pleasant is the fairy land for those that in it dwell

"It's like living in fairyland," Hermione had once said in an unguardedly whimsical moment. She'd been eleven years old then. Now at eighteen she'd deny that she'd ever said it.

Ron had left tokens of rowan berries and red thread in her and Harry's belongings, sewn cold iron nails into the hems of their robes, done everything that his parents had warned him about. He could only hope that it would be enough. He couldn't protect everyone, but he could try and protect these two.

Ginny'd had the warnings too, but she could look after herself.

So who would it be this time?

This was something that Hermione was never going to find in Hogwarts: A History. If it was there, it would only be mentioned in an elliptical sort of way, sliding around the edges. Those who knew would understand; those who didn't would never realise there was anything to be mentioned.

There were prices to be paid for making so large a piece of land Unplottable and moving it into the edges of the Not-Real. But the Inhabitants -- the Residents -- were always willing to make a bargain. And so the Founders, those proud, noble, heroic figures, had come to an arrangement.

Molly had told him the story, not in the usual close secretive whisper of fairytales and ghost stories, but in the quiet tones of genuine fear.

"Once in every seven years They take someone. They leave behind some sort of body so that nobody asks questions, but everyone who knows, knows who it was. The Headmaster knows. Some of the teachers know. Some of the old families know. And now you know."

At first it had been people who deserved it -- trespassers, criminals, Muggles. Now They chose and They took who they wanted. They took the brilliant, the beautiful, the talented.

Like Harry. Or Hermione.

Red thread, rowan berries, cold iron, rock salt, charms and prayers and herbs above the door, and even then would it be enough?

From time to time the question nagged at him; how could the Founders have made such a bargain in the first place? They'd been heroes. Well, except for Slytherin. It would have been good if he could have believed that it was all Slytherin's fault -- but then all the headmasters down the years who hadn't tried to stop it, all the teachers who had let it continue. Or perhaps they'd just been unable to stop it. That was a better thing to believe. They'd wanted to change things. They just hadn't been able to.

Because really, how much sacrifice was it worth to keep Hogwarts as it was? How many lives paid for the school's life?

What would happen if it stopped?