July-August 1997

Blaise rolled his eyes as Draco looked moodily over Lago Maggiore, his grey eyes fixed on the Alps in the distance. His blond friend had barely touched his dinner, though he had been drinking the strong Piedmontese wine like it was pumpkin juice since arriving by Portkey earlier in the evening. After two weeks in hiding at Snape's gloomy little house in a decaying Muggle mill town, the Dark Lord had given Draco permission to stay at the Zabini family's palatial, lakeside villa near the Italian-Swiss border, at least until the Ministry was co-opted enough for Draco to return to England.

"Stop pouting, Drake," the Italian boy urged. "Try enjoying la dolce vita while you're here. There are worse places you could be. Like some shitehole of a Muggle mill town," he offered, brightly. "Or Azkaban."

"I'm not pouting, I'm brooding," Draco replied testily.

"You need to be dark and handsome like me to brood properly," Blaise declared. "As pale and pointy as you are, that expression on your face just makes you look like a smacked arse."

Draco made an obscene gesture in his best friend's direction and refilled his wineglass. Blaise raised his eyebrows. "Finish your risotto," he half-suggested, half-ordered. "It's the elves' speciality, so they'll sulk if you don't. And it may help sop up all the alcohol in your stomach."

"What's got your knickers in a twist anyways?" the dusky-skinned boy continued. "You successfully completed your task for the Dark Lord, though I'll be buggered if I know how you managed it. You should be relieved, not trying to single-handedly decimate my mum's wine cellars."

"Let's see," Draco said sarcastically, ticking off the points on his fingers. "I'm a wanted fugitive for my role in the murder of Albus Dumbledore. I can't go home, even though my mum needs my help in controlling her Death Eater houseguests and my father is being more of a brute to her than usual. I've got a fucking slave brand on my arm and it's just a matter of time until I get assigned another suicide mission."

"Well, aren't you just the poster child for joining the Death Eaters?" Blaise remarked sarcastically. He was shrewd enough to know that the Dark Lord wanted Draco to recruit him, and had permitted him to stay with the Zabinis for that reason. Blaise also thought it was more likely that his oft-married mother would take a vow of chastity and retire to a convent of Muggle nuns before he would voluntarily join the ranks of Voldemort's recruits.

Draco buried his white-blond head in his hands, voice muffled as he spoke through his fingers. "Oh, and Granger - who literally saved my life with her tutoring and kept me from going insane all year - now hates me like poison, worse than she ever did. She tried to gut me with a Dark curse the last time I saw her. Now, she's got a temper and maybe she's cooled off, but I'm fairly certain she still wants to hex my bits off. Unless you managed to talk her around?" he asked, sounding hopeful despite himself.

"I'm sorry, bro," Blaise sighed. "I kept trying to get her alone, but it was like she was glued to Potter or one of the Weasleys. The first chance I had to speak with her was at Dumbledore's funeral, and I cocked it up. She wouldn't even let me finish what I had to say."

Draco groaned into his hands. "You honestly couldn't find some better occasion to convey my apologies?"

"I don't think it would have mattered what I said or when I said it, Drake. Not after what you did."

"Go on, then," Draco said with impatience, raising his head from his hands. "Tell me the worst," he demanded hoarsely. "Exactly what you said to her and what she said to you."

At the end of Blaise's recitation, Draco's head was firmly back in his hands. "You pillock!" he fumed. "I know Granger, how she thinks. I've been inside that bushy, brilliant head of hers often enough. She thought you were making fun of her, and then trying to blackmail her. Honestly, I should have written out my apology in short little words for Goyle to deliver. He wouldn't have fucked it up so badly!"

Blaise glared back at his ingrate of a friend. "I did the best I could with your hot-headed little lioness, at no little risk of personal injury to myself. Granger pulled her wand on me, and then Weasley twins - remember them, the human Bludgers? - showed up and threatened to grind me into the dust!"

Dramatically, he threw up his hands. "I'm a lover, not a fighter!"

Draco's lips quirked. "Keep telling yourself that, you wannabe!"

Blaise grinned back at him, hopeful their spat had blown over. Even when things turned to shite, he knew that his theatrics and irrepressible ego could always cajole his best friend out of one of his black moods. "Puh-leeze, Drake! There is no 'wannabe' about it. I am now the undisputed, reigning Slytherin Sex God, especially since you've abdicated any claim to the title by deciding to pine over a Mudblood."

"A Muggleborn," Draco fiercely corrected.

The smile left Blaise's face, and he placed a sympathetic hand on his shoulder. "I'm sorry, bro. I didn't realize it was like that." He hesitated, and then continued with the painful truth his friend needed to hear. "You know it's never going to work with Granger, right? There's a war coming - hell, you fucking helped to start it up there on the Astronomy Tower - and you're on opposite sides. You're a Malfoy and she's a Mudblood." Deliberately, he emphasized the slur.

Despite a flicker of unease - he was staring a cold-faced Death Eater straight in the eye and telling him something he did not want to hear - Blaise pressed on. "The best thing you can do, Drake, is forget about her. Or at least try to remember that she's just a Mudblood. Nothing more than a toy, a pet, something that you use to scratch an itch."

"What the fuck is wrong with you? You never used to buy into this blood purity shite!" Draco exploded.

"I don't," Blaise shrugged. "But you did, and the crazy, mask-wearing fuckers you hang around with still do. You can't afford the distraction of caring about Granger as a person - it's only going to get you killed."

"Leave me alone, Blaise," Draco said finally, after a slightly hostile silence.

"I'll be inside if you need me, bro," said Blaise, taking his leave with a final, awkward pat to his friend's shoulder.

With his departure, Draco shifted his gaze back over the lake, watching how the setting sun colored the deep blue water. Logically, Blaise was right. As a matter of self-preservation, a Slytherin trait he highly valued, Draco knew he should try to put Granger out of his head or think about her in a more appropriate way, as a Mudblood he had shagged and not as a girl he cared about.

Still, he could not help but wonder where she was, if she was safe, if she was happy, and if she ever thought about him, the way he often thought about her.

(x) (x) (x)

"Alright there, Hermione?" Fred asked, coming up to her as she sat on a low stone wall, moodily watching a gnome in the Burrow's overgrown garden. For once, his smile was sympathetic rather than mischievous.

"Sure," she said, forcing a smile. She was vaguely surprised that Fred was alone, without George at his shoulder. She had not seen either twin since Dumbledore's funeral, having gone directly home to see her parents, though Fred had sent her a few owls and even a bouquet of flowers.

"Well, that's a whopper if I ever heard one," Fred commented, taking a seat next to her. "Ronniekins is practically cowering under the kitchen table after the tongue-lashing you just administered."

"Ron deserved it," Hermione huffed. "Honestly, you think a few Bat Bogey hexes from Ginny would have taught him not to blame a girl's bad mood on her monthly!"

"At least not when she can hear you," Fred agreed solemnly, even as his lips twitched in amusement. "But Ron's a slow learner. Now, tell Uncle Freddy what's wrong," he coaxed. "Unless it is your monthly, because I really don't want to hear about that!"

"It's not that," Hermione shook her head. In truth, it would have been this week, except all of the contraceptive charms she had cast after her evening with Malfoy had thrown her cycle off. She finally had started a lighter than normal period - just spotting, really - two days after Dumbledore's funeral, two anxious weeks late, and now wasn't due again until the very end of July.

"Is it something I did?" Fred asked softly. "I would tell you I'm sorry about what happened on the night of Dumbledore's funeral, but . . . I'm really not." He flashed her a wicked smirk.

No, it's not that," Hermione reassured him. "It was perfectly lovely, and I needed that sort of comfort."

"Me, too," Fred said, placing his hand on her knee and giving her a pat, in a gesture that she could take as either friendly or something more.

"It's my parents," she confessed. It would be a relief to get this out in the open, and Fred wasn't one to judge.

"Did you have a row?" the redhead guessed. "Usually you stay with them longer before coming to the Burrow."

Hermione's throat tightened. She always, always spent July and early August with her parents, usually going away on holiday for a week or so. This year, they had planned a family trip to Australia, but she hadn't gone with them and they wouldn't be coming back.

"It wasn't a row. I used magic against them," she whispered. "A combination of memory charms and compulsion charms. Not quite the Imperius curse, not quite Unforgivable, but close . . . ." Her voice trailed off.

You're a witch - make them go. That had been Malfoy's cold-blooded advice and, Merlin help her, she had taken it. Hermione forced herself to continue, past the lump in her throat. "They're now convinced their names are Wendell and Monica Wilkins, and that their life's ambition is to move to Australia, which they now have done."

Fred regarded her, his blue eyes steady. "Why'd you do that?" There was no trace of condemnation on his face.

"I couldn't protect them," she admitted. "They're vulnerable because of me, but the Death Eaters shouldn't be able to find them now, in a different country with new names. And . . . and if anything happens to me, they should still be safe and happy. Wendell and Monica don't . . . they don't remember having a daughter." Tears filled her eyes as she recalled how she had disappeared from her family's photos.

Fred threw a comforting arm around her shoulder. "I'm sorry," he murmured into her hair. "If it's worth anything, I think you did the right thing. I would do the same, if mum and dad weren't magical."

"It's worth a lot," she said, shakily. "Thanks, Fred." As he hugged her into his chest, Hermione felt a thrill of attraction.

"D'ya want to take a walk with me? Down to the orchard?" he asked, with far less than his usual exuberant confidence.

"I'd like that," said Hermione, surprised again at how much she meant that. As Fred helped her down from the garden wall, she couldn't help but compare his freckly, square-shaped hand to Malfoy's, which had been pale and perfectly manicured, with elegantly long fingers. His parting words, whispered mockingly into her ear, echoed back at her. Bye, Mudblood. You know what they say - you'll never forget your first.

Hermione smiled up at Fred, just a little bit flirtatiously, and squeezed his hand. Sod off, Malfoy. I can damn well try.

(x) (x) (x)

In the second half of July, Draco found himself back in England, at Malfoy Manor. The Ministry had not yet fallen, but it was teetering, so much that there was no risk of a surprise Auror raid on the Manor.

He was seated at a long, polished table in the dining room, now appropriated for Death Eater meetings. Despite the roaring fire - in the middle of summer - the room was icy and eerily silent. Even with his mother's warning touch on his leg, he couldn't help himself from glancing up at unconscious and obviously brutalized woman revolving upside down over the table, like some grotesque chandelier.

He wished he was still in sunny Italy, observing Blaise's outrageous flirting with a jaundiced eye, or back at Hogwarts, or really anywhere except his ancestral home. Resolutely, Draco turned his eyes to the polished surface of the table, avoiding eye contact with anyone who might use Legilemency against him.

"Yaxley, Snape, you are very nearly late," his master said warningly from his seat at the head of the table.

Professor Snape showed no fear at the reprimand. "My lord, the Order of the Phoenix intends to move Harry Potter from his current place of safety on Saturday next, at nightfall," he announced, as soon as he was settled into his seat next to the Dark Lord.

Draco kept his pale head down as excitement swept the room at the prospect of a battle with the Light side. His eyes remained fixed on the tabletop as Yaxley disputed Snape's assertion, providing the contrary information he had received from the Aurors' Office. He did not look up when Yaxley proudly proclaimed he had successfully placed Pius Thicknesse, lately appointed to head the MLE, under the Imperius Curse. Still looking down, Draco blinked briefly at the intelligence that the Order, due to the Death Eaters' inroads, could not trust any form of Ministry-provided magical transportation. He wondered if Granger had succeeded yet in creating any bootleg Portkeys.

"Let's see . . . Lucius, I see no reason for you to have a wand anymore," Voldemort stated.

At that, Draco did look up, in shock. The Dark Lord might as well have announced he was taking Lucius's testicles. A wizard without a wand was no better than a Squib, or a Muggle. He braced himself for his father's protest and someone's torture - hopefully Voldemort would target Lucius, not Draco or his mother.

"My lord?" Draco's father questioned, not comprehending.

"Your wand, Lucius. I require your wand," the Dark Lord elucidated.

Under the table, Draco saw his mother very subtly touch his father's wrist, in a silent plea for him to bow to the inevitable. Lucius shut his eyes, as though in pain, as he removed his wand from his robes and passed it to their master.

Draco hid a malicious smile. Without his wand, his father's ability to abuse his mother would be severely curtailed. Narcissa could not hope to match Lucius's physical strength, and had far less knowledge of Dark curses, but she was a witch. His father, now unarmed, would raise a hand against her at his peril. Any temptation to smile evaporated, however, when his father stupidly made to reach for the Dark Lord's yew wand.

"Give you my wand, Lucius? My wand?" their master hissed in malicious amusement.

Several Death Eaters sitting around the table snickered at Lucius's frantic disclaimer and protestations. As much as Draco hated his father, he did not join in, knowing that his father's humiliation also was his family's humiliation. He turned his gaze upward, preferring to look at the broken woman levitating above the table rather than risk meeting the Dark Lord's red eyes.

His master now was mocking his mother and aunt because their half-blood niece had just married Remus Lupin, a werewolf and Draco's former DADA professor back in his third year. In those happier times, Draco had been so proud of his father's influence in getting the man removed from his teaching position and in getting that bloody hippogriff sentenced to death. Now, he tried to tune out the jeering Death Eaters, all gloating that the mighty Malfoys had fallen so low, until the Dark Lord asked him a direct question:

"What say you, Draco? Will you babysit the cubs?" His soft voice cut through with taunts and catcalls with chilling ease.

Caught off guard, Draco looked in panic to his parents for guidance on how to respond in a way that would not get any of them Crucio'd. Lucius refused to help, staring into his lap. His mother met his eyes and shook her head, in an almost unnoticeable gesture.

"Enough," the Dark Lord ordered, wearying of baiting the Malfoys.

Draco released a slow, relieved breath as his master's attention shifted to the woman floating above the table, who now was conscious and begging his godfather for help. "Severus! Help me!"

His relief at being overlooked by those cruel red eyes was premature. "Don't you recognize our guest, Draco?" Voldemort asked.

Jerkily, he shook his head, wanting to deny any connection to the doomed prisoner. Her face was too battered to be recognizable, but her voice was vaguely familiar to Draco. With a chill, he hoped it wasn't Granger's mum, whom he had seen and overheard a few times on Platform 9 and 3/4.

"Of course, you would not have taken her classes."

With that hint, Draco realized that the woman taught Muggle Studies at Hogwarts. With a hint of hysteria, he thought to himself that there now would be yet another staff position to fill. He forced himself to pay attention, as the Dark Lord listed the teacher's capital crimes.

" . . . last week, Professor Burbage wrote an impassioned defense of Mudbloods in the Daily Prophet. Wizards, she says, must accept thes thieves of their knowledge and magic. The dwindling of purebloods is, says Professor Burbage, a most desirable thing. She would have us all mate with Muggles . . . or, no doubt, werewolves."

Draco cringed, hoping that anyone who noticed his reaction would attribute it to the humiliation of his half-blood cousin marrying a werewolf. In reality, it was shame. He knew Granger had never stolen a thing in her life, let alone magic or magical knowledge. To the contrary, she had generously shared with him. He stared down at the table, hiding his knowledge of the Dark Lord's hypocrisy, since his own mother had mated with a Muggle.

"Avada Kedavra." With a jet of green light, Voldemort ended the teacher's life. Draco fell from his chair in an effort to avoid the falling body, swallowing down bile as he witnessed his second murder.

"Dinner, Nagini," the Dark Lord called cheerfully. "Now, who would like to volunteer for Saturday's mission?"

He looked around the room expectantly, his red gaze pausing on his youngest Death Eater in the act of retaking his seat. "Draco, how about you? I've been told you're a decent flyer - perhaps you can help catch Potter even if you can't beat him to the Snitch?"

(x) (x) (x)

On the Saturday night before Harry's birthday, Hermione propped herself against Petunia Dursley's spotless dishwasher, stomach roiling with anxiety as Moody explained the plan to move him to safety.

"As Dedalus probably told you, Harry, we had to abandon Plan A. Pius Thickness has gone over, which gives us a big problem," the grizzled ex-Auror growled. "He's made it an imprisonable offense to connect this house to the Floo Network, place a Portkey here, or Apparate in or out. In short, Thicknesse thinks he's got you cornered good and proper," Moody concluded.

"So what are we going to do?" Harry asked.

"We're going to use the only means of transport left to us: brooms, thestrals, and Hagrid's motorbike," answered Mad-Eye.

Moody had withdrawn the flask of Polyjuice from his cloak, and Harry was predictably protesting, quite loudly. "No way!" he shouted. "If you think I'm going to let six people risk their lives - "

"I told them you'd take it like this," Hermione said, amused despite the seriousness of the situation.

Harry objected a bit more, but finally reached up and pulled several strands of hair, flinging them into Moody's flask. The potion frothed and smoked and turned a bright, metallic gold.

"Ooh, you look much tastier than Crabbe or Goyle," she blurted out, thinking of the Polyjuice potion she had brewed back when she was twelve.

"What the hell, 'Mione?" Ron asked, raising his eyebrows.

She flushed beet-red to the roots of her hair, utterly mortified. "Oh, you know what I mean - Goyle's potion tasted like bogies." Hermione shoved aside the thought that she knew what one Slytherin tasted like, and not just his mouth.

"Lay off her, Ronniekins," Fred ordered.

Still blushing, she accepted an eggcup-sized glass from Mad-Eye Moody and swigged it down. It didn't taste nearly as awful as the potion she had adulterated with cat hair, and the transformation was less painful than she remembered as well. At least this time, she did not wind up with fur and a tail, but as one of seven Harry Potters.

"Wow - we're identical!" George and Fred exclaimed in unison, always ready for a joke.

"I dunno, though, I think I'm still better-looking," said Fred, examining his reflection in a well-shined tea kettle, shooting Hermione a wink.

Like all of the other six Harry doppelgängers, Hermione quickly shucked off her own clothes and replaced them with a set of boys' clothes. As she pulled off her shirt, Fred leaned over and whispered into her ear. "That's a lot sexier when you have your own body. Meet me in the orchard once the Polyjuice has worn off?"

She smirked back at him. "It's a date," Hermione said, for his ears only.

"Good," Moody said, once they were all dressed and spectacled. He parceled them out in their previously agreed-upon pairs, grabbing Mundungus by the collar to accompany him.

Hermione went over to Kingsley Shacklebolt, nervously eying his racing broom. After some thought, she had agreed to go by broomstick. The Auror had gravely offered to ride on a thestral, having been told she was uncomfortable flying by broom, but she had declined. She had no doubt that most Death Eaters had seen someone die - probably had taken part - and would be able to see and shoot at a thestral.

She took a deep breath to focus herself. If there were Death Eaters watching the Dursleys' house - and there almost certainly were - they were most likely to pursue Mad-Eye and Shacklebolt, who they would perceive as the most capable guardians. She had to be prepared to fight. You're a powerful witch, not a pretty piece of baggage. Hermione was determined to make Malfoy and his mask-wearing friends rue the day he taught her how to fight on a broomstick.

Looking at Kingsley's tall, broad figure, she realized there was a problem. If she sat in front of him, she would not have a clear shot at Death Eaters flying behind. "Auror Shacklebolt?"

"Please, Hermione, call me Kingsley," he rumbled in a friendly fashion.

"Is there any reason why I can't ride behind?" she asked.

"No, so long as you can hold on to my waist or the broom," he answered.

She regarded the broom thoughtfully, chewing her lip and thinking back to childhood visits with her Grandpa Reg, playing with his military medals as he told her stories about his time in the RAF. "Is there any reason why we can't sit back to back? I'll have a better shot at the Death Eaters chasing us," Hermione suggested.

Kingsley looked thoughtful in turn. "I've never heard of anyone doing that. It's unorthodox, but I can't think of any reason why not."

"It's what Muggles did in World War II with their airplanes," Hermione offered. "The pilot would face forward, of course, while the tail gunner faced backwards. That was what my grandfather did, fighting the Nazis."

"Nazis?" Kingsley looked puzzled, so she inferred he was a pureblood.

"The Muggle world's equivalent of Death Eaters," she explained briefly. "My grandfather's job was to shoot them out of the sky."

Kingsley's white teeth flashed in a brief smile. "Let's hope that runs in the family, then."

"All right, then," said Moody. "Everyone ready, please."

Hermione hurriedly mounted the broomstick, facing to the rear. Hagrid, with the real Harry uncomfortably scrunched in a side car, started his motorbike with a roar.

"Good luck, everyone," Mad-Eye shouted over the din. "On the count of three. One. Two. THREE!"

The racing broom shot upwards like a cork from a bottle, Hermione clinging with her left hand and legs, with her wand ready in her right hand.

"Oh, Godric," she muttered as, with a series of pops, their group was surrounded by at least thirty hooded Death Eaters, outnumbered by more than two to one. "Stupefy!" she screamed, aiming at the nearest masked figure. The red beam of light hit the Death Eater squarely in the chest and he tumbled off the broom, hitting the ground meters below with a sickening thud. She saw Mad-Eye give her a quick thumbs-up before he and Kingsley streaked off in opposite directions.

Five Death Eaters gave chase. Still shaken by the death she had caused, Hermione tried to avoid hexing them, focusing on shielding Kingsley. Quickly, she realized that was not going to work - she had to thin their numbers.

Three of the five were flying in a way that looked naggingly familiar, with two heavyset Death Eaters flanking a third, who flew with a darting, quick gracefulness. She has been forced to watch enough Quidditch to recognize two Beaters protecting a Seeker, and suspected it was Crabbe, Goyle and Malfoy beneath the hoods.

She took careful aim at one of the Beater's brooms. "Reducto!" she shrieked, still not accustomed to hearing Harry's voice instead of her own. The broom dissolved into dust between the bulky Death Eater's legs. He flailed helplessly in the air, but if he knew a simple Levitation Charm - doubtful if it was Crabbe or Goyle - her spell wouldn't kill him.

"Greg!" The Seeker shouted, hitting him with a spell to slow his fall. Hermione narrowed her eyes - she knew that voice. It was Malfoy. He screamed a command, causing a second masked flyer - probably Crabbe - to zoom underneath Goyle and grab him by the arm, flying away from the combat zone.

Hermione smiled briefly at having taken two more Death Eaters out of the fight without having to kill, a smile that was wiped off her face as Voldemort appeared behind them, flying through the air without the need of a broomstick or any other support.

"It's him," she yelled frantically in Kingsley's ear. He engaged in a series of rapid rolls and spins, as the Dark Lord sent bolts of green light in their direction. Hermione sent every dark and destructive curse she knew at Voldemort - Confringo, Sectumsempra, Expulso - but he or his Death Eater minions blocked them all. Her most effective spell was the Oppungo she cast on a flock of starlings, until one of Death Eaters vanished the poor birds into a vortex.

Abruptly, Voldemort disengaged, disappearing as suddenly as he had appeared. That left three Death Eaters in pursuit. Kingsley summarily dealt with one, with a bellowed cutting curse that sliced the man's wand arm to the bone.

Hermione screamed in fear as Malfoy, flying within a few meters to her right, swerved towards them with his wand up. Quicker than thought, Hermione raised her wand to hex him. She could not bring herself to hurt him, but she had to incapacitate him, and she had owed him this one for years.

"Densaugeo!" she cried.

"Fuck!" yelled Malfoy, his last comprehensible word as his front teeth grew rapidly, elongating to emerge beneath his Death Eater's hood. Unable to cast a spell, he wheeled away, flying off in the opposite direction. The last Death Eater, realizing he was outnumbered, also retreated, with Kingsley's Stunner flying wide over his head.

After that, they were unimpeded in their flight to Shacklebolt's home, a sprawling Georgian manor that confirmed to Hermione he was from one of the old pureblood families. It would be impossible to maintain a place like this on an Auror's salary.

They landed with a soft thump in the garden. Hermione flung herself off the broom and began retching in one of the flowerbeds, replaying the sickening sound made by the Death Eater she had stunned when he was dashed against the ground. She had killed someone, and she could only hope it was not one of her Hogwarts classmates, not even a creep like Nott.

Kingsley comfortingly patted her back. "You did well, Hermione," he praised. "I can't of anyone who I would rather have guarding my back. Your grandfather would be proud."

He held out a bent coat hanger for her to grasp, one of her own Portkeys. "Let's get to the Burrow, see how the others fared."

(x) (x) (x)

For once, Draco was enjoying a pleasant morning at Malfoy Manor, with just his mother. For elevenses, they had eschewed the formal dining room for her sunny conservatory, with tea and Draco's favorite biscuits laid out on the wrought iron table. Three house-elves worked quietly among the plants, with wickedly sharp shears sized to their bodies. Narcissa was a cautious woman, and, with Death Eaters in the Manor, always made sure she was accompanied by a small retinue of fiercely loyal little elves.

Even though none of the seven Harry Potters had been killed or captured in the aerial battle the night before, the Dark Lord's wrath had fallen on Ollivander the wandmaker, not Draco or any of the other Death Eaters. After torturing the poor old man into unconsciousness, the Dark Lord had left for parts unknown, taking Bellatrix with him. Draco very carefully repressed the thought that if they never came back, it would be too soon.

"You seem to be in a good mood, darling," Narcissa observed. "Teeth all better?"

"Yes, Mother. Thank you for fixing them last night," he replied, running his tongue over his two front teeth, now shrunk to their normal size.

Draco could not stop a goofy grin from crossing his face. He ordinarily would not be so pleased about being hexed in the face, by Harry Potter no less, but he was positive it had been Granger under the Polyjuice potion. Her choice of hex proved that. She was the type of girl who gave as good as she got - a trait he found dead sexy. Draco hoped that her decision to use a relatively harmless jinx against him, rather than the dark and potentially fatal Sectumsempra she had employed before, meant that she was thawing towards him, and could eventually forgive him.

Narcissa gave him a knowing smile. "Who is she, my dragon? Clearly not Pansy."

"No one you know, Mother," Draco said honestly, not even trying to dissemble. His mum knew him too well. His father often derided her as stupid, but in reality Narcissa was clever, shrewd, and almost impossible to fool.

"I wish circumstances were different, that we could have your young lady over to the Manor, to meet her properly," Narcissa said wistfully.

Draco could not help the impolite snort that escaped from him at that absurdity. "Sorry, Mum. Not going to happen."

Her face fell, returning to its usual smooth mask. She sipped her tea. "I have not had much opportunity to speak with you since you came back from Italy, my dragon," his mother said, with a note of concern. "Bella told me about your exploits with the Granger girl."

From her downturned mouth, it was clear she disapproved, probably due to Granger's blood status.

He frowned. "Leave it, Mother," he said harshly. "It was just a shag. That's all that Mudbloods are good for."

"Draco . . . I don't like it when you say things like that." Narcissa looked troubled to see him speaking like his father. "I did not raise you to treat any witch - any young woman - as deplorably as you treated Miss Granger. Even if she is Muggleborn."

Draco was frankly shocked that his mother - who believed in pureblood supremacy, even if she shuddered at the violent means necessary to achieve it - would take him to task for what he had done to Granger. He had to wonder exactly what his Aunt Bellatrix had heard from the Dark Lord and related to his mum.

"It was just a shag," he reiterated, in a different tone, feeling slightly ashamed that his mother believed he had mixed violence with sex. "Granger's fine, mum. Well enough to hex me with beaver teeth, anyways."

"That was her wand work?" his mother asked, surprised but not especially exercised on his behalf. Her blue eyes held his grey ones, searching for something, then inhaled audibly at what she found. "So she's the one . . . . "

"Good morning, Narcissa, Draco," his godfather's voice smoothly interrupted them, before his mother could pry into any more of his secrets. "Have you met Albert Runcorn? He's the newest member of the Hogwarts Board of Governors and head of the Ministry's Department of Magical Education."

"Charmed," Narcissa said, holding out her hand. Draco merely nodded.

The tall, dark-haired man kissed Narcissa's hand and then smiled broadly at Draco. "Congratulations on your appointment as Head Boy, Mister Malfoy. Your badge will come next week by owl, but I wished to inform you in person."

"I'm Head Boy?" Draco asked, taken aback. Even with Granger's tutoring, his marks had not completely recovered from the hit they had taken when he was focused on mending the Vanishing Cabinet. And that was setting aside his role as an accomplice to the headmaster's murder. "What about Entwhistle and Boot?" He knew the two Ravenclaws had better marks than he.

"Ah, yes. Mr. Boot has some undesirable associations and Mr. Entwhistle will not be attending Hogwarts this year," Runcorn explained.

"I see," Draco said, slowly. One of Boot's grandparents was a Muggle and he had been part of Dumbledore's Army, either of which could be considered undesirable, while Entwhistle was a Mudblood. That explained why Draco had gotten Head Boy, as the pureblooded wizard with the highest class rank, but not why Entwhistle would be leaving Hogwarts. "Who is Head Girl?" he asked.

"Mandy Brocklehurst," Professor Snape answered, with a warning look.

"What's she like, Draco?" his mother asked, curious.

"Quiet, dumpy and frumpy," Draco sneered. "She is a pureblood, though, and smart enough. I think she was ranked second in our class." Well behind Granger, who should have Head Girl, he thought bitterly.

"Yes, well, Headmaster Snape will be relying on you and Miss Brocklehurst to help keep order at the school," Runcorn said. "There may be upset, especially on the first day."

"Severus, you've been appointed headmaster?" his mother asked. "That's wonderful."

Snape's eyes glittered and he looked as though he had swallowed something sour. "There has been no official announcement as of yet, Narcissa."

"You can rely on my discretion," she reassured him.

"Pardon me, sir," Draco asked Runcorn politely, "but what sort of upset are you anticipating?"

"My appointment as headmaster will become public on September 1," Professor Snape answered, with a sardonic twist of his lips. "And some half-bloods and blood traitors among the student body may be out of sorts at seeing their friends and classmates arrested on Platform 9 and 3/4 and sent off to Azkaban for stealing a wand."

"Not just stealing a wand, Severus," Runcorn said gravely. "Stealing our magic."

Draco kept his face a bored mask, allowing his mother to fish for information.

"Oh, yes, the Dark Lord said something about that," Narcissa said, vaguely. "Isn't there some new commission?"

"The Muggleborn Registration Commission," Runcorn related eagerly. "To be headed by Dolores Umbridge. You know dear Dolores, don't you?"

"Of course," Draco readily agreed. "I was one of the members of her Inquisitorial Squad during fifth year."

Inwardly, he was shaken. Umbridge loathed Granger and would love nothing more than to send the girl to Azkaban without a trial, on the most ridiculous of trumped-up charges. Between the human guards and the Dementors, Draco doubted Granger would last a week in the wizarding prison. Which meant, he realized with a sick feeling in his stomach, he would have to find some way to inform her about the plan to round up Mudbloods.

His mother gave him a subtle, measuring look before turning her formidable smile on the two older wizards. "Are you gentlemen staying for lunch? I'll have the elves prepare something special, to celebrate these two appointments."

Runcorn answered for them both. "I am afraid not, dear lady. We will be having a working lunch with the inner circle."

The man seemed very impressed with his own self-importance. Draco internally sneered at Runcorn's ignorance, not realizing he would be dining with a bunch of homicidal nutters.

"A pity," Narcissa murmured. "Perhaps some other time."

The two men took their leave with formal politeness to the lady of the Manor. After their departure, mother and son sat in silence, broken only by the soft clicking of the elves' shears.

"My sister Andromeda turned her back on everything and everyone she knew, to marry a Muggleborn," his mother offered in a soft voice. "My parents disowned her. She was my father's favorite, but he never spoke to her again, except to spit on her and tell her she was no child of his."

"It was just a shag," Draco said for the third time, feeling extremely uncomfortable with where his mother was leading. He was only seventeen, for Salazar's sake!

"Perhaps," Narcissa said, in a neutral voice. "Though you have talked about Miss Granger more than any other girl of your acquaintance since you were eleven. If what happened between the two of were something more than a mere shag, I want you to know that I would never disown you, my son. Your happiness will always come first with me. But I implore you, Draco, to have a care, for your father and Bellatrix would not be so forgiving."

For once, Draco was at a complete loss what to say. "Thank you, Mum," he managed.

Narcissa nodded briskly. "Now, I believe you have an Owl to send? Why don't you go upstairs to your room to write that letter?"

Alone in his bedroom, Draco put quill to parchment, then hesitated. He needed to warn Granger, but the torture that awaited him if his letter fell into the wrong hands was a prospect that made his blood run cold. Self-preservation came much more naturally to him than bravery.

After a moment's thought, he smirked to himself at the solution. Dear Blaise, he began, quill scratching on parchment. It would be in character for him to write a letter to his best friend boasting about his appointment as Head Boy and gloating about the changes that were coming to Hogwarts. And if that letter were misdirected to the wrong address, no one would blame him.

A few minutes later, he read over his letter with satisfaction. It was perfectly prattish and Granger would be furious when she read it. Following a brief internal debate, he added a postscript, charmed to appear for her eyes alone, when she was alone. It was a calculated risk, but one Draco felt was worth running.

Princess - what you once felt towards me, I still feel towards you. Malfoys don't beg, and we don't apologize . . . but I truly am sorry and hope that you will someday forgive me. And please, please keep that bushy head of yours down and stay out of trouble. With all my love and respect, D.

It wasn't perfect, but it would do. Draco whistled softly to his eagle owl, dozing on his perch in the corner. "Wake up, boy. I have an important delivery for you."

(x) (x) (x)

Purus spread his wings and caught a downdraft, gliding steadily southward and west towards Devon.

In his talons, the eagle owl clutched two official letters from Hogwarts, addressed to a place called the Burrow. These usually were delivered by the school owls, but his young master had been very clear - Purus needed to intercept these letters and deliver them himself. Fortunately, he was a large bird and the school owls were lazy, so he had only had to mantle his wings and hiss a few times before the letters were relinquished to him.

He also had a third letter, a personal letter from his master to his dark friend, the one who lived on a lake near large mountains with excellent alpine meadows for hunting. That friend lived far away, a three-night flight to the south even for a magical eagle owl. However, his master had ordered him to deliver that letter to this Burrow as well, even though it was the wrong address. This was puzzling to the owl, but he was a loyal familiar and would do what he was told.

Purus only hoped that this Burrow had food, because he was quite peckish after flying all night. The name, at least, was promising to an owl who liked to hunt rodents who hid in burrows. He also could smell frying sausages and bacon - his favorite - as he approached the oddly crooked house.

His reception, however, was not what he expected. No sooner had Purus flown through the open kitchen window than he was greeted with leveled wands, humans yelling and jumping out of their chairs, and a miniature owl rocketing around his head, emitting squeaky hoots of excitement.

"It's Malfoy's owl!"

"Hex it - it probably has a curse in those envelopes!"

"Pig - get away from that bird!"

"Avada - "

"Ron, no! Not after what happened to Hedwig!"

"Geroff me, Fred!"

"Quiet! Sit down, all of you!" This was from the curly-haired witch he liked. She always thanked him and gave him bacon, which she did now. Purus was amused at how the redheads obeyed her, an emotion he expressed by opening his orange eyes wide. He then clacked his beak in annoyance at the hyperactive little owl when it flitted too close.

"Purus, would you please hop onto the counter over here? Just ignore Pig," the witch requested.

Of course, Purus obeyed her immediately. His orange eyes did not miss much, and, as a familiar, he was attuned to his master's moods. Human courtship rituals made no sense to the eagle owl - why not just offer the female a nice potential nest and sing to her? - but he suspected the girl was his master's secret mate. Plus, she had bacon.

She commenced muttering a series of revealing spells at the letters he carried. "They aren't jinxed, hexed or cursed; there are no tracking charms; and they aren't Portkeys. Anyone else care to check?" the witch asked, with a note of challenge.

The owl watched the humans shake their heads. The curly-haired girl handed out the Hogwarts letters to two of the gingers.

"There isn't one for me?" she asked, disappointed.

"Maybe the school doesn't know you're here, 'Mione," one of the identical humans suggested.

"Harry didn't get one either," the second identical human pointed out.

"Yes, but he's concealed under all sorts of charms. It's no secret that I'm here. And I've gotten my Hogwarts post at the Burrow before." The curly-haired girl sounded puzzled, and more than a bit worried.

"Maybe Malfoy's owl couldn't carry your letter, 'cuz the Head Girl badge made it too heavy," the red-haired girl laughed.

Purus ruffled his feathers, insulted. He was capable of carrying quite sizable packages of sweets and cakes between Wiltshire and Scotland. Unlike the feathery rat still flying around the kitchen like a mad thing, a fourth letter would have been no burden for an owl of his strength and wingspan. He hooted to get the curly-haired one's attention, extending his leg for her to take the third letter.

"This is addressed to Blaise Zabini," she protested. "It's not for me."

Purus persisted, shaking his leg.

"Take it, Hermione," urged a boy with messy dark hair and glasses. "It may tell us what the Death Eaters are planning."

She rolled her eyes him, making no move to take the letter even as Purus nudged her with his beak. "Right, Harry, because the Death Eaters don't have any more secure method of communicating their evil plans than by Owl Post."

Harry reached around her and snagged it, ignoring Purus's scandalized hoot in protest.

"Maybe it's a luuurve note," suggested the non-identical red-haired boy through a mouthful of scrambled eggs. Purus made sure to swipe his tail feathers through the remaining eggs on the boy's plate.

"Between the two sex gods of Slytherin?" scoffed the red-haired girl. "I doubt it. It's probably Malfoy bragging about all the witches he's shagged lately."

"Ugh," said one of the two identical boys. "I never want to hear you use the words 'Slytherin' and 'sex' in the same sentence ever again, young lady. Do you hear me?"

"Or 'Malfoy' and 'shagged,'" the other twin shuddered theatrically. "You are our baby sister, after all."

"Hermione, you need to read this," the dark-haired boy said seriously, passing her the letter. "Malfoy made Head Boy, Snape - sodding Snape - is going to be headmaster, and Umbridge is in charge of some new commission to round up Muggleborns."

She took it, looking more and more upset as she read. One of the identical ones stood behind her, a supportive hand on her shoulder as he read along.

"Blimey, Hermione," he said with sympathy, running a hand down her curly hair. "What a load of dragon dung!"

"It's alright," she said in a brittle voice, grabbing his hand and holding it. "It's not like I was planning to go back to Hogwarts anyways."

Purus watched as the girl crumpled the letter and threw it into unlit grate. He would have to retrieve it and try to get her to re-read the letter when he was alone, per his master's instructions, so she would be able to see the message he had written just for her.

With careful precision, the curly-haired girl laid her wand on the table. "So Umbitch and the Death Eaters claim I stole my wand from a real witch, because I lack magic?" she hissed. "I'll show them a real witch." She pointed a finger, shaking with anger, towards the crumpled parchment. "Incendio!" Her wandless magic caused flames to roar up in the fireplace.

Purus hooted in distress as the letter turned into ash, with his young master's postscript unseen and unread.

(x) (x) (x)

Luna loved weddings. She loved putting on her bright yellow dress robes - a sunny color, as a way of wishing the newlyweds a marriage filled with light and warmth - and watching wizards and witches mingle, dressed in their finest clothes. She loved how the exchange of vows made most of the witches and some of the wizards cry, but in a happy way. She loved canapés and champagne, and she loved dancing to music only she could hear. The wedding between Fleur Delacoeur and Bill Weasley was no exception, at least until Death Eaters crashed the reception.

Luna was twirling on the dance floor, arms overhead, enjoying the creative expression brought on by the Gernumblies, a beneficial condition brought on by being bitten by one of the Burrow's garden gnomes, when a silver lynx leapt through the white roof of the tent to land gracefully in the middle of the tent. She stopped dancing to admire the gleaming corporeal Patronus, so different than her own hare, when it opened its mouth a spoke in a deep, slow voice. "The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeour is dead. They are coming."

There was dead silence for just a moment. Then someone screamed and panic descended. People began pushing and shoving to find loved ones, or turning on the spot to Apparate away as the protective enchantments on the tent broke. A few people kept their heads - Luna glimpsed Lupin and Tonks, back to back, casting shield charms. Hermione was dragging Barry, the Poyjuiced Harry, through the crowd, calling for Ron. Both had their wands out, too. Luna raised her own wand and began casting Protego after Protego at the tent's walls as she wound her way through the crowd to her father.

"Should we go, Daddy?" asked Luna.

Xenophilius shook his head. He removed a pad of parchment and a self-writing Quick Quotes Quill from his robe pocket and placed them on a chair, hidden by the tablecloth. "If the Ministry has indeed fallen to the Rotfang Conspiracy, that is a very important story for me to cover." Her father puffed out his narrow chest. "The Quibbler serves the governed, not the governors. But you should feel free to go home to the Rookery, my dear."

"I think I'll stay," Luna said placidly, still casting shield charms. "But I think it's Voldemort and his Death Eaters who brought the Ministry down." The cloaked, hooded and masked figures now appearing amongst the terrified crowd of wedding guests proved the truth of her words.

Two of the Death Eaters approached their table. "Where's Harry Potter?" one of them growled.

"He wasn't at the wedding," Xenophilius answered, with all sincerity. "Quite disappointing, because I was hoping for another world-exclusive interview about Albus Dumbledore's death. Are you part of the Rotfang Conspiracy?"

The second Death Eater twitched slightly at the mention of the headmaster. "What about the Weasel King and Granger?" he asked Luna. "Find them and you find Potter," he explained in an aside to his fellow Death Eater.

"Hullo, Draco," Luna said serenely. "Aren't you a bit warm under that mask?"

"Barmy bitch," muttered the other Death Eater. "I'll leave these two lunatics to you, Malfoy." With that, he stomped off to interrogate some of the other wedding guests.

"Why are you wearing a hooded cloak? It's a bit much for August, don't you think?" Luna queried.

"It's supposed to frighten people, but I guess it doesn't work," the Slytherin boy said sourly, stripping off his mask and dropping the hood of his black cloak to reveal his distinctive platinum-blond hair.

"Oh, I think it's very effective on most people," Luna consoled. "I just happen to think you have too much of a conscience to be a Death Eater."

"Yeah, well, I have a tattoo on my arm that says otherwise," he said with a twisted smile. "Now, where's Granger?"

"I thought she was the one you were looking for," Luna said, pleased to be proven right. "You normally don't like to be around Ron or Harry. She Apparated them away right before you got here."

"Everyone else we've spoken to says Potty wasn't here. Don't lie to me, Lovegood," Draco warned.

"He was using Polyjuice and calling himself Barry Weasley, but I could tell it was Harry by his expression," explained Luna.

"What, a combination of gormlessness and arrogance?" Malfoy muttered to himself.

"You needn't be jealous of Harry, Draco. He and Hermione are like brother and sister."

Draco pinched his nose, as though he felt a headache coming on. "Loony, do you know where Granger went?"

"Probably into the Muggle world. She is a Muggleborn witch, and very clever. She knows it won't be easy for Death Eaters to find her there."

"So she's gone, then." For just a second, an expression of tremendous relief softened Draco's pointed features, mixed with a flicker of sadness in his grey eyes. Then, his customary expression of bored arrogance shifted back into place. "I appreciate the information, Loony," he drawled.

"Don't worry, Draco," Luna counseled. "My mum always said things we lose have a way of coming back to us in the end."

He merely rolled his eyes and gave her and her father a curt nod, striding away to question someone else.

"If not always in the way we expect," Luna added softly.

A/N: All done - at least for now! If you were hoping for a HEA, that's in the sequel, The Ginger Malfoy, which already is complete. This was a hard story for me to end, because I've truly enjoyed writing it. I thought about ending it with Dumbledore's funeral, which is how HBP ends, but decided to indulge myself with one more chapter to include some of the early events from Deathly Hallows. I am now marking this as complete, but may add outtakes in the future, if the inspiration strikes.

Some of the dialogue from the death of Professor Burbage and Battle of the Seven Potters is taken from DH, while Xenophilius's views on who a free press serves is borrowed from Justice Hugo Black. Luna's quote on finding lost things also is from OoTP.