Thank you everyone who has added this story to your favorite/follow list!
Also, thank you for your reviews! They keep my muse going. I'm a huge crossover fan too, so it pains me that there aren't more out there for Harry Potter and Final Fantasy XV, but that just convinces me I need to write more of them. I too get excited when my muse decides to throw Aranea and Hermione together. I honestly had planned for them not to like each other, but my muse nixed that idea with their first interaction.
I hope everyone enjoys this chapter! Let me know what you think in the reviews!
Gladio was careful when helping Hermione to her feet. "I've got you. What happened?" When she didn't answer, he moved to tilt her chin up, but Ignis stopped him.
"Look at her eyes, Gladio."
Noctis cursed, Gladio choking on his breath when he saw they were ice blue. God's damn it all, not again.
Hermione pulled herself out of his grip with ease, turning away from them and walking away from the secluded area they were in. Another lightning strike had started farther away from them, Hermione turning in its direction and headed towards it.
Gladio looked at Ignis. "I don't like this."
"That makes two of us," he replied. "But we have no choice. We can't leave the princess more vulnerable than she already is."
Noctis wasted no time, running to catch up with Hermione who was walking with unhurried strides. When she spoke, her words were double toned, her voice mixed with Gentiana's. "The Oracle's call awakens the God's that their blessings find the King.."
The guys followed in her wake, shooting each other uneasy glances every so often. Gladio was barely keeping it together. What was with these Astral's? His girlfriend was not a tool for them to use, damn it. He felt a familiar burn in his heart. Was he not strong enough that they needed to take matters into their own hands?
He watched as she made her way to the Chocobo's, pressing her palm against its closed beak and her forehead on its own. She closed her eyes, smiling softly. The maroon Chocobo knelt on the ground with a squawk. Hermione slid onto the saddle, trailing her fingers down the feathered head as it moved down to grip the reins. She stayed seated when it rose up, not waiting for them to mount as it took off at a run.
Gladio cast his eyes to the sky in irritation before turning to Noctis who was already mounting his own bird. "Move forward. I'm riding with you."
They caught up to her fairly quickly, the Chocobo's continuing a steady running pace. They avoided the roads again. Gladio could hear the metal of their enemy. He was itching for a fight but was unwilling to go through with his desire with Hermione in such a vulnerable position.
They came across two toads near a fence line, Hermione stopping the Chocobo with a gentle tug of its reins. The blue eyes looked around the area, and then she was getting off the Chocobo, nudging it in a different direction. Gladio tensed.
He grabbed Noctis by his shirt, jerking him off their ride when Magitek swarmed the area. He wanted to go for Hermione, but his duty was to the prince. Ignis would get her, would keep her safe.
Hermione calmly walked past the defensive group, ice spreading from the tips of her fingers to the rest of her hand. She stood in front of them, tilting her head to the side as she studied the group of armored soldiers pointing their guns at them. She raised her hand, covering the three of them in a domed barrier. Noctis protested, but the magic was solid. Ignis struck at it with his daggers; it didn't make a dent.
Meanwhile, Hermione had raised her palm in the air. Icicles formed above the Magitek. She brought her hand down, the ice following her lead like bullets, penetrating armor and bringing down soldiers. She twisted out of the way with fluid movements as the survivors started firing. The bullet's never got past the shield she'd put up, bouncing off it and flying in different directions. Her expression remained blank as she shot ice at the remaining Magitek, face paler than before but otherwise not breaking a sweat.
When the enemy was down, she brought down the barrier. She walked past them, saying, "The covenant is forged, but the revelation awaits. Make now for the Stormsender and let judgment be passed."
Gladio scoffed, "That divine power is just waiting for you."
Hermione continued as if he hadn't spoken. "By revelation is the power of the Six manifest. The Stone commands that the King receive it."
The second tree was much like the first. Noctis reached out his hand, activating the magic. Gladio looked at Hermione, hoping that maybe the Astral's were done with her now that Noctis had gotten to the tree.
There was no such luck. Her eyes were still a bright blue, but purple was starting to creep along the edges.
He clenched his fist. "Damn it."
Hermione looked at Noctis. "O King, Journey to Fociaugh, the eastern hollow. The seal has been lifted. Deep within the heart of rock lies the runestone, the portal to power. No other can be allowed to find it."
Noctis kicked the ground with his boot. "Let's get this over with. The sooner I finish this, the sooner I get my sister back."
"One can only hope," Ignis sighed.
The last strike was leading them back towards Wiz's. They encountered more Magitek along the way, but Hermione barely gave them a chance to fight, using ice and lightning to take the enemy down. Gladio was worried about how pale she had gotten. Her eyes were now blue and purple, the combination pretty but not his Hermione and therefore not right.
He glanced down at his phone when they made it to the small lake before reaching the Chocobo post. Iris still hadn't texted him back, and it had been hours. She knew not to do that, not with things the way they were now. He was worried something had happened, his only reprieve that Jared was with her. The beloved man was old, but still spry for his age, could get Iris out if something had happened.
When they got to Wiz's Noctis said, "Maybe we should rest the Chocobo's for the night, start fresh tomorrow morning. Mione is getting paler the more she fights."
Gladio wanted her back already, wasn't sure the Astral's would leave her for the night. "We should keep going. Two God's inside her head can't be good for her. The sooner they leave, the better."
"We don't have a choice but to continue," Ignis pointed out. "Look."
Hermione was petting the tired Chocobo, no indication that she was listening to their conversation. They saw it then, the small trickle of blood the left a bloody trail down her lips and chin.
The cave they needed to enter was blocked by a large boulder. Noctis suggested using his bombs to blow the thing apart, Ignis suggested finding another entrance. Gladio just watched Hermione, wondering why she hadn't interfered already like she had the other times.
Her hand lifted into the air.
"Fuck. Get back!" Gladio pulled Noctis and Ignis behind him, pushing them to cover just as Hermione brought her hand down in one swift movement. A massive boom sounded, lighting blinding them temporarily. When they could see again, the boulder had been blasted to bits, small chunks still smoking on the ground.
Hermione was slowly bleeding from both nostrils now.
Gladio couldn't take it anymore. He marched up to her, grabbing her chin and forcing those alien eyes to look at him. "Stop it! You have to know what you're doing to her. Just stop!"
Ignis pulled him back. "Be careful with your actions, Gladio. One wrong move and we could lose Hermione permanently."
"We're already losing her," Noctis bit out. "How much blood can a person lose before nothing can be done?"
Hermione walked to the entrance to the cave, turning towards them and gesturing with her chin. The three let out a collective sigh but continued on. It wasn't until they were a few feet inside the cave that they realized Hermione hadn't followed. When Gladio looked back, she was watching them from the entrance, making no move to join them. A part of Gladio was relieved, but the other part was stressed at leaving her alone. If Niflheim pursued them, she'd be by herself with Astral's still possessing her.
He took his anger and worry out on the monsters of the cave. Imps and glowing thunder balls fell under his sword, his focus on getting Noctis through this. Noctis was just as determined, taking on the harder daemons without a thought. They were all pretty much over this trial. All Gladio wanted to do was get Hermione into a bed where she could recover, and then storm the base Prompto was being held at.
His thoughts moved to his father once again. What would his dad think of his performance as a Shield? Would he admonish him for entangling himself with royalty? As they fought, doubts started to creep into his mind. He had always been too reckless, to easily persuaded to bend the rules. How many times had Noctis been hurt? What training had prepared him for facing off against Astral's? He thought back to the time in the ice cave where Noctis had nearly lost his life. If Hermione hadn't been there, they'd have lost the crown royal of Lucis. Gladio hadn't been able to protect against the mind assault.
What use was he as a Shield if he couldn't protect his King against every danger?
They eventually came to an empty area with two paths. Ignis led them down one but stopped at the large metal door that blocked their way further. Ignis studied the glowing sigils. "How fascinating."
Gladio frowned. "Hermione found one like this by the first tomb we went to without Cor. She was very interested in it."
"What is it?" Noctis asked.
Ignis pursed his lips in thought. "We'll have to ask Hermione."
"Then we need to get moving." Gladio urged them back.
They were headed to the other path when a giant snake dropped down in front of them. The head was shaped like a human's, dreadlock hair moving like tentacles. Gladio breathed through his mouth, the stench coming off it almost unbearable.
"My baby…" It rasped out. "Where…"
Noctis held his hands up. "Your baby? Yeah, I know where your baby is."
The snake eyes brightened in fury. "That would mean… YOU took him!"
Shit. Gladio summoned his sword, sending the first strike before it could try and take a bite out of Noctis. Blood sprayed from a cut on its face, the snake shrieking in pain. Gladio swung again, but it slithered away before his sword could make contact. He stuck by the prince, combining Greatsword strikes to bring it down.
He coughed as green gas filled the area. When it cleared, Noctis was nowhere to be found. Gladio looked around in alarm. "Iggy, where's Noct?"
Ignis had coated his daggers in ice, finding that the element did more significant damage to the snake than others. He scanned the area for any sign of his ward, eyes narrowing at the small frog hopping around. "There!" He pointed towards the amphibian.
Gladio's rage ignited. Just how the hell was he supposed to protect against frog turning gas? With a bellow, he continued to hit the snake with his greatsword, channeling his fury into powerful swings. Ignis finally killed it with a swing of his daggers to its head, the tail twitching a couple of times before laying still.
Noctis turned back into a human, stumbling mid-hop. "That was not fun."
Ignis inspected him for injuries. "Are you alright?"
He rubbed the back of his neck. "Yeah, but I'm so done with this. Let's finish this trial so that we can leave."
Those words were music to Gladio's ears. He stayed hypervigilant as they continued, ready to take down anything else that came their way.
The last tree looked out of place in the cave, but it was there. The pressure of its magic could be felt by even Gladio and Ignis. Noctis touched the tree, his eyes turning the same purple as Hermione's as lightning flashed all around them. Noctis stumbled back after a while, the power disappearing from the area. Gladio was relieved to see his eyes were back to normal. If his were, that meant Hermione might be back to normal too.
Ignis had the same thought. "It'd be prudent of us to get back the top quickly. Hermione could need medical attention."
The encountered minimal attacks on the way back up. Noctis told them about what he'd seen. Gladio had to hand it to Lady Lunafreya. She was one hell of an Oracle. Her dedication was admirable. Noctis didn't deserve her, and he had no problem telling him so.
When they got to the entrance, Hermione was sitting against one of the rocks, her eyes closed and head tilted down. The bleeding had stopped, but there was a puddle around her, worrying Ignis who was the most medically trained of all of them.
Around the space outside the cave, dozens of Magitek littered the ground. Gladio picked up his girlfriend, holding her tight, and refusing to think about her facing off against these numbers by herself. He looked up to the sky, finding it bright and sunny. "Looks like Ramuh is done with showers."
Hermione's phone buzzed from inside her pants. Ignis gingerly took it out, looking at the incoming text. "Her Highness's contact has come through."
Noctis glanced down at his sister, face scrunching up in indecision. "She's in no state to be storming a base."
Ignis agreed. "But she cannot be left by herself either."
Gladio looked down at her peaceful face. She was way too pale, the dried blood a stark contrast against the lack of color on her skin. "We'll take her back to Wiz's and call Cor. He should still be in the area."
Decision made, they made the walk back to Wiz's. Ignis called Cor while they walked. He explained the situation, Cor's loud voice could be heard through the speaker of the phone. The Marshall was not at all happy. Gladio tightened his grip around Hermione. He heard words like take her away and safer with him. Over his dead body would he let Cor take her away from them.
Wiz had kept the camper clear, rightfully thinking of their imminent return. Gladio laid Hermione on the semi-comfortable bed in what was supposed to be the master. The room bore the brunt of Noctis' fury the other night, glassware broken and a couple of holes here and there. The already peeling wallpaper was completely ripped off in some places. He wondered if Iggy had seen this yet. Damn kid had no restraint.
They waited until Cor arrived with Monica in tow, the stone-faced Crownsguard carrying a black bag over her shoulder. She walked straight into the camper with an acknowledging nod for him and Ignis, and a bow of respect for the prince.
Cor crossed his arms over the chest, staring them down and making no move to head into the trailer after Monica. "You said the Astral's possessed her?
Ignis nodded. "Yes, Titan invaded her mind before we went to confront him, but the only indication he was there was the coloring of her eyes. During the trial with the Fulgarian, her body was not under her control. She spoke with Gentiana's voice as well as her own, displayed magical prowess we had not seen come from her as of yet. The toll was evident on her body's exhaustion and the bleeding. She wasn't there for the last part of the trial, but the evidence outside the cave suggests they used her to keep Niflheim from following after us."
"I don't like it."
Noctis snorted, "Neither do we, believe me."
Cor sighed, "We'll keep her here while you go retrieve Prompto. How did you get the location?"
Gladio pressed his lips together. "Aranea gave it to her."
Cor breathed through his mouth, slowly. "She contacted Highwind?"
"According to her," Gladio snapped out. "She was already calling with other information. This just happened to be a bonus." He still didn't like it. The Niflheim woman rubbed him the wrong way.
Cor stilled. "What?"
Ignis exchanged a glance with Gladio before running a hand through his hair, the only sign the man was uncomfortable. "I happened upon their conversation which she had waited to take until she was alone. Miss Highwind was telling her the location of a person. He's at the same base Prompto is being held at."
"Of course," Cor murmured. His eyes shifted to the camper. "When I found out she had been with the Chancellor of Niflheim, she had called to ask about Loqi's movements around Lucis. She only told me it was important that she find out. I thought you guys had another fight with him, but then I was shocked to find out who you'd been with, I didn't think to ask."
Noctis stared at the ground, hard. His earlier words to her came back to him. "She completely lost it with Ardyn, punching him and acting crazy. We thought he'd irritated her and Titan messing with her had made her crack…"
Ignis placed a hand on Noctis' shoulder. "We'll get them both out of there."
Cor glanced at his watch. "You still have half a day left. I suggest doing this break-in at night. Niflheim isn't as watchful when there are daemons deterring intruders."
The group of three prepared, and took off on the Chocobo's. Their postures were tense, their bodies dirty from earlier fighting. But there was a grim determination in their eyes. One of their own was at this base. Gladio truly wanted to believe that Prompto wasn't being harmed, but the sooner they got him out, the better. And there was Hermione's friend. She hadn't mentioned him to them, to him. Why? She has to know they would help her get him back.
Cor watched them leave before sighing and walking into the trailer and to the room where Monica was throwing away used wipes, blood spotted around the material. "What's the verdict?"
Monica looked up. "She'll live though I'm not sure what state she'll wake up in. She's showing signs of exhaustion, extreme signs of magic overuse. Her arm has healed a little, but the healing won't retake effect until she's recovered from this."
Cor frowned. "She's using too much magic."
Monica rolled her eyes. "That's what I said. We know from Gladio and Ignis that magic is her primary weapon. She doesn't take as well to other weapons the way she does the magic. From what we can gather, there were two Astral's in control, pushing the limits of her abilities."
"Should we take her with us when she wakes?" Cor questioned. "We don't come up against the same amount of opposition they do."
Monica snorted, "Good luck with that. Tell me how Gladio and Prince Noctis take it."
"Gladio will do as he's told," Cor stated with absolute surety.
Monica disagreed. "Gladio is falling in love. Do you remember what Clarus was like when he met his wife?"
He did, and the memory made him almost smile and then grimace as he remembered who the target of Amicitia's affections was.
Monica sent him a knowing look but said nothing else.
Draco held back his screams as they shocked him again. This pain was nothing compared to the Cruciatus Curse, but it was still pain. His body had almost forgotten how to handle being tortured, had nearly forgotten not to fight the pain and just let his body roll with it.
How lucky that his mind had easily snapped back to the days that his Death Eater comrades used to bring him pain for the hell of it.
His eyes shifted to the horrified pupils of Hermione's friend Prompto. That kid was as innocent as they came. Draco envied him the ability to feel horror. The emotion had been torn out of him the moment he came home after 4th year to the Dark Lord as their guest. They hadn't touched him, the officer was more interested in Draco's secrets than the blond's. Prompto had kept his spirits up when they were alone, telling stories about his antics in school and adventures with the prince of this country before all hell had broken loose. Draco offered no stories in return, and Prompto steered clear of any mention of Hermione. For that, Draco was grateful.
He had no doubt they were monitoring their conversations, were hoping for Draco to slip up and tell them something about his former girlfriend. The only time Prompto had mentioned her was to tell him he didn't have to worry about her, that none of their group, especially this Gladio, would let harm come to her. Merlin's Balls, the implication of that statement turned his stomach, but Draco didn't know how to respond. Did he have a right to be irritated? He'd broken up with her after all.
Fuck it; he thought as he fought his body's natural fighting instinct from another shock. She had been the one to teach him that he could feel whatever the bloody hell he wanted. So he was going to be irritated and a little angry.
Loqi lifted his head by his sweat-soaked hair, eyes burning under the bright light. "I'm getting tired of your resistance."
"That's good," Draco said through a mouth filled with saliva and blood. "I'm getting tired of your persistence."
Loqi let out an enraged scream, dropping him to the floor and lifting his heavy boot to kick Draco in the side. His kicks were vicious, Draco curling up in himself in a weak attempt to lessen the pain. He wanted to cry, to plead, but his proud magical heritage wouldn't let him. His own kind hadn't been able to break him completely; he wouldn't let this deranged Muggle do what they couldn't.
The door opened, the strange man from earlier stepping into the room. "Commander, anything?"
Loqi stopped his assault, shaking his head. "No, Chancellor. He seems resistant to the common forms of interrogation, but I am not giving up."
The Chancellor nodded. "Very well, but I'm afraid this will have to be put on hold. You see, the Prince's entourage is in the process of storming this base at this very moment. Commander Ulldor has ordered him taken to another facility."
Loqi stepped out of the cell, eagerness in his eyes. "But this is the time to capture them all! The prince, princess, and the ring in one fell swoop would bring glory to the Empire and demoralize what's left of those that oppose us!"
He was given a stern look. "You will do as you're told Commander Tummelt."
Loqi seemed to deflate but nodded. "Of course. What about the other one?"
The Chancellor lifted his hand and waved it in dismissal. "We have no actual need for him. Let his friends find him."
The two men left, leaving Draco and Prompto alone. Prompto crawled to the front of his cell. "Did you hear that, Draco? They're here for us."
Draco had heard, but his gut told him something else. They were moving him. He didn't have much time. Maneuvering his shackles, he fought to get a decent grip on his hair. What he got was a slippery one, but it would have to do. Steeling himself, he pulled backward, breathing through the sharp pain as he pulled out whatever hair he could. He let it drop to the ground, looking at the fine strands in dismay. There wasn't much.
Draco reminded himself who was coming after him. She could do a whole lot more with less.
He looked Prompto in the eyes, trying to convey the seriousness of what he was about to ask. "You get those hairs to Hermione, do you hear me? Whatever you do, don't forget them."
Prompto opened his mouth in protest. "But they're coming for us…"
"And they'll get you," Draco assured him. "But Niflheim has further need of me. You tell Hermione they took my blood. You give her the hairs. Prompto, do you understand?"
The door opened again, and Prompto could only nod in misery as Draco was restrained heavily and taken out of the room.
Hermione was irritated.
She'd woken from her impromptu nap with a vague recollection of what had happened, and orders from both Monica and Cor to stay put until the boys came back. They'd gone to raid the Niflheim base without her, leaving her under the careful watch of the Crownsguard. She understood, but it still infuriated her. How else was she supposed to search for Draco if she wasn't there?
Not that she'd be much use. The magic that came from this land was almost negligible in her right now. She could feel it, but her natural magic was more prevalent at the moment. She only remembered bits and pieces of her time locked away in her mind while her body moved around and exhausted itself. She remembered thinking there was so much power, but actual memories of what she'd done remained evasive. It was a different experience entirely than her first encounter with an Astral. What she didn't get was how the Glacian fit into all this. They hadn't been doing a trial for her, yet she had taken Hermione over just as much as Ramuh had. She was supposed to have been killed by Niflheim years ago. It didn't make any sense.
There were two hours left until sunrise.
She hoped the boys were giving Niflheim hell. She hoped Draco was alright, and not caught in the crossfire. She wanted to be there. She wanted to kick Loqi in his stupid face for hurting someone dear to her.
She needed to distract herself.
Getting out of bed, she dressed and left the trailer. Cor and Monica were sitting at a table. Cor lifted his brow in question. Hermione hunched her shoulders. "I need some air. I'm going to hang out with the baby Chocobo."
She didn't wait for his consent, walking towards the two black Chocobo that were nestled slightly away from the others. The baby hadn't grown much, still looking like an ordinary grown chicken. The mother watched her as she came closer, but didn't protest Hermione sitting down beside them. The baby Chocobo was delighted to see her, flapping its small wings in an attempt to reach her. Hermione laughed, scooping the chick into her lap and running her fingers down its back.
Hermione looked up in alarm, having not heard anyone approach. A middle-aged man was standing before her, eyes tired and stubble starting to show on his lean face. His brown hair was in disarray, and his clothing was spotted with dust and other spots Hermione didn't want to think about. She noted the various tattoos on his arms, and the dog tags hanging around his neck.
Ah, now she remembered where she'd seen him.
"Hunter Dave," she acknowledged. "What can I do for you?" Hermione had been content to avoid the hunters until now, but the boys frequently caught up with him whenever they crossed paths. They were also always giving healing potions to hurt hunters, enough that Hermione questioned their training at times. It was safe to say that Hermione still held a terrible opinion of them.
Dave gave her a nod in greeting. "Ma'am. Sorry to bother you, but are your friends around?"
She went back to petting the baby Chocobo when it nipped her fingers, but she kept her back straight, body ready to jump up if need be. "They're raiding a Niflheim base at the moment."
Dave lifted a brow. "And you ain't with them? Never seen the bunch of you far apart."
Hermione shrugged. "Was there something I could do for you?"
He shook his head. "Just wanted to give my thanks for the last batch of dog tags y'all turned in. I appreciate it."
Hermione let her defensive posture drop just a little. She did find that admirable in this man, the lengths he went to make sure no Hunter was left missing in action. "It's no problem. I'm sorry you lost so many of your men."
"We Hunters know what we're getting into," Dave replied. He drummed his fingers on his trousers. "Say, do I know you from somewhere?"
"I'm pretty sure you don't."
His lips flattened. "No, I'm sure I do. You… feel familiar. There's no other way to explain it for me."
Well, that just made no sense whatsoever. She sent him an incredulous look. "If you can't explain it, I'm not sure how you expect me to."
"Of course." He gave her a slight bow of his head. "Sorry for botherin' you. Give your friends my regards."
She watched him walk away, Cor greeting him with a handshake and a lighter expression than the one he'd been giving her. She rolled her eyes. Of course, Cor would get along with him. He never had to waste time babysitting him.
Her phone rang. Hermione's hand slapped to her pocket. She looked at the number, dread filling her at the number. She took a deep breath before she answered, trying for easygoing. "Need that favor now?"
"I wish that were what I was calling about, Honey," Aranea said grimly. "They're moving him out to another base. They fucked themselves with their own creation, can't leave until the shield is brought down."
She hung up. She tried calling Gladio first, and then Ignis when there was no answer. She gave up after Noctis, realizing they wouldn't take her call in the middle of a fight. She looked in the direction of the tables. Cor and Monica were still in deep conversation with Dave, hardly paying attention to her.
How long before her group destroyed the base? Cor had told her they would need to get out of there before sunrise, or risk reinforcements from Niflheim.
She looked at the rising sun. Ignis wouldn't leave anything to chance. He'd ensure they were done before the sun came out. If they had already separated Draco from Prompto, would her friends go looking for him? Looking at her Crownsguard babysitters again, Hermione thought through her options. They wouldn't let her leave, and no Chocobo or vehicle would get her across Duscae in time.
Her decision was made when she looked at another table and saw Wiz's paperwork all over it. Trying not to draw attention to herself, she got up and walked over. Wiz was nowhere to be found, but his papers were scattered everywhere, she doubted he'd notice if someone rifled through them.
She found the map at the bottom of the stack. Pulling up the coordinates Aranea had sent, Hermione scanned the map. Finding her point, she located the small area just before it. She could do this. The Auror's did apparition like this all the time.
Hermione felt his eyes on her and looked up to see that Dave had left and Cor was watching her with confusion. He couldn't see the map, didn't realize she could leave. She did feel bad about defying him; he was only looking out for her. But Draco needed her. So with an apologetic smile, she apparated with an almost silent crack.
When she appeared just outside the base, panting and trying to keep her legs from giving out, Hermione knew she was too late. Ramuh, it could only be him, was high in the air. He looked like a Wizard to her with his long robes and even longer hair, wielding a staff sparking with lightning magic. The red shield over the Niflheim base was destroyed in one huge blast.
Hermione ran towards the base. If she could get to the airship holding Draco, she could free him, and they'd bring down his jailers together.
When she entered the base, she saw the boys standing off against someone who looked very familiar. Her eyes saw the metal arm before her mind connected the dots. The Commander from the Citadel, Lunafreya's brother. He had convinced his bosses that she had the real ring of the Lucii even though he knew she didn't.
He used his new arm to push Gladio clear into the Regalia.
Hermione summoned her bow, apparating just behind him and pushing the weapon so that it touched his neck. "I see you have a new limb. I wonder how conductive it is. Want to try it?"
"Oh look," he said lightly. "The bastard is here."
Noctis summoned multiple weapons at once. "You wanna go? Let's do it."
Hermione heard the sound of warping and took her eyes off of the commander to find Ardyn staring at the scene from the shadows. Ravus sensed her distraction, twisting his body and knocking her bow from her grip. He used his metal hand to pick her up by the throat and slam her to the ground. Hermione cried out from the renewed pain to her other arm, breathing deeply to try and calm her instinct to fight. The metal fingers were pressing against her throat, the air around her difficult to take in. He held up his sword and pointed it at Noctis before the prince could make his move. "Don't, or I'll crush her windpipe."
Ardyn made his presence known. "I think that's far enough. Kindly release the lady, Commander."
Ravus let her go, looking away from the group, his expression sullen. Hermione sucked in air desperately, feeling the bruises already forming around her throat. Ignis made his way to her side, helping her up by her good arm, frowning as he took her in.
Ardyn looked at Noctis. "Your savior is here."
Noctis glared at him. "We don't need your help."
"Oh, but you'll want this help," Ardyn chuckled. "I'm taking the army away."
Gladio stood next to Noctis, ready to push him away. "You expect us to believe that."
Ardyn shrugged. "When next we meet, it will be across the seas. Just so happens we have business of our own with the tutelary deity."
Hermione looked up as an airship left the destroyed base. She stepped forward, but Ignis held her at his side. Ardyn was watching her knowingly, the smirk in his eyes if not on his mouth. She glared at him.
"I think we're done here." He signaled to Ravus. The commander left without a glance to any of them. "Until next time."
Hermione waited until they were out of sight before sagging, trusting Ignis to keep her up. He shook his head. "You should have stayed in bed."
"I needed to be here," she said quietly.
Prompto walked up to her, hands in his pockets. "Mione…"
A thought occurred to her. He'd been tortured… "Prompto, where were you kept?"
The blond hesitated. "He's not there, Mione. You don't want to see his cell."
"Yes, I do," she stated firmly. "I can find it on my own if you won't tell me."
Prompto sighed, turning on his heel and walking further into the ruined base. Hermione followed after him, hardly noticing the concerned eyes on her from the men that kept pace behind them.
She knew which cell had been Draco's right away. Blood in various stages, some even still wet, surrounded the small prison. Manacles were fastened to the wall, the chains retractable. Hermione could imagine them using the mechanism on Draco, slamming him against the wall in the hopes of confusing him. She saw him being slashed with knives and being beaten into submission.
She sat hard on the ground when she realized she wasn't breathing, her resulting breaths coming out as sobs. She'd failed. All she'd wanted was to save him from the fate of being imprisoned again. But he wasn't here. They'd taken him away before she could reach him. If she'd been on this raid, she could have gotten him out. She had to believe it.
Hermione turned away, curling her arm around herself in despair. Damn it, why hadn't she come earlier? She shouldn't have listened to Cor or Monica. Who cared if she'd exhausted this world's magic? Her own was powerful enough. She didn't need anything else.
She didn't react to the thinly muscled arms that met around her body. She didn't want comfort right now. No, she didn't deserve it. If she'd been stronger, if the Astral's hadn't played with her…
Noctis blew out a breath, eyes on the cell his sister's friend had been in. "The Empire sure knows how to treat their guests."
Hermione made a sound of distress. Her nails embedded themselves into her palm, fist turning red from how hard she was clenching it.
Gladio grimaced at his distraught girlfriend, partially annoyed that Prompto had gotten to her first but mostly glad she wasn't pushing anyone away. He looked over to Ignis who was taking in all the details of the small prison room, from Prompto's clean cell to the bloodied one and the collection of dirty tools in one corner of the room. Gods, he hoped Hermione hadn't seen them.
Ignis nodded to Gladio's silent question. Gladio grabbed Noctis by the neck of his jacket. "Come on. Let's make sure the Regalia wasn't tampered with."
Noctis looked up, frowning in confusion. "But I have no clue what to look for."
Ignis sighed, sending Noctis a stern glance. "You'll be learning today. Come, Your Highness."
Noctis opened his mouth to protest but stopped when Mione let out another whine, this time curling into Prompto's arms. His best friend was staring at the cell in front of them, eyes unfocused, and his sister was trying to stifle her sobs in said best friends shirt.
He suddenly felt extremely uncomfortable and left to learn about the Regalia to escape the depressive air.
Gladio watched the two for a moment, longing to grab Hermione out of Prompto's arms. He wanted to be the one that she turned to for comfort. He should be the one holding her right now. But he left to follow Noct instead, not comfortable with letting the prince out of his sight after earlier.
Prompto startled after hearing the door close, blinking at the mass of curly hair tickling the skin above his shirt. Hermione's distress was getting louder, her nails digging into his skin from where she'd grabbed his tank. He noticed no one was in there with them. He hadn't heard his friends leave. Seeing her obvious anguish brought a new wave of guilt that Prompto had fought not to feel when they had taken Draco out of this room. There was no mistaking what had gone on in here. It was why he'd pushed not to come back.
Once again looking at the side of the prison that was splattered with blood, Prompto remembered what Draco had desperately told him. Feeling an urgency at the message his new friend had used his limited time to impress on him, Prompto grabbed Hermione by the shoulders and pulled her back to look at him. Her eyes were already red and swollen, snot leaking down her nose that she held back by huge sniffles. She was an ugly crier, Prompto grimacing at his wet shirt for a moment before focusing. "Hermione, " he started. "Draco wanted me to tell you something. It was important to him. He said they took his blood. I saw it myself. They took vials of it in between… Draco needed you to know."
Hermione stared at him in confusion for a moment. Of all the messages he could have left for her, that was it? Why would Niflheim take his blood? It made no sense. They didn't know what he was, had no way of knowing about the magic that flowed through his veins.
Her eyes widened a moment later. There had been one instance where Hermione had inadvertently revealed an ongoing project of the DOM to Draco. She'd ranted about the implications to an unsuspecting Draco while thinking she was alone in her flat. Through that, he knew there was a specific component in wizard blood that indicated magical ability.
He'd needed her to know. She knew exactly why. She needed to get Draco out of Niflheim's hands. Maybe it was standard for them to take blood from their prisoners. But if they tested it and found that genetic marker, Hermione shuddered to think what they would do with him.
Hermione focused on the hand Prompto was digging into his pocket and then pulling out. His closed fist opened, revealing tiny strands of pale hair. He kept his eyes on her. "Draco made me promise to give these to you. Just before they dragged him out of here."
Hermione snatched them from his hand, enclosing them in her palm. Oh Draco. He couldn't have been sure the blood in this room would survive whatever happened, had made provisions to ensure she could track him. She closed her eyes to prevent more tears from falling. He still believed she was coming for him. That had to mean he was alright. She wasn't too late.
But first, she needed to destroy the evidence that he was here in the first place.
She clumsily got to her feet, wobbling from trying to do so with just her feet. Prompto reached out to steady her. Hermione gave him a small smile. "Thank you, Prompto. For everything. Can you do me one more favor?"
She blew out a breath as she looked around the room. "Can you give me some privacy? Tell the guys I'll be right out."
Prompto nodded his assent, sending her worried glances as he walked back up the steps that would lead outside. Hermione waited until he was gone before retrieving her wand.
Prompto walked over to his friends who were waiting by the Regalia. "Where's Mione?" Noctis asked.
He jerked his head in the direction of the small building he'd just left. "She wanted some time alone."
Ignis looked him over. "I'm happy to see you're alright. We weren't sure what Niflheim wanted with you."
Prompto shrugged. "Nothing actually. They were interested in Draco more than me. I was left alone, ignored even."
"Tell us about him." Noctis was curious. "Hermione has been tight-lipped about him."
Prompto glanced at Gladio, the big guy watching the building Hermione was in. He said, "I think he's from Tenebrae. They seemed to think he knew Hermione pretty well, kept trying to torture information out of him."
Gladio's eyes slid over to him. "And did he say anything?"
Prompto shook his head. "Nothing. He was a vault, even when we were alone." He paused, not sure he should say what he thought.
Ignis noticed his hesitation. "What is it?"
Before he could tell them, there was an explosion from the building Hermione was in. The boom was loud in the quiet atmosphere, startling everyone by the Regalia. Gladio cursed, sprinting towards the wrecked prison area.
Ignis held Noctis back when the prince made to follow after Gladio. "Let him retrieve her."
"She's not supposed to be using magic," Noctis protested. "She could be hurt again."
"Yet she chose to use it." Ignis pressed his lips together into a firm line. "Gladio will make sure she's alright."
A few moments later, Hermione was striding towards the car. Gladio was behind her, glowering down at her but saying nothing. She looked tired, eyes bloodshot and face losing whatever color she had managed to recover. She said nothing as she got into the car, taking the front seat and closing her eyes.
There was a noticeable tension between the two, evidenced by Hermione choosing to sit in Prompto's seat.
They looked at Gladio in question, but he only shook his head. "Now that this is done, I want to head back to Lestallum. Iris never called me back. I'm worried." He had let his worry slide when being confronted with the big red shield that had blocked communication everywhere, but Gladio had expected instant messages or calls from his little sister once the buffer had been taken down.
There hadn't been any, and there was a growing pit in his stomach that he was unable to ignore.
AN: So no Draco yet. Maybe in a couple more chapters. So first, this chapter was supposed to go out last week but when I was reading it through, I accidently wrote the last half of this chapter as if Hermione's arm was all better. Big no no, so chapter ended up not being ready. And two, who is playing Episode Ardyn tonight? That DLC is the only reason I'm posting this around midnight-ish and not after I drop my daughter off at school. I'm going to be playing that nonstop until it's done.
Let me know what you think!