moody snarled.
Hes no Death Eater and its not his fault that they have moved on. You should
have known that would happen the moment they pulled Neville out. We have the
Carrows in custody because of Draco.
Moodys false eye swiveled in Lupins direction.
The Carrows?
Draco and Ron captured them at Snapes house last night.
Moody lowered his wand, but looked at Draco coldly.
Im watching you, boy. Youd better keep your nose clean.
Draco sneered, an expression Hermione hadnt seen in so long it nearly looked
out of place. Moody moved off, peppering Lupin with questions about interrogating
Amycus and Alecto. Hermione put a hand on Dracos arm.
What was that about? she asked.
Apparently, Voldemort has vacated my house. Your barmy friend is a bit upset.
Do you know where they might have gone?
No idea.
She nodded. It doesnt matter. Let the Order locate them. We have our own
business to attend to.
Draco returned to his seat and Hermione sat next to him, across from Harry, who
looked at her, but made no comment. She snapped her fingers.
Salt. We need salt.
Harry passed her a salt cellar, but she shook her head. For tonight. A lot of it.
Ill stop by the kitchen on the way out. Heres Ron.
Ron sat down next to Hermione and grinned at her. He ignored Draco
completely.
I think I know where we can do this, he murmured as he put a slab of bread on
his plate and topped it with a selection of meats and cheeses. Harry gave me the idea
when he told me about one of the Pensieve memories. Remember that chamber where
they hid the Stone? The one accessed by the trapdoor on the third floor?
Hermione nodded. Of course. Its perfect.
I checked it out. Its empty now and there are no bloody traps on the way like
Devils Snare or life-sized chess pieces. I dont think anyones used it, since. Its pretty
dusty.
Add a broom to our list of supplies, Hermione mentioned. A cleaning broom,
not a flying broom. Anyone know where we can get holy water?
Sure, Harry said. Snapes storeroom. I saw some in there, once. Its in a
silver flask.
Excellent. I was afraid that was one item we would have to do without. Plain
water will work, but holy water is better. Did you two have any luck? she asked,
looking at Harry and Draco. Harry shook his head.
Lupin came in shortly after you left. I was still hunting for the right book.
Draco grinned. I dont need a book. I already know how to cast a circle. And
invoke the elements, although I agree you may want to get more specific with this one.
Dont forget the offering to Shu. I recommend the usual: bread, beer, beef, and fowl.
Perhaps oil. And fine linen for an altar cloth. And an altar, of course.
Where will we find fine linen? Ron asked.
The Staff Room. They have a stockpile in a cabinet there, Draco mentioned.
How do you never mind. Ill take your word for it. Harry, you get the salt
and find that incantation. Malfoy can grab the linen, since he's familiar with the Staff
Room. I'll go back and get the holy water from Snape's supplies. Ron, go with Harry and
pick up the food items."
She noticed Tonks shooting them a glance now and again from where she sat next
to McGonagall and Lupin.
"They're getting suspicious," she mentioned quietly. "They don't trust us after
Ron and Malfoy's little trip."
"Well, they seem to expect me to sneak off and confront Voldemort at any
moment. Not that we even know where he is."
"It's rather useless to confront him until we destroy the Trinkets, anyway. The
only legitimate purpose we have at Hogwarts is the Pensieve. They probably wonder
why we're spending so much time in the library. If they think we're up to something, they
might try to ship Harry back to Headquarters."
Harry laughed shortly. "I definitely don' t want to go back there. Especially with
the Dursleys in residence. I wonder how that is going."
"Maybe you should ask."
"I really don't care," Harry said coolly. She decided not to push the issue. After
all, she hadn't even checked up on her own parents, and she loved them. She made a
mental note to do so, however.
"I think we should all go spend some time with Harry and the Pensieve. We can
swing by the library and grab the books we needbe certain to get a good assortment so
they don't know what we're looking for if they decide to snoop."
"You're pretty good at this underhanded business," Draco said admiringly. "I
never would have guessed Gryffindors could be so sneaky."
"We've had a lot of practice," she said dryly with a look at Harry, who laughed.
"We've been quite aboveboard, lately," he protested. "I haven't pulled out the
Invisibility Cloak since we've been here."
"Keep it handy," Hermione advised. "We might need it tonight."
When Ron finished eating, they trooped up to the library and then to
Dumbledore's old office.
"All right, are you coming with me, Hermione?" Harry asked hopefully after he
dumped the vial contents into the basin.
"Yes." She looked sharply at Ron and Draco. "Don't kill each other."

Dumbledore was in Snape's office again. Snape had a glass of amber liquid on
the desk before him and he looked shaken.
"You wouldn't really have let them perform the dementor's kiss on Sirius, would
you? Can you possibly hate him that much?" Dumbledore asked quietly.
Snape looked tired. His hand shook when he took a drink from his glass. He set
it down and sighed explosively.
"I don't know. I'd like to think not, but when I saw him again When I heard
the story about them becoming Animagi" Snape propped his elbows on the desk and
massaged his temples. "It just brought back too many memories. I hated them all so
much, and to find the four of them sharing such a secret I'm afraid I went a little mad."
"Because you were jealous?" Dumbledore asked softly. Snape's black eyes
flashed viciously.
"Don't try to psychoanalyze me, Albus. I made peace with my demons long ago.
I was content to see Sirius languishing in Azkaban. But, no, I don't think I could have
seen him given the dementor's kiss."
"And if he was innocent all along? If the children are correct and Peter Pettigrew
is alive? What then?"
Snape shrugged. "It's more than likely. I never really believed that Sirius would
betray James Potter. He loved James more than his own brother." Snape's voice was
bitter. "I always assumed he was under Voldemort's Imperius Curse."
"And yet you allowed him to go to Azkaban without a word of protest."
"He was safe in Azkaban," Snape hissed. "And don't try to sound holier-than-
thou. You thought he was guilty, also. Did you ever seek out the truth?"
Dumbledore shook his head.
"I'm afraid I was also willing to believe the worst. And Pettigrew was gone. He
never resurfaced."
Snape laughed harshly. "Peter Pettigrew. My God, Sirius was a trusting fool. I
wouldn't trust Pettigrew with the key to my laundry chute."
"Well, Sirius is free now."
"For how long? Until Voldemort returns and hunts us all down like rabid wolves?
If Sirius was correct, Voldemort will have a loyal servant again. Do you still have no
fear of him regaining a body?"
"We have had no word of him since he sought the Stone. We will, of course,
continue to watch." He sighed. "Lupin has resigned."
"What a pity," Snape said dryly and his eyes gleamed with amusement.
"I will have to find yet another Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher."
"I am willing to step into that post any time, Headmaster," Snape said.
Dumbledore actually chuckled.
"I seek to teach the students to defend themselves against the Dark Arts, not
embrace them."
Snape gave him a sneer. "I'm sick to death of Potions."
"But you are exceptional with them."
"Don't flatter me. I know my place."
"You are not a prisoner here."
"The hell I'm not. Now, please get out of my cell and let me drink myself into
oblivion." He raised his glass. "To Sirius! May he fly to freedom and never return!"
Dumbledore got to his feet.
"I think you have already had enough drink."
"On the contrary. I have not even begun."
Dumbledore looked at him disapprovingly, shook his head, and went out.

"I don't understand all these Snape memories," Harry said when they returned.
Draco and Ron were involved in a tense wizard chess match in one corner. Hermione
watched them uneasily. "What is he trying to tell us?"
Hermione looked at Dumbledore's portrait. Surprisingly, he was present. His
eyes twinkled at her.
"Why Snape?" she asked. "You can't ask us to trust him now, after what he did to
you!"
"Well, Hermione, you must make up your own minds about that. All I may tell
you is that some secrets cannot be revealed, even by death."
"You are trying to show us a secret about Snape? Something you cannot tell us
directly?" Harry asked.
"Everything so far has been bloody confusing."
"And it doesn't matter, anyway, because Snape has rejoined the Death Eaters,
where he belongs. He's gone back to the Dark Side, so trusting him has become a moot
point. Did you leave us a single clue about Horcruxes?"
"The Horcruxes are a mystery, indeed, Harry. But of far greater import is what
lies inside the human heart. It is not tokens that will decide this matter. It is the choices
made by each of the players."
Hermione looked at Malfoy, who met her gaze with a slight smile before he
turned his attention back to the chessboard.
Harry's hand scraped through his black hair, a sure sign of his frustration.
Checkmate, said Draco, causing both Harry and Hermione to stare at them in
surprise. Ron looked ready to spit nails.
Ron knows about Canopic jars and Draco beats him at chess, Hermione
muttered to Harry. Are we in the right dimension?
Harry chuckled. She sighed.
Well, this has been another exciting Pensieve episode. Im ready for a nap. Ill
take some of these books with me, she said loudly. She gathered up several tomes.
Lets meet in the Gryffindor common room at nine. That will give us a few hours to
prepare the chamber. Well collect everything necessary after dinner.
She left the three males alone and vaguely hoped they didnt hurt each other. She
went to her room and had just set the books on her bed when the Galleon heated.
I hate to bother you, but do you suppose we can concoct that message to my
parents now?
What do you need me to do?
Meet me in the Slytherin common room and Ill explain.
All right.
She knew she probably shouldnt meet him alone again, but she had agreed to
help him. She picked up the books and went downstairs, thankfully without running into
Harry or Ron. Draco was not in the common room when she got there. She set the books
on a nearby table and sat on the couch. No way would she go back to his room again.
As it turned out, he wasnt in his room. He arrived about ten minutes later and
dropped a bundle of linen on the edge of the couch.
I stopped at the Staff Room. Its deserted in the summer. Its odd that we
havent seen Peeves, either. Does a poltergeist take a holiday?
I doubt it. Maybe hes just used to tormenting the usual residents during the
summer. Either way, I havent missed him. How do you need my help?
Wait here. Ill show you.
Draco went to his room for a minute. When he returned, he carried an assortment
of items. Parchment, two quills, ink, a small ceramic dish, and a small silver-handled
knife. He set everything on the low table before the couch, added his wand, and sat down
beside her.
Okay, this is what I need your help with, he said earnestly. He picked up the
knife by the curved blade. It looked wickedly sharp.
I need you to draw my blood. Traditionally, a cut is made on the thumb, but that
hurts like the devil for days. I prefer the wrist or armit bleeds more and hurts less in
the long run.
She stared at him in absolute horror and ignored the knife he held out to her, hilt-
first.
What are you talking about? she whispered.
Draco grimaced. Im a bit squeamish when it comes to pain. Particularly when
its self-inflicted.
You have to draw your blood?
Unfortunately, yes. Its the only way to send a private message into a den of
Death Eaters.
She shook her head. No. Lets not do it, then.
I have to. Im sure my mother is nearly frantic with worry. I dont want her to
do anything stupid just to find out what happened to me. Ill cut myself if I have to, but
Id rather not.
Instead, you want me to slice you open?
You cant tell me you havent dreamed of plunging a knife into me, he said
dryly.
I never once dreamed of plunging a knife into you! Besides, that was before
Before you fell hopelessly in love with me? he asked with a grin. She snatched
the knife.
You do have a point about the knife-plunging dream.
He rolled his white cuff back and held out his left wrist to her expectantly. She
took his arm in her left hand and gripped the knife tightly in her right. She met his gaze
for a moment and his silver eyes looked so appealingly trusting that her hand shook.
I cant do it, she said after a moment. I dont want to hurt you.
Just try to recall one of the times you did want to hurt me. Im sure that wont be
difficult, he suggested.
She could feel his heartbeat beneath her thumb. She looked at his wrist and
swallowed. His skin was so pale the veins were clearly visible. She would rather trace
one with a finger than slice him open.
Is this very dark magic? she asked quietly and he chuckled.
Its not dark magic at all. I just have to attune the message to those of my blood.
Only my parents will be able to read it. Come on, this should be simple for a brave
Gryffindor.
She shut her eyes and took a steadying breath. Just a nick. Thats all it would
take. She opened her eyes and laid the tip of the blade gently against a vein at the base of
his palm. The knife trembled slightly.
You know, I just dont think I can she began, but he jerked his arm suddenly
and a red gash appeared under the blade. Hermione gasped and dropped the knife.
Draco picked up the small dish and began to collect the blood that seeped from
the wound.
Thanks, Granger, he murmured.
That wasnt fair, she said accusingly.
I know, but it worked.
She realized she still gripped his arm and quickly released him. She picked up the
knife and cut some of the linen into strips to bind around his wrist when he finished
obtaining a small pool of blood. She tied the linen for him and then watched as he
alternately cast a spell on the parchment and dipped a quill into the blood. He wrote a
quick message telling them he was safe and asking about Regulus Black. When he
finished, he tapped the message with his wand and muttered another spell. The dark red
words disappeared.
Okay, I need you again. In your best handwriting write, in ink, over the words I
just wrote. Make it sound like an advertisement. Something like Twillfit and Tattings
cordially invites you to a private viewing of their new fall collection.
Wait, this has to be just right. Hermione grabbed a piece of parchment and
wrote his words. They crossed out, added, and adjusted it until it sounded like a real
invitation. She then copied it over Dracos invisible words and then he drew a stylized T
copied from the tag on his cloak. She reached for the sand, but he stopped her.
Sand can be traced, he said.
Youre joking.
No, its pretty simple. If even one Hogwarts grain is left on here, they can detect
it. Well let it air dry. He blew on it gently and she secretly admired the way his lips
pursed. For just a moment, she imagined him blowing on her skin that way and
immediately regretted it when a blush heated her cheeks. Thankfully, he didnt notice.
They sealed the tiny scroll with a piece of black ribbon Draco located.
They took a roundabout route to the Owlery in order to avoid detection. Draco
tucked the scroll into the carrier on a school owls leg.
Take this to Narcissa Malfoy, he ordered and released the owl. They both
watched until it was a tiny black speck in the sky.
She noticed the makeshift bandage on Dracos wrist was stained red. She grabbed
his hand and gently unwrapped the bandage. She looked at the gash and bit her lip. She
met his grey eyes for a moment and then pulled out her wand. She rested the tip next to
the wound and whispered a spell. To her relieved surprise, the injury sealed itself into a
thin line that quickly took on the pale hue of a healed wound.
Draco rubbed a finger across it and raised an eyebrow.
Impressive, Granger. When did you learn healing spells?
I read everything I could get my hands on when school let out. Memorized
dozens of spells. I just havent had the chance to use any of them. Until now.
Well, you did an excellent job. How was it?
Strange. Not like other spells. You have to draw the energy from yourself,
rather than elsewhere. I could feel a bit of a drain even for that small cut. There must be
a trick or technique for healing larger wounds. She shuddered a bit. Im far too
squeamish for major healing.
That makes two of us. Draco grinned. What shall we do now?
We should definitely get some rest, especially you, now that youve lost blood.
Well need all of our energy tonight. Ill walk you back to the common room, since I left
the books there.
When they reached the Slytherin common room again, she made Draco lie down
on the sofa and propped his head with green and silver pillows.
Why dont you lie down here with me? he suggested. She rolled her eyes.
The object is for you to rest, not overexcite yourself with the need to show off
your masculine prowess.
Is that what you think I was doing before?
I dont want to know your motivation, she said quickly.
Why not?
Because Im likely to believe whatever you tell me, no matter how distant it is
from the truth.
He scowled. Actually, what youre saying is that you wont believe anything I
say, even if it happens to be the truth.
She grinned. That would be correct. He gave her a wounded expression and
she didnt believe that for a moment, either.
Now, stop chattering and go to sleep.
Will you stay here with me?
Absolutely not.
Why? Are you afraid of me?
No. Ive been alone with you all afternoon. Why should I be afraid now?
Exactly. Wake me up before dinner, he said and shut his eyes. Having neatly
trapped herself, she sighed, picked up one of the books, and sat on the end of the sofa,
being careful not to touch him. After a moment, she leaned over and tugged off Dracos
boots. He sighed in contentment and murmured sleepy thanks. She smiled and immersed
herself in the book, but she still noticed when his breathing became deep and even. She
levitated his cloak to cover him and let her eyes caress his features. She felt a strange
sense of contentment, watching him sleep. It disturbed her.

Chapter Twenty Seven - Favor

Draco awoke to find Hermione fast asleep at the opposite end of the couch. The
book was open on her lap. He sat up and rubbed his eyes before glancing at the clock on
the mantle. Six fifteen. Hed better go up to the Great Hall and make an appearance
before the Gryffindors wondered where he was.
His cloak had slid onto the floor, so he picked it up. He carefully removed the
book from Hermiones lap and covered her with his cloak. He brushed a lock of hair
away from her eyes for a moment and wondered how his feelings could have changed so
quickly. Had it only been days ago that he despised her? They had been through so
much together. Luna, the rescue of Longbottom, the Horcrux search Now that she had
included Draco into her close circle of friends, he had a suspicion that she would fight to
the death for him, the same as she would for Potter or Weasley. Her inability to cut him
had been eye opening. She didnt want to hurt him, even on a superficial level. After all
he had done to her
He shook his head. As it turned out, he no longer wanted to hurt her, either. He
went to his room and spent some time on a small project and then he went upstairs and
grinned wickedly at Weasleys sigh of relief when Draco appeared in the Great Hall. The
Weasel would have flipped his top if he knew where Hermione was at this moment.
Draco wondered if Hermione could seriously entertain the notion of Weasley as a
boyfriend. Her lack of enthusiasm when describing his kiss had been telling. Draco
froze for a moment, wondering why he was even worrying about the idea. If she wanted
Weasley, it was fine with him. Better than fine.
Hermione must be sleeping, Harry commented when Draco sat down across
from him. Draco was rather surprised to be the recipient of a conversation. Potter must
be feeling under the weather.
Let her rest. Shell likely be doing most of the work tonight. If youre finished,
we should go and start preparations. Plus, we still need a lot of items.
Arent you eating?
Ill eat later.
All right. Im finished.
Draco scribbled a quick list and the three of them parted to retrieve the necessary
equipment. They all met on the third floor and Harry guided Draco down to the hidden
chamber, lighting the way brightly with his wand. The space was nearly perfect, a high-
walled chamber with multiple vaults and a lowered dais in the center. It was very dusty
and Draco set Ron and Harry to sweeping while he alternately shot jets of water and wind
from his wand until the floor gleamed. The three of them, however, were filthy from
splattered dirty water.
Draco set a small table in the center of the room and carefully draped a linen cloth
over it. Atop the cloth, he set the Hufflepuff cup, a small incense burner, a cauldron, a
piece of parchment inscribed with a stylized pentagram, a large ball of white string, and a
white candle. Next to the altar, he set four additional candles: red, brown, yellow, and
blue.
Harry was busy with a bucket of salt, into which he mixed several of Hermiones
gathered herbs: angelica, horehound, mistletoe, and nettle. Draco set another censor, two
small bowls, crumbled bits of frankincense and myrrh, and the flask of holy water next to
the four mismatched candles.
He stood and looked at the other two.
I think this is ready. Now, we just wait for Granger. What time is it?
Eight twenty, Harry supplied after a quick glance at his watch. Draco nodded.
I suggest we all get cleaned up. We purified the room and it wouldnt hurt to do
the same to ourselves. Lets plan to meet back here at 11:30.
He went straight to the prefects bathroom on the fifth floor, stripped, and sank
gratefully into a tub of very hot water. He dunked his head and settled back for a long,
relaxing soak. His languid recreation was broken some time later when the coin he now
wore about his neck heated. He lifted it on its new cord.
Malfoy?
Finally awake?
Yes. Where are you?
In the bath. Care to join me?
Hardly. Where are the others?
Certainly not here! Why dont you check out the Gryffindor common room?
All right. Where shall I meet you?
Here would be nice.
Drag your mind from the gutter and be serious.
I was serious. But for the sake of your virtue, Ill meet you in the chamber in
thirty minutes or so.
Enjoy your bath.
That was out of the question, now. Hed been enjoying it immensely until the
image of her joining him there took over his mind. He quickly soaped his hair, rinsed,
and left the water.
He wrapped himself in a thick white dressing gown, as a row of them hung from
hooks on the wall. Rather than stride through the halls half-undressed, he Tranfigured it
into a set of white dress robes, getting them too tight at first. It took several attempts
before he was satisfied with the results. He wondered how Hermione always managed to
get the fit right on the first try.
He pulled his boots back on, combed his drying hair, and headed for the chamber.
She was already there, assessing the work they had done.
Nice job, she commented. She turned to look at him fully and her eyes widened
as they traveled over him. He grinned. He quite enjoyed it when she looked at him like
that.
White? she asked.
It seemed appropriate.
I never would have guessed the color would suit you so well. You look like
She stopped and a bit of pink tinted her cheeks.
Like what? he prodded, but she shook her head.
Never mind. Your ego needs no more fodder. Its swollen enough.
He walked forward and stood before her in his usual manner. He loved watching
her wrestle with her need to step away. Her Gryffindor pride always won. She held her
ground, as usual, and raised stormy brown eyes to his.
Must you always stand so bloody close? she asked.
Yes, he said seriously. It was the only way he could drink in the apple-like
scent of her, and watch the expressions that flitted across her face. Like the brief flash of
annoyance that warred with the blush creeping across her cheeks. The fact that simply
standing close to her had an effect on her gave him a heady sense of masculine power.
Judging from the kiss they had shared and her reaction to it, Miss Grangers resistance to
him was eroding quickly.
With a silent groan, he realized he shouldnt have conjured that particular
memory. Her full lips were the color of a ripe peach and he knew they tasted as sweet.
His heart began to thud in his chest and her blush deepened as if sensing the direction of
his thoughts. Her chin rose almost imperceptibly and her lips parted. Her eyelids
fluttered downward.
No way in hell could he resist that invitation. He lowered his head, but a
venomous snarl caused him to pause and look over his shoulder. Hermione gasped.
Weasley stood in the doorway looking as though he wanted to fly into the room and
pummel Draco with his bare fists.
God, Weasley, Draco said dryly. Could you possibly have located a color that
clashes more with your hair? Rons robes were clean, but a bit worn, and resembled the
color of dried blood. Draco tipped his wand and turned the robes a different color.
Weasley yelped. What the hell? No way am I wearing Slytherin green!
Hermione!
She turned his robes back and then gave Draco a look, but admitted, I have to
say green does suit you, Ron.
Maybe I should have been in Slytherin, then, Ron said bitterly. You seem to
have a thing for them all of a sudden.
Honestly, Ronald, she said in exasperation and rolled her eyes. Wheres
Harry?
Coming. Should we start early?
Hermione shook her head. Im starving and I feel inappropriately dressed. I
think Ill get something to eat and then change.
Ill join you, Draco said.
Lets all go, Ron snapped and Draco grinned. The Weasel certainly had his
dander up. Hermione headed down the corridor, followed by Ron, who fell into step
beside Draco.
You owe me a favor, Malfoy, Ron said in a low voice. Draco flicked a
disdainful glance at him.
I havent forgotten.
Good. I want you to stay away from Hermione.
Draco watched her walking ahead of them. Her curls bounced when she moved
and the skirt she wore twitched invitingly with each step of her delectable legs. Dracos
eyes caressed her form wickedly.
Ill have to get back to you on that one, Weasel.
I mean it, Malfoy, Ron hissed. Youre playing some sort of horrid game with
her and she seems to be falling for it. I dont want to see her hurt, so you just leave her
the hell alone.
Relax. If her ickle heart gets broken, shell go running to you for comfort, so
whats the problem?
The problem is that I dont want her around you at all. Youre bad news and Im
not buying this whole change of heart routine. Not one bit. If you want to convince me
youre not the same person who arranged Dumbledores death, youll do as I ask. You
fucking owe me and Im telling you what will square us.
Draco felt a rush of annoyance.
I dont want to convince you of anything, Weasley. Believe whatever you like.
God, you Gryffindors are narrow-minded. Everything is either black or white to you.
Your motives sure as hell arent squeaky-clean. Shes a big girl and she can make her
own decisions. She doesnt need you manipulating her life.
Dont even get me started on manipulation, you Slytherin bastard! Somehow,
youre making her forget who you really arewhat youve done! Well, I havent
forgotten.
They were nearly to the chamber beneath the trapdoor. Draco wanted to slam
Weasley against the wall. He fought down his rage. Hermione glanced back at them and
he noticed her gaze travel over him again. Her lips curved in a sensual smile that nearly
stopped Dracos heart. He expelled a breath. Maybe the Weasel was right. Hed
probably end up hurting her in the end. Where did he expect it to go? A hot, delicious
roll in the sack? And then what? A girl like Hermione wouldnt settle for casual
treatment. She would expect commitment. Hand-holding. Flowers. Engagement ring.
Invitation home to meet Mummy and Daddy.
His jaw clenched. That would go over well. Mother, Father, meet my
Mudblood girlfriend. Yes, the same girl I hated with a passion for six long years. Ironic,
isnt it?
She stopped and waited for them expectantly. It took a fine-tuned Wingardium
Leviosa to get them back up to the third floor. No one could cast it better than Hermione.
Hell, no one could cast much of anything better than her. She really did deserve better
than Draco Malfoy. He glared at Weasley. She deserved better than the Weasel, too.
What she deserved was He shook his head and chuckled wryly. She deserved the
Golden Boy himself. She deserved Harry Potter.
Weasley scowled at him suspiciously.
All right, Weasel-face. You win. Ill do it, Draco said with a sigh of
resignation.
Do what? Hermione asked now that they were close enough for her to overhear.
No tricks? Ron demanded.
No tricks. You have my word as a Malfoy.
Rons derisive expression revealed what he thought about that vow, but Draco
didnt give a damn whether he believed it or not.
What are you two plotting?
Draco gazed at her sadly and wished he had been able to kiss her one last time.
He sighed. Cest la vie.
Never mind, Ron said. Just a little matter between me and Malfoy. Take us
up, Hermione.
She looked from one of them to the other, shook her head, and cast the spell.

They gathered in the chamber once more at 11:45. Hermione had eaten and then
hurried off to bathe. She had waited expectantly for Draco to offer to join her and her
eyes had narrowed in puzzlement when he hadnt even grinned. Draco had cursed
Weasley under his breath, though. Roundly and often.
She was currently dressed in yellow robes. A strange color, but one that fit her
well. She looked like springtime. Draco decided he had best stop thinking about her and
turned his eyes to the others. Weasley still wore his ugly red robes and Harrys were
blackan odd contract to Dracos white. They all stood around the altar and Hermione
handed Draco the bucket of herbed salt.
Cast away, oh mighty one, she said quietly.
Draco took the salt in his left hand and his wand in his right. The others looked
sober, but determined. They had lit several candles about the room to provide light.
Draco tried to shake off the notion that the place resembled a crypt. Not exactly a
thought conducive to a positive working. He walked several paces from the altar in order
to give them a large enough space, and then tipped the bucket. As he walked, he drew an
imaginary line with his wand before covering it with salt.
I conjure thee, oh circle of power, in this place, purified for our purpose. May
this circle be perfect and unbroken. Guard us within. Sanctify this space and shield us
from all powers without. Preserve and contain the powers we raise herein. By
completion of thy sacred ring, I bless and consecrate thee.
With his final words, the ring of salt was completed. A bluish glow emanated
from the outer edge of the salt, losing its hue as it rose, but giving the illusion of a shield
enclosing the space overhead. He looked at Hermione expectantly.
She took up the censor containing frankincense and myrrh and placed it at the
easternmost point of the circle. She lit them with her wand and a fragrant hint of smoke
curled upwards. She Accioed the yellow candle and set it next to the censor.
She stood before the candle and raised her arms upwards in supplication, wand
still clutched tightly in her right hand.
Hail to thee, Son of Horus, Guardian of the East, bringer of the dawn. Lend to
us your knowledge. Grant us clarity of thought, swift and pure as the desert wind that
sweeps across the sand. Join with us. Protect us with the power of air and the innocence
of childhood. With this light I conjure thee.
She lowered her wand and lit the candle. There was no change, but Draco felt a
sudden charging of the air, as though a lightning storm was approaching. She turned and
looked at Ron, who seemed nervous. He gamely took up the red candle and went to the
southern point. He set the candle on the floor, swallowed, and took out the small card
Hermione had made for him. He began to read.
Hail to thee, Son of Horus, Guardian of the South, keeper of the light of noon.
Lend to us your energy. Grant us the willpower to see us through our purpose, strong and
bright as the sun that heats the desert sand. Join with us. Protect us with the power of
fire and the vigor of youth. With this light I conjure thee.
He lit the red candle.
Draco stood to the west with the bowl of holy water and the blue candle. He set
both on the floor. Hermione had given him a card, but he had already memorized the
words. He raised his arms and spoke.
Hail to thee, Son of Horus, Guardian of the West, keeper of the dusk. Lend to us
your passion. Grant us purity of emotion, as fluid as the Nile, which flows through the
desert and brings life to the parched earth. Join with us. Protect us with the power of
water and the wisdom of maturity. With this light I conjure thee.
Draco lit the blue candle with a flick of his wand, and then it was Harrys turn.
He stood behind the small bowl of pure salt and the brown candle.
Hail to thee, Son of Horus, Guardian of the North, keeper of darkest midnight.
Lend to us your strength. Grant us the endurance to see the coming battle through, solid
as the rock beneath the desert sand. Join with us. Protect us with the power of earth and
the resolution of old age. With this light I conjure thee.
Harry lit his candle.
With that, the air around them seemed to fairly crackle with energy. Draco let out
a breath. He hated ritual magic. There were too many variables. He much preferred to
point, flick, and focus his will.
Hermione walked forward and lifted the Horcrux. She set it directly on the
parchment inscribed with the pentagram. Next, she lit the thick white candle.
Now for the hard part, she said and met Dracos eyes. He went forward to
stand by her, although he wouldnt be able to help her once she started the incantation.
You can do it, he said encouragingly. She smiled fleetingly and began.
The spell had been taken from the book and had to be repeated several times. She
punctuated each chant by touching the cup with herbs, holy water, salt, and her wand. A
tangible force seemed to grow over the cup and Draco could see the strain on Hermiones
face as she struggled to keep the words steady. The cup suddenly blackened and
crumpled upon itself. Hermione levitated the cup and parchment. She set the cup down
once the paper was free and then caused it to roll tightly like a scroll. Still using her
wand, she began to wrap the white string tightly around the parchment. Draco could see
her shaking with effort.
He lifted his wand and took over the string wrapping while she kept the scroll in
midair. The thing resisted the binding. He persevered and it was finally completely
wrapped in string. Hermione dropped it into the cauldron with relief. She cast another
spell almost angrily and the string-wrapped paper ignited. It smoldered reluctantly at
first, but quickly grew to fill the cauldron with angry, crackling flames that licked
skyward and burned with an ugly greenish light.
A sudden howl burst from the cauldron and a dark shape streaked outward. It
flung itself at Hermione, but seemed to have no tangibility. She gasped as it went straight
through her, and then she crumpled against Draco, who caught her and sank to his knees.
He watched as the thing spiraled wildly around their heads, shrieking with an
otherworldly sound.
Open the circle! Draco yelled to Harry. Potter aimed a burst of water at the salt
on the floor and it washed away. As if the air were suddenly sucked from the space, the
dark shape hurtled out. As they watched, it dissipated as though shredded by invisible
hands. The howling ceased.
Exit Tom Riddle, Draco said breathlessly. He put a hand to Hermiones neck
and felt for a pulse. Thankfully, her heart beat normally. She was probably just in shock
from having a piece of Voldemort plunge through her. Ron hurried over and knelt beside
them. He grabbed Hermiones shoulders and pulled her away from Draco, who watched
him coldly, but said nothing. Ron lifted Hermiones still form.
Ill take her upstairs, he said flatly. He walked over the broken circle and
headed for the exit.
Harry was holding the blackened Hufflepuff cup. He looked at Draco somberly.
One down, he said. Draco nodded.
Now we just have to find the rest.
Draco blew out the guttering candles with quick bursts of air from his wand.
Harry started after Ron, but paused at the doorway.
Hey, Malfoy.
Draco looked over at him.
Thanks for your help, Harry said seriously.
Draco smiled softly.
Bet that hurt.
Harry laughed. Yeah.
The Boy Who Lived turned and went out, leaving Draco in the growing darkness.

Chapter Twenty Eight Harrys Observations

Harry was keyed up as he made his way back to the Gryffindor common room.
When he stepped through the portrait hole, he stopped in surprise. Hermione lay on the
couch, still out cold, and Ron stood over her. Ginny Weasley stood before Ron with her
hands on her hips and a confrontational stance.
Harry grinned and admired her for a moment before she turned on him angrily.
His grin vanished. She walked to him and slid her arms around his neck.
Hi, Harry, she said sweetly and planted a kiss on his lips. He kissed her
cautiously, uncomfortable, as always, when doing so in Rons presence. He pushed her
away regretfully.
Hi, Ginny. I thought we agreed not to do that any more.
Actually, you agreed to that. I dont recall signing any contracts. Now, suppose
you tell me what youve all been up to in the middle of the night, since my dear brother
refuses to talk.
When did you get here? Harry countered, ignoring her question.
About twenty minutes ago. It was Moodys idea to travel at night, of course.
Sometimes I think hes completely lost it. Imagine my surprise to discover Gryffindor
Tower completely empty. If I didnt know you so well, I would have gone straight to
McGonagall.
We were out looking for something, Harry said lamely, which was somewhat
vaguely true if you stretched your imagination far enough.
Really? And where were you looking for this something? And what happened
to Hermione?
Harry thought hard. Answering those questions would require blatant lying and
he really didnt want to do that to Ginny.
I cant tell you, he said quietly. Her brown eyes flashed and then sparkled with
angry tears.
You know, I really hate it when you do this! she yelled. You three and your
secrets! Why cant you ever let anyone into your tight little group? Ive been possessed
by Voldemort! I was nearly killed! What more do I have to do to be included in this
private war of yours? If anyone should be involved, it should be me!
Harry looked at Ron helplessly.
Its not my decision, Harry told her quietly. I was sworn to silence by
Dumbledore.
But Dumbledore is
Some secrets cannot be revealed, even by death, Harry said, repeating
Dumbledores words. Look at Grimmauld Place. Look at Hogwarts. He might be
gone, but his essence remains. His spells yet hold, and his secrets will be maintained. I
would tell you, but I cant.
He winced inwardly, because he had lied to her, after all. Even if he could, he
would never tell her. He didnt want her anywhere near another Horcrux. He wanted her
isolated and safe, even if she hated him for it.
She glared at him. I dont believe you. If you really wanted to include me,
youd find a way. You find loopholes and break rules any time it suits your purpose.
You just dont want me to know.
Im trying to He stopped, knowing if he mentioned the words protect or
safe that she would blow like a champagne cork.
Save it, she snapped. If you want me out of it, then consider me excluded. As
usual.
She whirled and stalked for the girls dorm. Harry cringed when a door slammed
upstairs.
That went well, Ron commented.
She hates me, Harry moaned.
Shes just mad right now. Shell throw some stuff or blow a hole in the wall, but
shell get over it.
Maybe we should tell her. I mean, Malfoy knows its not exactly our
exclusive secret any more.
Ron shook his head vehemently. No. It was horrible, when she was in the
Chamber of Secrets. I cant go through that again. She stays out of it.
Harry sighed, but nodded. He knew it wouldnt be easy. She was no shrinking
violet to meekly accept the role they expected of her.
Shell be watching us. Its going to be a lot harder to sneak around.
Well, we wont have to do much of that for awhile. Weve got no leads on any
other Trinkets. We dont know where You-Know-Who is. Were pretty much stuck
here with Pensieve memories and the useless library until something cracks.
Ron located a blanket and draped it over Hermione gently. They had no way of
taking her upstairs without triggering the alarm. Harry shook his head, still somewhat
annoyed at the whole no-boys-in-the-girls-dorm rule. Like any Gryffindor boy would be
ignoble enough to sneak into the girls dorm Well, maybe Fred and George.
Ron brushed a lock of hair from Hermiones forehead. Harrys eyes narrowed at
the gesture. It hadnt occurred to him until just that moment, but Rons move triggered
his memory. Harry knew there was something between Malfoy and Hermione. It had
been obvious from the moment they had appeared at Hogwarts. It wasnt just the kiss on
the stairs, either. It was the way they looked at one another, the palpable tension in the
air when they were together, and the fleeting glances they gave to each other when they
thought no one was watching And then Hermiones admission that Rons kiss had not
affected her. Harry had no idea how Malfoy felt, but he was afraid that Hermione was
already half in love with Draco, even if she wouldnt admit it to herself.
Yet, this afternoon, something had been different. Malfoy had suddenly become
distant. He hadnt returned Hermiones teasing jibes; he had kept a safe distance between
them; and the most telling of allhe had backed down from Ron in the broken circle.
Without a word. It was beyond curious. It was damned strange. Harry opened his mouth
to ask Ron about it, but he closed it with a snap. He knew Ron would be evasive and
then defensive. Harry didnt want a row at this hour.
Besides, anything that kept Draco Malfoy away from Hermione probably wasnt a
bad thing.
He just hoped she would see it that way.

Harry tossed in bed for awhile, but found himself unable to sleep. He got up and
pulled on a dressing gown and slippers. After a moment, he slung on his Invisibility
Cloak and padded out. He probably wouldnt run into anyone at this hour of the night,
but on the off chance, he didnt want to answer any questions.
A passing ghost was the only moving creature he saw on the way to the Pensieve.
Once in McGonagalls office, he lit a lamp and poured the next vial into the basin. He
hated to go alone, but assumed it would be another Snape memory. In that, he was right.

The scene in the Pensieve revealed Snape as Harry had never before seen him.
They were in Dumbledores office again. Dumbledore was seated before the desk,
looking old, worn, and sad. Snape was pacing and he looked distraught. His hair was
disheveled and his hands were twisting together in agitation.
Its my fault, Snape said. I taunted him. I practically dared him. I didnt
know he would run off like that! He laughed harshly, a painful sound without humor.
I should have known, of course. There was a reason he was sorted into Gryffindor. He
always had more courage than sense, you know.
Snape sat heavily in a chair opposite Dumbledore. Harry was astonished to see
tears gathering in Snapes eyes. Who the hell was he talking about?
Sirius knew the risks, Dumbledore said quietly.
Harry gasped and shook his head, unable to accept what his ears were hearing.
He stared from one of them to the other, locked in denial. Snape didnt seem to have
heard the Headmaster. His eyes were unfocused.
I should have been there, Snape said quietly. Harry clenched his fists. Snape
couldnt be talking about the battle at the Department of Mysteries! He couldnt be
pretending to be upset that Sirius had gone through the veil!
Snape went on. And Bellatrix. How could she? Sirius might have been a blood-
traitor, but he was a Black! He didnt deserve to die that way. Harry shook his head
again, not believing a single word. His nails dug into his palms and he suddenly wished
the memory were real so he could leap on Snape and pound him into jelly.
Snape sobbed suddenly and buried his head in his hands. Harry stared at
Dumbledore in disbelief. Surely the Headmaster didnt believe this ridiculous blatant
acting? Snape had treated Sirius like scum beneath his shoes and now he was sorry about
his death? Was Dumbledore a complete imbecile?
Harry narrowed his eyes suddenly as a thought occurred to him. Snape was a
skilled Occlumens. Was it possible his talents had evolved past simply blocking his
thoughts from others? Was it feasible that Snape had actually learned how to project his
will? Could he actually influence Dumbledore into believing his words? It was better
than an Imperius Curse because the recipient would believe they acted of their own free
will. Harry backed away as the idea took root. No wonder Dumbledore had trusted
Snape! Hed had no choice in the matter!
Snape looked up again and his face was wet with tears. Harrys rage nearly
exploded. Actual tears! Harrys anger toward Snape had dissipated somewhat since the
incident on the Tower, but now it returned full force. His desire to kill Voldemort was
second to his need to kill Snape. The bastard had fooled them all, even the greatest
wizard among them.
It wasnt your fault, Dumbledore said apologetically. None of it was your
fault.
Yes, it was, Harry thought angrily. It was all Snapes fault. All of it.
Snape stood up. You know, if your damned Chosen Hero had learned his
lessons, no one would have gone to the Department of Mysteries at all! Your precious
Harry Potter didnt even try to block Voldemorts images! And you were bloody stupid
not to tell him about the goddamn prophecy!
Dumbledore sighed heavily. I am aware of my failings. I didnt count on
Harrys curiosity outweighing his common sense.
Despite the fact that I warned you several times, Snape said venomously. He
got to his feet.
Dumbledore nodded wearily. Recriminations will not bring Sirius back. We
cannot change the past.
Snape looked at him with disgust. Spare me your platitudes, old man. As far as
Im concerned, Siriuss blood is on your hands as well as mine.
He stormed to the door and out.

Harry sat heavily on the window seat and tried to grasp what he had witnessed.
Snape had made Dumbledore believe that he was upset over the death of Sirius.
Additionally, he had made Dumbledore feel extremely guilty over the incident. To what
end? Was it merely to cement the trust Dumbledore already had in Snape? Harry began
to see why Dumbledore had left so many memories of Snape. He couldnt directly reveal
Snapes duplicity, but he could expose it, layer by layer.
Harry stood up and walked to Dumbledores portrait. He lit his wand to provide
light and the Headmaster, who appeared to have been sleeping, blinked at the sudden
brightness.
Harry! How nice to see you. Wandering about at night again?
Snape was using some spell on you, wasnt he? Harry asked. He forced you to
trust him. Some spell he invented himself, maybe. We know hes good at that. Look at
Sectumsempra. He made you believe him.
Things are not always what they seem, Harry, Dumbledores portrait said
quietly.
Yeah, well things definitely arent what they seem with Snape, are they? I mean,
crying over Siriuss death? It defies rational thought! And yet, you accepted it without
question.
His grief was quite real, Harry.
Harry barked an amazed laugh. It works even beyond the grave? Before I kill
him, I think Ill extract the secret of that spell. Hell, if he can do that to you, hes
probably calling the shots on old Voldemort by now. No wonder he ran back to his old
master. Now that hes got you out of the way, all he needs to do is get rid of Voldemort
and hell be the one in control. I bet he can even get the Death Eaters to follow him.
Harry turned to leave. Frankly, I hope he does kill Voldemort. That way, all I
have to do is kill Snape. Let me tell you, Im ready for that day. Between what he did to
Sirius and what he did to you If I have to become a murderer at least it will be for the
sake of justice. Voldemort killed my parents before I even knew who they were. But
Snape is responsible for the death of two people I cared about. A lot. Thats a pain I
have to live with every day.
Harry went out before Dumbledore could respond. He didnt want any
reassurances or moral clichs. He just wanted to hunt down Severus Snape.

* * * * *
Draco woke up when the coin warmed on his chest. He sat up with a start. He
blinked blearily at the coin and lit his wand to make out the words.
Are you awake?
He groaned and collapsed back on the pillow. God save him from Little Miss
Sunshine. He probably should have left the coin on the bedside table last night.
I am now.
Well, its about time. Its past noon. You have an owl.
Past noon? He stretched lazily. No wonder his stomach was complaining. He
needed sustenance. What was she talking about? He had an owl? Of course he had an
owl. It was at home
He sat up suddenly. Bloody hell, how could he have received a reply from his
parents already? He had only sent his message yesterday and Hogwarts was miles from
anywhere. The clothes he had worn to Hogwarts had been cleaned and neatly folded. He
tugged them on. Maybe the owl was from someone else. Not likely, but possible.
He entered the Great Hall and paused when he discovered a whole gaggle of
Gryffindors seated at their usual table. The usual three, plus Fred, George, and Ginny
Weasley. He shot Hermione an irritated glare for not warning him. She smiled sweetly.
Whats he doing her? Ginny yelled, leaping to her feet and brandishing her
wand. Draco looked at her coldly. He could feel a headache coming on. One Weasley
was bad enough. But four? Potter gripped his girlfriends arm to pull her back down, but
she yanked away. Draco raised an eyebrow. Apparently, everything was not peaches
and cream in Loveland. Harry and Ginny had a hissed argument that grew louder until
Ginny screamed something about Harry and his load of secrets and ran out of the room.
Better go after her, Potter, Draco muttered, but Harry stayed in his seat, looking
embarrassed and upset. Draco shook his head sadly. Once an idiot, always an idiot.
Hermione had saved a seat for Draco, but he rounded the table to sit in the space
Ginny had vacated, next to Potter. An owl immediately fluttered down and landed before
Draco. Hermiones eyes met his across the table as his brow knit in concern.
Yours? Hermione asked, obviously understanding the implications. If the
message had been received and returned this quickly, it meant Dracos parents were
nearby. The thought was somewhat alarming. Draco removed the message from the
owls holder and opened it. It was a brief message from Narcissa to Twillfit and
Tattings expressing regret that she could not attend their gala event. Draco rolled it up
and tucked it into a pocket. Hed have to retrieve the true message later. After he ate.
Fred and George were watching him from their places beside Ron.
So, said one twin. Malfoy is here.
Sitting next to Harry Potter, said the other.
Whats wrong with this picture?
Its completely insane?
Incomprehensible? Inexplicable?
Indubitably.
Dracos headache was growing. He ignored the annoying Weasleys and ate
quickly. Harry was nursing a glass of pumpkin juice. He seemed preoccupied. When
Draco finished and pushed his plate away, Harry asked quietly, Can I talk to you for a
minute? Privately?
Without waiting for an answer, Potter rose and headed out. Curious, Draco
followed. He heard Hermione start to get up and join them, but Ron stopped her with a
question. Draco found Harry waiting for him by the entrance to the Slytherin dungeon.
They walked together down the steps to Snapes office.
Harry wandered around the office aimlessly, peering at bottles and jars. Draco
tossed himself into a chair and waited for Potter to get on with it. He finally turned
around and looked at Draco seriously.
Youve spent a lot of time around Snape, Harry said. I mean, he was your
Head of House, you know where he lives, you saw him outside of school
Is this going somewhere? Draco asked dryly, twirling his wand.
Harry told him about the last Pensieve memory hed witnessed and his
speculation about the spell Snape had likely used on Dumbledore.
So, do you think its possible? Harry finished. For Snape to have created some
sort of variation on the Imperius Curse?
Well, it is pretty farfetched to think hed be broken up over Sirius Black I
suppose its possible Snape invented a new spell. It wouldnt be the first time. He
looked pointedly at Harry, who flushed guiltily.
I didnt mean to use Sectumsempra on you, he said quietly. I panicked. I
didnt even know what it did, at the time.
Draco shrugged. Forget it. I wasnt exactly holding back on you, either.
They shared an uncomfortable silence and then Harry cleared his throat.
Why do you think Snape told you about the Horcrux? And how did he know
about it?
Ive been thinking about that. I havent anything concrete just a vague idea.
Which is?
I think Snape is in love with my mother.
Harry stared at him. Seriously?
Draco nodded. She trusts Snape and always has. She was still at Hogwarts
when he started. Shes older than he is Im sure he followed her around like a puppy
dog, back then. From what I remember, Snape joined Bellas little clique at school
during her last year at Hogwarts. That was likely before they found out he was a half-
blood, of course. But, even then he was a Dark Arts master.
Draco shifted slightly and tossed a leg over the arm of the chair. He tapped his
wand idly against his knee.
Snape was out at the Manor fairly often over breaks. I think he told Mother he
was personally interested in my education. From what I recall, though, they spent a lot of
time in the parlour drinking wine and reminiscing about their school days.
Didnt that bother your father?
Draco laughed in genuine amusement.
Of course not. Look at Snape! My father knew he had nothing to fear from a
shifty, greasy-haired, half-blood like Snape. I think it amused him to let the fool have his
fantasies. Draco shook his head. My parents are so deeply in love its almost
sickening. I have to leave the room when they sit together in front of the fire and gaze
into each others eyes. He shuddered. Frankly, Im surprised Im an only child, the
way they carry on
Harry held up a hand. More information than I need, thank you.
Draco grinned. Anyway, Snape made an Unbreakable Vow to my mother in
order to protect me. Why the hell would he do that? Despite what he might have led you
to believe, I wasnt his favorite student. Im good at Potions, but Im no genius like
Granger. I dont think he even had a favorite student. He pretty much hated all of us. I
got the impression he despised teaching.
You know, in one memory, Snape said he was a prisoner here. Why do you
suppose he stayed? To stop Voldemort? If thats the case, why did he kill Dumbledore?
It couldnt have merely been to protect you and win your mothers favor. Could it?
I dont know. He does seem to want the Horcruxes destroyed. Maybe he
decided he could do it without Dumbledores help.
He did rail at Dumbledore for wasting twelve years when they should have been
looking for the things.
He had a point there.
Harry nodded. Draco pulled out the message from his mother and got to his feet.
I need to read this. Hang on and Ill tell you if it says anything useful.
He searched Snapes desk until he found a hellishly sharp knife. He took a deep
breath while Harry watched him curiously.
God, I hate this part, Draco admitted and then made a small slash on his arm.
Harry gasped in surprise. Draco opened the scroll and let some of his blood trickle onto
the parchment. Instantly, the inked words disappeared and reddish-brown letters
appeared.
Thank God youre safe! Weve been so worried. HE has stopped all external
activity and seeks to achieve his main objective. Im not sure what that is, but it will not
be pleasant when it comes. Do not return to the school! Its not safe. Dont try and
contact us again unless it is vital. He watches us too closely. Be careful. We love you.
Also, Regulus Black died in Carlisle. The house is in ruins,south of town overlooking the
Firth.
Draco handed the message at Harry and conjured a bandage for his arm.
Harry rolled up the scroll and returned it to Draco. His green eyes shone.
Lets go.
What? Us? Now?
Im sick of sitting around doing bloody nothing and waiting for my birthday. Do
you know where this place is?
No, but it shouldnt be hard to find. All I need is a map. But, you dont honestly
want to go alone with me. I could be a Death Eater, remember? I cant be trusted.
Hermione trusts you. Thats good enough for me.
Draco combed an annoyed hand through his hair. Having Potter look at him like
that was almost worse than when Granger did it. Damned overly-trusting Gryffindors.
He scowled.
If anything happens to you, even accidentally, your little friends will rip me limb
from limb.
Harry grinned wickedly.
Then, youd better make sure nothing happens to me, hadnt you?
I really hate you. You know that, right?
Its been fairly obvious. If its any consolation, I hate you, too.
Thats settled, then. Meet me on the Astronomy Tower within the hour. Bring
your broom. Youll probably want your cloak, too, so your friends dont see you
sneaking off. Ill go find a map and figure out a place to Apparate us once we get past
the grounds. He sighed. This is probably the stupidest thing Ive done lately.
Dont worry, I think youve done plenty of stupid things, recently. One more
shouldnt matter.
Dont push it, Potter.

Chapter Twenty Nine - Draco and Harry


Draco stood impatiently on the Tower and drummed his fingers on his
broomstick. Granted, he was early, but still, what could be taking The Chosen One so
bloody long?
"Are you ready?" a voice asked ridiculously close to Draco's ear. He nearly
jumped out of his skin and he heard invisible Harry laugh.
"Fuck you, Potter," Malfoy snarled and took a breath to calm his racing heart.
Harry chuckled again. "Bastard. You might be invisible, but I am not. Are any of your
Order members going to spot me and try to drag us back here?"
"I doubt it. Most of them left for the Ministry of Magic this morning to decide
what to do with the Carrows."
"I could give them a hint," Draco said.
"I think they're looking into a less permanent solution."
"Fools. Amycus and Alecto didn't know much, did they?"
"Not that I heard. Moody was in a wretched temper, so they didn't have anything
useful to say, apparently."
"How did you explain your absence to your clingy friends?"
"I left them a note."
Draco burst out laughing. "You like to live dangerously, don't you, Potter? I'd
hate to be around Granger when she finds that little present." To that end, Draco had left
Hermione's Galleon in his trunk. He did not need her trying to contact him all day long
in a rage.
"Let's go before she finds it and come to kill us," Harry suggested.
"Kill you," Draco commented. "This was your idea."
Harry made an impatient sound, so Malfoy mounted his broom and pushed off.

They Apparated on the outskirts of Carlisle, luckily in a deserted field. A very


muddy deserted field. Draco disgustedly yanked his feet out of the sucking mud and got
back on his broom.
"Malfoy! We could be spotted by Muggles!"
"I don't bloody care! I'm not walking through ankle-deep mud when I have a
damned broom in my hand!"
He heard Harry sigh and after a short jaunt, they reached a dirt road lined in huge
oak trees. Draco spent a ludicrous amount of time trying to scrape the mud from his
boots before Harry cursed and shot a Scourgify spell at them. Draco tsked.
"What if a Muggle had seen that?"
"Do you see any Muggles?" Harry shouted.
"Thankfully not, or they would be wondering where the hell your loud voice is
coming from. Do you plan to stay invisible the whole day? Not that I'm complaining
because it spares me from looking at your ugly mug."
Harry pulled the cloak off.
"Do you plan to be obnoxious the whole day?"
Draco nodded. "Yes, I rather thought I would. Do you mind?"
Harry pulled at his black hair and Draco grinned. He planned to keep track of
how many times Potter made that particular gesture, now that Draco could see him.
"Where do we go from here?"
"To the coast, Potter. If I remember the tale, I should be able to find it fairly
quickly."

They were lucky to locate the cottage at all. If not for the broken chimney jutting
from the surrounding bushes, they would have bypassed it completely. Brush and trees
surrounded what remained of the building, which was perched on a windy promontory
overlooking a rocky, crumbling cliff.
Draco and Harry picked their way carefully through the undergrowth, although
Draco insistently blasted offending branches into powder with jets of green light until
Harry yanked at his hair again. Two, thought Draco.
"Will you stop with the bloody magic?" he hissed. Draco threw him a hard glare.
"Relax. There are no Muggles around here at all. Why do you think Regulus
chose this spot?"
"That was nearly two decades ago!"
"No kidding. What the hell are we looking for? Because unless it's green and
shaped like a bush, we're going to have a hard time locating it."
The interior of the destroyed cottage was a mass of greenery. Even the rotting
timbers were covered with a thick layer of moss. Harry looked around dejectedly.
"I don't know. I was hoping we would be able to find something, at least. It looks
like this whole trip was a bloody waste of time."
"Not completely. You got to spend the afternoon basking in my perfection."
Harry scowled, hand in hair. Three. Draco chuckled. "Actually, when we were at the
Riddle House, Hermione cast a magical detection spell. Do you know it?"
Harry thought for a moment. "I think so, yeah." He tested a couple of spells and
finally managed a faint glow. Unfortunately, the whole place had a dim residue of magic.
"All right," Draco said and sighed. "Teach me the spell. We will have to wade in
there and see what is left. It will go faster with both of us."
The spell was relatively simple and quickly learned, so Draco and Harry separated
to search the ruins. Over the next forty minutes they discovered broken potion bottles, a
rusted cauldron, the burned and rotting covers of various illegible books, assorted
containers with mostly unidentifiable potion ingredients, and a gold amulet that caused
Harry to yelp in excitement until he cleaned off the grime to reveal a nearly worthless
amulet containing a minor protection spell.
Draco was near the crumbling fireplace pressing various bricks to check for
hidden compartments when he felt the floor shift beneath him. He froze in alarm.
"Oh shi he managed before the floor collapsed beneath him. He was down
before he could so much as lift his wand. His head slammed into something hard and a
searing pain shot through his leg, so intense he would have screamed if the breath hadn't
been knocked out of him. He fought for air and tried to hold off the encroaching
blackness.
"Malfoy!" Harry yelled. Draco drew in a painful breath. He could hear Potter
thumping around above him. Great. That was all he needed, for the idiot to fall atop him
and break something else.
He blinked at the jagged span of light above. He had fallen about eight feet onto
an uneven pile of something. The urge to succumb to blackness slowly faded and he
cautiously lifted his wand.
"Malfoy!" Harry bellowed again.
"I'm alive, Potter! Be careful up there. I don't need you collapsing rest of the
floor!"
The effort of shouting had sent pain exploding through both Draco's head and his
right leg. He gasped and reluctantly lifted his wand. He raised his throbbing head and
looked down. He groaned and shut his eyes against another wave of vertigo when he saw
the thick splinter of wood jutting from his thigh.
Potter's head blocked the light from above.
"Are you all right? Do you want me to levitate you up?"
"Hell no! My legI think it's impaled on something."
"Hold on! I'm coming down."
"I wasn't really planning to go anywhere," Draco said dryly, but Harry was gone.
A few mnutes later, a rope snaked down through the opening. Potter slid over the
edge and climbed down hand over hand.
"Are you a wizard or aren't you?" Draco asked.
"My Levitation spell is not very precise."
"Oh, but you were willing to levitate me?"
"Of course."
Harry made it down and knelt beside Draco. He looked at Draco's thigh and
swallowed hard. Worried green eyes met silver.
"It's a splintered piece of a broken beam. Still attached. We'll have to pull your
leg free."
Draco's jaw tightened, although he had already expected that to be the case.
"All right." He took a deep breath. "Let's do it."
"Hang on," Harry said. He stood and pulled out his wand. "I have to do
something first."
He pointed his wand at Draco and a jet of bluish light was the last thing Malfoy
saw.

* * * * *
Harry knelt down, working quickly. He did not know how long Malfoy would be
out. The shard jutted about an inch out of the top of Draco's thigh. Harry wrenched at
Draco's cloak and cut several strips to use as bandages. Then he steeled himself, got a
solid grip on Malfoy's leg, and yanked.
The pain must have been excruciating, because Malfoy arched his back, gasped,
and his eyes snapped open, negating the sleep spell. Harry put his hands over the wound,
top and bottom, trying to staunch the blood flow. He held the pressure for a moment and
then quickly wrapped the cloak strips tightly around Malfoy's thigh. He tied them off
tightly.
"God, Malfoy. There's so much blood. We've got to get you to St. Mungo's."
"Did you search down here?" Draco asked.
"For what?"
"Anything! We're already here and I don't plan to come back, so get searching."
Harry glared, but cast the detection spell. Several spots about the cellar glowed.
"There," Draco said and pointed his wand toward a glowing portion of the floor.
Harry hurried over and ripped at the boards. A moldering leather bag was revealed by a
quick Lumos spell. Harry hefted the bag and tugged it open. A small silver box fell into
his hands.
He looked at Draco and then flipped the latch. He reached in and lifted the
golden chain attached to an open locket. The inside of the locket was blackened. The
locket spun slowly and the light glinted off the S insignia. Slytherin's locket.
"Regulus did destroy it," Harry breathed. He felt a sharp pang of sadness when he
recalled the other locket, the fake locket Regulus Black had left for them to retrievethe
one that had ended in Dumbledore's death.
"Bring it," Draco said weakly. "We need to be certain."
Harry returned the locket to the silver box and stowed it in his pack with his
Invisibility Cloak. He hurried back to Malfoy. It was difficult to see against the black
bandage, but Harry could tell it was wet with blood.
"Time to go," he said.
"Don't forget the brooms." Harry tugged at his hair. Even wounded, Malfoy was
a pain in the ass.
"Accio brooms!" Harry snapped. They hurtled through the opening and into
Harry's hand. "Now can we go?"
"Almost. Take off your glasses."
"What?"
"Do you plan to burst into St. Mungo's and announce to everyone that Harry
Potter has arrived? Perhaps you should take out an ad in The Daily Prophet."
Harry took off his glasses and stowed them in his shirt pocket. Draco tapped him
on the head and muttered a spell. Harry's head felt ice-cold for a moment.
Malfoy touched his own head with his wand and Harry watched in amazement as
Draco's hair darkened.
"That will have to do. Let's go."
Harry knelt down and slid his right arm around Draco's shoulders, since he did not
have a free hand. His right held his wand and his left gripped their brooms.
"Make one comment and I'll leave your ass here, Malfoy," Harry warned. "I
swear it."
"You're terribly sexy when you're forceful, Potter," Draco breathed huskily.
Harry shut his eyes, prayed for strength, and Disapparated.

They Apparated into the lobby at St. Mungo's. Harry dropped the brooms and
lifted Malfoy, who seemed barely conscious after the strain of Apparition. A witch
hurried up to them.
"My brother was in a flying accident," Harry blurted, wishing he had thought
to come up with a story.
Another hospital employee hurried up and quickly levitated Malfoy to an elevator.
"Check him in, please. They will tell you where to go afterward. Your brother should be
fine."
Harry watched Malfoy disappear and then he picked up the brooms and walked to
the front desk.
"Name of patient?" the witch on duty asked calmly.
"David Masters," Harry replied, pulling a name from the ether of panic.
"Nature of injury?"
Harry explained the flying accident, elaborating a bit for effect.
"How will you be paying for this?"
Harry reached absently into his pocket and pulled out a handful of Galleons. He
set them on the counter and the witch blinked at him in surprise.
"Cash," she said.
"Say, if an underage wizard happened to Apparate into St. Mungo's with a
patient in an emergency"
The witch smiled. "Don't you worry, dearie. The Ministry sort of turns a blind
eye to underage magic when St. Mungo's is involved. They certainly won't punish any
twelve-year-old who Apparates their injured grandparent to the hospital. They might
investigate, but it would be bad form to fine people in an emergency. Now, if you go
over to the elevators, they can direct you to your brother."
Harry nodded. He noticed a bright spot of blood on his cuff and another on his
forearm. His hands were covered in blood, dirt, and grime, so he stopped at the lavatory
on the way to the elevator.
He gaped in shock when he saw his image in the mirror. No wonder no one had
stared at him and looked for his scar. For one thing, he had grown his hair out nearly to
his eyes in order to cover the scar, and for another his hair was now white-blonde.
Without his glasses, he was completely unrecognizable. He turned his head this way and
that. His new hair was striking against his green eyes. He laughed at his handsome
reflection. No wonder Malfoy was so conceited.
Harry shook off his bemusement and washed his hands and face before heading
upstairs to find Malfoy.
Draco lay back against the pillows, looking as handsome as ever, but extremely
un-Malfoy-like with raven-black hair. If possible, he was even better-looking with the
contrast of his silver eyes below the dark locks. He looked paler than usual.
"Better, David?" Harry asked, stressing the name.
Malfoy nodded. "They fixed it. My leg was broken, too. Go figure. And I had a
concussion."
"That explains your attempt to kiss me."
Malfoy actually grinned at the riposte. His lids fluttered shut over grey eyes. His
smile faded. "I'm bloody tired."
"You lost a lot of blood. We need to get back so you can rest."
Malfoy nodded without opening his eyes. "They're fixing my clothes. Should be
back with them shortly."
Draco was bare to the waist, where the bed sheet was pulled over his legs. Harry
saw a thin white line bisecting Malfoy's torso in a jagged scar. He swallowed hard.
Malfoy wore a permanent legacy of Harry's Sectumsempra attack. Not for the first time,
Harry felt a twinge of regret. Draco's eyes flew open and met Harry's, but a nurse burst
into the room with a bundle of clothing.
"Here you are, Mr. Masters. Mended and cleaned and good as new, just like your
leg." She stopped and blinked at Harry. "And you must be the other Mr. Masters. As
soon as your brother is dressed, you may check him out." She giggled. "Brothers. My,
you're both so very handsome. One so fair and the other so dark."
Harry chuckled at that. "You have no idea."
Malfoy rubbed a temple. "Can we just get out of here, brother?"
Harry waited in the hall until Draco limped out. Harry looked at him in concern,
but Malfoy shook his head.
"It's just tender. I can walk. Let's get out of here before someone recognizes us."
They made it downstairs and nearly to the front doors without incident. Harry
was about to breathe a sigh of relief when the front door swung open and they were
nearly run down by Rufus Scrimgeour and Percy Weasley. For a shocked moment,
Harry's eyes met Scrimgeour's. The Minister's thick brows drew upward in surprise and
Harry stammered a quick apology before he hurried out. He heard Percy say, "Bloody
familiar, both of them. I just can't think where"
Harry pushed open the door and shoved his way out. Malfoy stopped.
"I'll take us back to Hogwarts. We don't want you in any trouble."
Harry didn't waste time arguing. Malfoy reached out and grabbed Harry's
shoulder just as the door burst open and Scrimgeour yelled, "Wait!" The Minister leveled
his wand at them an instant too late.
Draco took them away.

Chapter Thirty The Hogs Head

Hermione watched Draco and Harry leave the Great Hall. She moved to follow,
but Ron grabbed her arm.
Hey, Hermione, now that Fred and George are here, they can teach you those
new spells they showed me and Harry.
You can teach her those, little brother, said Fred.
Or Harry can.
Weve got new ones to show you today.
Thats why were here.
What is Malfoy doing here? Fred asked.
And why hasnt Harry killed him, yet?
Its kind of a long story, Hermione said absently and detached Rons fingers
from her arm. Ron can tell you.
You know, I dont remember the part about Luna very well, Ron said. You
should tell it. After all, you brought the git here, remember?
Hermione glared at Rons bitter tone.
You know perfectly well why I did! I suppose youd prefer that we had left poor
Neville in Voldemorts hands?
Ron scowled. Of course not. I just wish youd left Malfoy somewhere else.
Yes, like back at Malfoy Manor to be tortured and killed with his parents.
She got to her feet and stormed out before Ron could stop her. She sighed. She
supposed she shouldnt be so upset with Ron. How could she expect him to get over his
hatred of Malfoy so quickly? He hadnt been through the same situations with Draco that
she had. She paused in the front hall and wondered where Harry and Draco had gone.
She started upstairs, figuring the library to be the most likely neutral place. Draco
certainly wouldnt let Harry into the Slytherin common room, nor would Harry allow
Draco into the Gryffindor common room, especially if Ginny had retreated there.
To Hermiones annoyance, the library was deserted. She sighed heavily. Maybe
they had gone outside. It looked to be a beautiful day. She fingered the coin on her
chest, but decided against using it. If Draco was with Harry, he most likely wouldnt
answer her. She went outside and headed for the Quidditch Pitch. Hopefully they
werent doing anything stupid, like practicing Quidditch. That would most likely involve
trying to knock each other off brooms and sending Bludgers after one another.
The Quidditch Pitch was empty but for a flock of birds. Out of patience, she
grabbed the Galleon and tried to contact Draco. There was no response. Either he was
ignoring her or he wasnt wearing his coin.
She went back inside and stopped off at the Slytherin common room. It was
completely empty. She even looked in Dracos room while half-expecting him to be
waiting there to pounce on her. By then, she was heartily frustrated and stalked straight
to the Gryffindor common room to ascertain that Harry didnt have anything to do with
Dracos latest disappearance. As it turned out, he did.
Ron was sitting on the sofa folding a piece of parchment into a lousy semblance
of an origami animal. He started when she approached and then looked extremely guilty.
What? she demanded.
He wordlessly handed her the note.
Malfoy and I are checking out the RAB connection. Ill be perfectly safe, so stop
worrying. Cover for me. H
The parchment was crumpled in her fist before she could stop herself.
Did you know about this? she gritted to Ron.
Not until I saw the note! I didnt see him at all after he left the Great Hall. I
only found the note a minute agohe left it on my bed.
Hermione was fuming. Of all the bloody reckless, dangerous We cant even
go help them because we have no idea where they went!
She wanted to rage at Ron for keeping her in the Great Hall when she should have
been with Draco, reading the message hed received. She sat down across from Ron
instead, feeling helpless and somewhat betrayed.
He should have told me, she said quietly.
He couldnt tell us or we wouldve demanded to come along, Ron said and she
didnt bother to correct his assumption that she meant Harry. Hopefully, theyll be back
by dinner so we dont have to stave off any questions. Ron got to his feet. Fred and
George want us in the Charms classroom. You might want to fetch Ginny or shell be
even madder than she is now. I wouldnt mention Harry, either.
Hermione wasnt in the mood to learn new spells, nor deal with Ginnys temper
tantrums. She wanted to figure out where Harry and Draco had gone.
You go ahead. Ill be along with Ginny shortly.
Ron gave her a dubious look, but went. Hermione went up and told Ginny to
meet them in the Charms classroom. Ginny glared at her from her position on the bed
where she was scribbling furiously into a journal.
I thought youd be done with diaries after Hermione said.
Its no diary. Its a story. It started as a love story about me and Harry, but its
now turned into a tale where Harry is brutally maimed.
Hermione was shocked.
You dont seriously want that to happen?
Of course not. But in the story, Harry is bedridden and I have to nurse him back
to health. She scowled. Its probably the only way Id get to spend time alone with
him. Sometimes I wish he wasnt the Savior of the Wizarding World. Makes it bloody
hard to have any kind of normal relationship.
Im starting to think there is no such thing as a normal relationship, Hermione
said quietly. Ginny looked at her quizzically. Hermione forced a smile.
Dont mind me. Im in a rotten mood today.
Me, too. Lets go torture Fred and George, Ginny suggested.
Okay. Ill meet you there. First I need to go ask Lupin something.
Id ask what, but Im sure its super secret, Ginny said bitterly.
Hermione laughed. You really are in a rotten mood.
You have no idea.

It took Hermione forever to locate Lupin. She finally found him in the Defense
Against the Dark Arts office. He seemed surprised when she entered the room.
What are you doing in here? she asked before he could ask her the same
question. He looked around ruefully.
I spent so much time in here that I find it somewhat familiar. I come here to
think sometimes. Tonks thinks its dreadful. Very gloomy.
I dont. You were an excellent teacher. Best we had.
Lupin smiled somewhat sadly.
Well, I doubt you sought me out to discuss my stint as a Defense Against the
Dark Arts teacher. What can I do for you?
I have another question about Regulus Black.
Lupin looked puzzled. Why do you keep asking about him? I havent even
thought about him in years.
Mostly curiosity. I keep wondering what he might have done to earn a death
sentence from Voldemort. Did he do something to actually harm Voldemort? Or was it a
simple case of annoyance? Also, its been suggested that he didnt really die. That he
went into hiding somewhere.
Lupin sighed. Well, that one I can confirm, anyway. Regulus is definitely dead.
Sirius wasnt allowed to attend the funeral, being out of favor, of course, but we all went
along later so he could pay his respects to his brother. James, being James, opened the
coffin when Peter pulled Sirius outside for a moment. It was most assuredly Regulus.
James said there wasnt a mark on him, so it was most likely Avada Kedavra.
Hermione had thought it unlikely that Regulus was alive; anyway, otherwise he
would have surfaced long before now. Then again, Peter Pettigrew would still have been
masquerading as a rat, but for Sirius. However, for someone as egocentric as Regulus
apparently was it would have been difficult to stay in hiding.
We also checked out the place where he died, long after the Dark Mark had
dissipated, but we found nothing unusual. The place had been burnt to the ground, so if
Regulus had left any sort of message, it was lost in the fire.
You know where he died? Hermione asked, striving to keep the excitement
from her voice.
Yes somewhere on the northwestern coast. What was the name of that
place?
Remember, remember, remember, Hermione willed silently, but Lupin shook his
head.
Its been so long. I cant recall. It doesnt matter, anyway.
Hermione wanted to tear at her hair and howl that it did matter, but she didnt
dare make Lupin suspicious. If he found out Harry had fled the school, the entire Order
would be in a dither. She nodded and tried to cover her disappointment. She would just
have to trust Harry and Draco not to get into too much trouble. The thought made her
cringe. How could they not?
She left the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom and muttered to herself.
If you two make it back here in one piece, Im going to strangle you both.

* * * * *

Draco staggered when they appeared at the outskirts of Hogsmeade. Harry swore
roundly. Malfoy probably shouldnt have Disapparated them both after losing so much
blood. Harry steadied him, but Malfoy shook him off.
Hands off, Potter. I dont swing that way.
Shut up, Malfoy. Come on. Lets stop at the Hogs Head for some food. At this
rate, youll pass out before we make it halfway to the school. No one should recognize
us at the moment.
Scrimgeour nearly did.
I dont think so. I think he was just suspicious and wanted to know who we
were. Hes fairly clever.
For an obnoxious git.
Yeah.
They pushed into the Hogs Head, which was decently crowded, given the
proximity to the dinner hour. They took a table near the door and a busty barmaid sized
them up with an interested smile. Harry flushed, but Malfoy looked her up and down
with an air of long practice. Draco ordered food and a couple of ales and she sauntered
off with a coy look over her shoulder.
Im surprised you didnt choose the Three Broomsticks, Malfoy commented.
This place seems a bit rough for you.
Harry didnt reply. Even though Madam Rosmerta had been under the Imperious
Curse, it was difficult for Harry to see her without feeling betrayed.
Malfoy ate his kidney pie like a starving man and chugged two ales in short order.
Harry finished most of his meal and sipped at his ale. He was none too thrilled with the
unclean state of his glass. He wondered how many meal remains were caked to it.
Malfoy finally sat back with a contented sigh. He looked so unlike himself with black
hair that Harry almost felt like he sat with a stranger.
Malfoy propped an elbow on the table and started on his third ale. For a moment,
Harry envied the air of casual elegance that accompanied Dracos every move. He
wondered if it came naturally or was something Malfoy had to work at.
I suppose I owe you a bloody favor, now, too, Draco said morosely.
Harry shook his head. Actually, I was hoping this kind of squared us after the
whole Sectumsempra incident.
Malfoys relief was evident. Thank God. It was bad enough owing Weasley.
He grimaced. Harrys eyes narrowed.
You owed Ron?
The damned Weasel showed up when the Carrows were having a bit of fun using
the Cruciatus Curse on me. Frankly, Im surprised he stopped them.
Did Ron happen to call in this debt?
Malfoys silver eyes measured him for a moment and then flicked to the white-
haired bartender, who seemed to be watching them.
Did you ever have a thing for Granger, Potter?
Harry was surprised at the change of subject.
You mean a boyfriend/girlfriend thing? Harry laughed. No.
Why not? Dont you think you two would make the perfect little Gryffindor
couple?
What do you mean?
Well, they say opposites attract, you know. Shes brilliant and youre an idiot.
Shes well, shes rather turned into an attractive packagefor a Mudbloodand
youre homely as hell. Shes read about a million books and youve read what? Six?
Malfoy laughed.
Harry scowled and shrugged. Ive just never thought of her that way. Shes
always treated me as her rather dimwitted younger brother.
Maybe you should kiss her. Dispense with those brotherly feelings, Malfoy
suggested slyly. Harry thought about it for a moment. Hermione had become nice-
looking over the past year. He thought about kissing her and had to choke back a laugh.
He could picture Hermione evaluating his kiss in a clinical fashion and jotting off a
checklist for him in areas that needed improvement. He shook his head.
No, thank you. Never happen.
Shes a lot more woman than those scrawny things you usually favor. I mean,
Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley? Have some taste, Potter.
There is nothing wrong with Ginny Weasley!
Have you met her mother? If little Ginny follows in those hefty footsteps, shell
be a domineering, shrewish fishwife by the time shes twenty. I wouldnt even wish that
on you, Potter.
I dont think your opinion of anyone named Weasley is exactly unbiased.
Frankly, I think you would be a better match for Hermione than I would. He grinned as
Malfoys eyes flashed.
What do you mean by that?
As you said, opposites attract. Shes noble and good; youre pure evil. Shes
sweet and kind; youre an obnoxious prat
Youre hilarious, Potter. Dracos eyes narrowed. Dont tell me youre
actually trying to interest me in Granger? I thought she was your friend.
Harry snorted. You have a point. Regardless, I think she should be allowed to
make up her own mind on the subject.
Malfoys grey gaze measured him. What are you saying, exactly?
Im saying why does that bartender keep watching us?
Draco didnt bother to look over his shoulder. He shrugged.
Probably because he finally figured out who you are. Im sure a properly irate
group of Phoenix members will be here shortly to escort you back.
Harry stared at him. The bartender is in league with the Order? How do you
know?
Draco burst out laughing. Can you possibly be that dense? Oh wait, I forgot
who Im talking to. The bartender is Aberforth Dumbledore, you idiot. Dont tell me
your great pal Albus never mentioned it. Did he not let you in on a single secret? Ever?
Apparently not, Harry thought angrily. He looked at the bartender carefully,
trying to find a resemblance to Dumbledore. There wasnt much, except maybe the nose.
Where Dumbledores eyes had been wise and kindly, Aberforths were calculating and
suspicious. His beard was unkempt and dirty, as were his clothing.
How is it that you know who he is? Harry demanded.
Its common Death Eater knowledge. It pays to keep tabs on Order members,
although Im certain there are some at the Ministry the Dark Lord doesnt know about.
Yet.
The bartender left the bar suddenly and wandered over to sit at their table.
If you two are finished, I suggest you get your arses outside. Wait for me round
back and Ill escort you back where you belong. His blue eyes were cold when they
looked at Harry. Looks like Albus was right about you bring reckless, eh?
Harry met his gaze serenely and said nothing. Aberforth actually chuckled.
No excuses? Cor, you are your fathers son. Lets hope that doesnt get you
killed. Now, scoot. Lots of rough customers hereabouts. Youre ripe pickings for more
than You-Know-Whos followers. Robbers and ruffians dont care who you are. Theyll
kill you for your coin just the same.
Malfoy snorted as they got to their feet and took up their brooms from the rack
near the door.
After the day Ive had, Ill bloody welcome a fight.
Are you drunk? Harry asked.
Outraged silver eyes flashed at him.
Malfoys dont get drunk. Especially after only three small ales.
Harry shook his head and they walked to the rear of the building. The back door
opened, but no robbers emerged, only Aberforth Dumbledore, who had his wand out. His
eyes carefully searched every bush and tree. Harry didnt expect trouble. It was hours
yet until dusk, with the sky cloudless and the longest day of the year only a couple of
weeks away.
Maybe you should put on your cloak and hide, Chosen One, Malfoy suggested.
Harry ignored that.
How long does this spell last? he asked, pointing at his pale hair with his wand.
About twelve hours. Or until I cancel it.
Harry grinned. He couldnt wait until he saw Ginnys face when she saw him.
On your brooms, Aberforth ordered. Lets go.
Aberforth walked while Harry and Draco floated in front of him, heading for
Hogwarts.

Chapter Thirty One Mistaken Identity

Hermione was in no mood to listen to the Weasley familys favorite pastime


bickering amongst themselvesso she wandered aimlessly around the first floor for a
long time, thinking. There must be some way to figure out where Draco and Harry had
gone. Although by now, they could be finished with their search and on their way back.
She stopped in surprise when she encountered Mrs. Norris in an otherwise deserted
corridor. The cat hissed at her and yowled loudly.
Hermione looked around quickly, feeling guilty even though she wasnt doing
anything wrong. If Mrs. Norris was here, Filch had to be lurking somewhere nearby.
She heard a whisper of cloth and ran for the nearby stairs. She took the steps two at a
time and then paused and leaned over the railing. Mrs. Norris was visible below, partway
up the first riser, watching her.
Whos there, Mrs. Norris? she heard. Aye, there are many sneaky appenings
ere this summer, eh? But were keepin our eyes open, arent we, Mrs. Norris?
Hermione edged quietly back from the edge and continued up the stairs, hugging
the outer walls. She wondered how safe it was to have the Order in residence with Filch
snooping around. He had always obeyed Dumbledore, albeit grudgingly, but who did he
owe allegiance to, now?
She continued upward until she found herself on the Astronomy Tower. She
walked to the edge and peered toward the horizon, hoping to see two figures on brooms
approaching. The blue sky was empty in all directions. She sighed.
Inspiration suddenly struck and she hurried back to the ground floor. She took a
moment to catch her breath and massage her aching legs. They would not thank her for
rushing up and down the stairs, although she wouldnt have to worry about fitting into her
jeans for awhile, at least. When she could breathe normally again, she hurried to
Classroom Eleven, looking for Firenze. She found him in his remade classroom, lying on
the grass in a circle of flowers in a pose of meditation. She stopped, not willing to
interrupt.
Come forth, Hermione Granger, the centaur said in his calm voice. What
troubles you?
I need to ask you a question.
Not about the future, I presume?
She nearly sneered, but caught herself in time. She didnt believe a jot in
Divination. How could the future be foretold when any chance decision could change the
outcome from moment to moment?
Definitely not. The present, actually. Its not Divination Im interested in, but
Scrying.
Firenze nodded. An ancient art, but useful. You seek someone?
Yes. Can you help me? I just need to know if theyre all right.
I can help you. You will need to bring the necessary supplies. A large silver
bowl filled with pure spring water and something that belongs to the person in question,
preferably something personal. An item of jewelry, a lock of hair, or something they
have handled often enough to leave an imprint of their essence.
Thats it?
The method is simple. Achieving the goal is not.
She nodded. Ill be back shortly.
She ran out and nearly bowled over Tonks, who was heading for the front door.
She steadied Hermione and then gave her an irritated look.
Guess where Im going? Tonks asked. Hermione was stymied.
Ive no idea.
Im going to the front gate to let in Harry Potter, Tonks gritted.
Oh. Hermiones relief overwhelmed all possible guilt.
Yes, oh. What are you thinking to let him wander about like that? After all
weve done to try and keep him safe?
Do you think I would have let him go alone? Hermione snapped, stung.
Tonks measured her. Probably not, but I doubt you would have stopped him
A loud voice bellowed from the Great Hall and Tonks bolted like a flash for the
front doors, dragging Hermione with her.
Rufus Scrimgeour is here. Hes demanding to know where Harry is.
Apparently, he went to London to check on him and discovered the Dursleys and
Harry
Gone.
Yeah. Tonks hurried down the path as she spoke and Hermione had to rush to
keep up with her.
Then, there was some incident at St. Mungos and Percy swears he saw Harry,
although he couldnt be certain for some reason or another Either way, we need to
produce Harry immediately. Aberforth sent a Patronus to McGonagall, but shes busy
trying to stave off Scrimgeour.
Aberforth? The name sounded vaguely familiar to Hermione.
Aberforth Dumbledore. Hes the proprietor at the Hogs Head in Hogsmeade.
Dumbledores brother? It took Hermione a moment to process that
information. Why doesnt he just open the gates?
Tonks chuckled.
Dumbledore insisted Aberforth never be given access to Hogwarts. Im not sure
if they got on well, frankly. Aberforth is something of a black sheep. Also, due to his
dubious clientele, its very possible for him to be captured or put under the Imperius
Curse. Its safer to give him as little knowledge as possible.
As they approached the gates, Hermione could see a tall man waiting with two
people hovering on brooms. She breathed a sigh of extreme relief.
Why dont they just fly over?
They cant. Theyd be stuck there like flies on flypaper. No one gets into
Hogwarts anymore, by any means, without permission. Scrimgeour came by the Floo
Network.
Hermione was reluctantly impressed with the schools defenses, even though it
was a definite problem when it came to sneaking in and out.
So, you can leave, but not return, she commented.
Exactly.
Hermione was close enough now to pick out Dracos silver hair, but as she
approached, she stared at him in puzzlement. There was something strangely different
about him

* * * * *

Draco watched as Tonks and Hermione arrived. Aberforth waved briefly and
started back down the path toward Hogsmeade. Apparently, he wasnt very talkative,
even with other Order members.
Tonks looked through the bars at Draco.
Wotcher, Harry, she said with a short tone and then she blinked at him. Draco
grinned as her eyes flicked from him to Harry.
What in the? Hermione breathed.
Draco hopped off his broom.
Well, we figured he began, but an arm suddenly clamped around his throat as
he was grabbed from behind. Draco saw a frozen tableau of shock on the faces of Harry,
Tonks, and Hermione, and then he felt the familiar yanking sensation of Disapparation.
When the rough arm released him, he collapsed in a weak heap, feeling nauseous
and dizzy. The smell of dark earth and rotting leaves was strong in his nostrils and he
gagged for a moment. Too much Apparition in one day And he shouldnt have had
that third ale
He felt harsh hands about his person and knew his wand had been taken. Magical
ropes twisted around his arms and legs. Someone chuckled and moved away. Draco
fought down his weakness and blinked at his captor.
Ho, that was just too easy, Potter! I captured Harry Potter! All alone! Lets see
them laugh at Wormtail, now, lets just see!
Wormtail. Draco heaved himself onto his haunchesa difficult process with his
hands bound behind his backand looked at the ratlike man cavorting happily. He
glanced around. They looked to be surrounded by trees and undergrowth. A forest. But,
which forest?
Actually, I think theyll do more than laugh at you, Draco said dryly.
Wormtail stopped dancing and turned to stare at the sound of Dracos voice. He
raced over and snatched Dracos chin with his metal hand, clenching hard. Draco glared
into Wormtails disbelieving face.
But I was there at the Hogs Head! I heard Potters voice! I followed you
down the path, waiting for you to get off the damned broom Wormtail was breathing
hard and his hand squeezed even harder, nearly crushing Dracos jaw. What are you
doing masquerading as Potter? Wormtail bellowed. Draco threw himself backward, out
of Pettigrews grasp. He worked his bruised jaw carefully. Potter was lucky Peters little
rat eyes were neither too keen in a gloomy, smoke-filled tavern, nor outside at a distance.
Wormtail was dancing again, but in a rage this time. He rubbed his hands
together in agitation, flesh against metal.
What is Draco Malfoy doing in Harry Potters company looking like Harry
Potter? Wormtail asked himself. Oh, the Dark Lord will be wanting an answer to that
question! I think hell be pleased with Wormtail, after all. And Harry Potter is at
Hogwarts. Wormtail tittered happily, an irritating sound that chilled Draco to the bone.
He began to realize the gravity of his situation.
Where the hell are we? Draco asked and pushed himself back into a sitting
position.
All in good time, little Malfoy, Wormtail crooned. Well go see the Dark Lord
soon. Very soon. Just one little errand, first.
Wormtail walked to the edge of the small clearing and peered into the dense forest
as if waiting for someone. Draco looked around carefully, trying to find some method of
escape. His broom lay nearby. A promising sight, although he couldnt quite figure out
how he would be able to fly the thing with his hands and feet bound. He began to inch
toward it, nevertheless.
He wondered where his wand had gone, but assumed Wormtail had tucked it into
the dirty black Death Eater robes he wore. Draco suddenly regretted placing Hermiones
coin in his trunk back at Hogwarts. Not that he would have been able to tell her where he
was but at least he wouldnt have felt quite so alone.
Once again, Draco Malfoy was on his own. For the first time in his life, the
thought made him very depressed.
Damn those Gryffindors. They were sucking the Malfoy right out of him.

Chapter Thirty Two The Forest

Hermione watched in shock as Draco disappeared.


Harry leaped forward, but it was too late. They were gone. He turned to look at
Hermione and Tonks, who was frantically tapping at the lock with her wand.
Who was it? Harry yelled.
Wormtail, Hermione said woodenly. He must have been a rathiding until he
could strike
Tonks finally got the lock open and wrenched at the gate. She dragged Harry
inside. Hermione gazed at Harrys silver hair and felt like crying.
Well never find him, she said hoarsely. Wormtail will take him back to
Voldemort and Voldemort will ki ki The tears did gather, then, but Harry grabbed
her shoulders.
Well find him. He gave her a small shake. Dont quit on me, now! Were
going to need that brain of yours. Get on the broom.
He straddled his broom and even though she hated flying through the air on a tiny
wooden twig, she didnt hesitate. She gripped Harrys waist tightly and pressed her
cheek into his back as they raced toward the castle.
Hey! Tonks yelled behind them. Wait for me!
Scrimgeour is here! Hermione yelled after a moment.
Harry didnt stop at the front door, but flew up and over the parapet to hover over
Gryffindor Tower. Hermione hated being ridiculously high off the ground, and had to
pry her eyes open when Harry yelled, Open the window!
She peered over to see a nearby window that was open a crack. She reached out a
hand and yanked at it. Harry moved the broom away and the window pulled all the way
open. She let go and he maneuvered the broom around and through the window.
Hermione breathed a sigh of relief when they touched down in Harrys room.
Harry propped his broom against the wall. Okay, now how do we find Malfoy?
Hermione sank down on his bed, feeling painfully helpless. She twisted her
hands together. I dont know. He had the spelled Galleon I gave him, but he must have
taken it off before you left. Ive been trying to find you two all day. She looked
somewhat accusingly at Harry. Frankly, Im surprised youre willing to go after him.
Harry shrugged. I wont leave anyone to Voldemorts mercy. Not even Malfoy.
Although, he really wasnt that bad, today. Obnoxious as usual, but he doesnt seem to
have that priggish, mean edge that he used to. And look what he did to my hair!
Stunning, isnt it?
Hermione smiled wanly, although the sight of it made her heart constrict with fear
for Draco. Its shocking, to say the least. Where are your glasses?
Harry tugged them from his pocket and put them on.
No wonder I was squinting all afternoon, he muttered.
He still looked abnormally cute. Like a studious version of Malfoy; all platinum
hair and She gasped and stood up.
I nearly forgot! I asked Firenze to help me Scry for you. Maybe he can still try!
Come on!
She bolted down the steps and Harry followed, thankfully asking no questions.
Ginny was sitting in the common room, scribbling on her story. She stared at them as
they raced by.
Hi, Ginny! Harry yelled. Bye, Ginny!
Hermione groaned. The Weasley girl was going to completely kill him.
Where are you going? Harry asked just as Ginnys identical shout followed
them out the portrait hole.
The Slytherin common room! I need something of Dracos. And spring water.
Where are we going to find spring water?
In the kitchen, of course. Its all spring water.
You get the water, then. Make sure its in a silver pitcher. Oh, and grab a large
silver bowl. Take the bowl and the water to Firenze and Ill meet you there!
They separated in the Front Hall just as Tonks entered the front door. Hermione
waved, but didnt pause as she raced to the Slytherin common room. She thanked Draco
heartily for not changing the password as she hurried to his room. She opened his trunk
and snatched the coin that was lying atop a stack of books. She paused for a moment,
looking at the braided chain that held the Galleon. She touched it in amazement.
It was made of strands of her own hair, braided together with thin cords of silver
and green. She shook her head when she recalled how the locks had been torn out and
smiled softly. She couldnt believe he had saved them
Hermione shook off her musing and slipped the coin over her head to join her
own. She needed to find something personal of Dracos something imprinted with his
essence She immediately snatched his silver comb off the dressing table. If that didnt
contain his essence, she greatly underestimated his ego. To her delight, the comb still
contained a number of precious strands of silver-blonde.
Hermione ran back to Classroom Eleven.
Harry was seated before Firenze, who looked as if he hadnt moved from the last
time shed seen him. A large silver bowl sat on the grass before them. Hermione flung
herself to her knees before the bowl, panting with exertion.
Firenze took the comb she held out to him.
Relax, Hermione. This takes concentration and a still mind. Let go of your
emotions. Clear your thoughts.
Hermione tried, but she had little patience for spells involving trancelike states.
She wanted Firenze to cast the bloody thing and be done with it. She shut her eyes and
stilled her breathing, trying to mimic a calm state so the centaur wouldnt insist on
waiting all evening for her to relax.
Finally, Firenze said, Let us begin. He slid Dracos comb into the bowl and
waited for the ripples to subside. We seek the owner of this item. May the ether part
and bestow upon this liquid the image we request. Firenze passed his palm over the
water. Once, then twice, then thrice. He didnt make a sound, but ice suddenly formed
around the edges of the bowl and made a crystalline rim around the water like a circular
frame.
Hermione and Harry leaned forward eagerly as mist began to rise from the water.
Firenze moved his hand again over the bowl, three times in the other direction. The mist
cleared instantly, seeming to sink into the water, which suddenly looked cloudy. Dracos
comb was obscured. Colors began to swirl in the liquid: brown, green, and grey.
Firenze whispered something Hermione could not make out, and the colors sharpened
like a camera coming into focus.
She drew in a breath as Draco appeared. His black hair threw her for a moment
and she glanced at Harry. Draco was bound hand and foot. He sat in the dirt near a
clump of ferns, glaring to his right.
Where is he? Hermione whispered.
A forest, said Harry.
That could be anywhere! she protested.
Have patience, Firenze murmured. He made another slow movement and the
scene pulled back. Dracos broom was visible and it was apparent he was moving
unobtrusively toward it. At the edge of the pool, Wormtail came into view. His back
was to Draco and he looked intently into the forest. He spun around quickly and stared at
Draco. Wormtail reached into his robes and pulled out two wandsone brown and
gnarled; one sleek and black. He put the black one in his silver hand and raised the other.
Wormtails mouth moved, but Hermione and the others could make out no words.
A jet of light suddenly shot toward Draco, who contorted in pain. Hermione gasped in
horror. If she could have leaped into the pool and throttled Peter Pettigrew at that
moment, she would have.
Crucio, Harry murmured. His worried green eyes met hers for a moment.
How will we ever find him? she asked.
Firenze was studying the scene, which pulled back a bit more and shifted. A
strangely shaped fallen log came into view. Firenze nodded.
I know this place.
Hermione tried to steady the leap of hope at his words.
Can you take us there?
No. But, I can tell you where it is.

* * * * *

Apparently, Wormtail was bored with waiting. He turned to look at Draco and
pulled out both wands. His beady eyes flicked from Draco to his broom.
Let me give you a taste of what the Dark Lord is going to do to you, Wormtail
said and giggled. Draco braced himself for what he knew was coming, but it made no
difference. During the brief interludes between excruciating pain, he reflected that hed
been Crucioed far too often lately.
Wormtail seemed to enjoy tormenting Draco, for he kept it up until Draco lay
bonelessly in the churned dirt, too weak to even resist. His body shook with the
aftereffects of the torture.
Pettigrew panted from the exertion of casting curse after curse at Draco. He
wiped an arm across his forehead and walked forward until he looked down at Dracos
exhausted form.
Not so handsome now, are you? he sneered. He lifted a stumpy foot to stomp
Draco, but Malfoy anticipated the move and quickly rolled forward, slamming into
Wormtails other leg. Off balance, Wormtail sprawled over Draco, who yelled, Accio
wand!
It was a tricky maneuver with his hands behind his back, but Dracos natural
dexterity served him well. The wand snapped into his bound hands and he contorted
swiftly as Wormtail rolled over, trying to level his wand at Draco. Malfoys spell hit
Wormtail first. Stupefy was instantly followed by Petrificus Totalus and Pettigrew lay in
a frozen state of panic.
Draco spelled the ropes on his hands and feet and stood up shakily. He was
disturbed by his own weakness, but determined not to reveal it to Pettigrew. To his
disgust, Wormtails silver hand groped and twitched at the earth, apparently immune to
Dracos spells. Draco placed a booted foot on Wormtails other hand and pried the
brown wand from his immobile hand.
I should stave your head in, Draco snarled and actually cast about for a
moment, looking for a stone large enough to do the job. Only the thought of Hermiones
displeasure halted him.
Instead, he held up Pettigrews wand, grasped it in both hands, and snapped it
cleanly in two. He threw the pieces aside with a satisfied smirk at Wormtail.
Good luck using that to torture anyone, Draco said. He wiped the dirt from his
face and tried to shake the debris from his hair. God, he hated to be dirty.
Draco turned back to Wormtail and conjured ropes. He wrapped them, mummy-
like, around Pettigrews body, covering him completely from toes to neck.
Who are you meeting here, Peter? Draco asked. Im going to release the spell
so that you can talk to me. You will stay where you are or I will fry you where you lay.
He cancelled the Full Body-Bind and Pettrigrew blinked at him for the space of
two heartbeats and then disappeared. Draco smiled as a rat leaped out of the now-limp
ropesand straight into the magical cage Draco had cast. Malfoy admired the glowing
blue bars that encased the frantic Animagus. He tsked as if disappointed.
Predictable to the end, eh Wormtail? Of course, these bars wont last forever,
will they? We need something a bit more permanent. He flicked his wand and conjured
a small iron crate. He levitated the glowing cage and maneuvered it into the iron box,
which he then locked with a metallic click. The blue bars vanished, leaving Peter neatly
trapped in the tiny iron cage.
You see, Peter, during my short tenure as a prisoner in my own house, Draco
explained, I had plenty of time to sit around and think. I spent some of that time
figuring out how to trap a rat like you. It took me nearly a week to perfect that little
magic cage. Impressive, wasnt it? He lifted the metal box by the handle and peered at
the squeaking rat. Of course, I had this one sitting in my room just waiting to be
conjured. Its solid iron. If you change back now, Wormtail, you will be a very compact
cube of flesh.
He dropped the cage and smiled at the rats squeal as it fell. Draco walked over
and picked up his broom. A wave of vertigo washed over him at the movement and his
hands shook as he leaned on the broom handle. He felt bone-deep weariness and knew
he didnt dare Disapparate. He didnt have the energy. He glanced around at the
deepening gloom and wished he knew where the hell they were. Regardless, it was time
to go.
Draco froze at a whisper of sound behind him. He spun with a spell on his lips,
but the newcomer was faster. Dracos wand sailed out of his hand and into a nearby
bush. Draco swallowed, realizing he hadnt been afraid of Wormtail at all. He felt real
fear now when he looked into Fenrir Greybacks yellow eyes. The werewolf stalked up
to Draco and put his wand tip under Malfoys chin.
Well, well, well. The lost Malfoy pup, Fenrir growled. You are looking far
less dead than expected. Different, also, but still delectable. Greybacks eyes slid to the
iron cage. He left Draco and walked over to the box, although he kept his wand pointed
at Draco, who resisted the urge to propel his broom into the air. Greyback was too fast
he would simply blast Draco before he got ten feet off the ground. Fenrir picked up
Wormtails cage and then dropped it with a pained hiss. He shot a glare at Draco.
Iron? Thats playing nasty, Draco. He crouched down and peered through the
bars at Peter. Is that you, Wormtail? Got yourself snared by a little boy? He laughed
harshly. Id let you out, but Id rather find out why youre in there. Draco and I are
going to have a little chat. Arent we, Draco?
In one swift movement, Draco Accioed his wand and attempted to Disapparate,
but he was immobilized the instant his wand touched his hand.
Greyback sauntered back and plucked the wand from Dracos nerveless hand. He
tossed it casually over a shoulder. No, you mustnt leave yet, little morsel. Not yet.
His voice was a sibilant whisper and his eyes gleamed with mad excitement. Draco felt
panic slowly steal over him and tried to relax. He would need every coherent thought he
possessed to get out of this alive. Fenrir released the spell, but Draco stood his ground
defiantly.
Where have you been, Draco? Your parents have been so worried. His tone
was pleasant and conversational. What are you doing here? And why is Wormtail
locked up in a little metal box? Are you betraying the Dark Lord? Can you honestly be
that stupid?
Draco was silent while his mind sought any plausible lie that would buy him some
time. His broom was still clutched in his left hand. If only Fenrir would move away. It
was probably useless, but he would have to try to fly out.
Except Fenrir moved even closer. His lips ricked open over his wickedly sharp
teeth. Draco nearly gagged at the stench of the werewolfs breathit reeked of rotting
meat and blood.
The ever-present Malfoy pride. Ice cold and haughty, just like your parents,
arent you, Draco? Well, boy, Ive wanted to shatter your frozen demeanor for a long
time, now. Yes, you know Ive been watching you, dont you, Draco? Greybacks face
was nearly pressed against Dracos and his lips moved close to Dracos ear as he
whispered, I cant wait to break you. Youll beg me for mercy before Im done with
you.
Dracos skin crawled and the fear on top of his exhaustion caused him to tremble
slightly. He took a deep breath and dug into the last vestiges of his willpower in order to
maintain control. If he showed any sign of weakness, Greyback would rend him like a
bag of suet.
Greyback chuckled. Do you want to know the fun part? he added, still
murmuring in Dracos ear. I wont even need to use magic.
Swiftly, Fenrir moved and Draco felt the werewolfs tongue, hot and wet, caress
his collarbone. It slid languidly up Dracos neck and followed his jugular to the hollow
beneath Dracos ear. Draco closed his eyes and shuddered uncontrollably. Fenrir
chuckled at his reaction and Draco felt Fenrirs sharp teeth tug on his earlobe.
Overcome with horror, Draco acted in sheer reflex. He gripped his broom with
both hands and heaved with all his strength. The angle was off and he had no leverage,
but the end of the broom caught Greyback sharply on the temple. The werewolf grunted
and reared back slightly, enough for Draco to follow the movement with a flip of his
broom. The bristle end struck Fenrir in the face.
Draco instantly willed his broom into the air, but the werewolf was lightning fast.
Malfoys feet were barely off the ground when Fenrirs claws hooked his waist and bore
him roughly to the ground. Dracos head slammed into the earth, dazing him for a
moment.
Greyback snatched the broom and tossed it across the clearing. He sat back on
his haunches and regarded Draco. Far from being angry, he actually laughed in delight.
I was afraid you were going to make this too easy for me, but you are a true
Malfoy, arent you? Youll fight me to your last breath. Draco glared for reply,
although he had the chilling fear that his last breath would come sooner than later.
Greyback suddenly leaped on him and pinned him to the earth. Draco could
barely breathe with the weight of the werewolf on his chest. Both his wrists were gripped
in Fenrirs hands, although one still held Greybacks wand. The end of it gouged
painfully into Dracos flesh. He twisted his hand in an attempt to reach the wand, but
Fenrir squeezed until Draco felt his wrist bones grind together. He winced.
I have plans for you, Malfoy Greyback murmured and his teeth nipped at
Dracos jaw, not quite hard enough to draw blood. Dont worry, youre a spot old for
my liking. Ill only bleed you a bit today. Just enough for a taste. The werewolf slid
his rough lips down to Dracos neck. He opened his mouth wide and Draco felt sharp
teeth against his flesh. Greyback bit down gently, then harder, sucking slightly and
tasting Draco with his tongue. Draco tried to throw him off, but he was too tightly
heldhe could barely move. Surprisingly, the teeth released.
One week, Draco. Do you know what happens in one week? Fenrir murmured
against his throat.
Draco did.
Full moon, Fenrir said with satisfaction. He leaned upward slightly to look into
Dracos eyes. The werewolf showed his dreadful teeth in a smile. Black hair suits you.
It makes you look darker and more sinister. Youre practically perfect.
Draco nearly forgot to breathe. Fenrirs voice was low and conspiratorial, likely
so Wormtails sharp ears would not hear.
Did you figure it out, Draco? Youre a smart lad. Im taking you with me. Ill
hide you away where no one will find you. For seven short days. Its convenient
everyone thinks youre dead. Wormtail is long overdue for a little accident, now that
youve nicely penned him. He wont be talking. And then, next Friday, you will become
like me. He threw back his head and laughed wickedly.
A werewolf.

Chapter Thirty Three Borrowed Luck

Hermione and Harry were caught running from Firenzes room. Hermiones heart
sank, but she had known they were in trouble the minute Harry had run into Aberforth.
Unfortunately, they were confronted by a formidable group: Rufus Scrimgeour,
McGonagall, Moody, Percy Weasley, and Jack Williamson.
You see? McGonagall said after a shocked look at Harrys altered appearance.
Here is Mr. Potter, now. His guardians suggested he stay with Hermione, who is here
doing some research for me during the break. I am sponsoring her. Harry looked at
Hermione, who was amazed at McGonagalls flawless ability to lie like a trooper.
Scrimgeours jaw worked and he seemed personally affronted by Harrys
platinum hair.
Succumbing to fads, Potter? I would think you, of all people, would maintain a
more serious demeanor.
Harry shrugged. I thought you and the Ministry had Voldemort under control.
You dont need me at all, right? I thought I might join a band or something.
Jack snorted a laugh that he covered with a muted cough. Hermione had no
patience for verbal skirmishes when Draco was in the forest being tortured.
Professor, I need to talk with you. Its very urgent, she said quietly after sidling
to McGonagalls side.
Why were you at St. Mungos today? Scrimgeour demanded. And who was
that with you?
I was visiting a friend, Harry snapped. Frankly, I wasnt aware that I needed
permission from the Ministry prior to visiting the hospital. Ill be sure to schedule my
next injury.
How dare you speak to the Minister that way? Dont be cheeky, Potter, were
only trying to help you, Percy said disapprovingly.
I dont really feel it necessary to be followed around by the Ministry, Harry
snarled.
Professor, please, Hermione begged. McGonagall gave her a severe look,
obviously still annoyed at Harrys departure. Hermione, realizing it might take forever to
extract themselves from the group, suddenly clapped a hand to her stomach.
I dont feel very well, she said shakily. She bolted for the stairs, sending a
mental apology to Harry for deserting him while she tried to think of a way to remove
him, also. She ran all the way to the Gryffindor common room and had to pause,
gasping, while she clutched at a stitch in her side. The wizarding world was in severe
need of elevators.
She hurried through the portrait hole and straight into a heated Weasley
discussion involving Ginny, Ron, and the twins. Ron leaped to his feet.
Where the hell have you been all day? he demanded.
Malfoys been captured by Wormtail, she gasped, still holding her side. Hes
in the forest. Weve got to get him before Peter takes him to Voldemort! None of the
Weasleys moved. She scowled at the lot of them.
Harry was waylaid by Rufus Scrimgeour and Percy in the Front Hall. I dont
know how to get him away from there, if he hasnt already gotten himself clapped in
irons by shouting at the Minister.
The twins leaped to their feet.
Rescue Harry? That we can do.
One diversion, coming up.
Tell Harry Ill meet him by Hagrids hut, she said.
She took the stairs to the boys dorm two at a time and snatched up Harrys
broom. Her hands shook as she walked to the still-open window.
What are you doing? Ron yelled as he entered the room behind her.
You cant seriously be thinking of flying out that window? Ginny added. On
Harrys broom?
Oh, yes I am, Hermione said quietly.
But, you cant fly, Ron protested.
Im a witch! Of course I can fly.
But, you suck at it, Ginny said.
I dont care. Wormtail has Draco in the forest and hes torturing him with the
Cruciatus Curse. I have to help him.
Its Draco now? Ron snapped. Good riddance, I say!
Hermione turned on him savagely. How can you even think that, Ron? Who are
you? If thats your attitude, then youre no better than than a Death Eater!
Rons jaw worked furiously, but it was Ginny who looked repentant.
Come on, she said and took Harrys broom from Hermione. Ill fly you
down.
Hermione mounted behind Ginny and they soared out the window and flew
swiftly to Hagrids hut. Ron flew down and landed next to them. He threw her an
apologetic look, but she wasnt ready to forgive him quite yet. It seemed forever before
Harry ran out of the front doors, followed by Tonks and Lupin. Hermione groaned,
fearing another delay.
Harry accepted his broom from Ginny and grinned as she examined his blonde
locks. He tugged at his hair in a familiar gesture.
Nice, huh?
Ginny shook her head, but smiled ruefully.
Not really, no.
Wed better hurry, Lupin interrupted. Hermione blinked at him. Tonks told
me Draco was captured. Harry said you know where he is.
Firenze told us. He cant return to the forest or the other centaurs will kill him,
but he recognized the spot and told us how to get there, Hermione said.
Hopefully, we dont run into any centaurs, either, Tonks commented.
Or spiders, Ron added with a shudder.
Lupin and Tonks mounted their own brooms. Hermione immediately took up
position behind Harry. At the moment, she didnt trust Ron to take her anywhere near
Draco. She gripped Harrys waist tightly. Ginny shook her head, but moved quickly to
mount behind Ron.
Lets go, Ginny said. The six of them took off across the top of the forest.
Hold on, Draco, Hermione pleaded silently.

* * * * *

Draco was tired. Hed used the final reserves of his strength in his last escape
attempt and now he just wanted to let go and sink into oblivion. Seven days was a long
time; maybe he would find a way to escape in the interim. Before Greyback turned him
into a werewolf. He couldnt allow that to happen.
Dracos eyes were closed and he lay perfectly limp, not willing to look into
Greybacks leering visage any longer. He wished the werewolf would get off himhe
was finding it exceedingly difficult to breathe.
Fenrirs left hand released Dracos right arm. Malfoys left hand was cold and
numb from Greybacks wand and grip cutting off his circulation. He felt the werewolf
grip the neck of his grey shirt and tear viciously downward, popping buttons and baring
Dracos chest.
This cant be good, Draco thought grimly. Bloody hell, what would The Boy
Who Lived do in this situation? Probably conjure up some miraculous solution with his
infinite Gryffindor luck. He needed to borrow some of that luck.
A moment later, Draco sucked in a tortured breath as Fenrirs sharp fangs tore
into his flesh near the hollow of his right shoulder. The pain didnt stop thereGreyback
dragged his teeth in a jagged path diagonally across Dracos chest. He stopped at
Dracos diaphragm and began to lick his way back up the bloody gash, lapping at the
blood.
Dracos right hand unobtrusively moved until his fingertips touched the smooth
wood of Fenrirs wand. The werewolf was too intent on his gruesome task to notice,
until Draco spoke.
Serpensortia, Malfoy said quietly. Fenrirs head snapped up in surprise. His
mouth was horrifyingly red. Before he could as much as blink, a huge snake launched
itself at Fenrirs face. The fangs sank into the flesh of one eyebrow and the werewolf
flung himself backward with a shriek.
The instant Greybacks weight left him, Draco rolled over groggily and Accioed
his wand. The werewolf tore the snake from his face in a sanguine shower and glared
yellow daggers at Draco, just as the wand snapped into Malfoys outstretched hand.
Expelliarmus! they both shrieked at the same moment, but Dracos was born of
desperation and was slightly faster; Fenrirs wand flew out of his hand. Dracos next
spell smashed the werewolf backward into a tree and his third immobilized Greyback.
The werewolf hit the ground stiffly and didnt move.
Draco sighed deeply and laid his cheek in the dirt, too exhausted even to feel
relief. Blood trickled down his chest. He knew he had to get up and deal more
permanently with Greyback. Tie him up, or kill him, or something. He just needed to
rest for a moment. He shut his eyes.
He heard a shout and debated opening his eyes, assuming it could only be the next
wave or horror coming to assault himGreybacks chums or Wormtails reinforcements.
He was suddenly dragged upward by the shoulders and enveloped in a warm
embrace that caused the wound on his chest to flare with renewed pain.
Oh, Draco, thank God youre alive, Hermione Grangers voice breathed in his
ear. He smiled in bemusement. How the hell had she found him? He opened his eyes,
after all, and saw Harry Potter standing over him. Beyond Potter stood two Weasleys,
Lupin, and the pink-haired Order girl. Lupin was hovering over Greyback and Pinkie
held her wand ready to blast the werewolf. Ginny Weasley stood behind Harry,
expressionless, and Rons gaze was ice. The Weasels probably wished Fenrir had eaten
him.
Draco allowed himself to melt into Hermiones embrace for a moment, drinking
in the scent and feel of her just to spite Ron. She drew back and gripped his shoulder
with one hand while the other brushed the dirt and debris from his face. Her shirt was red
with his blood.
What took you so long, Potter? Draco said wryly. Harry shrugged.
We had to flip a coin. Heads, save Malfoy; tails, let Malfoy rot.
Lucky me it was heads, eh? Draco said. He jerked a thumb. Wormtail is
caged over there.
His eyes met Hermiones for the first time and he felt a strange rush of emotion at
the look in her brown eyes, which were bright with unshed tears.
You look terrible, she said quietly.
Draco frowned. I thought youd like my black hair. Its very Harry Potter,
dont you think?
I mean, youre covered in blood and you look half-dead. Weve got to get you to
a hospital.
We cant, Harry said. He doesnt dare Apparate in his condition. The last one
nearly killed him. Well have to take him to Hogwarts.
Draco sneered. Im fine, Potter. He tried to get to his feet, but found he didnt
quite have the energy as everything began to go black. Hermione pressed him back
quickly.
Stay still! she ordered.
Lupin walked over. You captured two Death Eaters? Again? They seem to
flock to you every time you step out of Hogwarts. Are they attracted to you?
Draco laughed shortly and jerked his chin at Greyback. Well, that one certainly
was.
Lets get out of here before he attracts any more, the pink-haired girl said. She
held the cage containing Wormtail.
Ill take Malfoy, Potter said and knelt next to Draco, who tried to wave him
back.
Forget it, Potter. I can ride my own broom.
Until you pass out and fall to your death. Skip the bravado or Ill simply knock
you out.
Harry lifted Draco, who wouldnt have admitted under torture that he was glad the
matter had been taken out of his hands. He wasnt entirely certain he would have been
able to fly alone. He rested his head on Harrys shoulder and sighed dramatically.
Youve wanted to hold me all day, havent you, Potter?
You know where you can stuff your wisecracks, Malfoy, Harry growled.
Potter stepped over his broom and in moments they hovered in the air. Harry
hadnt shifted his grip on Draco. Potter was the only person Draco knew who could have
managed itflying without hands.
Soon they were zipping over the trees. At some point during the journey, Draco
succumbed to darkness, safe in the knowledge that the Gryffindor Golden Boy would
never drop him.

* * * * *

Hermione hurriedly mounted behind Ron as Harry and Draco took off. Ginny
rose into the air on Dracos broom. Tonks carried Wormtails cage and Lupin levitated
the bound and unconscious Greyback beneath his broom.
Hermione chewed her lip with worry. She hoped they had reached Draco in time.
He had been white as a ghost and so limp in her grasp she feared they were too late. His
shirt was saturated in blood. She remembered Bill Weasleys encounter with
Greybackthe wounds had been the devil to close. Madam Pomfrey was not at
Hogwarts. She lived in London in the summer and volunteered at St. Mungos. They
would have to fetch her.
With that thought, she released Ron with one hand and cast a Patronus that
streaked away toward Hogwarts. As the spell shot from her wand, Ron yelped in surprise
and Hermione screamed and grabbed him reflexively as the broom dropped several
meters.
Damn, Hermione! Ron yelled over the rushing wind. Warn a guy before you
do that! The broom climbed slowly to its former altitude.
Sorry! I sent a message to McGonagall.
When they reached Hogwarts, Harry was already inside. He was followed by
Ginny, who carried their brooms. The instant Ron touched down, Hermione leaped off
and bolted, ignoring Rons shout of protest.
She passed Ginny and caught up to Harry on the stairs.
He passed out, Harry explained. Hermione raced ahead to the hospital ward to
prepare a bed. Harry set Draco down gently and Hermione pulled off Malfoys bloodied
shirt.
Beneath the black hair, Dracos face was nearly as white as the pillow under his
head. Harry turned worried green eyes to her.
He lost a lot of blood earlier today. I dont know how much more he can spare.
Hermione Accioed thick compresses from a nearby cabinet and pressed them
against Dracos chest. She prayed for McGonagall to hurry with Madam Pomfrey. Ron
and Ginny sat on a nearby bed and watched silently as the cloths became rapidly
saturated with Dracos blood.
It wont coagulate, Hermione whispered. How did they heal Bill? Why didnt
I pay closer attention?
Its really advanced healing magic, Hermione. I dont think you would be able
to perform it, regardless.
A red-gold shape suddenly burst through the door and circled the room once
before perching on the bottom railing of Dracos bed.
Fawkes! Harry breathed.
The phoenix hopped forward onto the bed until it stood over Draco. Harry took
the compresses from Hermiones hands, exposing Malfoys raw wound. Fawkes tipped
his head and phoenix tears began to drip into the gashes. Astoundingly, the blood
stopped flowing and the wounds slowly knitted themselves.
Hermione clasped her hands together in relief. When Fawkes was finished, she
scooped up the phoenix in a joyful embrace and planted a kiss on its feathered head.
You beautiful, beautiful bird! she cried. Fawkes fluttered in protest and flapped
away the instant she released him. It disappeared through the doorway and Hermione
looked wonderingly at Harry.
Thats the second time Fawkes has helped us. Do you think Dumbledore told
him to watch out for us? Or for Malfoy?
Harry sighed. At this point, I dont know what Dumbledore might have done.
He apparently kept loads of secrets from us. She couldnt mistake the bitterness in
Harrys voice. He continued, At least our trip was successful, up until the point where
Malfoy was taken. We found the locket. It looks like Regulus managed to destroy it
before he was killed.
What locket? Ginny snapped. Regulus who?
Harry flushed. It seemed he had forgotten she was present. Hermione carefully
bathed Dracos wounds, amazed that the gashes were now tiny red lines that would likely
fade to match the Sectumsempra scars that crossed his chest in the other direction.
Hermiones eyes met Harrys and she grinned.
You might want to have a talk with her, she commented. She noticed a nasty
bite mark on Dracos throat, but luckily the skin wasnt broken. There was a dreadful
bruise on his left wrist and smaller bruises on his right. It looked as though Greyback had
manhandled Draco brutally. He was lucky to be alive.
She could feel Rons heated gaze on her the entire time she tended Draco and she
knew another confrontation was brewing there. Harry got up and motioned to Ginny.
They walked to a corner of the room just as McGonagall hurried in with Madam
Pomfrey.
Hermione stepped back and allowed them to examine Draco. She quickly
explained what Fawkes had done. Madam Pomfrey examined Draco and then hurried to
her office. She returned with a number of potions.
He has lost a lot of blood. This will help him rebuild it, but he will need a lot of
rest.
She levered him up with McGonagalls help and forced two potions down
Dracos throat. Then she turned and waved at them in a shooing motion.
Out! I will take care of him from here. There will be no change in his condition
for awhile. Thanks to the phoenix, it looks as though he is out of immediate danger. You
can visit him later.
Hermione sighed and headed for the door, followed by Ron. Harry and Ginny
trailed after them. At the door, Hermione gasped and then turned and ran back to Draco.
Madam Pomfrey was removing his boots. She looked at Hermione warningly.
This belongs to him, she said and pulled the braided cord over her head. She
slipped it quickly over Dracos head until the Galleon rested on his chest. She brushed a
hand through his down-soft black hair for a moment and smiled softly.
She sighed and joined Ron at the door, leaving Draco in Madam Pomfreys
capable hands.

Chapter Thirty Four Morning Visit

Ron was waiting for her, as expected. She sighed, wanting nothing more than to
go and collapse on her bed and stare aimlessly at the ceiling. The stress of the past few
days was taking its toll.
We need to talk, Ron said, confirming her suspicions.
Where do you want to go? she asked in resignation.
Astronomy Tower?
The haunt of stargazing lovers and hopeful romantics? She thought not.
If you dont mind, Ive climbed enough stairs today to put me halfway up the
Eiger. Id prefer a lower elevation.
He sighed, but nodded.
The Charms classroom? Its empty. And maybe I can show you that bubble
charm that Fred and George invented.
She acquiesced and they went downstairs in uncomfortable silence. Once in the
classroom, she quickly went to the windows and stared out at the growing darkness. She
wondered how long it would be before Draco awakened. As if her thoughts had broached
the subject, Ron blurted, Whats between you and Malfoy?
What do you mean? she asked evasively. She didnt want to talk about Draco
at all, especially when she hadnt even sorted out her own mind when it came to the
perplexing Slytherin.
You know what I mean. You were bloody well frantic to rush off and save him.
Ive hardly seen you at all since you brought him here. Damn it, you were ready to leap
off Gryffindor Tower on Harrys broom to go after him! What the hell is going on?
There is nothing going on, as you put it. Its just that Ive seen a different side
of Malfoy in the past few days and hes I dont know redeemed himself. Im
certainly not going to let him be tortured if I can stop it.
Her excuse sounded a trifle lame even to her own ears. She had been ready to
ride Harrys broom off the Tower. She would have gone through the forest alone, if need
be. The thought of Greyback marring Dracos beautiful fleshshe shuddered. If she had
seen that in the Scrying pool, she probably would have run straight into the forest without
waiting for Harry or bothering with a broom. The knowledge made her sigh and lean her
forehead against the glass.
Damn it. Maybe there wasnt anything going on between her and Malfoy. But
it was possible that she wanted there to be. She longed to be beside him right now, sitting
with him and brushing his hair back from his foreheadwhether silver or black. She
wanted to be there when his devastating grey eyes opened, to see if they would light up
with that same sensual glow she remembered
Can you even hear me? Ron demanded and she realized hed asked her a
question. Probably more than once. She pushed herself away from the window and
cleared her throat.
Im sorry. Did you say something?
He glared daggers at her. Were you just thinking about Malfoy? he snapped.
She couldnt stop herself from flushing guiltily. Ron shook his head in disgust and threw
up his hands. Why do I even try?
He spun and stormed out. For a moment, she started after him, but what could
she say? She sighed and walked over to Professor Flitwicks desk. She spied a quill and
absently cast Wingardium Leviosa on it. The quill rose into the air and she sighed,
remembering Rons first attempt at the spell. She grinned. He had been painfully inept.
And pretty cute with his hangdog expression.
Then, he and Harry had saved her from the trolltheir first adventure. There had
been so many after that. Quirrell and Tom Riddle and Sirius. Riding Thestrals. Battling
Death Eaters. They had done so much together it usually seemed like the three of them
against the world. She wondered why Ron had never made a move on her despite
numerous chances. She had thought it was simple shyness, but now she wondered. She
thought maybe Ron had taken for granted that he had plenty of timethat she would
always be nearby, waiting until he was ready. Maybe she would have been. Until Draco.
She cancelled the spell and the feather fluttered back to the desk. She sighed.
Maybe she owed Ron a chance. After all, they had been through several kinds of hell in
the past six years, and she had despised Malfoy for every minute of those years until
what? Six days ago? Would she really trade six years for six days?
She went out and was nearly bowled over by Tonks. When they righted
themselves, Tonks said, Sorry.
Where are you off to in such a hurry? Hermione asked.
Fetching McGonagall. Were not quite sure what to do with Greyback and
Moody is threatening to rip him limb from limb. Frankly, Im tempted to look the other
way and let him go to it, but Remus
Hermione nodded.
And Wormtail?
Still caged. We dare not let him out. Besides, were not quite sure how to open
Malfoys lock. It seems to be cleverly spelled. Wormtail is lucky Greyback didnt kill
Draco or he might have been boxed forever.
Hermione shrugged. He played the rat for twelve years. It shouldnt hurt him to
be caged for a decade or two.
Tonks raised a brow at the venom in her voice, but Hermione didnt care. Peter
Pettigrew had much to answer for.
Moody wants to torture him into giving up You-Know-Whos whereabouts.
Moody needs to stop acting on pure emotion and think for a moment.
Voldemort would never allow that. Im sure he has Wormtails mind thoroughly booby-
trapped in case of that eventuality. Where are they being kept?
In the Hufflepuff dungeon. The dungeons really were prisons before Hogwarts
became a school. It was a simple matter to return them to their original state. Fenrir is
raving mad. Well have to do something with him before the next full moon. Im not
sure his current cage will hold him once he changes.
Hermione chilled at the thought of Greyback in full werewolf mode running the
halls of Hogwarts.
There must be a way to contain him. Ill look into it. What happened to
Scrimgeour?
Tonks giggled.
According to Jack, the Weasley twins arranged a veritable war on the second
floor, complete with screaming women, clashing swords, explosions, and cries for help.
Of course, by the time they got up there, the twins and their magic had goneand so had
Harry Potter. Scrimgeour was fit to burst and he vowed to conduct a full investigation
into McGonagalls fitness to remain Headmistress at Hogwarts.
Oh no!
Tonks waved off her concern.
Let him investigate. Who else is better qualified? He can bluster all he wants,
but I dont think hell find anyone that will even touch the position. Not with You-
Know-Who out there, and after what happened to Dumbledore. Tonks started suddenly.
Oh my, I was fetching her, wasnt I? Better go! Catch you later, Mione!
Tonks resumed her flight up the stairs and Hermione followed at a more leisurely
pace. She entered the Gryffindor common room to find Ron missing and Harry and
Ginny on the couch engaged in a passionate snog.
They broke off somewhat sheepishly when they noticed her, but she waved at
them absently as she continued toward the stairs.
Dont mind me. Just passing through. Carry on.
She escaped to her room and sat on the window seat. The moon had begun to rise
with one edge blurred. In seven days, Lupin would be locked away under the calming
influence of the Wolfsbane Potion and Greyback would be tearing at the bars of his cell
with inhuman strength. Hermione should be in the library looking for a solution, but she
was simply too tired at the moment.
Instead, she went to bed and awoke in the early hours of morning, before dawn
had begun to paint the sky. She sat up and glanced across the room. Ginnys hair spilled
over her pillow and her breathing was deep and even.
Hermione dressed quietly and padded down the stairs. She was surprised to find
Harry sprawled casually on the sofa. She gasped for a momentbetween the pose and
the hairstill platinum blondeshe had actually thought him to be Draco.
What are you doing up? she asked when her heart had stilled.
Waiting for you, he replied. Shall we go?
Where?
To see Malfoy, of course. Thats where youre headed, isnt it?
Is it that obvious?
Harry shrugged. It doesnt matter. He stood up and shook out his Invisibility
Cloak. We should only need this if Madam Pomfrey is wandering about, which is
unlikely at this hour.
The halls were dead silent, as were their trainer-clad footsteps as they descended
to the hospital ward. They entered and sat on the bed next to Malfoys. Hermione
watched Dracos chest rise and fall evenly.
Why didnt they use Fawkes on Bill Weasley? she asked Harry.
Maybe they did.
Hermione nodded, realizing they had never learned the details.
What did you tell Ginny? About the Horcruxes?
Nothing. I found a way to silence her questions.
Hermione giggled. I remember. That wont work forever, you know.
I know, but hopefully well be done with them soon and I can tell her
everything. Harry paused and then said, You know, Malfoy asked if I had ever thought
of you as a girlfriend.
Hermione turned to look at him in surprise. You two were talking about me?
What brought on that subject?
We were talking about Ron, actually.
And what did you say? To Malfoys question.
I said no. That you thought of me more as a brother.
Hermione looked at him curiously. She had never really stopped to analyze her
feelings for Harry. Now that she tried to put words to it he wasnt really a brother to
her at all. He was just Harry. If she admitted it to herself, she probably loved him
more than any other person she knew. Not in a brotherly fashion, but deeper, somehow.
Not in a romantic fashion, either. To her, Harry seemed almost untouchable. Pure and
untainted. She didnt think any woman would ever be his match. Not even Ginny
Weasley, although Hermione wished her well at the attempt.
He told me I should kiss you and dispense with those brotherly feelings.
Hermione nearly choked.
And what did you say?
Harry looked at the floor.
Youll probably hate me for it but I laughed.
Thank God, she said in relief and laughed, also. His eyes snapped to hers.
Youre not upset by that?
Of course not. I care for you more than any brother, Im sure, but I have
absolutely no desire to ever complicate our relationship to that degree. Its difficult
enough having Ron to deal with.
And were back to Ron.
She sighed. Yes, Ron. Do you think Ive been unfair to him? Perhaps I owe
him a chance
I think youre looking at it the wrong way.
What do you mean?
What do you think a relationship with Ron would be like? Have you ever
envisioned it beyond the hand-holding, snogging stage?
She shook her head. Not really. I imagine it would be placid and predictable.
Hes so much like Mr. Weasley. He might protest and start a row when hes upset, but in
the end I know he would give in to whatever I desired Damn it, I would run him over
like a stampeding rhino and then hate him for it.
Like Mrs. Weasley does to Mr. Weasley? Harry asked.
Yes. At times she is more like his mother than his wife. I know they love each
other, but sometimes I just want to shake Mr. Weasley and ask why he doesnt stand up
to her. Hermione sighed. I dont want to be a termagant.
You need someone who knows their own mind.
Hermione looked at him wryly and nodded.
Ron never seems to know what he wants until it begins to slip out of his grasp.
Even then, I think he wants it only reflexively.
She looked over at Dracos sleeping form and immediately recognized the
contrast. Malfoy always seemed to know what he wanted and went after it with single-
minded determination. He would never bow to the will of another. He had done so once,
with Voldemort, and rebelled against it so violently it drove him into collusion with his
worst enemies.
She looked at Harry and her eyes widened in surprise as his hair suddenly
darkened and resumed its natural shade. He grinned wryly and ran a hand through his
black locks.
I felt that. He said it would last twelve hours. Im somewhat sorry to see it go.
She shook her head. Im not. Frankly, it was disconcerting. She turned back to
Draco to see his hair shining in a beam of moonlight, restored to its silvery perfection.
Not that he was any less handsome with black hair.
Of course not, Harry said with a snort. The git would likely be gorgeous even
if he were bald as an egg.
Glad you recognize that, Potter, Draco said dryly. Do you Gryffindors ever
shut up? Its damned hard to get any sleep with you two prattling on.
Hermione was at his bedside in an instant. Her fingers gently touched his
shoulders and she looked into his half-lidded eyes. The maddening smirk was on his lips
and she smiled, realizing she had missed even that. She wondered how long he had been
awake.
How do you feel? she asked.
Like Ive been mauled by a psychotic werewolf and awakened from a beautiful
dream by annoying chatter. I recognize the Hogwarts hospital ward, having been sent
here numerous times by why that would be you, Potter but what are you two doing
here?
We came to check on you, Hermione explained.
And the reason that couldnt wait until morning is?
Madam Pomfrey.
Ah. Im sure it had nothing to do with your propensity for sneaking about at odd
hours.
We have to stay in practice, Harry explained. Cant have our sneaking skills
rusting, now can we?
Malfoys lips twitched. I suppose not.
Besides, I wanted to ask you a question.
Hence, the real reason for your visit.
Of course. You dont think Im concerned about your health?
You have been hugging me rather a lot, lately. I thought your heart might have
grown a bit fonder than warranted.
Will you two knock it off? Hermione snapped, cutting off Harrys retort.
Fine. Malfoy, you said you found the house where Regulus was killed because
you remembered the tale. Was there more to that tale? Harry asked.
Draco sat up gingerly and Hermione quickly lifted his pillows to provide better
comfort. His silver eyes watched her in amusement.
Thank you, Granger. Youll make someone an excellent concubine.
She glared at him and stiffly returned to sit next to Harry, who grinned at her
sardonically. Had she actually been fantasizing about the maddening creature? At least
Malfoy always managed to bring her back to crushing reality with a few choice words.
What do you want to know? Draco asked.
Who killed Regulus Black?
According to my mother, three Death Eaters were sent to do him in. Magnus
Bole, Adan Pucey and Severus Snape. Only Snape returned. Regulus apparently
killed Bole and Pucey.
Harry nodded. Interesting that Snape was the only surviving witness.
Isnt it, though? I suppose its possible that he and Regulus had a small chat
about Horcruxes prior to the coup de grace.
Which would explain how Snape knew about them. Harry stood up. I was
just curious. We should let you rest.
Potter?
Harry turned back.
The letter from my parents Did you catch the part about Hogwarts not being
safe? Draco asked. Hermiones gaze flew to Harry. Draco had let him read the letter?
Harry nodded. Dracos eyes closed. You need to consider that. And ask why Wormtail
and Fenrir Greyback were in the forest, so nearby. Put Granger on the task. Im sure she
hasnt been in the library in the past twenty minutes. Shes likely going into
withdrawal.
Is it absolutely necessary to talk about me as though Im not in the room?
Draco grinned widely.
Harry sighed and started out. Hermione stood up and leaned over Draco. She
waited until his eyes opened a crack.
Youre bloody infuriating when you want to be. She pressed her lips softly
against his. But, Im very glad youre here.
She followed Harry out.

Chapter Thirty Five Pensieve, Parchment, Party

Harry wasnt tired enough to go back to bed and Hermione seemed agitated after
their visit with Draco.
Never a dull moment with Malfoy, is there? Harry commented mildly.
Hes bloody annoying, exasperating, and impossible to understand, Hermione
snapped. Harry nodded thoughtfully. She would never have to worry about a placid,
predictable relationship with that one.
Want to go up and use the Pensieve before McGonagall wakes up? he asked.
Hermione nodded and in short order they found themselves standing before the basin.
Harry shook the vial experimentally and dumped it in.
Strangely, this memory took place outside, near the lake. Hermione popped into
existence next to Harry. Dumbledore was absently conjuring handfuls of grain and
scattering it on the lake for the ducks that greedily snapped up the treat. Snape, of course,
stood beside him.
Why didnt you bring the damned thing to me? Snape said bitterly. It was
stupid of you to destroy it alone. Youre lucky I was able to stop the curse before it took
your whole arm. Or worse.
Will you stop nagging me like a mother hen? Dumbledore said impatiently,
although he raised his withered hand and looked at it with a grimace. Harry realized with
a start that the memory was recentit must have been right after Dumbledore had
destroyed the ring Horcrux. Im aware of my failings.
No, I really dont think you are, Snape said with his usual sneer. Next time
you have the urge to traipse off after a Horcrux, you should bloody well take someone
with you. If you dont trust me, then take your little Gryffindor hero. Isnt it past time
you started letting him in on some of your secrets? The brats nearly of age.
Im certain Harry would agree with you.
Well, that would be a first, wouldnt it? Snapes black eyes flashed.
Why do you hate the boy so much? Dumbledore asked tiredly and then held up
a hand to forestall Snapes reply. Never mind. I dont wish to get into another
argument about Potters and purebloods and perceived wrongs. I thought your opinion
had softened somewhat, after Sirius.
Snape rolled his eyes. Not in regards to Potter. Frankly, I dont see why you
fancy those Gryffindors so much, except for their insane propensity to race headlong into
danger without a moments thought for the consequences. Snape looked pointedly at
Dumbledores withered hand. Rather like you, I suppose. Gryffindor to the core, are
you not?
Dumbledore chuckled. Guilty as charged.
Yes, well, as Headmaster, I would expect you to place a bit more value on some
of the students in Houses other than your own.
Several students joined my Gryffindors last year, including some Ravenclaws
and Hufflepuffs, I believe.
Yes, well, Cho Chang was smitten with The Boy Who Lived and Luna
Lovegood is hardly a prime example of a Ravenclaw. What of Slytherins? Are none of
them are worthy to stand beside The Chosen One? Potters opinion seems to be quite
tainted in that regard.
And who would you choose to stand beside Harry Potter against Voldemort?
Frankly, most of your Slytherin students seem more likely to carry banners proclaiming
Voldemorts imminent reign than stand up to prevent it.
Ive done my best Snape began.
Youve done your best to encourage the same purebood nonsense they believe
Voldemort stands for! Dumbledore snapped. Snapes face flamed.
It isnt nonsense! My most talented students are purebloods
As are the most imbecilic! If purity of bloodline equals talent, then how to you
explain Crabbe and Goyle? Without young Malfoys assistance, they would have been
tossed out of school years ago!
Snape sniffed. They have the talent. They just do not apply themselves.
Dumbledore glared at him. You are babbling nonsense. Explain Hermione
Granger.
It was Snapes turn to scowl. An aberration. Freak coincidence.
Hermione balled up her fists and punched Snape in the stomach. Her fist went
right through the vaporous memory without effect, but Harry grinned, applauding the
effort.
Aberration. Ill give you an aberration, you horrible, small-minded
Hermione began, but Harry hushed her in order to hear the rest of the memory. She
folded her arms and glared daggers at Snape.
Dumbledore dragged his good hand through his hair in a credible imitation of
Harry Potter.
Enough! This discussion has not been resolved in over fifteen years.
Snape grinned evilly. And yet you continue to bring it up.
I keep hoping that you will see the error of your ways, Dumbledore said sadly.
As do I, Snape replied with a superior air.
The two were silent for a time and Dumbledore went back to feeding the ducks.
Finally, Snape asked, Do you intend to go after another Horcrux?
Possibly.
Do you agree that you will not go alone, next time? Snape asked blandly.
Dumbledore looked at him suspiciously.
Out with it, man, he said. Snape shook his head.
Not without your promise.
Fine. I promise to take at least one other person on my next Horcrux hunt,
Dumbledore said with finality.
Excellent. Then, I may know where you can find one.
Dumbledore stopped feeding the birds and turned his full attention to Snape.
There is a cave by the sea

The memory ended, likely because Harry knew the rest. He staggered to the
window seat and sat down. Each memory seemed to have its own frisson of horror.
Hermione sat next to him and took his hand.
Snape arranged the visit to the cave. He also made sure I went with
Dumbledore. So that I wouldnt be here to stop Malfoy. I was the only one that
suspected what he was up to
Except us, Hermione whispered. We were here. We should have been able to
stop him.
Harry shook his head. I dont think you could have. Snape was helping him.
He got to his feet. We need to talk to Malfoy and find out what Snape knew.
Why? Hermione asked woodenly and pulled him back down. What difference
will it make except to satisfy your curiosity? We know what Draco did. We know what
Snape did. Learning how it all played out wont change anything.
Everything involving Snape is suspect. Didnt you tell me it was Snape that told
Malfoy Hufflepuffs cup was at the Riddle house? Why did he do that? Why did he kill
Dumbledore? Why did he rejoin Voldemort if he is still opposing him?
Do you really think Malfoy will be able to answer those questions?
Harry dragged a hand through his raven locks and sighed explosively.
No. Damn it. Dumbledore couldnt even figure out Snape.
Hermione nodded. I think our time will be better spent pondering the warning
from the Malfoys. Why should Hogwarts be unsafe? And what were Greyback and
Wormtail doing in the forest?
How can we possibly find the answer to those questions?
Im not sure. But I think we should start with the Marauders Map.
Harry dropped to his knees on the floor and spread the map out on his bed.
Hermione sat on the bed next to the map and her hair brushed the parchment as she
leaned over it.
I solemnly swear that I am up to no good, Harry said and tapped the map.
Lines appeared and darkened. What shall we look for?
Lets start with a general search of each floor, starting at the top and working our
way down, Hermione said. Ron sat up, roused by their quiet voices.
Whats going on? he asked sleepily.
Were checking out the map to see who is hanging around Hogwarts, Harry said
absently. Gryffindor Tower was first, and showed the three of them in the boys
dormitory. Ginny Weasley was in the girls. The map lines blurred and reformed, showing
them Ravenclaw Tower. In one room, the names Remus Lupin and Nymphadora Tonks
nearly overlapped. Hermione blushed.
I didnt really need to see that, Harry commented and chuckled.
Another room contained Jack Williamson and Alastor Moody. Neither overlapping,
nor even close to each other, Harry was glad to see. Hestia Jones was walking through the
Ravenclaw common room and they watched as she exited to the corridor and headed
downstairs.
A quick sweep of the castle showed nothing unexpected. Draco Malfoy still slept
in the hospital wing, tended by Madam Pomfrey. Minerva McGonagall was in the
Transfiguration Classroom. Peter Pettigrew and Fenrir Greyback were both safely contained
in the Hufflepuff dungeons. Harry sighed.
It looks safe enough to me, he said.
Ron had crawled over to sit on the other side of the map from Hermione. He
rubbed his eyes with a thumb and blinked at the map.
Go deeper, Hermione suggested. Look at the Chamber of Secrets.
Harry scanned the map until he located Moaning Myrtles bathroom, and then
moved the map view deeper, exposing a warren of chambers beneath the school. Most of
them twisted, mazelike, and opened into each other. Harry looked up at Hermione.
How is it that Fred and George never found the Chamber of Secrets with this
map?
Ron answered with a snort. Did they care? They thought the whole Heir of
Slytherin thing was a huge joke. Remember when they kept prodding you about being
the Heir?
Until Ginny was taken.
Yeah. And then they were too worried to think about the map. Plus, Mum
wouldnt let them out of her sight long enough to use it.
Too bad we didnt have it until Third Year. Why did Fred and George give it to
me, anyway? I know they had all the passages memorized, but it was bloody useful to
know where Filch was while sneaking out.
Oh, they nicked it from you whenever they needed it, Ron commented. Its
not like you hid it. You usually had it jammed it your trunk there, eh?
They rooted through my personal items? Harry said indignantly. Ron rolled his
eyes.
Do you recall who youre talking about? They would root through the personal
items of the Minister of Magic for a previously chewed piece of Droobles Best Blowing
Gum. Be glad they always returned the map.
Hermione giggled. Goodness, Harry, you act like were the only one allowed to
sneak around. The twins probably did so ten times more than we did.
Harry shrugged. I suppose. I dont see anything in the Chamber of Secrets. Its
deserted. He sighed in frustration.
Thats a relief, anyway. I was afraid Voldemort or some Death Eaters had
managed to sneak into the school and were hiding there. None of us would be the wiser.
Maybe we should set up some sort of proximity alert. In case that ever
happens.
Hermione shuddered. Id rather not go down there. From your description, it
sounds dreadful.
It was. Maybe you can put your brilliant mind to it and think of a solution.
Maybe you can take a nap. Youre getting snappish.
Im not getting snappish! Harry snapped.
Hermione looked askance at Ron, who grinned.
Not at all, mate, Ron said insincerely. Harry scowled and tapped the map
sharply.
Mischief managed. He rolled the parchment and tucked it back into his trunk.
Well, Im for some breakfast. Do you two plan to join me? Hermione asked.

* * * * *

Draco was out of bed by late afternoon. He had pretended to sleep each time
visitors approached. Granger and Potter returned around noon. Next it was Lupin. And
finally McGonagall, but none of them tried to awaken him. He waited until Madam
Pomfrey padded off before he slid his feet to the floor and sat up.
Vertigo assailed him, but he fought it. He had slept enough and was sick of being
bedridden. His blood supply would replenish itself whether he lay around like a limp
sponge or not.
His clothes were missing. Pomfrey was clever that way. She hated to have her
patients sneaking out before she was ready to release them. Draco surveyed the blankets
on the bed and grimaced. Wool. He sighed. He had no intention of parading around
Hogwarts draped in scratchy wool blankets. Hed almost rather stroll back to the
Slytherin dungeon in the altogether. Transfiguring them would be a hassle.
The thought of walking around naked brought Hermione to mind. He had noticed
the return of his coin immediately upon waking.
Granger, he sent.
You summoned?
I need some clothes.
Really? Whatever for?
I know you prefer me unclothed, but walking about naked might offend some of
the more inhibited females in the building.
Youre grouping me with the uninhibited females?
Youre the one that came down to my room and pounced on me.
Pounced? He grinned, sensing volumes of indignation in the word.
Delicately tried to seduce? he corrected.
Your ego certainly hasnt suffered any injury. Ill be right there.
He settled himself back on the bed, propped his arms behind his head, and waited.
Hermione arrived a surprisingly short time later.
Did you run? he asked as she set the folded clothing on the end of the bed.
No.
Draco tossed the sheet aside, making certain he kept his gaze on Hermiones face.
She blanched at the sight of him clad in nothing but black silk boxers. He refrained from
grinning, with effort, and reached for the clothing. He was careful not to move too
quickly.
You shouldnt be up at all, she said. Where is Madam Pomfrey?
She went to fetch something from the greenhouse. I plan to be gone by the time
she gets back. Draco pulled on the white long-sleeved t-shirt. He followed it with a pair
of charcoal grey trousers that fit perfectly. He noticed a smile playing about Grangers
lips and looked at her suspiciously.
Where did you get these? he asked. Her smile widened.
I borrowed them from Harry. It seems youre exactly the same size.
I doubt that, Draco said archly and Hermione coughed when she caught his
meaning. He chuckled to himself and was glad to see his boots near the foot of his bed.
He donned Potters socks and tugged his boots on, fighting a wave of dizziness when he
sat upright. Hermione hurried around the bed to help him.
He waved her back impatiently and she sighed in exasperation.
Why are you even out of bed? You look like youre barely able to stand.
Because Im a stubborn bastard, remember? he asked and stood up defiantly.
Did Potter look at that locket?
We both did. Regulus destroyed it properly, thank goodness.
Draco nodded and bypassed her to head for the door.
Malfoy she started.
He spun around with a flare of annoyance and walked back to her. He clenched
his fists at his sides in order to keep from touching her. Merely standing this close to her
probably constituted a violation of his promise to Weasley.
Back in the forest, he said, You called me Draco. Do you remember?
Her eyes were huge pools of liquid chocolate.
I remember, she breathed. Draco
The sound slid over him like a caress. He closed his eyes and cursed Weasley to
the ninth level of hell. As if conjured by his thoughts, the door opened and Ron stalked
into the room. Draco could tell it was him by the agitated sound of his footsteps. Draco
opened his eyes to see Hermiones hand, which had been reaching out to touch him, fall
back to her side.
I thought Id find you here, Weasley said dryly. Draco turned to look at him
and Rons gaze met his with a flash of warning. Malfoy shrugged. Ron continued,
Neville is here. And Luna, and Susan Bones.
Why? Hermione asked.
Thought theyd be safer here, I suppose. Nevilles gran is still at St. Mungos,
but Neville cant stay there and they wont let him go home. Too dangerous. Lunas dad
doesnt want her left alone. And Susan well
None of them spoke. They all knew Amelia Bones had been horribly murdered,
leaving Susan one of the unlucky few whose entire family had been eradicated by
Voldemort.
Hermione hurried out and Draco followed at a more leisurely pace. As he passed
Ron, Weasleys hand shot out and grabbed his sleeve.
I thought you agreed to stay away from her, Ron muttered.
I have, Draco said mildly, meeting Rons stormy gaze with a hint of
amusement. You might to discuss the matter with her. She doesnt seem to be aware of
your rules.
Weasley flushed and Draco allowed no satisfaction to touch his features, but he
knew damned well that Ron wouldnt dare forbid Hermione to stay away from Draco.
She would verbally slice off his head and hand it to him on a platter.
A quick jerk removed his sleeve from Weasleys grasp and Draco walked stiffly
out the door. His right leg still hurt like the devil. It would most likely be sore and
aching for a few days, until the memory of the break and impalement faded.

Everyone seemed to be in the Great Hall. Nearly all of the Order was present and
the atmosphere seemed almost festive.
Hermione was talking animatedly to Neville, who started in surprise when Draco
entered. Luna, standing next to Longbottom, caught sight of Draco and fairly danced
across the room to fling her arms around Dracos neck.
She planted a lipsticky kiss on his cheek and fairly choked him.
I never thanked you properly for saving me, she said. Draco tried to disengage
her arms from his neck without success.
Consider me properly thanked, he said, somewhat worried what a proper
thanking might be to Luna.
No, no. I have to do something for you.
Terrifying idea. Fine. Give it some thought and get back to me. Take your
time.
Luna sighed and released him. She stepped back and looked at him critically.
Her radish earrings dangled when she cocked her head to the side.
Youre terribly pale. Have you been attacked by vampires? I can make you a
garlic necklace to ward them off.
You do that, Malfoy said absently. His attention had been snared by the
approach of Neville Longbottom. The Gryffindor boy seemed different. He was two
hand spans taller than Draco and his visage was serious and subdued. The anxiousness
that used to occupy his features was gone.
Neville stepped forward and stretched out his hand to Draco.
They told me what you did. You saved my life, Neville said seriously.
Mine, too! Luna cried and clapped her hands.
Malfoy reluctantly allowed Neville to shake his hand, but Neville stepped close
and wrapped his left arm around Dracos shoulders. He hugged Draco tightly for a
moment and Malfoy grimaced uncomfortably. Damned overemotional Gryffindors.
Thank you, Neville said sincerely.
You arent going to kiss me, are you? Draco asked wryly and Neville released
him and stepped back as if burned.
No, of course not!
Thank God. Its bad enough when Potter does it.
Wha? Neville gaped at him.
Joking, Draco said and rolled his eyes. Longbottom was such a thickwit.
Malfoy brushed past him to stand next to Potter, who was talking with a girl Draco barely
recognized.
Susan Bones had been a slightly pudgy, round-faced girl with a long plait of light
brown hair, freckles, dancing brown eyes, and a ready smile. The freckles were all that
remained of that girl. Susan was now thin as a rail. Her hair had been hacked off and
stuck out from her head in a halo of brown spikes. Her eyes were hard and frigid as she
looked at Malfoy with sheer contempt. Her lips were a thin line.
I thought you were a Death Eater, she snapped.
Not really, Draco said tonelessly.
Arent you directly responsible for Dumbledores death? she continued harshly.
Draco looked at Harry Potter with a pained expression and forced a sarcastic
smile.
I suppose I am. Great party. I think Ill go hang myself, now.
Draco turned and left the Great Hall. He wondered what had prompted him to
join the bloody gathering. There were too many people and most of them had strong
opinions about Draco Malfoy. He was either a hero or pariah. Frankly, he didnt give a
damn what any of them thought.
Malfoy, wait!
Draco groaned and kept walking. She had to make it difficult for him, didnt she?
Where are you going? Hermione asked when she caught up to him. He
stopped, but didnt look at her.
Go back to your friends, Granger, he said tiredly.
Not without you.
Forget it. I dont belong in there.
Of course you do!
His head snapped up and he glared at her.
Damn it, when will you stop trying to make me into something Im not? he
cried angrily. Everything Ive done has been for my own selfish reasons! Youre
intelligent enough to figure that out, once you stop letting your overactive imagination
control your thinking!
Hermiones eyes narrowed at his outburst.
What do you mean by that? she demanded.
You know what I mean. Youve turned me into some sort of fantasy hero. Im
not a pale shadow of Harry Potter and I never will be! Go back to your Gryffindors,
Granger, and leave me alone.
He stalked off. As an afterthought, he yanked at the cord holding the Galleon and
flung it to the ground. He didnt look back as he fled to the Slytherin dungeon.

Chapter Thirty Six Founders


Hermione picked up the coin from the floor and looked after Draco in dismay.
She wondered what had brought on that outburst. Draco had been acting so strangely,
lately. She sighed and traced the coin with her fingers as she pondered his words. Was
she really trying to turn Draco into a pale shadow of Harry Potter? She scowled. Why
did he have to be so damned complicated? He was completely infuriating and prickly as
a hedgehog today. Even in the hospital wing hed been avoiding her, until shed
apparently annoyed him by calling him Malfoy.
I dont belong in there.
His words touched a nerve. Would Draco always feel like an outcast? She heard
footsteps approach and then Harry stood beside her.
Is Malfoy okay? he asked.
She looked at him seriously and shook her head. I dont think so. He stormed
off to the Slytherin common room.
Are you going to go talk to him?
He doesnt seem to want me around. I wish he would tell me what is really
bothering him.
Susan Bones just accused him of being a Death Eater and murdering
Dumbledore, Harry commented. She considered that for a moment and then rejected it
as the cause of Dracos distress.
He hears that all the time. Moody still wants to turn him into a Christmas
pudding. Hes never been bothered by insults, before. Except yours.
No, I think he actually likes my insults. They give him a good excuse to
retaliate.
Hermione sighed. I think the strain is getting to him. Hes out of his element.
We all have each other and he feels that he has no one. Hes used to being perceived as
an insufferable bully and now that we see him as a fellow human being, hes not sure
how to react.
So he lashes out in typical Malfoy fashion.
Yes. I think he desperately wants to let down his guard, but hes terrified of
being hurt.
Harry looked at her in amazement. How do girls even think of things like that?
I thought he was just pissed because he cant snarl vile insults and make himself feel
superior.
That is so typically male, Hermione said and rolled her eyes. Besides, he
doesnt really have to restrain himself if he wants to insult someone. There is always
Ron.
Yeah, there is always Ron, Harry repeated, but something in his tone made her
look at him sharply.
What?
Harry shrugged and said, Nothing, but his green eyes slid away from hers. She
put her hands on her hips.
Harry James Potter, if you know something about all of this, youd better spill it
right now.
He looked decidedly guilty.
Look, I dont know anything. Its only a suspicion based on something Malfoy
said at the Hogs Head.
Which was?
Malfoy mentioned that he owed Ron a favor. Because Ron saved him from the
Carrows at Snapes house.
Draco owes Ron a favor?
Harry nodded, but Hermione couldnt quite make the connection to Harrys
suspicion.
And what did Ron ask for?
Harry flushed. I dont know. Malfoy didnt say. As I told you, its only an
idea.
Hermione wasnt listening, knowing it would take a devilish amount of prying to
get Harry to cough up a straight answer. What could Malfoy possibly have that Ron
would want? Well, money, obviously, but she couldnt picture Ron asking for that even
under torture. He was far too proud. What else? Dracos broom?
She scowled. No, it had to be something that would cause Draco to lash out like a
cornered fox. What if it wasnt something Draco had, but something he could do? What
could Ron ask Draco to do? Avada Kedavra himself, of course, but in lieu of that She
glanced at Harry, who waited expectantly. Something finally clicked.
He didnt, she said in realization. Harry watched her perceptively, but said
nothing. She narrowed her gaze at him and continued evenly, Tell me Ron didnt warn
Malfoy away from me.
Harry shrugged and then nodded tentatively. It wouldnt surprise me.
Hermione felt such a rush of rage she was surprised her hair didnt crackle from
the force of it.
I. Will. Kill. Him, she decided and spun on a heel.
Harry grabbed her arm and halted her. Dont do anything rash!
Rash? Who the hell does Ron think he is? I am not his property!
Ron is afraid of losing you, Harry said lamely.
He never had me to lose, Harry!
I know that, but I dont think Ron does. He paused and then forged ahead.
How do you feel about Malfoy, anyway?
Hermione shied away from the question. She wasnt ready to examine her
feelings about Draco, and especially not before Harry Potter. I dont know. Everything
is so confusing right now. Besides, I think the most important thing is to ask how Malfoy
feels about us.
Us? Harry looked baffled.
Yes! He chose to come to us. Look at everything hes done! We never would
have believed he would help us, but we would be devastated right now if not for Malfoy.
My parents would probably be dead; Neville and Luna would be captured and possibly
dead. We wouldnt have found and destroyed the cup. We wouldnt have four Death
Eaters in the dungeon! Frankly, Malfoys done more for us in the past week than weve
managed with the entire Order in the past bloody year.
Harrys expression was grim.
Well, Malfoy doesnt seem to realize that.
Maybe someone should explain it to him, she suggested lightly. Harry looked
at her hopefully.
No, not me. Apparently hes made some sort of noble vow that prevents him
from accepting my company at the moment. You go talk to him. Im going to have a
little chat with our friend Ron.
You wont hurt him?
Hardly at all, she said with steel in her voice.
Harry sighed deeply, but obediently headed for the Slytherin dungeon. Hermione
called after him.
Unless hes changed the password, its apple.
Apple?
You knowgarden, tree, serpent apple. Hell explain it to you.
Harry shook his head in bemusement and disappeared. Hermione set her jaw and
went to find Ronald Weasley.

* * * * *

Draco lay on the couch in the Slytherin common room, feeling perfectly
miserable. He shouldnt have lashed out at Hermione. His current black mood was
definitely not her fault. If anyone had proven to be firmly on his side, it was Granger.
He had little doubt that she had been the one to instigate his rescue in the forest. He still
didnt know how shed managed to find him.
He sighed, already regretting the loss of the Galleon. What had possessed him to
throw it down like a spoiled child? He should probably go find her and apologize.
Except that he hated apologizing. And Ron Bastard Weasley would take him to task for
it. Bloody hell, he should have just let the Carrows torture him. It would have been less
painful in the long run.
Draco heard footsteps approaching and realized he should have changed the
password. He really hadnt expected Hermione to follow him. To his surprise, it was
Harry Potter who appeared at the end of the sofa.
Hey, Malfoy, Potter said casually, as though wandering into the Slytherin
common room was an everyday occurrence for The Chosen One.
That will teach me to give a Gryffindor the password, Draco said dryly. Did
she put out a newsletter?
Relax. She only told me because she thought you didnt want her around.
Perceptive, as always, Draco said. He watched Harry curiously, wondering
why he was here. Had Granger sent him down for a pep talk? If so, Potters heart didnt
seem to be in it, which wasnt surprising. Harry wandered around aimlessly, peering at
Slytherin bric-a-brac.
Its hideously dark in here, Potter commented. How do you stand it?
Slytherins appreciate the dark.
So do I, but in moderation.
Draco gestured to the walls. Normally, those are spelled to resemble windows
that reflect the actual conditions outside. Its usually bright as Gryffindor Tower in here.
Since Im the only one in residence, they seem to have dispensed with such trivialities.
Harry made a noncommittal sound and spelled a dozen or so candles and sconces
into light.
Feeling any effects of Greybacks attack? Harry asked nonchalantly.
No. Nothing.
Bill Weasley said he didnt feel any different, except that he had a craving for
very rare meat.
I eat my steaks that way already, so I probably wont notice a thing. What are
the odds of you leaving me in peace?
Not in your favor.
Shouldnt you be up there with your friends?
They can wait. This cant.
Draco wasnt sure he wanted to know what this constituted. He folded his arms
beneath his head in an affectation of boredom. Harry sat down on a nearby chair, sighed,
and ran a hand through his hair.
One, Draco counted automatically.
Harry said, Remember our first year, before we were sorted? You wanted to be
my friend simply because I was famous.
Draco scowled, not appreciating the reminder of that particular memory. That
was before I discovered what a git you are.
That was before you annoyed me by insulting Ron Weasley. You know, Ive
often thought about what would have happened if Id never met Ron and had no
preconceptions about the different Houses. Did you know the Sorting Hat wanted to put
me into Slytherin?
Draco laughed shortly and shook his head in amazement.
You? The quintessential Gryffindor? That would have been hilarious.
Seriously, it nearly happened. If it had, who do you think I would have been
most likely to befriend?
Montague? Draco asked archly. Harry ignored that.
And think about this. When it comes to Voldemort, some unavoidable destiny
seems to have been laid upon me. I dont think I would have escaped it simply by being
sorted into a different House. I believe I would have had to stop Quirrell, and Tom
Riddle, and do everything else Ive been forced into.
Despite himself, Draco was fascinated by Harrys conjecture.
You really think you would have had the same adventures as a Slytherin?
Harry nodded. Im positive. I suspect Dumbledore set many of them up as a test
of my abilities. I would have needed help, of course, especially to navigate the traps laid
for the Stone. Youre as clever as Hermione. You would have figured out the Devils
Snare trap and Snapes potion mysteryand youre the only one Ive seen that can beat
Ron at wizards chess
Draco sat up and swung his feet to the floor, not liking the path Harrys thoughts
followed. You think I would have helped you defeat Voldemort?
Who else? You know I never would have fallen for that pureblood idiocy, even
if I were sorted into Slytherin. I dont think you believe it any longer, either. If you ever
really did.
Draco was silent. He shook his head and looked at Harry. So, you think we
would have been bosom buddies? he said after a moment, trying to keep the sarcasm out
of his voice. You and I?
I think it was inevitable. Harry said quietly. His green eyes were wide and
sincere. Draco buried his face in his hands. Bloody hell! Why did Potter and his friends
insist on wringing every possible unwanted emotion out of a person? Draco quelled the
strange leap of sentiment Harrys words had conjured. He looked up and sneered at
Potter, but the gesture didnt have its usual potency.
Im not your friend, Potter.
Harry smiled in what seemed to be genuine amusement.
Like hell youre not. You signed up for that position the minute you warned
Hermione that her parents were in danger. And the best part is that you did it to yourself.
As Hermione pointed out, youve done more for the cause lately than anyone. As well as
paid the price.
Draco stood up, agitated by Potters insinuation. He glared at Harry and tried to
drudge up his old feelings of hatred for his nemesis. Potters sardonic grin helped, but it
wasnt quite enough. Draco kept recalling Harrys face at St. Mungos, grim with
concern as he gently handed Malfoy over to the hospital staff. Damn it, Draco didnt
want to be one of Potters loyal followers!
Youre insane, you know that? he said harshly.
Harry shrugged. Yes, well, its entirely Hermiones fault. She seems to like
you. Of course, theres no accounting for taste.
Witness you and the redheaded stick girl. Draco leaped at the change of
subject.
Leave Ginny out of this. Were talking about you and Hermione.
There is no me and Hermione.
Do you want there to be?
Do you really expect me to answer that?
No. Not really. Harry laughed and stood up. Come on. Theres no sense in
you brooding alone down here, now that were starting to miss your aggravating presence
when youre not around.
I wasnt brooding. Draco tried to find a way to refuse Harry.
Wallowing in self-pity?
I hope you find yourself amusing.
Harry chuckled and walked to the fireplace to look at the enormous painting of
Salazar Slytherin, who glared down at Potter in barely suppressed rage.
Think hes rolling in his grave? Harry asked. Draco hadnt really looked at the
painting in a long time. Slytherin wore a grayish undertunic with a black woven cloth
belt. A huge black cloak, trimmed in brilliant green, swept back over one shoulder where
it was pinned with a simple serpent brooch of hammered silver. In contrast to the plain
brooch, the Slytherin locket glittered majestically on his chest. He gripped a wooden
staff in one hand and a wand with the other. The signet ring flashed briefly as Salazar
moved. As if annoyed by their scrutiny, he disappeared.
Harry shrugged and turned back to Draco. It was common knowledge that the
Founders never spoke from their paintings, although no one knew why. Draco started to
speak, and then his eyes widened as a thought occurred to him.
Bloody hell! Follow me, Potter, I just thought of something!
Without waiting, Draco turned and ran from the Slytherin common room.

Draco took the stairs two at a time. Where are we going? Harry called.
Ravenclaw Tower, Draco replied.
It seemed to take forever and they were both panting with exertion by the time
they reached the western tower. Halfway up, a wave of dizziness had nearly overcome
Draco, forcing him to pause for a rest and take the steps at a more leisurely pace. He was
both relieved and annoyed when Potter made no comment. As they neared their
destination, Harry mentioned that he had never been to Ravenclaw Tower, which seemed
odd to Draco considering how much time Potter had spent wandering Hogwarts.
Never? Not even as the honored guest of your old girlfriend, Cho?
Harry flushed. She was never really my girlfriend.
Too bad you werent sorted into Slytherin. I could have helped you out in the
girl department. You desperately need assistance.
Screw you, Malfoy, Harry said without conviction. Draco grinned. Potter had
to know it was true. Cho Chang and Ginny Weasley? Potter had likely barely made it to
the snogging stage with either one. Draco would bet half his fortune The Boy Who Lived
was still a virgin. He decided to save that topic for later, when there was more time to
wind Potter into a froth.
Similar to Gryffindor Tower, a painting blocked the entrance to the Ravenclaw
common room. No person stared back at them, but a sphinx crouched on desert sands. It
gazed at them expressionlessly. When Draco could breathe normally he said, We seek
entrance.
The sphinx inclined its head and said, A coin is bottled; the bottle then corked.
Remove the coin, but not the cork; and break not the bottle.
A riddle? Harry asked breathlessly.
Of course its a riddle. Its a sphinx. Do you know the answer?
Remove a coin from a corked bottle without taking out the cork or breaking the
bottle?
Thats the question, not the answer. Draco grinned. You really are helpless
without Granger, arent you? Harry scowled and Draco answered the sphinx. Simple.
You push the cork into the bottle and remove the coin.
The painting swung aside easily.
No password, but a riddle? Harry asked.
Ravenclaws. They love to show off their brainpower.
Draco started inside and Harry followed.
How did you know? About the riddles, I mean.
I spent an entertaining evening with a Ravenclaw girl in third year, Draco
replied. She actually devised a chart that showed how different positions
Forget I asked! Harry said quickly.
Its your loss, Draco replied and chuckled. Unfortunately, she transferred to
Beauxbatons the following year. Her parents likely found out her primary field of study
was male anatomy.
The Ravenclaw common room was currently empty. Most of the Order members
were probably in the Great Hall. Draco walked to the huge painting of Rowena
Ravenclaw.
Just as I remembered, he said in satisfaction. Harry stood beside him, puzzled.
Rowena wore clothing similar to that worn by Slytherin, except the colors were blue and
black. Draco pointed to her wrist. You suspected that the Dark Lord wanted items from
each of the Founders, correct? I noticed the locket and ring on Salazar downstairs and I
recalled this bracelet.
A large golden bangle bracelet, inlaid with sparkling sapphires, adorned Rowena
Ravenclaws wrist. She smiled down at them gently and raised her hand. A tiny golden
raven charm dangled from the bracelet.
Ill bet youre right, Harry breathed. Tom Riddle could have located it the
same way he found Hufflepuffs cup, while working at Borgin and Burkes. He sighed.
Now we know what to look for, but not where to look. And that doesnt tell us what he
might have that belonged to Godric Gryffindor. Dumbledore swore he had the only two
Gryffindor artifacts safely in his officethe sword and the Sorting Hat.
Maybe we should go look at them.
Harry nodded. At least there are only a few stairs to navigate. I dont need you
fainting away on me.
Draco snorted. Im surprised you havent offered to carry me, as much as you
seem to enjoy putting your hands on me.
In your dreams, Malfoy. Draco hadnt seen that particular expression on
Potters face since the day he arrived. The look of pure disgust caused Malfoy to laugh
aloud.
Maybe this whole friendship thing wouldnt be so bad, after all.

Chapter Thirty Seven - Irresistible

Hermione returned to the Great Hall and tried to contain her seething anger.
There was no need to start a screaming match in front of everyone.
Ron was talking to Luna. Susan Bones and Neville seemed to be arguing
vehemently. They were blocking Hermiones path to Ron, so she heard a brief flash of
their conversation as she passed.
can you possibly defend him? Susan hissed. Once a Death Eater, always a
Death Eater!
All I know is that Draco Malfoy saved my life, Neville persisted.
Do you know that for certain? Or did they just tell you it happened that way?
Neville drew himself up angrily.
Are you accusing my friends of intentionally lying? About something like that?
Hermione paused and looked at them curiously. Her eyes narrowed at Susan,
who flushed, even though her face retained its defiant expression.
Maybe he put them under an Imperius Curse.
Hermione laughed without humor, even though she felt like smacking Susan
across the face. She answered for Neville. Really? If so, it was very clever of him to
break his own leg and nearly bleed to death. Im certain he did that in order to force
Harry to rescue him and rush him to St. Mungos for some nefarious purpose. And then
he managed to be captured and dragged into the forest where he could conveniently be
mauled by Fenrir Greyback, whom he subsequently captured, by the way, but Im
positive it was all some sort of elaborate plot!
Hermiones voice had risen to a near shout. Susan and Neville both stared at her
as though she had grown two heads. She felt tears of frustration prick her eyes and flung
herself about. No wonder Draco didnt want to be here!
Whats got into her? she heard Susan ask behind her. I thought she hated
Malfoy more than anyone.
She didnt hear Nevilles response as she propelled herself forward. She could
barely even remember hating Draco. It seemed a lifetime ago. Now, she just wanted to
wrap her arms around him and protect him from those who did not understand the
sacrifices he had made. Like the person standing before her.
Ronald? she asked sweetly, forcing herself to use as normal a tone as possible
and not speak through clenched teeth. May I speak with you for a moment? Privately?
Ron grinned, not suspecting the effort Hermione made not to snatch a fistful of
his red hair and drag him from the room. She kept her eyes fixed on Luna so he wouldnt
notice the simmering rage therein. Luna caught it and blinked at her in surprise.
I must ask Father how to dispel Creeping Parcleps. We seem to have an
infestation. Ill send him an owl right away, Luna said absently.
Hermione forced a smile, as usual having not the foggiest notion what Luna was
talking about. She didnt care, either.
Good idea. Come along, Ronald, Hermione said and led the way past Susan
and Neville, who were silent and watched her curiously. She led Weasley through the
doors and cast about for a private place where no one would hear him screaming for help.
She grinned maliciously at the thought, but shoved the notion aside. She must maintain
control. Ron trotted to keep up with her purposeful stride.
Where are we going? he asked in puzzlement.
Right over here, she decided, heading for the small chamber where First Years
waited to be sorted upon their arrival at Hogwarts. Hermione didnt think shed been in
the room since that day. The place was quite dusty. Apparently it wouldnt be cleaned
until the first day of the next term approached.
She walked to the center of the chamber, trying to collect her thoughts. Ron had
halted when the door shut, possibly picking up some of her tension at last. Wisely, he
remained quiet, especially when she turned around to give him a scathing glare.
Tell me something, Ronald dear, she said mildly. Is it true that Draco Malfoy
owes you a favor?
Rons gaze shot to the floor at the same time a bright red flush crept into his
cheeks to drown the freckles.
Where where did you hear that? he stammered. She could practically
envision his brain trying to seek an out, spinning erratically.
Jungle drums. Is it true? she demanded.
Well I suppose, sort of.
You suppose, sort of. Did you, perchance, ask Draco for something? In return
for this sort of favor?
What are you getting at? he demanded. She glared. Typical Ron. Defend and
deny. She marched forward until she stood directly before him. She had to look up a bit
to stare him in the eye, but she was not daunted.
Did you or did you not warn Draco Malfoy to stay away from me? she asked.
With each word, she poked her index finger sharply into Rons chest. By the end of the
sentence, he was wincing.
There was a long silence and then Ron blurted, Did Malfoy tell you that? Hes
bloody lying!
Hermione snatched a fistful of Rons shirt and pulled him closer.
No, Ron. Malfoy didnt say anything. Hes just been acting bloody peculiar and
so I had to ask myself why. When Harry mentioned you owed Malfoy a favor,
everything seemed to click into place. Now, suppose you tell me the truth before I plant
one of Ginnys Bat Bogey Hexes on you that you wont forget!
His blue eyes widened and he struggled to pull himself out of her grip. She raised
her wand with her free hand and he looked at it fearfully.
No! he cried. You wouldnt do that to me!
Oh wouldnt I? she gritted.
Fine, youre right! I told Malfoy to keep away from you! But it was for your
own protection, dont you see?
She released him and shoved him away. Ron stumbled, but caught himself before
he fell.
For my own protection? she yelled. What can you possibly be trying to
protect me from? Im nearly eighteen years old, Ronald! Ive been of age for months.
You arent trying to protect me from anything! Youre just being bloody selfish and you
know it!
Ron glared at her. No, Im trying to protect you from yourself! You seem to
think that Malfoy is oh-so-good, now! How can you possibly feel that way, after the way
hes treated you? The way hes treated us? Hes rotten to the core and he always will
be!
She shook her head. Youre wrong. You accuse me of being blind, yet you are
the one that refuses to believe your own eyes. Look at what hes gone through and tell
me you still believe hes a Death Eater!
Ive been deceived before and I dont plan to fall for it again! Ron shouted.
Peter Pettigrew pretended to be my damned pet for twelve years, so no! Im not going
to trust that Draco Malfoy has suddenly turned into our best friend after six bloody days!
Youre telling me that everything hes done has been part of an elaborate ruse?
Ron groaned and shook his head. Probably not everything. I think running into
Greyback was unexpected, but yeah, I think it was pretty convenient that Wormtail
snatched him up and took him into the forest. Its totally possible that was prearranged.
Even though Draco looked more like Harry at the time, as well as the fact that
Wormtail could just as easily have snatched Harry Potter himself? Think for a moment,
Ronald. Stop trying to justify your hatred.
I dont need to justify it! Ron snarled. I can hate him without any justification
at all. But dont you find it interesting that he managed to warn you about your parents,
but he couldnt do anything to tell us about the Burrow?
Hermione couldnt explain that, so she didnt try. Maybe Malfoy could have told
them and chose not to. She only had Dracos word that he hadnt known in time. She
sighed.
I dont know, Ron. If youre determined to hate him, then so be it. But leave me
out of your machinations from now on.
Machinations? Now, Im the bad guy for trying to keep you from getting hurt?
How am I in danger of being hurt, Ron? she asked placidly. Ron scowled and
kicked at an invisible piece of debris on the floor.
I dont know, he muttered. It just seems like youre spending an awful lot of
time with Malfoy. What happens if you fall in love with the bastard, or something?
Then I suppose Ill have my little heart crushed, wont I? She walked forward
and put her hands on Rons shoulders. Its my risk, Ron. You cant force people to feel
what you want them to feel.
Rons blue eyes reflected pain and defeat.
Youll never love me, then? he asked sadly.
I do love you, she insisted, gripping him tightly. Very much. Just not in a
romantic, passionate way.
I should never have gone with Lavender Brown, he said morosely. I only did
it to make you jealous.
She grinned. Well, you did seem to enjoy your neverending snogfest at the time,
Won.
He flushed. It wasnt her I wanted to kiss, at all. It was you.
I know. She sighed. Time has a way of changing everything, doesnt it?
Ron suddenly put his hands on her waist, leaned down, and kissed her. He put
everything he had into it, sliding his hands up to pull her against him tightly. She didnt
resist, but she also felt nothing but a curious detachment. He released her with an
eloquent sigh of regret.
Nothing, eh? he asked as she stepped back.
Im so sorry, she said truthfully.
I bow to Malfoys superior power of attraction, damn him straight to hell.
Youll release him from whatever stupid vow he made?
Yes. Feel free to have yourself a snogfest, or whatever, he said bitterly. He
turned and started out. When he reached the door, she called to him.
Ron?
He paused. Yeah?
Thanks.
He said nothing and the door closed softly behind him.

* * * * *

An examination of McGonagalls office revealed no previously undiscovered


Gryffindor artifacts. Harry even removed Gryffindors sword and swung it
experimentally a few times. He brandished it toward Draco and hopped forward in a
mock feint.
Draco grabbed the blade with both palms and snatched it from Potters hand with
a quick twist. Harry looked momentarily disgruntled. Draco ignored him and flipped the
sword in the air. He caught it by the handle and looked at it curiously.
Typical Gryffindor ostentation. Gaudy design, Draco commented. He tossed it
back to Potter, hilt-first. But its no Horcrux. Harry scowled and returned the object to
its protective case.
Well, Dumbledore thought Voldemorts snake might be a Horcrux, he
commented. Draco snorted.
It would be pretty darned stupid to make a Horcrux out of a living being. If
thats the case, old Snake-face is a lot barmier than I gave him credit for. Just to be safe,
I say we chop the snake to pieces. He shuddered. I hate that bloody reptile.
We have to find it, first, Harry mentioned.
Give the Dark Lord time. Sooner or later, hell find you.
Id rather not sit around waiting for that day.
We need to locate the Ravenclaw bracelet, anyway.
Maybe Hermione has an idea, Harry said.
Can you send her one of those Patronus messages? How do you cast that,
anyway?
I probably should teach you. You could have signaled us from the forest. Id
rather not rely on Scrying in the future. Its a good thing Hermione found your comb, or
we would never have located you.
She took my comb?
Its in Firenzes room. I think we sort of left it there in our hurry to rescue you.
Bloody hell. Now, it probably has centaur contamination!
I doubt Firenze will use your comb, Harry said dryly.
If it did, youll be buying me a new one, Potter.
Ill buy you three if you shut up about the stupid comb.
Fine. Shall we get on with this spell? Draco demanded, making a mental note
to retrieve his comb and have a chat with Hermione Granger about nicking peoples
personal items. He loved that comb.
Potter walked him through the intricacies of the spell and showed him how to
insert the message at the correct point. To demonstrate, Harry cast his Patronus and the
silvery stag enveloped Draco for a moment while he absorbed the simple message.
Draco nodded. Quite clever.
Dumbledore invented it. Now, lets see you try it.
No thanks. Ive got the mechanics down. Should be a snap if the need arises.
Harry looked puzzled.
Why not just practice it?
Too tired, Draco said nonchalantly. It wasnt the real reason, but he was feeling
rather exhausted, even though hed slept most of the day. I think Ill go turn in.
Harry looked puzzled, but Draco had no intention of ever letting Potter get a
glimpse of his Patronus. Hed have to be flat on the ground with a werewolf carving a
furrow across his chest to even think of casting one. He grimaced at the memory.
Well figure out something tomorrow, eh Potter?
Malfoy, if you want you can stay in Gryffindor Tower. Everyone else will be
there. Luna cant stay in Ravenclaw Tower because the Order is there, and the
Hufflepuff dungeon is currently filled with Death Eaters, so
Draco paused at the notion and turned horrified eyes on Harry.
God, no! Ill stay in my nice, quiet, empty dungeon, if you dont mind. But
thanks for the offer.
Draco headed down the steps and back to his room.

He was astonished when he nearly ran down Hermione Granger in the Slytherin
common room. She came out of his room as he entered. They stared at each other in
shocked surprise for a moment.
Youve decided to transfer to Slytherin, then? he asked.
Actually, I just brought you some clothes. I set them on your bed, she replied.
What clothes? I thought I had quite run out of those. Did I suddenly acquire
some? Draco walked past her and looked at several paper-wrapped bundles that were
stacked on the end of his bed.
Yes. I knew you couldnt retrieve you own, and since you and Harry are nearly
the same size Well, I ordered some from Diagon Alley. They just arrived.
Draco looked at her measuringly and tore open one of the packages. Several silk
shirts spilled out in varying colors: pale green, grey, black, and buttercup yellow. He
held that one up questioningly.
Yellow?
I thought it would look nice with your hair, she said softly. He raised a brow at
the thought of Hermione pondering how he would look in different colors. A wicked
smiled curved his lips. Hermione gaze was flitting about the room as she looked
anywhere but directly at Draco.
I cant pay you for these, quite yet, he said.
I know. Actually, Harry sort of paid for them from his account.
He dropped the shirt and shot her a censured look. Harry Potter. Lovely. I hate
being in debt to Gryffindors.
Im a Gryffindor! she protested.
Yes, but youre different.
Now Im a different Gryffindor? Youre the one constantly telling me what a
typical Gryffindor I am. Which is it?
It seems to change from moment to moment, he decided flippantly.
She sighed deeply. I should go. I only came here to bring these to you, not to
become frustrated by your twisted logic.
My logic is perfectly straight.
She threw up her hands. I refuse to argue with you. Good night.
Granger wait.
Hermione paused, partially turned, and looked at him expectantly. He walked
forward quickly and stood painfully close to her in the manner he knew she hated. She
raised her eyes hesitantly.
Thanks for the clothes, he murmured.
She blushed and looked away. Youre welcome. She paused. You know, I
have something else that belongs to you.
She pulled the Galleon from her pocket and held it up by the braided cord of her
hair. It glinted in the flickering light from the lamps as it spun slowly. Do you want it
back?
Yes.
She tugged out her wand and then reached up to slide the cord around his neck.
He nearly forgot to breathe as she leaned into him. Her wrist brushed the side of his
throat and she gripped both broken ends together with one hand. She tapped it with her
wand and murmured a repair spell. Her fingers caressed his skin in a feather light touch
as she released the braid.
You know, Ive just decided something, he said thickly.
Whats that?
To hell with Weasley.
His arms embraced her and his mouth crushed down on hers. She gave a sigh of
what sounded like pure relief and he felt her hands slide upward into his hair. God, she
tasted incredible. He teased her lips with his, trying to pace himself and resisting the urge
to turn and drag her onto his bed. His hands caressed her back and he felt a delicious
shudder run through her frame.
Her hands were in his hair and pressed against the back of his neck, holding him
against her as she returned his kiss eagerly. Her breath was hot where it mingled with
his. Bloody hell, she wanted him as much as he wanted her! His racing pulse thundered
in his temples.
He broke their kiss and staggered against her suddenly, overcome with weakness.
She gasped and held him up while he regained his balance.
Draco! You idiot, when was the last time you ate anything?
He warmed at the sound of his name, even though shed followed it with an
insult. I dont recall. Last time that Pomfrey woman fed me, I suppose.
Damn it, you need to eat to regain your strength. You should probably be taking
potions, as well. Now, lie down.
Id rather pick up where we left off a moment ago.
She blushed. As would I, but we really dont need you fainting away when the
blood leaves your brain, do we?
Malfoys dont faint, he grumbled, but he sat down on the edge of the bed,
feeling blackness licking at the edges of his vision. He was hungry, now that shed
mentioned food.
Get undressed and Ill fetch you a tray.
He raised a brow at her words and suppressed a grin. I dont think I can undress
myself. Im feeling quite weak.
She looked at him suspiciously. He tried to look helpless.
I dont believe you for a minute, she said, but she reached for the arms of his
shirt, anyway. She succeeded in stretching the material and finally knelt slightly to grasp
the fabric around his waist. Hermione pulled the white shirt up and over his head and
then stared at him for a moment. Draco grinned wickedly as her eyes skimmed over his
frame and back up to his hair, which currently crackled around his head in an electric
halo. She looked at him with something akin to panic.
Dont stop now, youre doing so well.
I cant, she whispered.
He chuckled. I know; the sight of me will cause you to lose all control and
pounce on me in a frenzy of lust, right?
Ill be right back with your tray, she said hoarsely and scurried out.
Draco slipped out of his trousers and relaxed back on the pillows. He smoothed
his hair down, wishing he had remembered to fetch his comb. He pulled the blankets
modestly up to his chest and then pushed them down to a handspan beneath his navel,
thankful that his abdomen was flat as a board. He put both hands behind his head and
whistled tonelessly while he waited for Hermione to return.
She nearly dropped the tray when she saw him.
Dont you have pajamas? she asked.
Malfoys dont sleep in pajamas.
Malfoys must catch their death in the winter. She propped the tray over his lap
rather brusquely. Eat everything. Madam Pomfrey had these ready for you. She sent
them to the kitchen to be taken with your dinner. She indicated two potion vials that
clanked against the bowl.
I refuse to take those without a glass of La Romanee-Conti. They taste
wretched.
Without a what? she asked blankly.
A house-elf suddenly popped into the room holding a glass of red wine. It bowed
low and handed the glass to Draco, who took it. The house-elf disappeared.
Useful little creatures, at times, he commented and sipped the glass. Hermione
rolled her eyes.
Dont even get me started on your appalling treatment of house-elves, she said
primly and began to fold his new clothing. She opened his trunk and started to put the
items away. Draco tucked into his food with the realization that he was famished.
Hermione had brought him a huge quantity of roast beef and boiled vegetables.
What is this? she asked, walking from his trunk and holding up a small black
book. Draco looked at it in surprise. Hed completely forgotten about it after tossing it
there when hed arrived.
Snape gave it to me. He said it was spells he didnt have time to teach me.
Hermione sat on the edge of Goyles bed and began to thumb through the book.
Draco warned, I wouldnt sit there if I were you. If you only knew what Goyle
did in that bed
She shot to her feet and moved quickly to sit on Dracos bed near his knee. In
moments, she was absorbed in the spell book. Draco finished his plate, drained the
potions, and sipped at the last of his wine while he watched her. He was pleasantly full,
nicely warmed by the alcohol, and perfectly content for the first time in a long while.
These are really advanced. Most of them are horrible, she commented. He
leaned over and plucked the book from her hands. He tossed it on the bedside table.
Read later. Remove this tray, wench, and lets get back to kissing.
She scowled at him, but lifted the tray and set it on Goyles bed.
No more kissing. You need to rest.
Wont you stay with me? Just for awhile? he asked softly. He read an agony of
indecision on her face and her teeth nibbled at her lower lip for a moment. He added, I
promise not to touch you. I really am tired.
You promise? she asked dubiously.
Absolutely.
I hate it when you make insane ideas sound perfectly reasonable.
It is reasonable. Im weak as a kitten. Now, come here. He lifted the covers
invitingly. Amazingly, she kicked off her shoes and slid into bed next to him. She rested
her head on his chest. One hand splayed over the scar left by Greyback. Draco put his
arm around her shoulders and sighed in satisfaction. She traced the reddened line gently.
Does it hurt?
Not a bit. Useful birds, phoenixes.
He pressed his lips against her hair and breathed in the damned apple scent of her,
wondering what the consequences would be of breaking two promises in one night. In
the end, he was simply too tired to do any promise breaking and dropped off to sleep with
the reassuring feel of Hermione pressed against him.

Chapter Thirty Eight Wedding Plans

Hermione woke slowly to the delightful sensation of being wrapped in Dracos


arms. She pondered leaving for all of five seconds, but realized she couldnt have moved
if she wanted to. Her head was lying over Dracos left arm and her hair was trapped
quite firmly beneath him. His chin rested against the top of her head and his right arm
was flung carelessly over her chest. His right leg lay across her hips, effectively trapping
her beneath his delicious warmth. The room was dreadfully cold, she realized.
Her right arm was between them, though her palm lay upon her waist and the
edge of her hand touched Dracos bare thigh. Her other hand sat familiarly on his bicep.
She had nearly left him the night beforehad gotten out of bed quite late without
stirring him, but she had paused to look at him and that had been her undoing. His silver
hair had glinted in the candlelight and his features had looked so beautiful and
guileless She had sent Harry a quick Patronus message and transfigured her clothing
into pajamasdemure, warm, modest pajamasand gotten back into bed with Draco.
Now she listened to the even sound of his breathing and felt the steady movement
of his chest against her shoulder. She wondered what time it wasthe darkness of the
dungeon made it bloody difficult to determine that simple fact. She released Dracos arm
and raised her wrist to look at the glowing numbers on her watch face. 6:42.
The tiny movement was enough to wake him. The rhythm of his breathing
changed slightly and he tensed minutely, most likely in surprise.
You didnt leave, he murmured.
Apparently not. Did you want me to?
He chuckled. Definitely not.
How do you feel?
You tell me.
She giggled. You feel nice and warm.
I feel wonderful. Would you like me to show you?
Without waiting for her response, Draco levered himself downward in a lithe
motion and twisted himself about. The movement ended with him lying half-atop her.
His face hovered over hers for a moment and her heartbeat responded instantly to the
look in his silvery eyes. She felt like a foolish damsel that had wandered into the
dragons lair. When he lowered his mouth to hers, she found that she didnt care.
After several soul-stirring kisses, he asked, Do you think it was wise to stay here
with me? Hermione could barely breathe.
No, she admitted. It was probably the exact opposite of wise.
He made a noncommittal sound of agreement and proceeded to prove her words
true beyond the shadow of a doubt.
An hour later, Hermiones body alternated between icy cold and blisteringly hot.
Tremors of mindless desire enveloped her with a nearly physical pain; and all Draco had
done was kiss her. She would never have imagined the variety of things one could do
with lips, tongue, and teeth, but Draco could have written volumes on the subject. His
hands had remained clamped firmly on either side of her waistshe marveled at his self-
control and cursed him for toying with her. Hermiones restraint was completely gone.
Her hands alternately twisted in his silken hair or gripped the smooth skin of his back and
shoulders.
Just when she thought she couldnt take it any more, when she was nearing the
point of beggingfor what, she wasnt surehe drew a ragged breath and kissed his
way down her neck. Her relief was short-lived.
She didnt stop him when his hands slipped up to undo the first few buttons of her
top. She didnt want to stop him. He followed his hands with his lips, button by button,
until he reached her navel. His tongue plunged into the hollow and she gasped sharply
and arched against him as a new form of desire flooded her senses.
Incredibly, he raised his head. His eyes looked like dusky pools in the near-
darkness.
So, he asked casually, What shall we do today?
The incongruous question couldnt quite penetrate Hermiones fogged mind.
I imagine we can either go search for Horcruxes, or stay here where I can spend
a few hours driving you half-mad with indescribable ecstacy.
Hermione thought her heart would stop for a moment and she struggled to find
her voice.
Hours? was all she managed in a hoarse tone.
She could make out the twist of his incredible, talented lips as he smiled
wickedly.
Of course. You should know Im not the type to pleasure myself, roll over, and
light up a cigar while giving you a dismissive pat on the fanny Its far more satisfying
to bring you to the pinnacle of delight over and over and over. With each
repetition, his tongue dipped into her navel and she shuddered, having no difficulty
believing his words. He chuckled.
I She couldnt seem to form a coherent thought. She knew she should
choose the sensible route. Stop him from hours of driving her half-mad with
indescribable ecstacy. Although she really couldnt think of a valid reason why, at the
moment.
He laid his cheek against her belly for a moment and her hand touched his sleek
hair tenderly. She felt a sudden rush of something that wasnt desire. Something
stronger and even more terrifying. She swallowed hard and refused to acknowledge it.
Draco sighed.
Hermione held her breath when he raised his head again. His tongue touched her
skin once more, sliding upward over the hill of her ribcage, caressing her breastbone, and
followed the links of the chain around her neck. His breath was hot in her ear as he
nibbled it with his teeth, sending shivers down her spine again.
Youre not quite ready for this, are you? he asked. His voice wasnt amused or
accusatory or disappointedit was simply matter-of-fact.
I dont think so, she managed shakily.
All right, Granger. Ill let you escape with your virtue intact. This time. The
words were tinged with amusement.
He pushed himself away from her and rested his head on the pillow. He left one
hand on her stomach and his fingertips brushed her ribcage in a teasing caress. She
began to fasten her buttons; glad he couldnt see the color of her cheeks in the dim light.
She tried to convince herself that she was relieved.
As I was asking, since you snuffed my first choicewhat shall we do today?
She forced herself not to think of his first choice.
I do have one idea where we might find a Horcrux, but I dont think we should
tell Harry, she said in as normal a voice as possible.
Draco gasped in mock astonishment.
You? Keeping a secret from The Chosen One? Wont you have to turn in your
Gryffindor robes for such an offense?
She smacked him lightly on the bare chest.
I have a good reason. But, Ive been thinking
When are you not thinking?
She ignored that.
Ive been thinking about your parents.
Dracos hand on her skin ceased its motion.
What about them?
How safe do you think they are? Youve had some very close calls. What if
Wormtail or Greyback had escaped to Voldemort with the news that you were alive?
What do you think would happen to them?
I try not to think about it, he admitted. But I dont know where they are.
Which reminds mehow did you find me when I was in the forest?
I used a Scrying pool. Well, Firenze did, actually.
Dracos features twisted. The bloody centaur?
She scowled. Yes, the bloody centaur. If not for Firenze, you would have been
a werewolfs dinner.
No, Fenrir had other plans for me, Draco said absently.
What do you have against centaurs, anyway? They are intelligent living beings.
So are Cornish Pixies, but that doesnt make them any less revolting.
Centaurs are not revolting!
Draco sneered. Half-man, half-horse? Think about it! Its a perversion of
nature.
Hermione sat up in annoyance and climbed out of his bed. She was almost
grateful that they had returned to the comfortable state of continual disagreement.
Your bigotry knows no bounds, she snapped and transfigured her clothing back
into jeans and a T-shirt. She sat down and tugged her shoes on. Draco hadnt moved.
She didnt need to look at him to know he was watching her with his patented annoying
smirk.
She grabbed her wand and lit several candles before she walked to the dressing
table and snatched up his comb. She yanked it through her tangled locks.
Nice of you to return my comb, he commented.
I didnt want you to have a panic attack when you noticed it missing.
Her eyes touched his in the mirror and she laughed at his expression. She
carefully pulled the accumulated hair from the silver comb and vanished it before
dropping the comb back onto the table.
Im going to get some breakfast. Are you coming? she asked.
Ill be along.
She shrugged and started out.
Hey, Granger?
She paused and looked back at him.
Your shirtwhat does it mean?
Hermione blinked at him. She had unthinkingly turned her shirt into a duplicate
of one of her favorites. It said ADIDAS. Almost, she told him the truththat it was a
Muggle company that made shoes. Instead, she grinned wickedly.
Its an acronym. It stands for All Day I Dream About Sex.
She went out and Dracos incredible laugh followed her. She smiled. He was
maddening, but so utterly damned attractive. She began to think virtue was overrated.
Hours. God.

* * * * *

Draco watched Hermione leave and the bemused smiled stayed on his lips. He
still couldnt quite resolve his astonishment at finding her in his bed. She was braver
than hed thought. His smile vanished at the memory of her warm and willing beneath
him. Shed tested his control to its very limit. He wasnt quite sure why hed stopped.
After all, it had been Hermiones decision to stay. She probably wouldnt even have
blamed himafterward.
He realized he didnt want to take the chance. Hermione Granger would never be
anyones casual shag. Draco wasnt quite certain he wanted to sign on for the alternative:
Commitment. Relationship. All that crap. He shuddered.
He swung his feet to the floor and sat up, pleased to note that a wave of dizziness
did not accompany the motion. Pomfreys potions seemed to be working. Draco rose
and rifled through his new clothing. He spread several outfits out on the bed, admitting
that Granger had some bloody good taste where he was concerned. She was even right
about the yellowit would probably look fabulous on him.
Draco wasnt quite ready to dispense with his brooding image, so he chose a silk
shirt of charcoal grey and black trousers. He added a black cashmere jumper just because
he liked the feel of it. He wet his hair from the nearby pitcher and carefully combed his
golden locks back into place, trying not to think about Hermione tangling it in a mindless
frenzy.
Damn. Hed probably have to go find Weasley and make some sort of amends.
Hed not only broken his promise, hed drop-kicked it off the parapet and watched it
smash into smithereens. Draco grinned. Well, it had been worth it.
He walked into the Great Hall, ignored everyone gathered within, and sat down at
his usual spot. A huge array of food magically appeared before him and he ate while
casting a glance about the room. No one seemed to have noticed him, as they were all
gathered near the teachers table. Fleur Delacour was the current center of attention as
she held up a lacy and sequin-bedecked white gown. Draco noticed the group was
mainly femaleFleur, Molly Weasley, Hermione, the redheaded stick girl that Harry
liked, and Luna Lovegood. He assumed Susan Bones was off practicing her petulant
scowl.
The only other males present were Ron and Bill Weasley, and Bill was sidling
away as if trying to make an escape. Bill spotted Draco andto Malfoys surprise
quickly strode in his direction. Draco watched him suspiciously and sipped his tea,
wondering if he would have to suffer yet another Weasley tirade.
Bill sat down next to him and poured himself a cup.
Wedding plans, he commented and sighed. If a man has a brain, he just sits
back, smiles, and says, That sounds fabulous, dear. No matter the subject.
Draco didnt comment, deciding hed rather be back in Fenrirs cluches than stand
before an altar and willingly attach a permanent ball and chain to his ankle. Hermione
caught his eye at that moment and beamed at him, causing Draco to break out in
something of a cold sweat. He pushed his plate away.
Were going to have the wedding here, Bill continued. We planned to have it
at the Burrow, but thats not an option any longer. McGonagall says plenty of people
have married here during the summer. Popular location, apparently. Fleur cant decide
whether to have the ceremony in the courtyard, near the forest, near the lake, or God
knows what other location. She wasnt too pleased when I mentioned we could have it in
the Slytherin dungeon for all I care. Thats when I knew it was time to retreat.
Draco said nothing, wondering why Weasley was talking to him at all. He
noticed Ron standing near the women, clearing wishing he could escape, also, but not at
all thrilled with the option Bill had chosenDracos company. Malfoy returned his gaze
to Bill, who was clearly the handsomest of the Weasley clan, even with the jagged group
of scars that marred one side of his face. His hair was coppery and pulled back into a
lengthy ponytail. His blue eyes slanted to meet Dracos.
If youre finished, will you take a walk with me?
Draco shrugged and nodded. Bill rose and Malfoy followed, cocking a brow
when they headed for the entrance to the Hufflepuff dungeon. The corridors were dark,
but not nearly as mazelike as on the Slytherin side. Cressets flared into light ahead of
them as they walked. Before long, they stood before a barred gate. The walls glowed
magically with a bluish light and Draco watched as Fenrir Greyback got to his feet and
walked to the bars to peer out at them.
Visitors, eh? Why, if it isnt little Malfoy and a Weasley. Greybacks eyes
narrowed at Bill in recognition. Draco felt a sudden odd kinship with the tall Weasley.
He realized that he and Bill might be the only two of Fenrirs victims that hadnt been
killed or turned into werewolves. Back for more?
Bill didnt speak, but the look in his eyes was cold. He turned and continued up
the corridor. Draco looked at Fenrir for a moment longer. Captivity didnt seem to have
affected the werewolf much. Greybacks fangs showed in a horrible smile.
Just a few more days, Draco. A few more days and these bars wont hold me.
Then, Ill be looking for you and your new little friends. Your tasty flesh will be mine,
Malfoy. All mine. A hand snatched through the bars, grabbing at Draco, who wasnt
the least surprised at the action. The sharp nails clawed the air a few inches from Dracos
chest. He glared at the werewolf.
I dont think so, he said and followed Bill, who had stopped at another cell four
doors down. Bill entered and Draco looked inside curiously. A sturdy table had been
placed in the room and Dracos iron cage rested atop it. Wormtail still scrabbled around
inside. Bill bent down to look through the bars at the squeaking rat.
Nice job on the lock, Bill commented. Draco remembered that this Weasley
worked at Gringotts and likely had a passable knowledge of locks.
Im glad to see no one has let him out.
Bill shook his head. He spent years and years as a rat. As far as Im concerned,
he can stay that way. Some of the others think he could lead us to Voldemort.
No. Even if they let him out and kept him from bolting through a rathole, Im
sure the Dark Lord has placed enough safeguard spells on him that hed be a gibbering
mound of flesh before he could spill any secrets.
Look, hes been scraping at the bars.
Draco bent close and spied a dusting of iron shavings on the table. Wormtail had
been using his silver paw to try and cut through the bars. Draco grinned.
Magic hand on iron bars? Bet that hurts, eh Pettigrew?
The rat leaped at him and bared its teeth. Draco waggled a finger at him
temptingly, just near enough so Wormtail couldnt reach him.
Temper, temper, Draco cautioned. He straightened up and looked at Bill.
Why did you bring me here?
I dont know. Ron is always talking about you like youre evil incarnate. I
figured he was either terribly jealous, or in madly love with you.
Draco choked for a moment and had to cough a few times to get his breathing
back to normal.
What?
Bill laughed. Well, you never know. Dont worry; I think its simple jealousy.
We would have seen signs of the other thing by now.
Lets bloody well hope so!
Weasley laughed again. Youre all right in my book, Malfoy. Want to come to
the wedding?
When is it?
Bills laugh was contagious this time.
Damned if I can remember.

Chapter Thirty Eight Bonus - Percy

Lucius was sick to death of dirt. He wanted to go home, forcibly oust the bloody
squatters that had most likely moved in since their departure, take a scalding bath, put on
his silk dressing gown, pour a glass of cognac, make love to his wife, and climb between
the 600 thread-count Egyptian combed cotton sheets on his own feather bed.
Instead, he flung himself down on the hard pallet that lay on the floor of the filthy
cave next to Narcissa. Her beautiful blonde hair had been pulled back into a tight horses
tail and there was a smudge of grime on her cheek. She looked tired, but smiled at him
wanly.
I abhor camping, she commented as Lucius wiped at the dirt on her face with a
tender thumb. Lucius had to laugh. They had taken Draco camping only once, when he
was six, and he had proven to detest camping as much as his mother. He had complained
about the dirt, the insects, the birds, the weather, the food, and his interminable boredom
until Lucius had Apparated them to Paris for the remainder of the weekend just to shut
him up.
Hopefully this wont take much longer, he said. Narcissa scooted behind him
to massage his shoulders. Lucius had spent the day with the other lucky Death Eaters
levitating and shifting tons of rock. They had been at it for days, trying to clear a tunnel
that had been blocked for decades.
When clear, the passage would lead directly into the Chamber of Secrets beneath
Hogwarts. From there, Voldemort planned to launch his offensive.
He was in a bloody rage today, Lucius commented.
I know. Snape told me.
Did he tell you why?
Narcissas lips touched the side of his neck and her arms slid down to caress his
chest as she pressed herself against his back. He sighed deeply and recalled his fantasy
of returning home. He and Narcissa currently shared their cave with Lars and McNair.
They had barely had a moments privacy in weeks. Even at Malfoy Manor, that fucking
snake had been in almost constant attendance.
Apparently, both Fenrir Greyback and Wormtail have disappeared, she
murmured.
Lucius gripped both of her hands and pressed kisses against her knuckles while he
digested the news. He grinned. Incredible. Those two, as well as Alecto and Amycus?
That had to hurt.
Snape thinks Wormtail might have turned traitor.
That coward? He would never cross the Dark Lord now that Dumbledore is
gone. Hed be far too bloody frightened of the repercussions. No, hes been taken.
Do you think it was Draco? she murmured in his ear, so quietly he could barely
hear her. They had an unspoken agreement not to discuss their son, knowing it was
dangerous. Far better to pretend they thought Draco was dead.
Possibly.
Lucius closed his eyes, feeling a fresh surge of frustration. If he had been alone,
he would have walked out on Voldemorts wretched plan and Apparated to the
Caribbean. The snaky bastard had guaranteed Luciuss loyalty by clamping an anti-
Disapparation band around Narcissas wrist. Any attempt to remove it would alert
Voldemort.
The only way Narcissa would be fleeing the Dark Lord was afoot. Lucius could
only guess what other unpleasant tricks had been spelled into the bracelet. Regardless,
Narcissa was trapped and with her, Lucius.
You should leave me here and go help our little ray of sunshine, she murmured,
using her pet phrase for Draco. He turned slightly and pulled her into his lap. He kissed
her perfect lips and slid his hands over her body, feeling the pinch of his tightly-leashed
passion when she clung to him.
You know Ill never leave you, he whispered against her mouth. And so does
he.
She held him tightly and pushed one hand up into his hair, which had pulled
mostly free of the leather thong that bound it. He buried his face in her neck and drank in
the feel of her.
Bloody hell, get a room! McNair guffawed, stomping into the cave and
throwing himself on another pallet. Oh, I forgot. Ye cant! He laughed heartily.
Thats okay, Ill watch.
Go fuck yourself, Lucius said harshly.
McNair sneered at him and sprawled out on his blankets. Lars entered and
collapsed on his own blankets.
This is crap, he grumbled. Digging is for trolls. Or goblins. Cant he get
some bleeding goblins down here to do this shite?
Goblins aint getting involved, McNair put in. They say its a wizard war.
Dont care who wins.
Some war, Lars spat. We havent done anything productive in days. Only the
damned werewolves get to have any fun.
Not anymore, Lucius commented. Greyback disappeared. The other two
Death Eaters stared at him. Lars whistled.
Probably got himself Avada Kedavraed by an angry parent.
Lucius hoped that were true. Hed seen the way Fenrir had watched Draco. The
werewolf was a sick bastard. If they got out of this alive, Lucius planned to take out
Fenrir. No matter who won, the werewolf was going to be a casualty. Lucius would see
to it personally.
Snape strolled into the cave and gazed at them with his usual smug superiority.
His eyes softened a bit as they took in Narcissa and Lucius suppressed a grin. The poor,
greasy bastard had been lusting after his wife for as long as Lucius could remember.
Narcissa felt sorry for him, and even genuinely liked the little cretin, so Lucius had
encouraged their relationship. It made Lucius seem very magnanimous and trusting. In
addition, it allowed Snape to pass on valuable information to the Malfoysformerly
anything of interest at Hogwarts or with the Order of the Phoenix, and now within
Voldemorts inner circle.
The Dark Lord wants to see you, Snape said to Lucius.
Now? Lucius snarled. It had been a bloody long day spent excavating and
Lucius wanted only to lie on his rock-hard pallet next to his gorgeous wife and go to
sleep.
No, the next time its convenient for you, Snape returned sarcastically. Of
course now.
Lucius sighed and slid Narcissa back onto the makeshift bed. She gave him a
smile of encouragement to hide her concern. He squeezed her hand in reassurance and
then got to his feet. He paused next to Snape.
Stay with Narcissa, wont you? he asked quietly. I dont trust those two
heathens.
Snape looked at Lars and McNair and nodded. The former Potions master
walked over and sat down next to Narcissa.
Lucius looked back once and saw their two heads, one bright and one dark, bent
together. For the briefest moment, he wondered if Narcissa would seek solace in Snapes
embrace, should Lucius never return. He shook off the idea. Best not to think dark
thoughts before a meeting with Voldemort.
The Dark Lords current lair was accessed by a devilishly tricky maze of
passages. Lucius nearly took a wrong turn twice and hurried to enter the large cave. The
encroaching darkness made the chamber seem over larger, for the place was lit only by a
single firepit in the center of the floor.
The Dark Lord had taken Luciuss favorite chair from the parlour at Malfoy
Manor and it now rested in the dirt of the cave, near the fire. Several burn marks on the
upholstery displayed its proximity to random sparks. Lucius clamped his teeth together
in annoyance.
Voldemort was not immediately visible, but Lucius could sense his presence. He
stood impassively before the firepit and waited. Before long, a hissing noise preceded the
snake as Nagini slithered from the darkness to curl around the legs of the chair.
The Dark Lord followed and seated himself. He held his bone-white wand in a
pale hand and tipped his reptilian face to regard Lucius.
How goes our project, old friend? Voldemort asked, stressing the final two
words a bit. Lucius knew the bastard had already received a detailed report from Snape,
but he kept his face impassive.
I dont know, my lord, Lucius said. It seems to go well, but I do not know
how much longer until our goal is met.
Oh, it wont be long now, Voldemort hissed. Not long at all.
Lucius waited, quite certain the shifty bastard had not called him here to discuss
dirt digging.
Wormtail has disappeared.
Lucius did not bother to pretend surprise.
Turncoat, or dead? he asked.
He had better be dead, Voldemort said and caressed his wand in a somewhat
obscene manner. If he knows what is good for him.
Lucius did not care a jot about Wormtail. He would like nothing better than to
stamp on his ratlike head. The fucking little shit was the one responsible for bringing this
slithering horror back into the world.
I sent him to deliver some instructions to Fenrir Greyback. I have not heard
from either of them and my instructions have not been carried out, Voldemort went on.
Lucius said nothing, knowing the point would be arrived at, eventually. It is of little
matter, however. They were meant to be a diversion. The plan will yet be carried out. I
would send you to lead them, but Im not entirely certain of your undying loyalty,
Lucius.
Of course you have my loyalty, my lord, Lucius said, making certain the truth
rang in his voice. Voldemort waved the comment aside with a flick of his skeletal hand.
Yes, yes. Ill have your loyalty as long as I keep your pretty wife under lock and
key. Tell me, is your son alive?
The question came from nowhere and Lucius felt the probe of the Dark Lords
mind, sharp as a dagger, beneath his penetrating gaze.
I believe so, my lord, he replied honestly. But that my simply be a fathers
wishful thinking.
Where is he? Voldemort demanded.
I dont know, Lucius replied, for once glad of the fact. Voldemorts presence
withdrew from his mind.
I hope, for your sake, that Draco has not betrayed me.
He would not do that with his mother in your care. Inwardly, Lucius
wondered what Draco was up to and if Wormtails disappearance had been his doing. He
hoped his son would be extremely cautious.
We shall see, Voldemort said cryptically. Ive sent Bella to fetch something
for me. I believe she has returned.
A moment later, Bellatrix Lestrange entered the cavern with a guest. Her hand
was wrapped firmly in the red hair at the base of Percy Weasleys neck. She dragged him
into the room. To his credit, he made no sound, though his eyes were bright with tears of
pain and wide with poorly-masked fear.
Such a dedicated little Weasel, Bella crooned as she flung Percy next to the
Dark Lords chair. Percy fell to his knees, but climbed quickly to his feet.
The other Weasels have gone to ground, except those wretched twins in Diagon
Alley. That shop of theirs is near-impenetrable. But this oneconveniently working late
hours at the Ministry all alone. So dedicated.
As she spoke, she walked forward and gripped Percys chin in her fingers. He
glared at her and tried to jerk away, but she squeezed and her nails dug into his flesh.
Horrid little blood traitor! Bellatrix hissed. Where is Harry Potter? She
raised her wand and placed the tip against Percys cheek, pressing it hard against his
cheekbone and twisting it slightly.
Percy suddenly shoved her with both hands and Bella stumbled backward and
nearly fell. Her nails left bloody scratches on Weasleys jaw.
You dare? she shrieked and leveled her wand at him. Green light shot out and
enveloped Percy, who screamed as the Cruciatus Curse flung him, writhing, to the
ground. Voldemort watched impassively.
The torture went on for quite some time and Bellatrix was whipping herself into a
sickening frenzy of glee. Lucius was revolted. It was hard to believe the sadistic creature
was related to his gentle wife.
Voldemort finally raised a hand.
Enough, Bella. He needs to retain the ability to speak.
Lucius wasnt certain the Dark Lord had stopped it in time. Percy was on the
floor in a fetal position, sobbing piteously and whining, No more no more
Bella crouched beside him and forced him to look at her.
Where is Harry Potter? she repeated. A shudder ran through Weasleys tortured
frame, but he shut his eyes. His bloody jaw clenched tightly in defiance. A Gryffindor to
the end. Bella stood up in a rage and pointed her wand again with a snarl, but
Voldemorts voice stopped her.
Easy, Bella. There are subtler ways.
The Dark Lord had to have known torture wouldnt work, even on the weakest
Weasley. He had simply let Bellatrix Crucio the boy for pleasure. She reluctantly
lowered the wand.
Lucius, fetch Severus. Tell him to bring Veritaserum.
Lucius obediently went back to the cave to fetch Snape. He and Narcissa
followed when Snape returned to Voldemorts audience.
Lucius and Bella held Percy tightly while Snape tipped the potion into his mouth
and forced Weasley to swallow. They waited a bit for the potion to take effect and then
Voldemort asked, Now, where is Harry Potter?
At Hogwarts, Percy said in a slurred tone.
Hogwarts! Voldemort breathed.
Are you sure? asked Bellatrix.
Percy nodded like a doll with a broken neck. His head lolled.
I saw him there, myself, Percy said.
Do you know Draco Malfoy? Voldemort asked suddenly. Lucius felt his blood
run cold.
Yes.
Have you seen him?
Yes, Percy replied and giggled strangely. He has black hair.
Lucius nearly sagged in relief.
He obviously does not know Draco, Lucius commented to the Dark Lord.
Voldemort scowled. Apparently not. Where are my missing Death Eaters?
Where is Fenrir Greyback?
Prisoner of the Order of the Phoenix, Percy replied. Fenrir is locked up at
Hogwarts.
Wormtail? The Carrows?
The same. All together.
Voldemort steepled his fingers together.
Excellent. Snape, throw Weasley into the pit. But gentlywe may yet have a
use for him.

Chapter Thirty Nine Snapes Message

Draco and Bill bypassed Fenrir, ignoring the werewolfs angry slurs and grasping
claws. On the way out, Draco looked at Bill Weasley.
Do you think the bars will hold? When he changes?
I dont know. Lupin would, maybe.
Ill put Granger on it. If anyone can come up with a solution to keep Greyback
contained, she will.
Bill shot him a sidelong glance.
I thought you hated her.
To his horrified chagrin, Draco felt himself flush. Not exactly.
They walked back to the Great Hall. To Dracos relief, others had arrived to
dilute the female content of the room, including Potter, Longbottom, and the Weasley
twins. Susan Bones had apparently crawled out of her wolverine hole and Remus Lupin
was teasing the strange girl whose hair was lime green today. She smacked Lupin
playfully on the arm, blushing. Draco was somewhat surprised at that. He had always
assumed Lupin favored the gents. Like Bill had said, you never knew.
Fleur had put the dress away, but most of the girls were still gathered around the
table, no doubt gushing over foolish mundanities such as flowers, ribbons, and shoe
colors. Dracos mother had often wrapped herself up in such feminine details. As a boy,
Draco had been dragged to more horrifying weddings, baby showers, and other girlish
functions than he cared to remember.
Luna spied Draco and left the giggling gaggle to force a pleased hug on him. He
couldnt decide whether or not he appreciated Lunas unreserved acceptance. Of all
Harry Potters underlings, she had been the first to forgive Dracos past. She stepped
back and looked at Bill seriously.
Fleur is considering royal blue for the dress robes.
Bad idea, Draco said without thinking. If the ceremony is outside on a warm
day, it will be beastly hot. The wedding party will faint away. Shed better stick with
pastels His voice trailed away.
Luna nodded solemnly and Bill clapped him on the shoulder.
Youd better come with me. I think youve spent too much time in the company
of women, lately.
About to take him up on the offer, Draco was halted when a silver Patronus
streaked into the room and enveloped him. When the mist dissipated, he noticed
everyone was staring at him in shocked silence.
Snape! That was Snapes Patronus! one of the Weasley twins yelled. The
room erupted into pandemonium. Susan Bones leaped to her feet.
I knew it! she yelled.
She was joined by Ginny Weasley, who glared at Draco with hands on her hips.
McGonagall hurried over and her heels clicked rapidly on the hard floor.
What did he want, Mr. Malfoy? she asked sharply.
Yes, what did he want? Susan demanded. Are you planning to let more Death
Eaters into the school? Who are you plotting to kill this time? Harry Potter?
Hermione raced past the others and stood next to Draco. She latched onto his
arm. He wanted to shake her off and confront the angry hoard alone in his growing rage,
but he was secretly relieved at her show of support.
Stop it! she cried. You dont understand!
Then let him explain, Hermione, Lupin said reasonably. Was that not Severus
Snapes Patronus?
You know it was! Fred or George yelled.
Weve seen that bloody panther enough times to know, the other twin added.
Speak up, Mr. Malfoy, McGonagall commanded in her professor voice. What
was his message?
Draco glared at them all. He didnt dare disclose the contents of the message to
this raving group of do-gooders. Hermione sensed his reluctance and her grip tightened.
Take him downstairs with the other bloody Death Eaters! Susan yelled angrily.
Better to be safe than let him betray us again!
Several shouts, both in agreement and otherwise, followed her words. Fred and
George raised their wands. Draco reached for his own, fighting Hermiones grip as he
did so.
Harry Potter suddenly leaped in front of Draco with arms outstretched, as if to
safeguard Malfoy from harm.
Leave him alone! Potter yelled in a voice that locked everyone into a frozen
tableau. I trust Malfoy and no one will be dragging him off to join Fenrir Greyback and
the Carrows! Now, back off! Harrys wand was out. While he wasnt actually
threatening his friends, the potential was there.
But Harry Lupin began.
Hermione, take Malfoy outside. Ill be out in a minute, Harry ordered.
Hermione pulled at Dracos arm. He resisted for a moment, but then Bill Weasley
stepped up to stand beside Harry. The Weasley siblings looked at him in shaken surprise.
Draco allowed Hermione to tow him outside, reflecting that it was shaping up to be a
very unusual day. Who would have suspected he would actually like a Weasley?
They walked down the steps outside and headed for Hagrids hut, but stopped
near the bush where they had previously argued. Hermione released Draco and pulled a
leaf from the bush thoughtfully. She didnt speak.
Snape wants me to meet him, Draco said. She looked at him.
Meet him? Where? And why?
He didnt say why. He wants to meet this afternoon. Three o clock. At
Stonehenge.
Stonehenge? Why there?
Draco shrugged. That was the whole message.
At this time of year, it will be packed with Muggle tourists. Thats probably the
pointits a public place and the likelihood of running into other wizards is slim,
Hermione rationalized.
Snape knows Ive been there. He took the whole of Slytherin House there once,
to show us how to brew Pepperup Potion. It required gathering sacred dust during the
Winter Solstice.
Hermione looked indignant. Snape showed you how to brew Pepperup Potion?
Sure. He gave us plenty of off-hours instruction. Why do you think all the
Slytherins passed Potions? Even Crabbe and Goyle?
I thought it was simple favoritism. I didnt know he was actually helping you.
Thats like cheating!
Draco grinned. Only a Gryffindor would look at it like that.
The front doors opened and Harry Potter stalked out to join them, followed by
Ron Weasley. Harrys hand was already gripping his hair.
One, two, three, Draco counted. Potter scowled at Draco as he approached.
Lovely. Now the Order is highly suspicious, thinking Im collaborating with
Death Eaters. Me!
Four, five. Draco placidly redelivered Snapes message.
Well, that couldnt have come at a worse time, Harry said and tugged. Six.
What do you suppose he wants?
I dont know, but it must be important for him to risk a Patronus.
Right. Why didnt he just send an owl?
Not enough time? Hermione suggested. If hes surrounded by Death Eaters,
he might have only had a moment. And owls can be intercepted.
The door opened again to reveal Neville Longbottom and Luna Lovegood. They
paused for a moment and then moved to join their group.
Whatever youre doing, Neville said, Were in.
Were not doing anything, Ron replied evasively.
Of course we are. Were going to meet Snape, said Hermione.
Now, wait a minute Harry and Draco said together. They glanced at each
other in puzzlement.
Oh, thats just great, Ron spat. It was bad enough when they only looked like
each other.
The Order is going to be watching us like eagles spying field mice. After our
last escapade, they wont let me within fifty meters of the front gates, Harry said. Seven.
Youll just have to stay behind, Harry, Hermione said. She held up a hand
when he would have argued. Youre going to have to deal with Lupin. Tell him
whatever you need tooeven the truth, if necessary. We cant afford not to meet
Snape.
Im going alone, Draco said firmly. Hermione smiled at him as though he were
a silly child.
Of course youre not. We have no idea what Snapes motives are. This could be
a trap, for all we know. Voldemort may have found out that Snape helped you; he could
be under an Imperius Curse; it could be any number of things. We are going with you.
A muscle in Dracos jaw twitched and he looked at Potter through accusatory
eyes. Harry nodded.
Yeah, its nearly impossible to argue with her. You might as well give in and
save yourself some hair.
Then its settled. Well make ourselves conspicuous until noon and then well
slip out and meet over behind Hagrids hut. Well have to skirt the forest to reach the
wall. Once over, we can Disapparate from there. Ron, are you coming?
Weasley nodded, although his expression suggested he was only going along to
keep a suspicious eye on Draco.
Im coming, too, Neville said.
Me, too! Luna cried. Draco looked sidelong at her.
I thought you refused to Apparate.
Luna tossed her head airily. This is an emergency. As long as no one tells my
father, Ill do it. As long as Hermione takes me through. I trust her not to splinch me.
You trust her not to splinch you? Now you tell us. Couldnt you have
mentioned that in Dover?
Luna waved away Dracos shout. We had plenty of time in Dover. Besides, it
gave us time to get to know each other better. She moved forward and took Dracos
bicep before she leaned close and whispered in his ear. Remember the Muggle cab?
Wasnt it romantic?
Draco shot Hermione a pained glare when she giggled.
Does she really have to come? he pleaded.
Well, what if we run into a Crumple-Horned Snorkack? Hermione asked drolly.
Of course we wont! Theyre only in Sweden, Luna scoffed. She pressed a
kiss against Dracos jaw. See you at noon, Puffskein.
She wandered back toward the castle. Neville looked at Draco in bewilderment,
but said nothing as he turned to follow Luna. Hermione was struggling to contain her
laughter. Harry kept his expression carefully neutral. As Luna and Neville approached
the doors, they burst open and Ginny Weasley stalked through them. Her glare was icy.
Uh oh, youre in trouble now, Potter, Draco said. Eight. Nine. Potters hair
was standing out in all directions.
I guess Id better go do some damage control, Harry said grimly. Malfoy,
since chaos follows you around like a specter, do you think you can stay out of trouble
for awhile? Please?
Ill try, darling, Draco said meekly and batted his lashes. Harry glared at him.
Ten, eleven, twelve. Harry sighed and stalked off to placate Ginny. Draco tsked after
him.
He could do so much better than the redheaded stick girl, Draco muttered.
Sorry, Weasley. Rons glare was more venomous than usual. I know shes your
sister, but God, what a horror.
Can you drop the subject? Ron snapped. Draco shrugged.
Suit yourself. Hes your friend. If you want him to be henpecked by that
budding harpy
Draco! Hermione said warningly. He gave her a smile guaranteed to melt a
block of ice and saw the breath hitch in her throat.
Actually, Weasley, we need to have a little chat. Now. He looked pointedly at
Hermione. She looked from one of them to the other and then shrugged and headed for
the school, leaving Ron and Draco to stare at each other in uncomfortable silence.
Look, Weasley Draco began.
I release you from your vow, Ron blurted. Draco blinked at him for a moment
in surprise.
What did you say?
I release you. You dont have to stay away from Hermione; since its obvious
she wont stay away from you, anyway.
Draco watched Ron curiously while he assimilated the astonishing news.
Weasleys face resembled that of someone whod bitten into a lemon.
Well, Draco said finally, somewhat at a loss for words. He had been steeling
himself all morning to confess to Ron and now the point was moot. Draco grinned.
Of course, if you hurt her in any way, I will figure out how to return the favor,
Ron threatened, trying to sound fierce. Strangely, Draco kept thinking of Bill Weasleys
words while gauging Rons expression.
I consider myself duly warned, Draco said mildly.
Im not joking, Malfoy! Weasley snarled. Dracos grin widened even though
he wasnt intentionally trying to provoke Weasley. He was just happy.
Understood, he said crisply. He thought about saluting. Rons hand twitched,
likely itching to reach for his wand. Malfoy decided it was time to depart. Hermione
waited for him near the doors. Harry and Ginny were yelling a distance awayfar
enough that their voices could not be heard.
Doesnt it warm your cockles to see such a happy couple? Draco asked.
Hermione elbowed him in the ribs. Draco rubbed the spot and gave her a wounded look.
I bruise easily, you know!
Of course. You and your flawless skin. What did you and Ron talk about?
Weasley gave me permission to snog you whenever I like.
He did what?
The competition was too much for him. Hes withdrawn from the race. First
intelligent thing hes done in a long while, actually.
Withdrawn from the race, Hermione repeated. Her voice was flat.
To the victor go the spoils and all that, Draco quipped. Want to come back to
my room with me? He dropped the teasing timbre from his voice and watched gleefully
when her eyes darkened and a flush crept into her cheeks.
Absolutely not.
Liar.
Hermione huffed in exasperation and went inside. Draco watched the bickering
couple for a moment before he entered the castle and retreated to the Slytherin common
room. Best to avoid angry Order membersand that lunatic Susan Bonesfor awhile.

Hagrid was tending his garden when Draco and the others converged just beyond
the fence. He looked at them suspiciously, staring particularly long and hard at Draco.
Whatre you lot up ter? he asked Hermione gruffly as he brushed the dirt from
his hands and walked over to lean on the fence. It creaked dangerously.
Just going for a walk, Hermione said brightly and Draco nearly clapped a hand
to his forehead. Never leave the lying to a Gryffindor.
Bloody hell, Granger, just tell him the truth, he snapped. Were going into the
forest to gather Panther Caps for a potion Granger wants to brew. It might help us locate
the Dark Lord.
Hagrids thick brows rose.
What yer want ter do that for?
Dracos eyes narrowed at the gormless, half-giant imbecile.
Do you recall that hes trying to kill us? he asked slowly, as if speaking to a
very small, very stupid, child. Hermione gave him a disapproving look.
Course I do!
Its probably a good idea to find him before he attacks again, dont you think,
Hagrid? Neville asked before Draco could utter a scathing reply.
Hagrid sighed, apparently realizing he couldnt argue with all of them. I spose.
Dont wander far in there. Them centaurs is all anti-wizard at the moment. If ye need
help, just send a Patronus.
Thank you, Hagrid, Hermione said. Well be careful. Her voice was
dripping with guilt, but thankfully Hagrid was too dense to pick up on it. The
gamekeeper waved and went back to digging in his dirt.
They didnt venture far into the forest, as none of them had any inclination to
encounter any of the forest denizens. They finally reached the wall and Hermione
levitated them over without effort.
I dont meet with Snape until three, Draco said. What are we going to do for
two hours? Sightsee?
No, we need to make a stop first. Ron, were going to Godrics Hollow. You
take Neville through and Ill take Luna. Ill come back for Draco.
Godrics Hollow? Ron looked taken aback. Why there?
Ill explain when we get there. Lets go.
The four of them popped out of existence and Draco glanced around, hoping
Hermione could find her way back. He didnt see any prominent landmarksjust wall,
trees, and bushes.
She Apparated in front of him and stepped closer to grip his shoulders. Not one
to miss an opportunity, Draco slid his hands around her waist and pulled her close to steal
a kiss. She relaxed against him for a moment with a sigh and then pushed him away with
a palm to his chest.
Behave! she admonished, but a smile played about her lips and her eyes
sparkled. Were on a mission.
Im just trying to keep you from getting bored.
Merely being near you is enough to guarantee that, she said wryly. She flicked
her wand and they were yanked away.
They appeared near the tumbled ruins of a house that was surprisingly reminiscent
of Regulus Blacks final residence. Other than the brief flash of memory, the place
meant nothing to Draco. Hermione did not explain. She skirted the ruins and led the way
up the road to a shabby, overgrown cemetery. One pair of graves was well-tended and
Draco sobered when he read the names on the headstones. He suddenly realized the
significance of the house.
Hermione knelt next to Lily Potters grave as though paying her respects. The
others watched silently. After a long moment, she got to her feet and looked at Draco
with an ashen expression.
I think I know where Rowena Ravenclaws bracelet is.

Chapter Forty Dracos Fan Club

Draco was mortified. Thats low, even by the Dark Lords standards.
I suspected it last time we were here, Hermione said. It looked as if the soil
had been disturbed somewhat recently. I didnt want Harry to know, for obvious
reasons.
How the hell are we going to get it out of there?
Ron was watching them both. His complexion was ashen.
What are you talking about? Neville asked in confusion.
Hermione looked at him gravely. We think there is something buried in Lily
Potters grave that is important to Voldemort. Something we need to retrieve and
destroy.
Neville was aghast. But, thats thats sick!
Hermione nodded. Quite his style, though. It would amuse Voldemort to defile
the grave of the woman who brought his worst enemy into the world. Especially if you
consider the effect it would have on Harry.
Are you positive about this? Draco asked. For reply, Hermione cast a spell. A
glowing webwork of lines hovered over the grave and disappeared into the ground.
Draco swore lightly.
What is it? Ron asked.
Some sort of warding. Hermione passed her hand through a glowing line with
no effect. It wont be triggered by surface movement, but I bet the minute we try
moving the dirt well be surrounded by Death Eaters. Or Voldemort himself.
What if we approached it from a different angle? Draco suggested. Like we
did at the Riddle house?
Hermione looked around. You mean dig beyond the ward lines and then angle
toward the grave?
He nodded.
The wards likely extend all the way around the coffin. That would be a lot of
digging, too. Id rather break the spell.
Can you? Ron asked.
I think so. It would be similar to the working we did with with the Cup.
Contain and dissipate.
We cant do it now.
Of course not. We havent the time, for one thing. Nor are we prepared. Well
have to come back.
When?
Better sooner than later, but well have to do so without alerting Harry, or the
Order of the Phoenix. Neville can stand in for Harry. Since Luna hates to Apparate, she
can stay behind and keep an eye on Harry. Tonight is too soonwe need to gather
supplies and I need to research these wards.
You know there will be other traps in place, as well, Draco commented. She
nodded.
Well have to be prepared for anything.
All right then, Draco said. Lets concentrate on the meeting with Snape. Im
not sure I want him to know Ive been making nice with Harry Potter. As you said, we
have no grasp of his motives. His hatred of The Boy Who Lived has always seemed
genuine.
The four of us will hang back, out of sight. You can signal if you need us.
Hermione touched the coin on her chest. Draco shook his head.
If it is a trap, there will be Death Eaters hanging about, as well. Its too bad we
didnt think to use Polyjuice Potionyou could all impersonate Muggles.
Maybe we can, anyway. Enough to pass cursory inspection, that is. How many
Death Eaters can recognize us on sight? Except for Lucius Malfoy, none of them has
more than a passing acquaintance with any of us.
Ron laughed shortly. Yeah, passing over several blasts from a wand while they
were trying to kill us.
Exactly. Now, how did you swap hair colors with Harry? That will be a good
start.
Draco spent the next forty minutes playing hairdresser, and having far too much
fun with it, he admitted to himself. They tried several hair colors on Hermione and
finally settled on platinum blonde. She worked on straightening it while Draco moved on
to Luna. Draco had to conjure a mirror for her so she could admire her new mouse-
brown hair streaked with pink and violet.
Are you sure Muggles do this to their hair? Draco asked Hermione dubiously.
She wont draw a second glance, Hermione assured him. Neville was given a
similar treatment with hair a vibrant shade of lime green that Hermione teased into wild
spikes. She transfigured his clothing into black leather with silver studs. Longbottom
was mortified, but utterly unrecognizable. Luna giggled at him.
You two look a pair, Hermione commented. She gave Luna a short black shirt
overlaid with black organza and fishnet stockings. A hot pink tank top was covered with
a long black jacket. Luna admired herself in the mirror from every angle.
Then it was Rons turn. He and Draco glared at each other.
Too bad we cant get rid of Weasleys freckles. We could shave him bald and it
would still be obvious hes a Weasley.
Maybe we can get rid of them, Hermione said thoughtfully.
Ron looked worried. What are you going to do? he asked nervously.
Dont worry, its just makeup.
She produced a small round case and proceeded to powder Weasleys face
which wasnt easy since he squirmed like an eight-year-old the entire time. Draco
marveled at the bickering the two exchanged. How could Weasley even think to be
romantic toward Hermione? She acted more like his mum than a girlfriend.
It bloody stinks! Ron protested.
I dont care if its Eau de Skunk, its working. Or would be if youd hold still.
How long can this take? Youve been over my nose six times.
Well, you have a lot of freckles there!
If I wrinkle my nose, my whole face will crack.
Then dont wrinkle your nose, dimwit.
Dont call me dimwit. Gaaah! You got some in my mouth! It tastes awful!
If you would shut up, you wouldnt get it in your mouth. Now hold still!
How do you girls wear this crap? Its horrid.
Hermione sighed in exasperation, but finally finished and looked at her handiwork
with a grin at Draco.
Not bad, he admitted and tapped Weasley on the head with his wand. A bit
harder than warranted, perhaps. Weasley glared. His hair turned pitch black. For some
reason, he still looks like a Weasel.
Hermione conjured some gel and slicked Rons hair straight back. Then she
turned his clothing into a black Muggle suit and tie. She giggled at the outcome.
Thats better. You look like a young funeral home director. Or a used car
salesman.
Draco and Ron looked at each other in incomprehension, but neither asked. It
was enough that Ron was no longer identifiable. Neither was Hermione. With her hair
straightened, it now hung far below her waist. She made a stunning blonde. She had
changed her clothing into a short, pale green dress with a high waist and delicate pink
flowers. White sandals covered her feet. She topped the outfit with a white jacket to
hold her wand. She wouldnt have looked out of place at one of his mothers garden
parties, except that no witch would ever be caught dead in a skirt that short.
What about you, Malfoy? Ron asked. Draco shook his head.
Why bother? I dont want Snape scrutinizing every face looking for me. If its
to be a trap, Id rather be the bait than the catch.
How are we going to Apparate to Stonehenge in broad daylight? Popping out of
nowhere is certain to give the Muggles a fright and send the Ministry seeking our blood.
It doesnt help that the damned place is on a bloody flat, barren plain.
There are a few trees, though. Do you recall? A rather long walk, granted, but
we have time.
Draco sighed. No help for it. Weasley, have you been there?
Ron nodded. Yeah. I think I remember the trees, too. I can get there.
Longbottom?
Its been too long. I barely recall the stones.
Ill take you through, then. Hermione can take the flibbertigibbet. Shall we?

They appeared at various places along a copse of trees. Draco and Neville could
see Weasley, who was several meters away disentangling himself from a bush. Draco
could not spot Hermione, but he could hear Luna laughing nearby. They followed the
sound and found the two girls climbing out of a muddy bog. Luna had left her shoes
behind in the mud and was stomping happily in the muck.
This feels great! she called, waving excitedly at Draco. You should try it!
Some mud has healing properties, you know.
Hermiones expression was the exact opposite of Lunas and her lips were set in a
white line.
The only properties in this mud are sheep droppings! Hermione growled. She
staggered out of the mire and cleaned off her legs and shoes with a sharp snap of her
wand.
If youve finished wallowing, Luna, can we please get moving? she snapped.
Luna reluctantly joined her on dry land and Hermione levitated Lunas missing black
boots from the bog and Scourgified them. She did the same to Lunas feet and the
Ravenclaw girl threw herself on the ground to replace the boots, heedless of the twigs and
debris that attached to her skirt.
Ron had caught up to them.
We should probably not arrive together, Hermione suggested. Draco, you go
first. But, be careful, of course. We seem to be right near the road, so just follow it. Ron
and I will go next. Neville, you and Luna wait a few minutes and then trail us.
Draco started off and quickly reached the road. Hed only been walking a couple
of minutes when a small car screeched to a halt next to him. Four Muggle girls were
packed into the tiny car. One of them leaned out the window.
Hey, gorgeous! You want a lift? The other three girls whooped and laughed
loudly. Draco smiled. A moment later, he was wedged in the back seat between two
voluptuous girls. The driver kept winking at him in the rear-view and the girl in the
passenger seat had turned herself about to face him.
So, going to Stonehenge, then? she asked. He nodded.
The one on his left had a kinky mass of red hair and she wore something
resembling a black bra covered in torn red netting that revealed more cleavage than it
concealed. Her eyes were lined in black and her lips were bright red. She leaned against
him and crooned in his ear.
What you doin all alone, peach?
The one on his right was blonde and similarly dressed, but in glaring violet and
orange.
Were on holiday, she said. Girls day out.
Were definitely out! the brunette passenger cried and hooted.
Whats your name? the driver asked.
Devlin Whitehorn, Draco replied quickly.
Nice name, love, the redhead said and gave his knee a squeeze. Draco decided
to have a long talk with his father one day. Hed been raised with some serious
misconceptions about Muggles. If hed known Muggle girls behaved this way, hed have
abandoned the wizarding world every holiday.
Thus accompanied by four adoring fans, Draco made his way to the Stonehenge
monoliths. He walked to the very center of the circle and looked carefully around for
Snape, although it was still early. The two girls from the back seat were still clinging to
his arms.
The redhead looked around in disappointment.
This is it, then? A bunch o rocks?
A bunch o rocks! Its history! Wheres your sense o pride? Our ancestors had
to haul these bloomin things ere and stack em up like this!
What for?
No one knows.
The redhead shook her curly locks. Can we leave? Lets take Devlin ere back
to Salisbury and party.
How bout it, Devlin? the driver asked.
Sorry, girls. Im meeting a man here.
The redhead released him. A man? Dont tell me youre a woofter!
Say it aint so! the blonde cried. That would be a crushin blow to girls
everywhere!
You dont go for the gents, do you, Dev? the brunette asked.
No, Draco assured them. Definitely not.
The four girls swarmed on him in glee and it was at that particular moment that
Hermione arrived in the center of the circle. Draco was somewhat surprised the four
Muggle girls did not erupt into puffs of smoke from the heat of her glare. She marched
straight over to Draco.
Hello, darling, he said before she could speak. I got here a bit ahead of
schedule.
Apparently, she said through clenched teeth. Who are your little friends?
The girls began to back off. The redhead was indignant.
Devlin, you fibber! She looks awfully female, for a man.
Youd better keep an eye on this one, dearie, the blonde warned Hermione.
Es a tricky one.
Ive noticed, Hermione said glacially.
Easy come, easy go, the driver quipped. Lets go, girls. Nice meeting you,
Devlin, you naughty boy.
They skirted Hermione and pranced, giggling, down the path. Draco grinned
innocently.
They gave me a ride.
Ill bet.
They seem to like me.
No doubt.
Should you be seen standing here with me?
Im certain I was barely noticeable among your giggling admirers.
Which have departed.
Try not to attract any others. Ill be over there, with Ronald. Lurking. He
watched her stalk away in high dudgeon and turned his attention to the rocks as though
fascinated. Every so often, he would chuckle to himself.

Chapter Forty One Grave News

Draco was bored out of his mind by the time Snape arrived. The Muggle girl had
been rightStonehenge or not, they were rocks. They were only interesting for about
twelve minutes.
Snape walked out from among the stones and Draco assumed he had boldly
Apparated somewhere close by. He was surprised to see Snape in Muggle clothing.
Snape wore black trousers similar to Draco's, and a high-necked black shirt with long
sleeves. The outfit looked far too warm for the balmy summer day, but Snape was
probably immune to discomfort.
Snape's eyes flitted from person to person as he approached Draco, alert for
anything. There was no recognition in his eyes when his gaze passed over Neville and
Luna. Hermione and Ron were out of sight.
You're looking well, Draco, Snape said with something that vaguely resembled
a smile.
I'm doing all right, Draco replied. Better than I was trapped in my room at
Malfoy Manor, at any rate. He followed Snape's lead by scanning the area, alert for
Death Eaters or other potential danger.
Your mother asked me to bring you a message.
How is she? Draco asked quickly. Snape grimaced.
As well as can be expected.
And Father?
The same. Snape jerked his head sharply. There are too many Muggles here.
Walk with me.
Snape turned and Draco flicked a glance at Hermione, barely visible now in the
shadow of one of the stones. He shrugged and followed Snape. As soon as they were out
of sight of onlookers, Snape turned, gripped Draco's shoulder, and Disapparated them.
Draco staggered a bit when they arrived at their new destination. After a moment
of disorientation, he realized they were on a pier. He scowled at Snape.
You could have bloody warned me before taking me through like that, he
snapped. Snape shrugged.
You should know by now you can trust me, Draco. This place is away from
prying eyes and Muggles.
A sound made them start and they realized a man was walking down the pier
toward them. He carried a fishing pole and tackle box.
You were saying? Draco said blandly.
The man approached and Draco saw he was a rather old, somewhat pudgy
gentleman in a flannel shirt.
Hey, lads! Where did ye come from? Thought I 'ad the place all to meself
today, I did. You 'ere fer the fishin'? As he approached, he seemed to notice they
carried no gear at all. His brows beetled down. Now, ye ain't them damn environmental
types, are ye?
When the man was three meters away, Snape pulled out his wand and downed
him with a single blast of green light. He looked around carefully to make certain the
man had been alone. There were no others signs of life along the barren coast.
Damnable Mudbloods, Snape growled. They multiply like rabbits. You
cannot go anywhere without running into a nest of them. Too bad Voldemort was lying
about exterminating them. He laughed sharply. Or not lying, exactly. He just plans to
exterminate the rest of us, as well. The bloody half-blood freak.
Draco was taken aback. He'd never heard Snape spew such pureblood venom
before, and decided it would be a bad idea to mention Snape's own half-blood ancestry.
He tried to ignore the fallen Muggle, as Snape did when he walked casually farther down
the pier toward the water.
The Dark Lord is keeping a close eye on your parents, especially in light of the
curious disappearances of four Death Eaters, recently. You wouldn't know anything
about that, I suppose?
Snape's black eyes glinted with merriment. Draco was well aware of Snape's
ability as a Legilimens, but he didn't get the impression Snape was using it.
Which four? Draco asked casually.
It doesn't matter. I can't stay long. I've left Goyle and Avery in a stupor and I
must get back in time to modify their memories. I've come to warn you, although there is
a limit to what I am allowed to say. You know he's placed his version of the Fidelius
Curse upon us.
Where are my parents?
That, of course, is one of those closely guarded secrets. I can tell you, however,
that he plans to attack the Ministry of Magic.
When? And why is that knowledge not protected by the Charm?
Within the next few days. The Dark Lord did not bother to silence us because
too many Death Eaters are aware of the plot. What they do not know is that the attack is
merely a diversion. The Dark Lord does not care if it succeeds or not.
A diversion for what?
The Galleon on his chest suddenly grew hot. Draco wondered if it would be
possible to send a message without touching the coin. Then again, he was touching it
with his skin
I'm fine, he sent to Hermione. I'll be right back.
It's difficult to answer direct questions, Draco, Snape said and Malfoy had to
backtrack his thoughts for a moment. The Ministry attack a diversion. Instead,
perhaps you should ask yourself what the Dark Lord wants.
The words brought back Draco's conversation with his father. Voldemort wanted
the Ministry of Magic crushed. And Hogwarts.
If it helps, the Dark Lord knows where Harry Potter is, Snape said.
The breath caught in Draco's throat for a moment, but he did not let the surprise
register on his face. Everyone knows where Harry Potter is. In London.
Not anymore. He fled his little hiding place for somewhere that I am not, at the
moment, at liberty to mention.
Draco swallowed hard, suddenly knowing where Voldemort was planning to go.
How will he get in?
Snape laughed without humor. I knew you would figure it out. You have
always been a sharp lad. You remind me so much of me, when I was your age. Except
you have an idealistic streak that I never quite managed. In that way, you are far more
like my foolish Snape's jaw clamped shut so fast it nearly clicked.
Like who?
Never mind. As you were asking, the Dark Lord will not be walking up to the
front gates. Nor will he use a Vanishing Cabinet. Did you happen to use the information
I sent with you?
Draco nodded. I found the item at the Riddle House. It has been destroyed.
For the first time, Snape stared at him with something akin to astonishment.
Are you certain?
Positive. It was Hufflepuff's Cup.
How did you destroy it? Snapes voice was sharp with excitement.
I'm certain you don't have the time for me to go into that explanation, Draco
said mildly. Added to the fact that Draco had no intention of telling him.
Snape sighed. True. I shall let your parents know that you are well. Your
mother asked me to tell you she hopes you will visit your relatives in France. To be safe,
of course.
Of course. You will not mention to her that I have no intention of doing that. I
don't suppose you know the whereabouts of any other Horcruxes?
Snape shook his head. No. The Dark Lord was certain to have something of
Gryffindor's. Probably Ravenclaw's, as well. But Dumbledore and I were never able to
locate them. Snape snorted. I sometimes miss the nagging old bastard. He had his
uses.
Why did you kill him? Draco asked suddenly. Snape's cheerful demeanor
evaporated.
Another tale we do not have the time for. Suffice it to say, it was necessary. I
wish you well, Draco. Know that I will protect your mother with my life.
He started to walk away, but Draco halted him. Professor Snape? he asked,
although the title was no longer relevant. Why are you helping us?
Snape walked to a black bundle that lay at the end of the pier. He rifled through it
and pulled out a Death Eater cape. Someday, it may all come clear, Draco. I have given
up or betrayed every single thing I ever held dear. To one purpose. But, your mother
was always my favorite Snape paused with a pained look. She was always kind to
me, even though she doesn't knowwill never knowthe truth.
What truth? Draco asked shortly, hoping he would not hear a declaration of
love for his mother. It was one thing to suspect it, but to hear it aloud
Snape laughed; a sound that was curiously full of real humor. Draco wasn't sure
he'd ever heard genuine amusement in Snape's voice before. The former Potions Master
had changed a lot since the incident on the Tower. Snape slung the robes about his
shoulders and fastened them at his throat. He grinned at Malfoy.
Draco, Draco, there are so many lies now it would take days to uncover them,
should I choose to disclose all my varied sins.
Snape flung the hood up to cover his lanky hair.
I wish you success. By the way, should you choose to return to Malfoy Manor,
beware the parlour and the basement. Those were the most likely areas for the Ministry
to search, so they were laid with several traps before we departed. The rest of the house
should be safe, but for prowling Ministry underlings and members of the Order of the
Phoenix.
Snape lifted a hand in farewall and Disapparated. Draco looked around and then
walked back to the fallen Muggle. He knelt and touched the man's neck. The fisherman
was dead. Draco stood up quickly and shuddered in distaste. He was not completely
certain he wanted Snape on his side. What had he said? He had given up or betrayed
every single thing he had ever cared about. Why would Draco and his family warrant
any better treatment? If Draco ever stood in the way of Snape's purposewhatever that
washe had little doubt he would end up similar to the Muggle stiffening at his feet.
Draco sent himself back to Stonehenge.

Draco appeared at the same spot from which he and Snape had departed. Luckily,
the only person to see him Apparate was Hermione, who had obviously been worriedly
waiting for him.
She flung herself on him and pressed her cheek against his.
Thank God! I was afraid it was a trap and we'd never see you again!
I'm certain some of you would be more than pleased at that eventuality.
Only Ron, Hermione admitted. Where did you go?
A deserted pier, Draco said, knowing he would never dare to mention the dead
Muggle to Hermione. He had a message from my Mother. She wants me to flee to
France and hide.
That was it?
No. Voldemort is planning an attack on the Ministry of Magic. He knows Harry
Potter is at Hogwarts. And he intends to attack there, as well.
Hermione's face drained of all color, making her look like a pale waif under the
blonde hair.
He told you all of that?
Not in so many words. He couldn't tell me about Hogwarts, but he gave me
enough hints to figure it out. Which means they have to be somewhere close to the
school, if a Fidelius Charm prevented him from speaking of it. The forest, perhaps?
That would explain why Wormtail and Greyback were meeting there.
That's terrifying, to think of him so close. How did he know Harry was there?
Draco frowned.
I didn't think to ask.
Are you certain they know he's at Hogwarts? Maybe they think he's at the
Headquarters of the Order? Snape would know where that was, even if he couldn't speak
of it.
Draco thought about it for a moment. He did say that Harry was at a place he
was not allowed to mention. I simply assumed he meant Hogwarts. Draco shook his
head. But then he said that the Dark Lord would not be entering by the front gate or a
Vanishing Cabinet. Why would he say that?
Ron approached, looking far too somber in black.
Finally got back from your secret rendezvous, eh? he snapped at Draco.
Yes, Weasel. We'd better get back to Hogwarts so that I can set my wicked
plans into motion.
Stop it, you two, Hermione growled. She gestured to Neville and Luna. They
waited for a lull in the Muggle tourists before Disapparating. Hermione took Luna
through, but the others took themselves back.
Draco felt somewhat vulnerable waiting outside the front gates of Hogwarts, but
this time there would be no Wormtail lurking in the bushes beside the road.
Not much point in sneaking out if we have to beg admittance each time we
return, Draco muttered.
Maybe we wont have to, Hermione said and tapped the locks with her wand.
After a moment, they clicked open and the chains drew back. She smiled at him with an
air of smug superiority.
I paid close attention last time Tonks opened them, she said pertly. They
quickly filed inside and the locks clicked behind them.
We should probably tell the Order about Snapes warning, Hermione said.
Of course. Hopefully they will start searching for the Dark Lord as long as
they can do it without drawing attention.
They paused partway back to restore their appearances to normal. Weasley
gratefully scrubbed the powder from his face.
You should consider leaving that on, Draco suggested.
Shut it, Malfoy, Ron snarled. Draco whacked him on the head to return his hair
to orange-red.
Ouch! Do you have to do that so bloody hard?
Yes, Weasel, I do. I really do.
Ron scowled and stalked into the building. Luna and Neville looked at Hermione,
who sighed.
Draco and I will go talk to Lupin and Harry. Well meet later to discuss retrieval
of of the bracelet. We cant let Harry get suspicious. I hate keeping this from him, but
I think its best, under the circumstances.
Ill go see if there are any books on warding in the library, Luna offered,
tossing her head. She had insisted on keeping the pink and purple streaks in her hair,
although she had allowed Draco to return the rest of it to normal.
Ill help you, Neville decided. I feel pretty useless.
If you two can find a way to break the wards, youll be far from useless,
Hermione said. Neville nodded and they went inside.
The Great Hall was crowded once more, and in a surprising uproar.
What did we do now? Draco asked.
I dont think it was us, this time, Hermione said worriedly. The others were
clustered around Molly Weasley, who was seated in a chair sobbing hysterically. Harry
noticed them and hurried over.
Whats happened? Hermione asked.
Rufus Scrimgeour was just here. They havent seen Percy Weasley since
yesterday evening. He stayed late at the Ministry to finish something and no one has
seen him since. They checked with his Ravenclaw girlfriend, but she hasnt seen him in
two days.
Hermione looked at Draco with a sick expression.
My God, Voldemort has him.
Dont even suggest that! Harry hissed. Mrs. Weasley is already hysterical,
blaming herself for not making more of an effort to reconcile with the pompous git.
Besides, we dont know for certain
Actually, I think we do, Hermione whispered. Snape mentioned to Draco that
Voldemort knows your whereabouts, and hinted that you were hereat Hogwarts. Percy
knows youre here.
He knows Im here, too, Draco said quietly.
Hermione clutched his hand.
They cant suspect youre working with us. I dont think Percy would volunteer
that information.
Why the hell wouldnt he? He despises me like all the other Weasleys well,
except one, apparently, but thats beside the point. He would hardly spill the news about
Potter willingly. They either tortured the information out of him or used Veritaserum.
Or a combination of the two, knowing the Dark Lord.
Well, now weve got even more incentive to find Voldemort. Weve got to save
Dracos parents and Percy.
If theres anything left to save, Draco said grimly.
Dont even think it, she said and squeezed his hand tightly. Snape would have
told you if your parents were in danger, right?
Draco sighed and nodded.
I think so, if Mother was in trouble, at any rate. He said hed die to save her, but
I wouldnt exactly trust his word, even about that. If her life stood in the way of his
grand purpose, hed sacrifice her with the rest of us. I have little doubt of that.
Well have to hope his purpose coincides with ours, for the time being.
What are you three whispering about over here? Lupin asked as he and Tonks
approached. Tonks looked at them curiously and tugged at her green hair.
Wotcher, cousin, she said and grinned at Draco.
Why do you keep calling me that? he asked sharply. Who are you?
Tonks giggled. Blimey, you dont remember me? Im not surprised, really.
You were only four when I was banned from your house forever for scaring you and
making you cry. Your dad hated my mum, anyway. Narcissa was forced to visit at our
house after that. Which she only did about once a year, for mums birthday.
It came to Draco in a rush.
Aunt Andromedas daughter, he gasped. Tonks had been a dirty word in the
Malfoy household, rarely mentioned after Andromeda had thumbed her nose at the Most
Noble and Ancient House of Black and married a Muggle.
Cracking good memory, coz, Tonks said.
I dont remember you at all.
She laughed. You probably blocked it. I wasnt very nice to you after you
called me a half-blood scum.
Draco flushed. Lupin looked from him to Tonks.
Id forgotten you two were related.
The Blacks and Malfoys have been trying to forget that, too.
Sorry, Draco said.
Dont worry about it. Im just glad youre finally coming around. Her gaze
flicked to his hand, still clasped in Hermiones, but Draco felt no compunction to let go.
We have some grave news, Hermione cut in. Best delivered in private.
They left the gathered Weasleys and went to the nearest private placeSnapes
old office.

Chapter Forty Two The Elven Council

Once inside the dark office, they each lit a few lamps to dispel the perpetual
gloom. Besides Snapes old chair, there were only two hardbacked wooden chairs before
the desk. Lupin took Snapes seat with a sigh and commented, I have the feeling I need
to be sitting down for this.
Tonks perched on one corner of the desk and looked at some of the bizarre items
Snape had left on his desk. Hermione marveled at the quantity of items Snape had left
behind. When hed left Hogwarts, hed taken nothing but his wand. She wondered if any
of his things held sentimental value. Or if Snape could even feel sentiment.
She sat down in one of the hard seats. Draco stood nearby, partially in shadow,
likely uncomfortable as he usually was in the presence of others. Harry paced.
Without further delay, Hermione launched into an explanation of where they had
goneleaving out their side trip to Godrics Hollow. Lupins lips thinned into an
irritated line when he heard they had departed the school unannounced yet again, but he
allowed her to finish without interruption. She felt quite guilty anyway, especially
considering they planned to sneak out again at the earliest opportunity.
Draco willingly repeated his conversation with Snape and they postulated a bit on
Snapes motives, without managing a satisfying explanation.
Maybe Voldemort killed someone he cared about, Tonks suggested.
I find it difficult to believe he could care enough about anyone to seek revenge
for over a decade, Lupin said.
He cares about Draco.
He seems to care about him, Harry snapped. With Snape, nothing can be taken
at face value.
His pacing was beginning to annoy Hermione. Harry, will you please sit down?
she asked. He stopped walking, but did not sit.
Well, the first order of business is to send a warning to the Ministry. They will
likely not heed it, particularly since we have only a vague caution, but at least we can
keep our own Ministry officials on the alert. Unfortunately, there are only a few of them
now.
Jack and I can trade off shifts. Kingsley and Arthur, too.
Try to spread as many rumors as you can to keep the sharper officials on their
toes. If word gets out, some of them will pay attention. The rest of us will start combing
the forest and try to locate some sign of Voldemort. Ill recruit Hagrid.
And Grawp, Harry interjected. Lupin cleared his throat.
And Grawp.
Moody will leap at the chance for some action. I think we should start in the
clearing where we found Dracomaybe we can figure out why he was taken there.
There was a long silence.
Why does it disturb me that you three are not leaping to volunteer for one duty or
another? Lupin asked.
Hermione flushed.
Im rather tired, Draco said dryly.
Would you let me help? Harry asked bitterly.
Probably not, but I think it is more likely that you are all up to something.
Someone needs to invent a charm that will set off an alarm the instant any of you get too
close to the outer wall.
Wed just figure out how to disarm it, Draco replied.
Lupin stood up. Yes, you probably would.
He and Tonks went out.
Draco was looking at the books lining the shelves.
Remarkably similar to the ones Snape had at home, he commented. Less
deadly, however. At least he didnt willingly allow some of the nastier volumes to fall
into student hands.
Wouldnt you have been first in line? Harry asked.
As long as it would have given me a weapon to use against you? Most likely.
Draco grinned. Harry shook his head wryly and tugged at his hair.
Do you think there is anything useful in here? Hermione asked.
Like what?
Like a list entitled Places I Already Seached for Horcruxes, Draco suggested.
Harry shot a mild Stinging Hex at him and Malfoy yelped and rubbed his arm. Watch it,
Potter.
Dont you think he would have told you if he had such a thing?
Not necessarily. Hes still a git. I think his need to destroy the Horcruxes wars
with his need to make it difficult for me.
Hes probably just jealous of your blinding good looks, Harry commented and
then made a gagging face.
Potters trying to hide the fact that hes in love with me, Draco said
conspiratorially to Hermione. You should see him grope me when were alone.
A second Stinging Hex followed the first and Malfoy said, Damn you! But he
grinned when he shot one at Harry, who leaped aside.
Will you two stop acting like children? Hermione snapped primly. Im sure
the Order went through this place a dozen times, trying to find a clue as to why Snape
killed Dumbledore.
Do you think hed write that down? Draco asked ingeniously. Hermione stood
up and glared at him.
You dont want me to give you a Stinging Hex, she warned.
Maybe I do, he said caressingly. She sighed in exasperation.
Draco was suddenly serious. Is there any chance Voldemort has accessed the
school? What if he found a weakness in the defenses?
We already checked, Harry said absently.
You checked the entire school?
We sort of cheated, Hermione admitted, realizing Draco did not know about the
Marauders Map. We should probably look again, Harry. Just to be safe.
All right. We should also go say something to Mrs. Weasley, first. Harry
pointed his wand at Malfoy. Dont say it.
Dont say what?
Whatever horrible, sarcastic comment you were about to make.
Draco clapped a hand to his chest. You wound me, Potter.
Lets go, Hermione said. I dont know how much more of this I can take.

As they began to enter the Great Hall, Fred and George Weasley stormed out.
Hermione, just who we were looking for, George said.
Ron says you found Malfoy by some scrying method, Fred continued.
We need to use it to find Percy.
Hes a bloody git.
But hes still our brother.
Do you have something that belongs to him? Hermione asked.
Of course.
I think we have something that belongs to everyone, Fred mentioned.
You never know when you might need it.
Even me? she asked indignantly.
Well, not you, said George.
Wed never nick anything of yours, Hermione.
Definitely not.
She looked at them suspiciously, but it was impossible to be cross with them,
even at their most maddening.
The scrying? Fred prodded. Hermione nodded and led them down the hall to
Firenze. Harry and Draco followed.
The centaur seemed glad to see themhe likely got very bored hanging out by
himself in a castleall except Draco, who stayed back as though Firenze had some sort
of contagious disease. The centaur still had the bowl and water was quickly fetched.
When it came time to drop in the object, Hermione gasped.
You took his Prefects badge? she snapped.
He foolishly left it out in the open, Fred protested.
We were just keeping it safe for him.
Hanging on that bare wall, in that flimsy frame, beneath that delicate glass
Why, anything could have happened to it!
Peace, children, Firenze ordered calmly.
Fred and George managed to not only stop chattering, but they were remarkably
quiet long enough for the bowl to ice over and an image to appear.
Hes alive! George cried. Percy was lying on the ground, looking dead but for
a hand he had flung up as if to ward off something. A guttering candle lay on the ground
nearby. His clothing was torn and dirty and his spectacles were missing. A nasty bruise
darkened one cheek and his chin seemed to be marred with dried blood.
Doesnt look too good, Fred commented.
Where the hell is he?
Looks like a cave.
Well, that narrows it down to about a hundred million places.
Hermione? Any ideas?
Firenze pulled the image back as far as possible, but only darkness was visible
beyond the rocky area surrounding Percy. She shook her head.
It could be anywhere.
They all sat in frustration for awhile, and then Firenze dispelled the image. Fred
and George launched into a discussion with Firenze about creating portable scrying pools
and Hermione walked back to join Draco.
Do you think we should scry for your parents?
His silver eyes went far away for a moment.
Id have to go home. I dont have anything that belongs to them.
Lupin would kill us if we left again this soon.
I dont think your centaur likes me, anyway.
I think its the other way around, she said dryly.
Well, it is a
She clapped a hand over his lips and hissed, Stop that!
He grabbed her hand and held it in place while he touched a tongue to her
fingertips. She shivered deliciously. He released her when Harry walked over.
Lets go get that map, he said. I should double-check the Pensieve memories,
to make sure I didnt miss anything. We have to find those Horcruxes.

They were on the third floor landing when a sharp pop halted them. Dobby stood
on the step above Harry. The house-elf goggled at Draco for a moment before narrowing
his eyes in an angry glare. Hermione realized she hadnt seen Dobby since the rescue of
Neville Longbottom.
Dobby must speak to Harry Potter. In private, he murmured loudly, shooting
suspicious glances at Malfoy.
Um Harry said.
Well wait for you in the Trophy Room, Hermione said with a gesture at the
nearby door. She grabbed Dracos hand and towed him into the room. Sconces sprang to
light when they entered, dimly illuminating the glass cases that lined the walls.
You just wanted to bring me in here to snog, didnt you? Draco asked
hopefully.
Hermiones pulse jumped at the thought. She grinned and looked at him sidelong,
but sobered when her attention was snagged by the prominent case at the end of the hall.
They walked forward to look at it soberly.
The Tri-Wizard Cup, she murmured.
The plaque beneath the cup had a memorial inscription for Cedric Diggory.
Is it still a Portkey? Draco asked.
No. Dumbledore fixed it. She sighed. I hate looking at it. So many horrible
memories. Lets go next door.
A connecting door led to the Armor Gallery, filled with sets of armor, weapons,
shields, and other accoutrements of war. She didnt think shed ever been in the room,
before.
Remind me to hurry here if the Death Eaters invade the school. Magic is fine,
but a fine length of steel is a nice backup. Draco admired a thin rapier with an intricate,
lace-like guard.
Hermione looked at a case containing a wicked looking morning star that bristled
with sharp metal spikes.
I cant imagine hitting someone with this, she said. Draco joined her.
I dont know, I think Snake-Face would look better with three-inch spikes
imbedded in the side of his head.
She chuckled. Good point. She laughed again and tapped the glass. Get it?
Point?
Draco groaned and grabbed her.
That was so bad I see I shall have to shut you up.
He turned her to face him and kissed her. He pressed her against the glass case.
That was a pleasant pursuit for a few minutes until she found herself drowning in sheer
bliss. She broke away and ducked under his arm.
Where are you going? he asked when she hurried to put another glass case
between them.
I cant think when you do that, she said breathlessly.
You dont have to think all the time, you know.
She watched as he peered through the case at her. Inside, a number of empty
scabbards had been propped upright to resemble a teepee. They were all beautiful
leather or wood wrapped in gold filigree, silver gilt, or enameled metal.
I wonder where the swords are, Draco commented casually as he sidled around
the case. Hermione moved when he did, keeping the case between them. She didnt trust
his casual interest in the scabbards.
Probably broken in battle, she replied.
What does the plaque say? he asked seriously. She bent to read it and Draco
bolted. She tried to run, realizing his trick, but it was too late. He caught her and slid his
arm around her waist.
You wont escape, now, he whispered and kissed her again. She gave in
thankfully and slid her hands into his hair. She would never tire of touching it. After
awhile, she admitted he was right. She didnt have to think all the time.

* * * * *

Harry and Dobby walked down the hall to the empty Charms classroom, which
reminded Harry that he needed to show Hermione and Draco the spells Fred and George
had developed.
Where have you been, Dobby? Harry asked, somewhat guiltily realizing he
hadnt even thought of the house-elf in days.
That is what I have come to tell Harry Potter, Dobby said seriously. Dobby
caught Kreacher when he left the house of nasty-bad Malfoy wizards. Kreacher fled, but
Dobby finally caught him. Dobby took Kreacher to the Elven Council.
Harry blinked at him.
The what?
The Elven Council. They are not house-elves. In fact, they hold us in contempt
for choosing to bond ourselves to a wizard household or family. Yet, we are bound by
their laws.
Dobby was unusually serious. Harry struggled to absorb the concept of elves that
were not like Dobby and the other subservient house-elves.
Did Kreacher break a law? An elven law?
Dobby nodded.
He betrayed Sirius Black and broke the covenant made with the Black household
by obeying Bellatrix Lestrange over you, the rightful master. However, there is some
question as to the legitimacy of your claim, Harry Potter. The elves are investigating.
What? You are saying I might not be the rightful owner of Grimmauld Place?
Harry sat down hard in Flitwicks chair. As much as he hated that house, it was
his only connection to Sirius.
Not by wizarding law! Dobby assured him. Only by elven law. Kreacher may
be forgiven for his crimes. In the meantime, they are keeping him. Elven law is
extremely slow where house-elves are concerned. They dont care about us.
Dobby sounded both sad and bitter. Harry was relieved.
Thats fine! Kreacher was more of a nuisance than a help. This way, at least he
wont be assisting the enemy.
Dobby nodded. Very good, yes, Harry Potter. The house-elfs tone hadnt
changed.
What is it? Harry asked in trepidation.
Dobby did not want to go to the Elven Council. Dobby did it for Harry Potter
to punish Kreacher for his betrayal.
But? Harry asked resignedly, knowing whenever Dobby did something to help
Harry Potter, it usually ended up a cocked-up catastrophe.
Dobby also betrayed his master. When Dobby was bound to the Malfoys.
Dobby betrayed them to help Harry Potter.
Harry gaped at him. But, you punished yourself every time you did anything
against the Malfoys! You nearly beat your own brains out against my bedpost!
Dobby scoffed. Small pain is not elven punishment. The Council is looking into
my crimes, also. Only because I am now free was I allowed to return to Harry Potter. I
must go back once the matter has been decided.
And if they find you guilty? What will happen?
I could be stripped of my magic. Or sentenced to a century of enslavement.
Dobby shuddered. Forest elves are horrible masters. They would make my time with
the Malfoys seem like a happy holiday.
Harry couldnt fathom such a thing. When will you know?
Dobby shrugged. A long while. As I said, elven justice moves slowly. I just
wanted Harry Potter to know.
Well, if there is anything I can do just tell me.
Dobby beamed. Thank you, Harry Potter! His eyes welled with tears that
Harry quickly staved off with a question.
We think Voldemort might be hanging around the forest or somewhere close by
Hogwarts. Do you want to do some spying for the Order?
Dobby nodded. Yes, of course, Harry Potter.
Well, go talk to Lupin, then. Im sure hell find somewhere for you to look.
Dobby disappeared.
Harry sighed. Elven Council. Another freakish complication he didnt need.

Chapter Forty Three Death Eaters

Hermione vaguely heard Harry calling them from the Trophy Room.
Draco was seated on the marble floor, leaning against the scabbard display and Hermione
was in his lap, pleasantly lost in a fog of bliss.
Harry's voice grew louder as he entered the Armor Room. Hermione fought her
way out of Draco's embrace with effort and stood up shakily.
Here! she called brightly. She took Dracos hand and pulled him to his feet,
surprised to note he looked just as dazed as she felt.
Harry blinked at them when he approached. Hermione giggled at Dracos
disheveled appearance.
Am I interrupting anything? Harry asked dryly.
Hermione shook her head, but Draco said, Yes. Can you make yourself
disappear, Potter?
Never mind, Hermione said. We were just looking at the displays. What
did Dobby have to say?
Harry frowned.
Malfoy, have you ever heard of the Elven Council?
Draco paused in smoothing his hair back to its normal perfection, although
Hermione thought he looked delectable with it hanging over his eyes in a silver curtain
Elven what? he asked.
Thats what I thought. It doesnt matter, at the moment. We were going to fetch
the map, remember?
What map? Draco snapped.
Youll see. Come on. The sooner we check this, the sooner you two can get
back to snogging.
Hermione blushed, but Draco laughed.
Smartest thing youve said all week, Potter.
They were nearly to the fourth floor landing when a cry from below halted them.
They stopped and peered over the railing at Ginny Weasley, who bolted up the steps,
looking agitated.
Hermione felt a sinking sensation, wondering if they received bad news of Percy.
Harry, come quickly! Ginny yelled when she was near enough to be heard.
Susan Bones just killed the Carrows!
She what?
Harry raced down the stairs two at a time, followed by Hermione and Draco.
She tried to get Greyback, too, but he kept dodging her Avada Kedavras. Nearly
blew his cell to pieces. Moody had to knock him out and move him.
The Great Hall had an atmosphere of shocked silence.
How did it happen? Hemione asked Fred and George, who stood nearby.
We came in here and announced that Percy was alive, said Fred.
Mum started going all to pieces again, knowing Percy was trapped somewhere,
George continued.
Possibly tortured.
Susan got up and walked out.
Hagrid came in from outside and heard the shouting.
Susan was screaming, calling them murderers.
By the time Hagrid tackled her, it was too late for the Carrows and Greyback
was pretty singed.
Too bad Hagrid wasnt a bit slower, Draco said dryly. No one contradicted
him.
And Wormtail? Hermione asked.
She doesnt know who or what he is. She let him be.
Another pity, Draco commented. We should have labeled his cage.
Where is Susan? asked Neville. He and Luna had come in to hear the tail end
of the story.
Sedated in the hospital wing, said Ginny.
Theyll have to turn her over to the Ministry, of course, said Fred.
McGonagall went to contact them.
Ill go sit with Susan, Neville said quietly. After what happened to my Gran, I
sort of understand how she feels.
Ill go with you, Luna said.
Bill Weasley stood up from where hed been sitting near his parents.
Since most of you are here now, he said, I have an announcement. We have
decided the wedding will be held August fifteenth, and the ceremony will be outside, near
the lake. You are, of course, all invited.
Fleur suddenly burst into tears and fled the Hall. Bill hurried after her. Draco
looked confused.
What? Now she doesnt want to get married? he asked. Hermione rolled her
eyes. Males were so dense, sometimes.
This is supposed to be the happiest time of her life, and look whats happened.
Percy kidnapped. Death Eaters everywhere. The Ministry in danger. Voldemort a
complete unknown of course shes upset.
Maybe they should postpone the wedding, Harry suggested.
Well, that would be admitting defeat, wouldnt it? Hermione said forcefully.
Ginny nodded.
Id better go talk to Ron, Harry decided. He and Ginny moved away.
Hermione looked at Draco seriously.
We have to go tonight, she said quietly. His silver gaze sharpened. I feel like
were running out of time.

Draco slipped out the large front door with a brief thought back to the number of
times hed crept out the same doors. Those days seemed so carefree and simple, now.
He hurried down the steps and around the side of the castle to find Ron Weasley
and Neville Longbottom waiting for him.
He hurried down the steps and around the side of the castle to find Ron Weasley
and Neville Longbottom waiting for him.
Wheres Granger?
Ron made a sound of disgust and even in the dark, Draco could picture him
rolling his eyes.
She stopped by the library again to check on something. If she could find a way
to bring the whole library along, she would.
Draco glanced at the sky. No stars were visible. Clouds had begun to roll in
shortly after dusk. Longbottom yawned.
Hermione finally hurried up.
Sorry, she said. Lets go.
They mounted broomsHermione rode with Draco by unspoken agreement and
he wished he had his own broom. It was back at Malfoy Manor. Even Weasleys broom
was better than the substandard school broom Draco rode. Luckily, the distance was
short. Once beyond the school walls, they Disapparated.

The graveyard near Godrics Hollow was creepy at night, which was most likely
true of all graveyards everywhere. Rain was spitting fitfully.
Perfect night for grave digging, Draco said cheerfully. Weasley gave him a
toxic glare.
Hermione had brought a backpack filled with supplies. Salt was useless in the
rain, but she had also brought sand. She poured it out into a pentagram around Lily
Potters grave. The candles were more challenging as it began to rain in earnest shortly
before they lit the candles. After they went out several times, Hermione commandeered a
nearby vase, broke it, and transfigured the pieces into covered holders for the candles.
Hermione had instructed Neville on his part earlier and he invoked his quarter
nervously, but managed not to stutter. Ron and Draco did theirs and when the circle was
complete Hermione pulled out her wand and began the complex incantation to cancel the
wards.
They quickly became soaked as they waited. Draco had worn a cloak, but the
hood did little to keep the rain off his face. He blew at a droplet of water that hovered on
his nose.
Hermione finally finished and quickly cast another spell. She sagged in relief.
I think it worked, she said. No ward lines.
Draco hadnt doubted her for a moment.
All right, lets get this dirt out of here.
Wait! I want to disturb the site as little as possible, Hermione said. Not just
because its the right thing to do, but I also dont want Voldemort to know we were here,
if at all possible.
The four of them used their wands to cut the grassy hillock from the grave and set
it gently aside to expose the soil beneath. After that, it was sheer, grueling labor to
levitate out as much dirt as they could lifesoil that was quickly turning to heavy mud.
Finally, the top of the coffin became visible. They barely had time to sigh in
relief before the crack of Apparition shocked them out of their tired stupors.
Three masked Death Eaters stood among them. There was a stunned moment of
silence before they all erupted into action.
Draco threw himself sideways and leveled a blast that sent one Death Eater
sprawling backward. Hermione cried out, hit by something. Draco looked at her
worriedly, but she thankfully remained on her feet.
He heard Weasley shout and glanced back to see Ron dodge a green blast.
Weasley shot an orange bolt at his attacker, who slipped in the mud and narrowly avoided
it.
Neville was down on one knee, blasting madly with his wand like an American
gunfighter shooting at a running Death Eater.
Hermione giggled and threw her arms wide before spinning in a giddy circle.
Draco groaned. Confundus. He pointed his wand at her, intending to counter the spell,
but the Death Eater hed hit originally was up again. Draco felt a spell tug at his hood as
it passed and experienced a moment of alarm, hoping his hair wasnt singed. He shot an
absent curse at the man and tried to get to Hermione.
Nevilles opponent suddenly turned and hit Longbottom full on with something.
Neville dropped like a stone.
Another spell shot by Draco and he glared before sending his patented gale force
wind at the man, who miraculously braced himself and did not fall.
Malfoy! the Death Eater yelled in recognition. Draco swore roundly. He had
assumed the Death Eaters to be standard-issue underlings, like Crabbe, Goyle, and
McNair. Now, he wasnt so sure. What if the Dark Lord had sent someone competent,
like Lars or Mulciber? As if on cue, Ron went down with a yelp. Draco shot a Full Body
Bind at Weasleys attacker an instant before he was enveloped in pain.
Draco went down on one knee, trying to fight the blinding excrutiation. Nevilles
attacker had hit Draco with the Cruciatus Cursethe other one laughed chillingly and
Malfoy felt fear begin to overwhelm his pain.
You are alive, Draco, Mulciber yelled. Did you desert us for this? A girl?
The agony forced Draco to his knees. He put one hand in the mud and it clenched
convulsively as he strove to keep from screaming. His teeth were clenched in an effort
not to bite his tongue.
Will you come back to us when shes dead? Mulciber continued
conversationally. Lets see, shall we?
Rons wail of denial behind him told Draco that Weasley was alive, but wandless.
Mulciber raised his own wand and gestured at Hermione. Dracos wand was still
clenched in his hand. Using every ounce of willpower, he fought the Cruciatus Curse
and lifted his wand. It seemed to move through molassesslowly, too slowly. Green
light erupted from Mulcibers wand.
Avada Kedavra! Draco screamed through a haze of red. Mulciber was felled
like a tree and Draco was suddenly free. He sagged in the mud for only a moment before
scrambling to Hermiones prone form.
You killed Mulciber? the other Death Eater yelled in disbelief. Malfoy?
Draco paused long enough the stun the bastardRabastan or Antonin, he thought,
and then he was cradling Hermione in his wet arms.
Oh God, dont let her be dead, he begged, nearly overwhelmed at how much he
needed it to be true. He shifted her slightly and raised his muddy hand to feel for a pulse
at her throat. To his utter shock, her brown eyes blinked at him semi-lucidly.
I fell down, she said in a stage whisper and giggled.
Draco buried her face in his chest in relief and felt a hot wetness sting his eyes for
a moment.
Mmmm, youre warm and you smell so good, Hermione purred. Her voice was
muffled by his shirt. Do I know you?
Draco smiled gently and touched her with his wand to cancel the Confundus
Charm. Her bemused gaze cleared instantly.
What happened? she asked.
I dont know, Draco admitted. I thought you were dead.
She tripped, said Ron behind him. Right when he castit barely missed her.
Draco swiveled his head around to look at Weasley. Ron was lying in the mud,
looking as though hed dragged himself forward with his hands.
You okay, Weasley?
I cant move my legs. And my wand is gone.
Draco cancelled the Leg Locker Curse on Ron while Hermione Accioed his wand,
which snapped into her hand from the undergrowth.
Wheres Neville? she cried when Ron stood up and retrieved his wand. Draco
helped her to her feet.
He went down over there, he said and pointed. If the Death Eater who had hit
him was Dolohov, Longbottom might not be getting up. Ron hurried over to check on
Neville and Draco walked to Rons former attacker, who was still stiff from Dracos Full
Body Bind. Malfoy knelt and tore off the mask.
Hello, Gerald, he said to Goyle. Nice to see you, again.
The Death Eaters eyes registered surprise for a moment, but Draco left him to
remove the mask from Titus Mulciber, whose dead eyes stared into the rain, unseeing.
Nevilles okay! Ron called. Hit with a Stunner, looks like!
Hermione joined Draco. She gasped at Mulciber.
My God! Did you?
Draco nodded and laughed humorlessly. Looks like I really am a killer.
I cant believe it, she murmured and Dracos jaw clenched. Hed acted on
impulse, but he hadnt hesitated to use the Unforgivable Curse. Potter would never have
done it. He would have used a Stunner or Disarming Charm or something non-lethal.
Now, Hermione knew what Draco was capable of. Regardless that hed done it for her,
she would still be properly appalled. He could practically feel her shrinking away from
him.
Draco turned and walked abruptly to the last Death Eater, unwilling to meet her
accusatory gaze. Ripping away the mask, Draco revealed Dolohov, who was
unconscious. Malfoy conjured ropes to bind him further, and then did the same to Goyle.
He levitated them and bound them to nearby headstones, making sure they would be
unable to view the upcoming proceedings.
Neville was up, looking rather annoyed at having been knocked out. Hermione
touched Malfoys arm.
Draco she started, but he shook her off.
Lets get this done with, before he sends reinforcements.
How did they know we were here? Ron asked. I thought we broke the wards.
Hermione cast a spell into the grave to reveal another set of glowing lines.
How could I be so stupid? she cried. Second wards, right above the coffin. I
should have guessed!
It doesnt matter, Draco said shortly. Its already been triggered, so we no
longer have to worry about it. He issued terse instructions and Hermione stood at the
base of the grave, ready for anything, while the others cast an opening spell. The coffin
lid snapped upward with a crack and they all cast Lumos spells.
Lily Potters corpse was no prettier than any other body that had been lying in the
ground for over a decade. The hair was a dull red, and looked almost too lifelike on the
grayish skull.
Hermione turned away with a sob and the other two looked like they might be ill.
Draco ignored them and knelt to peer closer at the body, increasing the light from his
wand. Prisms of light glinted from an object on Lilys left wristthe Ravenclaw
bracelet.
So who volunteers to hop down there and get it? Draco asked lightly. Both
Weasley and Longbottom stepped back, horrified. Draco sighed. Thats what I
thought.
Bloody squeamish Gryffindors.
Wait, there might be a trap! Hermione said. Cant we just levitate the bracelet
out?
She tried several times, but it could not quite fit over the wrist bones, even though
it seemed impossible that it wouldnt. Draco swore and impulsively jumped into the
grave, ignoring Hermiones cry of protest.
Draco was prepared for just about anything, but he was still surprised when Lily
Potter sat up and clamped a bony hand around his leg.
Hermione shrieked as Lilys corpse began to pull itself upright and the leering
jaws gaped open. The Gryffindors began to pelt the body with spells while shouting
madly. Draco began to shout, also, hoping to be heard over the din.
Stop it! he bellowed. Inferi are immune, damn it! Theyre already dead!
The jets of light either bounced off the corpse or were absorbed. Several
ricocheted and nearly hit Draco. If one of the idiots Stunned him, he was dead.
STOP! he thundered. Lilys face drew close to Dracos groin as she pulled
herself upright with the painful grip below his knee. He felt the circulation in his foot
going fast. He put his left hand out and kept her clicking teeth away with a tight grasp on
her jaw, cringing when his fingers sank into the decomposing gore.
The nearness of his flesh seemed to excite her and she strove to turn her head and
bite Dracos arm. Her strength was incredible and Draco felt his sinews strain with
effort.
Draco! Hermione screamed. What should we do?
Nothing! he gritted loudly. He pointed his wand at the Inferius and began to
chant. A Binding was effective against the undead and similar horrors, but it took a
bloody long time to cast.
Lilys other clawed hand reached up and snagged his waistband, dragging her
long nails through the flesh of his waist. Draco winced, but his chanting did not falter.
The Inferius heaved herself at him suddenly and he jerked backward to avoid the teeth
that clicked where his belly had been an instant before. Dracos chant became a shout
and finally a deep purple cloud began to form around the body.
The Inferius began to waila horrific, unworldly noise that raised the hairs on the
back of Dracos neckas it sensed its prey beginning to escape. The snapping jaws bit
at the air more savagely and frantically. Then, it was still. Draco was completely
drenched now. Covered in sweat on the inside and rain on the outside. He panted with
exertion.
Get off of me, he ordered. The Inferius obediently released him and he felt the
blood begin to flow back into his left foot. He shook it experimentally. Lilys body
scooted away from him. The eye sockets seemed to stare at him balefully.
Now, give me the bracelet, he snapped. She reached a bony hand to the
bracelet and slipped it easily off her other wrist. It dangled between them from the nearly
fleshless bones of her fingers.
Well, he said. That was too easy. Give me something to put this in.
Hermione handed down the leather bag that had contained the sand.
Draco held it open beneath the bracelet.
Drop it, he said. The sapphire encrusted trinket slipped into the bag and Draco
tossed it up and out of the grave. If there was another curse on it, they could deal with it
back at Hogwarts.
Now, lie down like a good dead body, he commanded and the Inferius
obediently, if somewhat petulantly, resumed its original position. Draco levitated himself
out of the hole and slammed the lid of the coffin with a spell.
Should we just leave her like that? Hermione asked anxiously. He looked at her
sadly.
Its not Lily Potter. Its just a husk of flesh, animated by a dark spell. It will lie
still as soon as we replace the soil.
Cant we free it?
We dont have time. The Dark Lord will be wondering where his underlings are
any moment, if they were sent to check the wards and return. We need to get the hell out
of here. If you like, we can return later. His voice was sharper than intended.
Hermione nodded soberly and raised her chin.
Lets cover it, then, she said and they started to lever the mud back into the
grave. When that filthy job was finished, they replaced the grassy knoll. Draco looked
around. The whole area was torn and muddyit looked like well, it looked like a
battle had been fought there.
So much for being inconspicuous, he commented.
Theres no help for it, Hermione said as she gathered the guttering and unlit
candles. She tossed them into the bag with the bracelet and slung it over her shoulder.
She took a moment to repair and replace the vase she had stolen from a nearby grave,
something that wouldnt even have occurred to Draco. What should we do with?
She gestured to Mulciber.
Well have to take him. And the others. No sense broadcasting what weve
done. If he checks for the Horcrux, hell know we have it and the whole secret is out. I
dont plan to leave him any witnesses, alive or dead.
Ron was charged with taking Gerald Goyle and Hermione grabbed Antonin
Dolohov. Draco partially hefted Mulcibers body. The four conspirators and three
incapacitated Death Eaters appeared back near Hogwarts outer wall, covered in mud that
the rain couldnt wash off.
Even with brooms, it would be a long, silent journey back to the castle.

Chapter Forty Four Dracos Surprise

They opened the front doors as quietly as possible, to find Harry and Ginny
waiting for them in the Front Hall.
All right, where the hell have you been? Harry snapped angrily.
Collecting Death Eaters, Draco said mildly. Since we were running low.
Hermione maneuvered the levitated Dolohov and Goyle into the Hufflepuff
dungeon. Neither moved as Malfoy had unceremoniously Stunned them the moment they
had started struggling in their bonds. Hermione was concerned about Dracos current
state of mindhe seemed to have reverted back to his traditional icy demeanor.
They locked the Death Eaters into empty cells. Greyback watched them pass in
silence.
We brought you some new playmates, Fenrir, Draco said companionably.
Youll pay for crossing the Dark Lord, Malfoy, Greyback muttered ominously.
Draco sneered. Spoken like a loyal Death Eater, he said in a voice dripping
with sarcasm.
I am loyal! Fenrir snarled.
Youre loyal only to your own twisted ends and everyone knows it!
Then its lucky my objective coincides with the Dark Lords, doesnt it?
Lucky. Too bad youre stuck in a cage instead of out there living your glorious
life, eh?
Not for long, Malfoy. Not for long. Fenrir showed his teeth in a horrific grin.
Hermione paused at that and noticed Draco did the same. The werewolf sounded
too confident. She made a note to tell Lupin about it in the morning.
They filed out of the dungeon. Hermione touched her face, which itched where
the mud was starting to dry.
Are you going to tell me where youve been? Harry asked impatiently and
Hermione giggled when she looked at the others.
Mud wrestling? she suggested. Ron looked worse than any of them. His arms
were brown up to the elbows and much of his clothing was completely covered. Draco
wore all black, but his legs had a coating of brown, as well as one arm and most of his
cloak. He had mud in his hair, which had to be driving him crazy. He kept picking at it
fastidiously. Hermiones hair was so caked she felt like she wore dreadlocks.
Granger can explain, Draco said shortly. Im for a bath and then bed. See you
tomorrow.
With that, he stalked for the stairs and disappeared.
Good idea, said Neville, knocking a drying clod from one arm. He followed
Malfoy, likely heading for the Prefects bath. Hermione sighed and reluctantly went back
outside. Harry accompanied her, trailed by Ron and Ginny.
Im not sure what to do with the body, she said. Mulcibers corpse lay at the
base of the steps. I suppose I should wake McGonagall.
Harry gaped. Is he?
Dead. Malfoy killed him, Ron said abruptly. He tugged a bit of mud from his
hair. He fought a Cruciatus Curse to do it. Ive never seen anything like it. He still
would have been too late, though. If Hermione hadnt fallen, Mulciber would have killed
her. I hate to think what Malfoy would have done, then.
What do you mean? Hermoine asked.
It was amazing, Ron said. I never would have believed it, but Malfoy he
wasnt even fighting. He was just trying to get to you. If Mulciber had killed you, I think
Malfoy would have taken them all out without a second thought. You should have seen
his face when he thought you were dead.
Hermione suddenly felt like weeping. She remembered Dracos words at the
grave site. Looks like I really am a killer. She needed to find him talk to him.
So, you just felt like going out and battling some Death Eaters? Harry asked
tightly, still fishing for information.
No, we went to get this, Hermione said and opened the leather bag to show
Harry the bracelet, remembering at the last moment not to touch it.
The Ravenclaw bracelet! Harry breathed. Where was it?
Id rather not say. The problem is Voldemort may figure out that we have it.
Since the Death Eaters showed up, we werent able to remove it very inconspicuously.
Whats so important about a bracelet? Ginny asked. Harry exhaled heavily.
Just tell her, Harry, Hermione snapped. Our big secret isnt going to be a
secret much longer. Besides, after we take care of this, there should only be one left.
She closed the bag and slung it over her shoulder.
All right, Harry said. Ginny, lets take a walk. I probably should have told
you a long time ago
They moved off toward the lake. Hermione sighed tiredly.
Ill go fetch McGonagall, Ron offered. I wont tell her about the Horcrux
that should come from Harry. Cor, I cant really even tell her where we were shell
freak.
Just tell her well explain in the morning. Maybe we can think up a decent story,
by then.
Ron nodded. Youd better go find Malfoy.
She blinked at him in surprise. Ron shrugged.
Hes bitter enough without beating himself up over this scum. He nudged
Mulcibers body with a toe. Bill and Charlie told me stories about Mulciber. He helped
kill my uncles. He would have killed us all and laughed about it, later. Frankly, Malfoy
did us a favor.
Hermione threw her arms around Ron and impulsively kissed him on the cheek.
Then, she stepped back and spat on the ground.
Why do I always get that reaction from you? Ron asked dryly. She laughed.
Its not youits the dirt on your face.
Ron rubbed at it absently and grinned. She smiled.
Thanks, Ron.
Dont mention it.
Hermione turned and went inside. A bath was definitely the first order of
business. A glance at her watch showed it to be nearly one in the morning. She went to
her room and tucked the leather bag under her mattress. They would have to deal with
the bracelet tomorrow.
A half-hour later, clean, dry, and wrapped in cozy flannel pajamas and dressing
gown, she made her way down to the Slytherin common room.
Draco was already asleep, sprawled across his bed as if hed thrown himself there.
Thankfully, he wore dark silk boxers, since he hadnt even bothered to draw back the
covers. She listened to his breathing for a moment and admired his lithe form stretched
out over his blankets. She should probably let him sleep, but she felt it couldnt wait
until tomorrow. She sat down next to him and reached out to touch his soft hair. It was
still slightly damp from his bath.
His silver eyes snapped open and his wand appeared in his hand at the same
instant. The wariness disappeared from his gaze when he groaned.
Granger. Did you come to torture me?
No. I came to thank you for saving my life.
He blinked at her for a moment, as if trying to wake up.
I didnt save youyour incredible Gryffindor luck did that.
She shook her head in denial. You think Mulciber wouldnt have tried again in
the next moment?
Draco rolled over and braced his head on a cocked elbow to look at her curiously.
I didnt have to kill him. The Chosen One wouldnt have killed him, he said
bitterly.
Will you stop comparing yourself to Harry? she snapped.
Why? Because Ill never measure up? he demanded sharply.
She buried her face in her hands in frustration. Why did she always seem to end
up arguing with him?
Look, I just want you to know I dont think any less of you for killing him.
Why not?
Why not? He expected reasons? How could she explain how she felt? How
could she admit to being glad someone like Mulciber would never be able to hurt anyone
again? How could she describe her sheer elation that Draco cared enough for her to kill
without hesitation? How could she tell him that waking up from a Confundus to find him
holding her with almost intense anxiety had been incredible? How could she possibly
rationalize the knowledge that she would forgive him just about anything?
Because I I She was suddenly tongue-tied and felt her hands twist together
fretfully. I should go. Im sorry I woke you.
She got to her feet, but his hand shot out and grabbed her wrist.
Come here, he said with a sigh. I never see you at a loss for words except
when youre with me. Why is that?
Because you make me nervous, she admitted. His thumb caressed her wrist
gently as she sat back down, affirming her words.
Im too tired to make you nervous right now, he said and let his head drop to
the pillow. Ill give it a go in the morning, all right?
He tugged her wrist insistently and pulled her down to lay next to him. She
curled next to him with an exhalation of tired surrender and slipped her arm over his
waist. She lay her cheek against his chest and felt his face in her hair. He breathed
deeply.
Why do you always smell like apples? he murmured.
She smiled softly. Why do you always feel like heaven? she whispered, so
quietly she didnt think he heard her, but his arms tightened around her for a moment.
Hermione sighed in contentment and drifted off to sleep.

* * * * *

A small sound woke Draco. He reached up under his pillow and grasped his
wand silently. The sound came againa faked cough.
Malfoy? Are you awake?
Draco groaned inwardly. It was Potter. He wondered what the hell would bring
The Boy Who Annoyed down here at whatever ludicrous time it was.
I am now, Draco muttered.
Is Hermione here? Potter asked.
She most definitely was, wrapped around Draco like a cozy blanket.
Shes asleep, Malfoy said.
I was asleep, she corrected groggily. Her lips brushed Dracos bare chest as she
spoke, and sent a pleasant tingling through Dracos nerve endings.
I need to talk to you, Hermione, Harry said briskly. Ill uh wait out here.
His footsteps retreated.
Remind me to change that damned password, Draco said as Hermione raised
her hand to look at her watch.
Good idea, she said. Its barely eight a.m.doesnt he ever sleep?
Hermione rolled away from Draco and lit her wand dimly. She looked around for
a moment in puzzlement.
Oh. I didnt wear shoes. She got up and padded out, barefoot. Draco pondered
going back to sleep, but curiosity made him sit up and light a lamp. He tugged some
clothes on and walked out to the common room, which Potter had lit up like a damned
stadium. Draco blinked against the brightness.
He stopped dead at the sight of Harry Potter and Hermione Granger wrapped in an
intimate embrace. Potters arms were tight around Hermiones waist and her hands held
Harryone of them was in Potters dark hair In an instant, all the hatred Draco had
ever felt for Harry Potter returned in a rush. Draco felt such a blinding moment of pure
rage that he actually raised his wand, thinking Potter would look quite a lot better with a
set of moose antlers. He opened his mouth to tell Potter to get his bloody hands off of
her
Then Hermiones gaze met Dracos, full of such sympathetic remorse that Malfoy
paused.
Ron told Harry where we were last night, she said softly. Draco felt his anger
dissipate as though burst like a bubble. It was replaced by a stunning revelation. He
leaned against the doorway and stared at them like an idiot, wondering when the hell he
had allowed himself to fall in love with Hermione Granger.
Potter was speaking, but Draco barely heard him as he staggered forward and
sank into a padded chair.
Ill kill him for this, Hermione. Ive wanted to kill him before, for my parents,
for Cedric, for Siriusbut this? Potters voice rose and he began pacing.
Draco needed a drink.
Wasnt it enough that he killed them? Harry yelled. Did he have to turn my
mum into into? Potter buried his face in his hands with a sob and Hermione
hurried forward to hug him again. She crooned to him soothingly. Malfoy watched in
curious detachment, thinking back.
It could have been the morning he woke up in her house and went downstairs to
find she had nervously cooked enough breakfast for a dozen people. That long ago? He
smiled in bemusement at the memory.
I want that Horcrux destroyed, Potter gritted. He stepped away from Hermione
and dragged an arm across his eyes. I want it destroyed now.
Hermione nodded soberly.
Ill get it, she said softly. Harry bobbed his head abruptly and went out.
Hermione watched him leave with a worried expression. She looked at Draco and her
eyes widened. She hurried over to press a cool hand against his forehead.
Are you all right? she asked. You look terribly palehave you been taking
your potions?
Draco shakily took her hand and pressed a kiss against her knuckles.
Im fine, he murmured, although he felt far from fine. She sighed, as if
realizing that nagging him would be futile.
Id better go get the bracelet before Harry decides to blast apart the girls dorm
to find it himself.
Draco brusquely yanked her down into his lap and kissed her, enjoying the way
she melted into his arms after only an instants hesitation. His kiss was gentle at first,
and then bruising as he tried to convince himself that what he felt for her was simple lust
and nothing more. She gripped his face with both hands and pushed herself away
forcibly.
SeriouslyI have to get the Horcrux. Ive seen him like this beforehe has no
patience. Ill meet you in the room where we destroyed the cup that is, if you want to
do this.
I want to do this, he said and kissed her again. Hermione laughed against his
mouth and pushed him away.
Later, she promised. She hopped out of his lap and danced away before he
could grab her. She walked around the Slytherin couch and started out.
Hermione? he called huskily. She gasped and stopped as if shed hit a wall. He
grinned wickedly at her transfixed expression.
Never mind, he said lightly.
Her eyes narrowed in perplexed uncertainty, and then she shook her head and
went out. Draco leaned back and propped his arms behind his head with a heavy sigh.
What the hell was he going to do if life ever returned to normal? He couldnt possibly be
in love with Hermione Granger. It was unthinkable.
He pictured his fathers face at the news. God, Lucius would absolutely forbid
their relationship and then Draco would be forced to tell his own father to get stuffed.
Draco clenched his hands in his hair convulsively.
Bloody hell, he was turning into a Gryffindor!

* * * * *
Hermione walked through the maze that exited the Slytherin common room,
feeling completely baffled. Her own name kept bouncing around her skull. What had
possessed Draco to call her that? He had never done it before not once. It was always
Granger. Always. She felt hot and cold at once, remembering it, and cursed herself for
letting a single word from him affect her. Damn Draco Malfoy! Would she ever figure
him out?
Harry was waiting for her impatiently in the Gryffindor common room. He
watched her without comment until she returned with the bag containing the Horcrux.
So you and Malfoy?
Hermione face flamed and she realized it hadnt even occurred to her what it must
have looked like for Harry to have found them together. In Dracos bed.
How did you know where I was? she asked sheepishly.
Ginny told me you never made it to bed I sort of guessed.
We were only sleeping, she said defensively.
Okay, Harry said mildly. She glared at him.
Where is Ginny, anyway?
Breakfast. She was tired of listening to me yell at Ron.
And wheres Ron?
Probably in the Stone room, by now. He went to fetch all the supplies. Salt,
candles, and so on.
You shouldnt have yelled at Ron. It was my idea not to tell you. With good
reason, I might add.
Harry scowled. Dont you think I should know that my own mother is now an
Inferius?
No, I do not. All it did was upset you.
Yeah, well, Ive been upset before. Ive learned to deal with it. Are you
planning to get dressed, or are we going to destroy this Horcrux with you in your
pajamas?
She nearly went down in her pajamas just to irritate him, but after a stubborn
moment, she returned to her room and put some clothes on.

The bracelet Horcrux went the way of the cup, with little change except an
audience. Neville, Ginny, and Luna had all come down to watch. Draco kept yawning,
which put a less than sober face on the ceremony. Hermione was getting tired just
watching him. They were, however, careful to make no mistakes.
Harry rubbed his hands together in satisfaction when they exited the circle,
leaving the black and twisted ring of sapphire-studded metal where it lay.
Fabulous. Another Horcrux down, Draco said. Im going back to bed.
They all followed Malfoy back to the third floor where they were nearly run down
by the frantic Weasley twins.
There you are! George yelled.
Weve been looking everywhere for you!
Whats happened? Hermione asked.
Dad got a message regarding Percy. They want to exchange him for Fenrir
Greyback!
What? How does Voldemort know we have Greyback? Harry asked.
Well, the Ministry knows. And You-Know-Who is likely to have agents there.
Regardless, were not turning over Fenrir. We have a plan.
The twins started back downstairs, detailing the plan as they went. When they
finished, Hermione reflected with admiration that it might actually work.

Chapter Forty Five Rescue and Escape

The Great Hall was in an uproar again. Draco was starting to think uproar
followed Weasleys around.
He sat down and bit into a golden apple while the group began to argue. The
prisoner exchange was to take place in Trafalgar Square in London. All of the Weasleys
wanted to go, of course.
The redheaded stick