The thestral tipped them off its back the moment they landed, then took off again. She couldn't blame it.

"Alright?" Kingsley asked, rolling off her and holding out a hand. She took it, noting that it was her own hand again.

"I think so. You?" Harry's clothes were too big; she felt like she was swimming in them. She Shrunk them so that they wouldn't be falling off her, then Vanished the glasses, which had been making her vision blurry.

"Fine." He nodded sharply. "Portkey's in the kitchen."

Hermione flicked her wand at her shoes as she walked, shrinking them down to fit her feet, then rolling the cuffs up on the jeans so that she didn't trip over them when she walked.

Their Portkey was a bent-up old coat hanger, and they only had a few seconds to wait before it whisked them away to the Burrow. They'd almost been late. Things hadn't gone to plan.

The moment they landed, Kingsley had his wand at Lupin's throat. "The last words Albus Dumbledore spoke to the pair of us?"

"'Harry is the best hope we have. Trust him,'" said Lupin calmly. Kingsley lowered his wand. Hermione put hers in her back pocket, missing her wand sheath, and pulled Harry into a hug when she saw him. He was shaking.

"It's him, I've checked!" Lupin said quickly to Kingsley, who finally put away his own wand.

"All right, all right," Kingsley said, finally stowing his wand. "But somebody betrayed us! They knew, they knew it was tonight!"

"So it seems," replied Lupin, "but apparently they did not realize that there would be seven Harrys."

"Small comfort!" snarled Kinglsey. "Who else is back?"

"Only Harry, Hagrid, George and me."

Hermione stifled a moan behind her hand. The whole thing made her feel queasy. And she knew for a fact that Severus had been out there. Would one of her friends have spotted him? If they did, they would have attacked without a doubt. Was he hurt? Would he be alright? Did he need her help?

Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit. Shit.

"Harry behaved too kindly to Stan Shunpike," Lupin was saying when Hermione brought her focus back to the conversation.

"Stan? But I thought he was in Azkaban?"

Kingsley laughed mirthlessly. "Hermione, there's obviously been a mass breakout which the Ministry has hushed up. Travers's hood fell off when I cursed him; he's supposed to be inside too. But what happened to you, Remus? Where's George?"

"He lost an ear."

"Lost an—" Hermione repeated, suddenly furious. Why the hell hadn't they mentioned that there were injured the moment she'd arrived?

"Snape's work," Lupin said, bitter.

"Snape?" shouted Harry, which was good because nobody heard Hermione whimper. "You didn't say—"

"He lost his hood during the chase. Sectumsempra was always a specialty of Snape's. I wish I could say I'd paid him back in kind, but it was all I could do to keep George on the broom after he was injured, he was losing so much blood."

Hermione headed for the house. With Sectumsempra the loss of the ear would be permanent, but she knew the countercurse. She could stop the bleeding, close it up.

They were in the living room with George laid out on the couch. Hermione pulled out her wand and knelt at his side, beginning to chant. She'd never done it before, but she'd seen Severus's memories of it, of developing it, of using it (most recently on Draco Malfoy).

His color was immediately better, the red streaks of inflammation settling into an overall sort of puffy redness, which quickly dissipated into a tender pinkness. The hole where the ear had attached to his head looked raw, but it didn't look like a gaping wound anymore, and it wasn't bleeding. She cleared away the blood, removing it from his hair and robes as well as the couch beneath him.

"Anybody else hurt?" she asked sharply, but didn't get an answer because there was a crash in the kitchen.

"I'll prove who I am, Kingsley, after I've seen my son; now back off if you know what's good for you!"

Mr. Weasley burst in to the room a moment later, his bald patch gleaming with sweat, spectacles askew. Fred was with him. They were both pale but didn't appear to be injured. Hermione turned to the twin she had on the couch and cast a diagnostic on him, checking for other injuries. There were none.

"Arthur!" Mrs. Weasley cried. "Oh, thank goodness!"

"How is he?"

Hermione backed off so Mr. and Mrs. Weasley could be closer to their son. Fred was frozen near the sofa, pale and obviously at a complete loss. He was staring at his twin's wound, disbelieving.

"He's going to be fine," Hermione whispered to Fred, but she wasn't sure he heard her.

George stirred.

"How do you feel, Georgie?" Mrs. Weasley asked.

George's fingers probed his head, poking at the bandage. Hermione wanted to tell him off, but held her tongue. He couldn't damage it. He could make it hurt, but that would be his own fault.

And she knew a bit about needing to feel an injury, to touch it even if it hurt. To confirm it was real.

"Saintlike," George finally said.

"What's wrong with him?" Fred croaked, looking terrified. "Is his mind affected?"

"Saintlike," repeated George, finally opening his eyes. Unerringly, the eyes found his twin. "You see… I'm holy. Holey, Fred, geddit?"

Mrs. Weasley sat back, sobbing even harder. Fred flushed with color.

"Pathetic," Fred told George. "Pathetic! With the whole wide world of ear-related humor before you, you go for holey?"

"Ah well," said George, now grinning. He looked at his mother. "You'll be able to tell us apart now, anyway, Mum." He looked around. "Hi Harry—you are Harry, right?"

"Yeah, I am," said Harry.

"Well, at least we got you back okay," said George. "Why aren't Ron and Bill huddled round my sickbed?"

"They're not back yet, George," Mrs. Weasley said. George's grin faded.

Hermione left the room, thinking of Severus. She wondered how he was doing. She wondered if it would be possible to get to the castle to see him, to assure herself that he was alright, but she knew it couldn't happen.

Without really thinking about it, she joined Lupin and Kingsley in the yard watching the sky.

"George is awake," she told the werewolf. "I closed it up. He's making ear jokes."

Remus didn't quite smile.

Hermione watched Kingsley pace, looking up at the sky every now and then. She had Lupin on one side of her, Hagrid on the other. She noted that she was shaking.

Harry and Ginny joined them after a few more minutes, silently taking up the watch as well. Every little sound made them all twitch and look for the source.

Then a broom appeared directly above the house and streaked down.

"It's them!" Hermione shouted.

Ron and Tonks tumbled off, Tonks flying into Remus's arms. Hermione darted forward and grabbed Ron. Harry was right next to her, wrapping his arms around the both of them. She found herself almost teary, thinking of trolls in the girls' bathroom as she looked over Ron's shoulder and saw Remus's pasty white face, his eyes scrunched tight shut as he held his wife.

"'M all right," Ron said, pulling back from them and patting Hermione on the back. "'M fine."

"Ron was great," Tonks said, relinquishing her hold on Lupin, but not entirely. She had an iron grip on his hand, Hermione noted. She missed Severus. "Wonderful. Stunned one of the Death Eaters, straight to the head, and when you're aiming at a moving target from a flying broom—"

"You did?" asked Hermione, glancing up at him.

"Always the tone of surprise," he said, smirking. Once, he probably would have been grumpy about it. About her underestimating him. Now, she was just glad he'd let her hug him, had forgotten that he was still mad at her because she'd only told him half her secrets. "Are we the last back?"

"No," said Ginny, "we're still waiting for Bill and Fleur, and Mad-Eye and Mundungus. I'm going to tell Mum and Dad you're okay, Ron—" And she ran back inside.

"So what kept you? What happened?" Lupin asked, almost sounding angry with Tonks.

"Bellatrix," Tonks said darkly. "She wants me quite as much as she wants Harry, Remus. She tried very hard to kill me. I just wish I'd got her. I owe Bellatrix. But we definitely injured Rodolphus… Then we got to Ron's Auntie Muriel's and we'd missed our Portkey and she was fussing over us—"

Remus didn't look particularly satisfied by the answer—possibly he looked even angrier than he had before she'd explained—but he didn't say anything.

"So what happened to you lot?"

They talked for a few minutes, recounting their own journeys. Hermione kept looking toward the sky, though.

"I'm going to have to get back to Downing Street, I should have been there an hour ago," Kingsley said. "Let me know when they're back."

Lupin nodded. Hermione seriously considered giving him a hug, but decided against it. Kingsley walked off toward the gate and Disapparated.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley came out with Ginny then, and hugged Ron.

"Thank you," said Mrs. Weasley, "for our sons."

"Don't be silly, Molly," said Tonks.

"How's George?" asked Lupin.

"What's wrong with him?" Ron asked.

"He's lost—"

But then they'd spotted the thestral. It soared down and landed a few feet away. Bill and Fleur slid down, windswept but unhurt.

"Bill!" Mrs. Weasley cried, running forward. "Thank God, thank God—"

Bill barely hugged his mother back. He looked at his father and said, "Mad-Eye's dead."

For a moment, nobody spoke. Hermione swallowed, thinking of the mad old Auror. He'd spent the whole afternoon glaring at her, stumping around and looking at her like she'd stood on his puppy. He hadn't said anything, she couldn't be sure what he was mad at her about this time, but he'd made it clear that he didn't like her and didn't particularly want to trust her.

"We saw it," Bill continued. "It happened just after we broke out of the circle: Mad-Eye and Dung were close by us, they were heading north too. Voldemort—he can fly—went straight for them. Dung panicked, I heard him cry out, Mad-Eye tried to stop him, but he Disapparated. Voldemort's curse hit Mad-Eye full in the face, he fell backward off his broom and—there was nothing we could do, nothing, we had half a dozen of them on our own tail—"

Bill's voice broke.

"Of course you couldn't have done anything," Lupin said.

They stood in silence for a long time, then they went inside.

They drank to Mad-Eye. They wondered if Mundungus had betrayed them and decided he probably hadn't. Harry tried to leave and then he was sucked into Voldemort's mind.

Hermione had never been with him when it happened before, and definitely not since she'd learned Legilimency. She had to sit down. She could catch snippets of what Harry saw. The emotions radiating off of him were too intense—his own pain and fear tangling with Voldemort's anger.

"You told me the problem with the wand would be solved by using another wand!"

But he had it wrong; he didn't know Harry was a Horcrux.

Without thinking about it, Hermione reached out with her mind and yanked him back into his own head. He sat down hard. Lupin and Bill looked at her oddly—they'd sensed something—but didn't say anything.

"Harry?" Hermione moved across the room and took his hand, noting that Ron was already at his side. "You aren't still thinking of leaving?"

"Yeah, you've got to stay, mate," Ron said, thumping Harry on the back.

"Are you all right?" Hermione asked, looking into his face. She wondered if he knew what she'd done. He didn't seem to. "You look awful," she told him, because he did.

"Well," Harry said shakily. "I probably look better than Ollivander."

Harry told them what he'd seen. He left out what he'd felt, but Hermione knew better.

"Harry, this was supposed to have stopped. Your scar—it wasn't supposed to do this anymore." She was more frustrated with Dumbledore than with Harry. It was out of Harry's control, but Dumbledore had always made it sound as though he'd interceded somehow, blocked the connection after the events at the Ministry. "You mustn't let that connection open up again." She gripped his arms when he didn't say anything. "Harry, he's taking over the Ministry and the newspapers and half the Wizarding world. Don't let him inside your head, too!"

\\

The next few days were awful. Everybody was in mourning, but there wasn't a body to have a proper funeral. Harry was withdrawn, but she suspected it was more to do with Moody than it was to do with his scar and her little outburst.

Hermione spent most of her time avoiding Mrs. Weasley, who constantly pestered her for information on Harry's "little mission from Dumbledore." Ron had explained that Dumbledore had wanted it to be a secret between the three of them, and while that had made Lupin and Mr. Weasley back off, Mrs. Weasley wasn't letting it go. She constantly appealed to Hermione's sense of responsibility, pointing out how young the boys were.

Mrs. Weasley changed tactics shortly after she cornered Harry in the scullery. Instead of pestering them for information and trying to change their minds, she set them to work helping prepare for the wedding. Hermione supposed she was trying to keep them busy enough that they wouldn't have time to do anything else. And it didn't take a genius to notice that all the chores they were set kept her, Ron and Harry carefully apart.

Hermione had been ready since she arrived at the Burrow, however. Her satchel was always with her and always packed. She'd commandeered portions of Harry and Ron's laundry over the course of the week, and had added a few of their things so they'd be more comfortable. She'd even discreetly talked Mr. Weasley into lending her the tent from the Quidditch World Cup as a back-up plan.

She finally managed a few minutes with Ron when Mrs. Weasley asked her and Ginny to change the sheets again. Instead of reminding her they'd done it the day before, Hermione slipped off to Ron's attic room to sort through his and Harry's books, wondering how likely it was that she could convince them to do some reading while they were searching for Horcruxes, or even allow her to tutor them through their seventh year as she had been.

Fat chance.

"I'm doing it, I'm doing—! Oh, it's you," said Ron, startling her. She glanced up and smiled, seeing that Harry had snuck away too.

"Hi, Harry," she said as he sat down.

"And how did you manage to get away?"

"Oh, Ron's mum forgot that she asked Ginny and me to change the sheets yesterday." She tossed an old Divinations textbook onto the Pitch pile and put a Defense text on top of the other one.

"We were just talking about Mad-Eye," Ron said. "I reckon he might have survived."

"But Bill saw him hit by the Killing Curse," Harry said.

"Yeah, but Bill was under attack, too," said Ron. "How can he be sure what he saw?"

Sweet, naïve Ron.

"Even if the Killing Curse missed, Mad-Eye still fell about a thousand feet," Hermione pointed out. Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland was the next book to hand. The boys would probably rather read it than the other books, but…

"He could have used a Shield Charm—"

"Fleur said his wand was blasted out of his hand."

"Well, all right, if you want him to be dead," Ron said petulantly. He punched his pillow into a more comfortable shape.

"Of course we don't want him to be dead," Hermione said, finally annoyed with the petulance. "It's dreadful that he's dead. But we're being realistic."

"The Death Eaters probably tidied up after themselves, that's why no one's found him," Ron said.

"Yeah," said Harry. "Like Barty Crouch, turned into a bone and buried in Hagrid's front garden. They probably transfigured Moody and stuffed him—"

"Don't," Hermione said, her guts twisting, thinking of her own means of covering her tracks—Fiendfyre—and the regularity with which she'd used it. She found herself in tears again.

Always bloody crying.

"Oh no," Harry said, starting to get up. "Hermione, I wasn't trying to upset—"

Ron got to her first, cleaning an absolutely filthy handkerchief and handing it to her, putting an arm around her shoulders.

"Oh… thanks, Ron… I'm sorry…" She blew her nose. "It's just so awf-ful, isn't it? R-right after Dumbledore… I j-just never imagined Mad-Eye dying, somehow, he seemed so tough."

It had been plaguing her since he'd died, how she'd spent the last day of his life avoiding him while he glared. They hadn't been friends, but they'd almost trusted each other once. And, honestly, she'd really been looking forward to his reaction at the end of it, when Severus was vindicated.

"Yeah, I know," Ron said, squeezing her with the arm across her shoulders. "But you know what he'd say to us if he was here?"

He'd probably think I was the one to tell the Death Eaters which day we were extracting Harry, she thought, but didn't say it. Instead, she said, "Constant vigilance," because that's what Harry and Ron would remember best about the blasted old Auror.

"That's right," Ron said, nodding at her like she was a toddler who had just figured out how to put the triangle-shaped block through the triangle-shaped hole. "He'd tell us to learn from what happened to him. And what I've learned is not to trust that cowardly little squit, Mundungus."

Hermione laughed and pulled away, reaching for the next book on the stack. She was painfully aware that Ron liked the idea of forgetting she was more than ten years older than him these days. Since the funeral, he'd gone back and forth with being annoyed with her and not knowing what to say to her, and trying to be close to her.

Thinking about what Severus would say about that little display, Ron's arm around her shoulders while she cried, made her laugh. Or she would've laughed if she hadn't dropped The Monster Book of Monsters on his foot instead.

"I'm sorry, I'm sorry!" she said as it attacked his leg. Harry jumped down and retied the belt around it.

"What are you doing with all those books anyway?" Ron asked, limping back to his bed.

"Just trying to decide which ones to take with us," Hermione said. "When we're looking for the Horcruxes."

"Oh, of course," said Ron, slapping a hand to his forehead. "I forgot we'll be hunting down Voldemort in a mobile library."

"Ha ha," she said, looking down at Spellman's Syllabary. She'd mostly memorized the common rune alphabets, but sometimes it helped to have a reference on hand (even if it was a fairly rudimentary reference). "I wonder… will we need to translate runes? It's possible… I think we'd better take it, to be safe."

Next on the pile was Hogwarts: A History. They wouldn't need it, but it would feel strange not to have it with her. She'd even had it with her in Alexandria, tucked in some forgotten pocket of her satchel.

"Listen," said Harry, and she shared a look with Ron at the tone. "I know you said after Dumbledore's funeral that you wanted to come with me…"

"Here he goes," Ron said, rolling his eyes.

"As we knew he would," she sighed. She and Ron had talked about it before getting on the train. Harry couldn't do it alone, but he would try to because Dumbledore had spent the past six years telling him that it had to be him, rewarding him for going off of hair-brained missions to save the school. "You know, I think I will take Hogwarts: A History. Even if we're not going back there, I don't think I'd feel right if I didn't have it with—"

"Listen!"

"No, Harry, you listen," Hermione said. "We're coming with you. That was decided months ago—years, really."

"But—"

"Shut up," Ron advised.

"—are you sure you've thought this through?"

Hermione laughed. She laughed long and hard, with just enough bitter edge to keep either of the boys from interrupting her. Or moving.

"Harry," she said when she had herself under control, and her tone was both sharp and weary. "I'll be turning thirty on my next birthday, did you know that? That's how much I've thought this through.

"Dumbledore sent me back again and again, training me, pointing me in the direction of knowledge he thought you might need to have on hand. I'm a Healer; if we get in a tight spot, I can fix you up after. I'm also a Legilimens, which is just damn useful, really. I have papers for half a dozen Muggle aliases, all of which have safe houses attached to them. Had you thought about where you'll be staying while looking for Horcruxes? I didn't think so. I'm also ridiculously proficient with Fiendfyre, which is one of the only things capable of destroying a Horcrux."

She slammed Travels With Trolls onto the Pitch pile and glared at Harry. He was still frozen in place on his camp bed, staring at her like he hadn't seen her before in his life.

"I've also been packing for days, so we're ready to leave at a moment's notice."

"She smuggled Mad-Eye's whole stock of Polyjuice right out from under Mum's nose," Ron said, looking proud of her. She almost rolled her eyes. Almost.

"I—Hermione, I'm sorry—I didn't—"

"Didn't realize that Ron and I know perfectly well what might happen if we come with you? Well, we do. Ron, show Harry what you've done."

"Nah, he's just eaten."

"Go on, he needs to know."

"Oh, all right. Harry, come here."

They left so Ron could show Harry the ghoul. Hermione mopped up her face, annoyed with the tears again. I never used to cry this much. They returned a few minutes later, bringing the stink of the ghoul with them. It turned her stomach.

"Once we've left, the ghoul's going to come and live down here in my room," Ron was explaining. "I think he'd really looking forward to it—well, it's hard to tell, because all he can do is moan and drool—but he nods a lot when you mention it. Anyway, he's going to be me with spattergroit, get it?"

Harry nodded, but it was clear that he didn't get it.

"It is!" Ron said, annoyed Harry hadn't grasped the brilliance of it. "Look, when we three don't turn up at Hogwarts again, everyone's going to think Hermione and I must be with you, right? Which means the Death Eaters will go straight for our families to see if they've got information on where you are."

"But I'm a wanted fugitive already for offing the Death Eaters—I mean Ministry officials—who went after my parents," Hermione said. The boys looked uncomfortable, but Ron pressed on.

"We can't hide my whole family, it'll look too fishy and they can't all leave their jobs," said Ron. "So we're going to put out the story that I'm seriously ill with spattergroit, which is why I can't go back to school. If anyone comes calling to investigate, Mum or Dad can show them the ghoul in my bed, covered in pustules. Spattergroit's really contagious, so they're not going to want to go near him. It won't matter that he can't say anything, either, because apparently you can't once the fungus has spread to your uvula."

Hermione was impressed that he'd actually read the blurb on it in the book she'd shown him.

"And your mum and dad are in on this plan?" asked Harry.

"Dad is. He helped Fred and George transform the ghoul. Mum… well, you've seen what she's like. She won't accept we're going till we're gone."

They were quiet. Hermione continued sorting books. Mrs. Weasley was shouting at Ginny downstairs.

"Ginny's probably left a speck of dust on a poxy napkin ring," Ron said. "I dunno why the Delacours have got to come two days before the wedding."

"Fleur's sisters a bridesmaid, she needs to be here for the rehearsal, and she's too young to come on her own," Hermione reminded him, flipping through Break with a Banshee.

"Well, guests aren't going to help Mum's stress levels."

"What we really need to decide," Hermione said, tossing Ron's copy of Defensive Magical Theory into the bin (bypassing the Pitch pile, even) and picking up An Appraisal of Magical Education in Europe, "is where we're going after we leave here. I know you said you wanted to go to Godric's Hollow first, Harry, and I understand why, but… we… shouldn't we make the Horcruxes our priority?"

Also, the Death Eaters will be watching Godric's Hollow. It would be slightly suicidal to try to visit for the sake of visiting.

"If we knew where any of the Horcruxes were, I'd agree with you," said Harry, frowning.

"Don't you think there's a possibility that Voldemort's keeping a watch on Godric's Hollow? He might expect you to go back and visit your parents' graves once you're free to go wherever you like."

Harry opened his mouth then closed it when he didn't have an immediate rebuttal.

"This R.A.B. person," Ron said, evidently following his own train of thought. "You know, the one who stole the real locket?"

Hermione nodded.

"He said in his note he was going to destroy it, didn't he?"

Harry pulled out his rucksack and pulled the locket out of the outside pocket.

"I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can," Harry read out.

"Well, what if he did finish it off?"

"Or she," Hermione said, mostly because she knew it would annoy Ron. She was trying to be occasionally petulant, especially with Ron. It helped them feel at ease with her.

"Whichever," said Ron. "It'd be one less for us to do!"

"Yes, but we're still going to have to try and trace the real locket, aren't we?" Hermione pointed out. "To find out whether or not it's destroyed."

"And once we get hold of it, how do you destroy a Horcrux?"

"There are only a few really foolproof ways of destroying a Horcrux," Hermione said.

"What, like stabbing it with a basilisk fang?" Harry said.

"Oh, well, lucky we've got such a large supply of basilisk fangs, then," said Ron. "I was wondering what we were going to do with them."

"It doesn't have to be a basilisk fang," Hermione said patiently. "It has to be something so destructive that the Horcrux can't repair itself. Basilisk venom only has one antidote, and that's incredibly rare—"

"—phoenix tears," Harry said, nodding.

"Exactly," said Hermione. "And there are few other substances as destructive as basilisk venom, and they're all dangerous to carry around with you."

"But even if we wreck the thing it lives in, why can't the bit of soul in it just go and live in something else?" Ron asked, and Hermione forced herself not to smile because she knew it would be a patronizing sort of smile.

"Because a Horcrux is the complete opposite of a human being." The boys both looked thoroughly confused. "Look, if I picked up a sword right now, Ron, and ran you through with it, I wouldn't damage your soul at all."

"Which would be a real comfort to me, I'm sure," Ron said, and Harry laughed.

"It should be, actually. But my point is that whatever happens to your body, your soul will survive, untouched. But it's the other way round with a Horcrux. The fragment of soul inside it depends on its container, its enchanted body, for survival. It can't exist without it."

"The diary sort of died when I stabbed it," Harry said, his eyes distant with memory. Hermione wanted to have a look, to pry, but she restrained herself.

"And once the diary was properly destroyed, the bit of soul trapped in it could no longer exist. Ginny tried to get rid of the diary before you did, flushing it away, but obviously it came back good as new."

"Hang on," said Ron, frowning. "The bit of soul in that diary was possessing Ginny, wasn't it? How does that work, then?"

"While the magical container is still intact, the bit of soul inside it can flit in and out of someone if they get too close to the object. I don't mean holding it for too long, it's nothing to do with touching it. I mean close emotionally. Ginny poured her heart out into that diary, she made herself incredibly vulnerable. You're in trouble if you get too fond of or dependent on the Horcrux." Which raised a whole slew of questions about Harry the Horcrux's continued visions that she simply didn't want to think about right now.

"I wonder how Dumbledore destroyed the ring," said Harry. "Why didn't I ask him? I never really…"

Hermione was about to tell him that the headmaster hadn't destroyed it, he'd tried to wear it—Idiot—when the door flew open with a wall-shaking crash. Hermione was on her feet in an instant, wand out and pointed at the intruder, blocking their view of the room.

There was a tense moment of silence. It was only Mrs. Weasley, come to split them up, her face frozen in shock to see Hermione standing so close. Hermione didn't apologize, she just put her wand back in its sheath and sat down by the books again.

"I'm so sorry to break up this… cozy little gathering," Mrs. Weasley said, her voice trembling. "I'm sure you all need your rest... but there are wedding presents stacked in my room that need sorting out and I was under the impression that you had agreed to help."

"Oh, yes," said Hermione, ordering herself not to laugh. It wouldn't be polite. "We will."

\\

The next day, Hermione woke to find herself so overwhelmed with nausea that she stumbled for the bathroom in the long, sleeveless night dress she'd adopted for her time at the Burrow—it covered the worst of her scars but breathed (it was Egyptian cotton, after all), not to mention how soft and comfortable it was.

She crouched over the commode for a few minutes, but the nausea just simmered uncomfortably in her guts. She brushed her teeth while she was in the bathroom, letting the minty toothpaste sooth her.

A stomach bug, just what I need, Hermione grouched, returning to the room she shared with Ginny and dressing quickly. She'd slept late, so she had the room to herself. She opted for her nice forest green dress—three-quarters sleeves, boat neck, flowy knee-length skirt—for the occasion of the Delacours's arrival, but didn't have it in her to do more than yank her hair half up (and to be honest that was more because it would stay out of her way in the event that she ended up vomiting at some point).

Mrs. Weasley is bound to have something for nausea. If not, I will brew it myself. She smirked to herself as she walked down to the kitchen, thinking on how spoiled she'd been living with a Potions Master, always with so many potions on hand.

"What's going on?" she asked Ron when she passed him on the stairs. He looked grouchier than he usually was so early in the day.

"Mum's making me change my socks," he muttered, not stopping. Hermione smirked.

In the kitchen, Mrs. Weasley was pestering Harry about his messy hair. Try as he might, it wouldn't lay flat.

Hermione ate a piece of dry toast, hoping it would settle her stomach. She was still finishing it off when they all went out to the backyard to await the Delacours.

It was a beautiful sunny morning, and the Burrow had never been so clean. The usual household detritus by the back steps was gone, replaced by Flutterby bushes in large pots on either side of the door. The chickens were nowhere to be seen. The yard had been swept and the garden had been pruned, plucked, and generally spruced up; she didn't see a single gnome.

Hermione had just closed her eyes and turned her face into the sun when Fleur cried, "Maman! Papa!"

Her mother was astoundingly beautiful, as expected. She wore leaf-green robes and was blonde like her daughter. Monsieur Delacour was a head shorter than his wife and a bit fat, and he wore a pointed little beard. They looked very happy together, though. The wife glowed (though it might have been in her nature to glow), and the husband had that good-natured look about him. He wore high-heeled boots, she noted with amusement.

Introductions were made, and the males were suitably flustered by the presence of the part-Veelas. Mrs. Weasley was exceedingly polite, and the Delacours were sure to compliment everything they came across. That fell by the wayside soon enough—the Delacours were helpful, pleasant sorts, and they really were pleased with everything and willing to assist in the last of the preparations. There was a bit of shouting when it came to the master suite—Mr. and Mrs. Weasley insisted on giving their room up for their guests—but other than that things went well.

Hermione amused herself for awhile before lunchtime eavesdropping on the Delacour sisters, who were catching up in rapid French while they helped out. Little Gabrielle had a crush on a boy from their neighborhood and went on and on about him.

After lunch, Hermione retreated to Ginny's room for a nap. The nausea had dissipated after the toast, but lunch had come with heartburn—Ron had teased her about her aging gastrointestinal system (though, of course, he hadn't used the term "gastrointestinal system")—and Mrs. Weasley hadn't had any of the usual remedies to hand. She'd considered brewing herself something, but she'd just been too tired to work up the will for it. She'd feel better when she woke.

\\

The next day was Harry's birthday. She woke and was delighted to find that the nausea did not make a repeat performance. She got down to breakfast just in time to watch Harry open his presents.

There was a bit of teenaged drama in the morning—and she only felt slightly bad about not dragging Ron away when he'd realized what his sister was up to—followed by a delightfully diverting episode in which Mrs. Weasley cut Charlie's hair for the wedding.

It was a nice night and the kitchen wasn't nearly big enough, so tables were set up outside for Harry's birthday dinner. She spent half an hour out with Fred and George—the twins bewitched purple lanterns emblazoned with the number 17 to hang in the air over the table, and she decorated the trees and bushes with purple and gold streamers. They got into a bit of a competition, which she decided she won after she turned the leaves on the crabapple tree gold, though her win was by default because Fred and George were prevented retaliation by the arrival of their mother and the cake.

Fred and George were dispatched to retrieve the guests. Hagrid wore his hairy brown suit. Lupin and Tonks were a study of differences—Tonks radiant and beaming, Lupin putting a good face on but looking rather unhappy. Hermione wondered if they'd had a row.

She was sitting, quietly chatting with Tonks and trying not to miss Severus, when the Patronus arrived.

"Minister coming with me."

A moment later, Mr. Weasley appeared at the gate with a wizard with a mane of grizzled hair. Hermione turned away, walking without urgency back to the house. Behind her, she heard Tonks calling to Hagrid about something and striking up a conversation that was slightly too loud. Hermione sent the other woman silent thanks and Disillusioned herself, then did one better by knicking Harry's Invisibility Cloak from his room and pulling that over her head as well.

Ah, the exciting life of a fugitive.

When Harry and Ron entered the house not five minutes later with a peeved-looking Minister Scrimgeor, Hermione followed them to the sitting room. Scrimgeor took the armchair, so Harry and Ron sat on the sofa.

"I have some questions for you. I am here, as you know, because of Albus Dumbledore's will."

Harry and Ron glanced at each other, making it clear that they did not know about Dumbledore's will.

"A surprise, apparently. You were not aware then that Dumbledore had left you anything?"

"B-both of us?" Ron asked. "Me too?"

"Yes. Hermione Granger, too, but due to her status as a fugitive… well."

"Dumbledore died over a month ago," Harry cut in. "Why has it taken this long to give us what he left us?"

"The objects in question had to be examined, of course," Scrimgeor said, and Harry looked immediately offended. The Minister held up a finger, lecturing. "The Decree for Justifiable Confiscation gives the Ministry the power to confiscate the contents of a will."

Silently, Hermione fumed. The decree he was referring to had been put in place to stop Dark objects from becoming heirlooms, not to be used as an excuse to poke through Dumbledore's things. Not to mention the fact that there was supposed to be powerful evidence that the possessions were illegal before they were seized. She counted back in her head, realizing that the thirty-one days were up; the objects hadn't been proven dangerous and therefore had to be passed along, no matter that they wanted to keep them.

Couldn't think of another pretext, Minister?

"Would you say you were close to Dumbledore, Ronald?" Scrimgeor asked when neither Harry nor Ron had anything to say about the Decree for Justifiable Confiscation (though they both looked like they wished they had something to say about it).

"Me? Not—not really… It was always Harry…" Ron said, then snapped his mouth shut, seeming to realize the opening he'd created.

"If you were not very close to Dumbledore, how do you account for the fact that he remembered you in his will? He made exceptionally few personal bequests. The vast majority of his possessions—his private library, his magical instruments, and other personal effects—were left to Hogwarts. Why do you think you were singled out?"

"I… dunno," said Ron. "I… when I say we weren't close… I mean, I think he liked me…"

Awkward silence filled the room. Scrimgeor looked the boys over like a lion trying to decide which bit to eat first. The boys looked like they had indigestion.

Scrimgeor put his hand inside his cloak and drew out a drawstring pouch, removing a scroll of parchment. Without flourish, the Minister unrolled the parchment and read from it.

"'The Last Will and Testament of Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore'… Yes, here we are… 'To Ronald Bilius Weasley, I leave my Deluminator, in the hope that he will remember me when he uses it.'"

Scrimgeor withdrew what looked like a silver cigarette lighter from the bag and passed it to Ron, who took it and turned it over in his fingers, looking stunned.

"That's a valuable object," Scrimgeor said, watching Ron closely. "It may even be unique. Certainly it is of Dumbledore's own design. Why would he have left you an item so rare?"

Ron shook his head, looking bewildered.

"Dumbledore must have taught thousands of students," Scrimgeor persevered. "Yet the only ones he remembered in his will are you two—well. The three of you… To what use did he think you would put his Deluminator, Mr. Weasley?"

"Put out lights, I s'pose," Ron mumbled. "What else could I do with it?"

Hermione almost laughed. Scrimgeor squinted at Ron, obviously trying to work out if Ron was making fun of him, before turning back to the will.

"'To Harry James Potter, I leave the Snitch he caught in his first Quidditch match at Hogwarts, as a reminder of the rewards of perseverance and skill.'" Scrimgeor withdrew the Snitch from the bag. "Why did Dumbledore give you this Snitch?"

"No idea," said Harry. "For the reasons you just read out, I suppose… to remind me what you can get if you… persevere and whatever it was."

"You think this a mere symbolic keepsake, then?"

"I suppose so," said Harry. "What else could it be?"

"I'm asking the questions," Scrimgeor said, shifting forward in his chair a bit. "I notice that your birthday cake is in the shape of a Snitch. Why is that?"

"Maybe because he's a Seeker?" Ron asked, quite obviously wondering how Scrimgeor had made Minister for Magic. "Or d'you think there's a secret message from Dumbledore hidden in the icing?"

"I don't think there's anything hidden in the icing," Scrimgeor said, "but a Snitch would be a very good hiding place for a small object. You know why, I'm sure?"

Hermione thought for a moment that neither of them would know—it was the sort of thing they usually relied on her for—but then Ron's Quidditch brain kicked in.

"Flesh memories."

"What?" asked Harry, eyebrows shooting up.

"Correct," Scrimgeor said. "A Snitch is not touched by bare skin before it is released, not even by the maker, who wears gloves. It carries an enchantment by which it can identify the first human to lay hands upon it, in case of a disputed capture. This Snitch—" he held up the tiny golden ball—"will remember your touch, Potter. It occurs to me that Dumbledore, who had prodigious magical skills, whatever his other faults, might have enchanted this Snitch so that it will open only for you."

Hermione's mind raced. Surely, if the headmaster were going to hide something for Harry, he would have done it more carefully than this. He would have known—should have known—the Ministry would examine his things…

"You don't say anything," Scrimgeor observed. "Perhaps you already know what the Snitch contains?"

"No," said Harry.

"Take it."

Harry glared at the Minister, but the wizard's only response was to lean forward and place the Snitch in Harry's hands. It was wonderfully anticlimactic. Harry wrapped his hand around it, and the Minister continued staring at it as if there might be a time delay.

"That was dramatic," said Harry coolly. Ron laughed.

"That's all then, is it?" Ron asked, clapping his hands together.

"Not quite," Scrimgeor said, looking bad-tempered now. "Dumbledore left you a second bequest, Potter."

"What is it?"

"The Sword of Godric Gryffindor."

Hermione frowned. Then she was insulted. Then she was sick to her stomach.

"So where is it?" Harry asked suspiciously.

"Unfortunately," said Scrimgeor, "that sword as not Dumbledore's to give away. The sword of Godric Gryffindor is an important historical artifact, and as such, belongs to no one. According to reliable historical sources, the sword may present itself to any worthy Gryffindor. That does not make it the exclusive property of somebody it presented to, whatever Dumbledore may have decided." Scrimgeor scratched his chin, and Hermione was struck by the stubble. The man was exhausted, though he was very good at hiding it. "Why do you think—?"

"—Dumbledore wanted to give me the sword?" interrupted Harry. She could see him struggling to contain his temper. "Maybe he thought it would look nice on my wall."

No, Harry, Hermione thought. She wanted to sit down but she didn't dare move. It's a back-up plan. Fiendfyre will destroy Horcruxes, but if I'm not there to provide the fire…

"This is not a joke, Potter!" growled Scrimgeor. "Was it because Dumbledore believed that only the sword of Godric Gryffindor could defeat the Heir of Slytherin? Did he wish to give you that sword, Potter, because he believed, as do many, that you are the one destined to destroy He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named?"

"Interesting theory," Harry said. "Has anyone ever tried sticking a sword in Voldemort? Maybe the Ministry should put some people on that, instead of wasting their time stripping down Deluminators or covering up breakouts from Azkaban. So is this what you've been doing, Minister, shut up in your office, trying to break open a Snitch? People are dying—I was nearly one of them—Voldemort chased me across three counties, he killed Mad-Eye Moody, but there's been no word about any of that from the Ministry, has there? And you still expect use to cooperate with you!"

"You go too far!" Scrimgeor shouted, standing up. Harry jumped to his feet, too, and the Minister limped toward him, jabbing him in the chest with his wand. Hermione realized that she had her wand clenched in one fist and her knife in the other.

"Oi!" Ron said, jumping up. The shift let Hermione see that Scrimgeor's wand had singed a hole in Harry's t-shirt as if he'd poked him with a lit cigarette.

"No! D'you want to give him an excuse to arrest us?" Harry asked.

"Remembered you're not at school, have you?" Scrimgeor asked, breathing hard. He was still too close to Harry. "Remembered that I am not Dumbledore, who forgave your insolence and insubordination? You may wear that scar like a crown, Potter, but it is not up to a seventeen-year-old boy to tell me how to do my job! It's time you learned some respect!"

"It's time you earned it!" Harry shouted back.

Mr. and Mrs. Weasley burst into the room. Hermione took a quick step back, only then realizing that she had come up behind the Minister.

"We—we thought we heard—" began Mr. Weasley, looking alarmed when he saw Harry and the Minister nose to nose.

"—raised voices," Mrs. Weasley finished for him.

Scrimgeor took a couple steps back from Harry, eyes lingering on the hole in the t-shirt (though he looked like he was considering feeling bad about losing his temper instead of actually feeling bad about it).

"It—it was nothing," Scrimgeor growled. "I… regret your attitude." He looked at Harry again. "You seem to think that the Ministry does not desire what you—what Dumbledore—desired. We ought to be working together."

"I don't like your methods, Minister. Remember?"

Harry raised his right fist to show the minister the white scars on the back of it. I must not tell lies in his own handwriting.

Scrimgeor scowled and limped from the room. Mrs. Weasley followed him, stopping at the door then hurrying back.

"He's gone!"

"What did he want?" Mr. Weasley asked. Hermione pulled off Harry's cloak and dropped her Disillusionment, then put her knife and wand back in the sheath. The others stared at her for a quiet moment before Harry spoke.

"To give us what Dumbledore left us. They've only just released the contents of his will."

"Wonder what he would have given you, Hermione?" Ron asked.

"I've no idea," Hermione said honestly. She made a mental note to ask his portrait and tried not to feel too giddy about having a valid excuse to visit the school.

Outside in the garden, the Snitch and Deluminator were passed around. Nobody had a clue why either had been given, though the Snitch was a particular mystery.

"Harry, dear, everyone's awfully hungry, we didn't like to start without you… Shall I serve dinner now?"

\\

The wedding was awful.

Not true. It was wonderful. It was everything a wedding should be. Fleur's father walked her down the aisle. Fleur's white dress robes were simple and as beautiful as she was. The bridesmaids wore gold. Bill looked tall and strong and young standing up in front of everybody with his brother. The mothers of the bride and groom cried. Bill and Fleur were declared bonded for life. There was dancing.

Hermione spent most of the wedding crying and trying to make it look like she was happy-crying. She missed Severus. Well, she missed Severus more than she usually did.

To take her mind off of it, Hermione mingled. Harry was disguised as Barny Weasley using Polyjuice, and she was disguised as his wife (a redheaded woman from the village, both chubbier and more classically beautiful than she was). She and Harry danced a bit, then wandered, her arm linked through his. She was quiet while he had an interesting conversation with Viktor. She almost Stunned him and dragged him off when he introduced himself to Elphias Doge.

Hermione had met Doge twice. The first time as Sam Barnes, Healer for the Order. He'd asked her awkward questions about foot fungi. The second time was shortly after she'd returned to her timeline and they'd had a very interesting conversation about Time Turners, and shared a bit of nostalgia for France in the summers. The pleasantness of the man didn't make it a good idea for Harry to introduce himself.

"My dear boy! Arthur told me you were here, disguised… I am so glad, so honored!"

Harry looked at her, about to introduce her, but she put the narrow part of her heeled shoe on his foot and pressed, shaking her head at him. As Doge didn't seem to mind ignoring her, Harry did, too.

"I thought of writing to you," Doge was saying softly. "After Dumbledore… the shock… and for you, I am sure…"

"I saw the obituary you wrote for the Daily Prophet," Harry said. "I didn't realize you knew Professor Dumbledore so well."

"As well as anyone," Doge said, dabbing his eyes with a napkin. "Certainly I knew him longest, if you don't count Aberforth—and somehow, people never do seem to count Aberforth."

"Speaking of the Daily Prophet… I don't know whether you saw, Mr. Doge—?"

"Oh, please call me Elphias, dear boy!"

"Elphias, I don't know whether you saw the interview with Rita Skeeter gave about Dumbledore?"

"Oh yes, Harry, I saw it. That woman, or vulture might be a more accurate term, positively pestered me to talk to her. I am ashamed to say that I became rather rude, called her an interfering trout, which resulted, as you may have seen, in aspersions cast upon my sanity." Doge was positively puce in his indignation. Hermione wondered if he'd had his blood pressure checked recently.

"Well, in that interview, Rita Skeeter hinted that Professor Dumbledore was involved in the Dark Arts when he was young."

Of course he was. I was involved in the Dark Arts when I was young. Hell, I'm still involved in the Dark Arts.

"Don't believe a word of it!" Doge said at once. "Not a word, Harry! Let nothing tarnish your memories of Ablus Dumbledore!"

Oh for God's sake.

"Harry, Rita Skeeter is a dreadful—"

"Rita Skeeter? Oh, I love her, always read her!"

Hermione began looking around for the man with the drinks. It had been an age and if she was going to put up with Ron's Auntie Muriel, she was going to do it with a firewhiskey in her hand.

Doge and Auntie Muriel bickered about Dumbledore for awhile. Poor Harry was caught in between them, confused as hell. He glanced at Hermione every once in awhile, but he was the one who had wanted the conversation in the first place. She didn't give a rat's if Dumbledore's sister had been a squib or not, she was dead and it was sad but it was also irrelevant. Albus Dumbledore was dead, too.

That the Dumbledore family had had a house in Godric's Hollow wasn't news, either. It had been that house that Dumbledore had put the Potters in to hide. It had been destroyed when they were.

Hermione had just spotted a man with a drinks tray when Kingsley's Patronus fell through the canopy over the dance floor. The lynx landed lightly in the middle of the astonished guests, opened its mouth, and said, "The Ministry has fallen. Scrimgeor is dead. They are coming."

Hermione's wand was in her hand instantly. She grabbed Harry by the arm and hauled him away from Doge.

"Ron! Ron where are you?"

Guests were Disapparating all over. The enchantments had failed.

So fast? It must have been a coordinated attack—they knew Harry would be here. Of course they did.

Usually Ron was easy to pick out of a crowd—tall and ginger—but there were too many Weasleys in the tent to make it easy. Plus she was short, taller than usual but still short.

And then there he was. He looked right at them and then kept looking, obviously forgetting what they looked like with the Polyjuice.

"Ron," she said, grabbing him by the elbow. He jumped, started to pull away, but then recognized them.

She Disapparated, taking them to Tottenham Court Road. They'd stand out in their Wizarding dress robes, but that was the point. A Muggle place was easier to hide the famous Harry Potter.

"Where are we?" Ron asked.

"Tottenham Court Road," she said, keeping her hold on them and pulling them along with her. "Walk, just walk. We need to find some place to change."

They jogged up the wide dark street full of late-night revelers, stars twinkling above them. All the shops were closed. A double-decker bus rumbled by and a group of merry pub-goers gave them a funny look.

"Hermione, we haven't got anything to change into," Ron said when a young woman burst into raucous giggles at the sight of him.

"Why didn't I make sure I had the Invisibility Cloak with me?" Harry said, chastising himself. "All last year I kept it on me and—"

"It's okay, I've got the Cloak. I've got clothes for both of you. Just try and act naturally until—this will do."

She pulled them into a shady alleyway.

"When you say you've got the Cloak, and clothes…"

"Yes, they're here." She had hidden her satchel in the little beaded purse that matched her dress robes. She opened the purse and then the satchel, sticking her arm in and rummaging around for the things they needed.

"How the ruddy hell—?"

"Undetectable Extension Charm," she said. "Tricky until you get the hang of them. Everything we need is in my satchel, which I've hidden in my purse."

"When did you do all this?" They took the clothes she handed them and began to change.

"I told you at the Burrow, I've had the essential packed for days in case we needed to make a quick getaway. I packed your rucksack this morning, Harry, after you changed, and put it in here… I just had a feeling…"

"You're amazing, you are," said Ron, handing her his dress robes.

"Thank you," Hermione said, putting the robes in her satchel. "Please, Harry, get that Cloak on."

Harry disappeared beneath the Cloak.

"The others—everyone at the wedding—"

"We can't worry about that now," Hermione said. Everybody at the wedding could fend for themselves, and everybody who couldn't fend for themselves had been attached to somebody else. Like she had Harry and Ron to take care of. "It's you they're after, Harry, and we'll just put everyone in even more danger by going back."

"She's right," said Ron. "Most of the Order was there, they'll look after everyone."

"Yeah." Harry's disembodied voice came from Ron's right.

"Come on, I think we ought to keep moving," Hermione said. She was trying to decide which safe house to take them to. Her first thought had been Grimmauld Place, hoping somebody from the Order would stop by and bring news, but the old house had been all but abandoned. Moody had put some nasty precautions in place should Severus ever show up.

"Just as a matter of interest, why Tottenham Court Road?" Ron asked as they walked.

"I've no idea," Hermione said honestly. "It just popped into my head, but I'm sure we're safer out in the Muggle world, it's not where they'll expect us to be."

"True," said Ron, looking around. "But don't you feel a bit—exposed?"

"Where else is there?" Hermione cringed as a few men across the road wolf-whistled at her. The Polyjuice had worn off, leaving her is a dress that was too large. It caught around her legs when she walked, and gaped down the front. "We can hardly book rooms at the Leaky Cauldron, can we? And Grimmauld Place is out if Snape can get in there… Oh, I wish they'd shut up!"

"All right, darling?" the drunkest of them was yelling. "Fancy a drink? Ditch ginger and come and have a pint!"

"Let's sit down somewhere." She was suddenly exhausted. And she needed to pee. "Look, this will do, in here."

It was a small, shabby all-night café. A light layer of grease lay on all the surfaces, but it was empty. Harry and Ron took up the side of the booth facing the door, so she ended up looking at the café. She hated it. Even at the Burrow, where she'd known she was safe, she'd made a point to face the door.

"You know, we're not far from the Leaky Cauldron here, it's only in Charing Cross—"

"No," Hermione said, tone brooking no argument. Ron gave her a slightly stunned look.

"Not to stay there, but to find out what's going on!"

"We know what's going on! Voldemort's taken over the Ministry. What else do we need to know?"

"Okay, okay. It was just an idea!"

They lapsed into silence. Hermione looked over her shoulder at the door so often that her neck was beginning to get sore. The waitress came over and Hermione ordered two cappuccinos. Two men entered the café and took the next booth. She didn't like it.

"I say we find a quiet place to Disapparate and head for the countryside. Once we're there, we could send a message to the Order."

"Can you do that talking Patronus thing, then?" Ron asked.

"Yes."

The waitress shuffled by to get the newcomers' orders.

"Let's get going, then. I don't want to drink this muck," Ron said. "Hermione, have you got Muggle money to pay for this?"

Hermione reached for her bag, which had her wallet with Muggle money in it, and the men in the booth moved as one. Hermione's wand was in her hand in a flash, Ron's only a second slower.

Spells were exchanged. One of the windows was blown out. Harry Stunned one and Hermione Petrified the other; Ron had been caught up with an Incarcerous almost immediately. She freed him with a swirl of her wand and then flicked her wand at the window shades.

Diffindo. She got Ron out of the conjured ropes and turned to look for Harry, though she didn't see him because of the Cloak.

"That's Travers," said Ron, looking at the one she'd Petrified. "I think that other one's Thorfinn Rowle. I recognize him from the wanted posters."

"Never mind what they're called," Hermione said, annoyed. "How did they find us?"

"Lock the door," Harry said somewhere nearby on her right. "And Ron, turn out the lights."

Ron clicked his Deluminator. Hermione locked the door.

"What are we going to do with them?" Ron asked. "Kill them? They'd kill us. They had a good go just now."

Hermione was reluctant to kill them in front of Harry and Ron, which was completely ridiculous. Harry was shaking his head, anyway.

"We'll wipe their memories," she suggested instead. The boys nodded.

Instead of getting right to the Obliviating, Hermione looked into their minds first. They'd been tracked because there was a Taboo on Voldemort's name. Figures.

"Obliviate."

She felt a bit guilty Obliviating the waitress, too, but it couldn't be helped. Ron and Harry cleared up while she took care of the memories.

"But how did they find us?" Harry asked when everything was set to right and the Death Eaters had been propped up in their booth. "How did they know where we were?"

"A Taboo," Hermione said, explaining it quickly and how she knew.

"That's cool," Ron said. She could tell he wanted to ask her to teach him Legilimency, but she turned away before he could.

"We need to go," she said, glancing out the blinds on the repaired window. The street was even more deserted than it had been before.

"Let's go to Grimmauld Place," Harry said.

"What if Snape can get in there?"

Then that would be lovely. I'll give him a nice big kiss and you two can bugger off for a few hours.

"There are jinxes in place. The house is as good as any," Hermione said. She had a short list of safe houses, but she thought it would be good for Harry and Ron to be someplace they knew. And Grimmauld Place was much better stocked than any of her hideaways.

She took them to the front step of the old headquarters, inside the wards. It had taken a bit of practice to Apparate to the step—she'd landed in the bushes next to it once by accident.

Harry rapped the front door with his wand, and there were a series of metallic clicks and the clatter of a chain as the house opened up for him. The door swung open with a creek, and they hurried in.

Harry closed the door behind them as the old-fashioned gas lamps that lined the entryway sprang to life, casting flickering light. It looked just as it always did. The troll's leg umbrella stand was lying on its side as if Tonks had just knocked it over again.

"Somebody's been here," Hermione whispered. She hoped it hadn't been Severus—Moody had not been gentle with the protections against him.

"That could've happened as the Order left," Ron said.

"So where are these jinxes they put up against Snape?" Harry asked.

"Maybe they're only activated if he shows up?" Ron suggested.

Hermione took a step down the hall and Moody's voice whispered out of the darkness—"Severus Snape?"

"We're not Snape!" Harry croaked.

The spell breezed past them. Hermione's tongue curled backward on itself for a moment. Ron made retching noises.

"Tongue-Tying Curse," Hermione said, taking another few steps.

Something shifted at the end of the hall, and Hermione drew her wand and her knife. A figure rose out of the carpet, tall, dust-colored and terrible. One of them yelped loud enough that it woke Mrs. Black's portrait, and who began to scream. The gray figure glided toward them faster and faster, hair and beard streaming, its face sunken and fleshless with empty eye sockets. It was Dumbledore, horribly familiar but dreadful. The specter raised a wasted arm and pointed at them.

"No!" Harry shouted. "No! It wasn't us! We didn't kill you—"

Hermione drew a series of runes in the air with her wand and the figure exploded in a great cloud of dust. Coughing, they looked around at each other.

"Mudbloods, filth, stains of dishonor, taint of shame on the house of my father—"

"SHUT UP!" Harry bellowed, jabbing his wand at the curtains so hard that red sparks flew from it as the curtains swished closed.

Dust swirled around them like mist.

"That… that was…" Ron said, staring at the carpet runner.

"Yeah," Harry said. "But it wasn't really him, was it? Just something to scare Snape."

It certainly alarmed this Snape, Hermione thought.

"Homenum revelio," Hermione said, raising her wand. There was no reaction—nobody in the house but them.

"What was it supposed to do?" Ron asked, sounding surprised that one of her spells hadn't worked. She smiled.

"It did what it was meant to do," Hermione said. "That was a spell to reveal human presence, and there's nobody here except us."

She turned so that her back was to the portrait and cast it again while facing Harry and Ron. Bright, twinkling blue lights danced near her wand tip. One for each of them.

"See?"

"Cool," said Ron. He cast it as well, directing it at her and Harry. It was a good first attempt—one of the lights jumped about a bit, but there were the right number of them.

"Let's go up," Harry said, and they did.


A/N: So, I start a new job on Monday, and it's a writing job. I mention this because I wanted to give fair warning that I might be a little burned-out on the words front in the next few weeks, so I'm apologizing ahead of time if I don't quite make my two-a-week goal for myself. I'm hoping I'll make it; I've been uploading stuff all afternoon to edit and post... but I'm just putting it out there. So yeah.

Cheers!

— M