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The Witch of Oak Woods

Chapter Text

                                           title

 

The Oak Woods had become invisible in their old age, just a passing blur to the motorists who sped by on their way to anywhere else. But for as little as the surrounding villages appreciated the beauty of the strong trees, there was magic in their roots. Centuries in the making, the Oak Woods stood proud and tall, practically humming with enchantments.

Nestled in a small clearing within the wood was a stunning manor. The gatehouse and keep were made of stone with numerous windows and slanting roofs. Gardens, both formal and informal, surrounded the structure. The lord of the house had sought out the isolation, and understood the inherent strength and endurance of the trees around the dell. He and his wife raised their three daughters in the magic little pocket, the Oak Woods a wall of protection from the filthy, non-magical world.

Fearless, the eldest daughter of the lord made her way through the trees that snagged her wild hair and clung to her ankles. The night was eerily quiet, her rustling movements and the snapping of twigs under her feet as she walked determinedly into the forest were the only sounds. The creatures that lived in these woods had long ago learned to stay hidden when she approached. She smirked to herself, admiring her solitude.

Arriving at the largest oak tree in the midst of the trees, she ran her fingers across the runes she had carved into its bark as a child. This had been her temple. She circled the tree, her fingers caressing it as she went, and catalogued all the sacred acts she had contrived here. Her first sacrifice had been a mouse from the kitchen trap. She had quickly realized it wasn’t enough and had slit the throat of a rabbit next.

“What sacrifice must I make to escape this sentence?” she mused. Her fury was bubbling within her. Her father had settled her betrothal that morning. She pressed her forehead against the oak and closed her eyes. Her thoughts played within her mind, images of her parents, the family tree, her Lord. Images of her betrothed, Rodolphus, as he stared at the blood traitor, Alice. “How can I persuade the Dark Lord to ask for my hand instead?” The oak offered nothing.

Bellatrix shrieked and spun away from the tree. “How will I survive this contract?” she snarled. The branches of the large oak began to move as if the wind had blown. She rushed to the tree and knelt down before it. Slowly, as she meditated beneath its canopy, a small smile graced her face. “Well, that is a sacrifice I am more than happy to make.”

Chapter Text

Draco Malfoy slouched on one of the leather seats in the Billiards Room of Malfoy Manor. He had been playing Wizard’s Pyramids with his friends, Vincent Crabbe and Theodore Nott, when they were ordered to let the adults play a round. The three young men were home for summer break before their sixth year and had attempted to stay out of the way of the Dark Lord’s Death Eaters. Their fathers had been in a bit of trouble with the ministry at the end of the school year and were currently residing in the wizarding prison, Azkaban. Pyramids had seemed like an excellent distraction from their woes but had ultimately served as just another reminder that Draco’s home was no longer a safe haven. Draco fumed while he struggled to maintain his passive face and watched the four intruders abuse his belongings. With the Dark Lord residing in the manor, Draco had no choice but to adhere to the whims of the Death Eaters. He wasn’t sure if, in this instance, it was his mother’s wrath he feared more, though. She would not be pleased should he cause even the slightest reason for Lord Voldemort to pay any attention to him.

Nott sighed. “If our fathers were here, these fools wouldn’t dare to treat us this way.” Draco nodded as the three young men watched the Carrows, Travers and Gibbon struggle to master the art of Pyramids. All fifteen balls were still in play. Unlike the muggle version, Wizard’s Pyramids took place in the air. The cushions framed the playing area and the pockets were actual baskets floating above the four corners and the middle of the longest two sections of the frame. Allecto Carrow shot for a side pocket but the baskets shifted just before her ball went in; a hazard of Wizard’s Pyramids. The ball sailed through the air and burst into flames before a new ball appeared within the playing area. Draco bit back a snigger, but she eyed him suspiciously.

“I am surprised by the shoddy accoutrements provided at Malfoy Manor,” Quill Travers said while grinning at his companions. “But perhaps I shouldn’t be. There is, of course, an obvious pattern of the Malfoy flair ultimately lacking luster.” The Carrows chortled together while Travers eyed the balls in the playing area.

Allecto slowly walked in front of the young Slytherins, attempting to sway her stocky form in a sultry fashion while twirling her wand in her stubby fingers. “I imagine Lucius feels quite relieved to find himself under the attentive care of the dementors,” she piped in. “I look forward to witnessing the torture our Dark Lord hurls on him if he ever escapes Azkaban.” She squealed out a giggle and moved to stand beside her brother.

“Now, now, Alecto,” murmured Travers. “I am sure Lucius will find a way to rise up from his abysmal performance. Perhaps, he is looking forward to his second round of endless torture from our Lord? And after he feels as though he has been skinned alive and prays to choke on his own tongue, perhaps he will miraculously provide a way to retrieve Harry Potter.” The last words were choked out as Travers attempted to hold back a laugh. The four Death Eaters casually looked in Draco’s direction, sneering, before resuming their game.

“This is the Malfoy manor,” Draco whispered to his friends. “They act as if they can lord over me in my own home. When my father returns, he will remind them why you never cross a Malfoy.”

A bark of laughter interrupted the conversation, and the three young men looked up to see Gregory Goyle, his father and Corbon Yaxley had entered the room behind them. Greg moved to join the young men, but was held back by his father.

“You would do well to realize, Draco,” said Yaxley, “that the Malfoy’s aren’t so powerful anymore. Your pathetic excuse for a father has failed our Dark Lord one too many times. And his last failure lost us a dozen of our comrades!”

The man moved to the billiards perimeter and laid a galleon on the cushion. “I hope you don’t mind if I join in,” he inquired, while not looking at anyone in the room but intently on the game before him. He flicked his wand at one of the red balls in the middle of the playing area and the ball landed in a corner basket just as the net shifted into place. He walked the perimeter of the cushions and flicked his wand again, sending one ball into another and knocking them both into a basket. Yaxley looked at Draco, a smirk on his face, and then flicked his wand yet again, but the red ball overshot the frame and headed directly for Draco. Draco jerked his head to avoid the ball, but it burst into flames, landing in a pile of ash at his feet.

“Oh, what rotten luck,” said Yaxley. “You should be careful of foul plays, Draco. We wouldn’t want you, or your dear mum, to get hurt, now would we?”

Draco rose from his seat, clenching his teeth to refrain from speaking, and stormed from the room, the laughter of several voices chasing him before the door closed behind his retreating form. Draco knew that Yaxley was just taunting him, but he needed to see his mother and be sure she was alright and the danger of him losing his temper was too great. Checking his holster and finding his wand still there, he quickly walked in the direction of his mother’s sitting room.

His solitary footsteps soon doubled when Theodore Nott caught up with him. “Goyle’s father isn’t letting him out of his sight, so Crabbe is watching the game with him.”
“Not much of a game for Yaxley against those idiots,” Draco replied.
“Yaxley left already. Or, left the room, at least. Travers went with him.”
Draco wasn’t sure he liked the idea of those two prowling his home, but since the homeless Dark Lord had made the manor his lair, it had become overrun with uncomfortable situations.

Quickly surveying the hall, Draco grabbed Theo by the arm and pulled him to a large painting of a bridge. Holding his palm to the corner of the frame, the painting shifted and revealed an opening behind. The young men hurried into the space and the painting closed behind them.

Theo was not surprised by the situation. Draco had shown him many secret passages when they were younger. He knew that he had not seen all of them, but perhaps more than most of their friends. Draco trusted very few with the secrets of the manor. Theo surveyed his friend in the softly lit tunnel. The lighting was better for revealing the small gleam of a glamor on Draco’s face. Theo couldn’t be sure what it was hiding, but most likely fatigue. Who could rest when sharing a home with a monster that never slept?

They had been walking for several minutes, making several turns and climbing up multiple flights of stairs before descending another. “Not much of a shortcut,” Theo said.
“No,” replied Draco. “But only a Malfoy can access these tunnels. Not even my aunt Bellatrix can make use of these passages without the assistance of my parents or myself. We haven’t let her know about them.” Draco nodded in the direction they were headed. “We are almost there.” Even as he spoke the words, the two men could hear the soft sound of voices, growing louder the closer they came to a wall in front of them. A high-pitched giggle alerted the men to the presence of their schoolmate, Pansy Parkinson, in the room on the other side of the wall.

Draco rolled his eyes while Theo smirked. “She must be with her mother,” Theo said.
“Of course. Otherwise, she would have been kicking our arses at Pyramids,” replied Draco.
“Before the idiots took over the room, you mean,” Theo continued. “But, seriously, I think I have only heard her laugh like that when trying to hide the fact she is cringing at her mother.”
Draco grinned while placing his palm on the wall. Slowly, as if clouds were moving, the view of the room on the other side of the wall could be seen like looking through a window. Theo stumbled back, but Draco shook his head. “All they see is a mirror.”

Theo surveyed the room and was surprised to see Peter Pettigrew in the corner. “Why is he there?” he asked, pointing at the man.
Draco frowned. “Haven’t you noticed?” he sneered. “My mother is never alone. The Dark Lord has informed us it is for her protection that the lady of the house should always have a man watch over her and with my father unavailable to perform his duties, the Dark Lord is more than happy to provide for her. Of course, it is only the watching he seems to care about. He almost seems certain that she would flee if she could.”
“Would she?”
“It is our duty to protect the Malfoy interests, Theo. She would never flee.”
“Not without you, you mean?”
“Not without the family; all three of us.”

Pansy’s uncomfortable laugh broke their conversation. “Mother,” she crooned, “however honored I may be to be a Malfoy, Draco and I could never work.”

“Is she joking?” asked Theo. “I thought it was her life’s mission to woo you.”
Draco laughed. “Not at all. It was her life’s mission to convince people she isn’t queer.”
“She still likes men, though?”
“Worried?” Draco smirked while Theo rolled his eyes. “She’ll go both ways, but if mommy and pappy knew she’d be swinging on the street.”
“How’d you find out?”
“I asked,” Draco sighed. “I know her well enough to know she would never think throwing herself at me or shrieking pet names at me would work.”
“Disappointed?”
Draco looked at Theo and shook his head. “More like relieved. She is a good friend. I have no desire to see her caught in the mess my father put us in.”

“…friends can make the best spouse, dear,” Pansy’s mother was saying. “In fact, your father and I were only friends when we were married.”
“Now, Pricilla, that isn’t entirely accurate” interjected Narcissa Malfoy. She was finding that a headache was beginning to form at the base of her skull. While it was certainly nice to have company to distract from the realities of her current situation, such drivel was almost worse. Narcissa also suspected there was more to Pansy’s hesitation. A certain blonde witch who Lucius had his eyes on for Draco. A problem for another day, for certain.

Before the women could continue, however, the door swung open as Corban Yaxley entered with Travers and Thorfinn Rowle. Peter Pettigrew immediately stood straight upon their entrance and bowed his head in their direction, quivering pathetically and avoiding eye contact. “Mrs. Parkinson,” exclaimed Yaxley. “What a pleasure to see you here.” He eyed the Parkinson women and slowly turned to Narcissa. “It is certainly lovely to see a family so loyal to their friends.”

Draco and Theo tensed on the other side of the wall watching as Pricilla and Pansy both smiled tightly while Narcissa eyed the three new entrants.

“Pricilla, dear,” began Narcissa “I believe you mentioned you had a reservation you could not be late for?”

A brief look of confusion touched Pricilla Parkinson’s face before she swiftly fell into her Slytherin instinct and nodded. “Oh! Has time flown so quickly?” She asked, masking her confusion with the question, and rose from her seat to help her daughter gather their hats and hand bags from the nearby table.

“But what is the hurry?” asked Rowle. “Certainly, you would not have such an early reservation? How distressing, will they even be serving a starter, yet?” he continued, his tone snide.

“What an arsehole,” whispered Theo.

“The restaurant is some distance away and we will need to dress properly,” replied Pricilla as she ushered her daughter to the door.

“I must admit,” Yaxley replied, “I, too, would look for an out from visiting with the Malfoys if nuptials were on the table. Aligning oneself to that name would certainly be erroneous in times like these. My nephew is a student at Durmstrang. Perhaps an introduction could be made?”

Pricilla smiled sweetly and nodded her head. “That would be lovely. Perhaps at our next meeting we can schedule a time to discuss?” Turning her head to Narcissa, Pricilla continued “Thank you for the lovely tea. As always, you have shown yourself to be an insightful and giving hostess.” The two Parkinson’s hurried from the room while Yaxley slowly smiled at Narcissa.

Theo watched Draco. His friend was clenching his fists. His face was screwed up in obvious anger, but as soon as he registered that Theo was looking at him, he exhaled. Quickly his face was unreadable again. Theo shook his head and felt the anxiety in his own chest tighten more.

“My apologies, Narcissa,” Yaxley was saying. “It was honestly not my intent to break up your party.”
“Nonsense, Mr. Yaxley. It really was time for their departure or they would have limited time to prepare for their evening’s plans.” She began to refill her tea cup and motioned for the men to join her. Snapping her fingers, a house elf appeared at the table. Quickly the creature cleared the Parkinson’s service, and presented a new one for the men.

“Actually, Narcissa, we won’t be joining you. I was only intending to say hello to the lady of the house before my departure. Thorfinn and I do have duties to see to and Travers was on his way out.” Draco snorted.
“A pity, to be sure. But I am pleased you thought of me when visiting my home,” Narcissa replied.

Yaxley narrowed his eyes, not missing the subtle jab. “Such a lovely home. Perhaps the only real contribution the Malfoys can make to our Dark Lord under your current circumstances. Of course, I would think of the lady residing in the house while I attend to the true Lord’s needs. Such a shame Lucius is not here to redeem his worth.”

Yaxley circled the table and eyed Travers as he approached Pettigrew. Pettigrew stood up straight again and gave an uncomfortable smile to Travers. “I find it quite interesting that this miserable fool,” Travers said as he turned to Narcissa “is in better standing with our Lord than the entire Malfoy family. I certainly hope your situation improves if Lucius returns home. But unless the man can hand Hogwarts itself over to the Dark Lord, I find that very unlikely. Although, if a woman such as yourself were to find herself without a husband, I am certain she would find no issues obtaining a new, more worthy, match.”

Theo had to physically hold Draco back. “Did you hear him?” Draco whispered urgently. “That bellend! If he ever comes near her again, Theo, I don’t know what I will do!”
Theo just looked at Draco, unsure of what to say.

Yaxley smirked and looked at Rowle. “No need to see us out, madame. We know the way.”

“Oh, but what kind of hostess would I be if I failed to see to our Dark Lord’s most loyal servants? Peter, please see these gentlemen out?” Narcissa smiled coldly, her tone making her distaste for the men apparent.

Peter looked between the two, and deciding they were less intimidating than the woman in the room, followed the three men out. Narcissa quickly rose from her seat and waved her wand over the door frame. “They are gone,” she said, turning to the mirror.

Draco placed his finger in the same spot he had touched before and the wall opened.
“How did she know we were here?” Theo quietly whispered.
“I gave up trying to figure out her methods a long time ago.” Draco quickly approached his mother and kissed her cheek. “Mother, are you alright?”
“Of course, dear.” She looked to Theo and smiled. “Just a few fools trumpeting about. Now please, both of you, join me for tea. My guests had to rush out and I haven’t had a proper cup of tea, yet.”

“Mother,” Draco began as the group made their way to the readied table. “Why must we put up with these people? Surely, we have more power than this? Surely, we are not helpless with father in prison?” He helped her to her seat and both men sat with her.
“My dear, Draco,” Narcissa began, cupping his cheek in her hand, “your father is a Death Eater. And we, as Malfoys, will follow our patriarch. The Dark Lord is capable of many things and we will tolerate the tools he utilizes to ensure our world is protected.”
Draco looked quickly at Theo before saying, “but he terrifies me, mother.” Theo nodded his head. Both men felt small confessing their fear to Narcissa, but she reached out, taking one of their hands in each of hers.
“I am, too. But I vowed to stand by your father.”
“To our death, mother?”
“To flee would guarantee your father’s death. We are only inconvenienced here. The Dark Lord is focused on his mission. And his desire to get Potter. As much as I hate that your father is in Azkaban, without a plan for gaining access to Harry Potter, we are all safest with him there.”
“But why, mother? Father only failed when the Order of the bloody Phoenix arrived at the ministry. These Death Eaters act as if it were only Potter and his friends, but if Aunt Bellatrix killed your cousin and the Dark Lord battled Dumbledore, that isn’t the entire story! Why won’t he break our fathers out, mother? Why are Vincent and Theo in the same boat, if this was just father’s failure? Why should we be loyal to the Dark Lord when he is only interested in himself.”
“Watch your tongue, Draco!” Narcissa hissed.

“Yes, nephew,” hummed a new voice. Narcissa closed her eyes as Draco looked to the door of the room. Bellatrix Lestrange lounged in the entryway, her wand dangling loosely in her fingertips as she looked directly at Draco.

Chapter Text

Draco felt his spine stiffen. Bellatrix was, perhaps, the only person who he had ever witnessed surprise his mother by her sudden presence in a room. He looked to his mother and watched as her cool demeanor settled into place. She lifted an eyebrow and he knew she expected him to remain silent during whatever lecture Bellatrix was about to bestow. How his aunt unsettled him. Her blind devotion to the Dark Lord was cringe-worthy.

He could clearly recall the time he met her after she escaped from Azkaban. It was his third year and she had roared with anger, demanding to know what was wrong with him, while he watched her mad eyes dance between him and his parents. He had been both excited and nervous to meet his escaped aunt and her cohorts, but her reaction to him was troubling. She had cackled at his mother and clapped her hands before going on some mad rant about hair color and plays well made. And then she had taken him into a bone crushing embrace and cooed about how she would make up for time lost. He had held his breath and willed himself not to retch at her odor, desperately hoping she would be too busy with his father and his friends to spend any time with him. But when she wasn’t with the other Death Eaters, she would find Draco and demand that he learn the darkest of magic in order to please her master. She would hex him and penetrate his thoughts as if she were digging in his brain with pieces of broken glass, all she assured him, to teach him to protect his mind. Yet, he had only ever felt weaker and exposed after her lessons.

Draco watched her face as she continued to play with her wand. “Where is your sense of honor?” she questioned as she slowly walked into the room, pulling Draco back to the present. “You should feel privileged that the Dark Lord should reside in your home.” Bellatrix spun in a circle, still twirling her wand, as she approached the table where the three sat. “Lucius failed us all and those who were captured with him are not worthy of our thoughts.” She grabbed Draco’s chin harshly. “Your father was incompetent, Draco. I watched him cater to a child, play it safe with his curses and reveal our presence to all of the ministry.” She pushed his face away and pointed her wand at his throat. “He demonstrated he was nothing but talk and were it not for matters you do not understand, I would swear he was trying to fail! The Dark Lord should have entrusted me instead of him! Yet,” she continued as she backed away from the table, “our Lord still bestows mercy on you and Cissy. I am sure for my sake as I am his most loyal servant.” Still pointing her wand at Draco, Bellatrix stood straight lifting her head high and pointing her nose into the air. “How dare you speak with such lack of respect, you spineless spawn of a squid!”

Draco tried to relax, knowing what was coming, but as she lifted her wand, he felt his muscles tense. “Crucio!” she screamed, spittle flying from her mouth. The curse was over almost as soon as it began. Draco looked up to see his mother had lifted Bellatrix’s hand up to pull the curse off of him. The sisters were looking at each other, their postures rigid.

“Not my son, Bella. Not ever my son.”
Bellatrix was breathing heavily, her dark eyes staring intently at her sister. “You should consider yourselves lucky it is me providing the reprimand and not our master.”
“Bella, it is our job as his family to protect him,” Narcissa countered. “Of course, you would keep him from placing himself in danger and I thank you. But you will not harm him again.”

Bellatrix laughed loudly and reached out to touch Narcissa’s hair. “Oh, Cissy, when I am done with Draco he will be the pride of our Dark Lord.” She quickly tugged at the hair in her hand, and then cast the strands aside. “Leave us and take the Nott child with you. Draco and I have much to discuss and lessons to learn.”

Narcissa studied Bellatrix carefully before motioning for Theo to follow her out of the room. Draco was not surprised by her departure. Narcissa rarely did anything openly against Bellatrix. He assumed it was her choosing her battles and felt relatively safe if she deemed it acceptable to leave him alone with his aunt now.

“Oh, and Cissy?” Bellatrix called after Narcissa, “as formidable as these spry young men may be, I am sure they are not what the Dark Lord intended when he insisted you have a guard. Wormy is certainly frantic to have lost you.”

Narcissa’s eyes narrowed but she nodded her head as if the movement pained her and accepted Theo’s arm for him to escort her from the room.

Draco determined to put on a brave face and took a sip of his tea. It had become cold, the charm to keep it at the perfect temperature either having worn off or never having been placed. He pretended not to care and continued to drink while eyeing his aunt as she walked around the room. She was touching the items on display and appearing to talk to herself. He had learned over the years to allow her these conversations she had and pretend not to notice. She usually became more centered after her ruminations. From experience, he knew that if he refrained from using magic and acted as though no time had passed, she would fall into the semblance of a sane person and he could learn a great deal from her. The longest occasion had lasted an entire day. Having learned from a previous episode not to leave the room under any circumstances, he had actually soiled himself during this occasion. Bellatrix had never noticed and it was during this time that she had shown him Furnunculus! which he had used with much success against the mudblood. He felt the usual sinking feeling in his chest when he thought of the bushy haired witch, which he attributed to the dread of having to see her again at Hogwarts in just a few short weeks. Perhaps Aunt Bellatrix would have another hex to throw at the Gryffindors.

“No, nephew, there will be no passing of knowledge on hexes today.”

Draco started and focused his eyes to see Bellatrix staring intently into them. He must have zoned out while lost in his thoughts and she had jumped at the opportunity to penetrate his mind. Quickly he began lifting his mental walls, cursing himself for not hearing her muttered spell to enter his head. He had felt no pain, which led him to believe she had only touched the surface, listening to his active inner dialogue. Bellatrix was never delicate when maneuvering within the confines of a person’s brain. He jutted out his chin, but remained silent. Even a passably sane Bellatrix was not to be trifled with.

She snickered at Draco before flicking his hair with her finger. “No, today we will provide the prize rose for the Death Eaters so you may restore the Malfoy name.”
Draco felt his heart race. Any deal or offer she had would be filled with insanity and likely severe consequences for himself. “What exactly do you have in mind, Aunt Bella?”
She squealed and twirled her wand. “Come now, my little bird, what have these lower Death Eaters all been squawking about? What is it they think your father can never do?”
He swallowed slowly, confident of the answer but not pleased in the direction this conversation was going. “Get Potter.”
“But you can, can’t you? You out of all of us have the best access to that miserable brat.”
“Are you telling me I should kill Potter?”
“No! No, no, that honor should be the Dark Lord’s. Potter is a gnat he is anxious to swat. But you could certainly get the Lord’s army to him. Prove to the rest of them that you can open Hogwarts for them to invade and provide the Dark Lord with exactly what he wants because of your efforts.” She smiled slowly and tilted her head to the side like a dog waiting for a treat. “Surely, the rest of the Death Eaters would be more than impressed with your work and never doubt the prowess of the Malfoy name ever again.” She had attempted to sound soothing, but her voice was laced with condescension.

Regardless of her tone, Draco felt a niggling thought in his head, as if he had just realized there was a tiny cut on his finger, but it was actually on his brain. Graham Montague's tale of a cupboard that transported him back and forth last year. The tall cabinet at Borgin and Burkes that was labeled as a Vanishing Cabinet and looked exactly like the cabinet Montague described. Draco suddenly felt cold and off balance. He wasn’t certain if he had figured this out on his own, or if his aunt had while traipsing around in his memories, but he certainly did have a way to get the Death Eaters to Potter. He shook his head, aware that she left no indication she had been anywhere but his surface thoughts. She had just needled his brain enough to kickstart a solution. Most likely, the perfect solution. He would show those fools lounging around in his home why you should never doubt a Malfoy. He looked at his aunt and smiled, unaware that her expression of absolute glee was mirrored on his face.

“I am no fan of your father, Draco, of that I am sure you are confident. But you are my sister’s son. Black blood runs through your veins and I know you will make a worthy Death Eater.”

Draco felt his heart skip a beat. It was one thing to think about letting Death Eaters into Hogwarts to snatch Potter away from the fool of a headmaster, but actually joining the monster was a different matter entirely. He looked towards Bellatrix, trying to avoid her eyes, but she didn’t need legilimency to know his thoughts.

She frowned at him and tsked. “You will never restore your father’s name without offering your complete loyalty to the Dark Lord. You must request to take the dark mark and offer our master entry into Hogwarts. It is the only way to show the rest of the Death Eaters the proper respect owed to you and your mother.”
“Why must it be me?” snarled Draco. “As you have said, we are family. Why can’t you keep your sister from harm?”

Bellatrix laughed loudly and spun around in another circle. Draco felt uncomfortable watching her as she teetered between sanity and insanity. She twirled her wand and sent a stinging jinx to his legs. He sucked in air but waited for her to answer.

“Now, now, little nephew. I am my master’s most loyal servant and Cissy and you are unharmed because of this alone. I am already your savior and I demand you earn it!” Bellatrix slammed her hand on the table, the tea in the remaining cups splashing out and staining the tablecloth. Draco watched in fascination as the red tea turned dark on the white fabric.

“You have no idea of how honored you should feel that I even consider you worthy of my master! You want to show those Death Eaters you are not to be trifled with while hiding behind my and your mother’s skirts?” Bellatrix cackled; her blackened teeth exposed in her wide mouth. “Perhaps, there really is nothing more to the Malfoy name than illusions and shadow tricks. Perhaps you are as worthless as your father.”

“My father is not worthless! The Malfoys are a worthy and pure line and I will show all of you we are not to be so disrespected! And I will make sure no harm comes to my mother”
Bellatrix smirked. “And how will you do that, dear nephew?”
“I will get the Dark Lord’s chosen followers into Hogwarts in order to capture Potter.” Draco was defiant, his chin raised and his back straight.
Bellatrix shook her head and rolled her eyes. “You must take the mark, boy. He and the rest will never take you seriously otherwise.”
Draco swallowed and stared at her. “I am too young. You all call me a child; a boy. Surely, he would never expect me to offer my servitude to him. Surely, the offer of Hogwarts is enough.”

He never saw it coming. One moment he was looking into the deranged, hooded eyes of his aunt and the next he was wreathing on the floor as his muscles convulsed and cramped within his limbs. He tasted blood in his mouth and felt the oxygen draining from his lungs. This wasn’t the worst she had done. He could only hope that this meant it wouldn’t last as long either. Draco struggled to place his mental walls up to block the pain, but he hadn’t prepared. And suddenly, her laughter penetrated the agony and his body began to relax.

“That is nothing compared to what the Dark Lord will do to you if you waste his time.” She kicked him in his stomach and stepped over his body as she made her way to the door. Before exiting, she turned back to his body on the floor. “The mark, Draco. He will have no time for you otherwise.”

Chapter Text

On a particularly hot summer day in the Hampstead Garden Suburb of London, a group of teenagers sat together in the open-air arena of Little Wood.  They all sat around a bushy-haired girl and, to the casual observer, it would seem as if they were all eager to be near the girl.  They had joined her and were looking intently at her, laughing in what appeared to be a good-natured manner.  Unfortunately, the casual observer would be poorly mistaken.  The girl, Hermione Granger, had always been a bit different from the rest and the rest never liked that about her. 

Hermione felt on edge.  She wasn’t as comfortable in the muggle world as she once was and the group around her were not what she considered friends.  She had only agreed to attend this summer production by the local amateur theatre troupe because her mother had pleaded with her to do so. 

“Hermione,” she had said, “you really do need to maintain some of your ties with the muggle world.  Your father and I need you to be a part of our reality, too.” 

There had been a note of sorrow in her mother’s tone and that had been enough for Hermione to disregard that fact that it had not been her peers who had invited her, but Mrs. Janus, the mother of her old classmate, Mariah.  Elaine Granger and Mrs. Janus had been friends since childhood and had always imagined that Mariah and Hermione would have the same sort of friendship they had.  As Mariah and Hermione had only seen each other on a handful of occasions since finishing primary school, Hermione felt that her mother and Mrs. Janus should really let that one go. 

Hermione had arrived at Little Wood much earlier than the rest and had sat down with a book.  When Mariah and her clique had shown up, she had half expected them to just ignore her.  But that had been hoping for too much.  Theirs had been a relationship of rivalry since the moment they had first met, and Mariah Janus did not like to be second at anything.  She never did get used to being second to Hermione in every subject.  Even if Hermione was miles behind Mariah in sports and, in both girls’ opinions, in looks, Mariah never missed an opportunity to one-up Hermione Granger.    

“Oh, Hermy Germy, look at you with your nose in a book!” Mariah had exclaimed, in a falsely sweet voice, as she sat down next to Hermione. 

She was a stunning girl.  She and Hermione actually looked similar in many ways; curly brown hair, petite, fair complexion, and dark eyes.  Except that Mariah’s appearance was more refined.  Her curly brown hair was in beautiful, smooth spirals, without a fly-away or snarl to be found.  And, although, both young women were petite, Mariah had curves and a pouty mouth. Mariah’s fair complexion was free of any freckles and her eyebrows were in a perfect, curved arch.  Hermione tried not to feel insecure next to her old classmate, but the feeling of not being good enough crept into her throat when she tried to swallow.

Hermione cringed, but quickly masked her irritation at the girl’s voice.  She knew Mariah was trying to get a rise out of her and had no desire to let the girl see how much the innocent nickname still bothered Hermione after so many years.  Before she could respond, Mariah continued.

“What are you reading?  Something truly boring, I imagine.”  Grabbing the book from Hermione’s lap, she read the title displayed on the front cover, The Birth of Merlin, and began to laugh.  “Are you actually reading the play they are about to perform?  Do you have to read about everything, Germy?”

Hermione seized the book from Mariah’s hand and placed it in her bag before the other girl began to flip through its pages.  In fact, it was only a coincidence that the book had a similar title.  She was reading a historical tome on the magician as a bit of light reading over the summer. “You know me, Mariah.  I always like to be prepared,” she answered, biting back the retort that the titles didn’t even match exactly.

Mariah was looking Hermione up and down.  “I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” she said.  “It doesn’t appear as if you have changed at all.” The mocking note to her words was unmistakable.
Hermione gave a tight smile as two of the girls that had sat down with Mariah turned their heads, trying to hide their laughter. Like Mariah, they were both curvy and beautiful. 

“Oh! How rude of me, Germy!  Let me introduce you to some of my friends from Henrietta Barnett.” Another dig, Hermione knew.  She and Mariah had often discussed getting into the prestigious school.  Mariah turned and gestured to the two laughing girls who quickly sobered and smiled at Hermione. “Faye and Claire, this is Hermione.  And behind us are Amy, Lisa and Matthew. Matthew goes to UCS.”  Mariah suddenly looked past the small group and smiled brightly as she lifted her arm up in a wave and flung her hair behind her. “And I am sure you remember Andrew,” Mariah added, her voice having taken a bit of an edge to it. “My boyfriend, Andrew.”

Hermione turned to watch Andrew Robinson gracefully walk towards them.  He was tall and lean with wheat colored hair.  Hermione tried to keep her face neutral.  This boy had been her first everything.  Her first friend.  Her first crush.  The first person to kiss her, to insult her, to play tricks on her.  His eyes flickered when he looked at her and then his lips twitched as if he was trying not to grin.  In that moment he resembled Malfoy so clearly that she found her strength again and smirked at him before turning her head towards the stage.  She almost chuckled at herself, realizing that she was allowing these unimportant people to make her feel small.  She quickly imagined a dozen different hexes she could throw their way before turning back to look at both Mariah and Andrew. 

Had Hermione had the opportunity to see herself in that moment, she may not have felt so insecure.  While her hair lacked the beauty shop spiral of Mariah’s, her wild curls suited her natural face.  And while her frame was slender, she held herself in such a way that spoke of hidden strength.  Facing down trolls, basilisks, werewolves, and old hags who wore too much pink had given her that easy look of confidence.  Had Hermione viewed herself from another’s eyes, she may have realized that Mariah’s countenance was due to her own insecurity.  And had Hermione not been feeling so out of place, she may have noticed that Andrew was looking at her with a bit too much intensity.  Unfortunately, for Hermione, it was Mariah who saw Andrew’s stare.

“It’s been awhile,” Andrew said, sitting down in the row in front of them. 

Hermione looked at him and tried to set aside her memories of his past offenses. He used to live in the house across the street and his mother watched her during the days while both of Hermione’s parents worked.  She and Andrew had been inseparable until he had started primary school a year before her.  He made so many friends while she struggled to make any when she started the following year. Initially, he was her protector.  And then one day, her bossy attitude was too much for him.  She could see it clearly now that she was older, but at the time she had cried for days because he had stopped playing with her for no reason.  It still hurt to remember how easy it was for him when he found that taunting the bookworm who didn’t fit in gave him a bit more popularity.  In the two years leading up to when she would have been starting at Henrietta Barnett, he had seemed to want to be friends again.  There she was, a little nine-year-old, trusting the boy who had thrown mud in her hair the year before.  They had a timid sort of friendship, but it was slowly finding a solid footing and Hermione had developed her first crush.  But then Professor McGonagall was at her door and everything changed. 

Hermione looked at him and went for the jab.  “I can’t even remember the last time we saw each other,” she said, keeping her tone light and watching for his reaction.   It was subtle, but it was there.  His eyes narrowed for just a moment before he seemed to realize she was lying. 

And she was definitely lying.  She had seen him just last summer while shopping in Temple Fortune when he had called out to her by name. She hadn’t recognized him at first; he had grown so much taller and lost all traces of his babyface.   But as soon as she saw him her crush came crashing back down on her.  He had seemed so genuinely happy to see her and had embraced her tightly.  They had not seen each other since the summer before she started at Hogwarts.  His family had moved away from London the following year, but had apparently decided to move back.  She and Andrew had sat down for tea and chatted for hours.  He had reminded her of their happier times as children, skirting over his bad behavior as if it was just a passing moment of poor judgement and not years of laughing at her with his friends. He even confessed that she had been his first kiss, and made her promise that she never think of their bumbling curiosity in the sandbox as anything else.  And then he was walking her home, holding her hand, and asked to take her to the cinema the following evening. 

“Must be keeping pretty busy at that fancy school of yours, then.” He replied, his expression laughing at her.
“Oh, yes,” Mariah interrupted. “What is it called again?  I still can’t believe you gave up going to Henrietta Barton for a school no one has ever heard of.”
Hermione smiled, not in the least bit phased. “Hogwarts.  An unusual name, but admission is by invitation only.  My parents were obviously quite impressed to have let me attend.”
“I am sure, Germy.  It must be fabulous.  It will open so many doors for you in the future and that is why there is no information about it anywhere,” Mariah said snidely, smiling sideways at her friends. 
Hermione narrowed her eyes but it was Andrew who spoke up. “Come on, Mariah.” His voice had an amused sound to it.  “We all know how smart Hermione is.  She has always been smart and it always set her apart.”  The look on Andrew’s face was one of fondness and he winked at Hermione.
Hermione wanted to smile, but the memories of last summer held her back.  He had picked her up to take her to the show and her parents had been so pleased to see him.  How their feelings for him changed when she had returned home alone and crying and her father threatened to find him and give him a beating.
“Yes,” said Mariah. “She has always been different.  I am just curious if this school is for academia or if it is some sort of mental institution.”
“Merlin, Mariah, how old are you?” Hermione snarled.  Behind her she heard Amy whisper “Did she just say Merlin?” and cringed at her slipup. 
“That was out of line, Mariah.” Andrew stated. 
Hermione turned towards him and glared. “Why are you defending me, Andrew Robinson.  Just what are you up to this time?”

Memories of his mouth on hers, kissing her sweetly outside the cinema.  Of his taking her hand as he walked her back to his moped.  The ride up to Big Wood.  His assurance it was just a bit of snogging.  Of his hands on her chest.  And then her shirt was over her head and there was a flash of light just past some bushes and so much laughter.  Boys laughing and pointing and Andrew beside her, joining in.  

“Welcome to the Brookland Theatre troupe’s night of theater and magic!” bellowed a juggler, bringing Hermione back to her current surroundings.  The expression on Andrew’s face was unreadable and Hermione found herself laughing. Why was she in this situation?  It was ridiculous.

“You all are so not worth my time,” she said mostly to herslef, trying to catch her breath in the midst of her laughter, and stood to leave.  She was irritated with herself that she had even bothered to try socializing with Mariah and her brood.
“Don’t laugh at me, you minger!” Mariah hissed, her voice a whisper as she tried to avoid a scene while the play was starting.  “You’re just leaving because you don’t want to talk about the fact you didn’t get into your dream school and were so embarrassed you ran away to a boarding school.”  The beautiful girl’s face was scrunched and red.  “Just tell us where you’re really off to during the school year, Germy.”
“Why do you care so much, Mariah?” Hermione asked quietly, genuinely confused by the question, while at the same time Andrew blurted, “Stop calling her Germy, Mariah.”

Hermione stared at him, not trusting his motivations.  Reminding herself that she didn’t care about these people at all, she started stepping down to Andrew’s level in order to leave, but he seemed to misunderstand her actions and reached to take her to his side.  Mariah stood up and stomped her foot while Hermione twisted away from his reach and shook her head at him.  “I don’t trust you, Andrew.  I need you to leave me alone.”  She exhaled and found she couldn’t wait to get off to the Burrow the day after next.  “I am sorry this is our last memory,” she continued, looking back and forth between Mariah and Andrew as she tried to find a way to graciously leave the situation so her mother wouldn’t get wind of another fall out with her best friend’s daughter, “but I don’t think I want to make any new ones with either of you.”  Hermione quickly adjusted her bag and began working her way out of the seating area, apologizing as she trampled the feet of some of the other people there.

Mariah moved down to Andrew’s level and reached for his hand and her frustrated voice carried to Hermione.  “Don’t you dare go after her.  I still don’t know why you wanted to see her tonight.  I should never have told you she would be here.”  Hermione quickened her pace, but Mariah looked towards her retreating form and yelled “Her parents sent her away to that school because even they can’t stand her! She’s horrible!”

“Hey!” someone yelled from further down the row of seats.  “Will you shut your trap, or take your snotty voice somewhere else.” His comments were met with encouraging noises from the crowd. 
Mariah blushed and sat down in the seat next to Andrew’s, but he pulled his hand from hers and followed after Hermione. 
“I’ll be right back,” he whispered back at Mariah.
Mariah was shaking her head and started to rise again, but Faye grabbed her arm and Matthew pushed her shoulder down and mumbled something in her ear.  Mariah let out a frustrated huff, but remained seated.

Hermione had moved quickly down to the ground and was already walking the path that led from the arena when she heard Andrew call her name.  There was no escaping him as he knew where she lived and it was more than apparent that he was determined to talk.  Hermione envisioned making it further into the trees and pulling her wand on him, but it wasn’t worth the trouble.  She stopped suddenly and turned around to witness Andrew stumble to keep from colliding into her. 

“Hermione,” he breathed out.  She simply raised her eyebrow at him, wishing it were shaped more like Mariah’s or Pansy Parkinson’s, and waited for him to continue.
“Last summer wasn’t what you think it was,” he started.  Hermione huffed and turned to leave, but he grabbed her wrist.
“Let me go!” she yelled.
“Please hear me out, Mione,” he pleaded while releasing his grasp.
“Why should I?”
“Because I didn’t know they were there!  I know I shouldn’t have laughed, but it was a knee jerk reaction.”
“I don’t believe you, Andrew.”
“But it’s the truth!” he exclaimed.  As if sensing her hesitation, he added “The camera didn’t even have film in it.”
She remembered the flash from the bushes again and her mortification at being exposed to the four laughing boys.  “Then why did they have it?  Why were they up there at all at that time of night? A group of boys, there?  Why are you lying to me?” Hermione’s frustration was evident in her questions.
“Why won’t you believe me?” He countered.

Hermione stopped and found herself pondering his question.  And the answer was so simple.  “Because you don’t act like a friend should, Andrew.  You come to my rescue but then push me down later.  It’s just like primary school.  You would be mean and then feel bad.  It was better the years you would just ignore me after laughing at me, or mocking me, or tripping me.  I was foolish to believe you last summer.  Even before I left for Hogwarts, you still mocked me.  You still made fun of my propensity to list off facts.  You still rolled your eyes if I wanted to study instead of watching the tele.  This evening is just another example, Andrew.  You think I didn’t notice how funny all of that was to you?  You think you can just rescue me from uncomfortable dialogue and that will erase your cruelty?  I don’t need rescuing and I don’t need you.”
“That’s too harsh, Mione.”
“Stop calling me that!”

Andrew seemed taken aback.  “What? You mean Mione?  So Germy is fine, but I can’t call you something that isn’t actually an insult?”
“She isn’t hiding anything when she calls me that, Andrew.  She is putting all her cards on the table so we can face each other without any doubt where we stand.”  Hermione tugged her hair behind her ear and looked at the boy she had known all her life but who didn’t seem to know her at all.  How could he, though?  How could any of them really know why she never quite fit in.  Harry and Ron were her first real friends.  Whatever she had with Andrew was over the moment their world grew bigger than their two houses.  “Why did you do it, Andrew?  Please, tell me the truth as to why you took me up there?”

“I wanted to be with you, I swear.  It was just chance they were there.”
Hermione found herself wanting to believe him but accepted that it wasn’t even important.  She would never be able to maintain the ties her mother wanted her to.  And why should she have to?  She would keep informed on the intricacies of being a muggle, but her life and her friends were not a part of this. 
“It doesn’t matter, Andrew.  It really doesn’t.  Just go back to your friends.”

Hermione turned away from him and continued on the path towards Heathgate, refusing to turn her head and look back at him.  She felt a sadness creep into her bones the longer she walked and assumed the heartache had to do with the final curtain fall on the sad, broken friendship.  It wasn’t until she moved further along the path that she realized that she was shivering.  It had been such an uncomfortably hot day, but the sweat on her back was now ice cold.  She stopped, noting that it had also become far too dark.  And eerily quiet.  Turning around she realized she could no longer hear the actors’ voices carrying down the path and there was a blanket of black in the sky. 

Hermione felt her heart sink as the panic rushed her.  Dementors.

Chapter Text

Hermione reached into her bag for her wand, cursing at how hard it was to find anything in it. She knew she couldn’t cast a patronus out in the open like this, but she wanted to have her wand in case it came to that.  Just as her fingers grasped the smooth wood, a heavy body crashed into her.  “Andrew!” she yelled in frustration, but when she looked up, it wasn’t his face she saw. 

“Sorry, Miss!” the man stuttered, his hands gripping her shoulders as he steadied her.  “I didn’t see you there!  Are you alright? Can you believe how dark it got all of a sudden?” 
“Yes,” Hermione said, keeping her hand firmly on her wand in her bag.  The man was large, probably over eighteen stones, and he towered over her.  How had she not heard his approach?  How long had the dementors been overhead before she noticed?  “This did come on suddenly,” she replied, uncertain if it were actually true. 

She moved to step around him, but he moved with her, his hands still on her shoulders.  Hermione felt anxious.  She didn’t know this man and there were dementors about.  Was he a Death Eater?  Looking at him more closely in the diminished light, she could see that his bulk was more muscle than anything and he could easily prevent her from freeing her wand if she went for it.  Panic rose to her chest when he looked at her hand in her bag. 

“Whoa, there, miss.  You don’t need any spray on me, I didn’t mean to scare you.” He stepped aside hurriedly, his hands falling to his sides. “I know there’s been terrible things going on lately, but I really didn’t mean to scare you.  It’s good of you to be prepared, though, what with those murders.  Never can be too cautious.”  He laughed nervously.

He continued to watch her hand and she continued to keep it hidden.  She observed the breath leave his mouth and looked back up at the sky.  It was still just a blanket of darkness, but she remembered how quickly the dementors could swarm down.  “Was there something you needed?” she asked the man, not taking her eyes from the sky. 

He followed her gaze. “It sure is wonky weather we’ve been having.” 
She could feel him turn his gaze to her, but she refused to take her eyes off the dementors.  They appeared to be moving away from the area; perhaps the laughter at the arena was too much for them.
“I was just headed towards the tube.  I really am sorry to have scared you.  Will you be okay to make it home?  I didn’t hurt you, did I?”
“I’m fine,” she said.  But she wasn’t.  This situation had scared her and from the look on his face, he could tell she was frightened.  She plastered a smile on her face.  “I don’t live far from here; my parents are expecting me.”
The man nodded.  “If you’re sure.  It does seem as though that front is moving along.  Such strange weather.” He looked at her again before shrugging his shoulders and heading on his way.

She continued home, her pace quickening until she began to run. Hermione knew that the dementors had been prone to infiltrating the city, but what about Death Eaters?  She had always assumed that they would just stay away from muggles.  Her anxiety wasn’t easing as she ran home.  What would happen to her parents if Death Eaters really did come looking for her?  Sure, she had the occasional fear of that happening, but everyone had always been so focused on Harry.  What if they came after her to get to him?  Would her parents qualify as a target?  Would the Death Eaters risk the danger of the muggle world just to get at her?  Just to show Harry they could?

Her house had just come into view when she saw the front door swing open and her father rush out.  Mrs. Janus and her mother were right behind him.   “Hermione!” he called out to her.
He pulled her into a hug when she reached them.  “We didn’t know, honey.  We had no idea that he was going to be there.”

Hermione was momentarily confused before she realized that he was talking about Andrew.  Mrs. Janus was wringing her hands and looking uneasy. 
“It’s okay,” she rasped out, tired from running.  “He apologized.  Said it was all just a misunderstanding.  They just happened to be there and there wasn’t even any film in the camera.”
Her father growled.  “I saw the photograph, there is no misunderstanding.”

Hermione felt her heart sink.  He had been lying.  She had known it on some level, but had settled into the comfortable denial so she could hold onto some happy memories of her long-ago friend. 
“Oh.” She said in a small voice.  “Oh!” Her father had seen her taking her shirt off for Andrew!
“That plonker was smiling at the camera.”

She looked over at Mrs. Janus, her embarrassment on her face. 
“He seems like such a nice boy, Hermione,” Mrs. Janus put in.  “I would never have imagined he could have done such a thing and I understand how he fooled you.  He fooled me and Mariah.  I am off to go get her now. I won’t tell her it was you.”  She awkwardly pulled Hermione into an embrace and hurried away.  Hermione knew Mariah would put it all together, but somehow wasn’t worried she would spread it around.  Mariah had her limits. She may even take care of Andrew for her.

“How many people have seen the photograph?” she asked, looking at her parents. 
Her father guided her into the house. “Just me and your mum.”
She jerked her face up to her father’s gaze.  “What did you do?” she asked as she sat down at the kitchen table.  Her mother started making tea and her father sat beside her.
He laughed bitterly before explaining.  “I went straight to his house after your mother got you to sleep.  Woke his parents up.  Those idiots were having a sleep-over there.  I explained the situation to his father and he took care of the beating for me.”  He looked down at Hermione and sighed.  “I wasn’t going to have the film developed, but I had to make sure they didn’t switch it.”
Hermione nodded her head.  It was over.  He had changed her nappies and he had seen her in bathing suits.  What did it matter? 
Her mother placed a cup of tea in front of her and sat down at the table.  “There were other pictures, dear.  They took turns posing with different girls.”
Hermione felt ill. 

“Hermione, honey” her father questioned. “If you weren’t upset with him, why were you running home looking so frightened?”

Hermione swallowed hard.  She had warned her parents that there were sinister aspects to the magical community, but she hadn’t given them all the details about her experiences at Hogwarts.  Namely, her direct involvement in stalling Voldemort.  Her instinct was to just gloss over the issues again, but her fears for their safety lingered.

Her fingers traced the scar across her chest from the battle at the ministry.  She looked at her parents and felt foolish.  They had known she was keeping secrets; they had never truly accepted her explanation that her scar was due to an accident during DADA.  She opened her mouth to speak, but stopped.  This was a turning point and they all knew it.  Her mother reached across the table and touched her hand and Hermione felt tears escape her eyes and trickle towards her mouth. 

“I was already flustered after Andrew confronted me. I hadn’t been paying enough attention to my surroundings and I know better than that!” Hermione took a breath, trying to calm herself.  “I told you last summer about dementors.”  She watched her parents nod. 
“And you’ve explained that they are the cause of this peculiar cold front,” her mother answered.
“Yes, well, they were overhead when I was walking home and gave me a bit of a scare.  A man literally ran into me and I realized that if he were a Death Eater I would have been in grave trouble.”  She expected them to scoff at a Death Eater being in Little Wood, but they were just looking at her.

So, she looked back at them.  Really looked at them.  And she knew they were waiting for her to tell them everything.  Another tear fell.  She knew her parents well enough to know they would not want her to go back to Hogwarts after she told them everything.  But they knew she was hiding things and their trust in her would only go so far.

“Voldemort has been coming after Harry every year at Hogwarts and I have been there to help Harry in pretty much every situation.” 
They didn’t look surprised.
“Second year, when I was frozen at the school hospital, it wasn’t because of a potion’s accident.” 
Her father raised his eyebrow; her mother’s lips were pursed.  “I had been petrified by a basilisk.” 

She considered leaving it at that, but she wanted them to understand what her life was like.  “The basilisk had been set loose on the school by Ginny.  It was supposed to kill all muggle-borns, but was a bit bad at the job.” Hermione snorted quietly.
“Ginny Weasley?” her mother cried, shocked.
“She was possessed by Voldemort through a curse he placed on his old diary!” Hermione clarified.  “She didn’t do it on purpose.  Both she and Harry almost died because of it.”
“So did you.” Her father said coldly. “Go on, Hermione.  What else have you and this school been keeping from us?”

Hermione swallowed.  “Dementors attacked Harry’s godfather while Harry and I were eluding a werewolf in third year.  Harry saved Sirius, but we couldn’t prove he was innocent of murder so we helped him escape the ministry.  Cedric Diggory, the Hufflepuff who died in that horrible accident during the Tri-Wizard Tournament, was actually murdered at Voldemort’s demand.  One of Voldemort’s followers put Harry in the tournament so he could kidnap him and use his blood to bring Voldemort back from the dead.”
Elaine Granger sucked in air and her father clenched his jaw.  Hermione, looking at his face, flinched from his anger.  Of course he was angry.  The school that her parents trusted with her wellbeing hadn’t communicated about what was happening there.  And Hermione had taken advantage of the fact that muggle-born families were at a severe disadvantage about knowing what was happening in the wizarding world. 

“What else, Hermione?” he gritted out. 
Hermione felt shame. “Last year, Harry’s godfather was murdered by a Death Eater at an incident at the Ministry of Magic.”  Hermione choked back a sob, remembering Harry’s pale face. 
Her mother looked at the hand Hermione had placed back over her chest.  “That is where you got that, isn’t it, Hermione Jean!”  Her mother cried.  “What were you doing at the Ministry of Magic?”
“She has to go back a bit, dear.  Just look at her. She left out something else.”

Hermione had always treasured her close relationship with her father.  She was, and always would be, a Daddy’s Girl.  In this moment she didn’t want to confess everything anymore.  “I coerced Harry into starting a fighting club against school rules, cursed a girl to disfigure her face until she does four selfless acts and tricked Professor Umbridge into the woods so she would be captured by centaurs.” 
“Why was she at the ministry, though!” interrupted Elaine. 
“Fighting Death Eaters and helping Harry, of course.” Her father answered. 

He looked at Hermione.  “What has you so scared that you would confess all of this now?” he asked, his tone a mixture of harsh and bewildered.
“I realized tonight that the Death Eaters may use me to get at Harry.  But while I am safe at Hogwarts, they may come after you instead.”
“Safe at Hogwarts!?!” her mother exclaimed, incredulous.
“You were never safe at Hogwarts,” her father added.  “You will not be going back there.”
“No!” Hermione cried out.  “No, you can’t do that! I need to be there.  I need to help Harry and keep getting stronger at magic!  Harry needs me! I can’t leave that world, daddy!  I am a witch; I belong there!”
Her father grunted.  “You are not a –” He stopped short and looked at her. 
Hermione jumped at his silence. “I will be going to the Burrow the day after tomorrow.  So tomorrow we should look at your finances and figure out a plan for you to leave the country just for a short while.  Maybe just a few years.”
“No.”  her parents said in unison. 
“We will all be leaving the country for a few years, Hermione,” her mother said.  “You will not be going back to that place.  We can enroll you in another school and you will easily catch up on your studies.”
“NO!” Hermione yelled, rising from her chair so quickly, it fell backwards.  “Look around you!  There is nowhere to hide from magic!  That bridge collapse was Voldemort’s doing!  How many people died from that?”
“So why would we leave without you if nowhere is safe!” Her father yelled back.  “Why would we abandon you, our lives, if nowhere is safe?”  He was breathing heavily.  “Hermione, I know that you are a witch.  I know I will never understand that world, but we are all staying together.  Either here in London or abroad. 
“Abroad.” Her mother cut in. “We know they have found magic here before.”

Hermione stopped as her mother’s words registered in her ears. We know they have found magic here before.  She looked at her mother, whose eyes had grown large, and then to her father who had bowed his head into his hands.  Hermione’s world began to spin.  She was too emotionally charged.  She felt the magic radiating out of her body and around the room and heard her parents shout out in surprise.  And suddenly her mind was full of images.

 

Hermione’s mother was in a hospital bed, cradling a tiny baby.  Her father was by the side of the bed and a man, who looked a great deal like her father was just behind him.  “Our girls are going to be getting into trouble together in no time,” he had said to her parents, a broad smile on his face.

The man was there with her father in their back yard while a little girl was skipping around a blanket on the lawn.  Hermione’s mother sat on the blanket, a newborn infant cradled in her arms.  “It will only be for a short while, I promise.  She just up and left us!  How could she leave her daughter?  She kept going on and on about how Iris scared her.  She is just a little girl!”
“It could be depression.  Did she say where she was going?” Hermione’s father asked.
“No, she just left a Dear John and Iris locked in her closet.”

A small casket was being lowered into the ground.  Hermione’s father was holding the other man as he openly wept.  Hermione, about two years old, was crying in her mother’s arms.  Hermione could hear her child self, whimpering “I want Iris, mommy.  Where is Iris?”

The man was at their dining room table, looking at Hermione out the window as she sat on the swing reading a brightly colored book.  She looked to be about eight years old.
“Are you sure you don’t want to say hello to her?” her father asked him.
The man shook his head.  “I know you think I am crazy, but they murdered Iris.”
Hermione’s father sighed.  “I don’t know what you saw, Robert, but lightning coming out of a twig is a bit hard to grasp.  I am afraid the trauma of the situation played with your memories.  The hospital said her heart just stopped.”
“You don’t understand!  There were three of them in black robes and silver masks!  They said she was unclean and had stolen her magic!  They shot lightning at me and when I woke up she was dead!”

Her father was on the phone.  “This Professor calls them Death Eaters.  She says there was a war going on when Iris was killed.  It was a hate crime, Robert.  Iris would have likely gone to this school and been just a few years ahead of Hermione.  Actual magic runs in our blood.”

 

“What did you just do?” her mother rasped, rubbing her temples. 
Hermione fell to her knees.  “Iris,” she whimpered.  “How could I have ever forgotten about her?”
Hermione’s father knelt down beside her.  “You were just a little girl, Hermione.  No one expected you to remember.”
“What just happened?” Elaine questioned.
“And Uncle Robert?  Your brother?”
“My brother,” her father agreed.  “Apparently magic does run on our side of the family.”

“What just happened!” Elaine shrieked.

Hermione looked at her mother.  “I think I just used accidental magic.  I must have done some sort of legilimency on you.  It is a form of magic that allows a person to –” she stumbled over her words.  “Allows me to see your memories,” she finished.
“You are not going back to that school!” her mother raged.  “She just used magic on us!” she looked over at Hermione, her face a collage of anger, distress and fear.  “We are leaving tonight, Walt.”
“No! I won’t go!  I’ll go to the Burrow!  I won’t go with you!”
“Elaine! Hermione! Stop!” her father shouted.  He was shaking, but remained on the floor with his daughter.

Her heart hurt to see them like this, but Hermione would not stop.  “Can’t you see I don’t belong in this world?” She saw her mother crumple into tears.  “I am sorry, mum, I am so sorry!  But I am a witch. At Hogwarts I have friends. I have real friends who see me for who I am.  And they may tease me, but it’s not the backstabbing like I have here.  I have never felt quite right with other people. My instincts were always wrong.  I will never catch up if you put me in some muggle school!  I know that nowhere is safe, but I need you to do this!  I need you to go somewhere without me and without your names!  Start over, temporarily.  I need you to be safe because I love you, but Harry and Ron are my family, too!”
Elaine was shaking her head, opening her mouth to speak, but Hermione kept going “I love you!” she cried.  “I love you, but I can’t run away from who I am.”

Walt Granger cursed quietly and rose from the floor.  His eyes were wet and he stared at the two most important people in his life. “Go to your room, Hermione,” he said softly. 
Hermione shook her head, but her father went on.  “We all need to calm down.  We are all going to sleep on this and discuss again in the morning.  Your room, now, Hermione.” He looked at her fiercely.    “And, please, don’t run off in the night. We will all come to an agreement in the morning.”

Hermione sluggishly got up and looked at her parents before turning towards the hallway and walking to the stairs.  As she slowly ascended, feeling as though each step up took her further down to her own personal hell, she planned on what she would be packing.  Her trunk was far too large to easily maneuver, but was the only option she had.  She knew how to get the Knight Bus and Mrs. Weasley would understand her need to stay in the magical community.

And, please, don’t run off in the night.

His words danced around in her thoughts and she threw herself on to her bed and wept.  Her thoughts were racing.  Iris.  Her uncle.  Hogwarts.  Andrew and Mariah.  The cold from the dementors.  Camera flashes.  Her parents.  Harry.  Ron.  Even Luna Lovegood.  Godric, she would even miss Luna if she never went back!  What happened downstairs – how had she performed magic like that?  If she could do that accidently, what could she do on purpose?

Before she could change her mind.  Before she could even allow herself to process what it was she was actually thinking of doing, she made her way down the stairs.  Her suspicions proved true as she heard the soft murmur of her parents talking in the kitchen. 

Her bag was still on the table in the entryway where she had discarded it when her father had ushered her into the house.  She pulled her wand and made her way to the kitchen.  Pieces of their conversation floated to her.

“He managed to hide himself from them, Elaine.  He can help us do the same.”
“What if she has more bouts of that accidental magic?  I still can’t believe she used magic against us, Walt, even if it wasn’t on purpose.  Could it happen in public?”

Hermione knew she had to act now.  Thinking of the spell she had read about numerous times since second year, she quickly entered the kitchen, her wand raised. 

 

"Obliviate!"

 


 

The next morning found the Granger family enjoying breakfast together at the kitchen table.  Soft sunlight was shining through the kitchen window and Hermione sipped her juice. 

“Hermione, dear,” her mother said, while smiling in her direction.  “While we are at the bank today, did you want to go shopping for any reading materials before you leave for the Burrow tomorrow?”
Hermione nodded her head, smiling at the mention of going to the bank.  Her parents had informed her they wanted to make sure she could take care of their accounts should anything happen to them. “That would be lovely, mum.  I think I will go to my room and relax for a bit before we head out, if that is okay?”
Her father looked at her quizzically, but nodded his head.  “Don’t be gone too long, he said.  We have a lot to go over before you leave.”
She smiled and nodded.  Guilt was raging within her and she needed a moment away from their unknowing, smiling faces.  It was all for the best, she knew, but the gravity of her actions weighed on her.

When she opened the door to her room, she saw a tiny barn owl waiting, a parchment attached to its leg.  The Ministry of Magic seal was clearly visible.  Hermione knew she should not have been surprised.  Two bursts of magic by an underage witch would hardly go unnoticed.  Skimming the note, she felt her shoulders relax.  Her reputation as a goody-goody had its benefits. 

The ministry had noted her two bursts of accidental magic and informed her she would be meeting with her head of house to discuss the issue upon her return to Hogwarts.  She had time to come up with a plausible excuse.  Her parents no longer remembered her confessions and they would be withdrawing funds on a regular basis in case they needed to leave urgently.  It was worth it to keep them safe.

It was all worth it, Hermione told herself again, as her mother’s startled words rang through her head.

 

She used magic against us!

 

Chapter Text

Damn her sister, Narcissa thought as she heard Bella calling after her.  The river bank she had apparated to was slippery, and Narcissa trudged her way up, avoiding the dirty water and making her way to the old railings that marked where the cobbled street began. 
“Cissy – Narcissa – listen to me—” Bellatrix ordered as she seized her arm, but Narcissa wrenched it away.
“Go back, Bella!”
“You must listen to me!”
“I’ve listened already,” Narcissa snarled back at her sister.  She felt a tension behind her eyes and her vision was becoming blurry.  “I’ve made my decision,” Narcissa cried, as a ringing sound started in her ears.  “Leave me alone!”
Bellatrix continued to follow, raging about muggle neighborhoods, as Narcissa slipped through a gap in the railing and made her way to the ramshackle houses. 
“Cissy, wait!” Bellatrix called out again, her tone commanding, but Narcissa continued to run from her.  The ringing in her ears grew sharper at Bella’s words and Narcissa felt nausea curl.  She slowed, clutching her stomach, and Bellatrix grabbed her arm once more, swinging her around to face her.  
“Cissy, you must not do this, you can’t trust him—”
“The Dark Lord trusts him, doesn’t he?”  Narcissa panted, slowly edging her way from her sister.
“The Dark Lord is… I believe… mistaken.” Narcissa could see how much it pained her sister to speak those words. 
“In any case,” Bellatrix went on, “we were told not to speak of the plan to anyone.  This is a betrayal of the Dark Lord’s—”
“Let go, Bella!” shouted Narcissa, and she drew her wand from beneath her cloak, holding it threateningly in front of her sister.  Bella merely laughed. 
“Cissy, your own sister? You wouldn’t—”
“There is nothing I wouldn’t do anymore!” Narcissa’s voice was laced with hysteria.  She pulled her wand across Bellatrix’s throat as if brandishing a dagger.  A flash of light engulfed the women and Narcissa crumpled before righting herself and rushing away.   

Bellatrix, who had lost her grip on her sister’s arm, watched her continue towards the home of, she assumed, Severus Snape.  She was surprised by her sister’s violence, if not by her failure to hurt her.
Narcissa!” she screeched, but allowed her sister some distance ahead. Bellatrix was not pleased with her sister’s disobedience.  She crept slowly behind the other woman, observing her obvious distress and focusing intently on making Narcissa submit.   
Bellatrix began whispering the soothing words she had made up as a child and that she had sung when dancing in the woods around their family home, making her way up the stoop to stand with her sister outside the door of the very last house on Spinner’s End. 

 The door opened a small degree and Severus Snape peered out at the two women.  Narcissa, realizing her face was concealed, threw back her hood.
“Narcissa! What a pleasant surprise!”” he said as he opened his door wider. 
“Severus,” she whispered, her ears still ringing and the pain from her failed attempt to curse her sister still ravishing her body.  “May I speak with you? It’s urgent.”
“But of course.” 

Severus Snape allowed Narcissa into his home, recognizing the hooded figure behind her as her sister, Bellatrix Lestrange.  He mentally prepared himself for the stabbing attack on his psyche and was not disappointed.  Her non-verbal magic, though weak in matters of legilimency, was still an irritation. 
“Snape,” the hooded witch bit out, her frustration apparent in her movements.
“Bellatrix.”
Snape ushered Narcissa to the sofa in his small sitting area and, aside from a sardonic smile in her direction, ignored Bellatrix who remained standing.  As he looked at Narcissa, he couldn’t help but notice her normally pale skin was almost translucent.  Her form was hunched in on itself as if she were in pain and, to his dismay, he noticed that a small trickle of blood was pooling out of her right ear.  From all appearances, the woman had just been tortured.
“So, what can I do for you?” he asked her, keeping his demeanor neutral.  

Narcissa scanned the room before looking back to Severus.  “We… we are alone, aren’t we?”
“Yes, of course.  Well, Wormtails’ here, but we’re not counting vermin, are we?”
She watched as Severus lifted his wand, and with a subtle twist of his wrist, opened a secret passage behind his wall.  Peter Pettigrew stood frozen on the stairs of the passage. 
“As you have clearly realized, Wormtail, we have guests,” she heard Severus enunciate slowly.
She considered Pettigrew’s presence as he skulked down the stairs and into the room.  She had been relieved that he was no longer her shadow at the manor, but could not be certain if he had been sent off to Spinner’s End as his punishment, or Severus’s.  Whether or not he was sent here to spy, she had no doubt that he was doing just that.
Narcissa tuned out the bemoaning voice of Pettigrew while he quivered and squeaked before Severus, causing her to jump slightly at a rather loud banging from the room the mousy man had scuttled off to.  She determined that she would go on with her plan.  She had already suffered greatly in going against Bellatrix, and as she had recently determined, there was nothing she wouldn’t do for her son. 
Pettigrew returned to the room, carrying goblets of elf-made wine on a nickel platter.  He placed the tray on the table in front of the sofa and retreated back to the passage behind the wall of books.  Narcissa bit her lip to keep from laughing at the wretch.  She had no doubt he had wanted desperately to stick his tongue out at the lot of them. 
At Severus’s salute to the Dark Lord, she lifted her glass and swallowed the sweet liquid quickly.  Her distaste had nothing to do with the flavor.
“Severus, I’m sorry to come here like this, but I had to see you. I think you are the only one who can help me—”
She stopped at Severus’s raised hand and watched as he pointed his wand at the concealed passage.  With another quick twist of his wrist, there was a loud bang, followed by a pathetic squeal form the other side of the wall and the muffled sounds of scampering feet up stairs.
“My apologies,” said Severus. “He has lately taken to listening at doors, I don’t know what he means by it... You were saying, Narcissa?”
Narcissa cringed.  Pettigrew was spying for the Dark Lord, of course, who would certainly be made aware of her visit here.  “Severus, I know I ought not to be here, I have been told to say nothing to anyone, but—” 

“Then you ought to hold your tongue!” snarled Bellatrix. “Particularly in present company!”
Bellatrix could not let this continue.  That Narcissa was fighting through her pain was confounding, but her pathetic sister was killing herself to pass on her master’s secrets to this filthy half-breed and she was not willing to lose such a valuable asset as Narcissa Malfoy. 
“‘Present company’?  And what am I to understand by that, Bellatrix?”
“That I don’t trust you, Snape, as you very well know!” she growled.
She found herself distracted by her sister who was covering her face with her hands and making choking noises.  She felt content.  Let her suffer, the fool.  It was the least she deserved for defying her.
“Narcissa, I think we ought to hear what Bellatrix is bursting to say; it will save tedious interruptions. Well, continue, Bellatrix.”
The filthy, half wizard was looking smug and it grated on Bellatrix. 
“Why is it that you do not trust me?” he said with a smirk, lounging lazily in his shabby chair. 
Fury bubbled within her and she glared.   “A hundred reasons!” she fumed.  The audacity of this foul man.  

Narcissa still clutched her face in her hands while Bella ranted at Severus.  She did not have time for this petty back and forth between the two contending Death Eaters.   She felt her strength depleting as Bellatrix raged, so she continued to breathe slowly.  She should take advantage of her sister’s fury at Severus.  If she could keep Bella focused on her frenzy regarding Severus’ questionable loyalties, she may forget her objections to their being there and give Narcissa the relief she needed to get her message to Severus. 
Narcissa half listened as she plotted how to gain access to Severus’s mind.  He was a master at occlumency and she would never stand a chance unless he let her in.  She knew he suspected her skill at legilimency, but he had no way of knowing how talented she really was.  If she could just penetrate the surface of his mind, she should be able to get him to understand what she was doing.  But Bellatrix could not know!
“My information has been conveyed directly to the Dark Lord,” Snape’s voice cut into Narcissa’s thoughts. “If he chooses not to share it with you—”
Narcissa struggled to keep her face passive, knowing that Severus had hit the mark.
“He shares everything with me!” Bellatrix argued. “He calls me his most loyal, his most faithful—”
“Does he?” said Snape, disbelief dancing in his tone. 
Narcissa smirked behind her hands.
“Does he still,” Snape continued, “after the fiasco at the Ministry?”
“That was not my fault!” Bellatrix howled, embarrassment coloring her face. “The Dark Lord has, in the past, entrusted me with his most precious—if Lucius hadn’t—”
Narcissa felt her irritation rise up again.  “Don’t you dare—don’t you dare blame my husband!” she said, looking at her sister, her tone brittle. It was these accusations that had ignited Draco’s foolish desire to restore their family name.
“There is no point apportioning blame,” Snape cut in. “What is done, is done.”
The two continued their verbal battle and Narcissa continued her deep breathing.  Severus was making a very good argument as to why Bella should trust him.  Unfortunately, it was a very good argument as to why Narcissa should not.
Narcissa realized that Bella had grown silent.  Looking up, she found Severus looking at her.
“Now... you came to ask me for help, Narcissa?”
“Yes, Severus. I—I think you are the only one who can help me, I have nowhere else to turn. Lucius is in jail and...”
As their eyes met, Narcissa attempted to touch his surface thoughts with her own, but his magic smacked her away. She closed her eyes and felt moisture seep out of her eyes; tears she hoped, or she was in worse shape than she had realized.
“The Dark Lord has forbidden me to speak of it,” Narcissa continued, her eyes still closed. She had to try again; to keep trying until he let her in.  “He wishes none to know of the plan. It is… very secret. But—”
“If he has forbidden it, you ought not to speak,” Severus interrupted. “The Dark Lord’s word is law.”
Bellatrix made a small noise of triumph and Narcissa recoiled. 
“There!” Bellatrix squealed. “Even Snape says so: You were told not to talk, so hold your silence!” 

Snape rose from his seat and went to the small window to look out onto the street.  Satisfied that no one was eavesdropping, he quickly pulled the curtains closed.  He had felt the gentle nudges against his occlumency walls and had been unsettled.  Narcissa had never attempted to penetrate his mind before.  He turned to Narcissa and, opening his mind minutely, nudged her back.
It took all of his strength not to stagger back at the information flooding his mind.  He had never experienced such a thing before.  In all of his years, he had only ever heard of memories being shared through a pensive, but Narcissa was bombarding him with years of information.
His disgust for Bellatrix intensified. 
“It so happens that I know of the plan,” he said, struggling to keep his mind in the present, as image after image flooded him. “I am one of the few the Dark Lord has told. Nevertheless, had I not been in on the secret, Narcissa, you would have been guilty of great treachery to the Dark Lord.”
“You know about the plan?” said Bellatrix, disbelief apparent.  “You know?”
Snape found himself thankful he was so adept at occlumency, or he was certain he would have been knocked out by the force of the magic Narcissa was wielding on his mind.  As it was, he was able to force the onslaught to slow.  If the Dark Lord ever learned of her capabilities… he did not want to think on that.
“Certainly,” he said, forcing himself to stay focused on the conversation and keep Bellatrix distracted. “But what help do you require, Narcissa? If you are imagining I can persuade the Dark Lord to change his mind, I am afraid there is no hope, none at all.” 

Suddenly the image of Draco kneeling before the Dark Lord was forefront in his mind.  Narcissa was huddled off to the side of the room, slowly making her way towards her son as he assured the Dark Lord he would be able to get the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. 
Draco, you dunderhead!, he thought to himself. 
The Dark Lord had smiled callously as he informed Draco that his request to become a Death Eater was welcomed.  There had been a fleeting look of terror on the boy’s face when he realized he could not refuse, but Snape noted he did not look surprised. 
Snape felt a tension he could not identify. 
And then the Dark Lord’s words reverberated in his mind, echoing from the terror in Narcissa’s. 
“You will kill Dumbledore or you will watch your mother die as you are slowly skinned alive.”
Although he had known of Draco’s assignment, he had not been privy to the circumstances that led to it.  Bound by oath as his godfather, Severus Snape would do all in his power to protect him.
“Severus,” Narcissa whimpered as he looked at her tearstained, stricken face. “My son . . . my only son . . .”
He watched her carefully as the blood from her ear began to stain her hair.  He now understood her unusual hair; blonde in many places, as dark as Bellatrix’s in others.  The strain of the effort she was exuding to provide him this information was worsening her already weakened state.  As he watched the blood mix with her hair, he was horrified to see some of her dark strands turn white before him.  

Bellatrix seemed unphased by Narcissa’s distress.  “Draco should be proud,” she offered, picking at the dirt under her fingernails. “The Dark Lord is granting him a great honor. And I will say this for Draco: He isn’t shrinking away from his duty, he seems glad of a chance to prove himself, excited at the prospect—”
Narcissa moaned, but would not look away from Severus. 
“That’s because he is sixteen and has no idea what lies in store! Why, Severus? Why my son? It is too dangerous! This is vengeance for Lucius’s mistake, I know it!” 

Snape looked away.  He was aware he had let his mental walls down due to the barrage of images Narcissa had thrown at him.  Her intake of air confirmed she had heard his foremost thought.
“That’s why he’s chosen Draco, isn’t it?” she said.  “To punish Lucius?”
Snape could not look at her, afraid of what else he would reveal while his mental defenses were compromised.  “If Draco succeeds,” he replied, “he will be honored above all others.”
“But he won’t succeed!” sobbed Narcissa. “How can he, when the Dark Lord himself—?”
Bellatrix gasped; Narcissa shrank away from her sister, stumbling over her words, aware that she could not defy Bella much more.
“I only meant… that nobody has yet succeeded… Severus… please… You are, you have always been, Draco’s favorite teacher... You are Lucius’s old friend... I beg you… You are the Dark Lord’s favorite, his most trusted advisor... Will you speak to him, persuade him—?”
Snape watched in fascination as Bellatrix stared at Narcissa while she stammered.   Would he have ever realized the hold she had over her sister if not for Narcissa’s curious ability? 

Narcissa felt as though her ear had shattered.  She felt the moisture of the blood trickling down her neck.  She had pushed herself too far and still could not determine his reaction to all that she had shared; his mask of indifference remained in place.
“The Dark Lord will not be persuaded, and I am not stupid enough to attempt it,” he stated, his voice devoid of any emotion as he eyed her carefully. “I cannot pretend that the Dark Lord is not angry with Lucius. Lucius was supposed to be in charge. He got himself captured, along with how many others, and failed to retrieve the prophecy into the bargain. Yes, the Dark Lord is angry, Narcissa, very angry indeed.”
She felt her panic again, but he was looking at her and, taking the gamble, she sent a quick succession of his own memories back to him.  It was a flicker, and perhaps she imagined it, but she swore she saw his pupils dilate at the meaning behind her message.  She quickly rose from her seat and grabbed his robes, refusing to break eye contact, and sent another one of her own memories to him.  Severus lashed out at her mind, whipping her mental intrusion away with a force that surprised her. 
“You could do it. You could do it instead of Draco, Severus. You would succeed, of course you would, and he would reward you beyond all of us—”
Gripping her wrists, he gently removed her hands.  Slowly, he cut her off, “He intends me to do it in the end, I think. But he is determined that Draco should try first. You see, in the unlikely event that Draco succeeds, I shall be able to remain at Hogwarts a little longer, fulfilling my useful role as spy.”
“In other words, it doesn’t matter to him if Draco is killed!”
“The Dark Lord is very angry,” repeated Snape quietly. “He failed to hear the prophecy. You know as well as I do, Narcissa, that he does not forgive easily.”
Narcissa fell to her knees, mentally berating Lucius for the mess he had made of their lives.  Her mind was still reeling from the connection she had forced on Severus, but images of Draco remained forefront in her mind.  “My only son… my only son…”
“You should be proud!” her sister taunted.  “If I had sons, I would be glad to give them up to the service of the Dark Lord!”
Before she even realized she was going to, Narcissa heard herself scream as she pulled at her own hair.  She hated Bella.  Of course, that horrible creature would sacrifice any of her spawn; she would likely slit their throats and offer their blood in a crystal glass to her Dark Lord. 
She felt Severus’s strong hands grab her arms and guide her up and towards the sofa. 
“Narcissa, that’s enough,” he murmured while forcing her to grasp her glass of wine. “Drink this. Listen to me.”
She tried to sip the wine, feeling drops fall on her chest and lap.  She knew he was right, her body needed something as she was going into shock.  Her eyes darted to Bellatrix and saw her barely contained rage.  There would be hell to pay; she had pushed the boundaries too far tonight.
“It might be possible,” Severus was saying, “for me to help Draco.”
His words penetrated her thoughts and she felt a sense of triumph.  “Severus—oh, Severus—you would help him? Would you look after him, see he comes to no harm?”
“I can try.”
She threw the glass aside to kneel down before Severus and take his hand in both of hers and press a kiss to it.  “If you are there to protect him… Severus, will you swear it? Will you make the Unbreakable Vow?”  He was already bound by honor, she prayed he would trust her in this.  In some ways, this would protect him, too.
“The Unbreakable Vow?”
Distantly, she heard the mocking tone of her sister’s response, but paid no head to her, Bella’s voice becoming a muffled buzz as Narcissa allowed Severus open access to her mind instead.  Her blue eyes stared fixedly into his black ones and she knew he had finally seen everything.
“Certainly, Narcissa, I shall make the Unbreakable Vow,” he said quietly and, had she not known him as she did, she would never have understood the resignation and defeat in those words. “Perhaps your sister will consent to be our Bonder.”
She held back the look of triumph she wanted to shoot at Bella.  It was a small delight to see her sister so dumbfounded.  Narcissa’s movements became automatic and she carefully planned the oath she would require.  When they were all in position, she once again opened her mind to Severus so that he could understand the meaning behind every word.
“Will you, Severus, watch over my son, Draco, as he attempts to fulfill the Dark Lord’s wishes?”
“I will,” he confirmed.
She felt the heat of the magic begin to work as a ribbon of flame wound their hands together.
Careful with her words, she continued, “And will you, to the best of your ability, protect him from harm?”
“I will,” he confirmed again.
A chain of magic had now formed around their clasped hands.
“And, should it prove necessary… if it seems Draco will fail…” whispered Narcissa, her heart aching for her old friend who was trapped no matter the direction he turned, “will you carry out the deed that the Dark Lord has ordered Draco to perform?”
The silence before his response weighed heavily.  Bellatrix watched them and Narcissa feared for just a moment that she had finally understood what Narcissa was doing, but then Severus sent her an image.  She was shocked.  No one aside from Lucius had ever been able to mirror her magic, but now Severus had. 
“I will,” he said, completing the vow as the image of a baby Draco, wrapped snuggly in his ceremonial muslin and held gently in Severus Snape’s arms, floated across her mental plane.  It had been the only time that the man had held her son, but there had been no question when he took the vow to be his godfather that the child was precious to him. 

The vow completed, Bellatrix tried to banish her astonishment.  The second-rate wizard had surprised her, no doubt, but perhaps the half-breed was just besotted with her sister.  Cissy had certainly pushed the limits of her binding, tonight.  Bellatrix observed the red ring within the inside of Cissy’s nostril and realized the woman would be suffering greatly for several days, if not weeks, for this bout of disobedience. 
Bellatrix was tempted to give her sister another order she would refuse, just to see how far she could go, but she was more anxious to leave this muddy, muggle, wasteland.  So, instead, she pulled her sister towards the door and eyed Snape carefully. 

Snape watched the women depart and then slowly locked the door with his wand.  The magic he had encountered tonight had unsettled him.  Bellatrix Lestrange, née Black, had happened across something truly frightening and he was now bound, through his bond as godfather and through the unbreakable vow made tonight, to keep the secret of her power over the Malfoys.  Narcissa was a Slytherin to her core, he smiled derisively to himself. 

 

Chapter Text

He was sweating while waiting for the new Potions’ professor to open the door to the dungeon.  Even with magic, the cabinet had been a beast to move.  He could only hope that it could, in fact, be paired with the one at Borgin and Burkes.  That smarmy Borgin was of no use, maintaining he would have to bring the cabinet in.  Draco knew that he was going to have to repair it on his own as there was little likelihood the shopkeeper could be of any help.
As he recalled the hidden room he had secured the cabinet in, he felt an appreciation for the castle.  To think that one need only think of what was needed, and it would be provided in the room. 
A place to stay hidden.
A place to fix the cabinet.
All around him had been piles and piles of junk.  At first, he had been disappointed, thinking he had somehow made a mistake when calling up the room, but then he realized there were a lot of useful things in all those piles.  The cabinet was mangled and Draco was undoubtedly going to have to use his hands in addition to his wand in order to make the necessary repairs.  The thought was disconcerting, but it was a relief to know that he would be in a place where he would likely find just about anything he needed to complete the chore.  It irked him that it was Potter and his fanatics that had first discovered the room, but at least he was able to use their own discoveries against them now. 
As he continued to wait, Draco observed who his classmates would be for this advanced class.  Aside from his three Slytherin housemates, there were four Ravenclaws, a Puff and the mudblood, of course.  However, he noted with some irritation that scar-head and weasel-rat were here, as well. 
“How did those two make it to his level?” Theo asked from beside him, but before he could reply, the door to the dungeon opened to reveal a large belly on a wide man who was motioning them to enter.   
Theo and Draco made their way to the table closest to the door, Blaize Zabini and Daphne Greengrass joining them. 
“He looks like a walrus,” Zabini murmured to the group.
“At least not a toad,” came the quiet voice of Daphne Greengrass as she perused the room.
Cauldrons were bubbling and there were various aromas floating in the air.  Daphne was snickering to herself and Draco found he couldn’t keep himself from inquiring “What’s so funny?”
She looked at him before replying.  “Pansy would be losing her mind looking for my sister if she were in this room right now.”
He gave her a knowing look before they were interrupted by an unfamiliar voice. 

“Now then, now then, now then,” said Professor Slughorn.  Through the cloud of vapors, the four Slytherins looked at their new professor.  “Scales out, everyone, and potion kits, and don’t forget your copies of Advanced Potion Making…”
“Sir?” came the grating voice of Potter.  

“Merlin, how are we going to survive with that idiot in this class?” Theo whispered to Draco.  “And the weasel, too?”
“The mudblood will deal with them,” he offered, knowing it to be true and finding his lack of concern regarding the three Gryffindors a bit unsettling. 
But then the Dark Lord’s horrid voice slithered in his thoughts.

…You will kill Dumbledore or you will watch your mother die as you are slowly skinned alive… 

New sweat trickled down his spine as he remembered Voldemort’s threats.  

He heard the mudblood’s voice over the popping sounds from the cauldrons.  Professor Slughorn was looking for the identification of the potions in the bubbling caldrons and the hag was, per her usual, showing off how smart she was, as if no one knew she tried so hard in order to hide the fact she didn’t belong.  An uncomfortable sensation filled his chest and he fleetingly thought the dungeon was beginning to smell like her.  She was such an annoyance.  

“Over-eager bookworm,” Daphne mumbled while Professor Slughorn happily praised the Gryffindor.  Realizing it may sound like a defense, Draco bit his tongue to keep from telling his housemate to raise her hand if she wanted to show up the mudblood. 
“She looks half-baked with her hand up in the air all the time and her hair – I swear, it is going to attack us all one of these days,” Daphne continued.  
Theo sniggered while Zabini rolled his eyes. 

 “It’s Amortentia!” piped the feminine voice again.  Draco cringed; the way she enunciated her words grated on his nerves. 

“She doesn’t even try to let other people get a word in,” Theo whispered to the table.  “Did you see her punch her hand into the air?  What an annoying, twat.”
“The sound of her voice, Theo, I can’t handle it,” Daphne whispered back.  “Someone should put her out of her misery.”
“I think I would miss her,” Draco said.  He smirked at their expressions. “Well, laughing at her.  Nothing like free entertainment.  Maybe we should throw pumpkin juice at her to let her know what a fine job she’s doing?” 

“Granger? … Granger? …” Professor Slughorn asked.  “Can you possibly be related to Hector Dagworth-Granger, who founded the Most Extraordinary Society of Potioneers?” his words penetrating the conversation at the Slytherin’s table.
“No, I don’t think so, sir.  I’m Muggle-born, you see?” 

“I wonder what this professor will think of that?” Draco asked Theo.  “He likes to make connections with famous wizards and a mudblood like her could taint his collection.” 
The young men snickered together until Slughorn awarded her twenty points.
The sinking feeling was back as he watched Granger smile at Potter.  His lack of concern regarding those three was quickly fading.  “I should hex her to fall into the Veritaserum and ask her how she managed to pilfer her magic.” 

He was fuming.  He shouldn’t be wasting time with these classes.  He should be in the room working on the cabinet, not locked in the dungeons with the mudblood and her dummies while this new professor batted his eyes at them.  There wasn’t a potion around that could fix that cabinet, and Draco couldn’t think of any other way to get the Death Eaters into Hogwarts. 
He looked over at the scar-headed boy across the room and found himself vaguely curious as to what the Dark Lord would do to him.  

You will kill Dumbledore or you will watch your mother die as you are slowly skinned alive… 

There wasn’t a potion that could fix the cabinet, but there was certainly one that could be made to kill the headmaster.  Draco suddenly felt ill.  How was he going to kill the man?  Could he kill the man? 

“It’s liquid luck!” the Gryffindor girl cried out eagerly.  “It makes you lucky!”
Draco quickly looked over at Slughorn and Granger.  Felix Felicis, Draco thought, excitedly.  The sinking feeling was replaced by elation, his pulse racing.  He would have to find a way to obtain that potion!  All of his problems would be solved!  He and his mother could escape.  Perhaps, they could even overthrow the Dark Lord and Auntie Bella would fall off a cliff.  His father would be free and the Malfoys would have their honor restored.  Could it really be this easy? 
Slughorn was explaining how tricky it was to make.  Draco knew this. His father had lamented that only a small number of potion masters were gifted enough to make it, let alone patient enough to do so, but as it was so addictive and dangerous very few of those masters would.  Draco stared at the cauldron, plotting various ways he could steal even just a small bottle when Slughorn began speaking again.
“And that,” the man said, “is what I shall be offering as a prize this lesson.”
Draco felt faint.  Aside from Granger, he was the best potions student here.  And she had no finesse.  Her work, though always technically right, missed the art in the brewing.
He watched carefully as Slughorn showed them all a tiny bottle of the liquid luck; an amount that would last for twelve hours!  His eyes flickered to the giant caldron, unable to prevent himself from imagining the possibilities.  There was no way to make off with that, but the little bottle was up for grabs.
And all he had to do was make a batch of the Draught of Living Death.  

“What are you going to do with it, Draco?” Theo questioned while Daphne looked at him.  He smirked and set to work.
He felt euphoric.  Something was finally going right for him.  Would he just go ahead and fix the cabinet?  It was only twelve hours of luck.  If he fixed the cabinet, he would still have to kill Dumbledore.  What if the cabinets couldn’t pair?  So, he would have to kill Dumbledore first.  Maybe with a cursed object? Or a poison?  No, no, no.  He didn’t have to do any of that.  Twelve hours was enough time to convince his mother to run away.  They were going to run away.  

Slughorn was passing by his table, and already feeling pleased with his effort, he addressed the man. “Sir, I think you knew my grandfather, Abraxas Malfoy?”
But Slughorn didn’t even look at him. Or his potion.  The lard of a man just mumbled his condolences over the patriarch’s young demise and walked away.  

“You’ll just have to earn his respect,” Daphne whispered.  “No matter.  Your potion is already very far along, maybe even further than Granger’s.”
Theo nodded his head and Zabini seemed to agree.  Draco briefly looked in the direction of the mudblood, but she looked to be telling Potter off about something.  He had probably almost set the place on fire, the dunce.  Draco completed his counterclockwise turns and found himself pleased with his results.  Not perfect, but almost. 
Slughorn walked around the dungeon examining potions.  When he looked at Draco’s, he finally made eye-contact with the young man and Draco was confident that, at last, he had made the man notice him.  That Felix Felicis was going to be his. 

Smugly, Draco watched as Slughorn gave Granger’s potion an approving nod.  He was not worried, he reminded himself.  She lacked the art.  But then Draco saw Slughorn’s face as he examined Potter’s attempts.
No.
No, something wasn’t right. 

“The clear winner!” cried the man.  “Excellent, excellent, Harry!

Draco stared at the dark-haired boy.  This wasn’t right. 
“How did he manage that?” Zabini grumbled.  “How is that even possible?”
“Looks like Granger is just as pissed,” Daphne said.
Draco felt sick, wanting to throw his caldron at Potter when he realized the boy was looking in his direction.  Probably delighted to have one-upped him.  

you will watch your mother die as you are slowly skinned alive … 

Ignoring everyone, Draco furiously cleaned his station and stormed from the room.  He refused to go to the dorms.  He wouldn’t go to the Great Hall.  He didn’t want to be seen. 
He could go to the room with hidden things, but the thought of that cursed cabinet made him feel worse.  He realized that his vision was blurry and, to his alarm, he understood that he was crying.  Crying!
He hurried to the nearest bathroom and barred the door.  

Sucking in huge gasps of air, Draco slowly fell to his knees.  His heart was racing and he was seeing spots. 
How did it all go so wrong?  His euphoria was replaced by debilitating terror.  What had he done?  Why had he ignored his mother?  She had warned him to disregard Aunt Bella, to never follow her plans.  And now he was a marked Death Eater with an impossible task! 

He was dying.  He couldn’t breathe and then suddenly he was wailing.  He fell forward onto his hands and watched as snot fell onto the floor. 

“If you decide to kill yourself,” a ghostly voice said, startling Draco from his crouched position.   “I’ll share my U-bend with you.”
She was floating between the floorboards, so only her torso and head were in the room with him.  She was an unattractive girl, he noted, with pimples and glasses.
“Go away!” he snarled, quickly rubbing his eyes with his sleeves.
“Don’t be embarrassed,” she said.  “I know what it is like to want to end things.  I think about death all the time.  I often consider killing myself before I remember that I’m already dead.”
Draco swallowed quickly, uncomfortable with the ghostly girl.  “This is a boy’s toilet.” He cringed at his own words.  She’s a ghost, what does she care!?
The ghost just smiled.  “I like talking about misery.  I’ll listen.” 
He eyed her carefully.  “No one is supposed to know,” he heard himself whimper and tried to keep from crying again.
“No one wants to be around me, so who would I tell?”

 

 


 

 

Shadows were creeping down the corridors as Luna Lovegood made her way to the Ravenclaw tower.  She tried not to feel lonely, but it seemed that only Ginny Weasley made time for her.  And that was usually to jump to her defense if anyone teased her.  Perhaps, if she had never known what it might be like having friends, this feeling of emptiness would not be so consuming.
As she approached the eagle knocker at the door of the common room, she stopped, realizing that there was already a cluster of students waiting.  It didn’t matter if she knew the answer or not, this particular group would be quite rude to her.   Before she could continue, a translucent and pearly woman emerged from the wall beside her and became stationary in front of her, blocking her path. 
A layer of images floated across Luna’s vision and she felt herself fall into a dreaming state.  She was suddenly not quite a part of her surroundings any longer.  This was nothing new to her. 
The Grey Lady looked critically at Luna, but Luna just looked back at her.  Her bones began to shake and she heard a distant memory of her mother’s voice when she first explained to Luna what it was like to experience the world from outside your physical form.  You’re not quite awake, but knowledge seeps into your body like a thunderstorm.
Luna tilted her head to the side.  “Good evening,” she said calmly to the ghost.  But the Grey Lady continued to look at Luna.
“You are an enigma, Maiden Lovegood.”
“You are a ghost.”
The Grey Lady smiled, “You do have a way of always getting to the heart of matters, Luna.”
“I believe there are Wrackspurts around,” Luna said in a distracted voice.  “My brain is a bit fuzzy.  Do you happen to know where they are hiding?”
“I take it back.”
Luna looked up, confused.
“You get to the heart of matters… most of the time.  It seems you are ignoring something about yourself.  Why?’”
“Isn’t that what people do, though?  I think that is a rather silly question.”  Luna was trying to keep her mind from going any fuzzier.
“Stop running away from it, girl!” 

The layers of images were all around Luna now, as if there were more ghosts in the hallway.  But they were different versions of the Grey Lady and herself.  Her mother and she had lovely conversations about these sightings.  

Your father sees them as flickers in the shadows, like something that is in the corner of your eye and you can’t move fast enough to see it clearly.  It was one of the reasons I first paid attention to him; when I realized he was trying to see what I saw.  Suddenly, things felt a bit less lonely.” 
“What do they look like to you?”
“Not quite what they look like for you.  They are more sounds to me, with different colors and glimmers for different emotions; I hear snippets of everything all at once and it can be very distracting.  I think I would prefer to see the layers like you do.”
“Daddy says they are just my imagination.”
“Wrackspurts?”
“So, they are real?”
Pandora Lovegood started to laugh.

Her laughter filled Luna’s memory and carried into the corridors of Hogwarts.  

“Which one will you pick today?” the Grey Lady asked.  “Your father or your mother?”
Luna looked sharply at the Grey Lady, but the ghost continued.  “As I said, Luna, you are an enigma.  Why are you ignoring your gift?  Will you continue to hold on to the feeble explanations your father uses, or will you rely on the knowledge your mother bestowed on you while she was alive?” 

Luna wanted to walk away and look for dirigible plums, but at that moment one of the visions of herself blocked her path alongside the Grey Lady.  She watched the layer of herself form her mouth into words she couldn’t make out.  It was becoming overwhelming and she stared at the Grey Lady.
“How do you know about the things I see?”
“Ghosts can see them, too.  Probably more frequently than the living who have the gift.  And it is very rare for the living to see them at all.”
“But how do you know that I can see anything other than Wrackspurts?”
The Grey Lady laughed.  “I am a ghost, Luna.  I have been in this castle for generations and your parents attended Hogwarts, did they not?”
Luna looked again at the transparent layer of herself and realized that she was talking with another layer of the ghost. 
“Wrackspurts do make my head go fuzzy,” Luna said.
“But are they real?”
Her mother’s laugher filled the hallway again and Luna suddenly felt less lonely.  Coming from the nearby window, a blue butterfly floated above the Grey Lady’s head and Luna was startled to realize she almost hadn’t seen it.  Her mother used to wear a brooch that looked exactly like it and Luna was confident, this was a sign.  A sign she almost missed because of Wrackspurts.  Cautiously, before her fear took hold and she turned away from this moment and joined the students at the door, Luna reached out and let the butterfly land on her outstretched hand. 
And everything went still.  The sensations of not being awake, of being trapped in a dream, were abruptly gone and she knew she had never felt more aware of anything in her life. 
Everything was waking around her.  And she could see so much more than the incandescent layers in this moment.  Every person layered in front of her had a fine silver thread attached at their shoulders, spinning off into different directions.  Her eyes followed the thread of the Luna who went back to the tower, answered the riddle and disappeared; the other students with her in various layers themselves.  Luna saw that she was merging into the Luna and thread in front of her, and all of the layers were dissolving around her. 

“How does it feel?”
“It wasn’t the way I expected,” Luna began.  “It wasn’t how I expected her to come back to me, I mean.” 
“Isn’t the truth so much better than—what are they called? Wrackspurts?”
“Oh, those are real.” Luna replied in a distinctly dotty voice.  “Thank you for stopping me, Grey Lady.  The emptiness isn’t so lonely now.”
Luna gave a small little wave and skipped to the knocker outside the tower door.

The Grey Lady felt content as the peculiar girl slid inside the tower door. 
“You shouldn’t have done that, Helena.”
She inhaled quickly, an instinct that would not end at death, and looked behind her to the nearly headless soul behind her.
“It would appear I failed, Nick.  She still believes in those silly creatures.”
He shook his head at her.  “She should have come to the gift at her own time.”
“Perhaps her time was now.”
“What games are you playing at?”
“I am not playing games.  I am simply performing my duties as the ghost of Ravenclaw and assisting the students who need it.”
“It is not our place.  The risks involved…”
“There are no risks, Nick.  You can see that as well as I can.”
“If there were no risks, then we would navigate the strings ourselves!”  He shook his head more vehemently this time, the action causing it to wobble more than necessary.  He righted it on his shoulders and looked intently at the maiden.  “We can not interfere in the lives of the living in pursuit of our own revenge.”
“Revenge?” she laughed sourly.  “The only revenge owed is against myself.  I ruined my own life.”  She began floating away from the Ravenclaw corridors, but Nearly Headless Nick followed closely.  “In all the years I have resided here, Nick, I have enjoyed guiding students towards the right answers.  The answers that he or she already knows.  Luna Lovegood knew the truth, but she was afraid of it.  I didn’t do anything other than ask her to stop lying to herself.”
The ghost beside her remained quiet and the two continued through the corridors together. 

 

Chapter Text

Angry needles of sleet fell down as Hermione made her way quickly along the path from Hogsmeade to Hogwarts.  Harry and Ron were following close behind while she had her arm around a fellow student, Leanne.  They were all shaking, but the cold was not the only culprit.

The image of their classmate eerily floating in the air occupied all their minds.  And though Katie Bell had been rushed to the castle in Hagrid’s strong arms, her screams still seemed to echo in the howling wind.  The castle was in view, recognizable in the haze by its giant mass.  Harry could no longer feel his face, having used his scarf to bundle the box with the opal necklace they believed to be the dark object that cursed Katie. 

Sleet continued to swirl down around them but, as they approached the castle steps, they were able to see their Head of House, Professor McGonagall, hurrying down to them. 
“Hagrid says you four saw what happened to Katie Bell—” Professor McGonagall directed to the students.  “Upstairs to my office at once, please!”
Harry awkwardly adjusted the bundle in his hands and the older woman’s eyes darted to it. “What’s that you’re holding, Potter?”

Distracted from the conversation unfolding around her, Hermione was looking to the top of the stairs, watching Luna Lovegood who stood loitering there. The blonde’s hair was blowing in the wind like a beacon and her blue eyes were piercing as she took in the scene below her.  Somehow, Luna looked both out of place and as if she were exactly where she should be.  

“It’s the thing she touched,” Harry answered the professor, not paying any heed to Luna’s presence.  The professor ordered Filch, the caretaker who had been approaching them, to take the cursed necklace to the medical wing for examination before the group made their way to the top of the stairs.  Luna came up to Leanne and embraced the shaking girl, slowly leading her towards the professor’s office. 
“What’s she doing here?” Ron asked Hermione.
Hermione shook her head, not sure why it mattered. 

When they all arrived outside the professor’s door, Luna released Leanne and started to leave, her hand touching Hermione’s arm softly, as if saying “Oh, hello.” Hermione felt a sense of warmth fill her cold limbs and was surprised to discover that she truly had missed the girl. 
“Ms. Lovegood…” Professor McGonagall called after her.
Luna stopped and turned back to look at the group, her face pleasant and out of place for the situation the rest found themselves in. 
“Thank you for coming to me.  We will discuss the matter further at a later time.”
Luna watched the woman for a moment, her eyes seeming to grow distant, before she nodded her head, a small tilt upwards of her mouth, and continued down the corridor. 

“The girl’s totally barmy,” Ron whispered to Harry, but Harry was too focused on his suspicions regarding the necklace to notice Ron’s usual dismissive comments about Luna. 
Hermione, however, was bothered by the comment.  Luna had shown herself to be a rather sweet and loyal friend.  Perhaps, she thought to herself, she should make a better effort to get to know the perplexing girl.

Hermione watched Harry while Leanne was explaining how Katie had returned from the bathroom holding an unmarked package and seeming a bit off.  He was barely listening and she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was going to bring up the notion that Malfoy had done this.  She looked over at Ron and knew he felt the same.  He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders when Leanne began sobbing, so overcome with guilt and grief while telling her tale she had to be sent to the medical wing.  

“What happened when Katie touched the necklace?” Professor McGonagall asked the three remaining students.  Hermione was opening her mouth to answer, but Harry had actually been quicker.  “She rose up into the air and started screaming and then collapsed,” he blurted out.  “Professor, can I see Professor Dumbledore, please?”
“He is currently away.  If there are matters you need to discuss, I can assist you,” the professor replied, a bit put off by Harry’s abrupt request.  Hermione closed her eyes and listened to the back and forth between Harry and Professor McGonagall regarding his absolute certainty that Draco Malfoy was behind Katie’s attack.  Both she and Ron tried to intervene, but Harry was adamant.  His tone was so disrespectful and she was ashamed for her friend.  Surely, the professor would understand that he was still recovering from his godfather’s murder.  That his obsession with Draco Malfoy was a way to think of things other than his rescue from the Dursley’s having been ripped away? That the only person he had ever considered family had been lost right in front of his eyes?  

“That’s enough!” Professor McGonagall exclaimed in a halting voice, having reached her breaking point with Harry’s accusations.  Hermione cringed at the pitch of the woman’s voice.  Silently, she beseeched Harry to let it go.  Their eyes met and she saw the temper in his.  Of course, he viewed her different point of view as betrayal.  Why did he think he was always right?  His claims weren’t even well thought out! 

“Mr. Malfoy was not in Hogsmeade today.”
The silence that followed Professor McGonagall’s statement seemed eternal.  But Harry refused to give up.  “How do you know, Professor?”
Hermione and Ron both fell back a bit from Harry, as if distancing themselves from him.  The look on Professor McGonagall’s face would likely have sent Voldemort running for the hills.  “Because he was serving detention with me, Potter.  He failed to complete his Transfiguration homework two times in a row, now.”
This surprised Hermione and she looked back up at the professor.  Draco Malfoy skived off his homework?  He was a lot of things, but lazy in his studies was not one of them. 
“Thank you for telling me your suspicions, Potter, but I need to go up to the hospital wing and check on Ms. Bell.”
They surrendered to the implied order, Hermione and Ron with relief and Harry begrudgingly, and moved towards the door to exit the room, but as Hermione was just to the entrance, the professor stopped her.  “Ms. Granger, I will require your company for a few moments more.  I do have questions regarding another matter.” 

Hermione watched as Harry and Ron left Professor McGonagall’s office, both completely absorbed in their own thoughts about what she considered Draco Malfoy’s improbable involvement in Katie Bell’s mishap.  Ron was, of course, placating Harry.  
Hermione shivered, still cold from the biting cold of Hogsmeade and the shock of witnessing such dark magic.  She rubbed her arms and turned back towards the office and the woman looking at her. 

“I asked you to stay, Ms. Granger, because I am not satisfied with your answers about what occurred over the summer break.”
Hermione stilled and looked to the floor of the professor’s office, her confusion sending her thoughts racing.  This had to be because of McLaggen!  She should never have used the Confundus on him so that Ron could get on the team.  Of course, Professor McGonagall would know and think that Hermione was out of control.  Maybe she was… 

Professor McGonagall continued, “I realize that the dementors caused a great deal of stress, but two bouts of accidental magic performed by a witch who was mere months from being considered of age… Who is the top of her class and incredibly gifted… It is—” the professor cut herself off and looked at Hermione darkly. “I am not an idiot, Ms. Granger.  I want to know what really happened that night.” 

Hermione felt sweat form in her arm pits and considered the woman before her.  She thought of the evening in question and remembered seeing the memory of her father on the phone with her Uncle Robert.  “Was it you who told my father about the first war?”  she asked, her voice so quiet Hermione barely heard it herself. 
But Professor McGonagall had heard and was not ruffled by the question.  “Yes, dear.  Of course, I had to explain the situation.”
Both women were still standing and Professor McGonagall pointed to one of the chairs in front of her desk while she sat down in the one beside it.  Hermione was surprised, but pleased, to see this informal act and sat down, turning to face the older woman.  The professor pulled out her wand and with a delicate movement of her hand, a cabinet on the other side of her desk opened and a tin levitated to the desk in front of them. 
“Have a biscuit and I will explain.  However, I am doing so with the trust that you will reciprocate and answer my questions before leaving this office.”
Hermione gave a quick nod as she chewed her biscuit, relishing the sweet flavor and the magical warmth it provided. 
“Your parents were reticent when I came to their door, understandably.  But the further I delved into the topic of magic, the more apparent it was that they weren’t afraid because it was the unknown to them, but because of something unknown to me.  I had been hoping that a bit of simple magic would make them more comfortable and allow me insight on their familiarity, but as soon as I pulled out my wand your mother screamed and your father pulled the both of them behind the coach.”
Hermione could envision it.  Professor McGonagall had pulled out what could easily be described as a twig, just as her uncle had described to her father.
“You seem to understand why that was a problem,” Professor McGonagall said, eyeing Hermione shrewdly. “I was able to conclude that your parents had somehow had experience with magic.  It took a great deal of coaxing and work, but I was able to get the story out of your father.  His anger was justified and fueled mine.  It became that much more important that I convince them to let you attend Hogwarts and learn how to understand and protect yourself.  I am truly sorry about your cousin.  Your parents informed me that you didn’t remember her, though?”  The question was left dangling in the air as the older woman looked at Hermione, giving her a moment to collect herself and answer the professor’s original question.  What really happened that night?  

“That was the accidental magic, Professor,” Hermione explained.  “As I said before, the dementors in Little Wood put me on edge.  As I considered what would happen to my parents if Death Eaters came after them, I begged them to leave England.  They refused to leave without me, Professor.  We argued and my mother let it slip that the Death Eaters had found them before.” 

Hermione stopped, her memories of that night reigniting the guilt she felt.
She used magic against us! 

“So that is when you performed the legilimens spell?”
Hermione nodded her head.  “It truly was an accident, professor.  I didn’t mean to see their memories.  But instead of just a kaleidoscope of images I told you about, I saw specific images relating to my cousin and her murder.”
After a moment, Professor McGonagall conjured a napkin and wiped invisible crumbs from her lips.  “What did you make them forget, Hermione?” Her tone was a command.

Hermione had originally told the professor she didn’t even know she had performed the second spell.  That she had been sleepwalking and when her cat, Crookshanks, had darted past her, she had believed him to be a dementor and jumped.  She had assumed it was the cat who knocked over the house plant, but she must have obliviated it somehow. “Can plants be obliviated?” she had asked her professor. 

She looked at Professor McGonagall now and jutted out her chin.  “They weren’t going to let me come back, Professor.  They were going to make me deny my magic and run away.”
Professor McGonagall pursed her lips and Hermione continued.  “I made them forget our argument and my pleas for them to leave because of the danger of Voldemort.  I let them keep their resurrected fear after Iris’s murder, but distanced that fear from me.  I planted the idea that they give me access to their legal matters in case anything was to happen to them.  And I encouraged them to regularly set aside funds to store in case they need to leave quickly.”
The professor’s eyes had grown rather large and she set the tin on her desk.  “Who else have you obliviated?”
“What?! No one!”
“Yet, on a whim,” Professor McGonagall began, incredulously, “you mastered a skill you had never performed before?”
“I have read about that incantation repeatedly ever since this school hired Gilderoy Lockhart! The spell fascinated me.”
The women eyed each other carefully before Professor McGonagall shook her head and sighed.  “You are incredibly gifted, Ms. Granger, it’s true.”  The professor rose from her seat and moved around her desk to stand behind it.  “I am not sure how to proceed with this information,” she continued.  “I respect your desire to return to Hogwarts and your fear for your parents.  I even understand your misrepresentation of what actually occurred.  But you used magic on muggles!  Magic you knew little about!  Do you know how badly this could have turned out?” 

Hermione bowed her head.  “That being said,” Professor McGonagall continued.  “You were certainly not in your right state of mind after all that had taken place that evening, including the effects of actual accidental magic.  I could consider this an unplanned act on your part and, now that you are of age, the issue is more or less a moot point.  You and I will be meeting regularly, however, to refine some of your natural capabilities.”
Hermione’s heart stopped and then leapt.  With Professor McGonagall’s direct tutelage, she could be better able to help Harry and Ron defeat Voldemort and his Death Eaters.  She may even find a better way to protect her family.
“I do need to go to the hospital wing, now.  But Ms. Granger, please refrain from any further bouts of unreasoned magic,” Professor McGonagall said.  “Even a Confundus used to prevent disaster on our chances for the house cup.” 

Hermione hid her small smile as she and the professor left the office and parted ways.  She honestly wasn’t sure if she should have been as straightforward with the professor during their first meeting or not.  The woman had seemed different tonight, as if she were looking at Hermione with new eyes.  Hermione sighed and shrugged the thought away.  The professor was most likely just looking at Hermione as if she was an adult, now. 

Turning a corner on her way to her common room, her path crossed that of Draco Malfoy’s.  He looked ill.  His eyes had dark circles under them and his frame was too thin.  She was alarmed by his appearance.  They had only been in school for a month and a half, but he looked like he hadn’t been eating or sleeping much at all during that time. 

“What are you looking at, Mudblood?” Draco Malfoy jibed, as he registered who it was in front of him.  But Hermione noted there was no malice in his tone, just a tired voice spouting off words as if from muscle memory.
She raised her eyebrow at him and frowned when he raised his back.  She was fully aware that he was much better at it than she was. 
“If we’re relying on familiar name calling, what was my favorite for you?  Loathsome, little cockroach?” she said while eyeing him up and down.  “So, I’m not looking at much of anything, Malfoy.”
He opened his mouth as if to say something, but surprised her when he shook his head instead, and walked around her.  “Just stay out of my way,” he sent over his shoulder.  “I don’t have time for lesser sort like you.”
She noticed again that the words were right, but he wasn’t himself.  Before she thought it through she started after him.  “Are you alright, Malfoy?”
He stopped, but didn’t look back at her.
“What business is it of yours, Mudblood?  Interested in taking up the proper duties of your kind, perhaps?”
She didn’t want to consider what he was implying and huffed out a growl before turning back to her original path to the common room.  She didn’t notice him turn to watch her departing figure. 

Draco Malfoy pulled his fingers through his hair and let out a breath.  If the mudblood was worried about him, he must really look awful.  Pushing aside the small comfort he had felt at her concern, he continued through the corridors to a rarely used bathroom.  He needed to vent and hopefully Myrtle would be there already. 

Slowly pushing open the door, he verified that he was alone in the room before barring the door.  Myrtle wasn’t there, but it was no matter; she would come eventually.  She always showed up eventually.  Finally, able to let go, he leaned against the wall and slid down to sit on the cold floor.  Resting his head against his knees he began to cry, shaking forcefully. 
It wasn’t long until he felt the cold sensation on his shoulders and knew that the ghost was there.  She had taken to using her small bit of energy to give him strength.  Raising his head up he looked over and saw her resting against him, her arm across his back.  He could almost imagine the cold feeling was actually her arm and not the misty air that made her form.  

“It all went wrong today,” he told her.
She lifted her head and looked at him critically.  “If he kills you, you really can share my U-bend.”
He managed a small sound that might have been a laugh and rose to his feet.  “I am nowhere near fixing the blasted cabinet.  And nowhere near the task he has ordered me to complete.”  He began pacing, wiping his eyes with the sleeve of his robes.  “My friends are blissfully ignorant of the details.  Theo begs to help, but I can’t bring him into this.  Pansy looks at me like I have grown a second head; she refuses to touch my arm, afraid of what she will find there.  But Crabbe and Goyle are necessary.  And if they don’t assist me somehow and make the Dark Lord proud, their father’s will be furious,” he said. 

He looked back at Myrtle who was floating around the room.  “I wasn’t able to steal the Felix Felicis, but I was able to grab a bit of something he didn’t value as much.  Thank you for your help with that.  I don’t know if I could have managed it if you hadn’t used Peeves to distract him.” 

Myrtle smiled, her pimply face almost pleasant at the compliment.  “I am glad you keep coming to visit, Draco.  It gets so lonely being a ghost.”

Draco nodded in her direction and tried to smile.  “I think I will be leaving now, though.  I am going to have to try to get some sleep tonight.  It seems even the stupid little mudblood is worried about me—" 

Her pained cry surprised him and he turned to look at her but she was gone.  Her wail was echoing through the pipes before she floated back into the room, water flying from the faucets behind him.  “—think it’s funny to mock ugly, miserable, moping Moaning Myrtle” she was crying before splashing into one of the toilets, her voice growing distant before fading entirely.  

Draco was startled by her reaction to his cutting the meeting short.  He hadn’t realized she would be so upset.  She truly was the only soul he could talk to.  After several failed attempts to get her attention, he unlocked the door and peered into the hall before making his way to the Slytherin dorms.  Every now and then he would hear her wail and the sounds of water splashing.  Girls really were a lot of work, he thought to himself and sighed as he sidestepped a rather large puddle outside the unused girls’ lavatory and continued down the corridor that would lead to the dungeons. 

He hadn’t noticed that he was being watched.  Harry Potter was eyeing the other young man critically, certain that he was right and that Malfoy was behind the assault earlier that day.  Preparing to follow Draco further, Harry was surprised when a small, blonde figure stepped in front of him.

“Hello, Harry,” said Luna, her voice light.  He felt as though she were looking through him and not at him and he tried to look around her in order to keep his eyes on Draco, but she stepped in front of his line of sight again. “I don’t think he will be going anywhere else tonight, Harry.  And really, the both of you could use some sleep.”
“Who needs sleep?” Harry asked, distracted by her words.
“You and Draco Malfoy need sleep, of course.  You both have had rather trying days.”
“What was so trying about his day, Luna?” Harry bit out, suspicion in his tone.   He was vaguely aware that he was being rude, but his focus was solely on proving that Malfoy was a Death Eater.
“I assume detention is always trying.”
Harry turned to look at Luna, distracted momentarily from the retreating shadow of Draco Malfoy.  “How did you know about his detention?” Harry asked, his voice harsh.
Luna seemed to deflate, as if she had sighed.  “You should probably spend time with people other than Ron for a while.  You are starting to sound like him when you talk to me,” Luna said before turning away from Harry.  “I hope it’s just that you’re tired, though.”
Harry felt horrible.  “Luna, I’m sorry,” he said, rushing to catch up with her.  “I’ve been in a horrible mood for months and I just can’t shake it.  I shouldn’t have taken that out on you.”
“It isn’t just me, though, is it?”
Harry swallowed, but chose not to comment on the uncomfortable truth she had spoken.  The two continued to walk in silence for a short while, heading towards the stairs where they would eventually part for their respective towers. 
“Since you’re obviously aware that I was following him, what else do you know?” he asked, genuinely curious about what the girl would come up with.
“I know a lot of things, Harry,” Luna replied in her distant voice.  Looking at her face, Harry realized there was a glint in her eyes and he laughed. 
Not wanting the silence to intrude again, Harry said tiredly “I think he was behind what happened to Katie Bell.” He rubbed his forehead, expecting the usual argument he received from Ron and Hermione.
Instead, Luna said, “He could be.”
Harry stopped suddenly in momentary confusion.  “Why do you say that?” he asked quickly, catching up to Luna who had continued walking without him.  “You just said you knew that he was in detention!”
“No, I just said that I know a lot of things, Harry.”
Harry wasn’t put off by her.  “So, if he could be behind it, how do you think he did it?”
“Have you been paying attention to Hermione, Harry?”
This stopped Harry.  “She and I have been having some difference of opinions, lately.”
“About Draco?”
“And about my… study guide in Potions,” he answered evasively. 
Luna looked at him, almost sadly, and nodded her head.  “If he was behind it, Harry, I would be more curious as to why.”
“Because he is a Death Eater!” Harry hissed.
“But, why?”
“Because he is a pure-blooded bigot.”
“Why?”
“Luna, his father is evil.  His mother probably is, too.  They raised him to be evil and he hurt Katie Bell because of that.”
“Katie isn’t a muggle-born.”
“No, but she was bringing that cursed necklace back to the castle to give it to someone else.”
“Maybe Draco.”
“So he could give it to someone else!”
“Why?”
Harry let out a frustrated groan and the two started climbing the stairs together. 

“What will you do about Quidditch?  Now that Katie can’t play.”
Harry groaned again. 
Luna’s lips twitched and she added, “I am sure your decision will make you come to terms with a lot of things.”
They walked up the stairs for a while, and Harry was content, noticing that the silence wasn’t so bad with Luna. 
“The nice thing about your study guide in Potions, I suppose,” Luna said, veering the conversation in yet another direction, “is that it will reveal a lot about who you are to yourself, too.”
Harry wasn’t sure he liked the sound of that.  They had reached the fork and Luna began taking the stairs that led to the Ravenclaw tower.
“In regards to figuring out your Draco situation,” she continued, her voice floating down behind her, “I imagine a good bump to the head will give you an idea or two.”  

Harry just shook his head as he watched the girl make it to the top of the stairs before mounting his own flight.  His thoughts quickly moved to Quidditch and he knew that Dean Thomas was the obvious choice there.  McLaggen would be furious, but maybe Harry could convince Hermione to perform another Confundus on him.  That girl could be lethal if she set her mind to it, he thought to himself with a grin.  Thank Merlin they had become friends first year.  He couldn’t imagine his life without her.  

His pace slowed as he considered Luna’s question.  Why should he be paying attention to Hermione?  He shook his head.  He had found that almost anything Luna said would make itself clear at some point or another.  He would just wait on it and hope, that as usual, it wasn’t important. 

Chapter Text

Frustration bubbled within him and he knew there was nothing that he could do about it.  Just like there was nothing that he could do about the horrible pain in his arm.  His metal arm. His gift from the Dark Lord.  It unnerved him that it hurt so much.  

Peter’s steps were unsteady as he made his way to the kitchen, hoping that the house elves would take pity on him and brew him another pain potion.  Their potions were rather weak compared to the ones he pilfered from Snape while stuck in the oily man’s miserable home, but Merlin, he needed something.  The tiny needles in his limb were like a constant Crucio held from his elbow down.  

Trying to catch his breath he leaned into the kitchen door to push it open, realizing too late his mistake.  Bellatrix Lestrange had been behind him, for how long he did not know.  The miserable woman who had ruined his life was staring at him, her expression mocking.  

“Prowling about the manor a bit late, aren’t you Wormtail?” she purred slowly as she stepped towards him.  Her hair was particularly wild this evening and she had the distinct odor of floo powder.  He assumed she had been off galivanting with the other Death Eaters that were wooing the disgusting werewolves.
“Just in need of a bit of sustenance,” he said, ashamed at the squeak in his voice.  He stood there, cradling his metal arm in his hand, and tried to remember what he was actually doing.  “Was there something you needed?” he asked, afraid there was.
“Oh, Wormy, why are you so anxious?  Aren’t we friends?” she asked, her eyes betraying a menacing quality.  “Haven’t we been friends for years?” She reached behind him and started easing the door he was still leaning into. 
Peter stumbled back a bit before walking backwards into the kitchen and letting her get ahead of him.  

“Of, course,” he stammered.
Bellatrix sauntered into the kitchen and sat at a table by the window.  She leaned the chair back and propped her legs on the table and continued to look at Peter.  “Was there a reason you were headed here?  Don’t let me stop you,” her voice was buzzing with laughter.

There was no way he would be requesting a pain potion with Bellatrix in the kitchen.  It didn’t matter anyway, as none of the house elves were present.  If he attempted anything in the kitchen, she would mock him.  His magic was limited in the manor and even more so in the elves’ domain.  Either his magic would fail or he would have to do it the muggle way.  

Her laughter penetrated his thoughts and he looked back at her, realizing too late her wand was pointed at him.  Suddenly, he felt the stabbing intrusion of her in his mind.  He fell to his knees, screaming out in pain as she tore through his thoughts.  He was powerless against her; he always had been. 

“Oh, poor Wormtail.  Got a bit of gyp with your gammy arm?” She slammed her feet and chair down and quickly rose from her seat.  “As much as I loathe the oily git, Snape does have a way with potion making.”  She walked over to Peter and clucked her tongue.  “Grubber!”
With a pop, a shriveled looking house elf appeared in the kitchen. 
“Yes, mistress?” the tiny creature asked while bowing its head low to the ground. 
“This ungrateful pest on the floor is whimpering over the blessing my gracious master bestowed on him.  Have you any suggestions for relieving his suffering?”
The decrepit elf turned to Peter and, realizing how close it was to him, took a step backwards.  “My mistress despises him?  Then cut it off.” 

Bellatrix chortled and Peter held his arm closer to him.  It only hurt on occasion and he would not be losing his arm again due to the whims of Bellatrix and the little elf at her feet.  He watched as the witch cooed happily at Grubber.  He had never encountered this elf before, which led him to believe it was one of Bellatrix’s. Its skin was so wrinkled and dry, it looked like bark.  One arm was longer than the other, the fingers pointed and sharp and its ears standing tall and alert.  And its eyes were terrifying; they were like black holes. 
“I don’t believe my master would approve of our destroying his creation,” she answered Grubber, who bowed before her.  “Perhaps a mild pain potion to dull his hurt.”
“Yes, mistress,” Grubber said.  He popped away, which added to Peter’s belief that he was not a Malfoy elf. 

“How dare you be angered at our Dark Lord,” she said, turning to him suddenly.  “You are not worthy of the tolerance he has shown you— If I had been in your shoes, I would never have hidden away with blood traitors!  I would have found him immediately!  Your punishment is mild compared to what you deserve!”
“I brought him back!” Peter shouted, forgetting his fear of her in his anger.  “I found him and I brought him back!  You would be rotting in Azkaban still if I had not found him!”  He rose his head and grimaced, remnants of pain still lingering.
“You are a rat, Wormtail.  That is all you will ever be, you miserable little rodent.”  She flicked her wand and sent a stinging hex at his curled form.  “We all waited because of you.  And you only retrieved the Dark Lord because you were found out!  You would have been content remaining a rat for the rest of your miserable days!  And to think, it was me who convinced the Dark Lord to take you into the fold.” 

With a pop, Grubber returned holding a dark liquid in a clear bottle.  Peter eyed the potion doubtfully.  Even he knew that was not a typical pain tonic.  To his relief, the dark liquid was given to Bellatrix and another bottle appeared in the elf’s hand before he gave that to his mistress, as well.  With a nod of his head, Grubber popped away again and Bellatrix was handing the pain potion to Peter.  

Once he had consumed every drop, he felt more confident.  He rose to his feet, the pain just an irritation now.  “Our master is reborn because of my efforts.  My arm was replaced because I am a loyal and true servant.”
“It burns even now, doesn’t it?” She whispered as she paced around him.
“I sacrificed everything for him!”
“Sacrificed?  What did you sacrifice, Wormtail?  Your friends?  You gained everything for such a small thing… you didn’t even like them.”  She twirled her wand in her fingers, her hair obscuring part of her face.  “You didn’t sacrifice for the Dark Lord, Wormy.  We both know that.  Your infatuation with Jugson is the only reason you didn’t just run away from everyone.” 

Peter swallowed hard as he thought of the other man.  Price Jugson had been just a few years ahead of him at Hogwarts.  And had awoken feelings in Peter he had never considered before.  He looked to Bellatrix and his resentment surfaced again.  It was all her fault.  She had found him spying on Jugson in Diagon Alley and had quickly realized his attraction.  

“Your sacrifice was nothing more than choosing the winning side and saving your own miserable skin.  Any hesitation you had from turning away from the ‘light’ was banished at the pathetic hope of Jugson noticing you.”  Her laugh filled the space and she continued to walk circles around him.  “I knew you never stood a chance with him,” she continued, licking her lips and sliding her hands over her hips, “but I was never going to tell you that.  Not when you were so close to the Order.”  She cackled and spun in a circle, then reached out and pulled at Peter’s hair, twirling a captured strand around her wand. 

Peter was immobile.  She wasn’t telling him anything he didn’t already suspect, but to hear his suspicions confirmed grated on him.  The witch knew his darkest secret and used it against him, enticing him with the promise of Jugson and safety from the Order if he were to become a spy.  If he were stronger, or braver, he would wring her neck. 

“A great deal of spells can be performed using human hair,” she said, looking at him as though he amused her.  “Did you know, Wormtail? And now I have a bit of yours.”
He was afraid.  She always terrified him, but her manic appearance was beyond unsettling.  “As you said to Grubber earlier, Bellatrix,” he grated out, trying to appear calm. “I am our master’s creation.” 

You?!?” she hissed.  “You, his creation?” her voice was angry, but suddenly her eyes opened wide and she began to laugh.  “He gifted you a cursed arm, Wormtail.  A cursed arm to remind you to never again forget who your master is.  The Dark Lord would not make such a mistake as to put any value in you.  No, you are his pet.  You are lower than Grubber in the food chain.  And if you decide to be a rat again, if you dare go against the Dark Lord…”  She held her wand to his face and stroked the strand of hair wrapped around it.  “That will be the last thing you do, Wormy.” 

She began chanting in a hushed voice, her eyes only on the strand of hair around her wand.  And then she unwound the hair, placing the small little heap in the palm of her hand.  Peter Pettigrew stood transfixed, watching her as she put on her odd performance.  Her actions looked like a child playing make-believe, but he couldn’t shake the knot of fear growing in his belly.  Then, suddenly, she quieted and the room became strangely silent.  She grabbed his metal arm with her free hand and slammed his strand of hair down on the appendage.  Pain as he had never known coursed through his body, but was abruptly gone.  His metal fingers twitched. 

When she removed her hand, there was a black mark on his false arm.  It was as if his hair had burned to the metal and stained it.  He tried to move his fingers, but for a brief moment, nothing happened.  Then she laughed, a sound that was surprisingly light, and he looked at her and felt his fingers clench. 

“Oh, Wormtail, you daft rat.  Go to bed.”
She was laughing at him, he realized, and he felt foolish for falling for her mad games.  He tried to laugh with her, as if he found it all funny instead of horribly frightening, and quickly made his way from the room. He looked back once as the door was closing behind him and felt a sense of relief that she had already turned away from him. 

Bellatrix was looking at the back wall of the kitchen, Peter already forgotten to her.  She felt her sister in the room, but could not find her anywhere.  It had been a happy accident to find Wormy in the corridor – she did always enjoy playing with him, but she had been on the hunt for Cissy. 

“Where are you hiding, Cissy?” she asked the wall before spinning around the room.  “Homenum revelio” she bellowed as she quickly looked around the room, but there was no sign of anyone else in the kitchen.  “I command you to show yourself, Cissy!” 

Nothing changed, but Bellatrix could feel their connection.  “Grubber!” she called and welcomed the slightly echoed popping sound of his arrival. 
“Mistress?”
“Where is my sister?”
The little creature curled his daggerlike fingers and bowed his head.  “Mistress, I cannot help you in this place.  The magic here prevents it.”
Bellatrix snarled out a hiss. “Why have you not found a way around it, Grubber?  I have commanded you to do so!” 
With a slight tremor, the little elf asked, “What punishment shall I complete?”
Bellatrix ignored the elf as she examined the wall again.  “Cissy! Now!” she screamed. And then she howled.  She no longer felt her sister’s presence and hadn’t since the elf arrived.  Quickly turning she glared at the thing.
“Where did she go?” she asked, but the elf just quivered and shook his head. 

The door to the kitchen slowly opened and Narcissa Malfoy entered the room in her dressing gown before anything more could be said.  Her complexion was still pale and she looked to be very tired.  “You called for me, Bella?” she asked, her voice weary.  

Bellatrix quickly turned and eyed her sister who was still recovering from the episode of rebellion months ago and it brought a satisfied grin to Bellatrix’s lips.  As she slowly swaggered over to her sister, she noticed that Narcissa’s eyes had grown large.  Following her sister’s gaze, Bellatrix felt her irritation bubble as she registered what had upset the other woman. 

“How…  How is he here?” Narcissa questioned, alarm and disbelief in her voice.
“I called for him, Cissy.”  Bellatrix said and continued to watch the shock on her sister’s face, enjoying the questions she was too afraid to ask. 
“Grubber, though?  How – I don’t understand, Bella!” There was no mistaking the panic in her sister’s voice and Bellatrix smiled coldly. 
“You know I am capable of quite a bit of magic, Cissy,” Bellatrix answered, and feeling the need to lash out, gently slid her finger through her sister’s hair before tugging it hard.  “Besides, mother’s sacrifice allowed for more than just a little curse.” 

With an anguished cry, Narcissa slapped her sister across the face.  The move had surprised the elder witch and she fell back just enough for Narcissa to kick out at her.  But before Narcissa could do anything more, Grubber was between the two women.  His sharp fingers dug into Narcissa’s leg and punctured the skin.  She kicked him off her and into the wall and, in an instant, four of the resident house elves popped into the room, landing on top of Grubber and holding him down.  All of the elves looked to their mistresses and upon Bellatrix’s curt nod, Grubber popped away causing the remaining four to fall to the floor.  

“Now, now, Cissy.” Bellatrix said, while wiping at the trickle of blood coming down her face.  “Remember what happens when you strike me?”
Narcissa reached up and wiped the blood from her own face as she stared at Bellatrix.  “I will lash out anytime you bring her up.  You are not worthy of speaking of our mother, Bella.” 

Bellatrix laughed as she crossed the kitchen to sit at the table once more.  “Why would you say that, Cissy?”
“You murdered her!” Cissy cried out, storming to the table where Bellatrix sat.
“True, but she deserved it.” 

Narcissa opened her mouth as if to speak, but Bellatrix shouted first. “Silence!”
No sound came from Narcissa’s moving mouth and she closed it in defeat. 
“Sit.” Bellatrix pointed to another chair at the table and Narcissa slowly sat down. 

The two women stared at each other before Narcissa motioned to one of the house elves still in the room.  “Tea. Full service,” she ordered and, with a flurry, the elves set to work. 

“A bit late for that, don’t you think?” Bellatrix asked, but Narcissa just shrugged her shoulders. 
“One of the benefits of your disobedience,” Bellatrix continued, “is that you have been very well behaved as of late.  Until tonight.  I will give you grace as you were upset regarding our mother, but don’t push me anymore.  I have begun to wonder what consequences Lucius suffers when you disobey me.  Your marriage bond would cause him harm, no?  Do you think he is fretting about why he is bleeding?” 

Narcissa bit her cheek to keep from responding.  Bellatrix didn’t entirely understand the curse she had placed on Narcissa, and Narcissa would make no effort to educate her.  Lucius was fine.  While it was true the bond of marriage had subjected him to the curse, unless Bellatrix was particularly obsessed about something, she could not affect him while he was so far away.  

Bellatrix gingerly lifted the tea that had been placed before her.  The etiquette instilled in her since her youth was second nature and she looked bizarre with her unkempt hair and rotting teeth while she daintily consumed her beverage.
“Where were you, Cissy?”
“I am sorry?”
“I was following you.  I know you were here in the kitchen, but I couldn’t find you.”
“You were following me? Oh, no, I don’t think so.  I haven’t been in this kitchen for some time.  Not since Draco was a boy.”
Bellatrix’s eyes narrowed, but Narcissa continued.  “Surely, you remember how this house reacts to foreign magic.  If it were a wizard, I’d say he was playing with you.”
“Don’t lie to me, Narcissa!”
“I’m not lying, Bella,” Narcissa chided.  “This is the first I’ve been in this kitchen since Draco was a child.  And the magic of this house doesn’t welcome those who aren’t Malfoys.” 

Watching her sister carefully, Bellatrix saw no signs of disobedience.  She would have to return home soon, and visit the Oak Wood in order to sharpen her magic.  She briefly considered sacrificing the rat before her alter, but was not inclined to steal from her Lord. 
“Any news from Draco regarding his progress?” Bellatrix asked, not taking her eyes off of Narcissa. 
“They will pair, but the one at Hogwarts was in far worse condition that he’d anticipated.  He thinks it unlikely it will be ready by the Holiday.”
“What of his actual assignment?”
“I know it was you who put him up to this, Bella,” Narcissa muttered.  “You sent him to be slaughtered!”
“He’s willing to do what it takes to restore the Malfoy name,” Bellatrix answered, her tone bored. 
“The Malfoy name will restore itself after this bloody war is over!”
Bellatrix slammed her fist on the table and rose from her seat.  “Answer my question, sister!  I grow weary of these distractions.”
“He has tried and failed.  He will continue to try until Dumbledore dies or he is caught and sent to Azkaban.”
“We can’t have him fail, Cissy.  I’d hate to lose my sister due to his inadequacy.”
“I can’t lose my son!” Narcissa wailed, shaking her head at Bellatrix.
“I am sure Snape will help him along,” Bellatrix cooed as she left the table.  “And you have always managed to entrepreneur methods to save your son from ill fate.”  Bellatrix laughed and spun around to look at Narcissa.  “Just think, though, if you hadn’t interfered with my original plan, he might just have been saved from this fate.” 

Narcissa glared as Bellatrix strolled out of the kitchen laughing.  With a snap of her fingers, a house elf appeared by her side.  “I will be needing to write a letter to my son,” she said quietly.  “I’m not quite ready to return to my chambers.”
The elf nodded and popped away, only to return a moment later with her writing supplies. Narcissa nodded her head and the elf popped away for a second time.  

She sighed.  She had used a great deal of her energy to apparate to the far hall in order to walk back down to the kitchen earlier.  And now she must compose a letter to Draco and try to convince him to trust Severus.  But she knew her son and he would disregard her request.  He would not understand why she was requesting he rely on such a loyal Death Eater.  

They were trapped.  She sighed again and put ink to paper.  If nothing else, she would convince him to remember the tale of the Oak and the Reeds.  He would have to bend or he would break.  

With another snap of her fingers the elf returned and took the letter from Narcissa.  “It will arrive with the morning post, Mistress.”  The elf then took her hand and apparated them to her rooms.  Even her vague requests in her letter to Draco had gone against her sister’s will and had taken more of her waning strength.  Slowly, Narcissa found her way to the bed and fell into a deep sleep.  

While Narcissa slept in her bed, the door to her chambers opened.  Bellatrix creeped inside and stared at her sister for a moment before she waved her wand around the room.  There was something more to her sister’s absence earlier, but nothing unusual was indicated in the room.  She tilted her head from shoulder to shoulder and eyed the items in the room.  Walking along its perimeter, she slid her hands along the walls, but though she felt strong magic, she could make nothing more out.  She would have to delve into her sister’s mind to find her answers.    

It ruffled her, but Bellatrix had to have eye contact in order to successfully complete the spell.  She slowly walked to her sister’s sleeping form.  “Open your eyes, sister,” she whispered and smiled as Cissy instantly obeyed.  Whispering the spell, Bellatrix forced her way into her sister’s subconscious and was shocked when she was immediately pushed out so forcefully, she fell to the floor and vomited.  

Narcissa Malfoy rose quickly from her bed.  “Bella!” she cried out, confused and shocked by Bellatrix’s presence at her bedside.  “Are you sick? What happened – why are you here?”
Bellatrix looked up at her sister in alarm.  “How did you do that?”
Narcissa feigned ignorance.  “Do what?  I was sleeping and woke to your being sick on my floor… I don’t understand your question.”
“How did you push me out of your mind?”
“I was sleeping, Bella! How could you have even entered my mind?”
“I commanded you to open your eyes, Cissy, and you complied like a good little sister should.  But as soon as I entered your mind, you pushed me out!”
“It must have been instinct, Bella.  Or, perhaps,” she said, deliberately choosing to use Bella’s ignorance against her, “it has something to do with your little curse.”  Narcissa turned and marched to her bedroom door and flung it open.  “I am tired and ill, as you well know.  If you are sick due to your own misdeeds, I am not inclined to help you.  Get out, Bella.  Before I decide to misbehave some more.  I am sure I have quite a few things I can do before I no longer have the strength to fight.” 

Bellatrix rose unhurriedly, using her wand to clean up the mess she had made.  “You act as though you will die from this curse if you go against my will too many times, Cissy.  But I wonder if you would die, or simply have no free will left at all.”  She leisurely walked to the door of the room, storing her wand away and eyeing Narcissa carefully.  “Just imagine what it will be like when you finally go too far and I can command you to murder anyone of my choosing.  Perhaps your husband.  Or even your own son.” 

Her laughter followed her form as she walked down the corridor towards the stairs.  Narcissa swallowed and clenched her eyes shut, refusing to succumb to her fear. 

Chapter Text

Hermione was quickly running down the stairs, desperate to keep her face hidden behind her hair.  So, she laughed at him? So, what? It was funny! It was ridiculous!  He was supposed to color his eyebrows and he gave himself a handlebar mustache, instead… the dunce!

She could barely see through her curtain of curls, but she knew the castle well.  The corridors were as familiar to her as her own home.  Not wanting to be found, she hurried down to the bathroom one level below. But, as she neared the door, she skidded to a halt when she saw a pale figure standing there as if waiting for her. 

“Luna?” she asked, an image of Luna at the top of the castle stairs, her hair waving in the sleet and wind, flashing in her memory.
“Hello, Hermione.  I thought you might need a friendly face right about now.” 

Hermione’s eyes felt heavy with the pressure of her tears and before she could stop herself, she burst into loud wails, her body rocking.  She felt the gentle hands of Luna lead her into the bathroom and, instinctively, she turned her body towards Luna’s, leaning into the girl’s embrace.  

“Why is he so cruel?”  Hermione sobbed.
Luna’s hands gently stroked Hermione’s back, spreading warmth down her spine. 
“I shouldn’t have laughed,” Hermione continued, “And the birds the other night may have been harsh.  He brings out the worst in me.  He’s always so mean and so thoughtless.  He had to make fun of me, and he hits the mark every time.”
“Draco?” Luna asked, although she didn’t sound confident.
“No,” Hermione wailed and started crying again.  New waves of hurt filled Hermione at the thought that Ron would be mistaken for Draco Malfoy.
Luna kept her hand firmly on Hermione’s arm as she stepped back.  “I noticed last year how unkind Ron can be.”

It was true, her best friend was a complete arse to Luna on every occasion.  Her irritation at him intensified.  “Why have I ignored that about him?” she murmured to herself, and then, humbled, accepted she hadn’t been much better. 

Hermione blinked the tears from her eyes, looking at the girl beside her. “I am so sorry.  I haven’t always been kind to you, either.”
Luna’s hand slid down Hermione’s arm, taking Hermione’s hand in hers.  “We see things in different ways, and I sometimes confuse willful devotion as an open mind,” said Luna, looking calm and unbothered by Hermione’s confession as she made her reply. 

Luna’s words stirred something in Hermione, but Luna continued before she could think on it further. “We can both see that Trelawny is dreadful, though.”  There was an edge to Luna’s voice that Hermione had never heard before and she found herself grinning at Luna before both were smiling devilishly together.

“Do you have her again this term?” Hermione asked, forgetting her heartache for the moment.
“No, I’ve got Firenze this year,” the other girl replied with a curious sort of smile.  “He tried to help me understand how I see things, but apparently my visions aren’t something the Centaurs have encountered in a long time.  I’m afraid I’ll be as wasted as Trelawney who didn’t have any direction, either.” 

Luna waited for her words to register with Hermione as the memory of her encounter with Trelawney came to mind.  When the visions of corded layers had become too much for Luna, she had gone to her former teacher for help.  But the woman had called Luna dangerous when Luna approached her and had backed away, her hands shaking and her glasses sliding down her nose.  And then the professor had erupted with layers and cords and her voice was not her own.  Luna swore that she was drowning in the blinding light that shown from the many layers tunneling out of the woman’s throat as she spoke. 

“She will be shielded by the blood of her enemy, he by his creators…  as the dust settles from death’s battle, the witch of the oak woods will covet their defense...  ancient magic will unleash both darkness and light… the circle cannot be broken until the ransom of life-blood is served.”

It was after this that Luna had self-consciously approached Firenze.  Looking to the stars, he explained that hers was a gift that only presented during dire times.  It was critical for her to master her gifts and find balance.  He had called Luna’s gift ancient and suggested she, too, look to the stars.  Firenze offered no words of comfort when she told him about what happened with Trelawney, but said only that she should move forward as if she had never heard what was said. 

Hermione looked at Luna, and felt the room grow quiet.  Luna was very still, as if anticipating the harsh words; Hermione’s disbelief in divination was not a secret.  Hermione sucked in air, and shook her head, before voicing the thought suddenly burning in her mind.  “How did you know I would need a friendly face?” she asked, uncomfortable with the direction of the conversation.

“I saw you coming.”

Hermione was tempted to ask how…  Had Luna seen Hermione running towards the bathroom because Luna was in the corridor, or was she alluding to something more?  Hermione’s rational brain was gearing up, scoffing at the idea of divination, but her memories of encounters with Luna gave Hermione pause.

Luna smiled. “Do you dream, Hermione?”
“Of course.”
“I dream while I’m awake.” 

Luna held up her hand when Hermione prepared to ask more questions. “Harry is looking for you,” Luna said, leading Hermione back to the corridor.
Sure enough, Harry was approaching the bathroom, holding Hermione’s belongings with his own.  She looked at Luna thoughtfully as the girl patted her on the back.

“Oh, hello, Harry,” said Luna.  “Did you know that one of your eyebrows is yellow?”
“Hello, Luna,” Harry replied, looking somewhere between amused and exhausted.  “Hermione, here are your things.”
“Oh, yes,” said Hermione, her voice strained.  She quickly took her belongings, which she had abandoned when she fled from Ron, but kept looking at Luna.  With Harry’s presence, and the fact he had to deliver her possessions, all of Hermione’s hurt feelings and embarrassment returned.  With a quick nod to Luna, Hermione turned to Harry.  “Thank you, Harry.  I think I’ll be going…”

Harry frowned as he watched her hurry away. 
“She’s a bit upset,” said Luna.  “I was expecting Moaning Myrtle until I realized it was Hermione.  She said some things about your friend Ron.”
“Yeah,” Harry started, but Luna interrupted him.
“You should talk to him.  He shouldn’t be so hurtful.”

Harry didn’t know how to respond to Luna, so he opted to change the subject.  “How has the term been treating you?”
“It’s a little lonely,” she said bluntly. “I miss the DA and getting to be around so many people that were like friends.  Ginny makes a point to visit with me in the classes we share, but it isn’t the same.”
Harry felt his heart skip a beat at the mention of Ginny.  He was still coming to terms with the fact that he fancied Ron’s sister.  And with the fact that he was jealous as hell of Dean Thomas for getting to kiss her every day. 
Luna’s words, however, which always had a way of making him feel uncomfortable, were nowhere near as bothersome to him as the thought of her feeling alone. 

“How would you like to come to Slughorn’s party with me tonight?”
Harry liked the happy feeling that filled his chest as he watched her eyes light up and her mouth upturn in a surprised smile.  He fleetingly thought of Ginny, but pushed down that sadness as he watched Luna.
“Slughorn’s party? With you?”
“Yeah,” he replied, feeling a genuine smile stretch his face.  “We are supposed to bring a guest.  I’d like you to come as my friend, Luna.”
The answering smile on her face let him know that she understood his intentions.  “I would love to go with you, as friends!  No one has asked me to a party before – as friends.  Should I dye one of my eyebrows a different color?  Is that why yours are different?” 
Harry felt a lightness inside he hadn’t felt in a while and couldn’t help but laugh.  “No,” he answered firmly while smothering his chuckle.  “That was a mistake in class.  I’ll get Hermione to put it right for me.”
Her smile fell a little and he suspected it was disappointment that there would be no eyebrow alterations.  “So,” he continued, “I’ll meet you at the entrance hall at eight o’clock, then?”

She nodded her head furiously, a bright smile on her face when a voice screamed above their heads.  “AHA!!!”
Harry’s heart sank at the sight of the castle poltergeist, Peeves, hanging upside down from a chandelier and grinning maliciously at them.
“Potty looooooooooooves Loony!” he hollered repeatedly as he zoomed away, cackling and shrieking. 

Harry knew that everyone in the castle would know that he was taking Luna.  His gloomy mood was surfacing again when Luna’s hand gently touched his elbow and he looked over to see her looking at him, her face unreadable.  He didn’t like that her happy expression was gone, so he smiled at her and confirmed their eight o’clock meeting time that evening.

Later, as Harry sat down for dinner, his patience was tested immediately.
“You could have taken anyone!” exclaimed Ron in disbelief.  “Anyone! And you chose Loony Lovegood?”
“Don’t call her that,” Harry said firmly, surprised to hear his exact words from Ginny’s mouth at the same time.
Harry looked at her and smiled shyly. 
“I’m really glad you’re taking Luna,” said Ginny.  She was looking him right in the eyes, and he felt his palms begin to sweat.  “She’s so excited.”  Ginny smiled warmly before moving down the aisle to sit next to Dean. 
Harry’s happy feeling at her approval seeped away at the sight of her sitting so closely to the other boy.  He sighed and turned back to Ron, only to realize that Ron was staring at Hermione who was sitting all by herself at the end of the table.  
“You should just apologize to her, Ron,” he blurted out.
Ron, startled, turned back to Harry.  “What? And get attacked by another flock of canaries?”
“You mocked her pretty horribly,” Harry started.
“She laughed at my mustache!”
“So did I, it was the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen.”
But, Ron had stopped listening.  Lavender Brown had arrived, squeezing herself between Ron and Harry and causing Harry to knock over his juice. 
She flung her arms around Ron’s neck and the two began snogging, messily.

Parvati Patil, who had arrived at the table with Lavender, sat across from Harry, looking embarrassed by her friend’s behavior.  “Hi, Harry,” she said, helping Harry mop up the spilt juice and ignoring the snogging pair. 
“Hi,” he said. “How’re you? You’re staying at Hogwarts, then? I heard your parents wanted you to leave?”
“I managed to talk them out of it for the time being,” said Parvati.  “That Katie thing really freaked them out, but as there hasn’t been anything since…” she stopped mid-sentence and Harry followed her line of sight to find her sister, Padma, in animated conversation with Theodore Nott. 
“I didn’t know she was friends with him,” said Harry.
“She has dated a few Slytherins.  You know, her being a Ravenclaw and all, there isn’t as much animosity between their houses.  Though, I didn’t know they knew each other, either.”  She shrugged her shoulders, “But, again, she isn’t as suspicious of that house as we are.” 
Harry nodded his head.  He tried not to think about how much of his distrust of the Slytherins had to do with how he was sorted.  He continued to watch Padma and Nott when he heard Parvati strike up a conversation with Hermione.  He felt a niggling sense of dread climb between his shoulders at how uncharacteristically bubbly Hermione was acting.

“Hi, Parvati!” Hermione exclaimed, leaning toward the other girl and looking at everyone at the table except for Ron and Lavender, whom she seemed to ignore completely.  “Are you going to Slughorn’s party tonight?” she asked Parvati.
“No invite,” Parvati answered, sounding disappointed. “It sounds like it is going to be really good.  Slughorn went all out and, they say, he even invited a vampire!  You’re going, right?”
“Yes, I’m meeting Cormac at eight, and –”
There was wet suction noise as Ron pulled his mouth from Lavender’s and stared at Hermione, his eyes wide.  But she continued, as if unaware of his attention.
“—we’re going up to the party together.”
“Cormac?” said Parvati. “Cormac McLaggen?”

Harry tuned out their conversation, watching Ron react to Hermione’s news that she was dating his rival.  A small part of him enjoyed that Hermione was moving on, but a larger part knew she didn’t like Cormac at all; that she was just picking someone to piss off Ron.  He briefly looked over towards Ginny and saw that she was hiding a smile, obviously finding Hermione’s actions entertaining.  Ginny noticed Harry looking at her and winked before rising from her seat to join Luna at the hall door. 

 



Ginny was still chuckling about Hermione’s date as she helped Luna apply the finishing touches to her hair. The two were in Luna’s shared dorm room in Ravenclaw tower and Ginny was unhappy to notice that Luna didn’t have many personal effects, though she had ample storage for such things.  A hint of a memory tugged at her brain, of Harry mentioning to Hermione his helping Luna look for her missing shoes. Ginny surveyed the room more closely, planning hexes and the return of her friend’s things.
“Are you sure you don’t want to tone down some of the material?” she asked Luna in a pleading voice as she adjusted the silver gown Luna had put together.
But Luna, seeming oblivious, just shook her head.  “I think it is quite festive, don’t you?  But,” she paused, “it isn’t’ really what I imagined.”
Ginny tilted her head at Luna. “What do you mean?”
“I don’t like how unfinished it looks.” Luna admitted.  “I’d imagined the fabric resembling a fir tree.”
Ginny cringed.  “Well, it does.  A silver tree, for sure.”
Luna nodded her head. “I wanted roses and fruit to garnish the silver fabric, but I ran out of time.   So, it’s a little boring.”
Ginny shook her head, unable to imagine what Luna wanted and feeling relief for Harry that Luna hadn’t had the time to add to her handiwork. 
“I’m sure you and Harry will have a fun evening,” Ginny said instead.
“He would have preferred to take you, you know?”
Ginny was taken aback.  “As friends?  He could have, I don’t think Dean would’ve cared.”
Luna bit back a snort, the sound surprising a grin out of Ginny.  “Okay,” Ginny amended, “He would’ve.”

While Ginny waved her wand over Luna’s hair, applying a quick charm to keep it in place, Luna watched her in the mirror.  “I’m so thankful you agreed to help me.  I would’ve just left my hair down and probably forgotten to brush it without you here.”
Ginny nodded her head and stepped back from Luna.  She remembered how put together Luna had always been before her mother died.  “I’m really glad you asked me, actually.  And I can teach you different hair styles,” she said.  “If you’d like.”
Luna looked up at her, her blue eyes bright and eager, and Ginny felt a pang.  “I don’t really know how to do much, of course,” Ginny said.  “My mum doesn’t bother with her own, but I know a little.”
Without a word, Luna rose from her seat and hugged Ginny.
“I’m going to tell you a secret,” said Luna.
“I do love secrets,” Ginny replied with a grin.
“The Grey Lady spoke with me at the start of term. She encouraged me to focus on things I was ignoring – that I was scared of.  If she hadn’t done that, I don’t think I would’ve been brave enough to believe I could have real friends.  But, looking at the things she wouldn’t let me ignore, I know you’d be my friend in any lifetime.”
Ginny smiled automatically, joyful at Luna’s confession and grateful to the ghost who was guiding her friend.  “In every lifetime,” she replied, understanding her friend needed to hear the words.

With a final look in the mirror, Luna headed to the door.  She looked back at Ginny and eyed the air around the other girl for a moment.  Feeling disappointment that there were no layers or cords visible to guide her, Luna listened to her conscience.  “He would have preferred to go with you, Ginny.  Not as friends.”

Luna moved hurriedly out of the room, not turning back to see the startled look on her friend’s face.  Swallowing hard, Luna took a deep breath and went to meet Harry. She descended the stairs carefully, keeping a watchful eye for nargles in the mistletoe.

As she approached the hall entrance, she was surprised to see Hermione and Cormac waiting there.  She had assumed they would go up on their own, but when Hermione saw her approach, she smiled broadly and waved Luna over.  Luna felt the ground shift and breathed deeply as cords like string began forming from Hermione’s shoulders and cascading down her arms, through her fingertips.  Layers began emerging near Hermione, as the air crackled around Luna.  She never knew when it would feel as though she were crawling through walls of dreams, with strings cording around her limbs and pulling her away.  She briefly wondered if she would ever get used to the phenomenon.

Luna walked towards Hermione, disoriented by the impression that she was walking on water and that the ground could swallow her up at any moment.  The air became sluggish around her, and she tried to see past the layers and the lines emanating from Hermione.  Luna’s bones began to shake, and the strings begin to shift.  Apparently, it hadn’t been a guarantee that she and Hermione would meet prior to the party – Luna felt apprehension settle upon her, understanding that it was her decision to confide in Hermione that had created these new layers.  

Fear began circling Luna.  Since embracing her third eye, ignoring the layers had worked to pull her out of the waking dreams when she felt overwhelmed by them.  But Hermione’s strings had not faded, even though Luna was attempting to look past them.  Some of the cords running from Hermione’s fingers began to glow.  Without thought, Luna followed the lines and watched as Harry approached the group, his eyes taking in her dress.  She already knew the dress was a flop, and his expression indicated she had been correct in the thought.  But he smiled at her none the less and she felt pleasure at his kindness.

Luna closed her eyes tightly for just a moment, before looking back to him.  He was her safe point.  She was never able to make sense of his strings… it was if his cords were battling each other.  Whenever she observed them, she felt heavy and, without trying, she would inevitably pull back to this realm.

Together, the four began the trek to Slughorn’s office.  Hermione looked extremely uncomfortable with Cormac, her shoulders were tight and her mouth was set in a grim line.  Cormac tried to grab her hand, and when that failed, he reached for her waist and pulled her stiff form closer to him. 

Harry grit his teeth, but turned to Luna.  “Did you hear, there’s supposed to a vampire coming?”
“Rufus Scrimgeour?” Luna asked. 
Harry was distracted.  He watched, uncomfortable, as Cormac hurried after Hermione who had pulled herself from his grasp and had hurried ahead without him.
“I – what?” asked Harry, disconcerted by both Luna’s statement and by his friend’s departure. “You mean the minister of magic?”
“Yes, he’s a …” Luna stopped.  Her father had written a very long article about Scrimgeour being a vampire when Scrimgeour first took over from Fudge.  And, when her father had been forced to stop the publication of the article, he excitedly said that was proof that he had been correct. 

Harry had stopped with her and he was looking at her intently.
“Harry?” she asked. “Am I a fool to believe in my father without question?”
Harry once again looked uncomfortable and Luna gave a quick shake of her head.  “There must be wrackspurts floating about – I haven’t been feeling quite myself lately.”
As she started to make her way up the stairs again, she felt his hand grab her wrist, then slide into her grasp. 
“I can relate to not feeling like yourself,” said Harry, “But as a good friend, I am not going to let you walk away from that question.”

Her body began to shake and the sensation of floating overcame her. She smiled softly as she watched the strings fall from her own shoulders and down to her hands, before shooting out to different layers from her fingertips.  One version of herself was laughing as she raced Harry up to the party.  Another version was shaking her head and running away – Luna would never do that.

She felt cold, as if she were stuck in a downpour, and looked to Harry.  Again, she could make nothing of his strings.  And any of hers that were glowing towards him became impossible to make out as soon as they hit the dark mass of layers and cords around him.  But the string stemming from the center of her palm, horizontal from her thumb to pinky, was glowing the brightest and it seemed to connect to his hand that was still holding hers. 

“When did we become friends?” she asked, surprised at her own question.  “I’m glad we are – but, when did it happen?”
“Not as soon as it should’ve, and I’m sorry about that,” he answered quietly.  “I’ve been caught up in my own head and it’s easier to just rely on Ron and Hermione.”
“I was telling Ginny earlier about how the Grey Lady stopped me at the start of term.”
Harry, who was used to conversations with the castle ghosts, nodded his head for her to continue.
“She asked me if I was going to stop grasping my father’s feeble descriptions of the unusual way I see the world, or if I will start remembering what my mother was teaching me before she died.”

The two had reached the top of the stairs and Harry led them to a bench below a painting of several Kneazles playing with yarn.
“I like this painting,” Luna said as she admired the different balls of wool.

Harry was eyeing her carefully.  He wanted her to continue, but she would have to do this at her own pace. He was suddenly struck at how different she looked tonight.  Her hair had been pulled back away from her face and seemed to glow.  Though it still hung loosely behind her back, some strands had been braided into a crown around her head. 

She smiled at him.  “Ginny’s doing.”
Harry was confused by her words. “What?”
“Ginny did my hair tonight.  And helped me finish my dress.  Although, she was hoping I would go for something less flamboyant.”
“But that wouldn’t be you,” Harry said.  “And I wanted to go with you.”

Luna beamed at this and looked at him.  Her eyes flickered for just a moment and she shook her head, as if shaking water from her ears.  “Are you prepared that your friends will surprise you?”
He looked at her questioningly. 
“Because it is going to start happening soon,” she added.
“Do you mean Ron and Hermione?”
“Yes.”
“Do you think they will actually get together?  I don’t honestly know what I think about that.  It might fix things, but it might make things worse.”
Luna hummed quietly and started swinging her ankles under the bench.  “I don’t just mean them, Harry.”
Harry grunted and leaned forward on his knees.  “Can’t you just be blunt tonight?  I like it when you’re blunt with your uncomfortable comments and I don’t have to guess as to what you mean.  I can’t tell if this is you being you or if is just a common trait with all girls to confuse me.”
“I am a girl, Harry.  In case you hadn’t noticed.”
“See, you sound like Hermione, there.”
“She is my friend, too.  I think.”
Harry was silent.  He honestly didn’t know.
“What were you saying about the minister?” he asked her instead.
Luna stilled for a moment before releasing a, surprisingly bitter, snigger.  “Should we ask him if he is a vampire if we ever meet him?”
Harry was surprised into his own laugh and, as it faded, they sat quietly together.

“I miss my mother every day.”
Harry nodded his head.  He couldn’t really remember his parents, but he missed them, too.  And Sirius. 
Luna reached out and squeezed his hand.  “Tonight, when Ginny was helping me with my hair, I remembered my mother doing the same.  I hadn’t had a clear memory of my mother for so long.”
Harry squeezed her hand back and they sat some more.

“So,” Harry said after the moment had passed, “should we make our way to the party?  I am sure Hermione could use some help with her date.”
“Why didn’t you and Hermione go as friends?” Luna asked.
Harry chuckled.  “That probably would’ve been a better evening for her, but I’m glad it worked out this way.  I like getting to know you.”
“I am glad I was your third choice and not your fourth,” Luna replied.

It wasn’t until Slughorn came to greet them that Harry grasped her math. 

 

 

Chapter Text

Theodore Nott stared in shock at the dozens of vials of potions in Draco’s trunk.  They were hidden under a false bottom, but knowing his friend as he did, it had been easy to guess the decoy would be there.  Quickly, before Draco came looking for him, he replaced the bottom and grabbed the box he had come for.  He had hoped to find clues as to what his friend was up to for the Dark Lord, but the potions were all he had discovered.

Theo was confident most of the vials contained Invigoration Draught, harmless if taken in moderation.  But the number of vials with just drops of the orange liquid remaining scared him.  And he wasn’t certain what the bubbling, mud-like concoction was in the remaining vials.

Casually, he made his way to the common room and found his friend sitting by the fire, a letter in his hands.  It appeared to be the same letter he had received that morning and that had put him in a darker mood.  Draco looked awful.  His skin was grey and loose and his eyes were swollen, but he looked up at Theo with a faint smirk.

“Did you find them?” asked Draco.
“I did.”  Theo knew that Draco was asking about the cuff links in the box he’d retrieved, but his thoughts remained firmly on the cache of bottles.  “Thanks, Draco.  These’ll work great tonight.”
“How long do you think Slughorn’s party will last?” Draco asked, his eyes back on the letter in his hand.
“Why?  Gonna miss me?”
“Just Daphne.  I’m not really sure why she asked you.”
“Jealous?” quipped Theo, realizing too late that Draco probably was, just for different reasons. It was obvious to everyone in Slytherin that Draco was unhappy with his lack of status with the new Potions professor.  

“I thought you liked Pansy,” Draco said, swiftly moving the conversation in a different direction as he set his letter aside.
“I do.  I’m hoping Daphne will help me along with that.”
A sneer settled on Draco’s face.  “You do realize that Pansy has the hots for Daphne’s little sister, who has the hots for you?”
Theo cringed.  Astoria’s pining looks were embarrassing.  “I am aware,” he bit out.  “In fact, Pansy is pretty put off at me because of it.  As if it’s my fault.”

Draco smirked at his friend.  “Do you know who Blaise is taking?”
Theo looked at Draco, realizing he didn’t actually know.  The expression on Draco’s face made Theo nervous. “No,” he answered.  “Who?”
“Astoria.” Draco’s eyes were bright with mischief and Theo opted to let him have his fun. He hadn’t seen the expression on Draco in a long time.
Groaning, Theo fell into the other chair by the fire.  “Was I set up?”
Draco laughed quietly.

“Really, though, do you have any idea how long this will last?” Draco asked again.
Theo glanced at Draco, trying to determine why he would care.  “Probably past midnight. Why?”
“I just want to get some more work done on my task…” Draco answered quietly.  “I don’t want to run into any party goers on my way there or back.”

“Are you ever gonna tell me what you’re doing?”
Draco just stared at Theo, making the question rhetorical.
Frustrated, Theo bit back his questions regarding the vials.  He already knew why Draco had the Invigoration Draughts.  Whatever this messed up task was, Draco was afraid of failing.  Anger bubbled in Theo.  Anger at his father.  At Lucius.  At Draco, too. 

Theo looked to the letter Draco had cast aside.  “News from home?” he asked.
“More like riddles without any clues.” Draco grabbed the letter and, crumpling it, tossed it into the fire. 
Theo sighed.  His friend’s dark moods were commonplace this year.  

“Padma has been asking about you,” said Theo, watching Draco.
“What does she want?”
“She’s worse than Pansy pretends to be, you know.  She’s obsessed with you.  Why the hell did you date her, again?”
Draco shrugged and continued to stare at the fire.  “I thought she was the other one; the one Potter took to the Yule Ball.”
Theo snorted.  “You thought you were nicking her from Potter?  You, lazy sod! Padma went with Weasley – which means,” Theo struggled through his laughter, “you had the Weasel’s seconds!”

Theo’s laugh quickly became a grunt and he grabbed his crotch.  Draco had hit him with a stinging hex, a frown etched on his pale face.  “What did the daft bird want?”
Still clutching himself, Theo looked darkly at Draco. “Tosser,” Theo grunted and slowly stood up.  “I’m not your messenger.  Go ask her yourself.”

As Theo delicately walked away, he looked back at his friend and was not surprised to see that Draco was already looking into the fire, his thoughts obviously elsewhere.  “Draco?”  He waited a moment, but Draco was lost to him.  “Sleep tonight,” he pleaded quietly, disappointed that there was no sign Draco had heard him. 

Shaking his head, Theo made his way to the hall entrance.  His confusion about meeting Daphne there instead of just walking with her from the common room faded when he saw her waiting with her sister, Astoria, and Blaise.  Yes, he had definitely been set up. 

Daphne smiled at him, no hint of remorse on her face.  He smirked, ready to see how the sisters played this one out tonight.  He was confident he would find his date in Blaise’s arms by the end of the evening, and himself responsible for Astoria. Shaking his head again, he looked at Astoria and wasn’t surprised that she was staring at him. 

Theo held his arm out to Daphne before she had a chance to slide over to Blaise and the four made their way up to Slughorn’s office.  He was pleasantly surprised by the décor, having expected to feel crowded in just the professor’s office.  But it was clear that enchantments had been put in place to allow the room to appear much larger than it was.  It was decorated with emerald, gold and crimson drapes on the walls and ceilings, creating the illusion of an elaborate circus tent.  And there was a red hue to the room.  As he examined the light fixture hanging from the ceiling, he realized that there were real fairies fluttering about.

His study of the room was brought to an abrupt halt, however, when a mass of curly hair came into his line of sight and he had to step back to keep from inhaling any of the wisps.  Hermione Granger stood in front of him, a panicked look on her face, and she quickly looked around the room. 
“Granger,” said Theo.  “Your hair is in my way.”
She merely rolled her eyes at him, unperturbed by his uninspired insult. 
“Nott,” she acknowledged.  “I didn’t know you were in the Slug Club.”
“He’s not,” piped in Astoria.  “He came with my sister.”
Hermione nodded and gave Astoria a pleasant smile, though it was obvious she hadn’t been listening. Her smile, however, was genuine and surprised Theo.  He noticed that Astoria also seemed at ease around the Gryffindor.
“Do you two know each other?” he asked.
Astoria nodded her head and beamed.  “Hermione’s been tutoring me in Charms.”
Hermione smiled again before, with a startled squeak, she hurried away, mumbling apologies behind her.

Daphne’s laugh rang through the room.  “I think she’s grown on me.  It might be her helping Astoria, here, but her awkward mannerisms aren’t nearly so annoying anymore.”
“Do you know why she’s so anxious tonight?” Theo asked, entertained as the two sisters giggled together.
“She’s here with the Gryffindor, Cormac McLaggen,” said Astoria.  “Some ridiculous attempt to make Ronald Weasley jealous.”
“I thought she was dating Potter,” said Blaise, sending Daphne and Astoria into another set of giggles.
“Oh, Blaise,” said Daphne. “She’s been interested in Weasley for ages, now.  Potter only keeps her around so he doesn’t flunk out.”
“And Weasley is dating that chav, Lavender Brown,” interjected Astoria.  “Which, if rumors are true, is because he’s jealous he was the only one in their little gang who hadn’t kissed anyone, yet.”  Astoria and Daphne were laughing uproariously, completely absorbed in their gossip.

Curios as to whether or not she had escaped her date, Theo began looking for the bookworm while the girls continued their discussion. 
“That’s the reason you don’t hate her, isn’t it?” Astoria was saying to Daphne. “She’s successfully torturing the boy.”
“It’s funny,” said Daphne, “how upset he was by her lack of confidence in his Quidditch skills.  Who could blame her?  I don’t know how he managed to play so well.  And now his poor little feelings are hurt.”

“And the swat is on the run from another Gryffindor berk,” added Blaise in a bored tone, looking at Daphne intently.   “As entertaining as your chinwag is, I’m ready to dance.  Care to join me?” 
Blaise held his hand out to Daphne and the two were on the dance floor immediately. 

Theo, resigned, looked to Astoria.  She was smiling demurely, batting her eyelashes and leaning towards him so her small cleavage was on display.  Word would spread that they were dating if he spent the majority of the party with her and that was not the kind of attention he wanted from Pansy. 
“I was hoping your sister would help me get together with one of her friends…” he stated, trying to sound nonchalant.  “Would you be willing to help me since she’s abandoned me?”
He swallowed hard and watched her smile fade.  She looked at him and her eyes narrowed.  “You could’ve just said you’re not interested, Theodore Nott.”
He nodded his head.  “I’m not too smooth with the ladies, thus the need of some help.”
“No kidding,” she snarled and turned away from him, hurrying over to a group of girls by the punch bowls. 

As he watched her leave, he caught sight of Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood talking quietly together while Potter, looking miserable, was stuck in a conversation with Professor Slughorn.  Theo found himself almost feeling sorry for the Boy Who Lived, but shrugged it off.  No matter how grateful he was that his father wasn’t around, it was still Potter’s fault the man was in Azkaban.  He wanted his father out of his life, not a tortured soul in that hellish place.

As if sensing his stare, Luna Lovegood looked over at him and smiled.  Not sure what made him do it, Theo sauntered over to the two girls and nodded in greeting at Luna. 
“Luna, right?” he asked, and smirked at the rapid bobbing of her head. Granger and Potter sure did pick the strangest friends. 
“Your date is upset with you,” said Luna. 
Hermione looked at him. “What’d you do to Astoria?” she asked. 
He bit his lip and looked over to the punch bowls, but Astoria was gone.  “I didn’t really know how to tell her I wasn’t interested,” he said, choosing not to remind the know-it-all that Astoria wasn’t actually his date. 
Suspecting that she was finding herself in the same boat, he whispered conspiratorially to her, “I wouldn’t recommend asking your date to help you get someone else’s attention.”

Hermione felt her eyes widen and a laugh fall out of her mouth.  “No,” she chuckled, “I don’t suppose that would be a good plan at all.” 
Before Theo could provide any more helpful hints, Harry had managed to pull himself away from Slughorn.  “Nott,” he ground out, but his sour expression quickly changed to one of surprise when Luna poked him in the arm with her index finger and shushed him. 
Hermione and Theo stared at her for a moment before they were laughing and Theo bit out a pleasant sounding “Potter” in response.

“Have you found yourself a new date?” Harry asked Hermione, confusing her momentarily.
“Theo just came over to say hello,” Hermione answered, deciding quickly that the Slytherin’s company was far preferable to Cormac’s.  She would not let Harry scare him away.

“Why don’t you two go dance together?” suggested Luna.  “Neither Harry or I like it much, and you two are both missing your partners.”
Hermione suddenly felt shy, but before she could refuse, Theo spoke up.  “I’d be happy to dance with Granger, but I think you and Potter should join us on the floor so our dates don’t get the wrong ideas.”
It was smooth, Hermione admitted to herself.  He hadn’t insulted her, and while he made it clear there was no interest, still agreed to dance with her.  Feeling less shy, and because she loved to dance, Hermione held her hand out to Theo and gave Harry a pointed look. 
“I do a lot for you, Harry.  I want to dance.”
“We could just dance together,” said Harry.
“That wouldn’t be very nice to Luna, here, would it?” Theo put in.

Taking Hermione’s hand, Theo led her to the dance floor, and she was surprised to see that Harry did the same for Luna.  It was clear that Luna had been spot on when she said that neither of them enjoyed the activity, but just as Hermione was about to have mercy and say they could stop, Theo started to laugh.
“Merlin, you two are stiff.”
Harry glared while Luna nodded her head.  “I agree, Theo,” she said.  “Should we move our arms more?”

To Hermione’s horror, Luna started waving her arms above her head in a circular motion and moving her hips back and forth.  But Theodore Nott, Slytherin pureblood and son of a notorious Death Eater, just laughed and joined her.
“Why not?” Theo asked.  “This party is boring, anyway.”
And Hermione found herself laughing at her dance partner and Luna.  Looking at Harry, and shrugging her shoulders, she joined in the odd dance and was pleased when Harry did the same, a reluctant grin on his face.

“What are you doing?” a female voice cut in.
Daphne Greengrass and Blaise Zabini had approached their little group and were staring at them. 
“Dancing with some Gryffindors,” said Theo, looking at Daphne as if his answer was obvious.
“I’m in Ravenclaw,” Luna said lightly, smiling at Daphne and waving.
“And a Ravenclaw,” Theo amended with a nod of his head.  “Care to join us?” he asked Daphne.
“Where is my sister?” she replied tightly.
“I’ve no idea.  It wasn’t very nice of you two to ditch your dates,” replied Theo with a mocking note to his voice.

Hermione hadn’t realized that Astoria wasn’t his date, but it made sense.  Zabini and Daphne had both been at Slughorn’s dinners in the past, but she couldn’t recall ever having seen Theo or Astoria. 

Blaise was looking nervously at Daphne, but surprisingly, Daphne just smiled brightly. 
“No,” she said, “I don’t suppose it was.”
Theo smiled back and asked again, “So, are you gonna dance with us?”
“Can you even call this dancing?” Daphne laughed, but raised her arms in the air and started bopping her hip with Luna’s.

Tension, that Hermione hadn’t even realized had settled on her shoulders, eased away and she looked over to Harry.  He was obviously confused by the situation, so she smiled at him.  His nervous smile back was reassuring.
“I think I’ll go look for Astoria,” said Blaise, looking more uncomfortable than Harry, as he rushed away.
“Ugh. I’m so glad he left,” Daphne said to the four of them.  “He’s surprisingly boring.”

Hermione, feeling lighthearted, continued moving in the bizarre dance until she saw that Luna wasn’t smiling anymore.  She was looking at Hermione, her eyes wide, and her hand was reaching out in front of her as if she were trying to grab something. 
“Luna?” she asked softly, but her eyes couldn’t connect with the other girl’s.  The uneasy feeling Hermione had felt when in the bathroom with Luna returned.
None of the rest of their group appeared to notice Luna’s behavior, but then, Hermione saw that Harry was looking past all of them.  Turning to see what the issue was, she was startled by both Cormac and Draco Malfoy being dragged by their ears by the caretaker, Argus Filch.  Filch escorted them to Professor Slughorn who was standing with a small cluster of guests that included an ever-scowling Professor Snape.

“Professor Slughorn,” wheezed Filch, his face alight with anticipation,” I discovered these boys lurking in an upstairs corridor.  He claims to have been invited to your party and to have been delayed in setting out,” he said, pointing to Malfoy.  “And this one says he lost his date and went looking for her,” he said, pointing to Cormac.  “Did you issue them with invitations?”
Malfoy pulled himself free of Filch’s grip, looking furious.
“All right, I wasn’t invited!” he said angrily.  “I was trying to gate-crash, happy?”
“No, I’m not!” said Filch, a statement at complete odds with the glee on his face.  “You’re in trouble, you are!  Didn’t the headmaster say that nighttime prowling’s out, unless you’ve got permission, didn’t he, eh?”
“That’s all right, Argus, that’s all right,” said Slughorn, waving a hand.  “It’s Christmas, and it’s not a crime to want to come to a party.  Just this once, we’ll forget any punishment; you may stay, young men.”
“I was invited!” Cormac stuttered and looked directly at Hermione, but she wasn’t paying any attention to him.

Hermione was, instead, watching Draco, startled that he looked just as unhappy about the prospect of staying as Filch looked at having lost his prey.  But Malfoy’s upbringing seemed to take hold and he began thanking Professor Slughorn for the generosity. She quickly looked over at Harry and noticed that he was not looking at Malfoy, but at Professor Snape. 

Turning back to the professor she saw, for the briefest of moments, Snape had looked afraid.  It unsettled Hermione.  Why was Draco disappointed about staying and why was Snape fearful?  Harry’s suspicions that something was going on with Malfoy were gaining more weight, and something about that upset her greatly. 

“Hermione,” Harry whispered to her.  “Malfoy really does look sick.  I hadn’t believed you when you mentioned it after your run-in with him, but there’s something wrong with him.”

Daphne moved forward, her head high, and she grabbed Malfoy by the arm and pulled him towards them. 
“How delightful, Draco,” she said, “that you get to join us!”
Professor Snape pursed his lips and looked pointedly at Malfoy. “I’d like a word with you Draco,” he said suddenly.
“Oh, now, Severus,” said Slughorn, hiccupping, “it’s Christmas, don’t be too hard on the boy.”
Draco stared at their DA professor, but Theo grabbed him further into their peculiar circle.  Cormac stayed back, looking cross.
“You will absolutely hate this dance we’ve been doing!” Theo said to Draco.  “And with who!  Come on!”
Hermione, uncertain how to handle the two Slytherins calling over her and Harry’s arch enemy, looked over to Harry, but he was still focused on Malfoy.  Turning back to Luna she saw that she, too, was focused on Draco.  Luna’s eyes were still not quite focused, but she no longer looked alarmed.

Snape was not deterred by Theo and Daphne’s efforts.  He walked in to the middle of the gathered students and looked directly at Malfoy.  “I’m his Head of House, and I shall decide how hard, or otherwise, to be,” said Snape curtly.  “Follow me, Draco.”

As Draco made his way from their small circle, he came face-to-face with Hermione.  His eyebrows shot up in startled confusion and he looked back to Theo and Daphne, before turning to her again.  She felt immense sorrow at the state he was in.  His eyes were swollen from, she assumed, lack of sleep; his demeanor slumped and worn down.  But those eyes, which were always such a striking crystal shade, were boring right into hers.  She saw it, then; and it surprised her.  Shame.  He was ashamed.

But of what?

She watched as he shook his head as if clearing his thoughts and quickly walked around her to follow Professor Snape out of the party.  Hermione heard briefly murmured apologies from Harry who was telling Luna he needed the bathroom.  A lie, Hermione could tell, having known him so well for so long.  He was off to snoop on Draco, again.  Off to prove him of some sort of wrongdoing.

Turning to go after him, she saw Cormac approaching her.  Before he could reach her, however, he was stumbling forward, landing face first on the floor.  Luna was looking down at him, her foot angled out where he had been walking.  Surprised, Hermione looked up to see Luna already watching her. 
“He needs you!  Go!” Luna whispered urgently.

Hermione required no further encouragement.  Side-stepping a moaning Cormac, she hurried after Harry.  Rushing past numerous guests, Hermione burst into the hallway and tried to locate the dark-haired boy.  She had no idea which way he had gone and the noises from the party prevented her from locating him by sound. 

There were only classrooms down the corridor and no sign of Harry, so she made her way to the staircases.  Just as she had turned the corner, she heard the distant bang of a door hitting the castle wall and she turned around.   Afraid that it was Filch, she considered hurrying back to the party, but the sounds of hurried feet stopped her.  Whoever it was, if she could hear them over the party, they were almost upon her.

Draco Malfoy turned the corner suddenly, his face red with anger. He jumped slightly when he saw her, and he reached for his wand holster.  She quickly went for hers, but he had already stopped, recognition apparent on his face.  She waited for his sneer, and he didn’t disappoint.

But there was no nasty comment.  She waited, transfixed once more by his agitated state, and watched as that sneer fell from his face and he looked at her in return. 

He moved forward as if to walk around her once more that evening and she stepped aside to give him room.  But, unbidden, Luna’s words echoed in her ears: “He needs you!”

“I never would have imagined you a gate-crasher,” she said to his retreating form and watched him still.

“Do you imagine me often?” replied Draco.
He turned to look at her, his expression unreadable.
She shook her head, recalling his use of inuendo to get rid of her last time. 

And then she remembered who he had been brought in with.  Memories of Andrew surfaced and she suddenly had to know what Draco was doing with Cormac. 
“Why were you with Cormac McLaggen?” she asked.

Draco blinked and then squinted at her.  “Is that who that was?” he asked, his tone mild.  “He was on the pull and wouldn’t shut up about getting his knob in some fanny.”  She felt sick and realized his sneer was back.  “Said his witch’s jubblies were on the small side, but he was randy for some growler.”
“Are you making that up to shock me?” she asked, stamping down her hurt.
“He’s obviously an idiot,” Draco continued.  “Your tits aren’t that small.  You just hide them under your robes.”

He was making his way towards the stairs leading down towards the dungeons, when Hermione called out to him again. 
“Why were you with him, Malfoy?”

She couldn’t hide the nervous energy in her voice.  Perhaps that was what made him actually stop. 
“He was in my way.  I had places to be and he wouldn’t shut up about you.  I doubt Filch would’ve even caught me if it hadn’t been for that simpleton.”
“Did he really say all of that?”

Draco rolled his eyes and turned towards the stairs again.
“Malfoy!” she called, but he kept going.  “Malfoy!” she said again.  “What’s happening to you?”

He stopped.  Slowly, he turned around and stared at her, disbelief on his face.
“What was that, Granger?  I’m sure I misunderstood you.”
“I don’t know why, Malfoy, but it scares me how different you are.”

He moved so fast, she barely had time to take in a breath.  He was at her side in an instant.  “Is that pity I hear coming out of your mouth?” he hissed.
She shook her head.  “No,” she said firmly. 
“It sounds like pity to me,” said Draco.  He put his hands on her upper arms and pushed her backwards until her back hit the banister.
Hermione felt her stomach drop. 
“Don’t ever feel sorry for me.  I am the son of Lucius Malfoy. The grandson of Abraxas Malfoy.  I’m the last of the line and the future head of the next generation.  I will not be pitied.”
He leaned into Hermione and kept pushing her backwards.  His grip on her biceps prevented her from retrieving her wand and, looking down to the floor below, she was afraid. 

Hermione turned her face back to him and remembered the shame she had seen from him earlier. 
“You aren’t a little boy, anymore,” she bit out, her breath ragged.  “We aren’t children.  I know how smart you are.  I know how talented you are.  I don’t believe you’re impressed by Voldemort.”

He pushed back away from her, unsettled.  But his movement had put her off-balance. 
He grabbed her waist and pulled her close to him.
“This is much bigger than the Dark Lord,” he ground out and shoved her towards the corridor.  “And I have been raised since birth to know my place in this world.  And yours.”

“Are you so rooted in your beliefs, you’d stand with a madman?” she snapped.

He looked as if she had slapped him. With wide eyes, he took a step back.  “I must stand with my patriarch,” he whispered.  “I must protect my family.”
“And I must protect mine!” Hermione yelled at him.  “I don’t believe we have to be on opposite sides to do that.”

Draco laughed.  It was a bitter sound.  “You and your books and your answers.  But you are so bloody naïve, Granger.  Go back home. Go back to your world.”
“Go back to my world?” she cried.  “This is my world, Malfoy!  I have just as much right to be here as you!”

But he was already leaving, his voice floating up the stairs and away from his descending body.  “Leave it,” he said.  “You shouldn’t have to be a part of this.”  His words sounded more like a confession than a statement.

Hermione watched him until he was out of sight and then turned back to the party.  As she slowly walked to Slughorn’s office, she realized he hadn’t called her Mudblood.  Not once.

A few steps from the door, she stopped.  Further down the corridor, Hermione saw the crumpled form of Luna sitting on the floor.  She hurried over to her.
“Luna!” she called out.  “Luna? Are you alright?”
Tears were shining in the girl’s eyes.  “He won’t listen to me.  I don’t know how to do this.”
“What do you mean?” Hermione asked.
Luna looked towards her, but Hermione once again felt that Luna wasn’t really looking at her.

“Harry is convinced Draco is a Death Eater,” Luna said quietly.
Hermione sighed and sat down beside her.  “I know.”
“His anger isn’t his own.”
Hermione waited.  She was honing her patience when it came to Luna.
“I can’t explain it,” Luna said.  “I don’t know how to explain when I don’t even understand what I’m seeing.  Maybe it’s wrackspurts.  Maybe it’s not.”

Luna’s sadness was gut-wrenching.  Hermione felt lost and afraid, and reached out and held Luna while the blonde silently cried.
“He is headed down a dangerous path,” Luna whispered.
Hermione could only nod her head.

“Did you find him?” Luna asked
“Hmm?”
“Draco? Did you find him?”
Hermione chuckled softly, accepting Luna’s unusual perception of things.  “Yes.”
Luna breathed deeply and pulled away from Hermione.  “I need help figuring this out, Hermione.  Trelawney won’t… or can’t.  Firenze can’t… or won’t,” Luna said.

“Figuring what out?” Hermione asked quietly.
Luna looked at her for a long time before a small, scared smile graced her face.  “How to use my Third Eye.”

Hermione closed her eyes and nodded her head.  A part of her had felt this coming all day.  “I probably won’t be very helpful.  I don’t really believe in divination.”
“I’m hoping that’s why you’ll be the best help.”

Hermione looked at Luna.  “Then let’s figure it out together.”
And, for the second time that day, they smiled devilishly together.

Chapter Text

The madness of the Burrow on Christmas Eve night was among the most magical things in the wizarding world, Harry thought.  Garden gnomes disguised as angel toppers.  Absurd and awful music warbling out of the large wooden wireless set.  Paper-chain decorations covering every surface and corner of the room.  And the voices of the Weasley family, mingling with those of their friends, dancing along the air with the aromas of Mrs. Weasley’s extraordinary cooking.  

But the magic of the evening couldn’t lessen the weight Harry carried in his chest.  So much had happened before he left Hogwarts for Winter Break at the Burrow.  His following Snape and Malfoy provided proof he had been right all along: Draco Malfoy was up to something.  But he’d argued with Luna, and now any time he thought of her, there was pressure behind his eyes.  Ignoring the uncomfortable feelings, he focused on finding an opportunity to talk to Mr. Weasley about what he’d heard, and found it when discussing the Ministry’s efforts to bring down Voldemort. 
“I know Dumbledore’s tried appealing directly to Scrimgeour about Stan…” Mr. Weasley told Harry, concerning Stan Shunpike, the Knight Buss conductor whom Harry had met his third year. “I mean, anybody who has actually interviewed him agrees that he’s about as much a Death Eater as this satsuma…” he said, holding up the fruit he’d been peeling. “But the top levels want to look as though they’re making some progress, and ‘three arrests’ sounds better than ‘three mistaken arrests and releases’ … but, again, this is all top secret.”
“I won’t say anything,” said Harry.  Momentarily quiet, he tried to find the best way to tell Mr. Weasley about Malfoy and Snape’s conversation.

“Mr. Weasley, you know what I told you at the station when we were setting off for school?”  He had convinced Mr. Weasley to investigate Malfoy Manor for dark artifacts because of another bout of eavesdropping before school. He swallowed the guilt.  His evening with Luna had ended badly when she had discovered his spying.

“The bathroom is in the other direction, Harry,” she said, her expression calm.
“I was trying to figure out what Malfoy’s up to,” said Harry truthfully, excited to share what he’d discovered.
“You mean that you were snooping on a conversation that didn’t involve you?”

Harry just stared at her.
“You’re so angry, Harry.  I understand that Draco is your rival, but why do you hate him?”
“He’s a Death Eater!” blurted Harry, shocked at her question.  “And I was right!  He’s been up to something all year and he won’t even tell Snape what it is! I know he’s working for Voldemort – and they’re all responsible for Sirius’s death: for my parents’ deaths!  How could I not hate any of them?”
“That darkness isn’t you.”
“This isn’t darkness.  It’s the need to do what’s right.  I have to make things right!”
“Payback won’t make things right, Harry. I’m scared you’ll lose yourself in this blind drive to pull Draco down and of who’ll be hurt along the way.”

He turned from her, frustrated that she didn’t understand.  “You don’t know me well enough to butt into this, Luna,” he said, content with the bite of his words.  “I’ll walk you to your dorms.  Stay away from Malfoy.  And the other Slytherins.  What were you thinking? – Inviting them over?”
“Theo came on his own. And he was kind to me.  To Hermione.  To you.”

Harry’s irritation spiked.  How dare Nott be nice.  How dare he put doubt on his mistrust of the Slytherins.  “I’m sure he was up to something,” Harry said.
“Why?”
“He’s a snake.”
“You have to stop doing this,” said Luna, her voice forceful.  “You’re so caught up in the stigmas of our houses, you aren’t looking at who we all are!  Draco is the mirror of you, Harry, not the opposite.”
Harry huffed, incensed.
Luna continued.  “I think I’ll find my own way back.  Theo might even walk me part of the way.  He’s my friend, too.”
The hurt he felt to hear her turn him away shocked him.
“Harry,” she murmured.  “My question’s still the same… Why? Why is Draco doing what he’s doing?”

“I should never have told you what I heard, Luna,” said Harry.  He resented her inability to understand.  “I shouldn’t have brought you into this again, what with everything that happened at the ministry last year… But, please, stay away from the Slytherins.  You’re too nice.  You’ll trust them and they’ll hurt you.”
Luna looked at him sadly and remained where she stood when he turned away from her again. 
“Harry.”
He stopped, but wouldn’t look at her. 
Luna paused, as if weighing her words, and in a pained voice said, “Poison can seep into your life in many forms.  Antidotes aren’t always easy to find.”
Shaking his head, he continued walking away from her, disconcerted by how cold the halls felt without her by his side.

“I checked Harry,” Mr. Weasley was saying.  “I searched the Malfoys’ house.  There was nothing, either broken or whole, that shouldn’t have been there.”
“Yeah, I know,” Harry said, rubbing his eyes and bringing his attention back to the topic at hand.  “I saw in the Prophet that you’d looked… but this is something different… Well, something more.  I overheard Snape and Malfoy right before break.  Snape was accusing Malfoy of having something to do with the curse on Katie Bell, but Malfoy denied it.  Then Snape tried to use legilimency on Malfoy, but I guess Bellatrix has been teaching him Occlumency.  It was strange, Mr. Weasley,” Harry continued, noticing that Remus Lupin was listening, too.  “Malfoy’s always been respectful with Snape, almost as if he liked him, but he was nasty to him that night.  He’d been ignoring Snape all term.  And Snape kept asking him what he was hiding from their master… and,” Harry hesitated.  He’d told Ron earlier what he’d heard.  Ron’s shock at Snape’s actions fueled Harry’s mistrust of the man. “Apparently,” he continued, “Snape made the Unbreakable Vow with Malfoy’s mum.  He tried to use that to get Malfoy to tell him what he’s been up to all term, but Malfoy said that he’s got a plan and that Snape should stop trying to steal the glory.  Then Snape told him that he needed to get better at pretending; that it was his own ability to act that had gotten him so far over the years…”

Mr. Weasley looked to Remus before addressing Harry.  “Has it occurred to you that Snape was simply pretending –?”
“Pretending to offer help, so that he could find out what Malfoy’s up to?” said Harry quickly.  He and Ron had both predicted that would be their conclusion.  “Yeah, I thought you’d say that.  But how do we know?”

But the only answer the two men would provide, was to trust Professor Dumbledore.   Even Lupin defended Professor Snape, arguing that the man may be selfish, but he wasn’t evil.  The evening did provide Harry with more details of Voldemort’s movements, however.  The Death Eaters were soliciting the werewolves, and Dumbledore had sent Lupin to spy. 

“I am not complaining; it is necessary work and who can do it better than I?” said Lupin.  “However, it has been difficult gaining their trust.  I bear the unmistakable signs of having tried to live among wizards, you see, whereas they have shunned normal society and live on the margins, stealing – and sometimes killing – to eat.”
“How come they like Voldemort?”
“They think that under his rule, they will have a better life,” said Lupin.  “And it is hard to argue with Greyback out there…”
“Who’s Greyback”
“You haven’t heard of him?”

The tale that followed would haunt Harry for the rest of his life.  Greyback was a disgusting creature; savage and feral.  Harry couldn’t deny the fear he felt at the thought of ever crossing the foul werewolf that had turned Lupin.

Harry’s disappointment mounted when Lupin had no information on the owner of his Potions book.  The Half-Blood Prince, whose detailed notes made Harry a star performer in the class, remained a mystery.  Any chance of convincing Hermione to stop nagging him to get rid of the helpful resource was still out of reach.  

It was with thoughts of werewolves, Stan Shunpike, Snape and the Half-Blood Prince that Harry fell into a fitful sleep that night. His head was filled with images of children running from werewolves, of Hermione setting his Potions book on fire and of Luna, sad and fading from his grasp.

“She’s got to be kidding…”
Ron’s voice startled Harry awake the next morning. Putting on his glasses, he surveyed the room.  There was a stocking lying over the end of his bed and the tiny window was almost completely obscured with snow.  But it was Ron’s expression that captured Harry’s attention. 

Ron was absolutely horrified as he examined the thick gold chain in his hands.  It was the most tacky and unattractive piece of jewelry he had ever seen.  A charm dangled from the chain.  In large, bubbly gold letters were the words:

My Sweetheart

Harry was laughing on his bed.  “Nice,” said Harry.  “Classy.  You should definitely wear it in front of Fred and George.”
Ron cringed.  The amount of merciless torture his brothers would throw at him if they knew about this.  “If you tell them,” he said while he shoved the offending thing under his pillow, “I – I – I’ll –“
“Stutter at me?” asked Harry. 

Ron barely heard him, so consumed in the knowledge that Lavender Brown was actually his girlfriend.  He hadn’t dreamed it up.  He was, somehow, dating her.  His impulsive snog with the girl had resulted in multiple repeat sessions.  And he wasn’t thrilled about any more. 

He blamed Hermione for his lack of enthusiasm.  “Is Hermione really going out with McLaggen?” he asked Harry.
“I dunno,” Harry answered and then explained how their date at the party hadn’t gone very well.

Ron felt more cheerful knowing that Hermione wasn’t any more successful than he was in her relationship and, thus, he was able to have a lovely Christmas morning.  Things took a sour turn during the Christmas lunch, however, when his brother Percy brought the Minister of Magic around.  Of course, the tosser wasn’t there to see his family.  No, he was just a kiss arse and had come over to give the minister access to Harry. 

The usual sense of jealousy had reared up when Harry received all the attention, but he pushed it back down, aware that his friend hated it.  As much as he would love it himself, he wouldn’t blame Harry for the unsolicited attention. He’d learned that lesson.

On New Year’s Eve day, the twins sent an urgent message to Ron and Ginny, begging them to find a way to come help at their shop.  Having opted to keep the store open to boost community spirit, there had been an overwhelming amount of business with many customers anxious for Whiz-bangs and Love Potions in time for the evening’s numerous festivities. 

Harry, who had promised Dumbledore not to leave the Burrow, offered to stay in Ron’s room and pretend the three of them were going over Quidditch strategies.  The activity was known to take hours and was an excellent alibi without requiring any out-right lying.  

Ginny retrieved enough snacks for the three of them and informed her mother that they would be upstairs discussing Quidditch.  Which they did, prior to her and Ron sneaking to the shop.  Harry would just stay there until their return.

Ron always enjoyed coming to the twins’ shop.  He couldn’t help but wonder what it would be like to work here every day, partaking in the mayhem that his brothers produced.  Not that he wasn’t excited to become an auror with Harry, just that it was enjoyable to think about a job where you could simply have fun.  For his help today, Fred and George had promised Ron two Skiving Snackboxes  and U No Poo, and he was eager to put some of the constipation magic to the test on McLaggen.  

It was while restocking the calendars for the upcoming year that Ron was distracted by a particular picture.  The twins had gone all out with numerous themes, but it was the WonderWitch edition that had caught his eye. Some of the Wizards on the pages were… Well, Ron wasn’t quite sure what he thought, just that the photograph of Viktor Krum stirred emotions in him.  He found himself thinking of snogging.  His snogging Lavender.  Hermione snogging Krum.  His snogging...

But his daydream was interrupted as a delicate hand pulled the calendar from his.
“Handsome, young wizards, aren’t they?” asked the witch. 
Ron’s brain stalled.  He felt that he knew her, or should know her, but he couldn’t seem to look past her hood, as though his eyes kept redirecting back to her hands whenever he tried to look at her face. 
“Difficult not to imagine all the fun to be had with one of these wizards,” she continued, flipping through the months and humming a satisfied sound.

Ron, uncomfortable, just smiled. “They are pretty popular.  Did you want a basket for your shopping?”
The witch shook her head, the hood moving slowly in either direction. “Oh, no.  I’ve found exactly what I’m looking for.”
“Well, then, the register’s right over there.” 

But the witch was placing the calendar on the shelf.  “I’m not interested in making a purchase, Ronald Weasley.  I simply have an offer to make.”
Something about her voice unnerved him.  “How do you know my name?” he asked.
There was a low cackle coming from beneath her hood.  “The best friend of Harry Potter? Who wouldn’t know you?”

Ron couldn’t shake the feeling that he should know this woman.  He glanced towards Ginny, but she had a long line of customers waiting to pay.  Fred and George were in the back brewing more batches of love potions, and the other staff were all with customers. 
“What kind of offer?” he asked her.
“Fame. Fortune,” she touched the calendar.  “Love.”
“Awfully generous of you,” he replied, confident he was in danger.

Again, he tried to look at her face, and this time there was no temptation to look away.  Eyes, though blurry, were looking directly into his.  Beautiful and brown, beneath dark eyebrows and thick lashes.  And lips, plump and inviting.  He knew there was something off about the face before him, but he couldn’t figure out what it was.
“All I ask, is that you provide me with some information.”
“Information?” asked Ron, staring into the distorted, but familiar, brown eyes.
“Nothing now.  Just an agreement, you see, for information in the future.  All it would take now is a vow, and then, you would be in the service of such power that all your dreams would come true.”

Ron felt he should resist, but couldn’t figure out why.  He realized, belatedly, that there was another person with the cloaked figure.  Another face hidden behind a hood. 

Before he could back away, her hand was around his wrist.  “Look at me! Just promise your help, Ronald.  That’s all you have to do.”
He nodded and looked into the brown eyes once more.  A wand was raised over their clasped hands, a silver band of magic winding from its tip.  “Will you, Ronald, promise the information I require?”

An instinct roared up from within and he cried out “Fred! George!” and, unexpectedly, the cloaked figures were gone.
“Ron?”  Ginny yelped, startled.  “Where did you come from?”
“Where did I come from? I was right here!”

Ron looked around the room, shocked that both Fred and George were right beside him, both looking surprised.
“Didn’t you see them?  She was looking at the WonderWitch calendar, but –,” Ron stuttered.  “There was something off about her.  And I couldn’t make out her face, it was under a hood.”
“Under a hood?” Fred asked slowly. “We wouldn’t have let anyone in under a hood.”
“But they both had hoods!  And they were … I don’t know – something was stopping me from looking at their faces.”
His siblings were looking at each other, obviously bewildered by his claims.

Ron’s head was aching.  “I don’t know what happened,” he muttered, rubbing his eyes.
“Maybe it was a spell or something, to confuse you?” offered Ginny.
“Like a muggle-repelling spell?” said George, incredulous.  “On wizards?”

The twins began to laugh. “Nothing triggered our sensory charms – Probably just fooled around with the Daydream Charms,” said George.
“Nah, he’s just not used to working.  Not much longer and we’ll be done for the year,” Fred put in, patting Ron on the back.
“Get back to work Ronniekens, or there will be no U-No-Poo for you,” George added with a sly grin.
“Or,” Fred stage-whispered to George, “a life-time’s supply just for him.”

Ron looked at Ginny and was encouraged to see she wasn’t laughing.  “It really happened, Ginny.”
She nodded her head.  “Fred!” she called over to the retreating twins.
Grinning, Fred looked at her. 
“Mind checking the wards, just to be safe?” she asked quietly.
His smile fading, Fred nodded and looked again at Ron.

Outside, Bellatrix and Rodolphus Lestrange casually walked away, their hoods still obscuring their faces.
“We should’ve just killed the lot of them,” Rodolphus bit out, irritation in his words.  “The whole store, and then cast the Morsmordre to remind them what’s coming.  Why did you have us leave?”
“It would have been lovely to set that unsightly place ablaze.  Caramelized ginger – ” Bellatrix hummed,  “But his use to the Dark Lord is more beneficial.”
“What does a boy have to offer the Dark Lord?” sputtered Rodolphus.  “Your nephew is proof enough they’ve nothing to contribute.”
“Think of the Weasley child as another Wormtail, dear husband,” she snapped.  “Unexceptional magic, true, but information has its worth.  And his connections to Potter, to the Order, are invaluable.”
“Aren’t there better targets?”
“Perhaps, you would prefer I go after Alice’s boy?” she hissed, her eyes flashing as she watched him tense beside her.  “Believe me, he was my first choice, but he’s nowhere near as connected as the red-headed simpleton.  If I can’t get the youngest, though, we have another already lined up.”
Rodolphus grinned beneath his hood.  “You always did prefer to have your sets.”
Bellatrix cackled loudly before, in a whirl of black mist, they apparated away with a pop.

 


 

Hermione was completely absorbed in her book, unaware of the young woman approaching her.  She was trying to read as much as she could regarding lucid dreaming.  Her assumption was that if she and Luna could get a handle on Luna’s sleep disorder, then perhaps Luna would be able to get some decent rest and stop her disconcerting hallucinations. Hermione would easily admit that Luna was an observant girl.  Most likely her eerie predictions had more to do with attention to detail and critical thinking, than her supposed third eye.  Hermione almost rolled her eyes at the thought alone.  

“I dumped him,” said the approaching girl as she slung her bag on the seat beside Hermione.
Startled, Hermione watched as Mariah Janus sat in the seat across from her.  “Who?”
Mariah sniffed and looked at Hermione as if she had grown a literal third eye. “Andrew, of course,” said Mariah.  “I was originally going to claim it was because I wasn’t about to have your spoils, but the truth is, he’s a cad and both you and I are too good for him.”
“What happened?” Hermione asked.  Compliments from Mariah were ominous.
Mariah looked surprised.  “My mother told me what he did.  I know you were one of the girls, just seeing how your father looks at him any time they cross paths.  I can’t date someone whom I’m not sure likes me or is just waiting to snap lurid photographs of me.”
“But, you’re you.  Why wouldn’t he like you?”
Mariah stared at Hermione and frowned.  “What about me?  I’m not you.”
Her comment confused Hermione.
The other girl laughed.  Shaking her head, Mariah sighed.  “Oh, Hermy.  The look on your face.” 
Waving the server over, Mariah ordered refreshments.  “Andrew knows you’re home for break.  He even suspects today is your last day.”
Hermione watched Mariah, and waited.
With a half-smile, Mariah shrugged her shoulders.  “I don’t know where you go off to while I’m enjoying the prestige of Henrietta Barnett, and I’ve decided I don’t really care.”
Hermione gave an undignified snort.
With a sharp look, Mariah sipped the tea the waiter had served.  “What I do know, Hermy, is that whatever your and my relationship is, Andrew is an arsehole.  He got in a lot of trouble with his father.  Even more from the parents of several other girls who found the courage to come forward when word of what he’d done had spread.  No girl will go near him.  His reputation is ruined.  He can’t even find a part time job.  And he blames you.”
Hermione pulled her bag close and looked around the café. 
Mariah set her cup down. “Yes, that’s my point.  He knows you’re here and he blames you for his lot in life.  But the thing is, even before all this, he was always talking about you.  Perhaps, instead of your usual walk home, you should call for a taxi?”
Hermione nodded. “Yes,” she said in appreciation, “perhaps I should.  Thank you.”

Mariah grabbed her bag from the opposite chair and stood.  “Sometimes, I miss you.”  She opened her mouth as if to say more, but quickly snapped it shut.  “Well, goodbye.”

Mariah hurriedly left the store, leaving a shocked Hermione in her wake.  Hermione watched as she rushed down the street before turning back to Mariah’s unfinished and unpaid for dishes.  Ruefully, Hermione dug through her bag for her coin purse.  It must have been hard for Mariah to warn her; paying her bill was the least Hermione could do.

Checking the time, Hermione opted to walk home.  It would be awhile before dusk, and truth be told, a part of her hoped to have the opportunity to show Andrew, and any vermin who tagged along, how fast she was with her wand.

She pondered Mariah’s behavior as she made the trek home. It struck her that Mariah hadn’t called her Germy.  Just like Malfoy hadn’t called her Mudblood.  But he had threatened her, making her think he would push her over the bannister, while Mariah had warned her about Andrew.  Malfoy warned you about the Death Eaters at the World Cup, she thought to herself.

She slowed her pace.  It was true.  Buried in his insults, he had warned Harry and Ron to get her farther away from the danger. And though he threatened to push her when last she saw him, the second he feared she was in danger, he had pulled her to him before shoving her aside. He had protected her twice. 

Remembering where she was, Hermione hurried home.  Opening the front door, she couldn’t help the disappointment that Andrew hadn’t happened upon her; or her upon him.  She was an adult in the wizarding world now.  She no longer had the trace on her wand and a mysterious case of boils to Andrew’s nether regions seemed like fair play.

She made her way to her room, furious that Andrew, whom she despised, really had been a wonderful kisser.  Better than Viktor, whose plump lips seemed to cover her face. Better than handsy McLaggen who had planted his lips on hers under the mistletoe.  And better than Ron appeared to be when he was glued to Lavender Brown. 

An image fluttered in her mind.  Draco Malfoy had the most kissable mouth. 

She shook her head furiously.  She would not be the girl who was attracted to the bad boys.  She would not.  And although Andrew was a far worse human being in her mind because he had been raised better than that, Malfoy was a bigot and a bully.  And he was much smarter than that. 

But he hadn’t called her Mudblood.  And he had looked out for her well-being.  Twice.

But he was a part of the reason her well-being was in danger. 
Every day of his life.

Determined to banish Malfoy from her thoughts, she sat down at her desk and, once again, pulled out her resources on sleep psychology.  She may not be able to figure out what was going on with Draco Malfoy, but she was determined to help Luna with her Third Eye.

The next day found Hermione in Professor McGonagall’s office for an independent lesson and awaiting the return of Harry, Ginny and Ronald through the Professor’s floo. The ministry had arranged a one-time connection to safely return students to the school, and their scheduled time was quickly approaching. 

“Ms. Granger, I hadn’t intended for today’s lesson to turn to fortune telling,” huffed Professor McGonagall.  The two women were sitting in the chairs in front of her desk, their tomes for the session’s lesson set to the side.
“But, Professor, that’s not what I’m meaning.  I’m just curious if you put much stock in someone accessing the conscious elements of memory and volition while partaking in an ongoing dream and if that could translate as some sort precognitive or clairvoyant dream?”
The Professor looked hard at Hermione.  “Are we talking about Ms. Lovegood?”
“Professor?” Hermione choked out, surprised.
“Yes, I can see that we are.  Well, Ms. Granger, I’m not sure what Professor Trelawney has stirred up, but Ms. Lovegood isn’t in any danger coming to terms with her magical inheritance.  And as much as I distrust Divination, there are certain schools of magic that utilize, for lack of a better word, the Third Eye in a logical way.  Perhaps, Ms. Lovegood’s descriptions are ostentatious, but it’s well known that her mother had a tendency towards the Oculi Somniantes, which is far different from tea leaves and crystal balls.”
“What does Professor Trelawney have to do with this?  And what is the Oculi Somniantes?”

But before Professor McGonagall could answer, the green flames of an active floo lit up and Harry scrambled out over the grate. 
“Evening, Potter,” Professor McGonagall greeted him.  “Mind the carpet, please, or Filch will be in a mood.”
“Yes, Professor,” he replied and smiled at Hermione.

A moment later, Ron followed Harry through the floo with Ginny just behind him.  Hermione’s irritation at Ron returned when she saw him.  She reached into her bag and pulled the letter she was to give to Harry from Dumbledore and informed Harry and Ginny of the new password to Gryffindor tower.  It did not escape her notice that Ron was trying desperately to strike up a conversation with her.  Entertained by his frustration, she turned back to the Professor as the other three made their way from the room.

“May I ask why you’re inquiring on Luna’s abilities?” said Professor McGonagall. 
“She’s asked for my help.”
“In that case, we will discuss further at our next lesson.” The professor rose from her seat and jotted a note on a piece of parchment.  “In the meantime, please reference this at the library.  It’s the best resource on the subject.  Unfortunately, it isn’t much.”

As Hermione took the parchment, the floo once again roared to life and she made her leave.  She wandered the corridors, not ready to return to Gryffindor tower where she would likely run into Ron, and made her way to the Room of Requirement, fondly recalling Dumbledore’s Army.  And, as though they had planned it, Draco Malfoy stood there watching her.

She stopped, unable to keep from looking at his mouth.  She’d been right; his lips were kissable.  She watched his smirk fall into place and waited. 
“I’m beginning to think you go out of your way to find me, Granger.”

She made no reply. 
“It really isn’t the same without you,” he said, “but, you’ll wish you’d listened to me and stayed in your own world.”
“You’d miss me,” she said, automatically.

He looked at her sharply and sneered.  “Perhaps. You’re such an easy target.”
Hermione noted that he still looked unkempt and tired.  “What are you doing that keeps you in this state?”

His sneer fell and he ran his fingers through his hair before turning away.  “I admit, it’s curious what it’d be like if we were allowed to be friends.  I might sleep better if I had a know-it-all in my pocket.” 

She had no idea how to respond, and once again watched him walk away before turning around and doing the same.

Chapter Text

He should never have burned her letter.   It had been months ago that she had sent it, but he couldn’t shake the feeling he should have given it more attention.  His pique may have cost him a useful clue.  Why had she specified an Oak Tree?  Would that tell him why he should trust Severus?  Or how to kill Dumbledore?  Draco swallowed hard at the thought of his failed poison, relieved stupid Weasley had survived.  

So far, the only reference he had found to an Oak Tree and the Reeds was a muggle fable that was edited from the original Greek version with an Olive Tree.  He couldn’t ask his mother; her mail was inspected by the freeloading Death Eaters.  So, why had she urged him to remember an old bedtime story – and why had she changed a major component?

Agitated, Draco pushed the book across the table so hard it clattered to the floor, drawing the attention of many in the library, including the know-it-all, Granger. He glared at her and looked away, still unaccustomed to the shame that stirred his stomach when he saw her.  Ever since he had learned that Moaning Myrtle was Myrtle Warren, a ghost with a distinctly non-magical name, he’d finally understood her alarming behavior.  Simple research had uncovered that Myrtle had been the victim of the monster from the Chamber of Secrets.  The ghostly girl who gave him comfort as he stressed over the tasks of the Dark Lord had been murdered for her heritage, or lack thereof.  And, without a care, he had used the word mudblood in front of her.

“You’re actually looking worse,” said Granger as she placed the book in front of him.  “I’m not sure how that’s possible.”
It was more than curiosity that motivated her comments, he knew.  She was concerned and he couldn’t deny he found that comforting.

“If it isn’t our resident bookworm.  What magic are you attempting to assimilate from books, this time?” he said, refusing to linger on his thoughts.
He watched her face as a markedly pink blush crept to her cheeks and he marveled for a brief moment at how pretty it was.  Ashamed, he grit his teeth and snatched the book off the table. 

“I’m just surprised you’re reading muggle stories, Malfoy,” she retorted, biting back a smirk. “Just think what that will do to your pureblood reputation if word spreads?”
“Listen, you, watch your tongue, or I’ll hex your teeth again!” he hissed, slamming the book down, the noise garnering stares from a few occupants around them.  But her expression was his focus.  Instead of looking bothered, she looked triumphant. 

He plastered a sneer on his face, anxious to see her squirm.  “Or, perhaps, I’ll hang you by the ankles outside the window.  Have you show off your knickers in mid-air?”
Her triumphant face beamed brighter.

A smile still on her face, she eyed him carefully.  “Oh, come now, Malfoy.  We both know that you wouldn’t let that happen. It was you who made sure Ron and Harry got me away from that danger at the World Cup.”
Careful not to react, he bit his cheek and tasted blood.  A part of him was pleased she gave him his due credit, but another part wondered what else she had picked up on.  “That’s a vivid imagination you have, there.  If what you say is true, you owe me a debt,” he said, winking at her.  “Move along and mind your own business before I decide to collect.”  He waved her away with his hand and looked her over carefully, sure to make it look like a threat.  And he thought of all the harm that would come to him and his family if word got to the Dark Lord that he was speaking with her.

But her words took the sneer right of his face.  “Why do you hate me, Malfoy?”

Reverberating through his head, he heard his father’s voice.  “Mudblood.” Over and over again, the horrid word danced in his mind.  In Bellatrix’s voice.  The Dark Lord’s.   In Carrows’ and Travers’ and Yaxley’s.
“You foul, loathsome, evil, little cockroach!” echoed her voice over their insults, scattering the hateful voices.

Draco stared at her, uncertain, before a single thought surfaced.  He didn’t hate her.  Not really.  She wasn’t a pureblood.  She didn’t belong here.  But… she did.  Her magic was unquestionable.  Unless…
“Did you steal your magic?” he asked, unaware he voiced it aloud until the question left his mouth.

“No,” she answered, her voice just a breath of air.

Such a simple word.
And he believed her. 
He looked at her and saw a girl.  Someone who annoyed him.  Who made him angry when she bested him.  Who had managed to make friends with Harry Potter.  Someone he had been acquainted with for years, and who he knew well enough to know wasn’t lying.  And he knew himself well enough to know that he had already known the answer to his question.  She was a witch.  A muggle-born witch of exceptional talent.  She was likely better than him, a pureblood from strong lines of magic. 

And he had called her a mudblood for years.  Because his father did?  Because he was jealous?  Or angry?

Overwhelmed, Draco pushed from the table and walked away, his chair falling to the floor with a loud clang and the door to the library closing with a thud behind him. 

Hermione shook her head, her smile gone.  There was no question about it now; Draco Malfoy had doubts.  The question was, what could she do about it?  There were so many things that she wasn’t certain what to do about.  Harry and the Half Blood Prince.  Ron having finally dumped Lavender, but still not making a move on her.  Luna. 

She righted Malfoy’s chair and retrieved the book he had left on the table when she felt a chill in the room.  It was shockingly cold.  Exhaling slowly, Hermione watched her breath dance on the air as she turned back to her seat.  Her heart skipped a beat as she took in the scene around her.  Every table in the vicinity was occupied by ghosts.  Hermione felt the cold seep into her flesh and goose pimples rise to attention on her arms and quickly realized that she was the only living person still in this section of the library. 

Urgently, Hermione moved to retrieve her belongings, but The Grey Lady was sitting at her table inspecting Hermione’s reference materials with a frown on her face. “Why are you researching Apparation, when you have already passed that test?” the ghost asked, her voice as cold as the room.

Guardedly, Hermione sat across from the ghost.  “I’m curious about the theory behind Destination, Determination and Deliberation,” Hermione replied, unsure why the ghost would care.
The Grey Lady suddenly peered right at Hermione, her ghostly eyes penetrating Hermione’s in severe criticism.  Hermione felt as though the temperature in the room had dropped several more degrees.  “Why are you here?” Hermione asked.  “Why are so many of you here in the library?”
“They are here as a favor to me,” said the ghost.  “I am in need of a private conversation with you.”

Hermione suddenly remembered that it was the Grey Lady that had urged Luna to pursue her gift. She narrowed her eyes at the ghost. “And what were you wishing to discuss?”
“Why are you curious about this theory?”
“Is this why you wanted to talk with me in private?  To inquire on my research habits?”
“I want to know if you are able to accept that you are not always right and actually start helping Luna Lovegood.”

Hermione lifted her chin. “I have already started helping Luna,” she ground out.  “She is keeping a dream diary and trying to determine what triggers her hallucinations.”

Hallucinations? My, you are an arrogant little witch.” the ghost bit out, her expression fierce.
It felt as if a sudden cold front had wrapped itself around Hermione and she ground her teeth to keep them from chattering.  Tension nestled between her shoulder blades and her fingers clamped tightly together.
“It has been months,” the ghost continued, “since you read about the Oculi Somniantes at this very table.  Months since you spoke with Professor McGonagall about Luna’s mother.  You have the knowledge that she had similar talents, yet, you call her daughter’s gift hallucinations?  Your mentor has acknowledged that there is something to this magic, yet because you do not understand it – or, more to the point, you refuse to understand it for what it is – then it must be imagined?”

The Grey Lady leaned forward, her transparent face inches from Hermione’s, sending a burst of cold against her face like a gentle breeze.  “You are in the Wizarding World, yet, when you cannot understand or relate to magic, you either fear it or deny it.  Professor Trelawney delivered a prophecy of such merit, there are those who killed for it.  Do you deny her ability, still?  Do you look for the science behind her gifts and ridicule her because of her eccentricities?
They call you the Brightest Witch of your age and wonder why you aren’t in Ravenclaw.  I do not, however, wonder why you aren’t in Ravenclaw.  I wonder why you are in Gryffindor.  Where is your bravery, girl?”

“I am not denying that Luna sees things –” Hermione began, but the ghost leaned so close, her face became a blur; Hermione’s eyes began to water from the chill.
“You are denying that what she sees is real," the Grey Lady breathed.  "Your behavior is that of a Slytherin.  You do not understand how she can do it, so you dismiss it as inconsequential.” 

“No!” Hermione gasped out as the ghost floated back to her own seat.  “No.  You’re right, I don’t understand what she’s explaining.  I can’t envision cords or strings connecting layers of possible outcomes.  I’m worried about her.  She’s so devoted to these images, she isn’t participating in what’s actually happening around her anymore.”
“Don’t be foolish, girl! It is you who isn’t participating.  She sees in color, while you are still a babe in the womb!”

“I’m trying to help her!  I really am!” Hermione screeched and leaned away from the table, attempting to escape the burning cold.  “I am researching Destination, Determination and Deliberation in the hopes of helping her use that theory to find balance when she is overwhelmed by her visions.  I’m trying to establish a system on how to use that in her dream state as opposed to when it is used for Apparating to another location.  Instead, she would use it to focus on what she is seeing and, hopefully, be able to center herself back to reality.  I initially began by researching lucid dreams because she explained to me that she dreams while she’s awake.  I was hoping that if she was, in fact, dreaming we would be able to develop exercises she could perform to know when she was awake and when she was dreaming.  I also looked into sleep walking because of the instances where she seemed to be looking at things around her that no one else saw.  That’s why I asked her to start keeping a dream diary.”
“And the Occlumency books?” the Grey Lady asked, gesturing to another stack of tomes.
“I’m hoping that,” Hermione paused, choosing her words carefully. “That if she becomes overwhelmed by what she’s seeing, knowing basic skills in Occlumency may help her develop walls she can use to block the images attacking her.”
“You want to show her how to block her gift?” the Grey Lady grit out.
“Only when it’s too much for her!  Or when she needs to rest.  Or if she’s afraid.”

The Grey Lady regarded Hermione.  “You are treating this like an illness.”

Hermione’s body stilled.  Her shivering stopped and her mind slowed.  “I am treating her as if she is diseased…” she whispered.
“Or dirty,” the Grey Lady agreed.

“Oh, my,” the ghost let out in a soft laugh.  “Oh, my, I missed it completely,” she continued.
“Missed what?” Hermione asked.
“As ghosts, we can see the strings Luna has told you about.  And the layers, as well.  And the basic descriptions you are using have their merit.  Each cord represents a path, but those paths depend on the cord in question.  There are different kinds of cords.  In basic terms, there are the Life Line, Head Line, Heart Line, Fate Line –”
“Are you talking about Palm Reading?”
With a smile the ghost nodded. “Yes, there is something to Palmistry, however rudimentary it is to Oculi Somniantes.  What I failed to see, however, is that Luna used me to help you follow a particular outcome.  I failed to see it because ghosts no longer have these strings.  Our fates were sealed when we denied ourselves death.”

“I don’t understand.”
“Believe it or not, that is just fine.”

Hermione looked around the library and watched as the other ghosts started floating away. “Is our private conversation over?”
“For now.”
“But, what do you know about Oculi Somniantes?” Hermione asked quickly, desperation in her voice despite her relief that the cold was fading.

 
“My knowledge is limited to what I knew when I was living.  It is difficult for ghosts to acquire new information.  We are made aware of the rules of this plane when we enter it, and we can create new relationships, though they are fleeting as time moves differently for us.  But as for new wisdom, it is gone the moment the conversation is over.  Another loss in this form; my curiosity will never be sated.  I will always thirst for answers I may have already found.”
Hermione felt immense sorrow at the Grey Lady’s words; she would covet death if she faced such a sentence.
“I knew of Oculi Somniantes when I was alive,” the ghost continued, “but my knowledge is only slightly more than what was provided in the tome Professor McGonagall referenced. As far as my ghostly memories, Maiden Lovegood’s mother, Pandora, was in Ravenclaw.  Her Heart and Head Lines were fainter versions of Luna’s.  And like Luna, she had a Yfantis Line, which very few people have.  Perhaps, Madam Pince can help you find more on that?”

“Hermione?” Harry’s voice interrupted their conversation.  She turned and saw he was running towards her with Ron and Nearly Headless Nick in his wake.  
“Harry?” she asked, concerned by his approach.

“Helena,” cut in Nearly Headless Nick.  “I assume your discussion is over.”
“Was there something you needed, Sir Nicholas?” the maiden replied.
“Nearly Headless Nick told us the castle ghosts had filled the library and Hermione was still in here with them!” blurted Ron.  “Are you okay?” he asked, rushing to Hermione and rubbing her arms to warm her.

“What would ghosts do to her?” Harry asked.  “I still don’t understand.  Nick seemed agitated when he found us, so we hurried here, but I don’t see any other ghosts around.”
“The drastic drop in temperature with so many ghosts in one place could have caused me to freeze to death,” Hermione answered as she looked pointedly at the Grey Lady and leaned into Ron.  “But I assume that was taken into consideration before they arrived.”
The Grey Lady gave a firm nod, but was looking at Nearly Headless Nick.  “What was the cause for your agitation, Sir Nicholas?”
“As the girl said,” he answered, “it may have been too cold for her.”
“She may be a Gryffindor, gentlemen, but she has the dedication and desire for knowledge as many of my favorite Ravenclaws over the years.  I was merely helping her with a question or two.”

Hermione felt warmth fill her limbs that had little to do with Ron’s efforts.  The Grey Lady’s words were a balm to her lingering guilt.  They had reached an understanding and Hermione had more information in her quest to help Luna.
“But why were all of them here at the same time?” asked Ron.  “I’ve never heard of that before.”

The Grey Lady gave a soft chuckle.  “Not all of Hogwarts students can be trusted with the same information Hermione can be.”
Ron sniggered.  Her answer appeased the two Gryffindors, but Sir Nicholas pursed his lips, his expression unreadable. 
“Nicholas,” she continued, “would you care to escort me to my tower?”

The ghost held out his arm to the maiden and nodded his head to the students before the two floated from the library, sparkling mist fading behind them as they passed through the library door.  The warmth quickly returned and Ron pulled away from Hermione to take an empty seat at her side.  Harry joined them at the table, his eyes falling to the book Malfoy had left behind. 

“Aesop’s fables?” Harry asked with a laugh.  “Why are you reading those?”
“I’m not.  Malfoy was.”
Harry’s eyes grew wide.
“What are they?” asked Ron.  “Some sort of dark magic?”
“No.” Hermione said bluntly.  “They are muggle stories.”
“I’m not sure I believe you,” said Harry and Hermione shrugged. 

“He was reading the book, but became upset with it.  He also asked me if I stole my magic.”
“What? The tosser!” yelled Ron.
“Quiet,” she hissed at him, “or Madam Pince will kick us out.  And it wasn’t asked maliciously.  I think he is starting to question his upbringing.”
“Is she even here? I can’t believe she didn’t go after the ghosts for putting the books in danger,” said Ron.   “Are you sure you’re feeling all right?” he continued.  “Maybe those ghosts did something to your head.”
“They did, actually,” she replied shortly.  “They got me thinking that we all have our prejudices and we all have the ability to recognize that about ourselves and correct it.”
Ron frowned.  “What are you saying? Are you defending Malfoy? He’s an arsehole!”
“Yes,” Hermione agreed.  “I am acquainted with a few of those, actually.”
“Hermione,” Harry said, “he won’t just change overnight.  He isn’t a good person and you can’t make him a project.  You can’t fix him.”
“I am not trying to fix him,” she replied in a huff. “I just find it intriguing to see him using his head.  You can’t deny that he’s smart and capable.  If he actually puts that to use, he may resolve his own issues.”
Ron was staring at her.  “He’s a jerk.  He’ll always be a jerk.  And he’ll always look down on everyone else who he considers less than him.”
“And he is up to something,” said Harry.

“We know,” Hermione said.
“No, there’s more,” said Harry.  “I remembered in the Hospital Wing that I had two house elves at my disposal.”
Hermione glared at him, but Harry continued. “I ordered Dobby and Kreacher to follow Malfoy.”
“Harry!  You shouldn’t have!”
“He’s using the Room of Requirement for something!”

Hermione recalled finding Draco outside the room when she returned from Holiday, and realized that it was always near the room that she found him. 
“That’s why I can rarely find him on the map.  The room doesn’t show on the map,” said Harry.
“What’s he doing in there?” asked Ron.
“I dunno. I haven’t been able to break inside.”

“I see,” said Hermione.  “You came up with the idea of using slaves to do your meddling after getting bumped on the head.  Maybe another knock to the head would help you let this idea go.”
“Or help you figure out how to break in,” said Ron with a laugh.

Harry, however, was startled by Hermione’s words.  “Luna said something about that.”
“What?” asked Ron, confused. 
But Hermione stared at Harry.  “What did you say?” she asked.
“After Katie was cursed, I was following Malfoy, but Luna stopped me.  She said both Malfoy and I needed our rest and that a good bump to the head would help me figure out the Malfoy situation.”
“Barmey, that girl is.  It’s just a coincidence,” said Ron.
“I think she was spot on, in multiple ways,” said Hermione quietly.

“Speaking of,” said Ron, nodding his head towards the approaching figures of Luna Lovegood and Neville Longbottom.  They were holding hands, but separated as they neared the table.  Hermione watched as Harry turned to greet them. He still felt awkward around Luna since their argument before break.
“Hello,” said Luna as they arrived at the table.  “Here is the book you were needing, Hermione.” 
Runes on the cover identified it as ancient Greek: θρυλική γραμμή υφαντών, or Thrylikí Grammí Yfantón.  The Legend of the Weaver Line.
“How did you know?” Hermione asked, but Luna just smiled.

“Hullo,” Neville greeted, smiling pleasantly.  “What’re you all studying?”  He pulled out a chair for Luna as he spoke, and Hermione watched Harry tense at the gesture.
Concerned that Harry was still upset with Luna, Hermione was quick to respond to Neville when he sat down. “Harry and Ron just came to check on me, actually.  I’m doing some extra research on a few subjects that interest me.”
Harry, curious now, looked at the stack of books surrounding Hermione’s work space.  “The three D’s of Apparation?  Didn’t you just pass that test?” But his eyes narrowed on the numerous texts involving Legilimency and Occlumency. 

She was saved from replying by Neville’s chuckle.  She followed his line of sight to the two Slytherins arguing a few tables away. Theodore Nott and Pansy Parkinson were red faced with anger. 
“Looks like the drama continues,” Neville mused.
“Drama?” asked Ron.
“They’re both tangled up with the same person,” said Luna, her voice light.
“Nott’s gay?” asked Ron quietly, no malice in his voice.
“No,” said Luna and Neville in unison. 
Ron looked disappointed.  “Parkinson, then?” he asked.
Hermione felt a twinge of jealousy at the note of regret in his question and looked over at the Slytherin girl.  She was surprised, though, that he would be interested in a Slytherin.

As if sensing their gaze, Theodore Nott looked over at their table.  Without so much as a glance he left Pansy to join them.  “Have any of you seen Draco?” he asked snidely. 
Hermione raised her eyebrow. “He left a short while ago.  I don’t know where he went to.”
“Probably on the seventh floor,” Harry mumbled under his breath.
“What was that, Potter?”

Deliberately, as she had done with Harry at Slughorn’s party, Luna poked Theo in the arm and shushed him.  Surprised, Theo jumped back before running his hand through his hair, a wry grin on his face.  “I apologize for my tone.  I was supposed to meet Draco here half an hour ago, but I was delayed.” Theo glanced back to his table at Pansy who was staring at them. Making eye contact with Theo, she squinted her eyes and stood up before slowly walking to their table. 

“If you aren’t careful, Theo, people will get the wrong idea about you,” Pansy said rudely.
“Drop the act, Pans,” he answered.  “There’s no one else around.”
Pansy crossed her arms and glared at the other Slytherin. 
“Hermione said that he was here but left.”  Theo turned to Hermione.  “Thank you.”
Taking Pansy’s elbow, he made to help her leave. But Pansy shook from his touch and walked ahead of him as they made their exit.
“Hermione?” said Ron.  “He called you Hermione.”
“Yes, Ron.  That is my name.”
“But he’s in Slytherin.  And he’s a pureblood.  And his dad’s a Death Eater.”
“He isn’t a Death Eater, though,” said Luna as she dug through her bag.  
“And who is it their both dating?” continued Ron.
“They aren’t dating anyone,” said Neville, “but Astoria Greengrass is causing them to quarrel.  Pansy’s upset that Astoria wants to date Theo, even though he’s made it clear he wants to date Pansy.”
“Didn’t he go to Slughorn’s party with Astoria?” asked Harry
Luna nodded her head as she put on her Spectrescopes.  “Poor Theo was tricked into that.  It really was an unfortunate evening for quite a few people.”

Harry swallowed hard and looked away from Luna.
“Why are you wearing those?” asked Neville, nodding towards her glasses.
“Looking for the Wrackspurts around Ron’s head.” Seeming confused, she took the glasses off and shook them before looking up at Neville again.  Her eyes grew large and she quickly put the glasses back on before taking them off again.  She stared unblinking at Neville.  “Apparently, they’re by you instead.”

Ron shook his head and Neville looked uncomfortable.  Impulsively, Hermione slowly reached for the Spectrescopes.  Placing them on her head, she looked at Neville.  It was probably her imagination, but for a moment she had seen several glimmers around his head.  She shook her head, and the glimmers were gone.  Removing the glasses, she ignored the startled expressions from the young men at the table. 
“I don’t think I saw them,” she said to Luna and Ron snorted.
But Luna smiled at her before turning to Ron and Harry. “Thank you for being cordial to Theo and Pansy.  They’re very worried about Draco and an argument with you two may have gone terribly wrong with the state they’re in.”
Ron grunted, preparing to speak, but Harry was faster. “Do they know what he’s up to?”
Luna stared at Harry.  “They are afraid for him, Harry.  So am I.  I’m afraid for all of them.”

Luna grabbed her bag and rose from the table.  “Harry?  Are you prepared for what’s coming?”
Assuming she was meaning Voldemort, Harry shrugged. “I’m trying.”
Luna looked sad before she continued.  “Are you prepared for what may happen if you lose control? Are you prepared for how you’ll handle your friendships tested?  Your love tested?  Your faith tested?”
“That could be true of any of us,” said Ron.
Luna smiled cheerfully at him. “Yes,” she said before turning and walking away.
Neville, sending an awkward smile to the group, followed her out of the library. 

“Completely off her rocker, that one is,” said Ron, shaking his head. 
“Why are you reading about Occlumency?” asked Harry at the same time.

Hermione considered her answer, before opting for the truth.  “I have been taking private lessons with Professor McGonagall.”
“Are they having you learn it, too?” Ron blurted. “Am I going to have to learn it? Why can’t Harry learn from her instead of Snape?”
“No,” answered Hermione.  “My lessons with Professor McGonagall have had more to do with learning memory charms,” she paused, and then hurried on.  “I performed one on my parents over the summer and both Professor McGonagall and I think that will be the best way to protect them if Voldemort continues to gain momentum.  I’m already having them prepare their finances so they can disappear; they just don’t remember why.”

Harry and Ron gaped at her. 
“Over the summer?” asked Harry.  “Why would you do that?”

Memories from the night bombarded Hermione and she blinked away her tears, shaking her head.  “They started asking questions and when they understood what’s been going on, they weren’t going to let me come back.  They were going to make me run away with them.”

“This is really serious, isn’t it?” said Ron
“I have to get that memory for Dumbledore.  We have to stop Voldemort before it comes to that!”
“You’ve been trying for ages, though,” Ron said.
Shaking his head, Harry said, “I haven’t tried hard enough.” He looked at Hermione.  “You’re incredibly dangerous with the magic you can do.  And the sacrifices you’re making.  I can certainly spare half a bottle of Felix Felicis.”

“What? Now?” asked Ron
Harry nodded his head and grinned before darting out of the library to retrieve his liquid luck.
“I hope this works,” Ron mumbled. 
Hermione nodded, her gaze quickly landing on the book Luna had brought her.
“Do you mind if I head out?” asked Ron.  “Seamus and Dean should be up in the common room.”
“I’ll see you later,” she said, feeling no surprise at his desire to flee the library. 
“You’ll be alright on your own?”
“Of course, Ron.  Like Harry said; I’m incredibly dangerous,” said Hermione with a cynical smile.

She barely noticed Ron’s loud retreat.  The book in front of her was marvelous.  According to the text, written in Runes, Greek and English; the Yfantis Line, or Weaver Line, was a mythical line on the hand, much like a third eye on the forehead.  But one could not have this line unless they had the Third Eye.  Those with the Weaver Line could see, and maneuver, the Strings of Fate.

Hermione pushed her doubts aside and lost herself in the text.

 

Chapter Text

Time had become Draco’s enemy.  Perhaps, it always had been.  Pushing his chair away from the table in the Hogwarts library, he threw the crumbled parchment aside.  The notes it contained amounted to nothing but another dead end in his endeavor to fix the vexing Vanishing Cabinet.  He felt panic swelling in his chest and pushed it down.  He would never be able to protect his mother if he lost control now. 
“I just need sleep,” he murmured to himself.  “I just need to rest my mind.  It’s almost worth another trip to the Hospital Wing…”
Movement caught his eye.  Granger was at her table reading again.  He felt his mind relax, momentarily distracted by this pastime of watching his rivals.  Unlike dreaming, he didn’t have to witness his mother’s death when watching them.

He sat unseen between two bookshelves in what had become his favorite hideaway in the castle.  Reticent to go back to the library after his encounter with Granger, but still needing his research, he’d made his return to the tomes. Granger, of course, had been at her table.  He’d paced back and forth thinking of how to stay hidden, a habit from entering the Hidden Room, and suddenly there was his refuge.  A concealed little gem, doubtless created by Ravenclaw herself, and he had quite literally found it by accident.  He could see and hear those around him, but they were oblivious of him.  It pleased him, knowing something Potter and his cohorts did not.  He wondered if Granger would ever know.  Perhaps, in another life, he would have shared it with her.

Granger’s table could be seen between the shelves on the other side of his table.  The benefit, of course, was that she and her friends didn’t know he was there.  He had picked up a few of their secrets.   Draco knew about Potter’s book.  Apparently, though, so did Severus.  His godfather had known ever since Potter’s curse in the bathroom.  Draco scratched at his chest and eyed the curly haired witch with her nose in a book, cursing Potter for existing.
Draco also knew that Potter was finally dating the Weasel’s sister and that Granger was still pining for Weasley.  Something uncomfortable settled in his stomach at the thought of the Weasel and Granger. 
“Disgusting,” he snarled to himself and then laughed.  He knew something Granger and Potter hadn’t figured out there either.  “Idiots.”

But the group knew a spell he did not.  And when they were deep in conversation, a buzzing sound surrounded their table.  And his work space.  It was infuriating. 

He looked over at her table and snorted, shaking his head.  Granger was still reading about Apparation, even though she’d already passed that exam.  It tickled him that Weasley hadn’t.  Draco vowed he would pass it his first go while he smiled at Weasley’s failure.  He watched her face as she mouthed words as she read them.  Her lips were fascinating.  Destination, Determination and Deliberation.

Everything stopped.  He continued to watch her repeat the words over and over again.

He was dizzy.  The room was spinning. 

He couldn’t breathe.

His heart was racing.  Draco knew it was going to burst at any moment; he couldn’t calm down.  The world was spiraling, the towers of junk were looming over him, threatening to fall on top of him and that blasted cabinet.  The smells within the Room of Hidden Things; the dust and rotting parchment and stale air, were overpowering him and he felt he would vomit.  He’d dropped his wand twice, his palms were sweating so badly. 

“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger’s voice echoed around him.
He closed his eyes tightly.  “You’re not really here,” he retorted, afraid because he didn’t know what was happening.
“Neither are you.”

Quickly, he opened his eyes and, startled by his reflection in a mirror, realized he wasn’t in the library.  He wasn’t in the Room of Hidden Things, either, but in Myrtle’s bathroom.  Turning quickly, he saw the ghost floating above him. 
“You’ve turned awfully pale, Draco.  Are you going to be ill?”
He was disoriented, not sure how or when he’d arrived.  “How long have I been here?”
She tilted her head as she looked at him.  “Only a short while.”
Draco laughed bitterly and reached into his pocket, pulling out the vial of orange liquid and opening the bottle.  He drained the potion quickly and shivered. He promised himself there would be no more potion after this; he needed to sleep, nightmares be damned.  
“Are you still torturing Filch?” he asked the ghost, entertained by the look of delight on her face.
“He had it coming, erasing that lovely note you left on the mirror,” she answered in a huff.  “I don’t think anyone has ever left such a lovely message for me.”
Draco was once again looking at his reflection in the mirror.  He’d lost a great deal of weight.  His clothes no longer fit and his eyes were protruding from his face.  He looked like a skeleton.  With irritation, he pulled up the sleeve of his shirt and looked at his Dark Mark.  Anger filled him, overshadowing the sensation that the room was spinning.
“Such an awful tattoo, Draco.  Can’t you erase it with magic?” asked Mrytle.
He shook his head. “As long as I belong to the Dark Lord, this will blemish my skin.” His chest was unbearably heavy and he gasped, unable to breathe.  It had to be the mark, Draco thought, alarmed. The Dark Lord, sensing Draco’s doubt, was killing him through the mark!
“I have to get rid of it!” Draco yelled out.  “How do I get rid of it?” he yelled again, franticly, clawing at his skin.
Myrtle was shaking her head, confusion evident on her face.  “I don’t know…”
But Draco wasn’t listening to her.  He was lost in his own thoughts and, once again looking at his reflection, he found that he hated everything.  Voldemort.  Aunt Bella.  His father.  Himself. 
“I am such a fool!” he screamed. “What have I done?”  His words were slurred and in one quick movement he raised his hand and slammed it against the glass. 

“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger’s voice echoed around the room.
He closed his eyes tightly, ignoring the shame he felt at her voice.  “You’re not really here,” he bit out, defeated.  Did he want her to be?
“Are you sure about that?” she asked.
He opened his eyes and found his reflection mirrored in her eyes.  Looking around, he took in the view of the library and sighed, content that they were alone in his nook. 
“How long have I been here?” he asked her.
But she wouldn’t answer him, she just stared at him, waiting.
And then he understood.  “This isn’t real,” he whispered, his heart slowing to a painful degree.  She didn’t know about this place.  And they weren’t friends.  He watched as Granger reached for his hand and he eagerly anticipated the sensation of her skin on his.

“Draco!” Myrtle’s voice rang through the room and he opened his eyes, terror and pain filling him simultaneously.  There was blood all over his arm and a deep, gaping wound covered the Dark Mark.
Draco was shocked to see that he was holding a giant shard of glass in his hand.  It was covered in blood.
“What have I done?”
“You’ve mutilated yourself!” Myrtle screamed.  “If you’re going to kill yourself, you need to cut lower!”
Draco dropped the glass and held his bleeding arm above his head, looking for his wand.  He felt suddenly cold and he couldn’t determine if it was because of Myrtle’s agitated state or his loss of blood. 
“Where’s my wand?  I can’t find my wand!”
“Calm down, Malfoy,” said Granger, soothingly.
Draco was sobbing, snot falling from his nose and mouth, his throat dry.  The Dark Mark was still black and menacing, swimming in the bright red blood on his arm. 
“It’s in the sink,” he heard Granger say.  Looking down he saw the dark wood and quickly reached for it, murmuring a healing spell and watching the blood retreat back into his arm.  An easy fix; the wound was only caused by broken glass. A fleeting image of Aunt Bella’s dagger floated across his mind as he thought of her playing with a possible Order Member that had been brought to the manor.
“Thank you,” he began, turning back to the mirror to look at his reflection, but finding his gaze on Granger’s face instead.  Her curls were wild, much like he remembered from her youth.  She was looking at him with a familiar, curious look.
The pain in his arm was gone.  “I wish I could tell you anything,” he murmured.
“You know you can,” Myrtle said, but it was Granger’s face he was looking at, her lips mouthing those same words.
He was cognizant that Granger wasn’t really there, but he couldn’t deny that he wished she were.  The other muggle born that spurned his doubt.  “It amazes me how phantoms have taught me more about bloodlines than any living soul ever could.”  Draco slid down to the ground, the cold tiles a mild distraction compared to the combination of sweat and chills running down his spine.  “I’m supposed to get them in,” he whimpered, panic settling upon him again.  “I’m supposed to get them in and let them get him.  I am supposed to …”  he began to sob.  “I can’t!  I can’t do this!  I want to take it back!  I want to take it all back!  I can’t do this!  My father won’t even know or care because we’ll be dead!” he choked out.
“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger’s voice raced along the tiles in the room.
Draco continued to sob, his body shaking.  “I’ve gone mad,” he cried.  “I’ve gone mad to find solace from you!”

Overcome, Draco opened his eyes, terrified that he had said the words to Myrtle, but once again he was in the Room of Hidden Things, the Vanishing Cabinet looming before him.  His hands were shaking and he heard his wand clatter to the ground.  What was happening to him?  Was this real? Was he really here?
But, as he turned away from the cabinet, he saw a figure come into view. Rage filled him as the man strolled towards him, twirling a cane in his hand. Tall, and blonde and menacing, the man stopped before Draco and leaned forward on the decorative walking stick. The rage intensified and all of Draco’s hurt and fear burst from his mouth.
“I hate you!” Draco screamed, his voice breaking.  Rationally, he knew that the man standing before him wasn’t really there.  No.  His father was withering away in Azkaban, discarded by the Dark Lord, his sacrifices worthless. 
“This is all your fault!” screamed Draco, pointing at the mirage before him.  “I’m marked with this disgusting ink because of you!” he shouted, raising his arm towards his father.  Draco breathed deeply and laughed. “It isn’t even well done.  Just like anything your Dark Lord has attempted!  He’s a joke!” 
The words felt glorious and he became brave alone in the room with his imagination.  “Voldemort is a joke, father!  Just like you!  You abandoned us!  Look at me! Do you see what I’ve become?  What mother has become?  You left us alone with him –”
His father stepped towards Draco, and mechanically, Draco stepped back.  The illusion disappeared in the blink of an eye and the sorrow that followed irritated Draco. 
“I’ve gone mad,” he repeated.  Reaching into his pocket, he pulled his last vial of invigoration draught and threw it across the room, watching as it shattered against a pile of broken furniture.  “What has the Dark Lord done for us?” he whimpered, falling to his knees.

“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger’s voice echoed around the room.
He closed his eyes tightly.  “You’re not really here.”
“Neither are you.”
Pain filled his body.  All of his limbs were on fire.  “Am I dying?” he asked, his voice barely a whisper.
Her voice was fading as she replied, “Yes.”
Quickly, he opened his eyes and saw the reflection of Harry Potter in the mirror, approaching him from behind.  On instinct, he grabbed his wand and turned towards the intruder.
“Calm down, Malfoy!” Granger’s voice screamed, the sharp tones reverberating around him.
“I’m going to die…” he murmured, a sense of relief settling in his heart.
“No!” Myrtle’s voice carried over his thoughts.  “Stop!” she screamed.
Water was cascading around him, falling down on him with dust and debris.
He focused his gaze on brown, curly hair.  He felt calm, until she turned. 
“Black blood runs through your veins, and I know you will make a worthy death eater,” declared Bellatrix.
Cold furry filled him and he raised his wand.
“SECTUMSEMPRA!” screamed Harry.

“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger’s voice echoed around the room.
“You’re not really here,” he wept.
“Neither are you.”
“Am I dying?”
“Open your eyes,” she urged.
The Vanishing Cabinet loomed before him and he bit back his frustration.  He gingerly scratched at the scar across his chest, the fabric of his shirt hindering the task. Time was his enemy. It was disconcerting that the cabinet kept growing, rising above the piles of forgotten and discarded things. 
“I don’t know what I’m doing,” he said, panic wrapping itself around his chest. 
The words caused his heart to skip a beat.  His fingers were numb. The cabinet was still there. 
“What am I missing!” he screamed, kicking the cabinet.
“Calm down, Malfoy,” he heard her say.
“No!” he screamed.  “I will not calm down!”

“He is asleep,” said his godfather.  “I have done all that I can.”
Draco felt the hard cushion of the hospital bed beneath him.  He tried to open his eyes, but he was unable to make them work. What is happening? What has happened to me?

“MURDER! MURDER in the bathroom!” Myrtle screamed.  Draco was dying, he knew it.  The cold tile of the floor beneath him was numbing, easing the pain of whatever it was that Potter shot at him.  But the Vanishing Cabinet loomed above him.

“You will watch your mother die as you are slowly skinned alive,” hissed the Dark Lord.
Draco was voiceless as the snake of a man left the room, a low rumble of a laugh lingering. 
His mother came to him and he knew that she had heard the threat.
“What have you done, Draco?”
“I am going to save us, mother.”
“You, foolish boy,” she wept and embraced him tightly in her arms.  “All you had to do was wait.”
Draco bit his lips before his frustration burst. “We would be killed in the waiting,” he bit out.
Narcissa leaned back and looked at Draco.  “I love you, Draco.  And I love that you want to protect me.  But Bellatrix is not the way!  You must not heed her – I am your mother,” she said.
Draco was distracted by a trickle of blood falling from her nose.  “Mother? You’re bleeding.”
“Promise that you’ll listen to me, Draco!”

“What is this task?” Pansy asked, sounding irritable.
Draco tried to open his eyes, but nothing happened.  The smell of anesthetic filled his nostrils.
“He won’t tell me.  I’ve offered to help, but he’s too proud.  I don’t know if he’s afraid I’ll steal the glory, or if it’s some misguided attempt to protect me,” said Theo.
“Why wouldn’t he protect Vincent and Gregory?” said Daphne.
Draco knew that he was screaming, but his body and voice weren’t working.
“He’s protecting them by having them help,” said Pansy.
“Their fathers?” asked Daphne. 
Draco could easily imagine Pansy’s curt nod.
“I can’t believe Saint Potter wasn’t expelled,” hissed Theo, anger evident.  “Damn, Dumbledore.  He couldn’t care less what happens to us.”
Pansy laughed bitterly.  “I can’t blame Draco for ignoring me when I told him to go to that old fart.  Draco was nearly murdered and nothing is done!”
Draco felt her fingers on his arm, awed that she would touch the arm she suspected was tainted by the mark.  But, as though she read his mind, she pulled her hand away and combed his hair back with her fingers instead. 
“Should we ask his mother?” asked Daphne.  “I know he told us to never go to Professor Snape, but perhaps his mother can help him?”
Draco tensed, his heart racing.

“I don’t know what’s happening to her!” Draco wailed, the sound bouncing off the bathroom walls.
“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger said.
“You aren’t real!  You’re just a figment of my imagination!  And why? Why you?”
“Draco, is there anything you can do for your mother?” Myrtle asked as she hovered beside him.
“They’re doing something to her.  I don’t know if it’s the Dark Lord or the Death Eaters.  She’s withering away.”
“So are you,” he heard Granger say.
Myrtle nodded her head.  “She can share my U-Bend, too.”

“Hello, Draco,” said a familiar voice.  He couldn’t place it.  “It’s Luna Lovegood.”
Surprised, Draco waited, unable to open his eyes.
“I am sorry this happened to you.”
Her voice was calming.  He wanted to smile.  He wanted to curse her and tell her to go away.  He could hear his father’s voice: Blood Traitor.
“I know we aren’t friends,” she said.  “But, you still have time, Draco.”
He couldn’t breathe.  What was she on about?
“Not every choice is forever.  Take his offer.”
Only silence followed her words.
He wanted to scream. “Whose offer?”
Her hand was pleasantly cool as she touched his forehead.

“What is wrong with you?” he screamed at the cabinet.  “Why won’t you work?”
Fiercely, he kicked the cabinet.  The room began to spin.

“Look at the murderer walking down the hall,” Pansy sneered, her eyes taking in Potter.
Draco smirked, his gait still slow from his ordeal.
“Come now, Pans,” said Daphne.  “It was just a bit of attempted murder.  Must be why he’s still here.  It wouldn’t have anything to do with favoritism.”
Draco eyed Potter, surprised at the shame on his face. 

The bed was unbearably hard.  The hospital wing again! 
“Will he sleep much longer?” Madam Pomfrey asked.
“It shouldn’t be much longer,” answered Severus.  “Perhaps another evening.”
“He will scar?”
“Yes.”
“It could have been worse.”
“Yes.”

He awoke from his slumber, but his eyes still betrayed him.  Feet were shuffling to his bedside.  Someone was there, just waiting, quietly. 
“I shouldn’t have used that spell, Malfoy,” whispered Potter.  “I didn’t know what it was –” his voice broke.  “I don’t know what I was doing!  I wish I could take it back!”
Draco wished he could open his eyes to see Potter’s misery. 

The dining hall was filled with noise and Draco tried to swallow his porridge.  “I’ve stopped using the invigoration draught,” he said to Theo.
He saw the relief on his friend’s face.
“Are you able to sleep?” Theo asked.
“Not really,” answered Draco. 
“Are you ever going to let me help you?”
Draco sighed, the sadness and loneliness and fear consuming him.

Blood was all around him, covering the tiles and mingling with the water.
“MURDER!  MURDER in the bathroom!” screamed Myrtle.
He was dying.
“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger said softly. 
He opened his eyes and looked at her.  “You’re not really here.”
“Not, yet.”
“Am I dying?” he pleaded; but distantly, as feeling returned to his limbs, he heard the voice of his godfather chanting the incantations that would save him.  Draco wished he would leave him be.

His wand clattered to the floor and he gazed at the Vanishing Cabinet.  “I am my own saboteur,” Draco murmured as his fingers traced the carvings along the door to the cabinet.  Kneeling down, Draco grasped his wand again.  His father had always told him that magic came down to the intent behind it.  Non-verbal magic was all about intent.  Apparation was about deliberate determination regarding a destination. 
Carefully, Draco rose to his feet and retrieved the small bird fluttering in its cage.  “You’ll be fine,” he whispered to the trembling creature.  “I know what I was doing wrong.”
He placed the bird inside the cabinet and closed the door.  He hesitated.  Every time he had done this before, he had been afraid to succeed just as much as he had been afraid to fail.  If he were to succeed, it wouldn’t just be a mark on his arm anymore.  If he were to succeed, then he would become one of them.
“I’m in this blasted room, hoping to fail.  But I have to do this!  I have to get them in!”
“Calm down, Malfoy,” Granger pleaded. 
“Go away, Granger!” Draco yelled.  “Go away!  You can’t be a part of this!  You can’t do anything for me!  You aren’t even real!”
Draco leaned forward, resting his head on the cabinet.  “I’ve gone mad, to dream of a friendship with a filthy mud—” he wavered.  “I can’t even do it.” Draco chuckled, no humor in the sound. “I had suspected that your friendship would help me figure this out, Granger,” he mused aloud, remembering the way her lips had moved in the library. “How much more will you hate me if you ever learn it was you who helped me do this?”
Destination, Determination and Deliberation.
“I intend to make this work.  I intend to fix this bloody cabinet and get the miserable, rotten Death Eaters in this castle!  I am determined to complete this offer I made to the Dark Lord.  I am determined to give them access to Potter.  The miserable cad almost killed me, anyway.”
Draco closed his eyes and imagined the bird making her way to the paired cabinet, willing the magic to work this time.

“I don’t know what he was doing, Malfoy,” whispered Granger urgently.
The bed beneath him could burn.  How long had he been here?
“I am so sorry.  Harry can be so impulsive.  He’s been convinced all year that you’re a… well, that you’re a Death Eater.  But you’re not.  You’re not that stupid.”
Draco cringed.  Oh, but I am.
He felt the pressure of the bed change as she placed her arms beside his body and leaned in. 
“You’re not that stupid, right?  Oh, Merlin, if you were to open your eyes and see me here, what would you do?  Snarl and snap at me.  That’s fine.  Do it!” she hissed.
He strained to open his eyes and look at her when he felt the weight of her hand on his arm.  His arm with the Dark Mark.  The heat of her was seeping through the cloth of his shirt and he felt as though his mark were burning.  Instinctively, he knew what she was thinking.
Don’t do it… please, don’t look.
“Just wake up, Malfoy.  Just wake up from this awful dream and be your miserable self.  Your miserable, snarky, brilliant self.  Even if you hate me, just don’t be stupid.”
The weight of her hand slid down to his wrist and he felt her begin to slide the fabric up.
“You and Harry are so much alike, you know?  You would do anything for those you care about.  Harry, well, he cares deeply and strongly for a lot of people.  But I think you only feel that way about a very few.”
Don’t do it… please, don’t look.
Granger took in a loud, shuddering breath.  “What am I doing?” she moaned.  “Oh, Merlin, what am I doing?”
The bed was suddenly cold, her footsteps quickly fading with the warmth.

“Hello, Draco,” said a familiar voice.  “It’s Luna Lovegood.”
I’ve already done this… Whose offer, Lovegood?
“I am sorry this happened to you.  I know we aren’t friends,” she said.  “But, you still have time, Draco.”
She was almost there, if only he could remember.
“Not every choice is forever.  Take his offer.”
But only silence followed.  He pleaded with his eyes to open, for his voice to work.
Whose offer?!?  His heart was racing and he felt the sweat slide down his nose.  And then her hand was on his forehead and she was there.

Luna Lovegood stood before him, in her charmingly strange way, her eyes large and slightly confused.  She and Draco were surrounded by darkness, the only light radiating from their bodies.
“Whose offer am I supposed to take?” he asked.
“I wasn’t expecting this, Draco.  I don’t know what’s happening.”
“Whose offer, Lovegood,” he snarled. 
She looked uncomfortable and quickly grabbed her temples.  “Draco, I can’t be here.”
She was fading and he realized he was too.
“What’s happening?  Is this happening because of you?  Why is everything like this?” he cried out.
“I don’t know.”
Draco grabbed for her, trying to keep her with him, but as soon as his hand touched hers he felt like he was on fire.  And then everything was black again.
“Draco?” Luna said to his slumped form.  “I don’t know what happened.  But I know you can hear me.  I’m pretty sure we messed with your lines.  I hope it is temporary, but your view of things might be changed.  You probably shouldn’t ignore what you experience.”

Draco opened the cabinet door, hesitantly.  He was out of time, and he knew it.  When he looked inside, the beautiful yellow bird flapped its wings and flew out of the cabinet with such haste, he had to jump back to avoid her crashing into him. 
Joy filled his chest.  He had done it!  He had done it!  Laughter as he he’d never known filled his lungs and he released it in a joyful, triumphant shout.
“Who’s there?” called out a woman, her voice penetrating the room.
His joy fled.
Hurriedly, he pulled his wand and obscured the woman’s eyes.  Professor Trelawney stood at the entrance of the room, several empty sherry bottles in her arms. 
He sneered.  Drunkard hag.
With a snarl, he grabbed her by the shoulders and shoved her from the room.
“Calm down, Malfoy.”
“Piss off, Granger.”
Your view of things might be changed.  You probably shouldn’t ignore what you experience.
Draco snarled again.  “Piss off, Lovegood,” he hissed and kicked at a stack of broken brooms.
How long had this been happening?  Had it just started? 
Did he really fix the cabinet?
Magic filled the air and, rushing to the Vanishing Cabinet, he opened the door.
A parchment with a single word was waiting for him. 
Tonight.

“MURDER! MURDER in the bathroom!” Myrtle screamed, her voice just an echo in his memory, now. 
He was going to die, he knew it. 

Guilt rose up his esophagus and spilled out onto the dorm room floor.  Tonight the parchment had said.
The Death Eaters would be in the castle tonight.  Potter would be taken tonight.  He would murder Professor Dumbledore tonight.  Who else would be harmed tonight?
He had to prepare.  The better prepared he was, the fewer people the Death Eaters would come across.  He ignored the lingering hope that Potter would be the victor again tonight as he used his wand to clean the floor and freshen the room.  Draco knew his life was over.  Either he became a murderer, or the murdered.  He retrieved the Hand of Glory and Instant Darkness Powder from his trunk.
Panic was replaced by a cold calm. Tonight, his life was over.

Brown curls swayed before Draco as Granger ran towards the stairs. Conflicting emotions swirled in his chest.  Worry. Relief. Guilt. Anger. Temptation.  Would she help me?  Would she let me escape to her side?
She whirled around and looked at him and it took everything in him not to scream at her to run away from this place.  The Death Eaters were just behind him; she had moments to get away.
“Malfoy?” she said.
“You shouldn’t be here, Granger!” he shouted.
“Are you with them?” she asked quietly, approaching him slowly.
“Why are you here?” yelled Draco.
“Calm down, Malfoy.”
Calm down, Malfoy. Was this real?
“Answer me! – Why are you here?” he screamed, panicked he was imagining her again.
“You let the Death Eaters in, Malfoy,” she bit out.  “You let them in? Why? Why would you let them into our school?  To get at Harry? Do you hate him that much? Do you hate me that much?” she screeched.
“No!” he shouted.
“Are you one of them?”
He couldn’t deny it.  He wanted to. He wanted to run away from it all, but somehow understood that moment was lost.
A familiar cackle broke through the silence of their stare and Draco tensed.  Aunt Bella.  He looked back quickly, relieved that she wasn’t in sight, yet.  Granger’s eyes were wide, but her stance was fierce. 
“No, Granger, you have to leave now.  She will murder you! Find your friends.  Don’t fight alone.”
“What about you?” she asked urgently, concern in her voice.
“There’s no hope for me,” he said, finality in his voice.
He watched the emotions play on her face and was tempted to imagine she cared for him.  That her concern was more than just her nature to help everyone. 
“Go, Granger,” he snarled.  “I can’t protect you if she gets here.  I can’t fight with you.”
She nodded her head once, her expression blank, and turned from him. He watched her curls bounce as she ran and remembered their wild mass when he had first seen her years ago on the Hogwarts Express.
If only his intentions had been different then.

He felt Bellatrix’s presence before he heard her.
“Shall we show the Dark Lord your worth, Draco?” she crooned, her stale breath warm against his neck.
Draco plastered a proud grin on his face, playing the excited boy eager for approval.
“Of course, Auntie.  The glory will be mine!”

Chapter Text

The only sounds in the Oak Woods were the crackling fire and popping potion beneath a very old, gnarled and twisted tree within the forest.  Bellatrix stirred the cauldron beneath the Oak Tree, circling the giant, iron vessel; her steps confident despite the branches and roots that rose up from the ground as if to caress her.  The tree… her tree had gifted her with three acorns, the exact amount necessary for this potion.  The little gems had fallen one by one at her feet without her having to ask.  It was as if her tree had known what was in the large bundle she had carried over her shoulder, aided by magic, and was eager for the night to move forward. 

Potion work was not her forte, but Grubber was not allowed near the tree any longer.  The last potion her servant had made here had been ineffective; he had been too agitated by the woods.  And she’d be damned if she asked anyone else for assistance.  The enchantments of the woods elevated her skill, however, and she would not have her goals distracted by the actions of others.

Excitement settled in her bones and she skipped the last rotation around the cauldron before dropping the next ingredient into the bubbling mass.  It seemed as though the tree were also excited; its branches swayed, and the ground shifted as it stretched its roots. The movements provided reassurance.  Tonight was hers.

 “I’ve brought you an offering,” she said.  She moved to the bundle and unwrapped the blanket that covered it.  “A miserable thing, but a filthy muggle seemed fitting for tonight.”

The branches swayed above her, their rustling sounds chanting on the still air, while the figure at her feet stirred.  Bellatrix examined the muggle with distaste, watching as the air fogged when it breathed.  The scrawny thing was a dosser Bellatrix had found loitering on the outskirts of her woods. Bellatrix glared at the trembling filth and her own body began to shake in anticipation. 
“Run,” she snarled, but the wretch seemed too frightened to move. 
With irritation Bellatrix unholstered her wand and thrashed it through the air, muttering her favorite hex.  The sound of the muggle’s scream satisfied Bellatrix and she repeated her command to run when she ended the Crucio

The girl began to drag herself from the ground, never taking her eyes from Bellatrix or the wand in her hand, and tried to stifle her whimpers.  Her slow movements were too much for Bellatrix, however. 
“Run, you filthy, pile of waste!  Run!” Bellatrix shrieked, her voice cracking.

And the girl did.  Turning from the witch in the woods, she stumbled over the roots and choked on her own scream.  The sounds of breaking twigs and crunching leaves were deafening in the otherwise silent woods.  She had barely made it ten paces before she saw the witch in front of her again.  Panicked, the girl turned and ran towards the menacing tree, a terrified scream startled from her throat.  She tripped on the roots at her feet, her hand touching the rough bark as she caught herself.  But her body was wracked with another Crucio and she fell to the ground. 

Bellatrix stood over the terrified girl and tilted her head to the side.  “This will never do,” she said, and kicked the girl in the ribs.  “You’re far more pathetic than I’d thought.  Do you want to die?”

In tears, the girl shook her head and tried to right her body, but Bellatrix, laughing, kicked her again.  In a fit of instinct, the girl grabbed Bellatrix’s leg and pulled her down to the ground before once again getting to her feet to run away.  But pain settled in her back, between her shoulders, and then there was nothing more. 

Bellatrix’s gleeful laughed filled the night sky and she stood up, pulled her dagger from the girl’s back and drug the body to the iron cauldron.  Kneeling before the tree, Bellatrix spoke.  “I’ve brought you an offering.  She fought to survive and now her blood is yours.”

The pale skin of the girl quickly turned translucent as Bellatrix added the last ingredients to the cauldron.  Raising her arms to the sky, she chanted with the whispering branches and swayed in startling movements to touch the tree each time she passed.  And when her ritual was complete, Bellatrix wrapped the offering back in the blanket and, with a wave of her wand, hung the body from one of the many branches.

Confident that her sacrifice was pleasing, Bellatrix extracted a ladle full of the bubbling, black potion and knelt before the tree once more.  “I offer up this sacrifice for our victory tonight.  My Dark Lord requires the death of Dumbledore.”

Without taking her eyes from the tree before her, Bellatrix swallowed the potion, savoring the scalding taste of witchcraft.

 


 

“Death Eaters are in the castle!” Hermione exclaimed as she read the coded message on her galleon.
She and Luna were waiting outside Professor Snape’s office, but the man remained within, as if unaware of the night’s activities. 
Luna nodded her head solemnly.  “It’s been leading up to this all year.”
Hermione knew it was true.  It was like this every year; events building to disaster.  Harry had been so confident something would happen tonight, he’d made them promise to use the Felix Felicis.

She and Luna were alone.  Ron, Ginny and Neville had just tried to stop the Death Eaters near the Room of Requirement and Harry was off with Dumbledore, retrieving another horcrux.
Hermione glanced at Luna before turning to look at the professor’s door.  “Should we tell him?” Hermione asked. 
“Do you trust him?”
“He obviously isn’t in on it, or he’d already be helping them… But,” Hermione paused before adding, “I trust Harry.”  I should have listened to him sooner

“Dumbledore trusts the professor,” Luna replied and Hermione bit her lip before she nodded her head.  “I’ll try to find the Order members on patrol,” said Hermione, “if you tell Professor Snape they’re here.”
They nodded to each other again before Hermione turned and ran to the stairs.  Luna made her way to the door and knocked loudly.
“Enter,” beckoned the deep voice of the man inside.

Luna obeyed, taking calming breaths and focusing on the light in the room.  The professor’s office was dark and dreary, but his desk was the exception.  Stacks of parchment were piled upon the surface and several vials were filled with glowing potion, emitting the most brilliant glow.  Luna examined the air around Professor Snape.  She needed to try to see the cords of string in order to know how to proceed.  The man sat in front of her, staring, but seeming unphased by her attention. 

“Ms. Lovegood,” he said, but stopped when she looked directly at him.
Luna was surprised by his conduct.  His tone was mild, with no sign of irritation. 
Luna stared at him and willed the strings – no, the lines –  to come into view.  If the theory that she was a weaver was correct, then she should consider the strings to be lines.  And if palmistry stemmed from weaver magic, the trick would be figuring out what it all meant without a hand to map it out.

“Ms. Lovegood,” he said again and she looked at his face, startled by his eyes.  It was as if he could see her more clearly than she could him. “You weren’t supposed to have this gift, yet,” he said.
His question startled her.  “How do you know about it?” she asked.
Snape was quiet for a moment before he answered.  “Your mother was kind to me.  I recognize the signs.”
“Was she?” Luna asked automatically.  She was still trying to pull the lines into focus and this conversation seemed far away.
“Perhaps.  It may have been pity.  She appeared to think I was doomed in this lifetime.”
“Are you?”
He pulled his lips inward.  “What happened that caused you to accept the Oculi Somniantes?”

Luna was distracted by his question.  “Did my mother explain it to you, Professor?” she asked, not hiding the hope in her question.   “Hermione is trying to help me with research, but we haven’t found much about it at all.”
Professor Snape snorted.  “I imagine not.  I’m not sure your mother knew much about it, either.  And I said that she was kind to me, not that we were friends.” His voice was harsh and she remembered why she was there.
“Can I trust you, Professor?” she asked him. 
The professor glared at her.  “Is that why you have come to my office outside of my scheduled hours?  To inquire on how trustworthy I am?”
“Yes,” she said while focusing again on the man before her.  She slowed her breathing and beckoned her senses to wake from this dream. 
And then she understood.  I dream while I’m awake.  That was it!  Her visions weren’t her dreams.  Her visions were present when she opened her eyes beyond the illusion of wakefulness.  Oculi Somniantes wasn’t dreaming, it was waking fully.   

Suddenly, more vibrant than ever, numerous lines and, for the first time, shapes filled the room.  More lines than she had ever imagined possible emanated from him, spiraling out of his head, heart and hands. Shocked, Luna stepped back momentarily.

The professor stepped forward.  “Ms. Lovegood?”
“It’s beautiful,” Luna said, awed by the movement around him.
But Professor Snape appeared frightened.  “You must not do this!” he exclaimed, looking at her intently.  “These secrets are mine!”

“I don’t understand what I’m seeing, anyway,” Luna answered.  “It’s beautiful, but I don’t understand it.”  She examined the images around her, memorizing them and cataloguing them carefully. Her attention remained primarily on seven orbs that rotated like planets around the professor’s head.  “I came to tell you –”

But she was cut off by the loud bang when the door to the office swung open and Professor Filius Flitwick, her Head of House, burst into the room. Flitwick stared only at Professor Snape and leaned forward, his hand on his knees, to catch his breath.  “There are Death Eaters in the castle!” he panted out.

Flitwick collapsed to the floor.  Luna, too absorbed by the symphony of forms filling the room, failed to notice what made Flitwick fall, but she rushed to his side as soon as she registered his crumpled body.

“He’s fainted,” Professor Snape said.  “See to him, Ms. Lovegood, I must go join the others.”  

Luna watched the dark man hurry from the room, the ethereal strings following behind him. Numerous lines of string were apart from the others, no longer connected to Professor Snape, but she understood somehow that they were his.  Several formed a grid, others formed a star, and still more a cube. She had never seen the lines form shapes before tonight, but the anomaly faded from her focus as she attended to her Head of House. 

 


 

Heavy footsteps sounded through the Hogwarts Corridors as the Death Eaters made their way from the Room of Requirement. It had been many years since many of them had been within these walls, but not much had changed.  The smells were the same, the lighting from the candles flickered the same way; and that sense of homecoming was both surprising and grating.

Bellatrix had sent Draco to cast the Morsmordre, confident that would entice the old buzzard, Dumbledore, to return to his nest.  There was no hurry.  Anyone who crossed their path would be dealt with, but Dumbledore was their primary objective. 

“He’s done it!  He’s actually got us into Hogwarts!” Yaxley said through his laughter.   “Perhaps, one of the Malfoys is actually worth their salt.”   

A satisfied smile had settled on Bellatrix’s face. “It was I who swayed him to offer this passage to the Dark Lord and the rewards for my effort will be worth my guidance of the boy.”
“Your nephew, you mean,” said Alecto before mumbling to her brother, “Manipulation is like breathing to her.”
Bellatrix smiled proudly.   “Don’t be jealous.  We’re all going to have fun tonight.”
“I just want to leave this place,” said Gibbon. “I don’t have pleasant memories here.”
“Few of us do,” said Bellatrix.
“He’ll put one of us in charge,” Amycus said, excitedly. “Imagine all the ways to torture the blood traitors and mudbloods!”
“Where did Draco get that powder, Bellatrix?” asked Rowle, ignoring the twin.  “It was truly amazing how easy it was to avoid those bothersome lookouts.”
“Students, no less!” said Yaxley.  “Dumbledore must be mad to think students would be enough to stop us!”
“It’s from that disgusting store the blood traitors run.  Those witless twins are to thank for our success tonight!” said Alecto, not bothering to wait for Bellatrix to answer the question.
“It was because of my nephew!” Bellatrix shouted.  “It was because of my plans we are here!”
Alecto shrank back marginally, disconcerted by the other witch. 

Bellatrix looked arrogant as she fiddled with the necklace of vines and twine around her throat.  She eyed them all carefully before the sounds of running footsteps could be heard.  The group quickly turned back in the direction the noise was coming from, prepared to hex whoever approached.  It was Bellatrix who smiled when the beast of a man turned the corner and came into view.

“Greyback,” she crooned.  Her countenance was haughty and it was apparent she was enjoying this surprise. 
The sneer on his face sent the rest of the group stepping back while Bellatrix walked towards him. 
“Lestrange,” he replied.  “You don’t seem surprised to see me.”
“I assume you’re here because you found my message?”
“So that was from you?  It was smart not to send an owl, but I’d like to know how you found us,” he replied, however, he seemed unfazed when silence was her only reply.  “I’m anxious for the tonight’s delicacies,” he added, as he eyed the other Death Eaters and licked his lips.

Bellatrix’s cackle filled the corridor and Greyback sneered again.  He was aware that none of the others wanted him there.  He bared his teeth and smelled their fear.  “I’m hungry for some children,” he said.
“All in good time, Greyback,” said Bellatrix, “but first, we must find my nephew and watch him complete the mission the Dark Lord assigned him.”
Bellatrix had already turned towards the astronomy tower, her steps determined. 
“You promised me,” said Greyback.
“And the night is young,” she replied.

 


 

“Hermione?” Bill Weasley was startled to see the young witch running down the stairs after curfew, but more so by the look of alarm on her face.
“They’re in,” was all she said and he felt his heart drop. 
“Where?” he asked.
“I heard Bellatrix’s laugh.  Draco Malfoy told me to run.  He said I needed to find my friends, that I couldn’t fight her alone.  That he – that he wouldn’t be able to fight with me.”
“Where, Hermione?” Bill asked again, alarmed by what she had said.
“Just up the stairs,” she said, pointing.

Bill prepared to send his patronus, but shouts suddenly filled the air.  “Go to your tower, Hermione!  And don’t let Ron or Harry out!”
Bill ran up the stairs towards the sounds of combat above. 
“Harry is with Dumbledore!” he heard her yell after him, but he was already up to the landing.  He recognized Bellatrix Lestrange and the Carrows.  The spells had filled the space with smoke and ash and he couldn’t make much else out. 
Until he saw long red hair.  Ginny.  She was with Lupin.  And, of course, there was Ron.  Anger gave Bill speed and he rushed forward to join the fray.  He knew without a doubt that Hermione was behind him, but his focus remained on stopping the Death Eaters.  His siblings and their friends were not the only children in this place. 

“Where is he?” Hermione asked behind him.
“Over by Ginny and Lupin,” Bill called back, assuming she had asked about Ron. 
But he realized that was no longer true.  Remus was running towards the stairwell to the astronomy tower.  Bill looked back to Ginny and saw that she was holding up a shield over the Longbottom boy, who was unconscious on the floor.  Before his pride could register, though, his instincts kicked in and he was hurling hexes in the direction Ginny was shielding against. 

Distantly he heard the shout of the Killing Curse in a voice he didn’t recognize.  Fear gripped him. 
And seconds before he felt sharp, biting pain on his face and neck, he heard a man’s voice scream out Hermione’s surname.  The fear in the voice was enough to cause Bill to turn and, without hesitation, put himself between the werewolf and Hermione. 

 


 

Draco hurried up the stairs.  “The sooner I do this, the sooner they’ll leave,” he said to himself as he felt the cold air on his skin.  The image of Greyback lunging for Granger wouldn’t leave him.  A Weasley had stepped in to take the blow and Draco pushed aside the unwelcome sorrow he felt at the man’s demise.

Gibbon had set off the mark when they had caught up with Draco.  Thankfully, no one questioned Draco’s delay and Granger had not been noticed.   Not that it had done her much good, as she had simply come back. Stupid, ungrateful, witch.

What about you?  Granger’s voice sounded in his head.  Calm down, Draco.  Anger bubbled in Draco.  Resentment at the witch who was too arrogant to accept a gift when it was offered fueled him forward as he hurried his ascension. He grasped onto the hate his father had shown him, and pushed aside his thoughts of Myrtle and Granger.  They could be nothing more to him if he was to succeed tonight. Tonight, he would save his family.

Draco had barely a moment to catch his breath before he realized that there was movement beyond the door at the top of the stairs.  He’s already here!

Grasping his wand tightly, he threw open the door.  “Expelliarmus!” he shouted and made no attempt to hide his surprise when the Headmaster’s wand settled into his hand.  Draco felt his stomach turn and tried not to vomit.  The time had come.

 


 

Severus Snape raced up the stairs towards the corridor above.  Flitwick’s mental walls had been non-existent in his harried state, and Severus had been able to retrieve all the information that he needed.  Bellatrix, the Carrows, Thorfinn, Corban and another Death Eater, if not more, were inside Hogwarts. 

Bellatrix was behind it, he knew.  She would not stop until she delivered Lily’s son to the Dark Lord. 

It wasn’t difficult for him to find the Death Eaters and members of the Order.  It seemed none of them possessed any cunning or strategy.  With a wave of his wand, he placed a shield around himself and walked quickly through the throng of chaos. 

He pushed aside his emotion at the site of Bill Weasley’s torn flesh.  His chest had been rising, he might survive.  Especially, with Hermione Granger at his side.

The imbecile, Longbottom, was another matter; he was too far away for Severus to make any hypothesis of his state.  The Weasley girl was seemingly successful as his guard dog. 
Poor Molly.  He pushed the thought aside with the fleeting irritation at her foolish Gryffindor brood.

Damn you Albus!  If we’d only extricated the Malfoys…

Severus grit his teeth and increased his pace.  Bellatrix was attempting to make her way to the tower, so his destination was clear.  Without a backwards glance, he felt for the usual wards at the base of the stairs, and having voiced the countercharms, ran up the stairs.  As soon as he had broken through, Albus’s voice was clear to him, reaching through dimensions, through time and space, to call out to him. 

…are here, Severus!  Draco is not a killer!  Save them.  Save Harry!  Save Draco!   Severus, please.  They are here, Severus!  I am done.  I am ready.  Please. Severus, hurry!  Severus! Fenrir is here! Protect the students!...

Mouth suddenly dry, Severus pushed himself further. He couldn’t fathom why the werewolf was in the castle, and the Headmaster was obviously weak.  His mental projection was incredibly faint. 

He heard arguing.  The Carrows.  Greyback.  They were ordering Draco to do it.  The grating screech of Alecto penetrated the air and he kicked open the door to the tower ramparts. 

Amycus Carrow was yapping his mouth, but Severus’ focus was solely on Albus Dumbledore.  The night had obviously not gone well.  Or the curse had suddenly progressed much further.  His friend was going to die.  Perhaps, he hoped, he would die on his own. 

The blue, penetrating eyes of the Headmaster pierced the dark, cavernous eyes of Severus Snape.
“Severus…” Dumbledore softly pleaded.  

No! Severus stormed forward, pushing his godson from his path to stare at Dumbledore. You demand too much of me! How dare you do this!  Just jump if you wish to die!

The headmaster’s eyes were unblinking.  “Severus… please…”
And Severus stamped his mental walls down again, closing off all connection to the man before him.  He pushed forward all of his hate and anger and frustration and raised his wand, pointing it directly at his mentor. 

“Avada Kedavra!”

The curse hurled Dumbledore backwards and over the tower ledge.  Severus did not miss the look of relief that settled on the old man’s face, as time slowed for just the briefest of moments, and then Albus Dumbledore was gone.

“We must leave, now,” Severus ordered the Death Eaters, grabbing his godson by the collar of his robes.  He could feel Draco trembling through the heavy cloak and he hurried ahead with him, allowing the others to fall behind.

“Listen to me, Draco,” he hurriedly whispered, casting a Muffliato as they ran.  “You will tell the Dark Lord you were lifting your wand when I reacted to Dumbledore’s pleas.  You will tell the Dark Lord I stole the glory.”
“You didn’t…” Draco murmured.  “He was right.  I am not a killer.”

Severus tightened his grip on Draco and pulled him faster.  “You will not confess this to the Dark Lord!  Boast of your achievement. Focus on your successes.  Blame others for your failures.  Plead for forgiveness that you allowed yourself to be robbed of the victory!”
“He will murder you!” Draco said.

Severus was surprised by the boy’s concern and almost stopped to reassure him.
“It is my honor to be your godfather, Draco.  We must build a believable memory of tonight.  A false memory.”
Draco did stop.  Severus quickly looked around the corridor and pulled him along again.  “We must not delay, Draco!”
“I am not capable of that, godfather.”

Severus felt a moment’s relief at Draco’s use of his designation.  His godson was no longer fighting him. 
“Don’t listen to your aunt, Draco.  She is your enemy.  You are more capable than she would have you believe.  Ignore everything she taught you and follow your instincts on this.”

The entrance hall was before them and Severus pushed aside the melancholy.  His refuge and his prison would be but a memory after tonight.

“Draco, what was supposed to happen tonight?  Were you only supposed to kill the Headmaster?”
“Don’t you know?”
“What do you know, Draco?” Snape asked.
“Potter,” Draco replied, his voice barely audible. “I offered a way to Potter.”

Severus halted quickly and penetrated his godson’s mind without any warning.  His movements were rapid and he found no relief when Draco pushed him out of his head. 
“That was not nearly quick enough!” Severus said.  “What has that mad woman been teaching you?”
“Your attack didn’t hurt!  I didn’t even know you were there at first.  When she enters my head, it’s like she’s slicing my skull.”
“Walls up at all times.  It is grueling, but it must be done.  The Dark Lord can slither into your mind and rob you of your secrets before you register he was even there.”

The men began running again, the castle looming behind them.  Severus attempted once more to enter Draco’s mind and was pleased that his godson had obeyed.
“Draco, the others are gaining.  Use safe truths to build your walls.  Bury your secrets in distractions.  I don’t know what will happen after tonight, but you must ask your mother to help you with your mental walls.  She will help you gain strength to keep them up at all times.”
“What?”
“Your mother cannot offer to help you, Draco.  And she may seem to be resistant.  Trust that she will help you, even in dismissal.  You have to ask her for her help.”

Before Draco could respond the booming voice of Rubis Hagrid rose up through the night. Both men looked back to see the groundskeeper’s hut ablaze in flame and the remaining Death Eaters were in battle against the half giant. 

“We must leave, now!” Severus yelled again.  He grabbed Draco and hurried towards the gates when Harry Potter’s voice rose above the shouts and roaring fire behind them.

“Stupefy!” he screamed. 
The spell missed. 
“Run, Draco,” Severus commanded before turning towards the spitting image of James Potter. 

The commotion around them obscured the curses Potter shot at him. But there was no mistaking the dark-haired boy’s intent. 

This boy was his life’s mission.  Lily’s son.  But in this moment, like so many with him, he only saw James. 

The cocky, condescending, bully.  The bastard who pressured Lily to stay away.  The spineless, cad who plagued him.  Snape parried Potter’s curses.  The cheat who had everything.  The fool with all the right connections.  The loser with his future on a silver platter.  The boy who stole Lily. 

James and Harry Potter were the reason she was dead.  He could have saved her, if not for them.  
Yet, she would never have needed saving if he hadn't been such a fool...

Somewhere in their battle, Snape recognized that it was the younger Potter fighting him.  Likely, when the anger in his bottle green eyes flashed like Lily’s.  Or the betrayal in their expression, that so resembled the look on her face when he had called her a mudblood. 

But then, the boy’s face contorted into that self-righteous look of James Potter.  And just as his father had always judged him, so the son did.

“Kill me, you coward!” shouted Harry Potter.  “Like you did him,” he screamed.

Coward. 
An all-consuming rage filled Severus and he disregarded his own commands that the Death Eaters leave him.  He forgot that it was his mission to shield the insolent boy.  And he lashed out.

Thank Merlin, for that miserable hippogriff, or he may have forgotten himself completely.  The beast had flown down upon him during his attack and steered him back into action.  Running quickly towards the gates, Snape apparated outside of Malfoy Manor and hurried to his fate.  Pandora Lovegood’s sad smile flittered across his memory. 

Whatever the consequences, he must ensure both Harry Potter’s and Draco Malfoy’s safety.

Chapter Text

His mother stood beside him as they waited in the drawing room.  It unsettled Draco to realize that he was being received as a guest in his own home.  No matter what the Dark Lord did to the manor, however, it would always be his home.  The walls that made up the structure pulsed and hummed, saturated with magic older than the Malfoy’s themselves.  The sound was a distant distraction to those not belonging to the house; to those who were not Malfoys.  Draco closed his eyes and tried to match his heartbeat to the rhythm of the house and listened to the slow steady breaths of his mother as she did the same. 

There were Death Eaters waiting in the drawing room with them, bragging and competing amongst themselves, yet keeping their distance from his Aunt Bella.  Bellatrix had claimed a seat beside the throne used by the Dark Lord.  There really wasn’t a better word for the chair that seemed to penetrate the air around it with darkness.  It had been a gift to the Dark Lord from his aunt and it was made of sculpted Oak and Hickory.  A gift of such significance would typically be given at a betrothal and was completely inappropriate. 

“I don’t want to get on her bad side,” Alecto said quietly to her brother.  “She’s too dangerous a witch.  Let the Dark Lord chastise her for her behavior.”
Draco idly watched as his aunt sat sprawled in her seat, a smug smile plastered on her face as she gently caressed the throne beside her and gloated in the faces of the other Death Eaters. Her actions were infuriating the group and Draco tried not to become distracted.  He needed to build his mental walls. 
“Won’t he be furious at us for letting her fondle his possessions?” Amycus questioned.
“There is something off about her and her magic,” said Rowle, sounding distracted.
“Keep your mouth shut!” Alecto hissed.  “Gibbon deserved better than to be mistaken for Dumbledore’s werewolf. You’re as bad as Lucius, killing one of our own.”

Draco closed his eyes tightly and grabbed onto that anger.  He would build walls with his desire to restore the Malfoy name.  Fresh rage provided ample mortar.  He brought to mind the image of his mother screaming from his nightmares.  His irritation with Severus for attempting to take over his mission.  His fury at Dumbledore, when he realized that the man had known – Dumbledore had done nothing, but he had known what Draco was trying to do.  He felt the pleasure at having outsmarted the worthless, old fool and built more walls with that. 

“Draco,” his mother said.
He looked to her.  She was examining the room, verifying that no one was paying attention to them. 
“What happened?” she asked.
“I got them into the castle,” he paused, licking his lips, and said, “Severus killed Dumbledore.”
It was subtle, but he caught her release her breath.  She almost seemed relieved.
“He told me to ask for your help, mother.”
“Shush,” she whispered. 
Bellatrix was staring at them.  He made eye contact with his aunt, confident his walls were in place.  He felt the glass across his thoughts, but it was quickly gone as she stared at his mother.  And then she was eyeing the bickering Death Eaters. 

Narcissa grabbed Draco by the shoulders and turned him to face her.  Her eyes moved, briefly, as if she were reading from a book.  “They are good, Draco.  But she is still there.”
Draco was confused and Narcissa pulled her wand and began mumbling charms to freshen his appearance, but unexpectedly, there was a buzzing noise around them.
“A little charm I stole from your godfather. We have a moment before Bella notices she can’t hear us.  Your walls are very good, Draco, but there is an image of the werewolf lunging for the mudblood.  It upset you.  You have to push that further behind your walls.  You must use old memories of her to do your best to hide her from the Dark Lord.  Hold onto the memory of hexing her teeth.  And of her dancing with the dark young man.  Your jealousy can resemble hatred there.  And you must keep your dislike of Potter ever present, but do not think of how upset you are that he failed to stop you tonight. Or that Dumbledore’s offer came too late.”

Draco felt all of his walls crumble.  “How…?”
“No, I am not ashamed you have grown protective of her,” Narcissa said hurriedly, before moving on.  “You have very little of my ability, but it is there.  Severus told you to use walls, but if you are able, try to imagine they are webs, like those of a spider.  Put them up now,” Narcissa said and quickly ended the buzzing spell.

“You must look your best for the Dark Lord,” Narcissa said. 
“Of course,” Draco replied, while trying to understand his mother’s instruction. 

Images entered his mind when he looked at her.  He closed his eyes and watched a web form.  It started as a simple line of silky thread, then a curved one that pulled down to a point.  Another line emerged from that point and broke off again up to the corner of the first line.  And then there were triangles within triangles until there was an orb in the middle.  The silk became sticky and another orb was created on top of the first one.  Once there, he wasn’t able to escape.

Draco opened his eyes as the Dark Lord entered the room, his snake slithering at his side.  The man’s bald head and serpent-like features captured the attention of everyone there and the only sound was the pulsing of the house and the beating of Draco’s own heart.  Draco hurriedly reformed his walls, restructuring their design and placing the safest memories in the sticky orb of the web he had created. With any luck, anyone viewing those memories would struggle to move beyond them.  

“It is done, my lord,” exclaimed Bellatrix.  She strode confidently to the Dark Lord, her head held high. “Draco gained us entry into Hogwarts.  Dumbledore is dead!”
The other Death Eaters in the room cheered, excited by their success.
Voldemort ignored them and turned to Draco.  “Indeed?” asked the Dark Lord.  “Has Nagini lost her treat, Draco? Did you actually kill Albus Dumbledore?”

Draco knelt down on impulse, his head low to the ground.  “My Lord, it is true that the old man is dead, but it was not I who was privileged to cast the killing blow,” said Draco.  And then, mustering all of his self-pity, all of his fear and resentment, he exclaimed, “Snape stole the glory!” 

Recalling his godfather’s instruction, Draco continued.  “I fixed the broken Vanishing Cabinet.  It was I who allowed your faithful servants into the castle.  It was I who got them passed the first guard.  And it was I who cornered Dumbledore!  But Snape arrived – he cast the Killing Curse.”

Draco tensed, anticipating the Crucio. But, it never came.  Draco hesitantly looked up and found the Dark Lord towering over Bellatrix.  His aunt only stared at him, her face aglow with adoration.
“What do you have to say?” he asked Bellatrix.
“I’m proud of my nephew!” Bellatrix bellowed.  “It was I who convinced him he’d succeed in gaining access to the school and he did!  Because of my plan, because I urged him to the cause, we were able to penetrate the castle!  Of course, Snape would foul things up!  It is his fault the night was ruined!” she screamed.
“How did he die?” he asked.
Bellatrix hesitated.  “I was not there, my lord,” she answered.  “I was caught in the battle with Dumbledore’s filthy Order.”
“You waste my time, witch!” Voldemort said and waved his wand across the air, sending Bellatrix to the furthest corner of the room.  She quickly rose and glared at Alecto who had not bothered to hide her delight.  Bellatrix sneered and turned her attention back to the Dark Lord.

“I was there, master!” Alecto exclaimed.  “I was there when the Malfoy brat nearly pissed himself.”
Voldemort smirked and approached the stout woman.  “He was afraid?”
“He was trembling, he was,” said Alecto.

Draco plastered the image of the Weasley attacked by Greyback to the forefront of his mind, focusing on the torn flesh and blood and yelled out “That was because you fools brought a werewolf with you!”

Voldemort was before Draco and their eyes locked.  Draco was alarmed.  He could not blink or look away and his head was swollen with undulating pressure.  And just when he thought his eyes would burn from the lack of moisture, he realized that the Dark Lord was already gone.  Alecto was curled in a ball of pain as the dark wizard stood above her, yielding his wand in her direction. 

“Enough with these distractions!” said Voldemort.  He turned to Draco and Draco felt his body seize up in agony.  His joints were on fire and his blood had stilled.  The pain of thousands upon thousands of bullet ants attacking his skin engulfed him. 

Draco was uncertain how long he had been cursed when he felt arms around his body and the torture ended.  But the Dark Lord had not ended the curse.  His mother had placed herself in its path.

“NO!” screamed Draco.  His voice was hoarse, barely more than a groan, and he was not able to lift his body.  “NO!” he screamed again, but it was drowned out when the door to the drawing room burst open and Severus Snape threw himself at the feet of the Dark Lord.

“My, Lord.” 
Voldemort did not cease his activity, but looked down at the kneeling Potions Master.
“I beg for your mercy, Lord.  I was not aware they would be there tonight.  I was not prepared.”

As if bored, Voldemort snapped his wrist away from Narcissa, ending the spell. 
“You were not aware?  You were not prepared that I wanted the young Malfoy to kill Dumbledore or die himself?”
“I did not know they were coming into the castle.  I was not prepared to let my revenge go!” snarled Snape. “That old fool was the warden of my hell!  The boy had his wand raised and that depressing, old, coot looked at me, begging me to save him and I was not primed to let someone else have the satisfaction of ending him.”

Draco watched as the Dark Lord stared into his godfather’s eyes.  He now understood what was happening.  Only seconds had passed, but Severus stared, unblinking, in the other man’s direction.  And then the Dark Lord laughed.  It was a hollow, choking sound, but unmistakable in is mirth. 

“Bellatrix!” called the Dark Lord.

Draco observed his aunt stride across the room to stand before the dark wizard.  She lifted her head and stared openly at him. 
“Severus?” said Voldemort.
“My, Lord?”
“She purposely withheld information from you.  Choose her punishment.  Be aware, that yours will be hers times two.”
Snape nodded his head and considered.  “Lashes, my Lord.”
The Dark Lord grinned and turned once more to Draco.  “Get up off the floor,” he commanded. 
Draco nearly cried from the pain of moving his arms when he tried.
“Shall Narcissa play shield once again?”

Ignoring the embarrassment, Draco screamed in pain as he pushed through the pain, forcing himself onto his hands and knees.  He’d lost control of his bowels in the torture and was thankful his school robes would hide that disgrace. He screamed out again when he pushed himself into a standing position, the pool of urine at his feet was unmistakable.  He looked down at his mother and realized she had faired far worse than he had.  Blood was pooling from her nose, and he could swear that more of her hair was white now.   His love for her nearly killed him when she smiled encouragingly at him.  Damn his father to hell.

“As a reward for finding a way into Hogwarts, I will allow you to punish Severus.  He did, after all, rob you of your glory.  Are you familiar with Poenior Ignis?”

Draco merely stared.  He was familiar in theory, only.  The Malfoy Library was filled with books on the Dark Arts and that curse was mentioned numerous times.  The Whip of Fire

“Severus will perform this curse on your aunt.  You will learn from his example and complete the curse on him when he is done.” 
“But, master,” said Bellatrix.  “I had hoped that you would complete my punishment.”

The Dark Lord walked past Bellatrix as he made his way to his chair. She had positioned herself on her knees and he angled his hand behind his retreating form and in front of her face.  She grabbed his fingers quickly, and kissed the tips.  The Dark Lord slid his hand to her chin and lifted her head as he turned to look at her.  “Impress me with your endurance and I will personally see to your healing.”

Draco was sure he would vomit at the site of his aunt salivating at the Dark Lord’s retreat to his throne. 
“Come, Nagini,” Voldemort said.
Draco did not miss the narrowing of Bellatrix’s eyes as she watched the snake slither to the Dark Lord and wind herself onto his lap. 

Severus stepped forward.  Draco felt that he may fall to his knees, his body was spent. 
“How many lashes, my Lord?” asked Snape.
The Dark Lord looked down at the snake in his lap before replying, “She will have ten.  To the skin.”

Narcissa sucked in air at Draco’s feet.  His godfather would have twenty lashes by his hand.  Draco felt afraid and he watched Bellatrix haughtily walk before the gathered group.  She disrobed, unashamed, and Draco was momentarily distracted by his relief that hers was not the first naked body he had seen.  Brief memories of the Patil girl lying on her back flickered in his mind before he registered the first crack of the curse on Bellatrix’s skin. 

He swallowed his vomit.  A deep line of charred, black skin appeared on her back, but she didn’t scream. She held herself upright and braced for the next blow.  

The second crack hit her back and she moaned as if in delight.  Draco was horrified to see that she was looking directly at the Dark Lord and fingering the necklace at her throat. 

The gathered witches and wizards also seemed unsettled by her reaction.  But Lord Voldemort was grinning again.  By the fourth curse, his godfather has mastered his aim and was hitting the exact same spot each strike.  At the last crack, Bellatrix fell to her knees before the Dark Lord.  The stench of burned flesh flooded the room.
“Forgive me, master, for distrusting Snape,” she said, her voice betraying her ragged state.  “Had I not kept secrets, this evening would surely have ended very differently.” She gently stroked the hem of his robe. 

Voldemort ignored Bellatrix and turned to Draco. 
“You may have one practice shot before you serve Severus his punishment,” said the Dark Lord. 
Draco felt awkward as his godfather began to undress.  He had only ever seen the man in his black robes.  There was no surprise at the deathly, white, pale skin.  But the man was neither potbellied or skinny.  He was simply fit.  Draco felt indecent.  His godfather had only removed his cloak and shirt, finding no need to prance around naked as Bellatrix had.  But his current state seemed more damning and intimate. 

Draco’s brain kicked into gear and he once again checked that his mental web was in place before looking at the Dark Lord.  Images of Patil were still fresh, as was his horror at his aunt’s battered flesh.  The Dark Lord smirked and Draco found that his eyes were dry and pressure was fading from his head. 
“Whom would you like me to practice on, my Lord?” he asked.
“Bellatrix could have one more, don’t you think?  Her ineptitude gave room for Severus to intercede,” Voldemort replied.  Draco had the sense that he was laughing at him.  “No need to up Severus’ ante,” he added.

Draco looked to his mother and felt her in his head.  A memory rushed forward, and he knew it was hers.  Bellatrix was in front of a giant tree, covered in blood and laughing.  His mother was on the ground weeping at the unconscious form of his grandmother.  All of his mother’s hate entered his body and he turned to his aunt.  He didn’t understand what he had seen, but he knew whatever it was, it had actually happened. 

Bellatrix had hurt his grandmother.  And his mother hated her. 

His aunt was staring at the Dark Lord, her hands at her sides, and he took advantage of her distraction. 
“Poenior Ignis!” he yelled, stumbling from the strain of the magic, but hitting the mark perfectly. 

And Bellatrix screamed. 

She whirled around to face him, her hand to her throat.  “You ungrateful, shit!”  she roared.  The Carrow twins were laughing, the Death Eaters behind them attempting to hide their sniggers. 
“I was following the command of the Dark Lord,” Draco said slowly, surprised at how calm he sounded. 
Bellatrix snapped her mouth shut and retrieved her cloak to settle it around herself once more, grimacing as the fabric touched her back. 

Voldemort motioned for Alecto to attend to Bellatrix.  Both witches scowled and sat far from each other in a corner of the room, already forgotten by their leader.

Severus walked before Draco who watched as his godfather looked at his mother before crouching down and bracing himself against a chair.  Narcissa was sitting upright now.  And it appeared she had cleaned herself up.  Distantly, he realized she must have done the same for him.  He prepared to thank her when her voice assailed his brain.  “Nonverbal.  Abditumara!”

“Begin!” commanded the Dark Lord. 
Without thought, Draco repeated the spell in his head, Abditumara, before voicing the Whip of Fire spell to the room.  He silently repeated the spell his mother had given him before each strike to his godfather.  By the fourteenth crack, Draco was down on one knee, his vision blurred by the tears he refused to shed.  His body was shutting down.  At eighteen he was on both knees, all sensations to his hands and feet were gone.  He passed out as the twentieth whip lit across Severus’s back.

Sometime later, Draco awoke in his own room.  Gentle, but leathery, hands were inspecting his body, rubbing ointments and wrapping dressings on his injuries.  He had nearly forgotten that he had been in a battle only a short time before being tortured by the Dark Lord.  The evening’s events returned to him and he turned his head to hide his face. 

“Did my mother send you?” he asked the house elves when he had control of his emotions.
“No.  The house did,” said the smallest of the elves.  He had no idea what its name was. 
“Do you often listen to the house?”
“An unhappy house makes unhappy elves,” said another elf. 

Draco tried not to laugh. He remembered Granger wearing one of her stupid SPEW buttons and burst into tears instead.  “I’m so sorry,” he cried.  “I wish I’d never been born.  Or that I was just a stupid, muggle.  I am so sorry… I’ve only ever been horrible to you.”

He rolled from his bed and landed in a heap on his floor. “I can’t handle this!” he cried.  “Why did I have to figure this out now?  Why did I have to realize how stupid all of this is, now?”

The same leathery fingers suddenly covered his mouth and little voices begged him to be quiet. 
“Go to the hidden halls,” one whispered. 
“You isn’t safe in your room,” another said.

And then he was floating to the fireplace and his hand was lifted to the corner of the mantle. 
“Opens its!” hissed an elf.

So, he did.  And the little elves herded his floating body through the tunnels. 
“How do you know where you’re going?” he asked.
“Mistress Cissa lets us in when we needs to hide.”
“Or, when she needs help.”
“Where are you taking me?” asked Draco.

“To the safe room.  The sour man is there.”
“Sour man?” he asked, confused.
“Your godfather,” whispered another elf so quietly it was barely audible.  “Your mother be with him.”

Still exhausted, and not entirely sure he wasn’t dreaming, Draco closed his eyes and enjoyed the swaying, weightless motion of their levitating him through the hidden corridors of Malfoy Manor.  After some time, an elf’s hand clasped his. 
“Wills you open it?”

More alert than he had been before, Draco examined their surroundings.  He had never been here before and he was slightly frightened by what he would find on the other side of the panel.  He looked down at the house elves and then closed his eyes and listened for the manor.  At least, he knew he was home.  Carefully, Draco extended his hand to the top corner of the panel and watched as the room behind swirled into focus. 
The elves had not misinformed him.  Severus and his mother were in a tiny, unfamiliar room on the other side.  Extending his hand again, he opened the entryway.

His mother looked up from her bed and smiled at him. 
“You look much better,” she said. 
The elves levitated him to the seat on the side of her bed.  Severus was seated on the other side. 

The two men eyed each other before Draco spoke.  “I’m so sorry, godfather,” he began.  But the other man held up his hand. 
“You shouldn’t have to be a part of this,” said Severus.  Draco stilled.  He, himself, had said the same thing to Granger.
“Dumbledore and I tried to protect you,” he continued as the house elves made themselves busy tending to the various wounds and ailments of the three people in the room.   
“What?” asked Draco.
“We were afraid of what the Dark Lord would find when he entered your mind.  Your mother said that you protected yourself competently and she didn’t need to intervene.”
“Is that why you kept harassing me to let you help? To protect me?”
“It was always the plan that I would be the one to kill him.  You are not a murderer.”
“And you are?”
“I am a Death Eater.”
“You're a brilliant spy,” Narcissa cut in.  “Thank, Morgana, for that.”
“What is happening?” asked Draco.  “Are you actually a Death Eater? Are you Voldemort’s man? Or Dumbledore’s?”

Severus visibly cringed.  “Do not become careless now, Draco!  He is the Dark Lord.  And I am no one’s man but my own.”
“Whose side are you on, then?” asked Draco. 
“My own,” snarled the Potions Master.
“Just tell him, Severus,” said Narcissa.  “He will understand.”

Draco watched as his mother and godfather looked at each other.  “You’re talking to each other, aren’t you?” he asked. “And how did you talk to me in my head, mother?”

Narcissa cleared her throat and adjusted the blankets around herself.  “Blood magic,” she finally said. 
Draco stilled.  “Blood magic?” he asked.
“Severus and I are not talking in the way that I sent a message to you.  I can only do that within this house and it takes a great deal of power to do that, especially with those I am not connected to by blood.  He and I are communicating by sharing memories.  I did, however, send both you and Severus the nonverbal spell.  I believe that we were all casting it while you… while you cast the whipping spells and that is what protected Severus. 

Draco looked at his godfather again and realized that he looked good.  Too good. 
“The Dark Lord believes I chose lashes because I can create potions to heal them quickly,” said Snape, “And that is correct.  That is also why he chose the Whip of Fire as it is unlikely a potion could heal those wounds.”
“How did Bellatrix withstand it?” asked Draco.

“Your aunt has delved into very dark magic,” Narcissa began, but a coughing fit racked her body and blood began to trickle from her nose and ears.  Draco watched in horror as several strands of dark hair turned white and her skin turned blue.
“Stop, Narcissa!” Snape ordered and turned to Draco.  “She cannot tell you.  She is cursed.”
Draco stared in wide-eyed horror as the color slowly returned to his mother’s face. 
“What kind of magic is this?” Draco asked.  “Why is she serving the Dark Lord if she has power like this?”

Narcissa coughed again.  “We must not speak of this any longer.  I am too weak.”
Draco cursed under his breath. Damn their secrets.

Narcissa tutted at Draco’s obvious language before addressing Severus.  “I stole your Muffliato spell,” she said.  “It helped tonight.  Thank you.”
“Potter and his lot use it, too,” murmured Draco and was unsettled by the dark look on his godfather’s face. 
“He will understand, Severus,” Narcissa said again.
But the Potions Master shook his head.  “I may have stolen from you, too.  Dumbledore and I were able to create a spell to communicate telepathically.”
“Are you telling me,” began Narcissa, “that Dumbledore dipped his toes in dark magic?”
Severus scowled.  “All for the Greater Good.”

Draco was uncomfortable with the comradery between the two adults.  His mother looked at him sharply and shook her head.  “Mind your thoughts, you degenerate.  I saw what you’ve been up to with one of Kabir Patil’s daughters.  I am honor and oath bound to your father.  Severus and I are just friends.”
Draco was mortified and quickly realized his godfather was too. 
“Can you read my thought whenever you want?”
“I can read your face,” she retorted before turning back to Snape.  “Tell him, now, Severus.  Or I will.”

Snape glared at his mother before sucking in his lips.  Then, with a sigh he looked to Draco.  “It is my mission to protect Harry Potter, son of Lily Potter, nee Evans.”

Confusion enveloped Draco.  “Why?” he asked, pushing down the jealousy he felt that Potter also had the protection of his godfather.
“She was my best friend.  And, although unreciprocated, the love of my life.”

“But you hate Potter,” said Draco. 
“He’s his father’s copy.  A menace, not worthy of Lily’s memory.”
“Why would she marry a man you hated? If you were best friends? I don’t understand.”

The elves had stopped their ministrations and, as if sensing danger, quickly moved away from the sour Potions Master.  “She did not approve of my associations,” Snape ground out.  He jerked slightly when Narcissa took his hand.
“He will understand,” she said again, firmly.
Snape’s expression changed for just a moment as she looked at him and then, looking at Draco, he continued.  “She was what you would call a goody-goody.  She was so eager to prove that she belonged in our world and her questions were never-ending.  I was sorted into Slytherin without a moment’s hesitation.  But the hat took forever before placing her in Gryffindor.” 

Draco swallowed hard.  He did understand, but he didn’t want to.  He looked sharply at his mother, who met his gaze directly.

Snape continued.  “James Potter was the worst kind of wizard.  Conceited, popular and self-absorbed.  We were immediate rivals and he used his popularity and connections to make my time at Hogwarts unbearable.  The Gryffindors did what they do best and convinced themselves, and anyone who would listen, that all Slytherins were inherently bad.  To be fascinated with the Dark Arts made us evil.  To question if there were better, more efficient ways of doing magic, was a sure sign of a depraved mind.”

The smallest house elf had prepared tea and handed a cup to the Professor.  He accepted the cup blindly and continued.  “The older Slytherins were impressed by my natural abilities.  It was only among their kind that I was … accepted. I clung to their words like the overlooked, little, nobody that I was.  And ideas that I should never have believed became my doctrine.”

Snape looked at Draco, his stare so focused it was more forceful than that of Voldemort’s, and Draco could not look away.  “So, it was without a thought, as careless as breathing, that I called the purest person I had ever known, a mudblood.”

Snape’s confession was more revealing than his kneeled, bare-chested form.  This man of secrets was on display before him and he wanted to shrink away. 
“So that’s it?” Draco asked when his godfather sipped his tea.  “You abandoned your friend to become a Death Eater?”
Severus stilled. 
“How does that warrant your devotion to Potter?” Draco asked.  “Your friendship ended, or you would never have joined the Death Eaters.  She would have stood behind you when the Gryffindor’s talked their stupid shit.  You decided she wasn’t a real witch and she and her stupid husband died.  What should that matter to you?”

It happened so quickly, Draco fell from his chair.  One moment his godfather had sat dejected in front of him and the next the man’s wand was digging into the skin at Draco’s throat. “I loved her!”

“You didn’t,” Draco stammered, afraid, but unwilling to stop.  “You loved the idea of her.”

His godfather leaned back quickly, his wand at Draco’s face, and then he faced Narcissa.  “You said he would understand!” he shouted. 
“I think he does,” she replied.  “You’ve been manipulated by Dumbledore, Severus.”
She turned to Draco, “But he did love her, Draco.  She was his first real friend.  For a long time, she was his family.”

“What really happened?” Draco asked after his godfather stepped away.
Severus and his mother were silent, but Draco knew they were somehow communicating with each other.
“Intelligence I provided to the Dark Lord resulted in her murder,” Severus enunciated slowly as he leaned against the wall and slid down to the floor.  “I am the reason Harry Potter is an orphan.  Because of me, he is, perhaps, the only chance at stopping the Dark Lord.”

 “Of course, he is,” said Draco, sounding resigned.  “I bet he just loves that.”
The men sneered together and Narcissa sighed as she warmed her hands from the heat of her porcelain teacup.  

Chapter Text

In her third year, when Professor Snape had assigned them the essay on werewolves, Hermione had been very thorough in her research.  So, as she held the bandage to the wound at Bill’s throat, she was aware that it was unlikely any contamination would result in his becoming a werewolf.  But, her research had not prepared her for what the grizzly injuries would look like in real life. 

Madam Pomfrey had been able to successfully apply dittany and powdered silver to his neck, but his face was another matter.  The skin was not only torn open, but stretched and distended.  She could see his cheek bone, the skin hanging down and revealing his teeth as well.  She was to apply the green ointment to his face every eight minutes.  She would not fail him in this.

Granger! She heard Malfoy’s voice in her head.  His warning had not stopped sounding in her mind since he had yelled it during the battle.  He’d saved her by sacrificing Bill.  Not that he’d done it on purpose, she knew.  But she would never have had a chance if Bill hadn’t jumped in front of her.  And that was all she could see whenever she closed her eyes.  The ferocious face of the werewolf as he ran towards her while she tried to maneuver herself to cast a curse.  And, as Malfoy’s voice carried to her, Bill turned and put himself between her and the beast. 

“Madam Pomfrey said your spell work saved him,” Luna said softly beside Hermione.
Hermione had repeatedly cast Vulnera Sanentur on his neck and face while the fighting had continued around them.  It has been the only spell she could think of, remembering it was the one used by Snape when Harry had cursed Malfoy.  She repeated the spell three times, but the werewolf bites resisted the magic.  So, she kept repeating it until Nymphadora Tonks had dragged her to the Hospital Wing.    
“He’d never have needed saving if he hadn’t protected me,” Hermione replied.
“No, this was going to happen to him, Hermione.  All of the layers and lines ended with this attack.  And there were many that were so much worse than this.  Some of the layers stopped with the both of you covered with a sheet.” 

Granger!
Malfoy’s voice echoed in her thoughts once more.  Hermione flinched.

Hermione’s lessons with McGonagall had veered into the territory of the Oculi Somniantes on multiple occasions and she was much more open to the possibility that the power in Luna allowed her to see another facet of magic.  And, although, her own experiences with the time turner her third year left her no room to doubt that time was not absolute, she still found it nearly impossible to believe Luna could see multiple outcomes at one time, or that she would be able to manipulate situations to obtain the particular outcome she desired. 

For as much doubt as Hermione had about the Weaver Line, however, she had faith in Luna’s gift of observation.  “What did you see?” she asked the blonde; not sure she would really believe the answer.
“Greyback killed you with one blow and then turned on Bill.”
“How badly did he injure Bill?”
“He played with him before killing him.”
“What stopped him, then, in this… layer?” Hermione asked.

But Luna was looking to the door of the Hospital Wing.  Ginny had arrived, pulling Harry with her by his hand.  Hermione resisted the temptation to run to Harry and bury her guilt in his embrace.  Her eight minutes were up and Bill needed her focus, not her tears. 

She listened distractedly to Harry, Ron and Lupin as they discussed Bill’s condition while she dabbed the ointment at the grotesque wounds.  And then, when Ron questioned why Dumbledore wasn’t helping, Ginny’s voice was like a clang, reverberating through the hospital wing.

“Dumbledore’s dead,” the younger girl said.

Hermione’s hand shook, causing the ointment to drip down Bill’s chin, and Lupin cried out.  His denial was short, but the horror filled the room and settled on all those present.  Harry offered no contradiction and Lupin fell into the empty seat beside Hermione.

Carefully, Hermione mopped up the ointment and applied it to the gaping gashes.  She felt herself tense, waiting for Harry to tell them what Malfoy had done.  Malfoy’s appearance all school year long, his likely involvement with the necklace and the poison, all that time in the Room of Requirement and his practical admission to letting the Death Eaters in.  Was he a murderer? 

Granger!
His scared warning kept repeating in her head.  Was he a murderer? No.  No, she wouldn’t believe that he was.

“Snape killed him,” said Harry.
Hermione looked up, startled by those unexpected words. Professor Snape?  Not Malfoy.  He didn’t do it!  He didn’t kill – Oh… Oh, Professor Dumbledore…  The sadness assailed Hermione and she forced herself to focus again on Harry.

“We heard someone racing up the stairs.  Dumbledore immobilized me while I was under the Invisibility Cloak and then Malfoy burst through the door.  He disarmed Dumbledore at the same time Dumbledore cast the spell on me.  More Death Eaters came, followed by Snape.  And Snape did it.  Snape cast the Avada Kedavra –” Harry stopped, his eyes distant and his shoulders slumped in defeat.

Hermione looked over to Luna who seemed genuinely confused.  Hermione felt dreadful. The two girls had chosen to trust Snape.  What if they hadn’t?  Would the headmaster still be alive if not for them?  Was he really dead?  Snape was not really a Death Eater!  Perhaps, it had been a trick!

But the night was suddenly filled with the sound of the phoenix song.  Fawkes, she was certain.  And his song was tragic, his pain and sorrow settling on the grounds of Hogwarts and all who occupied its space.

“Bill’s parents are on their way,” McGonagall said, startling Hermione.  She had not noticed the woman enter the Hospital Wing.  Hermione had lost all track of time but, thankfully, had continued to apply the ointment to Bill’s injuries.  She was surprised to see that the swelling was diminishing.  Hopefully, the wounds would be able to close soon.  His face and neck would be forever scarred, though.

Harry was standing at Bill’s bed, Ginny and Ron beside him.  As Hermione looked at the two red heads, she felt a fresh wave of guilt.  She closed her eyes to steady herself but saw the face of Greyback again.  Granger!

Luna grabbed Hermione’s free hand and squeezed it, the movement bringing Hermione back to reality.  She squeezed Luna’s hand in return and focused on the conversation between Harry and the Order. 

Lupin was despondent as he spoke.  “We always knew that he was highly skilled at Occlumency.”
“But Dumbledore was adamant that he was on our side!” said Tonks.
“He was positive that Snape was a reformed man,” said McGonagall, “and that there was no question of his remorse.”
“What I wouldn’t give to know what he said that would convince Dumbledore,” Tonks said.
“I know,” Harry murmured and was hardly aware as the group turned to look at him.  “It was Snape who brought Voldemort’s attention to my parents.  He passed on information that convinced Voldemort to kill them, but he said he didn’t realize that would be what would happen. He said he was sorry they were dead.”

“Why would Dumbledore believe that?” asked Lupin.  “Snape would never have cared if James died; he hated him.”
“And he thought of my mother as a mudblood – he even called her that.”

“Harry,” Hermione broke in, “did he mean it?” Her own question surprised her.
“What?” asked Harry.  “Did he mean it when he called her a mudblood.  Of course, he did.”
“How do you know, though?  Did he call her that because he believed it?”
“What’s gotten into you?” Ron asked.  “Why would he say it if he didn’t mean it?”
“It’s just that he didn’t deny he was once a Death Eater.  Or that he associated with the wrong sort when he was a student here.  And even if he meant it at the time, did he still believe it later?”  She stopped, struggling to find the words when she felt the warm pressure of Luna’s hand as she squeezed hers again. 
“Malfoy hasn’t called me a mudblood this term, Harry.  And he’s had numerous opportunities!  If he could stop using it, while immersed in Voldemort’s control, I am sure Snape could, too.  He could even have come to regret using it.”
“Why are you defending him?” asked Ron.  Hermione wasn’t sure which him he was referring to. 
“I trust Dumbledore.  And he trusted Snape,” she answered.

“Malfoy called you a mudblood tonight,” Harry said.  “He told Dumbledore that it was because of the ‘Mudblood Granger’ that he figured out how to get poison into Hogwarts.”
“Did he mean it? Or was he playing a part to get through what he was expected to do?  He saved me twice tonight, Harry.  Twice.  He urged me to find my friends when Bellatrix was coming.  And –” she swallowed her desire to cry, “and it was because of him that Bill was able to save me from Greyback.  Greyback was coming straight for me when Malfoy called out my name to warn me.”
“He put up a buffer, too,” said Luna. 
“What?” asked Harry, Hermione and Ron at the same time.
“As he ran past to make his way to the tower, he cast a charm that caused Greyback to recoil.  It was why Greyback didn’t kill Ginny’s brother tonight.”

“I did see him cast a spell,” said Ginny, looking back and forth between Harry and Ron.  “While I was shielding Neville, I saw Greyback attack Bill.  At first, I thought Malfoy was cursing him while he was down.  Or cursing Hermione.  But when Greyback fled after him and I saw that Hermione was tending to Bill, I put all my focus back on keeping Neville safe.  And aside from Bill’s wounds from Greyback, Madam Pomfrey assures me there are no other injuries.”

Ron seemed ready to argue, but stopped short and shook his head instead.  
“Great,” Harry said darkly.  “Malfoy might have a redeeming quality or two, but Snape murdered Dumbledore.  I saw it!  Dumbledore begged Snape to help him, but the coward cast the Killing Curse instead.  I don’t care if he meant it when he called my mother a mudblood, or not.  He is still a murderer!”

“I’m sorry, Harry,” said Luna in a very quiet voice.  “I think there is more to this.”
Harry turned to her and clenched his fists at his side. 
“What do you mean, Miss Lovegood?” asked Professor McGonagall.
“Just what I said.”

Professor McGonagall looked expectantly at Luna, but seemed to accept that the odd girl would provide nothing further.  “This is my fault,” McGonagall said to the group.  “I asked Filius to retrieve Snape.  Perhaps, he would have remained in his office unaware of the night’s activities and Dumbledore would still be alive.”
“Tonight was his time, Professor,” Luna said. 

Ron rolled his eyes in Luna’s direction, but Harry just stared at her.
“It was a relief to think that Snape was on his way, Minerva,” said Lupin.  “We were in need of his aid.”
“But what did he do when he arrived?” asked Harry.  “Did he attack the Order?”

“So much was happening, I’m not sure anyone is confident on what exactly happened,” McGonagall said. “We, along with Remus, Bill and Nymphadora, were patrolling the castle on Dumbledore’s orders, but all seemed secure.  I don’t know how the Death Eaters were able to enter…”

“Nothing redeeming about Malfoy there, Professor,” Harry said while eyeing Hermione.  “He got them into the castle through the Room of Requirement.” His expression became almost remorseful, however, when he saw the devastated look on Hermione’s face.

“I messed up,” said Ron, his appearance also miserable. “When I couldn’t find Malfoy on the map, me, Ginny and Neville went to keep watch outside the Room of Requirement. 
“After about an hour or so, he came out on his own,” Ginny said, “gripping that shriveled, horrible arm of his –”
“The Hand of Glory,” said Ron.  “Remember? It only let’s the person holding it see any light.  As soon as he saw us he used Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder –”
“The twins really need to stop selling that to just anybody…”
“We tried loads of spells, but nothing could help us see,” Ron continued.
“We had to blindly make our way out of the corridor again, listening to all the Death Eaters rush past us,” said Ginny.
“Malfoy did a good job keeping them away from you, then, as he was the only one who could see,” said Luna.
“Probably afraid we’d mess up their plans by separating them,” Ron huffed.
Luna just looked at him, seeming unperturbed.

“Fortunately,” began Lupin, “the two of you, along with Neville, ran into us and informed us what had happened.  Within minutes we had caught up with the Death Eaters. Young Malfoy did not appear to have any more of the powder so we were able to fight them.  One of the Death Eaters ran up the tower stairs –”
“Did he set of the mark?” Harry asked.
“That seems likely.  Whatever it was he was up to didn’t take him very long.  He was running back down when he was hit by a Killing Curse that was likely meant for me; it just barely missed me.”

Harry turned to Hermione and waited, seeming to already know where she had been.
Hermione started dabbing the ointment at Bill’s wounds again until she felt Ginny’s gentle hands take the cloth from her. 
Granger!
There was no anger in Ginny’s expression.

“Luna and I were waiting outside of Professor Snape’s office when Neville sent a coded message on the galleon that Death Eaters were in the castle and they had been unable to stop them. Luna went to alert Snape while I went to find someone from the Order to notify them of what had happened and that’s when I ran into Malfoy.  He didn’t deny letting them in.  But when we heard Bellatrix he begged me to leave.  He said he couldn’t fight them with me.”
“And why not, the tosser?” yelled Ron.  “Too afraid his mommy and daddy would disown him?”
“I don’t think he told them I was there,” Hermione continued, ignoring Ron’s outburst.  “I ran into Bill on the stairs.”

“I thought Flitwick told Snape,” said Harry. “It was you?” he asked Luna. “What happened?”
“I never got the chance to tell him before Professor Flitwick arrived,” began Luna.  “I don’t think Professor Flitwick even saw me before he told Professor Snape the Death Eaters were in the castle.  He had been panting and fainted, so Professor Snape asked me to stay with him while he joined the others.”
“Fainted?” asked Professor McGonagall.
Luna looked at her. “In retrospect, that seems unlikely.  I wasn’t looking at him when he collapsed.  I wasn’t really looking at Professor Snape, either, so I don’t know what really happened.”
“What were you looking at?” asked Ron.

“Are you all right?” Harry asked Luna. “He didn’t try to hurt you, did he?”
Luna offered Harry a small smile.  “No.  We had been talking about my mother.  He knew her, did you know? ... There is more to this,” Luna said urgently to Professor McGonagall.  “I used the Oculi Somniantes.  He was so worried I would find his secrets, but I don’t think they are dark.”

Lupin had inhaled sharply at Luna’s words and Harry looked to him before looking back at Luna. 
“Minerva?” Lupin asked. 
“It is confirmed,” the Professor said.
Tonks, who had been standing to the side, came forward.  “What is confirmed?”

Remus Lupin approached Luna tentatively.  “It must be incredibly strong if you were able to confirm it,” said Lupin to McGonagall.
Harry looked over to Ron and Ginny, but the siblings looked as confused as he was.  Hermione, however, was looking intently at Luna and Lupin.
“Dumbledore confirmed it,” said Luna.  “And he knew tonight was coming.”

“What are you talking about?” asked Tonks.  “What is confirmed?”
“Ms. Lovegood has a very rare magical skill," Lupin replied.
"An ability," McGonagall continued, "presumed vanished until her mother showed tendencies towards it.  Only Albus, Professor Flitwick and myself were aware of the depth of Pandora’s talent.  Oculi Somniantes is, for lack of a better word, the third eye.”

Ron snorted and Ginny glared at him. 
“But, Professor,” began Harry, “I didn’t think you put much stock in divination.”
“I don’t.  This isn’t a craft, Mr. Potter. Oculi Somiantes is something else entirely,” said his Head of House.
“The theory is that all witches and wizards have a non-functional capability to see magic, not just use it,” said Lupin.  “Occasionally, a witch or wizard may glimpse this phenomenon and experience a brief epiphany of the future.”
“Is that how prophesies are made?” asked Tonks.
“According to this theory, yes,” said Lupin. “Some magical folk are more likely to experience this than others, which is why there is the school of divination.  They are, in short, trying to train themselves to 'turn on' this ability.”
“When in reality, it is sheer, dumb luck their predictions ever turn out to be correct,” declared McGonagall.

“Yes, well,” continued Lupin, “the Oculi Somniantes is the term for this lost ability. And the ability isn’t really about seeing the future, it is about seeing magic in action.  Seeing magic as it forms, before the witch or wizard even knows what spell will be used.  Very little is known about this power.  We only have the theory that all of us were able to use it at one point.  It has been believed to have died out, but if Dumbledore confirmed that Luna has it…”

Lupin turned back to Luna. “What does it look like?”
“Strings. Cords. Lines.  Layers and reflections and mirrors and possibilities.  And, tonight, shapes, too.”
“How many people know about this?” Lupin asked.
“Until tonight it had been the Grey Lady, Dumbledore, Professors McGonagall and Flitwick, Hermione.  Professor Trelawney guessed based on my questions, as did Firenze.”  Luna shook, recalling the prophecy that Trelawney had foretold and the warnings both she and Firenze had given her.  Dumbledore had told her to look for signs the prophesy was unfolding before sharing it with anyone else.

“This cannot leave this space,” ordered McGonagall.  “Voldemort cannot know about this.”
“Good thing Snape doesn’t know, then,” said Harry.  “Since we know he loves giving Voldemort information that could get people killed.”
“He knows,” said Luna.  “But he won’t tell.”

“Snape knows?” Harry asked, alarm in his voice.
“He guessed tonight.  He said he recognized the signs because he knew my mother.”

The hospital wing doors swung open, startling the group, as Molly and Arthur Weasley hurried in, followed closely by Fleur Delacour.  Mrs. Weasley had eyes only for the beds, looking first on Neville’s sleeping form before finding that of her son. 
“Oh, Bill!” she wailed and hurried to his bedside.  “Bill,” she whispered.

Hermione quickly rose from her seat, tears streaming down her cheeks.  This was all her fault.  If she had only been quicker with her wand, Malfoy wouldn’t have screamed her name.  Granger! echoed in her head again.  Bill would never have turned around.  She closed her eyes and nearly screamed as the face of Greyback taunted her. Opening them quickly again, she watched Bill’s family tend to him. 

Molly had taken the space Tonks had retreated from in order to kiss Bill’s forehead.  Arthur, standing in front of the chair Lupin had vacated, turned to the werewolf.  “What will happen to him, Remus?  He was attacked by a werewolf.”
“It is a unique situation.  There is not a full moon, so it is very unlikely he will be turned.  But, Greyback has found a way to maintain many of his wolf features at will.  We should expect that there will be some contamination.”
Hermione recoiled. 
“We don’t really know what we are facing until he wakes up,” Lupin finished.

Molly took the ointment from Ginny and began tending to Bill herself.  “You have done this long enough,” she told her daughter.
“I just took over for Hermione, mum.  She has been tending to him most of the night.”

Mrs. Weasley frowned at Hermione before resuming her care with her son.  Hermione couldn’t blame her, it was her fault after all, but it still hurt.  It came as some surprise to her when Fleur pulled her closer to the bed to stand vigil next to her, her arms around Hermione’s shoulders as if to offer her strength. 
“Thank you for not leaving him," Fleur murmured quietly.  "I theenk it was good of you to stay by Bill’s side."  But her words only caused the guilt to rise up again.

“Minerva…” said Mr. Weasley, “Dumbledore? Is he?”
He bowed his head at Professor McGonagall’s nod.  His wife seemed oblivious to the interaction, her focus only on Bill.  Tears fell from Molly's eyes onto Bill’s deformed skin.

“Of course, it doesn’t matter how he looks… It’s not r-really important… but he was a very handsome little b-boy… always very handsome… and he was g-going to be married!”
“And what do you mean by zat?” said Fleur suddenly and loudly, pulling away from Hermione.  “What do you mean, ‘ ‘e was going to be married?’”
Startled, Molly raised her face.  “Well – only that –”
“You theenk Bill will not wish to marry me anymore?” demanded Fleur.  “You theenk, because of these bites, he will not love me?”
“No, that’s not what I –”
“Because ‘e will!” said Fleur, drawing herself up to her full height and throwing back her long mane of silver hair. “It would take more zan a werewolf to stop Bill loving me!”
“Well, yes, I’m sure,” said Mrs. Weasley, “but I thought perhaps – given how – how he –”
“You thought I would not weesh to marry him? Or per’aps, you hoped?” said Feur, her nostrils flaring.  “What do I care how he looks? I am good-looking enough for both of us, I theenk! All these scars show is zat my husband is brave!  I shall do zat!” she added fiercely, pushing Mrs. Weasley aside and snatching the ointment from her. 

Mrs. Weasley leaned into her husband and watched Fleur attend to Bill.  And then she looked to Hermione.  “Thank you for keeping him alive until the fight was over, Hermione. Madam Pomfrey said your attention kept him from bleeding out.”

Hermione’s face crumpled and she burst into tears.  “He jumped in front of Greyback to save me!” she cried.  “He nearly died because of me!  He’s contaminated because of me!”
“No!” shouted Mr. Weasley.  Hermione felt four strong arms around her when he and Mrs. Weasley rushed forward and embraced her.  “It was battle, Hermione.  You would have done the same.”

They wept together and Hermione was relieved that some of the tension in her chest seemed to ease. 

“I theenk,” said Fleur, “zat ‘Ermione will join Geeny and Gabrielle to stand with me on my wedding day.”
“Fleur,” said Mrs. Weasley.  “Our Great-Auntie Muriel has a very beautiful tiara – goblin made – which I am sure I could persuade her to lend you for the wedding.  She is very fond of Bill, you know, and it would look lovely with your hair.”
“Thank you,” said Fleur.  “I am sure zat will be lovely.”

Hermione listened as the conversation moved around her.  Tonks, feeling empowered by Fleur’s devotion to Bill, argued with Lupin that he should stop fighting their own relationship.  And some of their group joined in.  McGonagall even maintained that Dumbledore would be pleased to know that the world had more love.  But the melancholy mood returned when Hagrid, beaten down and teary-eyed, arrived and explained that he had moved Dumbledore’s body.

Time, it seemed, had caught up with them.  Professor McGonagall sent Hagrid on another errand and requested Harry leave with her.  But before the Professor left, she signaled to Lupin.  He seemed to understand her, and nodded his head as she and Harry retreated after Hagrid.

“What happens now?” asked Ron.  “Do we just go on like normal tomorrow, as if nothing happened?”
“Not possible,” said Ginny.  “The Head of Slytherin murdered the Headmaster.  I don’t think we can just pretend that didn’t happen.”
“They will likely close the school,” said Lupin.  “Perhaps indefinitely.”

Their conversation was interrupted by Neville’s soft moans and Ron went to retrieve Madam Pomfrey.  When Ginny went to Neville, Lupin motioned for Luna and Hermione to join him in the seats furthest from the occupied beds.  Tonks seemed to understand his desire for privacy, and kept guard several feet away from them.

“How much do you know about Luna’s ability, Hermione?” he asked, but it was Luna who answered.
“More than anyone.”
“Are the theories right at all?”
“Much of what you said,” answered Hermione, “seemed to infer a great deal from what Professor McGonagall recommended I read; she said that was the best resource, but you seem to have come to conclusions that weren’t offered in that little bit of reading.”
“There are a handful of other resources, and none of them are detailed.  The few scholars interested in the subject have made assumptions or hypotheses.  But, it is more of a niche curiosity than a tangible discipline.  As I said, the Oculi Somniantes is understood to be inert in all of us.”
“How do you identify it?  And how do you know it is still present at all?” asked Hermione.

“I can see it,” said Luna stiffly.  She quickly looked at Hermione, her expression hinting there was more for the two to discuss later, before turning her attention back to their former professor.  “I assume my mother could, too.  Is she who provided the information?”
“I don’t know who it was, but allegedly, any time someone is discovered who has the ability, they are asked to verify if it is still present in the rest of us.  There were rumors that a witch had it while I was in school, but as far as I know, they were never substantiated.  This talent is believed to have died out quickly more than a century ago.  The new generation born at the time were unable to see the magic.”

But Lupin was interested in another matter.  “You indicated that there was more to Snape’s actions.  What did you see?”
Hermione was curious what Luna would tell him regarding her visions.  It was her decision.  So far, he and Professor McGonagall were only referencing the Oculi Somniantes.  Hermione was not sure if anyone other than the Grey Lady and herself were aware that Luna was potentially a Weaver. If, of course, she reminded herself, such a thing existed.

The ambiance shifted slightly and Hermione watched Luna.  The blonde girl was examining Lupin and then her eyes darted about as if she were looking at something fluttering about his head.  Hermione felt as if the air were charged with electricity… or magic. 

She remembered the first time she had witnessed magic and been told what it was.  She had gone downstairs at her father’s beckoning and seen Professor McGonagall waiting with him.  She had been excited to learn that she was being considered for a prestigious school.  And relieved when she understood that her parents wanted her to explore the strange things she was capable of and that she had hidden from the world prior to that day.

Hermione’s first bout of accidental magic – that she could remember – occurred with Iris.  Her cousin had been coloring on brightly colored paper.  Hermione had wanted Iris to draw a norwall, and when she refused, Hermione focused on the whale on the paper and watched as a long, sharp horn jutted out of its head.  The drawings became animated and she and Iris laughed together.  Just like this moment, the air was charged when the drawings came to life. 

When McGonagall performed her simple charms for Hermione and her family, there was no static.  It was marvelous, certainly, but she didn’t feel it.  Whatever magic Luna was performing, Hermione could feel it.  Just as she had when it had exploded out of her as a child, before she learned to control it.  And just as it had when she had accidentally used legilimency on her parents.

Luna smiled serenely at Hermione before turning back to Lupin. 
“I meant just what I said, Mr. Lupin.  There is more to this than what was witnessed tonight.  Nothing about Professor Snape seemed sinister to me, tonight.  And while he was protective of his secrets, it was not from shame, but because he was worried for the danger I might face knowing them.”
“But what did you see?” Lupin asked again.

Luna sat quietly for a moment before addressing Hermione.  “Do you always answer a question when you know the answer?” she asked her.
“I want to,” said Hermione without hesitation.
“When do you not answer a question?”
“When I don’t know the answer.  Or, when I don’t have a firm grasp of the answer.  I may provide what I know, but I would typically follow-up with a question of my own.”

Luna turned to Lupin.  “Why do you need to know what I saw? Would you even understand it if I explained it to you?”

Luna rose from her seat and made her way to Neville without a backwards glance at Lupin or Hermione. 
It wasn’t long before Madam Pomfrey instructed Hermione, Luna, Ginny and Ron to return to their dorms.  And after her toiletries, when she had settled herself into her bed and resisted her body's need for her to close her eyes, Hermione listened to the poignant song of Fawkes, whose music still carried into the night.  She searched the air around her, imagining she could see the magic of his melody dancing like ribbon in front of her. 

And when the silence settled she was sound asleep, undisturbed by terrifying images of monsters and death; calmed by the gift of the phoenix’s final farewell.

Chapter Text

It had become a habit, and probably not a very good one.  But instead of adjusting his glasses, or touching the blasted scar on his forehead, Harry had started rolling the horrible, counterfeit locket in his fingers.  He tried to keep this habit from his friends, but Hermione was always a perceptive witch.  And Luna… even if they had been skittish with each other since Christmas, well, she could see right through him. 

When he was with Ginny, though, he had other things on his mind besides the locket.  She was his sanctuary.  His temporary relief from the future he knew he couldn’t be shielded from anymore. 

He rolled the locket along the fingers of his hand inside his pocket as the bitter anger burned in his chest.  Dumbledore had been weakened by their efforts to obtain one of Voldemort’s horcruxes, and it had all been such a waste.  The real horcrux wasn’t there!  And Dumbledore had suffered the poisoned safeguard for nothing! 

And now, Dumbledore was gone.  There would be no more distractions; no more sanctuary.  Harry would find the remaining horcruxes and he would end this before anyone else had to suffer or die.  He knew enough to start searching immediately…  Something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s … Slytherin’s locket … Helga Hufflepuff’s cup … Voldemort’s snake … something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s … Slytherin’s locket …

He continued to roll the locket while he walked with Hermione and Ron and watched Ginny walk with Luna as they all made their way down to the lake. Neville was just ahead of them, trailing behind Professors McGonagall and Flitwick and the other Gryffindor and Ravenclaw students.  Harry tried to enjoy these last few moments before Dumbledore was entombed and Harry would have to move forward with his search of the horcruxes.  The first step was to break things off with Ginny; he was a danger to her and would be even more so when he started on this mission.  He couldn’t take his eyes of her, though.  She was with Luna, their bright hair shining in the sunlight as they supported each other on the trek down to the place where Dumbledore would be laid to rest.

“Wonder what it means that it’s such a beautiful day?” Neville said, his voice carrying.  The young man still walked with a slight limp, having been hit with a nasty curse during the battle at the Astronomy Tower.  “They say it’s better if it rains at a funeral,” he continued.
“Dumbledore wouldn’t have wanted it any other way,” Luna replied. 
“What is the wizarding world’s take on rain at a funeral?” asked Hermione.  “I’ve only heard the muggle superstition that the deceased would go to heaven…”
Ron nodded his head.  “It’s the same, really.  Just that they’ve safely made it beyond the Veil.”
“Well, my Gran is positive there will be opinions from some here that it means he’s a ghost,” said Neville.
Both Luna and Harry snorted, causing Harry to smile at Luna.  But he suddenly felt awkward; he still needed to make things right with her.
Neville grinned.  “Gran snorted at the idea, too.”

Harry remembered his manic hope that, shortly after Bellatrix had murdered Sirius in the Department of Ministries, his godfather had come back as a ghost.  Nearly Headless Nick had valiantly tried to make Harry feel better, but he had always felt a bit betrayed that Sirius had abandoned him.  It was irrational, he understood, and the guilt sat heavily with the resentment.  When Hermione had told him about the Grey Lady’s depiction of ghosts, somehow that fear in her voice did more to alleviate Harry’s disappointment than anything else.  Sirius would have been miserable.  And after Harry was gone, he would have been alone.

No, Harry and Dumbledore had many conversations about escaping death.  And just as Sirius had done, Dumbledore would have accepted the end with integrity.

Beside him, Hermione spoke softly.  “Because I could not stop for Death, He kindly stopped for me.”
“What?” asked Harry, momentarily concerned he had voiced his thoughts out loud.
The group had reached the chairs by the shore of the lake.  There was already an assortment of mourners there, including the castle ghosts. 
Hermione turned to him as the others looked for seats.  “It’s from a poem by Emily Dickinson.  She was an American poet, known for her poignant and succinct writing.”
“What does it mean, though?” asked Harry.
“Madam Pince suggested it to me when I was researching ghosts… She wrote it because she thought eternity sounded exhausting and, although it is our nature to fear the unknown, that death would be a relief.  It struck me, now, as something Dumbledore might say.”

“There aren’t even any seats left with my family,” said Ron, walking back with Ginny.  “We’ll have to split up, three and three.  I figured Harry would want to sit with Ginny, so Hermione, you can sit with Luna and Neville.  Luna’s saving ours for now.”
Ginny smacked Ron, but Hermione, not looking surprised, made her way across the aisle to the seat by Neville.

“It will begin soon,” said Ginny.  She held her hand out to Harry and Harry fought down his sadness. 
Dumbledore was gone.  Neville was still healing.  Bill was permanently disfigured.  And it could have been so much worse. Hermione was almost killed.  If not for Bill, she would be dead. …  And Malfoy.  If not for Malfoy, both she and Bill would be dead.
He rolled the locket with his other hand.

…  Something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s … Slytherin’s locket … Helga Hufflepuff’s cup … Voldemort’s snake … something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s … Slytherin’s locket …

He had to find the horcruxes.  But, then what?  Dumbledore never told him how to destroy them. 

Harry distractedly observed the attendees and noted he would need to be prepared in case Minister Scrimgeour, who was sitting with Professor McGonagall and the rest of the staff, tried to interrogate him again.  Firenze was at the water’s edge, and Harry was surprised at the smile tempting his lips when Delores Umbridge scuttled away from the Centaur. And, as an ethereal music began, Ginny pointed to the merpeople just under the surface of the water. The sound was strange, but not unpleasant, and resonated with the same sense of loss that Fawkes’s song had the night that Dumbledore had died.

He watched, feeling detached and as though he were only a spectator, when Hagrid walked slowly up the aisle between the chairs.  Colossal tears were streaming down the half-giant’s face as he carried what Harry knew to be Dumbledore’s body, wrapped in fine, purple velvet that was spangled with shimmering, golden stars. 

Dumbledore was dead.  He would never come back.  His legacy would become just a memory, his name an etching in stone that would be diminished by time.  As the tears fell from his eyes, Harry turned away from Ginny and Ron and looked toward the forest and saw that the Centaurs stood, bows at their side, hidden by the cover of the trees.  The proud forest-dwellers had come to pay their respects to the departed wizard.

Dumbledore was gone.  Sirius.  Harry’s parents.  There was no one left to move the inevitable forward but Harry himself.  He would not let anyone else come between him and Voldemort.  Harry would not stop, until death or victory made him.

And at that moment, when he accepted this truth, flames erupted around Dumbledore’s shrouded body and the white, stone table on which it lay.   Several funeral-goers screamed at the abruptness of the happenings.  Arrows from the Centaurs shot across the spectators and landed around the headmaster’s body while white smoke ascended into the air.  In shock, Harry thought that he saw a phoenix arise and fly into the air jubilantly, but it and the fire were gone in an instant.  And in the now clear space, a marble tomb encased Dumbledore’s body.

Conversations began around them as people made their way to leave, but Harry just looked into Ginny’s beautiful, brown eyes.  He tried not to think about how good it felt to kiss her; or how soft her skin was.  He tried to steel himself to say goodbye to the comfort of sitting with her, and the joy of discussing Quidditch.  He refused to think about how empty it would feel when she was no longer his to turn to.
“Ginny, we need to stop …” he began. 
Ron, looking very uncomfortable, hurried away in the direction of the other three.
“I don’t really know how to say this, so I am just going to get it out,” Harry went on.  “We can’t be together anymore.  We’ve got to stop seeing each other.”
“Is this your way of being noble?” she asked, an odd smile on her face.
“These last few weeks have been a dream come true,” said Harry.  “But, I can’t … we can’t … I’ve got things to do alone now.”
Ginny looked at him; waiting.
“Voldemort’s already used you as bait once, when you were just my best friend’s sister to me.  How much worse could it be if we keep this up?  He’ll know, he’ll find out … if he hasn’t already.  He’ll find a way to get you and use you to get me.”
“What if I don’t care?” said Ginny fiercely.
“I care,” said Harry. “There have already been too many deaths.  I can’t add yours to the list.”

It hurt when she looked away from him, her focus turned to the lake.  And Harry could feel them, even though they weren’t really there; the walls between them.  They were both safeguarding themselves from the hurt of goodbye.

“I always found myself waiting for you, never quite giving up,” she said.  “The hope that you would see me never went away.  I was so shy and awestruck, I couldn’t even talk around you, remember?  Hermione told me to move past you; open myself up to other people.  To stop fretting about you and just relax and get to know who I am.  She said you might actually notice me if I weren’t so anxious, if I were more myself.”
“Smart girl, that Hermione,” said Harry, unable to smile. 

Uninvited, Luna’s words from the first time she found him following Malfoy came to mind: Have you been paying attention to Hermione?

“I wish we’d had more time,” Harry said.
“You’ve been preoccupied, Harry.  Who else will save the Wizarding World?” Ginny asked, biting back a sob with a laugh. “There isn’t any surprise in this, not really.  You wouldn’t be you if you weren’t chasing Voldemort and putting a stop to his evil plans.”
Her words felt like a punch to the gut, their tone not matching their meaning.
“This is something I have to do,” he said.
Her expression was unreadable. 
“Your need for justice, to make things right …” she said, “to see things through, Harry … I’ve always liked that about you.”
Harry felt the emptiness when she turned her back on him and walked away; the hurt of her departure was heavy. 

The loneliness was unbearable.  Harry did not wish to remain by Dumbledore’s tomb, imagining the man he admired decomposing within.  So, he, like Ginny, turned his back on this place and made his way around the lake.  But it wasn’t long before a familiar scent filled the air, and he turned suddenly, expecting to find Ginny behind him. 

He was caught off guard by the shining blonde hair, tangled, but blowing softly in the wind.  Luna was there instead, watching him intently.  He was overwhelmed by several emotions at once; delight and guilt the strongest, but also, surprise.  Sometime since Slughorn’s party, Luna had blossomed.  It was more than a physical change.  He and the other Gryffindor boys had catalogued those changes in most of the girls some time ago.  No, this change was in her expression … her vacant looks, that had always left him feeling exposed, were more grounded.  Her posture was refined.  She owned herself – was confident in her own skin.  How had he missed it?

“I have decided that I am done letting you to hide from me, Harry,” she said.  Her voice was soft, but it seemed to flutter delicately on the air and surround him.
“Hide?” he started, but stopped.  The guilt rose up to the forefront of his emotions.  “Yes, I’ve been avoiding you.”  He watched her as she looked at him.  It was apparent she was waiting for him to continue. 

Harry sighed.  He had been in the wrong.  “I’m sorry, Luna.  I was uncomfortable with how we’d left things and I didn’t know how to make it right.”
“I’m sorry, too.”
“For what?  You didn’t do anything wrong.  I don’t like your being friends with Slytherins, but I can’t control who you decide to hang out with.” Harry cringed.  The bite to his tone was unintended.
“You weren’t ready.  I wasn’t ready.  I’m still learning about my gift and I had no idea how to use it then.”
She sat down on the shore, facing out over the water.

Her gift, he thought as he sat down beside her.  Harry didn’t understand it, or know how long she’d had it. Conversations with her made more sense, though, if he considered she had more pieces to work with than anyone else.
“Do you know why?” Harry asked. 
There was more, but he didn’t know how to continue; embarrassed by his own curiosity.
“Why covers a lot of questions, Harry.”
Deciding to push aside his discomfort, he continued, “Do you know why Malfoy did what he did?”

“Why would you?” she countered.
“I wouldn’t, Luna.  That’s why I’m asking.  I can’t imagine ever doing the things he’s done.  And I can’t understand how you’re able to talk to Theo Nott like he isn’t going to hurt you.  Or how Padma can look past their being Slytherins.  I can’t do it!  I knew they were dangerous, so much so I had to beg the Sorting Hat to keep me out of Slytherin!”
“How did you know they were dangerous?  You didn’t know anything about the Wizarding World…”
“People told me; warned me.”
“Who?  People without biases?
“People I trust!”

Luna’s eyes flashed and guilt overwhelmed him again. 
“Luna –,”
“Biases are older than Hogwarts.  Learn to find your own thoughts and you’ll finish in a better place.”
“How can you say that to me, when you’re associating with pureblooded bigots?”
“Are they bigots because they are purebloods? Or, because they’re Slytherins?”
“Because of what they say and do!”

Luna nodded, seeming satisfied.  “That, at least, is a better reason than I expected.  So back to my original question, Harry.  Why?”
“That’s what I asked you!”
“Why would Malfoy do it, you asked?  Why is he a bigot, I asked?  Are they the same answer?”
Harry huffed. “Because of how he was raised," he said.
“And is that a simple answer?”

Harry felt the weight of the answer in his chest, but he refused to explore it. 
He stared at Luna, but she wasn’t looking at him any longer.  Her eyes were lingering on the white tomb on the other side of the shore. 
“You asked me,” Harry said, “if it were me, why I would do what Malfoy did…”

Luna turned to him and when her eyes met his, he felt everything become still around them.  The lapping water stopped as though suddenly frozen.  The rustling of the nearby trees was suddenly silent.  Everything was quiet.  His chaotic thoughts slowed and he could picture the events of the last several years – of his first meeting with Malfoy until his very last.  And before he could stop it, he felt sympathy for the other boy. 

Luna smiled.  Harry was not ready to return the gesture, and she laughed at him.  And then, quickly, she sobered. 
“You should reconsider ending things with her.”
“What?” he asked, startled.  “Did Ginny talk to you?”
“No.”

Harry didn’t have to ask, though.  He knew she was talking about Ginny and it could only mean that she had used the Oculi Somniantes to figure it out.  “How does it work?”
“You were there when I told Mr. Lupin.”
“I want you to tell me.”
Luna was pulling at the odd-looking plants on the shore, tearing the leaves in her fingers to let the pieces cascade to the earth again.  “Do you remember, on the way to Professor Slughorn’s party, when I told you that the Grey Lady made me accept some things about myself?”
Harry nodded.
“It was because of my mother that I did.”
Harry waited.

“When the Grey Lady confronted me, I was prepared to walk away and save the discovery for another day ... or, if I’m honest with myself, to ignore it forever.  But, above her head was a blue butterfly.  It wasn’t really there, just a play of the misty layers surrounding her, but it was clear to me.  Shimmering and vibrant, its beautiful blue wings flapping.  It looked like a brooch my mother used to wear; that she wore when she died. And I felt my mother in that moment and I knew that she wanted me to accept my birthright.”
Luna looked urgently at Harry.  “It was the most horrible thing I have ever done, Harry.  And I would never take it back. Not ever.”
“I don’t understand.”
“In the beginning, it would only flare on random occasions.  And it was so frightening.  My mother described the experience like a thunderstorm in your body.  I can’t think of a better way to explain it.  I would see what I thought to be strings connecting people.  And there would be multiple reflections of the people, like layers separating into different directions.  My instincts have told me so much about what it all means.   You and Professor Dumbledore were connected.  You and Hermione and Ron.  You and Ginny.  You and Draco.  You and Professor Snape.”
“Are we connected?”
He watched her hesitate. 
“If you let her go, you will damage the string connecting the two of you.  I can see that it is already starting to sever.  Letting her go risks never getting her back.”
“I already knew that, Luna.  I can’t put her danger.  I won’t risk her, or anyone else, like that.”

Luna’s laughter caught him off guard. 
“What?” he asked.
“You don’t expect that Hermione or Ronald will let you go alone?”
In spite of himself, Harry smiled. 
“They are already making their way here,” Luna said.
He looked across the water and saw his two friends slowly making their way to him and Luna. 
“I understand you won’t allow me to join the three of you,” she went on.

His chest constricted and he was distressed at the idea of her coming along.  “You will not be a part of this, Luna!  Promise me you'll come back to Hogwarts and the professors.  I don’t know … learn more about your gift –”
“Harry,” she cut him off, “I know.”

He swallowed and tried to control his breathing.  It unsettled him how much the thought of Luna in danger terrified him.  He pushed the thought away and looked at her again.  Her blue eyes were regarding him patiently. 

Harry focused on her face, trying to imprint it on his memory.  Her lips were a delicate pink and slightly crooked.  Her dainty nose pointed, almost imperceptibly, to the left.  And there was a small dimple on her chin.  He was overcome with the realization that she was beautiful. 

Immediately, the shame consumed him.  His thoughts returned to Ginny and her fiery personality.  Would she view his observations as betrayal?  If Sirius were still alive, what would he advise Harry to do?  Most likely to calm down, as the lass really was beautiful and there was no harm in noticing. 

Melancholy creeped back into his body, though, at the thought of Sirius and he remembered why they were at the Lake to begin with.  Luna’s expression softened. 
“They aren’t really gone, Harry.  It was my mother in the butterfly I saw.  She isn’t a ghost, but she’s still with me.  They loved us while they lived, and beyond the Veil, they love us still.”

Luna slowly got to her feet, and Harry immediately followed her example.
“I will let you three have your time together,” she said. 
Harry looked back towards Ron and Hermione and saw they were almost upon them.
“But, Harry,” Luna said, removing the butterbeer cork necklace she wore, “trust the answers he gave you when searching for those he didn’t.”
His confusion was replaced by a different kind of wonder when she cupped his face and leaned forward to kiss his cheek affectionately.  “Our friendship is a bit strange, isn’t it?”
Harry laughed again, welcoming the warmth of the moment.
“Wear this necklace,” she said as she handed him the strand with the butterbeer cork.  “My mother once explained to me that she appreciated how my Dad sees the world – that he was able to see flickers of what she could see.  He may have made up the name, but there is something to Nargles.  If you’re ever feeling as if your missing something, please hold the cork and remember me.” 

“Are we interrupting?” asked Ron, his tone cold. 
Harry realized with some alarm that the situation looked bad. 
“I was just saying goodbye before he goes after Voldemort.  Would you like a good luck kiss, too?”

“Are we going, too, then?” asked Hermione.
“Of course, you are,” Luna said.  “I even told Harry you’d never let him go alone.”
“And you’ll be joining us?” asked Ron.  There was no hiding his discomfort in the question, but Luna just chuckled.
“Four fate lines are not well suited for what’s ahead.”
“When did you start reading palms?” said Ron, but Luna ignored him.

Hermione, however, was staring hard at Harry.  “I think she should come.”
“I’m barely willing to put you and Ron in the danger of joining.  And Dumbledore only ever said I could share the information with you two.”
“He and I talked, too, Hermione. Three really is a better number for what’s ahead.”
“There you have it,” said Ron and Harry nodded his head.

Luna approached Hermione and kissed her cheek.  “We aren’t done.  Our lines have a strong connection.”
Harry realized she’d never answered his earlier question, but she was already leaving.  Luna looked back briefly and waved to the three of them before quickening her pace to skip away.

“Why’d you want Loony to come?” Ron asked Hermione.
“Her name’s Luna,” Harry said.  “Don’t be a prick.”

Ron’s mouth dropped and Hermione laughed. 
“I’m sorry,” Ron said. “You’re right.”

Both Harry and Hermione were surprised by Ron’s quick remorse, but the red head just shrugged his shoulders.  “She’s an all right witch.  We should know that more than most, what with her help last year.  Neville’s lucky to have her, I suppose.  They can be awkward together.”
Hermione smacked Ron hard across the chest.  “Prick!” she exclaimed.
Harry scowled.  “I thought they were just friends.”
“What do you care?” asked Ron. “You’re with my sister.”
“I’m not with anybody.”
Neither Ron or Hermione looked surprised.
“Did you make her cry?” Ron asked.
“I hope not.  But it isn’t safe for her to be with me.”

“So, this is really happening? We’re going after Voldemort’s horcruxes?” asked Hermione.
Harry nodded.
“After the wedding, though,” Ron put in, but then rolled his eyes at Harry, who was obviously confused. “Bill’s wedding, remember?” said Ron.  “Hermione and Ginny are bridesmaids.  And I have to be there.”
“It would give me time to prepare a few things, too,” said Hermione. 
“After the wedding, then.  What are you planning, Hermione?”

Their conversation was interrupted, however, when a giant eagle owl circled dangerously close to the trio before landing beside Hermione.  It hooted loudly and kicked its leg out, displaying the parchment attached and the recipient, beautifully scrawled, was impossible to miss: HJG.

“Is that Malfoy’s owl?” asked Harry.
The bird turned to him and appeared to scowl, its ear tufts folding back.
Slowly, Hermione approached the owl and delicately removed the parchment from its leg.  She’d barely stepped back before the bird took flight and was gone. 

She did not hide the parchment from the two boys.  Together they read the simple message.

I don’t hate you.  I was a fool to ever think I did.

Harry felt his friend shake as she sucked in air.
“Bloody idiot,” said Ron.  “Did anyone see his owl?  He’s going to get himself killed.”
“You’re worried about Malfoy?” Harry asked, shocked.
“Obviously, he isn’t as smart as you think he is,” Ron said to Hermione. 

But Hermione was shaking.  “He’s in trouble.  The foul, arse, is in trouble.  Or, he’s just trouble.  What the hell am I supposed to make of this?” she screeched, shaking the parchment in the air.
“That the pureblood has a crush,” snorted Ron.
“Don’t be cruel,” said Hermione.

Ron paused and looked at her.  “Sweet, Merlin, you want him to!”
“I am the mudblood, bookworm with bushy hair and ugly teeth, Ronald.”
“That’s when you were eleven!  You’re sort of pretty now.”

Harry cringed and waited for the blow, but it never happened.  Instead, Hermione just raised her eyebrows at Ron and laughed. 
“You are impossible,” she said with a grin. She was glowing, though, as if Ron’s clueless words meant something to her. 
“He’s right, you know,” said Harry.  “We were all awkward at eleven.  You grew into your hair.  Honestly, I miss being able to hide behind it.”
She chortled.  “I miss being able to use Dudley’s old shirts as a blanket.  Why don’t you wear those anymore?”

The three friends slowly made their way back to the castle, the chill in the air from the setting sun urging them forward. 
“So, are we actually okay with Malfoy now?” asked Ron.
“No,” said Harry, vehemently.  “We just aren’t anti-Malfoy.”
“Luna encouraged me to help Draco,” said Hermione. 
“I won’t be trusting Malfoy or Snape on Luna’s word,” said Harry. “I know nothing about this gift and everything about what I saw that night.  Malfoy may have taken Dumbledore’s offer and joined our side if he’d had more time, but he let the Death Eaters in.  And Snape murdered Dumbledore.”
“I wish Dumbledore had been more forthcoming,” said Hermione.
Harry snorted.
“He saved me, though.  Malfoy, I mean.  Do you think I owe him a life debt?” asked Hermione.
“We’ll have to ask Bill,” said Ron.  “You might owe him, though.”
“Bill? Perhaps. Malfoy, however, saved me twice.”
“The first was more of an urging you not to be stupid,” said Ron.  “Which, mind you, is bloody impressive he was able to convince you to do anything.”
“You’re sounding pro-Malfoy, Ron,” said Harry.
“I have to be.”

Harry stopped.  “Why?”
Ron kept walking with Hermione.  “He saved my brother’s life.  He saved Hermione, too.  I’ll hate him forever, but I’ll defend him for now.  Until he shows us he really is a Death Eater.”

 

Chapter Text

 

 

The manor was angry.  He could feel the fury in each vibration it sent him as he slowly made his way to its massive structure and to his family waiting inside.  Severus had been efficient in his rescue and Lucius found himself on the lands that surrounded the Malfoy Manor, the stream rippling behind him, his rescuer beside him.  The ground was wet and visibility was poor.

“The mist,” Lucius began, eyeing the thick fog surrounding the property, “seems unnatural.”
In truth, it terrified him; it reminded him of the chilling presence of the dementors.
“It first appeared after your departure,” said Severus, “and has become denser since that time.”
“When our Dark Lord made this his residence, you mean?” asked Lucius, unable to hide his bitter tone, but Severus made no reply.

“I must assume that there was a reason we were suddenly rescued,” said Lucius.
“Draco was able to get the Death Eaters into Hogwarts,” Snape relpied.
Lucius stood a little straighter. “I take it we are in good standing with the Dark Lord, then?” he asked, pride unmistakable in his voice.
“No.”
“No?”
“He offered to open the castle to the Dark Lord.  He viewed it as the best way for Potter’s capture.”
“It wasn’t enough, was it?” Lucius asked.
“He has the mark.”
Lucius made note of the disappointment he felt at those words.   
“And,” Severus continued, “the Dark Lord gave him a mission.”
“Was granting entry to Dumbledore’s domain not enough?  Providing access to that miserable Potter was not enough?”
Severus continued walking forward, his expression giving nothing away. 
“What was his mission?”
“To kill Dumbledore,” answered Severus.
“Why did you kill him, then?”
“Your son is not a murderer.”
“Yet, now my family is out of the Dark Lord’s favor! Why did you kill him?”
“I promised your wife to protect him.  I promised you when I consented to be his godfather.  Which is what I have done and what I will continue to do.”

The men continued forward and Lucius asked another question.  “Why wasn’t Potter captured?”
“Bellatrix did not notify me of the plans.  I was not aware they were in the castle until the fighting had begun.  The last information I had was that we were to leave the boy for Voldemort to handle.  She and I were both punished for our failures.”
“Draco?”
Crucio from the Dark Lord.  And then casting the Poenior Ignis on me.”
“The Whip of Fire? Severus, that punishes the castor, too!”
Severus was quiet as he quickly took in the lay of the land.  “Narcissa assisted us both.”

Severus handed Lucius another bar of chocolate.  “You must be in top form when you enter the manor.  Narcissa says it is quite … troubled.”
Lucius stumbled in his steps, but Severus had a firm hold on him.  “Narcissa has discussed this with you?”
“She has shared many … views with me,” the dark-haired man said, putting a great deal of weight in his choice of word.
Lucius waited.  He would not unwittingly provide the man beside him with information he should not be privy to.

“Have your compulsions begun?” asked Severus.
Lucius closed his eyes, swallowing hard.  Severus seemed to be privy to a surprising amount of information…
“It was not easy to make sure that I was the one to acquire you,” Severus continued.  “Thankfully, Narcissa was able to share more than a few of the Malfoy family secrets.”
Severus had stopped and Lucius was forced to come to a halt with him. 
“Please return this to her,” said Severus. 
Severus held a pale ring with a jadeite stone out for Lucius to see.  Lucius recognized the jewelry immediately.  On instinct, he held open his own hand and watched as Severus dropped his wife’s ring onto his palm. The matching ring on his finger glowed softly. 

“You may go to her, Lucius.”
“But the Dark Lord? Surely he expects my gratitude?”
“You are spared this evening.  He has been distracted.  His wand failed against Potter, again.”

The two men continued in silence until they reached the gates leading to the manor. 
“I had never realized what it was that I was hearing,” said Severus.  “I can’t say that I even recognized that I was hearing anything until the moment I knew what it was.  The Malfoy Manor truly is an enigma."

Lucius could not respond.  The ancient stones that made the home were demanding he rid this place of the filth within. 
Lucius swallowed his discomfort as his thoughts became strained.  The wizards within were not filth.  They were the chosen.  The Dark Lord was the future.  Harry Potter must die.  Mudbloods must be exterminated.  All glory to the Dark Lord.

He shook his head quickly.  “They have begun,” he said quickly to Severus.  “The compulsions have returned.”  Even this small confession sent an onslaught of pain to Lucius’s head.  His breathing became ragged and his already weakened limbs felt as though they would shatter.
“May I?” asked Severus and Lucius nodded his head.

Lucius felt the other man’s presence in his mind, but it was not uncomfortable. Lucius was confident that the actions were in vain, however.  The magic surrounding this curse would never allow anyone to see beyond the surface layers.  Severus focused solely on Lucius’s interactions with Bellatrix. It settled Lucius to realize he needed no walls with his friend; Severus respectfully ignored any paths leading to other memories. 

“I have a theory,” Severus began, “that if I follow memories of events that I have already seen, this will be easier.”
“What do you mean?”
“Your marriage vows. I was there at the ceremony, but also … ”  Severus hesitated and Lucius realized that Narcissa had accomplished more than he could have ever anticipated.
“What has my wife been up to?” he asked, but continued before Severus could answer. “Do it, test your theory.”

And in the blink of an eye, Lucius was back at his wedding day.  Back at the exact moment the compulsions began.  The first moment Narcissa was inside his head, shielding him from Bellatrix and pushing the compulsions back.  The moment when his new wife’s warnings leading up to their marriage suddenly made sense. 

And then, just as quickly, he was back on the property outside his manor.  Severus was no longer looking at him and Lucius felt alarm.  “She’s here,” he said.
Severus nodded.  “Bellatrix has been residing here since the Dark Lord claimed the manor as his lair.  The Dark Lord has also opened the manor to all of those rescued tonight.  None are to return to their own homes.”
Lucius clenched his teeth, the anger from the manor pulsating through him.
“Go to your wife, Lucius.  I’ll ponder more on what I’ve learned.”

The gates opened before them and one of the many Malfoy elves stood waiting, Lucius’s cane in his hands. 
“Master,” the creature whimpered. 
Lucius snatched the walking stick from the miserable thing and leaned heavily on it as he made his way to Narcissa.  Too much had transpired and must be discussed.

Inside the gates, he felt his magic surge; strengthened by the history of his ancestors within the walls of the manor.  He gripped the wand that Severus had returned to him and quickly disapparated to the master suite.  The Dark Lord, no matter his ambition, would never claim these rooms unless he was the actual master of the manor.  And only family could enter them at all. 

To his dismay, his body failed him when he apparated in the sitting room and he collapsed.  The manor was pulsating loudly, demanding his action. The humming vibrations were quick, their rhythm harsh.  He closed his eyes and concentrated on his own magic, feeling within himself for the energy that made him a wizard.  And then, he raised his wand above his head and cast the spell to demand his manor recognize who he was.  Essentia Meum!

Things were far worse than he had realized if the manor demanded such action.  He would have to move quickly to rid this place of the Dark Lord.  But why would he really want to do that?  The Dark Lord was welcome to all that he had to offer.  All of his worldly possessions were for the Dark Lord to use.  His family would loyally serve.  Draco must be put in his place before the Dark Lord.  He would offer his wife – 

Lucius shook his head violently and slowly rose to his feet.  He pulled the chocolate Severus had given him from his robes and consumed it quickly while leaning on his cane.  Narcissa should have greeted him.  Concern mingled with the chocolate in his belly. 

He closed his eyes again as he moved forward, opening his mental plane to her.  And he felt her immediately, as images poured into his mind. He felt a mixture of fear and pride as he witnessed his son offer the Dark Lord entrance into Hogwarts.  Approval at the lack of surprise Draco showed when the Dark Lord demanded his servitude.  He went there knowing what would happen, he thought to himself.

“The foolish boy offered himself up to restore your place among the Death Eaters,” Narcissa’s voice echoed in his thoughts. “And his sacrifice was for naught.  We live only because the monster knows he would have no access to the manor or your funds without us.”

Lucius bristled.  “He can have it all! He is our master and the Lord of the New World!”

He could practically hear her snort.  “Are you a Slytherin or a puppet?” her voice whispered in his thoughts and he pushed down the compulsive notions once more.

He continued to make his way to their bedchambers, but his movements were slow.  Narcissa would not help him, he knew, until he had seen all that his actions had cost his family thus far.  He had, after all, been a Death Eater longer than he had been married.  He could not blame a curse for their current situation, no matter how much it had exacerbated it. 

Through his wife’s eyes he saw images of Draco collapsing under the Dark Lord’s Crucio. Of Narcissa intervening.  And the horror of watching Draco, far too thin, weaken with each cast of the Whip of Fire on Severus.  Lucius's sinking anger and desperation were pushed aside by the compulsions of Bellatrix's curse...The Half Breed should have had worse…

Absently, as he fought through the treacherous thoughts, Lucius sent his wife the image of Snape inquiring about his compulsions.  A brief reflection of Narcissa and Snape completing and Unbreakable Vow flittered through the barrage of memories his wife was throwing at him and he tabled that concern for now.

And then there were images of Bellatrix following Draco in Malfoy manor.  Draco’s back was rigid, his hand at the ready to grab his wand.  Lucius saw his fellow Death Eaters disrespecting his son and demeaning him; soliciting Narcissa and practically licking their lips.  Image after image of Bellatrix watching Draco, petting him, twirling his hair; taunting Narcissa with the way she could play with him.  And then, in rapid succession, multiple instances of his son on the floor being tortured by Bellatrix.
“He is not safe here any longer; the manor cannot protect him,"  Narcissa thought over the collage of memory in his head.

The angry pulsing within the walls seemed to match the cadence of her words.
“But the Dark Lord’s mission is what we stand for!  Surely the manor will protect us!” he thought.  “Purity will always conquer!”
“This is not purity, Lucius.”

He watched in horror as more images filtered across his mind.  The long-forgotten dungeons below had been reopened.  The barrels of wine stored there had been consumed by the interloping Death Eaters; the cells filled with prisoners of the war. He swallowed hard, realizing the red puddles on the floors were not wine, but the blood of mudbloods and muggles, and to his shock, the blood of magical comrades, too.

The manor pulsed again.

And then his wife was before him.  Her hair was more white than black, her skin starkly pale.  Her vibrant eyes had paled from their rich blue and she had lost weight.  She was not the same.  But she was still beautiful. 

“Welcome home, Lucius,” she said.  Her voice had changed, too.  It was softer now.  Calming.

He fell to his knees before her and wrapped her in his arms tightly against himself.  She smelled familiar. 
“What has happened to you?” he murmured. “How hard have you been fighting her?”
“I will not blindly follow her orders, Lucius.  Just as we protected our son while he was in my womb, we will protect him again.”

His own memories pushed to the forefront of his mind.  The joy of discovering his wife was newly pregnant with his heir had been smothered by the realization that Bellatrix had plans for their child; that her curse would likely hold him, too.  They had protected their babe, but the consequences had been severe. 

Thank Merlin, they had waited to perform their spell until Narcissa was almost due, for she hemorrhaged and delivered immediately following the incantation.  Lucius had watched in awe as his newborn son changed before him.  Draco’s pale blonde hair and pink skin turned white before his eyes.  And when he looked to his wife, he was shocked to see that half her hair had turned white as well.  It was later that he would realize that his own pale blonde hair had also changed.  And much later when they would learn that her womb had been destroyed. 

They kept the boy hidden from Bellatrix and used charms to hide their own physical changes, slowly revealing them bit by bit instead.  And with the first Wizarding war waging, Bellatrix was easily distracted by her own ambitions.  Another effect from the spell damage was revealed later when Bellatrix compelled them to allow her to be their surrogate; he was no longer able to father a child.  His only regret was not discovering this until after she had compelled him to try. 

“Hush your thoughts, my love. It is time to bathe and prepare to face the Dark Lord,” Narcissa said. 

She took his hands from around her waist and guided him up.  He looked into her eyes, and though changed, he would recognize the life within anywhere.  His resentment at their wedding when he discovered the curse she exposed him to had quickly faded when he realized the strength and protection she would offer him.  He would walk hell fires for her.  For their son.
Removing the ring from his pocket, he took her hand and placed it on her finger.  Their rings glowed and the house hummed.

“Now that I am home,” he sent to her, “won’t it be safer for him?”
The house pulsed and Narcissa sadly shook her head.  “I have missed you husband.  Let me be your wife before we discuss anything more.”

He looked at her again, passed the changes in her appearance, and realized that she was wearing a silk bath robe.  Her nipples were visible through the fabric and his desire flared.  He remembered, then, his own appearance.  He had not bathed since his incarceration; his only relief from filth had been the Scourgifies that the ministry officials had cast when performing their monthly inspections.  The rags that covered his body had been threadbare when he received them.  And an unkempt beard obscured his face. 

But Narcissa was looking into his eyes and would not allow him to feel shame at his current state. 
“Let me bathe you,” she murmured.  “Let me tend to your wounds and heal your hurt.”

She took his hand and led him to the waiting bath.  He could smell the oils and potions waiting within and his body trembled in anticipation.  He allowed her to undress him, her fingers slowly ripping the soiled garments away.  There was no pity in her expression and he felt relief at both her appreciation and her anger instead. 

The water was perfectly warm and his limbs felt immediate relief as the healing magic did its work. He leaned his head back and relaxed to the soothing pressure of Narcissa’s fingers washing his hair.  With an expert hand, she trimmed and shaved his beard, and magicked away the waste.  His body felt clean and whole again.

And then he watched in wonder as his changed, but beautiful, wife undressed.  She joined him in the water, facing him, and he pulled her forward.  His mouth met hers in hard appreciation, his tongue tasting hers and savoring the movements of their kiss.  His hands found her breasts and he teased her nipples with his thumbs.  But his need was great; he had been without her for too long.  He quickly looked to her face and found her watching him, pleasure on her face. 

Narcissa took matters into her own hands and guided Lucius inside her as she straddled him, riding him hard and fast as the water splashed around them.  Her arms around his neck, her mouth on his. 

She pushed the remaining darkness from Azkaban away, flooding his mind with her love and absorbing his fear.  They shared images with each other.  Moments they each treasured. Their laughter.  Their adventures.  Their family of three.  They shared their hopes for the future. 

“No matter my compulsions, I am devoted only to you,” he thought to her.
And as they shattered together and she moaned her love to him, he knew that he would give her whatever she wanted, even if it meant pushing his son to the other side.

 

 


 

Hermione couldn’t take her eyes off the Hogwarts trunk in the corner of Ginny’s bedroom.  Ginny’s trunk, one of the few school possessions that had never belonged to her brothers, sat partially open with the sleeve of a school robe peaking out. 

Two vivid reminders of part of what Hermione was giving up.  She couldn’t help but wonder if she would ever return to the castle that changed her life.  Any day now, she and Harry and Ron would start their search for the remaining horcruxes, never boarding the Hogwarts Express to begin their seventh, and final, year. 

A shiver went down her spine as she recalled the steps she had made to protect her family while she was away.  She and Professor McGonagall agreed that it was best for Hermione to complete the Obliviate spell on her parents.  McGonagall had explained that there was much power behind familial magic and, because they were related by blood, the spell would likely be less susceptible to deterioration or transformation. And, after all, Hermione had already proven herself capable of the skill required.  Even still, as her parents made their way to Australia under their assumed names, a squib was there waiting and prepared to monitor the couple for any signs of trouble.

“Are you coming?  Fleur is ready for her dress.” Ginny asked from the doorway.  “She and Bill are anxious for the wedding to be over so they can start their honeymoon,” she added with a grin.

The ceremony was beautiful.  Hermione watched in wonder as the couple pricked their thumbs with an antique sewing needle and placed the bleeding digits to each other’s lips.  Hermione knew that this was a Veela tradition, but found herself warmed by its simple beauty.  Bill and Fleur exchanged their vows and ribbons of magic encircled them before rising into the sky and flaring out like fireworks.

As she made her way to the reception, she once again considered how different her life was because she was a witch.  How long, though, would she have been oblivious of the magical world with the threat of Voldemort looming?  Uninvited, thoughts of Iris jumped to the forefront of her mind and strengthened her resolve to take the Death Eaters down.  Except Draco.  The thought wasn’t even a surprise.  He’d saved her multiple times.  Hermione would just like to know why, though.

Harry was at a table by himself.  Hermione and a select few were the only ones who knew it was him, however.  Polyjuice potion using the hair from a muggle in the neighboring village had him sporting red hair and a bulkier frame, and going by the name Barny.  It was a simple, but effective, disguise and had anyone out of the loop believing he was an unknown Weasley relative.

“You look beautiful, Hermione,” he offered as she sat at the table beside him.
“It’s the dress,” she said.
Harry chuckled and shook his head.  Hermione knew that he was antsy to be started on their journey.  She had spent a great deal of time sorting through books, potions and basic supplies, but she wasn’t sure she would really ever feel prepared for this endeavor into an unpredictable situation. 

“Ginny kissed me,” he said.
Hermione just nodded her head.  It seemed like something Ginny would do.
“Did you change your mind, then?” she asked.
“If anything, it confirmed it was time to end things.”
“How so?”
Harry frowned and started twirling the counterfeit locket that was suddenly in his hands.  “It was good, the feeling of her lips on mine.  Even her hands on me was nice in that it felt familiar.  It was all incredibly comforting.  But it wasn’t exciting.”

Hermione watched as he, in frustration, pushed the locket back in his pocket before looking back at her.  “Am I bad person?  Before, when we were together, she was all that I could think about.  I would go all day looking forward to her floral scent that reminded me of the Burrow.  But now, it all seems off.”
“Things are rather chaotic right now, Harry.  It’s understandable that you’re in a different mental place. Maybe, after all of this is over, you and she can try again,” Hermione said.
“But that’s just it, Hermione. I don’t think I want to.”  Harry quickly looked around and then leaned in closer to her.  “She wanted to say goodbye; ‘Proper’ she said. One last shag before I go off and fight Voldemort.  And I couldn’t do it.  Not just because we’re here at the Burrow, although, I said I didn’t want to disrespect her parents like that.  And not even because I was trying to do the right thing and not take advantage of the situation… I just didn’t want to shag her again.”
“You aren’t a bad person, Harry.  It would have been bad to have sex if you didn’t really want to.  You were respecting yourself, and her too.”

“We need to leave soon, probably tomorrow,” Harry said after a brief silence.
“I know.  Ron does, too.  I think he’s excited to get started.”
“How about you?”
Hermione tensed and then sighed.  “Professor Dumbledore was never very forthcoming with information.  I don’t even know how or where we should begin.  I get the sense, you don’t either.”

The locket was rolling along his fingers again.  “No. I keep coming back to the initials on this locket, but without knowing who they belong to, it isn’t even a start.  I know that the horcruxes are likely something of Gryffindor’s or Ravenclaw’s.  Then there’s Slytherin’s locket, Helga Hufflepuff’s cup and Voldemort’s snake.  The snake is the only thing I know how to find.”

“Could it be the sword?” Ron asked as he suddenly joined them at the table, causing his two friends to jump.  “Gryffindor’s item?” he clarified. “Dumbledore left that to you in his will, so maybe it was another horcrux?”  Ron whispered the last word, looking around to make sure no one was listening. 

Hermione subtly lifted her wand and cast a muffliato before they continued their conversation. 
“I can’t be sure,” said Harry.  “That makes sense, but Dumbledore told me that it only presents itself to true Gryffindors…”
“Yeah,” said Ron.  “It was probably just another impossible clue, like my Deluminator and Hermione’s children’s book.”
“His secrets are very difficult to work out,” said Hermione.
Ron looked at her critically.  “You aren’t just talking about horcruxes, are you?”
“If Snape hadn’t killed Dumbledore, what would have happened to Malfoy?  Harry, you said that Malfoy was ordered to kill him in order to save his family.  What if Professor Snape was trying to protect Draco and his family?”
“You’re the one who pointed out that Snape was the Half Blood Prince, Hermione,” said Harry.  “That his mother was Eileen Prince, a witch who married a muggle named Snape.”
“Yes, I know I did –”
“Well, aren’t you the one who pointed out how evil that book was?  That it was someone particularly dark who created those spells?”
“Yes, but I’ve already stated that he never denied being a Death Eater in the first war.”
“Then why didn’t he tell anyone what I’d done?  That I was using his book?  Was it because he didn’t want to be associated with it?  He didn’t want Dumbledore to know what he was capable of?” asked Harry.
“I’ll agree they aren’t trustworthy,” said Hermione.  “Of course, we'd be foolish to trust either Snape or Malfoy without question.  But I do wonder if that automatically means they aren’t on our side?  I think it could be possible that, perhaps, they want to be.”

“The three of you are looking rather melancholy over here,” said Bill Weasley, his voice interrupting the conversation.  “Didn’t anyone tell you that this was a party?”

“We’re just talking about secrets and trust,” said Ron after a beat. 
Bill reached up and touched one of the scars on his face.  “You three do know that I’m not an idiot, right?”  A small smirk appeared on his face as the others nodded quickly.  “I know you’re plotting to leave and I know secrets are important right now.  As for who you can trust, I’d say actions speak louder than words.  But be sure that you are understanding the actions you see.  War is the ultimate game of chess and many successes have to be plotted out several moves ahead.”

Harry took his last swig of Polyjuice potion while Ron looked at his brother.  Seeming done with the topic, Bill turned to Hermione.  “I actually came for you,” he said to her.  “There was a small altercation between Xenophilius Lovegood and Viktor Krum.  I was hoping you could help distract the latter?”

“I’ll go!” said Ron, interrupting whatever response Hermione may have had, and he quickly stood.

The two brothers left together, Bill sending a small salute as they went. Ginny, who had been approaching, nodded to Bill as he and Ron left, and stopped at their table.   “How did I know I’d find you two together,” she said. 
“Because you know who I really am?” asked Harry.
Hermione was pleased to note, that although there was a bit of awkwardness, there was no bite in either of their tones.
Ginny sat down in Ron’s vacated seat and quickly removed her shoes.  “I don’t understand how any women can wear these blasted things.  No amount of charms will ever make them more comfortable than my trainers.”
“Were you dancing?” asked Hermione.
“Yes, with Neville.  He’s such a good dancer, but I was tired.  Luna was trying to be nice and offered to take my place, but I don’t think he realized just how awful she is.”
“I enjoy dancing with Luna,” said Harry.
“You enjoy dancing?” Ginny asked, disbelief in her voice. “It must be because she’s like a little sister you never had, huh? You find it charming to see her happy?”
“She is not like a sister!” Harry exclaimed, looking mortified.  “Hermione is my sister.”

Hermione felt pleasure at Harry’s words and she smiled warmly at him and squeezed his hand.   
“She is a very fun dancer, actually,” Hermione agreed.  “The phrase ‘dances to the beat of her own drum,’ certainly applies, but I like the beat she dances to,” she added with a laugh.  She and Harry smiled fondly at each other and Hermione couldn’t help but recall the evening of Slughorn’s party.

“Harry,” she started.  “Malfoy saved me that night, too.”
His smile gone, he stared at her. “What?”
“I almost fell over the banister and he pulled me back.”
“Why was he even with you?” he asked, seeming to know exactly what evening she was talking about.
“Luna told me to go after – you, I assumed.  And I couldn’t find you, but then I heard him coming.  We argued, of course.  And he got in my face, but when I almost fell he pulled me back to safety.”
“So, just another case of him making a mess of things and then trying to save face?”
“None of the portraits were there.  He could have let me fall.”

Suddenly, a loud clang startled the trio.  Ron had returned and had hit the table leg when pulling out a chair.  “Luna’s father’s an idiot.  He’s wearing a necklace with what he called deadly hash browns or something, but Krum’s insisting that it’s the mark of Grindelwald.”
“I hadn’t realized Viktor was coming,” said Hermione.
“Yeah, well, he asked me to tell you he was looking forward to seeing you, but he’ll just have to wait for your next letter,” said Ron, his tone mocking.  “I didn’t realize you two were pen pals.”
“We’ve kept in touch.  We got to know each other rather well, Ron.  I would keep in touch with any friend I admired.”
“Then why’re you surprised he’s here?  He was pretty unhappy to leave, but didn’t want to stay if Xenophilius was, so he’s gone.  Too bad his post won’t make it to you where we’re going.”

“Hello,” said Luna, her greeting interrupting Ron’s rant. “Red is a good color on you, Harry,” she said as she and Neville sat in the last remaining seats at the table.
“Oi! Ginny, we weren’t supposed to tell anyone,” hissed Ron.
“I didn’t!”
“I thought she was imagining things when she said it was you, Harry,” said Neville.
“His expressions are truly his own,” Luna said.
“Well, call him Barny,” said Ron.  “He’s a cousin who came in for the wedding. And what does your dad have against potatoes?”
Luna seemed to seriously consider. “Why do you ask?”
“The necklace he’s wearing.”
“You must mean the Deathly Hallows.  He loves potatoes, but can’t eat them as they’re a breeding ground for aquavirius maggots.”

Hermione and Harry were distracted from the conversation, however, by the small hand of a familiar House Elf.
“Dobby?” said Harry.  “What are you doing here?”
“Shh,” hissed the elf, like Luna, seeming to see through Harry's disguise.  “It’s a secret.”

Dobby hurriedly looked around, and then right at Hermione.  “Dobby is a free Elf, but keeps in touch with elf friends.  Master Draco said he's sorries to many of them, so when he called for Dobby, I went to him.”
“What?!?” exclaimed Harry.
“This is a wonderful example of the Law of the Returning Tides,” said Luna.  She and Ron had stopped their conversation and were listening to Dobby.  “Draco expelled good energy, and it returned to him through Dobby,” she continued.

Dobby looked towards Ginny and Neville, but they were lost in their own conversation and oblivious to the others.  He grabbed Hermione’s hand and placed a folded piece of parchment in her palm.

She looked hesitantly at Harry before opening the message.

They are taking the ministry today.  Run.

“He suspected you would be with Harry Potter.  Dobby was to give this to him, or even his Weasley, if you couldn't be found.”
“Does this mean they’re already coming for us?” asked Harry.
Dobby shook his head, not having an answer to give, before his eyes grew even larger than normal and the group turned to see what he was looking at.

A patronus of a lynx was in the middle of the dance floor. Its mouth was opened wide and, in the voice of Kingsley Shackelbolt, it exclaimed that the ministry had fallen. 
Hermione could feel the wards around the Burrow crumble and she quickly checked to see that the beaded bag she had prepared was with her.  The sounds of disapparating witches and wizards mingled with the startled screams.  And then, loud and menacing, a sound she couldn’t quite place filled the tent.  Like a bow breaking in a storm, perhaps.  And she watched as glimmering branches slithered across the flaps of the tent and slammed down on the lynx, snuffing out its magic.

Without a second thought, Hermione reached out and grabbed both Harry and Ron and, with Destination, Determination and Deliberation on her mind, she spun them away from the terrifying magic rooting into the Burrow.

 

Chapter Text

“We suspected, of course, that you’d done it.  But I can’t believe you didn’t tell us sooner!  We’re your friends, and you didn’t tell us about this - about any of the nightmare you are living!”

Draco tried not to react to Pansy’s tantrum as he looked out the window of the train and listened to the buzzing noise of the muffliato he’d cast as soon as they were in the cabin.  He knew that Theo was right and it was past time bringing Pansy and Daphne into the loop, but he really could do without her nasal soliloquy. She wasn’t speaking for him to hear and he knew it.  She just couldn’t keep her thoughts to herself.

He could still feel the adrenaline in his system.  It had been less than an hour ago that Luna had been abducted off the train as it made its way to Hogwarts, and he’d let it happen.  Just like she’d told him to do.  It was still unnerving that she had known this would happen.

“When did you two become friendly, anyway?” asked Pansy.  Pansy and Daphne had been alarmed at his reaction to Luna's being taken by Death Eaters.  They had no idea how close he had become with the girl this year.  “Are you shagging her?”  Not that close, Merlin.

Draco turned from the window and looked at Theo who was lounging with his feet propped up on the opposite bench.  With a shake of his head, Theo sighed and sat up straight.

“Luna is both Draco and my friend, and to be fair, I’ve been friends with her longer,” said Theo, his tone harsh.  “For about a year; ever since Slughorn’s party last Christmas.  Once you get past her unconventional demeanor, she’s hard not to like.”
“But why?  She’s one of Potter’s lackies,” said Pansy.
“She has never once looked at me with malice, Pans.  She has always given me the opportunity to show her who I am, not what I’m expected to be.  It was damn refreshing and the least I could do was return the favor to her.  She’s a pretty remarkable person.” 

“I don’t understand,” cut in Daphne, “why you’d let her go quietly with the Death Eaters.  You must know they’ll take her to Azkaban or somewhere else just as frightening.”

Draco noticed the hint of worry in Daphne’s voice and recalled that she had been with the happy group dancing at Slughorn’s party.  He looked over at her to find she was looking at him.
“You’re one of them,” she said to him.  “Why didn’t you warn her?”

“This mark doesn’t make me one of them!” Draco shouted, afraid his words were false hope.  “It was a mistake I was forced into because of one stupid decision.”  He pushed aside the memory of his aunt cackling in glee when he’d agreed he had a way of getting to Potter.
“We need more information, Draco,” said Daphne.  “Showing us that awful mark on your arm and telling us we have to trust you… you kept this from us for too long.  You need to tell us everything.”
Pansy was nodding furiously beside her friend, her expression severe.

Draco rested his head on the cold glass of the train window.  The snow was swirling outside and he couldn’t help but ponder as to how quickly the train had resumed its course after Luna was abducted.  As if it was an everyday occurrence for a young woman to be taken by masked men.  Perhaps, because it was happening more frequently, just not with witches of good breeding.  It wasn’t so unusual for mudbloods and undesirables to be snatched away since the ministry had fallen to Lord Voldemort.   Luna’s father had certainly made himself an undesirable with his zealous articles against the Dark Lord’s regime.  

“Draco?” Daphne whispered softly.  “Tell us what’s going on.”
He closed his eyes tightly.  “Before I tell you,” he said,  “you must swear to me, all of you, that even if you despise me after this, you won’t betray my secrets.  That you will uphold Honour over Instinct and use your cunning only to protect our oath of secrecy.”

Pansy sucked in air.  Draco was not surprised.  Honour over Instinct was a weighted pact known only to the oldest and most secretive Pureblood families.  Though the penalty, unlike the unbreakable vow, was not death, if one broke the pledge their magic would be weakened.  The effects could be both vast and permanent, depending on the degree of the betrayal and the talent of the wizard who oversaw the oath.  It had fallen out of practice because of its unpredictability and the surety behind the Unbreakable Vow, but Draco had no desire to be involved with any more death than he had to be.

Draco turned back to the group and held his right hand out in front of himself, his palm facing the ground.  Without hesitation, Theo grasped Draco’s wrist and laid his right palm on top of his extended hand.  Both Daphne and Pansy quickly followed suit.  Pansy, having been the last to lay her hand down, then placed her left hand beneath Draco’s extended right hand so that their palms touched. Daphne and Theo followed suit, with Draco completing the joining. 

The four Slytherins stepped forward so their shoulders were touching. Draco took a steadying breath and recalled the words his mother had taught him.  

“We four swear our mouths and eyes and ears against anything revealed in this meeting of honour; that we may be mute, blind and deaf before betraying the secrecy here.  We swear to bind our bodies and our minds from betraying the confidences discovered in this meeting of honour.  We pledge, on our magical essence, our honour over our instinct.”

As one, the four repeated the last sentence together and raised their clasped hands to chest level.  The air of the cabin shifted slightly, each individual feeling the pact touch their magic.  It was rumored that if a witch or wizard was knowingly deceitful in their promise, the enchantment of the pact would immediately strip them of their magic, as well as their faculties. It was a fate many wizards feared more than death.

With a nod, Draco pulled his hands away and returned to his seat.  Without looking at his comrades, he began.  “It was my plan to get the Death Eaters into Hogwarts.  I was hoping that offering the Dark Lord a way to Potter, he would break my father out of prison and the Malfoy name would mean something among the Death Eaters again.  My aunt Bellatrix warned me that the Dark Lord would expect me to become a Death Eater, and she was right. I was ready for that.  I had hoped it wouldn’t come to it, but I was prepared to take on the mark.  I convinced myself it would add to my family’s prominence if I were to be the youngest Death Eater.  What I hadn’t prepared myself for, was that my sacrifice wouldn’t be enough.  It wasn’t nearly enough.”

Draco looked at the group.  Pansy was staring at her hands, but at his silence she turned to him. 
“He ordered me to kill Professor Dumbledore,” he choked out.  “He threatened to murder my mother after he made her watch him torture and skin me alive.” 
“Draco –“ Daphne started, but he was lost in his memories and didn’t hear her.
“Last year was awful.  I was afraid to bring any of you into it.  Afraid he would find out and make you do horrible things, too.  And afraid if I asked for help, the Dark Lord would view it as failure and kill my mother anyway.  But one of the ghosts helped me.”
He paused, momentarily embarrassed, but he pushed the feeling aside.  “Moaning Myrtle became my friend.”
Daphne gasped.
“But,” said Pansy, “she was a mudblood.”
“She and,” fear gripped him and he couldn’t finish.  He feared that telling Pansy the next part would doom her to break the pact they had just made.  Something in his expression must have given that away.
“I value our friendships more than my dislike for mudbloods, Draco.  Tell me what’s been happening.  Tell all of us everything.”

“They’ve guessed more than you could imagine,” said Theo.  “Daphne was there at Slughorn’s party.  She saw your expression change when you saw her.”
“Who?” asked Pansy “Luna?  Or... I still don’t understand how you two have anything to do with each other.”

Draco groaned.  “Merlin.  To make a very long story short, the Dark Lord is the worst thing to have ever happened to the Wizarding World.  And mudbloods probably didn’t steal their magic; some might even be more powerful than purebloods.  And as much I fucking hate Potter, I don’t want him, or anyone else, to die because of the Dark Lord. And I saved Granger.  I went against my aunt Bellatrix, and I warned Granger to run away.  And when the stupid bint found herself about to be eaten by Greyback, I saved her again.  And one of the Weasley’s, too.”

Feeling consumed by nervous energy, Draco stood and began to pace the cabin.  “Professor Snape killed Dumbledore for me – he can be trusted, to a degree.  He’s the Dark Lord’s man, he has to be, but he is someone you can turn to if you need out.” 
He stopped his pacing and looked at his three friends.  “But my aunt Bellatrix, the Carrows, any of the Death Eaters aside from Snape, and possibly my father, are dangerous!  Even if they think you are on their side, they will see you as disposable.”
“You told us before to never go to Snape,” said Pansy, “but now we should?”
“If you let the Death Eaters in to get Potter,” asked Daphne, veering the topic in another direction, “why did they leave him behind?”

Draco paused.  He hadn’t even explained this to Theo.  How could he tell them about Snape without breaking the oath he’d made to his godfather after the man had revealed his past?  He honestly didn’t think their pact was a safe enough bet to tell them.  But he wouldn’t lie.
“I’m oath bound regarding other secrets,” he said.  “The simplest answer is that Bellatrix was too greedy to be in control and it prevented everyone from really knowing what was happening that night. The Carrows even thought we were going to stay in the castle permanently and torture mudbloods.”

“You keep saying the word.  Do you hate them, still? Mudbloods?”
He considered Pansy’s question before answering.  “I don’t think I want to anymore.  But if I see one, or someone I suspect to be one, I instinctively think of them as a mudblood.  In my mind, they are automatically less than me.  Granger, somehow, I don’t see her like that anymore.”
Pansy and Daphne looked at each, smirks on their faces. 
“What?” he asked, suspiciously.

“You don’t expect me to like them, do you?” asked Pansy, ignoring his inquiry.  “Because Granger’s the worst.”
“Is she the worst because she’s a muggleborn, or because of her personality?” asked Daphne.  “Because I thought I hated her until I got to know her when she was tutoring Astoria.  She’s just awkward.  I don’t think she really ever had friends, aside from Potter and his Weasleys.”
“I hate her hair,” said Pansy.  “And that she doesn’t make an effort on her appearance, a basic sign of respect to the culture she has invaded.  And her shoes are awful.  And who spends that much time on schoolwork?”
“So, you’re jealous?” asked Theo, ignoring the sharp look Daphne gave him. “Because she isn’t expected to try to act like a witch should?”
Pansy’s irritated look shifted at his second question.  “Maybe.  I hate that mudbloods can just come here and we have to bend over backwards to make them feel comfortable, but they don’t even try to acclimate to our way of life.”
“We don’t, though,” said Daphne.  “They’re so clueless about our culture and we just laugh at them.”

“Isn’t that catering to them?” Pansy countered.  “They shouldn’t even be allowed into our world until they fit in.  We don’t go into their world.  They should pick one world and stick to it.  They shouldn’t get to have it all.”
“Granger’s different outside the classroom – and this is so off topic,” said Theo.  “We’re almost to Hogwarts.  The meeting of honour will end soon.”
“These are good issues to address now, then,” hissed Pansy.  “Do we hate mudbloods or are we going to try to help them?  Because if we don’t hate them, we have to do something.  Draco has just told us he hates being a Death Eater and not to trust them.  So, what are we?  Death Eater sympathizers?  Potter groupies?  Granger loyalists?  I want to know.”

“I warned Potter that the ministry was going to fall.  I told him to run,” said Draco.  “And I apologized to Granger.”
“Well, shit,” said Pansy. 
Daphne nodded her head.  “Looks like we’re Potter groupies.  Will you make us flashy buttons, Draco?”
“Why?” asked Theo.  “Why did you do it?  If your aunt discovered what you did?  I see how she torments you and your mother.  Why is that?  And your father is completely broken since the Dark Lord took his wand from him.”

Draco shuttered.  That was the same morning that the Dark Lord had his snake eat Professor Burbage.  Draco couldn’t help but imagine it was Granger.  Or even Potter or the Weasel. The joy of his father’s return the night before was destroyed with a single order.  Draco’s actions had been for nothing.  His father would not be the Dark Lord’s second in command.  Why would he be, when there were the likes of Bellatrix?
“My aunt is insane,” he said.  His tongue locked when he tried to say more.  He was unable to tell them about the curse, apparently. 
“Why did you help Potter?  Is it really because you don’t want him to die?  Why is it up to you to save him?” Theo asked.

The train was starting to slow.  They were almost to Hogsmeade.  The meeting was almost over and Draco had so much more to say. 
“Listen to me, all of you,” he began.  “Luna knew she was going to be taken.  She has a knack for knowing how things are going to play out.  She didn’t know when or how, but she suspected they would come for her.  She warned me to let them.  She reminded me that it is incredibly important to keep up appearances.  She told me, that like Myrtle, the castle ghosts can be helpful to those who ask for it.”

Frustrated, Draco pulled his hands through his hair.  “I realize that this is rushed, but I need to tell you now.  We can expand on it later, if I get it out now it is protected by the oath.”
The other three nodded their heads.

“I am going to do whatever it takes to help Granger and Potter succeed, because if they do then my family is free of the Dark Lord.  We need to try to befriend some of the other houses, most notably Gryffindor.  Luna suggested Neville Longbottom.  Luna… Luna is special.  If the Dark Lord realizes that about her, she’s fucked.  So, don’t give anything away about her.  She can just be that odd girl.”

“How are you friends with her? I’m confused,” said Pansy.
Draco looked out the window and hurried to grab his robes.  “She found me in the bathroom talking with Myrtle and she comforted me.  I am a fucking mess, and she didn’t mock me or run away.  And she’d tried to help me last year, I just hadn’t realized what she’d done until it was too late.”
“That’s good enough for me,” said Daphne.

“The thing I need you all to trust me on,” he said as the train came to a stop “is that Greg and Vincent are full on Death Eater disciples.  We can’t save them.  Blaise is an unknown.  And – “ he hesitated, looking at Daphne.  But she was staring hard at him.
“She’s a Slytherin, Draco.  She is absolutely loyal,” Daphne said.
“But to whom?” he asked
“Who are we talking about?” asked Pansy. 
Theo frowned.  “Your crush,” he said.  
“Oh.”

The four stood quietly, the noises of the other students getting off the train the only sound.
“Your Aunt was recruiting before break,” said Pansy.  “Astoria was one she was interested in. Vincent and Greg, too.  I know she was making her way through all the houses, and rumor has it she recruited a Gryffindor.”
“How can we befriend other houses if we don’t know who her recruits are?” asked Theo.
“And how will other houses ever trust us when I let the Death Eaters in?” said Draco.  “We have to figure it out. Hogwarts is only getting worse under the Carrows.  Snape let’s them get away with too much; he has to.”
“You’ve been helping the younger ones, though,” said Pansy.
Draco looked sharply at her.  “Pardon?”
“You’ve been sneaking them past the Carrows and shooting your curses to the floor at their feet.”
“Does everyone know?” he asked, fear gripping him.  He was confident his aunt didn’t or she would have tortured him over break.  So, she didn’t know, yet.
“I don’t know.  I only know because I overheard two second years talking about it.”

The air in the cabin suddenly shifted.  The pact had ended, but they hadn’t departed the room.  Turning quickly, Draco eyed the door and watched as it slowly opened.  The first thing he saw was a tall, pointed hat.  A familiar witch stood before them, her dark robes synched at her waist and her long, dark hair pulled into a braid. 

“Patil,” he greeted, struggling to remember which sister she was. He was fairly sure she was the one he’d shagged, but he still struggled to tell the two apart. A quick look at her chest had him confident she was the one he’d shagged; her tits were smaller than the Gryffindor’s. 
“You all do realize that the train has stopped.  Was there a reason you were not exiting the train?” she asked, her tone bored.  He was caught by her unnatural red lips from whatever charm she’d used.  Her teeth were practically glowing from the contrast.
“How is it any of your business?” snapped Pansy.

“Bellatrix Lestrange has taken on the newly restored position of the Hogwarts High Inquisitor.  As she will not be residing at the school, she has reformed the Inquisitorial Squad to observe and report back to her.  I, and my sister Parvati, are assistants to the High Inquisitor.” Padma motioned to the ribbon on her pointed hat.  It was dark green, almost black, and was attached with two silver hat pins.  The pinheads were in the shape of a skull and a snake.  “Draco,” she continued, “your aunt wanted to be sure you were aware of your job duties.”

She stepped forward and handed him a piece of parchment.  He looked at the writing on the outside and, for a brief moment, he had been sure he’d seen Granger’s initials in his handwriting.  But when his eyes had cleared, he saw only his name in his aunt’s pen.  He nodded his thanks, but she grabbed his chin before he could turn.

Quietly, so only he could hear, she whispered to him.  “Your aunt has assured me that you will have time for me now.  As members of the inquisitorial squad, we have access to the Prefects Bath.  Shall we meet there tonight and get reacquainted?”
“As my aunt was not able to address my duties with me while I was on break, I think it prudent I review these tonight.  Perhaps another time?”

He quickly followed the other Slytherins as they made their way off the train.  However, as soon as he was on solid ground, he felt an arm loop with his.  Padma was keeping pace with him, a haughty smile on her blood red lips.  “We both know, Draco, that you aren’t in a place to act so high and mighty with me.  It appears, actually, that I am in a higher standing than you in this new world the Dark Lord is building.  Review your orders from High Inquisitor Lestrange.  Then meet me tonight and be prepared to make me very happy.  I feel I am owed a great deal after your poor treatment of me.  Several apologies tonight will do as an excellent start to my forgiving you.”

She was gone before he could reply, seeming to float away quickly, her robes barely moving as she made her way to her sister and a waiting carriage. Parvati wore a matching hat and paid no attention to Draco or the Slytherins at his side.

“Well, determining her recruits just got a whole lot easier,” said Theo as Draco joined them on their own carriage.
“And my life a whole lot more difficult.”
“Are you really complaining about sex?” asked Pansy.  “As I recall, it was your favorite stress reliever.”
“That was before a certain bookworm caught his attention,” whispered Daphne.

Draco was too depressed to even comment.  He buried his face in his hands.  “I wasn’t concerned about satisfying her before.  I promised her I’d take care of her wants the next time and then I avoided her like the plague. What she wants me to do to her won’t relieve my stress, just hers.”
“A bit of aussie kissing?” asked Theo.  “I don’t mind it myself,” he said while looking directly at Pansy. 
“I heard she has other tastes,” said Pansy.  “Buggery, being her favorite," she added, smirking at Theo as if she were mocking him.

“Are you going, then?  Sounds like she has your aunt in her corner,” said Theo, turning back to Draco.
“She can take care of herself.  I’m not interested in what she’s offering.”
“You mean what she’s demanding?” Daphne replied. 

Draco sighed and wondered how difficult it would be to make camp in the Room of Hidden Things. 

 

 


 

“Why did we even follow the advice of a ghost?” Ginny hissed quietly as she and Neville hurried through the aisles in the library after curfew. The Grey Lady had told them that an ally would be found in the library if they were willing to look.  They were so desperate for allies, they didn’t hesitate to go directly there.  
“She’s friends with Luna.  And Luna was adamant that the ghosts would help us.”
“Do you think she’s okay?”

Neville stopped suddenly, causing Ginny to bump into him.  He turned around to face her and Ginny felt her heart sink at the look on his face. 
“I always tried to hurry her, you know?  She’s probably the best friend I’ve ever had but if some of her ideas or way of doing things made me uncomfortable, I’d move us on to the next thing.  And that was wrong of me.  She knew she wasn’t going to be here much longer.  That’s why she told me to trust the ghosts and to give every house a chance.  And she promised me we’d see each other again.  So, I’m gonna go with that.  She has to be okay because she’s never been wrong.”
“Is that why you two never went past holding hands? Because she was – too odd for you?” Ginny asked.

“She’s not odd, she’s just so different from me.  She put a stop to it.  Said something about how our lines were better unattached. Whatever that means.”

The two started back towards their customary section of tables and Ginny bit her lip recalling the conversation in the hospital wing after Bill was attacked. There really was more to Luna and her keen perception of things. 

“Listen, I may have done something you won’t be happy about,” said Neville.  They had stopped at the table Hermione had always used and Ginny pushed aside the worry that was always there for her friends and brother.
“Besides rushing us on a fool’s errand on the word of a ghost?” Ginny asked.
“I met with Theo Nott and Daphne Greengrass.”

Neville was right; she wasn’t happy about what he’d done.  “Just because Luna said we should give all the houses a chance doesn’t mean we should start with some of the worst of the Slytherins.”
“Theo is Luna’s friend.”

Ginny refused to acknowledge the truth of what Neville had said.  Instead she stared at him, imagining that she was crushing his head with her hands.
“He was better at not rushing things.  It made me jealous.  He would just smile at her and call her charming.  Anyway, he and Daphne wanted to see about making a truce.  They said that they would never be friends with Gryffindors, but were willing to work together on a common goal.”
“And what’s that goal?”
“Not becoming slaves.”

Ginny felt uneasy at the words.  “That’s a rather pithy way of explaining things, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it seemed uncomfortably truthful,” Neville said.  “Theo told me something pretty scary, too.”
Ginny waited for him to continue.  “Apparently, he was staying at Malfoy Manor.  He said that there were strange things going on there and that he knew for sure the Malfoys didn’t like their house being headquarters to the going-ons of the Death Eaters.”
Ginny snorted.
“I know, who would?” Neville said.  “But, Bellatrix Lestrange was staying there too.  She tortured Theo and Draco all the time.  And she kept trying to make Theo become a Death Eater.”
“I think we could have figured all of this out for ourselves, and I’m sure he knows that.  Did he have any helpful information?”“Yes.”

Neville’s tone was off and Ginny realized it must be hard talking about the witch who had ruined his parents’ minds.  She took his hand and squeezed it tightly before he continued.
“She can do some bizarre things with magic.  One thing she did was change her face.”
“What? Transfiguration?”
“No, he didn’t think so.  He said that Draco had to tell him what happened after, but that he thought he was seeing a very blurred face of his mother.”
“His mother’s dead.”
“Yeah, but in that moment, he couldn’t remember.  To him, it seemed like his mother was telling him that he needed to be a Death Eater and spy for you-know-who.  She was wearing a dark hood that covered her head, and Rodolphus was with her. He said he got really confused and the more he wanted to look at her face the blurrier it got and he couldn’t really look at her.”
Ginny’s mouth felt dry.
“Maybe I’m an idiot, but I believe him,” said Neville.  “I believe them both, that they want to avoid all of this, too.”
“It happened to Ron,” said Ginny.
“What?”
“What Theo described to you, that happened to Ron last year at the joke shop.”

A loud bang echoed through the library, disrupting their conversation.  “Come out, come out, wherever you are,” a familiar woman’s voice called out.

Ginny and Neville both reached for their wands, but suddenly, Ginny felt a wave of magic cover her body.  Instinctively, she knew that she’d cried out, but no sound was heard.  And then, a hand was on her shoulder and she felt herself being pulled backwards.  Before she could right herself, a full body bind curse was on her body.  She never fell, though.  She realized that she had been positioned in a chair.  It was incredibly comfortable and she had no recollection of ever having seen it in the library.

“I don’t think they’ll hear you now, but you must be quiet,” came the distinct voice of Draco Malfoy.  “I know you can’t trust me, but if you attack me you’ll get us all caught.”
“I won’t attack you,” she heard Neville say.  She couldn’t see either of them; they must have been behind her.
“What about her?”
“Why won’t they hear us?” Neville whispered, ignoring Malfoy’s question.
“This place, between these two bookcases, is hidden.  I think it’s one of Ravenclaw’s additions to the castle. I can see and hear out of this space, but no one else can see or hear inside of it.”

Ginny was fuming.  She tried desperately to break the binding curse and she felt herself trying to yell, but nothing changed.  Her mouth wouldn’t move; her voice wouldn’t sound.

“She might attack you,” Neville said, finally answering Malfoy’s question. “At this point, she might attack us both.”
“I don’t want her defenseless if they find us,” said Malfoy.  “I don’t think they will, but they’re working with my aunt and she knows very obscure magic.”
“I’ll put up a shield if you release her.”

Ginny felt herself smile and realized they’d already acted.  She rushed up out of her seat and whirled around to face them.
“I understand giving Theo and Daphne a chance, but this idiot?”
“Now, now,” said Malfoy.  “Theo and Daphne are consorting with you two?  Whatever for?”

“We know you’re here,” came the familiar female voice again.  “It’s just me, Ginny.  Parvati.  I’ll help you get back to the tower without getting caught!”
Without a word, Malfoy, Ginny and Neville turned together towards Parvati’s voice, their wands ready. 

“I don’t know if you’ve kept in touch with Potter or Granger, but they might actually tell you to give me a chance,” hissed Malfoy.  “I warned them to run when the ministry was about to fall.”

Neville nodded his head beside Malfoy.  “Luna begged me to listen if you ever tried to talk to me.  I want to hear what you have to say,” he said.
“Yeah, I’ll listen, too,” said Ginny, suspicious Malfoy was the reason the Grey Lady had sent them here.  “But let’s get out of this mess, first.”

“Have you found them?” came another voice.
Ginny looked between the shelves and saw another woman approaching Parvati.  She, too, was wearing a tall pointed hat.  The light from the lanterns in the library bounced off their matching hat pins.  Ginny felt her stomach drop.  The skull and snake the Patil twins wore had broken her heart when she had first seen them.
“The spell revealed two people in here, and I warded the door. I’ve only felt your entrance.”

“Vincent and Greg are on their way.  Perhaps, they’ll find them when they come into the library,” said Padma.
“Are they still upset that they're reporting to us?”
“To me, you mean? Let’s not pretend you’re as invested in this as I am, Parvati.”
“We are on equal footing with the High Inquisitor.  Our motivations may differ, but our status does not.”
“For now.”
“Padma, they have our mother.  They’re manipulating father and syphoning his money.  I don’t care what I have to do to keep them safe and I’ll accept whatever my fate when this is over.  How can you –” Parvati stopped, as if she regretted her words.  “A boy is not my motivation, Padma.  Only my family.”

“He isn’t just a boy!  She has assured me that a betrothal is forthcoming!”
“How long has she been deluding your mind with this?”
“Cast the spell again,” Padma snarled.  “I will not be interrogated by you.”

Ginny watched as Parvati ignored her sister.  Padma, in frustration, cast the spell herself.  Ginny tensed.
“The spell only found two before,” whispered Malfoy. “I was here the whole time. I think we’ll be okay.”
“What about the ward on the door?” asked Neville.
“We know about it now.  We can stay until morning or take it down if we can figure it out,” said Ginny.

“Too many students are disappearing,” said Padma. “And I have been unable to open the room we used for Dumbledore’s Army.”
“Perhaps Umbridge had it shut down,” said Parvati.  Even Ginny could tell Parvati didn’t believe her own words.
“Aren’t you interested in finding them?”
“I’m not interested in helping you find Malfoy.  Because that’s all this is.  You’re irritated that your betrothed can’t stand the sight of you.”
“He loved the sight of me before he joined the cause.”
“You had sex, Padma.  He used you and from what you’ve told me, he barely pretended otherwise.”

“He told me he loves me!  He told me we could be together if I spied on Harry.  And then he just disappeared to muck up the mission the Dark Lord gave him and make things difficult for Bellatrix.”
“The High Inquisitor, Padma.”
“No, Parvati.  Bellatrix.  She’s told me, who is obviously far worthier in her eyes, to call her Bellatrix.”
“Then can you convince her to let mother go?” asked Parvati quickly, but Padma turned away from her to cast the spell towards the other side of the library.

“Poor Parvati,” said Neville.
“Interesting that it’s poor Parvati because she’s a Gryffindor, but ‘fuck you Malfoy’ because I’m a Slytherin.”

“As if you wouldn’t think the worst of us, too.  Did you tell her you loved her?” asked Ginny.
“Never. I’m sure it was that spell of my aunt’s – the one you two were discussing before the weird sisters interrupted.”
“Is that what she did to you,” asked Ginny.
“No,” he answered, refusing to look at her. “No, I didn’t want to be a Death Eater,” he continued, understanding what she was really asking, “but I didn’t need much convincing to try to make things easier for my family.”

“Your goons are here,” Neville interrupted. 

Ginny looked back towards the Patils.  Crabbe and Goyle were lumbering towards them. 
“What kept you?” Padma asked.
“We had our own things to do,” said Crabbe.  Ginny hardly recognized his voice.  He’d changed.  His heavy mass was more muscle now, and his voice had become deep. 
“I sent for you ages ago.”
“You don’t get to order us around,” Crabbe said.  “We can do what we want.”

Ginny caught a proud smile on Malfoy’s face. “Looking pretty smug there, Malfoy.  Do you think he’d still take orders from you?”
His smirk disappeared.  “No.  I’m a failure in the circle.  Even they aren’t so dumb as to associate with me any longer.”
“Do you miss them?” asked Neville.  The question seemed to surprise Malfoy.
“I do.  And I don’t.  We didn’t have much in common.  But it was nice to know there was always someone to listen to you. And who’d sink to their lowest if you asked them to.”
“Asked?” said Ginny.  “Or told?”

“When was the last time anyone saw any of them?” Padma questioned the two bulking young men, distracting Ginny from her own conversation.
“Only you saw them,” said Parvati.  “And I still don’t quite know how.”
“It was Filch. He said there were students about.  The Weasley girl and a boy.  I assume Longbottom.”

Parvati was moving away as her sister spoke.  “There’s no one here and I am not wasting any more time on this.”
“You know those two will continue to go against the High Inquisitor,” snapped Padma.
“Who is your master?  Her or the Dark Lord?”

Padma said nothing as her sister and the two Slytherins left the Library.  As the door shut behind them, she cast another Homenum Revelio and turned slowly, looking for any signs of life.
She left the library, releasing a guttural growl, when she’d found no indication of anyone else there. 

“If you’re using the Room of Hidden Things,” said Draco, “you best be sure she cannot get in.”
“She hasn’t so far,” said Ginny, hotly.
“But she’s intent on doing so.  Umbridge found a way, and she’ll remember that.”

“Do you think there are other hiding spots?” asked Ginny.  “There’s the room, and this aisle.  And with so many secret passageways, it seems likely we can find other places to hide.”
“The Room offers the best option for everyone,” said Neville. “And I think we have it safe-guarded well enough.  I may ask it to repel those not welcome.”
“Can it even do that?” asked Ginny.
“And what if you think someone isn’t welcome, but they aren’t really a threat?” Malfoy added.  “I hate to break it to you, but Theo and Daphne could be helpful to you.  And Pansy, too.”
“Pansy!” yelled Ginny. “Pansy Parkinson?”

“Who do we avoid?” asked Neville.  “Aside from the Inquisitorial Squad?”
“He’s the Inquisitorial Squad,” said Ginny.  “You’ve seen him swagger around with the lot of them!”

Neville and Malfoy ignored her, however.  “Blaise, Astoria, Millicent and Tracy.  McLaggen”
“What about Lavender Brown?” Neville asked.  “We can’t get a good read on her since Parvati joined the squad.”
“I don’t think she’s one of them, but I don’t really know.”
“We need Hermione’s charm work so we can figure out who to let in,” Ginny said, absently.
“If you decide to trust me,” said Malfoy, “I’m a fair hand at charms, too.”

Neville turned to Ginny and she knew he was asking her what they should do.  The question really was, could they trust him?

 

 


 

Hermione felt numb.  So much had happened recently, even though nothing at all had progressed.  Harry’s wand was broken and they’d been down to one for what felt like years.  If only Ron were here, but he wasn’t.  He’d left.  He’d picked a fight and practically forced Harry to demand he leave.  He’d abandoned them.

“I’m sorry, Hermione,” Harry said quietly.  “I shouldn’t have let him upset me like that.  His temper wasn’t a surprise.”
“How did you know I was thinking about him?”
Harry nodded down at her hands and she winced to see that she was wearing Ron’s mittens.  She wore them when she missed him. 
“He was looking for a reason,” she said.  “He was past his breaking point.” 

They had only found one horcrux after a terrifying infiltration of the Ministry of Magic.  They were always hungry and tired and afraid.  And there had been no way to destroy the real horcrux locket, so they had to keep it around them all the time.  Of course, Ron lost it.  They all did to a degree.  And now time was already creeping towards spring and she and Harry were no closer to any of the other horcruxes than they had been when they started. 

“Are you at your breaking point?” she heard Harry ask.

Hermione cringed at the worry in her friend’s voice and quickly shook her head. “You cannot get rid of me so easily.”
“Hmmm.  You mean being attacked by a snake wearing human skin is easy, huh?”
Hermione shivered.  That had been horrifying.  The dark magic Voldemort was capable of was disconcerting.

They sat quietly outside the tent, both too tired to sleep.  “I’ve been watching the map,” said Harry.  “He hasn’t shown up on it.”
Hermione nodded her head.  Ron was probably safe at home with his mommy, eating plenty of home cooked meals and occasionally remembering to worry about her and Harry. She only felt a little shame at her hateful thoughts; she wasn’t the one who ran away.

“Ginny and Neville disappear a lot, so I was thinking they were in the Room of Requirement.  They’re obviously looking out for each other, though, because they’re always together.”
“Luna?” she asked.
“I never see her,” he said.  It was a monotone statement, betraying his fear.

Hermione hesitated, but her curiosity got the best of her.  “Malfoy?”
Harry was quiet for a while.  “I know he helped you.  And me.  I can’t help but think he’s up to something, though.  That he’s another Snape and he’ll betray us when it matters.”

His worry had merit, she knew that it did.  “I told you about Andrew,” she said and Harry nodded.  They had many conversations since Ronald left.  He’d danced with her to cheer her up.  They’d talked about Quidditch plays and the merits of muggle education in the wizarding world.  They’d even stolen mead and had a drunken kiss that had them both wiping their mouths and swearing never to get so drunk as to think friends with benefits was a good plan ever again.  
“I can honestly say that I don’t think Malfoy would ever do that to me,” she said, grinning at the memories of Harry and her conversations while realizing her pain over Andrew was long gone. 
“How can you be so sure?” he asked.
“Because he has never lied to me.  He has hurt me.  He has been cruel with his words and actions.  But he never lied to me.  If he was out to get me, he made sure I saw it coming so he could laugh all the harder at me.”

Harry adjusted his glasses.  “He’s on the map, but disappears in the library a lot.”
“What does that mean?”
“He goes in the library, by our area and then ‘poof,’ he’s gone.”
“How is that possible?”
“I don’t know.  But Ginny and Neville do it, too.  And so do Theodore Nott, Daphne Greengrass and Pansy Parkinson.”
“You watch the library a lot, huh?” she asked, not really blaming him, however.  What else was there to do?
“Wouldn’t you?  It’s weird.”

Hermione sighed. 
“McLaggen might have turned out okay, though,” Harry said.
Hermione looked at him, her eyebrows raised in question.
“He and the Patil sisters are always together and seem to be serving a lot of detentions.  Looks like they’re giving the Death Eaters hell.”
“Is Neville still with the Carrows all the time?”
“Not as much.”

Hermione sighed again and leaned into Harry’s shoulder.  He gently pulled the wand from her hand and wrapped his arm around her, enveloping her in warmth.  She felt anxious, her body aching to move, with the concern she had for her friends at Hogwarts.  So, it was a surprise when she opened her eyes later to find that she had fallen asleep.

And that Harry had, evidently, left her alone while he chased after a silvery doe in the trees. It was a surprise that he’d randomly discovered the Sword of Gryffindor in a frozen lake and that he’d had to be rescued when he dove down into the icy waters to retrieve it. 

Rescued by one Ronald Weasley who had somehow managed to find his way back to them. 

Her surprise was nothing compared to the surprise on Harry and Ron’s faces when they realized how absolutely furious she was at the red-headed cretin.  Ron’s only saving grace was that he’d saved Harry’s life.  Using the sword to destroy the blasted horcrux helped, too.  But only slightly.