The next several days passed in blur. They would spend the day time working on their dueling skills, and the evenings discussing the Horcruxes, or when there was nothing new to say they moved towards discussing the way Death Eaters fought, especially the stronger, more powerful Death Eaters, who Malfoy knew close enough to explain their fighting styles.
It was exhausting work, but hopefully it would help them in the battle that was inevitably drawing closer.
It had been only a week since Ron had returned, yet the group had improved their skills in recognising and defending against darker spells considerably. Ron was surprisingly proficient, in particular at defending lethal spells, motivated by the desire to protect his family and friends. Hermione however felt uncomfortable with the idea of learning about darker magic than they were taught at school. It went against her thirst for knowledge she had always shown, but her morals were more important to her in this instance. Being a muggle-born, she had grown up with the idea of witches and wizards being evil – something you dressed up as for Halloween. She felt that learning about this type of magic fed to that idea, and that was not someone who she wanted to be. So, when Draco was teaching them how to counter some of the more questionable spells, Hermione instead preferred just to watch the boys whilst reading one of her books on defence so she could learn defensive spells more suited to her. Today, they were having a break after almost a week of extensive training. None of them were very fit physically, and the casting and moving involved with spells had exhausted them, both in mind and body.
"Do any of you know what this means?" Granger said, turning the book she had been reading upside down to show Draco, the first to approach. She jabbed her finger to a word where the 'A' was replaced with a strange symbol. "I've seen it somewhere before," she said, chewing her lip as she cast her mind back. "It was in the book, the one Dumbledore left me."
Draco peered at the symbol she had pointed to. It appeared almost to be a triangular eye, with a line splitting it in half. He had a feeling he had seen that symbol before. But where?
"Here it is," Granger said, pulling a book out the bag she had been rummaging in, as the other two approached, they had been playing a game of exploding snap. "This book." He recognised it as the one she had been left in Dumbledore's will.
She lifted it up to show them as she found the right place, there was no mistaking that it was the exact same symbol.
"I've seen this symbol before."
The others turned around to look at him. "Where? What does it mean?"
He cast his mind back. He had seen it briefly, so many years ago, and not thought it important at the time. "I think it has something to do with Grindelwald."
"Oh!" Potter announced, "Krum said that at Bill's wedding. Luna's dad was wearing it, and Krum was offended, he said it was a mark of Grindelwald."
"But then why would Luna's dad be wearing it? And why would it be in a book about Dumbledore?" Weasley frowned.
Granger shuffled, looking uncomfortable. "According to this book…Dumbledore and Grindelwald were friends when they were younger."
"What?" Potter shouted. "It's just rubbish Skeeter made up. How could you believe that?" he said, looking offended at the idea.
"Umm," Granger looked back at the book, which was still open facing Draco. He saw what she was looking for easily. The symbol he had seen was at the end of a passage, written in loopy writing, much different from the rest of the book. Although he hadn't had received any private correspondence from the Headmaster, he recognised the script as his handwriting.
"It's a letter," he announced, scanning the contents, frowning as he read what it said. "Hand written and signed by Dumbledore. I don't think there is any way to make this up."
"He's right," Granger agreed. "They were friends. And…for a bit, Dumbledore agreed with him that …that they should dominate the muggles and be in power."
"I can't believe this," Potter said, moving to sit on the sofa, a stunned expression on his face. Weasley looked equally as shocked.
Draco pulled out a chair and sat down at the table he had been standing in front of as the familiar wave of guilt washed over him. If he hadn't let the Death Eaters into the castle that night, then the Headmaster would still be alive to answer such questions. He couldn't deny it was a shock for him, to find that the Headmaster had thought in a similar way to not one, but two dark lords. How could the Dumbledore that he knew, the muggle-lover that his father had held in such disdain, actually discuss exercising power over them? What had changed, to turn his mind away, towards the complete opposite direction? He knew they would never find out.
What if the past had been different, if Dumbledore had never realised the error of his ways? He shuddered, he had heard stories about Grindelwald's reign of terror on the continent, thankfully he had never been interested to extend it to Britain. He tried to imagine Dumbledore by Grindelwald's side, fighting to assert their control over the muggles and with that, the rest of the wizarding world.
He gasped as an image flashed in his mind.
He knew who was in the photo, the boy Potter had described he had dreamt about. He had been having nightmares – or visions, he was told – from the Dark Lord, about what he was feeling. Potter had described the Dark Lord's obsession with a boy, although he had no idea who he was or why the Dark Lord was so intent on finding him.
"I had forgotten until now. At…at Godric's Hollow. Bathilda had a photo of a man, and I recognised him. It was Grindelwald."
He saw Potter look up at him, confused as to where he was going with this.
"You told us your odd dreams, about the Dark Lord's obsession with a boy. That was Grindelwald, when he was younger."
"Why would V-You-Know-Who want Grindelwald for? Is he still alive?"
"He's still alive," Weasley piped up. "He's imprisoned in Nurmengard, the prison he built for his enemies. He must be really old now, I think."
"About the same age as Dumbledore, probably," Potter replied bitterly. He must have been really affected by the news, Draco thought. It concerned him enough to hear of it, and he never liked the Headmaster personally. But Potter had seemed very close to him, and there were rumours he was teaching him personally how to duel – although since he had found out that these were the lessons Potter was informed about the Dark Lord and his Horcruxes, not training him to fight.
"Maybe Grindelwald has knowledge he doesn't," Weasley suggested.
"No," Potter shook his head. Draco agreed, he couldn't imagine the Dark Lord searching out another for information. He was too stubborn, and thought himself too good for such a thing.
"In the vision, the memory he has been dwelling on, it looked like the boy – Grindelwald, I mean – had took something. I didn't see what it was, so something small enough to be easily concealed."
Draco paced the small open space of the tent as he mulled over what such an item could be. The others sat almost in silence for nearly ten minutes, before Granger spoke. "I think we should go and see Mr Lovegood."
"What?" the three boys, including Draco asked, looking at Granger as if she had sprouted an extra head.
"Why would you want to see that nutter?" Weasley muttered from the sofa where he had took a seat next to Potter.
"Well," Granger said, her voice taking on the lecturing tone Draco had become accustomed to, "he knows about Grindelwald's mark, well enough to wear it. If we question him, it might give us a clue as to why You-Know-Who is so interested in him."
Draco pondered the thought, "I guess we could give it a try. Do you know where he lives, though?" he questioned, remembering the problem of not being able to find Umbridge's address and being forced to go to the Ministry instead to retrieve the locket.
"He leaves near The Burrow," Weasley said.
"Why do you look so sad for? You've just spent a lovely holiday there," Granger shot at Weasley's frown. She was clearly still hurt from his departure and had no problems showing so. Draco was actually surprised with the other boy's behaviour since he had returned. He seemed to have matured and would listen to Draco's advice without trying to pick fights, even though with what they were currently studying there would be no lack of opportunity for insults to Draco's family for knowing such magic, if he had wanted to. He seemed a bit put out by the fact the three had grown closer in his absence, but he did not point this out or hold it against them, even though it seemed he did not personally want to do the same with Draco.
"I didn't," Weasley replied, looking up at the girl, "They would've killed me if they knew I abandoned you lot! No, I went to Bill and Fleur's new place."
"Oh," Granger replied, a blush forming on her cheeks, "I'm sorry. Have – have you heard any news?"
"Bill brought me up to date. They've all had to stop working and moved to the Muriel's, even Dad. I think they're protected by the Fidelius Charm, Bill hasn't heard anything from them for a while as it's hard to communicate when the Ministry is watching everyone's every move."
"I'm sure they are doing fine," Granger reassured, sending a smile to Weasley.
"So, about Lovegood?" Potter asked, clearly eager to interrupt, preventing his friend from dwelling on his family. Draco had long since learned that dwelling on what could happen in the future, or what has already happened, will bring nothing but pain and uncertainty. Not that he'd managed to kick the habit himself, though.
"It's getting late," Granger replied, stifling a yawn with her hand. "Let's visit him tomorrow."
"Just like that?" Draco interrupted. "What's the plan? It's a little short notice!"
"Plan?" Potter said. Draco rolled his eyes at the display of typical Gryffindor rashness. "We'll just turn up and ask to speak to him."
"It's too dangerous," Draco replied sternly. "We can't just go gallivanting off to see people in this climate!"
"I suppose you're right," Potter resigned in agreement. "So, what would you propose?" he asked, moving to the table, Weasley following him. Granger pulled out a piece of parchment and they began discussing Lovegood, what they knew about him, what possible protective measures he may have and how to avoid these.
The next morning, the four of them reviewed the plan as they prepared for the day. It was simple really, two of them – Harry and Hermione, the former would be most interesting to Xenophilius, and the latter because she was the most interested in the mystery – would visit the man and inquire about the symbol. The other two would stay outside, concealed under the invisibility cloak which just about fit over them if they stood still, a far cry from their early Hogwarts years where the three of them could walk around under it. If anything seems suspicious, they would be there to alert the other two. Harry didn't see why there would be any trouble visiting Xenophilius Lovegood, as Ron said he was still publishing the Quibbler against the Death Eaters, urging people to support Harry, despite putting himself at risky by doing so.
A short while later, they had apparated near Ottery St Catchpole and were walking towards an oddly shaped house. Draco and Ron found a nook by a window, looking into the living room, where they stood, concealed. Hermione and Harry made their way to the door, knocking politely and ignoring the strange state of the garden, leaving no clue there was more than two of them present.
For a while, all was calm. Draco could not risk conversation with Weasley in case of hidden security, but watched the events in the house. He could not hear the conversation they were having once the man invited them inside (although hesitantly, he noticed – that seemed odd seeing as he was telling the wizarding community to support Potter still) but he could observe them. Weasley was facing the other way, towards the garden, in case anyone else turned up. He watched as the older man sat them down on some hideously patterned sofas, before getting up and disappearing for a few minutes out of a back door. He returned only a couple of minutes later, but nevertheless Draco found this odd. He risked a whisper to Weasley to tell him so. They needed to stay extra vigilant.
Inside the house, Draco saw the three of them looking at a book – the same one Granger had shown them the previous day. She seemed to be reading aloud, which perplexed Draco – why were they having what seemed like story time?
Then it happened. The unmistakable crack of apparition pierced through the air. Two men appeared, in the robes of ministry workers, but Draco recognised the taller man as a Death Eater. He touched Weasley's arm, preventing him from attacking immediately. They would attack best once the two men had gone past and they could strike from behind. He knew it was a Slytherin tactic, but now was not the time to play nice. He risked a glance inside and saw the two looking up, shocked – they had heard it too. Xenophilius had stood up and was blocking the exit, his wand trained on them. He was saying something, suddenly looking deranged.
The two men looked around, and satisfied they were alone, cast a couple of quick spells whilst walking determinedly towards the door.
"He says he's with Potter. I bet it's a load of rubbish," one said.
"He's just making up lies so we give his daughter back," the Death Eater one replied, smirking at the thought. They have the girl? Draco realised; they're probably trying to blackmail him – that's why he is handing over Potter and Granger.
They had passed into the threshold, and Draco motioned at Weasley to follow him. It was very difficult to move freely, they have to crouch down to stay under the cloak.
The Lovegood's entrance hall was cluttered, making it difficult to follow the men without being seen. Just as they were about to turn the corner towards the living room, the taller one suddenly turned back, throwing a spell over his shoulder towards them. Draco countered easily, but knew their game was up. Ron pulled the cloak off himself, firing away at the men with several fierce curses. His eyes narrowed as he determinedly cast spell after spell, countering the ones the Death Eater fired at them. Draco concentrated on the smaller man, who seemed less confident than his comrade. He seemed to favour defence over offence, countering with ease all of Draco's spells. He could hear the sound of a scuffle in the room ahead, and hoped the other two were OK – what if more had come in through the back? He hadn't thought of covering both doors! He couldn't hold the train of thought for long as his opponent kept shielding with expertise; he was quickly tiring from the casting. He could tell Weasley was doing the same – he had the harder opponent, one proficient at both offense and defence. A stunner sailed by his ear, missing him by barely centimetres. At that moment, Potter came running through the doorway behind the two men, Granger closely following him. The two men didn't stand a chance, sandwiched between two opponents; they quickly fell, unconscious to the ground.
"Let's get out of here," Granger panted, stepping over the men and closing the distance between them. "Back to the camp," she instructed, as they prepared to apparate away. He grabbed hold of the folds of the cloak, almost forgetting he was still wearing it. It would be a disaster to lose it whilst Apparating, who knows how many times it has saved them?
Draco's stomach dropped as he caught the look on Potters face seconds before they apparated away. He looked fascinated by something, his mind worlds away. A chill run down his spine, he had seen that absorbed look too often on someone else – the Dark Lord.