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Footsteps shuffled on the stair
Under the firelight, under the brush, her hair
Spread out into fiery points
Glowed into words, then would be savagely still

The knock on her door came in the middle of the night. It might have been surprise on Draco's face as Hermione opened it fully-dressed, one finger holding her place in a book. Her body clock was still attuned to darkness, and in it she found a peace and a privacy that could not be maintained beneath the harsh searchlight of the sun.

He recovered his composure almost instantly. “We’re going to Krum’s,” he said.

The Unbreakable Vow was a warm reminder on her wrist. It seemed to heat whenever he came near, or perhaps that was her imagination.

“Where have you been?”

He smiled tightly. It was meaningless flash and dazzle, nothing pleasant behind it. “It would be a little suspicious if I didn’t keep up the day job, Granger.”

“It’s gone two,” she said. “You left hours ago.”

“Busy day,” he said shortly. “The resistance have been making a nuisance of themselves.”

She stared at him. “There’s a resistance?”

“Of course there’s a resistance. It’s about as effective as a three-legged kitten, but every now and then they hobble into action.” He rubbed a hand through his hair. “The Order of the Phoenix are probably behind it, if they’re anywhere. The Dark Lord has been trying to destroy them for years.”

It brought a small smile to her lips. “That must get up his nose.”

“Somewhere a bit more painful, I suspect,” he murmured, acid in the words.

She felt a sort of pride at that, and a kinship with them. “Do you know who runs it?”

The dim light made his eyes dark as ink, dark as blood. His smile had a sudden, cruel slant. “I know who I’ve killed, Granger. Parvati Patil might have been braver than her sister, but she wasn’t smart enough to dodge a knife in her heart. Slughorn put up a good fight – better than I thought the old fraud was capable of, but-”

“Stop it,” she said, but he was relentless.

She stepped back: he advanced, closing the space between them until the creaky wooden flooring was their chessboard, move for move, he clearing the people from her memory like a master sweeping the pieces off in relentless conquest.

“-but he still died weeping, died like a coward. There was Clearwater, bled right out after Sectumsempra took off her hand, Davies, that oaf – FiendFyre, screamed like a banshee.”

His voice was soft, his eyes were angry, and she saw the echoes of murder in them.

“There’ve been so many of them, Granger, so many of your little friends who sneered at me and thought they were so much better. They’re all the same under Avada Kedavra, though, all green with envy, green and dead.”

She was nearly to the wall now, the Vow scorching on her wrist, and the candle threw shifting orange lights onto his face. She saw his savagery, saw the shadows pooling all about him like a cloak, and then under it, she saw something else.


“Why do you hate them so much?” she said, voice steady, forcing the appearance of calm: she let his anger break on her as uselessly as waves broke on rock. She made herself clinical, analytical, and did not think of the names he had said or the suffering they had endured.

Trembling and narrow as the candle flame itself, he stared at her while she waited.

Draco turned away with a suddenness that made spells spring to her lips. She let them die on her tongue, let the silence spin out until it was tense and hollow and opening up like the night sky to subsume them: they two were not enough to fill it.

He said, “Because they killed my friends.”

And the silence was broken. The space was packed with other ghosts, new ones that she had never considered when the dead of Hogwarts wept in the midnight hour.

“People thought Flint was a moron, you know,” he said with what she might have called affection in someone else. “And he could be. But when they ambushed us, I thought he’d run and he didn’t. It wasn’t his damn fight, but he stayed and he stood with us even though he’s always been rubbish at combat magic and we all knew it. His spells just bounced off the walls. He couldn’t have hurt a fly.”

His breath sawed on the air. Draco began to pace like a caged panther, from shadow to shadow, hunched shoulders, hooked hands, urgency.

“Longbottom’s curse took him in the stomach. He just folded over. He shouldn’t have been there! They had no right.”

She stirred, but didn’t know what to say. It had not occurred to her that he valued his friends in the same way that she did. It had not occurred to her that he could feel as she did, she realised, and shame burned as deeply as the Vow.

“Pansy...I thought it was bad when she lost her leg. I went to see her afterwards, and she was crying. I thought it was because of the pain.” He laughed: it was a soft, surprised sound. “She was crying because the blast had burned off her hair, and she had a date with Zabini that week. When I told her how – how stupid that was, she just gave me one of her looks, and said Daddy will buy me a replacement for the leg, but where am I going to find a good wig before Friday? She was...she was unstoppable. I didn’t think anything could touch her after that. And then – and then this pathetic little spell killed her. A bee sting. How did they know she was allergic to bees? Who assassinates someone with a bloody bee?”

His words summoned them: she stood shoulder to shoulder with the enemy dead, and understood that there were no rights or wrong at the graveside, nothing but dirt piling onto wood.

Hermione felt his restlessness, his grief, and most of all, she felt his humanity then, as she had not before.

 So she said, “I’m sorry.”

Draco froze. His lips drew back into a snarl, and he spat, “Don’t lie to me!”

She opened her mouth to argue. But there was no point. He was full of rage, full of the dead, battle-weary in a way she was not. It wouldn’t help matters.

Instead she said, “You do know that we need the resistance if we’re going to overthrow Voldemort.”

His eyes were fixed on her, unreadable and still. “In case you’ve forgotten, Granger, that’s why I chose you as my business partner. I know we need them. But don’t expect me to like it. Don’t expect me to forget what they’ve done.”

“I don’t,” she said quietly. “And I won’t forget what you’ve done either.”

Perhaps the reminder reassured him – perhaps it was easy for him to be the cold, ruthless henchman, she thought as the mask slid over his face. Easier to forget, easier not to feel.

“I never thought you would,” he said. “Be ready in ten minutes – there’s a taxi coming.”

The door slammed behind him: the candle went out, and Hermione was left in the dark.


The camera snaps like a machine gun. Light flashes and pops: on London Bridge, the model shimmies against the background he’s chosen so carefully, tossing her hair, baring a bone-white smile.

The Thames is iridescent as oil behind her while the Houses of Parliament glow gold. It is a simple and patriotic image, exactly what he was commissioned for. Even in the middle of the night, the river is busy. Night owls tumble out of the clubs, chattering and clattering while black cabs swoop by in a swoosh of sound.

“Beautiful!” he enthuses, gesturing her to move over a little. She already knows her best angles, and he is merely catching them as a net traps butterflies.

“Now, wave the wand...” The witch points and twirls it with the same languid grace as she does everything else. “Aim at Big Ben, great, great. Okay, now let’s see if we can get you in the London Eye.”

She shuffles across. No one spares more than a passing glance. It’s just another weird sight in the capital. No one but the three of them is interested in what he’s doing.

“Arms up, the robe’s hiding those beautiful wrists...”

She obeys him, compliant, complicit as he takes picture after picture of the latest propaganda campaign for the Dark Lord and never shows the fact he feels sick to his stomach.

At last, the shoot is done. Dennis takes a quick swig from the bottle of water at his feet, and packs away the camera as gently as if it was his brother’s ashes he held in his hands. In a way, it is.

It’s all he has left of Colin now. That and the memories, which aren’t enough.

He never had much interest in pictures, not the way his big brother did. He doesn’t have the same gift for seeing a moment that should be preserved, and capturing it before it vanishes into obscurity. But that’s okay. He doesn’t need those things: the Ministry directs him, and he responds.

So he pins down the world as they’d like it seen, and sometimes he can even believe it.


Zabini strolls over, smooth in black robes with a sky-blue trim that is becoming the latest trend. Zabini started it, of course. He always does. Zabini doesn't follow fashion - fashion follows him. His instincts are impeccable and Dennis admires that: it makes his job much easier.

“Mr Zabini,” he says with a brief nod, picking up his bag.

“Have you got everything you need?”

“Yeah. Now it’s just some time with the spells to fix it all up. Has the slogan changed at all?”

Dennis can see the model watching them wistfully. Apparently she doesn’t care that Zabini’s girlfriends have a way of disappearing.

“No change,” Zabini confirms. “I’ve got another campaign I need you to start on as soon as. When are you free?”

Dennis shrugs the bag onto his shoulder. It’s a comfortable weight. “I’m booked up until May. What’s it for?”

“We’re updating the anti-terrorist campaign.”

Dennis looks at him, startled. Zabini’s eyes gleam with secret amusement. “Why?”

“The Government is concerned that people do not understand the magnitude of the threat. They want something with a little more impact. I believe I have just the idea they need.”

“Ah.” Zabini’s moving up in the world then, if they’re letting him create the campaign as well as deliver it. “Has the PR minister signed it off?”

Zabini’s grin is decidedly smug. “I certainly have.”

Dennis raises his eyebrows, and sketches a mock-bow. “Congratulations, Minister.”

Others so high in the Dark Lord’s hierarchy would take it as a slight. Zabini only chuckles. He claps Dennis on the back.

“Listen Dennis,” he says. “This campaign has to be a success. I need the best – I need you. Cancel those other bookings for me and you won’t regret it.”

“My other clients won’t be pleased,” he hedges.

“I’m a Minister,” Zabini says quietly. “I can make sure your parents are moved somewhere more comfortable. No one lives long in Azkaban. I could get them to a secure facility.”

Hope chokes him. He stares up at Zabini’s calm face. “Why would you help me?”

Zabini shrugs. “It’s a business deal, Dennis. We both benefit. Now, are you free tomorrow?”

Zabini’s the perfect publicist. He knows how to deliver news with a spin and a smile. Whatever this campaign is, it’ll be big. Career-making. And with Zabini's protection – his trust – Dennis can worm his way further into the heart of the Ministry. To the places and the people that no one else will see.

To the secrets that the Order need.

“Of course,” he says, and shakes Zabini’s hand heartily. “You won’t regret this.”

Not yet, anyway.


Behind Viktor Krum’s London house, the sky was beginning to lighten.

Cold, Hermione suppressed another shiver, but didn’t dare try even the smallest of warming charms. Too many wizards lived here: they might trigger an alarm.

Bishops’ Row was a byword for luxury and wealth, discreetly placed in the middle of Hampstead. Houses and mansions sprawled along its length, as different from the crabbed terraces of the inner city as tigers were from house cats. Brick walls and elegantly shaped iron gates shielded the inhabitants from unnecessary attention: thick screens of bushes and trees disguised their distaste as mere love of greenery.

It was in the middle of one of those bushes that she and Draco were crouched, her muscles aching. The taxi had dropped them a long walk away at Draco’s request. They had hiked through the bitter night, not speaking, and wormed their way into the shrubbery.

They were dressed – there was no other phrase for it – like ninjas. Robes would be entirely impractical for breaking and entering, especially on a house as well-defended as this one. She’d had to borrow his clothes, which were a little too big, but the trousers had hordes of pockets into which she’d stuffed anything she thought they might need and were the requisite black for nefarious deeds and general sneakiness.

Closer to the wall where the soil was thinner, the foliage fell away, revealing a narrow passage. It was here that Draco stopped. Quickly, he began to scramble up the high brick wall, finding finger and footholds in the crumbling mortar. At the top, he paused and glanced down.

“I’ll go over and unlock the spells on the gate,” he said. “Stay here.”

“There’s-” she began.

“Just do as I say!” he hissed. “I won’t be long.”

He vanished over the wall. She heard the light thud of his landing. With a roll of her eyes, Harmione followed him. Compared to Hogwarts, the wall was easy. She carefully edged over the wicked spikes cemented into the top, then swung down.

She landed behind him.

Draco whipped round, wand aimed at her throat.

“As I was trying to tell you,” Hermione said slowly and patiently. “There’s no need. I didn’t spend all of the last three years in the library.”

He gave her a sudden dizzying smile. “You’re just full of surprises, Granger.”

“Wish I could say the same,” she said. “But I think we both know what you’re full of. Did you assume I couldn’t scale the wall because you’re a chauvinist or just because I’m not Draco Malfoy?”

Draco looked startled, and then made a sound that might have been laughter or indignation. “A bit of both, actually. Most people I work with don’t like to get their hands dirty.”

She had to give him credit for his honesty. “I’m not most people.”

His eyes narrowed. “So I see. Any chance you can pick locks as well?”



Draco led her through the garden. A far cry from the carefully landscaped grounds of the other houses on the street, this place had a lushness and wildness that appealed to her. Trees formed small dells, hidden from view. Flowers bloomed out of season in a riot of colours: white roses burst in the most unexpected places and she wondered what they meant to Viktor.

They passed the impressive front door and went around to a smaller trade entrance. Here, the path was worn.

“Does someone still live here?” she asked.

“The Ministry owns it now,” Draco said. “They seize the estate of anyone sent to Azkaban. Though of course, officially, Krum’s taking a career break, so they can’t do anything with his possessions except lock them up until they decide to dispose of him. But they check on it every month or so to make sure nothing’s gone. Which means this is going to be the entrance with the least nasty spells on it – killing your own is bad PR. Even Zabini would find that one hard to sell.”

“Blaise Zabini? What’s he got to do with anything?”

“He’s the pretty face on the ugly reality,” Draco said dryly. With a flourish and a murmur, he wiped one spell from the door. “And in demand.”

She let him work in silence. One by one, he stripped the layers of magic away. Some vanished with little more than a breath of air. Others spat sparks. One he dissolved with a potion.

At one point, he stepped back to let her unwind a particularly tricky sealing spell. It was a sign of respect she hadn’t expected, and when she untangled it after several minutes, he said, “Not bad. A bit slow, but not bad.”

“I’d like to see you do better,” she said, stung.

He nudged her out of the way, and produced something that looked like a lockpick. “I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunities to watch me excel.” The lock changed colour; a high whistle, like that of a kettle boiling, emitted from it. “Like now, for instance.”

There was a sharp click. Draco carefully turned the handle and the door swung open.

“We’re in,” he said with great satisfaction.


He has a portfolio, of course, full of public figures with porcelain smiles and empty eyes. It's a passport, of a sort. It labels him safe, approved, broken.

But he has another. It's hidden under a loose floorboard, and if the Death Eaters found it, even Zabini couldn't sweettalk him out of a grisly death.

The leather is a faded maroon, edged with gold. There is no Gryffindor house anymore, except here, in the pages where he keeps them all. Forbidden faces look out. There's Ron Weasley, squinting at a chessboard with an air of concentration, scribbling on a scroll and dripping ink all over his fingers. Hermione Granger is buried in a book, or a cause. The Quidditch team are streaking across the sky, meteoric and doomed.

And Harry. Harry Potter leaps out from every page. He is caught in a thousand expressions, a still life study of heroism. The pictures would be worth a fortune on the black market, where Harry has become an icon of the golden days.

To Dennis, he is a fallen idol and a sign of the times. He remembers when he thought Harry Potter was invincible, and he remembers when he learned otherwise.

Harry Potter couldn't save Colin. He couldn't even save himself.

In his studio flat, Dennis develops his photographs from the shoot. He magnifies them, capturing the girl's features in relentless detail.

Shelley Bates, he writes on the back. Model. Government supporter. Minimal magical skills. Interest in Blaise Zabini (same old, same old). Susceptible to Imperius. Notting Hill address. No known ministry contacts. Sample included. Conclusion: use limited, disguise only.

The photo goes into an envelope. With it goes a few strands of her hair that he plucked while rearranging a pose. He takes out a particular pen, filled with Oblivion Ink, and writes on an address.

This in turn will go into a post box, where unwitting Muggles will sort it and send it on to a destination that they will not remember ten seconds later.

He has sent on stacks of them. Images of the rich, the famous, the infamous. They thought he was taking their picture: instead, Dennis has taken their identity.

All the while, he sips tea liberally laced with Veritaserum.

It's a poison, yes, and it's dangerous, but he drinks a little every day. Like the Ministry, he too is immune to the truth. If he gets these strange palaptations every so often, if his fingers go numb sometimes, it's a small price to pay.

Because when they question him, as they do everyone, he looks them in their empty eyes, and he matches their porcelain smiles, and he lies his head off.

It's not much. It's not safe. But it feels like victory, and in this graceless age, he needs it more than ever.


The house was eerily silent. Between them, they disabled several more protective spells, but nothing that she wouldn’t have expected to see in any empty wizarding home.

In the large rooms, full of air and light, she felt conspicuous. And, for the first time, like a thief.

Pieces of art hung on the walls. It had the feel of a show home, swept clean and kept ready for visitors. There were two suits of armour at the bottom of the stairs that she stripped the Locomotor charms from. A massive crystal chandelier glittered in the atrium, poised at the join of four beams, throwing dozens of shards of light onto the most hideous statue Hermione had ever seen.

Why Viktor had decided a sculpture of a manticore would brighten up his entrance hall, she had no idea, but it sat in the centre of it like a warning.

“Which room did he say it was in?” Draco asked, picking up a vase to looked at something on the bottom. “I’ll say this for the Bulgarian boor, he has good taste. Or enough money to fake it.”

“Wherever the trophies are.” She glanced into room after room, all equally beautiful and functional. And hollow. She could feel nothing of Viktor in the house, in the lovely and impersonal artworks or the spartan furnishings. “Anything?”

“Kitchen and living room this side,” Draco reported. “There’s a safe hidden in the fireplace, but no sign of trophies. Maybe he just wasn’t as good at Quidditch as the papers say.”

“Ha ha,” she muttered. “Let’s try upstairs.”

He followed her up the massive curving staircase, all white marble and sinuous curls. It must have cost a fortune. It hurt to think of Viktor trapped still in that filthy cell, never able to play Quidditch again.

The stairs opened onto a narrow wood-panelled landing. She took one side: Draco took the other and they began testing and unlocking doors.


She hurried over. The room was small and dark and poky, yet she knew at once it was Viktor’s. There was a broom in a glass case above the headboard of the bed, which was a gigantic four poster that seemed oversized in the space. There was a picture of her – of them - beside the bed.

She picked it up, oddly touched: her fifteen year old self seemed a world away now, smiling brightly in her Yule robes. She had felt beautiful that night, adored. Everything had been glittering and full of promise. Everything had been different.

Hermione set it back, hands shaking.

The trophies lined the walls, carefully set on thick shelves. She walked closer, looking for the gold one he had promised was there. There were dozens: cups, plates, weirdly shaped figurines, bowls. She scanned them from top to bottom – then she saw it.

It was one of the smallest, barely bigger than her hand. She reached for it-

“Careful!” Draco knocked her hand away, voice sharp. “Think first, Granger. Do you play hopscotch on minefields in your spare time?”

She flushed, feeling stupid. She raised her wand and began to scan the cup for spells. Fortunately, nothing showed up. With a sour glance, Draco did the same, obviously not convinced.

“Nothing,” he announced. Then he frowned. “Except...a Protean charm?”

She knew then what Viktor had sent to her get. Hermione picked up the cup. And it was there, taped to the base, just as he had promised it would be.

A gold Galleon.

Sudden hot tears pricked her eyes. She could not help but remember the DA, and those days spent in the Room of Requirement, which had been such a sanctuary. Their faces floated through her mind, mixed with the bright flares of spellwork, and the sounds of cheers and laughter.

“What on earth is that?” Draco demanded. “Are you so hard up for cash that Krum’s letting you raid his piggy bank?”

“It’s a way to contact the Order,” she said, clutching it tight. “All the DA had them.”

He was silent. Then he said, “So that’s how you did it. I never could figure it out. Clever.”

“It wasn’t my idea,” she said, and she turned to him.

Draco didn’t flinch, he didn’t move as she pushed back the sleeve of his black jumper to bare the Dark Mark, leering out from his skin.

“I just adapted it,” Hermione said softly.

He was quiet, looking at the place where her fingers met his flesh with a kind of bemusement, and she found herself wondering how long it had been since anyone had touched him with any intent other than violence.

His eyes flicked up to hers. Her breath caught in her throat, and there was a strange, charged moment where she felt fear and wonder and confusion - and panic.

Hermione let go of him as if he was contagious.

Draco shoved down his sleeve, and said brusquely, “We’ve got what we came for. Let’s get out of here.”


“One minute,” Draco said when they reached the entrance hall. He disappeared off into one of the side rooms, and curious, she followed him.

He was crouched by a massive stone fireplace, groping in the hearth with a focus that confused her. Hermione edged closer - when she saw the gleam of the lockpick between his fingers, and the stout black safe fitted inside the fireplace, outrage filled her.

“I thought I was the one raiding Krum’s piggy-bank,” she snapped. “What on earth are you doing?”

He glanced back briefly. “If we’re going to blame this on Muggle thieves, we need to take something. Ah!”

Without a sound, the thick metal door swung open. He quickly leafed through the contents (as if he’d done this before, her mind supplied with distaste) and took out a number of small packages, and what looked like a jewellery case. All of it vanished into various pockets and pouches. He left the safe open, and got to his feet with the lithe confidence of a cat.

Back in the entrance hall, Draco picked what looked like metal charms out of his pocket. He laid them out on the floor, then said aimed at them with more care than usual and said “Engorgio!”

The objects expanded like balloons, and Hermione saw they were cans of petrol.

She knew it was necessary, but she still felt a pang of sorrow as he began to shake them over the beautiful art, the fine furniture, the relics and the antiques. The overpowering reek of gasoline fumes filled the air: she covered her mouth with her sleeve.

He was methodical, moving in a circle around the entrance hall. Soon anything flammable gleamed with a rainbow layer of petrol. She kept close to the door, well clear of the pools gathering on the floor.

When the last can was empty, he tossed it into the corner with a clatter. Then he took out his wand.

Hermione coughed politely.

Draco looked over, a touch of irritation in their eyes.

“Muggles don’t tend to light their fires with wands,” she said, and produced a box of matches.

Draco looked at them curiously. “Is this some sort of joke?”

“Watch and learn,” she informed him, and struck the match. It flared with a hiss.

“Handy,” he remarked, “for barbarians.”

He picked it out of her fingers, and tossed it onto the petrol-soaked hall. With a great gasp, flames burst into life-

And they heard a roar, like rocks falling, like the world crashing down.

The statue of the manticore, that ugly, huge statue, was suddenly filled with colour and life – and rage.

Vandals!” it roared. Too-human eyes glared – she was pinned under them, agape. “You dare defile Government property?”

It reared back onto tawny legs – it was huge, towering over them, a mismatched monster with a black, whipping scorpion’s tail that had a wickedly barbed sting. The lion’s body was mangy; and that too human face was ravaged and filled with fury. It snarled, revealing fangs caked in what looked like old blood.

“Oh...sod,” Draco said feelingly beside her. “Granger, run!”

She didn’t need to be told twice. They turned as one and sprinted for the door.

It slammed shut. She hit it hard, tugging at the handle. It wouldn’t open. She whipped out her wand, shouting every unlocking spell she could think of. Behind them, the manticore laughed – a sound broken and triumphant - and the fire crackled.

“You try!” she shouted, ducking out of the way. Smoke was belching from the flames – she quickly ripped a strip from her top and covered her nose and mouth.

Draco took out the lockpick and inserted it into the lock-

There was a flash of light, and he flinched back, shaking his fingers. With a sad little crunch, the pick dropped to the floor, misshapen and useless.

She had to hand it to him: he didn’t panic. Grey eyes met hers, steel and command in his stare. “I’ll distract it,” he said. “We need to separate. As long as we stay together, we’re vulnerable. These things are fast, but they don’t think much.”

“Vandals and thieves,” the manticore cried behind them, too close, too loud. “I smell the state's jewels in your pocket, little rat boy.”

They turned back to face it. Hermione hoped Draco had some experience of fighting manticores – she had only ever had a brief brush with one, in the battle for Hogwarts, and her strongest charms had slid off it like water.

“I don’t think you’re in a position to be name-calling,” Draco said with remarkable self-possession. “Those in glass houses – or indeed, gigantic mutant bodies – shouldn’t throw stones. But I’m prepared to put aside your rudeness and let you go in peace.”

A ripple of something – rage, loathing, or perhaps a emotion so inhuman she could not identify it – passed over its face. “You will let me go?” it said, disbelieving.

Hermione slid sideways, back towards the burning hall. Adrenaline flooded her veins like electricity: every sense she had worked with new clarity, new urgency.

“Indeed,” Draco agreed. “Never let it be said I am not merciful.”

Its strange green eyes narrowed. “Never let it be said that I am. You talk and talk and talk, rat boy, but I can smell your fear.”

“I think you’re confusing fear with my extraordinarily expensive aftershave,” Draco informed it. He never looked at her, never took his gaze from the manticore. She was almost behind it, but the smoke was thicker here, stinging her eyes.

“Let’s find out,” it whispered, and suddenly it moved, nothing but a blur of gold and black.

Its tail lashed out with horrific force – Draco leapt over it, cat-quick, and the panelling behind him cracked, spewing dust and splinters.

Charms wouldn’t work. She glanced up – and saw the chandelier, and past that, the massive beams of the roof.

“Draco!” she shouted, and pointed.

He glanced over – that massive tail swept him off his feet and flung him like a ragdoll into the banister. He hit it hard, and did not move. Her blood ran cold.

The manticore gave a exultant howl, and turned to her. It scuttled at her with a speed that seemed incongruous on so huge and grotesque a beast. Claws sliced the air – in reflex, she flung up a Protego charm that crumpled under its touch and if she hadn’t ducked behind a suit of armour, she would have been dead.

One massive paw dashed it aside – she was trapped, fire at her back, the manticore blocking her escape. Its eyes gleamed with satisfaction. The tail raised, bowed over its head like a spear poised to strike.

She felt the terror of death, the deep and ferocious desperation of life, and for the first time, an Unforgiveable Curse rose in her throat like poison. It seemed for a peculiar moment that they were equal, she and it – weapons chosen, the only end the death of one of them.

And Draco dragged himself up, clinging to the banister like a lifeline. He drew his wand, face grim and determined.

“Hey, ugly!” he shouted.

It paused – it glanced around.

Draco gave it a beatific smile. And he said, in a voice that was barely audible above the voracious flames, “Reducto.”

For a moment, she thought nothing had happened. The manticore’s face split in a grin-

A glass piece fell like a tear: it shattered on the ground.

And with a mighty groan, the chandelier plummeted onto its head. The air was full of glittering glass and metal.

Hermione leapt back, but even so, shards grazed by her, leaving a thousand tiny cuts. She didn’t feel any of them. She was already sprinting back across the hall.

“Can you walk?” she gasped out.

"I think I could lurch," Draco said with a grimace. "The chandelier was a good call. And my execution was excellent. It’s the world’s largest pincushion.”

“You did it wrong,” she informed him. “We need to get to the door.”

“I did not do it wrong. Dropping a chandelier on your foe is a classic move. Not to mention aesthetically pleasing,” he added, but his voice was a little shaky.

He took her offered support without complaint, and she noticed he was favouring his left leg. His face was a shade of grey that didn’t bode well. She half-dragged him to the door and positioned him under the lintel.

“Don’t move,” she ordered.

With a rattle of broken glass, the manticore shook off the broken chandelier as easily as if it were feathers, parting the clouds of smoke. Its head turned slowly: it saw them, and its mouth spread into a gruesome grin.

“Ah,” Draco said. “Or there is the infinitesimal possibility I was mistaken.”

“Really?” she said. Before it could attack, she aimed at the roof, and at the join of the four beams, now obscured. She prayed her aim was accurate. “Reducto!”

The spell flew from her with the force of a missile. The beams snapped with a vast crack: the manticore roared in victory – and several tons of roofing crashed onto it as she huddled back into the doorway, throwing up the strongest protective spells she had.

Debris bounced from her shield in red flashes. She felt her magic waver – and another spell overlaid hers. Draco, looking like death warmed up, was holding his wand in an unsteady hand. At last it was over.

“Granger,” he said hoarsely into the utter silence that followed, “that was almost impressive.”


With its death, the manticore’s spells were broken. The door creaked open, and they left behind a heap of smouldering rubble. Sirens wailed in the distance – the Ministry would not be far behind, so they apparated into a nearby park, and from there, across the city in random jumps until they could be sure no one had pursued them.

Only then did she feel the burns on her back and calves, notice the dozens of cuts and the grime that coated her.

But if she was in poor condition, Draco was far worse.

His breathing was shallow. When they staggered into Grimmuald Place, he was almost limp in her grip.

“Sit,” she ordered him. He toppled into a chair. “What happened?”

He raised a mordant grin. His voice was husky and faint. “The inevitable, Granger.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic,” she said briskly. “There’s not much I can’t heal.”

His eyes met hers. And then, slowly, as if every movement hurt, he stripped off the black jumper, and the black T-shirt underneath. She had no time to be embarrassed – her eyes were on the ugly purple rash, livid on his ice-pale skin, spreading across his shoulder from a small, oh, almost insignificant puncture wound.

Her heart froze. She knew what that was. She knew what it meant.

“It stung me,” he said. “Nothing heals manticore venom. It’s over, Hermione.”

“No...” she said, but he was right. He was right, and this couldn’t be happening.

“You know,” Draco said. “You weren’t nearly as insufferable as I thought you would be.”

And then, with boneless grace, and the sort of impeccable timing that had made the Malfoys famous, he fainted dead away.


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