"Parkinson … Parkinson … yes, Creature-Induced Injuries," said the harassed-looking Welcome Witch at the reception area of St. Mungo's. "First floor, Hippolyta Morton Ward." She jabbed her quill toward the floor guide, then looked up for the first time since Hermione and Draco had stopped before the desk.

The blonde witch's quill froze in mid-air. "Hold on. Are you …"

"Thank you," said Hermione quickly, tugging Draco toward the double doors.

Draco's eyes glimmered with amusement. "Bored of the hero-worship already?"

"Draco," said Hermione in her most dignified tone, "I'd like to at least try to keep to our schedule. We're already late, and it's bound to be packed. Yes—see?"

The corridor beyond the double doors was chaos. Visitors swirled among Healers in lime-green robes, the crowd so thick that the portraits on the walls were nearly invisible. It took several long minutes of excuse-mes and trodden-on toes for them to reach the stairs, and by the time they got there, a current of murmurs had started to follow them. Heads turned. Necks craned. Hermione ducked into the stairwell with relief.

The stairs were just as busy, mostly with people on their way to the fourth floor—Spell Damage—but when they slipped out into the Creature-Induced Injuries floor, they found a clearer path. Soon they were entering the Hippolyta Morton Ward, a mostly empty hall of beds partitioned by gauzy, hovering curtains.

"Hermione, Malfoy," called Ron's voice from halfway down the ward. "Over here."

They approached the bed in question and found Ron, Harry, and Goyle gathered around Pansy's bedside. Pansy herself was sitting up in bed and looking artfully bored, a copy of Witch Weekly splayed open on her lap. After hugs and greetings were exchanged, Draco and Hermione drew up two more seats at the end of the bed.

"What happened, Pansy?" Hermione said, trying not to sound too worried.

Draco eyed her bandages. "I thought they were supposed to discharge you on Monday."

"They were." Pansy aimed a sullen look at the bandaging, too. "Then a lot of bruising showed up out of nowhere, so they're doing more tests. Apparently I'll be in here for at least another week."

"Ah, well," said Ron with deliberate carelessness. "More time to learn—what was it?" He craned his neck to read the cover of Witch Weekly. "Seven Wand-Free Ways to Put That Special Wizard Under Your Spell."

"It's a worthless list," Pansy said. "They don't even mention getting an Azkaban sentence."

Everyone around the bed laughed, Ron's ears took on a pleased red tint, and Pansy looked slightly cheered.

Hermione snuck another look at Ron, who had dark circles like Pansy's under his eyes. After the battle, Pansy had remained in the Hogwarts Infirmary for two weeks. St. Mungo's had been so full of injured people that anything non-life-threatening had been designated to other, less well-equipped hospitals across the country. And while Nagini's bite hadn't worsened at Hogwarts, neither had Madam Pomfrey had the resources to heal it completely. Eventually, in mid-June, after experiencing worrisome side effects, she'd been transferred to St. Mungo's.

Throughout it all, Ron had visited nearly every day, even spending some nights at Pansy's bedside. A clutter of both their possessions had accumulated at the bedside table: hand-drawn get-well cards from Pansy's younger brothers, Ron's beaten-down chess set, two imposing bouquets from Theo Nott and Blaise Zabini, a stack of Quidditch Quarterlies that might have belonged to either of them—Pansy was a staunch fan of the Falmouth Falcons, to Ron's outrage—and a jar full of opaline dragon scales that Charlie had given to Ron, which Pansy had been crafting into jewellery.

They heard the door at the end of the ward open and close. "Oh, blimey," said Ron, startling to his feet. "That'll be them."

Pansy's expression barely changed, but the muscles of her throat tightened as though she were trying and failing to swallow.

"Your parents?" Draco said, low and quick. Pansy gave one curt nod.

"Ooh, no," Hermione said, leaping to her feet. "I wish we hadn't been late—we'd better give you some privacy." They all knew that Pansy hadn't spoken to her parents since moving into Order headquarters in early March. Even the cards from her brothers had come from post owls rather than the Parkinson family owl.

Ron and Goyle had stood, too. "Don't move, you two," Pansy warned, grabbing at Ron's and Goyle's hands, but they dodged. "Ron—Greg!"

"It'll be better on your own," said Goyle in his solemn way. Hermione was still getting used to hearing Goyle speak in full sentences. Every word was deliberate, as though requiring his utmost concentration, and there was a way he held eye contact while he spoke that made his words feel heavy. He, too, was still in the process of reconciling with his parents. His father remained on the Fourth Floor, recovering from the last effects of the Fiendfyre.

Hermione heard Ron say in a quiet voice as she hurried away, "We're just outside, all right?"

Hermione stammered out a "hello" to the Parkinsons as they passed, not meeting their eyes. She didn't think she'd ever be able to look at Pansy's parents again without thinking of herself and Draco in the Ministry of Magic.

In the hall, they dodged a Healer accompanying a patient with an elephant's trunk for a nose. "I reckon they'll be a while," said Ron apologetically.

"That's all right," said Harry, checking his watch. "I should get to Diagon Alley, anyway. Hermione, Draco, were you two going that way, too?"

Draco nodded. "We'll come back tomorrow, Weasley." He gave the door of the ward a wary look. "… to witness the aftermath."

"It'll be all right," said Ron bracingly, although he half-sounded as though he were trying to convince himself. "Go on. And take the back exit—you get less swarmed that way."

They Disapparated in a nearby side street. Soon Hermione, Draco, and Harry were walking up Diagon Alley. It was shaping up to be a warm, steady summer, with days-long spells of sun, and they treated themselves to ice creams from Fortescue's. The shop now had a memorial plaque to Florean Fortescue hung on the wall. They all paused before it a moment and then continued on their way.

"I hear they finally found him last week," said Hermione in a small voice. "Florean Fortescue, I mean. I read in the Prophet that his … his remains were found on the grounds of the Lestrange House."

"Took them long enough," said Harry. "He vanished start of sixth year."

"I'm surprised they found anything, the way the Ministry's being run right now," said Draco, casting a dismissive look toward a stand of Daily Prophets. "Shacklebolt can't carry the whole thing on his shoulders."

Harry and Draco began to debate the way the Auror Office had reformed, and what Kingsley's appointment as Acting Minister had done to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, but Hermione was still thinking about that small silver plaque on the wall with Fortescue's name on it. Her eyes stung. It was odd, the things that reached beneath her skin these days, while others passed over her like a breeze.

Inevitably, they were stopped in the middle of Diagon Alley along the way. Tearful witches and wizards shook Harry's hand, and almost always went on to do the same to Hermione and Draco. Especially while accompanying Harry, there was no way that they could be mistaken for anyone other than two of the most prominent members of the Order of the Phoenix: Hermione Granger, former Undesirable No. 2; and Draco Malfoy, one of only two people to betray the Mark and live.

"It's really not fair, you know," Hermione huffed after the fifth or sixth such encounter. "You'll see our names in the Prophet again and again, but you'll notice they haven't interviewed Remus or Hagrid or Dobby." She pursed her lips. "I wonder what could possibly be keeping the Wizarding World from taking their contributions seriously."

"Let me guess," said Harry with a sigh.

"I'm serious, Harry! I've read the Prophet front to back every day since they fired half their staff and started publishing again. There isn't one mention of house-elves', goblins', or part-humans' contributions to the Order. Not one!" she seethed.

"Write an editorial," Draco said. "The Prophet will bend over backward to be the first publisher of war heroine Hermione Granger."

"Not a bad idea," said Harry.

Hermione sighed. "No, it's not enough. I tried for years to get people to listen with S.P.E.W. … I really think the only way to make some proper change is to go back to Hogwarts for N.E.W.T.s and make a career of it."

Hermione knew that Draco, too, intended to return to Hogwarts for a seventh year's education, not least because he was interested in Ministry work and the Ministry would need a good long while to reform. They'd spoken about it often in the months since the battle, in calm afternoons at the Zabinis' house, where Draco and his mother had been staying while they searched for a new home. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley had also insisted on having Hermione, Draco, and Harry around for breakfasts every other weekend, where she pestered them relentlessly about their future plans.

But they were halfway through summer now, and Harry still hadn't made any indication of whether he meant to return to Hogwarts. Hermione and Draco both glanced over at him; he looked pensive.

"Well?" said Draco. "What are you going to do, Potter? Write a bestselling memoir?"

Harry rubbed the back of his neck. "Actually, I've been owling Kingsley. The Auror Office have been trying to track down the rest of the Death Eaters. Hundreds of Voldemort's supporters have gone to other countries, or gone into hiding. Kingsley's asked me if I want to join the effort, and I told him a few days ago that I would."

"Harry!" Hermione tried to affix enthusiasm onto her face, but something like dismay was spreading through her. "That's—well, that's …"

Draco wasn't trying to feign excitement. "Right back into it again, then?" He sighed. "You aren't tired of putting your neck on the line?"

"It's different now," Harry argued. "We're not up against the whole world anymore. And we've got to finish the job."

"I suppose," Hermione said slowly. "We have to undo all the damage that the Death Eaters did with that propaganda, too."

Harry nodded. "Besides, I'll visit Hogwarts. I reckon Ron might join the Aurors, too, but we'll come and see you as often as we can." He glanced up the street toward their destination. "And there's one new student we'll have to check in on, obviously."

They stopped outside Ollivander's and peered through the windows. Hermione could see Ollivander sitting behind the till, accompanied by a bobbing blonde head. Luna had agreed to be his assistant over the summer, which suited her, as she could visit her father in St. Mungo's much more easily from Diagon Alley. Both she and Ollivander were waving goodbye to a figure who now ducked through the doorway, beaming.

"Harry!" boomed Hagrid, waving with the long, thin, dusty box in his hand. "Hermione! Draco, good to see yeh, good to see yeh." He gave Draco a clap on the shoulder that made him stagger.

"Can we see it, Hagrid?" Hermione said eagerly, pointing to the box.

Hagrid lifted the lid to reveal a wand whose handle was as thick around as Hermione's wrist. "Course yeh can. Oak, like my first! Eighteen inches, an' a dragon heartstring core."

"It's fantastic," said Harry with a grin.

Hagrid sniffed loudly as he slipped the box into the depths of his overcoat. "Never thought I'd be allowed ter finish up at Hogwarts … Dumbledore put in a petition after yeh cleared my name in yer second year, Harry, but the Ministry kep' puttin' it off … didn' want to admit they'd blamed the wrong person for openin' the Chamber, see? … But I'm guessin' Kingsley an' Minerva had somethin' ter do with this."

Hermione beamed. "Is it true that Charlie's taking over your Care of Magical Creatures post?"

"Already moved in an' all," said Hagrid, nodding. "Only he'll be livin' up in the castle, and I'll be stayin' out in my hut. Don' reckon there's a dormitory that could fit me." He smiled sheepishly. "Course, they'll have ter find a new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher …"

"They have," Draco said. "It's Remus. Tonks owled me this morning to tell me."

"Oh, good," Hermione sighed. "I thought it might be Snape."

Hagrid chuckled. "Nah. Not sure Snape'll be teachin' again, ter be honest. Minerva's still got 'er Transfiguration classes, and she's keepin' Slughorn on fer Potions, as well. So, she's asked Snape to stay on as Deputy Headmaster, no teachin' position attached."

"Good," said Hermione and Harry together, while Draco looked slightly disappointed.

"Well, listen," Hagrid said, with another bruising pat to Hermione's and Draco's shoulders, "I'll be seein' you two on Friday for Harry's birthday party, won' I? Got a supply list here tha' needs seein' to!"

"Right," said Harry, taking the list from Hagrid's hand. "Have you been to the Apothecary?"

Hagrid was bouncing on the tips of his toes, making a nearby bench shudder on the cobblestones. "Not yet."

"Let's go, then," said Harry, and with a grin over his shoulder at Hermione and Draco, he and Hagrid headed back down Diagon Alley together.

Hermione let out a slow breath and felt Draco do the same beside her.

"Ready?" he asked.

"Yes, I think so," Hermione said as they turned and headed up Diagon Alley. "It's going to be strange, though. What about if one of us feels overwhelmed, we just … just work a certain word into conversation?"

Draco nodded. "Arithmancy?"

"Perfect." Hermione swallowed. "But—no, I think we'll be all right. We've already been to the Burrow half a dozen times, after all."

Still, as Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes came into view ahead, Hermione felt her pulse quicken. The last time she'd been inside that building, they had Disapparated into Fred's and George's office from Hogsmeade on the day of Dumbledore's funeral. She pictured the flat above the shop stuffed with Weasley photographs and too-fine furnishings.

The twins' own funeral had been small and private, taking place in the countryside near the Burrow where the Weasleys had so often flown on brooms in childhood, skimming over ponds and grasses. The weeks after the battle had been so filled with mourning that it had felt best to keep the twins' memorial close to the family and the Order. Still, hundreds of letters and packages of condolence had arrived at the Burrow over the course of weeks. Some had come from Hogwarts students and teachers, others from fans of the store, still others from Order allies who had listened to The Daily Potter, drawing strength and consolation from Fred's and George's broadcasts.

Hermione's throat was tight as they stopped in front of Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. The display was as violent in colour as ever, orange clashing brilliantly with green and purple. GRAND RE-OPENING! read a sign whose letters popped and crackled.

"I hope they're both in," Hermione said as they stepped into the shop, which was even more crowded with people than St. Mungo's had been.

"They are," said Draco, pointing toward the back. Behind the register, Ginny Weasley spotted them and waved, grinning. Beside her, scribbling on a hovering clipboard with one hand and pressing up his horn-rimmed glasses with the other, was Percy.

Ron had told Hermione how all this had come to happen. After the funeral, there had been a family-wide argument about what to do with the shop, which the twins had left to the family. Arthur had suggested they offer the premises and the twins' ideas to Zonko's, which Fred and George had admired for so much of their lives. Molly had thought the store should be closed and sold, with its proceeds donated instead to a memorial to the twins. But it was Percy who had insisted with startling fervour that Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes must stay open. Eventually he had shouted at his parents, "They left Hogwarts for this! They risked being killed to keep it open! They—"

Mrs. Weasley had dissolved into tears, ending the argument. But Ginny and Ron had sided with Percy, and eventually the rest of the family had come to agree, too. The question was how to run the store—a question that was answered when the family had finally brought themselves to look through the twins' tent and flat. There, they had discovered scores of notebooks filled with minuscule writing, jam-packed with years' if not decades' worth of plans. Percy had gathered up the books and, with the obsessive meticulousness that had given him his twelve O.W.L.s, set about bringing his brothers' plans into reality.

"Of course, there's some things he can't do on his own," Ginny had remarked to Hermione at one of the Weasleys' breakfasts. "He can actually be quite funny in writing, Percy, but he's got a less-than-zero sense of mayhem. I'm trying to help him on that front."

Now Hermione and Draco shouldered through to the desk, and Ginny and Percy stepped over to the side to greet them.

"Hermione," said Percy, finishing a sentence on his clipboard. "Draco. Lovely to see you both."

"You too," said Hermione, speaking loudly to be heard over the shop's vibrant buzz. "How is the reopening going?"

"Frankly, it's very stressful." Percy dotted his parchment with such force that the quill nib bent. He sighed and flicked his wand; the hovering clipboard landed on the countertop.

"It's fine, Hermione," Ginny said, smiling and shaking back her long red hair. "It's true that we nearly drowned those first couple of days—the Galleons are flooding in. But things have been a lot better since we hired Lee on as manager." She nodded to the corner, where Lee Jordan was demonstrating the usage of a Drinkable Hover Charm to a giddy crowd. The labels on the iridescent bottles read Add some lift to any party!

"That's all very well for now," Percy said irritably, "but once you go back to Hogwarts, Ginny—"

"—we'll have Lee handle most of it and hire someone else to fill in," said Ginny patiently. "Or, you know, I could just—"

"No," Percy said. "You're going back for your seventh year and that's final."

"Merlin. You sound like Mum. Harry didn't go back for his seventh year."

"To be fair," Draco pointed out, "Potter was busy being the figurehead of a revolution."

Ginny shrugged. "Suppose I'll have to find another revolution to spearhead, then."

Hermione laughed. "We'll be back at Hogwarts, too, Ginny. And we've just heard Remus is coming back to teach Defence."

Ginny perked up. "Well, that's one good reason to go back."

"And," said Percy, "you'll need N.E.W.T.-level magic if we're going to develop the rest of these ideas, Ginny." He glanced to the stack of notebooks teetering in the corners. "Some of it is far more advanced than I'd have—have anticipated."

A note of pain had entered his voice. He busied himself with his clipboard again.

Ginny looked from Draco to Hermione and smiled. "Yeah," she said more quietly. "It's going fine. Mostly it's how I thought it'd be."

She didn't elaborate, but Hermione knew what she meant.

They emerged blinking into the sunlight, Hermione's eyes stinging again. She glanced up at Draco and could see the flutters of disturbance in the small movements of his mouth, in the way his gaze moved over the shopfront and away. She felt a warm squeeze in her stomach as he met her eyes.

"Good?" Draco said quietly.

"Yes, I'm fine. Are you?"

He lifted his shoulders.

"It's just … do you ever …?" Hermione swallowed as they began to walk. "Never mind. It's silly."

"Somehow, I doubt that."

She managed a weak smile.

"Do I ever what?" Draco asked.

"I don't know. Sometimes I wake up and I think I'm still there in headquarters. And I don't want that to be true, but it's almost …"

As they walked up Diagon Alley, Hermione struggled to articulate it. In those confused dawn hours, thinking she was in the Potter Cottage, Fred and George clanking about in the attic and the Cup of Hufflepuff still out of reach … Hermione didn't miss it. It would have been absurd to miss it. But there had been something to the idea of everyone emerging unscathed somehow—something to the impossible hopes she'd allowed herself to grow in that pressurised incubator.

"I know," Draco said. "If it were true, there are things we could try again."

Hermione knew without even needing to look at him that he was speaking about his father. They continued in pensive silence for a moment before she squeezed his hand and said, "Well, that was the last thing we had to do today. What if we circled around to Flourish and Blotts?"

"There are a few more things, actually." Draco was composed again.

"Really? I could have sworn—"

"Your perfect memory isn't failing you, Granger, don't worry." He slipped his arm around her shoulders. "Just follow me."


Beside Quality Quidditch Supplies stood a pale blue door. Draco rested his wandtip against the silver knocker for several seconds, and the door melted into nothingness.

"Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, whirling to face him. "Is this—have you finally—"

"I have no idea what you could possibly mean."

Draco led her over the threshold into a foyer filled with light. A stained-glass ceiling cast droplets of coloured light onto the leaves of hanging plants, as well as onto the mosaic floor. Directly opposite stood a wall with a row of seven doors. Draco approached the seventh, drew a heavy brass key from his pocket, and placed it into the keyhole.

"We moved in last night," said Draco. "Decided to get out from under Zabini's feet." He opened the door onto the flat.

Hermione let out a little laugh.

"What?" he said.

"Nothing," she said, stepping inside. "But it's no surprise, is it?"

Draco supposed she had a point. The apartment was traditional. This building had been constructed sometime in the late 1700s and enchanted in the 1890s. Dark wooden floors gleamed with age and polish. Heavily curtained French windows opened out onto small balconettes that overlooked Diagon Alley from their seventh-storey vantage. The rugs were imports, the furniture domestic. His mother had commented favourably on each of these aspects as they'd walked through.

"I don't understand." Hermione ran one hand over the sofa's tufted back. "I thought you wanted to live out in the countryside."

"I did. My mother thinks it's best to live closer to the heart of things, for now."


Draco straightened one of the portraits by a millimetre. Its inhabitant, a black stallion, reared and snorted at him for daring to touch the gilt frame. "She thinks we should take an active role in polishing the Malfoy reputation. Which, in practice, means donating thousands of Galleons to everything that moves."

"Ah." Hermione glanced down the long hallway. "Where is she?"

"At the Manor site. Apparently they're planning to reconstruct it as a historical monument. Walk through and see the ballroom where they hosted the International Confederation of Wizards in 1824, please mind the guard-ropes, that sort of thing."

"Do you think you'll go back?"

Draco hesitated. He still felt a twist in his chest when he thought of the blackened ruin.

"Maybe after school," Draco said—but Hermione was looking sombre now. This wasn't what he'd meant to do by showing her the apartment; he'd hoped she would be excited.

"Here," he said, beckoning her toward the door. "There's one more thing we need to do."


Half an hour later, they were seated at a table for two at Erialo. The restaurant lay near the top of Diagon Alley, and its space-expansion charms had required more than fifty separate permits from the Office of Spatial Stability. What appeared from the outside to be a third-floor studio flat in a brick apartment building became, upon entrance, a four-tiered wooden terrace overlooking a glittering lake. The terrace's top level dripped with silvery Octavines whose flowers occasionally rang against each other in the breeze like chimes.

Draco behaved in the way his mother and father had taught him. He took Hermione's bag to hand to the wait staff. He withdrew her chair from the table before she sat. Throughout these procedures there was an airlessness between them that evoked gentle irony, laughter on its way. As Hermione thanked him and perched on the edge of her chair, he felt they were playing pretend somehow. Two months' freedom and there were still moments like these: unreality folded into the new reality.

There were people looking their way, as he'd once imagined they might, but not because he was a Malfoy and Hermione was Muggle-born, and not because they were at imminent risk of attack. Pleasure rolled through Draco as he sat down, luxuriating in every ounce of sensation: the coolness of the charmed air, the scents of bread and olive oil, the evening light on Hermione's cheeks and hair.

"Not the same table where you sat with Flint, I hope," said Draco.

Hermione made a face. "No, that was on the first level of the terrace. He kept complaining about it, too." She glanced around. The terrace's top level held only five tables. Her brow furrowed. "Oh, Draco, please tell me you didn't bribe the restaurant to get us one of these seats. There are so many better uses for your money than—"

"You think I needed to bribe anyone?" Draco said. "You're Hermione Granger. I'm Draco Malfoy. They offered us any table at any time."

"Oh. Well. In that case." She picked up the menu with a somewhat sly smile. "It is nice sometimes, I suppose, the recognition."

"We should capitalise on it at Hogwarts," said Draco. "I'm so sorry, Professor Vector, I didn't finish that calculation chart about sequential casting degradation. … But we saved the Wizarding World three months ago, which I'm sure you'll agree deserves at least an 'E'."

Hermione laughed. "Sequential casting degradation is rubbish, anyway."

"Finished reading the textbook, then?"

"Yes, and I honestly don't know why they devote half a chapter to degradation. I thought the principles seemed shaky, so I picked up a supplementary journal, and apparently, once you correct for every variable in the caster's technique, there's hardly any evidence that spell power actually degrades with repetition." Hermione sipped from her water. "I have a hypothesis that Lamnick and Velter were just self-conscious about their lack of casting endurance. And now generations of arithmancers have to deal with their projected insecurities."

Draco leaned back in his seat, basking in her academic affront. "Maybe that's the editorial that needs publishing in the Prophet. An exposé on the shoddy methods of two dead arithmancers from the 1950s."

"I'll start writing it now," said Hermione.

They spoke about classes a while longer—their schedule for N.E.W.T.s promised to be similar—and about who they suspected would be chosen as Prefects among the fifth- and sixth-years. They spoke about Remus and Tonks moving to Hogsmeade; the young parents had invited Draco to visit their new apartment above the Hog's Head to see little Teddy.

The evening deepened. Over flutes of shimmering wine that slowly shifted colour from lavender to burgundy, they spoke about Hermione's parents, who had readjusted well to the reappearance of their memories, for the most part. Initially furious with Hermione for having meddled with their minds, they had softened when she'd explained the circumstances of the previous year. Now they journeyed to St. Mungo's once every few weeks for therapy treatments, as sometimes, in dreams, they still thought of themselves not as Dominic and Celia Granger but as Wendell and Monica Wilkins.

"You'll meet them at Harry's birthday party," said Hermione. "I've told them everything about you, of course."


"Most things."

"So, there's nothing left for me to say."

"You can stand there and look mysterious."

Draco looked out at the crystalline waters of the lake. "Like this?"

"Yes, perfect."

Abruptly, as he looked into the shifting light on the water, Draco remembered his father telling him how he'd proposed to his mother at Erialo. He wondered if it had happened at this very table. The proposal had been quiet: a soft question and a ring brought out from the depths of Lucius's robes. No shriek or exclamation from Narcissa, just the joining of hands and the knowledge that they wanted to braid their two lives into one. It was the first memory of his father since Lucius's death that did not pain Draco. He cupped it inside himself and wondered if he could replicate this later, this painlessness.

Draco came back to himself at the sound of whispers. The table beside them had noticed who, exactly, their neighbours were. A witch in bottle-green dress robes was whispering excitedly behind her hand to several companions who were staring openly at Draco and Hermione.

"Do you want to move somewhere more private?" Hermione said quietly.

Draco shrugged. "Let them watch."

He luxuriated in taking her hand then and there, and in the way she smiled, gripping a bit too tightly as always. It wasn't until the voices at the next table broke off that Draco glanced down to see that his robe had caught on the table, exposing a slice of his forearm. The Dark Mark stood out upon his skin.

Draco studied his arm, as he knew the others were. He thought about Dumbledore's copy of himself lying upon the Astronomy Tower, the Mark glaring out from the unmoving body. He thought about that boy dwindling at his back, fading forever into the night.

These days Draco awoke every morning and passed his wand over the Mark as Remus had instructed. In the months since he had begun the exercise, there had been a definite if slight improvement. Jet-black had transformed to the soft darkness of a thunderhead. Every day the skull and snake would grow fainter. Someday—maybe in five years, maybe in fifty—it would appear as though the mark had never been there.

At Draco's back, the whispers had restarted, tense with new doubt, but he made no move to cover his arm. There was no need. He lifted his eyes to Hermione and saw her regard.




The End




good lord, I can't believe it's done... thank you so, so much to everyone who left lovely reviews on this fic - i owe finishing it to you. it has been so wonderful to have such supportive, engaged, and perceptive readers boosting my morale along the way to the end.