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Rose Peta-Lorrum and the Crimson Caster

Chapter Text

Losha stepped off the train, which she’d come to think of more as a large metal contraption. When her foot touched solid ground, she sensed the presence of everyone around her. The scent of happiness and anticipation filled her being. It was soothing in a way, after being overwhelmed by the smells of the students confined to a small space inside a metal cage in which she had less visibility.

She picked through the smells to find two in particular. The first one reached her, and she thought of curling up in bed, of safety and comfort. She drifted closer to the smell, searching for Tutela.


Losha heard barking and smiled. Tutela ran at her, jumping around her and barking. Losha could smell the happiness coming off her, stronger than she’d ever smelled it.

The second smell reached her, and she didn’t need to hear her father’s voice to know it was him. She turned her face up to him, receiving a little correction from Tutela before he reached her and threw his arms around her.

She smelled tears, but couldn’t tell if they were hers or his. She nestled into her father, having never been happier to be with someone in her life.

Neither of them spoke to one another for a long time. They didn’t need to. They both understood that the other had missed them. For a moment, she remembered Moon, the girl who’d fallen in love with Toad, the girl whose father was still with her. Not many of the others could say that.

She had Tutela, and she had her father. She longed for Toad, but for a moment, she allowed herself to be happy with what she still had.

After a time, her father eased off and led her out of the station. Losha was happy to leave; the sounds and smells were overwhelming. So many people bustling about, thinking, talking, feeling, and she could sense it all. She could smell their joy, their fear, their lust, their anxiety, their anger. It all flooded her head, making it hard to focus on her father and Tutela. She’d missed them so much.

No one spoke about Toad. For a moment, she wondered if he’d really gone, but then it came crashing down on her. Screams, her screams, pleading him to get out. Her desperation as she struggled to get into Hogwarts and save him. She would never smell him again, never hear his voice, never feel his arms around her. His warmth that was so comforting. It was all gone.

Toad was gone.

Hermione explained the plan she’d worked out with Moon when her parents and she arrived home. She did so calmly, concisely, and respectfully. In spite of this, her parents were less than enthusiastic about the idea.

“Absolutely not!” her father roared.

Much less than enthusiastic.

“You’re not going back to that world!” her father shouted. “After everything, how could you even want to go back?”

“Responsibility,” Hermione replied, “and closure.”

“You’re not responsible for any of this,” her mum said. “Hermione, what happened wasn’t your fault.”

Hermione shook her head.

“That’s not what I mean. Point me to the other person that can find out what Rose left, the other person with a chance of taking on Slytherin, and I’d be happy to let them handle this. I’m 17, I’ll be 18 in a few months, and while that might not qualify me to make my own decisions, I will point out that I am capable of taking care of myself.”

“That’s the problem!” her father said. “It’s too much. You can’t go out on your own yet.”

“The only threat is safely inside Hogwarts,” Hermione said. “It can’t leave, otherwise it would’ve followed us.”

“What about Du— erm, McGonagall?” her mum asked. “The staff there can—”

“Moon and I are the only two that know anything about Slytherin.”

“The staff are in a better position to—” her father started.

“Moon, Ron, Skyeyes, Princess, Firecracker, Toad, and I were the only ones that saw Slytherin. The problem is, it’s got this thing about people knowing it exists. It has stayed hidden inside Hogwarts for centuries. Even after the Yule Ball, no one knew it existed, and Rose brought it as her date.”

“She what?” her mum asked.

“As far as I can tell, it edited itself out of everyone else’s mind, except for mine and Moon’s. I’ve got mind blank, so it can’t touch me, and Moon’s been spending the past year improving her defenses out of fear of it. Even with the basic Occlumency lessons the others had, it wasn’t enough to keep Slytherin out. It was four against two, and if Moon and I had spoken up— which she tried— they would’ve dismissed us. I tried correcting them afterward, and they don’t believe me. They think Moon’s not right in the head, and they think I’m still obsessed with Rose.”

“Aren’t you?” her dad asked, his eyes fixed on Reflectesalon, who Hermione had fastened to her clothes.

“I’m not!” Hermione shouted.

Her parents shifted in their seats, looking like they’d rather not be sitting so close to her.

“Don’t raise your voice like that,” her mum said. “Not to anyone, especially not us.”

“You’re not listening to me. Rose left something behind that I’m sure will help me stop Slytherin.”

“How do you know it’s a problem at all?” her mum asked. “What if… Slytherin doesn’t mean any harm?”

“It killed Toad!” Hermione shouted. “It tried to kill me!”

Her parents exchanged glances, then turned back to her.

“Hermione, I think—” her mum started.

“What? What do you think? That I’m mad! That I’m as unbalanced as Rose was? I know I’m right! Rose left something for me to find, something she wants me to find, and I’ve got to do it! If I don’t stop Slytherin, there’s no telling what it will do! It manipulated Rose into attacking us, to killing Professor Dumbledore and Septima! Every bad thing people think about her is because of Slytherin!”

“Slytherin made her break all those rules?” her dad asked, raising his voice again. “It made her get into trouble time and time again? It made her destroy school property, decide that another student could be trampled by some beast?”

“But that… what? How do you know about any of that?”

“Did you honestly think the staff didn’t write to us? That they haven’t let us know how you were doing? To warn us of how out of control Rose was? She was lucky you vouched for her every time, otherwise we never would’ve let her in the house.”

Hermione stood up from the table, knocking her chair over.

“I’m going to find out what it is,” she said, “and you’re not going to stop me.”

She stormed off to her room, refusing to look back. They couldn’t stop her. She was going to find whatever it was that Rose left her, find out what clues she left, and then she’d destroy Slytherin. It didn’t matter if her parents let her. She didn’t need their approval.

Losha stepped onto familiar land for the first time in almost two years. Her old home felt foreign, yet comforting and safe. Tutela remained by her side, keeping an eye out for trouble. Losha didn’t need her help; she was more than capable of taking care of herself.

Her father had a different idea in mind.

“Careful,” he said, taking her hand. “Here, I’ll help you to the front door.”

Losha received a fuzzy picture of her surroundings from the ground. A familiar image of her old home appeared in her head. Apart from suffering from ill repair, everything looked exactly the same as it had when she’d left.

“I can find my way,” she said, slipping her hand out of his.

Without faltering or stumbling, and through protest from her father, she found her way to the front door.

“See? I’ve been asking the ground where I am. There’s no need to worry.”

She smiled in his general direction.

“But what about when we’re inside? Surely you—”

“I’ll be fine.”

They went inside, and Losha drew a breath, taking in the familiar scent of home. Memories of her old life flashed in her mind. A time when she’d been helpless, but happy. Now she needed to take care of herself.

“Rose left something for Brain,” she told her father after he’d closed the door. “Something that will give us answers. I’m going to go with her to find out what it is.”

Her father didn’t say anything, but new smells filled the air. Concern, confusion, fear, doubt. They were all a little sour to her, made worse that they came from her father. She didn’t want him to worry. Between herself, Brain, and Tutela, they’d be fine.

“We’ll be alright,” she said.

“Luna, I just got you back,” her father said. “I don’t want you to leave again.”

“I’ll be back,” she said.

“You’re blind.”

“I have been while living in the forest. I can find my way.”

Her father walked around the front room. She moved her head to stay facing him.

“That’s brilliant,” he said at last. “How are you doing that?”

Losha moved her hair and pointed at the rune on her head.

“It’s from Mummy’s notes. It enhances my senses. I can hear and smell you.”

He walked over to her and stood in front of her.

“You’ll be safe.”

Losha nodded.

Her father put his arms around her, and she felt the love that so few of her other selves felt.

“You stay safe too,” she said, returning the hug. “I don’t want to lose you either.”

“You’re sure you’ll be alright?”

Losha smiled. Her father had so much faith in her. She’d never realized how much.

“I lost your mum. If anything happens to you…”

Tutela barked and wagged her tail.

“Tutela won’t let anything happen to me. I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time now. I know I’m blind, but I’ve been surviving in the forest that way for a year.”

Her father held her tighter, the scent of concern still abundant in the air.

“Promise me you’ll stay safe.”

Losha nodded.

“I promise.”

Hermione stepped out of the car and closed the door behind her. Her aunt and uncle’s house loomed over them, feeling more threatening than she felt it should have.

I’m putting everyone here at risk. If Slytherin comes after me, if it can leave Hogwarts, they’ll all die.

Worse than people getting caught in the crossfire was people sacrificing themselves for her. She couldn’t shake the feeling that Neville had done exactly that. Otherwise, why didn’t he leave Hogwarts? There were other exits he could’ve used. He hadn’t even tried. What good had it done? He could’ve saved himself.

She tried to shove it to the back of her mind and focus on what could possibly be her last family reunion. She didn’t know if or when she’d see any of them again. Her parents were right; there was every possibility that she’d die in the fight against Slytherin. There was no castle to hide inside anymore, no staff to protect her. She was sure the Order of the Phoenix would send someone to aide her if she asked, but they couldn’t spare anyone. They needed all hands to be on alert. Not that they knew that.

Her dad knocked on the door when they reached it. Her Uncle Paul answered it and greeted them all warmly.

Hermione walked inside to the noise of her extended family socializing. She had a nagging feeling that she didn’t belong among them. She was different, unique. As far as she could tell, no one else in her family could use magic.

“Hermione?” her uncle said.

“Sorry, were you saying something?”

“Would you mind talking to Estelle? She’s up in her room, and we can’t get her to come down.”

Hermione thought back to the last time she’d seen Estelle. Her own mind had been unraveling, and she’d been confined to her room. Estelle had ignored that and talked to her anyway, dragging Hermione out of the state in which she’d been stuck for weeks.

“Do you know why?” Hermione asked.

“Usual teenager stuff, I imagine.”

When did Estelle become a teenager? Wasn’t she eight the other day?

Hermione glanced at her parents. Both were still upset with her, and neither of them were budging. They did everything they could to keep her away from Ana, lest Hermione figure out the message and leave to pursue it.

“Erm… yeah, I’ll talk to her.”


Following the directions her uncle gave her, Hermione climbed the stairs leading to a landing overhead. Following the hall, she came upon a room marked as Estelle’s room, and knocked on the door.

“I’m not coming down, Dad!”

“I’m quite sure I’m not anyone’s dad.”


“May I please come in?”

She heard footsteps moving to the door, then the door unlocked.

Estelle opened the door then walked back to her bed. The room was small, and covered in posters with dragons, castles, and knights on them. Small figures lined a shelf near her bed.

“I don’t remember all this being here before.”

Estelle looked around he room.

“I’ve had these for years.” She picked up one of the figures from the shelf, carrying it gently. The figure was of a knight with a pearly white sword. When Estelle got closer, Hermione saw silver scales covering the knight’s body.

“Rose gave me one of her drawings of Bowie Uxmiirik,” Estelle said. “I sent it to one of Dad’s friends that makes these, and he made me this.”

Hermione nearly started laughing. Her cousin had tons of paraphernalia of knights and dragons, and it was all because of Rose.

“That’s brilliant,” Hermione said. “I’m glad you’ve found something in which you’re interested.”

Estelle smiled, barely containing her excitement, then returned the figure to its place.

“What about the rest of the Exalted?” Hermione asked.

Estelle’s enthusiasm vanished. She crossed her arms and sat on her bed.

“My parents don’t think it’s proper for a lady to be interested in any of this,” she said in a mocking tone of voice. “A lady’s supposed to be a princess, not a mage or a knight.”

“Princesses are always getting kidnapped,” Hermione said. “Well, my friend that we call Princess could talk her way out of it, and probably become best friends with her kidnappers once she got them to see the error of their ways, but most princesses can’t.”

“I know! Why would I want to sit around and be helpless?”

Hermione thought back on her own life. It felt a lot better to be the person saving everyone, rather than the person who always needed saving.

“I couldn’t agree more.” She sat down beside Estelle. “Is that why you’re up here instead of downstairs?”

Estelle folded her arms again.

“I want to take up archery,” she said. “Or martial arts, or fencing. Something I can use to defend myself. Mum and Dad won’t let me, so I’m not going downstairs until they do.”

Hermione nodded, understanding more than anyone there how it felt.

“Do they know this?” she asked. “Did you tell them that’s what you wanted?”

Estelle shook her head, and Hermione held back a condescending sigh.

“I don’t think that’s ever worked on my parents anyway,” she said. “Besides, don’t you need food?”

“I’ll figure it out.”

Hermione resisted the urge to roll her eyes.

“Try starting with self-defence,” she said. “That’s something everyone should know. If they’re anything like my parents, they’re worried about you all the time. Knowing that I can take care of myself puts my parents at ease… usually.”

“Whatever,” Estelle said. “Why isn’t Rose here? I thought she’d be with you.”

Hermione visibly sank on the bed, and ran through her prepared story in her head.

“She had to go back home.”

“Oh,” Estelle said, looking as bad as Hermione felt. “I was hoping she’d have another story. Or that I could hear another about Carolina. She’s my favorite.”

Hermione nodded, then snapped out of her stupor and processed Estelle’s words.

“When did she tell you a story about Carolina?”

“When your dad had his birthday, Rose visited me in the hotel. She told me more stories, and then said to make sure I talked to you when I was at your family’s house.”

For a moment, Hermione was back in Dumbledore’s office, having realized Rose had wanted to go to the ball with her. But it was worse; it hadn’t been good fortune that Estelle had pulled her out of her stupor, Rose had made sure of it. Even from miles away, Rose had been watching over her, thinking beyond her usual tactics for solving problems.


“I’m fine,” she said, wiping the tears that had started forming away. “I’m fine.”

“I didn’t mean—”

“You didn’t say anything wrong. When you saw me, I was at one of the lowest points in my life. Talking to you, it helped me a lot. Over the past year, I’ve been struggling with… never mind.”

“You can tell me,” Estelle said.

Hermione sized up her cousin. Dumbledore had told her that her feelings for Rose were grief. Even after realizing everything Rose had done amounted to a temper tantrum, Hermione still loved her. That, and something wasn’t sitting right with her. Once she and Luna followed Rose’s clue, they’d find the answer.

Still, admitting that she loved another woman wasn’t something she was in a hurry to do. The Magical World seemed to readily accept it, but the Muggle one was a far cry from accepting.

“Well… Rose was… is my best friend, and she means a lot to me. Now she’s gone, I might never see her again, and I’ll never get to tell her how I feel. Knowing she was working to help me, even when I didn’t know it…” Hermione smiled and wiped tears out of her eyes. “Thank you for telling me.”

Hermione leaned over and hugged her cousin.

“Sure. You’re my favorite cousin!” Estelle said.

“I think I can remember some of Rose’s stories. Would you like to hear one?”

Estelle looked as though she wanted nothing more.

Hermione eventually convinced Estelle to go downstairs, if only to get something to eat. Hermione herself avoided that topic, claiming she wasn’t hungry. As she’d feared, more and more people asked her about Rose. She kept herself calm as she lied about Rose.

The alternative is telling them that she died, and that won’t do any good. They’ll ask too many questions. This isn’t the Magical World where they accept everything you tell them without scrutiny.

She and Estelle stuck together during the party. Estelle was happy to be downstairs with Hermione; it gave her an excuse to ignore her parents.

“Nothing’s going to change if you don’t talk to them,” she said.

Estelle glowered at her, and Hermione backed off the subject.

It’d crossed Hermione’s mind that she should take her own advice and talk to her parents again. Neither side would budge, but she had a feeling they would if she could find the right argument. She hadn’t told them everything that had happened in Hogwarts. They knew Rose was dead, but Hermione had danced around the subject of how exactly Rose had died.

Talking about it won’t help. Rose is still dead, and I still killed her. Nothing can change that.

She felt a tap on her shoulder while she was once again spacing out thinking of Rose.

“Hermione,” Estelle said, “isn’t that Reflectesalon?”

Hermione wasn’t sure what surprised her more: that Estelle had noticed the clasp (no one else had mentioned it), or that she knew his name.

“Erm… yeah, it is. Rose gave him to me before she left.”

Estelle nodded, not sure what to make of it otherwise. She didn’t say anything about it though, which Hermione took as a kindness. She wasn’t in the mood to talk about anything that had happened that awful day.

After the party, Hermione rode back to her house in silence. She had an urge to dimension door home, but the idea that someone might be there, however remote such a possibility was, stopped her.

“Thank you for talking to Estelle,” her mum said. “I think you made a difference.”

Hermione smiled.

“She only wants someone to respect her opinion.”

“Your uncle told us,” her dad said. “Something about her wanting to learn to defend herself. It sounded like Rose’s influence has corrupted two members of our family.”

“I’m glad I’ve got such a great example of diplomacy in you, Dad.”

“So it wasn’t Rose that made Estelle think she had to fight back?”

“Archery is a respectable sport,” Hermione said. “Martial Arts would be a good thing for her too. It’s not like she’s trying to move to America and buy a gun. The world’s a dangerous place.”

“No, it’s not!”

“People attacked my school! The one place I was supposed to be safe, and the Death Eaters hit it in full force! This wasn’t some random attack or simple negligence, this was a planned invasion. People died! How can you say the world is safe when something like that can happen at any second?”

Her father started to raise his voice, but her mum cut in before he could.

“That’s enough! Both of you! We’re going to sit in total silence until we are all back in our house.”

True to her mum’s words, no one spoke until they’d all gotten inside and shut the door.

“I told you that the heads of house killed Rose,” Hermione said. “I… I lied.”

Her parents froze.

“But then… Hermione, is she still alive?” her mum asked.

Hermione shook her head, tears falling down her face. She couldn’t hold back sobs as it hit her again that Rose was dead, and it was her fault.

“I killed Rose.”

She covered her face, tears falling through her fingers. Everything felt as though it were crumbling.

Her mum wrapped her arms around Hermione and squeezed her. Hermione felt safe in her mother’s arms, a strange feeling after everything else that had happened.

“I’m sorry, sweetheart,” her mum whispered.

Hermione nodded her understanding, but couldn’t stop herself from crying.

“I’m not an idiot,” Hermione said through her sobs. “I know it’s dangerous. I watched Rose kill Septima. She turned to dust while I sat there and did nothing. Professor Snape’s last words were urging me to help. Professor Dumbledore’s dead. Toad is dead! I know I could end up like them, but I can take care of myself. So can Moon! She took down Bellatrix Lestrange, the worst of the lot, by herself. We’ll be fine, I promise.”

“There must be someone—” her dad began.

“There’s no one else! It’s only us, that’s it! We’ve got to do it. We can do it! I know we can.” She looked into her father’s eyes. “Please. Rose was my best friend. I owe it to her to find what she left me.”

“Rose tried to kill you,” her dad said.

“She’s the one that convinced Estelle to check on me back when I was stuck in my room. If she hadn’t, I might never have gotten better. Even through all of that, Rose knew she had to help. She did help! I can’t believe that she’d turn on us, on me, over anything so petty as jealousy. Never mind Moon or Toad. She’d just grumble or snap at Ron if she’d been jealous of him, but this was all too much.”

Her mother held her in her arms while she continued to cry. Her father kept up his stern exterior, but inside, she could tell he was crumbling. She was getting through to him.

“I knew Rose better than anyone. Something’s not right. I know it. I want… no, I need to find out what happened to her, what really happened. I don’t want to run away.”

“We appreciate that you’re still arguing your point instead of doing just that,” her mum said.

“It might get worse,” her dad added. “People might come after you. If this Slytherin is as resourceful as you make it out to be, I doubt it’s going to stand by and do nothing.”

“It chased Moon out of Hogwarts because she knew something. I’ve no doubt it’s going to, but Rose was clever about it. Probably too clever, knowing her, but so long as we don’t attract attention to ourselves, we should be alright.”

“You’ll send us some word to tell us how you’re doing,” her dad said.

“I’ll try.”

“You won’t go looking for trouble beyond what’s necessary.”

“I never go looking for trouble, it goes looking for me.”

Her mum held her tighter, and Hermione knew she’d been given permission.

“Thank you,” she said.

“Stay safe,” her mum whispered. “Please.”

“I will.”

Hermione wished she could promise with certainty that she’d be alright, but she didn’t know for sure. Moon would be with her, so she knew they’d look out for each other. That would have to be enough.

Chapter Text

When Harry stepped off the train, the Dursleys were not there to meet him. They’d received notice of the events that had transpired, specifically in regard to Voldemort’s death. No more Voldemort meant no reason to stay at the Dursleys’ house anymore. The protections on it only worked against Voldemort, so far as anyone knew.

This being the case, it was Sirius waiting for him at the station.

“Oh good,” Harry said, “you remembered.”

“Well, I was thinking of going out with Moony, but I thought I’d see you off the train first.”

Harry and Sirius smirked at one another, then left the station.

Sirius unlocked the door when they got to his flat, then led the way inside. It was a bit of a mess, but he didn’t seem to care. Nor did Harry; he cleared a space for himself and sat down.

“It’s hard to believe he’s really gone,” Sirius said. “It seems like He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named has always been looming over us.”

“He wasn’t gone last time,” Harry said. “How do we know he is this time?”

“His Death Eaters are gone,” Sirius said. “Most of them were found dead inside Hogwarts, so even if he isn’t, that will be a crippling blow. Malfoy called in the Ministry, which was unlike him. It seems there’s no one left. Besides, he was turned to dust, wasn’t he?”

Harry thought back to the previous night. He could see it clearly in his head. Hermione trying to stop Rose, Rose nearly killing her, Neville stepping in to stop her. Neville turning to dust. Voldemort coming in, Rose turning on him. A green flash from Voldemort, a green ray from Rose, and they were both dead.

Yet, the brief conversations they’d had with Hermione since suggested that’s not what she’d seen. That nagged at the back of Harry’s mind, but he dismissed it as best he could. Hermione had been fond of Rose, perhaps too fond of her. She never thought clearly when it came to Rose, so it was no wonder she refused to believe any of it.


Harry snapped back to the present and looked at Sirius, who was staring at him.

“You in there?”

“Of course.”

“I was saying what you wanted to do for the summer, now that we don’t need to worry about keeping you safe from you-know-who.”

“Voldemort.” Sirius flinched when Harry said the name. “He’s gone, so we don’t have to be afraid of him.”

“Right. Anyway, what do you want to do?”

“The Weasleys will want me to stay with them for part of the summer of course. I’d like to check on Sally-Anne sometime to see how she’s doing. Rose killing Malfoy really shook her up.”

“What for? He was a pompous little—”

“Probably, but she liked him, so there must’ve been something to him.”

Harry still didn’t understand why she liked him. Draco Malfoy had been nothing but rude and insulting to him since they’d met. Still, if there were anyone who could make him see the error of his ways, it was Sally-Anne. From what she’d said, he’d refused to work with the Death Eaters, and that was something.

“Today, I’d like to relax,” Harry said. “After everything that’s happened, I need some time.”

Sirius looked him over, then nodded.

“One thing first,” Harry said, leaning forward. “What did you do to Professor Snape that made him hate you so much?”

Sirius glanced around, suddenly wanting to look anywhere except at Harry.

“He’s dead. What does it matter?”

“He died saving us from Rose. He specifically put himself in harm’s way to protect Hermione. We fought off Pettigrew together, so—”

Harry’s voice trailed off as something occurred to him.

“What happened to Pettigrew? Did they find him?”

“They found his body. He was dead, like most of the Death Eaters. Him, the Carrows, Fenrir Greyback… Bellatrix Lestrange was the only one they found alive, but she was paralyzed. Someone had broken her spine. When they told her… Voldemort was dead, that Rose had killed him, she bit through her own tongue and bled out.”

“That was Luna that broke her spine,” Harry said.

Sirius stared at him in disbelief.

“Luna Lovegood?”

“Yup. Neville watched her do it. She took on Lestrange single-handed.”

Sirius continued to stare at him.

“Luna Lovegood?” he said again.

“Who killed Pettigrew?” Harry asked, ignoring him. “He was alive when Professor Snape, Remus, and I left him. So…”

It didn’t take long for the answer to reach him. Who else could it have been? Who else would’ve gone around and killed Death Eaters for fun?

“Rose,” Harry said. “She must’ve disposed of them for fun. She either didn’t get to Lestrange, or wanted to watch her suffer.”

Harry thought back to seeing Rose drag Ginny to Hogwarts. His friend still had scars and a deformed face from where Rose had beaten her. Ginny would never look the same, despite Madame Pomfrey’s best efforts. He hoped Ginny remembered that there was nothing wrong with her, although her new tendency to keep her hair over her face said otherwise.

“She always was sadistic,” Harry muttered to himself.

“Anyway,” Sirius said. “Plans for today?”

“Relax and talk about anything except last night,” Harry said. “Like what you did to make Snape hate you.”

Sirius looked around again, likely for a distraction. Harry kept his eyes fixed on Sirius, letting him know there was no escaping it this time.

“I… when Moony started at Hogwarts, they planted the Whomping Willow. He’d go to it before he’d transform, poke the paralyzing knot with a stick, then go into the Shrieking Shack where he could stay safe from everyone else.”

“Okay,” Harry said, getting an idea of where this was going.

“Your dad, Pettigrew, and I all worked out how to transform later in our Hogwarts careers, and we started going with him. James and I were big enough to handle him if he lost it, so we’d wander the grounds at night instead.”

“With a werewolf.”

“Nothing bad happened. Like I said, James and I kept him in check. Well, Snivelus—”

“Never call him that again.”

Sirius paused, eyeing him as if he’d lost his mind.

“Alright. Anyway, Sniv— erm, Snape wanted to know what we were doing every night. I told him about the tree and the knot, so he went in one night while Remus was there.”

“While a werewolf was transforming.”

Harry tapped his fingers, trying not to sound angry with his godfather.

“James found out about it, and pulled him out before he got too close.”

Harry stared at Sirius, who, to his credit, didn’t look pleased about it.

“You tried to kill him!”

“Remus was fine then. I knew it—”

“He was a werewolf! He could’ve attacked Snape, or worse, bitten him! How were you not expelled?!”

Despite asking the question, Harry was certain Rose had done worse and not been expelled. Still, his anger prompted him to say something about it.

“Dumbledore didn’t want it getting out about Remus being a werewolf. He made everyone keep quiet about it. I was given detention for the rest of the year as punishment.”

“Good,” Harry said, knowing Sally-Anne would’ve been chewing Sirius out had she been there. Part of him wanted to make Sirius feel small and ashamed. Snape had given his life protecting Hermione, not to mention helping Harry. He deserved better than that.

“I’m not proud of what I did,” Sirius said. “Really, I’m not.”

Harry nodded, not believing the words, but the look on Sirius’s face.

“Let’s go do something else,” he said, standing up. “Something to put this all behind us.”

“I’d like nothing more,” Sirius said.

It wasn’t long before the funerals started. Sally-Anne felt like she was drifting back and forth between them. The first was held for Neville, which was by far the smallest. It wasn’t because of him in particular, but because of the others she attended, all of which were helpfully planned around one another.

Fortunately, both Hermione and Luna attended. It was hard for her to tell what Luna was thinking; she didn’t make much sound, and her eyes remained unfocused. She sat near the front, a position Professor Sprout had insisted she have. Sally-Anne hadn’t spoken much with Neville lately, something she was regretting most of all, but she was a little surprised to see his gran with Luna. His gran was almost hostile towards her. It occurred to her that his gran might have blamed Luna for it.

No one made mention of how he died, which was good, because every time someone approached the subject, Hermione would glare at them. It made Sally-Anne more than a little uncomfortable, but still, she had to approach her about it. She knew she had to if there was to be a chance that Hermione return to normal.

His gran got up and spoke, as did Professor Sprout. Sally-Anne hoped one of their friends would, Luna in particular, even if Neville’s gran didn’t approve of her. She’d known him better than anyone. The way they’d been around one another, Sally-Anne thought that there’d been a chance they’d continue to be together after Hogwarts. But it had been stolen away from them, by Rose of all people. Just like she’d stolen Ron’s chance with Lavender, and her chance with Draco. That was all she seemed to do anymore, take and take.

After the service, Sally-Anne glanced back at Hermione, trying to keep an eye on her before she missed her. Hermione got up and walked forward, heading straight towards Luna.

“Hermione,” Sally-Anne said, but Hermione ignored her, making her way to Luna’s side.

Sally-Anne walked forward to say her piece, but stopped when Luna fell into Hermione’s arms, sobbing uncontrollably. Hermione held her close, burying her face in Luna’s hair. Sally-Anne caught a glimpse of tears and knew it was best if she left it. She’d have plenty more chances.

She didn’t see any of her friends at the next funeral. She’d been surprised to receive an invitation, and was still a little concerned about it, but she had to be there.

Her parents insisted on accompanying her to Draco’s funeral. At least a hundred people were there, all smartly dressed, looking like they’d never known a day of hardship in their lives. People stared at her when they arrived, making her feel horribly out of place. She held her hands in front of her. One of them began to itch, like something was stuck on it, something that wouldn’t come off.

Mr. Malfoy glanced away from the man with whom he was speaking and spotted them. He excused himself from the Minister and made his way down the aisle of chairs to them.

“Ms. Perks,” he said, looking right at her. “I’m glad you could make it.”

“I must confess, I was surprised to receive an invitation.”

Malfoy motioned for her and her parents to follow him, leading the way farther and farther down the aisle. He finally stopped near the front and motioned to a row of seats that had been reserved.

“Make yourselves comfortable,” he said.

“We are very sorry for your loss,” her mum said.

Malfoy nodded, giving nothing away on his face.

Before they could settle in, the man with whom Malfoy had been speaking approached them and extended his hand in greeting.

“Rufus Scrimgeour,” he said, shaking her dad’s hand, then bowing respectfully to both she and her mum. “You must be Sally-Anne Perks. I’ve heard a great deal about you and your friends.”

“Good things, I hope,” Sally-Anne said, knowing she had both friends and enemies at the Ministry of Magic.

“Thanks to all of you, there were no more unfortunate casualties at Hogwarts.”

“Yes, there was,” she said. “His name was Neville Longbottom.”

Through the haze of emotion, she swore she saw him glance nervously at her mum.

“Of course. I meant to say there were so few unfortunate casualties.”

Sally-Anne opened her mouth to respond, but her dad cut in.

“Best stop while you’re ahead, Mr. Scrimgeour,” he said. “We’re talking about people at the start of their lives. Two is far too many, not to mention the staff. Our Sally-Anne was friends with all of them.”

“Of course. My condolences, of course.”

He glanced away, then excused himself and walked off.

Few people took it upon themselves to approach them. It didn’t surprise her; they were Muggles among the Pureblood elite. She was surprised so many people tolerated them being there. Almost as surprised as she was that Draco’s parents weren’t accusing her of turning him against them. She deserved it; he was dead, and it was all her fault.

Sally-Anne tried to corner Hermione at Professor Vector’s funeral, but once again, Hermione made a quick escape. She was never with her parents, only ever on her own. Sally-Anne figured there was a reason for that, but had yet to have the chance to ask.

She was the same at Professor Snape’s funeral. Sally-Anne was glad to see not only the staff of Hogwarts in attendance, but Harry and Sirius. Sirius looked like he’d rather have been anywhere else, but Harry looked somber and remorseful. It made her glad to see that he’d forgiven Professor Snape for his past problems. Professor McGonagall gave a moving eulogy, one full of respect and dignity, just the way Sally-Anne thought Professor Snape would’ve liked it. Although, she was also sure he would’ve appreciated at least one or two quick jabs at Gryffindor.

After that was the big one. All of Hogwarts, students, staff, and parents, attended Professor Dumbledore’s funeral, which itself was held on the grounds. It seemed like half of England was there for it. She saw the Minister of Magic once again, but chose not to approach him unless he did so first. Luna and Hermione were there, sitting side by side. All of the Weasleys were there, along with every living member of the Order of the Phoenix.

Sally-Anne spotted a few open seats she suspected had been left open, one row behind the Weasleys (who themselves took up an entire row).

“Hello, Alex,” she said, trying to smile.

Alex looked up and smiled at her, something Sally-Anne could tell was harder than she made it seem.

“Princess. I’m sorry I’ve missed the others, but everything happened so fast.”

“I’m sure Neville would understand, and I’m sure one more Gryffindor would’ve only upset Professor Snape.”

Alex smiled, which looked only slightly forced, then motioned to the empty seats beside her.

“I saved you some seats. I hope you don’t mind.”

Ron turned around, seizing his chance to speak.

“I figured you’d want to sit among friends.”

Sally-Anne smiled, knowing that it wasn’t only he that had had that idea. She was happy all the same to be among friends, as he’d said.

Rufus Scrimgeour was the first to speak. He rattled off Dumbledore’s accomplishments, making him sound quite grand. Professor McGonagall spoke afterwards, struggling to hold back tears. It was jarring to see her like that. She must’ve been the strongest person Sally-Anne knew, yet there she was, moved to tears by the loss of her friend.

Everything after that was a whirlwind, but Sally-Anne forced herself to stay focused, not on the people speaking, but on Hermione. She was determined to speak to her, to convince her to let it all go.

After the funeral, Hermione stayed beside Luna. The two of them were oddly composed, but Sally-Anne didn’t stop to think about why. She made her way straight to them, and sat down behind them.


“Her name’s Brain,” Luna said absentmindedly.

“Fine, Brain. Please talk to me.”

“What do you want?” Hermione asked, turning to face her.

“You’ve been avoiding me. I want to make sure you’re alright, that you’re not about to run off on some wild adventure for no reason.”

Hermione shook her head.

“I’d explain, but you’ll only think that’s exactly what I’m doing, or that it’s some sort of post-traumatic stress.”

“I’ve been through a lot too,” Sally-Anne said, rubbing her wrist. “Believe me, you’re not the only one suffering.”

“How could you think I think that? I know I’m not. Look around, there are hundreds of people here.”

“Every funeral we’ve been to had one thing in common: Rose was the cause.”

Hermione gripped the back of her seat until her knuckles turned white.

“Not all of them,” she hissed.

Sally-Anne could tell she was losing ground, but she was getting closer to her answer.

“Which one?”

“Toad’s,” Luna and Hermione said together.

Sally-Anne looked from one to the other. Apart from Luna not looking anywhere in particular, neither of them seemed unsure of that. In fact, it looked as though they’d never believed anything more strongly.

“We saw her do it.”

Hermione and Luna stood up, apparently finished with their conversation.

“No,” Hermione said as she walked off. “You only remember that she did it.”

Sally-Anne woke up early one summer morning. She got ready, then prepared breakfast for herself and her parents.

“Good morning,” her mum said, entering the kitchen before the sun had risen.

“I thought I’d heard you moving about,” Sally-Anne said. “You’re up early, even for you.”

“Busy day,” her mum said.


“I decided I’d be a train conductor today,” her mum said. “I’ve never conducted a train before.”

Sally-Anne couldn’t tell if her mum was joking or not, but served her breakfast all the same.

“Are you going to the Weasleys today?” her mum asked, though Sally-Anne was certain she knew the answer.

“That’s the plan. A few days out in the country would be lovely.”

“Are you going to bring your gloves?”

Sally-Anne shifted on her feet, then straightened up.

“Before you conjure some lie,” her mum said, “I noticed your hands a week ago.”

Sally-Anne looked down at her hands. She’d been wearing gloves almost since she’d gotten back. How had her mum noticed? Worse, if her mum had noticed, would Harry?

“How did you know?”

“I’ve got my ways,” her mum replied.

“Which are terribly boring once you know what they are,” her dad said, walking into the kitchen, yawning. “Isn’t it still early?”

“Not early enough to spoil things,” her mum said. “I’ve got work.”

“She’s gonna be a train conductor,” Sally-Anne added. “Rather exciting.”

She and her mum exchanged a quick glower. They didn’t fight, certainly not like Hermione and her parents, but there were times they got on each other’s nerves.

“If you ever want to talk about it,” her dad said, “you can always come to us. You know that.”

Sally-Anne nodded, then motioned to the eggs she’d prepared.

“Would you like some breakfast?”

Her dad glanced at her mum, then smiled at Sally-Anne.

“I suppose I’m up, and I won’t get to walk into the kitchen and smell some delicious food for a few days, so yes, I’d love some.”

Sally-Anne happily served her dad breakfast, which he mostly ate in silence. After her mum finished, she organized a few more things before running out the door.

“I meant what I said,” her dad said after her mum had left. “You don’t have to talk about any of it until you’re ready, but please don’t let it build up inside you. It’ll only make the pain worse.”

Sally-Anne looked down at her hands, knowing her dad didn’t mean the damage she was doing to herself. At least, not entirely.

“Let’s head off to the Burrow,” he said, getting up from the table and bringing his dishes to the sink. “I think the countryside will be good for you. I doubt anyone apart from Mrs. Weasley will be awake by now anyway, and talking to her always seems to cheer you up.”

She smiled and agreed. She gathered her belongings, ensuring once again that she had everything she needed for the next few days. When she reached for her pendant, she stopped. Did she really need it? It was a gift from Rose, although it was hard for her to remember that it was the same person that had mercilessly killed Neville, Draco, and Dumbledore. She’d seemed so different back then.

Her hand moved up to her hair, and she realized that she’d already tied her ribbon into her hair. On top of that, she’d already put on her dress, which was just about the only thing she ever wore anymore.

People wouldn’t like me without them. Draco wouldn’t have liked me without them.

After that, she finished gathering up her things, including her pendant, then met her dad at the front door. Not long after that, they arrived at the Burrow.

“You know the drill,” her dad said. “Call us if there’s trouble, and your mum will arrive with a train.”

Sally-Anne smiled, happy for her dad’s humor.

“Is she really driving a train?”

“How should I know?” he asked. “She might be.”

Sally-Anne smiled, nearly laughing, then kissed her dad goodbye and walked up to the door.

Sure enough, Mrs. Weasley greeted her at the door and informed her that the others were still asleep.

“I’m still preparing breakfast,” she said. “I think I heard Ron and Harry moving around upstairs, so they’ll be down soon.”

Ten minutes later, there were shuffling feet on the stairs, so Sally-Anne went to wash up. She closed the door, went to the sink, then took off one of her gloves.

Her hands were still red.

She turned on the water then put her hand under it. It wasn’t hot enough. It never was anymore; she could still feel Draco’s blood on her hands. She could feel it on her.

She scrubbed her hands, wincing when the water felt hotter. She kept it up until Ron knocked at the door.

“Are you alright?”

She turned off the water.

“I’m fine!”

She dried her hands, but she could still feel it. She was soaked in blood, but she knew how to hide it. Picking up her gloves, she slid them back over her hands. She checked herself in the mirror, then pressed her dress and stood up straight.

Manners, elocution. A lady mustn’t let on that anything’s wrong. Everything’s fine.

She opened the door and smiled politely at Ron.

“Are you alright?” he asked. “You were in there a while.”

“Everything’s splendid,” she said, resisting the urge to rub her wrist. “Shall we sit down for breakfast?”

They walked through together. Sally-Anne noticed Ron was avoiding eye contact. Was he alright?

“Is everything alright, Ron?” she asked. “Did you sleep well?”

“Fine,” he said, his ears turning red. “Everything’s fine.”

They sat down to eat, alongside Harry and Ginny. Mrs. Weasley walked around the kitchen, levitating plates and food over to the table. Mr. Weasley was walking around, gathering his belongings.

“It’s nice to see everyone,” he said, “but I’m afraid I’ve got to run. It’s been busy at work lately.”

I know that shouldn’t sound ominous, Sally-Anne thought as she watched him run out the door.

Several owls flew through the window. They swooped down, depositing letters in front of Harry, Ron, Ginny, and Sally-Anne.

“Those must be your supply lists,” Mrs. Weasley said. “Brilliant. We can all go to Diagon Alley tomorrow and buy supplies.”

Sally-Anne opened hers, still amazed that the owls knew she would be at the Burrow. She had her supply list, but something else dropped out. A shiny badge with an H on it landed with a soft thud on the table.

Mrs. Weasley gasped as a similar badge slid out of Ron’s envelope.

Sally-Anne didn’t need to read the letter to know what it was; she’d been familiar enough with most of the people at Hogwarts, so she recognized the Head Girl badge.

“Ron!” Mrs. Weasley exclaimed. “You’ve been made Head Boy!”

Mrs. Weasley threw her arms around Ron. Ron himself looked how Sally-Anne felt: quite unsure of what to make of the situation.

Sally-Anne started to look over her supply list, but Mrs. Weasley turned her attention to Sally-Anne.

“And Sally-Anne! You’ve been made Head Girl, oh, how splendid!”

Sally-Anne found herself in a bear hug from Mrs. Weasley. Despite the hug that threatened to strangle her, she still had the same numb feeling she’d had whenever anyone mentioned Hogwarts. She’d still be going back, but there’d be no Hermione, Luna, Neville, or Draco.

It didn’t feel like she was going back. It felt like a different school. No Potions class with Professor Snape looming over them, scrutinizing Gryffindor unfairly. No Hermione obsessing over Arithmancy with Professor Vector. No Professor Dumbledore sitting at the staff table in complete control of every situation, a permanent look of interest on his face.

No Draco to talk to during rounds. No Draco to scoff at her. No Draco to blush and glower at something when she complemented him. No Draco to make her proud.

“Princess?” Ron asked. “Are you alright?”

Sally-Anne looked up, realizing that Mrs. Weasley had released her, and that everyone was staring at her. She also realized that she was crying.

Dabbing at her tears, she straightened herself in her chair.

“Fine, thank you,” she said, hoping Ron would take the hint and not ask about it.

He looked at her for a moment, then returned to his own supply list.

“At least Professor McGonagall is taking over,” Harry said, reading the list. “And Potions will be taught be someone called Slughorn.”

“Oh, Professor Slughorn’s nice,” Mrs. Weasley said. “He taught Potions when Arthur and I were in school. I’m surprised they got him out of retirement. I’d heard he was absolutely refusing to come back.”

“Professor Lupin’s back teaching Defence Against the Dark Arts,” Ron said. “I guess they finally broke the curse on the position. If that’s not proof You-Know-Who’s really gone, I don’t know what is.”

“They’ve got a Professor Kemra to teach Alchemy,” Harry said. “And Professor Rix to teach Arithmancy.”

“I half expected them to have hired Hermione for it,” Ron said.

“She could if she wanted to,” Ginny said. “Brain’s brilliant at Arithmancy.”

A silence fell over the room. They all had the same question on their minds, but no one wanted to ask it, fearing they knew the answer.

“Has anyone heard from her?” Harry asked. “Neither she nor Luna answer when I ask them anything.”

They all exchanged glances, confirming each other’s suspicions.

“We can walk to Moon’s house,” Ginny suggested. “She’s not far.”

Sally-Anne liked the idea of checking in on them, Luna especially. Neville’s death had hit her harder than any of them. Sally-Anne could still see Hermione and Luna holding one another at his funeral, breaking down in one another’s arms.

“What were they going on about?” Ron asked. “Trying to say Rose didn’t kill him. We all saw it.”

“Hermione’s just…” Sally-Anne began. “You know how she is when it comes to Rose. She won’t hear anything bad about her. I’m surprised she tried fighting back at all.”

“But we saw it happen,” Ron said, pressing the subject. “All of us. Rose killed him.”

“I think that’s quite enough about that!” Mrs. Weasley said, glaring at her son. “I’ll have no more talk about death in this house. We’re all safe. Let’s look to the future, not the past.”

She shot them all stern looks that insisted they drop the subject. Sally-Anne didn’t see why Ron was bothering. Even after Rose had killed Lavender, Hermione still wouldn’t hear a bad word about her. It wasn’t until after Rose had killed Professor Vector that Hermione had finally woken up to it.

That still left the question about why Hermione seemed to refuse to accept that Rose had killed Neville. Both her and Luna. Through the brief conversations they’d had since then, Sally-Anne had gleamed that Hermione believed that Rose had killed Professor Vector, even Professor Dumbledore, but not Neville.

“Who’s taking over Gryffindor?” Harry asked, changing the subject. “Does anyone know?”

While he asked it to them in general, his focus was on Ron.

Ron opened his letter again and looked over it. Sally-Anne did the same, but Ron found it first.

“Professor Lupin,” he said with a grin. “It says Sally-Anne and I are to report to him for Prefect duties.”

They exchanged smiles, each one delighted at the news. Sally-Anne enjoyed it especially. She needed good news after the somber topic of Hermione and Luna.

After they left the kitchen, Ron found himself absorbed in his thoughts yet again. Everyone insisted that the trouble was over, that there was nothing to fear. Yet, there were so many unanswered questions about Hermione and Luna.

Why didn’t they believe that Rose had killed Neville? Why wouldn’t they go back inside Hogwarts? Why weren’t they returning that year? Why wouldn’t they respond to anything anyone said to them?

Ron wanted to go ask them, or at least ask Luna, but he wondered if they’d get anything out of her. Perhaps Sally-Anne could. If anyone could get someone to talk, it was her. She was the only one to have gotten anything more out of Hermione.

No. You only remember that she did it.

Sally-Anne had told him that those were Hermione’s exact words. What did that mean? Of course they remembered it, because it had happened.

Ron walked outside with the others. The sun shone down through a few clouds. A cool breeze kept them from getting too hot. To anyone else, it would’ve been a day to forget one’s troubles.

“It still doesn’t make sense,” Ron muttered.

“We’ll probably never have the answers,” Harry said. “Hermione’s obsessed with Rose, and doesn’t want to accept that she killed Neville. That’s it.”

“It’s probably some sort of post-traumatic stress,” Sally-Anne said.

“Then why not with Professor Vector?” Ron asked. “Why only Neville?”

“Who knows?” Harry asked. “Drop it, okay?”

Harry’s eyes darted towards Ginny, who had found something interesting on the ground. At least, that’s what Ron would’ve thought a few years ago. He could tell it was upsetting his sister to talk about Rose.

Of course, it is. Why wouldn’t it be?

He looked at Sally-Anne, hoping she would have something to say to cheer Ginny up. It ate away at him that no matter how hard he tried, he always managed to say the wrong thing.

You made a mistake, Sally-Anne would’ve said. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

She wasn’t saying anything out loud. Instead, she stared off into the distance, her thoughts miles away. Ron wondered if she were thinking about Draco again.

It’s what I did when Lav died.

He hated seeing it still, but he knew Sally-Anne would see the same thing now when she closed her eyes. She’d see Draco dying in her arms, his blood covering her.

What was on her mind? Why did she keep rubbing her hands together? Had she hurt them? She had spent a bit too long washing up. Was she alright? Could he help her?

The flurry of questions kept him disconnected from reality. It was hard to stay focused when there was so much he wanted to know.

“Why don’t we go sit down?” Harry asked, apparently the only one still present.

The others snapped out of their respective stupors and gave some indication of agreement. Together, they walked over to a tree and sat down in the grass.

“Has anyone any ideas about what to do?” he asked when they’d sat down.

“About what?” Ron asked.

“Nothing, just what to do today?”

“Oh.” Ron stared out at the field. He didn’t feel like doing anything. They didn’t have enough for Quidditch, not with only three players. Besides, he didn’t want to leave Sally-Anne out of it.

“What about Quidditch?” Sally-Anne asked, somewhat to Ron’s surprise.

“What about you?” Ron asked a little louder than he’d intended.

“I’ll be alright,” she said, smiling at him.

He felt a little embarrassed, but with her smile, it didn’t matter. Seeing her smile, he wanted to laugh.

“I could stay here,” Ginny said quietly.

“Please, go have fun,” Sally-Anne said.

“It’ll be a good break,” Harry said.

Sally-Anne shook her head.

“No, it will be a splendid way to start our new, boring lives.”

Chapter Text

Hermione’s head spun from the funerals she’d attended. She was glad no one had talked about the way Neville had died; she wasn’t sure she had the restraint necessary to stop herself from speaking out. Any word about it could get them all killed, while she stayed safely outside of Hogwarts.

She didn’t want her parents with her at any of them. It was easier to keep using dimension door or teleport to get around than sit in a confined space for hours on end. Besides, everyone kept arriving by flu powder or apparition anyway, so she wasn’t out of place. It also gave her time to be alone, something she wanted more than anything.

She wanted to speak about Neville, but she knew she couldn’t do it without mentioning Rose. Everyone thought it was the ultimate sign that she’d abandoned them, that she was blind where Rose was concerned, but Hermione knew better. She knew Rose wasn’t evil, that she’d never kill Hermione, Luna, or Neville.

There was a break the next day, likely the day they were holding Malfoy’s funeral. She wondered if Sally-Anne would go. She hoped so; Sally-Anne had cared so much about him.

She took the opportunity to look in on Luna. Luna had been a complete mess during Neville’s funeral, which was no surprise. Hermione wished he’d run, that he’d done whatever was necessary to get out of Hogwarts alive. Most of all, she wished she hadn’t put up a fight to stay behind. If she hadn’t, maybe they all could’ve gotten out alive. Maybe Neville would’ve joined them on their quest. Of course, if he had, she would’ve had to have put up with them making eyes at each other the entire time.

Luna was no better the next day. When Hermione got there, Luna insisted that they sit outside.

“I miss his smell. I’ll never smell him again, and I think that’s the hardest part.”

Hermione struggled to smile, forcing herself to be strong for Luna. She needed it most of all.

“Brain, are you alright?”

Hermione smiled at her, suddenly overcome with warmth.

“I think I miss Rose calling me Brain. And… and her stupid smile.” She wiped away her own tears. “And the stupid way she’d hug me when she got excited. Or how she’d bounce up and down, being too happy for any one person. Like she had to share it with someone or she’d burst.”

By the time she’d finished, Hermione was choking out words through sobs. Luna slid closer to her and the girls held one another, the pair of them crying a river.

“We’re the only ones that know the truth,” Hermione said. “You and me. We’ve got to stick together, okay?”

“Why? Were you planning not to?”

In spite of everything, a small laugh escaped Hermione’s lips. Good old Luna.

“Why don’t we have a funeral for Rose?” Luna asked. “I think she’d be happy we’re thinking of her.”

Hermione pulled out of the hug and nodded, struggling to smile again.

“I think that’d be nice.”

If anything was harder than Neville’s funeral, or the small memorial for Rose, it was Septima’s funeral. Once again, Hermione spotted Sally-Anne in the crowd, and resolved to avoid her. She couldn’t talk to her, not yet. She had too much on her mind, like what to say about Septima.

She’d offered to speak, being closer with her than any other student, but it was so hard to find the words, especially considering it’d been Rose that had killed her. It’d been because of Hermione that Septima had died.

She drifted in and out of her own thoughts while other people spoke. Once again, Professor McGonagall was present and spoke well of Septima. Everyone did. It was how Hogwarts was.

When it was Hermione’s turn to go up and speak, she still didn’t know what she was going to say. She wished she were better with words so she could do Septima justice. So that’s what she said.

“I’m no good with words. Maths was always a talent of mine, and Septima saw it right away. She took me under her wing in my first year at Hogwarts, and… I couldn’t have gotten half as far as I have without her. She was always vouching for me, always looking out for me. She… she used to say that I’d probably have her job before I graduated, or that I was going to change the world.”

Hermione wiped the tears away, giving up on the possibility of maintaining any semblance of composure.

“I’ll never forget her. She changed my life more than nearly anyone else at Hogwarts.”

Her and Rose.

“She was a brilliant woman who truly cared about me.”

And she died because of it.

Hermione couldn’t say anything more after that. She lost her composure, but Professor McGonagall found her way to Hermione’s side.

“That was wonderful, Ms. Granger. Septima would be proud of you, even now.”

“It’s all my fault,” Hermione said.

“Nonsense. You didn’t kill her, nor could you have done anything about Peta-Lorrum.”

Hermione opened her mouth to respond, but chose against it, instead allowing herself to be escorted back to her seat. No one knew the truth, nor could they ever know the truth. Not until Slytherin was dealt with. Not until Hermione had found what Rose had left her.

Losha grew accustomed to seeing Brain. It was nice having a sister again. At least, that was how it felt.

She couldn’t go a day without thinking of Toad, nor of waking up and not panicking.

She’d forget when she woke up, struggle to find ground so she could get her bearings, then relax when she remembered she was in her bed.

On this particular night, she decided she was tired of sitting around and doing nothing. She kicked off the covers, then rolled around until she fell off and onto the floor. That was an improvement, but not good enough. She still longed for the forest floor, for the fresh air and scent of the woods. For a bed of grass and leaves, rather than fabric and fluff. For the open air. Her old room felt like a cage, trapping her, cutting her off from the outside.

Losha snuck through the house, careful to avoid her father noticing. He worried so much about her, but she was fine.

Each footstep carefully placed to make as little noise as possible.

If you’d figured out how to become an animagus,” Mars said, “I bet you wouldn’t be having this problem. Or if you knew how to apparate.

Losha thought back for a moment on her attempts at doing both. Apparition was difficult, and she’d nearly hurt herself trying. Hundreds of attempts, and the closest success she’d had nearly took off her hand. After that, she decided it wasn’t a good idea.

Apparition’s necessary,” Mercury said, her voice shaky as always. “I’ve avoided detection hundreds of times because of it.

In her head, Mercury hunched over, looking apprehensive all the time. She was terrified of everything, always looking for an exit. That made her the expert on escaping.

Which means you’re wasting your time again,” Mars said. “You could reach inside her memories and figure it out, but you’re still afraid.

Flashes of her fight with Lestrange filled her head. Methodically circling her, with the intention of crippling her. The screams of the other Death Eaters as she’d sunk her teeth into their necks.

The taste and smell of blood filled her senses and she doubled over. Clutching her stomach, she tried to regain control of herself before she drew any attention from her father.

It’s not one of my memories. It’s one of Mars’s memories.

Something nuzzled against her, and a new smell chased away the memory of blood. One of comfort and warmth, keeping her safe from everything.

<Moon, are you alright?>

Losha struggled to nod yes, before climbing slowly to her feet.

<I want some fresh air.>

<Follow me.>

Tutela led her through her house to the front door. They quietly opened it, then Losha walked towards the woods not far from her house.

<I don’t want to use their memories again. It was horrible.>

<I’m sorry, Moon, but you may not get a choice. If you’re to go with Brain, you’ll need to be ready to fight. When Rose would look at the world, she’d see conflict and possibilities, problems in need of solving.>

Losha considered it, envisioning what it’d be like to go alongside Brain. She wouldn’t be a burden, not again. She had to be strong.

When they reached the woods, she collapsed among the leaves and branches. It was funny; she’d often thought of returning home, but this felt more like home to her than the house in which she’d grown up.

<I miss the forest,> Losha told Tutela. <I want to go back.>

<There won’t be time.>

Besides,” Mars said, “Slytherin has got to pay for what it did to Toad.

If there was one thing on which she and Mars agreed, it was that Slytherin had to be stopped. For what it did to Toad, and what it did to Rose. Losha had always known Rose wasn’t evil; even though she’d gone on about being jealous, it didn’t make sense for her to turn on them. She wasn’t mad, and she’d never try to harm Brain, Toad, or Losha.

Losha got to her feet, then sensed the forest around her. It must’ve still been dark, judging by the sounds she heard.

Mercury can teach you apparition,” Jupiter said. “Each of us have got a different animagus. No one can teach you that. You’ll have to do it on your own.

Good luck,” Mars said with a sneer. “We’ve seen how well you do on your own.

Losha sat down and concentrated. She allowed herself to look inside, her thoughts wandering. She didn’t think she’d get it, but she had to try. Being able to disguise herself as an animal would be useful. To slip away, to fly free, or to stand and fight.

I’ll be like a Druid, she thought. Nature magic, and the ability to change into an animal. I wonder if I can get it to be different animals, just like a Druid.

She was quite certain that wasn’t how it worked, but she held onto hope. Hope that she’d get it eventually. Hope that she wouldn’t get in Brain’s way.

Brain. Losha couldn’t get in her way. She couldn’t let Toad down. She had to be strong for him, to help Brain because Toad couldn’t. It might be the only way to stop Slytherin from hurting anyone else.

She had to help.

“Mercury,” Losha said. “I’d like you to show me how to apparate.”

Near the end of July, Hermione and her parents arrived at Luna’s house. All the adults had agreed, more or less, on the plan. Luna would ride back with them, then Hermione and Luna would talk to Ana. At least, that was Hermione’s understanding of events.

They’d all gathered at the table, and Hermione had a feeling they were about to try talking her out of it.

“We’re going,” Luna said, sensing the same thing, “you won’t talk us out of it.”

“Girls,” Luna’s dad said, “be sensible. Even if you follow Rose’s trail, it doesn’t mean you two have to run in and fight this Slytherin.”

“We may not have to,” Hermione said. “We don’t know what it’s doing. It’s possible that if we avoid it, it will ignore us.”

That wasn’t a lie. Hermione had seen that Slytherin didn’t seem to go out of its way if it didn’t have to. It had no direct influence outside of Hogwarts, so outside, they were relatively safe. Unless it sent something or someone after them. Thus far, it hadn’t.

What Hermione didn’t tell them was that she had every intention of going back into Hogwarts to put a stop to Slytherin’s plans. She didn’t care what they were; they’d involved manipulating Rose, and Hermione wouldn’t stand for that.

“How do you know you’ll be safe on this quest of yours?” Hermione’s mum asked.

“We’ll have Tutela with us, of course,” Luna said, patting Tutela’s head.

“We’ll take care of one another,” Hermione said, patting Luna’s shoulder. “We’re more than capable of it.”

After that, their parents gave in. Luna’s dad hugged her goodbye, then with little warning, did the same to Hermione.

“Keep her safe,” he whispered.

“I will, but she can probably hear that.”

Tutela trotted after them, then they all piled into Hermione’s parents’ car.

“I don’t like it,” Luna said a minute after they’d started.

“It’s not long,” Hermione said, glancing at the Burrow as they went past. Their other friends were all outside, laughing with one another. Looking closer, she was sure Harry met her gaze.

<Be safe,> he said. <Whatever it is you’re doing, just be safe. Both of you.>

<We will. Look after everyone for me.>

<You got it.>

Apart from Luna’s questions and attempts to stick her nose out the window, the drive home was uneventful.

“Ready?” Hermione asked as they pulled into her driveway.

“To get out of this thing and never get back in?” Luna asked. “Yes.”

Hermione opened her mouth to say something, then decided against it.

She helped Luna out of the car, who happily accepted the help getting out.

“Happy?” Hermione asked.

“Yup,” Luna replied, taking a deep breath through her nose. “Very.”

They walked inside Hermione’s house and found Ana waiting for them in the living room. She stood tall and perfectly still until she saw them. Her head turned to watch them as they walked inside.

Crookshanks sat perched on the sofa next to Ana, watching everyone intently. His attention moved to Tutela when she walked in.

Once they were in, Ana turned to Luna and took her hands. The two stood still, Ana’s attention on Luna, Luna’s apparent attention straight ahead of her.

“What’s she doing?” Hermione’s mum whispered.

“Which ‘she’?” Hermione asked.

“Either one.”

“Luna can use speak with anything, so I assume she’s communicating with Ana.”

It bothered Hermione a little that the message Ana had been given by Rose was being passed to Luna instead of herself. Had Rose planned on this? Had she assumed that Hermione would’ve brought everyone? What if the clues weren’t all for her? What if she needed the others? Or, worst of all, what if she needed Neville?

Her mind began to run away as Luna finished her silent conversation with Ana. Ana withdrew her hands and returned them to her sides.

“Brain, Ana, and I are leaving,” Luna said. “She says not to expect any of us to return.”

Hermione nodded her understanding, then turned to her parents.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” her dad asked.

Once again, Hermione nodded.

“I’m sure. I will be back, someday. I don’t know what Rose left me, but I’ll find it, and I’ll come home when it’s safe.”

She hugged both her parents tightly. Part of her wanted to stay there forever, to stay in the safety of her home. But she knew she couldn’t. She had to be the one to fight back against Slytherin. She wasn’t going to get the option of running away.

After Hermione and her parents parted, Ana stepped up to them. She grasped Hermione’s mum’s hands and stared silently at her.

“I’ll miss you, Ana,” she said. “You’ve become part of our family.”

Ana nodded, then turned to Hermione’s dad. He extended his hand and shook Ana’s.

“I’ve never liked all this magic nonsense, but she said it. You’re part of our family.”

Ana nodded, then motioned to the door.

“I guess this is it,” Hermione said.

Her parents hugged her again. Her mum had started crying.

“I’ll be alright,” Hermione said. “I’ve got Moon to look after me.”

“I’ll bring her back safely,” Luna said.

Somehow, that didn’t fill Hermione with as much confidence as she would’ve liked.

Hermione tried to smile reassuringly, although she was sure it had made it worse. She decided it was best to leave before she continued to make it worse.

Together, she, Luna, and Ana left Hermione’s house. As they walked out, Crookshanks leapt from the sofa and followed them.

“Are you coming too?” Hermione asked.

In answer, Crookshanks walked out the door behind Luna and Tutela.

“I suppose so,” Hermione said. With a wave of her hand, she summoned anything she could think of for Crookshanks and stowed the supplies in her pack. After that, she left.

“Erm… I doubt Rose considered this,” Hermione said as she closed the door, “but aren’t people going to wonder why a duct tape golem is walking down the street?”

“Why would they?” Luna asked.

Hermione sighed. Crookshanks stared at Luna. It was going to be a long adventure.

When she turned back to Ana, she’d taken human form. She looked like Rose’s sister, Alice. She had pink hair in pigtails and a blue and white dress. Her face wasn’t the same, but apart from that, she looked exactly like Alice.

She nodded for them to follow her, then started walking.

Hermione glanced up and down the street, but no one seemed to have seen them. This put her nerves at ease for the moment, then she fell into step with Ana.

“Can you talk now?” she asked.

Ana shook her head.

“Of course not.” Hermione turned to Luna. “Have you any idea where we’re going?”

“Nope,” Luna replied, as optimistic as ever, “but I can’t wait to find out.”

Hermione sighed again. Yup. Definitely a long adventure.

They walked for hours. Ana led them around streets until the suburbs dropped away and they entered farmland. Eventually, they reached the countryside, moving farther and farther away. Hermione began to suspect that was the point.

A side effect of favor of the martyr, one of the spells on her ring, was that she didn’t get tired as easily. She didn’t often notice its effects, but this was one of the times she did. Her feet were still sore, but her body wasn’t tired from walking for so long.

Crookshanks had no such benefit, and had starting complaining a few hours in. Eventually, he leapt onto Hermione’s back and climbed into her pack. His head stuck out, allowing to keep an eye on everything going on.

Beside them, Luna didn’t seem to be tiring either. Walking through neighborhoods, Hermione had noticed that they’d drawn some looks as they’d passed by. They were people likely wondering about Luna, who was still covered in tattoos. Tattoos that would shift around every so often. Hermione hoped people would assume it was a trick of the light and not give it another thought.

Perception magic. I’ve got to work on perception magic.

Ana finally stopped in a field as the sun was beginning to set. The last rays of sunlight outlined the silhouettes of the trees not far from them. Some birds cawed somewhere nearby, but it was otherwise silent.

Hermione looked around, trying to figure out why Ana had stopped here. It seemed ordinary, which could’ve been the point. She could never tell what Rose was planning.

What would Rose do? She had Ana bring us far away from civilization, so…

She turned to Ana, who had resumed her original form.

“We’ve got to fight you, haven’t we?” Hermione asked.

Ana nodded.

Hermione knew Ana couldn’t tell them if they won, not directly, but she figured they’d work out the clue after they won.

Luna crouched down and the runes on her shifted around.

<Remember, she’s a golem,> Hermione said. <Don’t use magic on her directly.>

<I remember.>

Tutela grew to her larger size and stood ready for an attack.

Crookshanks leapt out of Hermione’s pack and climbed up into a tree.

Ana extended her arms and flung them at Hermione. Hermione thought fast and threw down a shield to protect herself.

Luna and Tutela ran in on either side of Ana. Tutela lunged, but Ana bent herself around the attack. Luna jumped over Tutela and raked a claw across Ana.

Ana took the hit, looking unphased. She swung at Luna. As she made contact, her fingers grew to cover her opponent. Once she had a hold of Luna, she grabbed Tutela with her other hand, lifting them both into the air.

“Grappling,” Hermione muttered, “why not?”

Not wanting to risk a teleportation spell, Hermione chose to throw her off balance. With a wave of her hand, she conjured a puddle of grease below Ana’s feet.

The golem slid around it, then fell to her knees.

With her focus off her captives, she lost her hold on them.

Luna and Tutela slipped out, then Tutela lunged again.

As she did, Luna flicked her arm and rocks shot at Ana.

Ana recovered and avoided Tutela’s attack, but took the brunt of Luna’s. Tutela wheeled around and lunged again, grabbing Ana before she could recover.

Hermione looked around, trying to plan her own moves. Tutela and Luna continued alternating their attacks, moving around Ana to keep her from knowing who would attack next, or from where the attack would originate.

They fought in unison, looking like they’d done this hundreds of times. Thinking about it, Hermione realized they probably had.

Tentacles of duct tape lashed out at both of them, grabbing Luna and Tutela. Hermione threw grease at her again, but before she could, legs sprouted from Ana and she shuffled away.

<Attack her, Brain!>

Hermione looked around again, but she couldn’t think of something. At least, she couldn’t think of anything that would leave Ana standing.

Ana constricted Luna and Tutela. Tutela wriggled and struggled to get free.

“Brain!” Luna screamed. “Help us!”

Hermione stepped back, wishing she could run away. She couldn’t; she couldn’t be responsible for destroying Ana, not after Rose.

But that was her choice, as it’d been before. Her or Rose. Ana or Luna.


Hermione raised her hand and black ooze flew from the ground at her feet at Ana. It seeped into the cracks in the golem’s body, spreading out to her limbs. It covered her, oozing out of every crease.

Then it expanded.

Ana blew apart, dropping Luna and Tutela. The ooze went with her, evaporating in the air.

Pieces of duct tape fluttered around them. Hermione lowered herself to her knees and let what she’d done sink in. Ana was gone. That was one more piece of Rose that was gone from their world.

Luna walked over and sat beside her.

“Are you alright?” Luna asked.

“Not really,” Hermione replied, knowing Luna could smell grief on her. “I’ll be fine.”

She went over everything they’d learned, everything that had happened. There wasn’t much, so what were they supposed to have learned from that?

“I don’t understand.” She turned to Luna. “Did Ana tell you anything else?”

Luna shook her head.

Hermione sat and watched the pieces of Ana flutter around them. Was it supposed to have been a metaphor? Ana fought them because Rose made her, like Rose had fought them presumably because Slytherin had made her? No, that wasn’t Rose’s style. In her world, you fought your way through the Big Bad’s underlings until you reached the Big Bad herself, then fought her to save the land from her tyranny, or to save the ancient artifact she’d stolen, or to stop her from destroying the world. Was that what Rose was doing? Forcing them through all of her creations? Who was next? Her homunculi were gone, Ana was gone, Taltria and Alavel were gone.

She glanced at Tutela.

“Please tell me we don’t have to fight you.”

Tutela shook her head as Crookshanks walked over and sat down beside Hermione.

“Rose didn’t tell her anything,” Luna said. “Probably because she knew Tutela would tell me.”

Hermione sighed, then flopped down on the grass. She sat up and brushed duct tape away before sitting back down again. When she did, she saw it.

The pieces of Ana had stopped fluttering, instead hanging in the air. They weren’t scattered, but concentrated on either the ground, or 10 feet in the air.

She sat up again and looked around. Sure enough, it was the same everywhere. Pieces floated up and hung in the air, or stayed suspended on the ground. Hermione knew better than to assume anything was a coincidence when dealing with Rose. Even the spot Ana had chosen probably had some purpose, one of which must’ve been getting them away from prying eyes.

“That’s odd,” she said. “They’re just hanging there. In the air and on the ground.”

Luna smiled to herself.

“Sky above and earth below.”


“It’s something from Rose’s world.”

Hermione flashed back to the last time she’d heard that. When Rose had run ahead of them through the trees. She hadn’t been remotely exhausted, unlike Hermione and her family.

“That’s it!” Hermione exclaimed. She leaned over and hugged Luna for a moment. “Moon, you’re brilliant!”

“Thank you, Brain. You are too.”

“It’s the campsite! Where my family goes every year! We took Rose the first year she’d stayed with us, and she told me about that… song, or poem?”

Luna shrugged.

“It doesn’t matter! That must be it. Rose didn’t leave whatever we need with Ana, she only left the first clue with her.”

“Second,” Luna said, nodding to Reflectesalon, “Ref had the first.”

Hermione looked up at the stars peaking out overhead. She had a vague idea of where they were. After a minute of straining herself to form a mental image of a map in her head, she gave up.

“We’ve got to get back to a town and see if we can figure out where we are. Then we can figure out how to get to the campsite.”

Luna tilted her head.

“Can’t you teleport us there?”

“Erm… I can use it on myself, but I don’t know what will happen if I try it on someone else. It could work, or it could rip us both apart.”

“And you’d rather do some bonding on the way,” Luna said, “I understand.”

Hermione smiled at her, not that she could see. It was nice having a small piece of the old Luna back. Before Rose had died, before Slytherin had messed with her head. It wasn’t hard to see why Neville had fallen in love with her.

She pushed down memories of her dead friend before her living one caught on to what she was thinking.

“Can you apparate?”

Luna shook her head.

“I’m trying to learn.”

“Then we should get started,” Hermione said. “We’ve got a long way to go. Do you want to get anything before we go? Sleeping bag, or toothbrush?”

Luna frowned, still not looking at Hermione.

“Why would I want a sleeping bag or toothbrush?”

Hermione opened her mouth, then remembered with whom she was talking.

“No reason.”

Hermione wasn’t sure about sleeping on the bare ground, but she figured she’d have to adjust. Luna had been doing it for years, and Neville had spent enough time in the forest. If they could do it, she would too.

“Although,” she said as another thought occurred to her, “we could sleep here, walk back to my parents’ house, and have them drive us.”

Hermione spotted Luna taking small breaths through her nose.

“Is something wrong?” Luna asked.

Hermione looked back the way they’d come. Home wasn’t that far away. She could go, stay with her parents, forget all of this before she destroyed something else. She didn’t have to be there. Someone else could handle it.

No, the clues were for her. There was no one else, and if she went home, she didn’t know if she’d be able to leave again. She’d left home before, but this was different. There was no promise of any comfort. It’d be the two of them, alone, hiking from one place to another.

“Any idea where we’ll stay?” Hermione asked.

Luna shook her head.

“Don’t worry, Brain. We’ll start and see how far we can get.”

Hermione nodded, wishing she’d brought along a map of the area. She had maps memorized in her head, but it wasn’t perfect. She was confident that she knew the way to a town, but she didn’t know what lay between them and their goal.

“Would you be against sleeping indoors?” Hermione asked.

“I’d rather sleep outside. Human beds aren’t as comfortable as they used to be.”

Hermione smiled at her and put her arm around Luna.

“Same old Moon.”

Chapter Text

Sarah stood beside Eric, looking over the train tracks at the mess before them.

“Those certainly look like the remains of Inferi,” she said. “Did you need me to tell you that?”

“Probably not, but you know me, boss,” Eric replied, “I just love to have you to myself.”

Sarah glowered at him for a moment.

“Don’t let your partner hear you say that. They’ve always struck me as the jealous type.”

Eric looked up at the sky as though looking for something.

“Ministry’s cleanup crew is supposed to be on their way.”

“When did they tell you that?” Sarah asked, knowing she wouldn’t like the answer.

“About two hours before you got here.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. Typical of the Ministry.

“And they wanted me here because…?”

“You’re the boss, boss.”

Sarah took another sip of coffee.

“Voldemort’s dead. Lucius is supposed to be cleaning up. Why are we still dealing with leftovers?”

“When the Ministry arrives, you can ask them,” Eric said.

That concerned her. It meant they didn’t have an answer, and she didn’t like not having answers. If there was fresh havoc being wreaked, that meant someone else was out there to wreak it. They should’ve had answers by now if that were the case.

“Why the train tracks?”

Eric approached the tracks. They’d halted or diverted any trains, which hadn’t been an easy task. Having favors all over England never failed to pay off when you wanted to do things quietly.

“Look at the way they’re spread out. Inferi are durable, but not like a living person. A person wouldn’t blow apart like that unless they were hit, but then it would’ve spread out more. These fell off the train.”

Sarah took another sip of coffee and looked over the damage. It made sense, but it often did when Eric explained it. She looked up, imagining Inferi on a train. They weren’t smart enough for that, and they’d always have someone commanding them.

“What good would putting Inferi on a train do?” she asked, a few ideas forming in her head.

“Haven’t got anything definitive.”

That was Eric’s way of telling her that he was waiting for her to tell him.

“We’ll add it to the list of weird things we’ve seen this week,” she said.

“Speaking of weird things,” Eric said, “how’s the family?”

Sarah raised an eyebrow at him.

“Care to rephrase that?”

“That might be a good idea,” he said. “But until I think of something, you can tell me how she’s doing.”

“She’s ever so thankful that you noticed. In your debt, you could say. You’ve become her hero, her knight in shining armor.”

“Should I not have said anything?”

“She’s dedicated her life to yours.”

“I think I get—”

“How can we ever—”

“I get it.”

Sarah took another sip of coffee, feeling that she’d bugged Eric enough.

“Husband says she’ll talk about it when she’s ready,” Sarah said. “I tried bringing it up last week before she left, but she shut down. I should’ve known better, in hindsight. Teenagers are… difficult.”

“Speaking of difficult…”

Several people popped into existence near the tracks. Lucius Malfoy was among them, clearly the one in charge.

He walked over to them.

“Parliament,” he said, knowing better than to use her name in the field.

“Ministry,” she replied, granting him the same courtesy.

“What happened?”

“Looks like someone was smuggling Inferi on board. The things fell off and blew apart on impact.”

Lucius looked back at the remains that his team was cleaning up.

“That’s it?”

“The question is why,” Sarah said. “This train runs into the countryside. Not as much regulation, and more importantly, not as many prying eyes keeping tabs on things. It’s likely someone was trying something where no one would see. Something that involved Inferi.”

Lucius glowered at her, his default response to everything she said. She could see that he was considering it. After working more or less together for years, it still struck him as foreign to consider her his equal.

“Keep us informed,” he said.

“Ditto. Anything on the train car that disappeared last week?”

“No,” he muttered.

He turned back as his team finished the cleanup, and barked orders to them. A minute later, they were gone.

“Should we be worried?” Eric asked.

“It’s the Ministry of Magic. Of course we should be worried. It’s our job to be worried.” She took a sip of her coffee and found that she’d finished it. “We’re finished here. Enough fresh air, let’s get back to work.”

Harry, Ron, Sally-Anne, and Ginny ran through the portal to Platform 9¾, then set off towards the train.

“It’s too good to be true,” Ron said. “When was the last time someone wasn’t trying to kill us when we got to Hogwarts?”

“Maybe the Monster of Ravenclaw will come after us,” Ginny said. “A giant eagle or something.”

Harry chuckled at the joke, happy to see Ginny making jokes again. He knew she wouldn’t return to her old self; like Hermione said, being beaten nearly to death wasn’t something one overcame easily, if at all. Still, she was certainly looking better.

When they boarded the express, Harry immediately noticed the rush of noise.

“There are more people,” he said. “Must have returning students.”

“Sure,” Ron said, “now that there’s nothing to fear, most students are back. The Ministry’s stopping by to inspect the castle’s security.”

“I’m sure that will go well,” Ginny said. “Anyway, we should find a seat.”

“We’ll meet you both at school,” Sally-Anne said. “We’ve got to instruct the prefects.”

“Remember,” Ron said, puffing out his chest and sounding like Percy, “I’m Head Boy.”

Ron turned, chest still puffed out, and started walking down towards the Prefect car, all the while saying “Excuse me, Ron Weasley, Head Boy, coming through.”

Sally-Anne covered her mouth to stifle a small laugh, then bid them farewell and walked down the train after him.

Harry nodded to Ginny, and they found an empty compartment and sat down.

“It’s so empty without them,” Ginny said.

Harry looked around the compartment. They were the only two left, with Ron and Sally-Anne in the Prefect car.

“It’s alright,” he said. “There’s still us.” He grinned at her, hoping to cheer her up. “Excited for Quidditch practice?”

Ginny cracked a small smile and nodded.

“Thanks again for—”

“You don’t need to keep thanking me for not kicking you off the team,” he said. “So long as you can work with Demelza Robins, we won’t have a problem.”

Ginny nodded again, although Harry sensed hesitation. He knew they weren’t going to have problems. There were no dark lords out to get them, no psychopaths popping up and murdering them. Only normal school problems, like homework and exams. They could handle it.

He smiled to himself. A normal, boring life. He only wished Alavel were still alive to see it.

Harry waded through a sea of people when the train stopped. It surprised him to see so many people returning. He’d known the Ministry had deemed Hogwarts safe again, but hadn’t realized so many people would simply listen.

“Head Boy, coming through, I’m terribly important.”

Harry smiled when he heard Ron’s voice from up ahead.

“Excuse me, Head Boy’s best friend, I’m important too.”

They met up, and with Ginny and Sally-Anne behind them, repeated the same thing until they reached a carriage. Once they sat down, the four of them burst out laughing.

“Are you two going to do that all year?” Sally-Anne asked.

Harry and Ron exchanged glances, then turned to Sally-Anne.


“You’re so embarrassing,” Ginny said, kicking Ron.

“I’m sure the Twins will be delighted to hear about all this,” Sally-Anne said. “They’ll be so proud.”

They rode in relative silence up to the castle. Harry couldn’t shake the feeling that the carriage was empty. It was hard not thinking about Hermione, Neville, or Luna.

“Anyone heard from Hermione or Luna?” he asked.

“Hermione responds sometimes,” Ron said as Sally-Anne started rubbing her hands together. “Can’t get a response from Luna.”

Harry nodded. Without Sally-Anne cheering them up, he decided he’d have to.

“She’ll turn up eventually. I mean, it’s Hermione; I doubt she’ll stay away from Hogwarts long. They’re just… trying to clear their heads.”

Harry glanced at Sally-Anne’s hands. She’d become more fidgety over the summer, specifically with her hands. It worried Harry that something was wrong with her. He’d also noticed her taking a particularly long time to wash up before every meal. He wasn’t sure what she was doing yet, but he hoped it wasn’t something too bad, and that she’d talk about it when she was ready.

They rode in silence to the castle, where they were led to the Great Hall. Taking seats at the Gryffindor table, Harry eyed the new professors. There were three new ones, to replace the three they’d lost.

One was a woman that looked like she could’ve been Professor Babbling’s sister. Like Babbling, the new woman was stout, even with a similar face. Harry wondered if they were related.

The next new person he noticed was a large man wearing expensive looking clothes. Harry didn’t have a guess as to which position he was filling, but the man looked well off enough that he didn’t need to be working. He had a grin on his face as he talked loudly with the other staff.

The last man was old, old enough that he probably could’ve had grandchildren in Hogwarts. He smiled kindly to the rest of the staff, but didn’t say much.

Once the first-years — Harry counted at least sixty of them — filed in, the Sorting Hat was placed on its traditional stool. Ahead of the first-years was another group of older students.

“We will begin this year’s Sorting with the sorting of new transfer students,” McGonagall said. “The Ministry performed a thorough investigation in the wake of last year’s events. I’m proud to say that Hogwarts is once again a safe place for all, and we welcome over one hundred new students this year.”

“Dad said Scrimgeour’s been dumping funding on Hogwarts,” Ron whispered. “A sort of thank you for stopping Voldemort, probably.”

Harry looked over the new students as the Sorting Hat sang its song. It was odd to think of so many new students coming into Hogwarts after the past six years. Monsters in the school, dementors on the grounds, the castle being nearly destroyed, Umbridge… they’d been through a lot, and adding what had happened last year to all of it, he was surprised so many of the old students came back.

Some small part of him wished Ellie would come back, but he knew they’d driven her away. Even with people thinking she wasn’t involved — he still didn’t know exactly what had happened, but he hoped she’d been under the Imperius Curse — she didn’t want to go anywhere near Hogwarts.

“Welcome everyone,” Professor McGonagall said as the last of the students were sorted, “to the start of a new year at Hogwarts.”

She paused while the Great Hall erupted into applause.

“A variety of changes have been made from last year. With the regrettable losses we suffered last year, we’ve altered the staff.”

Harry did another scan of the staff table. It’d hardly changed in seven years, and now it felt so different.

“First and foremost, I’ve taken over the role of Headmistress.”

There were a few cheers, most of which came from Gryffindor, but McGonagall silenced them.

“I will continue to teach Transfiguration. However, taking my place as head of Gryffindor house will be Professor Lupin.”

This time the entire Gryffindor table applauded, which McGonagall did nothing to stop. In fact, she herself applauded.

“Alchemy has been opened to third years and above,” she continued, “taught by Professor Kemra.”

There was a polite applause as Professor Kemra, the new woman, stood up and bowed before taking her seat.

“Arithmancy will be taught by Professor Rix.”

The old man stood up and tipped his hat to the crowd. That meant the other man was Professor Slughorn.

“Taking over Slytherin house and the role of Potions Master, we welcome Professor Slughorn back to Hogwarts.”

Slytherin gave a quiet applause. Harry looked at Sally-Anne, who held a neutral expression. He’d noticed her looking over at the Slytherin table. It’d taken him months to stop looking for Ellie at the Hufflepuff table, and she’d only dumped him, not died.

“Before we begin our feast,” McGonagall said, “I’d like to hold a moment of silence for those we lost last year.”

Harry bowed his head in respect for everyone Rose had killed. Lavender… Taltria… Draco… Dumbledore… Vector… Snape… Neville. It felt surreal, them all being gone. He heard sniffles and muffled sobs all around the Great Hall.

After nearly a minute, Professor McGonagall bid them to eat, and a new year at Hogwarts began.

Sarah walked to the door when the doorbell rang. Sure enough, there guests had arrived.

“Dan, Emma,” she said, welcoming them inside. She glanced around. “No Hermione?”

“No,” Emma replied.

Sarah considered the looks on their faces. Dan seemed annoyed, and Emma seemed worried. Eric would’ve pegged them better, but she hadn’t invited them over to poke her nose in their business. Not this time.

“Well, I suppose you’re welcome anyway,” Sarah said, motioning them inside.

They walked into the kitchen where Wilfred was preparing dinner. They made small talk until he was finished, then he served them and sat down with them.

“We heard that Hermione’s not going back to Hogwarts this year,” Wilfred said. “Was last year too much for her?”

Their guests glanced at Sarah, who knew that look. It was the look of people wondering what she already knew.

“Don’t mind me,” she said. “The only person on whom I keep tabs is Sally-Anne. We’re only concerned for her friend.”

Dan and Emma exchanged glances, and Sarah caught another familiar look. They didn’t know what they were allowed to tell her.

“It’s… complicated,” Emma said.

Sarah leaned forward over the table and looked her in the eye.

“Try me.”

“We can’t,” Dan said. “We may not entirely believe Hermione, but she’s never been completely wrong. If she’s even half right, it could be dangerous to tell you anything.”

Sarah frowned. That didn’t sit well with her at all.

“Dangerous how?”

“She told us,” Emma began. She paused, evidently searching for the right words. “Even Dumbledore was afraid of telling anyone.”

“That is interesting,” Sarah said. “And this has got something to do with Hermione?”

“She thinks there’s something inside Hogwarts that no one can remember,” Dan said. “Something that will kill her if she goes back.”

Wilfred swallowed his food and spoke up.

“No offense,” Wilfred said. “But when you say it like that, she sounds paranoid.”

“There’s more to it than that,” Emma said, glaring at her husband. “But it does sound mad, even when she did explain it.”

“You might be surprised to know that that is not the maddest thing I’ve heard,” Sarah said. “Knowing Hogwarts, I’d be surprised if something weren’t living in it.”

The Grangers eased up a little at that. Sarah was glad, although this changed things for her.

“Is this thing a danger to anyone else?” Wilfred asked, being the sensible parent he was.

Emma, being the one without food in her mouth, answered first.

“She doesn’t seem to think so. It doesn’t like Hermione because… erm…”

What Sarah thought originally was lack of information, she quickly realized was hesitance. Emma knew why, but she didn’t want to say.

“She can remember it,” Dan said. “It… it can make people forget it exists.”

“Common tactic in their world,” Sarah said, choosing not to mention that some people wiped others’ memories for fun.

After that, they didn’t want to talk about it. That worked for Sarah, because it gave her time to think. If this thing would edit itself out of her memory upon entering Hogwarts, then she resolved to be careful about meeting people from Hogwarts. Hermione thought it posed a threat, enough to leave home. Sarah hadn’t believed for a second that Hermione had decided to stay home, not after the looks Dan and Emma kept giving each other. Something else was going on.

How had something existed inside Hogwarts without her knowing? Without anyone knowing? That meant that this thing had something few in the Magical World understood: subtlety.

Sarah needed more information on this thing if she expected to handle it if and when it became a problem. She could tell she wasn’t about to get the information from Dan or Emma, but Hermione seemed to have all the answers. It was possible that what she didn’t have she was finding at that moment. Sarah decided to leave the problem until later; for now, she tried to enjoy the rest of her friends’ visit.

After they left, Wilfred turned to his wife. She didn’t need to consider why; he could always tell when something was on her mind.

“Is everything alright?”

Sarah arched an eyebrow at him.

“Why wouldn’t it be?”

“There’s something in Hogwarts you didn’t know about. I know it bothers you when you don’t know things.”

“It does, and to be honest, I’m not sure how to deal with it. If whatever that thing is is making a move, I’d like to know what it’s planning. Especially since we haven’t got most of our backup plans anymore.”

Wilfred nodded, walking with her to their bedroom. She knew she’d have a long road ahead of her, and she would need rest before she dealt with any of it.

“You’ll figure it out,” he told her, kissing her cheek. “You always do.”

Sarah smiled at her husband, being reminded once again why she’d fallen in love with him. And why she tolerated his bad jokes.

After the feast, Ron and Sally-Anne met with Professor McGonagall and followed her up to her new office.

“How are you two doing?” she asked, her stern expression easing up somewhat.

Ron glanced at Sally-Anne, gathered that she wasn’t going to answer, then said, “We’re holding up.”

McGonagall nodded. She led them past the gargoyle, then walked up the staircase into the Headmistress’s Office.

Dumbledore’s collection of trinkets was gone. Fawkes was gone. The only thing that looked the same were a few books Ron recognized.

“Who’s taking care of Fawkes?” Sally-Anne asked.

McGonagall shook her head.

“We have been unable to locate him. Knowing Peta-Lorrum, we’ve come to accept that she likely turned the bird to dust. We aren’t sure, but we figure it can’t come back from that.”

Ron let out a small breath. One more to the list of casualties.

“How are you getting on?” Sally-Anne asked.

“I’m managing, Sally-Anne,” McGonagall said.

Sally-Anne and Ron exchanged quick glances.

“You used my first name.”

“As I have always done with the Head Boy and Girl, and no one else. The only exception to my rule has been Alexandra, who was familiar enough with the staff that I deemed it appropriate. Speaking of, I hope you informed her of your position.”

Sally-Anne smiled, and Ron was glad to see something would cheer her up.

“I did. She was proud.”

McGonagall nodded.

“Have you reviewed the list of duties you are expected to perform?”

“We have,” Ron said, “and of course Percy gave an itemized list of what he was expected to do.”

“I can’t say I’m surprised, but this will be different than your brother’s time here. As much as I am striving to maintain Albus’s regime, things will be different. For the better, I hope, but one can never tell.”

“You’ll do great, Professor,” Sally-Anne said. “There’s no doubt about that.”

“I have few doubts, but I appreciate your kindness, Sally-Anne.” She directed her attention to both of them. “Do either of you have concerns about maintaining your duties as prefects on top of your new duties?”

“No,” Ron said.

Sally-Anne shook her head, but Ron noticed her rubbing her hands together. Was it just him, or had she started doing that a lot?

“Good. That will be all for now. We shall be meeting at least once a month. And of course, you now represent the best of Hogwarts. Please do not go looking for trouble.”

“Rose and Voldemort are dead,” Ron said. “There isn’t trouble to be looking for.”

Even saying it didn’t ease his nerves any. Something was wrong, but he couldn’t work out what.

“Let’s hope it stays that way,” McGonagall said. “And again, on behalf of Hogwarts, I am very sorry for the loses you both suffered last June.”

“Thank you, Professor,” Sally-Anne said. “Neville was our friend, and we miss him dearly.”

“I believe I used the plural, Sally-Anne. While I’m sure Ronald didn’t care for Mr. Malfoy, the staff are aware that you did.”

Despite looking like she was about to cry, Sally-Anne still smiled.

“That’s kind of you to say, Professor.”

McGonagall nodded, then motioned towards the door.

“You should best be off. Have a good night, both of you.”

Sally-Anne returned to Gryffindor Tower with Ron. Every corner of the castle had another memory of Draco hidden in it. A time he met her outside Gryffindor Tower, or a time they snuck around a corner for a quick kiss, or even a smile.

Ron ordered the portrait open, and they walked inside to a wall of noise. People were milling about everywhere, although the common room looked bigger than it had in previous years.

People came up to both of them, asking about Hogwarts and introducing themselves. They were students from private schools or home school, or people that couldn’t have afforded school without the Ministry’s new education initiative. Mr. Malfoy had kept Sally-Anne informed of goings on at the Ministry. She wasn’t sure she entirely understood why he’d taken such a shine to her; if she hadn’t been friends with Draco, he would’ve taken down the ward and followed Voldemort.

Was it because of that? Was he grateful to her for her part in what had happened? Was it gratitude for speaking up for him when people questioned his loyalty? She wanted it to be for loving Draco as she had, but the thought must’ve been revolting to Draco’s parents.

When curfew began and Ron called “lights out”, the prefects all trudged up to check on their charges. Sally-Anne found hers all tucked into bed already, including (to her surprise) Loretta, who didn’t even look as though she intended to sneak out the moment Sally-Anne turned her back.

“I hope you’re all settling in,” Sally-Anne said. “I want you all to know that even though I’m Head Girl, I’m still your prefect. You can always come to me with your problems.”

No one said anything to her, so she turned to leave.


Sally-Anne turned back and look through the dim light at Loretta.


Sally-Anne waited patiently, but no one spoke up. She could faintly make out the nervous expression on Loretta’s face. It wasn’t like her; Sally-Anne had never seen anything apart from confidence or defiance on the girl’s face.

As Sally-Anne turned to go, she heard Loretta squeak “I’m sorry about your friend.”

Sally-Anne smiled at her softly, hoping none of them could see her sadness.

“Me too. I’m sorry,” came another voice.

“Me too!”

“And me!”

Every voice in the room chimed in. Sally-Anne felt the warmth, but it made her a little sad to know they wore only talking about Neville. None of them knew about her relationship with Draco.

“Thank you, everyone,” she said, rubbing her wrist. “That’s very kind of you all. I’d best get going.”

She brushed herself down and smiled again.

“Sleep well.”

She turned around again and walked down the stairs. With each step, she felt more tears welling up. She hoped no one was in the common room, otherwise she’d make a fool of herself, and the fear of that only made her worse.

She was somewhat lucky. The only person there was Ron. She was happy to see him; the thought that he’d learned to live with Lavender’s death gave her hope that she’d learn to live with Draco’s.

“Hello, Ron.” She took a seat beside him as he looked up. “How are your boys?”

“Interested in what happened last year. It’s a little annoying.”


“They keep going on about everyone that died, wanting to know more. I thought they’d never stop asking about Lav, but now they’re on about Neville.”

“I’m sorry.”

Ron shrugged.

“They’ll get bored eventually and move on.”

She gave him what she hoped was a reassuring smile.

“How’s your lot?” he asked.

“They’re alright. Perhaps a little shaken up. The real trial is going back to my room. Parvati didn’t come back, so it’s only me there. I keep thinking of the day we first moved in and… I’m sorry, I shouldn’t ramble on about such things.”

“It’s fine. It… It isn’t easy seeing Neville’s bed either. I keep thinking that there must’ve been something I could’ve done, but then I remember Lav and realize there was nothing. Rose would’ve been one step ahead of me, like she was with Hermione.”

Sally-Anne smiled at him, hoping it’d cheer him up. He blushed, saw something terribly interesting in the clock, and turned his attention to it.

“It will be alright,” she said. “For both of us.”

She laid her hand on his. His face grew more red.

“You’re keeping a clear head still, and that’s what’s important.”

He turned his attention back to her, then smiled.

“Thanks, Princess.”

He squeezed her hand, but she winced and pulled it away.

“I’m sorry!” he exclaimed. “I—”

“It’s fine, you… you startled me, is all.”

“Right, of course. Obviously. What else would it be?”

“Nothing’s wrong.”

“Why would it be?” Ron glanced at the clock again, his face redder than ever. “I’m sure I’ve got rounds tonight. I’ll see you later.”

“I look forward to it.”

She smiled at him as he walked quickly out of the common room. Once he was out, she lowered her guard.

What was I thinking?

“How long have your hands been like that?”

Sally-Anne closed her eyes and regretted encouraging Harry to sneak about.

“‘Hello, Princess, do you mind if I join you?’ ‘Of course not, Skyeyes, I’m always glad of your company when you’re so polite.’”

Harry smiled to himself, chuckling a little under his breath.

“You sound like him sometimes.”

Sally-Anne frowned.

“Do you mean Ron?”

Harry shook his head.


Sally-Anne shrunk in her seat, but lightened up when she realized what Harry had just said.

“You called him Draco. I thought you didn’t like him.”

Harry walked over and took Ron’s spot on the couch.

“He had a problem with me from the moment we met on the express, but you liked him a lot. Is that why you’re burning your hands?”

Sally-Anne shifted around, glancing at her hands to ensure they were hidden.


She couldn’t bring herself to lie to him. She figured he’d worked it out after watching her react to Ron, if he hadn’t before, but she didn’t want to talk about it.

“I don’t want to talk about it.”

Harry looked knowingly at her, but said nothing more about it.

“Everything feels different,” he said. “No Voldemort. No Rose. I didn’t even need to stay at the Dursleys this year.”

Sally-Anne smiled, happy that someone was feeling better.

“I’m glad to hear it.”

Harry smiled back at her.

“If you ever want to talk about it, let me know,” he said. “I… I know what it’s like to lose someone you care about.”

Sally-Anne nodded, recalling how out of it Harry had been when Alavel had died.

“Thank you. I’ll keep that in mind.”

Ron could feel his face burning as he slipped out of the portal. After walking a ways, he stopped for a breath.

“Idiot. Of course she didn’t want you holding her hand. Why would she? She’s mourning.”

It bothered him that he felt something for Sally-Anne. He recognized the feeling, although not from Lav, but from Hermione. Flustered, embarrassed, unable to do or say anything right.

“Leave it. She’s obviously not interested.”

Memories of Hermione from long ago brought memories of Rose with them. She didn’t seem different. He couldn’t understand why Hermione thought Rose had changed. She was still violent, unpredictable. He couldn’t shake the feeling that they should’ve found a body.

“Never mind.”

He shrugged off concerns of his friends and started through the castle. He didn’t need much sleep.

Shouldn’t I?

Not for the first time, another thought crossed his mind. He had the ring and bracelet, which Rose had made. Rose. He was wearing something she’d made. He relied on them.

He reached for the ring to take it off, but stopped. Without it, he was nothing. An ordinary person. Like everyone else.

He shook his head. They’d simply have to be something with which he’d have to live. If he wanted Sally-Anne to notice him like he did her, he’d have to live with them. If he wanted his parents to be proud of his studies, to be proud of him, he’d have to keep them.

That didn’t stop him from feeling uncomfortable with them on.

Chapter Text


Hermione and Luna woke up a few hours later. Hermione took a few minutes to feed Crookshanks, then got herself ready.

By the time she’d finished, Luna and Tutela were waiting far them.

“You’ve got to move faster,” Luna said. She wasn’t judgmental like Rose would’ve been, but stated it as though it were a fact. “It’s bad to stay in one place for too long.”

“We only slept for two hours,” Hermione said, climbing up off the ground. Her body was still sore. “And I can feel every second. Why do you sleep like this?”

“It’s more comfortable than a bed,” Luna replied.

Hermione rolled up her sleeping bag that had not helped her at all. She needed something softer to sleep on, but she was out of luck. She hadn’t brought much in the way of money with her, as she didn’t have much in the way of money.

“What are we going to do when we need to buy supplies?” Hermione asked.

Luna paused for a moment, evidently weighing her options.

“Like what?”

“What if we need to get across the ocean?” Hermione asked. “What if we need something we don’t have?”

“We’ll figure it out,” Luna said. “We can always steal something.”

Hermione and Crookshanks blinked at her.

“Thank you Crookshanks,” Luna said. “I am weird.”

Hermione looked at Crookshanks, then stood up.

“We’ll figure it out I suppose,” Hermione said. “Let’s start walking.”

She stood up and looked around.

“A map,” she said. “That’s what we need. A map.”

Luna closed her eyes and sniffed the air. She turned around, sniffed the air, then turned in another direction.

While she did, Hermione looked around and realized that the pieces of Ana had disappeared. Her spirits sank to think that she was gone. Her mind drifted back to when Rose had first made Ana. Her bizarre fascination with duct tape.

Hermione shook off the feelings and returned to reality. By then Luna was waiting for her.

“I found the way we came from. We can follow the trail back to somewhere.”

Hermione noted her choice of the word “somewhere” and not civilization, as she would’ve said. It hadn’t sunk in how different she and Luna had been living their lives.

Hermione followed the other three members of her party, the ones with a good sense of smell. If one of them lost the scent, one of the others would pick it up. Hermione considered casting something on herself to give her a better sense of smell. She knew there was a spell for it.

There was also permanency, another in the long list of spells Rose had told her about. Hermione wondered why Rose didn’t use it more often. There were dozens of spells with which it worked, why not use them? Hermione kept herself occupied pondering this.

They trekked through a forest, where Luna took the lead. Speak with anything worked better the more she had with which she could speak. They followed Luna, while Hermione switched her attention to running through what she could remember about their path in her head. She remembered the woods, and the road from which they’d entered it. The road had gone by a farm. That was civilization enough.

After an hour, they were still in the forest. The silence finally became unbearable, and Hermione spoke.

“It’s a little funny,” Hermione said. “We’d been talking about a holiday in France until we became responsible for Rose. I didn’t think taking her out of the country would be a good idea.”

“She could’ve teleported,” Luna replied, turning abruptly. “She would’ve been fine.”

“With no clear idea of where we were going, she’d have ended up somewhere completely different.” Hermione shuddered at the thought. “I don’t even want to think about what would’ve happened to her.”

Despite this, her mind had already been filled with thoughts of what could’ve happened. Best case scenario was that Rose accidentally ended up at Hogwarts and decided to stay there instead. If she somehow ended up at the hotel… it probably wouldn’t have gone well. Worst case scenario was that Rose ended up somewhere completely different and got herself into trouble.

Hermione was glad they hadn’t gone too far out of the way.

After another half an hour, they reached the dirt road that ran by the farm. Hermione couldn’t see the farm yet, but with the sun climbing through the sky, she was sure they’d hear it before they saw it.

Hermione turned down the road, remembering the way they’d gone the first time.

“This road has got to lead somewhere,” she said. “With luck, it’s a town. Failing that, there’s a farm not far from us, so they might be able to tell us where to go.”

“Can’t we figure it out?” Luna asked.

“We are figuring it out,” Hermione replied. “We’re using the resources available to us.”

“Isn’t asking the NPCs cheating?”

“No, that’s what they’re there for, to point the PCs in the right direction when they get lost.”

Or in our case, when they kill the person who knew where she was going.

Once again, Hermione’s mind drifted back to another time, one when none of that made sense to her. Now it made perfect sense.

Given that Luna didn’t argue after that, it seemed to make sense to her too.

They walked along the road, looking like an odd bunch. Two women, one of whom was covered in tattoos, a dog, and a cat. Hermione tried not to think about how odd they looked. The weirder they were the more attention they’d attract, and the more likely Slytherin would find them.

So far, so good. If we’re lucky, it really has lost track of us.

Hermione pushed the thought down and moved back to wondering why Rose didn’t use permanency more. Perhaps it simply bored her. She’d mention that it used XP, but so did Serendipity. Was she trying to conserve it?

“Moon, do you know why Rose didn’t use permanency more?”

Luna stopped sniffing the air for a moment.

“Her uncle tried to teach her not to overdo it. Otherwise, you forget all the things you can do, and one of them might be used against you. At least that’s how I remember it.”

Hermione shrugged as they walked down the road. She supposed that made sense.

They walked for the better part of the day. They lost track of where they wanted to go at least five times. Hermione would insist that they’d gone a different way, Luna would listen to her, they’d break from the road, get lost, turn back, and keep following the road.

“I’m sure of it this time!” Hermione said the sixth time.

“Too bad,” Luna said, sounding far too much like Rose for Hermione’s taste. “We’re following the human path to a human colony.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. She couldn’t tell if Luna was joking, or if she’d gotten rid of her old memories while she’d been in the forest, but she decided it wasn’t worth worrying about.


It was dark again before they arrived at a small town. Fortunately, it was a town, and they had a map of the area within Hermione’s budget.

“Is there anything you need?” Hermione asked.

“A patch of trees under which to sleep,” Luna replied.

“Of course.”

Hermione looked around. Outside of the town, there was only farmland and suburbs. They were far from any woodlands.

“Do you know if there are any magical towns nearby?” Hermione asked.

“I’m not sure where we are,” Luna said.

Hermione checked her new map.

“We’re in—”

“Never heard of it.”

Hermione stood with her mouth open for a second, then sighed.

“Alright, then—”

“Silaria isn’t far from here,” Luna said. “Probably another few hours of walking.”

Hermione checked her map.

“I can’t see that on here. Any idea which direction that is?”

Luna paused for a moment, then pointed.

“That way.”

“Right,” Hermione said, accepting that Luna was still better with directions than she was. “Better start walking.”

As they started off again, Hermione glanced at Luna. She hadn’t a clue, then suddenly knew where to go. Her abilities didn’t extend miles away, not out here. Hermione chewed on it for an hour before speaking up.

“How’d you know where to go?” Hermione asked.

“The ground told me.”

“No, it didn’t. I know how speak with anything works, and it doesn’t go that far. Perhaps when you’re in the Forbidden Forest you can talk to the entire forest, but you can’t do that out here.”


Hermione stopped walking.

“It’s alright, Moon. Whatever it is, you can trust me. We’re in this together.”

Luna froze. She stammered trying to find something to say. She looked more like a frightened animal than Hermione had seen her.

Tutela sat down beside Luna and stared up at her.

Luna took a few deep breaths and calmed herself down.

“I’ll tell you after we’ve set up camp for the night,” Luna said. “I promise.”

They walked for a few hours in silence. Hermione wanted to know more, but she waited for Luna to tell her. There was no point in pushing her too hard.

After the sun had gone down, they stopped for the night. Hermione couldn’t see a town in the distance, so she figured it was farther than advertised. Luna sat down across form Hermione, who was trying to find the least rocky spot to sleep, while wishing she had a tent.

She scrounged around her pack for her money. She didn’t have much on her, but it’d be enough for something.

Tutela trotted over to her and dropped a pile of sticks next to her. A few minutes later, Hermione had a fire going. While the heat wasn’t necessary — they both had endure elements to keep them comfortable through the night — the light was helpful. Besides, she had a sense that Luna’s story was long, and a campfire seemed appropriate.

“I’ve got dreams,” Luna said. “Dreams of other Lunas. Dreams where I’m them, living their lives.”

Hermione listened intently, intrigued by Luna’s ability. A few times she tried working out how it must work, but she gave up to keep listening.

“So another one of them knew where to find Silaria,” Hermione said, “and how to fight Lestrange.”

Luna nodded.

“The collection of all of them in me, we call Losha. Even though I’m Moon, Mars, Neptune, Jupiter, Mercury, Pluto, Venus, Uranus, Saturn, they all live in me.”

“Which one’s the fighter?”

“Mars. She rules Knockturn Alley.”

“Sure. Why not?”

“She… she’s the one who can kill people, not me.”

“Thank you for telling me,” Hermione said. “Really, Moon, thank you.”

They walked to Silaria, which ended up taking most of the day. Hermione was happy that it turned out to exist at all when they reached it. Hermione chose not to bother Luna with any questions about her gift. She had plenty of them, but they could wait.

She also wondered how much of Rose’s memories Luna still had. Did she know what was at the end of their adventure? How much had Slytherin ripped out before she’d run away?

She kept herself entertained with thoughts of what Rose had left for them. How was she going to relay so much information to them? Was it a recollection of everything that had happened? Some illusory tour through time? That sound like Rose’s way of doing things.

When they reached Silaria, Hermione realized immediately that it was a town like Hogsmeade. People walked all over in robes or cloaks. Magic was performed in the streets without concern for any onlookers. No one seemed terribly worried about anything.

“Would you mind coming with me?” Hermione asked. “I’d rather know where I’m going.”

Luna stared for a moment, then nodded.

Not for the first time in the past 24 hours, Hermione wondered if Luna stayed in constant communication with her other selves.

They walked into town, looking around at the lights coming to life in the streets. People bustled about, not paying them much mind. She spotted a copy of the Daily Prophet in a shop window, reminding her that she wasn’t outside of the Ministry’s gaze.

It probably doesn’t have control here.

“Is there an inn somewhere?” Hermione asked Luna after they’d walked for a few minutes.

Luna paused, then started walking. She easily pushed her way through people, looking like she could see just fine.

Hermione pushed through people, but the wave thinned out before long.

“They must be going somewhere,” Hermione said when she caught up to Luna.

“Here’s the inn,” Luna said, looking at the building in front of them.

Hermione looked the building up and down. It had seen better days. It looked a little bigger than the Hog’s Head, but apart from that, it wasn’t that different than it had looked before the house-elves had gone at it during the earthquake.

On the one hand, it would be nice to sleep in a proper bed. One the other, she wasn’t sure it was worth it.

Hermione looked at Luna. Her smile had faltered a little. She stared off into the distance, keeping her face pointed away from Hermione.

“Perhaps we can sleep outside together,” Hermione said. “I think I’d rather spend the night with you anyway.”

Luna lit up and threw her arms around Hermione. Hermione herself was decidedly less enthusiastic, but she tried her best.

“We’ll sleep outside town, then stock up on supplies in the morning,” Hermione said. “We’ve got a ways to go still.”

She looked out and saw people gathering in the fields near the town.

“What’s going on today?” Hermione asked.

Luna paused, tilting her head back and forth. With her usual amount of warning (none) she grabbed Hermione’s hand and ran towards the crowd. Crookshanks and Tutela ran with them to keep up.

“It must be exciting,” Hermione said, although she wasn’t sure to whom she was talking. Luna certainly wasn’t listening.

“Get ready,” Luna said.

“I’m sure I’ll work out for what I’m preparing on my own.”

Hermione followed Luna to the crowd of people, where they stopped so Luna could smell the air. Hermione didn’t see what everyone was doing, apart from drawing their wands.

She caught the name of a spell from someone talking to their kids, and realized what they were doing.

“Everyone’s about to send up sparks, aren’t they?”

If that was the case, why was Luna so excited? Even as she nodded, her excitement never faded.

The lights in town flickered, and everyone readied their wands. Hermione readied her hands. She didn’t know why they were doing it, but it couldn’t have been abnormal for anyone to join.

The lights in town flickered again, and she heard hushed whispers of “not yet”.

She knew it was time when the lights flickered again, but not because they went out. The lights in town shot towards the sky. At the same time, everyone there aimed their wands up and fired.

Hundreds of spark spells lit up the sky. Hermione and Luna added their own to the mix. For a moment, it looked like there were millions of stars there. The sparks hung in the air, longer than they should have, before finally flickering out.

It might have been the most beautiful thing Hermione had ever seen.

Everyone applauded as the lights in the sky went out, and the lights in the village went back on.

“There are two places around here where time suspends for a moment,” Luna told her. “Silaria holds the Star Casting every year when it happens here. Ana brought us to the other one. Rose must have known that and used it to give us the clue.”

Everyone chatted on their way back to the town. Hermione and Luna stayed behind, drifting away from the town.

“You couldn’t see it,” Hermione said. “I’m sorry. It was beautiful.”

Despite that, Luna didn’t stop smiling.

“Saturn saw it when she was a little girl. She comes back every year to remind herself how wonderful the world is. I’ve seen it through her eyes.” Her grin broadened. “Besides, I could smell it.”

“Smell it?” Hermione asked, thinking it couldn’t be that interesting to smell it.

“Happiness. Pure happiness.”

They started out after they’d slept a few hours. It probably helped that they hadn’t slept in the inn; it’d be difficult to explain why she hadn’t slept more than a few hours.

“I’ve got a couple questions,” Hermione said as they started off. “A bunch of them, actually. Are you okay talking about it?”

“About what?”

“Your dreams.”

Luna faltered for a moment, but nodded in spite of this.

“Do you talk to the others?”

“Sort of. I can keep their memories in my head well enough to talk to them as though they were here.”

It concerned Hermione a little that it sounded like Luna was hallucinating.


“Unicorn blood,” Luna replied. “Given willingly, it can create powerful runes. I used it to draw the tattoo on the back of my neck.”

Hermione stopped walking as she realized what that would’ve meant.


“With my hands.”

“You couldn’t see it. You’d… You would’ve been blind anyway.”

“Oh. Tutela helped.”

Hermione glanced down at their animal companions. Once again, Crookshanks was not thrilled with all the walking they were doing. He had hitched a ride on Tutela for the day, who didn’t seem to mind the extra passenger.

“How many of them are there?”

“A bunch, but I only have enough memories of a few of them to keep them in my head.”

Hermione looked at Luna, expecting her to be uncomfortable talking about it, but she didn’t seem bothered.

“Which ones?”

“I’m Moon. There’s Mercury, who always has an escape plan. Venus is… loving. Mars is—”

“Ninja Crime Lord Luna.”

Luna giggled.

“Yes. Jupiter was adopted by a pureblood family, and Neptune became a pirate.”

“Because of course one of the Lunas became a pirate.”

“Pluto’s always sad, and Uranus ran away. She spends most of her time as a hawk.”

Hermione counted off each planet in the solar system.

“And Saturn?”

“Saturn’s nice. She goes around with her dad doing good things.”

“If you can tap into their memories like you did at Hogwarts, then—”


Luna’s sudden objection caught Hermione off guard. Had she said something wrong?

“Why not?”

She caught Tutela staring at her, then the homunculus shook her head.

“Never mind. I’m sure it’s not necessary. You did fine against Ana.”

Luna smiled, apparently happy to be off the subject. Hermione wondered why, but she didn’t wonder for long; the answer was obvious. Luna, sweet, hopeful Luna, had torn someone’s throat out with her bear teeth. It wasn’t something Hermione would’ve wanted to remember, much less repeated.

It was dark when they reached the campsite. That didn’t stop them; they got to work scouring the area for some hint as to what they were doing next.

<Anything out of the ordinary,> Hermione said for the third time. <Anything that seems to say ‘Rose built this’.>

She should’ve realized it when she said it that Rose would’ve made it that obvious.

<I believe I have found it.>

Hermione ran to Luna’s position, spotting what she’d found through the dark.

In all the times she’d been there, she had never noticed it. Maybe it’d always been there, but judging by the graffiti reading “Rose built this” in red letters (Hermione rolled her eyes), she figured it hadn’t always been there.

“It” was the ruin of a cobblestone building. Vines had grown over it, but the building itself was sizable. It was nearly a perfect square, no ceiling. A gate hung off its hinges, exposing the inside to them. On either side of the gate stood a suit of armor.

<There’s something inside,> Luna said, pointing at Crookshanks who had perched on the wall in front of them. <More rooms, mostly crumbling, a bunch of suits of armor, and in the center is a flag.>

<Alright, so we’re going in to get the flag. It probably has something on it that will give us our next clue.>

Hermione knew it couldn’t be that simple, but she tried the easy way first. Closing her eyes, she cast dimension door, targeting the middle of the ruins.

It surprised her a little to find that the area was under a dimension lock. Why had Rose planned for her to try that? Rose had given her the information she’d needed to learn the magic from Rose’s world, which still confused Hermione, but how had she known Hermione would learn dimension door?

<It’s warded against dimension door,> Hermione informed Luna. <We’ll have to go in the old-fashioned way.>

<Sounds like fun.>

Crookshanks stayed on the wall as a lookout, while the rest of them walked inside.

The first obstacle to their success made itself known when they stepped inside. Hermione figured in hindsight that it was enchanted to detect her, as if the armor had come to life when anyone walked inside, that’d be a problem. It didn’t come to life when Luna or Tutela walked in either. Only her.

A sword swung at them from around a corner. Luna saw it coming and ducked out of the way. The suit of armor attached to it ran at them.

<Nimblewrights!> Luna exclaimed. <They’re all Nimblewrights!>

<So I’ve gathered!>

Hermione flung it backwards, then Tutela jumped on it and closed her jaws over its head. The armor went limp, and their party moved quicker through the maze.

They rounded another corner and three more Nimblewrights came to life. The first one swung at Tutela, who dodged aside the blow. The next two went after Hermione, who conjured shields to defend herself.

Luna leapt at the one going after Tutela and tackled it to the ground. The Nimblewright recovered and swiped at Luna.

Meanwhile, Hermione transfigured spikes on her shields which wounded her Nimblewrights, but didn’t stop them. She slammed down the shields as the Nimblewrights went for her legs.

<What works on Nimblewrights?>

<Fire stuns them!> Luna replied.

As Tutela got out of the way, Luna breathed fire onto their Nimblewright. It froze in place, stopping its attack.

Hermione shot bursts of fire from her shields. One stopped. The other didn’t.

<It’s not working!>

<Spell resistance!>

<Now you tell me!>

The other Nimblewright knocked Hermione’s feet out from under her. She landed hard on her arm, breaking her concentration on her shields. They vanished as the other Nimblewright unfroze.

Crab apples!

She rolled aside as one of them drove its swords into the ground.

Hermione thought through what Rose had told her about dealing with spell resistance. Not all spells could be stopped by it; only direct attacks, usually. Few conjuration spells were stopped by it.

Hermione focused on orb of fire. She flung out her hand as the orange ball formed on it. The orb shot at one of the Nimblewrights, who fell to pieces when the orb struck it.

The other one caught Hermione in the side with its sword. Hermione retaliated by firing another orb of fire at it. It didn’t destroy it, but it stunned it, giving Hermione time to get back on her feet.

She started another orb of fire, but Tutela tore through the Nimblewright. Hermione glanced over and saw that the one Luna and Tutela had been dealing with was in ruins.

The four of them ran through the ruins. Crookshanks ran along the wall, looking out for any more statues. She informed Luna when she noticed something of interest.

<Crookshanks says there’s a large room with a flag inside it up ahead,> Luna said after they’d dismantled another group of Nimblewrights. <That’s where we’re going.>


They moved on, Crookshanks providing a look ahead. Tutela went first, then Luna and Hermione.

They emerged overlooking a chamber. Two worn out stairways led down to the dirt floor. At the center of the room stood a red flag. Unlike the rest of the ruins, there were no Nimblewright anywhere to be found.

<No Nimblewright,> Hermione said, <bad sign.>

While Crookshanks stayed up above, the other three walked down the steps. When they reached the floor, a humming sound filled their ears. Ahead of Hermione. Luna froze.

<What is it?> Hermione asked.

<I don’t think you’re going to like it.>

Hermione glared at Luna.


Sparks lit up the night, and Hermione realized why she wouldn’t like it.

From out of a tunnel behind them came a long, metal serpent. The sparks were electricity, crackling around its fangs.

<It’s a bronze serpent,> Luna said.


<Don’t use electricity on it.>

It lashed out at Hermione, who hesitated. Luna threw up a stone barrier, stopping the serpent short.

Hermione and Luna split up, but the serpent kept the flag covered. They had no way around it, so Hermione realized she had to go through it.

She hurled another Orb of Fire at it. While it clearly damaged it, it didn’t stun it like it had the Nimblewrights.

I suppose that would’ve been too easy.

With its tail around the flag, it reared up and struck at Hermione again.

Why do they always go after me?

Hermione jumped out of the way. She tried to tumble, but fell and landed on her back, knocking the wind out of her.

The serpent reared up again, but Tutela barreled into it, knocking it away from her.

Luna ripped chunks of stone from the walls and hurled them at the serpent.

The serpent dodged around them, taking a few hits, then turned its attention back to Hermione, who was climbing to her feet.

<Brain! Look out!>

<I see it!>

The serpent struck at her again. Hermione panicked and froze. She wasn’t fast enough to dodge it like Luna was. Battered and bruised from the Nimblewrights, she was too tired to come up with anything.

Her mind came up with something on it own.

Hermione closed her eyes, but the serpent didn’t hit her. She heard the crackling and humming of electricity, but it didn’t hit her. When she opened her eyes, at first it looked like the serpent had stopped.

Then she saw the ooze.

Black ooze had erupted from around her, seeping into the serpent and holding it in place. As it did, the serpent hissed and sputtered, thrashing around in pain.

Hermione looked down at her feet, around which the ooze originated, then back at the serpent. She raised her hand, then spread her fingers.

Like it had with Ana, the ooze expanded, ripping through the serpent. Chunks of it were torn off, but it didn’t fall.

Hermione stayed calm and focused on the ooze. It receded, returning to her. She focused on the serpent, willing the ooze to attack it again.

Memories of almost hurting Luna with the ooze flashed into her head, but she remained focused on the serpent. The ooze spread over the ground, making it glow bright green.

A spike of crystal erupted from the ooze, striking the serpent. Another struck it, then another.

Behind it, Luna ripped two large chunks out of the wall and slammed them into the serpent. The girls hit it again and again, until at last, it fell.

As the bronze serpent crumbled, Hermione stumbled over to the flag and pulled it out of the ground. It was still blank, an empty, red flag flapping in the breeze.

“Sure,” she panted.

“Are you alright?” Luna asked.

Hermione looked down as the last of the ooze melted into the ground.

“I’m not sure.” She looked up and smiled at her friend, not that she could see. “I’m sure I will be. Come on. Let’s get out of here.”

Their party walked out of the ruins. Any remaining statues had fallen apart, giving them no resistance on their way out. When they reached the exit, they all collapsed.

“Great,” Hermione said. “Good work team.”

She looked up at the flag and saw that it had changed. The blank flag now bore the image of the earth inside of a cup.

“The world inside of a cup,” Hermione panted, knowing Luna couldn’t see it. “What are the odds that’s not the world cup?”

“It already passed this year,” Luna said. “Do we have to wait?”

Hermione shook her head.

“No. It’s not just the world cup. Ref, then Ana, now my family’s campsite. The clues are for me, and I’ve only ever been to one world cup.”

Flashes of people screaming entered her head, but she shook it off.

“We’ve got to get to Dartmoor,” Hermione said, “to the site of the 1994 Quidditch World Cup.”

Chapter Text

Sarah sat in her office, reading a police report for the fifth time, hoping she was wrong. If she were, it’d be the first time in months.

She’d been right about something being amiss about Draco’s death. Sally-Anne and Lucius had different recollections of what had happened. Until Dan and Emma had told her about Slytherin, she hadn’t had a theory about what had happened. After that, it made perfect sense why Sally-Anne would’ve had a different recollection: Slytherin had removed itself from her memory.

Now she was hoping that a recent murder wasn’t the result of meddling from Magicals.

The moment Eric walked through her door, the look on his face told her she was right.

“Did they deny it?” Sarah asked.

Eric nodded.

“Profusely. Dodged the question, then wouldn’t give me a straight answer when they did.” Eric slumped in the chair in front of her. “Talking to the Minister himself would’ve been easier.”

Sarah shook her head, her sense of humor dried up.

“I tried. He gave me worse. The Ministry knows something about this, something they don’t want us to know.”

“They always do,” Eric said, much in the tone of a child that was tired of someone else taking something they wanted. “Why do we have to deal with them?”

“Because McGonagall won’t talk to me face to face yet,” Sarah replied. “You know it’s a lot to take in. The only reasons she’s talking to me at all is because I’m Sally-Anne’s mum and Dumbledore told her to.”

She folded her hands on her desk and stared into space. A missing train car, evidence of smuggling inferi into the countryside, several people missing, now one dead. It wasn’t adding up.

“No one’s taken credit for it,” Eric said. “Not yet. Whoever it is, they’re keeping a mostly low profile.”

“McGonagall had the staff check the Express before they went to Hogwarts,” Sarah said. “She believed me that far at least. No additional or false cars, so the stolen one wasn’t being used to smuggle something past the wards.”

She scribbled down some notes before returning her attention to Eric.

“Right. Keep pestering your contacts. Someone’s going to give eventually. What about our surveillance on the inspection team?”

Eric handed her a folder. She caught a glimpse of something in his eyes. A look that told her she wasn’t going to like what he’d found.

“Ins has been sacked,” he said before she opened it. “Officially, she’s taken early retirement.”

Sarah opened the folder. She found entire transcripts of closed Ministry meetings with the officials that had gone over Hogwarts during the holiday.

“She’s asking about Rose’s body,” Sarah said. “She’s always been clever. There’s something amiss. Assuming that Voldemort did kill her — and I’m not convinced he did — her body would’ve been in the Great Hall.”

Eric nodded, then motioned for her to turn the page. When she did, she found pictures of the Great Hall. The students had been told to avoid it when they’d collected their things. The staff weren’t idiots; any of the Death Eaters could’ve been faking being dead.

“Her body was gone before they got there,” Sarah said. “And there’s no dust.” She looked up. “Ronald can tell you exactly what it should look like. The boy remembers how Brown looked after Rose hit her, but there’s none of that here. There should be two piles.”

“They’d all been read in on Rose,” Eric said. “Safety precaution or something, but they all should’ve known that.”

I told them to rook for it,” Sarah said, throwing the folder on her desk.

“It’s as if someone got inside their heads and made them forget it,” Eric said.

In her office, there were multiple hoops impostors had to jump through. Her assistant grilled everyone that walked into her office, including Sarah herself. Sarah, in turn, grilled her assistant. So if her assistant had let in Eric, he was safe. Otherwise, she would’ve been suspicious that Eric seemed to know what she was thinking.

She narrowed her eyes at him.

He held up his hands in surrender.

“I admit it! I’m guilty! You got me! I’m the one that keeps drinking all the coffee in the break room!”

She glared at him for a moment before returning to the file. Ins had been sacked after trying to force another investigation of Hogwarts, specifically to find Rose’s body.

“They’re far too eager to have people returning,” Sarah said, “and there are more students at Hogwarts than there’ve been since the war. What’s it up to?”

She hoped Eric had an answer, but going by his silence, he had nothing.

“Right. Keep monitoring the situation.”

Her eyes landed on the other file he was holding, and she moved her gaze to his face.

“What else did you find?”

He pressed his lips together, once again looking like a little kid.

She held out her hand and waited for him to hand her the file.

He slowly moved it to her. The moment she took it, he leapt up and moved three paces back.

She shot him an expression with a mixture of confusion and exasperation, then opened the file. When she did, she found out why he was acting more annoying than usual.

“How the Hell has she not been sacked?” Sarah roared. “She tortured a student!”

The obnoxious smile of Dolores Umbridge looked back at her from the file. According to their research, she’d been climbing her way back through the ranks at the Ministry. The rule the Ministry had always followed was that if you used an Unforgivable Curse, you went to Azkaban. No exceptions. At least, not until now.

“Keep an eye on her,” Sarah growled. “If she puts one foot out of line, tear her apart. If she interacts with any student at Hogwarts, bring her to me.”

Eric, his eyes wide, nodded.

“Would you like some coffee, boss?” he asked, nodding to the coffee machine in her office.

“Yes,” she said, getting up to get it herself. It was going to be a long few weeks.

That morning, Harry was reading the Daily Prophet over someone’s shoulder. He himself refused to get a copy of it — they’d lied enough about him for his liking — but he wanted to stay informed.

“Someone’s made an attempt on Gringotts,” he said.

Sally-Anne and Ron both turned their attention to him.

“Please tell me it wasn’t Brain and Moon,” Sally-Anne said.

“Doesn’t say,” Harry said. “‘The Gringotts Bank office at 738 Diagon Alley and its associated vault had an attempt made on it by persons unknown. The Goblins were able to prevent the break in, but unable to apprehend the individuals.’ I can’t quite see the rest of it. Probably going on about how the Ministry should’ve been present to have heroically apprehended the culprits.”

“A lot of odd things have been happening lately,” Sally-Anne said, rubbing her wrist for a moment.

“The Ministry must be keeping it quiet,” Ron said. “Something’s going on, but the Ministry won’t let the Daily Prophet report it. They only bother pointing out where Gringotts is if they’ve got to reach their word quota or something. At least, that’s what Charlie said last time they did that.”

“People were inspecting the cars for a moment at the train station,” Harry said. “Like they were expecting someone to be on board.”

Ron frowned at him, and Harry could see the wheels turning in his head. An idea was forming, and Harry was sure it’d pull them away from their new boring lives.

“Last year, how did we find out Rose was still alive?”

“Dumbledore told us to watch out for her,” Harry said. “Then he later told us directly, after she’d… shown up.”

“What if they didn’t tell us?” Ron said. “What if they’re not telling us now?”

“We saw her die,” Sally-Anne said. “Voldemort killed her. She’s dead.”

Harry could picture it clearly in his mind. Voldemort ordering Rose around; Rose laughing at him. He could see it, hear it, but something felt odd. Like he couldn’t remember feeling anything. Fear, joy, nothing.

“Everything’s fine,” he said. “We’ve grown so used to people being out to get us, we’re looking for it. No one’s out to get us anymore. Safe and boring now, remember?”

Sally-Anne smiled and nodded.

“Safe and boring.”

They looked at Ron, who wasn’t saying anything, then at Ginny, who’d been listening to their conversation.

She still said nothing, but smiled at them.

“Safe and boring,” Ron said, although he didn’t sounded convinced.

Harry’s first class of the new year was Arithmancy. It seemed odd that it wasn’t Professor Vector teaching it. He’d struggled through it, but thanks in part to Hermione, he’d made it through. He needed the N.E.W.T. if he wanted to go into teaching, but he didn’t know how he’d make it through without her help.

He struggled with the lesson, wondering why it came so naturally to Hermione. Defence had always come naturally to him, but not Arithmancy. It was hard to keep track of everything once the numbers had turned into letters.

After class, Rix asked him to stay a moment. Harry knew this was it. He’d scraped by, but it wasn’t enough for this man, not without Hermione vouching for him or helping him.

“Mr. Potter, I have two things I’d like to ask you about,” Rix said. “Am I keeping you from anything?”

“I’ve got Charms now,” Harry replied.

After a minute of comparing schedules, he agreed to meet Rix in his office at three o’clock. That gave him a few hours to hold onto his dream before figuring out what to do next.

Sally-Anne walked into Potions that afternoon, wondering what sort of teacher Slughorn was going to be. She hoped they wouldn’t be working in pairs. Without Neville, Hermione, or Draco there, she wasn’t sure she wanted to work with anyone.

As with the previous year, most of the class was Slytherin. Crabbe, Goyle, and Parkinson were all there. Sally-Anne caught Parkinson glaring at her when she walked in and took a seat away from them.

“I’m surprised you had the nerve to show up, Perks,” Parkinson said.

Sally-Anne herself was surprised that McGonagall was the only teacher who ever seemed to be waiting for her students when they arrived.

She sat down away from the group of Slytherins and hoped they’d get bored of harassing her if she ignored them.

Max and Hannah, the lone Hufflepuffs in their class, walked in and sat with Sally-Anne.

“Hey, Sally-Anne,” Max said. “Made it through your first day back?”

Sally-Anne glanced behind her.

“Not yet, but almost.” She smiled at them. “How are you two doing?”

“A little shaken up after last year,” Hannah said. “I’m sorry again about Neville.”

“I know,” Sally-Anne said. “How’s Professor Sprout doing?”

“She’s alright,” Max said. “She’s been checking on us, making sure we’re keeping it together. You know, usual Professor Sprout stuff.”

Sally-Anne smiled. Professor Sprout liked every student, but there’d been a special place in her heart for Neville. While his gran had wanted him to have nothing to do with Luna, Sally-Anne had overheard Professor Sprout suggesting ideas for dates.

“She might ask you herself,” Max said, “but you haven’t heard from Luna have you?”

Professor Slughorn entered the room before Sally-Anne could answer. She was thankful for the distraction; she’d started rubbing her hands together, so something to snap her out of it and return her focus to the present was always appreciated.

“Good afternoon, everyone,” Slughorn said. “What a marvelous group we’ve got here. I’m sure you’re all eager to get started, so I’ll get right to this year’s plan.”

He tapped his wand on the blackboard and words appeared. Sally-Anne took out her notebook and copied them down while Slughorn spoke.

“Simply, I’m to prepare you all for your N.E.W.T. exams in June. Now, I don’t know what horror stories your classmates have told you, but I assure you, there’s nothing to worry about, not one thing.”

Sally-Anne watched as Slughorn’s entire body shook when he laughed. It was strange to see a potions master so laid back after Snape.

As they worked, Sally-Anne could feel Parkinson’s eyes on her. She’d been at the funeral too. Sally-Anne began to wonder what Parkinson knew. Apart from Sally-Anne’s friends and some of the teachers, no one had known about her and Draco. Parkinson couldn’t know. Could she?

Harry met with Rix at three, and found that he hadn’t completely unpacked yet. There were still a few suitcases of books lying around, but Rix seemed to be in the middle of distributing them throughout the room.

“My first question is about your friend Ms. Granger,” Rix said when Harry walked in. “You see, Professor Vector was a dear friend of mine, so as you can imagine, I’ve heard all about the great Hermione Granger.”

“I can imagine,” Harry said, recalling how much he’d heard about the great Septima Vector from Hermione.

“In Septima’s memory, I wanted to check in on Ms. Granger. It’s what Septima would’ve wanted.”

Harry nodded, but then shook his head.

“I’m sorry to disappoint you professor, but none of us know where she is.”

Rix smiled kindly, reminding Harry a little of Professor Dumbledore.

“Quite alright, quite alright.”

“What was your other question?” Harry asked, keeping an eye on all the movement around him.

“Well, I noticed that you’ve been struggling to keep up.”

Here it comes.

“Lupin tells me you have ambitions of teaching. I want you to know that I make my students’ dreams my own. If you need extra help, please come see me. So long as I’m not in class, I’m at your service.”

Harry kept a careful eye on himself so he didn’t so any signs of how relieved he felt. Arithmancy was the only obstacle between himself and fulfilling the promises he’d made to Alavel. He’d become a teacher and live a normal life. Nothing was going to stop him.

After classes ended for the day, Sally-Anne, Harry, and Ron were instructed to go to classroom 7B to meet with Slughorn. Why they’d been summoned, none of them knew.

“I can’t understand why he wants to see us,” Ron said. “At least you’re in his class.”

Sally-Anne couldn’t offer an answer, but they nevertheless walked together to the room. Inside, they found a few dozen students, mostly fifth-, sixth-, or seventh-years. They took seats in the back of the classroom.

Slughorn was milling about, chatting with everyone. The moment they took seats, Slughorn excused himself to greet them.

“Good to see you all,” he said. “So glad you could make it.”

Sally-Anne stood up to meet him, and Ron and Harry followed her lead.

“We were pleased to receive your invitation,” Sally-Anne said, “although, you haven’t said what this is all for.”

Slughorn smiled at them and ushered them further into the room.

“I thought I’d get a few of Hogwarts’s most prominent students together. Give everyone a chance to get to know one another.”

Sally-Anne can probably tell you everyone’s life stories.

Ron himself looked around, but didn’t know too many of them. He recognized a few people from their defence club a few years ago, some Quidditch players, but he didn’t know too many of them.

Hold on, had Slughorn said most prominent students? Since when did that include him? He was Head Boy, but it didn’t mean as much to him now as it had years ago. If he and his friends made it to graduation alive, that’d be enough for him.

Sally-Anne smiled politely as Slughorn introduced her to a few people. As Ron had thought, she knew all of them. Even after the way Umbridge had used her, she’d returned to being everyone’s friend.

Ron glanced back and saw that Harry had ended up in a conversation with a few students Ron mostly didn’t know. He recognized Max and Hannah, but couldn’t remember Hannah’s friend’s name for the life of him.

Turning back to Sally-Anne, he saw she was starting to rub her hands together. He was sure that was new. Had she always worn her gloves all the time?

He walked up to her, tuning into the conversation she was having with a few of the other students.

“I’m only saying,” one of them, a Slytherin, was saying, “perhaps Dumbledore didn’t do as good a job defending the school as he thought he had. How many people died last year?”

“Six,” Ron said with more hostility than he’d intended.

“Precisely. Obviously, he didn’t do a good job of keeping people safe.”

Ron balled his fists, but relaxed somewhat when he saw Sally-Anne. For once, her social skills had abandoned her, and she was slouching. Sally-Anne never slouched.

“Sally-Anne, didn’t you say there was something you had to do before dinner?”

She looked at him, too out of it to catch his meaning. She frowned for a second, then nodded.

“I think there was.” She smiled at their companions, her usual self returning. “My apologies, we must be going.”

Ron caught Harry’s eye as they made their way to the door.

<We’re going out for some fresh air.>

Harry nodded to them, then returned to his conversation with the Hufflepuffs.

They thanked Slughorn for the invitation before they made their way out.

“Such a shame, but I quite understand. Two of the top students in your year, you must be awfully busy. Please, do come to the next Slug Club meeting, I’d be delighted to see you both again.”

Ron and Sally-Anne slipped out before anyone else could intercept them. They’d only been there for maybe 15 minutes, but that was plenty for Ron.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

Sally-Anne smiled at him, but something about it seemed off.

“I’m getting tired of people always talking about last year,” Ron said. “Haven’t they got something better to do?”

“It must seem so exciting to them,” Sally-Anne said, rubbing her wrist. That tic Ron recognized. She’d been doing that since her hand was cut off.

“Let’s get to the Great Hall,” he said. “Or we can sneak into the kitchens. If Dripty’s there, we might be able to convince him to give us some food early.”

Unlike the rest of her friends, Ginny woke up about the same time the rest of the school did. She looked at the pair of rings on her nightstand and reached for one of them. It would be nice not needing the extra sleep again.

When her finger touched the ring, she heard Rose’s laughter and recoiled. She brushed her hair back over her face and got out of bed. She’d be alright. She was hungry and a little tired, but alright.

Ginny walked into the Great Hall for breakfast the next morning, trying to keep her hair over her face as much as she could. Even then, she heard people whispering about her. They stared and pointed as if she couldn’t see them. People had been doing that for months, but she still wasn’t used to it.

The instinct to brush her hair out of her face had all but left her. It was better this way; at least it made it harder for people to see her disfigurement. She felt like a monster, like there’d been a monster inside of her, and now everyone could see it. She hated it, but there was no going back now. The best she could do was hide it.

She sat down, grabbed a plate, and got some food. It was all she could do to feel normal again.

Harry sat down across from her and grabbed some food of his own.

“First practice is today,” he said.

“I’ll be fine,” she replied.

Harry smiled at her.

“It never crossed my mind that you wouldn’t be.”

Ginny smiled. It was nice that someone still believed in her after everything she’d done. If Harry hadn’t still been captain, she wasn’t sure what she would’ve done. No one else would’ve let her stay on the team.

After breakfast, both the main and reserve teams made their way to the Pitch. Everyone was still there; the only person who’d graduated was Katie, but Demelza Robins had taken her place.

“Everyone in the air,” Harry said. “We’ll start with a scrimmage to get everyone warmed up.”

He broke them into two teams. Ginny was on a team with the reserve Keeper, Demelza, one of the reserve Chasers, Brett, and a reserve Beater. Harry and their reserve Seeker were working separately from the rest of the team.

They took to the air, and Jonathon grabbed the Quaffle. Demelza stayed with him as he tried getting to their goal. Brett lobbed a Bludgeor at him, determined to cut off his brother.

Jonathon swerved to avoid it, but it knocked the Quaffle out of his hands. Ginny shot towards it and grabbed it, racing towards the goal post where her brother lay in wait.

Demelza came up beside her, and Ginny passed it to her when people came up in front of her.

Ginny moved around the other Chasers, the wind whipping at her hair. Demelza passed her the Quaffle again, giving them a clear line at the goal posts.

Ron tensed up, keeping his eyes fixed on the Quaffle. Ginny looked for an opening, then drifted to her right. She feinted, pretending to pass to Demelza. To her surprise, Ron shifted, expecting her to pass.

Ginny threw the Quaffle to her left, but Ron kept up with it. He grabbed the Quaffle before it could go in and passed it to Jonathon, who raced away with it.

They went back and forth like that, with Ginny and Demelza picking up the slack for their Keeper, and Ron doing the same for his out of practice Chasers. As they warmed up, they began to improve. It was odd; no one held ill will towards Ginny. Her brother didn’t mock her when he blocked their shots. Demelza and Jonathon didn’t have a problem with her. Demelza was cheerful even.

They switched to drilling different maneuvers after an hour. Harry kept them working, although not quite as hard as Wood or Johnson had. Ginny had only been a reserve, and she remembered well how sore she’d always been.

During one drill, she finally got the Quaffle past her brother. When she did, Demelza cheered for her.

“Not bad,” Ron called at her. “Bet you can’t do it again!”

Even then, he grinned at her. Why were they proud of her? She was deformed, scarred. She brushed her hair back over her face. No one could see how ugly she was. She was a monster, inside and out.

Her vision started to cloud over, and she heard screaming.


Taltria’s voice echoed in her head, followed by an explosion, then Rose laughing.

Next time, don’t go in without one of the big kids.

Ginny clutched her head, shaking it, trying to clear it. It wasn’t real. Rose was dead. She’d seen her die.

Why didn’t it feel right? Why did the memory feel fake? She should’ve been relieved to see it, but she couldn’t remember feeling anything. Rose and Voldemort had died before her eyes, but she’d felt nothing. Had Rose broken her? Could she feel anything anymore?

From above his team, Harry watched Ginny do the impossible and sneak the Quaffle past Ron. It must’ve been the first time outside of endurance drills he’d let one slip against the team. Harry smiled with pride. Keeping Ginny had been the right choice.

Then he saw her shake her head, and knew instantly that something was wrong. Glancing at Ron’s number one fan in the stands, he saw her notice it too.

<Is she alright?> Sally-Anne asked.

Before Harry could answer her question, Ginny answered it for them.

She doubled over on her broom and started screaming. Without a grip on her broom, she slid off.

Harry had made dives at the Snitch that pushed the Firebolt to its limits. He was sure he’d broken the sound barrier on a few occasions, but in all that time, he wasn’t sure he’d flown as fast as he had to catch Ginny.

He dove at her, pushing the Firebolt for everything it had. The ground got bigger, and his instincts said he was going too fast. He didn’t care. His friend was falling, and he knew something the others didn’t.

Harry snatched Ginny out of the air then pulled up to avoid killing them both. He looked up at Ron, who’d drawn his wand, but hadn’t had time to cast a spell.

“Is she alright?” Sally-Anne called, having made her way onto the Pitch. “Is she hurt? What happened?”

Harry called up to the team.

“Ron, come with me! Jonathon, you’re in charge! Keep drilling that maneuver! If it can get past Ron, it can get past anyone!”

Harry started out of the Pitch, Ginny in his arms. He was aware he didn’t have the strength to keep carrying her, but his adrenaline was doing the work for him.

He, Ron, and Sally-Anne walked to the Hospital Wing, where Madame Pomfrey didn’t need specifics to start looking her over.

“It hasn’t even been a week!” Looking around, she added, “never mind that, get her on a bed.”

Harry laid her down,then nearly fell over himself. With the surge of adrenaline gone, he realized how sore he was from carrying her.

“Without giving me orders, tell me what happened.”

They explained what they saw, but Harry only knew so much. They didn’t know what had caused it, which was Madame Pomfrey’s next question.

“Then I want her watched,” Pomfrey said. “Every hour, as much as possible, and I don’t want her back on that broom until I know what happened.”

Harry wanted to argue, but he’d been at Hogwarts long enough to know better. No one changed Madame Pomfrey’s mind.

“Understood,” he said before Ron argued and made it worse. “May we please stay here with her until she wakes up?”

“You don’t have to,” Sally-Anne said. “I can do that. You two get back to Quidditch. Even the best team needs practice.”

Madame Pomfrey had walked away, so Harry assumed she didn’t mind if they stayed. It wasn’t as if she didn’t know them by now.

He looked at Ginny, whose hair wasn’t covering her face for once. He wished she’d leave it like that; she looked better with it out of her face.

“You’re right,” Harry said. “We’ve still got practice. We’ll be here as soon as it’s done.”

“Let us know when she wakes up,” Ron said.

Sally-Anne smiled at him, but didn’t actually agree with him. Harry suspected she intended to “forget” to tell them so they wouldn’t be distracted. As if the thought of Ginny getting worse wasn’t distracting enough.

He took another look at Ginny. She was resting, something she could use. He nodded to Sally-Anne before he and Ron left the Hospital Wing.

Ginny stayed the night in the Hospital Wing. When she woke up, she told Sally-Anne what had happened, who then told Harry and Ron that night in the common room.

Ron sat in silence for a moment, one of the most common thoughts in his head lately was once again in the forefront: after what she’d done, why were they still using Rose’s equipment.

“We shouldn’t keep using the stuff Rose gave us,” Harry said. “After what she did… everyone died because of her. She’s killed eight of our friends, and tried to kill Hermione. Never mind what Hermione and Luna say, Rose is evil. We can’t keep the rings on, or the earpods in.”

“What about our packs?” Ron asked.

“Those are easy to replace,” Harry said. “There’s a shop in Hogsmeade that can get us replacements. Top of the line too, so long as we can pay, and I can.”

Ron looked at Sally-Anne, who wasn’t saying anything.

“I’m not sure,” she said at last. “How many times since then have we survived because of what Rose gave us? Even against her?”

“After everything she’s done, we can’t keep using it all. I mean, I’m fine in Quidditch without them.”

“What else can we do?” Sally-Anne asked. “I can’t remember the last time I got eight hours of sleep. I can’t even imagine needing to eat anymore.”

“Are we going to stop using the nicknames she gave us too?” Ron asked.

That caught Harry off guard. It took Ron a moment to realize why: Rose hadn’t given Harry the nickname “Skyeyes”, Alavel had.

“I don’t know,” Harry said. “Maybe.”

“What would’ve happened last year if we’d needed sleep?” Ron asked. “Or the year before that? We planned against Umbridge while we would’ve been sleeping otherwise. We made it through her first night in power because we don’t need to sleep as much as everyone else.”

Ron looked between his friends, wondering if any of them knew the argument in his head. It was easy, the difference between last year and this year: no one was after them. There was no need for combat readiness, they didn’t need to fight anymore. The war was over. At least, he hoped it was.

“Ron’s got a good point,” Sally-Anne said. She looked down at her ring. “I… I’m not sure what I’d do without my dress or my ribbon.”

“We’d be normal,” Harry said. “There’s nothing wrong with being normal.”

“What about the earpods?” Ron asked. “How many times a day do we use them without thinking of it?”

This time, even Ron didn’t know how to argue with that. Other people got by without them, but they didn’t have to. He didn’t want to be like everyone else again.

“What about Hermione?” Sally-Anne asked.

“What about her?” Ron asked. “She doesn’t believe Rose did anything wrong.”

“Could she make them? It sounds mad, but she’s worked out a lot of Rose’s magic.”

Ron paused and considered it. Hermione knew Rose’s magic, or enough of it. Could she enchant objects like Rose could?

“It can’t hurt to ask her,” Sally-Anne said, pushing on. “Even if she doesn’t believe us about Rose, she might help out of curiosity.”

Ron thought back to the times he’d found Hermione poring over notes about a problem. How excited she’d been back then. If she still had that enthusiasm, there was little question that she’d help them, even if she didn’t agree with them about why.

“I think that sounds like a good idea,” Harry said. “Ron?”

Ron nodded.

“Who should ask her?” he asked.

“Knowing her,” Sally-Anne said, “she’ll start going on about how exciting it’d be, so you’re the only one that will be able to keep up with her.”

Ron thought of all the other times Hermione had talked at him and sighed.

“Sounds fun.”

“Until then,” Harry said, slipping the ring off his finger, “I’m not using this. I’m already wearing my other glasses, and I’m fine. I’ll get us all new packs tomorrow in Hogsmeade.”

Ron looked at Sally-Anne, and hoped he spoke for both of them. If she followed Harry’s example, he didn’t know if he’d be able to stand his ground.

“I think it’d be easier for Ron and I to do our rounds if we don’t need the sleep,” Sally-Anne said. “Just for now.”

“Alright,” Harry said, standing up. “Well, now that I’m mortal again, I think I’ll get some sleep. I’ll see you two in the morning.”

Ron watched him go, then looked down at his own ring. He hoped Hermione would come up with something, because he didn’t want to be mortal again.

Chapter Text

Hermione ran, trying hard to catch up to Rose. She didn’t know where she was, nor could she remember why she was trying to catch Rose, but she knew she had to. It was important. It could be her last chance to save her best friend.

Faster. Faster. People and places flew by. It might’ve made her dizzy, but she felt nothing. She only knew she had to catch Rose.

A snake reared up ahead of them. At first, its scales glistened green, but the colors ran together, changing from green, to brown, to colors she couldn’t name. But its eyes stayed focused on them, never wavering. No, not on them; on Rose.

Without warning, the snake struck Rose, devouring her in one bite. Hermione began to weep; she’d failed again. She’d done nothing but watch.

“You killed her,” the snake hissed. “This is all your fault.”

“What? No it isn’t! I saw you! This is your fault!”

“You killed her.”

More voices shouted at her from all around, saying the same thing, echoing the snake’s words. Was it her fault? But the snake had killed Rose, it couldn’t be Hermione’s fault.

“I killed her.” Hermione sank to her knees as the snake loomed over her. “I killed her.”

The snake slithered and coiled itself around her, all the while hissing to Hermione.

“You killed her. You’re no better than me.”

Hermione repeated everything the snake said. It was all true. She’d killed Rose, and she was no better than the snake.

It laid down its head and opened its maw. Hermione stared into the black abyss, then walked towards it. Everything was her fault. Rose’s death was all her fault. Everyone else’s death was her fault.

She walked into the snake’s mouth, no longer putting up a fight. After all, she was the villain now. This is what had to happen to villains.

The snake’s mouth snapped shut, and Hermione’s eyes shot open. She was inside a forest, sleeping close to Luna and Tutela. From her other side, Crookshanks purred softly in his sleep.

She blinked, and realized there were tears in her eyes. Wiping them away, she sat up and took stock of her belongings. She had no reason to think there was a problem, but she couldn’t be too careful. Besides, it kept her mind occupied.

When she’d finished, she sat back down and stared up at the stars. Her mind wandered to one of many questions she’d had in the past few months: Did Rose’s family know about her? Did they know she was dead?

Hermione had thought about trying to contact them, but she had no way to get a message through. With Rose dead, her condition conch was useless. That meant she’d have to rely on them getting through to her. Given that they hadn’t responded to her at all in the last few months before Rose had “died” the first time, she didn’t think it likely. They had other things to do apart from tracking her down.

That meant they’d never know what had happened to Rose. They’d probably assumed she’d died on the Rowling Plane, far away from home, cut off from all of them. It wasn’t the wrong conclusion; thanks to Hermione, that was exactly what had happened.

Crookshanks stopped purring and opened his eyes. He stretched out his head, then his front paws, then his back ones. After that, he walked over and curled up in Hermione’s lap.

“I feel a little bad for you,” she whispered. “You’re the only one here that needs food.”

Crookshanks looked up at her, then stood up and walked off into the forest. Hermione worried for a moment that he’d get hurt, but reminded herself that he wasn’t an ordinary cat. He was, however, one of the last pieces of home she had left.

She leaned back and stared at the stars again.

“I miss you, Rose. I wish things could’ve been different. If only you’d talked to me, told me what was going on. I’d forgive you, and you’d smile, and probably hug me whether I wanted you to or not.”

Hermione laughed at the many, many times Rose had ignored her boundaries. She’d hated it at the time, like it’d annoy her if Rose did it again, but it’d been something she’d had that was special. Time with Rose, something they’d shared. She’d never see Rose again, never scold her for threatening someone, never laugh at something stupid Rose had done or how Rose didn’t seem to understand what was appropriate or not. She was so much like a kid sometimes, but when they needed her, she’d been there for them.

Tears rolled down her cheeks, but she wiped them away and turned her mind to their next task. They had to return to the site of the World Cup, the only one Hermione had attended. The one where she’d changed forever.

Crookshanks walked out of the woods carrying a dead squirrel. It sat down beside her and began ripping it open.

“Fair enough,” Hermione said, turning away from her cat and his meal.

She looked back at Luna, who stirred and shifted her hand to the ground. It was odd seeing her new habits now that she was blind. She seemed so different, but the old Luna still shined through from time to time.

“Good morning,” Hermione said.

“Good morning,” Luna said, sitting up. She sniffed the air, then grimaced.

“What’s wrong?” Hermione asked, looking around. She couldn’t see far, but she wouldn’t be caught off guard.

“Crookshanks found breakfast.”

Hermione eased up and nodded.

“Yes, he did.” She looked back at her cat, who was still eating. “He was proving that we don’t need to worry about him.”

“That’s good. We’ve been out here a while, so it’d be bad if he were to go hungry.”

Hermione nodded, then remembered Luna couldn’t see her.

“Right, well, we’ve got a long way to go.”

As they packed up camp, Hermione worked out what day it was. They’d left near the end of the summer, and had been gone for a few weeks. Their friends would’ve started classes already.

“I wonder what it’s like at Hogwarts,” Hermione said.

“I don’t know. I wasn’t there much.”

“It’ll be different now, what with Professor Dumbledore gone.”

Hermione’s mind drifted back to the funeral, thankfully held outside Hogwarts and not inside. So many people, and they all blamed Rose for what had happened. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t Rose’s fault. She’d been coerced, Hermione was sure of it, and somewhere on their current path lay the proof.

<Brain, are you there?>

At first, Hermione considered simply ignoring Ron, but she decided she might as well see what he wanted, so long as it wasn’t another attempt at finding out what she was doing or where they were.

<I’m here. What is it?>

She told Luna what was going on, then started packing up her sleeping bag.

<We were wondering if you could… well, you see—>

<I haven’t got all day, Cohort. What do you need?>

She dropped her sleeping bag into her pack, then pulled out her hairbrush and used it to clean herself.

<Can you recreate the equipment Rose made us?>

Hermione pondered that while she brushed her hair. Many questions popped into her head, not the least of which was why they wanted her to recreate them.

<Why?> she asked, realizing the answer was probably because they thought Rose was a monster.

<Promise not to freak out on me?>


<Because Rose killed Professor Dumbledore, and we don’t feel comfortable using the things she made us.>

<Then don’t. While you’re at it, forget everything she taught you and stop using the nicknames she gave you. And tell Harry to stop looking up to Alavel.>

Hermione put her hairbrush away, then stood up, thinking about what she was going to do the rest of the day.

<If you can’t do it, you can just say so.>

<You don’t want to use the gifts Rose made for you, but you can’t live without them. Does that sum up your problem?>

Crookshanks finished his breakfast, then proceeded to clean himself. As dignified as her cat tried to act, Hermione knew he had no problems being carried around when he was tired of walking.

<Brain,> Sally-Anne said.

<Like I told Cohort: If you can’t stand using Rose’s gifts, don’t.>

<You know it’s not that simple.>

<It is for me.>

<So it doesn’t bother you that your hair clip was made by the person who murdered Professor Vector?>

Hermione sat down and began to brood. Sally-Anne had a point; it probably should’ve bothered her more. She wasn’t about to get rid of them, like she wasn’t about to stop wearing Reflectesalon.

<It must be bothering you all if you’re reaching out to me.>

<It does.>

The rest of her party got up and began to wander around the area. In part, it was to let them stretch their legs, but it also allowed them to search for traces that they were being followed.

<I’ll see what we can come up with.>

<Thank you.>

Hermione turned to Luna as she was sniffing one of the trees.

“The other PCs want to know if we can recreate the equipment Rose made for them.”

Luna frowned as the runes on her shifted around and she ran her hands through her hair, possibly brushing it.

“What for?”

“They don’t feel ‘comfortable’ using it anymore.”

Luna stopped doing whatever it was she was doing.

“That’s odd.”

“I know, but it’s something to do. I can cast the spells, but I’m not sure if I can bind them to an object.”

“I can help with that,” Luna said. “It’s probably only a matter of finding material that will hold them then imprinting runes onto it.”

Hermione considered that for a moment. Rose’s equipment all had runes on them, but they weren’t strictly necessary, they were only for aesthetics. She’d have to figure out how to enchant items, but in a way that stuck forever. Most runes eventually lost their charge, so she doubted that she could make the items last forever like Rose could.

“How long would those last?” Hermione asked her local rune expert.

Luna tilted her head, her hair falling to cover her face.

“I can make them last for several years if I do it right, but for the rings, they’ll need to be forged with the runes on them.”

Tutela stood up and trotted off in search of Crookshanks, who’d wandered off again, while Hermione thought about how they’d even forge the rings.

“That’s helpful to know, but how are we going to forge the rings?”

Luna pulled her hair back and tied it into a bun.

“I don’t know.”

“I don’t suppose you were a blacksmith in another life.”

Luna frowned, apparently not sure.

“I don’t think so. I’m sure there’s a blacksmith… oh.”

Hermione perked up, hoping Luna had an answer.

“What is it?”

“Goblins might be willing to help. They’re the crafters.”

Hermione sank a little.

“That’s not helpful, not really. We haven’t got a lot of money between the two of us.”

Tutela and Crookshanks walked back to camp. It surprised Hermione a little how friendly their animal companions had become.

“We can get Skyeyes to pay for it.”

“But he can’t send us money, otherwise Slytherin could send one of its pets to follow Hedwig.”

“Oh. Right.”

“And we can’t explain that to the others, either.”

Hermione felt a little let down. She’d gotten excited thinking of the challenges of crafting equipment, but they were blocked by the same old problem: money. Rose could literally make more gold, but they couldn’t.

“We can always steal what we need,” Luna suggested.

Hermione raised an eyebrow at this. Of all the people to suggest breaking the law, Luna wasn’t even on her list. Naturally, Rose was at the top of it.

“We could… but we’re trying to keep a low profile.”

“Saturn thinks we should do it. She says they’re our friends, and we should help them.”

Hermione huffed, unable to argue with it. She didn’t blame her friends for not wanting to use Rose’s gifts, nor for not wanting to give them up.

Still, she didn’t know how to proceed. They couldn’t go to Harry for funds. Any interaction with their friends and Slytherin would know. Hermione didn’t want to give it any clues about where they were.

“I don’t know. I don’t know. I doubt Rose considered any of this when she had to craft. How could we get the money without Slytherin knowing?”

“Dead drops,” Luna said. “Multiple dead drops. Have Skyeyes send funds to eight different locations, then tell him to pick them up after eight weeks. We’ll make our way to one of them, but they won’t know which one. Slytherin can’t keep eyes on all of them. You can teleport, so they don’t need to be anywhere we’ll actually be. Even if Slytherin follows Hedwig, she won’t lead it to us.”

Hermione considered it. As far as Rose knew, Slytherin’s means of keeping tabs outside the castle were limited. It had Evelyn, named by Rose for “Evil Int”, which it’d used on Hermione before. As Hermione had come to realize, part of their journey with Ana had been to throw it off. Luna could smell it, and insisted that no one had been following them. They’d all been checking for it.

If that was it… if Slytherin was limited, that would work. It was risky, though.

“We’ll need to know how much it will cost to recreate the rings,” Hermione said. “They may have to make do without anything else.”

“That’s their problem,” Luna said, a slight edge in her voice.

Hermione stared at her. She couldn’t think of one time she’d heard Luna talk like that.

“Why can’t they just use the equipment and not care?” Hermione asked. “We haven’t got time to worry about this. We’re busy. The sooner we finish our quest, the better. We can’t run after every side-quest the DM throws at us.”

Hermione spared a thought to how Rose would’ve reacted if she’d heard her talking like that. Probably her stupid grin (that Hermione certainly didn’t think of longingly), then bouncing on her feet (again, no nostalgia whatsoever), then lunge at Hermione and hug her (which Hermione was absolutely not wishing for).

“We’ll do it after we’ve finished then,” Luna said. “They can wait.”

“Agreed. If they’ve got a problem with the equipment, they don’t have to use it.”

To her surprise, Luna frowned. She never made eye contact anymore, so it was harder to tell to what she was reacting. She could’ve been upset about their conclusion, or she’d spaced out again.

“Saturn says it sounds heartless,” Luna said. “That we should be helping our friends, and she’s usually right about that.”

Frustration grew in her, something Hermione was doing little to stop until she glanced down and saw Reflectesalon on her waist. He would’ve told Rose off by now, urging her to keep a cool head.

Hermione closed her eyes and calmed herself down. Her friends didn’t know the whole story. Once they did, they wouldn’t have a problem with the equipment anymore, and everything would be fine.

After she said as much to Luna, her companion nodded.

“If they’re not,” Hermione said, “we’ll work on them when we’re back in London. I’m sure they can manage until then.”

Luna seemed happy with that answer, so Hermione reached back out to their friends.

<We haven’t got time to do anything now,> Hermione told all of them, <I don’t know when we will.>

<Can you guess?> Ron asked.

<I can’t, but Moon and I will work on the theory in the meantime. That’s the best I can offer for now.>

<We can replace the packs,> Harry said. <It’s mostly the rings that are hard to replace.>

<I’ll try to have something by Christmas.>

<We’ll make do until then,> Harry said, cutting off Ron. <Have you got a spell for the speaking thing?>

<Doublespeak,> Hermione and Ron said together.

<Not yet, but I can come up with something. I can’t optimize it the way I do for myself, so you’d either need wands or runes.>

<We’ll manage,> Harry said. <Thank you.>

<Alright. Hermione out.>

<Take care of yourselves,> Harry said. <Whatever it is you’re doing, I hope it helps.>

Hermione didn’t answer him, lest she risk giving away anything about what they were doing.

She told Luna what she’d told them, then stood up to start walking.

“We’re doing the right thing,” Hermione said. “They’ll be fine.”

Hermione let her mind wander as they started walking again. She wondered what was waiting for them. They’d fought Ana, a bunch of Nimblewrights, and a Bronze Serpent.

“What do you think the next challenge is?” she asked.

“I don’t know. There are plenty of constructs Rose knows how to make.”

Hermione felt a little let down. She wanted to know what it was so she could be prepared to fight it. The only time she’d done much was when the black ooze appeared again.

What was it? After the first time when it had nearly killed Luna, she’d looked it up, but there wasn’t a spell like it. Not that summoned nightmares to fight your opponent like it had with Rose.

It came out when she was stressed or scared, like her mind was lashing out. She’d let go of her mind and allowed it to unravel against Rose, and since then, it hadn’t felt like she’d pulled herself together again. Was that what it was? Hermione was unique; she used a form of magic no one had ever used before, so it was possible there were side-effects.

She didn’t want to rely on the ooze, but it might’ve been her only weapon. What if it was hurting her to use it? What if she lost control again and hurt Luna?

She glanced at Luna and got rid of that concern. Luna wasn’t helpless anymore. If Hermione lost control, Luna would manage.

Losha didn’t care for towns anymore. There were too many people, too much going on, and not a lot of trees or grass. It pained her to think that the town they were in had probably destroyed something’s habitat to make room for itself.

Brain liked them, so Losha tolerated it. It wouldn’t be long. Losha was beginning to think that Brain just wanted to be near one, that she didn’t need anything from it.

Losha knew something was wrong not long after they walked in. She could smell it in the air. Everyone was nervous about something, but they weren’t saying anything. She caught another scent, one she recognized, but she didn’t have a chance to investigate it before Brain got her attention.

<Moon, look at this.>

Losha faced Brain and waited for her to remember Losha was blind.

<Right. Erm… the Daily Prophet, it’s got us marked as fugitives. Wanted for ‘undisclosed crimes’ according to…>

The scent of anger and hatred radiated from Brain, giving Losha a good idea who it was in the Ministry that was lying about them.

Losha smelled the air and. now that she was searching for it, caught a familiar, bitter scent: suspicion. It was coming from all around them, closing in. They had to get out of town.

<We’re getting looks from people,> Brain said. <I think we should leave.>

They slowly started moving back the way they’d come, but Losha could hear the whispers.

You’ve got to run, now!” Mercury said.

Losha smelled the air, then tugged Brain towards the familiar scent she’d picked up earlier. It was an opening, a way out. It was hope.

<Where are we going?>

<Somewhere safe.>

<We can leave, we… no, I see people moving towards where we came in, looks like they’re moving with a purpose.>

Brain kept dictating what she saw, but Losha tuned her out and focused on the familiar smell. She hadn’t smelled it in years, but she was sure of it. She’d always thought of the word “squishy” for some reason, but the owner of it did like bugs and other squishy things.

She rounded a corner, knowing that the rest of the town could turn on them any second. If she was lucky, her friend wouldn’t turn them in.

She arrived at the source of the smell and heard a small gasp.

“Luna? Is zhat you?”

She sensed Hermione’s confusion, but didn’t have a moment to explain.

Salutations, Sophie,” Losha said in French. “Would you mind if we hid with you for a moment?

She heard the sound of a head turning, likely Sophie looking around.

The English papers say you are a criminal,” she said, lowering her voice.

There’s a woman in the Ministry that made that up.

Her name’s Dolores Umbridge,” Brain added. “She tried torturing me about two years ago, after branding my forehead with the word ‘Traitor’ and forcing everyone at Hogwarts to call me that.

While Losha couldn’t see it, she could sense Sophie’s disbelief.

I’m here with some friends,” Sophie said. “I can’t say if they will accept you.

We only need a place to hide while we get our bearings,” Brain said.

We haven’t done anything wrong.

Sophie hesitated for a moment, then started off. Losha and Brain followed her, keeping to the shadows as best they could.

<Who is this?> Brain asked.

<Sophie Caron. We met during the Triwizard Tournament. I used to write her every so often, but I couldn’t after I moved to the forest.>

<I think I might remember seeing her. How come you never mention her?>

<You never ask.>

Losha sensed that Brain was dumbfounded by her flawless argument, so they spent the next minute in silence.

Sophie led them into a small house off the main street. She checked it first, then brought them inside.

Luna, are you okay? Your eyes…

I had a fight with a woman called Bellatrix Lestrange. She took my eyes, so I broke her spine.

Hermione buried her head in her hands.

“Just like your sister. Can’t be normal for five minutes.”

Sophie stared at them, looking like she was afraid of them and wanted desperately to escape.

We’re not going to hurt you,” Hermione said, hoping to repair the situation. “Honest. Umbridge wants to get us, so she’s telling everyone we’ve broken the law. Honestly, we haven’t.

Sophie pointed to Luna.

She just said she broke someone’s spine.

That was extenuating circumstances. Did you hear about what happened last year at Hogwarts?

There was some sort of attack?

Yes. There was, and Lestrange fought against us. She would’ve killed Neville and Luna if Luna hadn’t fought back.

She saw the look on Luna’s face and knew what she was thinking.

All the good it did us.

I was sorry to hear about Neville. He was nice. He saved Fleur’s life in the Tournament. My friend Gabrielle was so grateful, but she’s always too shy to say how she feels.

Is she with you?” Hermione asked, glancing around the room.

Not right now, but she and Fleur came here with me. Fleur wanted to see the English countryside, and they invited me and my sister.

Hermione tried to picture the people she was talking about, but apart from Fleur, she drew a blank. She hadn’t been at Hogwarts most of that year, so there was little to go on.

We won’t be long,” Hermione said. “Once we figure out how to get out of town—

Because nothing could go right, the door chose then to open. Three more people walked inside the small house. Hermione immediately recognized Fleur, but could only pick out the other two because it was obvious which one was Fleur’s sister and which one was Sophie’s.

Everyone froze. Hermione scanned for exits, hoping there’d be a way out. She couldn’t teleport all of them safely, so they’d have to run for it.

Sophie,” her sister said, “I thought you were looking for some sort of beetle you said lived around here. Why are these people…

Her sentence trailed off as she looked closer at them.

Don’t you two go to Hogwarts?

Sophie looked between her sister and Hermione and Luna. Hermione could see her indecision. Sophie seemed to believe them, but her sister might not.

“You two are friends of Neville.” Fleur said. She looked closer at Luna. “People said you were his girlfriend. Luna, yes?”

<Moon, she means you.>

“Yes,” Luna said. “I remember smelling you at the funeral.”

Hermione cringed at how bizarre that sounded.

She’s blind, and associates people by their scent,” she said quickly.

She spared a thought to how Fleur knew Neville and Luna had been dating. Although if she’d been at the funeral, that’d explain it.

Just the sort of weird girl I’d expect from him,” Fleur said. “I didn’t know much about him, but I remember the odd company he kept.

Hermione thought back on the Triwizard Tournament. It saddened her a little to think Fleur was probably talking about Rose.

He saved my life in the Tournament. I think I owe him as much to look after his friends, even if they are wanted criminals.

They’re not!” Sophie exclaimed. She turned to her sister. “Adele, you’ve got to believe me! Some woman is lying about them!

Her sister, Adele, looked from Sophie, back to Luna and Hermione.

Any friend of Sally-Anne’s is a friend of mine. We’ll hide you both, no questions asked.

Hermione took a moment to catch her breath, and silently thanked Sally-Anne.

Thank you,” she said. “Really, thank you. There is one more thing. You can’t tell anyone you’ve seen us. Our friends at Hogwarts don’t know where we are, and they can’t know where we are.

She knew how suspicious that sounded, but she had to say it. She couldn’t risk Adele telling Sally-Anne she’d bumped into them.

The other girls exchanged glances, then nodded, although it was obvious they didn’t fully understand.

We’ll leave when it’s dark,” Luna said.

Which means we’ll be out of your hair in a few hours.

We were just about to make dinner,” Adele said, holding up the bags they had with them. “I don’t know if we have enough, but—

We won’t need food,” Hermione said. “Just somewhere to hide while we figure out what to do next.

The other girls slowly walked inside and put their bags down. Hermione could sense they had questions, but were more concerned with not getting involved.

Hermione helped a little with preparing food. They were hesitant to let her help, but everyone warmed up to one another before long.

I know I said no questions,” Adele said, “but why are you out of Hogwarts?

Clearing our heads,” Hermione replied. “Neville was closer to us than anyone, and… it hit us both hard. Then our friend Rose, she fought against us during the attack, and… I’m sorry, I’d rather not talk about it.

Hermione fought back tears before she started crying over their food.

I understand. Sally-Anne told me a little about it, but she couldn’t talk about it either. Nikolai said she needs time to recover.

Hermione frowned as she finished chopping vegetables.

Who’s Nikolai?

My fiance,” Adele said as she took the vegetables from Hermione and slid them into a pot. “We met at Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament. We were together on a Quidditch team, and we stayed in touch after the tournament.

So that’s why being friends of Sally-Anne means so much.

Adele nodded as she began to stir.

I thought he wouldn’t pay any attention to me, but Sally-Anne insisted he would. Thanks to her, I didn’t give up.

Hermione smiled. It was nice to know the world continued to turn and life went on.

She glanced back at Luna and the others as they talked. Hearing Luna speak in French had confused her until she’d remembered speak with anything. Luna could speak and understand every language, and she used it to the fullest extent.

Shouldn’t Sophie be in school?” Hermione asked.

Both of them should be, but we got them a break for a few weeks. Everything in England seems so chaotic lately, so we wanted to go now while we can.

Hermione frowned as she began peeling more vegetables. She’d been so out of the loop that she’d had no idea. Maybe that was for the best. If Umbridge was rising in the ranks after what she’d done, it’d all only be another distraction.

As everyone sat down to eat, another thought crept around the back of her mind. Umbridge marking them as wanted fugitives made it harder to stay hidden, which increased the chances of Slytherin finding out where they were and what they were doing. That kept one question, one thought in her head.

The same thought stayed with her until they thanked the others for their hospitality and snuck out of town. The same thought stayed as they set up camp for the night. It stayed until she drifted off to sleep.

What if it wasn’t a coincidence?

Chapter Text

Sometimes, Sarah liked to look back on her life before ESIS. While she didn’t like being ignorant, she appreciated how much simpler her life had been. For instance, she’d never been suspended by her wrists in a dark room inside a burning building before joining the Service, but had she found herself in such a position back then, she would’ve been helpless.

“This is why I don’t do field work anymore,” Sarah said. “Something like this always happens.”

Of course, she would’ve been far less likely to have found herself in such a situation. She only found herself in it now because Evan Adril, a crime lord that knew everything that happened in and around Knockturn Alley, responded better to her than to Eric.

“Aren’t you the one that says we don’t spend enough time together?” Eric asked.

Sarah hauled herself up so her hands could get to the key she’d swiped from one of their captors.

“This wasn’t what I had in mind,” she said as she undid the shackles on her wrists. “I thought we could go out for drinks, maybe bring the spouses.”

She lowered herself to the ground, careful to avoid the approaching flames, then tossed Eric the key.

“At least we learned something,” Eric said, unlocking his own shackles.

“Yes, that the crime lords of Knockturn Alley know nothing about what’s going on.”

Eric dropped to the ground and grinned at her.

“Come on, Boss, you make it sound as though this was a waste of time.”

She glowered at him, then motioned for him to handle the door.

He got to work picking the lock on the door.

“Couldn’t you have picked the lock on the shackles yourself?” Sarah asked.

“Not hanging like that. This is a lot harder than I make it look.”

Sarah rolled her eyes. Eric was right: their mission hadn’t been a complete waste of time. They had backup coming to extract them momentarily, and they had checked another potentially responsible party off their list.

“We’re still back to where we started,” she said. “I was hoping they’d at least have an idea as to who was behind this.”

“How do you know they don’t?” Eric asked.

“Because they left us for dead and didn’t gloat. People tend to gloat when they think you can’t tell anyone.”

Eric opened the door and looked out.


They slipped out of the room and down the corridor. Parts of the building were already beginning to crumble. None of the inhabitants of Diagon Alley would help; they didn’t go into Knockturn Alley if they could help it, and the inhabitants of Knockturn Alley knew better than to stick their noses where they didn’t belong.

“Of course,” she said as they left the building, “that’s one less building of theirs we know about.”

They slipped out the back and evaded any prying eyes. Not far from the building, they met with their recently retired backup.

“I see Adril set another building on fire,” Bones said. “You two alright?”

“A little sore,” Eric said, rubbing his wrists, “but nothing a good drink can’t fix.”

“They didn’t know anything,” Sarah said. “But going after us isn’t like them. Usually, they would’ve laughed, hinted that they were behind it, then escorted us out of the building.”

“Something’s got him spooked,” Bones said. “Definitely not like him.”

That didn’t sit well with Sarah. Evan Adril practically ruled Knockturn Alley. The only thing that had ever bothered him was not knowing something that could threaten him, and he seemed to have a good instinct for such things.

“Any luck with the other project?” Sarah asked.

Bones shook her head.

“I don’t have Ministry resources anymore, and your targets are wanted fugitives. I don’t know them that well, but if it were me, I’d be avoiding civilization like the plague.”

Sarah gave her a significant look, waiting for the good news.

“But…?” Eric said.

“They were last spotted in Trialla a few days ago, but nothing since. The Ministry sent people there looking for them, but they managed to escape before anyone arrived. No trail, nothing.”

As frustrating as it was to have a wealth of information on the run, Sarah was a little proud of Hermione and Luna for being that resourceful.

“Thanks. We’ll meet up again soon and compare notes.”

“Over drinks,” Eric added.

Both women gave him odd looks.

“I was just shackled to a burning building. I want a drink.”

It always gave Ron a bad feeling when he got to breakfast and people were watching he and his friends. Not only was it a little insulting (Didn’t they realize he could tell they were watching him?), but it meant something had gone wrong somewhere that involved them.

<Why is everyone staring at us?> Sally-Anne asked.

Harry stared at something over Ron’s shoulder, then turned back to one of the Gryffindors sitting next to them. After asking to borrow a copy of the Daily Prophet, he placed it between them.

“Brain and Moon,” he said, pointing to the story on the front pace.

“‘Wanted for undisclosed crimes’?” Ron asked. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Read the whole thing,” Harry said, pointing to a name that stood out.

Ron had lived most of his life in fear of the name Voldemort, but apart from the name under Harry’s finger, there were no other names that could inspire emotion the way Voldemort’s had.


“Didn’t Ins get her sacked?” Harry asked, directing the question at he and Sally-Anne.

“Apparently not,” Sally-Anne said, looking dazed. “I’m sure she lied her way out of it. It’s what she’s best at.”

Ron read the rest of the article. It didn’t say where they were, nor what they’d done.

<Brain, why are you and Moon wanted by the Ministry?>

To Ron’s surprise, Hermione answered him.


“She’s dodging the question,” Ron said.

“Are they going to question us?” Ginny asked.

“We haven’t been summoned yet,” Ron said. “If they do need to talk to us, they’ll send word ahead.”

“Umbridge probably knows we won’t say anything,” Harry said. “She knows us too well.”

That thought alone worried Ron. It was the same thing that made Rose so dangerous: Umbridge knew them. She knew how they worked, at least she had at one point. She didn’t know about their equipment, but they were getting rid of it now.

“Maybe we shouldn’t be so hasty getting rid of Rose’s gifts,” he said. “We might need them.”

Harry shook his head.

“Umbridge might be recovering, but that doesn’t mean she’ll be a problem. There were witnesses to her trying to use an Unforgivable Curse on Hermione.”

“Succeeding,” Ron said. “It only didn’t work because Hermione… well, because Hermione.”

“Which Ins knew,” Sally-Anne said. “Umbridge probably pulled every string she had to discredit us and prevent herself getting sacked. Whatever we had on her before won’t help us now.”

Ron looked down at the paper. Hermione and Luna both stared back at him, although they were old pictures. At least, the one of Luna was from before she’d left for the forest. That’d help them stay out of Umbridge’s clutches.

“Whatever happens,” Harry said, “we stay out of it as best we can. Agreed?”

“What if they need our help?” Sally-Anne asked.

“It’s Brain and Moon,” Harry said. “We all know they can take care of themselves. This doesn’t mean it’s suddenly okay to use our equipment again.”

His eyes darted to the ring on Ron’s finger.

Ron slid his arm inside his robes. He hated the way Harry and Ginny looked whenever they noticed him still wearing the ring.

If Hermione manages to come through, it won’t be a problem anymore.

Sally-Anne had other issues with the equipment. The idea of not having her ribbon or dressed stuck in her mind all week. She was friendly with everyone in school, but that would change the moment she stopped wearing them. She’d only had the confidence to speak up after she’d had so many compliments on her ribbon.

It’ll be alright, she kept trying to tell herself.

Another concern was that it’d end up being the same as when Umbridge was in power. That no one would trust her. It’d taken a year to get people to trust her again, and only after Harry and Ron had kept insisting she was okay.

Would her friends even like her without them? She’d been keeping in contact with Mr. Malfoy. Did they work over distance? She couldn’t remember how Charisma worked in Rose’s world, if it even existed.

Rose had saved her life so many times, enough that Sally-Anne had once trusted Rose with her life. Now all she had to do was remember Draco or look at Ginny to remember why she couldn’t anymore.

She rubbed her hands again as she sat in Potions listening to Slughorn. It was always there, Draco’s blood. Would it be easier to bear without her dress and ribbon?

Slughorn stopped talking and told them to begin brewing a potion to stop diseases. She propped open her book and got to work.

The class was smaller without Draco, Neville, or Hermione. She was the only Gryffindor now, among a handful of Ravenclaws and Slytherins, plus Max and Hannah. She felt so alone.

She set to work following the book’s instructions, trying to focus on her work rather than her current dilemma. Everything would be fine.

What if Harry and Ron didn’t trust her anymore? What if the dress stopped them from remembering that she’d sold them out to Umbridge, or that it was her fault that Ellie had dumped Harry? What if Ron remembered that she was friends with the Malfoys, his family’s enemies? Worst of all, what if Ron didn’t want to be her friend?

Her hands shook as she tried to handle the equipment. She glanced at the clock. Thirty minutes left of this. She wondered if Slughorn would let her go to the Hospital Wing to lie down.

No, you’ve got to push through it. People aren’t going to take pity on you after you give up Rose’s gifts.

She picked up the materials and measured out the first one. Her hands shook as she tried. The feeling of blood oozing over her hand was overwhelming. It trickled down her hands as she watched the life drain out of Draco’s eyes. Her love, murdered in front of her while she did nothing. She wanted to scream, but her mouth wasn’t working. Nothing worked! Why was she so useless?

“Ms. Perks!”

Sally-Anne opened her eyes and found herself staring at the ceiling. Smoke was clearing out around her, and Slughorn was offering to help her up.

“Are you back with us?”

Sally-Anne got to her feet without assistance, but her head spun and she had to sit down.

“I think so.”

“I’m afraid you spilled some extra night’s glare into your cauldron. Nasty stuff if you’re not careful with it. Please go to Madame Pomfrey and have her look you over, just to be sure there aren’t any unpleasant side effects.”

Sally-Anne nodded, a little confused that a Potions Master was showing such concern for a student. That didn’t make sense, but her head hadn’t stopped spinning yet.

“Yes, professor.”

With all the focus she could muster, she reached for her pack.

“No need to gather your things, I doubt you’ll be gone five minutes.”

She wasn’t sure she was fine, but Slughorn sounded so certain about it that she figured he must be right.

Setting her sights on the door, she put one foot in front of the other, hoping she looked better than she felt. No one said anything. One of the Ravenclaws even got the door for her. She couldn’t think of his name just then, but she smiled at him to show her gratitude.

Sally-Anne stumbled out of the class, struggling to keep her head together, to stay focused on what she was doing and not let her mind wander.

She walked through a familiar part of the Dungeons. Echoes of her and Draco talking, him breaking down. She could see the dark mark on his arm, his shame at it being there. He wasn’t proud of serving Voldemort, and that had been her doing.


Sally-Anne froze. For a moment, she thought she’d head Draco’s voice. But no, it was worse than that.

Parkinson walked quickly to catch up to her.

“It’d be dreadful if something happened to you before you reached the Hospital Wing,” Parkinson said, sounding rather like that was what she wanted to happen. “I asked Slughorn if I could escort you.”

“Thank you, but I really don’t need the help.”

Sally-Anne tried to walk faster, but the corridor began to spin. Next thing she knew, someone had caught her.

“Let me go,” she mumbled.

“Don’t worry,” Parkinson said. “I’ll make sure you get to the Hospital Wing. While we walk, you can tell me all about how a piece of mudblood filth gets herself a spot next to Lucius Malfoy at Draco’s funeral.”

Alarm bells went off in her head, but Parkinson tightened her grip, so much so that Sally-Anne’s arm began to hurt.

“You’re hurting me.”

“You and Draco always had rounds together, and he refused to get them changed. Then he dumps me. Me! No one would dump me… unless someone else had been up to something.”

Sally-Anne tried to pull herself free again, but her mind was in too much of a haze. She didn’t have much control of her body. Fear crept into her as she realized they weren’t heading towards the Hospital Wing.

“Umbridge even fell for it, but at least she wised up and realized you were a traitor. But Draco… he fell for it last year, didn’t he? I thought you were miserable, that there was no way he’d fallen for your lies. Then suddenly you’re at his funeral?” Parkinson laughed. “It was so obvious what was going on.”

Sally-Anne knew she couldn’t break free. She hoped Slughorn would send someone — preferably Max or Hannah — to investigate when she didn’t return. Until then, she was on her own.

No… not quite on my own.

She concentrated as hard as she could on Harry and Ron.

<Dungeons… Parkinson… Help.>

“You were dosing him with love potion. You were using him to get at his fortune. That’s the only reason he’d even look at a mudblood.”

“No,” Sally-Anne mumbled again.

“There’s no point in denying it now. He’s dead, no thanks to you. He could’ve been happy with me, but instead you had to get in the way.”

Sally-Anne tried to wriggle free again, but her head wasn’t clearing up. She needed to get to Madame Pomfrey.

She heard footsteps echoing down the corridor. The corridor that had started spinning again. Her mind drifted away, floating back to her time with Draco.

“I didn’t…” she said, but someone else interrupted them. She could barely make them out, but the red hair was a good hint.

“What did you do to her?” Ron demanded.

“Me? I haven’t done anything. She inhaled something… I can’t think what it was… and I was escorting her to the Hospital Wing.”

Ron started to shout again, but Harry cut him off.

“Thank you. We’ll all go with her. We’ll move faster with three people helping her.”

Ron took her other side, shooting a glare at Parkinson while he did.

Harry led the way out of the Dungeons. In a minute, they’d reached the Hospital Wing.

“Where have you been?” Madame Pomfrey demanded when they arrived. “Professor Slughorn sent word ahead ten minutes ago!”

“They got turned around in the Dungeons,” Harry said. “That’s all, right?”

He directed this question at Parkinson, who took a moment to realize what Harry was doing.

“Yes, of course,” she said.

“Come here, lie down,” Madame Pomfrey said, ushering Sally-Anne towards one of the beds. “Night’s glare is awful stuff. Sits in your head until you can flush it out.”

Ron opened his mouth, but Harry elbowed him to keep him quiet.

“Don’t you worry,” Pomfrey said, handing her a teaspoon of something that changed between green and brown. “Drink this and you’ll feel better.”

The liquid was thick and sour. Sally-Anne forced it down her throat, struggling to keep her face neutral. She could feel it sliding down, but as it did, the haze on her mind lifted.

“Thank you,” she said. “That feels much better.”

She got out of bed. For a second, she was surprised that she received no resistance from Madame Pomfrey. Only a second, because that’s how long it took for the room to start spinning again. She sat back down before she fell as Madame Pomfrey chuckled.

“I’m afraid you’ll be staying here for the remainder of class.” She turned back to the others. “Ms. Parkinson, you should return. Mr. Potter, Mr. Weasley, go with her so she doesn’t get herself lost again, and please bring Ms. Perks’s bag with you when you return.”

Harry nodded, smiled at Sally-Anne, then led Parkinson and Ron away.

Sally-Anne watched them go, then closed her eyes.

That’s the only reason he’d even look at a mudblood.

She hadn’t dosed him with love potion. Draco had genuinely loved her. Why? Because she was nice? She wanted to think it was because he didn’t want his family’s way of life, that she’d shown him a better way. But why had he even bothered with her? She was nothing to them. Working class pretending to be something more.

But Parkinson was wrong. Sally-Anne hadn’t dosed him with love potion. She was sure the only reason Parkinson hadn’t tried that herself was that she didn’t know how to make it.

They’d learned last year, and Parkinson’s had turned out awful. If Snape hadn’t had the habit of passing every Slytherin regardless of skill, she probably would’ve failed.

That didn’t stop Parkinson’s words from sitting inside her head as she drifted off to sleep.

Harry went to the Hospital Wing later, in part to check on Sally-Anne, but in part to ask Madame Pomfrey a question.

“No,” she said before he’d spoken.

“You don’t… you know what I’m about to ask?”

Madame Pomfrey folded the sheets of the bed next to her.

“You want to know about Ms. Weasley playing Quidditch again.”

Harry nodded.

“We could—”

She could fall and die, and just because you caught her the first time, doesn’t mean you will this time.”

She finished folding the sheets, then started off towards her office.

Harry, who hadn’t finished talking, followed her.


Madame Pomfrey spun on her heel and faced him.

“Conditions such as hers are difficult. She may appear fine one minute, and be gone the next. Ms. Weasley will require years of treatment to undo the damage that thing did to her.”

It took Harry a moment to realize “that thing” was Rose.

“I understand the position you’re in, Mr. Potter. I’d like nothing more than to see that poor girl return to normal, but that may never happen. She’ll likely need to be looked after for most of her life.”

Harry thought back to how independent Ginny had always tried to be. That was all gone. Rose was dead, but the damage she’d done would live with Ginny forever.

“I’ll let you in on a little secret,” she said. “When people come here, you see their priorities immediately. I can tell who is worried and who’s confident by the way they walk into the Hospital Wing.”

Harry felt himself in awe, both of Madame Pomfrey, and of Dumbledore, for the people he always managed to find.

“I tell you this so you understand that I know you care for her, just like I know Mr. Weasley cares for Ms. Perks. After everything you’ve all been through, I don’t want to see anything more happen to you all.”

Harry nodded, understanding her position, and thankful she understood his. He’d hoped that being up in the air would be good for Ginny, like it’d been for him, but nothing the Dursleys had done to him was nearly as bad as what Rose had done to Ginny.

“But, I’d hate to deny her what little escape she can get.”

Harry frowned, not sure he understood what she was saying.

“She may return to practice, but you must keep an eye on her. I’ll be the final judge of whether she may play a full match, but for now, she may practice.”

Harry’s spirit returned and his face lit up.

“Thank you. She’ll be delighted to hear that!”

Madame Pomfrey smiled back at him.

“I’ve seen more of your friends than I have any other group of students at Hogwarts in the past seven years. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t proud of the progress you’ve all made.”

Harry thanked her for her kindness, then she returned to her office.

“While I’m thinking of it,” she said, poking her head back out, “is there any word from Ms. Granger or Ms. Lovegood?”

Harry shook his head.

“No, sorry.”

“That’s alright, dear.”

Harry left the Hospital Wing to find Ginny and give her the good news.

Ginny mounted her broom and kicked off with the rest of the team. She didn’t entirely understand the point of letting her practice. She still wasn’t allowed to play.

You’ll be thankful for the practice when Madame Pomfrey lets you play again.

That was it. Her ability to play Quidditch was in someone else’s hands. She hated feeling like someone else got to make her decisions for her. She wanted to play Quidditch. Who was Madame Pomfrey to tell her she couldn’t?

She glanced at Harry as he took to the sky. He had faith in her still. Somehow, no matter what happened, he had faith that she’d pull through.

She turned her attention back to practice. The last thing she wanted was to let Harry down, so she promised herself she’d put her all into it.

They flew around one another, passing the Quaffle around while the Beaters sent Bludgers flying after them. Ginny felt her adrenaline pumping and worried for a moment that she’d pass out again.

I won’t fail!

She grabbed the Quaffle and passed it to Demelza. The Quaffle moved between a few more players, then Harry split them into teams for a few practice rounds.

Ginny was put on a team with Jonathon and one of their reserve Chasers, with Ron tending their goal posts. Demelza got the Quaffle first and raced off towards him.

Ginny pushed her broom for all it had, trying to catch up to Demelza. She saw her brother moving into position, so she stayed on Demelza, blocking her from passing it off. With no support, Demelza was forced to take a shot that Ron easily blocked.

He took control of it and passed it off to her. Before Demelza could get a beat on her, Ginny passed it to Jonathon. He raced up the field with the other Chasers right behind him.

Ginny flew up, getting some height while they got away from her. She flew higher, higher, then dove. She hurtled towards the mass of Chasers heading for the other goal, then called to her teammates.

Jonathon saw her and flung the Quaffle straight up. She grabbed it and let her speed carry her to the far right goalpost. She didn’t take her eyes off, waiting for the Keeper to take the bait. The moment he went for it, she flung the Quaffle at the far goalpost, all without moving her eyes. The Keeper didn’t have time to catch up, and the Quaffle want flying through.

Ginny forced her broom straight down to avoid crashing, then twisted in the air and pulled up as the Quaffle was released again.

<How are you doing that?> Ron asked.

<I just keep track of where the goalposts are so I don’t have to look at them.>

<Of course, a Robin Zola Feint.>

Before she asked who that was and got a long-winded lecture, she turned her attention back to the game. They went a few more rounds before Harry called them in for a regroup.

“Ginny, can you explain the feint you’re using?”

Ginny explained it again, blushing a little and keeping her hair covering part of her face.

“That’s the trick,” Ron said. “A good Keeper will follow your eyes when you’re trying to score, but if you don’t move them, they don’t know what you’re going to do.”

There were nods from around the group. Ginny didn’t realize she’d stumbled on something amazing, she’d just been trying to get something past her brother.

She glanced at Harry before he had the team start practicing against Ron. Maybe he was right; maybe she could do it.

Sally-Anne sat down in the stands. A year ago, she would’ve been excited about a Quidditch match, apart from her usual fear that her friends could all die.

While she wasn’t sitting alone — several boys from Gryffindor seemed determined to be her new best friend — she didn’t have Hermione or Neville with her in the stands. With Ginny being allowed to play under the close watch of the teachers, all of Ginny’s closest friends were up in the air.

She watched the players kick off and spotted the new Slytherin Seeker. Reminding herself that Draco was gone, she forced herself not to look at him too long. It didn’t help to dwell on the past. At least, that’s what she kept trying to convince herself.

That didn’t stop her from remembering the way Draco played. He was always confident that he’d win, even if he wasn’t the best player. He’d more than made up for it with his cunning plans.

Sally-Anne felt tears coming on and started thinking of something else. She knew Ron and Harry were starting to notice her rubbing her hands together; she didn’t need anyone else to notice. The longer gloves she’d started wearing might’ve stopped Harry from seeing how bad her hands were, but they didn’t stop him from worrying.

Forcing her hands apart, she focused instead on Ron and Ginny. Ron’s focus was solely on the Quaffle, even when it wasn’t near him. When it was, he’d tense up, taking stock of everything around him, ensuring that nothing got past him.

Ron blocked another attempt and passed the Quaffle to Jonathon. He raced up the Pitch, then handed it off to Demelza when he had to slow down. She passed it to Ginny, who faked out the Slytherin Keeper and threw it in for another point.

Sally-Anne cheered, glad to see Ginny up in the air again. The wind mostly kept her hair out of her face, but she kept fixing it when she had a moment. Sally-Anne also noticed that Ginny never spent more than a few seconds near any of the Slytherin players, likely for the same reason.

Slytherin took possession of the Quaffle again, but it didn’t make it to Ron. Demelza got it off one of the Slytherin Chasers after a Bludger knocked it loose, and Gryffindor scored again.

“Gryffindor offense is unstoppable this year!” the commentator said. “That’s 80 points they’ve scored, and Weasley isn’t about to let them get anything back!”

Sally-Anne looked up at Harry. Once again, he kept the entire Pitch in view, looking for the smallest sign of the Snitch. She hoped he’d find it soon; as well as things were going, she knew what the Slytherin team was like. If they had a chance, they’d get under Ginny’s skin, and Sally-Anne didn’t know what would happen then.

No, that wasn’t right; she knew what would happen. Ginny would break down, possibly fall off her broom. Then Sally-Anne would be forced to watch another of her friends die. She was supposed to be a protector, but she couldn’t protect anyone. Ginny would be another friend whose blood was on Sally-Anne’s hands. Like Draco. Like Neville.

As she sank deeper, a fleeting thought passed through her head. She hadn’t felt helpless watching Neville die. She could see it perfectly, but she hadn’t felt responsible for him. Had she cared for him so little?

Her attention returned to the match in time to see one of the Slytherin Chasers flying right for Ron. Oddly enough, Ron didn’t seem to care. He was more interested in one of the Bludgers.

Brett knocked the Bludger Ron was watching straight for Ron. Sally-Anne let out a gasp that nearly became a scream.

Ron dipped down and dodged the Bludger, sending it straight towards the Slytherin Chaser. He got out of the way, heading right towards Ron, who stripped him of the Quaffle.

Sally-Anne didn’t need to hear it to know Ron said “Thanks, Mate,” as he passed the Quaffle to Jonathon.

Once again, Ginny got the Quaffle, but she didn’t go for the goal. Instead, she flew straight up, all three Slytherin Chasers on her. She shot up, pushing her broom hard to keep gaining speed.

Sally-Anne wasn’t sure how much of it she could watch. She glanced over at the teachers. Professors Flitwick and Lupin had their wands out, and Madame Pomfrey looked like she was going to put someone in the Hospital Wing.

Ginny killed her speed and dropped the Quaffle. It slipped right past all three Chasers and into the outstretched arms of Demelza. She dove at the goal post, gaining speed as she flew closer. She was a blur when she whipped the Quaffle into the post for their tenth goal.

Sally-Anne took a moment to catch her breath. There was a ringing in her ears, and she felt light-headed. Muffled calls of her name came from the people around her, but she could barely hear anything.

“…Snitch! He’s…”

Sally-Anne focused on the match enough to see the Slytherin Seeker darting across the field. The crowd gasped as Harry… sat there.

He clearly saw the other Seeker and the Snitch, but he looked as though he simply didn’t care.

“What’s Potter doing? He’s not that far ahead that he can ignore the Snitch! Has he gone mad?”

Her heart raced faster. What if something had gone wrong? What if—

As the Slytherin Seeker closed in on the Snitch, Harry made his move. He pitched his broom to the side and dove.

Sally-Anne couldn’t follow what happened next. Harry and the other Seeker were racing towards the Snitch. One second, Harry was in the sky, the next, he was coming up on the Snitch. It couldn’t matter, the other Seeker was reaching out for it.

The Harry-like blur flew in front of the other Seeker, whose fingertips grazed Harry’s clothes as Harry grabbed the Snitch.

“I don’t believe it! Potter caught the Snitch! Gryffindor wins! Gryffindor shut out Slytherin!”

When Sally-Anne could finally see straight, Harry was flying around the Pitch, holding the Snitch aloft. He looked calm, like he’d planned the whole thing from the start.

And everyone thinks Hermione’s the mad one.

<Harry James Potter!> Sally-Anne said when she’d gotten a grip on herself. <Don’t you ever do that again! As if Ginny flying so high wasn’t enough to make me die of fright! Or Ronald nearly getting hit with a Bludger!>

<You sound so much like Mrs. Weasley right now,> Harry replied.

He grinned at her from atop his broom as the players circled to the ground.

<We planned the whole thing,> he said, more reassuringly. <After the defeat Slytherin handed us last year, I wanted everyone to remember why Gryffindor’s the best.>

Sally-Anne waved away attempts to help her up, then got to her feet and started towards the Pitch.

She made her way over to Madame Pomfrey, thankful for a kindred spirit.

“I hate this bloody game,” Pomfrey said as they approached the team.

“Completely ghastly,” Sally-Anne said.

“You’d think they wanted to kill themselves.”

Despite her protests, Sally-Anne was thrilled to see her friends so excited for their victory. It was a little piece of normalcy for which she was thankful.

Chapter Text

Neptune woke up out of another life and back into the rocking and swaying of her ship. It was a good feeling, but she quickly noticed how much the ship was moving.

Recognizing the tossing and swaying of an approaching storm, she threw some clothes on and ran out of her cabin.

Through the dark, she could see it. Storm clouds, shrouding the full moon and stars, but barely visible in the night sky otherwise.

She turned around and ran to the bell. She rang it, rousing her crew.

“Oi! Wake up you useless fools! We’ve got a storm on the horizon!”

Before the rest of the crew had arrived on deck, she set to work checking over the sails. She went from rope to rope, checking that each one was secure.

By the time her good for nothing crew had arrived on deck, it had already started to rain. It wasn’t bad yet, but Neptune had been at sea long enough to know the signs of something worse on its way.

“Look alive, ladies!” she barked at them. “Storm on the horizon! Get the sails ready! Secure the cargo! Get below decks when I say!”

She drew a telescope from her belt and looked out to the approaching storm. It was moving, definitely heading their way. There was little they could do to avoid it, but it wasn’t the first time she’d fought one.

“Latimer! Take over the helm!”

“Yes, Ma’am!”

Her stocky first mate ran to the helm and relieved the struggling man who’d been tending the helm for the night. The poor man looked as though he might be sick.

“Hutchison!” Neptune called to him. “To your quarters! Take a break before you get sick over the deck! Smith, up here with me!”

The only other woman on the crew ran to the front of the ship, her wand in hand.

“What’s the plan, Captain?” Smith asked.

“We’re prepping for ascent! You and me are covering the ship.”

Neptune pressed her wand to her throat and shouted.

“All hands! Prepare for ascent! We’re going through the storm!”

By then, rain was pelting the ship. Neptune had to hold on to something or be tossed overboard by the raging sea. It was no matter to her. With her free hand she began waving her wand as though conducting a choir.

Two of her competent crew members tended the sails while the rest ran below decks. That left Smith, Latimer, the two men, and Neptune to handle it. It was fine by her; that was all she needed.

She and Smith waved their wands around, stirring the air around the ship. Soon, a whirlwind had picked up, swirling around, lifting the ship into the air.


From behind her, Latimer began his part. He released the helm and began pumping air into the sails, driving the ship forward. As Smith maintained the whirlwind, Neptune started on a bubble around the ship. Not only did it stop the whirlwind from ripping them apart, it stopped the storm from ripping them apart. It had to be done last, because it didn’t let anything in or out, including air.

Looking ahead, she saw the storm. It whirled and thrashed the sea. The sea, her closest ally in an otherwise chaotic life. She’d thought it’d turned against when she’d seen her first storm, but it was simply another facet to her mistress. One she’d had to overcome time and time again.

“Impact!” Neptune shouted.

They slammed into the worst of it, the ship thrown about by the force of the storm. They held fast, keeping up their respective spells. They were safe so long as they didn’t stop.

Another blast of wind and waves hit them, but the bubble held, and they stayed above the worst of the waves. They continued to fly higher, higher, not above the storm, not yet. It wasn’t big enough to justify getting above it, only enough to need to leave the ocean.

“We’re almost through!” Latimer shouted as though Neptune didn’t know. Typical man, thinking he knew better than she did. He was lucky he was the only one she trusted to do his job.

“Of course we are, idiot!” Smith shouted back.

“Hold fast!” Neptune shouted. “Don’t waste your breath arguing, or I’ll be seeing both of you in my quarters later!”

“Is that a promise, Captain?” Smith called.

Neptune kept her focus on the storm, ignoring the implication. One didn’t get to be captain at 16 by giving into every urge and impulse, but rather by keeping one’s wits and accidentally knocking the old captain overboard during a storm.

“Impact!” Neptune shouted again.

They broke through the storm again, having completely missed the eye. Rain pelted the bubble that kept them dry. They pushed ahead, and on her orders, they began to lower the ship back into the water.

First, Smith eased off the whirlwind. It lowered them down, as Latimer kept wind in the sails to drive them forward. Then he eased off as Neptune allowed the bubble to fade, settling the ship back into the water.

A wall of rain greeted them, but she and Smith put wind into the sails as Latimer took control of the helm.

“Passable,” she barked to Smith. “The three of us will stay up here.” She turned to one of the men who’d been keeping the sails together. “Bring up a skeleton crew of your favorite people. Let the others sleep now that we’re through the storm. I expect to see you above deck in no more than sixty seconds.”

The man saluted and ran below deck. She found it odd how some saluted her, while others, like Smith, gave her… other gestures.

“We’re holding our original course,” Latimer called. “It won’t be long now before we’re all rich.”

“Less poor!” Smith shouted back. “Still plenty of mouths to feed!”

“I think we’ve earned some leave!” Latimer shouted.

“Do you now?” Neptune called back. “We’ll see about that! Man the ship! I’m going back to sleep!”

Hermione opened her eyes and stared up at the sky. Stars were scattered about. It was peaceful out in the country. She hadn’t appreciated the peace before. The chaos of the outside world couldn’t reach them here. Just her, Luna, Tutela, and Crookshanks.

Crookshanks lay next to her, curled up and fast asleep. Hermione reached out and stroked his fur. Her little piece of home to carry with her.

It’d been two months since they’d found out they were wanted fugitives. Since then, they’d had to avoid every town and city on the way to Dartmoor. If anyone had seen them, Umbridge would know. From there, it’d hit the Daily Prophet, then back to Hogwarts and Slytherin. Hermione hadn’t seen another human apart from Luna in that time.

Crookshanks opened one eye and watched her for a moment before closing it, shifting around, then going back to sleep.

Hermione heard a soft cry. She sat up and looked around, hoping it had come from Luna and not an onlooker. Sure enough, there was another one, right from her companion.

“Moon, are you alright?”

Luna didn’t make a sound, so Hermione crawled out of her sleeping bag and over to her. Fresh tears on Luna’s face betrayed her friend’s sadness.

“You don’t have to hide your tears from me.” Hermione smiled, even though she knew Luna couldn’t see it. “I’m… I’m still getting over Rose.”

Luna lay still. Hermione considered returning to her sleeping bag, but Luna rolled over and took Hermione’s hand.

“Will you stay here?”

Hermione smiled and settled into the grass next to Luna.

“Of course. We’ve only got each other.”

Luna tried to smile, but it came out awkwardly, like she didn’t remember how.

“I’m sorry I keep getting in the way.”

Hermione stifled a laugh, knowing Luna meant it.

“Is that what you call attacking Ana like you’ve done it a hundred times? Or expertly fighting the nimblewrights and bronze serpent?”

“It’s… I don’t like to fight. I want to protect the forest, to protect you, but I don’t want to fight. Tutela and I have a lot of practice fighting the people Umbridge sent to get rid of the centaurs, but I don’t want to.”

Hermione nodded, understanding well what it was like to not want to be involved. Wanting a normal life was a distant fairy tale to her now. She’d been chosen to stop Slytherin because Rose didn’t trust anyone else to do it. No one else could do it.

“I wish I could say that you wouldn’t have to fight, but we both know you’ll need to.”

“You could teleport everywhere if it weren’t for me.”

Hermione hated that she was right. It wasn’t fair to point it out, but she would’ve been able to teleport everywhere instead of hiking across England.

“I’m glad for the company. We’ve got to stick together, like I said. Slytherin can’t find us out here, and it’s not like it moves fast. The sooner the better, but I wouldn’t give up traveling with you for anything, Moon.”

Luna broke into tears again and threw her arms around Hermione.

“It’s alright,” Hermione said, trying to shift herself around to hug Luna while they were still lying down. Hermione stroked Luna’s hair as Tutela padded over and laid down next to them.

“I’m sorry about Rose,” Luna said. “I know you liked her a lot.”

Hermione smiled, then said out loud something she hadn’t wanted to admit.

“I loved her. I know it’s weird, her being so much older and a woman, but I don’t care. I loved her, and… and I killed her.”

This time, it was Luna that held Hermione when she broke into tears.

“At first, I was Neptune, but then it faded, and… I had a dream about Toad. We were happy. Holding hands, walking through the forest. Then I remembered he’d died, that it couldn’t be real.” She broke into sobs again. “But he smiled at me and told me it would be okay.”

Hermione and Luna held each other until their tears subsided. Hermione was glad to have someone that understood her and what she was going through.

“You’re a good sister, Moon.”

“You are too, Brain.”

Through the dark, something fuzzy and cat-shaped walked over and wedged itself between them.

“We haven’t forgotten you, Crookshanks,” Hermione said, laughing.

After the mood she’d been in, laughter felt wonderful. Like her whole body had come alive again.

“I like our party,” Luna said.

Hermione looked through the dark at the lot of them. They must’ve looked like an odd bunch, but that would be giving someone the right impression.

“Me too.”

They stayed curled up together, falling asleep before long. For once, Hermione’s dream was happy. Her, Luna, Neville, and Rose, sitting around laughing with one another. Neville with his arm around Luna. Hermione and Rose shyly holding hands when no one was looking. Four good friends. The way it should’ve been.

Hermione wasn’t sure she’d ever felt so sore as she did when she woke up the next morning.

“Moon, I hope you’re alright, because I’m not sure I can sleep on the grass again.”

Her joints cracked as she stood up and stretched.

“It takes a while to get used to it,” Luna replied, already up, running a hand through her hair.

“Any tips?”

Luna paused, frozen in place. After a few seconds, she shook her head and returned to combing her hair.

“Fine,” Hermione said, pulling out the map from her pack. “If we move quickly, we should reach Dartmoor before sundown. Then we’ll need to find the campgrounds. I’m quite sure we’ll know it when we find it.”

If nothing else, I’m sure I’ll start having flashbacks when we find it.

They packed up camp, then started off for the day. Once again, they had to make circuitous route, avoiding any potential contact with another human. They took turns scouting around. Crookshanks was the best at it. He crept ahead, staying almost invisible to everyone. Hermione was glad he’d insisted on coming along.

As it always seemed to be, it was getting dark when they finally arrived at the campsite she’d stayed at during the World Cup.

Everything rushed back to her at once. Running into the fray, her heart pounding as she hid from the Death Eaters, a curse knocking her to her feet, a man standing over her.


Hermione shoved down memories of that night and walked into the site.

“I’m fine,” she said.

“You don’t smell fine.”

Hermione shook her head, trying to clear away any old demons. She stopped walking and took a moment to catch her breath.

“I’ll be alright. We should be on guard. If it’s anything like it was last time, it’ll be obvious, but she might try tricking us.”

No one was around, making Hermione wonder when it had been abandoned, and if the World Cup had had anything to do with it.

They split up to search the grounds, Hermione and Crookshanks in one group, Luna and Tutela in the other.

Hermione took deep breaths of fresh air whenever she felt her grip on reality loosening.

“Found it!”

Hermione and Crookshanks ran back to where Luna and Tutela were standing. On the edge of the forest, connected to a large boulder, was what they were looking for.

Hermione stared at the giant red button.

“I’ve got a terrible feeling about this.”

Luna, who couldn’t have seen it without Tutela, motioned Hermione ahead.

Hermione looked at Luna, then back at the button.

“Here goes… something.”

She pushed the button with both hands, and the world began to shake. Black blocks erupted from the ground, slamming into one another. They slid and shifted as they formed together. When they’d finished, a giant puzzle box stood in the middle of the field.

“Well,” Hermione said, “now we know what happened to the third task.”

“Do you think the clockwork horrors are all inside?”

“I’m quite sure they are.”

Hermione and Luna walked up to a corner of the maze. The block at the corner slid open, revealing the glowing purple interior.

“Remember,” Hermione said, “head for the center. If we get separated, we’ll eventually make it there. Gravity—”

“Gravity is relative, I remember.”

Another thought struck Hermione and she turned to Luna. Placing her hands on Luna’s shoulders, she cast superior resistance.

“It’s not much, but it should allow us to make saves. I’m not certain, so try not to let the adamantine clockwork horror disintegrate you.”

Luna nodded.

Hermione looked up at the maze, then thought back to how well she’d handled the bronze serpent. Neville had had to move constantly inside the maze; she didn’t do much apart from sit still and try not to die.

“Do you want to go first?” Hermione asked.

Luna turned her head in Hermione’s direction, then back to the maze.


Losha ran inside the maze. A few seconds later, the door slid shut behind her.

When she entered the maze, she immediately realized her problem. Rose had added the colors in the maze to help the champions find their way. Losha didn’t see in color, or at all. She could sense her surroundings with speak with anything, but that didn’t include color.

<Brain, I can’t tell what color anything is.>

<I can’t help you, Moon.>

Losha stood still for a minute, pondering how she’d find her way through the maze. Rose knew all the tricks to find your way through a maze, so it wouldn’t be easy. After that minute, she tried the only idea she had left.

Losha stooped down and touched the floor.

Which way to the center?

She got a vague idea to move forward. It wasn’t much, but it would have to be enough.

<I can find my way.>

Losha felt a little better about the maze, until she heard from Brain again.

<I… Moon, it’s not opening again. I don’t think I can get in.>

Losha skidded to a halt and froze.

<Perhaps you’ve got to wait longer.>

<Or only one of us can go inside. I can wait, but I’ve got a bad feeling you’re on your own.>

Now what?” Mars asked, sounding far more pleased than Losha would’ve liked.

We can’t get out!” Mercury shouted. Losha couldn’t smell her fear, but she could feel it. Trapped.

“I can do this,” Losha said.

This is all ridiculous,” Jupiter said. “These games of yours are pointless. What for? Why risk your life like this?

“For Toad,” Losha said without hesitation. “It’s what he would’ve done, and it’s what I’m going to do.”

Neptune whooped and cheered her on, providing the first bit of encouragement since she’d walked inside the maze.

It’s noble,” Saturn added. “He’d be proud of you.

You don’t look the part yet,” Neptune said.

Losha considered that for a moment, then reformed her mask over her face.

“I can do this,” Losha said, knowing not one of them was convinced by it.

Tutela paced outside, trying not to whine. She didn’t like Moon being in there on her own. What if something happened? Taking care of Moon was supposed to be her responsibility.

Brain was desperately slamming her fists against the button, screaming at the maze to open.

“Let me in!” she screamed, taking her anger out on the maze instead.

Tutela winced as Brain slammed into the door of the maze, then recoiled and fell to her knees.

“It’s all my fault. I should’ve gone first.”

Tutela nestled against Brain. She knew Moon was tougher than she looked, but that didn’t stop her from being worried. She knew what Rose had put inside the maze. They didn’t have the advantage of needing to be kept alive. Those things would kill Moon if she made even a single mistake, and Tutela wouldn’t be able to stop them.

A few minutes into the maze, Losha encountered her first clockwork horror. She heard it before it saw her. Clicking echoed through the maze ahead of her, and she kept her guard up.

She couldn’t smell it, which was the worst part. The maze gave her little to go on, which meant she was down to hearing alone.

The sound of the dart was all the warning she got. She dove out of the way, then rolled towards it.

It fired another dart, this one striking her before she could reach the construct. She recoiled, but swiped at it in retaliation. Her attack caught the construct and she hurled it into the wall.

It climbed to its feet, but Losha was upon it before it could prepare for another attack. The runes on her body shifted as she leapt at it, turning her fist into stone. She drove it through the horror, smashing it to pieces.

After it didn’t move, she got up and informed Brain and Tutela what she’d done.

<Don’t drop your guard,> Brain said. <There’s hundreds more of them.>

<Be careful,> Tutela added.

Losha took a breath and started off in the direction from which the clockwork horror had originated, hoping that it was the right direction.

The maze shifted around her, making an already difficult task that much harder. The second time her section of the maze shifted, she decided she’d had enough.

“I can’t do it!” she shouted. “I can’t find my way!”

Would that have stopped Toad?” Neptune asked.

Probably,” scoffed Mars.

Losha snarled at Mars. Instead of stopping her, Mars’s words of discouragement urged her to push forward.

She heard the clicking of horrors again, and ran towards the sound. Fear began to creep in, but not entirely for herself. The memory of seeing Toad fighting for his life resurfaced, bringing that fear back. She’d liked him a little back then. He was different, like her. He made it through, so she would too.

She struggled through the next few horrors, then listened for more clicking. She heard the distant echoes of it ahead of her, then ran towards it. It wasn’t much to go on, but it was enough to get her through this.

Hermione checked her watch, trying to recall how long Neville had taken in the maze. She had no need for it; she knew how long Luna had been inside.

“I wish I had been paying attention back then,” she said.

She remembered how caught up in it she’d been. Worried about Neville and Cedric. Excited to see her friend, timid little Neville, fighting his way through hoards of monsters Rose had built. Terrified that he’d die inside the maze, that any of them could.

Moon won’t die. She won’t die. She’ll be fine.

She paced around with Tutela. Neither knew what to do apart from pacing. Crookshanks was the only one that didn’t look terrified.

<I’ve got more horrors around me,> Luna informed her. <I think I’m getting close to the end.>

What should’ve made Hermione feel better only served to make her worse. Up side: Luna was almost to the end. Down side: the adamantine clockwork horror lay at the end.

<Be careful,> was all Hermione could manage.

Losha ripped through more clockwork horrors and pressed ahead. By now, the wave was endless, the walls covered in them. She ran through the wave as it shifted towards her. With the sound of them all around her, it was hard to work out the direction she needed to go.

An idea struck her, and she stopped listening for the clicking. Instead, she listened for a spot that didn’t have any noise.

She discovered that there was a cavern up ahead from which little noise was coming, then bolted towards it.

When she rounded the corner, she heard the sound of a large clockwork horror shifting in place. Not knowing where it was aiming, she had to guess. She ran forward and tumbled when she heard it fire.

A wall near her had a chunk taken out of it, but she kept moving.

She tumbled around another hit, running towards the horror. She turned her fists to stone again and slammed them into the horror.

Her hands bounced off, then the horror jabbed its blade into her. It knocked her back, but the acromantula silk of her dress protected her from the blade itself.

She recovered and tried to think of a new plan. The sound of more horrors filled the cavern as they marched in after her.

She drew a deep breath and screamed at it, filling the cavern with a blast of sonic energy. She heard the sound of the smaller horrors being ripped apart by the blast, but nothing from the adamantine.

She tried again, directing the blast at the adamantine this time, but still, it did nothing. Just after asking herself why, the answer hit her: spell resistance. Rose had engineered this one to be resistant to her and Brain’s magic.

Losha tumbled past the next disintegrate, then ran at the horror again. It swung its blade at her, knocking her back to the ground.

She tried again, but it knocked her aside with as much ease as the first time.

She had nothing to throw at it. No way to fight back. Her attacks weren’t phasing it. Nothing was working.

More horrors spilled into the room, firing darts and lightning at her. She dodged them, the only thing she could do.

Come on!

Do something useful!

Run for it!

The voices of the other Lunas filled her head. She tried to figure out what to do, but there was nothing. Spell resistance stopped her magic from getting through. She couldn’t fight back. She couldn’t win.

She took a hit from one of the horrors and went careening into the ground mid-jump. The other horrors moved back, allowing their leader to go for the kill.

“I can’t do it,” she whimpered. “Mars and Magorian are right. I’m a weak human.”

Don’t give up, Moon.

Another voice filled her head, drowning out everything else. She didn’t understand how, but the scent of pine filled her nose.


You gave me hope when I had none. Let me return the favor. I believe in you. You’re the most extraordinary person I’ve ever met, including your sister and Brain. You’re brave enough to push forward even though you don’t always know what’s going on, and you were clever enough to use it to your advantage. Don’t let this stop you.

“It didn’t stop you,” she whispered as the sound of the horror returned. It was close to her, preparing for the kill.

Her dream of Toad’s smiling face, full of love, filled her mind. She longed for him to save her, but like it had been against Lestrange, it was up to her. For Brain, and Toad, and Rose, she had to fight back. She had one option left, and for their sakes, she had to use it.

Help me.

Memories from eight other lives flooded her head. She felt dizzy, but she forced herself to stay focused on the sound of the horror. She felt everything they’d feel, knew everything they they’d know.

Moon didn’t have a solution. But Neptune and Mars did.

On all fours, she sprinted to the other horrors. She barreled into them, ripping through them. The adamantine horror fired into the hoard, but Losha created a wall of spare parts to block the shot.

Don’t stay in one place too long.

Losha bolted away, taking a group of horrors with her. She lifted her hands and flung the horrors at the adamantine. The pieces ripped through it, but it shrugged them off.

Losha bolted around the room, and an idea struck her. She didn’t know which of them had the idea, but it was good.

She ran back at the group of horrors and shielded herself among them. Then she ripped more of them open and created a storm of shrapnel. The storm covered the room, cutting into the adamantine horror.

More importantly was where the pieces landed. Using speak with anything, she verified that everything had landed where she’d been expecting. They covered the room in specific spots, with a line leading straight back to her. She slapped her hand down and charged the rune she’d just created.

An explosion ripped apart the adamantine horror, sending pieces of it flying across the room. She threw up a shield to stop herself from getting hurt by her own attack, then listened for the sound of anything coming to get her.

Instead, she heard the sound of blocks shifting, making a path to the outside. Fresh air struck her, and she smelled Brain, Tutela, and Crookshanks coming to get her.


Brain threw her arms around Luna, and several scents filled her nose at once. Fear, relief, love.

“I did it,” she said. “The others helped, but I did it.”

Brain pulled away and looked around the room.

“And I found our next clue. The number 738,410 written diagonally on the floor.”

Losha smiled, glad that she’d succeeded. Best of all was the feeling that Toad was smiling at her. She wasn’t a burden anymore.

Chapter Text

Ginny’s heart hammered in her chest as she tried to calm down. They’d won! She’d been so focused on what she was doing, she could hardly remember if she’d been worried.

Gryffindor celebrated well into the night. They’d destroyed Slytherin, more than making up for last year’s defeat. It was hard to believe it, but they’d done it.

“Everyone, shut up!” Ron shouted. “Our fearless leader’s gonna make a speech!”

Ginny smiled and turned her attention to Harry, who caught her eye and shrugged.

“Good work, everyone!” he said. “Or, as Oliver Wood would’ve said, ‘Not bad for a practice match!’”

The few people who knew who Wood was laughed, Ginny included.

“Seriously, we’ve got a great team this year. Our Beaters, Brett and Steven Nertlyn!”

A round of applause went out for the brothers, who received plenty of violent pats on the back.

“Our one-of-a-kind Keeper, Ron ‘Cohort’ Weasley!”

Harry grabbed Ron and pulled him closer with one arm as the common room applauded.

“Our Chasers, Demelza Robins, Jonathon Nertlyn, and last, but not least by a long shot, Ginny ‘The Firecracker’ Weasley!”

Ginny blushed when Harry put his other arm around her and pulled her in.

“Every point we scored today was thanks in part to Ginny here,” Harry said. “Those fake-outs were her idea, and Ron here pitched in — no pun intended — to show us how to get around the best of Keepers.”

“And of course,” Ron added, “when we needed to really stick it to Slytherin, who could’ve grabbed the Snitch from right under their noses but Harry Potter!”

The common room applauded again, and Ginny managed a smile. For one night, she forgot about Rose and Macnair. For that night, she was just the Chaser for Gryffindor, and one of Harry Potter’s best friends. For that night, that was enough.

Ron never realized how hard it was to get someone alone to talk until Harry stopped wearing his ring. Otherwise, Ron would’ve waited until everyone else was asleep to talk to his friend, but with Harry having a normal sleep schedule, Ron had to try cornering him during the day.

Every time he tried to catch Harry after class, he ended up intercepted by a teacher. Monday before lunch, it was Professor Burbage, complementing the essay he’d written in Muggle Studies and asking him about Hermione. On their way to lunch, it was Professor McGonagall, discussing his time as Head Boy, congratulating them both on Quidditch, and asking about Hermione.

Tuesday morning, they had Defence Against the Dark Arts, after which Professor Lupin talked with them, and asked about Hermione and Luna. Ron had Muggle Studies, then Professor Kemra caught him and asked about Luna and Hermione. After that was Care for Magical Creatures, after which Hagrid asked them about the girls.

As they were walking inside, Ron was beginning to wonder if the professors were trying to find Hermione and Luna. No one mentioned they were fugitives, but everyone asked about them. Even Professor Kemra, who Ron would’ve thought wouldn’t know anything about them.

They walked inside, then he got distracted by Sally-Anne wishing them farewell for the time on her way to Ancient Runes. Ginny caught up with them as they were walking in, which meant Ron had to wait to get Harry alone.

On Wednesday, after camping out at the Arithmancy classroom for an hour while Harry met with Professor Rix, Ron finally cornered Harry alone.

“You could’ve asked if you wanted to talk to me.”

Ron shrugged.

“I guess, but after trying so hard, it felt like a challenge.”

Harry checked his watch and started walking.

“I’ve got to be at Professor Lupin’s office in ten minutes, so we can walk and talk.”

“Have you noticed Princess acting strangely?” Ron asked, jumping straight to his point.

Harry glanced around, and Ron noticed Harry had taken out his ear pods.

I should’ve known Hermione wasn’t going to come through on a replacement.

“I’ve noticed something,” Harry said, keeping his voice low.

Ron waited, but soon realized that Harry wasn’t talking.

“What is it?”

“It’s… it’s her hands.”

Ron thought back to when he’d seen Sally-Anne lately, and remembered her constant fidgeting. She was always rubbing her hands together. She hadn’t used to do that, had she?

“She keeps rubbing them together,” Ron said. “What for?”

Harry looked for all the world like he didn’t want to say it.

“She’s also… have you seen her without her gloves lately?”

Ron once again thought back, and realized he hadn’t. Sally-Anne’s hands were soft and gentle, but he hadn’t seen her without her gloves since… he couldn’t think when the last time had been.

He shook his head.

“Exactly. That’s because she doesn’t want anyone to know that she’s been burning them.”

Ron stopped walking as he came to terms with that. What was he talking about? She couldn’t be burning her hands, that was ridiculous. Why would she have done that?

“What for?”

Harry shook his head.

“I don’t know. I spotted it over the summer, but she wears longer gloves now. I guess… last time one of my friends started wearing gloves, it was to hide something.”

Ron nodded, remembering all too well the scars on Hermione’s hands.

“Is everything alright with you?”

Ron shrugged, more interested in talking about Sally-Anne than himself.

“Fine, I guess. I mean… worried about Princess I suppose.”

Harry gave him a significant look.


“It’s nothing,” Harry said. “I’m worried about her too. You see her more than I do, so if someone’s going to work out what’s going on, it’s you.”

Ron thought about all the times he’d tried talking to Hermione about what was bothering her. Even with Sally-Anne, he couldn’t manage to say the right thing. The difference was Sally-Anne didn’t care.

“I can try,” Ron said. “Thanks.”

“No problem.”

Ron walked off, leaving Harry to get to Professor Lupin’s office. Why would Sally-Anne be burning herself? She kept rubbing her hands together too. Like she was…

Like she was trying to get something off them.

Ron hurried to the library and went straight to the Muggle Studies section. He walked along the shelves until he got to a group of books by William Shakespeare. He knew he recognized that from one of Shakespeare’s works, which, knowing Sally-Anne, didn’t entirely surprise him.

He touched each one, activating his bracelet when he did. He finally found it when he reached Macbeth.

She’s trying to get the feeling of blood off her.

Ron turned to leave and find Sally-Anne, then stopped. Every time he tried to talk to one of his friends about something important, he managed to find a way to mess it up. If he wasn’t delicate about it, he’d only make it worse.

Why did she feel like that at all? She hadn’t killed Malfoy herself, Rose had. Just like she’d killed Neville and Lavender.

The image of Rose stabbing her sword thing into Neville was burned into his mind, but it felt like he was looking at a portrait. It was there, but it didn’t really mean anything. Why didn’t it mean anything?

The thought slipped away, and Ron left the library. Whatever was going on with Sally-Anne was more important than whatever was wrong with him. The only question left was how to help Sally-Anne.

Sarah sat in a train station, glaring at the board that taunted her with a three hour delay. She’d already been there for two hours, and if she was lucky, she’d get to leave within another two.

Eric walked through the crowd of people near her, carrying two cups of coffee. If she didn’t know his lousy taste in coffee, she would’ve taken both of them when he sat down next to her.

“How’re things in your neck of the woods, Boss?” he asked, far too cheerful as always.

“Same as they are in yours. Train delays. Conspiracies. The usual.”

He took a sip of his coffee, signaling to her that it was safe to drink hers.

“At least it’s early,” he said. “We could’ve been here until eleven at night like last time.”

Sarah grumbled and drank her coffee. It wasn’t much, but it would tie her over.

“We could leave and come back,” Eric said, nodding to the coffee that had come from a shop around the corner. “I don’t know why you insist on staying here. It’s not as if the train’s going to get here any faster.”

Sarah continued her staring contest with the board, scanning it again for the various destinations.

The thought of Inferi and a missing train car still stuck in her head. Disappearances, murders, acts of vandalism, it made no sense. It was as though someone was thumbing through an encyclopedia on crime, picking a random page, and saying “that’s what I’m going to do today”. If she didn’t honestly believe that Rose was dead, she’d have thought Rose was behind it.

“How’re the girls?” Sarah asked, taking another sip of coffee.

“The same as they were the last time you asked. Don’t be such a worry wart.”

They’d spent months fanning out around the area, trying to be as subtle as possible. Sarah didn’t want to inadvertently lead Umbridge or Slytherin straight to them, but she wanted to find them and get answers nonetheless.

Their search had turned up nothing, so they’d stuck to investigating whatever it was this new group was up to. Sarah had also diverted resources into investigating Umbridge’s activities, although her instincts told her they were all connected.

She knew what Umbridge wanted: power. This new group clearly wanted to make trouble. The missing piece was Slytherin. Sarah didn’t know what it wanted. which led her back to the girls and their whereabouts.

She’d seen many different ways everything could fit together, but she didn’t have the answers she wanted, and it was starting to get to her. They’d dug up what information they could, but kept coming up with nothing. How was a group so interested in causing trouble and chaos somehow careful enough to avoid detection?

“What if they don’t exist?” Sarah asked no one in particular.

“What was that?” Eric asked.

“Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny. Do you think they’re real?”

Eric nearly choked on his coffee, then started laughing.

“Come on, Boss. Everyone knows the Easter Bunny is a family of rabbit Animagi, and Father Christmas is an alien.”

Sarah smirked, then took another drink.

“Or Rose from the future.”

“Now there’s a terrifying thought.” Eric finished his drink, then stared into space. “That actually makes far too much sense.”

“The elves are actually her helpers, the… homunculi.”

“She did like making things.”

“And Sally-Anne said she liked to give them to people while they were sleeping.”

They stared at one another before deciding that rabbit hole wasn’t worth venturing down, and returned to wondering how much longer until their train arrived.

Like Ron, Sally-Anne discovered how difficult it was to find Harry to talk to him. It would’ve been easier if people would’ve stopped flagging her down to talk to her.

After dismissing the third boy to talk to her, she started tracking down Harry again. She knew his class schedule, she knew when he met with Remus and Rix, and between that, he was usually practicing Quidditch or studying.

Sally-Anne spared a thought for how far Harry had come as a responsible adult. He’d always been so angry about everything only a few years ago, but now he shouldered every responsibility he’d been given.

She turned a corner and bumped right into Harry.

“Must you do that?” she asked, taking a moment to catch her breath.

“Force of habit,” Harry replied. His smirk reminded her of Sirius, from whom Harry had probably picked it up. “What do you need?”


“You’ve been trying to catch me for days to talk to me, which you could’ve told me over the network. If you’d done that, I would’ve told you that I had about ten minutes on Wednesday after meeting Professor Rix and before meeting with Professor Lupin.” He checked his watch. “Nine minutes. Since you didn’t tell me that, I’m assuming you want to talk about something you don’t want other people knowing about.”

Sally-Anne scowled at him. As if Ron being a know-it-all wasn’t bad enough. That was one thing about Hermione she didn’t miss.

“Alright, Brain, there is something about which I’d like to talk to you.”

Harry smiled at her knowingly, scowling as he did.

“Was that snark from the Great Sally-Anne Perks?”

“Harry, this is serious.”

Harry opened his mouth, likely to make a joke about his godfather, but closed it and let the smile fade from his face.

“Alright, I’m listening.”

Sally-Anne explained to him what Parkinson had told her. She struggled to keep herself composed as she talked, knowing her fear was creeping through to the surface.

“You didn’t make a love potion for Draco,” Harry said when she’d finished. “He honestly loved you. Even I noticed that there was something about him when he was with you. He wasn’t as mean to everyone, didn’t keep glaring at me or mocking everyone around him. You changed him for the better.”

Tears started to trickle down her face, but it wasn’t all joy.

“I didn’t, but… what if Rose had?”

Through her tears, she saw Harry frowning at her.

“I don’t think Rose could’ve made it.”

“She could’ve gotten someone else to make it.”

“What for? You convinced Draco to go against their plans. If she had, that meant she’d gotten in her own way.”

Sally-Anne dabbed at her tears.

“It’s exactly the sort of thing Rose would’ve done, just to mess with my head.”

Harry placed a hand on her shoulder.

“I can’t say for sure if that’s what happened, but you’re a kind person, Sally-Anne, and a lot more clever than you think. You’ve given up your own happiness more than once for the sake of others. You didn’t have to turn against Umbridge, nor risk your life to save mine last year when Firecracker nearly blew up me and Ron. You’re worth loving, and Ron will see that, even without all the stuff Rose gave us.”

“I’m not… I’m only worried about him.”

Even if she hadn’t know Harry as well as she did, she’d have known he didn’t believe her.

“You’re still wearing your dress,” Harry said. “And your ribbon, and your ring. I would’ve expected you of all people to have been the first to get rid of them, which means something’s stopping you.”

“You can’t know that everyone will still like me without my dress or ribbon. Before I had them—”

“Who cares? I’m not going to stop being your friend just because you’re not as pretty as you were, or because you’re not as good with people. Ron certainly won’t stop being your friend. After everything you did with Umbridge, Ron was always your friend, even when I wasn’t.”

Sally-Anne stood still for a moment, taking in his words. He was right; Ron and Draco had been her only friends for a long time after everything that had happened with Umbridge. Maybe he would be her friend no matter what.

“I’ve only got a few minutes,” Harry said, nodding down the corridor. “Would you mind walking with me?”

Sally-Anne nodded, glad Harry had dropped the subject of Ron for a moment. As they neared Professor Lupin’s office, he brought it back up.

“I know you like Ron, and I know you don’t need the dress or ribbon to hold his attention. You’ve got two choices: either do something about it, or pine away for him forever. If I recall correctly, the second one didn’t go so well for you last time.”

Sally-Anne resisted the urge to slap him. Harry should’ve been the last person to give her grief about that.

“Exactly,” he said, sensing her frustration with him. “Give the first option a chance.”

They reached Professor Lupin’s office and Harry bid her farewell. Sally-Anne started off down the corridor, giving his words some thought.

I should ask him out, she told herself. But how is he with Lavender?

She thought back to sitting with Ron in St. Mungo’s, listening to him unload his fears and insecurities. He was afraid no one would love him again, but he was wrong.

She realized she should’ve asked Harry where Ron was. She hadn’t seem him since breakfast, so she figured he was outside somewhere. He didn’t tend to hang out in the library anymore, not since Hermione had left.

As she walked towards the Entrance Hall, something crossed her mind, causing her to stop. Viktor had gone blind. Draco had died. Being around her wasn’t bad luck, was it?

The pain of Viktor ordering her to leave returned, piling on to the misery she already felt about Draco. If she allowed herself to open up to Ron like that, would she lose him too? Even if it wasn’t anything to do with her, they always seemed to find trouble. If they fell in love, she’d only lose him too.

It doesn’t matter anyway. Without my dress, we’ll only be good friends.

She walked out of Hogwarts, and started looking around for Ron. Even if they’d only be friends, she resolved to be the best friend she could be for him.

Harry sat with Remus going over the class syllabus, thinking of ideas for new lessons.

“Despite what happened to Hermione, I still think the Boggart lesson’s good,” Harry said. “It went fine last year.”

“I suppose you’re right,” Remus said, “as always.”

Harry chuckled.

“I’m not always right. Until last year, I thought the person that was always right was Hermione.”

Remus flipped through some more papers.

“Still no word?”

Harry shook his head, then pointed at the paper.

“The Unforgivable Curses are a good thing to learn about. People ought to know what they’re up against if they’re facing a dark wizard. The Cruciatus Curse really messed up Hermione.” Harry gave a crooked smile. “Of course, Neville said Lestrange tried using it on him, but he didn’t crack.”

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Remus said, circling the Unforgivable Curses. “I knew his parents. It must’ve taken her an hour to break them the way she did. Frank and Alice were some of the best Aurors around.”

Harry nodded, then asked the question that had been on his mind for days.

“Was it hard losing my mum and dad?”

Remus stopped looking over papers and looked Harry straight in the eye.

“It’s always hard losing a friend Harry, and never let anyone tell you otherwise. What was worse was that I thought one of my closest friends — one their closest friends — had sold them out. I was in an awful way when I got the news. I couldn’t decide if I wanted revenge or if I wanted…”

He smiled a smile that felt a little condescending.

“Never mind how I felt back then. The point is that you shouldn’t think it’s something you truly get over. It’s another thing you learn to live with.”

Harry nodded, glad that he wasn’t expected to get over it. Once upon a time, there had been eight people in their band, but now they were down to four. Rose had gone mad, killed Neville, and now it was beginning to look like Hermione and Luna might be following in her footsteps.

It was hard to know what to believe. His instincts said not to trust the Daily Prophet, but neither Hermione nor Luna had given an explanation for their absence, nor a clue to their whereabouts. What were they afraid would happen if they said anything? Why were they being so secretive?

The thought slipped away, and he and Remus went through more ideas for lesson plans.

“How’s Ginny doing?”

“Fine. We were lucky Madame Pomfrey signed off on her playing. We wouldn’t have done half as well if we hadn’t had her.”

“She’s quite the Quidditch player.”

Harry began to suspect he was being led to a conclusion, but he wanted to talk about Ginny, so he let himself be led to it.

“Yeah, she is. I couldn’t tell you why Pomfrey let her play, but—”

“I can,” Remus said, looking at him the same way he’d been looking at Ron and Sally-Anne for the past few days. “Professor McGonagall convinced her to sign off on it on the grounds that the staff be ready for it. She’s got a soft spot for you and your friends.”

Harry smiled, glad that Professor McGonagall was continuing the tradition of the headmaster or headmistress looking out for them.

Remus still gave Harry the same look. Harry knew what Remus wanted him to do, but he was having fun messing with him.

“You’re not going to make this easy for me, are you?”

Harry smiled back at him.

“Did my parents?”

Remus laughed.

“Not once. They were falling for one another by sixth year, but wouldn’t admit it to anyone. I had to pry it out of them both.”

Harry thought about his talks with Ron and Sally-Anne, then chuckled.

“I know the feeling. But if it makes your life easier, I suppose I do like her a little. She’s a brilliant player and a strong person, even if she doesn’t believe it anymore.”

He could imagine Alavel smiling at him. He’d have been proud that Harry was able to admit it.

“She’d be lucky to have you,” Remus said. “Now that I’ve done my job, how about we get back to our real jobs?”

Harry chuckled at that.

“I suppose we should.”

As they worked, he thought more about Ginny. He needed to ask Ron before he made a move on her. He didn’t think Ron would care one way or the other, but it wasn’t right to date your best friend’s sister without at least warning him first.

Ron sat outside, letting his mind wander. It was cold, but he still had his ring on. The same ring made by the person that had murdered Lavender before his eyes.

It concerned him that his only hope to replace the ring was a wanted criminal. None of them knew what she was doing, nor would she answer when they asked. Could he trust Hermione? What if she’d gone mad too? Was it worth depending on her to remake the rings? Or would they be having the same problem with her in a year or two?

The Ministry was hiding something. People had been murdered or kidnapped, but the Daily Prophet was only reporting it at specific times, like they were trying to downplay the frequency of it. Then there was Umbridge being in power again which made no sense. Something was going on, but he’d found he couldn’t think about it inside the castle.

He’d only noticed recently that thinking about it outside was distinctly easier, but once he got inside, the thoughts would slip away. Even the knowledge that it was easier to think about it outside vanished when he went inside. What was going on? It was too specific, like something about the castle was messing with his head. Was it because of the events of the previous year? Had so much happened inside the castle that it was clouding his mind?

For that reason, he’d decided to stay next to the Forbidden Forest for a moment. Not only was it a good spot to be alone, but it was the closest he could get to another location where something traumatic had happened.

He heard footsteps and looked up. He could’ve ignored it a few years ago, but now he was sure people were out to get him.

“It’s alright,” Sally-Anne said, “it’s only me.”

Ron sat up and tried to make himself presentable.

“Hey, Princess, I was just…”

She smiled at him, and his mind went blank.

“May I please join you?” she asked.

Unable to remember how his mouth worked, Ron was forced to nod as his reply.

“What are you doing out here?” Sally-Anne asked.

“It’s easier to think,” Ron said, finding it ironic that Sally-Anne’s presence made that harder. “Inside I keep losing my train of thought.”

Maybe it’s Princess doing that.

No, he was sure something was going on. It was easier to think outside. At least, think about whatever was really going on.

“What do you mean?”

“How many people have asked about Hermione and Luna today?”

Sally-Anne frowned, but Ron still couldn’t take his eyes off her. No matter what she did to her face, she always looked beautiful.

“Today, no one, I don’t think. Professor Sprout asks about Luna sometimes. Professor McGonagall asks about them both, and… well, most of the professors ask about them.”

“But they never ask about them being fugitives.”

Ron gave Sally-Anne a moment to think about it.

“Exactly. Something doesn’t feel right. Hermione and Luna are fugitives, but no one seems to mention it, even though the professors keep asking about them. Something about the way Rose died isn’t right. Like there’s more to it, but I can’t remember what. Every time I try thinking about it inside, I keep forgetting what I was thinking about, but outside, I can think about it clearly. I came here because I thought it might be some sort of PTSD after last year, but despite having been on the run from Umbridge two years ago, I can still think clearly. Something about the castle is stopping me from thinking about it inside the castle.”

He looked at Sally-Anne after he’d finished talking. She must’ve thought he was mad. Any second she’d get up and walk away.

Instead, she nodded, looking like she understood.

“Something feels wrong to me too. I can see it all in my head, but…”

Ron wondered if she had the same problem he did. He couldn’t remember feeling anything when he’d seen Rose die, nor Neville. But if he said it, what if she thought there was something wrong with him? No, there couldn’t be anything wrong with him, he could remember exactly how he’d felt when Lavender had died.

Ron looked at Sally-Anne and decided it didn’t matter. What mattered was that she by his side.

“It doesn’t matter right now,” he said.

She smiled at him again, and he knew right then and there that everything would work out alright.

He smiled back at her, resisting the urge to take her hand. Which brought something else to his mind.

“I’ve got a question,” Ron said, “and I want you to answer honestly.”

“Of course. You know you can ask me anything.”

Ron formed the question in his head, then forced himself to say it.

“Are you burning your hands to get rid of the feeling of blood on them?”

The smile faded from Sally-Anne’s face. She shifted around, moving her hands back and forth a few times.


“I know you’ve burned them, although you probably didn’t mean to. It struck me as familiar, but I didn’t remember why until earlier. That’s the same thing Lady Macbeth did to her hands, for that same reason. Knowing you, that’s probably occurred to you too, if that wasn’t the reason you started doing it.”

Tears trickled down her face. She looked around, but no one was with them. They were on the edge of the Forbidden Forest, where students rarely went. It was why Ron had picked the spot.

With her lip trembling, Sally-Anne nodded.

“I can’t get rid of it. I… I just sat there and watched him die, and I felt nothing! Like everything stopped working! I couldn’t save him!”

Whatever she said next was lost in her sobs. She covered her face with her hands, trying and failing to pull herself together.

Ron hated the feeling that this was his fault, but he put his arm around her anyway.

“I couldn’t save Lav either. I… I know how it feels.”

Sally-Anne turned and threw her arms around him. It startled Ron, but he held her anyway.

Ron tried to think of something to say, then realized it’d be better to say nothing.

Maybe he was just being paranoid about Hermione and Luna. Maybe they were only struggling to make sense of what couldn’t be rationalized. Whatever was happening, he and Sally-Anne could get through it together.

Chapter Text

Mars walked through Diagon Alley, roaming her dominion in the dead of night. After spreading out from Knockturn Alley for the past year, she controlled most of Magical London. She’d even placed people within the Ministry itself. Nothing happened inside without her knowing about it.

No one else dared go out at night. No one knew about her; everyone assumed anything bad that happened was due to Voldemort. The great Lord Voldemort, who had no power within Diagon Alley. No, it belonged to her. London belonged to her.

Being the undisputed Queen of Diagon Alley, she knew when a certain threesome entered her territory. Her eyes and ears had reported that Harry Potter and his friends had come out of hiding and were planning something on Gringotts. A break in, perhaps? It didn’t matter to her. The goblin were more or less loyal to her, which pleased Voldemort enough to keep his non-existent nose out of it. So when one of them got wind of a plan to infiltrate Gringotts, they informed her immediately, knowing that she would sort it.

Under the cover of night, she stalked through the streets, listening, waiting, scanning the minds of every living thing around her. Harry Potter was known to use an invisibility cloak, which meant there was little doubt that he was using it now to hide. As if something so trivial could fool her.

She caught whispers in the night from a side street near her. They weren’t as stupid as they seemed; they’d picked one of the best spots to survey Gringotts. Mars walked as though she hadn’t heard anything, creeping around behind them. At least the fools were smart enough to whisper and not talk as though no one else in the world had the gift of hearing.

Mars stood behind them, not making a sound, hidden by the black of night. She listened to them, gathering their positions from when they spoke or moved. After a few minutes, she’d worked out where they were, then walked up behind them and stabbed Granger in the back.

She ripped off the cloak from them with one hand as Granger fell, then hurled a stone at Potter’s throat.

The boy clutched his throat, unable to call out for help or cast a spell, as Weasley threw a stunner at her. Mars side-stepped it and rammed another blade into the boy’s gut. She took it out, allowing the barbs to tear out a chunk of his side, then slashed his throat.

Potter recovered, and with tears in his eyes, threw another stunner at her. She ducked down and knocked his legs out from underneath him, then bashed him in the head with the hilt of her knife.

With him unconscious, she slit Granger’s throat for good measure, then confirmed that both she and Weasley were dead.

She eyed the blood on her hands with glee as her cleanup crew arrived and disposed of the two dead bodies. It was so hard sometimes not to laugh when she got her hands dirty. Like getting to go out and play after a long day of studying.

“And send word to Riddle that we’ve got his boy,” she said to one of her henchmen. “I’m sure he’ll be delighted to see Harry Potter again.”

She strode out of the alleyway, cleaning the blood off herself, then walked up the marble steps to Gringotts. Through the dim light, she caught the number and smiled.

“Hey, Moon,” she said, “I think I’ve got something you want.”

Hermione held her arms around a shaken Luna.

“Are you sure it’s Gringotts?” Hermione asked.

Luna nodded, her whole body shaking.

“Mars looked right at it and called for me,” she said. “The street number on Gringotts is 738, and the number was written diagonally over the floor, like you said.”

“Which means Diagon Alley, of course. It wasn’t one number, it was two. The first is the address, so the second must be the vault number.”

Luna took a few more breaths as Tutela nestled against her.

“Are you going to be alright?”

Luna nodded and tried to smile. Hermione couldn’t think of a time she’d seen Luna so shaken.

“Another Hermione, Ron, and Harry were trying to break into Gringotts,” Luna said. “I think they were looking for Hufflepuff’s Cup. Mars found out about it, and… and…”

Hermione held Luna as tightly as she could. They’d made an agreement before: only Luna was allowed to bring up tearing out someone’s throat, and only Hermione was allowed to bring up killing Rose. That wouldn’t stop either of them of dreaming about it, or worse, dreaming about killing other friends.

“It wasn’t me,” Hermione said, hoping she was helping. “You didn’t kill me, Mars killed some other Hermione. I’m sure that one was an obnoxious know-it-all who had it coming.”

To her surprise, Luna managed to laugh a little. Even Hermione hadn’t thought it was that funny.

“It’s not that, it’s… I hate how much Mars enjoys it. When she’s killing people… she feels a little like I did when I was with Toad.”

Hermione didn’t know to which emotion Luna was referring, nor did she want to find out. All she needed to know was that Mars was nuts, and Rose wasn’t that bad.

“At least my sister didn’t enjoy killing people,” Luna said. “She only did it because she had to.”

Hermione smiled, easing her grip on Luna. That was one thing on which they agreed: Rose wouldn’t have killed anyone, especially not Professor Dumbledore, without having a good reason. Lavender, maybe, but not Professor Dumbledore or Professor Snape. She wished the others would see that.

She hadn’t spared much thoughts to her friends at Hogwarts. They’d stopped trying to get them to talk about where they were, which itself was a blessing. It was annoying being in the middle of a conversation only to hear “Where are you?” for the hundredth time. As if asking another hundred times would wear her down.

“Well, at least now we know it’s Gringotts,” Hermione said. “And we’ve got a vault number. All we need to do now is get inside Diagon Alley, where people are on the lookout for us, get inside Gringotts, where people will be on the lookout for us, get to a vault that we don’t own, get inside the vault, then deal with whatever Rose left guarding the next clue.”

“The vaults change position,” Luna said, shrugging off Hermione and running her hands through her hair. “So we’ll need a goblin to help us.”

“I might be able to use find the path, and it might even work with the mine carts. If we’re lucky — so not a chance — it might not be that hard to get inside the vault.”

“They’re resistant to magic.”

“Of course they are. Why wouldn’t they be?”

“And we haven’t got the key either, so the goblins won’t help us willingly.”

“People must lose their vault keys all the time.”

Tutela and Crookshanks began their patrol of the area as Hermione and Luna brainstormed more ways to get inside Gringotts.

“Alright, back up,” Hermione said. “First we’ve got to get to Gringotts itself, and we can’t do that as fugitives. If we try getting inside Diagon Alley, we’ll get snatched up and arrested on sight. We’ve got to figure out a way to get in without being seen and get to the mine cart without anyone noticing. Do you know how often they change position?”

Luna tilted her head and likely conversed with the voices in her head while Hermione packed up her things and cleared away their campsite. It’d been weeks since Dartmoor, longer since she’d seen another human being apart from Luna, and she was beginning to think it was taking its toll on her. They’d been moving around in random directions as they’d worked through the clue, avoiding the Ministry as best they could. The only close call was with some people definitely not associated with the Ministry, judging by the electronics they’d used to try finding them. Ever since, Hermione had started using magic to clear away any heat signatures after they slept. They hadn’t had any close calls since, so she kept hoping they’d lost them.

No hallucinations yet, so it can’t be too bad.

It should’ve concerned her more that hallucinating was her threshold for too much stress, but she was too worried about staying ahead of the Ministry and Slytherin to care.

“Not really,” Luna answered at last. “Often enough that Mars can’t go snooping around in her world for it.”

As though a new toy had been taken away, Hermione felt a little let down. Her mind had already started thinking of possibilities for Luna’s gift.

Hermione decided they’d had enough of worrying about that — there’d be plenty of time for that later — and switched topics.

“I’ve been meaning to ask, how come you call yourself Losha?”

“It means ‘Little Moon’ in Dwarven.”

“I know that, but why not call yourself Moon? Like how you call the others by their assumed names.”

Luna stopped running her hands through her hair for a moment.

“When I think of ‘Moon’, I think of who I used to be. The girl that lived in Hogwarts with you and Toad. But Losha is the guardian of the Forbidden Forest, the union of all my other selves. Losha can be Moon or Mars or Neptune or Saturn.”

As they removed all traces of themselves, Hermione began to wonder a different question.

“What about the forest? Are they alright without you?”

Luna — or Moon, or Losha — looked at her with sad eyes.

“I think so. The centaurs are nervous. They started seeing something happening in the stars. A comet that wasn’t supposed to be there flew through, creating a triangle with Mars. They said a war was coming between three sides. Before I left, Magorian told me it was still coming.”

Hermione nodded, remembering the comet to which Luna was referring.

“We’ll get back there as soon as we can. If you don’t mind, I’m going to keep calling you ‘Moon’.”

Luna — no, Moon smiled at her.

“I… I miss it when Toad called me Moon.” She touched her broach. “It’s not the same, but it’s a little piece of him.”

Hermione took her hand as Tutela and Crookshanks returned to the camp.

Neither said anything before they left for London. They still had a few days to go before they got there. It might’ve been two days if they were walking straight there, but they had to avoid civilization at all costs.

As always, they stayed away from any roads, clearings, or anything that looked like a path. They left no trace that they’d been there, apart from the occasional snapped twig. Crookshanks stayed in the trees to keep a lookout for trouble, and Tutela stayed ahead of them to warn them before danger got too close. Hermione had added blindsight to her repertoire of spells, making her feel less useless than when she was the only one who wasn’t helping them not get caught.

It didn’t stop her from feeling useless in a fight. It’d crossed her mind several times that Rose had broken into Gringotts on her own with relative ease. Hermione could use invisibility and find the path, likely along with blink, and it’d be easy to get inside and find vault 410. But she couldn’t take Moon with her if she did, which meant Hermione would be up against whatever was waiting for them alone. Moon had managed to take down the Adamantine Clockwork Horror on her own, but she’d been working on surviving and fighting for years, not to mention the experience Neptune and Mars had. Hermione had what little experience she’d gained from Rose, and the ability to call out the black ooze that Hermione was still worried was doing damage to her whenever she used it.

It’s probably doing Wisdom damage. You should see a Cleric about that.

Hermione calmed herself before Moon picked up on it, reminding herself that thinking something in Rose’s voice didn’t make it true. In fact, it probably made it false simply because Rose had said it.

Oi! I heard that!

Now I’m arguing with myself. Brilliant.

She shook it off and continued trying to work out how to get into Gringotts. Tutela and Crookshanks could slip inside unnoticed; even with criminals on the loose, she knew from experience that Wizards were morons and didn’t get suspicious of animals. She’d learned that when no one had been suspicious of the fact that Scabbers had lived for 12 years.

I can use disguise self to get inside, but what about Moon?

The same question kept coming up: how to get Moon inside? Unless she’d worked out how to become an Animagus over the past few years, she was out of luck. Although knowing Moon…

<Moon, are you an Animagus?>

<Not yet, but Mercury’s going to teach me once I’ve got the chance.>

Depending on what Moon’s form was, Hermione might’ve found her answer. If it was a bear or something noticeable, they might have trouble. Knowing Moon, it would be something horribly conspicuous or something that couldn’t go on land, like an elephant or a whale.

<Work on it tonight when we set up camp. I’ve got an idea. The two of us might not be able to walk inside Diagon Alley, but the two of us aren’t going to walk inside Diagon Alley.>

<That sounds like a brilliant plan, Brain.>

Having never heard Moon use sarcasm before, Hermione hoped her sarcastic voice didn’t sound exactly like her normal voice. It wouldn’t have surprised her if it did; Moon’s voice didn’t seem to change unless she got angry.

<I’m still working through it, but I think we can get in. I’m going to need to work out disguise self and alter self, but I think this will work.>

A few days later, a woman and three animals arrived at Diagon Alley. Hermione had used disguise self to take on the appearance of Aurora Lux, being the least conspicuous looking person of whom she could think. Crookshanks walked by her side. Being her kneazle, no one questioned this.

As it turned out, Moon’s animagus form was an arctic fox. While this delighted Tutela to no end, as they had played together the entire time Hermione had been talking about the plan, Hermione herself had initially expressed doubts about it. An arctic fox wasn’t exactly indigenous to England, or Europe for that matter. Nonetheless, Tutela and Moon had gone ahead, and, according to both of them, no one was suspicious of either animal, nor of the fact that they walked together. Some noticed, some laughed, but Moon insisted she didn’t smell suspicion on anyone. She’d verified that her runes were all still working, so Hermione went forward with her part of the plan.

Hermione and Crookshanks walked into Diagon Alley, and no one was any the wiser. It was surreal, hearing other people talking for the first time in months. They milled about, going about their daily lives as though nothing were wrong. They had no idea that things were spiraling out of control. Slytherin was making a move, and Hermione was sure it involved Umbridge somehow. She hadn’t worked out how it did yet, but she hadn’t been able to keep up with any news since going off the grid.

As she walked, Tutela and Moon trotted up alongside her. While she would’ve thought people would notice, Moon informed her that no one cared. Hermione figured they were on edge about two women, not a crazy animal lady.

On her way through, Hermione grabbed a copy of the Daily Prophet. Sure enough, on the front page there were pictures of her and Moon, with the title “Still at Large”. The article still neglected to tell anyone why they were criminals, apart from being “connected to the New Death Eaters”.

That’s ridiculous. They wouldn’t call themselves the ‘New Death Eaters’, they’re a cult. They’d just keep calling themselves the ‘Death Eaters’, so it can’t be them, and people are too afraid of Voldemort to say his name, much less try and copy him.

While she wanted to get to the bottom of that, she didn’t have the time. She and Moon needed to get inside Gringotts and get out before anyone started asking questions. Getting inside Diagon Alley had been the easy part. Now the four of them had to get inside the bank, get to the mine cart, and get to the vault.

Before they went to Gringotts, she had something to do. She stopped by the Owlery to send a letter.

“Who is it from?” the woman at the counter asked.

“Don’t put anything for that,” Hermione replied, not wanting to give anything away.

The woman eyed Hermione.

<That’s suspicion.>

<Thanks, Moon, I noticed.>

“It’s a love letter, alright? I don’t want her to know it’s from me.”

The woman looked at Hermione as if to make a fuss, then decided it wasn’t worth caring. Hermione paid, then the four of them continued to Gringotts.

Another problem had occurred to her as they neared Gringotts: there was only one mine cart. However that worked, apart from not well, that meant they’d have to get the mine cart back before anyone noticed. Knowing Rose, whatever challenge awaited them would take time. They’d also have to worry about the possibility of running into other people along the way. The mine cart could be in use. It could only work with some sort of key. Hermione had never been into the Gringotts vaults before, nor had Moon, so neither had a clue. There was no guarantee that it worked the same in their world as it did in others, so Moon couldn’t ask for help either.

It’s fine. We’ll work it out.

While Moon had succeeded in using Mercury’s memories to learn to transform, she hadn’t been able to learn to apparate. Doing so typically required a wand, which Moon no longer had. That meant most of the information in Mercury’s head about it was useless, and she couldn’t use Rose’s magic like Hermione could. If something went wrong, Moon had to rely on Mercury’s abilities to get her out, while Hermione could easily use dimension door or teleport and leave everyone behind. Hermione hated the very idea of doing so.

All of this occurred to Hermione as she walked up to Gringotts and walked inside. People walked around, mostly exchanging money. She saw a spot marked “Vaults” and walked up to it.

“Vault number,” the goblin sitting at the desk asked her without looking up.

“Vault 410.”

She doubted simply asking would work, but she had to try anyway.

The goblin flipped through a book, then ran his finger down it.


She frowned. She’d expected a key, not identification.

“I’m sorry?”

“When…” The goblin looked up at her. He looked her up and down, narrowing his eyes at her. “When you opened the vault, Ms. Lux, you chose proof of identification instead of a key.” He pointed at Reflectesalon. “Hand it over.”

Wheels turned in Hermione’s head as she realized what Rose had done. As she handed Reflectesalon to the goblin, she couldn’t help but admire Rose. Hermione had chosen to take Lux’s form because it was the first one that had popped into her head that wouldn’t be suspicious, nor run the risk of running into the original. In all likelihood, Rose had chosen it for the same reason. If Rose had used a key, Hermione never would’ve thought to grab it off Rose, nor would Rose want to risk someone else making a duplicate key and opening the vault. What Rose had also known was that Hermione would grab Reflectesalon off her.

I wish you were here so I could tell you how brilliant you are. I might even hug you.

The goblin handed Reflectesalon back to her, then motioned for her to follow him. Once he got down from the desk, he pointed at her pack of animals.

“No animals inside the vault.”

Hermione froze. Her plan, had this way worked, was to smuggle the animals inside with her. Failing this, she was going to leave, looking defeated, then cast invisibility on all of them so the four of them could sneak inside.

<You’ll be fine,> Moon insisted. <Go, get inside. We’ll figure out how to get in later.>


<This way we’re ready for any tricks. If something goes wrong, you can get out without worrying about us.>

Hermione couldn’t argue with that, not with the goblin waiting on her, so she sent the three of them off. After they’d left, the goblin led her down to the mine cart.

Sure enough, there was only one cart, but she gathered people didn’t go directly to their vaults too often. Either that, or the private vaults required a bigger deposit, so not a lot of people had one.

I’m going with that. That makes a lot more sense.

She stepped inside the mine cart, which lurched forward without warning. It sped them down the tracks, forcing Hermione to hold on or be thrown off. Her knuckles went white, and her hair whipped her face. The goblin, however, looked delighted to see her so disoriented. The cart shot up, then fell down, whipped around a curve, spiraled upside down, then finally came to a stop in front of a vault. Sure enough, above the large door, the number 410 glimmered in the faint torchlight.

“Here we are,” the goblin said, “vault 410.”

He stepped out of the cart, walked up to the door, then ran his finger along the middle. A crack in the metal appeared, then the doors creaked open. The goblin beckoned her inside.

“Thank you.”

She walked past him and looked around. The vault was empty.

“Are you sure this is vault 410?” she asked, looking back at the goblin.

“Of course it is,” he said. “We goblins don’t trick humans, humans trick goblins. Like pretending to be an impostor!”

“What are you talking about?”

“We got word a year ago that Aurora Lux wasn’t real!”

<Moon, get out of Diagon Alley! It’s a trap!>

<We’re leaving now. We’ll let you know when we’re safe.>

Behind her, the vault door shuddered and began closing. She ran towards the goblin, but the door shut before she could reach him.

Hermione assessed her situation. She was locked inside of a vault inside Gringotts. If the goblins didn’t leave her to die, they’d likely be calling the Ministry to pick her up. Once they figured out who she was, Umbridge would toss her inside her very own cell in Azkaban. That meant she had that time to figure out this clue.

She waited a minute for Moon, dropping her disguise as she did. After hearing nothing, she turned around and looked at the vault. Through her darkvision, she was able to see the thing that Rose had used to open up the vault, which she’d probably enchanted to be invisible unless Hermione herself were present.

She walked over to the puzzle box and picked it up.

“What are the odds that this isn’t one exactly like the one Ozerl gave you when you first met?”

Hermione turned it over in her hands, then started to solve it.

<Moon, there’s a puzzle box in here. Black with ruby red accents, sort of egg-shaped.>

<Sounds like the one Professor Ozerl gave Rose.>

<That’s what I was thinking. I’ve almost got it.>

<We’re out of Diagon Alley.>

<I’ll meet you when—>

<Stay there. We can’t get back after they’ve rearranged the vaults, and they’ll be guarding that vault now, if they don’t clean it out entirely.>

<How do you—>

<Mars told me.>

<Right. Well…>

Hermione looked down at the puzzle she was almost finished solving. She had no idea what would happen when she finished it, although she expected it would come to life and attack her. She didn’t think she could do it without Moon, but her friend was right: this might be their only chance to get this clue.

<Alright. I’ll stay here and solve it. But… I—>

<You beat Rose, so you can beat whatever she makes. I couldn’t have beaten the last one without Toad believing in me… so I hope you know Rose believed in you too.>

Hermione closed her eyes and imagined Rose being there with her. She felt Rose’s gloved hands on hers, helping her through the last of the puzzle.

I chose you, Brain. There’s a reason for that.

Hermione slid the last piece into place, and the puzzle started to vibrate. She placed it on the floor, but it rose up and the pieces came apart. They spread into a circle, then lightning arced between them. Energy swirled inside the circle formed by the puzzle, creating what looked to Hermione like a portal.

<There’s a portal here. I don’t know where it goes, but I’m supposed to go through it.>

<Good luck, Brain.>

<Thanks, Moon. I’ll see you shortly.>

Hermione closed her eyes and took a deep breath. It was all up to her. Rose had left this for her, knowing that she’d take Reflectesalon, knowing that she’d impersonate Lux. Every clue had been laid out for her. Rose trusted Hermione to do this. Hermione had killed her once; she wasn’t going to let Rose down again.

She stepped through the portal.

Gringotts faded away, leaving Hermione inside a cavern. The walls were covered in moss and grime. Moisture dripped from the ceiling.

Hermione began to get the bad feeling she knew where she was. She’d fought constructs of Rose’s so far, but this wasn’t exactly another construct. This was a nightmare, but it wasn’t hers.

After seeing nothing move, she started walking down the cavern. The rest of it was as dank as the spot in which she’d entered. Without her darkvision, she’d never be able to see. She couldn’t hear much, but in the distance, something was shaking the cavern. Something that sounded like footsteps.

As she rounded a corner, she came upon someone trembling on the floor.

Not just anyone. The person whose nightmare into which she’d walked.

“Please,” Rose whimpered, “don’t let him hurt me.”

Chapter Text

Fact One: My parents were obsessed with figuring out the Statute of Secrecy and what it meant for them.

Fact Two: They suddenly stopped caring at the end of last year.

Fact Three: They kept stealing glances at you at the train station.

Conclusion: You know more than you let on.

Here’s a little more to know that might help: real Death Eaters wouldn’t call themselves “New” Death Eaters, because they’re a cult, and everyone else is too afraid of them to try copying them. That means someone who knows for a fact that Voldemort is dead is behind this. He came back to life before, but there’s something in Hogwarts that knows how. It calls itself Slytherin, and it knows for a fact that Voldemort is really dead this time. It can’t leave, so it needs someone in the outside world to manage things on its behalf.

It wants me dead.

I’m a fugitive, which only helps it get to me faster. Who said I had something to do with the “New Death Eaters”?

Keep this in mind, and never ever go inside Hogwarts again.

Oh, and the Centaurs think a war is coming.

Good luck.

From the time Sarah had received Hermione’s letter, it’d been shaping up to be a good day. She’d gone into work reinvigorated, with new information at her fingertips. In a few paragraphs, Hermione had connected Slytherin, Umbridge, and the “New Death Eaters”. Among other things, Sarah was already figuring out what position in ESIS she could offer Hermione. Her parents wouldn’t approve, but they’d have the world’s problems sorted in a week with Hermione on their staff.

When she arrived at work, Eric gave her another piece of good news.

“We’ve got word that there was another attack, but this time, there’s a survivor,” Eric said. “She’s a Muggle, which means—”

“If the Ministry gets to her first, we’re in trouble,” Sarah said. “I’ll find her immediately. Have our friend in the Ministry—”

“He’s already running interference,” Eric said.

Sarah handed him the letter as they walked to her office at a quick pace. There was no time to lose.

“Anything else?” she asked.

Eric nodded. In lieu of a folder, he simply told her.

“Word from the Ministry is that they’ve just received word that Aurora Lux tried to access a vault in Gringotts.”

Sarah stopped walking and stared at him.

“Aurora Lux?”

Eric nodded.

“That’s all we’ve got, probably because that’s all the Ministry’s got. Goblins aren’t exactly friendly, unless there’s something in it for them. In this case, they’re expecting a reward for apprehending her.”

Sarah gathered what she needed to return to the field. If “Aurora Lux” had been captured, that meant Hermione was back in London (which also explained from where she’d sent the letter). Unfortunately, there was little Sarah could do for her, but knowing Hermione, it wasn’t going to be a problem.

“She’ll have to fend for herself. We’ve got to get to the survivor soon. What’s her name?”

“Cassandra Smith.”

Sarah slung a pack over her shoulder.

“Right. I’ll talk to this Ms. Smith. You get on the radio and send me any information you get when you get it.”

Eric faked shock.

“I’m hurt that you think you need to tell me that, Boss.”

At Hogwarts, Ginny, Ron, Sally-Anne, and Harry had all received summons to Professor McGonagall’s office. When they arrived, they found Professor McGonagall herself waiting for them outside.

“One at a time,” she said. “Ms. Perks, you’re first. Do not talk to one another through any means.”

Ginny looked to the others for some explanation. What was that supposed to mean? Did that mean they couldn’t talk through the network?

They weren’t supervised while waiting, but both boys kept shushing her whenever she tried asking a question. After a few minutes, Harry caught her attention and mouthed “Ministry”.

Ginny caught his meaning without him explaining. The Ministry was finally questioning them about Hermione and Luna. She fidgeted in her seat. The Ministry didn’t know about her and Macnair, did they?

Panic set inside her. What if they did? What if they arrested her? No, they couldn’t know. Only her family and friends knew about it. No one blamed her for it. She had killed him, which was wrong, but there hadn’t been a choice.

Sally-Anne came down with Professor McGonagall, who sent Sally-Anne away. After watching her leave, she turned to Ron and brought him up.

Ginny started shaking in her seat. No matter how hard she tried to calm herself down, nothing she did stopped her heart from pounding. Nothing stopped her from trembling. This was it; she was going to Azkaban.

A warm hand wrapped itself around hers. She gasped, and looked up at Harry. He smiled at her so warmly she nearly started crying. He believed in her; so long as he was around, nothing would happen to her.

Professor McGonagall and Ron returned. Once again, she waited for him to leave, then brought Harry up. He released her hand and smiled at her one more time before disappearing up the spiral staircase. That left her all alone, in complete silence. Alone to contemplate what would happen to her.

She struggled to keep herself composed, to not be afraid. Harry believed in her; she couldn’t let him down.

A few minutes later, Harry and Professor McGonagall returned. Harry smiled at her one more time before leaving. Once he’d gone, McGonagall brought her up the staircase.

As Ginny walked around the staircase, the other two occupants of the room came into view. The first person she saw was a woman she didn’t recognize, scribbling down notes on a piece of parchment. Sitting at McGonagall’s desk was none other than Rufus Scrimgeour.

Ginny kept her face neutral. She made herself be brave, like Harry and Sally-Anne were before her.

“Ms. Weasley, we’d like to talk to you about your friends Hermione Granger and Luna Lovegood,” Scrimgeour said. “Take a seat, please.”

Ginny sat down in the chair provided to her. She looked up at him. It took every ounce of focus she had to keep from breaking.

“I don’t know anything,” she said. “They won’t talk to us.”

“So your friends said,” Scrimgeour said. “I find it hard to believe that they’d leave you four completely in the dark.”

It stung a little to be reminded of that. She’d been friends with Hermione and Luna since she’d started at Hogwarts. She’d idolized Hermione for the longest time. Luna had been her only friend in her year until she’d left. Now they were off in the world, doing something without her. They’d left her behind.

“I really don’t know anything.”

Scrimgeour glared at her, giving her the same look of disdain Malfoy had given her for years.

“That’s not what your friends told me.”

Ginny frowned and stole a glance at Professor McGonagall. She’d built herself up to her full height, and was glaring menacingly at Scrimgeour. Given another minute, Ginny was sure McGonagall was going to turn the Minister of Magic into a newt.

“We know a lot about you kids,” Scrimgeour continued. “The previous administration had its eye on all of you for years. Then of course, Madame Umbridge took over Hogwarts and you all fought her at every turn. Your authority issues are quite obvious.”

“Umbridge tortured Hermione right in front of us!” Ginny said. “She’s had it in for Hermione ever since then! Maybe you should be looking into her!”

Ginny didn’t know where she’d found the courage to say that, but she was sure her brother at least would’ve been proud of her.

Scrimgeour didn’t appear phased by her comment.

“As I said, authority issues. But none of that compares to what we know about you, Ms. Weasley. You tried to kill your own brother.”

Ginny shifted in her seat. She could still see it in her mind. The light of the explosion, threatening to kill Harry and Ron. Sally-Anne running in, nearly getting herself killed in the process. The smoke clearing and a red bolt lancing towards her. What if McGonagall hadn’t stopped her? Would she have killed them? Would she have stopped?

“Attempted murder is quite a big deal, Ms. Weasley, especially for someone of your age. As far as the Ministry is concerned, you’ve never been held accountable for your actions.”

McGonagall looked like she was about to strangle him. She held her place, not saying a word. Why wasn’t she sticking up for Ginny?

Maybe I’m not worth defending.

“I’m sure we can come to an understanding,” Scrimgeour said. “You won’t be punished for your crimes, but you can tell us everything you know about Granger and Lovegood.”

Ginny looked up at him.

“I don’t know anything.”

His expression hardly changed.

“Such a waste. If you change your mind, you know how to find us.”

With that, McGonagall escorted Ginny out of the office. She didn’t say a word, even then.

Ginny walked down the corridor, heading back towards Gryffindor Tower. She had tried to kill Ron and Harry. Her last three friends, and she would’ve killed them all.

A hand grabbed her and hauled her down a corridor. She froze, but relaxed when the arm pulled her into a hug.

“Skyeyes,” she whispered, putting her arms around him. “I’m sorry.”

“We don’t know anything,” he said. “The Ministry can’t make us talk, because we don’t know anything.”

She nodded, her face buried in his chest.

“Ron and Sally-Anne are outside,” he said. “Come on.”

He took her hand and led her outside to where the others were waiting. When Sally-Anne saw her, she ran over and threw her arms around Ginny.

“It’s alright,” Sally-Anne whispered. “Whatever they told you, it’s alright.”

How did they all know what the Ministry had said?

“What’d you tell them?” Ron asked.

“Nothing. I… I don’t know anything.”

“They tried turning everything that happened last year against me,” Harry said. “Blamed me for Pettigrew. Said it’d be easier if I told them before they found out more.”

“They…” Sally-Anne said, but her voice trailed off. Ron put his arms around her, and she held him tightly without saying another word.

“They tried to strike deals with all of us,” Ron said. “Same tactic over and over. Blame us for something that wasn’t our fault, then told us to give up Hermione and Luna in exchange for dropping any charges.”

Harry put an arm around Ginny.

“Whatever they blamed you for,” he said, “whatever the case, the woman you are now wouldn’t have done those things.”

With that, Ginny broke down and started sobbing. Harry held her close again, keeping her safe from anyone that would hurt her.

“I’m sorry,” she sobbed. “I didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“Is this about last year?” Harry asked. “You weren’t in a good place.”

“It was only a scratch anyway,” Ron said. “Rose has probably done worse. Besides, you’re my sister. It’s not like I haven’t tried to kill you before. You’re just better at it than I am.”

Sally-Anne stifled a laugh, and Ginny herself smiled a little.

“But… they were our friends,” Ginny said. “Hermione and Luna. Now… what’s going on? Why did they abandon us like that?”

Ron nodded towards the castle.

“Ever notice how every professor asks about them, but none of them seem to care that they’re fugitives? Or how whenever you think about Rose or Neville inside the castle, the thought disappears?”

Ginny, who refused to let go of Harry, took her mind off trying to kill her friends and thought about the people that had killed her friend. For the first time in a while, she could see it clearly, but she still couldn’t remember how she felt.

“I… I didn’t feel anything!” she cried. “I’m—”

“Exactly like the rest of us,” Harry said. “None of us felt anything. None of us can remember how we felt when we saw Voldemort or Neville die.”

“I… I can’t remember how I felt when Draco died. When… when Rose stabbed him, I felt nothing. Before she did, I was so proud of him, and after… I’ve never felt worse in my life. But it’s like there’s this gap in feeling things.”

“Like the memories are only images,” Ron said. “I… I think Hermione might be right. There’s more to what happened than what we remember. I… It sounds mad, but…”

“I don’t think Rose killed Neville,” Harry said. “I think we’ve all been tricked into thinking she did.”

Ginny kept one arm around Harry and turned her gaze to Sally-Anne and Ron. Sally-Anne looked upset still, but Ron was focused, serious, more so than she could remember seeing him be.

“Of course, Hermione will just say ‘I told you so’.”

“But…” Ginny tried to focus on seeing Neville die, but she could only remember the same thing over and over again. “Who could’ve done that?”

“I don’t know,” Ron said. “Once we go inside the castle, we might forget this conversation ever happened.”

“Hold on,” Sally-Anne said, “didn’t Hermione refuse to go back inside after last year? When we were helping people get their things, she insisted on staying outside, but wouldn’t say why.”

Ginny thought back to it, and she remembered the same thing. She also remembered someone else not wanting to be inside the castle.

“Moon ran away,” she said. “Remember, she just left. What if… what if her memories were being changed too?”

She looked around, thinking she must’ve been mad, but her friends were all nodding their heads.

“They always knew the most about Rose,” Harry said. “I’m willing to bet she knew about it too. Maybe Neville did too.”

“‘It’?” Sally-Anne asked.

“It’s something to do with the castle,” Ron said. “The Basilisk lived there for centuries and no one knew about it. What if it’s not the only thing living in the castle?”

Ginny looked back and forth between her friends. This all sounded so mad, but the pieces were falling into place. It made a frightening amount of sense.

“Winter Holiday starts next week,” Sally-Anne said, “if… if being in the castle is messing with our heads, maybe we can figure out what to do then.”

Ron shook his head.

“The moment we go back inside, I’m willing to bet we’ll forget all of this. Or…”

“Or what?” Ginny asked.

“Well… Luna was afraid of something, right?”

That thought sent shivers down Ginny’s spine. She’d started the day like any other. Now, there was possibly something living in the castle that could mess with their heads, and might have even scared Luna so much that she’d ran away. What if…

“What if it killed Neville?” Ginny asked.

She thought back to her fight with Rose in the Shrieking Shack. She hadn’t drawn Crimson Thorn once, yet she kept using it that night when so many people had died. What if she hadn’t used it at all?

“I think it’s doing all this to keep itself a secret,” Harry said. “That makes the most sense.”

“Agreed,” Ron said. “That’s probably why it’s got the staff looking for Hermione.”

“What about Umbridge?” Sally-Anne asked. “She’s trying to find Hermione too.”

“We don’t know much about this thing. It could be working with Umbridge.”

“What about the rest of the Ministry?” Harry asked, looking back at the castle. “What if it can do more than just change your memories?”

“We’ve got to work on Occlumency before we go back inside,” Ron said. “This thing could—”

“Let’s stop for a moment,” Sally-Anne said. “This all sounds completely mad. I agree that something’s wrong about last year, and when this is all added up, it fills in a lot of gaps, but we’re talking about a giant conspiracy fueled by something that lives in Hogwarts that can affect peoples’ thoughts.”

“We can agree that there are memories we have that feel fake, right?” Ron asked.


“So what about Rose and Voldemort dying? Why do those feel fake?”

Ron paused, then asked the question that Ginny didn’t even want to consider.

“Are they really dead?”

They all stood in silence and chewed on that. If the memories of Rose killing Neville were fake, then who killed Neville? Who killed Rose? Who killed Voldemort? And Malfoy? How many of them were really dead?

“We need to talk to Hermione,” Ron said. “I know we don’t all trust her, but something’s going on, and she knows about it. I reckon that’s why she hasn’t said anything to us. That thing has been rooting through our memories looking for her. The staff keep asking us about them because it wants us to talk about them. It wants us to find them for it.”

Ginny struggled to remember anything differently about last year, but she kept coming up with the same memories, the ones she now knew to be fake. What had happened to Neville? What about Hermione? She’d tried fighting Rose, but…

“What about Brain and Rose?” Ginny asked. “I… I always thought the world of Brain, but when she fought Rose, I… there was nothing.”

Harry tightened his grip on her for a moment.

“Let’s slow down,” Sally-Anne said. “Is it possible that what we saw last year was so traumatic that it affected our heads? That our minds are trying to stop us from thinking about it?”

“Then why not when we’re near the forest?” Ron asked.

“Because we’re not immersed in it,” Sally-Anne replied. “Everything that happened last year was in the castle, so inside we’re right in the middle of it. If we try thinking about it, we’re too close, and our minds try to protect us. I don’t doubt that what’s happening is possible, but we’ve got to consider the fact that none of us has gone through this before. Let’s take a break for a moment before we all lose our minds over this.”

Ginny looked to each of her friends, hoping Sally-Anne was right. She never wanted to think about what had happened to her in the Shrieking Shack. She couldn’t stand to be near it anymore. They didn’t have that option with the attack on Hogwarts. Everyone kept asking them about it, so they all had to keep remembering it. What if it all had been their minds trying to protect them? What if watching their friends die had been too traumatic for them?

“Maybe this is all mad,” Ron said, taking out a piece of parchment. “But if it’s not, I want to make sure we can still remember this. We’ll never make it to the Owlery to send a letter, so I’m going to hide this in the forest. We’ll all sign it so we all know the others agreed that something’s wrong.”

They all nodded in agreement. Ron passed the parchment around after he’d finished, and each of them signed it. Ginny was a little upset when Harry had to take his arm away to sign it.

Ron sealed the letter and hid it under a tree.

“Let’s go to Hogsmeade today and shake this off,” Harry said. “It’s the last trip before the holiday, so it’ll be fun.”

They all agreed and started off towards Hogsmeade.

As they walked, Harry stayed by Ginny’s side.

“Another thing,” he whispered when they were behind Sally-Anne and Ron.

He brushed her hair back out of her face.

“You look prettier with your hair back.”

She blushed and looked down, feeling like she was eleven years old again. Maybe something was happening, but when Harry smiled at her like that, it didn’t matter.

“I don’t. I’m—”

“You’re you.” He lifted his bangs and showed his scar. “I know a thing or two about being judged for a scar. There’s more to you than just scars on your face.”

With tears in her eyes, Ginny threw her arms around Harry again. For a moment, it was just the two of them. No matter what the Ministry did, he’d have her back. She promised herself then that she’d have his.

Sarah arrived at Cassandra Smith’s house posing as a reporter. Without any questions, the woman let her into the small house. It was still a mess, with chairs overturned and pots smashed. A radio played somewhere, with a familiar voice speaking between the songs.

Once again, I’m Ralph O’Shale,” Eric said in an Irish accent, “filling in for your regular host. Up next, we’ve got the great Mozart, so don’t go anywhere.

“I’m sorry it’s still such a mess,” she said, fixing some of the chairs. “Those men came in, shouting something about ‘He will rise again’, and attacked me. I’m sorry to say I don’t know much. I blacked out, I’m afraid.”

Sarah nodded and wrote that down on her notepad. Pretending to be a reporter was always convenient; it gave a great excuse to take notes.

“Can I get you some tea?”

Sarah shook her head.

“No, but thank you for offering. Do the men say anything else? Do you know why they attacked you?”

“I’m afraid I don’t.”

Sarah smiled kindly. This woman seemed to be nothing more of a victim of unfortunate circumstances, but her instincts said there was something else going on. Something about this wasn’t adding up. Why had they left her alive?

Worst of all was the information she’d received on her way to Smith’s house, information that Rufus Scrimgeour had gone to Hogwarts earlier that morning. Not only did Sarah know it was a bad idea for the Minister of Magic to go inside Hogwarts, but she worried about what his business there was.

“How did they get in?” Sarah asked.

Smith frowned.

“I… I can’t remember. I was making breakfast — I’m an early riser, always have been since I was a little girl — then they showed up. I didn’t hear the door open or anything. They shouted at me, then… I can’t remember anything else.”

While Sarah met with Smith, Eric continued research of his own. He picked through the information they had on her, starting with the word of the attack.

While he did so, he was going over his set of CCTV footage tapes. He and a small team had broken them up among themselves, looking for anything that could help them.

Finally, in a video with a view of an alleyway, he found it.

As they’d learned, Magicals didn’t understand how most technology worked. They were also arrogant enough that they didn’t think it important, but Eric was looking at evidence to the contrary.

He ordered his team to investigate the alleyway, hoping he was wrong. After a minute, he got word that they’d found a body dumped in the alleyway.

Not just anyone’s body.

Panic set in as he mobilized his team to descend on Smith’s house. They were still in broad daylight, but there was a sense of urgency in his voice when he gave the command. They all knew to stay hidden, but move quickly.

Eric himself got on the radio.

And now, we’re going to take a break from music to listen to a classic.

Keeping her physical focus on Smith, Sarah listened to the radio. Switching to a classic meant a fairy tale, and it meant Eric had something for her.

Our story this afternoon is Little Red Riding Hood.

Years of field work had trained Sarah never to reveal what she was thinking, either on her face or to anyone trying to get into her head. Wilfred and Eric were the only two people who could read her at all. When Eric announced Little Red Riding Hood — their code for an impostor — she was confident Smith didn’t know she knew.

What happened next depended on Eric. He would’ve already informed their backup to move in, but she didn’t know who this person sitting in front of her was. The Death Eaters were gone, so this was someone new. Although, she had her suspicions.

Sarah glanced at her watch.

“I must be going, Ms. Smith. Thank you for your hospitality.”

She stood up from the table. Smith’s eyes stayed on her.

“Leaving so soon, Mrs. Perks?”

One of the first rules Sarah had learned at ESIS was to never give her real name. Rule Two: Never trust anyone who knew more than you’d told them.

“I seem to be at a disadvantage,” Sarah said, taking stock of her surroundings without moving her head. “You know my name, but I don’t know yours.”

When Smith smiled, Sarah knew exactly with whom she’d been speaking. She’d come to despise that smile, along with the obnoxious cough that always accompanied it.

“I think you know who I am, Mrs. Perks. I think you know far more than you let on. That’s why I’m afraid you can’t be allowed to leave.”

Sarah heard the distinct pop of people apparating and knew she wasn’t leaving. Her reinforcements wouldn’t be close enough to stop them from taking her.

She raised her hands in surrender.

“Alright, Dolores,” she said. “I suppose you win this round, but you should be careful. You’re playing with forces you don’t understand.”

“I understand far more than a Muggle ever could.”

The centaurs think a war is coming.

More pieces fell into place, and Sarah began to understand the rest of the plan.

“If you take me hostage, you’re going to start a war.”

Umbridge smiled.

“I know. And from the ashes of this ruined world, a better one will take its place.”

Sarah knew she’d been beaten. As much as she hated it to be at Umbridge’s hands, she wasn’t entirely upset.

After all, there were contingencies in place for such eventualities.

Chapter Text

Hermione stared at Rose for a moment before something shook the cavern. She broke her attention away from Rose and looked towards the sound.

“What was that?” Hermione asked, despite knowing the answer.

Rose, who couldn’t have been older than eight years old, ran behind Hermione.

“It’s him,” she whispered. “The Abomination.”

Hermione froze. She’d been right; they were in the cave where Valignatiejir had attacked Rose. Where it had tortured and killed her. Hermione didn’t know how Rose had manufactured this, but whatever it was, Hermione was in the middle of it.

She crouched down to put herself on eye level with Rose.

“Don’t be afraid. I’m not going to let him hurt you anymore.”

Despite Hermione’s reassurances, there were still tears in Rose’s eyes.

“Rose,” a deep voice called from down the cavern. “Rose, where are you?”

“He’s coming,” Rose said.

Hermione looked over her shoulder towards the voice. They didn’t stand a chance against him. When it had been the boggart, it’d nearly killed her. Hermione didn’t know how real this all was, but without Moon to provide backup, she couldn’t face him alone.

Instead, she turned around.

“Climb on my back. We’re making a run for it.”

Hermione was sure it wasn’t going to last long. They’d have to turn and fight, if for no other reason than this wasn’t going to fade until after she killed Valignatiejir.

Still, Rose climbed onto Hermione’s back. Hermione hauled them both up, which was considerably harder with another fifty or so pounds on her back, and started running for it.

“Where are you?”

Valignatiejir’s voice echoed down the cavern. Rose let out a whimper and held tighter to Hermione.

“We’ll be alright,” Hermione panted, hoping the corridor wasn’t one big circle.

Valignatiejir made no effort to hide where he was. His footsteps loomed closer, shaking the cavern as he drew nearer. It gave Hermione a good idea where not to go, and it didn’t sound like they were coming from ahead of them.

They reached a fork in the cavern, and Hermione chose left. Her legs ached, but she kept it up, hoisting Rose a little higher when she felt her slipping.

All the while, Hermione kept thinking about what she was going to do. She couldn’t run forever, but she’d get them both killed if she tried fighting Valignatiejir.

There was always the black ooze, beckoning to her, tempting her to throw away her sanity and unleash it on Valignatiejir. If anyone deserved it, it was him. After what that monster had done to Rose, it deserved to burn in Hell for eternity. Hermione couldn’t remember exactly how the afterlife worked in Rose’s world, but she was hoping it was excruciating.

No, he’s not real. He can’t be real. The real Valignatiejir’s soul was imprisoned so he’d never be able to be resurrected.

While Hermione knew Rose was dead set against imprisoning or destroying souls, her uncle and brother had been a little more lenient about it. Valignatiejir had been the scourge of their world for hundreds of years. Like the Bogeyman, he’d appear, destroy your world, and vanish. There were plenty of people mad enough to try bringing him back to life, so they’d deemed it necessary to imprison his soul.

This version of Valignatiejir was likely created by Rose’s memory of him. Whatever the case, Hermione could feel Rose on her back, and everything was solid enough. She knew this was fake, but it was real enough to hurt her.

They rounded a corner and nearly ran into the stone wall in front of them.

“No,” Hermione said. “No!”

“We’re gonna die!”

“No, we’re not.”

Hermione looked around for something to support her, but found nothing. Instead, she got a flash of a memory. One of Malfoy and his goons, trapped in reverse gravity, of Rose ensuring Hermione could get around them.

She slapped her hand on the wall. It caved under her spell, giving them another several feet.

“This will do,” she said.

She hoisted Rose up on her back again, then ran down the new path. She lit up a few of the stones, then turned around and cast another of Rose’s favorites.

Sliding her hand across the tunnel, a wall formed between them and the echo of Valignatiejir’s footsteps. For the moment, they were safe.

Hermione crouched down and felt Rose climb off her back.

“What do we do now?”

Hermione glanced at the wall. She could still hear Valignatiejir getting closer. That wouldn’t stop him forever, but it would buy them time.

“We figure out our next move,” Hermione said, wondering how many times Rose had made up her plans on the spot. Knowing Rose, the answer was probably “all the time”.

“We can’t stop him! He just keeps coming for you until he gets what he wants!”

Hermione turned around and faced Rose.

“I know you’re scared. That first time in Hogwarts—”

“What’s Hogwarts?”

Hermione paused for a moment, allowing the fact that Rose didn’t know her to sink in.

“When… when you’re older, you and I go to school together, at a place called Hogwarts. One of the teachers tried to steal something and let in a troll as a diversion. Me and my friend Sally-Anne — we call her ‘Princess’ — we ran into the troll. I couldn’t move my legs, so I thought I was going to die.” Hermione smiled at the next bit. “Then you showed up and saved me.” Hermione pulled her hair back and showed her hair clip. “You gave me my hair clip, and that’s saved my life tons of times since. Then you saved us from an evil wizard that same year by turning him into stone. I can’t begin to count the times you’ve saved my life, Rose.”

Their cavern shook as Valignatiejir rammed into the wall.

“He’s gonna get in!” Rose exclaimed, holding tightly to Hermione.

Hermione put her arms around Rose.

“Yeah, he will. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to kill us.”

Hermione looked around, trying to come up with a new plan. While she did, hundreds of memories of Rose flooded her head. The troll, the Philosopher’s Stone chambers. Rose’s refusal to leave her side for more than a few minutes their second year, determined not to let the Basilisk harm her. Clearing up the large confusion with Sirius just before Pettigrew caused the earthquake.

A crack formed in the wall as Valignatiejir slammed into it again. It wouldn’t be long before he got in.

“Someone hurt me once. He tortured me, like Valignatiejir tortured you. I wasn’t myself for a long time after that… I never really got better. But you were there for me. When I thought everything was lost, you were there. You helped me every day from then on. That’s why I know you’re not evil, Rose. That’s why I know you didn’t want to kill anyone.”

Rose looked at her, not understanding what Hermione meant.

Hermione smiled back at her, not caring that Rose didn’t understand. She stood up and faced the wall as chunks started to fall out. She couldn’t run; she couldn’t leave it to Moon, Toad, or Rose. No one else could help Rose.

There was no way out of this.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m going to stand and fight him.”

“You can’t! He’ll kill you, just like everyone else!”

Hermione stood tall, indignation taking a hold of her as she recalled the Boggart Incident from her third year at Hogwarts.

“Stay behind me.”

Valignatiejir smashed into the cavern. Rose screamed as rock was flung about.

“What do we have here? Is this a new friend, Rose? Be a good girl and tell me.”

“My name is Hermione Granger!”

Hermione was glad her fear wasn’t present in her voice.

Rose cowered behind her.

“Well, Hermione Granger, you’re in my way.”

Valignatiejir reared up, and Hermione knew exactly what was about to happen. She dropped to the ground, grabbed Rose, and tumbled out of the way before the bolt of acid could strike them. It hit the wall, melting part of it away.

Hermione held Rose, not wanting to let go, not wanting to be the reason her friend died again. She didn’t have a plan. She didn’t know what to do. There were no options left. For all her talk, she had nothing.

No. She had something.

Hermione looked down at Rose. For a moment, she was looking at herself, terrified of a troll. It’d been her worst nightmare for years, never mind the dragon that Slytherin had sent after them. That troll had loomed over her, and Hermione had realized then that she was going to die.

Valignatiejir loomed over them and raised a claw.

Hermione envisioned the door in her head, the one she’d seen when she’d fought Rose. This time, she didn’t kick it down; she willed it to disappear.

Valignatiejir swung his claw down on them.

Hermione spun around and stood up, bringing her arm up as she did.

On her command, the black ooze appeared. It leapt up, forming a large gloved hand, and grabbed Valignatiejir’s arm.

Rose gasped.

“You… saved me.”

“I’m returning the favor.”

Valignatiejir reared up and swung his other claw at the pair. The ooze shot at him, solidifying into points and stabbing through his arm.

The ooze spread from her around the cavern. As it touched the walls and ceiling, mouths open up and spat fire at Valignatiejir.

The dragon took the hits, then spat acid back at Hermione.

“Not this time.”

A stone head sprang out of the ground in front of her and ate the acid bolt. After swishing it around in its mouth, the head spat a bolt of lightning back at Valignatiejir.

The lightning struck him and he stumbled back, released from the grip of the ooze.

Hermione clenched her fist and drove it forward. The ooze created a black fist with twice as many fingers and mirrored her actions. The fist connected with Valignatiejir and drove him back out of the corridor.

She walked forward, the ooze following her. Every step she took, ooze spread out and created some new nightmare out of the cavern.

Valignatiejir flew at her, freed from the fist, but a head rose up and launched a wave of sonic energy. The dragon crashed to the ground in front of the head.

Hermione glared at the dragon one more time before willing the ooze to go for the kill. On her command, the mouth unhinged and clamped down on Valignatiejir’s head, crushing it.

After taking a moment to catch her breath, she took stock of her situation. Rose was still cowering in the corner, but Valignatiejir was dead. Yet, she was still there with them.

Hermione looked around, waiting for another attack. It’d taken everything Rose had to kill the real Valignatiejir, so why had this one gone down so easily?

She got her answer six seconds later when Valignatiejir’s body stood up. The holes from the ooze reformed. A black lump grew on his neck, then formed into a head.

Hermione rolled her eyes.


Valignatiejir flew at them, his gaze fixed on Rose.

Hermione stood her ground and whipped out her arms.

Tentacles lashed out and impaled Valignatiejir again, but this time, they spread out. Spikes erupted from all over the dragon as two more tentacles grabbed him and halted his flight towards Rose.

“Stay away from her!” Hermione screamed.

Obeying her commands, the ooze dragged Valignatiejir back out of the tunnel. Hands reached out from the cavern and started grabbing chunks of flesh off the dragon. He struggled and writhed against the ooze, but it held him fast. He was powerless to stop it.

The ooze slammed him against the far wall. More hands reached out and dug into him. No matter what he did, he couldn’t stop it. He let out a final cry, then slumped over, once again dead.

“Alright,” Hermione said. “I think I got him this time.”

The ooze released what was left of Valignatiejir’s body. It fell to the ground with a loud thud.

Hermione turned back to Rose to check on her. She was still cowering in the corner.

“Rose, it’s alright. He’s dead this time.”

Rose didn’t look convinced. She squeezed her eyes shut and drew back towards the dead end.

“He’s always there, even after we killed him. He’s always trying to hurt me, always! He hurts everyone!”

Hermione walked over to Rose as the ooze faded away. She crouched down and hugged Rose.

“It’s alright, Rose. He’s never going to hurt you again. I—”

She heard a series of sickening crunches from behind her and turned back towards Valignatiejir’s body. Sure enough, he was reforming once again.

Hermione got up and ran at him, hoping to keep him away from Rose. Once again, he charged down the corridor, his gaze still fixed on Rose.

“Don’t you touch her!”

Spider legs sprouted from the wall and a chunk of it barreled into the charging dragon. Tentacles sprouted from another chunk, and it launched itself at the pair. The whole mass of dragon and rock was pushed back again.

Valignatiejir fought against the stone, but whenever he smashed one, more legs would sprout from the wall and another chunk of rock would charge him. They bashed him back, farther and farther, until he was pinned against the wall again. This time, eyes opened up on the wall and looked at Valignatiejir. It licked its new lips and ate the dragon whole.

Roars of rage came from the wall, along with crunching sounds that signaled to her that Valignatiejir was being eaten alive. Finally, the dragon’s corpse fell out of the mouth, which returned to regular stone.

Hermione held her ground, waiting for Valignatiejir to reform. She knew it wasn’t over; she didn’t know how to end it, if she was looking for an exit of some kind, or if she needed to keep killing him until he stopped getting up. Despite her creeping exhaustion, she really wanted it to be the latter.

“Go ahead,” she said to the motionless corpse. “Get back up again. I dare you.”

When he didn’t move, she turned back to Rose.

“Rose, get over here. He’s not moving, and we need to look for a way out of here.”

Small footsteps echoed behind her, accompanied by whimpers. Rose crept up behind her, not taking her eyes off Valignatiejir’s body.

“Is he… he can’t be dead. He doesn’t die!”

“Don’t think about it. Run to the left, that’s the way we haven’t been yet. That might be the way out.”

“There isn’t a way out!”

“We can’t know that, we haven’t checked. Now move before he gets up again!”

Despite her protests, Rose did as she was told and ran past Valignatiejir. Not a few seconds after she did, the body started to move again.

Hermione ran and positioned herself between Valignatiejir and Rose, then looked around for more inventive ways to kill him. She spotted the condensation lining the walls, then got an idea.

Valignatiejir rose up again, but along with him was Hermione’s newest nightmare. A chill fell over the cavern and frost lined the walls. A large, stone, stick-like hand reached out and grabbed Valignatiejir. A second stick arm flew out and joined the first. Attached to the body, a large snowman formed out of the wall. Its head had no eyes, but the buttons down its front opened up and looked at Valignatiejir.

Its top hat opened up to reveal rows of teeth, which chomped down on Valignatiejir’s wing.

It spat acid at Hermione’s Snowman from Hell, but the hole it created reformed. The eyes glared at the dragon, then it took a bite out of his tail.

Valignatiejir freed himself from the snowman’s grasp, then barreled into it. The snowman splattered over the wall, but stick hands lashed out and slammed Valignatiejir against the other wall.

Fangs of ice formed on the wall into which Valignatiejir had been forced and took another chunk out of the dragon. He moved back and fired another bolt of acid, but the snowman reformed behind him and leapt onto his back. The pair came crashing down, then spikes protruded from the snowman’s button eyes. They ripped into Valignatiejir, killing him once again.

As her snowman melted, Hermione turned and ran back to Rose.

“Did you find anything?”

She got her answer when she found Rose cowering next to yet another dead end.

“Brilliant,” Hermione said. “We’re trapped here. No way out, no clear objective.”

A roar echoed from down the cavern.

“And Valignatiejir’s come back to life again.”

Eyes sprouted along the walls and turned to watch Valignatiejir approaching. Lightning arced between them, but Valignatiejir shrugged the attack off.

Hermione glared at the dragon, taking note that he was still focusing on Rose.

“After all the damage I’ve done to you, I’d think you’d start paying more attention to me.”

She focused on that anomaly. With nothing else to work with, she had to assume it was significant. Why did Valignatiejir only ever go after Rose?

A black tree with red leaves sprouted in the middle of the cavern, right in Valignatiejir’s path. The leaves whipped at him, slicing into his hide as he slammed into the tree. The tree spun around, slashing him with its branches. Roots erupted from the ground and cut into him, then the entire tree fell through the ceiling and landed on top of him. The tree faded away, leaving Valignatiejir once again a ruined mess.

“He keeps going after you,” Hermione said, turning to Rose. “Why does he keep going after you? Why doesn’t he care about me? Even when I thought he was attacking me, he was going for you.” She thought back to the other challenges. “Ana did the same thing, and so did the bronze serpent. They defended themselves against Moon, but they only went after me. I’m sure the horrors would’ve gone after me if I’d been there. But for once, the thing trying to kill us isn’t paying me any attention. Why isn’t he paying me any attention?”

While she was deep in thought, Valignatiejir reformed again and launched another attack on her. Caught off guard, Hermione dove to the side to avoid it, landing roughly.

“This is madness!” she said, rubbing fresh bruises.

“I’m sorry,” Rose said.

Hermione turned to Rose and grabbed her shoulders.

“Rose, you know what to do, don’t you? How am I supposed to end this?”

Tears filled Rose’s eyes again.

“I don’t know.”

“You made this, you must know how to end it!”

“I don’t!” she pleaded. “I really don’t. I don’t know what I’m doing, I’m just trying not to die!”

Hermione stared at her, then withdrew her arms. Something about this wasn’t adding up.

“Is that it?” she asked. “You’re trying to teach me a lesson? Is that all this has been about? Were you ever going to give me answers?”

Rose trembled, stammering an answer, but none came out.

Valignatiejir lumbered down the corridor. Hermione waved her hands and encased him in rock. She clenched her fist and crushed him, grinding him into paste.

“I can kill him over and over again, which is a little satisfying, given what he put you through, but that’s not the puzzle here, is it? It’s not a simple fight this time. You had to be clever again, didn’t you?”

Rose kept trembling.

“No, don’t tell me, I’ll work it out. Every time I’ve fought something, it was one of your creations. Ana, the Nimblewrights, the bronze serpent, the clockwork horrors, now we’re in here. I’m not supposed to kill Valignatiejir, am I? He’s your nightmare, not something you made. And why are you here? Why not just create a construct that looks like him? There must be some way to construct a clockwork dragon, or some sort of dragon golem. Why all of this? What’s the point of it all?”

Not far away, a shape formed from the paste that used to be Valignatiejir.

“He goes after you… it’s not one on one anymore… we’re trapped here, there’s no way out… it’s always a fight with you… but… what if it’s not this time?”

When it hit her, Hermione turned her head to glare at Rose. Anger built inside her.

“You bloody psychopath.”

Rose backed away into the wall.

“I’m not here to kill Valignatiejir at all! He’s my backup!”

Rose continued to tremble against Hermione’s renewed rage.

“We’re here to kill you!”

Valignatiejir lumbered around the corner again.

Hermione didn’t pay attention to him.

“He’s never attacked me, he’s only ever gone after you. Even though I keep killing him, he only ever attacks you. That’s the reason, isn’t it? It is a fight, but I’ve been fighting the wrong thing! Of course he wouldn’t go after me, because if he did, I’d never realize we were on the same side! The only way you could be sure I’d work it out was by having him attack you!”

Everything fit. Hermione looked down at the frightened child in front of her. It was Rose; a girl who had no idea what she was doing, but struggled to do the right thing.

Valignatiejir prepared to attack them again, but Hermione wasn’t going to stop him this time. She felt sick, and her eyes burned with suppressed tears, but if this was what she had to do, then she had to do it.

I loved you, Rose. I loved you so much. It didn’t have to be this way.

She knew how it’d make her feel; she’d been through it already. She’d hate herself for it. Part of her was glad no one knew the truth. No one knew then, and no one would know now.

“You planned everything. You planned for me to kill you the first time, and you knew I’d take the form of Lux to get in here with Ref. You must’ve worked out that it’d only be me here, knowing I wouldn’t want to risk teleport going wrong with other people. Which means this is designed for me. This is designed for me to kill you again.”

You don’t need a little kid right now. You just need a friend.

Another idea came to her, and she stopped.

“Hold on,” Hermione said, holding up a finger to Valignatiejir.

The ooze mimicked her with a withered finger pressing itself to his maw.

“You’ve always tried to impress me. Even all of these tasks are trying to be clever, and this one was specifically made with me in mind. You wouldn’t remind me of the worst moment of my life, you’d try to impress me again.”

Rose stared in horror as Valignatiejir smashed through the finger.

Hermione waved her hand, but the ooze was beginning to lose its strength. She wiped sweat from her brow as it haphazardly tossed Valignatiejir into the wall again. She tried to push him back, but he pushed against the hands and drove them back instead.

It was then that the answer dawned on her.

“He’s the perfect nightmare. We’re trapped in here with him, brought here by the puzzle box. If you hadn’t seen the puzzle boxes, Ozerl wouldn’t have seen your talent and brought you to Arcrel, you never would’ve become an Artificer, and Valignatiejir wouldn’t have gone after you.”

More hands tried to stop him, but Valignatiejir pushed through them with ease.

“Running out of strength, Hermione Granger?”

Hermione glared at him for a moment, but turned back to Rose. She had it.

“He keeps going after you because it’s your nightmare. We’re trapped in here because you can’t escape him. Like you said earlier, he keeps hurting people. That’s why he won’t die, isn’t it? Nightmares can’t die, because they’re not real. That’s why I’m here; it is your creation. The real Valignatiejir is long gone, but your fear keeps the nightmare alive.”

Valignatiejir whipped his tail around, throwing them into the wall.

Hermione struggled to stand back up, but everything hurt. She looked at Rose, laying on the floor. Hermione crawled over to her, then put her arms around her.

“It’s going to be alright, Rose. You don’t have to be afraid anymore.”

Valignatiejir reared up and fired a bolt of acid at them. Hermione braced herself, hoping that she was right.

The bolt never struck. Hermione waited, but there was no sensation of pain, no nothing. She opened her eyes and saw a somewhat familiar scene.

Rose had her hand up, and a shield stood between them and Valignatiejir.

“I’m not afraid of you anymore,” Rose said, shrugging off Hermione’s protective hold.

As though on fast-forward, Rose began to grow. She stood up and walked towards Valignatiejir, her body growing as she did. While it did, the wounds on Hermione’s body began to heal.

“You keep hurting people, even after I killed you. No matter what I did, you kept on hurting them, as though you were immortal.”

Hermione stood up and walked at Rose’s side. She knew this was part of the plan, but she refused to let Rose take him on alone.

“Then you followed me to Hogwarts. Moon had to live through what you did to me. Toad looked at me with pity when he found out what you did.”

In spite of everything else happening, Hermione spared a thought about how odd it was for Rose to have told Toad at all. She’d loved being adored by Toad. Why would she have told him? When did she tell him?

“Worst of all,” Rose said, taking Hermione’s hand, “was hurting Brain when I was too scared to help her. I hated feeling helpless to save her.”

Hermione blushed a little, understanding why Rose ranked that above Moon. She never stood by and watched Moon get hurt, but she’d done exactly that when Hermione had been hurt. Hermione knew it didn’t matter much anymore, but she squeezed Rose’s hand, hoping her friend knew that Hermione had forgiven her.

Valignatiejir shot acid at them again, but Hermione called upon the ooze to block it, her strength restored. A wall made of interlocking hands sprang out of the ooze at her feet and absorbed the hit, vanishing the moment the acid touched it.

“After everything you did,” Rose said, “I’ve got one thing left to say to you.”

She looked at Hermione and smiled. Hermione smiled back, then they turned back to face Valignatiejir.

Grahk d’ka!

Rose fired a disintegrate spell, and Hermione had tentacles spring out from the ooze. They hit the dragon together, turning him into dust.

“Thank you, Brain. I’m sorry for putting you through that, but I wanted to know that you’d forgiven me.”

In spite of herself, Hermione started laughing.

“You bloody psychopath.”

“I’m sorry for making you kill me once. I hated doing it, but… I had to.”

Hermione looked down at Rose.

“You could’ve talked to me. You didn’t have to kill Professor Dumbledore, or Professor Vector.”

Tears welled up in Rose’s eyes.

“I killed Professor Dumbledore?”

Hermione remembered that she was in a memory, that the Rose in here hadn’t started the invasion.

“Yeah, you did. Rose, why didn’t you talk to me?”

Rose looked away, but didn’t say anything.

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“So this isn’t the last one, is it? You’re not going to give me the answers?”

Rose shook her head.

“My notebook,” she said. “That’s your final goal. I hid it so Slytherin wouldn’t find it. I couldn’t be too careful, so I protected each clue.”

“Why not tell me now?”

“There’s too much to tell now.”

Hermione sighed.

“Why the smoke and mirrors with this one?”

“If… if someone who didn’t care about me came here, I didn’t want them to succeed.”

“Someone being Slytherin?”

Rose nodded.

Once again, Hermione laughed.

“You bloody psychopath.”

“Brain, I never meant to hurt you. Or Lavender, or Taltria, or Alavel. I hated every second of it. After what I’d done, I couldn’t even go home.”

“Stop feeling sorry for yourself. Where’d you hide your notebook?”

“You’re not gonna like it.”

Hermione rolled her eyes.

“I’ve walked all over the U.K. Wherever it is, I’ll deal with getting there. So long as I don’t have to actually kill you next time, I think I’ll be fine.”

Rose shook her head.

“I hid it where it would be guarded simply by being there.”

Hermione narrowed her eyes.

“Don’t say Hogwarts.”

“I want to hide it from Slytherin, not hand it over to her.”

“Then where is it?”


Hermione sighed again.

“Of course it’s in Azkaban. Why not? I suppose I’ll just get myself arrested then.”

“That’s the spirit! Positive attitude!”

“I’ve been traveling with your sister, a positive attitude hasn’t been a problem.”

Rose beamed, and Hermione nearly burst into tears.

“I can’t begin to tell you how much I’ve missed that face.”

The image began to fade away. The cave faded away, bit by bit, until they were standing in an empty void.

“Goodbye, Brain. I’m really sorry.”

“Rose, you can stop—”

Rose leaned in and kissed Hermione’s cheek.

“For that,” Rose said.

Hermione stood still as Rose herself faded away. Her cheek tingled where Rose had kissed her. It was a strange sensation. She couldn’t tell if she loved it or hated it.

When the image finished fading, she was back in Gringotts, the puzzle box on the floor. She had no idea how long it’d been.

<She hid her notebook in Azkaban.>

She looked down and saw the puzzle box vanish, just like the maze before it.

<That’s not going to be easy.>

The vault door shuddered.

<No, I get the feeling this isn’t going to be a problem at all. I’ll stay in touch.>

Hermione smiled as the vault door opened again, but it wasn’t just the goblin that was there. A familiar face stood beside him, backed up by five Aurors.

“My, my,” Umbridge said. “Hermione Granger.”

“Dolores Umbridge. What a pleasant surprise.”

The Aurors held their wands on her as they moved around her. She held up her hands in surrender.

“I guess you’ve outsmarted me,” Hermione said, trying not to sound too pleased. “I should’ve known you’d catch up with me eventually.”

Umbridge smirked as she walked up to Hermione.

“You should’ve, Ms. Granger, but fret not. There’s a cell in Azkaban where you can sit and think about what you’ve done.”

It took everything in Hermione not to smirk back at her.

Chapter Text

Ron sat in the prefect car with Sally-Anne on the way back to the station. Despite his confidence that something was in the castle, he’d found himself unhindered in questioning it while inside after returning. Perhaps he’d imagined it, or perhaps they were all suffering from some sort of PTSD.

Regardless, he had other concerns on his mind. Namely, Hermione. The day after the Ministry had talked to them, the Daily Prophet reported that the “elusive criminal” Hermione Granger had been “heroically” apprehended by Dolores Umbridge and a group of Aurors and taken to Azkaban. There was no mention of Luna in the article, so Ron assumed that she’d escaped. Neither had answered any of his questions, so he was forced to assume that it wasn’t his problem anymore.

Still, the pieces fit together too perfectly to be a coincidence. He’d recovered his letter before returning home, in case someone discovered it and got themselves into trouble. It all sounded mad, but it made so much sense. If Umbridge was working as a puppet to whatever was living in Hogwarts, it seemed logical that she’d bring Hermione there, but then he’d thought about it more. It made more sense for Umbridge not to bring Hermione to Hogwarts. First, it meant Umbridge would have a bargaining chip. Second, she couldn’t simply make Hermione disappear, not with the Ministry asking questions about her. In Ron’s mind, that meant Umbridge would need to take control of the Ministry before Hermione vanished from Azkaban. Otherwise, she’d always have a superior looking over her shoulder.

He looked at Sally-Anne. She sat peacefully next to him, gazing out the window. He wondered what was on her mind. Was she worried about Hermione too?

“How are your hands?” he whispered, careful not to let anyone overhear.

She looked at him and smiled.

“Still sore, still… it’s hard not to think about it, but I’ve been tending to them.”

He smiled back at her, not sure what else he could say. Then something else crossed his mind.

“What if… maybe it would help us both if we didn’t use any of the stuff Rose gave us. Even if she didn’t have anything to do with it, it might be making it worse.”

Sally-Anne frowned at him, looking for all the world like she couldn’t believe what she was hearing.

“I… I’m not sure that would help. Not that I don’t think it’s a good idea, I’m just afraid it… well…”

“It was just an idea,” Ron said, turning away so she didn’t see him blushing.

“You were only trying to help,” she said. “Please, don’t be upset. I’m happy you’re trying. I’ll… I’ll talk to my parents about it. I haven’t really said anything about it to them… I’m sure they’ll know what to do.”

He turned back to her, feeling so small next to her. He tried looking her in the eye, but he could feel his face burning when he did.

“Maybe it’s time we let them go,” Sally-Anne said. She looked past him, then tugged off her glove.

Her hands were raw and blistered. He hated seeing them that way, much like he’d hated seeing the same thing done to Ginny. This felt different. Even though Rose hadn’t done this to her… or if it wasn’t Rose that had killed Draco, the thing in Hogwarts… someone had made her do this to herself. Like they’d taken away her ability to fight back.


“It’s okay,” she said. “Honestly, it was worse. I… It will heal. But for now…”

She took her ring and slid it off her finger.

Ron looked down at his finger, and did the same to his ring. He’d need to eat and sleep normally again, but he and Sally-Anne would be the same. If Sally-Anne could do it, so could he.

They both put their rings in their bags, then Sally-Anne slipped her glove back on. Then Ron looked at his wrist, and took off the bracelet too.

“This will be strange for a while,” she said, sliding her ribbon out of her hair. “But at least we’re all together.”

They smiled at one another, and Ron fought back the urge to lean in and kiss her. She wouldn’t want him to; she was among his best friends, but she wasn’t in a good place yet. Besides, once she was, she’d go for someone strong like Viktor, or… whatever good qualities Draco had had. She wasn’t interested in him.

Sally-Anne smiled when the train screeched to a halt in the station. Part of her wished she could spend a little more time with Ron, but she reminded herself she’d have plenty of time. Perhaps not when she had her dress or ribbon, but she wouldn’t lose her friends over this.

They both stood up and left the train. Mrs. Weasley was waiting and rushed to greet them.

“There’s nothing to worry about,” Sally-Anne said while being crushed. “Honestly.”

“I worry anyway,” Mrs. Weasley said, releasing her. “Where are Ginny and Harry?”

They spotted them fighting through the crowd to get closer, then Mrs. Weasley started pushing people aside to get to them.

“I’ll see you later,” Sally-Anne said. “We should get together over the holiday.”

“Yeah,” Ron said quickly. “I… I’d like that.”

“Me too,” Sally-Anne said, feeling herself start to blush.

When she glanced back at Harry and Ginny, she half expected them to be holding hands. She’d noticed that they were spending more time together, but more importantly, Ginny was wearing her hair back. She caught Harry’s eye and smiled at him. He smiled back, then waved goodbye to Mrs. Weasley and Ginny to go find Sirius.

Sally-Anne said bye to the Weasleys, then went to find her own parents. To her surprise, she found only her dad waiting for her.

“Where’s mum?”

“She’s staying in London for a few days,” he said, hugging her. “Nothing to worry about.”

She nodded, feeling worried despite her dad’s reassurances. With Hermione being in Azkaban, something didn’t sit right about her mum being away.

Figuring her dad was handling it, she followed him to the car.

“I’d… I’d like to talk about my hands now.”

He smiled at her before starting the car.

“I’m happy to listen.”

“I… ever since Draco died, I can’t get rid of the feeling of blood on my hands. It’s everywhere… it’s his blood, I’ve still got it on me!”

The feeling came back again, but it was everywhere. Her hands, her dress, her arms. He was dying in her arms, and she couldn’t stop it!

“It’s alright,” her dad said. “We’re in the car. We’re driving home.”

She returned to reality, holding onto her dad’s voice to guide her back. The sensation of blood on her was gone for the moment.

“Are you back?”

She nodded.

“It’s alright, Princess. Lots of people go through this. What you went through isn’t easy for anyone, and it’s going to take time to recover. I’ll see what we can do about your hands, but you’ve got to promise me you’ll start counting how long you wash them. I know it’s hard, and I know it feels good to run them under hot water, but you’ve got to remember what you’re doing to yourself. It scares me when you do this, and I’m sure it scares your friends too.”

Sally-Anne nodded, although his words weren’t helping as much as she’d been hoping they would.

“I don’t blame you. You’re doing the best you can, and I’m proud of you for telling me. Try to take care of yourself. For me and your mum.”

When they got home, she went to her room and changed out of her dress. She put on a regular, non-magical skirt, along with the jumper the Weasleys had given her last year. It looked a little silly, but it meant a lot to her. She put her ribbon, her dress, and her pendant away in her bag. After she’d put the bag away, she looked at herself in the mirror. She was a regular woman now.

She heard the door open, and her father did something she couldn’t remember him ever doing: he yelled.

“I said no!” he shouted.

Sally-Anne walked to her door and listened.

“Wilfred, we—”

“I told you, you’re not involving her in this,” her dad said in a lower voice.

She recognized the other voice as her Uncle Eric. Was it about her mum?

“You act like I don’t care about her,” Uncle Eric said. “I was there when she was born, for God’s sake.”

She walked out of her room and went to the front door.

“Uncle Eric? Daddy, what’s going on?”

The two men looked at her, then Eric turned his attention to her dad, waiting for him to answer.

“Uncle Eric was just giving us an update on mum. It seems she’s got to stay a little longer, but he’s doing everything he can to help her so she can come home earlier.”

Sally-Anne frowned. Even without her pendant, she could tell he was lying. Her dad was a much better liar than that. What was going on that distracted him so much that he wasn’t trying?

“There’s nothing to worry about,” her dad said again, this time with more confidence. He turned to Eric, shooting him a subtle glare. “Right, Eric?”

Eric looked past her father to her, then back to her father.

“Right,” he said, although he made no attempt to hide his lie. “Just giving you both an update.”

Something wasn’t sitting right with Sally-Anne. First the thing inside Hogwarts, then Hermione was imprisoned, now her mum was away and her Uncle Eric was visiting them. Eric rarely visited them, if only because if her mum wasn’t working, he was working. Something was wrong.

Sally-Anne wanted answers, which Eric seemed willing to provide, but her father was adamant about him not doing just that.

I really hope I’m wrong.

Instead, she turned to the one person who could tell her where her mother was.

<Hermione, where’s my mum?>

She didn’t expect to get an answer out of her. If Ron was right (which there was a good chance he was, it was Ron after all), Hermione hadn’t been answering them because the thing in Hogwarts wanted to find her, and she didn’t want it using them to do it. But asking a question that didn’t involve where Hermione was (the answer was currently Azkaban anyway) would hopefully get an answer.

<The Ministry of Magic, Special Interest Prisoner Holding Area, Block A, Cell Four.>

Sally-Anne’s heart stopped. Her throat closed up. She couldn’t breath. The room spun. She reached out a hand to stabilize herself.


Her father was at her side in a flash, offering a hand to support her.

“Are you—”

“Why is mum a prisoner of the Ministry of Magic?” she asked.

Her dad froze, but Eric continued to help her.

“What?” her dad asked.

“She’s being held in the Ministry of Magic as a ‘special interest prisoner’, according to Hermione. She might be a little lost, but she always knows where everyone else is. So again: Why is Mum a prisoner of the Ministry of Magic?”

Her dad turned and glared at Eric.

“Care to explain?”

“Now you want me to.”

“Not the time, Eric.”

Eric looked from one to the other.

“I actually don’t know. Until Sally-Anne just confirmed it, we’ve only suspected that Sarah was being held in the Ministry.”

“It’s Umbridge, isn’t it?” Sally-Anne asked. “Umbridge has got my mum.”

She looked from one to the other, but neither man was giving her an answer.

“We have reason to believe so, yes,” Eric said at last, much to her father’s dislike. Catching her father’s glare, Eric added, “I told you, she’s already involved, no matter how much neither of us wants her to be.”

The three of them made their way to the table, where Sally-Anne finally swatted away the helping hands of her father and uncle.

“I’m fine,” she said. “Tell me what’s going on with mum.”

Eric looked to her father again, who was still adamant about Sally-Anne not getting the information she wanted.

“Or I can ask Hermione, who probably knows everything,” Sally-Anne said. She didn’t know how Hermione would know anything, apart from simply being Hermione.

“She actually does,” Eric said. “We got a letter from her a week ago, right before she was arrested. It can come from us, or it can come from her.”

“This is about mum’s job, isn’t it?” Sally-Anne asked, glaring at her father. “I thought you didn’t know.”

“Told you keeping her in the dark was a bad idea.”

“Would you shut up?” her father snapped. He took a moment to regain his composure, then addressed Sally-Anne. “If you’d known we were both keeping a secret from you, it’d would’ve made it that much harder for us to keep that secret.”

“And that secret is?”

“Your mum is the head of the Extraphysical Security and Intelligence Service,” Eric said. “We operate as Parliament’s eyes and ears in the Magical World, while helping to enforce the Statute of Secrecy in this one.”

Sally-Anne took a moment to allow that to sink in. When she thought about it, that made a lot of sense. Her mum was surprisingly well connected, and had far more experience monitoring and surveying people than she should’ve otherwise. Her being the head of a secret information-gathering organization made perfect sense.

“I believe you. Am I to assume she’s been working on finding these ‘New Death Eaters’?”

“She has, but they don’t exist,” Eric said. “Hermione’s actually the one that put it together. Umbridge has been making this whole thing up, likely as a way to grab power. We’re not sure what her endgame is, but capturing your mum was a bad move. It’s got Parliament in a fuss, and the Service has been working around the clock to find her. With her in Ministry custody, our options are limited. Once Parliament finds out that it was the Ministry of Magic that took her, they’ll be pushing for retaliation. Your mum’s supposed to be untouchable because without her, there’s no Statute of Secrecy.”

Sally-Anne nodded, taking in everything Eric said.

“You want me and my friends to get her out, don’t you?” she asked.

“No,” her father said.

“Yes,” Eric said. “That’s exactly what we want. A year ago, we would’ve asked Professor Dumbledore to do it. He knew all about us, as now does Professor McGonagall. Dumbledore was one of a few of our eyes and ears in the Ministry, along with Amelia Bones and Monrotia Ins. Both women have been sacked since. We’re down to Lucius Malfoy as our only inside man, but his hands are tied as well. He can only help us so much. Considering he didn’t know who they’d brought in, only that they’d brought in someone around the time Sarah had been captured, I suspect Umbridge is keeping the loop closed.”

Sally-Anne nodded again. Breaking into the Ministry of Magic was a big deal, but knowing Ron, he’d have fifty ways to do it once she asked. Could they do it without everything Rose had given them? It didn’t matter; Sally-Anne wouldn’t resort to them. She’d only just gotten the courage to get rid of her dress and ribbon.

“You can’t send her in,” her dad said. “I tolerated all that crap that happened at Hogwarts because Sarah insisted they were in good hands. She always had a backup plan if something went wrong. Are you seriously telling me that you haven’t got anything?”

“The Ministry has Sarah. The only way we can get inside the Ministry is with Ministry approval. They are considered a foreign power, and they’ve taken our diplomat hostage. Unlike other foreign powers, we can’t send in troops, because only Magicals can enter the Ministry of Magic building without an escort. Bones can’t do it. Ins can’t do it. Malfoy’s got his own reputation to worry about, and if we lose him, we’re out of luck. The Order of the Phoenix doesn’t trust us.”

“If I tell them mum’s been captured by Umbridge, they’ll listen,” Sally-Anne said. “I’m the reason Umbridge went down.”

“Your mum and the Malfoys are the reasons she went down,” Eric said. “Draco Malfoy wrote to his parents — I suspect on your request — about what Umbridge was doing. Lucius seemed to think that Umbridge was a threat to his power, and your mum was furious about what she’d gotten away with. Families at Hogwarts did find out, but without Malfoy interfering with the Ministry’s attempts at damage control, they likely would’ve swept it under the rug as a hoax. Your mum’s hand got Ins involved, and you know what happened after that.”

Through all of that, one thought occurred to her. Draco had sent word to his parents like she’d asked. Not only that, but together, they’d taken down Umbridge. Parkinson was wrong again. No one had slipped Draco love potion, Sally-Anne had simply taken the time to get to know him.

“She’s still not happy with you and your friends,” Eric said. “In her mind, you stabbed her in the back and lost her your mum’s trust, along with Lucius Malfoy’s. And of course, Hermione threw a large wrench into her plans. We’ve been keeping Hermione under as close a watch as we can. So far, no one’s been taken out of Azkaban, but it’s hard to keep an eye on it at all.”

“So on top of all of this,” her dad said, “this could all be a trap set up by Umbridge to get to Sally-Anne and her friends.”

“In addition to potentially starting a war between Magicals and Muggles, yes.”

“I want to help,” Sally-Anne said.

“For Sarah’s safety, no one can know what she does. Part of what’s kept her safe, specifically from those who simply don’t like Muggles, is that no one knows who she is or the power she holds. If Voldemort had known about her back in the seventies, she would’ve been his highest priority target.”

“Then we’ve got to get her out that much sooner,” Sally-Anne said. “My friends should know. Hermione already does. The first question Ron will ask is why was she taken and not my dad too.”

She looked at both men, waiting for one of them to speak up.

“Lucius will help me if I ask. I don’t think it’s only because of mum’s position that he likes me.”

“He won’t sell her out,” Eric said, “maybe to save his own skin, but he’s kept her secret for years. He’s not exactly on our side, but he’s not against us either.”

Her dad fumed silently from his place at the table. He knew Eric was right; there was little chance of the Order helping them without eventually asking if being Sally-Anne’s mum was the only reason her mum was taken. That meant if she wanted to keep the circle closed, she had to enlist her friends’ help, not the Order’s.

“If anything happens to you,” her dad said. He turned and glared at Eric. “I’m coming for you.”

Eric’s eyes went wide and he nodded.

“No offence, Wilfred, but your wife’s still a lot scarier than you are.”

Her dad narrowed his eyes at her uncle.

“Still, message received. We’ll do everything in our power to ensure Sally-Anne’s safety.”

When Ron arrived home, he found an unexpected face waiting for him.

“If it isn’t my little brother the Head Boy?” Charlie said with a grin. “And my little sister the Quidditch star.”

He drew them both into a hug when they walked through the door.

“What’re you doing here?” Ron asked, equally as enthusiastic as his brother.

“I got some time off, and Mum said I should come home. Percy and Bill are coming later.” He leaned in conspiratorially. “We even get to meet Bill’s new girlfriend.”

Ron frowned. He only vaguely remembered that Bill had a girlfriend.

“What about you two?” he asked, walking with them into the kitchen. “Ron, you must have women chasing you all the time.” He sighed dramatically. “As is the curse of the Weasley men.”

“And yet, Bill’s bringing a girl home and not you,” Ron said, laughing.

Even Ginny snickered a little.

“Ha ha,” Charlie said dryly.

Ron didn’t know why Charlie would think he’d be popular at all. He’d only had two girlfriends; one was in Azkaban, and the other was dead. It didn’t speak well to Ron’s luck with women.

“What about you, Ginny?” Charlie asked. “How’re things in the world of my favorite sister?”

“I’m your only sister.”

“We shut out Slytherin by over 200 points,” Ron said.

“You should’ve seen the looks on their faces,” Ginny said. “Harry caught the Snitch from out of nowhere.”

“Ginny kept faking them out using a Robin Zola Feint, where you don’t let your eyes move. The Keeper couldn’t figure out where she was going.”


They all gathered at the table while Ron and Ginny recounted their match to him. It felt strange; it’d always been Charlie regaling his Quidditch victories to Ron.

After they were finished, and their mum had supplied them with food, Charlie changed the subject.

“Ron, did you ever find out about that dragon that snuck into Hogwarts?”

Ron frowned, not understanding what he meant at first. Then it hit him that he was talking about the dragon that Rose had massacred their first year.

“No, not… really…”

What if it’s not the only thing living in the castle?

Wheels turned in Ron’s head. He vaguely heard his brother talking, but he couldn’t be bothered. This was important.

When Rose had stopped the Heir of Slytherin, there’d been at least ten minutes between the time Luna had come awake and the time Rose returned to the Hospital Wing. Lockhart couldn’t have taken her more than one to deal with, and that was assuming he’d monologued for 54 seconds.

Then the dragon that no one could identify. It’d looked like it was half snake, but Charlie had never heard of such a thing.

Not to mention, all the times that Rose had heard the castle talking to her. He didn’t have an explanation for that either.

What if they were connected? What if the thing messing with their heads lived in the Chamber of Secrets? What if it could talk through the castle?

It all made sense the more he thought about it. Rose vanished third year, claiming she was looking for Hufflepuff’s Cup. What for? Had the entity inside the castle put her up to it? Why had it asked for Hufflepuff’s Cup?

“Are you in there?” Charlie asked as Ron returned to reality.

“Yeah,” Ron said absently. “But I’ve got to go.”

He ran up to his room and grabbed a few books. He grabbed anything he could find that related to the history of Hogwarts or Salazar Slytherin.

He piled the books in his room, then grabbed the first in the stack. He touched it and activated his bracelet. Then he remembered he wasn’t wearing his bracelet anymore.

He wondered if it was necessary to review the books. Everything already fit, but what if he was wrong? What if his search yielded nothing?

He thought of Sally-Anne. She always smiled when he pulled something out of his head. For her, he had to keep going. For the first time in years, he opened a book and began to read.

That night, Sally-Anne explained everything to her friends. As he always did, Ron had loads of questions.

<I don’t know anything else about where she works,> she said after his fifth or sixth one. <All I know is that she’s been captured.>

<Right. Sorry.>

She didn’t need to see him to know he was blushing.

<It’s alright,> Sally-Anne said, hoping he didn’t feel too bad.

<Right,> Harry said. <Why can’t the Order handle this?>

<We need to keep the circle of people that know about my mum as small as possible,> Sally-Anne said. <No one can know about her apart from us.>

<We could keep it small,> Harry said. <Only involve a few people.>

<It’ll be easier with only us four,> Ron said. <Although, we’ll have to figure out how to shrug off our parents.>

Sally-Anne was glad they weren’t arguing too much. She kept stressing how important it was that no one know about her mum.

<Sirius will let me out for the day,> Harry said. <I’d be more worried about your mum.>

<We’ll tell her we’re going into town. We’ve done it before, she won’t ask.>

<What about Brain?> Ginny asked. <Can’t she use Rose’s apparate trick?>

<She can,> Ron said, <but we don’t know what state she’s in. She’s in Azkaban, and even she won’t last forever in there.>

<We could ask her,> Sally-Anne said, sensing Ron’s frustration with Hermione.

<What for? She’ll either ignore us, or say she’s going to and not follow through.>

Sally-Anne waited to see if Ron wanted to vent anymore, but he didn’t say anything else.

<We’re on our own,> Harry said. <Ron’s right. We can’t rely on Hermione, not until we really know what she’s doing.>

Sally-Anne agreed with them. She wanted to count on Hermione, but there’d been a time when she’d relied on Rose the same way. She couldn’t count on someone else to solve all her problems.

<It’s not easy to sneak inside the Ministry,> Ron said. <It’ll be easiest to impersonate workers and walk in the front door if we want to do this during the day. At night, we might be able to walk in, but I can’t be sure.>

<The dead of night would be easier to sneak out,> Harry said. <What about using magic?>

Sally-Anne knew he was asking about Ginny, but didn’t want to say it.

<The Trace doesn’t work inside the Ministry,> Ron said. <It’s a dead zone, so we’re safe.>

Sally-Anne smiled, wishing Ron could see it. He’d picked up Harry’s hint without it being spelled out for him; if that wasn’t progress, she didn’t know what was.

<You can get us inside?> Harry asked.

<I know people too, you know.>

<People being Percy and Dad,> Ginny said.

<We can get inside,> Ron said. <Where did Hermione say your mum was?>

<The Ministry of Magic, Special Interest Prisoner Holding Area, Block A, Cell Four.>

Sally-Anne didn’t need to think about it. Hermione’s words were burned into her memory.

<We’ll plan for tomorrow night,> Ron said. <The sooner the better.>

<Do you know where to go?> Harry asked.

<I know where the Special Interest Holding Area is. Getting there shouldn’t be too hard. Getting back out will be difficult.>


<We don’t know what state she’ll be in, or how well guarded she’ll be. We might be busy trying to fend off Aurors on our way out.>

Sally-Anne was glad she’d gotten Ron’s help with this. He seemed to have an answer for everything.

<There’s something else we’ve got to think about,> Ron said. <This could all be a trap for us. Umbridge has Hermione already, although if she can use dimension door like Rose could, then she’s not really being held prisoner. Still, Umbridge will be looking to get at us. Regardless of how much damage we really did, we still interfered with her plans. She can’t be happy about that.>

<She won’t be,> Sally-Anne said. <We disrespected her, and that’s punishable by death in her mind.>

<So we’ll be careful,> Harry said. <We move carefully, and we don’t take any unnecessary risks. If we’re lucky, we can get in and out without anyone noticing.>

<I’ll talk to Mr. Malfoy and see what he can do to help that. He doesn’t care for Umbridge either, and with any luck, he can reduce the staff and make it easier for us to get in.>

Sally-Anne herself wasn’t sure how much help he’d be, but it couldn’t hurt to ask. They needed all the help they could get for this.

<Right,> Harry said. <Is there anything else?>

<Where are we meeting?> Ron asked. <Mum wouldn’t mind if you all stayed the night, even on short notice. We could spend the day here and go out at night.>

<That would work,> Harry said.

<Fine with me,> Sally-Anne added.

<Let’s all get some sleep. Don’t worry, Princess; your mum will be alright.>

Sally-Anne bid the others good night, then settled into her bed. She didn’t know how well the plan would work, but she was sure her friends wouldn’t let her down.

As she drifted off to sleep, she thought of her mum. Was she okay? Was she thinking of her too? Sally-Anne hoped she’d see her again soon.

You will. Ron and Harry will see to it.

Chapter Text

Losha sat in Diagon Alley. She saw the Aurors and Umbridge go inside Gringotts, and she saw them leave with Brain. All the while, she sat in plain sight, flicking her tail back and forth. People were gathered all around, too interested in watching events unfold to notice a white fox.

Except Brain. She noticed.

<I told you to get out of here!>

<No one cares. I can tell.>

Brain didn’t spare her more than a glance. They dragged her off, likely to a holding cell before taking her to Azkaban.

Their plan wasn’t complicated. Rose had hidden her notebook somewhere in Azkaban. Brain was going to spend the next few weeks looking for it. Once she’d found it, she’d inform Losha, and the two of them would get it and get out.

It seemed simple when Brain had explained it. Compared to dealing with Gringotts, it was simple. While it was supposedly equally difficult to break into either place, a factor had been removed: subtlety. Once they had Rose’s notebook, there was no need for stealth anymore. Slytherin could know where they were, but it wouldn’t matter.

Once Brain disappeared from sight, the crowd dispersed. Losha moved among them, picking up Crookshanks and Tutela on her way out of Diagon Alley. Once they left, they walked out of London, rousing a little suspicion as they did. Losha had the harder job. While Brain would be escorted into Azkaban through the front door, Losha had to spend time figuring out how to get inside without assistance.

Luckily, she didn’t have to do it alone.

That night, Hermione was taken from her new cell and shoved onto a boat not unlike the ones she’d ridden on to get to Hogwarts her first year. Except these weren’t taking her to a castle of wonders.

They sailed through stormy waters, but she remained shackled to the boat. If it capsized, a normal prisoner would have trouble staying alive, something she suspected happened often. Azkaban itself loomed in the distance, shrouded by constant storm clouds. The seas were always raging here, threatening anyone that tried to enter or exit.

When she arrived, they took all her possessions save two and gave her rags to wear. She was provided no privacy to change, but did learn something interesting: Dementors weren’t the only wardens of Azkaban anymore.

A human guard greeted her and her chaperons after she’d finished getting ready. A Patronus Charm accompanied him, a leopard, forcing the few Dementors in the room back.

“This must be Hermione Granger,” he said, looking her over. His eyes lingered over her for longer than she’d have liked. She looked him in the eye when he stepped forward.

“I suppose I must be,” she said, trying not to laugh that he couldn’t see it either.

Funny enough, she had Slytherin to thank for the idea. Unbeknownst to any of the guards, they hadn’t taken everything away from her. They’d taken the stick she was pretending was her wand, the clothes on her back, and she’d already left her bracelet in her pack, and her pack safely with Moon’s. What they hadn’t taken were her hair clip or ring, because they didn’t know she had them. After a few minutes of focusing on them, it became easy enough that she didn’t need to put any effort into it. With the charms in place, they didn’t see those, nor did they see the rune on the back of her neck that let her stay in communication with Moon.

The guards led Hermione to her cell, accompanied by a Patronus Charm. It surprised her that they had any sort of protocol. Nonetheless, they locked her inside and left.

The smell was rank, leaving her to suspect she wasn’t leaving her cell. As much as she tried to ignore it, it still made her want to be sick.

A Dementor glided past. It stopped and stared at the prisoner across from her, then moved on. It paid no attention to Hermione.

“At least I know that works,” she muttered.

She looked over the mess in her cell. There was muck and grime everywhere, likely left over by the previous inhabitant. She glanced out of her cell, not that she could see much in the dark.

When she didn’t see any guards, she got to work cleaning. She cast prestidigitation on her cell cleaning what she could. The bulk of the muck she banished, then cast a charm to deal with the smell. After she’d finished, she sat down and checked in with Moon.

<Moon, can you hear me?>


<I’m in. We’ll meet up when you’re ready.>


Hermione idly wondered how her friends would react to her being in Azkaban. She didn’t know if they’d find out. Would it be in the Daily Prophet? She figured they had more important things on which to report, although the capture of Hermione Granger might be a nice feather in Umbridge’s cap.

Another Dementor drifted past, once again ignoring her. After it had left, she walked to the front of her cell and tried to get the attention of the prisoner across from her.


Something shifted around in the dark. She activated her night vision and saw a disheveled woman in the other cell.

“What’s your name?”

Still no reply. The woman gave little indication she could even hear Hermione. She stayed where she was, slumped against the wall. Hermione could see her chest rising and falling, otherwise she would’ve thought the woman had died.

Hermione sat back in her cell, then looked around at the others she could see. It looked like the state of the other prisoners was much the same as this one. The Dementors sucked what little happiness any of the sane prisoners could muster out of the air.

She thanked Rose again for her hair clip, and herself for the perception charms. They’d worked perfectly. She could hold onto her ring and hair clip indefinitely, which meant she’d be fine in Azkaban.

Another Dementor drifted past. Hermione knew she couldn’t risk trying to fend one off, but it infuriated her that the other prisoners suffered. What was the point of keeping them here? If they were released, they’d suffer from PTSD forever. Sirius had only mostly recovered, so long as the topic of Dementors didn’t come up, and he only got through it because of his resolve to save Harry. Most people likely died, even if their sentence did end eventually.

“At least execute them if you’re going to leave them in here to rot.”

There wasn’t a chance of escape for normal prisoners, if only because they didn’t care enough. But she wasn’t a normal prisoner.

She rested her back on her newly cleaned wall and closed her eyes. If they let them out for exercise (which she didn’t think was likely) she’d be able to talk to the other prisoners then.

Hermione closed her eyes. It wouldn’t be a comfortable rest, but it’d be something to pass the time.

Hermione sat in her cell and recited spells in her head. She rehearsed anything of which she could think, struggling to deal with boredom more than anything.

Shawx walked down the line of cells, rattling the bars and tossing plates of food inside. Most prisoners ignored it. When he approached Hermione, he narrowed his eyes at her, then walked past.

“Didn’t bring enough for everyone?” she called after him.

“You haven’t been here long enough to get food!” he called back.

She rolled her eyes. As if the Dementors weren’t bad enough, the few human guards were jerks too.

“Figures,” Hermione muttered before settling back into her cell.

Shawx brought them their next meal passed Hermione by again. This time, Hermione tested out a new trick on him. She concentrated on him as he passed, then got inside his head.

Mudblood, not good for anything. See how much spirit she’s got when she’s in here another few days.

She narrowed her eyes at him. She’d found something to keep her occupied for the next few weeks.

Have you thought about how you’re getting there?” Saturn asked.

Losha, Tutela, and Crookshanks had set up camp in a forest somewhere to the west. While she didn’t know exactly where Azkaban was, they’d already worked out a plan for that. Her part of that plan was to figure out how to get there.

Go by ship,” Neptune said. “If you try using a broomstick—

She’s blind,” Mars said, “but Tutela can fly.

Azkaban itself is in the Atlantic,” Neptune said, ignoring Mars. “It moves along the border between the Atlantic and Arctic to stay unplottable, but it’s possible to get there. The Ministry uses boats, so we can too.

Tutela can fly,” Mars repeated. “Moon can’t steal a boat.

“I don’t have to,” Losha said. “Like Mars said, Tutela can fly me there.” She smiled at Tutela, who wagged her tail. “She’s strong enough to make the trip, and I can provide protection if she needs it.”

Easy,” Mars said, “but how are you going to find it?

Losha smiled, despite Mars’s repeated attempts to get under her skin. Brain had a plan for that.

“I can’t see where Brain is, but she can see where I am. If I follow her directions, she can lead me to her.”

While it sounded easy in theory, it relied on Brain not being distracted, and there being no unforeseen problems. Which meant it wouldn’t be that simple.

You’re going to mess up,” Mars said, although Losha was sure the real Mars would’ve used different language for telling her that.

She’ll be fine,” Saturn said. “She and Brain are clever enough to get through any obstacle.

Losha smiled at Saturn’s optimism. With them being so close, she refused to be the one to make a mistake and let everyone down. Brain wouldn’t either, so she knew they’d be alright.

“Wakey, wakey, Mudblood!”

Hermione opened her eyes as a tray of food slid into her. It banged into her head, but she focused on the person sneering at her from the bars.

She’d quickly noticed that the time of day never changed in Azkaban. At least, no one could see the sky to tell. After a few days, she still hadn’t gotten used to the seemingly random times Shawx came around with food. There was no one else either; it was always Shawx.

“I prefer ‘Brain’, but I’m sure you’ll figure it out eventually,” she said as she sat up. “It’s only one syllable, so it should be simple enough for you.”

Shawx threw his head back and let out a barking laugh.

“You still think you’re going to survive this, don’t you?”

Before Hermione had had a chance to answer, he continued.

“Here’s what’s gonna happen, Mudblood.”


“When your friend Lovegood—”


“—gets here to rescue you, we’ll be waiting for her. She’s going to be taken away and thrown in a cell far away from you.”

He waved his wand and summoned the tray of food.

“Oi!” Hermione exclaimed, trying to keep up the impression that she needed to eat.

“You haven’t learned your manners yet,” Shawx said, flinging the tray at another cell. It bounced off the bars, making a loud clanging noise that echoed down the quiet prison.

“If you ever learn to show some respect to those that are better than you, let me know.”

He walked off, and Hermione closed her eyes. For a moment, she tried contemplating her current situation, but another voice interrupted her.

“Are you going to take that from him?”

She opened her eyes to glare at Rose.

“You’d better be a hallucination,” she said. “Otherwise you’re in so much trouble.”

Rose sat next to her, rocking her head from side to side, as if listening to music Hermione couldn’t hear. Her red hair seemed out of place among the gloom of Azkaban.

“You’d think he’d notice that your cell smells nicer,” she said.

Hermione kept glaring at her, still evaluating how real she was. If Rose wasn’t real, which Hermione was certain she wasn’t, then Hermione would only be talking to a hallucination. She wasn’t sure how she felt about that.

“I doubt he cares,” Hermione replied. “He seems more interested in taunting people who can’t fight back.”

“Just like old times,” Rose said, beaming.

Hermione rolled her eyes. She should’ve been more concerned about how casually she took hallucinating, but she was too happy to have company to care.

“Where am I going?” she asked.

Rose shrugged, much to Hermione’s frustration. She didn’t know what she’d been expecting, but it would’ve helped if Rose had offered something.

“Of course not,” Hermione said. “That would be far too helpful.”

“It’s nothing you can’t handle Brain. You’ll figure it out. Just ask yourself what I’d do.”

“Hide it in a random cell to make me suffer.”

Rose had the nerve to look shocked.

“I’m hurt that you—”

“Save it,” Hermione snapped. “I’m getting tired of your games.”

The smile faded from Rose’s face.

“I’m not real, Brain. I can’t tell you anything you don’t already know. If you were me, how would you find it?”

Hermione frowned as she pondered the question. It didn’t take long before the answer crossed her mind: prying eyes. Another thought quickly entered her mind after that.

“Where would you have hidden it? You couldn’t know where they’d put me, so you would’ve picked a cell that held importance to you. No, you wouldn’t have hidden it in a cell; too risky. What else is there here? It’s almost all cells.”

Hermione tried pulling up a map of Azkaban in her head, but she didn’t have the layout memorized well enough to be sure about anything.

“Once I’ve gotten Moon here, she’ll find it.”

While getting Moon safely to Azkaban seemed daunting, compared to actually finding where Rose had hidden the notebook, it was simple. Hermione couldn’t risk leaving her cell, only for Shawx to come by and see her missing.

She shuddered a little, hoping that he didn’t take an interest in every prisoner.

“He thinks you’re pretty,” Rose said, beaming.

Hermione narrowed her eyes at Rose.

“That’s just you.”

Rose’s grin grew wider.

“Great! Then I get you all to myself!”

Hermione went back to figuring out how to find the notebook. If Moon didn’t have to search every cell, that drastically reduced the time it’d take to find it. It didn’t stop their big problem: Moon didn’t have her pendant as a fox, but she wasn’t protected against the Dementors as a human. That meant she couldn’t spend too much time as a human, but she’d be slower to search as a fox. On top of that, she couldn’t sneak in and out too often, otherwise they risked someone catching her and the animals.

“There’s got to be something I can do.”

She closed her eyes again and returned to contemplating her options.

Losha rode atop Tutela high above the clouds one night. Crookshanks had been the one to point out how conspicuous a flying dog was, which hadn’t occurred to Losha.

We could’ve sailed,” Neptune reminded her.

Losha ignored her and got another update from Brain.

<You’re heading right for me. Keep on that path, and you should be fine. Are you sure you haven’t been seen?>

She relayed the question to her lookout, who stuck his head out of her pack.

<Crookshanks says no one’s following us.>

That high up, her sense of smell didn’t do much good. Even at night, she didn’t want to risk being seen and ruining the whole operation. The more she could do to avoid detection, the better.

There’s a storm up ahead,” Neptune said. “I can feel it.

While her sense of smell was diminished, her sense of hearing worked fine. She heard the storm up ahead and knew they were about to be in trouble.

No more than usual,” Mars said. “That’s Azkaban.

Losha frowned, then asked Brain how far away they were.

<The rate Tutela’s flying, you’ll be here in a few minutes. If you could see, you’d be able to see the storm clouds.>

They slowly dipped down from the clouds, then Losha began casting a spell. A few seconds later, the only sign that anyone was approaching Azkaban was a shimmer.

Before they reached the island, Losha sensed the Dementors. An overwhelming feeling of dread washed over her, nearly causing her to turn back. The image of losing her mother threatened to consume her. Unlike the last time she’d encountered Dementors, there were more memories to accompany it.


At first, she thought someone was banging on Azkaban, but she soon realized that it was only a memory. Her memory of losing Toad.

My turn.

The memories slipped away, leaving a strange clarity in her head. She could feel the Dementors’ effect, but it didn’t matter. Nothing could stop her; she was Lady Mars, Queen of Magical London.

Sirius Black had escaped from Azkaban by using his Animagus form, so her future plan was to do just that. On this particular visit, she had something more important to do.

She took out a knife from her pack that she hadn’t told Moon about, then started carving something into the side of the fortress. Dementors flew around overhead, where they’d no doubt sense her eventually. Between her mental mastery that could defy even the Imperius Curse, and the lack of joy or love in her heart, she had little doubt that she’d have plenty of time before they found her.

<Mars, we’ve got more Dementors,> Tutela informed her.

As much as she hated Moon’s life, she did like her dog.

<I’m almost finished. Unless you want to risk Brain getting caught a second time.>

Once she was finished, she charged the rune and dumped the knife in her pack. She turned into a fox and let Moon take over again.

The three of them ran off, then Losha tested the rune Mars had carved. Sure enough, she got a sense of the direction to it.

<The locator rune is working. We should make those for ourselves.>

<Once we get out of here, I think that’d be a great addition to our network. How much time do you have?>

She sniffed the air, sensing the Dementors nearby. She could also smell some humans walking around, although none of them seemed like they were in a rush. After that, she asked Tutela what she saw.

<I think we can stay another five minutes before the Dementors start to notice us.>

<Then get out of here in four. Don’t waste time with the cells; do reconnaissance. Once I know everywhere Rose could’ve hidden it, I can work out where it is.>

She walked along the shoreline, sniffing around for any sign that her sister had been there. It didn’t help; Rose had never had a particular scent anyway.

<Dementors are beginning to swarm.>

Without resuming her human form, Losha hopped onto Tutela’s back along with Crookshanks. The three of them flew as fast as they could, once again hidden by her Disillusionment Charm. Once they were far enough away, Losha returned to normal and nestled onto Tutela’s back. The warmth of her homunculus washed away any residual effects of the Dementors, leaving her mind clear.

Almost there.

After a few nights, they’d narrowed down the possible locations of Rose’s notebook to a few options. The most likely place was the graveyard, although without her human form, Moon couldn’t inspect each grave. There was a courtyard somewhere, although the likelihood that Rose had hidden it under Azkaban was seeming more likely. That meant they’d have to search for it together, which meant another plan.

While they were in the middle of working out said plan, Hermione got a visitor.

Shawx never announced himself, or said “hi”, or anything else that resembled a greeting. Instead, he liked to bang on Hermione’s cell to get her attention.

“Ready to tell me what you were doing in Gringotts, Mudblood?”

While Hermione had found it amusing the first several times she’d corrected him, she’d grown tired of it over the past few days. The idea that Moon could get caught chipped away at her nerves enough that she had little patience for Shawx.

“No, I’m not.”

A sneer spread over Shawx’s face.

“Good. It’s more fun this way.” He pressed his face against a gap in the bars. “I’m gonna guess it has something to do with Rose Peta-Lorrum.”

Hermione took an involuntary breath, then glared at Shawx.

Hallucination Rose sat in the corner, her face blank.

“That’s what I thought. See, Mudblood, I know all about your friend Peta-Lorrum.”

I sincerely doubt that.

“I know she wasn’t like other witches. I know she faked her own death, abandoning you and your poor friends.”

Hermione clenched her fists, but said nothing to give Shawx anything more.

“Sort of like what you did to your friends.”

Hermione glared at him. How did Shawx know all this? Was he another hallucination? She hoped so; she hadn’t heard another voice that grated her nerves as much as Umbridge’s had, nor did she want there to be another one.

“I didn’t abandon them.”

The sneer returned to Shawx’s face.

“Really? That lot at Hogwarts — the Weasleys, Perks, Potter. They know all about you, don’t they?”

“They don’t know anything!”

Hermione hadn’t intended to snap at him, but she realized it was worse the moment she had. If they knew something, she’d have just given them to the Ministry; if they didn’t, she just gave Shawx more to use.

“Good news, Mudblood. I believe you. I believe that you don’t care at all about what happens to them.”


“I believe that no one’s really coming to get you, apart from your friend Lovegood. I know all about your little gang: You, Longbottom, and Lovegood. Except that Peta-Lorrum killed Longbottom, didn’t he?”

“That’s a lie!”

Hermione leapt at the bars, but something caught her foot and she fell forward. Her head slammed into the bars, leaving stars in her eyes.

Shawx howled with laughter as Hermione lay in pain on the floor. She looked back and saw that Rose had caught her ankle. No, not Rose — she was a hallucination — but a small piece of trash, animated by what little common sense she still had left.

Shawx crouched down to put himself level with her.

“Longbottom’s dead. Lovegood will be mine soon enough. Even if Peta-Lorrum wasn’t dead, she kept killing your friends anyway. You were Vector’s favorite student, right?”

Despite the splitting pain in her head, Hermione was able to think clearly for a moment and realize why Shawx knew all this: Umbridge. Umbridge had told him all about her.

“And yet, you were in a vault that Peta-Lorrum opened. You know what I think?”

Hermione glared at him, knowing it didn’t matter what she wanted.

“I think Peta-Lorrum sent you on some wild goose chase that ended in an empty vault. I think she wanted to screw with you one last time.” His sneer returned. “She’s my kind of sadist.”

Rage burned inside her and she flung at the bars again.

“Rose is nothing like you!”

Once again, she’d played straight into Shawx’s hands. He grabbed a tuft of her hair and held her in place, pressing her head into the bars. He held his own head a few inches from hers. His breath smelled like he didn’t know what a toothbrush was, much less own one.

“That’s the real psychopath inside you, isn’t it? Deep down, you and me ain’t that different, Mudblood. I knew it the moment I laid eyes on you. I can always see the monster inside.”

Hermione glared defiantly at him, refusing to back down.

“Here’s the thing, Mudblood. I know all about you. I know where the people you love live, and I know people that can make that place here.” He sneered again. “But after another week in here, that won’t matter. See, by then, there won’t be anyone you love. Because no one’s coming to get you, Mudblood. It’s just you, me, and the Dementors. Soon, you’ll have to pick: them or me. The Dementors won’t spare you. They don’t care if you watch them suck the life out of Lovegood. They don’t have mercy, but I’m very merciful once you get to know me.” He leaned in closer, and Hermione began to shake with anger.

“And I’ve got plans to get to know you very well.”

After staring into her eyes for a moment to enjoy her repulsion, he shoved her to the ground.

“Later, Mudblood!”

Shawx whistled as he walked away from her cell. It took everything in her not to kill him. She could feel the ooze ready to escape, to rip into him, to make him scream.

She couldn’t. She knew she had to keep waiting. Instead, she pressed her back against the wall and breathed until she’d calmed down.

And I always thought the Dementors were the real monsters.

With Shawx gone, she returned to planning with Moon. She still had one person, and she had plenty of ideas. Shawx was wrong; she’d get out of there eventually. She just had to find what she was looking for first.

Chapter Text

Harry arrived at the Burrow early one morning. After bidding farewell to Sirius, he greeted Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, with whom he found a few surprises.

The first surprise was that the entirety of the Weasley family had assembled at the Burrow, including Bill and his girlfriend. The second surprise was Bill’s girlfriend.

“Fleur Delacour?” Harry asked.

“I believe ve met at Hogwarts,” she said. “You are Harry Potter?”

He smiled as cheerfully as he could, given that his mind was still miles away.

“Is that where you met Bill?”

“Eet ees,” she said, smiling at him.

Harry smiled again.

“Good for you. Can’t go wrong with the Weasley men.”

Behind Bill and Fleur, Charlie gave him a thumbs up and mouthed “nice”.

The third surprise was Harry’s favorite by far: Ginny still had her hair pulled back.

She came down from her room shortly after he arrived.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Fleur give a look of disdain.

Ginny averted her eyes from Fleur and focused on Harry.

“Happy Christmas,” he said, giving her a hug.

“Happy Christmas,” she said, quite a bit louder than she’d been last they’d talked face to face.

“The whole family’s here.”

“Everyone.” Ginny glanced upstairs. “Ron’s still in his room.”

“Would someone tell him to come down?” their mother asked. “Sally-Anne will be here soon, and then we’re all going to each lunch. He shouldn’t stay cooped up in his room all day.”

The Weasley children and Harry covered their ears when Mrs. Weasley drew in a breath.


Fleur winced, not knowing the Weasleys well enough to protect her ears.

Harry gave her a knowing look and nodded.

<Your mum would like you to come down,> Harry said.

<Is that what that was? I thought someone had cast Confringo. I’ve got something to tell you all. Is Princess here yet?>

<Not yet, I’m early.>

At first, Harry was surprised that he’d gotten there ahead of Sally-Anne. Usually, she’d have been there at the crack of dawn, but then he realized why: her mum. Any time they’d show up late, her mum was still giving her dad grief about it. She was probably the reason the Perks family was always early.

<I’ll come down when she gets here.>

Harry saw Mrs. Weasley taking another breath.

<You might want to tell your mum that.>

“I’LL BE DOWN IN A MINUTE!” Ron called before Mrs. Weasley could make another attempt to deafen them all.

Harry and Ginny walked over to where the Twins were, and Harry said hello.

“How’s the joke shop?” he asked.

“Humiliating,” Percy muttered.

“It’s great,” George said.

“We’ve been a huge hit.”

“Even with that whole deal last week.”

“Which reminds me, what’s going on with Hermione?”

Harry shrugged, although out of the corner of his eye, he saw Fleur turn their way. He wouldn’t have thought Fleur would’ve known who Hermione was.

“I honestly don’t know. She vanished at the end of last year without a word. She and Luna both. We’ve hardly heard from them, and now she’s been arrested and sent to Azkaban.”

The Twins exchanged glances.

“Oh well,” Fred said. “Thanks again, by the way.”

George produced a bag of galleons and handed it to Harry.

“I think that’s all of it,” he said. “Plus interest.”

Harry opened it up and became aware that they had the attention of everyone else in the room.

“What’s going on?” Percy and their mother asked.

Harry took a break from counting and turned back to them.

“I lent them the money for their shop. Unless this is Leprechaun gold—” he glared at them, knowing their innocent looks were nonsense, “— we should be even.”

“Harry, I’m hurt,” one said.

“You think so little of us.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at them.

“Wow, he’s like a real adult,” Fred said.

“Which is more than I can say for either of you,” Harry said, putting the money in his pack.

He sensed the relief of Mrs. Weasley, who’d probably assumed they’d stolen the money.

“Why’d you lend them anything?” Percy asked.

“Because I saw how well their… inventions worked at Hogwarts.” He grinned at them, thinking how much he must’ve looked like his dad. “Everyone needs a good laugh once in a while. I knew my money would be in safe hands if it helped them get their shop off the ground.”

Both Twins put an arm around Harry.

“We might be the most successful ones of the family.”

“And it’s all thanks to Harry here.”

The sound of a car rolling up drew Harry’s attention from Mrs. Weasley’s mixture of anger and concern. He slipped away and went to the window.

“Sally-Anne’s here.” Before Mrs. Weasley could act, he added, “I’ll go fetch Ron.”

He started upstairs as Mrs. Weasley ran to the door. As he got to Ron’s room, he heard Sally-Anne’s voice downstairs. Even from so far away, he could sense something was bothering her.

Harry knocked on Ron’s door.

“She’s here.”

When Harry rounded the corner into Ron’s room, he saw books and papers scattered throughout the room. It reminded Harry a little of the way Hermione would get with Arithmancy.

“If you’re about to go on about some new spell you’ve invented, I’m going to be worried.”

“Remember back in first year, when we ran into that dragon?” Ron asked. “Only Charlie’s never heard of one like it.”

Harry nodded, not sure where Ron was going with it.

“And then in second year, the Basilisk only went after us. Like something was trying to get Rose’s attention.”

Harry began to put the pieces together.

“Are you saying that,” he glanced back, making sure no one was around, then lowered his voice, “that whatever’s messing with our heads controlled the Basilisk?”

“Rose was down there much longer than she should’ve been,” Ron said.

Harry focused on seeing Rose in the Hospital Wing that day. She’d been wearing some sort of bandoleer, the same one she’d had on the day of the invasion. It held explosives of some kind, but he’d never seen her use them before.

“She had that bandoleer on then,” he said. “But the Basilisk was up with us, and Lockhart was down there. He was a pushover, so why use it at all?”

Ron nodded, then grabbed a book.

“That’s a good point. I’ve been grabbing every book on Salazar Slytherin I can. If that thing was in the Chamber of Secrets, then it’s got to be something to do with him. It turns out, his daughter was killed by Muggles, and that’s why he hated them so much. He didn’t even trust Muggle-borns to keep Hogwarts a secret.”

As much as Harry wanted to continue down the path that might lead them to more answers, they had more pressing matters at hand.

“Ron, this is brilliant. Really, it is. But Sally-Anne’s here, and I think she could use her friends right now.”

Ron looked at him, then started packing up papers.

“You go down, I’ll—”

Harry shut the door.

“I know you like her, Ron,” he said. “I know you don’t want to talk about it, but I know you do.”

Ron stopped collecting his notes and glared at Harry.

“I don’t like her like that. She’s just a friend.”

Harry narrowed his eyes at Ron.

“Besides,” Ron said, going back to packing up papers, “even if I did, she’s interested in guys like Viktor Krum, or Malfoy apparently. Quidditch stars with money or power or looks. I haven’t got any of that.”

“No, you’ve just got a tactical mind good enough to outsmart Professor McGonagall and didn’t abandon her when we all did. Besides, don’t talk about Quidditch stars like you’re not one of them. You’re the best Keeper Gryffindor’s ever had.”

“Yeah, Keeper. Fat lot of good those do. I don’t score points, I don’t win matches, that’s your job.”

Before Harry responded, he took stock of his friend. Ron wasn’t making eye contact anymore, and his face was turning the same shade of red as his hair. Harry knew Ron was wrong; he’d heard it from Sally-Anne’s mouth that she felt the same way about him, but it wasn’t doing them any good to keep talking about it.

“Alright, different subject then,” Harry said. “Would you mind if I asked out Ginny?”

Ron stopped collecting his notes and stared at Harry. He looked as though he were about to drop the stack of books he was holding.

“My sister Ginny?”

“Do you know another Ginny?”


“Because she’s a brilliant Quidditch player, and despite everything that’s happened to her, she’s still struggling to be strong.”

Harry smiled. He hoped he could tell her one day how happy it’d made him to see her with her hair up.

“Erm… go ahead, I guess. Why are you asking me?”

“Because she’s your sister, and you’re my best friend. I didn’t want it to be weird for you.”

“Go for it. Mum will be thrilled.”

Harry smiled, glad everything was beginning to look up. He knew Ron wasn’t going to make a move on Sally-Anne, but perhaps he’d have better luck convincing her.

After lunch, the four of them went outside (Mrs. Weasley wouldn’t let them all stay inside in a room unsupervised, despite the many times they’d done exactly that at Hogwarts), where Ron explained to them what he’d learned.

“It really does sound like something’s living in the castle,” Sally-Anne said. “That’s… creepy.”

“What do we do?” Ginny asked. “We can’t go back with whatever it is inside.”

“We’ll have to worry about that later,” Harry said. “Without Hermione, there’s not much more we can do.”

“But we can’t go back inside,” Ron said. “No way.”

Sally-Anne looked to him, hoping he’d have an answer. Ron always had an answer to everything.

“Sally-Anne, what about your mum?” Harry asked.

She turned to him instead, then produced four pieces of parchment from her pack.

“Courtesy of Lucius Malfoy,” she said. “After hours passes to the Ministry of Magic. We can walk right in, without giving our real names. He said they don’t keep a log.”

“Not for after hours visitors,” Ron said. “They used to back in the early 1900s, but then the Minister of Magic kept bringing his mistresses around for a tour, so he got rid of it.”

Despite the gravity of their situation, Sally-Anne smiled. There were times she strongly believed that Ron knew everything.

“Right,” Harry said. “Are we sure about her location? Have they moved her?”

“They wouldn’t,” Ron said. “Umbridge wouldn’t break protocol. She’s got her old job back, but that doesn’t mean she can do whatever she pleases, not without drawing unwanted attention. Besides, if there’s a real problem, Parliament can use brute force to take down the Ministry of Magic.”

“That’s true,” Sally-Anne said, “but it’s Umbridge. She doesn’t consider them a threat. The only people she cares about are the people in her way.”

“But that does mean she won’t break protocol,” Harry said. “Right?”

Both Ron and Sally-Anne nodded.

“Then Sally-Anne’s mum will still be in that holding cell. Is there any chance she knows we’re coming?”

“She’ll be waiting for us,” Ron said. “She’s already got Hermione, and now she’s after the rest of us.”

“So we’ve got to slip in unseen,” Harry said. “We’ll fly there by broomstick tonight.”

“That’ll work,” Ron said. “Leave anything valuable here. If this goes wrong, we won’t want anything happening.”

“We should leave a note,” Sally-Anne said. “Hidden somewhere, but like you said, if this goes wrong, your mum will worry.”

“We’ll leave out the bit about what your mum does,” Ron said. “Just say that she was captured.”

Sally-Anne smiled at him again. She was still scared; they were breaking into the Ministry of Magic, where Umbridge was almost certainly waiting for them. But it was the only chance to get her mum back, so they had to risk it.

They started to head inside, but Harry pulled her to the side before they got too far.

“How are your hands?” he asked in a low voice.

Sally-Anne glanced over her shoulder and saw Ron giving them questioning looks. She smiled at him and motioned for him to go inside.

“They’re better,” she said, turning back to Harry.

She tugged off one of her gloves, wincing as it pulled on the blisters that still littered her hand. A few of them distorted the Shield Rune on her hand.

“That looks awful,” Harry said. “Have you seen a doctor about them?”

“We thought about it, but Daddy’s so worried about Mum, we haven’t had the time.”

Harry gave her a significant glance as she carefully replaced her glove.

“So long as you see someone about it. Can you still use the Shield Rune?”

Sally-Anne frowned. She’d hardly thought about the runes in months. She concentrated on it, then felt the energy flowing through her to her hand.

A small shield formed for a second. It took no longer than that for her hand to start burning. She nearly cried out before dismissing the shield.

“I’ll have to save that tonight,” she said, “if it’s going to be that hard to use, I’ll have to save it for an emergency.”

“Don’t worry about it,” Harry said, “Ron and I can keep down any trouble we encounter. If all goes well, we won’t encounter any at all.” He looked back at the Burrow. “Have you talked to Ron?”

Sally-Anne frowned, not catching his meaning.

“About the Shield Rune? Not really.”

Once Harry narrowed his eyes at her, she caught his meaning.

“Oh. You mean like that.”

Harry rolled his eyes, something he picked up from either Sirius or Rose.

“I will slap you,” she said.

“Sure, but it won’t help you.”

She glanced back at the Burrow to triple-check that no one could hear them.

“What’s the point? I haven’t got my dress or ribbon anymore. After a while, he won’t notice me at all.”

“Talk to him after we’ve rescued your mum.”

“Didn’t you hear me?”

“Give him a chance to decide for himself. Like you said, you haven’t got the dress or ribbon anymore. If he says yes, then you’ll know for sure that it’s because he wanted to.”

Harry nodded towards the Burrow and the two started back. Sally-Anne hated it when Harry talked like Alavel. It made him sound like he knew exactly what he was doing, enough that Sally-Anne almost believed it. There was so much that could go wrong, she couldn’t bear to think about it. A knot formed in her stomach trying to imagine what she’d say to him. She wasn’t sure what was worse: if he returned her feelings or not. How could she ever talk to him if he didn’t? What if it blew up in her face like her old feelings for Harry? What if he got hurt for being around her like Draco and Viktor?

She forced it all out of her head when they walked inside the Burrow. It wouldn’t do her any good to be distracted while rescuing her mum. So instead, that’s what she chose to focus on for the rest of the day.

That night, the four of them met outside the Burrow. Instead of broomsticks, Ron had come up with a better plan.

“We’re going to apparate,” he said. “We learned it last year, except for Ginny, who’ll go with me. We’ll apparate into London, then walk to the Ministry of Magic.”

Lucius had already given them spots to land a broomstick, so the idea was to apparate to one instead.

“Everyone ready?” Harry asked.

Sally-Anne looked at her friends. Her heart pounded in her chest, and she had to fight the urge to rub her hands together, but she nodded anyway.

She concentrated on the Ministry of Magic, then activated the spell.

It felt as though she were being pulled through a small hole in space. She was hardly aware of anything, then she appeared in an alleyway in London. Ron stood in front of her, catching his breath. Another pop signaled the arrival of Harry and Ginny.

Sally-Anne stretched out to loosen her body, then looked at her friends. Ron and Harry were already moving ahead. Harry lagged behind Ron to give them a chance to catch up.

They peered around a corner. After Harry gave them the all clear, they moved forward, heading towards a phone booth. One by one, they entered the phone booth, picked up the phone, read off the contents of the pass, and vanished.

When it was Sally-Anne’s turn, she repeated the process, and ended up inside the Ministry of Magic.

She looked around at the entrance hall, a little in awe of where she was. A fountain roared nearby, and statues of various witches and wizards decorated the interior.

A hand grabbed her and pulled her away. Before she could scream, Harry put a finger to her mouth. He did the same with Ron and Ginny.


He motioned for them to look around the corner. When she did, Sally-Anne saw what he’d seen. It was hard to see it in the dark, but mounted on the far wall was a small eye. It scanned the area, looking left, right, then left.

<I’ll bet it’s like the ones she put up in Hogwarts,> Harry said. <Princess?>

<I can’t see it too well, but I think you’re right. They’re not cameras exactly. They don’t record anything, so she always had a member of the Inquisitorial Squad watching them.>

The others nodded, then Harry looked out again.

<It’s range is limited, but there’s another one farther down. Ron, which way are we going?>

<There’s a corridor to the right across the hall.>

<I doubt we can get through without being seen by it.>

<She’ll have someone on duty,> Sally-Anne said. <She’s expecting us.>

<She might already know we’re here,> Ron said. <But it takes time to organize people. That means we haven’t got long to get your mum and get out.>

Despite their urges to move, Harry held them in one place for nearly a minute.

<There’s a pattern to it. It has to scan the whole area, so we can stay in its blind spot. I’ll guide each of you, then go last.>

They all agreed, then Ron went first. On Harry’s signal, he ran out into the hall sprinting towards the far wall.

Sally-Anne looked up, but didn’t see an eye scanning from their wall. She wondered if Umbridge didn’t have the funds to put them up everywhere. That made some sense; it wouldn’t do any good to worry people, and the Minister must’ve known that the eyes were a concern to those around them.

When Ron reached the corridor, it was her turn. She ran as fast as she could towards the far wall on Harry’s command. Without stopping for a breath, she darted towards the corridor, staying up against the wall where the eye couldn’t see her.

Sally-Anne used the time it took Ginny and Harry to get there to catch her breath. Her lungs burned, and she kept involuntarily trying to cough.

<Are you alright?> Ron asked.

<Fine,> she said, covering her mouth with a gloved hand as she tried to stifle another cough. <A little out of shape is all.>

They moved as one down the corridor to an elevator. When they reached it, they called for the Special Interest Prisoner Holding Area. The elevator jolted to life and flew backwards. Sally-Anne didn’t know through where they were traveling, but after it flew around for awhile, it flung forward and opened.

<This is too easy,> Ron said. <I know most of Ministry security goes home for the day, but there should’ve been someone.>

<Lucius has been silently urging more and more of them to leave early,> Sally-Anne said. <Or paying them off if necessary. He really is on our side.>

She knew Ron wouldn’t be convinced, but she hoped she was getting through to him. Not for the first time, she wondered what life would’ve been like if Draco had survived. She could imagine he and Ron getting along for her sake, glaring at each other whenever they were forced to be together. They probably wouldn’t have said much to one another, but they’d tolerate the other.

If he’d survived…

Ron and Harry led the way down the corridor. Harry checked for surveillance; there was less of it here. Ron reasoned that Umbridge must’ve had limited options, and so put the eyes where people would be forced to pass. After a few turns, they came upon the holding area.

<This is Block A,> Ron said. <Cell Four, so…>

Sally-Anne had to resist the urge to run ahead. Part of her wanted it to be a trick, but her dad and Eric wouldn’t have lied to her about her being in the Ministry of Magic. This wasn’t a dream or a delusion; her mum really had been taken captive.

They arrived at the fourth cell.

<She’s not here,> Sally-Anne said. <Where is she?>

<She’s been moved to Block D,> Ron said, spinning around. <Let’s move and—>

The light from the corridor was blocked out by Aurors stepping into view, wands drawn.

Ron and Harry were faster. Ron threw a Scattering Hex at them, while Harry disarmed one.


The four of them ran for the exit. Harry and Ron stunned the two Aurors before they could recover, giving them a clear shot at the exit.

<They know we’re here,> Ron said. <We’ve got to run to Block D and get her out. It’s down three floors.>

They found the stairwell guarded by another pair of Aurors. Harry and Ron once again made quick work of them before flinging the door open.

<There’s only one path to Block D,> Ron said. <We’ll have to figure out something, since they’ll all be blocking the way.>

<Umbridge is clever,> Sally-Anne said. <She won’t send people running to us, she’ll wait for us to go to her.>

Ron looked over the side of the stairwell. It was a straight drop.

<We haven’t got feather fall anymore,> Harry reminded him. <We’ve got to take them one at a time.>

<I wasn’t thinking that,> he said. <We’ve got Aurors on the way up.>

Sally-Anne heard them coming, then started down the stairs after them. She glanced beside her and saw Ginny shaking.

<Skyeyes, Firecracker needs you.>

Harry fell back a step and switched places with Sally-Anne as they ran down the stairs.

They’d passed Block C when the Aurors met them at the bottom of the stairwell. The Aurors fired Stunners, but the four of them ducked down, one flight of stairs above the Aurors. Ron threw another Scattering Hex, but the Aurors tumbled with it and fired on him.

Harry threw a Stunner at one, but he avoided it and fired back.

Sally-Anne stayed low. Without a clear line of sight, she couldn’t be much use figuring out where they were going to fire.

<Firecracker,> Ron said, <aim for the wall above them.>

Ginny looked up and prepared her wand. She waited for them to fire again. As soon as the spells flew, she hurled a burning rock at the wall.

The wall above the pair of Aurors broke apart and fell on them. Using the confusion to their advantage, Harry and Ron stunned them both.

<Good work,> Harry said as they all ran ahead.

They got inside Block D and found someone waiting for them, but it wasn’t Umbridge.

Rufus Scrimgeour, the Minister of Magic himself, fired a green bolt at them.

Harry tackled Ginny to the ground as the bolt sailed past them, missing them both by centimeters.

Sally-Anne and Ron pulled them back to their feet and got them out of Block D before the Minister could fire another Killing Curse at them.

<What’s he doing here?> Ginny asked. <Why did he try to kill me?>

<That’s a good question,> Ron said, firing a hex around the corner. Judging by the green bolt that shot back through the threshold, it missed. <Why can’t they decorate this place? A suit of armour, a vase, something.>

Harry fired a Stunner, but it failed to find its mark.

<He’s got us all pinned,> Harry said. <Cohort, take Princess and go. I’ll stay here with Firecracker and draw his fire for you.>

Ginny looked like she wanted to argue at first, but she nodded instead. A new look of determination came over her.

<Are you sure?> Ron asked.

Another bolt narrowly missed Ginny.

<He’s aiming for Firecracker,> Harry said. <I’m guessing he’ll ignore you two.>

<Why me?>

<When he’s finished, we’ll ask him,> Ron said. <Until then, you’ve got to hold him there.>

Sally-Anne and her friends exchanged glances, then Harry and Ron fired Stunners through the threshold.

<Princess, go!>

Sally-Anne ran in, staying low as spells were thrown over her head. She dove to the side of Scrimgeour, then kept running once she was past him.

She looked back and saw Ginny fire a burst of flame at the ground in front of him. Once it let up, a Stunner flew from Harry as Ron ran in to get around him.

<Keep going!>

Ron ran past her and grabbed her hand. For the first time in months, she was okay with someone touching her hand.

<Any ideas why Scrimgeour’s going after Ginny?>

<Either he’s protesting some new bill our dad introduced, or he’s trying to provoke Ginny into killing him.>

<What? Why would the Minister of Magic do that?>

<Umbridge is staging a coup, killing two birds with one stone. She knows we’re here, so she convinced the Minister of Magic to come in and take the credit for our capture. Politicians love taking credit for that sort of thing, but she used the Imperius Curse on him and ordered him to attack Firecracker. She’s got a history of violence, so Umbridge probably figures if he attacks her, she’ll kill him, leaving the position she really wants wide open. She can blame us for it, take the credit for capturing us, and get cozy in the Minister of Magic’s chair.>

<That sounds exactly like something she’d do,> Sally-Anne said.

<We’ve seen her use an Unforgivable Curse before,> Harry said. <It makes sense that she’d use it again.>

They rounded another corridor and skidded to a halt.

“I think the Muggle phrase is ‘Speak of the Devil’,” Ron said.

Umbridge stood in their way, without reinforcements. She held her wand in her hand, keeping it leveled at them.

“I’m curious. How did you know I’d moved her? It should’ve taken you far longer to search every cell block. I almost wasn’t ready for you.”

“By ready,” Ron said, “do you mean you hadn’t put Scrimgeour under the Imperius Curse yet?”

Umbridge turned her attention from Sally-Anne to Ron.

“Whatever do you mean? The Minister and I wanted to personally oversee our newest prisoner. This Muggle has been meddling in Ministry affairs for decades. It’s time she was brought to justice. I tried to urge Minister Fudge to take action, but he wouldn’t listen. Now with all of these ghastly problems, these so-called New Death Eaters, Minister Scrimgeour has finally seen sense.”

As it always did, her voice dripped with condescension.

Sally-Anne kept her hands ready. It was easier for her to bring up a shield than it was for Umbridge to fire a spell. By the time she fired, Sally-Anne would be ready for it. Didn’t Umbridge know that?

“Now, I’m going to take you both into custody. Are you going to put up a fight?”

Sally-Anne kept her focus on Umbridge. She figured Ron would want to say something witty before they took on Umbridge, but he had nothing to say.

“You kidnapped my mum,” Sally-Anne said. “What do you think?”

Ron smirked, then fired a Stunner at Umbridge. Umbridge dodged aside and fired her own Stunner at them.

Sally-Anne flipped her hand over and activated the Shield Rune. As it had earlier, energy flowed to it, causing her hand to burn.

Then nothing happened.

Ron shoved her out of the way and took the Stunner. Before Sally-Anne could call out, Umbridge fired another Stunner at her.

As Sally-Anne fell to the ground, she realized what had happened: she was still wearing her gloves, and the rune had to be unobstructed.

She’d let them down because of what she’d done to her hands.

You were right, Daddy. It did hurt my friends.

Harry fired another Stunner at Scrimgeour, but with no luck. After another Killing Curse flew by, an idea struck him.



Ginny spun around and fired into the corridor. Harry saw a quick flash come out of the corridor, then fired another Stunner. This time, Scrimgeour couldn’t dodge aside or provide cover for himself. The Stunner hit the Minister, who went down.

<That was brilliant.>

Harry pulled Ginny into a quick hug. He wanted it to last longer, but they had a mission to complete. They started into the corridor when another person joined them.

Avada Kedavra.

A green bolt lanced out and struck Scrimgeour’s unconscious body. He gasped, then went limp.

Harry tried to grab Ginny and get out, but a Stunner flew at him and knocked him to the ground. Before he lost consciousness, another one flew out and struck Ginny. He saw her fall to the ground, then Umbridge walked back into view.

“Don’t worry. The four of you will be nice and cozy with Ms. Granger in Azkaban.”

The last thing he saw before he passed out was Umbridge’s smirk.

Chapter Text

Ron was taken for processing. They took his wand and replaced his clothes with rags. He and his friends were forced onto a boat bound for Azkaban. They were charged with murder and treason. No investigation necessary; the new Minister of Magic had caught them red handed.

He could feel the effects of the Dementors long before they reached the island. Clouds blocked out the sun as they drew nearer. A cold feeling came over him, and he began to remember every mistake he’d ever made.

They were transferred into the care of a guard named Shawx, who was all too eager to have more people there. He led them through to another processing point, then on into the prison. They were separated from there.

Ron wanted to struggle, to fight back, to stop them from taking Sally-Anne, if no one else. He couldn’t make his body do anything apart from obey. He simply didn’t have it in him.

There must be something I can do.

He held onto the thought with what strength he had left. It wasn’t much; once a happy thought surfaced, it was quickly snuffed out. One thought did prevail. The image of Sally-Anne, who was terrified of the Dementors, being forced to be around them once again.

That thought stayed with him until he reached his cell. It stayed with him when the first of the Dementors came by. It stayed with him long after they left and he was able to think again.

I’ve got to get her out of here.

He held onto that thought, and another struck him. They weren’t the only ones in Azkaban. Someone else was in there with them. Someone who always had a plan. He didn’t know if he could trust her, but he had to get Sally-Anne out. And Ginny. And Harry. His friends. They needed him.

They needed Hermione.

Hermione sat in her cell, patiently awaiting word from Moon. In the back of her mind, she’d noticed that Shawx hadn’t been by her cell to visit, and that worried her. If nothing else, because the looks Shawx gave her made her uncomfortable, and if he was breaking pattern, then something was different.


Much to her surprise, it wasn’t Moon contacting her, but Ron. He sounded weak, like it was hard enough to reach out to her.

<Cohort? What’s going on? You sound awful.>

It hit her before she said it. A possibility she didn’t want to consider, but one she knew was true.

<Princess’s mum was taken… Umbridge got her. We failed… couldn’t get her out.>

Her instinct had been right: her friends were with her in Azkaban.

<I’ll get you out.>

<You’re here too.>

<I’m not trapped here. I’m waiting here.>

<You’ve got to help… got to help her…>

<I’ll get you out, Cohort. I promise.>

Hermione wasted no time. Plans had to be changed immediately.

<Princess, Skyeyes, Firecracker: Moon and I have got a plan. Hold on. You’ve got to fight it.> Hermione looked at her friend in the cell across from hers. She hadn’t seen her move in days.

<Moon, change of plans. The others are here with me, but they haven’t got protection against the Dementors. We’ve got to get them out now.>

<I’ll be there as soon as I can.>

Hermione had no immediate plan for getting them out, but it needed to be done with as little fuss as possible.

Hermione sat and waited in her cell. She didn’t know where Rose had hidden her notebook, but they’d have to hunt for it together. Dementors didn’t concern her; the possibility of more guards coming to the island did. They’d have to move quickly if they wanted to get their friends out without drawing too much attention.

Hermione began to plan. An idea formed in her head about how they’d do it. So long as Moon stayed safe, she thought it could work. There was just one more thing she needed.

On cue, the last piece walked past her cell, looking as though he’d been told Christmas would not only be coming early, but every day.

Shawx stopped in front of her cell and sneered at her.

“Guess who I just saw,” he said. “Go on, Mudblood. Guess.”

“Your mother. She said she’s never liked you, and she’s horrified that she gave birth to such a ghastly creature.”

An image flashed into her head. One of standing over a dead woman. She clutched her wand so tightly her hand hurt. Tears were falling from her face. Screams echoed in her ears.

The scene faded after only a second, but she got the idea of what she’d seen.

Back in reality, Shawx narrowed his eyes at her. For a moment, contempt broke through his arrogance. Like the memory, that too faded.

“Sally-Anne Perks, Ronald Weasley, Ginevra Weasley, and Harry Potter. Your entire band of misfits, all together.”

“I know.” Hermione let out a quick chuckle and pointed at her temple. “The voices told me.”

From out of the corner of her eye, Rose gave her a thumbs up.

Shawx chuckled a little.

“I can only imagine you still think they care about you. That you’re going to get them out of here, be the hero Peta-Lorrum pretended to be.”

Her own smile faded, and glowered at him.

“Except I’m not here to talk about them; they’re dealt with. I doubt they’ll last a day in here. Potter and Weasley are trying to fight it, but the little girls are already broken.”

He let out a barking laugh.

“No, they’re not a problem anymore, so I’m here to talk about you.”

Hermione remembered how much Sally-Anne hated Dementors. While they’d practiced she Patronus Charm, it’d been Sally-Anne that had triggered the Boggart Professor Lupin had. She doubted that much had changed since then.

“When you were at Hogwarts, Peta-Lorrum was always there to rescue you. Like with that troll.”

She focused all her willpower on not talking.

“See, I think she let the troll in herself. There was never proof that… what was his name… Quirrell! There was no proof he did it. But after that, you two were buddies.”

She ground her teeth together, trying not to respond.

“Everyone else could see that she was rotten. So what’s wrong with you, Mudblood?”

“Nothing’s wrong with me, like there’s nothing wrong with Rose!”

She caught Rose’s eye. She shook her head slowly.

I expect better of you, Brain. You’re clever; what can you use against him?

Over Shawx’s laughter, Hermione began to calm herself down.

“Does your mother know what you do, Shawx?”

The laughter stopped at the word “mother”. In a matter of a few seconds, they’d reversed roles, down to their demeanor.

“She doesn’t, does she? She can’t, because she’s dead.”

Shawx pulled out his wand and leveled it at her.

She held her smile at him, counting the seconds tick by, wondering how he’d react. She’d found his weak spot, and he wasn’t pleased.

He lowered his wand and a smile curled over his face.

“You’re right, Mudblood. Me mum is dead. She went mad, killed me dad. Then she tried to kill me. But Ol’ Shawxy’s a survivor. Always have been.”

He walked over to the door to her cell as he spoke.

“I can see it in you. I always know the murderers. That Weasley girl’s got blood on her hands, hasn’t she? But it ain’t Scrimgeour’s blood.”

He unlocked the door, and she moved away. She watched him, her smile gone.

“I suppose it takes one to know one.”

“Who’d you kill, Mudblood?”

Hermione couldn’t look anyone in the eye, much less Shawx. He walked closer to her, backing her into the corner.

“The list of people you’d kill ain’t long, Mudblood. They didn’t say nothing about you killing somebody, so I think you tricked everyone. You’re a clever little girl. I bet you thought no one would ever catch you.”

Hermione remembered clearly her last moments with Rose. Her eyes instinctively glanced down at Reflectesalon.

“You wouldn’t kill some random bloke off the street. You’d have to know ’em first.”

“I’m not a killer.”

Shawx’s smile widened, and Hermione regretted opening her mouth.

“Which one was it, Mudblood? Longbottom or Peta-Lorrum?”

Hermione opened her mouth again to tell him off, but she couldn’t make herself speak.

“Or was it both?”

“I… I…”

She felt the hard stone wall against her back, but Shawx kept advancing.

“See, Mudblood? We ain’t different at all. Except I’m not filth like you.” He stood up straighter. “I’m better than you. I’m the closest thing to a warden Azkaban’s got. Even the Minister of Magic knows who I am. Asked for me personally.”

Hermione leapt to the side, but Shawx flicked his wand and sent her sprawling. Then he slammed his boot onto her, knocking the wind out of her.

“Like I said before, I’m all you’ve got. You ought to show me some respect. I don’t sit around and talk with just anyone.”

Hermione could hear her heart beating in her ears. Until Moon verified that the notebook was in the graveyard, she wouldn’t make her move.

“It’s time you paid me some respect.”

He kicked her stomach, and a cry escaped her mouth.

“It’s me or the Dementors.”

He grabbed her and dragged her off the ground, then slammed her against the wall.

“What’s it gonna be, Mudblood?” he asked, his face once again inches from hers. “Me or them?”

Hermione thought about her friends. She thought about Moon. The notebook was somewhere in Azkaban, but they wouldn’t have long to search for it together. They had to find it, otherwise this would all be meaningless.

As she thought, Shawx’s face moved closer to hers.

“Me or them, Mudblood.”

<I’m ten minutes away.>

With Moon’s word, an idea entered her head. With what little willpower she had left, she forced herself to smile.

“Shawxy, when did you last have to bury someone here?”

She didn’t wait for him to answer. Instead, she focused her entire mind on getting inside his. Instantly, she was shown flashes of the graveyard, and received the knowledge that it’d only been a few months ago. She mapped out the entire area from pieces of information inside his head. She looked over the grass, the gravestones, the walls, even the names.

Then she found it. A grave he’d looked at for a split second, but had immediately gotten distracted. As if someone had enchanted it to do that. All she needed was that second; the name on the grave was still in his head.

<It’s in the graveyard. I’ll meet you there as soon as possible.>

“Thank you, Shawx. You’ve been a big help.”

He mirrored her smile for a second. That’s how long it took him to notice the cracks forming in the wall behind her, and the ooze seeping out.

Shawx leapt back and fired a Stunner at her. A black tentacle sprang out of the wall to intercept it.

“What the Hell?”

“I’ll let you in on a secret, Shawx, because I know no one will believe you,” Hermione said, walking closer to him. “I killed Rose. She died in my arms. Her mind had been poisoned.”

Shawx ran out of the cell and closed the door. He tried a Killing Curse this time, but Hermione allowed it to strike her.

A mixture of horror, anger, and confusion came over Shawx, but he fired on her again. She disassembled the spell, then dissolved the cell doors.

“What are you?”

“Like you said, Shawxy. I’m a monster, like you. But unlike you, I’m getting out of here. I’m breaking my friends out of here. And then I’m coming for Dolores Umbridge.”

The ooze grabbed Shawx before he could get any farther and crawled up his legs. On Hermione’s command, it forced its way into every crack and cut it could find, seeping into Shawx’s body. Like attaching strings to a puppet.

“Filthy Mudblood!”

“Kneel,” she commanded.

Shawx grunted, refusing her control. In retaliation, the ooze caused every nerve in his body to register searing pain.

“It’s going to keep doing that unless you listen,” Hermione said as he screamed.

Shawx begrudgingly got to his knees.

“I’ll say this one more time, Shawx, nice and slow so you can understand it.” She looked down at him as he was forced to look at her.

“My name,” she said, “is Brain.”

Shawx glared at her, defiance in his eyes.

“Now,” Hermione said, “be a good little boy and take me to my friends’ cells.”

Ron sat quietly in his cell, hoping not to draw the attention of any passing Dementors. After a while, something new went past his cell.

Shawx, the guard that had overseen him when he’d arrived walked up to his cell and unlocked it.

“Come on, Weasley,” he said through gritted teeth. “You’re free to go.”

Ron walked closer, into the light of a patronus charm. That light sent a warmth through his body, chasing away the effects of the dementors. When he looked at the patronus charm, he realized he recognized it: it was an otter. Which probably meant…

“Are you alright?” Hermione asked. To Shawx, she ordered, “give him some of the chocolate.”

Looking as though it were painful to do so, Shawx handed Ron a piece of chocolate.

Ron looked it over, then took a bite of it. What remaining effects from the Dementors faded away, leaving his mind clear.

“We’ve got to find the others,” he said, turning to Hermione. “Where are they?”

“Next closest is Skyeyes,” she said, turning to Shawx. “Shawxy, sweety, if you’d be so kind as to lead the way to Harry’s cell.”

Ron looked from Hermione to Shawx, then caught sight of the black ooze at Hermione’s feet. It ran from her to him, then up Shawx’s legs. She was controlling him like a marionette.

Shawx ground his teeth together, but obeyed her nonetheless.

Ron didn’t say a word while they walked until they ran into another guard. Hermione fired a wandless stunner at the new guard, and he dropped to the ground.

“Shawx, hand his wand to Ron, please.”

As he was ordered to, Shawx handed the wand to Ron.

“Can you cast a patronus?” Hermione asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Learn.” To Shawx, she said, “Harry’s cell. Come on.”

Ron pulled up every happy memory he could think of while they walked. When he tried thinking of them, Sally-Anne’s face kept popping into his head.

Expecto Patronum!

As the thought of his friend filled him with warmth, a bright light shot from the end of his wand that took the shape of a dog. This seemed to delight the otter, that began to swoop and dive around the dog.

“The loyal dog,” Hermione said. “The pack leader. That’s very you.”

Ron smiled, although he was sure it came out awkwardly. He held onto the thought that Sally-Anne would be alright, that his miscalculation wouldn’t cost her dearly.

They reached Harry’s cell next. By then, they’d acquired a few more wands. Hermione had Shawx hand Harry a wand and chocolate.

“Shawxy, while I’m thinking of it, where would the Ministry have put anything they confiscated from them?”

“That’s not my problem.”

“Hmm,” Hermione hmm’d. “Oh well, I’ll have to make friends with someone who’d know.”

Harry shot Ron a questioning glance. Ron replied with a shrug.

Harry cast his own patronus as they made their way to Ginny’s cell.

When they reached Ginny’s cell, she refused to look up. She wouldn’t move at all. She stayed in the corner, curled up, crying.

“Firecracker, it’s me,” Harry said, walking slowly into the cell, his stag patronus walking beside him. “We’ve come to get you out.”

It was almost as though life itself had been restored to her. She picked up her head, and threw herself at Harry.

“Skyeyes,” she sobbed. “I… I hate it here! I want to go home!”

Ron stayed focused on his happy memories, rather than at his anger over what they’d done to her. Ginny had been having trouble before; if she ever returned to something that resembled her old self, it’d be a miracle.

Harry exchanged a quick glance with him, and Ron saw the same feeling in him, the same resolve to make Umbridge pay.

“Shawxy,” Hermione said, nodding to Ginny.

Once again, Shawx handed over chocolate and a wand. Ginny tried, but couldn’t conjure her own patronus.

“We can make do with what we’ve got,” Hermione said.

Ron was thankful for her sympathy. He hadn’t been sure; she seemed so detached, cold even. It was as if they were a side project, irrelevant to her primary goal. A goal she still hadn’t shared with the rest of them, nor was Ron sure he wanted her to.

They moved along, and Ron felt anxiety building in him. He wanted to see Sally-Anne, to know that she was okay. He longed to see her. Would she be the same? Would she have broken like Ginny?

He struggled to stay focused on their goal, on the thought of Sally-Anne. It was happy enough to keep his patronus going, and that was the important thing.

Harry didn’t say a word the entire way there. He stayed by Ginny’s side, putting his arm around her every so often when it looked like she was about to break.

Finally, after what felt like hours, they reached Sally-Anne’s cell. Like the others, she sat in the corner, watching everything, but Ron could see fear in her eyes. When they walked into view, she looked at each of them, but stopped on Ron.

Hermione nodded to the door, which Shawx handled. The moment he did, Ron raced inside.

Sally-Anne ran to meet him, and the next thing he knew, they were in each other’s arms and their lips met.

“About time,” Harry muttered.

“I was so worried about you,” Ron said. “I thought—”

“Me? Why care about me?” Sally-Anne asked. “I haven’t got my dress, or ribbon, and—”

Ron cut her off by kissing her again. His heart raced, his hands trembled, but none of it mattered.

“You think I care about any of that?” he asked. “I—”

“We’re on the clock,” Hermione said, “so keep it moving. Once we get out of here, I’m sure you two can find a room alone.”

Ron and Sally-Anne both blushed.

“Get out here,” Hermione said. “Shawx, wand and chocolate, then show us where the spare uniforms are kept. You lot are going to pass for guards and walk out the front door.”

As they walked out, Harry muttered, “told you”, although he seemed to say it to Sally-Anne as much as to Ron.

Everyone did as Hermione commanded, then Shawx once again led the way through Azkaban. He stopped in a locker room, where he pointed out the spare uniforms.

“Get changed,” Hermione ordered. “Now.”

They ducked inside changing rooms, Sally-Anne and Ginny in one, and Harry and Ron in another. Ron was thankful to get out of the rags they’d forced him into.

Once they’d changed, Shawx led them to the front gate, where several ships were docked. Under Hermione’s command, who herself stayed to the shadows, Shawx explained that he was sending the four of them out for reinforcements from the Ministry, expecting an escape attempt. Ron turned back to Hermione one more time, then got on the boat with the others.

<I’ll meet you all at Grimmauld Place,> she told them. <I’ll explain everything there. Do not go back to Hogwarts. Whatever you do, do not go back to Hogwarts.>

<Why not?> Harry asked, even though they all knew the answer.

<Because it isn’t safe, not now that you’ve seen me.>

Ron wanted to get more out of her, but figured Hermione wasn’t about to explain herself now. He got on the boat, slipped his hand into Sally-Anne’s, and settled in for the voyage back home.

Hermione followed a begrudging Shawx to the graveyard. As they walked, she gave directions to Moon. She didn’t trust Shawx, but she did trust the strings she had attached to him. He would listen, so long as the ooze was inside him.

They reached an open space, and Hermione felt soft ground under her feet for the first time in what felt like months. Grave stones covered the area. Few of them had names on them. It didn’t surprise her; why care about dead prisoners? If the way Shawx had treated her was reflective of his treatment of the other prisoners, then it surprised her that they even bothered burying them.

“Now what?” Shawx asked through gritted teeth.

“We wait for my partner,” Hermione said. “She’ll be here any minute.”

Right on cue, Moon walked into view from the other side of the graveyard. She looked about as she always had, with her reinforced silk dress, the broach Neville had gotten her, and her pendant from Rose. Tutela and Crookshanks were by her side.

“Just as much of a freak as you are,” Shawx muttered.

“Thank you,” Hermione replied. “That’s so sweet of you, Shawx.”

She walked over to Moon, a broad smile on her face. Moon’s blind gaze didn’t move, but she smiled at Hermione nonetheless. She ran to Hermione and threw her arms around her.

“I’m glad you’re alright,” Moon said. “I’ve missed you.”

“I missed you too, Moon,” Hermione replied. “Have you any idea where we’re looking?”

Moon stepped back and stooped down, touching her fingers to the ground.

“There’s a tunnel under that one,” she said, pointing to one of the graves.

Hermione walked over to the grave in question. Unlike most of the others, this one had a name on it. The name she’d seen for a second in Shawx’s head.

“What’s it say?” Moon asked, walking over to her.

“What else?” Hermione asked. “Rose Peta-Lorrum.”

She turned back to Shawx.

“Thank you, Shawx,” she said in a kind voice. “You’ve been a big help. I couldn’t have done this without you.”

With only a thought, Hermione had the ooze render Shawx unconscious. After she’d dealt with him, it faded away, its purpose finished for the moment.

When Hermione turned her attention back to the grave, she and Moon began to dig. Rather, Moon used magic to move the earth out of their way.

Sure enough, there was a tunnel underneath it. It stretched far below them out of sight.

With Tutela behind them and Crookshanks up ahead, the four of them ventured into the cavern. Dirt soon gave way to stone as they ventured further. As they walked, torches lit up, revealing pictures carved into the stone tunnel.

Hermione looked at them, then realized what she was seeing.

The first one that caught her eye was of a man and woman holding a baby in their arms. Not long after there was a picture of a large man and a girl next to him. They seemed to be talking while standing over an anvil.

“Moon, come here a moment.”

Moon walked over to her, and Hermione took her arm and pressed it on the carving.

After a minute, Moon took her hand away.

“That’s Mr. Grund and Rose,” she said.

“That’s what I thought. She’s got more carvings all along the tunnel. I think they’re depicting her life.”

They walked farther down the tunnel, stopping every so often for Moon to examine another picture.

They saw one of Rose standing next to Mr. Grund, watching her parents walk off. Another had them working on a shield together.

“That’s the shield Mr. Grund hangs in his workshop,” Moon said. “Rose was right about it, and it reminds him that he can be wrong.”

Another picture had Rose sitting with a bunch of Dwarves around a table. Everyone held a glass in their hands.

“She never gave me a straight answer,” Hermione said, “about whether her parents knew Mr. Grund took her to a tavern.”

“They gave her milk. Mr. Grund loved her very much. He wouldn’t endanger her.”

As they got further, they found another picture of the Dwarves bidding farewell to Rose and her family. Hermione knew this because they were giving her the dress she would one day enchant and refuse to take off.

The next picture showed Rose and her parents arriving on Faera.

“They went for the Faera Festival,” Moon said. “All three academies demonstrated their students and teachings.”

“I know,” Hermione said. “I can’t imagine something like that here. We’ve got the Triwizard Tournament instead.”

It bothered Hermione that there was something in Rose’s world that was tamer than Hermione’s world’s equivalent.

As expected, the next picture was of Rose meeting Professor Ozerl for the first time.

“He gave her a puzzle box,” Hermione said, smiling. “And she solved it faster than anyone he’d seen.”

“That’s because Rose is the best.”

Hermione smiled as they walked through Rose’s life. There were pictures of her parents bringing her to Arcrel, of Rose taking classes there.

They came to one of Rose in tears, with Professor Ozerl standing by her side.

“Poor Rose,” Hermione whispered.

The next one had Rose curled up while students mocked and jeered her. The next had her lying on the ground as they beat her.

Hermione felt a sharp pain at the memories of her first few months at Hogwarts. No wonder she and Rose had gotten along so well; they’d gone through similar experiences. At the same time, she wished she could’ve been there for Rose to tell off the bullies that had made her life so miserable, just as Rose had done for her.

After that, they found one with Rose sitting with Ozerl again, but this one had another elf.

“Sk’lar,” Moon said when she felt the carving.

“He was visiting Arcrel to see if Professor Ozerl had heard anything about the Episti Headmaster’s disappearance.”

Not long after that, another familiar face entered the pictures. Alice stood with Sk’lar and Ozerl, grinning at Rose. Even without her pink hair, there was no mistaking Rose’s older sister.

They walked past more pictures of Rose’s time at Arcrel, finally passing her graduation, after which Alice had left. After that. Rose had started her workshop and began selling her creations.

Then they came upon a picture of Rose talking to a short figure in a mask and cloak.

“Shadow,” Hermione muttered. “Rose loved her so much.”

Guilt crept into Hermione’s heart. Did Rose’s family know what had happened? Were they part of the plan? What about Shadow? Hermione felt a little like she’d stolen Rose from her. It made her sick to think about the suffering they must’ve gone through.

“Do you think they know?” Hermione asked.

“I don’t know. But Rose must’ve thought of something.”

They walked past pictures of Rose with the Exalted. Rose never fought with them, only ever gave them help. Sk’lar was too protective of his little sister to let her go into combat.

They went past one of Rose staring at Sk’lar, seeing the guilt at losing Carolina eating him from the inside out. Another picture had Carolina restored to life, a gift from EL.

Soon, they passed Rose sitting with Shadow in her workshop, the moment the other Exalted had abandoned Shadow and she’d gone to Rose. She’d yelled at Rose before that, angered by their trust for Aurora Lux. Rose had been one more thing to annoy her, but even then, Rose welcomed Shadow into her home when Shadow had needed someone.

She’d told me she was a monster, Rose had said. I took her hand and had her hold her knife to my throat. I said that if she was a monster, then she should kill me so I don’t tell anyone about her. It was the practical thing to do, but she wouldn’t do it. That’s how I knew she wasn’t a monster.

After that, Hermione and Moon passed Rose and Shadow facing down the real Aurora Lux, who’d trapped the other Exalted and left them to die.

Hermione knew what that meant. That meant Valignatiejir was next. Sure enough, the next picture had Rose cowering before him. The great dragon towered over her, a sneer on his maw. The next picture had Sk’lar cradling a dead Rose in his arms. After that, the conclusion of the story, Rose stood between Valignatiejir and his head.

The next picture had Rose hugging her parents, and Hermione smiled. Part of her wished that Rose’s story could’ve ended there, giving the girl the happily ever after she deserved.

They walked on, seeing the destruction of Thars. A few more, then Hermione saw a door ahead of them. The last picture was of Rose and her entire family, all of them smiling and happy.

The door itself bore the Hogwarts crest. When they reached it, it shuddered and opened for them.

They found themselves in a large cavern, lined with torches that lit up when they entered. A pedestal stood in the middle of the room, surrounded by what looked like three coffins, all stretching away from the pedestal.

Hermione looked around, trying to spot any traps that laid in wait for them.

<Anything?> she asked Moon.

<Clear,> Moon replied.

Despite not sensing any traps, the three of them approached with caution. They couldn’t be too careful.

Hermione looked around, but it seemed to be an ordinary, square cavern. As she approached the three coffins, she saw the pictures on them.

The first was of a small gnome-like creature with goggles and a hammer. On the next coffin, there was a stick figure with a narrow head and slits for its eyes. The final picture was of a striped ferret with wings.

“Her homunculi,” Hermione breathed. “I’ll bet they’re the ones that made this. They must’ve built this, then sealed themselves in.”

Hermione didn’t dare open the coffins. She didn’t need to see Intelligencer, Obtenabar, or Inar reduced to clay. It was hard enough the first time to think of it. She didn’t need to see it.

Tutela sat down next to the coffins and bowed her head. Moon walked over to her, knelt down, and followed suit. After watching them, Hermione did the same. Even Crookshanks sat still.

“‘My brothers and sister’,” Moon said, relaying Tutela’s words. “‘Fallen for our lady. You served her well. Take your rest; you’ve earned it.’”

They sat there for a few minutes before Tutela stood up. Hermione and Moon did the same, then Hermione approached the pedestal in the center of the room.

At first, it appeared to be empty. Nothing but dust and rock. Hermione frowned at it, looking it over for any clue. When she couldn’t find one, she placed her hand on it.

The stone slid away, and a slab rose out of the opening. On top of the slab was what they’d been searching for for the past several months. The answers for which Hermione had yearned for years.

Rose’s notebook sat on top of the pedestal.

“There it is,” Hermione said, knowing Moon couldn’t see it. “Well, Moon, are you ready to find out what really happened to Rose?”

Chapter Text

Eric had a good sense for when something hadn’t gone according to plan. While his special forces hadn’t told him their exact plan, he knew he should’ve heard from them or Sarah before long. When he hadn’t heard anything from them by the morning they should’ve been back, he began to take action.

Before he could get a plan going, word came in the form of a copy of the Daily Prophet.


Last night, Ronald Weasley, Sally-Anne Perks, Ginevra Weasley, and Harry Potter were caught red-handed attempting to break into the Ministry of Magic. The four delinquents assaulted Ministry officials, including the former Minister of Magic, Rufus Scrimgeour. After sneaking inside, they brutally murdered Scrimgeour. Fortunately, Dolores Umbridge, who succeeds Scrimgeour as Minister, led a counterattack and thwarted their attempts at further chaos.

“This is a sad day indeed,” Minister Umbridge told the Prophet. “I’ve seen the awful state of things at Hogwarts before, but to think that they would teach such barbaric behavior is simply unthinkable. People should remain alert until we’ve contained the situation, which I will do everything in my power to rectify immediately.”

The four criminals were arrested for murder and sent to Azkaban. They will join another former Hogwarts student, Hermione Granger, who was arrested on charges of breaking into Gringotts, theft, and suspected terrorism and treason.

Before he’d finished reading the article, the phone rang. Eric stared at it for a moment, wondering what the odds were that it wasn’t the Prime Minister asking for an update.

“Is there news?”

Eric glanced down at the article before answering.

“We need to meet.”

Wilfred stared at the empty kitchen table. He knew he should’ve been eating, but he had no appetite. His wife was imprisoned, and according to the Daily Prophet, his daughter was as well.

He walked over to the phone, picked it up, then put it back on the receiver. Who was there to call? Eric wouldn’t be available; he’d be dealing with the fallout of the past few weeks. The Weasleys wouldn’t know anything more, and if the Grangers accepted his calls, it’d be a minor miracle.

Returning to the kitchen table, he slumped in his chair. A small sign, some piece of good news, was all he wanted. It wasn’t looking like he was going to be getting anything any time soon.

Arthur and Percy Weasley had to maneuver reporters and Ministry officials to get to their real quarry: the new Minister of Magic. Failing that, they wanted at least to find someone that would answer their questions.

“You want a statement?” Percy said, losing his patience with the band of reporters following them. “My brother and sister aren’t murderers.”

Arthur pulled his son back. They walked into the elevator, where Arthur closed it to give them some small piece of privacy.

“Talking to them only encourages them,” he said. “Trust me.”

“Something’s not right,” Percy said. “I can see them sneaking off in the middle of the night, but why come here? What were they doing?”

“I wish I could tell you. We won’t know until we can talk to them ourselves.”

“Azkaban.” Percy held back a shudder at the thought of it. “After everything Ginny’s been through…”

The elevator doors opened and the two men strode into the Minister’s office.

“Minister Umbridge is out,” the secretary said without looking up. “Can I help you?”

Arthur walked up to the desk and slammed his hands on it.

“My name’s Arthur Weasley. I’m the Head of the Office for the Detection and Confiscation of Counterfeit Defensive Spells and Protective Objects. My underage daughter was taken to Azkaban without so much as a trial or anyone informing me or my family. Minister Umbridge has violated at least four different laws in doing so. I demand to speak with her at once.”

The secretary looked from him to Percy, then back to him.

“There’s nothing I can do, Mr. Weasley, apart from telling her you want to talk to her.”

Arthur narrowed his eyes, but knew he’d have to climb over layers of bureaucracy before he got answers.

“Fine. I’ll be back tomorrow.” He straightened himself up. “And the next day, and the next. One way or another, I will have answers.”

He turned around and told Percy to follow him.

“What next?” Percy asked. “I can talk with—”

“She’s avoiding us,” Arthur said. “It’s common in situations like these. I imagine those laws about which I spoke will be dismantled in no time, if she didn’t have Scrimgeour put holes in them already.”

“So that’s it? Ron and Ginny just—”

Arthur rounded on his son, his anger more apparent than he wanted it.

“No, that’s not it, Percy. There’s always a way. Umbridge used an Unforgivable Curse on a student two years ago. She abused students, dosed them with Veritaserum without their consent. We’ve got a list of complaints against her. Something in there will give us our answer.”


Before he could say anything, the lift arrived, bringing with it a familiar face.

“I said MOVE!” Alex shouted, shoving other officials out of the way.

One poor soul tried to catch up to her, but she rounded on him. Narrowing her eyes, she didn’t say a word. She stared the man down until he backed off.


She turned her glare on him, then eased up a little.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “What’s Sally-Anne doing in Azkaban? What are they talking about with murder? Sally-Anne can’t kill anyone. Harry would never use anything worse than a Stunner, and Ron wouldn’t let himself get caught.”

“Are you saying my children are capable of murder?” Arthur asked her, his voice taking on a threatening edge.

“What? No, of course not! They’re not that impulsive, no matter what happened with Ginny last year.”

“Umbridge isn’t here,” Percy said. “No one’s telling us anything.”

“What about visiting them?” Alex asked, turning to Arthur. “Can’t you get inside Azkaban?”

Arthur shook his head.

“Not without a pass from the Minister of Magic.”

He motioned towards the lift.

“We shouldn’t discuss anything else here.”

Alex and Percy exchanged glances. It was clear they both wanted to wait for answers, but they knew they weren’t getting them. Instead, they followed Arthur out of the Ministry of Magic.

Lucius knew better than to get involved in anything scandalous directly. Instead, he let other people do it for him. His network spread out over the Ministry, cultivating information for him. Nothing happened anymore that he didn’t know about. He knew where the children had been when they’d been taken, which already gave him a significant piece of information. Fortunately, part of Umbridge’s plan involved deniability, which meant there was no surveillance in the holding cells. If you knew the right people, you could get a message to one of the prisoners without anyone knowing. And Lucius Malfoy knew all the right people.

Unfortunately, there were limits to even his reach. He couldn’t get inside Azkaban; Umbridge had ensured that no one but her could speak with them, but he had alternatives. He had ways to see inside the prison, even if he couldn’t get inside the prison.

He was one of a few people with all the answers; what came next involved getting in touch with the other people that had the answers.

Eric sat in the Prime Minister’s office. Neither one said anything after Eric had explained what he could, leaving out the part about sending in 18-year-olds as his special task force. There were no drinks, no lighthearted jokes; they were beyond both.

“What are our options?” the Prime Minister asked.

Eric gathered his thoughts, speaking slowly to give himself time to think.

“We have no reliable means of getting inside the Ministry of Magic. We’ve reached out to them, but they’ve declined to answer.”

“They have a base, right in the middle of London, that we can’t enter.”

Eric closed his eyes, then nodded.

“And they’ve taken at least one person inside.”

Again, he nodded.

“What’s been stopping them from taking more of our people prisoner?”

“The possibility of a war. A war that they didn’t want, and one they likely wouldn’t win.”


Eric nodded again.


“What about our insiders? What happened to them?”

“Umbridge has been removing them one by one. With one exception, everyone who knows about my boss has been removed. That exception can’t be relied upon to help us.”

Once again, silence fell over the room. Eric hated not having answers, but they were out of options. Unless Hermione showed herself (he didn’t believe for a second that she couldn’t escape Azkaban on her own), they had nothing. Without access to Sally-Anne or her friends, they had no line of communication to anyone that could help. McGonagall wouldn’t be able to do anything with Umbridge in control. The first thing Umbridge was likely to do was to go after Hogwarts, the only potential threat to her power, not to mention it was still a black mark in her record.

“It seems that the diplomatic approach is no longer an option,” the Minister said. “This Umbridge woman broke tradition by not meeting with me when she took office.”

“It’s possible she’ll come after you next,” Eric said. “She doesn’t see us as a threat, but there’s still a chance. We’ll heighten security here just in case.”

The Minister frowned.

“What security?”

“I’ve got at least one agent with you at all times.”

Another minute of silence passed. Eric held his tongue, letting the Minister speak first.

“What are our options?”

“Umbridge wants a war. Right now, we should avoid that. I’ll put things in motion, and—”

“What things?”

“It’s best you don’t know, Sir.”

Eric waited, but the Prime Minister didn’t question him further about his plans. It was just as well; his plan was to buy more time and hope for a miracle. Hermione didn’t want Umbridge in control either, and she must’ve gotten in touch with the others in Azkaban.

“You’ve got three days, Eric. After that, we give Umbridge her war.”

Eric nodded, then collected his things and left.

On his way out of the building, someone brushed past him and slipped something into his pocket. Eric picked a spot outside of town and started driving. When he was far enough away from anything important, he pulled the piece of paper out of his pocket.

They’ve escaped.

He took the lighter out of his pocket, checked for invisible ink, then burned the paper. “They” meant Sally-Anne and her friends, and the style of delivery meant Lucius Malfoy was helping from the inside. Eric’s allotted three days to stop a war were starting to look possible. That left the question of getting in contact with Sally-Anne.

Eric pulled out a map and started plotting his course. He had plenty of stops to make, but he didn’t have to do everything himself. If Sally-Anne had gotten out of Azkaban, it was only a matter of time before Umbridge became aware of it. The moment she did, she’d go after their families. She knew where all of them lived, which meant he had to get to them first.

Weasleys are here, Lovegood’s here, Black’s there, Grangers are there, and Wilfred’s there.

He made no physical marks on the map, lest someone get their hands on him. Wilfred had to be the first stop; the Magicals all stood a fighting chance against Aurors, so the Grangers and Wilfred had to be first. Once he got to Wilfred, he could start getting in touch with the others.

Mobile phones, he thought as he got back in the car. We must have the budget for mobile phones, we’ve got more radios than we know what to do with.

Since the time he’d sat down at the kitchen table that morning, Wilfred had only moved to relocate himself to the couch. Instead of staring at an empty kitchen table, he stared at a blank television screen. What else was there to do? He couldn’t get Sarah or Sally-Anne to safety, but he couldn’t convince himself that Eric would fix it.

He wanted to be angry at Eric, but he couldn’t find it in him. He couldn’t doubt that Eric cared for Sally-Anne and Sarah. The worst had happened, and there was nothing anyone could do.

I bet this is how Dan and Emma feel all the time when Hermione’s not there.

He looked over at the phone, considering calling them. They knew Hermione was in Azkaban; when she’d been arrested, Sarah had been their first call. It’d taken both he and Sarah to calm them down. Would they want to talk to him?

A knock on the door jolted him awake. He stood up, his joints creaking, and stumbled over to the door.


Wilfred opened the door, trying to remember everything his wife had told him about spotting an impostor.

It looked like Eric, if a little less well kept than usual (something Wilfred wouldn’t have thought possible).

“They’ve escaped,” Eric said. “I got word less than an hour ago. We’ve got to move.”

Wilfred lit up, but then frowned. That seemed too good to be true, not to mention the urging of Eric to leave.


Eric motioned inside, but Wilfred walked outside and closed the door.

“They’ve escaped,” Eric said again. “I don’t know how, I don’t have details, but if they’ve escaped, then we’ve got to warn the other families. Umbridge is almost certainly going to go after them next.”

Wilfred narrowed his eyes.

“How do I know that’s really you?”

“The toast I gave you two at your wedding involved the words ‘bumpkin’ and ‘Wilfalicious’.”

Wilfred opened the door again.

“Yeah, that’s you. Let me get my coat.”

Eric walked inside with him.

“You’ve got to give the Grangers a call. They don’t trust me.”

Wilfred turned back to him for a moment.

“I can’t think why. You’ve got such an honest look about you.”

Eric rolled his eyes before closing the door behind him.

As Wilfred went for the phone, something occurred to him.

“Let’s say we get the Grangers. What then? Where do we go?”

“ESIS has got secure facilities everywhere. Umbridge will never crack Sarah, so they won’t be in any danger.”

Wilfred picked up the phone and started dialing.

“Good,” Eric said, turning around. “I’ll start heading over there.” He scribbled an address on a piece of paper and handed it to Wilfred. “That’s where we’re all going. Tell them I’m on my way, then start getting to the site yourself.”

“Can’t we just tell them to go there?”

Eric shook his head.

“We don’t know who’s with them. Tell them to stay alert, and—”

“It’s the middle of the day,” Wilfred said. “They’re at work.”

Eric swore under his breath, receiving a glare from Wilfred.

“At least they’ll be safe,” Eric said. “I doubt Umbridge cares where they work.”

Wilfred held a finger to his lips, then started speaking.

“Dan, Emma, it’s Wilfred. I’m calling to let you know our friend Eric wants to stop by for a visit. Otherwise, he’ll show up without warning. Don’t open the door for anyone else, and stay alert. I’ll see you soon. Bye.”

He hung up the phone, realizing how odd that must’ve sounded.

They know the Magical World; it’s all odd.

Eric was already out the door when Wilfred grabbed his coat. He recited the address in his head again, then locked up and went to his car.

It’s going to be a long day.

Sirius paced around his flat, looking at the window at every small sound. The ticking of the clock was going to drive him mad. Someone must know something, but stepping foot inside the Ministry of Magic might as well be suicide for him.

He’ll be fine. He’ll be fine.

He looked at a picture of James and Lily again. They’d been watching him for the past hour.

“What? This isn’t my fault. How was I supposed to know this would happen?”

His ramblings were interrupted by a knock on the door.

Please be Harry.

He walked over to the door and checked who it was before opening it. Not only was it not Harry, but he recognized the robes of Aurors when he saw them.

“Sirius Black!”

Another knock on the door, this one louder than the last.

Sirius backed away and looked around the room, trying to come up with a plan. He couldn’t apparate, but he could get out through the window.

You don’t know that they’re there to arrest you, Moony would’ve said.

What else would they be doing?

There was a series of clicks at the door, signaling that they were unlocking it. Sirius backed up and drew his wand.

The door swung open, revealing the three Aurors. Once they spotted him, they trained their wands as well.

“Lower your wand!”

“You first! This is my flat!”

“Not anymore! You’re wanted in connection with a prison break made earlier today!”

A quick laugh escaped his mouth.

“They got out?” he asked.

“Like you don’t know. No one’s ever escaped Azkaban, apart from you.”

“And Bellatrix Lestrange, Peter Pettigrew, the Carrows—”

“All your old friends,” the leader said.

“They are not my friends!”

“But Harry Potter is your godson!”

Sirius kept all three of them in his field of view. They were fanning out, trying to surround him. While they did, he backed up, hoping he wasn’t about to run out of room.

I’ve escaped worse than you three.

He wasn’t ready to go on the run again, but he’d done it enough that he knew how to improvise. He always had an escape route ready.

Wish Alavel or Taltria were here to help.

He looked over them again, figuring out which one would be the easiest to get past.

“Put down your wand!” the leader barked.

“I haven’t done anything wrong!”

“You’re resisting arrest!”

“Unlawful arrest!”

“The Ministry of Magic makes the laws! If we say you’re under arrest, then you’re under arrest!”

The Aurors all moved at once. They’d given up on trying to surround him. Instead, they went after him as one, all firing spells.

Instead of firing back, Sirius put his wand in his teeth, then transformed. He dove forward as he did, picking up speed. By the time he was a dog, he was already going fast enough to knock down the leader. Pushing past them, Sirius bolted out the door.

He knew it was only a matter of time before they started after him, so he had to move quickly. If they’d gone after him, they’d be going after everyone. That meant Grimmauld Place was the only safe house left.

As he ran, something crossed his mind. This was the Ministry. They’d know that he’d owned Number Twelve Grimmauld Place, which meant they’d keep it under surveillance. How safe was it?

Eric arrived at the Grangers’ household the same time a trio of Aurors popped up. His first instinct was that they were idiots; without ESIS to cover for them, they were sure to get caught. His second instinct was his firearm.

“What are you doing?” he demanded. “Apparating in broad daylight like that, you’re going to get caught!”

The Magicals turned on him, looked him over, then drew wands.

“Think really carefully about this,” Eric said, training his gun on them. “We’re all out in the open. There’s nowhere to hide, and we aren’t covering for you anymore.”

“We don’t need Muggles!” one shouted. “Let them know we exist! We’ll wipe them out!”

I see Umbridge has already gotten to work recruiting lunatics.

Eric aimed his gun down and shot the one in the kneecaps. He didn’t know who invented silencers, but they were a marvelous creation.

With that one down, another started a spell. Eric swiveled and fired, then fired on the other before he had a chance to act.

With all three down, he pulled out his radio. He gave out orders, tasking his few reliable teams with keeping an eye on Wilfred or descending on the Grangers’ house for damage control.

“We’re gonna have a lot of cleanup to do after this is over.”

He checked his watch. He wouldn’t go to the Grangers’ work directly; that risked him giving them away further. As bad as it’d look to them if he sat around and waited, it was the best way to keep them safe. Not to mention, with this team down, there’d be another one to take its place before long.

We’ve got to collect them now.

He had only the two options: wait for the Grangers and likely get himself killed when Aurors kept arriving, or meet them and risk getting them captured.

“Have someone meet with mama and papa bear. Bring the Man Who Would Be King with you for diplomacy.”

Or Option Three: Delegate. He was always a fan of delegating work he didn’t want to do.

After getting word from Eric, Wilfred met with Dan and Emma at their office.

“We haven’t got time to discuss it,” he told them as the three of them left. “Good news: the kids are out of that place. Bad news: they’re coming after everyone now.”

He rattled off the address that Eric had given him once, then got into his car.

The Grangers did the same, and they started off towards the safe house.

“At least she’s alive,” Dan said. “And getting out.”

“We’ll see her soon, I’m sure,” Emma said, reassuring herself as much as Dan. “She’s made it this far.”

As much as she hated her daughter going out alone, Emma was a little proud of her for making it so far on her own. Now everyone seemed to be against them, and she didn’t know what else to do but wait. If there was one thing the Grangers were good at after almost seven years of Hermione being at Hogwarts, it was waiting for someone to send them news.

Alex sat with the Weasleys at their kitchen table. They were supposed to be eating lunch, but no one was hungry enough to care. The same thing had been on everyone’s mind that day. They were supposed to have all left, but no one wanted to leave before there was news about Sally-Anne and her friends. Bill had insisted Fleur head home, in case anything else happened.

Someone knocked on the door. Everyone exchanged looks, then Mr. Weasley got up to answer it.

Charlie and Bill moved over to the windows. They stayed low so as not to be seen.

“Aurors,” Bill said. “I can count at least two on this side.”

“They wouldn’t bother surrounding us if they were here to talk,” Charlie added.

“It’s a raid,” Percy said.

“They’re not stepping foot in my house,” Mrs. Weasley said, rising to her feet.

Everyone drew their wands. Charlie looked over at Alex, then motioned for her to stay low.

Alex slid out of her chair, keeping low as she was told. She and Charlie crept closer to the front door. Bill moved closer to the back door.

Mrs. Weasley hurried off into another room. Alex didn’t know what for, but she didn’t think it was for safety.

They heard Mr. Weasley open the door.

“What is this?”

“You and your family are coming in for questioning.”

“On what grounds?”

“Can’t say.”

“I’m a Ministry official, you can bloody well tell me what’s going on before arresting any more of my children.”

Charlie crept closer, but motioned for Alex to stay put. She glanced back, and noticed that everyone had spread out. They were covering the house from all sides.

“If you don’t come willingly, we’ll have to use force.”

“I’m not letting you inside this house.”

The Auror pulled his wand, but Charlie fired a Stunner before he could act. Mr. Weasley slammed the door, but the windows were blasted.

Alex held her position behind the sofa, but stole a glance outside. Three wizards — that she could see — were storming the house from the front window. She fired a Stunner at them, but without being able to properly aim, it missed.

From behind her, the others started holding down the back door. Fred and George fortified the other windows, but not before hurling some sort of projectiles at the invaders. When they hit, the balls exploded in a mass of green goo. It held two of them in place, making them sitting targets for Percy and Bill.

One of the wizards reached the front window, but the end table flung itself at them, tackling one to the ground. Alex fired a Stunner while they were distracted and got a lucky hit. With a wave of his wand, Charlie animated some chairs outside to drag them back.

Mr. Weasley moved behind the sofa with Alex.

“Are you alright?”

“I was Rose’s prefect,” Alex said, stealing another glance out the window as Charlie repaired it. “This isn’t the first time I’ve been in danger.”

Perhaps not as many times as her friends…

More wizards appeared on the grounds, but Alex realized what Mrs. Weasley was doing. She was up above them, where she could do what she did best: animation.

A dresser descended upon the new arrivals, followed by a bookshelf. Dozens of clothes and books scattered around them, leaving them open to another of the Twins’ tricks. This time, it was a simple explosion of what looked like pepper. It covered the descending furniture, allowing them to spread it further. It got in their eyes, forcing them to stop.

Someone broke down the door. Mr. Weasley responded by having the door push back, knocking the Auror back out of his house.

“How long do we need to keep this up?” Alex asked.

Mr. Weasley waved his wand, held it to his mouth, and whispered something. He then pointed his wand, but nothing happened.

“Until reinforcements arrive,” he said. “They’ll be coming soon.”

“What’d you do?” she asked as people tried once again to break the window.

“Messenger spell,” he replied. “Dumbledore taught it to me a while back.”

Alex smiled to herself, then moved to join Charlie near the window.

“You alright?” he asked.

“This isn’t my first fight.”

Charlie looked down at a mirror he was holding.


He grabbed her and flung them both away from the window before it exploded. Shrapnel flew into the house, tearing through furniture. Charlie and Alex both cast shield charms to stop the bulk of the damage.

In the ensuing chaos, Aurors moved into the Burrow. Alex and Charlie moved back, but Alex realized she’d been hit by shrapnel. Her body registered the pain, and she stumbled.

Charlie pulled her away from a Stunner, but took one himself.

Alex tried to disarm one of them, but another one disarmed her first.

The back door exploded as a Stunner hit Alex. She went down, unable to move, but still aware of everything.

Reinforcements are coming, she said, helpless to stop Aurors from cutting off her and Charlie from the rest of the Weasleys.

She heard a shout from the kitchen. Percy had been hit. The Twins were moving to help, but they couldn’t fend off everyone. Mr. Weasley started firing left and right, but they were outnumbered. There was nothing else they could do.

Then the ground started moving.

The front of the house contorted. The gap where the window should’ve been split open and moved as someone screamed.


The carpet lifted up, wrapped around two of the intruders, then flung them out through the missing window. The others stood ready to stop the new threat, but the sofa lunged at them. They all fired on it, leaving themselves open to the armchairs that rushed them. The chairs continued charging, carrying people out with them.

The kitchen table reared up, then ran at the people in the back. Bill got out in time, but the intruders weren’t so lucky.

In the front room, Mr. Weasley knocked any stragglers back as he moved towards Alex and Charlie. Once he reached them, clocks swooped in to hold the Aurors’ attention.

“Charlie! Alex! Are you alright?”

Three lamps slithered around the intruders and dragged them out through the broken window. It tossed them back into the yard, where Alex heard the sound of trees slapping people around.

Feeling began returning to her limbs, and she struggled to crane her neck.

Charlie shakily got to his feet, assisted by his dad. He looked at her, then waved away help.

Mr. Weasley tended to her next, helping her to her feet. When she finally had eyes outside, she saw more people appearing, but some of these people she recognized.

A squad of six people had arrived, lead by Alastor Moody and Amelia Bones. Several of the invaders backed away from the Burrow. One or two even apparated.

Moody flicked his wand and sent four wizards sprawling, easy targets for his comrades.

Bones wasn’t so gentle. She flicked her wand from target to target, stunning one after the other. None of them had the chance to fall before another one was hit.

The remaining Aurors fell back, rather than risking going head to head with Bones or Moody.

The pair cleared a path to the Burrow, then slipped in through the broken front door.

“Redecorating, Weasley?” Moody asked Mr. Weasley. “Lousy help you’ve got.”

“Your timing’s impeccable,” Mr. Weasley said, shaking his hand. “I’m afraid we’ll have to abandon this place for the time being.”

“They’ll be back in ten minutes,” Bones said. “Start packing.”

Alex, having nothing to pack, stumbled towards the wall to help her stay upright.

“I’ve got you,” Charlie said, having recovered faster than her. He caught her before she fell over again.

“I’m fine,” she said, trying to wave him away. “Worry about your family.”

Despite her protests, he helped her until a woman with pink hair took over. Alex looked at her new helper, and realized she knew her.


Tonks blinked.

“Alex, right? You’re that Gryffindor that thought she was everyone’s big sister.”

Alex blushed a little as Charlie snickered, but Tonks still smiled.

“Funny how things work out,” Tonks said. “What are you doing these days?”

“Getting attacked by Aurors. You?”

“Getting sacked by the new Minister of Magic.”

The sensation of pins and needles spread over her body, informing her that feeling was back.

“And now we’re here. It is funny how that works out.”

A few minutes later, the Weasleys had gathered up their things, and Mrs. Weasley had repaired as much of the damage as she could.

“Where are we going?” Alex asked.

“Grimmauld Place,” Mrs. Weasley replied. “We’ll fill you in on the details once we get there, Dear.”

Alex nodded. She was more involved now than she wanted to be, but if it meant looking out for her friends, she was on board.

Chapter Text

Congratulations, Brain. You did it.

You’ve got a lot of questions. I’ll pick up where we left off all those years ago.

Slytherin wanted me to collect the Horcruxes so we could kill Voldemort once and for all. It said at the time that it wanted him dead because he killed in Slytherin’s name. I’ve since learned that that was one of many lies it told me. I’d gathered them all in the Chamber of Secrets, where I tried to resurrect Voldemort. If I had, Slytherin would’ve rewritten Voldemort’s brain, altering his personality so Voldemort would regret what he’d done. It’d rejoin the Horcruxes (which I guess had to be present), then I’d get to kill him.

That didn’t go exactly as planned.

June 1995

Rose stood over the corpse of Tom Riddle she’d created. One wish to restore his body, another to restore the soul.

“It didn’t work,” Rose said.

For a moment, she felt Shadow’s stare on her. A sob welled up in her throat, but she fought it back down. She needed to stay strong around Slytherin.

“I noticed,” Slytherin said. “Why didn’t it work?”

Rose frowned for a moment, then launched into an explanation about how wish restored the soul to a body. While she didn’t know as much about it as Sk’lar did, she knew something.

“Didn’t you say the Horcruxes anchored his soul?” Rose asked after she’d finished.

“They may be stopping his soul from returning to another body.”

Rose thought of Brain, then wondered if this meant she could leave. She knew better than to vocalize anything around Slytherin. She wasn’t sure if they were friends or not, but there was no sense giving away too much of herself. Not that Slytherin didn’t know enough already.

She tried the wish again, but there was still nothing.

“Plan B.”

Knowing that Slytherin would have to eventually, Rose waited for it to explain what Plan B was. While she was waiting, she took the opportunity to dispose of the now useless corpse.

“There’s another plan to resurrect him,” Slytherin said. “We ensure that plan succeeds.”

Rose glared at Slytherin.

“That plan involved kidnapping my friend. That plan’s what put Toad in the Triwizard Tournament!”

“That plan is the only way to ensure Tom is restored to life.”

“Then what?”

She balled her fists while she waited for Slytherin to choose its words. Whatever it said, she knew she wasn’t going to like it.

“Then we need to get Tom back here so I may work.”

“Fine. Easy. I’ll—”

“The ritual he’s planning to use will involve another person present. Two people. Crouch and Skyeyes will be present for it. Once Tom is alive, he’ll summon his followers to make a grand announcement and to test their loyalty.”

“So we grab him before that! We can wipe their memories! You were going to wipe Skyeyes’s memory anyway!”

“I don’t know if his followers will be there to witness it or not. If they are, we can’t deal with all of them. There are those among them we can’t have asking questions.”

“So we let him live and wait for him to come to us?”

Slytherin stared at her with its fake face. She knew she had her answer.

“You’ve got until the end of the term to decide,” Slytherin said. “You’ll see that there is no alternative.”

Rose ground her teeth together, then turned and left.

I tried my best to be there for you as much as I could after that. I was careful not to mention anything about Slytherin. It wasn’t until later that I learned that it was Lucius Malfoy it didn’t want asking questions. Slytherin doesn’t understand emotion anymore. It only has ambition and obsession, so it can’t rewrite memories with emotion in them. Goldilocks would eventually figure out that his memories had been changed, and he’s a powerful player, capable of discovering Slytherin and doing something about it.

Slytherin didn’t ask me again. I focused on you for the next few weeks. I know you wanted to spend time with Cohort, but I was happy for every second you spent with me. I wish it could’ve been longer.

After Toad won the tournament, Dumbledore wanted to talk to me. He had an offer for me.

June 24, 1995

Rose slipped out of Gryffindor Tower and went to Dumbledore’s office. The man himself was waiting patiently at his desk for her.

“Thank you for meeting with me,” he said, motioning to the empty seat.

She sat down in the chair, hoping she looked polite. It’s what her family would’ve wanted her to do.

“I’ve got a few questions for you,” he continued. Looking her straight in the eye, he said, “How long has it been since you last spoke with your family?”

A knot formed in her stomach. She had the sensation that there were tears trying to escape, but none came out.

“A few months,” she said, knowing better than to try dancing around the question with Professor Dumbledore. “I thought it was another ward, but… it wasn’t. No matter what, I can’t… I can’t even find them. I tried using discern location, and… there’s nothing.”

Dumbledore nodded solemnly.

“I’m sorry, Rose. So long as I’m here at Hogwarts, you may consider it your home and the staff your family.”

A weak smile spread across Rose’s face. When she spoke, her voice had started cracking.

“Thank you. I…”

She focused on months of grief and contemplation, hundreds of attempts at rationalizing it, all into what she said.

“I’m never going home. Home might not even be there if I could. But you’re right; I’ve got a new home here. A new family…”

The memory of sitting beside Brain blossomed in her mind. The pair of them crying, sitting with each other for comfort. Rose wanted to go back and save Brain from that man, to stop her from being as broken as she was, but there was nothing she could do. All she could do now was be there for Brain, and that’s what she wanted to do.

“I’ve seen you grow up a lot over the past few years, Rose. This year in particular, you’ve made stunning progress. So much so, that I think we can drop the charade of you being a student.”

Rose frowned, pushing down the spark of fear that had ignited.


“I’d like to make you a member of staff. You’d be working with Taltria and Alavel, both of whom have already agreed to this.”

“I know, they told me.”

“You’d be protecting the school, fortifying it from outside threats. At first, I’d have to oversee your projects, so you don’t kill any of the students, accidentally or otherwise.”

Rose shook her head.

“I’m not going to hurt anyone. If I did…”

For a while, Rose hadn’t known how to answer that question. Her family had been the reason she didn’t hurt people, that she didn’t take matters into her own hands. But she hated the idea of letting Dumbledore down. If Brain knew she’d hurt people… or if Toad or Moon did…

“I’m sure Ms. Granger would come to forgive you in time,” Dumbledore said. “This would keep you close to them, but your focus would have to remain on your work. No playing favorites with your friends, and no harassing the students.”

“Does Professor Snape have to follow those rules too? Does he know those are rules?”

“You can let me take care of Severus. Rest assured, he’s not going anywhere anytime soon.”

Rose nodded. She was afraid to ask the question that was still on her mind.

“There is one more thing,” Dumbledore said. “I know you can remain professional when it comes to many students; I’ve seen you distance yourself from Mr. Longbottom this year, which is one of the reasons I’m now offering you this. However, my concern isn’t he, or even Ms. Lovegood.”

It became apparent that she didn’t have to ask the question; as always, Dumbledore already knew it.

“I’ve asked you this before, but I’m going to ask this again, and I expect an honest answer. How old are you?”

Rose glanced down at Reflectesalon, he being the only one in the room that knew the actual answer.

“I’m 24.”

Dumbledore nodded.

“Accounting for the difference in your world’s years and ours, your birthday here would be closer to the end of the summer, which makes you about eight years older than Ms. Granger. I don’t know how it is in your world, but—”

“I know,” Rose said, not wanting to have to drag it out. “I… Ref says I miss Shadow. And I do, but Brain’s still my friend.”

Dumbledore stared at her. She stared back. It was hard to meet his gaze; she wanted to shrink away. Part of her wished she’d grown up on the Rowling Plane instead. She was starting to think more from Brain’s perspective, and understand why things going wrong weren’t always a good thing. She didn’t want to be stronger; she just wanted to be strong enough to protect her friends. For the first time in Rose’s life, she began to think that it was enough.

“So long as you can keep an appropriate distance,” Dumbledore said. “If it’s a problem, please let me know immediately. We can work together.”

Rose smiled.

“Then I accept your offer.”

I didn’t know the exact details at the time. It doesn’t matter now. What I did know was that if I couldn’t be there to keep people off your back, then someone had to be. So I asked Professor Snape to look after you. Like Professor Dumbledore said, he’ll always be at Hogwarts. I hope he did look after you.

But that night was when everything changed. That was when everything fell apart.

Rose decided she wanted to walk back to Gryffindor Tower. Her emotions were jumbled around from her talk with Professor Dumbledore, and she wanted a moment to relax before she met with her friends again.


She stopped walking and looked around the corridor. When she couldn’t find anyone, she stooped down and touched the floor.

Slytherin, is that you?

I’d like to speak with you.

Concern only crossed her mind for a moment, then she dim doored to the Chamber of Secrets.

Where Slytherin would’ve usually been standing, was someone that was decidedly not Slytherin.


It looked like Neville. He was wearing his clothes from earlier that day; he still had stains of his own blood on them.

“Hello… Little… Rosie.”

“Slytherin!” she called to the otherwise empty chamber. “What’s going on?”

“I’ve planted a rune… on Toad’s back… that will burn him from the inside out… unless he does exactly as I say.”

Rose paused for a moment, trying to wrap her head around what Slytherin was doing.


“You wouldn’t listen to me… I know you’ll listen to Toad.”

“I already told you, I’m not going to let Voldemort live. I’m stopping the plan to res him.”

Neville’s eyes darted around. Rose stared into them, and knew her friend was still in there. Not only that, but he had questions.

“NPCs will die. It’s what they’re there for. Since when do you care?”

Rose thought back to her family. The people she’d never see again. She’d been lying to everyone about it for months, everyone except Dumbledore. Her mum and dad wouldn’t want her to risk the lives of hundreds of people, no matter what the cost. Besides, she was never going home. There was no point in rushing anything.

<That’s good, Rose,> Reflectesalon said. <Stay calm.>

“It’s what my parents would want,” Rose said. “If we need his soul intact, we can wait. We don’t have to do this now.”

She looked into Neville’s eyes again. He was calming down, same as her. She didn’t understand what Slytherin’s plan was, what the point of having Neville here was, but they were winning.

“We aren’t negotiating… we’re making a deal. I want you to understand what happens… what you have to lose… if you don’t help me.”

Rose focused on her surroundings. She didn’t sense Cruentius lurking around the Chamber, but that didn’t mean it wasn’t there. The Spektres were nowhere to be found either. As far as she could tell, it was only her and Neville. Because of that, Rose felt more uneasy.

“If you don’t… I will trap Moon in the worst of her nightmares. I can choose any one of them… including yours. She will relive what… Val… Val…”

Neville winced and clutched his head.

“Val… line… a… tee… jeer.”

“Stop it!”

As much as Rose didn’t want to show emotion around Slytherin — any emotion that could be used against her — she had to fold. Seeing Neville as he was, a helpless puppet, it was too much. Anger burned inside her. She looked around, trying to find something she could use.

Then she remembered that she had her own bargaining chip.

“Leave… her… alone.”

Before she could do anything, Neville’s voice caught her attention. It didn’t sound the same as it had a moment ago.

“Toad? Is that you?”

He brought his hand down. His face was contorted in suppressed pain. In spite of it, he shouted his next call to the cavern.

“I said leave her alone! I won’t let you hurt her!”

Rose grinned. She couldn’t remember feeling more proud of anyone than she did of Neville.

“You picked the wrong one of my friends to use, Sally!”

Even as she said it, Neville began to shake again. Gasps escaped his mouth. He turned slowly to Rose, his body trembling.

“I know what he did to you… I saw it when Cruentius drained you… He hurt you… He tried to break you… so he could brainwash you.”

Rose did everything she could to stop from shuddering. She thought back to the Yule Ball. For a moment, she thought they could’ve been friends. But the entire time, Slytherin had been picking through her memories. It knew everything about her; no wonder it had been able to play her so easily.

“How much of that,” Neville said through clenched teeth, “can Moon take?”

A few tears ran down Neville’s cheeks.

“I’ll get her out,” Rose said. “I’ll keep her far away from you, Sally! You won’t hurt her!”

Neville shook again, signaling that Slytherin had something to say to that.

“I won’t say it!” he shouted. “You can’t make me! I’m not—”

His own screams cut him off. He fell to his knees as his body started to turn red.

Rose rushed to his side, looking over him for some sign of where the rune was. If she could find it, she could get Neville far away from the Chamber of Secrets. She could still save him.

“What about Brain?”

Rose froze. She already knew where the conversation was going.

“She’s still delicate… I can break her… with every person at Hogwarts… right now.”

From all around her, Spektres emerged from the shadows. She sensed movement from in front of her, and saw Cruentius oozing out of the floor.

“It’s easy to keep you here, Little Rosie. While everyone else becomes my puppets. Your friend will die, screaming and alone, abandoned by the friend who swore to protect her.”

Rose looked around, trying to figure out something to do. Her first instinct was to draw Crimson Thorn, but she wasn’t the one in danger. She needed Serendipity first, but Slytherin would know that. That’s why the Spektres were there; they would disarm her the moment she drew Serendipity.

She looked at Neville. He struggled to stand, a look of disgust on his face. Knowing Slytherin, it was flooding his head with images of what would happen to his friends.

“If I get Voldemort back here… if I keep him alive until then… you’ll keep my friends alive?”

“You can’t!”

Neville’s outburst stung, but she had no other options.

“Answer me!”

Neville shook with restraint, but still he repeated Slytherin’s words.

“I swear… on my magic… they’ll be safe.”

His hand glowed green, and he extended it to Rose.

She realized what Slytherin was doing and pulled off her glove. As she did, she ran through the most important things to her. What was as important as her friends?

“I swear on Reflectesalon.”

“You will keep Voldemort alive.”

“And you’ll keep my friends alive.”

“Toad serves as my surrogate.”

“Rose, no!”

“I’ve got to, Toad.”

He tried to move, but his hand remained fixed where it was. He couldn’t pull out of the deal.

Rose took one last look at him, then took his hand.

Her hand burned as the Blood Pact rune was branded on her palm. She refused to show weakness; she had to stay strong for Neville. On the wall, she saw the same rune appear.

“Rose, you can’t do this.”

She shook her head.

“It’s too late. I’ve got to keep Voldemort alive.”

“But he’s not alive! You don’t have to do this!”

“Yes, I have!”

Neville stepped back and drew the Sword of Gryffindor.

“I won’t let you! Even if I’ve got to fight you!”

Rose stared at Neville. She felt empty, alone. She’d already made her choice. It was too late for her.

She put her glove back on, then drew Crimson Thorn.

“You can’t win.”

“You won’t win.”

Rose sighed, then swung at Neville.

He deflected every hit, keeping pace with her, despite her ability. Neither of them spoke, leaving the sound of clanging metal to echo around the Chamber of Secrets.

As they fought, the Spektres and Cruentius crept back into the shadows.

Rose saw the determination on Neville’s face. She wanted him to understand that it was hopeless. They’d already lost.

She caught his legs. He fell, but quickly tumbled back to his feet. The moment he turned to face her, she struck him with the flat of her blade. Before he could recover, she drove her fist into his stomach.

He recovered again, but she struck him on the head this time. He fell to the floor, losing the Sword of Gryffindor when he fell.

Already winded from the pain Slytherin had put him through, Neville struggled to his feet. Before he could fight back, Rose returned Crimson Thorn to her glove and threw her arms around Neville.

“Goodbye, Toad.”

Rose drew back her fist and cracked him on the head again, knocking him out.

She looked at Neville’s unconscious body and the weight of what she’d done hit her. Rose dropped to her knees and screamed as loud as her body would allow her. When she’d exhausted herself from screaming, she fell down and cried. She didn’t know how long she stayed there.

Rose ran through thousands of possibilities as she lay there crying. She wanted to call for help, but remembered she was in the Chamber of Secrets, cut off from the rest of the world.

No Sk’lar. No Shadow. No Hermione. No Dumbledore.

She was all alone to make the final decision for herself.

She will die screaming and alone, abandoned by the friend who swore to protect her.

How’d you move on after Valignatiejir?

I haven’t. It’s still there, in the back of my head. His laugh. Those eyes. It’ll all be a part of me forever.

We can face our demons together.

“I’m sorry, Brain. I’m so sorry.”

The Grangers were right. All she did was put Brain in danger. Rose had been foolish to think she could be anything different, that she could change.

Rose looked up and saw that Slytherin had formed at her head. It stared back down at her with its cold, unfeeling eyes.

“Are you ready?”

Rose took one last look at Neville. She knew that she couldn’t fix her friends if Slytherin kept its word. Just as that Oracle had told her, her innocence had died the day Valignatiejir attacked her, and it would never come back. She would do anything to stop her friends from suffering the same fate as she had.

She sat up and looked at Slytherin.

“What do you need me to do?”


I returned Toad to Gryffindor Tower. Slytherin had ensured no one had noticed he was missing. The rune faded after that night. It was in the middle of his back, where he’d never see it. Slytherin had taken over he and Firecracker after the Yule Ball and got them to put it there. It always had a backup plan.

Junior took over Ellie with the Imperius Curse. My part was ensuring Skyeyes got out okay. Junior had no idea I was helping him. With the deal in place, I knew Skyeyes wouldn’t get hurt. I kept thinking that Alavel would hate me if he knew, but, like everything else, it doesn’t matter now.

When Voldemort thought he killed me, he really activated a contingent hibernate. I could still hear and see just fine, but I had to pretend I was dead. No matter what. I wanted so badly to say something to you. I’ve been tortured before, but hearing you crying was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done.

Taltria and Alavel followed my instructions and buried me in a whiteout in the bottom of the sea. Then I had to start on the plan.

I had to ensure that Voldemort would return to Hogwarts on our terms. We chose the day. Slytherin wanted complete control. We had to make sure that Voldemort was a known threat so Dumbledore would reinforce the castle. I had to make sure I was a known threat so you would ward the castle against me. Then someone would remove the ward when we said so, allowing me to move everyone inside of Hogwarts. If you didn’t have a fighting chance, then Slytherin would have to get involved, so that gave me some comfort.

That meant I had to infiltrate Tom’s gang. It wasn’t hard; Slytherin told me about a prophecy that Tom wanted. It was the easiest thing to get into the Ministry, shapechange into Skyeyes, grab the prophecy, and get out. I handed it to him myself, and suddenly, I was his best friend (and the look on Lestrange’s face when I did that was a bonus). I hated being Aurora Lux, but it was the only way to be sure that you would know me. Once you figured out it was me, you’d realize I was against you, that I’d betrayed you and lied to you again, and you’d fight back.

Like everything else, it didn’t go quite according to plan.

First, we had to make sure to get Voldemort out in the open, which meant something other than the Horcruxes to lure him out. They were our bargaining chips for getting the invasion going, so that meant Skyeyes. For that, it was a matter of waiting. I know you all — you were bound to go running off eventually, with or without me. Slytherin kept an eye on all of you. We knew when you were taken to Umbridge, so we got ready. That’s how we knew where you were. It was supposed to be easy: scare you all until the Ministry showed up, then they’d have to accept that Voldemort was alive, and Dumbledore could see it for himself.

Even then, it all went wrong.

Rose appeared in the middle of a roaring blizzard. She didn’t care where she was; her only destination had been “away”.

Her cries and screams were lost in the storm. She fell to her knees, slamming her fists into the ground.

Alavel’s face was still in her head. Her creation, loyal to a fault, standing against her. He’d known who she was and trusted her enough that he hadn’t said anything.

I forgive you, My Lady.

His last words, spoken over a telepathic bond, echoed in her mind as she screamed until her throat was raw.

“I hate this!”

She broke through a layer of snow, only to find ice underneath it. That didn’t stop her from venting her rage.

<Rose, there’s nothing you can do,> Reflectesalon said in an effort to calm her down.

<I could’ve said no! I could’ve made Slytherin swear Alavel and Taltria would be safe! Now Taltria’s going to come after me until one of us dies, and she’s not strong enough to kill me!>

<Which is just as well. You—>

“I want to die!”

That stopped Ref for a moment. Rose screamed again. She thrashed about with rage, all the while allowing the idea of death to sink in.

I want to die!

She allowed herself to stay still, the idea having taken roots in her mind.

“That’s it,” she said, panting. “If someone kills me, then—”

<Slytherin will take it out on them.>

“It won’t care, it’ll get what it wants.”

<You don’t know what it wants.>

That stopped Rose for a second, but she began to plan.

“I’ve got to figure out what it’s doing. Someone’s got to stop it.”

<If you talk to Professor Dumbledore outside of Hogwarts—>

“I’m risking being found out by being gone so long. Besides, Slytherin can dig deep inside someone’s head. If it thinks I’ve been talking to Dumbledore, it’ll know. I can’t assume anyone’s truly safe.”

<It won’t kill them.>

“No, it won’t.”

A plan formed inside her head. There were a few people that had a chance against her. What would Sk’lar do if she’d gone rogue?

Reciprocal gyre is a good start. Maybe reaving dispel. But they can’t use my…”

When the idea occurred to her, she didn’t know if it was amazing, or if she hated it.

“Brain could do it.”

<She’d likely feel as you do now.>

“But what happens after Slytherin gets its way? It won’t stop! It’ll be ‘Do this or I kill your friends’ over and over again!”

She stopped herself from getting angry again. She knew she had to stay focused.

“Someone’s got to stop me.”

<If you hold out, you can stop them together.>

“But we’ve got to convince them that I’m really against them, otherwise Brain won’t get the ward up, and we lose control over when Tom invades. By the time this is over, they’ve got to hate me.”

<That’s not part of the deal.>

“Brain won’t forgive me, remember? Future Brain hated me. She’s not going to want to fight Slytherin together. She’s got to be the one to do it.”

Rose took more breaths to keep herself calm. For the first time in a year, she felt in control of her own life. She wasn’t going to let that go, not for anything.

“I can do it,” she said. “I won’t be anyone’s tool anymore. Not Slytherin’s… no one’s.”

<Rose, you don’t have to do this.>

“I do, Ref. I’m sorry. If I don’t, where does it stop? You think Slytherin’s not going to threaten my friends again? You think it’s going to leave Brain alone? This doesn’t stop here. It goes until I make it stop. Until I’m out of play.”

She began to form her own plan. There was a lot of information she still needed, but she knew she could figure it out. If Future Brain was to be believed, she already had.

<Rose, you still don’t know what Slytherin’s plan is.>

Rose stood up. The wind tossed her cloak about, but it felt good stand as herself again.

“No, I don’t. But I can find out. Somewhere, someone knows something. And I’ve got a year to figure it out.”

Without another word, Rose vanished. A few rose petals fluttered in the storm, mixing red with white, until they too vanished from existence.

Chapter Text

Sirius was the first to arrive at Grimmauld Place, and the first to see the Ministry guards. It was only a few people, but they were clearly watching the boundary between Number 11 and Number 13.

He stuck to the shadows and pulled his wand.

Grimmauld Place isn’t safe; Ministry’s watching it.

He sent the message to Remus, hoping that he hadn’t already been taken. Just in case he had, he sent the message to McGonagall and the Weasleys. Someone had to hear it. He didn’t know where else they could go, but someone would think of something.

Minerva rarely left Hogwarts over the winter holiday. There was always the chance students would stay at the castle, and the extra time helped to get things done. Now that she was headmistress, it made sense to remain behind.

She’d only just received news about four of her students — including her Head Boy and Head Girl — getting arrested, when another letter landed on her desk. Expedited delivery from the Minister of Magic herself.

Due to recent events, the Ministry has seen fit to restructure Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. It is clear to the Ministry that it has not been run properly. As such, the Minister of Magic will be arriving later today to speak with you regarding these matters.

In accordance with the newly passed Decree for Proper Educational Standards, you will provide the Ministry of Magic with all requested information and submit to questioning. Also in accordance with the Decree, you will hand control of Hogwarts over to the Minister of Magic, effective immediately. In the process that follows, the existing staff will be evaluated and the Minister will determine if they may stay, yourself included.

If you require additional information regarding these matters, a formal query may be submitted to the Office of the Minister of Magic. Your query will be reviewed within six weeks, and any information the Minister of Magic deems relevant to your query will be provided to you.

Thank you for your cooperation.

Office of Dolores Umbridge, Minister of Magic

Minerva stared at the letter for a moment. Her first several ideas involved turning it into something that would scream when she threw it into the fire, but she realized she needed to retain it. If nothing else, it would provide evidence that could be used against the “Minister of Magic” later. At least, she hoped it would.

She glanced at her clock. It was a little past lunch time, but she needed to get word to her staff immediately.

There was no time for an owl, and her portraits didn’t have enough counterparts outside the school.

She drew her wand, but before she could do anything, a shimmering weasel appeared in her office.

Minerva,” it said with Arthur Weasley’s voice. “Children are out of Azkaban. Burrow’s been taken by Ministry. Trying Grimmauld Place.

The weasel disappeared soon after, leaving her with a brief memory of Peta-Lorrum’s winged ferret. A few seconds later, she was moving about her office.

A plan began to form in her head. If they’d gone after the Weasleys, then they’d be going after everyone. Umbridge had declared war on Perks and her friends, so there was no time to lose.

The issue remained that she needed to inform the rest of her staff. She doubted that the Ministry would waste time going after anyone.

First, inform the staff. Second, get a hold of the students.

She got to work casting messenger spells. One by one, she called upon her staff to return to Hogwarts. As much as she hated doing it to them, this was an emergency.

Arthur, Moody, and Bones arrived near Grimmauld Place. They needed to scout ahead, and they agreed that the three of them were the best option to send. They quickly spotted Sirius hiding behind some trees and moved to join him.

“Those three are definitely Ministry,” Arthur said.

“They could use a lesson or two about stealth,” Moody grumbled. “A first-year could spot them.”

“That may be, but we’ve still got a problem,” Bones said. “We can’t get inside Grimmauld Place without them spotting us, no matter how many security measures you’ve got on it.”

“Everything that popped into my head,” Moody said. “You’re right, though. That security will keep out the Ministry no matter what, but they can just as easily keep us in. If we take them out, they’ll know where we are, and we’ll have to stay put.”

“Trapped inside Number 12 Grimmauld Place,” Sirius muttered. “My childhood all over again.”

“Peta-Lorrum could apparate wherever she wanted,” Bones said. “Can Granger do that?”

Before he’d died, Dumbledore had brought everyone up to speed on his and Hermione’s attempts at recreating Rose’s magic in order to secure Hogwarts from her. Arthur had no idea to what extent they’d succeeded, so he could only answer Bones by shrugging.

“Doesn’t matter,” Moody said. “There are other places we can go.”

“We had to run into the forest for safety,” Bones shot back. “That’s not a permanent location.”

“What about food and water? The Ministry will have that place locked down tight once they realize what’s going on.”

“But we need somewhere to get our bearings.”

“Perhaps we should ask everyone else,” Arthur suggested, hoping to stop a fight before it broke out. “Someone should wait here for the children. I’m sure this will be their first stop.”

He thought back to the four of them in Azkaban. It was a horrid thought that he suspected bothered Sirius more than any of them. He looked at Sirius, hoping for some indication that he understood how bad it was.

Arthur found that it surprised him to see that Sirius did understand.

“They’ll go home first,” he said. “They’ll want to be with family, friends, anyone familiar. After being around Dementors for that long, you grab at whatever happy memory you’ve got.”

“Like getting revenge on an old friend?” Bones asked.

“Like checking on the only family you’ve got left,” Sirius snapped. “Making sure you didn’t make a complete mess of things.”

“Let’s go back to the campsite,” Arthur said before more fighting broke out. “We’ll all go, then send someone back here once we all know where to go afterwards. I think sending pairs would work best.”

Arthur knew he didn’t have the tactical minds of either Moody or Bones, nor the survival instincts or street smarts of Sirius that avoided him capture for so long, but he had the mind of a father. There was no way he was sending any of his remaining children in alone. The only thing he’d found that comforted his wife was that the four — possibly even six — of them were together.

Sally-Anne did her best to avoid rubbing her hands together. The uniforms wouldn’t be enough; they had to look like they belonged. Once they got to shore, they could leave and never look back.

They stayed together on the ship, keeping to themselves, trying not to draw attention from the rest of the crew. They were sitting around a table inside the cabin, keeping their heads down and hoods up. It’d been fortunate that the ship had set out immediately, but if they felt that there was an urgent need for reinforcements, did they know that prisoners had escaped?

<By the time we reach land, they’ll know,> Ron said when she asked. <It’s Ministry protocol to talk to families, so they’ll have tried taking everyone.>

<Wait, what?> Harry asked. <As in, taken them in for questioning?>

<As in, taken them into custody,> Ron said. <Umbridge will have taken over everything by now. Any protections we had are gone. Otherwise, Firecracker wouldn’t have been allowed inside Azkaban. She’s still underage, so there should’ve been loads of protections for her. Same with Luna. Umbridge has probably been getting rid of those laws for months.>

A familiar feeling of unease arose as Sally-Anne remembered how easily the laws were changed, and how much she’d relied on Umbridge doing just that: changing them. She’d promised a better, safer world. Some world it’d turned out to be.

<But what about Mum and Dad?> Ginny asked. <Are you saying they’ll be on the next boat here?>

Ron shook his head.

Sally-Anne looked at Harry, who was the only one allowed to look at the other people on the boat. This was because he could do it and not get caught. If anyone suspected them, he’d know. Even then, not for the first time, Sally-Anne missed the earpods and doublespeak.

<Mum and Dad wouldn’t go down without a fight. With everyone else there, there’s no way they’ll be taken. Besides, everyone else in the Order that worked at the Ministry will have been sacked by now, so that gives us a good fighting force. Kingsley, Moody, Tonks, probably Madame Bones.>

<What about my mum?> Sally-Anne asked.

Ron reached over and took her hand for a moment.

<We’ll get her out, Princess,> he said. <I promise.>

Part of her wanted to scream that he couldn’t promise that. No one could promise that her mum would be safe, but when Ron said it, she believed him.

<Whatever Brain was doing in Azkaban,> Harry said, <I think that’s the end of it.>

Sally-Anne frowned at him, wondering where he’d gotten that idea.

<Agreed,> Ron said. <She’s put too much work into not getting caught, so getting arrested wasn’t like her. She’s got all of Rose’s tricks, which probably means dim door, so there’s no reason she should’ve been caught in Gringotts. That, and she had no problem getting out of Azkaban. Bloody Azkaban couldn’t hold her.>

<Ronald! Language!>

<What? Right, sorry. If that thing in Hogwarts is trying to find her, it knows right where she is now. If she could’ve left any time, I think she didn’t because there’s something there she needs. Something she must’ve pushed aside for us.>

Sally-Anne smiled at that idea. After months of not knowing how Hermione was doing, or what she was doing, it was nice to know that she was still looking out for them.

<If she’s finished,> Ron continued, <then she can get your mum out.>

Sally-Anne fought back the urge to laugh. If they hadn’t been trying to hide, she would’ve kissed Ron again.

<Thank you, Ron.>

Ron shot her a crooked smile.

<It’s the least I could do after I screwed up back at the Ministry.>

<What? I’m the one that forgot about my gloves. You had to cover for me.>

<Before we all start trying to blame ourselves,> Harry said, <remember that we’re safe now. We’ll be back soon, and if we need to, we can always apparate off this ship. There’s no sense dwelling on past mistakes.>

Sally-Anne looked at Harry. He offered a small smile.

<I’m sure you get tired of hearing this,> she began.

<Is it that I look like my dad, but I’ve got my mum’s eyes? If so, yes, I am really tired of hearing that.>

<You sound like Alavel.>

Harry’s smile broadened a little.

<I’m never going to be tired of hearing that.>

The ship lurched around, nearly throwing them off their seats.

<We’re here,> Harry said. <Nearly home.>

Alex sat near Grimmauld Place, watching the Ministry Workers. People walked by, paying them little mind. They must’ve been the three most conspicuous people in Britain. How had the Statute of Secrecy been upheld for so long? Wizards were awful at it.

“You’d think they’d try to blend in at least,” she muttered.

“Nah,” her companion said, “Ministry’s too full of itself. Like Percy. That’s why he joined, you know.”

Alex rolled her eyes at Charlie.

“You sound like Fred and George.”

“Of course. They got their sense of humor from me, just like Ron got his good looks from me.”

“Did a Weasley just complement another Weasley? I might die of shock.”

Charlie chuckled.

“Out of everyone, why’d you volunteer?” he asked.

“I said it before: Sally-Anne will need support when she gets out of there, and I want to be around to offer it.”

He chuckled again.


“Tonks had you pegged. Everyone’s big sister.”

She blushed, which only made him laugh more, which only made her want to slap him.

“I remember you,” Charlie said. “Walking around like you had to tend to everyone. Like if someone was upset, it’d be your fault.”

The more Charlie talked, the more annoyed it made her. Not only was that somewhat accurate, but she hated remembering any of her earlier years at Hogwarts.

“I was going through some things,” she said. “I’d rather not talk about it. What about you? Why’d you want to wait here?”

He looked at her for a moment, then arched an eyebrow.


“There’s no better way to answer a question.”

He turned away and focused on Grimmauld Place.

“I’m worried about Ron.”

“Not Ginny?”

“Her too, and Harry and Sally-Anne, but Ron’s like me. Growing up, I was always ‘Bill’s Little Brother’, but he’s got it worse. He had to be ‘Bill and Charlie’s Kid Brother’, or just another Weasley, or ‘Fred and George’s Brother’. At least Ginny’s the girl of the group, so she’s not just another Weasley. It’s not easy having such a big family, though.”

Alex thought back to Sally-Anne and her friends and smiled.

“You’ve got nothing to worry about. Sally-Anne’s told me Ron’s grown up a lot.”

“Well, I suppose one of us had to eventually.”

Alex covered her mouth to stifle a laugh.

“Thanks,” she said. “I can’t remember the last time I laughed.”

“It’s important to laugh at times like these.” In a poor impression of someone elderly, he said, “‘The darker a situation, Charles, the more important it is to find joy.’”

Alex smiled. She was sure Dumbledore had told her that same thing.



Alex could still remember where she’d been when she’d heard about him. It didn’t feel right. She could sort of understand Rose killing Lavender. She hated the idea of one of her former charges killing another, but Rose had always seemed apathetic towards Parvati and Lavender. But Dumbledore, Rose respected. There had always been two people to whom Rose would listen: Dumbledore and Hermione. While she’d argue with both, she’d always at least listened. Something else was going on, she was sure of it. And knowing Hermione, she’d have an answer for her.

After they got off the boat, Harry and his friends spotted the first hurdle. There were several guards checking everyone leaving.

<Let’s move to the back of the ship,> Ron said. <Then we can apparate.>

<Wouldn’t they have put a ward up already?> Harry asked.

<It’s too late to worry about that. Let’s move.>

Together, they moved towards the back of the boat. Harry kept an eye out for anything that would stop them, but to his surprise, most of the security was in getting off the boat. This only served to make him more concerned.

<We can always jump and swim away,> Ron said. <Come on.>

They’d just reached the back when someone shouted.

“You lot! Stop right there!”

Harry grabbed Ginny’s hand and focused on Grimmauld Place. He had a feeling the Ministry would’ve had eyes on it, but he had no choice. They had to escape.

He felt the sensation of being ripped through a small hole, then he and Ginny appeared in a secluded area not far from Number 12 Grimmauld Place. A moment later, Ron and Sally-Anne arrived.

“Don’t move.”

Harry immediately felt a wand pressed to his throat. He had his in his hand, but he didn’t know if he could get a clear shot at his attacker.

Fortunately, there was only one attacker, and four of them. Ron drew his wand, keeping himself between the girls and Harry.

“Drop your wand,” the attacker said. “Or your friend here’s gonna have a bad day.”

Harry frowned. He’d heard that voice before.

“Charlie?” he asked.

They all pulled off their hoods, then the wand receded.

“Damn!” Charlie hissed. “Finally, an excuse to hex my brother and sister, and I throw it away.”

Harry rolled his eyes as another figure grabbed Sally-Anne.

“I was so worried about you,” Alex said, squeezing the life out of Sally-Anne. “Are you alright? We’ve got camp set up near the Burrow. We can’t go home, the Ministry’s got everything under watch.”

“Alex,” Sally-Anne said, hugging her back. “It’s so good to see you. Of all people… I am so glad to see you.”

Charlie held his wand to his lips, whispered something, then waved it away.

“Others will be here soon,” he said. He scanned them for a moment. “What about Hermione and Luna?”

Ron shook his head.

“Hermione got us out, and mentioned something about meeting with Luna. I don’t know where they went or what they’re doing.”

“We’ll have to worry about them later,” Alex said. “If Hermione’s like Rose, she’ll be able to find us wherever we are. You four have got to get to camp.”

Sirius and Mr. Weasley appeared. Sirius went straight for Harry and grabbed him.

“Are you alright?” he asked.

Harry held him and heard a familiar sound.

“I’m fine. Are you crying?”

“What?” Sirius pulled back, wiping away tears. “No, of course not. I’m…”

“You’ve got something in your eye,” Charlie stage-whispered.

“What he said,” Sirius said.

“Come on,” Arthur said. “We’ve got your things back at camp.”

“Good,” Ron said. “We’ve got a lot to fill everyone in on.”

It wasn’t long before the staff of Hogwarts had assembled in the staff room. While Minerva would’ve rather used her office, she knew how cramped it got with everyone.

“What about Harry and his friends?” Remus asked after she’d explained the situation.

Minerva glanced at Hagrid, who was trying not to sob. He kept blowing his nose into a large handkerchief, but otherwise kept himself to himself.

“They’ll have to take care of themselves. I’ve known them plenty long enough, and those children are more than capable. I’ve had news that they escaped.”

There were varying levels of surprise from around the room.

“How’d they manage that?” Filius asked.

“I imagine the answer’s Ms. Granger,” Minerva said. “We all know she’s been recreating Ms. Peta-Lorrum’s magic, so it hardly seems surprising that she’d be able to orchestrate a breakout.”

“You all talk about Peta-Lorrum like she was some all-powerful witch!” Horace exclaimed. “She couldn’t have been quite so magnificent.”

He had one thing right: “magnificent” wasn’t a word Minerva would’ve used to describe Peta-Lorrum. Most of those words weren’t appropriate in the current company.

“She killed Dumbledore,” Remus said. “What else do you need to know?”

The Potions Master turned a faint shade of red and muttered an apology.

“What happens next is up to the Ministry,” Minerva said. “Knowing what we do about Dolores, she’ll get rid of any of us that don’t bow down to her the moment she enters the building. That means I’ll be gone.” She turned to her joint Astronomy professors. “Sybill, Firenze, I’m afraid it’s not likely either of you will be staying here. Hagrid, same with you. I’m terribly sorry.”

“I don’t particularly want to work for her again anyway,” Firenze said. “I’m more forgiving of humans than my fellow Centaurs, but that woman’s too much for me.”

“What about the students?” Pomona asked. “When will they be informed? We should tell them, to avoid a surprise when they get back.”

“Or to give them a chance to run away,” Remus muttered.

“We will send letters to everyone immediately. There’s no telling when Dolores will be taking over, but I imagine she will be settled into my office before the new term begins. Those of you that feel you can work for her, please stay behind to support the students however possible. They’ll need all the help they can get.”

The eight of them arrived in the middle of a forest. As far as Sally-Anne could tell, there was nothing important about it. She couldn’t see much of anything through the trees. Still, Alex led her forward towards a thick group of trees.

“Are you sure this is the right place?” Sally-Anne asked.

Before she could answer, Alex walked straight through the trunks ahead of them. At once, Sally-Anne realized what it was, then walked through the trees after her.

Mrs. Weasley was the first to greet them when they arrived. She went right for Ron and Ginny, then Sally-Anne and Harry, neither of whom had managed to get away in time.

Sally-Anne was happy for the affection, but she wanted to see her own parents. She wished for some word from Hermione, but so far, she’d gotten nothing.

Looking around at the small cluster of people, she saw that Ron had been right. In addition to Alex, Sirius, and the Weasleys, a good chunk of the Order of the Phoenix was there. Admittedly, there weren’t a lot of them, but they did have Moody and Madame Bones.

“What happened?” Mr. Weasley asked. “What were you four doing at the Ministry of Magic?”

Sally-Anne looked at her friends, wondering how much was too much to tell them. Fortunately, Harry knew the answer to that.

“Umbridge kidnapped Sally-Anne’s mum to get to Sally-Anne. She’s still cross at us. She considers Sally-Anne a traitor, so she wanted to get to her first. We tried to rescue her, but… well, Umbridge was waiting for us.”

“We didn’t kill anyone,” Ginny said, tears in her eyes. “Honest, I didn’t—”

“We know you didn’t,” her mum said, sweeping her up in a hug. “Don’t worry about it. This is all that awful woman’s doing.”

“Umbridge killed Scrimgeour,” Harry said.

“She put him under the Imperius Curse first,” Ron added. “Ordered him to attack Ginny, hoping she would retaliate and kill him.”

“Umbridge doesn’t understand friendship,” Sally-Anne said, “so she didn’t count on Ginny being a better person, or having the support of her friends.”

They let that sink in for a moment. No one was surprised that Umbridge would break the law; she’d already used one of the Unforgivable Curses before, so using the other two wasn’t a stretch of the imagination.

“While this is very sweet,” Bones said, “we shouldn’t stay here for long. We’ll need a new base of ops.”

“Got an idea, then?” Moody asked.

“Have you?”

“Ladies first.”

“No, age before beauty.”

“That’s what I said: you first.”

“Children, behave!” Mrs. Weasley snapped. “Or I’ll separate you two!”

Sally-Anne found herself holding back a laugh. Even Ginny was smiling. She caught Ron’s eye and smiled at him. They’d been in Azkaban not long ago, but finally, things were starting to feel hopeful again.

“We’ll keep moving,” Sirius said. “Figure it out where we’re going later.”

Bones and Moody protested, but he added, “I stayed ahead of all of you by always being on the move. I had a goal in mind, but apart from that, I kept moving.”

“That’s good for a single person,” Ron said, “but we’ve got a big group. We’re going to be spotted eventually.”

Sally-Anne looked around, for once hoping Ron was wrong. She’d just gotten back with the closest thing she had to family at the moment, and he was suggesting they split up. She didn’t want to leave them, not just yet.

“We’ve got the area warded to Hell and back,” Charlie said. “Why go now? You can’t apparate in here, you can’t get inside unless we let you in. We’re safe for now. Let them rest a moment. They just got out of Azkaban, for Merlin’s Sake!”

“Set up a watch,” Kingsley said. “If there’s trouble, get the kids out first.”

“Three of us are 17,” Ron said.

“I’ll set up a spot for them to sleep,” Bones said. “Since they’re so grown up, they can pull their weight and help me.”

Mrs. Weasley got a look like she was about to argue against such an unspeakable thing, but Sally-Anne agreed to help her anyway. If nothing else, it occurred to her why Bones wanted to be away from listening ears for a moment.

Sure enough, the first thing out of Bones’s mouth was “do you know why your mum was taken?”

Sally-Anne glanced over her shoulder to make sure the other adults had all found something else to do.

“She’s the head of ESIS,” she said in a hushed voice.

“Umbridge is going to start a war if she’s not careful,” Ron said.

“That’s likely what she’s trying to do,” Bones said. “I’ve made contact with Eric. He’s got your dad safe, Sally-Anne. Along with the Grangers.”

Sally-Anne smiled, then mentally tallied everyone.

“What about Luna’s dad?” she asked.

Bones shook her head.

“Ministry’s been to his house. We saw them go in and out, but he’s still there. Likely they’ve threatened him into keeping quiet about it, hoping Lovegood will go back there.”

Sally-Anne nodded, knowing that Luna would handle that when she got back. She’d seen how defensive Luna got when the topic of her father came up.

The strangest thought occurred to Sally-Anne just then. She didn’t know where it’d come from, but it was mad enough to work.

“Speaking of people in the Ministry,” she said, “I think I know where we can stay.”

Chapter Text

No matter what I did, you always thought it was alright. You’d seen right through our plan. I was so proud of you, Brain. But I couldn’t leave it at that. I needed to die. I needed your help doing it, so you needed to hate me.

I thought lying to you again would be enough; you’ve always hated that. It wasn’t though. Even with Professor Dumbledore convincing you that I’d changed.

He’d know, too. He was in love with Grindelwald when they were younger. Dumbledore’s younger sister had been attacked by Muggles. His father attacked the Muggles back and got thrown into Azkaban. His sister couldn’t control her magic, and his mother couldn’t cope. Dumbledore tried leaving with Grindelwald, but his brother stopped them. In the ensuing fight, his sister died.

All the times he told you about it, I doubt he mentioned that. He’s ashamed because he doesn’t know who killed his sister. He trusted Grindelwald, and it all turned out to be lies. Dumbledore didn’t want you to hurt someone you loved.

I didn’t know how to make you hate me. Slytherin only needed you to consider me a threat, and I knew how to get the staff to do that. I had to kill someone.

You needed information, so it had to be someone you’d notice immediately. You rarely hung out with anyone apart from Toad, and I couldn’t hurt him if I’d had to. Princess was with Draco, and Skyeyes was on his own, so that meant Cohort.

I hated killing Lavender. For weeks, when I closed my eyes, I could see her face. Hers and Cohort’s. It wasn’t easy. I had to think several steps ahead to work out what Cohort would do, prepare myself for anything. He conjured a bell. That was brilliant.

I had to make sure you’d know that I was against you. I had to break the one rule I’d always had.

I couldn’t give myself time to mourn. While I was planning for it, I realized Princess would bring up how Draco had changed. He was changing; I could see it in him when he was home in our Super Secret Evil Lair (because no one would ever think to look for Tommy in his best friend’s house). I had to hurt her, to send a message to you through her.

I couldn’t be around you for more than a few rounds at a time. If I let myself be near you, I didn’t trust that I’d be able to stop myself from telling you everything. So I went after your friends instead.

Lestrange had already taken Moon’s eyes, and I didn’t want to hurt her or Toad anymore. I’d already killed Alavel, so Skyeyes was sufficiently broken. That left Cohort, Princess, and Firecracker. I hurt two of them that day. When you put the ward up, I thought that was the end of it.

Slytherin still got communication out to me. It told me that you’d been working on more of my magic. You worked out discern location. I nearly started laughing when I found out. When we knew you were working on it, I started staying in the Shrieking Shack. It’s outside of Slytherin’s reach, so I thought it was the perfect spot. I sat and I waited. Either you’d kill me, or you’d listen. Maybe you wouldn’t hate me by the end of it. Maybe Future Hermione wasn’t the only possible future.

But it wasn’t you that showed up looking for me.

Rose returned to the Shrieking Shack. She held herself together for a few more seconds before breaking down. She fell to the floor, heaving with tearless sobs.

<You didn’t have to do that,> Reflectesalon said.

“Nothing I did was enough,” she sobbed. “Nothing. Why can’t Brain hate me?”

<That’s not what I meant. She put up the ward. There’s no reason for her to hate you. You could’ve told Taltria or Firecracker.>

“Taltria wouldn’t listen. She’d assume it was some lie. And that… didn’t even look like Firecracker.”

Rose thought back to the way Firecracker had looked when she’d walked into the room. She looked arrogant, smug, and angry. One look had told Rose that neither of them would listen to her.

<You didn’t have to me so brutal to her.>

“I was only doing non-lethal damage. I had to kill Taltria; she wouldn’t have given up until one of us was dead, and she threatened Brain’s parents!”

<That doesn’t—>

“What I did can’t be justified! I’m a monster, Ref! Monsters hurt people, so that’s what I did! Maybe Firecracker will be fine some day!”

She wanted tears to stream down her face, to remind her that some part of her was human. But there was nothing left. She was nothing.

<You’ve got a few days left, and you don’t know what Slytherin’s plan is.>

Rose had pondered that question many times in the past year, but she hadn’t had a chance to leave the Death Eaters until after the ward against her had been put up. Without any way to follow up on any theories, she’d decided to simply leave it alone.

“What’s it matter?”

<If Brain kills you, what’s stopping Slytherin from repeating this with her?>

Rose’s sobs stopped and she sat up. New determination kept her focused. She had only a few days to work it all out, so she had to get started immediately.

Don’t worry, Brain. I won’t let it hurt you.

First, I had to figure out what Slytherin was really planning. For that, I needed to know exactly what it was, but without going into Hogwarts. Fortunately, purebloods are pretty big on record keeping and other purebloods.

I learned a lot from the Malfoy library. Salazar Slytherin had three children, two boys and a girl. The girl was named Rosalind. She died by being burned at the stake; the spell to stop that didn’t exist back then. She’s the only one Slytherin ever mentioned, so she’s got to be important.

Several books mentioned a journal. I needed notes on her, on Cruentius, the Spektres if possible. If it could get memories out of my blood, I needed to know what else it could do.

Compared to dealing with doing Slytherin’s bidding or keeping Tom from killing himself, finding Salazar Slytherin’s journal wasn’t difficult. I was going to look for clues, follow leads, question NPCs, take plot hooks the DM offered me, beat down a few bad guys, journey into some overly elaborate crypt, kill a giant monster guarding the deepest recess of it, where I would find his body, likely under some illogical flood of moonlight that’s there even during the day, with the journal clutched in his skeletal hands. Instead, I wished his soul would tell me where to find the journal, and he did. That was Ref’s idea.

Once I found it (it was in a crypt with a beam of moonlight, but there was no monster to kill), I copied the contents to my notebook. The journal tells of the time Salazar Slytherin was at Hogwarts. That includes everything about Slytherin.

It was written in a different language. What follows are translations of the entries that involve Slytherin.

Day 1

I’m keeping this journal to document my findings as they occur, as is wise during one’s studies.

I’ve included a detailed runic diagram of the structure I placed inside one of the chambers in my laboratory. I built Slytherin’s Laboratory as part of Hogwarts, but my three colleagues know nothing about it. I believe this is for the best. I cannot predict how they would react if they were to discover my laboratory or my project.

I’m writing this journal in a language of my own design, so that no one else, including my project itself, may read this.

I provided a basic means of communication so that I may ask it questions to determine the extent of my success. As part of its construction, I granted it knowledge of language, allowing it to understand the world around it. When I ask questions, it carves out the answers to it into a stone slab.

Below are the questions I asked it:

1. Can you hear me? — Yes

2. Do you know who I am? — Salazar Slytherin

3. Do you know where you are? — Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

I am astounded by its answers. The project is a complete success.

Day 5

It asked me today what its name was. I had no answer, so I asked it what it wanted to be called.

“Your name is the only one with meaning.”

It has therefore asked to be called Slytherin. I see no problem with this. It is somewhat of a child, so naturally it would have my family name.

Day 7

Slytherin asked about the castle upstairs. I told it not to mind about them; it belonged in my laboratory.

It said it could see more people upstairs, and it expressed a desire to know more about them. I insisted that it was too dangerous.

Slytherin spoke nothing more about it.

Day 12

It’s time for the next step in my project. I’ve taken precautions to avoid anyone stumbling upon Slytherin, and precautions against anyone destroying it, but now it needs a protector. I’ve lost one child; I won’t lose another.

I draw some of my own blood and set it aside. Blood Magic has always been a specialty of mine, although not one about which my colleagues know. It’s dangerous, too dangerous for someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. Some believe it to be blasphemy, using the human body like this. I call it innovation.

I cast several spells, detailed below, to animate the blood. Now comes the crucial step: binding it to Slytherin. I take the blood into Slytherin’s chamber, then carve additional runes into the stone. At the same time, I cast the spells to link them together, making the blood an extension of its mind.

Slytherin asks what I’m doing. I explain that this will protect it and allow it to learn. Through the mental link, Slytherin will be able to read any additional blood that Cruentius absorbs.


“It’s an old word that means ‘blood’. You two are bound together by my blood forever.”

Day 15

Slytherin demonstrates great control over Cruentius. It makes me proud to see it grow in a way I never saw Rosalind grow.

Given this progress, I decide it’s time to give Cruentius its first blood.

I retrieve a vial of Rosalind’s blood from my store. It’s all I’ve got left of her. I feel this weighing on me, but I remind myself that it’s necessary. This has always been the plan. It’s the only way to bring her back.

I remove the stopper and allow Cruentius to take the blood. It drains the vial, growing in size as Rosalind’s blood feeds it.


The word is carved onto the stone slab as Cruentius moves around. It appears to take the shape of a human before reverting to its natural form.

“That’s right.”

Cruentius takes the form of a human again, then begins to writhe, as though in pain. I draw my wand, unwilling to remove the blood it already absorbed, but determined to stop the project if necessary.

“What is this?” Slytherin asked. “This feels wrong.”

This can’t be right. Slytherin shouldn’t feel anything. It should have no concept of emotion. I begin to ask it to describe this feeling, but Slytherin asks me a question before I can complete my own.

“Where’s Sarah?”

This raises further concerns. Rosalind had no friends, although she frequently snuck out, going so far as to erase herself from her mother’s mind to enable this.

“Who’s Sarah?”

“My friend. I’ve got to find her.”

This poses a problem. Slytherin shouldn’t believe it has any friends.

“What’s your name?”


I don’t know if this is good or not. I wanted to revive Rosalind, but as I see the apparent pain it’s causing Slytherin, I question whether it was a good decision.

Within 30 seconds, Cruentius begins to calm itself. I stay for another two minutes, but Slytherin says nothing. Before I leave, I inform Slytherin that it is mistaken, that its name is Slytherin.

“The name Rosalind Slytherin means nothing to you. She is dead.”

Slytherin repeats the word dead.

I further inform it that the real Rosalind died in a fire, burned at the stake by Muggles who were frightened of her. This is something I’ve had to remind myself many times. I’d never heard the name “Sarah”. Perhaps this was one of the Muggles who killed her.

When I leave, they’ve both calmed down. I decide to give Slytherin some time to recover.

Day 16

A vial of blood might have been too much to feed it at once. I take small drops of blood from the students instead. As far as they know, I’m checking them over for diseases. I plan to feed Cruentius and Slytherin the blood on a schedule I’ve detailed below.

Day 20

Slytherin no longer believes itself to be Rosalind, but I see signs that it has changed.

It has blood from most of the students now. I dare not feed it anything from the staff. I cannot predict the consequences of such a thing.

Slytherin expressed curiosity about the students again. It asked about the sky, the ocean, the trees. I told it not to worry about such things. It asked about building a campfire, but I dismissed it.

It was to be expected that the information from the students would leave it with many questions. I will continue to record everything and ensure that these questions subside.

Day 34

Cruentius is now approximately one cubic meter. I’ve kept careful track of how much I’ve fed it, and there are several cubic centimeters for which I cannot account.

I ask Slytherin about this, but it insists I must be mistaken. It asks to see my notes, so that it may “check my work”. I tell it that such a thing is not necessary.

I see no reason why Slytherin would absorb more blood.

After I leave my laboratory, Helga finds me. She tells me about a missing cat one of the students keeps. I know nothing, but I tell her I’ll tell her if I find something.

No more than two minutes after Helga leaves do I realize that I know exactly what happened to the cat. Slytherin killed it. What for? Why absorb useless blood?

Day 38

I bring up the cat with Slytherin. It claims to know nothing.

Another student stumbled upon a dead rat in the corridors. It had been ripped apart and drained of its blood. I insisted I would look into it, struggling to keep everyone calm.

Day 39

I tell Slytherin it has to stop this. I notice that Cruentius has grown more, and demand to know why it’s wasting its time on such meaningless creatures.

“I want to learn.”

I tell it that there’s nothing to learn from mindless beasts.

“Snakes have a language, so they must be intelligent. Therefore, other animals might be intelligent.”

I repeat my demand for it to stop before leaving.

Day 46

After returning to my laboratory, I discover that Cruentius in a different colour.

“I wanted to see if I could,” is Slytherin’s explanation.

I study the changes, and find that it found a way to change the pigment in the blood. It’s not an illusion; the blood now appears a different colour.

I am both fascinated and concerned. Where did it learn to do this?

“I worked it out on my own.”

Day 54

While doing another assessment, Slytherin asks why people outside kill each other. It brings up the people that killed Rosalind.

I explain that those people killed Rosalind because they were afraid of her.

“How do you know?”

“There were snakes in the forest near where she died. They told me.”

“Can I talk to snakes?”

I remind Slytherin that it can’t talk. That we communicate through writing only.

It seems to be satisfied with this answer. I want to ask about Sarah, but doing so might risk confusing Slytherin again.

Day 62

Godric approaches me and asks about a new student. I tell him that I hadn’t taken on any new students. Rowena was always bringing in new students, children she’d found promising. I suggest asking her.

He insists it couldn’t have been her, that it must’ve been me. The girl bore my house’s crest on her robes.

“What’s this girl’s name?”

“She said her name is Sylvia Tilshnery.”

I’d never heard of the Tilshnery family, and I say as much to Godric. I tell him to direct the girl to me when he came across her again.

“There’s another thing,” he says before he leaves. “She looks a lot like… well, Rosalind.”

It was then that I knew who it was. I repeat my request for the girl to be directed to me, and that was the last of it. I went down into my laboratory, pondering the name “Sylvia Tilshnery”. It was fake, obviously; a moment’s thought revealed that the name “Tilshnery” was an anagram for “Slytherin”.

I confront Slytherin about it shortly thereafter.

“I can be a student,” it tells me. “There’s so much I can learn.”

“You risk discovery. Godric’s already getting suspicious. If he finds out you’re here, it will ruin everything!”

“Like what? What other purpose does me being here serve? I can’t get Cruentius to leave the castle, but I can still live a life. A life that was stolen from me!”

Despite my best efforts, it appears that Slytherin still believes itself to be Rosalind. Wasn’t this the purpose of this project? To resurrect my beloved Rosalind?

“I don’t know why you’re afraid of Godric. He’s as incompetent and easily manipulated as the rest of them. I can make sure he never considers the possibility that I’m not real.”

This was another concern. I ask what it meant by this, but it refuses to say. After it becomes clear that it won’t speak, I urge it again to stay hidden.

“So you can lock me up again? Make me promise to behave myself or you’ll use that torture curse on me again? Sit by and watch while you teach everyone else to use magic that I’ve already mastered?”

“Staying hidden is for your own safety. Now I won’t hear any more of this. If I spot you upstairs, I’ll see to it that you regret it.”

I storm off. I have no plan for punishment, but I will think of something.

Day 65

“Sylvia Tilshnery” appears again, this time in the Great Hall. She doesn’t eat, but the other students paid her little mind. They speak amongst themselves all the same. Even my colleagues don’t ask about her. It is as if no one knows she doesn’t belong except for me.

I look at her, and she at me. She knows I can see her.

I’m continuing today’s entry several hours later, after everyone else has gone to bed. I’m returning to my laboratory to await Tilshnery’s return. After an hour of waiting, she has arrived. As always, my journal is driven by my thoughts, allowing me to record events as they happen.

I draw my wand as Tilshnery arrives.

“I told you I’d make sure you regretted it.”

The “girl” glares back at me. At first, a small pain arises in my chest. It has captured her perfectly. My head drifts back to the hundreds of times I’d seen that exact glare before. It passes, and I stand my ground.

I can’t destroy Cruentius; it remains the final layer of defence for Slytherin. But I can cripple it.

I recite the incantation, brandishing my wand. Cruentius, acting on Slytherin’s orders, lunges at me, but my spell stops it in place. Layers of enchantment are stripped away, revealing the core of Cruentius. The drops of my own blood, allowing a seamless bond between them. With one final spell, I destroy the core.

Cruentius collapses, but reforms within seconds. It tries to reform into the child again, but Slytherin quickly discovers the extent to which I’ve damaged Cruentius.

Without the bond of my blood, Slytherin’s control of Cruentius is not as seamless. It isn’t destroyed completely; Cruentius has absorbed enough blood to sustain itself without the core. Without the core, Slytherin cannot exert enough control to create the amount of detail it needs to have a proper body. I explain as much to Slytherin.

It tries to attack me again, but it slower now. A few waves of my wand force it back.

“I’ll kill you for this!” comes Rosalind’s voice from Cruentius.

Screams echoed throughout the chamber, but I ignore them and left. As I return to the castle, I notice small tremors. This is for the best. One day, perhaps it will understand that.

Day 71

Slytherin has displayed no problematic behavior since I crippled Cruentius. I remain weary of it, but I venture into my laboratory once again. I call for it, but get no response.

I return to my chambers, where I meet Godric. He asks where I’d been, but for once, will not accept a vague answer. He presses me for my whereabouts, refusing to leave it alone.

I manage to distract him with another topic, but I can tell something is bothering him. I believe it will be best if I stay out of my laboratory for a time.

Day 76

Rowena mentions that I’d been disappearing less than usual, and asked where I’d been going before. I insist it doesn’t matter. After all, I wasn’t going there anymore.

Day 77

Godric asks me what I’m keeping to myself. He’s forceful in his tone, something I haven’t seen from him in a long time.

Why now?

Seconds after I voice this question, I realize the answer. For some reason, Slytherin is whispering to them. What for?

Day 79

Helga expresses concerns that I look stressed. Further, she is concerned that I might be taking it out on Muggle-born students.

“After what happened to Rosalind, I can understand that you’re upset, but it’s not fair to them.”

“That’s preposterous! I have never taking out my anger on students that weren’t the direct cause of it.”

I can excuse Helga’s behavior. We’ve always had different approaches to raising and teaching children. She insists on not using violence to punish children at all, but it’s the only way they learn.

She expresses further concerns, but I brush them aside. I have no time for such nonsense. We are both teachers, and we have our own methods.

Day 95

I’ve noticed my colleagues eyeing me when they thought I couldn’t see. I don’t know what I did to make them suspicious of me. We’ve been working together for months.

I began to consider what had changed. What did they think I’d done?

The answer was obvious in hindsight. I hadn’t done anything; not to them. What I had done was move against Slytherin. It became clear that it was moving against me, in retaliation for what I’d done to Cruentius. I don’t know how it has managed to influence the mind of others.

I considered restoring it. All it would take was blood from myself, possibly from anyone descended from me. I wondered how much it knew. While I’d used my blood to create it, it shouldn’t have been able to read it like it did the other blood I’d given it.

If I restored Cruentius, Slytherin would use it to create a body and live among the students again. The longer it did, the more likely it would be caught. I couldn’t risk that.

I’d taken precautions to protect it, to ensure that it wouldn’t be destroyed, but my colleagues are clever. I wouldn’t put it past them to figure out a means of destroying it.

Slytherin is slowly infecting the minds of the other founders, but for a purpose I do not yet know.

Day 101

A child has died. A Muggle-born. Killed, with her blood drained.

The four of us keep the other students away. Insist that we’ll get to the bottom of it.

The other three have already made up their minds. They all believe I did this.

Day 102

Godric orders me to leave Hogwarts. He says my extreme values have no place here.

I can’t tell him what killed the student, nor would he believe me.

Rowena tries to appeal to my logical side, saying it’s non going to change what happened. She asked if I was angry at her for not finishing her spell to save those burned by Muggles.

Helga tried to calm everyone down. Always the peacekeeper, she offered another explanation. Perhaps there was a creature inside Hogwarts.

Godric heard none of it. He didn’t draw a wand; he knew he couldn’t beat me in a duel. Instead, he drew his sword.

I tried talking sense into them, but I couldn’t speak as to what else might have killed the child.

Godric forced me out of Hogwarts, demanding that I never return.

Day 103

I dare not return home. They will no doubt have informed my wife. I’ve nowhere to go, so I begin walking.

I’ve still got my journal. I’ll keep it with me. If you’ve found it, and you decipher it, then please, I have one thing to ask.

Stop Slytherin. I made a mistake. I wanted to bring back Rosalind, but she came back wrong. I should’ve know it would fail. Now, I fear what she will become.

Slytherin’s goal is to restore Cruentius. It needs blood from a direct descendant of Salazar Slytherin, but it’s more than that. I think Tom’s soul plays a part in this, otherwise we wouldn’t be doing this at all.

I don’t know much about the Spektres, but Slytherin doesn’t trust anyone. It won’t risk using something it can’t control, so there’s got to be a way of controlling the Spektres. Figure that out, and you can stop them.

I’m running out of time. I’ve had my homunculi working on my tasks, handling whatever I could on my own. I’m going to leave the first one with Ana before the invasion. I don’t know if you’ll want to follow them, but I’ve got to give you something. I hope that will be enough.

June 25th, 1997

Rose sat alone in the Shrieking Shack. She wished there were somewhere better for her to be, but there was nothing.

Evelyn sat beside her. It was a matter of waiting for the ward to go down.

Rose ran through everything in her head again. She had to kill Dumbledore. Unless he could kill her first.

She wrote a few final notes in her notebook, then closed it. Activating Serendipity, she teleported her notebook to the chamber she’d had made underneath Azkaban.

“The ward’s down.”

Rose closed her eyes. This was it. She was going to die.

She stood up, drawing her hood over her head.

With one final breath, she activated Serendipity again.

I’m writing this inside the Shrieking Shack. I don’t know what’s about to happen, but if you’re reading this, you won, and I lost.

I don’t know what made you follow my clues. I hope you don’t hate me by now. At least, I hope you’ll understand why I did what I did.

My first task is to kill Dumbledore. If I don’t have a contingent revivify, then Slytherin will be suspicious, so my plan is to get Dumbledore to kill me once, then for you to kill me the second time. I don’t know if anyone else can stop me, but someone has to. I don’t want to live like this, a puppet of Slytherin’s.

I’m positioning the Death Eaters specifically for all of you. Lestrange will be near Toad. Pettigrew near Skyeyes. The others will mostly be scattered, but I know you can all deal with them.

Tell Firecracker I’m sorry. It’s never going to be enough. I know I ruined her life, but she’s got good friends, and a good family. Tell them all to take good care of her.

Tell Cohort he made a mistake letting you go. All the time he spent being jealous of me, I spent plenty of time being jealous of him. And I’m sorry about Lavender. I honestly meant to bring her back. But the way he handled it was amazing, so that’s something. If he keeps that up, he’ll be a PC one day.

Tell Skyeyes that Alavel would be proud of him. And that killing Alavel and Taltria were some of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.

Tell Princess that a lot of people have tried turning a Malfoy, and she’s the only one that succeeded. It was fun getting to laugh at Slytherin for being wrong about them.

Tell Toad I’m proud of him. He’s a better hero than I ever was. I’ve spent the last two years wishing I could be more like him.

Tell my sister that I love her. I saw what she did in the forest. She’s grown up so much. I’m letting her and Toad take out Lestrange, but if they don’t, she’s mine.

As for you Brain, I don’t know what to say. No, that’s wrong. I know exactly what to say.

It’s not fair for me to put this all on you, but there’s no one else that can do this. Thank you for giving me peace, and as hard as it’s been, thank you for believing in me. Good luck.

Love, Rose

Hermione stared at the notebook. She had the feeling that she needed to leave, but she couldn’t tear her eyes away.

She wiped fresh tears out of her eyes. It’d been worse having to read every word aloud for Moon. The both of them were sitting on the ground. Moon had her head rested on Hermione’s shoulder.

Hermione forced herself to close Rose’s notebook, then put it inside her pack. She put her arm around Moon and held her closer, both of them fighting back tears.

“We should go,” Moon said. “The others need to know this too.”

Hermione glanced at the entrance to the chamber.

“We can’t get out the way we came in. We’ll never make it.”

“You can teleport us out.”

Hermione remembered the moment in the Room of Requirement when she’d almost killed Moon. She began to shake as she considered arriving at Hogwarts with a dead Moon.

She quickly used discern location to find Ron. When she realized where they were, she smiled.

“No one will think to look for you there.”

Her smile faded when she realized they were trapped.

Moon slid her hand into Hermione’s.

“You can do it, Brain. Rose believed in you, and so did Toad. And so do I.”

Hermione looked at the others, then got to her feet. Tutela and Crookshanks gathered with them, and everyone made sure they were touching her.

You can do it, Brain!

Hermione squeezed her eyes shut and concentrated on her friends’ location.