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Author Notes:

Somewhat disturbing, if amusing, images in chapter. Read at your own risk.

Patroclus Nott turned a corner and stopped short. He had been looking for his nominal host all morning, and now it seemed he'd found him.

Though not anywhere I would have expected him to be.

Still, whatever else has changed about Lucius, he hasn't lost his ability to pose.

The only living scion of the House of Malfoy sat comfortably on one side of a window seat, the pallor of his skin and hair set off by his robes of unrelieved black, the bright sunlight of late morning falling full on the pages of the book he held in his slender, elegant hands. The rest of the seat was occupied by Starwing, who sat with her back to the opposite wall and her feet planted on the cushions, her black cloak and the equally black ribbon she was stitching to it spread across her gray-robed lap.

"What do you want, Patroclus?" said Lucius without lifting his eyes from his book. "Or did you simply come to enjoy the view?" Now he did look up, his gaze traveling slowly over Patroclus in the look which somehow always succeeded in reminding him of the many questionable spots on his family tree. "While I do admire your taste, I should warn you. If sufficiently agitated, she bites."

"I beg your pardon?" Patroclus let his hand hover significantly near the grip of his wand. "Are you insinuating I would be unfaithful to my wife?"

"Why not?" Pale eyes gleamed with dark humor. "Unless you're so foolish as to think she and that young man she hired to tutor her in the Romance languages aren't conjugating a bit more than verbs while you're away on the Dark Lord's business. About your son's age, isn't he—ah, ah." This in a chiding tone as Patroclus started to draw his wand, and found himself facing the tip of Starwing's, aimed directly for his right eye. "He means no harm, my dear. Do you, Patroclus." The voice managed, between one sentence and the next, to chill twenty degrees and lose all of its lazy, drawling good humor.

Clenching his teeth, Patroclus released his wand's grip and showed his hands empty and harmless. Starwing let go of her own wand, which disappeared up her sleeve, and unhurriedly picked up her needle, returning to her pointless stitchery.

"Why do you have her do that?" Patroclus demanded, pointing at cloak and ribbon. "What good is it to anyone?"

"It keeps her occupied, and free from fretting." Lucius smiled thinly. "And unlike other forms of threadwork, it will take no harm if she must drop it hurriedly. As you saw." Leaning back, he half-closed his eyes, regarding Patroclus lazily over the beam of sunlight which had been shining on his book. "Now, was there something you wanted? A message, perhaps, or a question?"

"What happened to you?" The words escaped Patroclus without his conscious consent. "You've…changed."

Lucius tucked a marker into his book's pages, shut it, and set it aside. "That which does not change," he said in a meditative tone, "dies." His eyes met Patroclus's squarely once more. "And I defy you to find any man who has looked into the face of death and has not changed. Especially when that death wears features so very similar to his own." One finger traced the slender scar under his left eye. "If I had not been willing to change, to adapt, to improvise, the final battle of the Malfoys would have ended far differently. And now?" He spread his hands, continuing the motion with the left to stroke Starwing's hair where it lay across the shoulder of her robes. "Now, Patroclus, I continue that adaptation to surround the new circumstances of my life."

"What do you mean?" Patroclus hovered his hand near his wand once more, and at Lucius's nod drew it slowly and conjured himself a chair, sitting down facing his fellow Death Eater.

"I have taken an injury." Lucius flexed the fingers of his right hand, looking thoughtfully at it, as though remembering what it felt like to hold a wand there and know that his magic would respond. "A painful injury, surely, and not one I like to admit, but one which will heal, given time and proper care. Should I deny myself that care, for the sake of my pride, and run the risk of crippling myself for life? Or, worse, losing our Master some objective he wishes to win because I cannot perform the tasks he demands of those who fight for him? Is it not much wiser to find those things I can do while I heal, and accept with as good a grace as possible the help I may need while I am, shall we say, not quite myself?"

Slowly, Patroclus nodded. "Only—why Wormtail?" he asked, glancing down at the floor, half-expecting to see the little rodent come skittering by, attracted by the sound of his name. "I would have thought you'd rather avoid him. Certainly everyone else does!"

"And because everyone else does, he will be fawningly grateful for the chance to do something, anything, for the Dark Lord's cause," Lucius countered easily. "As he is, and has been for the last week and a half. I have also taken care to possess myself of certain facts about him, which ensure his fullest cooperation in whatever I ask of him. And I amuse myself, as he works, by imagining my study, once the war is over and we may retake our rightful places." His hands shaped a box in midair. "An Unbreakable cage on a shelf, with a little wheel to one side, and rewards of food and water linked to how long and how swiftly he runs on it…"

Patroclus snickered, enjoying the image.

"He joined our side originally because he saw no other way to survive." Lucius caressed Starwing's dark blonde hair again, twining his fingers into it. "I see a certain poetry in taking from him everything but his bare survival. I had even considered using on him the dagger I wrested from little Starwing, inflicting the Imprimatus Potion upon him, but I doubt I shall." He sat back, watching her hands move. "A pretty girl under my complete control, a permanent Imperius, as it were, and with no more mind than an owl, is both useful and ornamental. A fat fool like Wormtail, with no more mind than a rat, would be neither. So he shall keep his humanity." His smile was cold. "Much good may it do him, in his cage on my study wall."

Elsewhere, a wizard named Novir peered around the corner of a building and considered his options.

None of them looked terribly appetizing.

How are they bloody doing this? He conjured himself a cup of water and gulped it down thirstily, hoping the soothing effect on his parched throat would help to stimulate his mind. It's like they know where I am, like they can smell me or something—that'd be just like the Weasleys and their sort, putting spells on themselves to be able to sniff out a trail like animals…

However they were doing it, the fact remained that the Red Shepherds had now found his hiding place three times in twenty-four hours, and it didn't look like he was going to make it to number four.

I've got one shot. He took another look around the corner, trying to calculate distances in his head. If I can get out of this little alley, onto what passes for a main road in this blighted wasteland, there might be a few Muggles around, and they're squeamish about putting the animals in harm's way, or Merlin forbid, doing magic in front of them. He snorted in disgust. Not like a Memory Charm or three is going to harm them, they can barely see what's under their noses as it is. If I can just make it out there, I might have a clear shot at getting back to one of our safe houses…

Gathering himself, he cast a Shield Charm around his body, then bolted for the alley's entrance. No spellfire followed him, no other forms moved—

Caught them totally flatfooted—I can't believe it—

With a final burst of speed, he dashed through the narrow gap between two buildings.

I've done it, I've done it, I'm fr—

A tiny sproing was all the warning he had as a net materialized out of nowhere, its fibers wrapping tightly around him and scooping him off his feet to dangle between the buildings. He yelped in shock, then quickly applied his wand to one of the ropes—if he moved quickly, he could still get loose from this trap before—

"Expelliarmus," said a calm, carefully enunciated voice, and Novir's wand was ripped from his hand. He slewed around in time to see a piece of the scenery stand up, catch his wand neatly in its off hand, and unhurriedly remove its Disillusionment, revealing itself as a bespectacled, disheveled ginger wizard with the smallest of smirks on his freckled face.

"Hello, Mr. Novir," said Percy Weasley, brushing a streak of dirt off his robes. "We've been waiting for you."

Hermione sat on a windowsill in the Gryffindor common room, sun warm on her back, watching Ron making minute adjustments on the schematic of Malfoy Manor the Pride had been happily customizing to their hearts' content. What Meghan had dubbed the 'Manor Den' would, they had decided, be established as soon after the end of the war as was convenient for all.

And we might think about putting it under Fidelius for ourselves, now that we're sure Lucius didn't find a way to break the charm. She growled under her breath. Not that it's so much better that he could dig up the ancient history of Dobby belonging to the Malfoys, and make Starwing use what was left of that bond to force Echo to leave Headquarters and come to him, to bind her into his service instead…

But as much as she hated the means Lucius had used to obtain himself a servant, it also opened a door she didn't think her "father" had considered.

Echo isn't just Dobby's daughter. She's Winky's as well. And Dobby doesn't have a family he's tied to any longer, but Winky does—and it's the Weasleys. If one of them can get into Malfoy Manor, or even someone connected to them formally, a wife, a fiancée… She rubbed her pendants with a faint smile. A Pridemate. If we could manage that, we might be able to invoke that other side of her blood, give her clothes, and free her.

The thought of blood and Malfoys, inevitably, took her mind in another direction, as her hand crept upward to touch her left cheek.

The skin under her fingers, for the first time since the end of her third year, was smooth and unmarred, with no sign of a scar.

And I never even noticed when it happened. Silently, she bared her teeth. We were able to go back through my memories and trace it to about an hour after Ginny told us Luna was gone, which accounts for nobody spotting it right then and there. We had other things to think about. But I'm still angry because I should have seen, should have felt, something that important happening…

After stroking the place where her scar had been one last time, Hermione deliberately lowered her hand.

Just another thing to add to Lucius Malfoy's tally. He couldn't even leave me that outward sign of what Fox and I had created out of his twisted little plan—he had to have Luna, Starwing, whoever she is now, erase it from my body as soon as he had her under his control.

Still, nothing could, or would, erase that love from her mind and her soul.

And every time I see where that scar isn't, I'll fight just that little bit harder. She let her eyes rest on Ron's familiar and comforting form, on the tufts of ginger hair around his ears which stuck out in every direction, on the way he hooked his feet around the legs of his chair to keep himself in balance, on the crease of concentration between his eyebrows that meant he was working in a state of flow which bypassed his usual uncertainties completely. Because I've lost one person I loved, two with Luna, but I still have so many others here with me, and we're going to win this war together and find our happily ever after. For them, for ourselves, for everyone.

Including the ones who'll come after us.

She smiled a little as her thoughts came full circle. And while I can't talk about our own children to Ron yet—he's barely ready to think about that in Harry and Ginny's case, he'd have a fit if I tried to bring it up for us—I can talk about children in the general sense, Muggle- and magic-born alike…

"I wonder what other pureblood mansions or townhouses won't have owners any longer, once the war is over," she said aloud. "Or whose owners will be on our side, and might not want so much space to have to keep up."

"Bet we could find out. Poll the DA, get a list on the ones who left school before the tests of intent, something like that." Ron looked up at her, shading his eyes from the brightness (or warmth, for him) of the sunlight at her back. "How come?"

"Because some of this mess we're in might have been avoidable." Hermione drummed her fingers on her knee. "You'd never really met Muggles, or anyone who lived like them, until we moved into the Den, had you?"

"Not to talk to. Seen them at a distance, but nothing else." Ron shook his head. "And that's even with Dad's hobby. He's fascinated by Muggles, but he's still got a bit of the 'not in my back yard' thinking going on. It's all right for him to wonder about Muggles, play with their stuff all day long, but his kids shouldn't go out and actually learn about them."

"Except that you did, by becoming our friends. You couldn't help it." Hermione leaned her shoulder against the stone side of the window. "That's something I think we ought to aim for, Ron. Putting more magical children, from both sides of the divide, in a place where they can't help it. Because waiting until they're eleven might be leaving it too late."

"When would you start it, then?" Ron pushed aside the schematic of Malfoy Manor and sat back, twirling his wand between his fingers as he might one of his drumsticks. "Seven or eight, like us, or even younger than that?"

"As young as we can get them, honestly. Young enough not to be surprised by magic." Hermione held out her hand to the sunlight, feeling its warmth pool on her palm. "Whether or not they have it themselves. Educate the whole family, not just the one child who has magic. I mean, imagine if Harry's aunt had been able to go somewhere magical with her sister, instead of always being left at home, left behind, left out. Maybe she wouldn't have been so frightened and hateful about magic in general."

"And maybe you wouldn't have your Pack," Ron pointed out. "Which would be a loss for everybody, seeing as you're the one family around that makes us look completely normal."

Hermione made a face at him. "It would have to be a place where people would want to come," she said, tilting her head back to the sun. "So if we did put it in a pureblood manor, it would have to be one of the prettier ones, that would clean up nicely. Get rid of everything that's meant to intimidate people, scare them into behaving, make them think of themselves as unimportant or not worth noticing."

"Pureblood manor house to Muggles? That'd be just about everything." But Ron looked as though the idea were taking hold of him, somewhat against his will. "Still, they pay money to go and see Muggle manor houses, don't they? The really old and grand ones, with all the suits of armor and the paintings and the tapestries?"

"Yes, they do. So we'd keep that, if we could." Hermione swirled a finger in the air, watching the dust motes dance wildly on the currents. "We'd just find a way to make it old and grand and welcoming, instead of old and grand and forbidding. Maybe—oh, here's an idea. Have it set up like it is somebody's home, like a family that's mixed Muggle and magical lives there, and the rooms where the family would do certain things are also the places where the people who come to visit can do that!"

"Like what?" Ron frowned. "What sorts of things—"

"A study." Hermione slid off the windowsill to come and sit across from Ron, scooping up the plans of the Manor Den along the way. "Like this one." She planted her finger in one of the rooms dominated by its enormous desk and wall of cubbyholes. "Quill pens, ink, and parchment, and Muggle paper and pens, set out all along the desk. People can come in and write letters, using whatever they want, and then address them and put them in the cubbies, and they'll be collected once a day and sent out by owls or Muggle post, whichever is correct!"

"Oh, I get it." Ron peered at the plans. "Down in the kitchen, have human-sized everything right alongside the stuff they make for house-elves, maybe even a couple of house-elves there to say hello. Though if we're trying to keep from scaring the Muggles, possibly that's not the best plan…"

"House-elves can be a trifle alarming if you're not expecting them," Hermione agreed. "But there would probably be at least one employed there, and if she agreed to let herself be seen every so often, especially by the children, that might make house-elves into a fun mystery for them, instead of a frightening one."

Ron snapped his fingers. "Scavenger hunt. Give the kids a list of things they've got to find in the house, that the house-elf missed when she was cleaning up last. If they find them all, then they get to take them down to the kitchen and return them to her."

"Yes, that's even better!" Hermione pulled a quill from her pocket and unrolled one of the scrolls on which the Pride had been recording ideas for the Manor Den, finding clean parchment near its bottom. "Because then meeting the house-elf is a reward, something special that you only get if you're good!" She noted it down under the fresh heading of Muggle/magical meeting place. "It'll drive the poor house-elf mad, though, having to specifically set out clutter for the children to find."

"Nah, that's easy." Ron waved this away. "Just make it all clothes. Then she won't want to touch it. A sock here, a mitten there, a hat over yonder…"

Hermione couldn't help but laugh.

"What do you want?" Novir demanded, trying to find some position within the dangling net that wasn't quite as humiliating. "I don't know anything, you won't get any information out of me—"

"Really?" Percy Weasley cocked his head, as two more pieces of alley wall unfolded themselves behind him and to either side. One removed its own Disillusionment to reveal a shorter, stockier Weasley brother, one whose features seemed faintly familiar. The other, waiting patiently until the second Weasley's wand touched its head, was discovered as a girl with short blonde hair wearing Muggle-style clothing, holding a small L-shaped item in her hand. "That's a shame. My colleagues and I don't like exerting all this energy on people who don't know anything. Especially when my work is piling up back at the Ministry. I might just have to get back there and start in on it, which would mean I'd have to leave you alone with them."

"Would you?" The girl clasped her hands at chest level, staring worshipfully at the elder Weasley. "Percy, would you really? I haven't had a Death Eater to myself in ages, and I've got some lovely ideas—"

"Oi, don't forget about me!" the other Weasley protested. "There's this thing with one of our fireworks I've been wanting to try out. Find out what happens if you shove it up his arse and light it off. Would he fly around for a while, d'you think, or just blow up right there?"

"Hmm." The girl studied Novir, eyes narrowed. "He'd probably just blow up. The gastrointestinal tract isn't meant for that kind of abuse. But if you reinforced it before you stuffed the rocket in there…"

"Now we're talking!" The other Weasley rubbed his hands together, glee lighting his brown eyes, turning them not entirely sane. "Couple good Stiffening Spells, and we'll have a human rocket on our hands. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Up in the air's where he'll be, skywriting around until the fuse hits the powder, and then…" He mimed an explosion. "Be a bit messy, but that's why I always keep fresh clothes at the shop."

"Can't I have a go at him first, though?" The girl began to turn something on the item she held in her hand, making a rhythmic clicking noise. "It won't get in the way of what you want to do, Fred—you're after his insides, and all I want's his extremities. Fingers and toes." Lifting the thing, she sighted down its longer side at Novir, her smile as wide and as mad as Fred Weasley's. "See if I can get one or two of them to melt clean off, instead of just turning them into goo…"

"Crystal, really," Percy said in a tone of reproof. "Didn't you get enough of that sort of thing in Hogsmeade?"

"Hmm." Crystal pursed her lips, considering. "No."

The invocation of Hogsmeade finally jarred Novir's mind out of its frozen terror. "Her," he croaked, jabbing a finger in Crystal's direction. "I remember her—outside that daft little tearoom—that thing she's got, I remember what it does—"

"Oh, were you there?" Crystal fluttered her eyelashes. "I'm so glad. It's not often I meet someone who recognizes me."

"You're the Mad Muggle!" Novir tried to wriggle away, to hide himself from the girl, but all it accomplished was to set the net swinging, with him in it. "And you—" He found his breath coming short as he understood at last his half-recognition of the younger Weasley. He'd seen this boy's twin in Hogsmeade, moments before his death, standing side by side with this same girl, and the unveiled contempt in Fred's brown eyes and Crystal's orbs of gray-blue told him everything he needed to know.

They'll do it. All the stuff they're talking about, and worse, much worse, they'll do it to me in a heartbeat.

If they get the chance.

"Don't leave me with them," he said to Percy, low and urgent, fighting not to lose control of his breathing. "You can't do it, it wouldn't be human, they're mad as Fwoopers—"

"Oh, I know that." Percy inspected his fingernails. "But you see, they're my Fwoopers."

"What's a Fwooper?" Crystal hissed to Fred behind Percy's back.

"Bird. Makes you crazy." Fred circled his finger around his ear. "Long story. Tell you later."

"Got it." Crystal returned to her position beside Percy, rocking back and forth between heels and toes, humming to herself as she continued to rotate the moving part on her little toy—only it's not a toy, maybe it started as one, but it certainly isn't now…

"As I was saying, they may be mad, but they work for me," Percy went on, in time with the clicking of Crystal's turnings. "And I've already told you what would compel me to stay here, and what won't. If you really don't know anything that would interest me, well, then…" He rose onto his toes, preparing to turn in place and Disapparate.

"Ashby-de-la-Zouch!" Novir blurted out. "There's a cell set up in the castle there, right under the Muggles' noses! And Ashton-under-Lyne, outside Manchester, we've got a safe house there, and a supply cache—I can give you names, directions, everything…"

"Much better." Percy came down onto the flats of his feet again, making a calming motion at Fred and Crystal, both of whom pouted before stalking off to the other end of the alley, muttering together in angry tones. "Don't mind them, they won't harm you as long as I'm here. Now." He conjured podium, parchment, quill, and ink in one flowing motion of his wand, dipped the quill neatly into the inkwell, and looked up at Novir through the lenses of his glasses. "Tell me more."

Elsewhere, in an unremarkable plot of forest, a dark-furred wolf sat back on his haunches and snarled at a bush in frustration. The object of his hunt, a blue-enameled brooch of bronze in the shape of a stylized eagle, was nowhere to be seen, smelled, or otherwise sensed.

A spotted wildcat padded up beside him and licked the base of his ear once, then rose onto her hind legs and became Ginny. "So much for spot number seven," she said, pulling a list from her pocket and scratching a line through an entry on it. "But we are going to find it, Harry."

"When?" Harry demanded, twisting out of Wolf's form, as Pearl loped out of the underbrush and Captain descended from a nearby tree, where they'd been keeping watch for ambushers. "Every day we don't get it is a day people die, Ginny. It's a day the Death Eaters and Voldemort go on believing they can get away with everything they do."

"And if we had some way to snap our fingers and know which one of these is correct, we'd do it, but we don't." Ginny tucked the list back into her pocket. "At least we know what we're looking for, and a limited number of places it might be. Imagine if we had to look all over the world, or even all over the country."

"I know, I know." Harry kicked at a clump of leaf litter. "It just gets to me, because there are so many things I'd rather be doing with my time." A small smile sneaked onto his face. "Scraping paint comes to mind. Or watching it dry."

"We could always go down to you-know-where, if that's what you're after," Neville suggested, rising out of his alternate form and rolling his shoulders. "The house-elves are touching everything up, making sure it's all fresh and clean."

Pearl scowled, an expression which looked decidedly odd on the face of a deer. "Because we're going to need it," she said as soon as she had lips which could form words. "Probably very soon."

"Thank you, Amanda," Ginny murmured, looking towards the sky. "For thinking of it, and getting us started on it."

The Pridemates stood in silence for a moment, until Harry sighed. "All right," he said. "Let's get on with it. Back to that village, whatever it's called, take the roads from there to the restaurant, and then make ourselves disappear?"

"That sounds like a plan." Neville nodded. "Only I didn't know you and Ginny had gone as far in Muggle magic as vanishing people. Last time I looked, you were still back at coins and cards."

"I will have you know," said Ginny with dignity, "that coins and cards are some of the hardest things to do properly. And no, I still won't teach you how to palm things," she added to Meghan.

"That's not fair! You taught Luna!"

"Because she was older than you are, and I knew she wouldn't use it to pass notes in class. Or if she did, she wouldn't get caught."

"And you think I will?" Meghan stiffened. "I'm a Marauder! I never get caught!"

"Except when you're tie-dyeing all the house-elves' tea towels in jewel tones," Neville said idly.

Meghan glared at him. "And if you'd helped me, like I asked you to, I wouldn't have!"

"Wouldn't have what?" Harry asked, moving out of range. "Done it, or got caught?" He dropped into Wolf's form and bolted away before Meghan could respond.

"Cheater!" Meghan shouted after him. "Cheater, cheater, pumpkin-eater!" The final word twisted oddly, due to her transforming through it and dashing after Wolf at the top speed her hooves could deliver.

Ginny and Neville looked at each other. "So we've just seen a deer chasing a wolf," Neville said finally.

"Intending to wreak havoc when she catches up with him," Ginny agreed. "Where did this madness start?"

"Platform nine and three-quarters, for me." Neville grinned. "Where was yours? Your mum's kitchen?"

"Well, we were on the stairs. Luna and I." Ginny looked away. "I remember she thought Draco was cute, and Hermione looked nice," she said softly. "And I saw Harry cross his fingers when he said he wasn't Harry Potter…"

"And if you'd been able to whisper through time, and tell that little girl where you are today, she'd never have believed you." Neville looked up at the partly overcast sky above them. "Just like I wouldn't, if I'd heard about any of this before I left for Hogwarts. But that's what makes life so amazing, isn't it? The way it builds on itself until it's something you never expected?"

"Like a Pride." Ginny held out her hand, and Neville took it. "Stronger together than we are alone. Even when we lose people."

"Even when." Neville squeezed her fingers gently. "We should go. It's not safe to be out here alone."

"Right." With a sigh, Ginny arched her back, stretching. "Want a ride?"

"Why not." Neville bent forward and shrank into the form of the shimmering silver demiguise Captain, waiting until Ginny had finished her transformation into Lynx. Then he swung himself to her side and climbed onto her back, patting the top of her head to tell her he was securely seated.

A moment later, only a single quivering branch would have told an observer there had ever been anyone there at all.

"And…" Peter swept the final few paint shavings into a pile with his wand and Vanished them. "There. Finished."

"Is it?" Lucius looked up from his book. "It is. And most attractively so."

Peter stepped back to take in the full effect, as Starwing stuck her needle through her sewing and set it aside to come and look for herself.

The mural on the library wall, as revealed by several days of Peter's careful (not to say tedious) work, featured six people neither young nor old, by their grouping a set of siblings and their respective spouses. Peter frowned at the man in the coat of scale mail kneeling beside the seated, smiling woman, trying to place his appearance—his wife and her brothers, who stood on either side of her chair, all had the fair-on-fair Malfoy look to them, but the man reminded him of someone else, someone from his own past…

"Fascinating," Lucius remarked, breaking Peter's concentration. "I do believe this may be a depiction of the first generation of Beauvois born in England." He beckoned to Starwing, who obediently drew her wand and sent small jets of light at the wall. "Do you see it, Pettigrew?"

Biting back an objection to the marring of his work, Peter looked more closely. The light from Starwing's wand, it seemed, was only light after all, not a spell or sparks, and it was highlighting a particular set of swirls at the hem of each depicted robe or gown or jacket, a set of swirls that almost looked like—

"Letters," he said, leaning in still further, fascinated. "O-W-A-I-N…A-V-I-C-E…"

"Names," Lucius corrected. "Owain Beauvoi, the eldest son of the house, and his wife, Avice. My ancestors, of course. On their other side, Owain's younger brother, Dafydd, and his wife, Amanda." He frowned for a moment, contemplating the face of the serene, red-haired woman so named, but then shook the mood from him. "And seated, their sister, Angharad, and her husband, John. Contemporaries, unless my research is mistaken, of the grandchildren of the Hogwarts Founders."

Starwing made a small, wordless noise of pleasure and patted at the hand of Amanda Beauvoi, onto which had been painted a simple gold ring. "Magic," she said certainly, then turned to face Peter, looking him up and down with the intent gaze of a post owl wondering if she'd found the right person for her letter. Her examination done, she smiled sweetly. "Magic!" she declared, pointing at Peter's wedding ring.

"Er." Peter looked towards Lucius, who only raised an eyebrow. Clearly he was not disposed to intervene. "Yes," he said gently, turning back to Starwing. "It's a magical ring. It tells me if my wife is all right."

"Good magic." Starwing nodded sagely, laying her left hand against her collarbone. Her eye was caught by the red-stoned ring she wore on it, and she smiled again. "Good, good magic," she proclaimed, holding it out for Peter to see. "I like good magic."

"I like good magic too." Fighting the urge to laugh aloud, Peter examined the ring. The setting, in the shape of two snakes holding the translucent gem in their mouths, looked very nearly as old as the painting he'd just finished uncovering, and the gemstone itself…

With another glance at Lucius, he reached out for Starwing's left hand with his right, but she pulled back. "No," she protested, making a face. "Bad hand!"

"It's certainly not the one I was born with," Peter acknowledged, offering his own left hand instead. "Will this do?"

"Yes." Starwing bounced in place, smiling. "Yes, yes, yes."

Moving slowly, trying to make his unexceptionable intentions clear, Peter lifted and turned Starwing's hand until he could look through her ring's gemstone to the sunlight coming through the window.

I might be wrong, but it almost looks like—

"Are you quite finished?" Lucius asked in a tone which suggested that only one answer was likely to be acceptable.

"Yes." Peter dropped Starwing's hand immediately. "I beg your pardon."

"Not at all." Lucius flicked his fingers, and Starwing hurried back to her chair to gather up her sewing. "Amuse yourself as you please for the rest of the day. We will begin on the more serious research tomorrow."

"I will. Thank you." Peter hurried out of the library, his mind racing.

I'm not wrong. That stone is hollow. And filled with some sort of liquid.

I wonder what would happen if someone took that ring off her?

It seemed he had more information to go into his next letter to the Order than he'd thought he might.

Molly turned and smiled as she saw who'd just come into the basement kitchen at number twelve, Grimmauld Place. "Percy, darling! How are things—can you stay a few minutes? Your father's due back any time now, he had to go out on a call…" She trailed off, seeing the expression on her son's face. "What's wrong, dear?"

"Nothing. Yet," Percy added to his mother's raised eyebrow. "But there may shortly be a great many things." He tossed a scroll onto the table. "We finally caught up with the Death Eater we've been following the past two and a half days, and if he's to be believed—and after he'd heard what Fred and Crystal had to say, I think he is—the Ministry is closer to the tipping point than we'd thought. Weeks, at most."

"Oh, my." Molly sighed. "Well, I suppose it just goes to show that I did the right thing letting Fleur's family handle all the wedding arrangements for her and Bill. I'll have Winky start packing our things, shall I?"

"Packing?" Percy frowned. "Where are we going?"

"Sanctuary, of course." Molly turned back to the stove to rescue the teakettle as it whistled shrilly. "And don't you give me that look, young man," she added more crisply, her back still turned as she filled the teapot. "I know you, and I know your father. If this Ministry in exile is going to be based out of Sanctuary, you'll both want to be there as much as possible, and I refuse to try to keep you fed and rested when you're wearing yourselves to a thread coming and going. So." Setting the kettle back on the stove with a thump, she turned around, dusting off her hands. "Sanctuary it is."

Percy smiled. "Has anyone told you lately that you're astounding, Mother?" he asked, coming around the table to hug her.

"Stop that." Molly stretched up to kiss his cheek and lightly swat his ear. "You'll make me blush. Now, what do you want with your tea? Winky made currant scones this morning, and I think I have some ginger biscuits around here somewhere…"

"I still say we should have gone for the firework," Fred grumbled as he Apparated into the back room of the Hogsmeade branch of WWW, Crystal on his arm. "Or your red cartridge."

"What red cartridge?" Crystal drew her piece again, snapping the three cylinders into place one at a time. One's indicator was white, the second yellow, the third pink.

Fred snickered. "So you threatened him with something you weren't even carrying! Nicely done."

"I tend not to bring the red out when we're only after the small fry." Holstering her piece, Crystal strolled to the door which led to the front of the shop. "Though I shouldn't be rude. He did give us some important information. Which is why we didn't go for the firework, or the Semi-Universal Solvent—we want to encourage them to tell us things, and killing them is generally a deterrent…"

"And what you came up with isn't? Though I do approve of it on general principles." Fred opened the door for her with a wave of his wand, saluting Lee as his friend looked around from his place behind the counter. "It's not like we have anywhere to keep them locked up as they are, and we can always fix them up and turn them loose after the war's over."

"They certainly won't be going anywhere between now and then," Crystal agreed. "And nobody could even argue that we're putting them in harm's way, because they'll be exactly as safe as all the Muggles they'd ordinarily be going after…"

Kady the house-elf walked unhurriedly across the lawn of Sanctuary. All around her, the rest of the Hogwarts house-elves were busily setting the place to rights (since the little masters and mistresses had surely meant well, but had left things in a terrible state for all of that), but she had her own job at the moment.

Reaching the edge of the pond which had been added to one side of Sanctuary a week or two before, she bent down and tipped in the contents of the bowl she was carrying between her hands.

"One, two, three, four, five, six, seven," she counted aloud, smiling to herself. "There is being seven big fishes in our little bitty pond now. Seven pretty fishes to be swimming around in circles and eating the breadcrumbs that the Muggle children is soon to be feeding them." Her smile turned predatory. "The Muggle children that is not being hurt by our fat, happy fishes."

She turned in place and Disapparated, back to the kitchens above. Dinner wouldn't cook itself.

Below, in the pond, the bright orange fish which had once been a Death Eater named Novir swam in a puzzled figure eight, as though trying to work out what had happened to him.

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Author Notes:

That's going to be a very well-stocked koi pond by the time the war is over, no?

If you feel like you've seen that mural before, you're right. Check Chapter 15 of Surpassing Danger.

Blah, blah, Facebook page, blah, blah, website, blah, blah, blog. There, done.

Stay tuned for Chapter 45: "Weep No More, My Lady", coming soon to a website near you!

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