Harry comes into the Common Room with an idea in his head of precisely what his letter will contain, but he is distracted.

"Harry?" asks Daphne Greengrass. She has been waiting for him, he sees from the way she immediately stands from the sofa, her hands loosely clasped in front of her stomach, her stare intent. "I wondered if you might take a walk with me."

"Sure," Harry murmurs, raising his eyebrows in surprise. Pansy and Tracey titter together, and they ignore the way Daphne lets out a sharp, "Shhh,." in their direction, directing them to hush; Harry merely needs a moment to drop his bag into his dormitory, and he is ready to go.

Daphne Greengrass is a tall, willowy girl. She looks like she's stepped out of one of the children's stories Remus illustrates: she seems like she's grounded in a different reality to the one Harry lives in, and while she seems to have normal interests – chess, fashion, art – there's something airy about her. She's very pretty, with clear, pale skin and silvery-blonde hair that comes away from her face in thick, feathery waves, and her eyes are a burnished hazel.

She's going to a model when she leaves Hogwarts. Harry knows it like he knows the sky is blue.

When they leave the Common Room, walking through the dungeon corridors at a slow, leisurely pace, she takes his arm: he lets her. He feels like they should be walking out on the grounds, at least (and perhaps as if she should be holding a parasol), but with his eyes the way they are, it's not really feasible.

Daphne wears boots made of a black suede, with a tall heel at the back, and there's a quiet clop as they walk along. They each know the corridors well, even with Harry's lacking sight, and they simply move aimlessly through the sprawl of basement hallways, passing by portraits and alcoves lit by torches Harry can't stand to look at.

"What's up?" Harry asks, after they've walked for fifteen minutes in complete silence. Daphne's expression is distracted, her lips pressed tightly together. She turns to look at him, the features of her face shadowed in the relative darkness, and momentarily, she hesitates.

"Everybody's at the funeral today," Daphne says quietly.

"Yes," Harry agrees. He waits, patiently, and he feels Daphne's arm slightly tighten on his own.

"What do you know about the Death Eaters, Harry?" That question is unexpected. Harry is grateful for the dark lenses over his eyes, as he knows they'll hide the way his eyes widen, and he does his best to otherwise keep his expression neutral. He thinks of Stan Shunpike, and Rickard Mulciber.

"They're Voldemort's followers—"

"Don't call him that." Daphne's voice is sudden and sharp and severe, and Harry resists the urge to argue.

"They're his followers, anyway. They wear masks to keep anonymous: they're loyal to him. Or to the ability to be violent, anyway." A short pause. "Lucius Malfoy was a Death Eater."

"Was," Daphne says quietly. "He wasn't, in the end, was he?"

"Not at all." Daphne comes to a stop, taking her arm away from Harry's and stepping into a wide alcove in the stone. There are darkened windows of stained glass on the walls, but judging by the lacking light that comes through them, the lake is on the other side. She sits down on a leather chaise long pressed against the wall, her hands neatly clasped on her knees: Harry watches the way she takes her plump lower lip under the bite of her upper teeth, worrying the pink flesh. He thinks of Blaise Zabini's teeth dragging over his neck, deep enough to nearly draw blood. He turns away, murmurs a quiet incantation, a bubble of warded silence forming around the little alcove – it has to be tethered to walls or doorframes, and isn't as strong a spell as others, but it should be decent enough for their purposes. "What is it, Daphne? Your mother?"

"I couldn't speak of this to Pansy," Daphne murmurs. "Nor even Tracey – a half-blood she might be, but her father has pure blood, and thus… It isn't that I believe they are untrustworthy. Merely that they might have loyalties I myself could not adhere to." It surprises Harry to hear Daphne Greengrass, a girl of double meanings and quiet intention, speak so clearly, and least of all to him – they're not close friends, like Harry and Draco or Harry and Hermione, or like Theo and Blaise.

"Sometimes it's better to have a more distant friend's perspective," Harry says quietly. He goes to the window, turning his head away slightly and leaning back against the green and red glass, his shoulders upon the cool of it, his eyes facing away from the comparative bright. He watches Daphne, grateful for the light behind him, that makes her so much easier to see even with the dark red of his lenses half-blinding him to detail. "Is it your mother?"

"She does not outright say, of course, that she would be seduced, nor my father." Daphne whispers the words, and despite her distracted state, she sits with a very straight back and a very proper posture, her upset showing only in her face. "But yet I know, as surely as anything, that were the Dark Lord to ask after her aid, or his, that they might readily kneel at his feet."

"And what problem would that be?" Harry asks. Daphne's eyes flicker up to meet his, her gaze surprised, and Harry says, "You don't think I'd assume you'd be on my side in this war, just because we're in the same house? You have no obligation."

"You wouldn't hate me?"

"Of course I would," Harry says. "I wouldn't hesitate to kill you, on the battlefield." Daphne's lips part, her eyes widening, and she recoils the slightest bit… It surprises her, Harry guesses, how bluntly he speaks, but the actual sentiment can't possibly take her aback. Even as Harry says it, though, he doesn't know if it's true. He knows Daphne, has known her year by year, and the idea of murdering her, like he did Mulciber, or Shunpike… No. "I can't afford to see the grey area in this, Daphne. Voldemort—"

"Don't."

"No, I will. Voldemort killed me this summer. He killed my parents – he would kill every one of my friends, and more." He crosses his arms over his chest, looking down at her: shame seems to radiate from her every pore, but there's more than that. He sees fear. "You're a Pure-blood family. What are you worried about, that he'll hurt you? That he'll hurt your family?"

"My sister," Daphne whispers. Her voice, usually strong and serene, seems half-cracked. "She's so young, a child… I've heard the stories. Of things that happened in the war, to girls, boys. Easy victims." Harry's brow furrows. He stares down at her, takes a step forwards: her hazel eyes are watery.

"And what are you suggesting here?" Harry asks, softly. "That I convince your parents not to join him?"

"I want you to protect my sister," Daphne says. She looks intently up at Harry's face, standing up, and she grasps for Harry's hands, holding them tightly between her own. Tears roll down her cheeks, but her wide eyes are focused and furious. "If you protect her, I will do anything. I cannot trust, any more, that our blood status ought protect us, or the green ribbons on our robes: if you can keep her safe, I will— I will spy. I will join the Dark Lord myself—"

"No," Harry murmurs, thinking of the Dark Mark on Daphne's skin, thinking of killing her. Could he do that? "I can't promise to protect your sister, I'm not… What do you think I am, some kind of war general? Daphne, I don't know any more magic than you do." Even as he talks, he can see she isn't listening.

"I'll do anything, then, anything, I'll—" Daphne breathes in, desperately, and her lips drop down to Harry's mouth. Hesitantly, her right hand goes to the fastening of her robe at the left side, and he grasps for the hand and stops her. She lets out a desperate sob, drops her head against his shoulder, and not knowing what to do, he lets her. He puts his arms around her, one of his hands on her back, and with his chin against her hair, he stares into the darkness.

"I'll—" He opens his mouth, closes it, tries to think of what can possibly be done, what he can do. "Your parents haven't sworn themselves in?"

"No," Daphne says, sniffling slightly as she pulls away, obviously trying to contain herself. Her porcelain nose is red from crying. "But I fear it will come soon, that someone must approach them… I don't wish to betray my parents, Harry, and I should love to be neutral entirely, but my sister."

"What do you want? For me to kidnap you and your sister both?"

"Could you?" The question is so sudden, and so laden with hope, that it hits Harry like an arrow.

"You're at Hogwarts. You're safe here."

"But come Christmas—"

"Come Christmas," Harry breaks in, holding both of her hands very tightly. "I'll kidnap you and your sister both, if it comes to it."

"And in return?" Daphne asks. Her breath hitches in her throat. "What would you ask of me?" Harry breathes in slowly through his nose, pressing his lips together. Daphne's hands are freezing cold between his own, like those of a statue, and he suppresses the urge to sigh – she'd only misconstrue it.

"We don't know that this is how things will go. But if we have to… I don't want her at risk any more than you do. She's innocent – she's a child." He releases her hands, and he takes a step away. He thinks of Gilderoy Lockhart's letter, which he'd planned to write just a few minutes ago, the words all a jumble in his head. "I'll do what I can."

"Thank you," Daphne murmurs. Harry dispels the silencing enchantment, stepping out into the corridor and walking away: he waits, to see if he hears Daphne follow after him. She doesn't. He walks back to the Common Room alone: he imagines Daphne Greengrass sinking back down onto the chaise long and sitting in the silence of the corridor.

When he gets back to the Common Room, writing the letter to Lockhart is the last thing he feels ready to do.

ϟ ~ THE LERNAEAN HYDRA ~ ϟ

Harry barely drinks that night.

He has been drunk in the past: he's played drinking games with the others, in the past year, and never gotten especially drunk, but now… Harry feels the slight hum of whiskey in his belly, heating his throat from its very base, and he looks about the room. Cross-legged upon the ground, leaning against each other, Greg and Vince sit, staring into space. Draco and Theo talk very quietly and seriously together: Theo has a book of Arithmancy open in his lap, and they talk at length about the subject. Theodore is slurring his words a little, but his maths seems accurate enough, and Draco looks like he's genuinely loving the conversation. Blaise, for his part, is sprawled on the ground between Draco and Harry's respective beds, Winston the cat sitting on his chest and staring soulfully down into his eyes.

As distracted as he is, Harry can't think much on Lockhart's letter, nor on Daphne and Astoria: he sits on the carpet, back against the far wall, and watches the other boys get drunker and drunker. He sets his glass down, still half-full.

He thinks of Lockhart meeting him in the castle…

But no. No, the idea is stupid, risky: they could easily be caught, and what would happen then? What if Lockhart planned to offer something helpful, and he was killed, or captured?

Harry stands up, taking his satchel from the side: his Invisibility Cloak is safely inside, and there's a dagger in the bag as well as the one on his belt.

"I'm going to go sit in the library for a while," he says, and he moves too quickly for any of them to ask him questions. Under the Invisibility Cloak, he moves slowly through the Hogwarts corridors, casting a silencing charm on the soles of his shoes to keep from making too much noise, and then he goes out into the grounds.

It's a decently warm night, although the sky is misty, and very little light comes down from the sky above: Harry is grateful. Keeping the Cloak fastened at his neck, the hood down over his head, he presses his body through the little opening at the base of the Whomping Willow, and he doesn't bother to cast Lumos as he moves through the tight corridor. He feels his way through the darkness, and he does the same in the Shrieking Shack, climbing out of a window on the ground floor. He's grateful for the misty skies now, as he walks toward the village and slides in through a gap in the fencing: even with the red lenses over his eyes and the cloak over his face, he knows that if the sun hadn't yet set, or even if the moon was full, his eyes would be very sensitive indeed.

He does his best not to rush up the hill out of the village. He takes the walk slowly: there is a temptation to run up the hill and into the mountains at speed, but even with the silencing charm on his shoes, the Cloak would flap, and he could potentially be seen speeding past.

The walk up to the mountain is very slow, particularly in the thick haze of darkness, with barely any light to guide him. The lack of visibility is obscene, and he cannot exactly use Lumos to light the way – not unless he wants Hogsmeade to be awash with rumours of a Will-o'-the-Wisp traversing the mountain pathways in the dead of night. What time is it? Midnight? Later?

Harry doesn't know.

The clearing outside the cave is lit by the scant light from above, and Harry moves slowly toward the opening, stepping carefully over the threshold. The candles that light the way are dimmed in their lanterns, and Harry walks carefully inside. Glancing around, he examines the little entrance hall, and then steps through the archway, into the corridor that opens out onto the rest of the cave.

There are no doors.

Lockhart is surrounded by powerful witches, but it seems like they hadn't seen the point in forcing the network of carpeted, wallpapered caves to have doors or windows. Instead, neatly carved archways serve the difference between one "room" and the next, and corridors separate off into different passageways. The corridors are dimly lit by soft-burning lamps, and Harry then reaches archways that have bead curtains or swathes of fabric hanging down before him. Peering through a set of silvery bead curtains, he sees a chair with a yellow set of women's robes laid over it, and he steps to the next archway.

The curtains are a royal red, with golden trimmings and golden rope hanging for when they're to be held shut: this is Lockhart's bedroom, Harry knows for certain. He slides carefully between the papered rock wall and the hanging fabric, and he enters an extremely dark room.

Upon a table, a candle flickers weakly, burnt down to its very wick and emitting very little light. It takes Harry a few moments to adjust to the darkness – the thick curtains let through none of the lamplight from the corridor at all – and he looks around.

The first thought that strikes him is that there are no mirrors.

There are photographs of Lockhart upon the walls, and even a portrait of him: the portrait Lockhart is sleeping soundly in an old armchair, his head lolled back, his golden hair flopping down over his eyes. But no mirrors. Nowhere Lockhart can see his real-life self, in this very moment – what a strange thought. Perhaps he has a compact now.

The furniture in the room is scant: a dining table that has been made makeshift into a desk, an old armchair, and a cot that is right up against the wall. Harry whispers a spell, making the candle remount its wax, and the dying light brightens. Harry looks down at the cot, and he sees Gilderoy Lockhart sprawled upon his belly, his left arm hanging down from the bed. He's shirtless, wearing a pair of white sleeping trousers like the Muggles have, and his hair – much longer than in the portrait – cascades over his shoulders in waves.

He looks so young. Lockhart isn't far past thirty, Harry doesn't think, but with his face half-hidden by his hair, and slack, he looks like he's barely more than a teenager. He looks different to the portrait of Lockhart sleeping on the wall, very different indeed.

Harry pulls the cloak slowly from his shoulders, and sets his satchel upon the ground. Reaching inside, he pulls out a knife – the knife he'd bought in Hogsmeade last year. He creeps slowly forwards, gently pulling Lockhart's hair out of the way of his face, and yeah, he looks older now. Harry can see the shiny pink scar on his jawline, where some curse must have opened up Lockhart's skin.

Harry reaches out, takes Lockhart's wand from the ground where it lies beneath the bed, and places it in an inside pocket. Then, he takes the knife to Lockhart's neck, pressing the blade closely against his skin.

Lockhart's eyes open. His eyes are forget-me-not blue, bright and shining in the candlelight.

"Don't yell for help, and don't struggle. This knife is imbibed with Basilisk venom," Harry says smoothly: it is a complete lie. That knife is still in his satchel. "If it breaks the skin, you will die very fast, and it'll hurt."

"Basilisk venom, hmm? Well, I suppose it'd kill me," Lockhart says, his chin pressed against the side of his mattress, and he makes no attempt to push Harry away or lean away from the bite of the knife. Harry had forgotten the sound of his voice, so musical, so theatrical – Lockhart has the voice of an actor, Harry thinks, like someone made for the stage. "Can I do anything for you, Harry?" Scowling, Harry peers down at Lockhart's idiotic face.

"Isn't the man with the knife meant to have the upper hand?" he asks, frustrated, but Lockhart doesn't so much as flinch.

"I believe you do," Lockhart says smoothly. "Me being on my belly and all that." Suppressing the urge to roll his eyes, Harry pulls back the knife, and stares down at Lockhart. Lockhart grins, and he shows all of his handsome, white teeth.

"You're such a bloody twat," Harry mutters, and he stands up from the bed, settling in the middle of the room upon his feet, dropping the knife into his pocket and crossing his arms over his chest. "I can say that outright, now, you're not one of my bloody teachers."

"Yes, well, anything nasty you should have liked to say was given to me threefold in the staffroom, I'm sure," Lockhart replies mildly. He sits up, reaching for the bedpost and pulling on a silken dressing gown in the Ravenclaw colours, tying it up in front of his belly. He just keeps on smiling, showing his teeth with his eyes bright and cheery. "Why, I expected to hear back from you! Didn't expect a home visit." Lockhart claps his hands together, and something changes in his eyes, hardening. "How did you get past the Fidelius Charm? When Dawn and Billy mentioned you, why, I couldn't fathom…"

"I was here one night, when you brought some of your people in. You need to ward the area around the cave entrance, I think."

"Bollocks," Lockhart says, furrowing his brow. "That never occurred to the old noggin. Were you invisible? Used a charm?"

"An enchanted cloak," Harry answers, and slips the cloak into his bag. Lockhart stands before him, wearing his socks but no shoes, the blue material of his dressing gown shimmering a little in the candlelight. His hands are in his pockets, his elbows out.

Lockhart looks about the room, and then says in a good-natured tone, "You have my wand, I believe."

"Yes," Harry agrees.

"I can't light the other lights. Unless you prefer a chat in the dark?" Frowning, Harry sweeps his wand around the room. Lanterns come to life, hanging from natural breaks in the rock upon the ceiling, or they hover against the walls. He feels like he could be out in the sun, the light is abruptly so bright, and he lets out a sharp sound of pain, squeezing his eyes tightly shut and dropping to his knees.

Immediately, he feels Lockhart come close to him, and before he can move away, he feels Lockhart's hands upon his face. Cupping the sides of his temples, the sides of his hands pressed against the wire frames of Harry's glasses, he creates a blessed darkness around the red lenses of his spectacles, and Harry exhales.

"Now, now, that's all fine," Lockhart mutters. "Got you in that flashbang, didn't they? Augustine Nielsen caught one the other day too – he's one of our Aurors, and he wears squared-off spectacles. Come on, now, dim the lights – you can do it without looking." Harry waves his wand, muttering the spell under his breath, and Lockhart very slowly takes his hands away. Harry blinks a few times, letting his eyes adjust to the softer light – it's more like it is in the corridor, now, and Harry can't think how he could have been so stupid, bringing all the lights up to their full brightness.

Lockhart sits back upon his heels, a soft smile still on his lips.

"There you are. Shall we have a cup of tea?"

"Has someone hit you in the head?" Harry asks, and Lockhart chuckles, looking away from Harry. Fondly, he glances around the room, and then drops back gracelessly upon his backside.

"Yes, perhaps you would think so. We haven't seen each other properly in three years, hmm? Since you called that big snake out in the Chamber of Secrets, and I fled… Why, they caught me before I'd even escaped the castle. And well, I did deserve it, didn't I? I'd never killed anybody, that much is true, but I'd stolen so many lives nonetheless…" A shadow of regret passes over Lockhart's face, and he slowly shakes his head. "And Azkaban made me aware, I think. I'd always pushed away my regrets. Always, always: Bonnie tells me the Muggles call it compartmentalizing! What do you think of that?"

Harry stares resolutely at Lockhart's beatific features, and he says absolutely nothing. Lockhart has a lot of rhetorical questions amongst his vocal flourishes, and Harry isn't going to try to answer a single one.

"Well," Lockhart murmurs softly, putting his chin on his hand. "Then we came out here, and we were all justice. I was… Well, I was a little bad, after Azkaban. I was full of anger! Chad led the way." Lockhart's lips become downturned. "Yes, Chad, he controlled everything, and then when I felt a little better, we stopped being quite so monstrous. Isn't it odd, how things turn out? And then… You. You and that prophecy, well. With You-Know-Who on the way back, I supposed it seemed rather foolish to keep trying to kill you. Chad had a whole list, you know."

Lockhart doesn't seem confused, exactly, but Harry wonders what's wrong with him for him to speak so frankly to him, to Harry. It's the middle of the night, and Harry has snuck into his bedroom with a knife to his throat: how can be so calm and cheery?

"Did you expect this? Did you somehow predict me coming?" Lockhart stands up, tapping Harry upon the shoulder. Slowly, he stands, and he looks at Lockhart's desk: now, in the lamplight, he can see what is on the desk. There is a sheaf of hand-drawn maps in the corner, and some pages of notes from a book called The New Mediwizard, but in the very middle of the oak surface are a set of tarot cards. He looks at the painted surfaces of the six cards on the table, scanning them. "These don't mean anything to me. I don't study Divination."

"I did rather well in Divination at school," Lockhart says softly, dragging his thumb over a card labelled ACE OF WANDS. "The cards predicted a dark visitor tonight, but to trust in him – that he would speak of that which will change my life." Divination, it is Harry's instinct to say, is mostly bollocks.

He doesn't say that.

"Right," Harry says, slowly. "But I could have been about to kill you, for all you knew."

"You wouldn't have killed me," Lockhart says, all quiet confidence, and he reaches up, combing through his hair with his fingers and then pulling it up into a loose, messy bun above his head. "I should tell you why I asked that we meet… Come, let's go into the kitchen. We'll have a cup of tea." Harry stares up at Lockhart, and his strange features in the dim light. Can he possibly trust this man? He's absolutely mad.

Reaching into his robes, he takes Lockhart's wand, and hands it to him. Beaming, Lockhart leads the way out into the corridor.

ϟ ~ THE LERNAEAN HYDRA ~ ϟ

Lockhart can't boil a kettle for his life. First, he overfills the kettle, making water splash over the floor, but he doesn't pour enough of it out: water bubbles over and onto the hob, and steam comes away from the kettle in clouds. The tea itself is very weak, and has far too much milk in it – milk, by the by, that Harry specifically said he didn't want.

Harry sets the cup down on the table, and he sits on a dining chair. Lockhart leans against the kitchen counter that has been neatly fastened against the plain rock wall, his bare feet dangling down, a mug of hot cocoa steaming between his own hands. He stares off into the distance, seeming lost in his own thoughts.

"You asked to see me," Harry reminds him, after several moments have passed.

"Hmm? Oh, yes, I did." Lockhart smiles, as if abruptly reminded that he is alive, and he cups his steaming mug between his palms. He looks at Harry, and once again Harry sees that strange hardness come into his eyes again, even though the smile stays on his face. "Who killed Stanley Shunpike?"

"A Muggle, wasn't it?" Harry replies, narrowing his eyes slightly. "The papers said it was a mugging."

"I've been told – on reasonable account – that it was me," Lockhart says. His tone remains very casual, and his smile remains on his face: his eyes remain cold, and staring. He does not blink.

"Mr Dorian Keats shares information on both sides, I assume."

"That's rather how spies work," Lockhart murmurs. "Isn't it?" He drinks from the mug in his hands, and then sets the cocoa aside, looking right at Harry. He hesitates for a long moment, and then says, "He tells me that the Death Eaters… They must be killed for You-Know-Who to be defeated. Is that true?"

"Has he told everyone that?" Harry asks.

"No, Dorian reports directly to me," Lockhart says, in a heartbeat. Harry never thought the man could look so serious, but he does now, his wand hanging loosely from the pocket of his dressing gown, his hands clasped in his lap. "So it is true?"

"It is," Harry murmurs quietly. There's a pause between them, a tense pause. Harry does not know what it is precisely that prompts him to do it – perhaps the fact that Lockhart has trusted him with so much tonight, despite the way Harry had come in. "I killed Stan Shunpike." Surprise shows on Lockhart's face, and he stares at Harry: Harry feels a sort of weight lifting from his shoulders, feels something clear in his chest. Not a respite from guilt, certainly – the guilt over killing Shunpike is still there, even if it lessons as each day passes him by.

"You?" Lockhart asks. His eyes rest on Harry, examining him carefully. He looks Harry up and down, as if looking for the new parts of him that make him a murderer, as if trying to see where it is that Harry has changed since he was a child in Lockhart's classroom, disagreeing with his useless lessons and calling him a bastard. "I killed Evan Rosier."

"I killed Rickard Mulciber," Harry says, the name sliding easily from his tongue, and Lockhart laughs.

"You're making this a competition," he says, shaking his head and looking at Harry fondly, as if he is being somehow incorrigible. "Well done."

"Well done?"

"He didn't have a neck, did he? It was burned quite away… Was that your Basilisk knife, was it?" Lockhart taps his fingers upon his own palms, seeming to think. "How old are you? Sixteen?"

"Fifteen," Harry says. Lockhart's brow furrows.

"Fifteen…" Lockhart slips from the counter, crossing his arms over his chest. "You've killed others?"

"Just them." Lockhart presses his lips together, pacing in the kitchen, his forget-me-not eyes tracking from the left and to the right. With a wave of his wand, a notebook flies into the room, and he begins to take down notes with a fast-moving left hand, his quill fashioned after a peacock feather. "I know all of the Death Eaters who were inmates with me in Azkaban," Lockhart says: when he snaps his fingers, a noticeboard on the wall tilts, dropping pages that show names and faces – Bellatrix, Rodolphus and Rabastan Lestrange, Augustus Rookwood, Fenrir Greyback… "We'll kill them."

"You want to be part of this war," Harry says quietly. "Don't you, you want your own forces, trained…?"

"You don't know what it's like for a lot of these people," Lockhart says quietly. He presses his lips together, his quill momentarily freezing on the notepad in his hands. He draws his thumb over the soft pieces of green feather, and then says, "The werewolves, especially, you know… They must go to the Ministry each month, you know. They are placed in compounds with silver bars on every side, and so penned in, the wolves fight. They are unable to control themselves – and those few that might afford Wolfsbane… You know, Harry, it isn't difficult for an employer to surmise their condition. And Squibs, Squibs! They're treated so awfully. Those that try to get work in the wizarding world – they simply can't hide it." The injustice of it all seems to affect Lockhart heavily: a little pinkness comes to his cheeks, and he seems genuinely distressed, genuinely angry. "These are the people who loved my books most, you know. Such unlikely adventures…"

Lockhart brings the pages to his chest, holding them tightly there.

"The plan," Lockhart murmurs, looking back to Harry. "is for me and the girls – Jacqueline, Bonnie, Sara-Dean – we'll kill some of the Death Eaters. If it needs to be done, it will be done: I'll explain the situation. Our teams… We're teaching people defensive magic and defensive tactics, teaching Squibs first-aid with enchanted objects and potions, offering food and places to stay to werewolves. I'm not raising an army, Harry."

"Why?" Harry asks. Lockhart is very silent, his notepad against his chest, his peacock quill held loosely in his hands. "Why do this?"

"Those lives I stole…" Lockhart looks at Harry. His eyes look sad. "We must make it back somehow, mustn't we? If these people see me as a leader, then I shall be a leader. It is the least I could possibly do."

Harry wants to ask a thousand questions. It occurs to him that he wants to ask for Lockhart's whole story – why did he start Obliviating people in the first place? Why did these women decide to break him out? Was he sad when Chad Arnett died? What was it like in Azkaban?

There are too many questions for him to pick only one.

"So you're suggesting that we form an alliance. That you kill Death Eaters, play the part I feigned to the Order to make me look more innocent, and that… What? What do I do?"

"You defeat You-Know-Who. Or lead the war, or act as a figurehead, or keep people's spirits high…" Lockhart says, and then seems to regret it. "What do you want to do?"

"Kill Death Eaters with my bare hands, until there's none left." Lockhart considers this for a long moment.

"Are you sure? To kill people… It's a hard decision."

"I've already made it," Harry points out. "Shunpike, Mulciber. I stabbed them both, felt them bleed over my hands."

"Do you feel guilty?"

"Yes."

"Me too." Lockhart chuckles, softly. "I'll write to you."

"Is that safe?"

"Safer than you coming here, or me coming into Hogwarts…" Lockhart looks down at Harry, stares down at him. "I am sorry. For what I would have done to you, for treating you as I did in my classes – and I knew absolutely nothing. Do you know that, that I knew nothing?"

"I had my suspicions." Lockhart grins.

"Yes, I suppose you did."

ϟ ~ THE LERNAEAN HYDRA ~ ϟ

He's on something, Harry is certain. As he slips further into the dungeons, he pulls the Invisibility Cloak off of his shoulders and folds it into his bag. Lockhart must have been on some sort of drug to make his divination easier, or perhaps he's caught some sort of mould from being in that cave, but it couldn't possibly have been that easy.

Lockhart can't possibly have a plan.

A thin, bony hand settles on Harry's shoulder, and grasps him by the fabric of his robes. He's all but lifted from his feet as he's thrown into Snape's office, and he nearly falls flat on his face, only just pulling himself out of the stumble.

"Oh, good," Harry says. "You're awake."

"Who performed the Fidelius Charm for Gilderoy Lockhart?" Snape demands. Dropping into the chair in front of Snape's desk, Harry lets out a soft sigh.

"Let me get the lies straight in my head before I start answering questions," he mutters, and Snape crosses his arms tightly over his chest, a fierce look on his face.