Harry was waiting by Dumbledore's office under his invisibility cloak when Hermione arrived, wearing her Wizengamot robes and crest. He nudged her silently when she arrived, and Hermione nodded at him, before stepping onto the stairs.

Dumbledore greeted her cheerfully upon her arrival in his office.

"It's bound to be quite a day, isn't it?" he said, eyes twinkling behind half-moon glasses. "It feels very much like opening a book you already know the ending to, but everything in the middle has yet to be written."

It was quite an apt comparison, actually, Hermione thought. Peter would be declared guilty undoubtedly, but what all would he say on the stand?

"I've arranged for us to arrive in the Department of Magical Transportation," Dumbledore said, tossing in Floo powder. "Sirius decided to hold a press conference in the Atrium right before the trial, and it's bound to be impossibly crowded right now."

Dumbledore's eyes lingered on the area next to Hermione as he said this, and Hermione wondered if Dumbledore's glasses were enchanted somehow, or if he had heard Harry move. He said nothing, though, just gesturing for Hermione to go first. She stepped into the Floo and took a long moment adjusting herself as Harry hurriedly crammed in beside her, before she yelled out, "Department of Magical Transportation!"

Whirling through the Floo was bad enough normally, but doing so with someone pressed up tight against you and clinging to you so you didn't get lost was strangling and awful. As soon as they arrived, Hermione and Harry both fell out of the fireplace, coughing on soot. Harry scrambled to cover himself with his cloak, and Hermione was still gathering herself back up as Dumbledore arrived neatly, nary an ash on his robe.

"If you are ready, Miss Granger," he said, leading the way through the cubicles, "the elevator is over here."

Enchanted paper airplanes of memos buzzed around the room, going from person to person, and the low-level of work chatter in the office seemed remarkably normal for what the wizards were working on. Hermione had only been in the Department of Magical Transportation once, years ago, to get her house hooked up to the Floo network with her mother. As she looked around now, there were other areas of the floor she'd never been to before, labeled with large signs: Portkey Office, Apparition Test Centre, Broom Regulatory Control. Ministry employees glanced up as they passed, but no one seemed bothered by seeing Dumbledore.

The elevator was empty, somehow, and Dumbledore's eyes sparkled.

"Perhaps the press is blocking the Atrium so no one can get through right now," he speculated. He shrugged. "Regardless, my elbows are happy to have the extra space."

Navigating down the narrow staircase next to the elevator with Harry next to her was a bit of a challenge, but at the bottom the corridor widened out again, and Harry was able to give her space enough to walk as they entered the courtroom, which was remarkably empty so far.

"I shall see you after the trial, Miss Granger," Dumbledore said, nodding to her as he went to his desk.

"Thank you, sir." Hermione hurried to her own seat.

Hermione's seat was in the back row. Harry would be able to crouch behind her for the trial, she decided, though he'd have to hide under her desk until then so no one would crash into him in the aisle. She hissed this to him quietly, and there was a soft scraping as he obediently shifted her chair and hid. That meant Hermione had to sit on top of her desk, as there was no leg room with Harry under there now. She settled herself on her desk in such a way so as to look very confident and self-assured, and not at all like a teenager wondering how much it would hurt if she slipped off the front and fell all the way down to the next tier. It was only maybe six or seven feet, she estimated. Probably not fatal or dangerous, even if she hit her head….

She shifted back on her desk a little and subtly cast a sticking charm on her robes and the desk.

Royce Fiddlewood and Era Hornbeam were both cheerful for once, arriving together.

"Royce finally filled me in on your little bill," Era said, bapping Hermione on the head as she passed with a grin. "Why didn't you tell me?"

Hermione blinked. "Err… why would I?"

"Because I'm the one who has to clean up and handle the werewolf accidents and incidents," Era said, giving Hermione a pointed look. "Or at least, my department usually ends up helping."

"I didn't realize," Hermione apologized. "I didn't mean to leave you out—"

"I'm teasing," Era told her, smirking. "But I've got extra funding now – none of the extra money allotted for Sirius Black-related Mass Obliviation was necessary in the slightest. I'm happy to help foot the bill for the initial fundraiser."

Hermione froze.

"…I'd forgotten about the fundraiser," she said, paling rapidly. "Who's going to organize that?"

"I mean, I thought it was you," Royce said. He shrugged. "No matter. We'll get one of the pureblooded society wives to organize it – if you pitch the bill right and emphasize how it will benefit them, they'll fight over the honor to be one of the backers."

"I just hope they fight over the right to donate the most money," Hermione said, sighing. She held her face in her hands, looking out over the Wizengamot, where members of the Sacred 28 were starting to arrive. "Politics is hard."

Era snorted. "Life is hard. Politics is just complicated and tiring, really. But it could be worse. You could be trying to run Bones' department."

Hermione looked down to see Amelia Bones, talking animatedly with Alexandra Jones and several Aurors. She was gesturing at the Defense box, then at the witness box, and an Auror left for a moment, arriving with new chains that Amelia rejected, and he was sent away again.

"I wonder what the fuss is," Royce said.

"Bones is extremely good at her job, but Merlin, I don't envy her it," Era sighed, settling back in her chair. "So many moving parts, and all of them important. I'm quite happy with my own little job."

After everyone was assembled, there was an unexpected delay. The right chains had to be brought in for the prisoner, Amelia Bones explained, apologizing to Wizengamot. They had to make sure he wouldn't transform and escape on the stand.

That brought a murmur to the room, glances already being exchanged. Peter Pettigrew had lived as a rat Animagus for over a decade, they remembered. Already, the intrigue grew. Hermione took her quill and parchment out, fully intent on taking notes to use for Lockhart's assignment later, though she began doodling a rat now.

Ten minutes later, an aid hurried into the room and whispered something to Madam Bones, who nodded. She turned to Alexandra and nodded, before she went up to take her own seat on the Wizengamot, and the aid quickly left the room.

"We are assembled for the trial of Peter Pettigrew," Dumbledore announced formally. "Who here will preside for this trial?"

"Alexandra Jones, as Wand of the Realm," Alexandra said, bowing slightly to the assembled Wizengamot.

"Rhamnaceae Rookwood, for the accused's defense."

Hermione sat straight up and stared.

Rhamnaceae Rookwood.

It was a name Hermione hadn't heard in ages.

Rhamnaceae Rookwood had been declared innocent but had been expelled, blamed for the incidents with the basilisk, and Hermione had mentally checked her off as 'dealt with'. She'd never imagined she'd go into law or take up defending Death Eaters as a career path. Though, with never graduating… what career options did she have?

Was she even seventeen yet? Hermione wasn't sure.

"Miss Rookwood, you are the public defender for Pettigrew?" Dumbledore asked, looking at the paperwork on his desk, over half-moon glasses.

"I am," Rhamnaceae said. She looked determined, Hermione thought, but very pale.

"I see," Dumbledore said. "Miss Rookwood, if you would produce the defendant."

Rhamnaceae nodded and looked toward the wall at the side of the room. She snapped, and a moment later, Peter Pettigrew was dragged in.

Peter looked bad, Hermione thought, as the crowd broke out in murmurs. His skin was dirty and mottled, his eyes pinched and tired, and he was resisting the Aurors, who were physically dragging him to the stand. Both his hands feet were shackled (that explained the dragging, Hermione realized), and when he sat down in the Defense box, more chains glowed, rising and securing him down.

"We will proceed with opening arguments," Dumbledore said. "Wand of the Realm, you many proceed."

Alexandra Jones stood. "Thank you, Chief Warlock."

The Wand's opening statement was very straightforward: the Realm would prove that Peter Pettigrew had been a Death Eater, that he had betrayed the Potters to Lord Voldemort, and that he had murdered twelve muggles in an escape when he had almost been caught for his crimes. It was very brief and succinct, which Hermione appreciated – they'd all just gone through Sirius' trial, and they knew the story so far.

Rhamnaceae's opening statement was a little different.

"If someone puts their wand to your head, and demands you cast a curse that kills, are you the guilty one?" she asked. She gestured as she spoke. "If you are made to act under duress, are you responsible for the effects of your actions? Or is it the fault of the person who forced your hand?" She gestured to Peter Pettigrew. "We will prove that Peter Pettigrew acted under duress, and that he was, in fact, forced to do terrible things. As the story unfolds, you will realize that though his actions may have been horrible, none of the atrocities you will hear about are truly his fault."

It was an interesting strategy, Hermione thought as Rhamnaceae went to sit down, but one not likely to work. She couldn't imagine 'Lord Voldemort made me' was an acceptable reason for murder – at least, not without being under the Imperius Curse.

The first witness was Sirius Black. He came down from the Wizengamot, looking like he was practically drowning in the black velvet robes, and took a seat on the witness stand. Under the questioning of the Wand, he retold his story: the swap for the Fidelius Charm, the betrayal of the Potters, and cornering him on the street, where Peter had blown the muggles apart. It was nothing new, but when it was the Defense's turn, Rhamnaceae stood to ask her questions.

"Sirius Black, you stated that Peter's betrayal took you entirely by surprise," she said. "You did not suspect he was a spy for the Dark Lord?"

"No," Sirius said bitterly.

"Why not?"

Sirius stared at her blankly.

"Why did I not think he was a spy?" he repeated. "Because—well, he didn't act any differently, I guess, and I never thought he'd betray us."

"Why do you think he did betray you?"

"Objection!" Alexandra's hands slammed onto her desk. "Calls for speculation."

"Sustained," Dumbledore said.

Rhamnaceae looked annoyed.

"Did anyone else ever think Peter was a spy?" she asked.

"Not that I'm aware."

"Would most people think it would be out of character for—"

"Objection," Alexandra said again. "Sirius Black has no way of knowing what 'most people' would think."

"Sustained," Dumbledore said. He looked at Rhamnaceae, his tone warning. "Stick to the facts please, Miss Rookwood.

Rhamnaceae looked frustrated. Hermione could kind of see the story she was trying to craft – that Peter had been forced to betray them and never would have otherwise – but it was difficult to do so, it seemed. After a pause, Rhamnaceae changed tactics, asking Sirius about when he cornered Peter Pettigrew on the street. She lingered on the fact that Sirius had fully gone there expecting to murder Peter, which started to annoy Sirius himself.

"My best friend in the world was dead, because of him," Sirius snapped. "So no, I wasn't thinking clearly when I went after him."

"But you are confident you would have killed him?"

"No," Sirius said. "Clearly not, as I didn't kill him. I meant to, but who knows if I would have choked in the last minute?"

Rhamnaceae eventually stopped, and Sirius shot her and Peter a venomous glare as he left the stand, going up to his seat in the Wizengamot and fuming.

Alexandra stood.

"The Wand calls Peter Pettigrew to the stand."

Everybody sat up straight. This is what they had come to watch.

Aurors helped Peter go from the Defense box to the Witness Box inside the Truth Circle, dragging him in chains and plopping him onto the chair. Shackles inside of the Witness Box glowed and rose up, shackling him to the box itself, and Peter whimpered quietly, though it echoed in the large chamber.

"Please state your name for the record."

"Peter Pettigrew," Peter said.

"Peter," Alexandra said, leaning a hip against her desk, "were you Secret-Keeper for the Potters?"

Peter gnawed on his lip, his eyes darting around. He didn't answer, and the tension grew.

"You will be held in contempt and declared guilty if you do not answer," Dumbledore said warningly, his voice dark, and Peter sighed.

"Yeah," he said, resigned. "Yeah, I was Secret-Keeper."

"Did you tell Lord Voldemort where to find the Potters?"

Peter flinched at the name, and he was shaking slightly when he answered.

"Yes," he said weakly. "I told him."

"Did you kill twelve muggles in a confrontation with Sirius Black?"

"That was an accident!" Peter protested. "I didn't mean to!"

"But you used a powerful blasting curse right at a group of muggles?" Alexandra queried. "Knowing what that curse would do?"

Peter sighed.

"I mean, yes," he said. "It wasn't specifically to kill them, though…"

Alexandra looked up at the Wizengamot, holding her arms wide open.

"No further questions," she said pointedly, and took her seat.

Rhamnaceae stood, moving to the front of her desk. She looked at Peter for a long moment, and Hermione wondered what was going through her head.

"Peter Pettigrew," she began, "did you join the Dark Lord?"

"Er, yes," Peter said. His eyes darted around. "I did."

"Did you join under duress?" she asked.

Peter faltered. "I—um—"

"Did someone coerce you," Rhamnaceae clarified. "Did someone force you?"

"Oh. Um. No," said Peter. "You—it doesn't really work like that."

She raised an eyebrow. "Then… how does it work?"

Peter winced.

"H-h-he—You-Know-Who only took willing followers," he said. "You—you couldn't become a full Death Eater by force. The ritual—the ceremony—part of initiation required you to be willing. It would fail if you weren't."

Rhamnaceae frowned.

"If you weren't forced, why did you join the Death Eaters?" she asked. "Why sign up for the enemy of your friends?"

Peter sighed deeply.

"I… I wanted to," he admitted, finally. "You-Know-Who was powerful. And people who stood up against him were getting killed. Joining him, I thought I would be safe. And I—I wanted that."

"You joined the Dark Lord," Rhamnaceae emphasized, "for safety?"

"People were dying!" Peter protested. "He was taking over everywhere! And it—it seemed inevitable that he would win, so I thought 'if I get in early, I'll be better off than those captured at the end'. I thought it'd offer some stability and safety, and he—he said he would teach us new magics we'd never seen before—"

Rhamnaceae looked lost, like she didn't know what to do.

"Did you betray the Potters to the Dark Lord?" she asked.

Peter hung his head. "Yes."


Peter groaned.

"I had to," he moaned. "If he found out that I had known where they were, and that I hadn't told him, he'd have killed me. I had to tell him."

"But they were your friends."

"Well, yeah." Peter shifted uncomfortably. "If Sirius had stayed Secret-Keeper, it would have been fine. He was going to go into hiding, and I'd have had no idea where he would go, and then I wouldn't have had anything to tell. But once he said we should switch, and he didn't listen to me when I said we shouldn't—"

"You tried to not be chosen as Secret-Keeper?" Rhamnaceae said, leaping on Peter's statement.

"Yes. I-I told them they shouldn't pick me, I wasn't strong enough to keep them safe or resist torture, that sort of thing," Peter said, wincing. "Sirius and James insisted I was braver and stronger than I knew. That they trusted me with their lives, and that I could do this. Sirius was certain the last-second switch was brilliant and would help protect the Potters even more." He hung his head. "I could only protest so much before it would look suspicious. So I—I let them do it. And I became Secret-Keeper."

Hermione was horrified. The Defense looked appalled too.

"Your friends told you that they trusted you with their lives," Rhamnaceae said, "and you immediately betrayed them, knowing it would mean they would lose their lives?"

"I only betrayed James," Peter protested. "Sirius wasn't under the Fidelius. And it wasn't immediately – it took a day or so…"

Rhamnaceae looked frustrated. It was obvious Peter's responses were not going to way she had hoped.

"Did you kill the muggles on the street?" she asked, redirecting her questions.

"Not on purpose," Peter stressed.

"Then why did you?"

"I was trying to escape," Peter said. He whimpered. "Sirius Black—he was trying to kill me! So I blasted the street open—"

"Even though there were people there?"

"I mean, they're only muggles—" Peter said, and there was a gasp from several people in the Wizengamot. Peter's eyes grew large and he faltered, trailing off. Rhamnaceae groaned.

"Why did you live the last twelve years as a rat?" she asked.

Peter leapt on this distraction.

"I wasn't safe," he said quickly. "Reappearing wasn't safe. After Sirius was in Azkaban for my murder, well—no one would be looking for me, then."

"Who would have been looking for you?" Rhamnaceae asked.

Peter winced.

"Other followers… Death Eaters…" he said. "I-I told You-Know-Who where the Potters were, and then he vanished. The Potters' house was blown up, no sign of where You-Know-Who went. And as a rat, I'd heard about the Lestranges torturing the Longbottoms, trying to find out where he'd gone…" He sighed. "It—it was comfortable living as a rat. Safe. Stable. I didn't have to worry about Death Eaters coming to murder me for the fall of the Dark Lord, and I didn't have to worry about anyone realizing Sirius was innocent."

"So you lived as a rat, for twelve years," Rhamnaceae said flatly, "because it was comfortable?"

"I mean, yeah?" Peter ventured. "When you're a rat, life is much simpler. I missed talking to people a bit, but I overheard other people talking, and that was nice. At Hogwarts I could find other rats in the walls sometimes, and that—that was fun. You know."

"Could you talk to the other rats?" Rhamnaceae asked.

"Kind of? It's not so much language as other signals?" Peter said, scrunching up his face. "But it wasn't hard to understand and make rat friends. Animals are only really interested in the four F's, right? Fighting, fleeing, feeding, and—"

"That's enough!" Rhamnaceae cut in. She looked horrified. "I—ah, Peter. Is there anything else you'd like to tell the court? Anything you want the Wizengamot to know?"

Peter looked down at his shackled hands.

"I guess that I'm sorry," he said. "I-I always was a bit of a coward. I hid behind James and Sirius a lot. I never knew how I ended up in Gryffindor, really."

"Are you sorry you betrayed them," someone called from up in the Wizengamot seats, "or are you sorry you got caught?"

Peter flinched, wincing, and the fact that he didn't answer, even as Dumbledore banged his gavel and called for order – that betrayed rather a lot, Hermione thought.

Rhamnaceae finally gave up and went back to her table, and Peter was removed from the witness box and reshackled inside the defense box. Alexandra Jones stood, looked around pointedly, and said loudly, "The Realm rests."

Dumbledore looked at Rookwood. "Defense, you may call your first witness."

Rhamnaceae looked utterly defeated.

"I mean, is there any use at this point anyway?" she asked. "I could call a mind expert to explain how people can act under duress and how it influences them, I can call any number of people to testify how the Dark Lord was taking over, but he still admitted he did it. And that he did it knowingly. Willingly. He bloody became their Secret-Keeper all the while knowing he would betray them. How am I supposed to defend that?"

The Wizengamot began to mutter and gossip. Dumbledore, too, looked caught off-guard.

"Well, then," he said, after a moment. "Does the Defense rest too?"

Rookwood glanced back at Peter, who shrugged hopelessly. She turned back and heaved a sigh. "Yeah, sure. The Defense rests."

"Then we will proceed to closing arguments."

Sound broke out immediately, but little of it was the people actually supposed to be arguing. Alexandra was repeating that Peter had murdered everyone, but she was drowned out by the sound of people on the Wizengamot yelling terrible things and insults at Peter.

"—knowingly sold your friends to You-Know-Who—"

"—coward of the worst kind, no wonder you turn into a rat—"

"—suck out your soul, you evil, evil little man—"

The loud DONGGG came quickly, and Hermione glanced around. There was one lone white paddle in a sea of black.

"By a vote of 48 to 1, Peter Pettigrew, you have been found guilty of the murder of James and Lily Potter, as well as the murder of twelve muggles," Dumbledore said. He banged his gavel. "Aurors, please take the prisoner back into custody."

Noise broke out as the assembled began talking, and Hermione watched as the Aurors approached Peter.

"Wait!" Pettigrew cried, eyes darting around wildly. "What—what happens to me now?"

"You get thrown into Azkaban for the rest of your miserable life," Sirius snarled. "Did you think otherwise?"

Peter whimpered, looking pathetic, and the Aurors grabbed him and roughly dragged him out. Hermione glanced over at Sirius, who was looking severely pissed off, and at Dumbledore, though she couldn't make out his expression from here.

"Move," a voice hissed in her ear. "I have to hide under the desk while everyone leaves."

Hermione had entirely forgotten about Harry, she'd been so wrapped up in the trial. She shoved her chair back and moved out of the way, giving him space to cram himself in, before shifting it back into place.

"Amelia Bones is going to have a fun time with that one," Era Hornbeam said, stretching as she stood. "I hope whatever she finds out leaks."

"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.

"Well, he's been found guilty, right? So now they can interrogate him and try and get him to give up information in exchange for reduced sentencing," Era said. "Mind, it'll still be 'life in Azkaban', but there's a fair difference in standard of living between the top floors and the bottom, I've head."

"Will they give him Veritaserum?" Hermione asked.

"Err—probably not," Era admitted. "Bad things happen sometimes when you give Death Eaters Veritaserum."

"Really?" Hermione's eyes widened. "Like what?"

"Like their magic comes out and eats them alive when they try to betray You-Know-Who," Era said flatly. She shuddered. "I saw it once – it was like noxious black ink came out from his skin in a cloud and surrounded him, and then he started screaming. When he fell to the ground and the ink dissipated, his skin was stained with these black little pockmarks that had devoured him, and his eyes were wide open and staring at nothing because his eyelids had entirely dissolved."

Hermione's jaw dropped. "That's—"

"That's Dark Magic," Era said, shrugging. "It only happened to some of them, but… anyway. Best be careful with Veritaserum. You can get Veritaserum poisoning really easily, too. They always give people three drops, but that dose was calculated for men over three decades ago. They never bothered to figure it out for women, or to do it by weight…"

She waved as she left, leaving Hermione to stare after her in horror.

After everyone else was gone, Hermione went down the steps to meet Dumbledore, Harry trailing after her invisibly.

"Sir," she said, looking up at him. "Does giving Death Eaters Veritaserum cause their magic to eat them alive?"

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Been listening to Ministry gossip, have we, Miss Granger?"

Hermione flushed.

"It has been known to happen," Dumbledore told her, inclining his head. "The Ministry has stopped giving Veritaserum to Death Eaters in an effort to not have this happen anymore, without trying to divine why some Death Eaters are able to disclose information about Voldemort while some are not."

"Do you know why that is?" Hermione asked.

"I have my suspicions," Dumbledore admitted.

"What are they?" Hermione pressed.

"What do you think, Miss Granger?" Dumbledore seemed amused. "What would you do, if you were a Dark Lord?"

Hermione blinked. "Err…"

Tom Riddle had told her ages ago that he'd intended to mark his followers with the Dark Mark. At first, she'd presumed that the mark they received came alive and ate them if they betrayed Voldemort. But if some Death Eaters could betray him… and how would magic even know if they were betraying him or not…?

Betrayal couldn't be prevented, then, she thought. Not entirely. If magic couldn't detect betrayal, at least. So if betrayal couldn't be prevented, the next best step would be…

"He did it on purpose," Hermione breathed, realizing. She looked up at Dumbledore. "If he made the Ministry think that he couldn't be betrayed, they'd stop trying to get people to betray him."

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled. "Do you think so?"

"Yes," Hermione said vehemently. "I think he'd set a couple people up with a curse that eats them alive the moment he triggered it. Maybe he tied it to a word – his name or something – and sent people in there unknowingly. Or maybe they were suicide missions. But it makes sense, doesn't it? If it meant they'd stop using Veritaserum on people?"

"Well stated." Dumbledore smiled. "It seems you don't need my suspicions after all, when you have your own."

"But I don't know if I'm right," Hermione protested.

"Do you think I do?" Dumbledore said mildly. "Do you think I have been able to discover every truth about Voldemort in the intervening years, and have thoroughly dissected all there is to know?"

"…fine," Hermione groused. "I was just curious…"

He led her through the Atrium and to the Floo, where Hermione faked a sneezing fit so Harry could get in first. At Dumbledore's office, she had an actual sneezing fit, as some Floo powder had gone up her nose, and Dumbledore appeared after her, watching her cough and sneeze with wry amusement.

"Got it all out?" he asked kindly, once she was done.

Hermione coughed. "I-I think so."

"Excellent." He smiled. "Harry, a moment before you leave, if you please."

Hermione froze. There was a rustle, and a moment later, Harry pulled off his cloak, looking stunned.

"Ah—sure," he said. He raked a hand through his hair. "What can I help you with?"

Dumbledore gave a Hermione a look. Hermione rolled her eyes.

"I can take a hint," she said. "Bye, Harry," she said pointedly.

"Err—bye?" Harry said, faltering, and Hermione left from Dumbledore's tower in a sulk.

Harry descended from the tower half an hour later, looking surprised to see her when he found her lurking in the hall.

"You waited for me?" he asked.

"Of course," Hermione said. She looked him over. "Is everything okay?"

"Oh! Yeah, it was fine. I wasn't in trouble," Harry assured her as they started down the stone corridor. "He just wanted to talk."

Hermione frowned. "What about?"

"My scar." Harry smiled wanly. "He wanted to know if it still hurt anymore."

Hermione blinked. "Does it?"

"No," Harry said. He looked at her sideways. "Not since Beltane last year."

Hermione bit her lip. "Which is… when we think…"

"Yeah," Harry said. "Exactly."

They walked in silence for a while, the only noise their boots on the stone and the crackling of torches on the walls.

"Do you think he's hunting them?" Harry asked abruptly. He lowered his voice. "The Horcruxes?"

Hermione bit her lip.

"Probably?" she ventured. "If he intends to fully vanquish the Dark Lord, it's the next step, really."

Harry glanced at her again.

"But he won't find them all, will he?" he said plaintively. "Not when you have—"

"Point taken," Hermione said, cutting him off. "But if Dumbledore is indeed going on a scavenger hunt all over Europe to find random objects from the Dark Lord's past, I imagine it will take him quite some time to find them all. Once the number has dwindled significantly, we—we can decide what to do about Tom."

"Because you don't want to kill him," Harry said.

Hermione shot him a look. "No. I don't."

"I don't want to kill him either!" Harry protested. "I think he's interesting. And he can be helpful. I was just saying…"

Hermione sighed.

"You are such a Gryffindor," she said, almost affectionately. "You realize, even Slytherins don't openly talk about killing people in the hallway, right?"

Harry blushed but grinned. He looked around conspicuously for anyone else or any paintings before lowering his voice and continuing on.

"Tom said if you give him a body, he won't just be a—a thing, anymore," Harry said. "So he wouldn't count, then. Without us killing him."

Hermione sighed. "He did."

"Do you think that's a good option?" Harry looked concerned. "If war is really coming… if Voldemort is going to come back…"

"I… Tom is a complicated person," Hermione said delicately. "I recently learned what he had to do in order to make himself into… that. And it's—it's horrifying, Harry. I don't know if I could ever forgive someone who would do such a thing. And there's no way to know if he actually regrets it, or if he just says he does—"

"There is," Harry said suddenly.

Hermione blinked. "I beg your pardon?"

"Tom told us," Harry said. "That one time – he said you can reunite them, if you feel immense regret and remorse. He said that it hurts a lot, but it can be done."

Hermione scoffed. "If I'm not mistaken, he then moved on to a different plan that involved murdering the other parts."

"Well, yeah, but Blaise kind of baited him into that, I think," Harry said. "I'm just saying – if you need a test, that one would be it. Find another of—of those, and then see if he can reunite with it."

They walked along in silence as they headed down to the Great Hall.

"The entire coven would have to be on board," Hermione said finally. "We have no place to start. And we'd be literally racing against Dumbledore to find one before he found them all."

Harry grinned widely. "We never do bother with anything easy."