AN: As usual, all comments are appreciated.

AN2: If you want a more interactive experience than the review system provides, there are threads for discussion of this fic over on spacebattles and sufficientvelocity that ought to be easy to find with some judicious googling. I will generally reply to comments there,. I also post chapters a day or two before they go up here so people have a chance to offer revisions.


Hermione knelt motionless in the center of the Chamber of Secrets. A week ago she had been in a class taught by Professor Lockhart; a day ago she had been studying for his final exam; an hour ago she had been hoping that he might figure out the secret of the Heir of Slytherin and lift the pall of fear that had fallen over the school. And now he was dead.

She didn't move until the icy feeling of mud oozing through her robes to soak her knees shocked her into standing. A part of her was worried about what was going to happen to her. She had killed a teacher. That didn't seem like the kind of thing that would be waved away after deducting some points from Slytherin. She thought she had done the right thing, but still... if killing a teacher didn't get you expelled, what would?

Another part of her was still in shock at what had happened. Hermione didn't consider herself a violent person. Over the last year she had come to enjoy the sport of dueling, and if pressed she would admit that she had enjoyed putting Draco in his place when he challenged her. But she wasn't some kind of thug, somebody who would resort to violence just to get what she wanted. And now she had killed a man.

Hermione noticed that her wand hand was trembling. She tucked her wand into her pocket and took a tight grip on her robe, clenching her fist to hold her hand in place. She very badly wanted to just fall apart and wait for Professor Dumbledore to come swooping in to save her. If she were by herself, that is just what she would have done. But she wasn't by herself-she had Harry and Neville to worry about.

She let out the breath she hadn't realized she had been holding and walked over to where Neville was flat on his back. The scene was almost reassuringly familiar after all the time they had spent working on the stunning spell, and Hermione's hand was steady as she retrieved her wand and cast the reviving charm.

Neville didn't move.

Hermione felt her heart drop. She thought Lockhart had used a memory charm, a spell that didn't pose any physical danger, but Neville had already been in a bad way before Lockhart's attack. It was possible that after all of the life force Tom had drained out of him, Lockhart's spell had been the final straw-Hermione clamped down on the thought and retrieved a quill from the pockets of her robe.

Crouching down, she held the feather in front of Neville's mouth and was relieved to see it flutter as he breathed in and out. He was still alive, even if he was beyond her ability to wake.

If Harry was the same way she was going to have some trouble getting them out of here. Deciding there was only one way to find out, Hermione stepped over to his side and cast the reviving charm once more. This time she was rewarded by a visible jolt that shot through Harry's body and an audible groan as his eyes fluttered open.

"What-where-Hermione? What's going on?" Harry's confusion was obvious.

"What's the last thing you remember, Harry?" Hermione asked. She was hoping that Harry just wanted to know what had happened after he pushed her out of the way of Lockhart's spell, but she had a feeling that Harry was going to need to be filled in on a bit more than that.

"Well, I remember playing exploding snap with the twins down in the common room," Harry said, then glanced at her. "And, um, studying for our potions final before going to bed."

Hermione was a bit put out by the obvious fib, but only a bit. Anybody who was friends with Blaise Zabini eventually had to come around to the view that telling a lie that nobody would believe was basically the same thing as telling the truth.

"What day is it?" She asked.


Hermione sighed in relief. Apparently Lockhart had taken Harry's memories since he had woken up, but no more. Harry might have said the same day if he had lost a week of memories, but if Harry thought it was last week he wouldn't have bothered with the lie about studying for exams.

Of course, she didn't know how to restore Harry's memories, other than by simply telling him what had happened. Still, Harry was awake, his mind was intact, and he seemed physically fine. It could have been much worse, as she was reminded when Harry levered himself up and gasped upon seeing Neville.

"Is Neville..."

"Neville is alive. I can't wake him up, but Madame Pomfrey will be able to," Hermione said. "I think."

"Hermione," Harry said, fixing her with a serious look as the last vestiges of sleep fell away, "what exactly is going on?"

"You did it, Harry," Hermione said. "You killed the basilisk and defeated the Heir of Slytherin. Now we just have to get out of the Chamber of Secrets."

Anything Harry was going to say in response was lost as he stood up and turned to look where she had pointed when she mentioned the basilisk.

"Bloody hell!" Harry said, obviously gobsmacked. "I killed that thing?"

"Yes, it was very impressive," Hermione said, firmly repressing the sudden incongruous urge to ruffle his hair, "and I'll be happy to tell you all about it, but first we need to get Neville to the hospital wing."

"Right, right," Harry said, tearing himself away from staring at the basilisk and turning back to face Hermione. He stopped when he saw Lockhart's still form in the center of the chamber. "Is he..."

Hermione shook her head.

"Did the Heir-" Harry stopped as Hermione shook her head again, "or the basilisk-"

"After you had defeated the basilisk and the Heir, Professor Lockhart decided he wanted to take the credit. Apparently he's based most of his books on other people's work," Hermione said, speaking deliberately and with none of the enthusiasm she usually felt when she had the chance to explain something. "He hit you and Neville with a charm to make you forget what had really happened. He tried to do the same to me. We dueled. I won."

To his credit, Harry seemed to pick up on Hermione's emotional state and didn't ask any further questions as they moved over to Neville. It took some doing, but they were able to maneuver him so that one arm was thrown over each of their shoulders. Hermione was on the left, steadying Neville with her right arm, while Harry mirrored her on the other side of their friend. Dragging Neville along was a little awkward, but they managed.

They made decent time down the hallway leading from the Chamber itself, only to come up short in front of a door barring their path. It was made out of silver and beautifully designed, but lacked anything that might serve as a handle. Harry leaned forward and gave the door a desultory push, which had a predictable lack of effect.

Hermione felt a memory surface as she realized that the decorative border around the edge of the door was actually made up of a pair of snakes twining around each other. A memory of bobbing along helplessly down a poorly lit corridor, and a horrible hissing sound.

"Parseltongue," she said, mostly to herself, before turning to Harry. "When we came down here the Heir was speaking in parseltongue. I think the door is keyed to a password, just like the common rooms."

"What," Harry said, "you mean I just say something like..."

Harry turned to the door and hissed something incomprehensible and mildly terrifying. He startled back a half step when the snakes around the edge of the door seemed to traverse around the circumference of the portal, the silver obstacle vanishing in their wake.

There was a moment of silence.

"Well," Hermione asked, "what was the password?"

"I just said 'open sesame,'" Harry replied.

Hermione shook her head. "Wizards."

The two of them had walked another ten feet down the hallway when Harry broke the silence between them.

"I've been meaning to ask, who was the Heir of Slytherin anyways?"

"There's a book in your pocket," Hermione said, "the diary of Tom Marvolo Riddle. Better known to the world as Lord Voldemort."

Harry had started to reach into his pocket, but drew his hand out as though he had been burned when Hermione mentioned the Dark Lord's name.

"He put a piece of himself inside the book," she continued, "a memory. He was able to draw on the strength of anybody who wrote in the book. As he grew stronger he was even able to possess his victim. The possession gradually lasted longer and longer and was more and more complete..."

"Neville showed us the journal when he thought Tom had a lead on the Heir of Slytherin," Harry said, putting the pieces together. "He never did tell us where he got it."

Harry looked over at his unconscious friend. "When he wakes up, we can find out who was really behind all this."

Hermione hummed a response. She was only starting to wrap her mind around the horror she had inflicted on one of her first true friends. She knew eventually her role in this whole mess would come out, but right now she just couldn't bear to see Harry's reaction to what she had done. She didn't say anything, because anything she would say at that moment would be a lie.

The tunnel eventually opened out into a large room that was most notable for the row of open pipes set into the far wall. The basilisk must have used the pipes to get around the castle-Hermione had wondered how such an enormous beast could travel through Hogwarts without being seen. Fortunately they were saved from having to conduct an exploration of the pipe system by a pair of footprints leading from one of the pipes. Some scuff marks were visible on the ground where Neville must have landed after sliding down the pipe.

Unfortunately Hermione had no idea how she could go up through the pipe system, let alone how they would get Neville out.

"Maybe we could conjure a rope, levitate it up the pipe, and use it to climb out?" She suggested, her voice betraying her uncertainty.

"I don't know," Harry said, but before he could say anything else Fawkes settled down on his shoulder, trilling out a little song.

"Oh," Harry said, "the headmaster told me that a phoenix can carry a tremendous amount of weight. Maybe Fawkes can give us a ride out, hey?"

Fawkes sang in what sounded like the affirmative and flew, positioning himself in front of Harry. He took hold of the bird's tail feathers, and Hermione felt a strange lightness spread through her as Fawkes's magic took hold.

As they flew up through the pipe Hermione felt her spirits sink. Fawkes couldn't be bothered to shed a tear to save Professor Lockhart's life no matter how much she begged, but the phoenix was perfectly willing to fly Harry around the castle. She could almost hear Tom whispering in her ear about how a muggleborn could never expect to receive the same treatment as a Potter or Longbottom.

Hermione shook her head and did her best to push down her resentment. She was hardly going to buy into the rantings of a Dark Lord just because a stupid bird liked Harry better than her.

They eventually reached a dead end in the pipe, marked by another snake statue. It opened up to the same password that had worked before, and they finally found themselves back in Hogwarts proper.

Hermione had devoted some thought to where the entrance to the legendary Chamber of Secrets might be hidden. She had expected it to be in some out of the way area of the castle, untraveled for centuries-or perhaps in the Great Hall or the Headmaster's office, cunningly hidden to avoid discovery. She never imagined that the legendary Chamber might be hidden in a lavatory. As Fawkes lowered them to the ground and she and Harry got their feet set, Hermione glanced around and couldn't entirely contain a sigh of relief when she confirmed that they were at least in the girl's room.

Harry picked up the pace slightly and they were soon out of the lav and into a second floor landing. From there it was a thankfully brief walk down to the hospital wing. Madame Pomfrey looked ready to lay into them for the mess they were tracking into the room, but as soon as she had a good look at Neville's condition she whisked him away for treatment, leaving Hermione and Harry to sit and wait in the reception area.

Without a task to focus on, Hermione felt all of the fears she had been suppressing start to rise back up to the surface. She automatically started searching for something to distract herself with, and almost without thinking about it she found herself twirling her wand around her fingers to pass the time. When she realized what she was doing she froze for a moment before tucking her wand back in her pocket and releasing her suddenly white-knuckled grip.

"What's wrong, Hermione?"

Harry would pick this moment to suddenly be perceptive. There were frankly too many things wrong right now for her to even keep track of. Over the course of the last year she had been taken under the wing of the most terrifying wizard in living memory, absorbing his lessons to the point that she had started picking up his nervous tics. After that she had exposed her best friend to the attentions of the same Dark Lord, leading to his possession... and to the blossoming of a romantic relationship that she was starting to think had been rather more driven by Lord Voldemort than by Neville Longbottom.

And that wasn't even getting into the fact that she had killed a teacher.

"I'm... worried about Neville," Hermione said, trying to ignore the rest of her problems for as long as she could manage.

"I'm sure Madame Pomfrey will have him fixed up," Harry said, reaching over to pat her on the shoulder. "She's quite good at what she does."

As if summoned by Harry's invocation of her name, the school's healer came striding out of the back room. She looked the two of them up and down with obvious disapproval before sighing in resignation.

"Mr. Longbottom is asking to see you two. In his current state I think it will do him some good to speak with his friends, and you can hardly get him any more filthy," Madame Pomfrey said. "I need to tell the rest of the staff that you lot have survived, and I imagine they'll want to speak with you. In the mean time you're free to visit with your friend."

The two of them didn't need to be told twice, making a beeline for the curtained off area where Neville was waiting. When they got there they saw Neville sitting up in bed looking rather pale but also reassuringly alive. As soon as she saw him Hermione gave in to her instinct, sweeping forward to give him a hug.

"Neville, I'm so glad you're alive."

She let him go and took a step back, but not before taking his hand and giving him a reassuring squeeze. Neville looked at her, blushing, but didn't say anything. Before the silence could get uncomfortable Harry took a step forward and punched Neville in the shoulder.

"All right there, Nev?"

"What? Yeah," Neville said, turning to smile at Harry, "I'm all right. Madame Pomfrey says I'll be back on my feet in a day or two."

"That's good, that's good," Harry said, before he leaned forward a bit and lowered his voice. "I don't suppose you remember anything about what happened?"

"Oh, no," Neville said, shaking his head. "Madame Pomfrey told me a bit, but my head's all muddled. Not that different from the usual, I guess."

"Don't say that," Hermione snapped, catching herself as she realized that chewing out a hospital patient probably wasn't a great idea and continuing in a softer tone. "You're just as good a wizard as anybody else, Neville, you need to stop running yourself down like that."

Neville shook his head but didn't say anything. He did react when Harry reached into his pocket and gingerly withdrew the diary, flinching backwards before staring at the book in fascination.

"You... you beat him."

"Hermione said it was quite spectacular," Harry said, "but I'm wondering if you remember where you got the book. I'd feel a lot better if we knew who was behind this whole thing."

Neville just stared at Harry for a moment, then turned to look at Hermione. She dropped her gaze, staring at the floor as she waited for him to reveal what she had done. If anybody deserved to condemn her, it was Neville.

"I... don't remember. So many things are all mixed up in my head, I just don't remember."

Hermione was still reeling from the shock of the reprieve when she heard someone speak up from behind her.

"At least I can expect a quick recovery. You should be quite familiar with feeling all mixed up in the head."

Hermione spun around and spoke almost without thinking. "I'd say Neville's done better than most wizards that went up against the Dark Lord."

She found herself locked in a staring contest with an old woman in traditional witch's garb. Where most of the girls in the castle preferred to go without the pointy hat except for formal occasions, this woman not only seemed perfectly comfortable with a hat, but had topped the thing off with a stuffed vulture. Positioned as she was, the bird seemed to be joining in an examination of the worth of one Hermione Granger.

Hermione knew she was hardly at her best right now, but she was never one to back down from mere social pressure. She maintained her defiant glare even as the old woman threw back her head and laughed. It was the kind of laugh you often heard in Slytherin, more derisive than joyful.

"Oh, yes, I'm sure they'll be calling him the next Harry Potter," she said, fixing Hermione again with a steady look. "You must be Hermione Granger."

Hermione had never met somebody before who knew her by reputation, and wasn't quite sure how to respond. She settled for a slow nod, not taking her eyes off of the old woman. After a moment the old witch smiled slightly, although she couldn't see why.

"You're wanted in the Headmaster's office," she said, gesturing at Hermione and Harry before settling into a seat. "Both of you. They want to hear from you before they decide what they're going to do for the rest of the school year. In the mean time, I'd like a chance to visit with my grandson."

Hermione blinked. She hadn't expected Neville to be related to somebody so formidable. The older witch didn't seem to be expecting a response, so Hermione felt free to simply give Neville a wave of farewell before leaving the hospital wing.

Harry took the lead, as Hermione had never had occasion to visit the Headmaster's office before. The two of them walked up several flights of stairs in companionable silence before Harry spoke up.

"Why do you call him that?"

Seeing Hermione's confused look, he hastened to clarify. "The 'Dark Lord.' I figured that was what his pureblood fan club called him, but you don't exactly fit the profile."

Hermione shrugged, happy for a chance to stop and catch her breath. It had been a long day, and she didn't particularly enjoy scrambling up Hogwarts' staircases even when she was fresh.

"Well, calling somebody 'You-Know-Who' just feels kind of silly, doesn't it? And everyone goes spare if you so much as breathe the name Voldemort, so..."

She had probably picked up the habit from her friends to begin with, but Hermione thought her reasoning was sound. Harry didn't seem convinced.

"Dumbledore just calls him Lord Voldemort. He says fear of the name just increases fear of the man himself."

Hermione shrugged again.

"Dumbledore can say whatever he wants. Maybe Harry Potter can too," she said, looking him over. He didn't exactly look the part of the all-conquering hero at the moment, but Harry was quite famous, even if it was easy to forget sometimes. "But the rest of us have to worry about what other people think."

She turned away from him and started up the stairs, feeling a sudden flare of irritation at pureblooded aristocrats, boys with hyphenated nicknames, and phoenix favoritism. She stopped when she reached the next landing and realized that she didn't know where to go next. Harry took the lead without saying anything, and Hermione felt a little silly about taking out her own bad mood on him.

"I suppose we could just call him Tom," she said, doing her best to smile, "though people might not know who we're talking about."

"Tom," Harry said, "that's his name?"

"It's right there on the diary," Hermione confirmed, "Tom Marvolo Riddle. If you fiddle the letters around it spells out 'I am Lord Voldemort.'"

Harry mulled it over as he led them to yet another flight of stairs.

"I always thought Voldemort was a bit of a mouthful to hang on your kid," he said. "So if I ever go evil I can be the dark lord... Party Horter?"

"It doesn't exactly strike fear into one's heart, does it?" Hermione said, her smile feeling a little more natural.

"Guess I'll have to give up all my evil plans then," Harry replied. "What about you, Hermione... what's your middle name, anyway?"

"If I decide to take over," Hermione said, primly, "I won't need a silly name."

Harry chuckled, then brought them to a halt in front of a statue of a gargoyle.

"Here we are. I don't know the password-" Harry said, cutting himself off when the statue silently rotated out of the way, revealing a spiral staircase. "There we go, then. It's strange to imagine what the office will be like without Dumbledore there."

As it happened, such a task would be left to Harry's imagination, as the door at the top of the stairs opened to reveal the Headmaster seated behind his desk as though he had never left. The room itself bore the unmistakable imprint of Dumbledore's personality. One wall was dominated by shelves full of magical texts and magical gadgets taht kept up a constant murmur of whirs, buzzes, and chimes. The other wall was decorated with mementos from Dumbledore's career-Hermione thought she saw the certificate accompanying the award of the Order of Merlin, hung next to a student's Transfiguration essay-scattered between portraits of past Hogwarts headmasters.

"Ah, Harry, Hermione, it is good to see you. Please, sit."

Hermione jolted a bit as she turned her attention away from the room's decor. There was no reason that the headmaster shouldn't know her name, but it still felt odd to have Albus Dumbledore call her by her first name. She rather felt it was the same feeling she would have had if the queen had knocked on the door and asked for her at home.

Professor Snape and Professor McGonagall were seated on either side of the headmaster. McGonagall had broken into a smile as soon as she saw Harry walk into the room, and Professor Snape was wearing what Hermione had come to think of as his pleased scowl. There were two empty chairs in front of the headmaster's desk, and Harry and Hermione moved to occupy them.

"Now, I believe the first order of business is to award each of the three of you two hundred points for your service to the school."

Hermione saw a flicker of irritation cross Professor Snape's face. She didn't understand why he would be upset until she saw the hourglass display on the wall-a mirror of the larger display in the great hall-adjust to reflect the headmaster's proclamation. Slytherin had held a narrow lead over Ravenclaw of some nineteen points. With the new award to Hermione they shot well clear of what had been a neck and neck race. However, Gryffindor had received 400 points, moving it from last place into a clear first place finish when all was said and done.

Hermione was debating whether to say anything-it seemed ungrateful, somehow-when the moment was disrupted by the opening of the office door. The man who stepped into the room could only be Lucius Malfoy.

Hermione was only vaguely aware of the nuances of wizard fashion. Daphne had been distressingly eager to introduce her to the ins and outs of dressing like a "proper witch," but she had thus far managed to put her off in favor of focusing on magical studies. Still, even she could tell that Lucius Malfoy was well put together.

From his perfectly coiffed mane of pale blond hair, to the perfect drape of his midnight-black robe, to the silver-topped walking cane that he carried as an obvious affectation, everything about him gave off an air of polished sophistication. He had the same fine aristocratic features that Hermione was familiar with from knowing Draco, and he walked into the room with the confidence of the man who ran the British government-the part that mattered, anyway-as well as the Hogwarts Board of Governors.

He was trailed into the room by some kind of hideous magical creature. Hermione had never put much stock in the stories of wizards binding demons into their service, but she wouldn't be shocked if families like the Malfoys were the origin of that kind of tale.

When he saw Dumbledore sitting behind the desk he came up short, and the two of them locked eyes. Hermione had a feeling a whole conversation was going on that she wasn't able to follow.

"The board of governors," Lucius finally said, "has relieved you of your duties, Albus."

The headmaster didn't seem put out by that statement, breaking into one of his grandfatherly smiles.

"Oddly enough, once I had the chance to speak with the governors in person, they seemed quite willing to reconsider. I believe you'll find it rather difficult to muster another vote like the last."

As Dumbledore spoke the smile never left his face, but something subtle in his posture shifted, and Hermione suddenly found herself remembering that Dumbledore had more-or-less single-handedly defeated Lord Grindelwald, only to follow the effort by fighting Lord Voldemort to a standstill in his old age. To his credit, Lucius Malfoy did not visibly flinch, but the aura of certainty he carried around himself was noticeably diminished.

"Be that as it may, the Board is to be informed promptly when new information relevant to the safety of the students comes to light."

"And so you shall," Dumbledore said, nodding amiably. "I believe Mr. Potter was about to bring us up to speed on recent events."

"Actually, sir," Harry said, scratching the back of his neck, "I think Hermione's in a better position to explain what happened."

"Very well. Miss Granger, if you would be so kind?"

Hermione took a moment to gather her thoughts. She glanced over at Lucius Malfoy, who had chosen to stand near the wall off to the side of the desk. He was watching her with a sort of bland disinterest that she was finding hard to square with her near-certainty that he had tried to kill her.

She took a deep breath, remembering Lockhart's advice. The headmaster would know if she lied, but he wouldn't be actively reading her mind. He had no way of knowing if she decided to leave something out.

She started her tale with Neville's request for an immediate meeting and the subsequent ambush. Waking up a helpless prisoner, learning the truth of the Heir of Slytherin, Harry's harrowing battle... she described it all, in as much detail as she could manage. She declined to mention her past history with Tom or his efforts at recruitment. Even if she ultimately decided to come clean and throw herself on Dumbledore's mercy, she certainly didn't want to air those details in front of Lucius Malfoy. Hermione's omissions didn't leave any obvious holes in the story, and as best she could tell her audience was caught up in the twists and turns of Harry's fight with the basilisk. When she finished by describing how Harry had plunged the basilisk's fang through the possessed diary, there was a moment of silence as her audience processed the tale.

"Fascinating," Dumbledore finally said. "Did you bring the diary with you after you left the Chamber?"

In response, Harry reached into his pocket and gingerly withdrew the book in question. He quickly set it down on the headmaster's desk, drawing back his fingers as though he had been scalded. Hermione kept a close watch on Lucius Malfoy the whole time, and could not spot an iota of guilt in his expression as he regarded the book with a look of mild curiosity.

Dumbledore sucked in a breath at the first sight of the book. Leaning forward, he studied it for a moment before shaking his head sadly.

"I had thought that Mr. Riddle would have no further opportunities to introduce me to new levels of depravity; I greatly regret that I was mistaken," he said, sounding surprisingly old. "Do you know how this book came to be in Mr. Longbottom's possession?"

"I don't, sir," Harry said, shaking his head. "Neville says he doesn't remember where he got it."

"And do you have any theories, Miss Granger?"

Hermione flinched back as she received the full force of Dumbledore's attention. She bit back her first instinctive response, instead turning to look once more at Lucius Malfoy. He had, she was nearly certain, casually set events in motion that should have led to her death. Now he stood in the headmaster's office bold as brass, not a smidgeon of guilt, regret, or fear visible in his features as he waited for her to speak.

He had to know that she had figured out his plan. And yet, what did he have to fear from her? Everyone knew that he ran the government for all practical intents and purposes. No doubt he'd help assemble the group that would investigate any accusations, and no doubt they would place the word of a highly respected member of the magical community well ahead of the wild accusations of a single muggleborn girl. And after he was cleared, then what? He'd been willing to casually end her life just because she was a social inconvenience for his son; what would he do if she made herself his personal enemy?

Her only hope would be to find a powerful champion of her own. She turned back to assess the headmaster. Was he capable of fighting off Lucius Malfoy? Probably. He was, after all, back in charge of the school despite Malfoy's best efforts. Would he, though?

He certainly would fight for Harry Potter, the son of James Potter and the famous boy-who-lived. He probably would look out for Ron Weasley, she thought, glancing over at the hourglass overflowing with rubies to indicate Gryffindor's victory in the chase for the House Cup. But for Hermione Granger, the daughter of a pair of dentists who happened to be sorted into Slytherin? She had a feeling that she couldn't expect the same sort of treatment.

"I think," she finally said, "I wouldn't want to make any accusations without solid evidence to back them up."

Dumbledore sat back in his chair, obviously disappointed. Out of the corner of her eye Hermione saw Lucius Malfoy break into a thin smile. But it was the acerbic voice of her head of house that broke the ensuing silence.

"And what do you think, Potter? You've told us what Longbottom thinks and we just heard from Miss Granger, but what about you? Surely while you were running around playing the hero you must have noticed something."

"I don't remember," Harry said, glaring defiantly at Professor Snape.

"You don't remember?" Snape echoed, incredulous. "I suppose that explains your performance in my class, but I hardly-"

"Severus, please," Professor McGonagall interrupted, "I'm sure there's a perfectly reasonable explanation for this."

Her tone suggested that such an explanation had best be forthcoming post haste. Hermione swallowed, pushing down her nerves before she spoke up.

"On the way out of the chamber we were attacked by Professor Lockhart. Harry pushed me out of the way, but he and Neville were hit by a memory charm," Hermione said. "Will you be able to fix it?"

"I dare say I shall be able to persuade Gilderoy to reverse the charm," Dumbledore said, sounding quite formidable. "After I impress upon him the foolishness of attacking students under my care."

Looking at the expression on Dumbledore's face, and the matching looks of fury worn by Snape and McGonagall, Hermione had the fleeting thought that Lockhart might have been grateful to have suffered a relatively quick death rather than whatever the professors had in mind.

"He won't exactly be available for that, sir," Harry said.

"The protections on the castle will impede any attempt at escape," Dumbledore replied. "Even if he is hiding in the tunnels connected to the Chamber of Secrets, it shouldn't take too long to bring him to ground."

"No, I mean, ah, Hermione has made him more, um, permanently unavailable, sir," Harry said.

Hermione looked down at the ground rather than meet the incredulous stares that were leveled at her following that little clarification.

"You killed Gilderoy Lockhart?" Lucius Malfoy sounded fainty incredulous.

Hermione didn't look up as she tried to explain.

"I didn't know what else to do! He wanted to erase my memory so he could write another one of his books and he wasn't very good with his wand but I couldn't knock him out and then he threatened Harry and Neville so I summoned a basilisk fang and..."

Hermione ran out of breath and momentum at about the same time and fell silent, blinking back tears as she stared at the ground, picturing Lockhart's last moments.

"Miss Granger," Dumbledore said, and something in his tone compelled her to look up and meet his gaze. "Miss Granger. You acquitted yourself well; indeed, far better than most adult wizards would have. But you should never have been placed in such a situation to begin with, and for that I am sorry. I had no idea that Gilderoy was capable of attacking a student, and that was my failure. I regret that all I can offer you now is my most humble apology, and the promise that I will attempt to do better in the future."

Hermione found herself at a loss for words. The idea that Albus Dumbledore would apologize to her after what she had done had never even crossed her mind, and it took her a moment to wrap her head around the reality of what had just happened.

Lucius Malfoy was apparently not so affected.

"I don't recall learning the summoning charm when I was a second year student here," Malfoy commented, raising an eyebrow as he once again locked into a staring contest with the headmaster. Hermione felt a pang of fear at the possibility that Malfoy somehow knew of her tutoring under Tom and that it was about to be exposed.

"Now, Lucius," Dumbledore replied, "I would hardly think you would be one to criticize a student for learning spells that go beyond the standard curriculum."

Malfoy harrumphed in response to that, but apparently had nothing else to say on that point. Instead he snapped his fingers imperiously at the creature standing by his side, accepting the envelope it passed to him and tossing it on Dumbledore's desk.

"I've heard enough for today," Malfoy announced. "There's the notice for the next meeting of the Board of Governors. We'll be quite curious to hear how Glideroy Lockhart came to be offered the defense position, Albus."

With that he turned sharply and strode out of the office in a mass of billowing robes and aristocratic superiority. His servant trailed behind him, shambling along as if to contrast the exalted position the Malfoy's held in society with the sordid magical dealings they performed in order to secure it.

The door had no sooner closed behind him than Harry looked up as though a thought had just occurred to him.

"Sir, could I borrow this for a minute?" Harry asked, indicating the diary. "I'll bring it right back."

Dumbledore nodded, and Harry grabbed the diary before heading out the door, leaving Hermione alone with the professors.

"Will Harry be able to get his memories back?" Hermione asked. "Without..."

"Possibly," Dumbledore said, sighing. "The memory charm doesn't erase memories, but rather disrupts their connection to the rest of the mind. Each mind is unique, so it's best if the connections are repaired either by the victim themselves, or by the one who cast the charm. For somebody who is not the caster to attempt to reconnect them... it usually goes poorly. Harry would have to learn how to fix it himself."

"Unfortunately," Snape cut in, "that would involve studying."

It was clear that Snape saw that as an insurmountable obstacle to Harry's recovery. Hermione saw Professor McGonagall bristle at the implication, before she relaxed and broke into an almost predatory grin.

"You never know," she said. "After all, he had never picked up a broom before last year and he seemed to get the knack of flying rather quickly."

The two heads of house glared at each other, but Dumbledore raised his hands to silence them before they could continue their argument.

"I believe we have already detained you more than long enough, Miss Granger. If there's nothing else..."

"Actually, there is one other thing," Hermione said, before explaining Lockhart's last request. Dumbledore stroked his beard pensively after she finished.

"I believe Severus will be free tomorrow afternoon to accompany you to Gilderoy's office and ensure that nothing untoward occurs."

Professor Snape nodded in confirmation, and Hermione gratefully accepted the dismissal and headed out of the office, happy to have a moment to herself.


Conversation in the Slytherin common room came to a stop when Hermione walked in. She was used to being seen as something of an oddity-the only muggleborn student in the house, the only Slytherin likely to draw the wrath of the Heir-but this was a whole new level of attention. She did her best to ignore her housemates as she walked through the room towards her dorm, not an easy task when every head turned to follow her progress.

She was forced to stop when somebody stepped into her path, blocking the door that led to the hallway containing the individual dorm rooms. It was a Slytherin fifth year that Hermione knew of but didn't know personally, Warwick or the like. She'd only ever heard his friends refer to him by his last name. He was solidly built, and standing in her way with his arms crossed he occupied enough of the door that she couldn't slip by.

"Well, Granger," he said, "what happened, then?"

Hermione would ordinarily have gone out of her way not to provoke an older and bigger student. But she had had a long day, she very much wanted to go to sleep, and after dueling a professor to the death a fifth year student didn't seem quite so intimidating. All of those things came together in the angry glare she shot his way.

"Harry bloody Potter saved the day," she spat, "as if anything else could have happened."

Warrick's face twisted into a grimace, and she saw his knuckles tighten up as he took a step forward.

"Don't sass me, you little-" he was cut off when a meaty hand landed on his shoulder.

"Easy there, Warrick. Snape'll fill us in on what we need to know," Marcus Flint said, before turning to Hermione. "Go get some rest Granger, you look like shit."

"Thanks," Hermione said, as sincerely as she could manage, before taking the opening he offered to slip out of the common room. Marcus Flint divided the world into two groups: people who helped out the Slytherin quidditch team and everybody else. Hermione had managed to secure a place in the first group and therefore enjoyed the occasional minor kindness.

She was most of the way to her dorm when she realized she was being followed. She spun around to see Blaise, Daphne, and Millie following along in her wake. She really wasn't in the mood to deal with Blaise at the moment, which must of been obvious on her face as Blaise raised his hands in mock surrender.

"Easy, there," Blaise said. "We're just here to make sure nobody bothers you.

"Not going to comment on my appearance?"

"Perish the thought," Blaise replied, holding up his hands in a warding gesture. "Though... are you all right, really?"

"I'll be fine," Hermione insisted. She could see that Blaise was unconvinced, but he seemed willing to let it lie for now. She huffed a little in frustration before she turned and headed into her dorm.

It was lovely to change out of her robes into a clean set of nightclothes. It was even better to lie back on her bed. She started to try and figure out what she was going to tell her friends about what had happened, but sleep rose up and claimed her almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.


As it turned out, Hermione's friends were happy to help her get a good night's sleep, but waiting until after breakfast to have their talk was a bridge too far. On the way to the Great Hall Blaise gently but firmly took her by the elbow and led her to the abandoned classroom that had been the site of so many study sessions. Hermione accepted his guidance readily enough: she did want to have breakfast, but she also wanted to sound somebody else out about the mess that she found herself in. Harry was a friend, but she felt he was a little too close to the situation to offer an objective opinion, and too likely to relay anything she told him to Dumbledore besides.

Hermione took a seat at one of the desks. Blaise and Daphne sat across from her, not saying anything. She didn't know why they had decided to leave Millie out of this conversation for now, but she was grateful. Millie was a friend, but Hermione trusted Blaise and Daphne just a little bit more. She felt bad about ranking her friends like that, but she couldn't help how she felt.

She had considered keeping some of the more sordid details of the last year to herself. Part of her just wanted to bury the truth of her interactions with Tom as deep as she could and pray they never saw the light of day. She desperately wanted to avoid facing the judgment she probably deserved for working hand in hand with Lord Voldemort for a year, even unwittingly.

Still, as much as she wanted to avoid judgment, she also needed reassurance. She needed somebody to tell her that one mistake-however serious-didn't make her a bad person. Tell her that her mistake was understandable, all things considered. Maybe even suggest how she could avoid Lucius Malfoy's inevitable follow up attempt to kill her.

Hermione didn't know that Blaise and Daphne would give her the reassurance she sought, but she did at least trust them to keep what she shared to themselves. So when Blaise asked her what happened, she told the story starting from the beginning. Stealing the book that in retrospect Draco had left out for just that purpose. Meeting Tom. Being taken under his wing. Passing the book along to Neville. Their budding romance, and the final horrible revelation down in the Chamber of Secrets. Harry's battle with the basilisk and her own showdown with Lockhart were almost afterthoughts.

At some point during her story Daphne had moved around the table and thrown an arm around Hermione. When she finished Daphne gave her a little extra squeeze that Hermione found surprisingly comforting. Blaise seemed lost in thought for a long moment.

"You don't do things by halves, do you?" Blaise finally said, shaking his head. He sounded closer to laughter than fear, which was not what Hermione had been expecting.

"What's that supposed to mean?" She asked, a little sharply.

"When Draco goes to bed at night he dreams about growing up to be a Death Eater," Blaise said, now openly chuckling. "And here you've already been offered a spot as the Dark Lord's right hand."

Hermione was even more surprised when Daphne broke into giggles.

"And Pansy would give her left arm for a date with a teenaged You-Know-Who."

Hermione slapped the table in frustration.

"Could you please take this seriously? Is this who I am, now? The kind of person who joins up with dark lords..."

"Hermione, you can't be serious," Blaise said, bringing his hand down over hers to give her a reassuring squeeze. "You're still you."

"A whole lot of people were fooled by the Dark Lord when he first rose to power," Daphne said, firmly. "Lying to people, telling them what they wanted to hear... that was what he specialized in, almost as much as the dark magic."

Hermione looked carefully at Daphne and Blaise in turn, finding nothing but honest acceptance. She felt the panic that she had been doing her best to surpress started to melt away in the face of her friends' approval.

"You mean it?" Hermione asked. "You don't think there's anything wrong with me?"

"Well, obviously there's something wrong with anybody who starts revising for exams a month ahead of time," Blaise said, rolling his eyes, "but you were already doing that last year."

"It's not crazy to be prepared," Hermione said, but she couldn't help breaking into relieved laughter. Her friends joined in and Hermione let her worries slip away for a moment.

"That still leaves the issue of Lucius Malfoy," Hermione said once they had all settled down. "He was at the meeting yesterday and he was, well, terrifying."

"He messes around with Dumbledore for fun," Blaise said, shaking his head. "I'd say that makes for a pretty terrifying fellow."

"He doesn't really have anything against you personally, though," Daphne commented. "Didn't all this start because you embarrassed Draco last year?"

"So, what, I should just bend the knee to Draco?" Hermione asked. After everything she'd been through such an outright surrender would only be a very last resort.

"No, not that," Blaise said, distractedly. "But I feel like there's something there..."

Blaise trailed off, and a pang of hunger reminded Hermione that she had done a lot of fighting for her life since her last meal.

"You can think it over while we eat," she said, shrugging off Daphne's arm and leading the three of them down to the Great Hall, feeling much more like herself than she had since she woke up.

Blaise had the air of somebody working out a difficult mental problem all through breakfast and afterwards. Hermione left him to his thoughts and retreated to her own personal haven in the Hogwarts library. Besides the simple joy of recreational reading, she was also counting on Madame Pince's zero-tolerance stance on noise. Dumbledore's announcement during breakfast had been almost but not quite completely uninformative, and had done little to stem the tide of students who wanted to quiz her as to what had really happened. None of those students were quite brave or foolish enough to brave the wrath of Hogwarts' librarian, and Hermione stayed at her reading table until it was time for lunch.

By that point it had become common knowledge that Harry Potter had filled in most of Gryffindor as to what had happened down in the Chamber and the school rumor mill had mostly moved on from pestering Hermione for information. Hostile glares from her friends chased off the few stragglers that did approach their table, and Hermione was able to enjoy her lunch in peace. As soon as she finished her meal Professor Snape appeared by her side, ready to escort her to Lockhart's office.

It was strange to stand in his office and think that Professor Lockhart would never be in it again. His likeness was everywhere on the walls-mementos from his youth mixed in with pictures of Lockhart with various celebrities-and he had left a stack of papers on his desk that he looked to be only halfway through grading.

Hermione pushed down the guilt she felt welling up and looked around the room. She quickly spotted the trunk Lockhart had mentioned, and Professor Snape was able to confirm that it was safe after a brief bit of wand work. She took a deep breath and clenched a fist. Knock, knock, knock-knock-knock... there was a pause, and then the trunk chimed twice as a shallow drawer slid out from side. Sitting in the drawer was a small pile of papers, topped off with a page that was blank but for the handwritten label: "The Man Behind the Smile, by Gilderoy Lockhart."

Hermione started to reach into the drawer but stopped when Snape put a hand on her shoulder.

"One moment, Miss Granger," her professor cautioned. "I believe this year's events should have made clear the danger that can lurk in written pages."

Hermione nodded and shrank back slightly as Snape performed another set of spells. There was no visible reaction, and after a moment he nodded and stepped back. She took that as permission and picked up the manuscript, flipping to the first page.

Every wizard, no matter how great, eventually becomes known for one particular specialty. Albus Dumbledore has no equal at the art of transfiguration. It is said that You-Know-Who went further than any other in his pursuit of the Dark Arts. I could hardly measure up to either man in their area of expertise, but I like to think that I have mastered my own field: the construction and perpetuation of lies. Unfortunately, the very nature of the subject has prevented me from taking any credit for my abilities. Until now.

If you are reading this, then I am dead. That is the truth. However, nearly everything else you think you know about me is a lie.

Hermione shook her head in disbelief. Gilderoy Lockhart had written a tell-all memoir, and his last wish was to get himself on the best seller list one more time. She should have known.

"Professor Snape," she asked, "is it all right if I read this?"

"He bequeathed it to you," Snape replied, shrugging, "you can do what you like with it. I would prefer that you not spend the afternoon here, though, as I did have plans for the day besides standing at your side ensuring your survival."

Hermione took the not-so-subtle hint and exited Lockhart's office, heading for the library. She read the book along the way-it was a habit her parents had tried to break her of, but Hermione had developed a decent ability to avoid obstacles without interrupting her reading. Lockhart's writing was surprisingly engaging, and the lure of reading a book before anybody else had a chance was powerful, no matter how complicated her relationship with the author.

The key to a good lie is in the details, but not in the way you might think. Nobody goes back and cross checks dates and figures for consistency, at least not until they're already suspicious. There's no need to sweat that kind of small stuff. What really matters is the telling detail: the look on the warlord's face as you countered his final spell, the cut of the dress worn by the grateful witch you rescued, the smell of the inferi after it was hit with a blasting curse... that's the kind of thing that sells your story. All of this assumes, of course, that you've taken care of the real heart of the matter by telling a lie that your mark wants to believe.

She made it to the library and settled in at her usual reading desk to plow through the book in one sitting. Besides Lockhart's advice on how best to run a con, he related a series of anecdotes largely consistent with what he had told Hermione down in the Chamber. The book fleshed out the details of his career and told of a few close scrapes with exposure that Lockhart had neglected to mention to her. The chapter relating his "pursuit" of the Heir of Slytherin was only half done, but the conclusion of the book was complete.

You may consider me a villain, but am I really? Isn't the world better off with one shining example of heroism than with a hundred anonymous stories of good deeds buried in the back of the newspaper? Dozens of people were inspired to their own individual heroics by my example-does it matter if their hero had feet of clay? Unfortunately the good men and women of the Auror corps are not paid to deal with that kind of question, which is why I have arranged to have this book posthumously and leave the answering of the question to you, dear reader.

Hermione dropped the manuscript on the table and sighed. Lockhart certainly had a talent for self-justification, if nothing else. She didn't know what she was going to do with the manuscript, in part because she wasn't sure what Lockhart had actually wanted her to do-write a forward, finish the last chapter, send it to the publisher as-is-and in part because she wasn't sure if she actually wanted to carry out whatever he had requested.

Now that she was done reading, her body was letting her know that it was time for dinner. Hermione packed up her things for the trip to the Great Hall, hoping that Blaise had had time to come up with some kind of plan.


Draco Malfoy strode through the halls of Hogwarts as though he owned the place, flanked-as was his custom-by Vincent Crabbe and Gregory Goyle. Though his two bookends occupied the physical space one might expect of a pair of bodyguards, they weren't much of a protective detail. Pureblooded students in general had never developed the same level of paranoia that others had during the Heir's reign of terror, and it was clear that at the moment the three of them were obviously more preoccupied with the breakfast they had just finished or with the upcoming afternoon trip on the Hogwarts Express than they were with their surroundings.

Hermione stepped out of a shadowed alcove, striding forward on silenced footsteps to almost within arm's length of Draco. Blaise matched her pace on her right, while Daphne was to her left. One more step brought her within range, and she muttered the incantation for a general transfiguration before tapping Draco's robes, sealing shut his pockets. Next to her she heard both her friends successfully perform the full-body bind, sending Crabbe and Goyle crashing to the floor.

She cast an animation charm while Draco was still trying to come to grips with what had happened. Forcing a person to walk where you wanted was a highly advanced-and largely dark-bit of magic. Animating a piece of clothing was relatively simple. It was probably a little awkward for Draco to match the motions of his robe and trousers, but Hermione didn't particularly care.

So far, at least, things were working to plan. The whole thing was still a highly fraught roll of the dice, but Hermione tried to find some solace in the fact that things hadn't yet gone to hell.

She heard Blaise and Daphne working to drag Crabbe and Goyle out of sight as she marched Draco forward. With the suddenly solid shape of his robes he couldn't turn and get a look at her, and in any event Malfoy seemed to be spending most of his energy in maintaining some semblance of balance. He didn't even manage to reach for his wand, which left her vaguely disappointed that her transfiguration work would go unappreciated.

When they reached the door to the abandoned classroom that was their destination, Hermione opened it with another charm before walking Draco through. She forced him to take a seat at a desk, then closed the door behind her and applied a silencing charm. A pair of sticking charms made sure that Draco's hands would be secured to the table in front of him, leaving Hermione free to reverse the transfiguration on Draco's robes and fish his wand out of his pocket.

When she walked around the table, Draco's jaw dropped.

"Granger! Have you gone mad? When my father-"

"Let's talk about your father," Hermione said, pulling a book out of her pocket and dropping it on the table. "He must have been disappointed when his little plan didn't work out."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Draco said, but his heart wasn't in the denial. The book on the table was a replica of Riddle's diary the last time Hermione had seen it in Dumbledore's office. It was the result of a painstaking bit of transfiguration work, and as far as Hermione could tell there were no visual imperfections. Draco was in no position to perform any sort of magical validation of the diary, and indeed it did not seem to have crossed his mind that the diary might be a fake. He was leaning away from it almost subconsciously as though it were some kind of dangerous animal.

"Come now, Draco," Hermione said, doing her best to maintain the confident mien that Blaise had drilled into her, "there's no point to lying now, between the two of us. Do you even know whose diary that is?"

After hashing things out with Blaise, Hermione was pretty sure that Draco hadn't been in on his father's whole plan. He was a racist little shit, but he wasn't a murderous little shit. Which meant that the slow head shake she received was the expected response.

Hermione brought her focus to bear on the charm that had been the center of her efforts for the last week. Her wand work was impeccable, her pronunciation just right, and her visualization strong... she smiled as a trail of flame followed the motion of her wand, hanging in the air as she spelled out Tom Marvolo Riddle.

She saw Draco glance between the writing in the air and the words "TM Riddle" scratched on the front of the diary. Hermione made sure to catch his eye and smile as she gave her wand a flick and rearranged the letters, just as Tom had done in the Chamber of Secrets. Draco's eyes widened and his face went pale, but he stayed silent.

"It was a good plan. Some might call it an overreaction to set Lord Voldemort on a second year student, but it certainly should have had you back on top in Slytherin," Hermione said. "The only problem was, Tom liked me."

"That's ridiculous," Draco snapped, finally provoked into a reaction, "The Dark Lord-"

"Oh, I should say he liked me as much as he liked anybody: he thought I was useful," Hermione said, waving off Draco's comment. "Where did you think I was learning all those new spells?"

"The Dark Lord... tutored you," Draco said, almost to himself.

"Tom liked working with a fast learner. He said I reminded him of Bellatrix Lestrange," Hermione said, before forcing herself to giggle. She leaned forward, tracing her wand slowly down the side of Draco's face. "The spells I could show you right now..."

The readily apparent panic in Draco's expression confirmed what Blaise and Daphne had said about Bellatrix. Hermione had assumed anybody Lord Voldemort referenced by name was bad news, but she hadn't realized Bellatrix was quite such a name to conjure by. She wasn't entirely comfortable conjuring by it, but Blaise had insisted that this was no time for half-measures.

"What," Draco's voice squeaked, and he cleared his throat in an obviously futile attempt to regain his composure. "What are you going to do to me?"

Hermione stepped back and crossed her arms. "I'm disappointed, Draco."

He stared at her in confusion, but didn't say anything.

"I thought you purebloods were trained from birth about how the family name is more important than your own life," she continued, "which is why you should be asking me why Dumbledore doesn't already know your father introduced that diary to the school, and what you have to do to keep it that way."

There was a long moment of silence as Draco worked through the implications of what she was saying.

"You-you're blackmailing me?" Draco asked.

"Call it what you like," Hermione said, shrugging.

"You wouldn't," Draco said, clutching at straws, "you wouldn't want Dumbledore to know about you and the Dark Lord."

"I'd rather not," Hermione admitted, shrugging again, "but who do you think Dumbledore's going to be upset with: the poor little Muggleborn led astray by Lord Voldemort, or the member of the Board of Governors who not only owned a very dark artifact, but had his son bring it to school?"

It was fascinating to watch Draco's thought process. He was usually rather composed, but the current situation was so far out of his experience that every emotion was plainly written across his face. She could see as he tried to gather his courage and self-righteous indignation, as those emotions completely failed to overcome the fear he was feeling, and as his shoulders slumped in defeat.

"What do you want?"

"I want your father to stay out of our business," Hermione said. "Tell him you want to handle things at Hogwarts on your own."

"That's it?"

"That's it," Hermione confirmed.

She could see in his body language that he was waiting for the other shoe to drop.

"What, you think I need to resort to blackmail to keep you in line?" Hermione asked, rolling her eyes. "Don't be ridiculous."

Draco looked down at the desk but didn't say anything. Hermione brought her wand forward and cancelled the sticking charms on his hands, then reached into her pocket and withdrew his wand. She slid it across the table before folding her arms across her chest and fixing Draco with a level stare.

"Well, what's it going to be?"

This was the moment of truth. In all of their planning they never had been able to nail down what Draco would do now. Hermione had only agreed to go through with the plan because it was the only course of action she could think of that offered even the possibility of a guarantee of safety from Lucius Malfoy. On the other hand, if Draco decided to call her bluff things could get ugly.

She felt her pulse quicken, but did her best not to show any sign of nerves. Hermione was in a casual stance, but she was holding her wand just out of sight, ready to bring it to bear at a moment's notice if Draco decided to try to cast his way out of his situation.

When Draco did move, he didn't go for his wand. Instead, he slid out of his seat and took a kneeling position on the ground, leaning forward with his forehead pressed to the floor not two feet from the hem of Hermione's robe.

She stared down at him in consternation. When she had driven Draco Malfoy to his knees before it had been after a long and hard fought duel. To have the same thing happen after an exchange of words was enough to make her wonder if Lockhart was on to something with his idea that lies had a magic of their own.

The silence seemed to stretch on for hours while Hermione tried to figure out what to do next. As she watched she saw that Draco was trembling. It slowly dawned on her that he was completely terrified and waiting for her to tell him what to do. She felt a brief stab of pity but easily smothered it with the memory of his many speeches applauding the Heir of Slytherin's cleansing of the school.

"Stand up and stop embarassing yourself," she finally snapped. Draco scrambled back to his feet before looking to her for further instruction. "Get out of here and don't bother me for the rest of the day. And do try to convince your father not to try and kill me, if you would."

She punctuated the last bit with a smile that Draco seemed not to find particularly reassuring. He plucked his wand off the desk in front of him and all but ran out of the room, slamming the door silently behind himself as he left.

Hermione stared at the door, feeling strangely melancholy. Things had gone off without a hitch-better than they could have hoped, really-but she couldn't shake the feeling that if he were here Tom would be nodding in approval.