They hit solid earth with a jolt that reverberated up Harry’s legs, and in the same instant, his nostrils were filled with the pungent odour of the seaside. They’d landed in a thicket of seagrass only a stone’s throw from the crashing breakers of the ocean, and while the sky overhead had been clear in Wiltshire, here it was an overcast steel-grey, the morning sun peeking through in only fits and starts.

Harry glanced around, looking up and down the beach, but there was no sign of a cottage—or any dwellings, really. Had they meandered off-course in their escape from the Manor? Or—did the enchantments that had been placed on Bill and Fleur’s home as a safe house mean that no one could see it from outside the perimeter?

Harry fumbled in his pocket for the coin Hermione had given him, awkward business with Draco still leaning into him—but before he could draw it out, someone shouted, “Harry!

He pulled away, abruptly, from Draco’s embrace to see Hermione and Ron racing down the rocky shore toward them.

“We were—so worried!” Hermione panted, cheeks red and breath coming in pants. “Here!”

She pressed a piece of paper into Harry’s hand, and he unfolded it, frowning at the unfamiliar scrawl. “…‘Shell Cottage is located on the coast of Tinworth’? But obviously I know—oh!” No sooner had he read the words, than a prim little cottage materialised into view, just in the direction from which Ron and Hermione had come pelting. “A Fidelius!”

Ron nodded, still catching his breath. “Yeah. Bill had one—put on the place—after the wedding. Y’know, just in case. He’s Secret Keeper.” He swallowed, trying to steady his breathing. “We landed about here with the others. Got lucky Fleur spotted us out the window.” He frowned, glancing between Harry and Draco. “But—wait, where are—”

Draco shouldered past them in silence, expression shuttered, and marched up the beach towards the cottage alone. Harry let him go, waving down Ron’s offended scowl. Once Draco was out of earshot, Ron leaned in and whispered, “What happened, then? You were supposed to bring back his folks—couldn’t you find them?”

Harry pursed his lips, staring at the stiff, silent line of Draco’s back. “…They didn’t want to come.”

Ron was incensed. “That fucking figures—just—fucking figures! We go out of our way to save their sorry hides, and—”

“It wasn’t like that,” Harry hastened to add. He still didn’t like Lucius, but Narcissa had clearly feared for her son’s life and done the only thing she could think of to see him kept safe. “I think they stayed behind for Draco. This whole time, You-Know-Who’s thought Draco was dead—”

“He thought he was dead?” Hermione sputtered. “Why?”

Harry shrugged. “I dunno—evidently Snape told him so? I’m not sure what he stood to gain from lying, but Draco’s parents seemed to recognise that their disappearance would ultimately lead to You-Know-Who figuring out that Draco was still alive—which might put him in danger. We didn’t really have a lot of time to discuss it, so we had to leave them behind. It was their decision in the end, though.” It wasn’t entirely the truth, considering Lucius’s first instinct, but Harry wanted to believe that his second choice after deciding to bring Voldemort down on all their heads would have been to sacrifice his own safety to ensure his son’s. Harry was probably being too generous, but he felt he owed it to Draco to try and see some good in his father. “Anyway, we Obliviated them and got the hell out of there as fast as possible.”

“So now they’re back to thinking their son’s dead…” Hermione mused sombrely, shaking her head. “And he’s got no hope of saving them, not while the war’s still going, at least.” She glanced toward the cottage, expression forlorn. “Poor Draco… He must be devastated.” Harry quite agreed, though he didn’t know what they could possibly do about it. Draco didn’t like to discuss things, especially matters of emotional import, preferring instead to quietly brood until the events had passed from recent memory.

Hermione gasped suddenly, hand flying to her mouth. “Oh—oh no!” She grabbed Ron by the wrist and jerked him along, stumbling over the rocky dunes back to the cottage. “Bill doesn’t know about Draco! He’ll think—”

A flash of spellfire sent the door to the cottage bursting open, and a loud crack echoed over the beach, startling several gulls into flight. They reached the front steps at a sprint, panting and heaving, to see Bill warding Fleur back, wand drawn and Draco laid out flat on the floor. He’d been Stunned, it seemed, and a trickle of blood snaked down from his temple, where he’d cracked his head against the jamb.

“Oh Bill, no!”

“We told you Harry was coming with others!”

Bill gaped at them. “Wh—you brought a Malfoy with you?!”

“Technically it was supposed to be several Malfoys,” Ron said, as Hermione levitated Draco onto the sofa and Harry rushed to the sink to fetch a wet towel.

Bill let his wand drop, clearly lost, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione scurried about the sitting room. Fleur clung to his arm, eyes wide and confused. “I…I’m still not seeing why there’s a Malfoy in our home, you lot.”

“It a bit of a long story, but the short of it is we…well, we…” Hermione fumbled her words, evidently trying to come up with a good story.

“We found him imprisoned at the Ministry while on a mission of our own,” Harry said, mopping Draco’s forehead to stanch the bleeding. “So we broke him out.”

“Broke him—from the Ministry? This is the same Draco Malfoy that turned into a bloody dragon and killed Dumbledore, right?” He groaned at Harry. “Tell me you didn’t spring him for some vigilante justice! I get he’s a Death Eater, judging from that Mark, and you know I was just as gutted about Dumbledore’s passing as anyone, but you have to let the system handle—”

“We aren’t gonna kill him,” Ron said. “Not that he hasn’t given us reason enough to try.”

“Indeed, especially since somewhere along the way he kind of joined our group, and now he’s helping us with our mission,” Hermione said.

Bill boggled. “A Malfoy is helping… A Malfoy?” He looked at Ron, incredulous, but Ron just shrugged.

“Wouldn’t have been my first choice in travelling companion but…he pulls his weight.”

Harry kept his focus on making Draco comfortable, stuffing pillows under his head and making sure his bandages hadn’t come unravelled, but his heart swelled with affection for Ron. He had no cause to defend Draco the way he was, given their bad blood, yet he’d shown himself to be the better man. A quick glance at Hermione showed she felt similarly.

At Hermione’s request, Fleur fetched several potions for the headache Draco was bound to have when he awoke and some smelling salts to rouse him.

Draco came awake with a start when Harry waved a sponge soaked in spirit of hartshorn under his nose, immediately on-guard and groping for his wand. Harry pressed the length of hawthorn into Draco’s hands with soothing words of Calm down and You’re safe—it was a misunderstanding. Draco had been through rather a lot this morning, and Harry was only too conscious of the fact that their tent was still stuffed deep inside Hermione’s bag. It would take a bit of doing to get it set up if access to the Sanctuary were needed in an emergency, so they would have to try and keep Draco in his own skin or risk Bill getting feisty with his Stupefys again.

Eventually, after Bill and Fleur had been chivvied out of their own sitting room, Draco calmed down enough to allow Harry to pour the headache potions down his throat, though he refused the one that would make him drowsy, protesting that it was the middle of the day and he didn’t want to sleep.

Their hosts seemed to be rapidly losing patience with their unexpected guests, though, so once Harry had seen to Draco’s relative comfort, he slipped into the kitchen to deliver his thanks to Bill for allowing them to recover in their cottage and see where things stood.

Hermione and Ron were already seated at the little kitchen table, nursing mugs of something warm, and Fleur was tending to a pot on the stove that smelled deliciously rich and savoury. His mouth watered at the thought of perhaps eating something they hadn’t had to cook themselves for the first time in months.

“He’s feeling a lot better now,” Harry explained at the curious looks thrown his way when he entered. “He’s sorry for spooking you, Bill—Fleur.”

Ron snorted. “My arse he is—ow!” He bent over to rub his shin, where Hermione had apparently kicked him under the table.

Harry tried to change the subject; Draco resting on their sofa was not a topic that Bill seemed thrilled to discuss at the moment. “So where are the others? Luna and all? Everyone else made it here all right?”

“You mean the ones that tagged along with Ron and Hermione?” Harry nodded, and Bill pointed to the ceiling. “Luna’s sharing our bedroom with Fleur, and I’ll be bunking with Dean in the guest room for now. Ollivander’s on the rollaway in the library, and Griphook’s up in the attic.” He grimaced. “I feel bad, putting a goblin in such a small space—they’re proud as anything, I ought to know. But it was all we could spare.”

“I’m sure Griphook understands,” Hermione reassured him with a grateful smile. “And we have our own tent that’s done just fine for us since we set out, so we won’t put you out.”

“We will find space for you, but of course!” Fleur protested, her long curtain of silvery hair drawn up into a high ponytail that swung to and fro when she moved her head.

“Yeah,” Bill said. “I’m sure we can squeeze you in somewhere. I won’t say it won’t be tight, but—”

“Really, it’s fine, you’ve done more than enough already, just letting us catch our breath here,” Harry said, and Bill smiled weakly. “It might be best, though, if we stayed out of your hair. Especially…well, I know you don’t quite trust Draco—”

Draco?” Bill laughed bitterly, wide-eyed. “Wow. What have you lot been up to?”

“I…maybe we could talk about it later,” Harry hedged, after a quick glance at Ron and Hermione. Dumbledore had left them strict instructions not to discuss the Horcruxes with anyone else—not even the Order—and while they’d necessarily brought Draco into the fold after substantial deliberation and mettle-showing, Harry didn’t know that he felt comfortable sharing their plans with other outside parties. Draco was one of them now—Bill, fine fellow though he was, was not. “For now, we really need to speak to Ollivander, as soon as possible.”

“We do?” Ron asked, earning another painful kick from Hermione.

“Absolutely not,” said Fleur, wiping her hands on a dish towel as she placed a lid on the pot to let whatever she was making simmer. “You ‘ave seen ze state of Monsieur Ollivander—‘e cannot possibly receive visitors until ‘e ‘as recovered—”

“I know he’s in a rough state, Fleur—and if this could wait, I’d let him get his strength back before we talked with him, but time is of the essence. We have to talk to him—privately if possible—right away. It’s urgent we—”

“Harry,” Hermione said softly, a hand on his arm. “…The journey really sapped him. I don’t think he’s even conscious right now, and if we tried to rouse him…” She pursed her lips. “Can’t it wait until after lunch, at least?”

It couldn’t, Harry maintained, but Ron was giving him a look, and Bill and Fleur were already growing annoyed with their presence and they hadn’t even been here an hour. As there seemed to be no other choice than to put questioning Ollivander off for the time being, Harry sighed and returned to the sitting room to check on Draco.

Despite his earlier protests against taking the potion that would have made him drowsy, Harry found Draco dozing lightly on the sofa. The cut on his temple where he’d conked his head under the force of Bill’s Stunner had healed nicely with a dab of dittany, and his bandaged hand was settled across his chest, which rose and fell with a comfortable rhythm. No lasting physical damage, it seemed—though Harry suspected Draco’s emotional state was nowhere near so rosy.

He wished they were alone, or that they at least had a bit more privacy. Perhaps he ought to suggest to Hermione they throw together the tent now, while Draco was resting, and move him there before Bill had another fit about lodging a Malfoy under his roof. Draco probably would prefer it, at any rate—he was likely in a mood to yell at something. Or to vent some other way.

But they couldn’t sneak away here, not without arousing any suspicion, and Harry found himself longing for the simple, domestic rhythm the four of them had built up over the past few months, where no one looked at Harry askance if he and Draco slipped off to the Sanctuary or retired to their shared bedroom. Granted, no one looked askance because everyone assumed they would be using these private spaces how they were meant to be used, and not how they had been…requisitioned.

Still, while Harry loved Bill and Fleur, he was glad the four of them would be camping in the tent and not under the pitched roof of Shell Cottage.

“So am I to be tarred and feathered and strung up for everyone’s amusement? Or are we just going with a good, old-fashioned pike up the arse and stick me out front as a warning to any other Death Eaters considering darkening this lovely cottage’s door?”

“A pike up the arse would be terribly undignified, you realise. Bill may not like Malfoys, but he’s not heartless.” Harry dropped his voice and added in a stage whisper, “I pulled some strings and got them to agree to just burn you at the stake.”

“Well, I survived being burned alive once; perhaps it’ll stick this time.”

Harry snorted softly, extending a hand. “Feeling up to joining the others and proving there’s no need to break out the matches and kindling?”

Draco ignored the offered hand, instead pushing himself upright. “It’s only a bump on the head; no need to treat me like an invalid.”

“That wasn’t why—” Harry started, then wisely shut his trap when Draco cut him a dark look.

“Think I need your pity, then?”

“Of course not, I was only—”

“Only treating me with kid gloves because I’ve just had to abandon my parents to the company of a madman and his equally mad followers. I’d prefer the stake, if it’s all the same to you.”

Harry watched helplessly as Draco strode off, following the sounds of muffled conversation into the kitchen. Well that had gone spectacularly.

He gave Draco a minute before he joined him and was relieved to see this time that he hadn’t had to walk in on Draco catching the bad end of Bill’s spellwork.

Draco was seated as far away from Bill as possible, next to Hermione and across from Ron, who formed a sort of buffer between Draco and Bill and Fleur. Bill was still giving Draco the stink eye, and Fleur was sneaking glances at him in between chopping vegetables and stirring her pot of deliciousness, though the glances did not seem quite as nasty as Harry had expected. Perhaps she’d come off the Triwizard Tournament with a better opinion of the Malfoys than most of British wizarding society had.

Harry took the seat to Draco’s other side, as visible a sign he could think to give to Bill that Draco was to be trusted. He cleared his throat and tried for small talk, as any conversations that might have been going on before Draco had joined them seemed to have died away.

“So how are the rest of your family doing? We haven’t been in touch with anyone, of course. Last we heard was a Patronus from your dad telling us not to contact them because the Burrow was being watched.”

Bill nodded. “It was, for a while—that was back when there was still some semblance of law and order in the Ministry. Dad and I could still do our jobs for the most part, just had to keep low profiles and keep any conversation we had via owl clean of Order business, since the Ministry—or really the Death Eaters by that point—were checking the mail.”

“But—the Burrow’s not being watched anymore?” Hermione asked, and Bill shook his head.

“What good would it be? There’s no one there; somewhere along the way, they caught on that Ron wasn’t actually down with spattergroit and reasoned he was off on world-saving business with Harry—”

“Which he is,” Ron confirmed proudly.

“—so then they started rounding up the whole family for questioning. It was lucky Ginny was on holiday when the word came down for them to bring in anyone named ‘Weasley’. If she’d been at Hogwarts, they could’ve grabbed her and smuggled her away before we even knew. But she’s safe too, now.”

“Safe where?” Harry asked.

“We’ve moved everyone without a home of their own to ward over to Muriel’s, and there’s a Fidelius Charm on the place. Dad’s Secret Keeper.”

Ron’s expression clouded. “But then what about Charlie? And Fred and George? And—and Percy?”

“Your brothers aren’t all helpless, you know, Ron,” Bill smiled. “Charlie’s out of the country, and Romania tends to play fast and loose with extradition treaty law. Percy’s gone to ground, though I confess I’m not sure where he’s holed up. Last I heard he was still going in to work, convinced he could do more good staying in his position than fleeing and having people think he’d done something wrong. I think Mum gave him a talking-to, though. And as for Fred and George…” Bill shrugged with a lop-sided grin. “I pity the Death Eater that tries to break into their flat.”

Harry laughed along with Hermione and Ron at this, though the guilt curdling in his gut meant his smile failed to reach his eyes. The Weasleys had been forced out of their home all on account of being associated with him, and the Order members were evidently no better off, according to Potterwatch. He’d known of course that the wizarding world had been turned upside down by Voldemort’s rise, but there was a difference between being vaguely aware of it and hearing real people’s stories for yourself.

“Hey,” Bill said sharply. “None of that, Harry.”

Harry grimaced, ducking his head. “Just—it’s all because of me—”

“Oh don’t get such a big head; you think we weren’t already Undesirables? I won’t say it’s got nothing to do with you, but we’ve never been favourites in certain circles. We practically coined the term ‘blood traitor’.” He glanced at Draco. “Wouldn’t you say so, Malfoy?”

Draco shifted uncomfortably, but he managed to keep his features smoothed into an unruffled mask. “…I can’t imagine being associated with Muggleborns and werewolves has earned you esteem in any of the Sacred Twenty-Eight’s books, no.”

“Pretty sure the Malfoys are one of the Sacred Twenty-Eight.”

Draco’s lips thinned into an angry white line. “And if the Dark Lord had anything to say about it, it’d be the Sacred Twenty-Seven. I’m not here for a spot of teenage rebellion, Weasley.”

“Then what are you here for?”

“Guys,” Harry said, raising his hands for peace. “Bill—can you please at least just trust our judgement, even if you don’t trust Draco? We wouldn’t be here without him—he’s saved our skin.”

“On multiple occasions,” Draco reminded through grit teeth.

“Right—multiple instances of skin saving.” He dropped his voice, pleading with Bill: “We’ll be out of your hair soon enough, yeah? We know what we’re doing, and while I can appreciate the wariness, it’s really unnecessary. I mean, look at Ron—if he can get along with Draco, it’s gotta mean something, right?”

“Yeah, that he’s got the attention span of a goldfish,” Bill drawled, and Draco stifled an inelegant snort. Ron glared at the both of them. “…Fine, whatever. He’d just better watch his tongue while he’s under our roof.”

Draco’s lip curled, betraying an oncoming scathing retort, and Harry hastily jumped between them with a broad smile. “Thanks, Bill. Really, we’re indebted to you.” He glanced around the kitchen, trying to think of a way to divert the conversation away from whether or not Draco was going to slit their throats in their sleep. “Er—so there’s a Fidelius on this place too, huh?”

Bill nodded. “We figured it was safest, seeing as I’m in the Order. And it makes Fleur feel better.” He winked at his wife, who threw a dazzling grin back at him. Harry had to blink the spangles from his eyes, grateful she’d turned down that vaunted Veela charm on account of company. “I’ve had to take leave from work, understandably, but there are decidedly more important things to focus on right now than busting curses for Goblins. We’re planning to move our new guests on to Muriel’s once Ollivander and Griphook are fit for travel. Muriel certainly won’t appreciate a Goblin under her roof, but Mum and Dad’ll be there to keep her in line.”

Harry suddenly felt a deep swell of pity for Ollivander and Griphook, not to mention Dean and Luna and the remaining Weasleys forced to live with Muriel. Ginny might soon wish she’d stayed at Hogwarts and taken her chances under Snape’s rule, and Dean and Luna might just head straight back to Malfoy Manor.

Lunch was delicious and filling—if slightly awkward. Draco quietly partook of the meal Fleur had prepared, refusing to be drawn into conversation even when Harry made a concerted effort. He supposed it might be for the best, especially seeing as he could tell how badly Bill wanted to get at why Draco was really tagging along with them.

Bill finally managed it when Harry volunteered to help with the washing up–Fleur claimed that the veneer on the flatware an aunt had given them as a wedding gift would react badly with magic and needed to be hand-washed—while Fleur stepped away to check on Ollivander.

“So what I don’t get is…why would a Death Eater need ‘rescuing’ from the Ministry? There were at least two dozen witnesses who saw him take down Dumbledore, and I know you weren’t one of them, but the fact remains they were justified in bringing him in.”

Harry shoved his hands into the soapy water, groping for the next dish to attack with a sponge. “It’s…it’s complicated. But we had our reasons, and like Ron said: he’s more than pulled his weight. You’d trust him, too, if you’d seen what he’s done. Why he did the things he did, and how he’s working to make up for it.”

Bill shook his head, tossing the damp dishrag onto the countertop. “Harry—I’ve been patient, I really have, but you’ve got to give me something more. What’ve you gotten yourself into? Where’ve you been all this time? Is Ollivander involved, is that why you need to talk to him?”

“Bill—you know I respect you, I respect all the Order members, but…I just can’t discuss it with you. It’s safer for all of us if this stays between as few people as possible. That’s what Dumbledore wanted.”

“But you can discuss it with Draco Malfoy? He’s involved in this ‘mission’ too? After what he did to Dumbledore? I’m sorry, but I find it difficult to believe he’d be happy to see you lot running around with his murderer—”

“He didn’t murder Dumbledore,” Harry protested. “It was self-defence. Or, kind of. He wasn’t in his right mind, and regardless: it’s not Dumbledore’s decision now. Draco’s involved, full stop. And we’re a hell of a lot better off for it.”

“He wasn’t in his right mind. Yeah, I remember there being some mention of that—went on a rampage, did he? Is it even safe he’s here? Charlie’s the dragon expert, but Harry, if there’s any risk of him—”

“There’s no risk. None. He’s not going to transform or go mad or—or anything like that. Don’t think that the things he’s done don’t weigh on him. They do. But he’s committed to this now, committed to our cause.”

“I heard other members saying the same thing about Snape,” Bill reminded darkly. “And look how that turned out.” He let any further arguments lie, though, when Fleur poked her head back into the kitchen to let Harry know that Ollivander was awake and willing to speak with him now.

They found Ollivander in the library where Bill had said he would be. He was lying on a narrow folding bed near a bookshelf that seemed to be dedicated to Ancient Egyptian magic, and here in the light of day, he looked in even worse shape than he had in the Malfoy cellars. His parchment-thin, yellowed skin was stretched tight over the sharp angles of his skull, and he was mottled with bruises and lash-marks that betrayed the torture he’d endured at Voldemort’s hand over the course of the past year. He seemed to be dozing when the four of them filed in, but their entrance roused him, and he turned to stare at them with eyes ringed by broken, purpling skin in vast, sunken sockets. He beckoned them closer with long, skeletal fingers, and Harry was reminded again of the shade that had been Grindelwald imprisoned atop Nurmengard.

“You’re looking much better, Mr. Ollivander,” Harry lied with a thin smile. “Freedom looks good on you. I hope we haven’t disturbed you.”

Ollivander brightened, clarity returning to his gaze. “I dare say freedom feels good on me, too—and of course you haven’t disturbed me, dear boy!” His voice was still weak and raspy, but there was a strength under it all that had not been dimmed. “I cannot say…how grateful I am—I was certain that cell would be my grave, that my last act would have been…” He took a shuddering breath, wincing.

Harry drew up close to his bedside, placing one hand on Ollivander’s and placing light pressure on it—anything more felt like it might break him. “Please, don’t strain yourself. And gratitude’s quite unnecessary—we were only too happy to do it.”

Ollivander nodded weakly, eye shifting to Ron and Hermione. “And bless you as well, Mr. Weasley. Miss Granger.” It was then he must have caught sight of Draco, for he quaked, “Oh no…no, please…”

Harry glanced back over his shoulder at Draco, who was hanging back away from the others and looking like he’d rather be downstairs having a pleasant chat with Bill. Harry swallowed and patted Ollivander on the shoulder, trying to draw his attention. “Mr. Ollivander? It’s all right, really. That’s Draco—remember from the cellar? He was with us earlier when we rescued you. It was only with his help we were able to pull it off at all. He’s helping us defeat You-Know-Who, Sir. You needn’t be afraid.” He searched Ollivander’s face, but his eyes were still wide and white, fixed unflinchingly on Draco. “You understand, sir? Whatever injury you might have suffered at the Manor, Draco wasn’t involved. He won’t hurt you.”

Ollivander’s gaze lost its focus, and he began muttering rapidly under his breath. He gasped sharply, a finger coming to his lips, and then his eyes brightened: “Yes…Draco Malfoy… Hawthorn and unicorn hair. Ten inches precisely. Reasonably springy.”

Draco’s hand went to the wand in his pocket, and he nodded subtly. Ollivander relaxed against the pillows Fleur had stuffed under him, releasing a sigh of relief.

“…Mr. Ollivander, if you’re feeling up to it, we had…well, we had a few questions for you,” Harry said. His scar gave a pinging throb—nothing debilitating, only a warning klaxxon heralding the torture sure to come. Voldemort was on the move, and that meant they were running out of time—or probably already had run out of time. Voldemort would be upon his goal any moment, and Harry felt a flutter of panic lodge itself in his chest.

But…but he’d made his decision already. He’d promised Draco he wouldn’t seek out the Elder Wand, and he meant to keep that promise. Still, he had to be sure. They needed to know what they were going to be up against, and Ollivander was the only living person Harry could think of—the only one Voldemort hadn’t yet killed, though he surely would have been disposed of once Voldemort had what he needed—who could spell it out for them.

Ollivander smiled softly. “Anything, my boy. Absolutely anything I can answer, I shall.”

“You-Know-Who…he kidnapped you for a reason. And I know you’re going to find it terribly difficult to discuss that reason…but we need to. We need you to explain why he took you—what information he needed from you.”

Ollivander’s yellowing skin went ashen, and his eyes seemed to sink further into his face. His hands trembled with palsy as he brought them up to cover his mouth in horror. He shook his head, grimacing.

Harry swallowed; he didn’t want to harangue the poor man, but this simply could not wait. “…He’s having trouble with wands, isn’t he?”

“Trouble is…putting it mildly.”

“And he’s searching for a new one?”

“A new one? No, no…” Ollivander worried at the edge of the quilt draped over his torso. “A very old one.”

Harry nodded. “The Elder Wand. That’s what he’s after, isn’t it?”

Ollivander’s gaze snapped immediately to meet Harry’s. “But—how could you know…?” He looked to the others, searching for an explanation.

“You mean it—it’s real?!” Hermione sputtered in disbelief. “No!”

“He’s looking for it because he thinks that’s the only way to overcome the connection between us. His own wand can’t stand against mine in a fair fight as it is, Priori Incantatem and all, and for whatever reason, borrowed wands won’t obey properly either. I saw one turned to kindling when we duelled last summer. So he wanted you to help him claim the wand that cannot be beaten.”

Ollivander looked terrified, sputtering miserably, “Please, believe me when I say I had no choice but to tell him what knowledge I had gathered over the years! He took it from me, seized it from me! Torture, Legilimency—I was so weak…”

“Please, please, Mr. Ollivander—we understand, really we do.” Harry spoke in soothing tones, holding his hands up to show he meant no harm. “No one blames you, not one bit. But we need to know what you told him. You must have explained the twin cores, yeah? And that’s why he borrowed someone else’s wand?”

Ollivander began muttering to himself again. “Lucius Malfoy… Elm and dragon heartstring. Twelve and a quarter inches. Quite rigid.” He sighed. “A pitiable loss.”

Draco made an offended sound from behind Harry. “…That wand had been in my family for centuries; and you just blew it up?” Harry could only shrug, and Draco sneered, “Salazar’s balls, you really are a Gryffindor sometimes…”

Harry turned back to Ollivander. “Borrowing a wand wasn’t enough, though. Do you know why? Why mine responded to his like that, even though it wasn’t his own wand? It can’t have been the twin cores in that case, right?”

Ollivander sighed, a sorrowful expression on his gaunt features. “It was…beyond me. I confess I had never heard of such a phenomenon—twin cores are rare, but even so their interactions have been documented. What your wand did to his, why it reacted so violently to a wand it ought rightly to have no connection to at all, I fear I cannot say…”

Harry’s shoulders slumped. The curious event from the previous summer had dogged him for months, and he’d hoped that Ollivander himself might finally have some real answers. He’d claimed, in Harry’s vision, to not know what had transpired, but there’d always been the chance he’d been lying to protect some great secret, or perhaps he’d figured it out between then and now.

Harry shoved aside his disappointment, driving ahead. “Right, it doesn’t matter. He knows he can’t use his original wand against me, and none of the ones he’s borrowed have worked properly—”

“Only in a duel with you, Mr. Potter. I pray you not imagine him impotent right now. He can do a great deal of damage with any wand he picks up—he may simply find doing away with you by spellwork…tricky, at the moment. That is not to say he is not dangerous, nor that you are in any manner of speaking safe.”

Harry nodded. “No, no, I know that, of course. But…You-Know-Who wasn’t satisfied, was he? He wanted to know about the Elder Wand. And now he’s off looking for it.”

Ollivander’s brows beetled, and he spoke in a hushed whisper. “…How do you know all of this, Mr. Potter?” He searched Harry’s face for some explanation, but Harry gave none, keeping his features even as he waited for Ollivander to confirm his suspicions. “…Yes, he asked what I knew. He wanted to hear everything—everything!—about the wand with no loyalty, the wand with no master. The wand that only responds to power.” He grimaced, nodding. “The Elder Wand.”

Hermione groaned from behind them, slumping down into an armchair with faded upholstery in the corner. “This is rubbish…absolute rubbish…” Ron patted her shoulder with a grim smile. Perhaps she’d been able to accept the reality of Harry’s Invisibility Cloak, but accepting that the Elder Wand existed as well meant necessarily considering that the Resurrection Stone existed too, something her academic mind was having trouble processing. Harry didn’t honestly see the issue; this was magic. Most anything was possible, so why not an invincible wand, or a stone that brought people back to life?

Ollivander ignored Hermione, continuing on in hushed, frightened tones. “The Dark Lord has always been fond of the wand I made for him—yew and phoenix feather, thirteen and a half inches. I recall to this day the way his eyes lit up with pride when I informed him that his wand was the only one I had ever crafted with a phoenix feather core. It was true at the time, after all—I had not yet crafted your wand, Mr. Potter. The idea that he had a particularly special wand appealed to him deeply, though I maintain that all of the wands I have ever made are special in their own right. However, once he discovered the existence of the twin cores—and how their magic affected his spellcasting—he grew desperate to distance himself from the wand that had chosen him those many years ago.” He locked eyes with Harry, gaze intent and sharp. “He is convinced that only by claiming the power of the Elder Wand can he truly become all-powerful. With its magic suffusing his yew wand, he need not fear Priori Incantatem, and whatever strange circumstances have allowed you to match any borrowed wand he’s wielded thus far will surely falter in the face of the Wand of Destiny.”

Harry supposed that shouldn’t have surprised him, but he felt his heart skip a beat. “…So he’ll be unbeatable, is what you’re saying. Once he claims the Elder Wand…it’s game over.”

Ollivander sighed. “…No wizard is unbeatable. No wand cannot be matched. The Elder Wand in particular is…persnickety, faithless, responding only to power, as evidenced by its colourful history, but…” He shook his head with a grimace. “I cannot say the idea of the Dark Lord wielding such a weapon in battle isn’t the stuff of nightmares. I sorely regret that my tortured ramblings may have led him to its possession…”

“But, Mr. Ollivander,” Hermione piped up, voice stronger, as if buoyed by hope. “How can a wand be invincible? They’re merely tools to channel our own innate magic!”

“Indeed—so one may rightly say that it is not the Elder Wand that is unbeatable, but he who claims it.”

“I don’t understand,” said Harry.

“The wand itself—its physical form—has been lost to the ages. We cannot know the shape it may take now—and that is because the shape never mattered. The source of the wand’s power cannot be destroyed, only passed along. That is what he who commands the power of the Elder Wand truly inherits: a force, an essence that subjugates all who would stand against it. Overwhelming in its intensity, in the hands of one unprepared for such responsibility…it could very well destroy its erstwhile claimant.”

“It would—turn on its owner?” Harry gaped.

“Not in so many words—but one may easily trace the wand’s course through history as it passed from one hand to another, through treachery at times, thievery at others, and at times…in the course of basic combat. How is it, one may ask, that an unbeatable wand can be beaten? We must assume that the wand itself has refused to be bent by an unworthy master.”

“That’s ridiculous!” Hermione snapped, though she instantly coloured and stammered, “I—I’m sorry, I didn’t mean… It’s only, wands aren’t sentient. The way they’re drawn to us, it’s only the magical core responding to the witch or wizard in closest proximity for it to bond with.”

“Yes, that is so, Miss Granger—but we see wands refusing to be claimed all the time. A wand whose allegiance has not been properly won in a duel will often refuse to be bent to its new master’s will. Much the same can be said for the Elder Wand: it can sense when a person of worth is trying to claim it.”

“And You-Know-Who… He’s a person of worth?” Harry asked.

“It all depends on what you deem worthy. And what object’s—or person’s—worth is being appraised. The Elder Wand has its own criteria for a suitable master—and while I pride myself on wandlore, I cannot claim to understand the intricacies of this particular magical object.” Ollivander shook his head. “It is perhaps that the Elder Wand hides itself away until it senses the advent of a champion. There are gaps—long ones—throughout history where it has vanished from the written or spoken record. But it always resurfaces. Where it once passed easily from hand to hand as a wand of elder, it became particularly tricky to track once the wood broke down and its power came to be magically transferred.”

Was the wand asleep, even now, waiting for Voldemort to come and claim it? He was just the type of master a wand crafted by Death would have envisioned: powerful, driven, ruthless. Had the Elder Wand ever had such a master before? Would the joining of such a wand and such a wizard be enough…to outstrip even the destruction of the Horcruxes?

Harry closed his eyes, fighting down a wave of nausea lapping at his consciousness. A flash speared through his mindscape—and he imagined he could see the shop owners shuttering their store windows and hear the soft susurrus of wind rustling the dead leaves along High Street in Hogsmeade. A vision—or paranoia only this time?

“I truly am sorry, my boy. If I had been stronger, if I’d kept my mettle…”

Harry patted Ollivander on the arm with a forced smile. “Nonsense. You’re only human, and you’ve endured the unthinkable. We’ll let you get some rest now. Thanks very much for speaking with us.”

Ollivander nodded meekly, touching his lip in worry as he mumbled under his breath to himself.

Harry ushered the others from the room—then paused, a thought occurring. “Mr. Ollivander, could I ask one more thing?” Ollivander raised his brows in invitation for Harry should continue. “…Do you know anything about the ‘Deathly Hallows’?”

Ollivander looked perplexed—though relieved to be distracted. “The—what?”

“The Deathly Hallows. Perhaps in relation to the Elder Wand…?”

Ollivander only shook his head. “I—I’m afraid not, I’m sorry. I was never as invested in the lore of the Deathstick as some of my colleagues…”

Harry studied Ollivander’s sunken features, searching for any indications of artifice. He had never been terribly good at picking out lies, though, and he spared a glance back at Draco, who shook his head subtly. Harry smiled at Ollivander. “That’s all right. Thank you again, sir.”

The four of them padded quietly down the staircase, leaving Ollivander to his fitful mumblings in the library. Harry directed them to follow him out into the simple garden Fleur had fashioned, just at the front of the house. It overlooked the beach, which hissed and threw spray towards them, but was kept warm under the protection of a charm.

His headache from before had crescendoed by now into a violent throb as another vision came knocking at the back of his mind—but he refused to submit. Not yet. He had a fairly good idea of what he was going to see, anyway, so what was the point in meeting it any sooner than necessary?

He took a breath, turning to face his friends. “We know that Gregorovitch once had the Elder Wand, though it was decades back. I saw You-Know-Who trying to find him, though by the time he’d managed to do so, Gregorovitch didn’t have the Wand anymore.”

“Cause it was stolen by Grindelwald,” Ron said. “He was the thief you saw in your vision, you said.”

Harry nodded. “How Grindelwald found out Gregorovitch had it, we can’t be sure—”

“But if Gregorovitch was a wandmaker—he probably would’ve been bragging about owning the Wand of Destiny, hoping it might bring more business despite knowing its long and bloody history. So we can probably assume Grindelwald didn’t have to think overlong on it,” Draco finished with a grim smile.

A stab of pain lanced through Harry’s skull, and he saw a pair of bronze statues of flying boars perched atop stone gateposts. The iron gates that stood between the posts were shut tight, rattling ominously in the whipping wind.

“So Grindelwald probably used that same wand—the Elder Wand—to become as powerful as he did.”

“Then—Grindelwald has it now?” Ron asked. “Wait—Nurmengard! Greyback said You-Know-Who’s been abroad! You think—?”

Harry shook his head, sharing a look with Draco. He hadn’t told the others about his vision of Grindelwald, and there was no time to get into it now. “He went to see Grindelwald—but he was too late. Grindelwald said someone else had already taken it from him. Long ago.”

Hermione gasped. “Dumbledore! He duelled Grindelwald at the height of his power—he was the only one who had the strength to! And since he beat him, then that means…”

Ron goggled. “Dumbledore had the Elder Wand? He won it in a duel? I thought this thing was supposed to be unbeatable!”

“Weren’t you listening to Mr. Ollivander?” Hermione huffed. “If he’s right, and the Elder Wand really does have some…some ability to choose to whom to give its allegiance…then it might have recognised that Dumbledore was the better wizard.”

Harry nodded. “Or maybe Grindelwald wasn’t trying his hardest? Maybe there were…y’know, lingering feelings or something.” He felt his cheeks heat. “Rita’s book made it seem pretty one-sided, but it’s Rita. You’ve gotta take everything she writes with a tonne of salt.”

“Dumbledore with the Elder Wand…” Ron marvelled. “All these years. Blimey, he could’ve vaporised any of us!” Hermione punched him fondly in the arm. “Wait—wait he had the Elder Wand. So where is it now?”

“At Hogwarts, obviously,” Draco said. “Witches and wizards are buried with their wands by tradition, unless it’s an heirloom of some sort. Provided Dumbledore didn’t will his wand to anyone or bequeath it to a society…” Draco’s lips stretched into a thin line as he narrowed his gaze at Harry, who was fighting with all that he had to remain with them in the cliff-top garden, for just another minute, another second.

“But then—let’s go!” said Ron, urgently. “We have to get there before he does! We can Apparate to Hogsmeade, and then maybe use one of the passages to get onto the school grounds—”

But Harry was already shaking his head. “…It’s too late for that.” He rubbed his hand over his scar, pressing on it as if that might help keep the vision at bay. Draco was still staring at him with that knowing, judgemental look, and Hermione was biting her lip, worry stark in her big brown eyes. “He’s not stupid—he put two and two together a hell of a lot faster than we did.” He closed his eyes, but this only made the pain sharper, and he could see shadows flitting behind his eyelids. “He’s there now.”

“You knew?” Ron’s voice was thick with furious accusation, and though Harry could not see it, he imagined Hermione had a hand wrapped tight around Ron’s wrist to keep him from lashing out at Harry. “We’ve been wasting time here, stuffing our faces and cooling our heels when we could have gone—we could still go, he might not have…” He trailed off miserably, and Harry finally broke, releasing a ragged breath as he sank to his knees in the grass.

“Harry!” Hermione shrieked. Someone rushed to his side—Hermione he had assumed, but the scent of woodsmoke overwhelmed the salty sea spray, and he unconsciously leaned into Draco.

He smiled, though it was bitter and painful. “Hermione was right. Dumbledore didn’t want me to have it. He could have left it to me, like he left us the sword and the Snitch and the book. The Ministry would never have known. So it must mean he didn’t want me to have it. He wanted me to get the Horcruxes. Horcruxes, not Hallows.”

“But it’s the unbeatable wand, Harry!” moaned Ron. “You—say something! Talk sense into him, Malfoy!”

He didn’t need to open his eyes to see the expression on Draco’s face. Stony and unmoved, cold as the cliffs they stood atop. A perfect poker face. “…What’s done is done. Pull yourself together and stop whinging. If it’s Horcruxes we’re meant to get, then it’s Horcruxes we’ll go after. You have an unaccountable degree of trust in Dumbledore, so act like it and do what he’s told you to like good little boys and girls.”

“You fucking—”

Ron,” Hermione snapped. “…Draco’s right. Harry’s right. Horcruxes, not Hallows.”

“Horcruxes, not…not Hallows…” Harry repeated drunkenly, vertigo sending him swaying.

He closed his eyes—and opened them to darkness. The breeze that ruffled his robes carried no salt scent, only the sharp crisp of late winter. The fading glory of the sun was barely visible over the towering treetops, and he found himself meandering up a gravel-strewn path. He was not alone.

“Will you be joining us in the castle, my Lord?” Snape asked, cadence slow and languid. “The Carrows are eager to share tales of their efforts thus far, and several of the older Slytherins have expressed a keen interest in the cause. I’m certain they would be honoured to make their case before you in person.”

“Momentarily,” he said, his voice as cold and dry as the biting wind rustling the leafless treetops. “Leave me for now—prepare the way. I have a small matter to attend to first.”

Snape dipped a bow, clean and precise with no backtalk. A number of his Death Eaters could stand to take a leaf from Snape’s book. Harry moved with a confident, lazy ease, watching Snape’s figure disappear around a bend before drawing out his wand and tapping his crown. He shivered as he felt the Disillusionment Charm take hold, and when he glanced down at himself, he could see nothing—not even his own hand in front of his face. How much stronger would such a Charm be once he had claimed the Elder Wand? Could he pass silent as Death itself? Through solid walls where no Apparition could have possibly taken him?

In due course, he would find out—but for now, this much would do. While he generally enjoyed making a scene, striking fear and awe into those around him, for this one particular task, he wished to have no audience.

He walked on, skirting the edge of the lake when he came upon it, silvered in the twilight, and cast his eye back to the outline of the grand castle, beloved by so many—and soon to be the site of his new regime—his kingdom. His birthright. Who among the Founders’ descendants would have had the mettle to rise up and claim it? None but he.

And then there it was: the white marble tomb, lying in quite repose on the bank of the lake. It stood out stark against the gloaming, impossible to miss—impossible to ignore. Even in death, Dumbledore still demanded his attention. Well, he would have it one last time—and then they would be quits.

“You sent a boy to do a man’s job, Tom,” he imagined he heard the old fool lecturing. “Do you even have the temerity to finish me now?”

Oh he did, in spades.

He raised his yew wand, anticipation thrilling through him in a heady rush. Close, he was so close. Once he had seized Dumbledore’s wand, claiming it for his own, the power of the Elder Wand would be at his fingertips. He would have liked to have struck down Dumbledore himself, letting the power flow through him and into the yew wand that had first chosen him—but it was not to be. He had outgrown it, it was a child’s wand. A wand that could be enfeebled by another child.

Not so, this one.

There came a sharp CRACK that echoed across the lonely landscape, as the tomb split squarely down its centre and fell open, at last divulging its secrets.

The body that lay within was draped in funerary shrouds, and with a whisper, he bid them open like the petals of a blossom, unfurling to reveal a face that was perfectly preserved, as lifelike in death as he ever had seemed alive. No burns, no slashes—no such indignity for the great Albus Dumbledore. They had even left his spectacles on that crooked nose of his. He might have been napping, dreaming of woolly socks or sherbet lemons or some such rot.

And then he saw it: clasped in those spindly, liver-spotted hands folded upon the chest, just as he had been told was tradition.

His lips curled into a teeth-baring grin. Had the old fool imagined that none would track down the Wand to his possession? Had he been so arrogant? Had he yet again underestimated the Dark Lord? Or had he merely thought that his tomb would surely be inviolable, sacrosanct and blasphemous to plunder?

He reached in, snatching the Wand from Dumbledore’s clutches—and in that moment of connection, he could feel its power coursing through his veins, like a bolt of lightning straight to his magical core. His old yew wand vibrated in his grasp, and a jet of white-hot sparks shot from the tip, casting everything in dark shadow. When the glow faded, he felt the magic pulsing within him in time with his own heartbeat, steady and strong and hungry. Oh, they would do great works together, he and his Elder Wand, at last in the hand of a worthy master.


Men Who Love Dragons Too Much Copyright © 2018 by fencer_x. All Rights Reserved.

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