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The Disappearances of Draco Malfoy

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When Draco came out of the tent the next morning, bleary-eyed and yawning, he found Granger flicking her wand at one of the tent’s stakes, tugging it out of the soft, dark earth.

“Granger,” he said, making her jump, “are you trying to make the place collapse on Potter and Weasley?” He stopped beside her, nudging the small pile of stakes with his toe. “I mean, I understand the instinct, but if you’re interested in killing them both, I’d have thought you’d have done it years ago.”

“You’re very funny,” she said, adding another stake to the pile. All the tent’s extra flaps and decorations were now hanging limp, leaving only the main structure still in place. “We’re leaving after breakfast.”

“What? Why?”

“I think we should stay on the move. Harry and Ron agree. I spoke with them about it yesterday evening.”

“Oh, you did, did you? So I don’t get a vote?”

“Stop pouting, Malfoy. You’d have been outvoted anyway.”

He glared at her. “I am not pouting.

“You pout constantly.”

Well, that was just—she was just being ridiculous. Draco let out a loud scoff and stalked back inside to make breakfast.

He was vindictively buttering his toast when Granger came back inside and let out a surprised little “Oh.”

“What?” Draco said, glancing over his shoulder.

She was standing in the open flap with the armful of stakes, looking surprised but gratified. “Thank you. I was going to do it, but now I’ll have time to clean the bathroom before we leave.” She aimed a small, confused smile at him as she placed the stakes on an end table and headed toward the bathroom. “I left the sausages in my bag, by the way. It’s on the sofa.”

He frowned. “I’m n—”

She was already closing the door.

Draco mouthed wordlessly at the door for a moment. He hadn’t been making breakfast for the Gryffindors. He wasn’t their butler, for Merlin’s sake.

But now, if Granger emerged to find that he hadn’t made breakfast for all of them, it would look like he’d been trying to make a statement, just to prove her wrong, and from everything he knew about Granger, that would be roughly twelve thousand times more trouble than it was worth.

This day was off to a phenomenal start. Muttering under his breath about presumptuous Gryffindors, Draco greased the skillet and shoved several more slices of bread onto it.

Fifteen minutes later, as the sausages sizzled on the pan, a door opened elsewhere in the flat. “Hermione,” called Weasley’s voice, “it smells amazi—”

Potter and Weasley came out from the short hallway and stopped dead at the sight of Draco, who was forking a dozen sausages onto a platter.

“Er,” Potter said, looking downright alarmed.

Draco set the platter of sausages beside a stack of buttered toast, dropped a fistful of cutlery on the table, and sat down to eat. After several more seconds of Potter and Weasley making no move to sit down, he said, “It’s not poisoned.”

“R-right,” Potter said, sitting down with Weasley. Draco wondered darkly whether Granger had planned all this to get out of cooking.

That particular theory fizzled when she emerged a second later, flushed and frizzy-haired, from the bathroom, wearing a look of utmost disgust. “Do you know,” she said, sitting down at the table, “I think Fred and George were concocting something in that bathtub. I tried three different kinds of Scouring Charms, and that greenish scum is still stuck there.”

“Please, Granger,” Draco said, “do go on about the greenish scum while I’m eating.”

Her lips twitched. She took a dignified bite of toast, but before she could reply, both their gazes were drawn to Potter. His hand had performed a strange movement, leaping toward his brow—which had furrowed in pain—before swerving back down to his fork.

“So,” Potter said a bit too quickly, “any ideas for where to go next?”

Granger’s eyes had narrowed in on Potter’s scar. Draco could tell that Weasley had noticed the movement, too, but Potter took a bite of sausage as if nothing had happened and looked innocently between the three of them.

Weasley seemed to decide it was better not to ask. “Hermione,” he said, “how long until the Scavenger’s Guild comes back to Diagon Alley, again?”

“They’ll be there the night of August 24th,” said Granger, though she was still looking warily at Potter. “And we’ll have to be very careful when we go, because it’s bound to be full of Hogwarts students around that time.”

“Do we have any Polyjuice Potion?” Potter asked.

“No,” Granger said, “but I have the ingredients in my bag. I can start brewing some right away.”

“But that’ll take a month,” Weasley said. “We’ll miss the 24th.”

Granger nibbled on her lip. “I was thinking we could use Transfigurations to visit the Scavengers. It’s not quite as secure—there are some basic detection charms that can reveal Transfigurations—but a stall in Diagon Alley shouldn’t have very intense protection, should it?”

“We should go as soon as possible,” Potter said. “I mean, what if they have the locket now and someone buys it off them?”

“Right,” Weasley said. “Transfiguration it is, then.”

“As for where we’re going next,” Granger said, “we don’t have any real leads on the sword.”

“How about the cup?” said Weasley. “It should still be wherever You-Know-Who left it. We could retrace his steps. What about the or—” He gave Draco a sidelong look. “The place he grew up?”

Potter thought for a moment. “I don’t think he’d have left a Horcrux there. He hated it there.”

“Still,” said Weasley, “maybe we’ll find a trail or something.”

“Could be,” Potter said. “I suppose we might as well look.”

Draco watched them speak with growing resentment. He supposed this was how it would be for the foreseeable future: the three Gryffindors making decisions while he sat there and waited to be dragged around. Also, it was absolutely moronic for Weasley to speak in code around the locations they might go, because he was going to be there eventually, anyway.

Well, if they thought he was going to make all their meals and tidy up after them and wait to be called on to speak, they were mistaken. Draco stood up abruptly, dumped his plate in the sink, and stalked outside, where he tried—with no success at all—to think of places Tonks might have taken his parents.

A couple minutes had passed when Granger ducked out through the tent flap. “What’s wrong?” she said.

“What’s wrong? You mean besides the Dark Lord taking over the Ministry of Magic, my parents being missing, and your Phoenix lot scattering to the winds?”

“Yes. Besides that.” She hesitated. “You walked out on breakfast.”

“I was done eating, Granger. What are you, my mother?”

She bristled. “Well, I just thought you looked angry, but if you want to stand out here being a child, then by all means—”

“I’m not being a child. You three are the ones pretending I’m not there.”

She let out a disbelieving laugh. “When, exactly, did we do that? Harry asked if anyone had any ideas for where we should go. That includes you. It’s not our fault you didn’t contribute anything.”

“If anybody had asked me for my opinion—”

Granger let out a heated sigh. “Malfoy, we’re not going to defer to you. We’re not Crabbe and Goyle. If you have an idea, you’ll have to just say it.”

“I didn’t ask you to defer to me,” Draco said. “I’m only—it’s … they didn’t even thank me for making breakfast.”

He felt his face flush. He hated how petty the words sounded. It wasn’t about their gratitude for the food—it was about being treated like a normal person. If Potter and Weasley couldn’t even manage a casual thank-you for a meal, how were they going to survive weeks of being on the run together, potentially dodging Death Eaters and trying to overcome deadly enchantments? What was Draco supposed to do about Potter’s excruciating awkwardness and Weasley’s open distrust—pretend they had no history together?

But Granger wasn’t going to understand what he’d meant. She was going to think he was so infantile that he wanted to be lavished with praise for doing something as simple as making breakfast.

Except that when he looked at her, the annoyance had left her expression. She considered for a long moment before speaking.

“I know it’s uncomfortable,” she said, lowering her voice. “Look, I’m trying, Malfoy, and I know you’re trying, and I … we do appreciate that, all right? They’re trying, too, I promise. I spoke with Ron last night, and he’s—he’s just protective of Harry, but the longer you’re here, and the longer he sees he has nothing to worry about …” She shifted her weight, looking awkward herself. “It’ll get easier.”

Draco opened his mouth and closed it again. He’d already been thinking up vicious retorts, certain that she was going to sneer at him. But she had understood what he’d meant. To that, he found he had no response.

“For what it’s worth,” she said, “I thought breakfast was really good, so, thank you.”

With that, she went back inside, leaving him looking after her.

Half an hour later, the tent was packed up and replaced inside Granger’s bag, and Weasley and Potter were stretching out the Invisibility Cloak, trying to determine whether they could Disapparate beneath it, and if so, how many of them could manage it.

Granger tapped Weasley on the head, Disillusioning him, and hurried back from him a few paces. “Make a sudden movement, Ron,” she said. “I want to see how much I can see in broad daylight.”

As they performed a few tests, Draco watched the Cloak flow through Potter’s fingers. “That Cloak, Potter,” he said.

“What about it?” Potter said.

“Where did you get it?”

Potter shrugged. “It was my dad’s.”

Draco frowned. His dad’s? But how could it be? Hadn’t Draco pestered Mr. Borgin about his rack of Cloaks when he was a child, fascinated by them, and hadn’t Borgin told him that by ten years old, a Cloak would be very ragged indeed, and that by fifteen, they would be so oversaturated by repair charms that replacement would be necessary?

But before he could ask Potter about it, Potter let out a sharp ‘ah’ and clapped his hand to his forehead. He seemed unable to control it, or the rest of his body. The next moment, he was on his knees.

“Harry!” Granger and Weasley said together. Granger dived toward him, and so did Weasley’s mostly invisible form. Draco took an instinctive step toward him, too, not knowing what was happening.

“What is it?” Weasley’s voice urged. “What are you seeing?”

“Nothing,” Potter said through gritted teeth. “Nothing. … Nothing new. Voldemort’s looking for Gregorovitch. He …”

CRACK.

Draco drew his wand instantly. Granger and Weasley leapt to their feet, and Potter staggered up, too, one hand gripping the Cloak, the other still pressed to his forehead. It hadn’t been the sharp, high whip-crack of Apparition, more like the low crack of a fissure forming in a lake of ice.

“What was that?” Granger said, her voice panicked. “What—”

“The protective enchantments,” Potter said.

But now the crack, crack, crack of Apparition was echoing through the clearing. Figures were appearing in the trees.

Draco had made to raise his wand, but at the first sound of Apparition, a light, thin something had landed over him: the Invisibility Cloak. Potter, Granger, and the Disillusioned Weasley were already sending spells whizzing through the air and into the trees. Jets of light were returning toward Potter and Granger, the only two who were still visible. “Protego!” Potter yelled, slashing his wand through the air, and a Stunner rebounded into the trees, rewarded with a strangled cry.

Draco ran to the Gryffindors and seized Potter’s and Granger’s arms. “Get Weasley,” he snapped, and Granger grabbed his wrist.

Draco turned on the spot, and they Disapparated, leaving the sunny clearing behind and reappearing in a copse of evergreen trees. The Cloak slid off him. He grappled it out of the air, looking around at the others. He’d never done Side-Along Apparition before, but they all looked intact, if disorientated.

“How?” Granger was gasping. “How did they find us?”

But she and Weasley were both looking at Potter with dread.

Potter swallowed. “I … you don’t think …”

His hand strayed to his forehead, to the lightning-bolt scar.

They were quiet a long moment. The birds in the trees, which had been startled into silence by their appearance, slowly started to sing again.

“Did it hurt in Hogwarts?” Granger said. “The day of the wedding, when they knew we were in the castle?”

“It … yeah. A bit.”

Granger and Weasley exchanged an alarmed look.

“But it hurts a lot, these days!” Potter added quickly. “I didn’t see anything that day, but I could tell he was happy. I mean, of course he was. The Ministry had just fallen, hadn’t it?”

“What are you talking about?” Draco said, his eyes fixed on Potter’s forehead. “What’s wrong with your scar?”

“It shows me flashes of what he’s up to,” Potter said, “or what he’s feeling. It has done for years. There’s a kind of connection.”

“You mean the Dark Lord is in your head?” Draco took an unwitting step back. “He could know about all this?”

“It’s normally one-way,” Potter said. “There was only once that he … that he got inside …” He shook his head and pushed his glasses up on his nose. “Dumbledore thought he wouldn’t try to do it again, it hurt him so badly. It was at the Ministry, end of fifth year.”

“This is bad,” Granger was saying, her voice high and small. “Oh, no, this is very, very bad.”

“It’s all right,” Weasley said, hurrying to her side and putting a hand on her back. Draco watched her tilt her head up toward the crisscrossing pine boughs, blinking quickly, running her shaking hands through her bushy hair.

He caught Weasley’s eye. Weasley, for some reason, had narrowed his eyes at Draco. He looked quickly away from the pair of them.

“But I don’t understand,” Granger said after a moment. “Even if he’s using that connection somehow, how could he have told the Death Eaters where we were from abroad?”

Potter looked sick with worry. He was pacing back and forth over the needles. “I don’t know,” he said. “I mean, he’s connected with them, too, isn’t he? The Dark Mark makes a link between them.”

Weasley turned to Draco. “Did you feel anything?”

Draco yanked up his left sleeve to look at the Mark. The tissue was red and raised, as usual, but it hadn’t burned black. “It wasn’t a summons,” he said curtly. “But there are things about the Mark I don’t know. The Dark Lord can call only one of us with it, if he needs to, and I don’t know how that works.”

“Of course, that variant of the Protean Charm will be Dark magic,” Granger said. “I don’t know, Harry. If having that charm on his body has opened up some kind of connection between you and the Death Eaters, the same way he’s connected to them … I don’t know whether that’s possible. It could be. It’s just not the sort of thing you’d be able to find in a book.” She bit her lower lip. “And I don’t know why it would only have happened now, when the connection’s been open for years.”

“Never mind the specifics for now,” Weasley said. “What are we supposed to do about it?”

“You three have to leave,” said Potter. His voice sounded dull, almost mechanical, but determined. “If the Death Eaters are tracing me because of my scar, it’s—”

No,” Weasley and Granger said at the same time. “Don’t be ridiculous,” Granger went on. “There’s a way out of this.”

“What?” Potter said.

“Dumbledore already gave it to us. You have to learn Occlumency.”

Potter closed his eyes. “Hermione, in case you’ve forgotten, I learned everything I know about Occlumency from the man who killed Dumbledore.”

“Well, now’s your chance to learn it correctly, then, isn’t it?”

“And how am I supposed to do that, exactly?”

Granger hesitated, but her eyes gave her away. They strayed onto Draco’s.

“What?” said Draco at the same time as Potter and Weasley.

“Hermione,” Weasley said, his voice straining, “don’t take this the wrong way, but have you gone absolutely mental?

“No, Ron, I haven’t!” said Granger hotly. “Even if Harry leaves to try and keep us safe, he’ll be in terrible danger. If they’re finding him because of this connection, Occlumency is the only thing that can stop it, and—and, well, Malfoy, you know how, don’t you?”

“Yeah, but—”

“Well, there you go, then,” Granger said. Like that settled everything.

“I don’t want him in my head,” Potter said to her.

For some reason, it dug under his skin. Draco rounded on Potter and snarled, “Will you talk to me when I’m standing right here!

Potter leapt, making his glasses slide an inch down his nose again. He stared at Draco as if he’d never seen him before. Silence fell over the copse, and Draco breathed hard, feeling the hot prickle in his cheeks that told him he’d flushed pink.

“All right,” Potter said.

Draco tried to calm his breathing. It was almost worse to have Potter look at him after the embarrassing loss of control. Draco felt suddenly hyperaware of the Cloak in his hands—and of the fact that Potter had used that first moment after the Death Eaters’ Apparition to throw the Cloak over him, hiding him from their sight. He remembered that Potter had given him the Cloak in the Room of Hidden Things, too.

He heard Granger’s voice saying, They’re trying. He forced himself to look back at Potter.

“I don’t want you in my head,” Potter repeated, his voice level. “I don’t want anyone in my head. I’m not—I don’t like how it feels.”

Draco’s lip curled. “Of course you don’t like it. No one likes it. But if you’re this scared of it, you won’t be able to stop it. I thought Gryffindors were supposed to be brave.”

“You can be brave and afraid at the same time,” Potter muttered.

There was another silence. Then Weasley, who appeared to have been mulling things over, said, “Malfoy can …” He hesitated, then looked at Draco and addressed him warily. “You can teach Harry without getting in his head, can’t you? I mean, Hermione or I could … could try doing it, and you can give him advice, or something.”

Draco thought about it for a moment. It didn’t sound enjoyable, but if the alternative was Potter inadvertently summoning Death Eaters every other day …

He jerked his shoulders up irritably. Still, some part of him couldn’t help but feel that if his life depended on Harry Potter’s self-control, he might as well just press his Dark Mark and get it over with.

“Thank you,” Granger said, letting out a long breath. “Yes, Ron, I think that’s a good compromise. Harry, what do you think?”

Potter didn’t look happy. “I still think it’d be safer if you all just …”

“We’re not leaving you,” Granger said. Her voice was low, slightly strangled.

Potter gave her a sidelong glance, an odd, charged kind of surprise on his face. Weasley shifted uncomfortably, his eyes fixed on Granger, too. She seemed to realize how she’d sounded, and second by second, she reddened. Draco found himself wishing he were several miles away.

“Potter,” he said loudly, breaking the silence, “there’s something funny about this Cloak.”

“What?” Potter looked over at him, startled. “Funny?”

Draco tossed him the Cloak. “Invisibility Cloaks don’t last that long. My father had one that was all but a rag after fifteen years, and that was the top of the line, very expensive.”

Potter caught the Cloak and looked at it, nonplussed.

Weasley was frowning now, too. “You know, I never thought about that. The charms on cloaks are supposed to wear off after a while, and even if they don’t, they usually have tears or frays or something. Yours is just … just perfect.”

They all looked at the Cloak for a moment.

“So … what?” Potter said. “What’s that mean?”

Weasley shrugged. “Beats me.” He glanced around the copse. “Where are we, Malfoy?”

“A few miles from my house,” Draco muttered. “I know, I know, we shouldn’t stay here. It was just an instinct.”

Even as he said it, though, his gaze strayed through the trees. He’d used to play in this scrap of woodland, which abutted the manor, when he was small. He could have found his way home blindfolded from here. He made out one corner of the house standing proud at the top of the hill, and he wondered who was inside it now, and to what use it was being put. He wondered about the figures moving through the halls of his childhood like ghosts of the old life, which felt farther away now, as he stood on its threshold, than it ever had.

 


 

They settled into a routine, which, while not particularly relaxing, at least added some structure to their days. In the mornings, they packed up camp. If any of them had an idea about where they might go to search for Hufflepuff’s cup, they spent the afternoon performing Transfigurations and traveling there, although they tried not to Transfigure themselves multiple days in a row. Side effects of excessive Transfiguration included muscular twitching, headaches, and the viscerally horrible feeling that their faces were melting for hours on end.

Soon they had investigated the orphanage where the Dark Lord had apparently been raised. It had turned out to be a dead end; the building had been demolished and replaced by a gray block of Muggle offices. They also visited the village where Helga Hufflepuff had supposedly spent most of her life, Greater Padgley. “Greater than what, exactly?” Weasley had said as they had picked through the few run-down streets.

“It was quite an important place in the 1700s,” Granger said.

After this particular visit, Potter suggested they go to Godric’s Hollow, too. Granger gave him a look that was slightly too knowing as she asked why, exactly, he thought it might be a good place to search.

“I—I don’t know,” Potter said. “I just … never mind.”

There was a lot of this: a village or location brought up randomly, only for it to be eliminated by the others when they couldn’t defend their idea. On the days that they had no new ideas at all, their time was devoted to the brewing of the Polyjuice Potion, and to Occlumency.

The lessons were tense, to say the least. Potter seemed only marginally reassured by his friends’ presence, and Granger and Weasley seemed just as uncomfortable with the idea of reading Potter’s mind. Weasley, attempting Legilimency one afternoon, somehow managed to hex Potter into saying all his sentences backward. “This spell is well past N.E.W.T. standard,” Granger had told him hastily after setting it right. “There’s no reason you should be able to perform it, Ron.”

Then she went back to trying it herself. Draco, sitting on one of the sofa’s arms, kneaded his forehead. “God, Granger, you’re saying the incantation like you’re making a groveling apology,” he told her, exasperated, after a dozenth ineffective attempt. “You have to actually want to do it. Wasn’t this your idea?”

She gave Potter a hundredth tentative look.

“It’s all right, Hermione,” Potter said. “Really. It’s okay.”

Weasley sat down in one of the armchairs rather harder than necessary, watching Granger and Potter making the necessary intense, penetrating eye contact.

“All right,” Draco said. “Ready, then?” At long, long last? he added silently.

They both nodded.

“Good. Potter, if you can’t clear your mind, be aware of what you’re thinking about.” Draco nodded at Granger.

She took a steadying breath, then pointed her wand at Potter and said, “Legilimens!”

It had finally worked. Draco could tell. Potter’s body had gone rigid, while Granger was swaying, her eyes closed, her wand fixed in its outstretched position. Draco and Weasley both watched, unspeaking.

After about thirty seconds, Granger wrenched the wand away. Potter staggered, gasped in a breath, and seized hold of one arm of the sofa, while Granger tottered backward, breathing hard.

“Are you a-all right?” she said, her voice sounding ragged, as though she’d just coughed up salt water.

“It’s … I …” Potter straightened and pushed up his glasses. “Well, it’s better you doing it than Snape.”

“Well, Potter?” Draco said.

“Well, what?”

Draco looked up at the ceiling. “What did I just tell you to do? What did you think about before she cast the spell?”

“Oh.” Potter shook his head, looking disoriented, and Draco remembered Bellatrix rummaging through his own memories, which she’d done eagerly, as if looking for any hint of disloyalty. Yes, it was like surfacing from a violent current, coming out of Legilimency—but this was a controlled environment, and Potter had the luck of doing this with one of his best friends, rather than with a deranged aunt. So it was hard to muster much sympathy.

“I … I guess I was thinking about …” Potter’s cheeks colored, and he looked over at the tent’s entrance. “About Ginny. And, er, Cho.”

“Why?” Weasley said, a bit too sharply.

Potter gave him an indignant look. “It’s not something—would you want anyone seeing you and Lavender snogging?”

Weasley’s ears turned red. “Oh. Right.” He cleared his throat. “Carry on.”

“But that’s not what I saw,” Granger said, glancing to Draco. “I didn’t see anything about Ginny or Cho.”

“Yeah,” Draco said. “It doesn’t always work that way, Granger. Thought you would’ve read about this stuff.”

“I’ve had plenty of other stuff to read about, thank you,” she huffed. “None of the books I’ve brought have particularly detailed passages on Legilimency.”

He smirked and leaned back on the sofa arm. “Sure. Well. Those kinds of memories are called fissure memories, in Legilimency. Maybe they’re not what’s under the surface, but they make it possible for the caster to force their way in. They’re a weakness.”

“I’m not—” Potter started, his voice rising.

“He wasn’t calling you weak, Harry,” Granger said immediately. “Were you, Malfoy?”

Draco eyed Potter. Normally he would have needled him just for the fun of it, but Potter was clearly still on edge from having Granger in his mind, and Draco didn’t want to sit here for another hour waiting for him to calm down. “No,” he said. “It’s … the stuff that you care about. Those are the vulnerable points. Weak points.”

Potter blinked rapidly. “Oh,” he said. “Right. So … er, what do I do about them?”

Draco shrugged. “Stop being embarrassed by them, for a start.”

“What?” Potter looked taken aback. “I’m not embarrassed about Ginny.”

“You’re embarrassed about Cho, though,” Granger said.

Potter shot her a betrayed look. Draco let out a snigger, and Potter looked back at him, his eyes flashing. “Shut up, Malfoy,” he said through gritted teeth.

“This is what I’m talking about,” Draco said. “You wouldn’t care if I laughed if you weren’t self-conscious. You wouldn’t care if Granger saw any of it if you weren’t self-conscious.”

“How am I supposed to—to not be self-conscious about—” Potter was struggling for words. “Stuff like, like Cho, or my cousin—or—” He swallowed hard, then shot Draco a mulish look. “So, what, you’re not embarrassed at all about you and Parkinson?”

“Why should I be?” Draco said. “Do it to me, Granger. Try it, go on.” He rose from the sofa’s arm and straightened his robes.

Granger looked startled for a moment, but she recovered quickly. She lifted her wand, aimed it at him, and said, “Legilimens.”

Draco had already let the world slide into soft focus. He looked at a freckle on Granger’s cheek, then at a panel in the wall. He felt the spell flowing over him, glancing off his surface. It was light, and he was ice. It was a stream of air, and he was stone. Residual thoughts of Pansy carried no charge; they stirred with other thoughts beneath his consciousness like wraiths, dissolving and reforming and dissolving again. Soon enough the spell had broken completely.

“See?” he said, glancing at Potter, who looked reluctantly impressed.

“It felt different from my end, too,” Granger said, turning to Potter with interest, as if they were back in Hogwarts and taking part in an engaging Charms class. “I could feel a sort of … an echo of a feeling, but there weren’t any real images.”

“All right, all right,” Weasley said from the sofa, sounding disgruntled. “Just—try it on Harry again, yeah?”

As the days went on, Draco began to notice Weasley doing this every so often. Whenever the others had a conversation he wasn’t involved in, or went too long without paying attention to him, a defensive look came over him, as if he were afraid of being forgotten completely. This went double when they hadn’t eaten for a while. Soon, with nothing to contribute to the Occlumency lessons, Weasley took the hours as an opportunity to work on his Transfiguration spells, and often the time alone made him moody.

Draco wouldn’t have admitted it aloud, but he didn’t hate the lessons as much as he’d expected to. At the very least, they gave him something to talk to the others about, a neutral subject that made none of them angry with each other. Potter’s mental block in the subject was like a kind of common enemy, something they all wanted gone.

Then, in the second week, it happened again, this time seemingly out of nowhere. They were preparing dinner in the tent. Draco was setting the table with Weasley, and they were arguing about the uselessness of the Chudley Cannons, which Draco couldn’t believe Weasley thought was up for debate. Granger and Potter were talking about something else over the hissing sound of oil. Then, suddenly, they heard the CRACK of the enchantments shattering outside.

Now, though, they had a contingency plan, which Granger had forced them to rehearse several times. Draco let the cutlery clatter to the floor, seized a fistful of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder from the mantel, and flung it through the tent flap, scattering it all over the clearing with a sweep of his wand. As voices cried out in the distance, they all spilled out of the exit under cover of the black cloud that had swallowed the woodland. Granger summoned the tent’s pegs, and Potter and Weasley collapsed the tent. Draco threw up Shield Charms at every spell that whizzed out of the darkness. Within thirty seconds, they had Disapparated.

Though the plan had worked, they were shaken. They moved twice more that night, having pointless arguments about how secure each location was, when the truth was that no location seemed more or less secure than another.

Finally, they settled in a mountain cave large enough to set up the tent inside it. Granger cast a Screening Spell to duplicate the appearance of the rock face over the entrance to the cave.

The hasty collapse of the tent had spilled many of its contents, including dinner. They spent the better part of an hour putting the apartment back into order. When they’d finally finished, they slumped onto the sofa and the armchairs, feeling hungry and bad-tempered.

“My scar hasn’t even been that bad today,” Potter said. “What if we’re getting it wrong? What if it’s something else that’s doing it?”

“Well,” Granger said, “at the very least, it can’t hurt for you to be able to close your mind.”

Potter made a grudging noise of agreement.

“I just hope the Scavengers set us on the trail of that locket,” Weasley said. “I’m getting tired of just moving around, getting nothing done.”

“I keep thinking about that,” said Granger. “What if we find the Horcruxes before we can find a way to destroy them, and then the Death Eaters catch us?”

She was sitting with her knees up at the opposite end of the sofa from Draco. He had a sudden mental image of her at her parents’ house, on the floor of her sitting room, wearing an overlarge T-shirt and hugging her knees to her chest. The memory felt uncomfortably intimate somehow, even though it was his own. He looked away from her, back at the empty hearth.

“Or worse,” Potter said, “what if they turn up in the middle of the night and we can’t Disapparate fast enough?”

There was a desolate silence.

“Thanks, Potter,” Draco said. “I’ve been sleeping too well. That ought to help.”

“I wish we still had headquarters,” Weasley mumbled, stretching out in his armchair.

Potter took in a short breath and sat upright.

“What?” Granger said, sounding anxious.

“Well …” he said slowly. “Why don’t we set up our own headquarters?”

They all looked at him without speaking for a moment.

“Nothing like this ever happened at Grimmauld Place,” he went on. “Why don’t we find a place to cast the Fidelius Charm?”

Weasley stood up from his armchair. “Harry, that’s an idea,” he said with rising excitement, starting to pace across the sitting room. “Fred and George were talking about a proper underground resistance. We could make a place where the Order could meet and regroup.”

“Yeah,” said Potter. “And we wouldn’t have to look over our shoulder every second. We’d have a safe place to go with the Horcruxes.”

Weasley was nodding. “Where, though?”

“We’ll have to think of somewhere good,” Potter said. “It can’t just be in the middle of nowhere, or people on our side wouldn’t know where to go.”

“Wait, wait, hang on,” said Granger. “You two are forgetting that none of us can do the Fidelius Charm.”

“Isn’t it in one of your books?” Potter said.

“I … I don’t know. Maybe.” Granger stood and crossed to the wall of bookshelves, which were substantially fuller now than when they’d moved in. “It could be …” She took down a tome that was nearly the width of her head. After a minute of paging through it, she nodded. “Yes, it’s here.” Her voice was restrained.

“What’s wrong?”

“It’s just … it looks really difficult, Harry. We don’t know anyone besides Dumbledore who’s been able to do that charm.”

Draco let out a loud snort. They all looked at him.

“What are you snorting at?” said Weasley.

Draco ignored him. “Granger,” he said, “could you not waste our time with false modesty?”

She drew herself up. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“What do you think? I’m saying, when have you ever not been able to do a charm?”

The indignation faded from her face, and she looked at him in surprise, her cheeks coloring. She looked flattered, Draco realized, which was ridiculous. It hadn’t been a compliment. He’d been pointing out how annoying it was for her to pretend that this would be an issue.

It had to be false modesty, didn’t it? Surely, after six straight years of incessant praise by teachers and immaculate test scores, Granger couldn’t actually be insecure about her magical performance?

“Thank you,” she said slowly, as if waiting for him to say he’d been joking.

Weasley jumped in. “Well, we all know you can do it,” he said quickly, shooting an irritated look at Draco. “You’ve gotten a hundred and fifty percent on every other Charms exam since we got to Hogwarts. It’s your best subject.”

“It’s not,” she said, though the corner of her mouth was twitching. “Arithmancy is my best subj—”

“Hermione, you only have to get it right one time,” Potter said. “That’ll be easy for you.”

Granger was scarlet now. “Well,” she said, sounding bewildered, but looking down at the book and clearly trying not to smile. “I can try, of course.”

And so Granger’s practice of the Fidelius Charm was added to the routine. She spent long hours outside the tent in the afternoons, practicing clockwise and counterclockwise turns of her wand, whispering strings of incantations under her breath.

Some evenings, they gathered in the sitting room to listen to the twins’ Wizarding Wireless. The newscasts they heard were growing increasingly suspect: every programme reiterated the idea that Rufus Scrimgeour was on a much-needed holiday, and that Dumbledore’s death was associated with the highly suspicious Harry Potter, and that unity among wizards was paramount. Erratic reports from listeners suggested that the Dark Lord had been seen in dozens of locations across Britain. These frightened listeners were then soothed by instructions disseminated by the Ministry—which included, in many cases, suggestions to spy on friends and neighbors, so as to ensure that they were law-abiding citizens rather than rabble-rousers and violent dissidents, such as the unhinged and recently at-large Dedalus Diggle, etc.

One particular radio broadcast had made Potter, Weasley, and Granger all roar with indignation: the announcement that Severus Snape had been selected by the Ministry to take over from Albus Dumbledore as Headmaster of Hogwarts, with Amycus Carrow as the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher and his sister Alecto tapped for the Muggle Studies vacancy. Draco wasn’t particularly surprised, but he didn’t like to think what the Carrows would do to unruly students. He hoped his friends were smart enough to fall in line.

Meanwhile, they continued with Occlumency. Draco didn’t think he could have imagined a person more temperamentally ill-suited for the discipline than Potter, but by the end of the second week, they were making some progress, at least. Now, if Granger gave Potter a minute’s lead time before casting the spell, he could unreliably fight it off after thirty or forty seconds’ Legilimency. That level of resistance would have been useless against Snape or the Dark Lord, who would have been able to find anything they needed within several seconds, but still, Draco caught himself feeling slightly smug about Potter’s incremental progress. Snape had tried to teach Potter for months and hadn’t gotten anywhere, after all.

In some ways, he almost felt as if they were back at Hogwarts, with a potion bubbling in the corner, scheduled lessons, reference texts strewn across the flat, and—most of all—the way Granger could constantly be heard parroting facts. “The Fidelius is a twelve-part spell,” she explained over dinner one night, “and the third and ninth incantations are spoken in reverse, and the accompanying thought patterns for the fourth through tenth all require different kinds of memory work. It really is astoundingly difficult.”

But Draco thought she sounded a bit excited at the challenge.

“So,” he said, “which of you three is going to be Secret-Keeper, anyway?”

Granger looked at him in mock surprise. “I was assuming you would volunteer, Malfoy.”

Potter chortled. Even Weasley grinned somewhat reluctantly.

“Yeah, I’ll do it,” Draco said, slurping his soup loudly at her, “but only for the entertainment value of not letting you three inside.”

“Fair question, though,” Potter said. “Which of us should it be?”

An uncertain silence fell over the table. All three Gryffindors looked intimidated at the idea.

“It’d be stupid for it to be Potter,” Draco said. “The Death Eaters will expect that.”

Potter looked indignant. “Dumbledore was the last Secret-Keeper, and that was a pretty obvious choice, wasn’t it?”

“Of course. A perfect comparison, since you, like Albus Dumbledore, can easily duel half a dozen Death Eaters at a time.”

He waited for Potter to scowl or snap at him, but Potter considered for a second. Then he took another bite of cauliflower and said, “Eight on a good day, thanks.”

Draco wasn’t expecting it. A laugh startled out of him, and Granger and Weasley laughed, too, and then they were all grinning stupidly down at their plates, none of them meeting each other’s eyes.

Granger cleared her throat and looked up. “Anyway, it’s a fair point,” she said. “It didn’t matter that Professor Dumbledore was the obvious choice when they were all so frightened of him. You don’t have that advantage, Harry.”

Another brief silence. Granger and Potter exchanged a look. Then, as one, they looked at Weasley.

“I think it should be you, mate,” said Potter.

Weasley looked slightly stunned. “Wh-what? Me?”

“Yes, you, Ron,” said Granger, smiling. “You’re related to half the Order, for a start, and you still know much more about the Wizarding World than either Harry or I do. That could come in handy if we’re ever trying to recruit, or spread the word.”

“But … but I …”

“What, you’re not planning on blabbing, are you?” said Potter.

“No, shut up, of course not.” Weasley’s whole face had turned red. “But … you really mean it?”

Draco saw that Weasley was sitting up ramrod-straight in his chair. Every trace of woundedness and exclusion had melted out of him. He wore a look of glowing pride, as if he’d just been handed the Quidditch Cup, rather than a job that would make him an infinitely more valuable prisoner, or object of torture, to the Death Eaters.

Draco’s throat tightened, and he looked back down at his food, his appetite dwindling. He felt the way he’d felt at Christmas last year: suddenly aware of how young he was. He felt as if they were play-acting, all four of them, at adulthood and responsibility. Weasley couldn’t understand what was really happening to him right now—could he? Would he come to realize the full implications of this decision, in an awful way, or would he, Potter, and Granger somehow slink out of this unscathed, as they always managed to?

But … no, Draco thought. They weren’t unscathed. Potter’s fissure memories during Occlumency showed that much: the deaths of Sirius Black, his parents, Cedric Diggory. The graveyard, where he’d felt the Cruciatus too. And Granger had sent her parents away as strangers, accepting that she might die unknown to them, and Weasley had two brothers now with scars. So it wasn’t like the Gryffindors were completely whole.

Draco glanced around at the others, the trio he’d hated so enthusiastically for so long, and thought about the ways they hurt, and everything they were risking. Foolishly, maybe—but not without reason. He found he couldn’t look at any of them for long.

Occlumency was difficult that evening. Draco felt surly and unhelpful, and they scarcely managed an hour before Potter went to bed, making some feeble excuse but obviously suffering discomfort in his scar. Weasley followed a short while later.

Draco sank into one of the armchairs while Granger pored over one of her textbooks on the sofa. He turned the silver ring with the Malfoy crest around his pinky finger, wondering about his parents. His mother and father had a bad habit of not speaking when they were worried, or speaking only in clipped sentences that verged on clichés. They rarely fought, but in times of tension there was a lot of icy silence at the manor, the kind you could feel on your skin like a gentle weight. The gold he would have spent to get a single message to them, telling them he was safe …

“It’s getting better, isn’t it?”

Draco looked over at Granger and found her eyes on him. He straightened in his chair, feeling self-conscious, wondering how long she’d been watching him stare into nothing.

He didn’t ask her to elaborate. He knew she meant living with the three of them, and she was right. Things were better than they had been. Potter was still awkward, but apparently that was just his personality. Even Weasley seemed occasionally to be able to relax around him now, or at least, benignly ignore him. Hadn’t they just laughed together over dinner?

Draco lifted his shoulders.

“You’re really helping Harry,” Granger said. “In fifth year, he wouldn’t even practice Occlumency, Snape made him so miserable.”

“Yeah, well. Hopefully it’ll keep us all from getting murdered in our beds.”

“Yes, hopefully.” Granger was tracing the paragraphs in her textbook absentmindedly. He found himself watching the movement of her fingertip over the black lines of text. “I wonder if I’d be any good at Occlumency,” she mused.

“Doubt it,” Draco said. “No offense, Granger, but people who chronically care too much about everything aren’t exactly predisposed to Occlumency.”

He expected her to protest, but a small smile tugged at her mouth instead. She flipped the textbook shut and nestled her head into the sofa cushions. “Did you say Bellatrix taught you Occlumency?”

He nodded.

“When?”

“End of last summer,” he said, not really knowing why he was answering, except that it was late, and he was tired, and dinner had left him feeling uncertain. “After I got my assignment.”

“Did … did you know what it meant?” Granger’s voice was quieter, now, in a way that made him realize how quiet the flat was around them. “When he told you to kill Dumbledore?”

He let out a soft, derisive sound. “Yeah. Obviously. I mean, everyone knew. The other Death Eaters wouldn’t shut up about it—talking about how they’d always wanted to see my parents taken down a notch. They thought it was really funny.”

Funny?

He shrugged. “They all resented us for one reason or another. But mainly it just wasn’t happening to them. Everything’s funny when it’s not happening to you.” Draco began to turn the silver ring around his finger again. A headache had started to pulse deep in his skull. “All year,” he muttered, “I was just waiting to get back on that side of it, where I was the one watching and … and, yeah, laughing. I mean, it wasn’t like I loved it so much, watching things happen to other people, but if you’re watching, it’s not you.” He paused. “I mean, and I felt special at first. … You have to think you’re going to feel that way again, or what’s the point, you might as well just die.”

Draco didn’t even know if he was making any sense. He didn’t think he was articulating the last year particularly well, but that was the thing about nightmares. They came out of your grip.

He glanced over at Granger, who was holding the tome in her lap. She looked awkward and uncertain, startled if not completely surprised, and he felt suddenly older than her, and somehow unclean, as if she were brand new, and he was revealing something horrible about the world to her. He wondered if he’d said too much, if he’d disturbed her.

He wondered, too, if she would tell Potter and Weasley. Even a few weeks ago he would have been absolutely certain that she would. Now, though, for some reason, he wasn’t sure.

He’d never told Pansy these things. And it wasn’t as if Pansy hadn’t asked. But he’d wanted Pansy to keep looking at him the way she always had, like he was something precious she aspired to cradle in her hands. Granger looked at him like she could lay him open with her eyes, like she wanted to. Even now, unsettled, there was flint in her gaze.

“You flinch sometimes,” she said. “When people go for their wands. Is that because …”

Pansy wouldn’t have said these things.

“Only twice,” Draco said, and then he stood and went to bed.

 


 

With under a week to go until the Scavengers’ Guild came to Diagon Alley, Hermione decided it was time to try the Fidelius Charm for the first time. They still had no real idea where they might place a new headquarters, but it would be vital to perfect every detail of the charm, so Hermione wanted to practice it before the real thing.

They cordoned off a small patch of woodland: this would be the area bound by the Secret. Harry would stand inside that patch while Hermione cast the charm upon Ron, making him the Secret-Keeper. If all went to plan, Malfoy would then be unable to see Harry, and Hermione would be unable to speak his location to Malfoy. They would perform several tests on the area, like Harry walking through its boundaries, which should be permeable yet undetectable, and Malfoy trying to Apparate into its bounds, which should be impossible. Then Ron would confide the secret to Malfoy to ensure that the information could expand from person to person in the proper way.

Hermione found herself full of jitters that morning. She knew it wasn’t the real headquarters, and there were no real stakes to the exercise, but she couldn’t help feeling that she was standing in the hall before her Charms O.W.L., running through everything she’d mentally prepared, full of anxiety that some unforeseen problem would come up.

She had prepared several sheets of parchment, shorthand notes that she could follow step by step. After lunch, they approached the cordoned-off area. Malfoy leaned against a nearby tree while Harry sat down within the ropes they’d conjured. Hermione faced Ron, who was holding her notes so she could read them.

“You’ll be fine,” Ron told her. She tried to smile, but his words had made no impact on her nerves. They rolled off the jagged edge of what she was feeling, as his and Harry’s exam-time reassurances always had.

Hermione took a deep breath, raised her wand, and began.

During the first attempt, she misspoke a syllable in the first of the charm’s twelve incantations.

During the second and third attempts, she stuttered over the fifth and eleventh incantations, respectively.

On the fourth attempt, her mind strayed for a split instant from the seventh incantation’s required thought pattern (a memory that evoked intense and unshakable security).

It went on and on that way. She reached two dozen attempts, then four, and with each new failure, Hermione felt more and more as if she were falling into one of her old nightmares. For months during fifth year, leading up to their O.W.L.s, she would startle awake in the middle of the night, drenched in sweat, certain that she’d just walked into the testing room to discover that she’d forgotten to study the most important section of her notes—and then all of her supposed potential, her supposed great ability, would fall by the wayside and go unrecognized, and she wouldn’t be able to sign up for N.E.W.T.s or have any proper job prospects, and her parents’ disappointment would be coupled with her friends’ surprise and her enemies’ vindictive satisfaction, and the rest of her life would be filled with regret.

After half an hour, Harry urged her to take a break. Ron agreed, saying all she needed to do was take a walk around and try again in a bit.

Malfoy just watched her from where he was leaning against the tree. He didn’t say anything, but she could tell that he was surprised by what he was seeing. She found herself thinking of how he’d said, When have you ever not been able to do a charm? and it just made her stomach twist up more tightly. With every failure she was rewriting her identity as someone incompetent and unworthy. Even Draco Malfoy had thought of her as someone who, at the base of it all, could do any spell—someone who was powerfully magical. But he was wrong. They all were.

She did take a break, and a short walk, but it didn’t help. After nearly three hours, they stopped. Hermione’s throat was tight, and her eyes kept burning. There had been many attempts when she’d thought she’d done everything right—and yet the spell still hadn’t taken.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, unable to look at the boys. “I’ve wasted your whole afternoon.”

“What else were we doing, exactly?” Malfoy said. She glanced over. He was sitting among the tree roots now, his silvery hair dappled with the sunlight that was peeking through the boughs.

Harry stepped out of the cordoned area. “It’s all right, Hermione,” he said. “Everyone needs practice.”

“Yeah, exactly,” Ron said. “That’s what this was for—to practice. Remember last year, we thought we were going to be absolutely slaughtered at Quidditch? But we practiced every night, even when we felt like rubbish, and everything turned out all right.”

Hermione nodded, not wanting to tell Ron that this didn’t feel like Quidditch at all. It wasn’t a team effort—it was just her. This felt like a fundamental verification of what she’d always feared: that she wasn’t really talented, but just good for her age; that she wasn’t truly exceptional in any way, and certainly not brilliant enough to override what people would expect from her, being a girl, and being Muggle-born, and being herself. It just wasn’t enough. She wasn’t enough. If only there were a way for her to transcend herself … to …

But there was.

She drew a sharp breath, feeling like an idiot for not having thought of it sooner. “The diadem!”

Ron brightened immediately. “Hermione, that’s it! Try it with the diadem on. You’ve already done all the preparation. I’m sure that’s all you need to get it right.”

As Harry hurried back into the cordoned area, she fished the tiara out of her bag. The second it was in her hand, she felt a sense of security wash over her, and when she placed it upon her head, she felt several inches taller, and lighter, too, as if she were hovering slightly above the forest floor.

How stupid not to think of the diadem before, said a smooth, cool voice in her mind. Without it, she did foolish, forgetful things. Without the diadem, she was fallible and unexceptional, only human. With it, she was so much more.

She raised her wand, looked at her sheet of notes, and began to speak the incantations.

At first, the uncanny clarity brought her relief and confidence. With every new syllable she spoke, though, the clarity began to elicit a different effect. She started noticing every single moment in the charm that she was failing to perform up to standard. It wasn’t just an issue of correcting one little flaw. Her pronunciations were imprecise throughout, her wand movements inaccurate by matters of degrees. Her memories were more focused with the diadem, but they still lacked the propulsive force that, for instance, Harry drew on for his Patronus.

Before she’d even finished the charm, she lowered her wand.

“What are you stopping for?” Ron said. “That sounded great!”

“No,” she said. “It isn’t good enough. I’m not even close. I need to do much more work on it. We’ll try again another day—I’m going to practice by myself.”

She took the notes from his hand and walked back toward the clearing where she’d been practicing, the diadem still on her head.

Two hours seemed to pass in two minutes. She tried several other advanced charms that implemented some of the same techniques as the Fidelius, honing her memory recall, shaping and refining the feeling of the incantations upon her tongue, the particular way her lips and soft palate and jaw had to move in tandem to create the words’ precise and unusual syllables. These weren’t the ordinary Latinate spell roots, but words that had their bases in lost language. With the diadem, though, she was learning precision and perfection; everything was beginning to fall into place for her with a speed and power that she associated with her first year at school, the pure shock and exhilaration of being able to wave her wand and send a feather flying into the air, in defiance of her old life as a Muggle. And really, she thought, wasn’t it a blessing to be so far away from Muggle influence now? Wasn’t it a relief to be in the world of wizards, who were remarkable and special, the way she was—to have cast off the dull, comparatively barbaric mantle of her upbringing?

“How’d it go?” said Harry when she ducked back into the tent, the diadem replaced in her bag.

“Really well,” she exclaimed. She felt a bit intoxicated. The past two hours felt almost blurred; she couldn’t remember exactly which spells she’d done, or what she’d been thinking, really, but she had the feeling of intense productivity, as if she’d just finished four feet of parchment for Professor Flitwick.

It’s a Horcrux, she’d told herself continually while wearing the diadem. It’s a Horcrux. But the reminder was only perfunctory, really. Yes, it was Dark magic, but that didn’t mean it couldn’t still be useful. The diadem—it’s lonely, she found herself thinking, and although it felt strange to ascribe the feeling to an object, she knew that it was true. The diadem wanted to be helpful; it had already helped them. It could help them even more.

“You know, I’ve been thinking,” she said, sitting down at the dinner table. “I think we should all try the diadem on.”

Ron, who was stirring a pan of slowly browning green beans, laughed. “Hermione, I hate to be the one to tell you, but I’m not going to be able to manage that Fidelius Charm, diadem or no.”

“Not for that,” she said. “I just mean, who knows what we might be able to figure out about the Horcruxes if we’re all able to think with total clarity?”

Harry hesitated before answering. “I suppose you do … you do feel all right?” he asked. “I mean, it’s not like Ginny, where you’re … I don’t know, getting reliant on it?”

“I’m not reliant on it,” she said quickly. “I forgot about it completely for two weeks, didn’t I? I hadn’t touched it in ages before today.”

Harry and Ron exchanged a look, then shrugged. “All right,” Ron said. “I don’t see the harm. Pop it on, see what happens, take it off.”

“I don’t know,” said Malfoy.

They turned toward him. He’d been lying on the sofa in the sitting room, reading, but now he was sitting up and looking at her beaded bag, grey eyes narrowed.

“Why not?” Hermione said.

“I … don’t know,” he said again.

“Scared of the tiara, Malfoy?” Ron chortled.

Malfoy’s cheeks turned pink, and he rose from the sofa. “Yeah, Weasley, I don’t adore the idea of something with a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul in it.”

Hermione hastened to defuse the argument. “I know it’s dangerous,” she said, although even as she said it, she had the odd feeling of reading lines off a script. “I know it’s a Horcrux. But we have to think about the bigger picture. If this one helps us find the rest, then engaging with it is necessary. It’s the best tool we’ve got right now.”

Malfoy examined her face. Hermione didn’t know what he was looking for, what he was expecting to see, but as she met his eyes, she felt jarred, shaken awake, as if she were coming back into herself for the first time since she’d put the diadem on.

These days, whenever she and Malfoy spoke, she remembered what he’d told her the night that Harry and Ron had gone to bed early. She couldn’t shake the brief, brutal description of his mindset during the previous year. If you’re watching, it’s not you.

And then—only twice, he’d said, as if being subjected to the Cruciatus Curse a mere two times was something he should be grateful for.

She’d half expected him to be furious with her for asking, or, in the days that followed, to shun her, angry with himself instead for telling her. But he hadn’t made any allusion to the conversation at all. Sometimes she thought his voice sounded different when he spoke to her—less drawling, maybe, or more confidential. Like he wanted her to laugh at his jokes.

She hadn’t told Harry or Ron what he’d said. It didn’t seem right to tell them, but then it left her with a strange weight in her chest when she looked at Malfoy. Had he told anyone else at all? She didn’t think he would have told Crabbe or Goyle or his Slytherin friends—he liked to impress them, he liked them to think he was in control. But did that mean she was the only person in the world besides the Death Eaters who knew he’d been tortured by Lord Voldemort?

“We’ll be careful,” she told him. “Really careful. We can time it, all right? Ten minutes or something, that’s all.”

After another long moment, some of the tension in his expression eased, and he muttered, “All right.”

So, after dinner, they sat down in the sitting room and passed the diadem from person to person. Hermione felt a slight jealous twinge, seeing the others handle it, but she pushed it back. This had been her idea, after all.

Ron was the first to go. He placed the diadem on his head, the sapphires contrasting with his brilliantly red hair, and closed his eyes. He steepled his fingers the way he sometimes did when he was contemplating the best approach for a checkmate.

After three minutes or so, he let out a shaky laugh and opened his eyes. “Wow. It’s something, isn’t it?”

Hermione nodded eagerly. “Have you remembered anything new?”

“No. I mean, it isn’t really doing much for my memory.”

“It—it isn’t?” Hermione said, taken aback. “When I wear it, I can remember answers I gave to tests four years ago.”

“Well, that’s you, isn’t it?” Ron shook his head. “I feel like I’m … I dunno, like I’m a thousand miles away, or something.”

“A thousand miles away?” said Harry, uncomprehending. Malfoy was watching the proceedings silently from one of the armchairs, a look of lingering mistrust on his face.

“Yeah,” Ron said. “Like I’m looking down on everything and I can see all the little pieces moving around.” He shrugged. “Like a chess match. It’s all making sense, the blood status registration at Hogwarts, and everything we’re hearing on the Wireless. … I mean, that’ll be their next move, won’t it? Making it seem like blood status is something that actually matters in an official way, and then they can push that into the Ministry, too. I suppose they’ll be finding an excuse to register everyone next, not just students. And if they’re using you as a scapegoat, Harry, they can make it all seem like it’s something Dumbledore would’ve approved of. They’re trying to muddy the waters.”

Hermione nodded. Now that Ron said it, it seemed perfectly obvious that this was what the Death Eaters’ agenda would demand next.

“But what’s our move?” Harry said. “What are we supposed to do to stop them?”

Ron shook his head. “I think we’re doing all we can, mate. We’ve got our job from Dumbledore. The Death Eaters have the whole Ministry on their side. There’s too many of them for us to try and go against them outright. Hunting the Horcruxes is our way to checkmate.”

Harry sighed. “All right. Let me try it, then.”

Ron looked momentarily reluctant, but he took the diadem off and passed it to Harry, who jammed it over his untidy black hair and waited for something to happen.

“Well?” said Malfoy, after several long, quiet minutes of thought.

“Godric’s Hollow,” Harry said.

“What?” Hermione said.

“I … I just want to go there. I don’t know. I can’t really tell why. I mean, I wanted to go anyway, but this makes me want to go there even more.” Harry looked between them. “Do you think Ravenclaw’s trying to tell me something?”

Hermione frowned. “That’s not how it works.”

Ron bobbed his shoulders. “It’s probably your own instincts.”

“Instincts?” Hermione said. “But instinct isn’t … it’s not …”

A mulish look was forming on Harry’s face now. “Hermione, you said to try it on, and I’ve tried it on, and that’s what it’s telling me. I just have a feeling we should go there. I mean, the sword was in Dumbledore’s will, and I read in that Skeeter article, Dumbledore’s from Godric’s Hollow.”

“Yes,” Hermione said impatiently, “but none of his family will have lived there for decades. It wouldn’t have been passed to anyone there.”

“Well, we don’t have other leads, do we?” said Harry, sounding exasperated. “Why can’t we go?”

Hermione bit her lip. “Because I’m worried someone might be expecting us, Harry! The Death Eaters know that you and I, at least, are on the run. A town that both you and Dumbledore are connected to? The place where … well, where your parents’ graves are? Don’t you think they’ll be expecting you to visit?”

“Maybe that’s why I feel like we should,” Harry insisted. “Look, someone took Dumbledore’s bequests from the Ministry, which means someone’s trying to help us. Who’s to say that person isn’t looking for a place we might visit?”

This made Hermione hesitate. She hadn’t thought of that angle.

Harry seized on her hesitation and rounded on Ron and Malfoy. “What do you two think?” he asked.

Neither of them looked keen to give their opinion.

“I … I mean, everywhere’s dangerous at this point, right?” Ron said feebly. “I think we might as well.”

“I abstain from the vote,” Malfoy said.

“You can’t abstain,” Hermione said.

“Yes, he can,” Harry said triumphantly. “That’s two to one, Hermione. We’ll go tomorrow.”

She sighed. “Fine,” she said as Harry took the diadem off and chucked it somewhat unceremoniously at Malfoy.

Malfoy caught the diadem. He turned it over and over, examining it, before gingerly sliding it over his blond hair. The wrought silver ornament made him look slightly elfin.

Hermione wondered what was happening to Malfoy’s thoughts. It seemed that the diadem affected them all differently. What would the benefits be to him?

There was an unusual focus in Malfoy’s eyes, which reminded Hermione of Harry’s expression during their Occlumency lessons. Did Malfoy’s affinity for Occlumency extend to Legilimency? Was he looking into their minds now? Hermione knew that if she wanted to prevent him from dipping into her thoughts, then, she should avoid his gaze—but she found herself doing the opposite, watching his eyes slide over Harry and then Ron, waiting with a strange kind of anticipation for him to look at her. He’d revealed thoughts and memories to her, after all, that she never would have expected him to reveal.

The second he met her eyes, though, she felt a heated, panicked rush. No. There were things she wanted to keep private. The way she’d cried over Ron and Lavender last year. The way she’d lain awake in second year, thinking about what Malfoy had called her on the Quidditch field. The way she’d lain awake last week in this very tent, thinking about Malfoy’s rigid expression as he’d said, You have to think you’re going to feel that way again, or what’s the point, you might as well just die.

She looked away from him, her heart beating a bit too hard, her palms tingling and sweaty.

After a moment, Malfoy took the diadem off.

“What?” Harry said. “Didn’t anything happen?”

“Nothing useful.” He handed the diadem back to Hermione and stood. “I’m going to bed.”

 


 

The next morning, they Apparated several miles away from Godric’s Hollow, so that they could walk into the village without attracting attention. At the Apparition point, they spent an hour or so on their Transfigurations. Initially they’d thought that it would be the most inconspicuous to look like a family on an outing, but this raised the somewhat ridiculous discussion of which of them should be parents and which should be children.

“Well, you’ll have to be the mother, I suppose,” Harry said to Hermione.

“Families can have two fathers,” she protested. “Or no mother.”

“Hmm,” Ron said, grinning. “Sounds like you’re just trying to get out of giving birth to two of us.”

In fact,” Hermione said loudly, “maybe it would be best for there to be two fathers, because then none of us would need to look like blood relatives, so we wouldn’t need to do as many alterations.”

“God, are these my only options?” said Malfoy, looking between Ron and Harry with his nose wrinkled. “Can I be an adopted cousin, or something?”

“You can be the family owl,” Ron said.

In the end, they abandoned the family idea and merely settled for Transfiguring themselves as far from their usual appearance as was comfortable.

It was a cool, breezy day, the sky a flat sheet of white cloud as they walked into the village. Godric’s Hollow in August was filled with families, many of whom were walking around the picturesque little square in the heart of the village. Unattended groups of children were laughing and chasing each other down the narrow, winding streets. It was a beautiful place, and Hermione tried not to watch Harry too closely. His eyes kept straying wistfully to the children. She knew he was thinking about the childhood he’d lost here, the life he might have had if not for Voldemort.

They were moving toward the church when Malfoy stopped, facing down one of the smaller lanes. He didn’t say anything, but they all looked in the same direction.

Hermione saw it, too. At the end of the row of large, charming cottages was a wreck that the Muggles nearby couldn’t seem to see at all. Blasted half apart, one upper corner of its structure was open to the elements.

Harry couldn’t seem to speak. He just drifted toward it as if magnetized, and they all followed.

They stopped in front of the cottage’s wild, overgrown hedge and an ancient gate. Harry reached out, not seeming fully aware of his own motions, and brushed his hand against the gate. The next moment, a sign of golden wood was sprouting up. Words were engraved into it:

 

On this spot, on the night of 31 October 1981,

Lily and James Potter lost their lives.

Their son, Harry, remains the only wizard ever

to have survived the Killing Curse.

This house, invisible to Muggles, has been left

in its ruined state as a monument to the Potters

and as a reminder of the violence

that tore apart their family.

 

Around the words were lines of ink graffiti—words of encouragement. Good luck, Harry, wherever you are. … Long live Harry Potter. Harry ran one hand over the words, and as he read them, a smile grew upon his face, until he was beaming.

“Hang on,” Hermione said, an idea striking her. She took out her wand—none of the Muggles seemed to see them anymore, now that they were in such close proximity to the cottage—and tapped the sign. “Aparecium!”

All four of them took in a sharp breath. A handwritten line of script had appeared in the bottom corner of the sign.

Return to the site of survival

“The site of survival?” Malfoy said.

Ron was frowning at the words. “What do you think that means?”

“I think it’s for me,” Harry murmured.

Hermione’s eyes had strayed up from the sign, back onto the ruined building.

“Yes,” she said quietly. “I think it means you’re supposed to go there.” She pointed to the blasted corner of the cottage, to the remains of the room, just out of sight, where the Killing Curse had rebounded sixteen years ago. “There, Harry. The place you survived.”