Chapter 1: Godric's Hollow

"Anyone else we know died?" Ron asked Hermione tensely as she scanned the Daily Prophet.

Hermione didn't respond right away. She gave a soft hum as she turned the page and then put down the paper and said, "Not that we knew, necessarily," she paused. "But there's a Sandra Wood who's been killed…perhaps Oliver's mum?"

Harry shrugged at them from across the table. "Don't know, he never spoke of her that I recall."

Shrugging hopelessly, Hermione put down the paper and returned to her toast. "Thank you very much for the food, Mrs. Dursley," she told the blonde woman who stood in the doorway.

Petunia flushed and went back into the kitchen without responding. Ron snorted into his food and Hermione sniffed and ignored him. The Dursleys tried to ignore their presence in the house whenever possible, but they were frequently spied upon. Hermione always tried to be polite to them, but it was common for them to scurry away as soon as either of the three wizards paid attention to them. "When do you want to leave, Harry?" she asked him.

"In an hour," Harry replied. "We need to shower and pack up, since we're not coming back."

Hermione nodded thoughtfully. "I want to stop by Diagon Alley sometime to get more spellbooks for the three of us to use. And before we leave for good, you should go in to get your Apparition license, or this whole business may become very long indeed," she suggested before swallowing her juice in a single gulp. "I'm going to shower. See if you can get Ron to finish eating before I get out."

Harry suppressed a smile as she walked off. He stood and picked up her plate, stacking it onto his, and then took her glass as well and carried the pile into the kitchen. The locket…the cup…the snake…something of Gryffindor's or Ravenclaw's…he thought as he rinsed the dishes. Those words had been going through his head all summer long. He dried his hands and stroked the locket that he wore around his neck. I will do this, Dumbledore. For you, and for my parents, and for Sirius, and everyone else.

R.A.B., who are you?

As usual, that particular question remained unanswered as Harry went back to the table. Ron was still eating, but had slowed down considerably. "Ron, that's about your seventh piece of toast this morning. Aren't you done yet?" He asked.

Ron shoved the last bit of toast into his mouth and grinned at Harry. "Now I am," he said perkily. Harry couldn't help but grin back and picked up Ron's plate. This time when he went into the kitchen, Ron followed behind him. Even after living with the Dursleys for almost two weeks, he was still amazed with muggle technology. He toyed with the refrigerator as Harry rinsed the plate.

The sponge paused as Harry stared out the kitchen window. The past two months had been rather wild. Bill's recovery had been tedious for a while, but then he'd gotten better. His and Fleur's wedding had been a beautiful affair, with silver and red roses and veelas all over the place. Despite all that he'd said at school, Harry and Ginny had had a wonderful month and a half together. Then he, Ron, and Hermione had come back to live with the Dursleys for the last two weeks, to pack up all of Harry's things.

Plans were pretty much day-to-day things now. Today, the trio planned to pack up all their belongings into Hermione's car. They were visiting his parent's old house in Godric's Hollow. Harry had been itching to do this for a while, but there had been a lot to do, and it had gotten postponed frequently.

Frowning at the water running over his hands, Harry finally turned off the tap and put the plate aside. He didn't want to go to the Ministry to attain his Apparition License, particularly after turning down Scrimgeour yet again since Dumbledore's funeral. Hermione did have a point, though. Going places without the aid of Apparition would take a lot longer than necessary.

Sighing, he turned back to Ron. "C'mon, let's go start packing. Hermione will probably be out of the shower soon, so I'll go then, and you can go last, okay?"

Ron nodded, then looked at Harry slyly out of the corner of his eye. Attempting (and failing) nonchalance, he said, "Where did your cousin go?"

Harry concealed a smile and said, "I believe he spent the night at his friend's house. You scared him the other day. You can have your wand back once we get out of the house," he said.

"Not now?" Ron asked hopefully.

"Not now," Harry said firmly.

Ron's face fell, and he sulked all the way up the stairs. They walked into Harry's room, which had been housing the three of them for the past two weeks. Looking into it now, he realized just how small it was. "I can't believe we've all been living in this same room for so long," he muttered in amazement as he leaned down to pick up one of his old spellbooks.

"It wasn't that terrible," Ron reassured him. "But your bed is a bit small. It's too bad there wasn't more room to enlarge it." The first day they'd arrived, Hermione had enlarged the bed as much as could fit in the small room—which wasn't much. After that, the three of them had all just piled into it together, since there wasn't room for anyone to sleep on the floor either, and the Dursleys (for the most part) refused to acknowledge the presence of the two extra wizards. Hermione had tried to sleep on the downstairs couch, once, and it had resulted with a number of unpleasant things, most of which involved a lot of yelling.

Hermione came in then, her hair wet and temporarily tamed by the water. She looked around the room with dismay and wistfulness on her face and then grinned. "I guess we should get started," she declared and began picking things up off the floor and putting them in trunks. Harry turned to Ron with a shrug before going to shower.

Abruptly, Hermione turned and re-shrank the bed. Not wanting to seem unhelpful, Ron began stacking things on top of it. Noticing what he was doing, Hermione began taking things off the bed and packing them away. "How's Ginny taking it?" she asked after a while.

"She's fine," Ron assured her.

"You still don't know anything about girls, do you?" Hermione told him softly with a laugh. "Even Harry could see that she's not fine. She's in love with him." She paused in packing and looked over at Ron tentatively.

Ron hadn't noticed her gaze and snorted at her assertion. "I don't think so," he declared.

"She is," Hermione insisted. But the chance to catch Ron's eye was passed and she turned back to her work.

The silence grew tight between them. "Ginny wanted very much to come with us, you know," Hermione said. "She would rather fight at Harry's side than sit and hope that he comes back to her. The way she sees it, it's not fair that Harry is letting us come and making her stay."

"She's my little sister. She couldn't come with us."

Hermione pursed her lips and didn't respond. She liked Ron a lot, but he annoyed her when he said things like this. Harry emerged from the bathroom shortly, and Ron gathered what he needed and left.

"Harry?" Hermione asked hesitantly.

"Yeah?" he said, tossing a pair of socks into a trunk.

"Do you think R.A.B. destroyed the locket?" Hermione asked. With a faint, satisfied smile she closed the second of her two trunks (one was completely full of books, and the second was much smaller and had clothes) and locked it.

Harry paused in his packing. "I don't know," he said honestly. He stared at a shirt pensively and then tossed it into his trunk with a shrug. "We're going to have to presume that he hasn't. Finding that may be even harder than finding everything else. At the very least, we know where the snake is. Then there's the cup, and something of Gryffindor's or Ravenclaw's. We don't know where either of them are, but we can at least assume they're in the places he originally left them. The locket, though, if it still exists as a Horcrux, has been moved around, and without knowing who R.A.B. is, there's no way to know where it could be."

Hermione frowned as the thought and finished packing up Ron's trunk. The room was beginning to look bare. She picked up the last of Harry's stuff off the floor and put it on the bed for him, and then did a thorough check of the room to be sure no one had forgotten anything.

"I think that's all of it," she murmured, just as Ron walked in.

"Are we ready?" the redhead asked.

"I think so," Hermione said, satisfaction ringing in her voice. She waved her wand over their four trunks and shrank them all to a manageable size. "Those should fit in my trunk now," she said tentatively. "If they don't, then one will have to go in the backseat."

"Let's go," Harry said. "You can have your wand back now, Ron," he said, drawing said wand and handing it to the redhead.

As Hermione had predicted, the four trunks did fit in the trunk of her car. It had been a bit of a squeeze, but they made it. She had somehow produced directions to Godric's Hollow, and had Harry read them to her from the front seat. Ron sat in the back, gasping in awe and amazement at the muggle world.

For lunch, they stopped at McDonalds. Ron was so excited by this new feature of the muggle world that he got out of the car to talk to the man in the window. For a moment, Hermione and Harry were so shocked that they didn't move, and then Harry sprang out of the car after him, apologizing to the man profusely as he shoved Ron back into the car. Hermione had just smiled wanly and ordered their meal.

After over five hours of driving, however, even Ron was getting bored of the trip. "How much longer?" he whined from the backseat. Hermione sighed and exchanged a glance with Harry.

In response, Harry shrugged and then said, "At least another hour. Try getting some sleep, Ron."

Ron did quiet down at that, and before long Hermione adjusted the rearview mirror to see that he was asleep. "You can sleep too, Harry. I think I can handle it from here. Though we'll probably need Ron's help once we reach the general wizarding area. I'm not sure if it's acceptable to drive a car down the street."

Harry nodded and patted Hermione's shoulder in gratitude before leaning against his window. He slowly drifted off to sleep, trusting Hermione's good sense to get them to their destination.

The car ride grew lengthy and tiresome for Hermione all alone. But looking at Harry beside her, so calm and undisturbed by Voldemort (for the moment), and then at Ron in the back, snoring softly like a child, with his red hair falling over his closed eyes, made her almost burst with contentment. Her best friend beside her and her long-time crush in the back, both trusting her to get them where they needed to be in a single piece. Hermione couldn't help but smile as she drove.

Hermione looked up into the rearview mirror to see Ron in the backseat. "Ron?" she said quietly, hoping he would wake up but knew he wouldn't. She really didn't want to wake up Harry, he hardly ever got such peaceful moments, but if she couldn't wake Ron up quietly, she might have to. "Ron?" she asked again, a little louder.

The boy in question continued to snore. Hermione frowned and sighed, then let go of the wheel with her left hand and squeezed Ron's shoulder. "Ron," she said, sharply but softly.

"What do you want?" Ron grumbled loudly.

Hermione shot a worried glance to Harry in the seat beside her. He appeared to still be sleeping. "Ron, wake up," she said calmly.

"Why?" For an instant, she thought he was going to go back to sleep. But then he shot up in his seat. "Are we there yet?" he asked eagerly.

Harry moaned and shifted in his sleep. Hermione paused, then whispered, "Hush, Ron. I wanted to know if it's all right to drive a car in a wizarding neighborhood."

The redhead pulled a face. "You woke me up for that?"

The scowl on Hermione's face might have frightened him, if he'd been able to see it. "Yes, I woke you up for that. We're almost there, I just wasn't sure. And isn't there…or shouldn't there be some type of barrier to keep muggles out?"

"I don't know," Ron groaned. "You're the one who's supposed to know everything."

Hermione's scowl deepened and she pulled over the car. "Try not to wake up Harry, I'll be back in a few minutes, I promise. And if anyone, and I mean anyone comes by, do wake up Harry and have him handle it. And don't move from this spot," she warned before stepping out onto the side of the road. After looking around furtively, she Disapparated with a pop!

The landing platform at the Ministry of Magic was slightly crowded, and Hermione stepped off hurriedly to leave room for other Apparating folk. She made a beeline for the elevator. It was packed full, and she tapped her foot nervously while waiting for it to stop on level six, where the Department of Magical Transportation was located.

The secretary was chewing Droobles Best Blowing Gum in an annoyed fashion as Hermione asked her for more specific directions to Godric's Hollow. The woman primped her blonde hair and took her time looking through the file cabinet for the answer. Finally, she told Hermione that she would need to go through a particular post office, and she could enter Godric's Hollow from there. Politeness forced Hermione to thank the woman, but she was gone immediately after the words were spoken.

Standing upon the Apparition platform, Hermione hoped beyond hope that nothing had happened to Harry and Ron. She'd left them out there longer than she had meant to—not that she was given a choice in the matter. With a short sigh, she pulled her wand in case memories needed to be erased and Apparated back to her car.

Mercifully, it appeared nothing had happened in her absence. Harry was still asleep, and Ron was even asleep again in the back. Rolling her eyes at this, Hermione clambered back into the car and looked over the directions again before continuing the trip.

The rest of the drive was only about ten minutes. Just after she passed the plain "Welcome to Godric's Hollow" sign, Hermione kept her eyes open for the post office. When she saw it, she had to do a double-take. The post office Hermione had been directed to was ramshackle and decaying. Faded blue paint flaked away to reveal slashes of the wood beneath. She parked the car in front of it and got out to stretch. The boys woke easily, and soon the three of them were standing in front of the decrepit post office. "Are you guys ready?" Hermione asked breathlessly, feeling suddenly giddy.

"Let's go," Harry said, with a lustful light in his eyes. They all walked in, and Hermione stopped at the counter to gain the access code. Just like at Diagon Alley, where there was a certain pattern of bricks you had to tap with your wand, there was a system of admission here. In this particular place, you had to tap certain cobblestones with your feet to be granted entrance. After learning the steps from a dreary-looking lady who turned out to be very energetic, Hermione, Harry, and Ron went out in the back to try it out.

In fact, they all failed miserably at the dance, but had a good laugh about it. At long last, it was Ron who managed to get it correct. Just as they were passing through the door that had materialized in the side of the post office, Hermione glanced back and caught a glimpse of the dreary woman, her face lit up with amusement at the their antics.

Hermione grinned and waved as she followed her friends into the wizarding part of Godric's Hollow, which was only a tiny part of the small town.

The small road they walked out onto was framed with trees. All told, there were about four huge, old oak trees on both sides, and in between each was a small, cozy cottage. Wildflowers sprouted at random intervals across the landscape, filled in between with lush grasses. Hermione examined the first house approvingly, and then turned to the one across with appreciation. "Which one, Harry?" she asked in a hushed tone.

But Harry was looking around with just as much interest and admiration as she was. "I don't know," he answered back quietly. The three of them sauntered down the lane, pausing and looking at each house in turn.

They stopped outside the last house on their left. There were only two cottages they hadn't looked at yet—the one straight across from the one they stood in front of, and the one in front of which the street ended. "It's this one," Harry announced in an awed tone. "I know it."

Hermione looked over the small house. This one stood out because instead of the usual, artificial colors of the other houses (whites, soft yellows, faint blues and others), the outer surface was wood, and polished so it shone a rich mahogany color. The window shutters, doorframe, and gutters were done in deep ebony that contrasted with the mahogany. Roses sprawled up one side of the house, accompanied by ivy and the bursts of wildflowers that Hermione had grown to associate with all houses here. The grass here was even more overgrown than the rest of the village, but not so much that it was entirely unruly.

Harry was halfway up the drive with Ron before Hermione even thought to follow them. The former hesitated at the doorway, and then finally knocked. There was no answer, so Harry tried the knob. The door swung open easily at his touch, and the trio paused in the doorway. Harry made to step in when Hermione grabbed his arm. "Hello?" she called, "Is anyone home?"

When there was no answer, she turned and shrugged at him. Harry led them into the house.

There was a layer of dust over everything, and a faint, acidic taste of stale magic hung in the air, as if the anti-dust charm had not been replaced in a long while. Hermione paused, looking around at the furniture. In here, everything was perfectly in order. There was beautiful wooden furniture, a pretty loveseat by the window (which you could not see out of for the roses). The fireplace was intricately carved, and even had a few semi-burnt logs upon it.

They passed into the next room.

Utter destruction met their eyes.

A piano was overturned, its keys broken and spilled onto the floor. The small, thick dinner table was cracked and tilted eerily on a broken leg. Of the four chairs accompanying the table, one was nothing but a shower of splinters covering everything, another two were damaged badly, while one sat alone, overturned but in otherwise good condition, in a corner. A china cabinet was overturned, the fragile pieces under its guard shattered all over the floor.

Hermione put a hand on Harry's shoulder to comfort him, but he was already gone into the next room.

This room was not as badly ruined as the other had been. The pieces of a cradle were scattered across the room, a couch was broken in two, and while a few books were on the floor, a magnificent bookcase was perfectly intact. Hermione itched to look and see what books were there, but followed Harry when he moved on.

The last room downstairs was the kitchen, which appeared to be just as it had been left. "I guess no one's lived here in a while," Ron murmured softly.

"Probably not since Voldemort killed my parents," Harry said, "It looks like no one cleaned up after my father fought him." He led them back into the room with the bookcase. "Let's go upstairs." He took a step, but then Hermione noticed something. She whipped out her wand and snatched Harry's arm with a warning grip. Meeting his eyes, she pointed to the stairs.

A solitary set of footprints marked the way to the second level of the house.

"I was wondering if you'd have the brains to notice," said a familiar drawl. Draco Malfoy stood at the top of the stairs, looking down at them with a smirk plastered onto his face.

Hermione opened her mouth to snap at him, but Harry got there first. "What are you doing here?"

"I should think that was fairly obvious," Malfoy grimaced. When no one said anything, he added, "I was waiting for you." Ron's mouth dropped open, and Hermione wished very dearly to kick him and tell him not to express any emotion. "Actually, I've been waiting so long I was worried I had missed you. I should've known you would've come on Potter's birthday." He sneered at them.

With a furious start, Harry drew his wand and prepared to perform a spell. "I would like to point out that I am unarmed," Malfoy said calmly.

Hermione forced Harry's wand arm down and said, "Expelliarmus!"

There was nothing, no wand, nothing at all. "And where's your backup?" Harry said nastily.

Malfoy flinched, paled, and then said, "So you were there. That's what I needed to know." With a heavy sigh and a carefully blank face, he sat down on the top step. "Scrimgeour was always complaining about how you were Dumbledore's man through and through. I need to know, will you uphold his offer to me?"

Harry stood there dumbly. Hermione looked at the blond boy at the top of the stairs in fascination. Ron stopped gaping to scoff, "What the bloody hell is that supposed to mean?"

"Dumbledore offered him and his mum protection from Voldemort." Harry swallowed audibly and Hermione scrutinized Malfoy's countenance carefully. "Said to come over to the right side," Harry continued, "and that if he did, he would give them protection, hide them more completely than he could possibly imagine."

"He did," Malfoy confirmed. He stared determinedly at his hands as he asked again, "Will you uphold his offer to me?"

"How do we know you're not trying to trick us?" Hermione asked faintly. "I mean, this could all be one big joke. You sitting here, stalling us while all your Death Eater friends are on their way." He flinched at her comment, deepening her suspicions.

"How can I prove it?" Malfoy asked, finally looking up from his hands at the three of them. "Tell me, and I'll do it! Just, please, save my mum, and my dad when he gets out of Azkaban. I don't care what you do with me. Save them, though."

"You want to turn to our side?" Harry asked, to make sure. Malfoy looked at them in desperation and nodded.

Hermione hesitated, and then walked up the stairs slowly. As she approached, he put his head down again. Standing a few steps down from where he sat so they were roughly even in height, she ordered, "Look at me." Malfoy didn't even bother to sneer at her as he looked up. His face was pale (paler than usual) and drawn; he had dark purple circles under his eyes, and his eyes themselves were filled to the brim with despair.

She kept her expression carefully neutral as she turned to go back to Harry and Ron, even though her suspicions had been confirmed. "I think he's telling the truth," she whispered.

Ron didn't bother to lower his voice as he said, "You want to trust that bastard? After all he's done to us, all he's done to you, you want to trust him?" He seemed completely shocked by her.

"Obviously he's desperate if he's coming to us," she argued quietly. "And I didn't say I wanted to trust him, just that I thought he was telling the truth."

"It's the same thing!" Ron yelled.

"No, it's not," Hermione countered. "But the decision is really up to Harry." She turned to the boy in question, barring her first point from debate.

"What if you're wrong?" Harry said. He was still struggling with all of this information. Malfoy, wanting to be on their side? Impossible. Could it really be happening right here? Hermione seemed to think so. She was usually correct about things, but there were times when she was wrong. Did he really want to take this chance based upon her with so much riding on this decision? Was this really as big of an event as he seemed to think it was?

"If I'm wrong…then he will have to deal with me. And we all know I can best him with just about any spell."

A thought hit Harry. "Do you think you could do what you did for the D.A. the other year? With the paper with the jinx on it so we'd know. You could do that again, right? But maybe with multiple conditions that would alert us if he did something?"

Hermione bit her lip in thought and then her face relaxed. "I can do that. It'll be like a contract…legally binding. All we need to do is agree on the stipulations." She paused. "He'd have to stay with us, though, so that we could keep an eye on him…"

"No way," Ron cut in, shaking his head violently. Hermione was amazed at how quiet he'd been this whole time. "Malfoy is not staying with us."

Harry didn't seem very perturbed by this, but Hermione shook her head slowly. "We can't, not now. Harry, you told us that Dumbledore said he hadn't come to Malfoy about his…mission before because if Voldemort could use his Legilimency and find out that Dumbledore suspected him. If he used it and found out that we had this conversation…" Hermione paused, biting her lip. "He'd kill Malfoy. Or at the very least, torture him."

"So? Some people," at this, Ron threw a dirty look at Malfoy. Hermione glanced over her shoulder at the boy to see he'd hunched down even farther on the step. She glared at Ron, but he was already talking again, and she doubted if he was paying attention to her. "Deserve to die," he finished.

"Stop being so overdramatic, Ron," she snapped. "Not even Malfoy deserves to die. He didn't even do anything this time." Turning back to Harry, whose decision it ultimately was, she said, "What are we going to do?"

Harry met her eyes, then Ron's, and last turned to the blond sitting at the top of the stairs. "Fine. I'll do it. But we have to get this over with quickly, I have things to do."

Malfoy looked up from the knees of his robes. "Really?" he said in disbelief. Hermione nodded her head reassuringly. "Thank you," he said quietly, and with true gratitude in his voice. Harry blinked, obviously not expecting such courtesy, particularly from Malfoy.

"But you have to sign a contract," Harry warned.

"Get my mum to safety first, and I'll sign any bloody contract you hand me," Malfoy said.


I'm so far gone now,
I've been running on empty

—The Used, "Lunacy Fringe"