Author's Note: First and Foremost...
MAJOR TRIGGER WARNING FOR THIS CHAPTER! MINOR CHARACTER DEATHS AND VIOLENCE!
Now, that you have been warned, this is it wizards, witches, and golden snitches. This is the end of Year 6! Which means... I will be taking a small break while I rest, finish some other fics I promised for other prompts, and also take some time to get ahead writing Year 7. I promise not to be gone long. At the latest, chapters will resume June 3rd.
ALSO keep in mind, we all know hat happens in Year 7, especially at Malfoy Manor. I don't know if it is feasible for me to keep posting Trigger Warnings at he beginning of each chapter which will feature some form of canon and war violence until after the Battle of Hogwarts.
So, with that being said, going forward, please note that WE ARE IN WAR, and that there WILL be graphic and detailed scenes of the following: violence, torture, grief, fear, bigotry, blood, and hate. THERE WILL NOT BE any graphic depictions BUT WILL MENTION the following: rape, assault, murder, kidnapping, and war time policies.
If ANY of these topics make you uncomfortable or are triggers for you, then I suggest you do not proceed and skip to the epilogues once I post them. I currently do not have a set number but we aren't just skipping 19 years ahead. Like, we all deserve some wedding, honeymoon, and baby fluff. I might even do the different epilogues from the perspectives of different characters and cover their lives. Who knows?
As always, thank you to my beta, TigerAndDaisy for your amazing work! And THANK YOU lovely readers for sticking with me this far. I can't believe we have reached the end and how fast it is coming up. See you soon, and enjoy this chapter. :)
The first day of spring break meant intense studying for NEWTs for the fifth years, boarding a joyful train ride home to those spending the holiday with family or friends, and Apparition lessons for the rest of the students who wanted to get their license.
"Should be exciting," Ron said with a mouth full of food. "Then once we pass, we can all just… pop to wherever we need to go! So much more efficient."
Hermione rolled her eyes. "It's a little more complicated than that."
Before Ron could utter something back, the Great Hall doors slammed open to reveal a thin, pointed-nose man muttering to himself about keeping time and being late. The golden quartet watched as the official, along with a few others who appeared to be secretaries, stalked towards the front of the room. "Where is the Headmaster?" he demanded in a high-pitched tone.
"I'm afraid Professor Dumbledore is indisposed at the moment. I'm the Deputy Headmistress and can answer any question you might have," McGonagall replied, her voice firm and precise, leaving no room for argument.
The wizard huffed, glaring at their Head of House before announcing, "I am Wilkie Twycross with the Department of Transportation. We-" he pointed to the two assistants- "Are here to provide Apparition instructions to the upperclassmen."
"Very well. As it turns out, the students are just finishing breakfast." McGonagall pulled out her wand and cleared her throat. "Your attention, please! All sixth and seventh-year students wishing to take the approved Ministry course to achieve an Apparition license may stand towards the side of the room. Everyone else may leave the Hall to resume your daily activities."
The room instantly moved into action, with each student following the appropriate instruction based on their grade level. Once the center of the Hall had been cleared, McGonagall waved her wand, causing all the house tables to disappear. In their place were several wooden rings scattered across the length of the room.
"I assume the anti-apparition charm has been lifted?" Mr. Twycross asked in a condescending voice.
"Yes," McGonagall snapped. "For the duration of the lesson and only around the Hall."
Mr. Twycross bristled for a moment before turning towards the students. "Please find a spot on the floor and stand next to a ring. About a five feet or so will do."
All at once, people scrambled to find an empty ring as indicated. Harry and Ron managed to find a spot close towards the front and more in the center, while Hermione and Draco were stuck smack in the middle of the Hall. The four looked up to give their attention to the Ministry Official.
"As many of you probably already know, Apparition is the second most common mode of transportation a magical person can use when transporting from one place to another. However, it is not as simple as just-" Mr. Twycross snapped his fingers- "popping away! Even with a clear destination in mind, transporting too far can magically exhaust you. The important thing to remember is the three Ds! Destination, Determination, Deliberations! Say it back."
Draco and Hermione dutifully repeated the phrase while Harry and Ron mumbled it under their breaths.
Mr. Twycross nodded. "Very good. Step one is to fix your mind firmly upon the desired destination. For this case, the interior of your hoop." He pointed down towards Susan Bones' circle before continuing his instructions. "Step two is to focus your determination to occupy the visualized space. In other words, let your yearning to enter it flood from your mind to every particle of your body!"
Draco didn't miss the sneer he shot towards Crabbe and Goyle at having to explain the second step more in-depth when the man finally gave the last piece of the course. "Step three may only be completed when given the action! Turn on the spot, feeling your way into nothingness, moving with deliberation! Does everyone got it?!"
If anyone lacked their comprehension of the directions, they didn't speak up. Draco got the feeling Mr. Twycross was a man who didn't waste time trying to explain something he found to be fairly basic.
"On my count, one… two… THREE!"
Draco closed his eyes and concentrated on what the Ministry Official said. He felt his magic kind of pulsing through his veins, a similar feeling when he was trying to accomplish wandless magic in Charms. Taking a deep breath, Draco spun in his spot. His eyes shot open as he wobbled in place, noticing that he had not, in fact, managed to move into the hoop. Looking around the room, he wasn't the only one that failed. Hermione also stumbled while Ron fell flat on his back. He could hear Harry laughing from across the Hall while helping the redhead up.
Try after try, the teenagers attempted to learn the mode of transportation, but by the fifth, someone did manage to accomplish something.
Hannah Abbott screamed while the rest of the students looked on in horror. Most of her body was inside the circle, but her left leg had become detached and left limply on the ground five feet away. The bloody sight was gruesome to look at, so much so that Hermione had to look away while covering her mouth.
"No matter! This is the perfect example of what is called 'Splinching,' or the Separation of random body parts occurs when the mind is insufficiently determined," Mr. Twycross explained dispassionately.
"Her leg is missing from her body! You numbnuts! Aren't you going to help her?" Ernie Macmillan shouted at the Ministry Official.
"Five points from Hufflepuff for your disrespect Macmillan," Snape shouted.
"Ten points. Keep it up, and you'll get detention right along with it," Snape threatened. Reluctantly, the Hufflepuff shut up, still watching Hannah with worry, when one of the assistants showed up with an apologetic smile.
"No need to worry, Miss. This happens all the time," the woman said, pulling out a pouch of purple powder. She threw it down on the ground next to Hannah's body, causing a loud bang to echo throughout the Hall. When the smoke cleared, Hannah's leg was reattached, and Dittany was being applied to cuts and bruises around the area. Though the most exciting thing to happen that session, the event had left poor Hannah shaken and lowered the morale of the rest of the students.
When the hour was up, Mr. Twycross vanished all the rings and bid the class goodbye. He audibly groaned on his way out the door when McGonagall reminded him that he was expected back every day for the next two weeks.
"He is a horrible instructor," Hermione whispered harshly to Draco.
The blond nodded. "At least we only have to deal with him for an hour each day." He reached out and took Hermione's hand. "And I guarantee that you will be the most proficient at Apparition by the end of the break."
"Thanks," Hermione said, squeezing his hand back.
"Ugh! Look at that disgusting sight," Pansy scoffed loudly. "Can't believe the Malfoy heir is dating a mudblood."
Draco spun on his heels. "What did you say?"
Pansy grinned convivially, clearly pleased that she had managed to rile up the pureblood with her curse. "Which word?"
"Detention, Miss Parkinson. Tonight, eight o'clock," Professor Sprout said as she came marching up to the Slytherin. "We don't use that foul language."
"Certainly, Professor," the Slytherin girl sneered. She rolled her eyes when the Herbology Professor turned her back.
"Come on," Hermione said quietly, tugging on Draco's hand. "Let's just ignore her and enjoy our day."
Spring break had been absolute hell with the Apparition lessons, but with each session, Draco got better and better to the point that he had almost managed to land in the ring. While he had gotten most of the steps correct, he somehow kept missing his target and appeared off the mark (intact, at least). Hermione, brilliant as ever, could successfully apparate to and from her spot with precision by the end of the two-week session, earning praise from one of the Ministry assistants who offered to facilitate her exam right there. Unfortunately, Mr. Twycross did not like this and quickly interjected, saying that she would need to wait for the end of the year like the rest of the group.
Ron only Splinched himself three times, which wasn't too horrible considering Seamus held the record for practically Splinching himself every session. Though he managed to complete a jump successfully, Harry was told his birthday was too late, and he would have to schedule a private test to get his license.
"It's alright, Mate," Draco assured. "I'm in the same boat. We can wait until your birthday and have Sirius and Remus take us."
Harry smiled. "That sounds brilliant."
Though Draco wouldn't say, he was a bit perturbed at missing the school offered exam by only a few weeks. Anyone who wasn't turning 17 prior to the end of May was not allowed, and either had to schedule time at the Ministry or would have to wait until the following year like some of the seventh years did. However, he wasn't given much time to gripe over the injustice, for the end of the year also meant exams and applying for internship opportunities starting in the fall. Madam Pomfrey offered to write Draco a letter of recommendation to apply for a full-time internship at St. Mungo's for the next school year, granting him special privileges to apparate off-site to work at the Hospital. She heard back from the director, who was entirely impressed with Draco's conduct and even asked that he come back. From spending time with the Matron, Draco knew she was not a witch to give out praise so freely, but she couldn't help bragging at having a student being requested again.
"In all my years, this has never happened!"
If Draco had to guess, Madam Pomfrey was positively gushing with excitement and was delightfully stunned by the request for Draco to return. Hermione had shown a different sort of excitement by pulling him into the nearest broom closet and blowing him. That had certainly been his favorite accolade, especially since it ended with him getting to kiss her senselessly.
"I'm so proud of you, Draco," Hermione whispered against his lips.
"Thank you," he responded, kneeling in front of her. He smirked when he heard her breath hitch as his fingertips ghosted up the side of her leg, the slight contact creating goosebumps along her flesh.
"What are you…." Hermione trailed off to ask when she felt her knickers being tugged down under her skirt. "You don't have to."
"Hmm," Draco hummed, bringing his mouth between her thighs. He placed gentle kisses on each side before nuzzling against her entrance. "Maybe I want to."
Hermione shivered as the hot breath of his voice flowed through her folds. "Well, if you insis… ah!"
She moaned when Draco's mouth made contact with her clit, his lips aggressively sucking and teasing her already wet center. It felt like heaven to him to have her hands reach and pull on his hair, her fingers scraping across his scalp as he continued his ministrations.
"Please don't stop," Hermione moaned, her hips bucking up into his face. She let out another squeak of delight when Draco's fingers slid inside her with ease.
"Never," he whispered. Draco kept moving, feeling her core flutter around his face and fingers. She was so close… he just needed to crook his pointer and middle just right…
"Ah!" Hermione groaned, falling apart around him. After a few more moments, he rose, reclaiming her mouth so that she could taste herself.
"You're so beautiful," he whispered against her mouth in between kisses.
"And you spoil me," she joked, wrapping her arms around his shoulders to hold him close.
"Are you complaining?" Draco laughed.
He was rewarded with a dazzling smile as she gazed lovingly into his eyes. "Not in the slightest."
"Nothing! There was absolutely nothing in the Restricted Section on Sectumsempra! It's like the spell doesn't exist!" Hermione complained at the lunch table the following day.
"Maybe the spell is made up," Ron suggested.
"Or someone invented it," Harry added.
"What do you mean?" Draco asked.
Harry shrugged. "Luna was telling me about how her mother used to create and test new spells. Maybe someone invented the Sectumsempra spell, but it was never published?"
Draco gasped. "That makes sense! If the spell tester deems the original magical too sinister or dangerous for circulation, they can deny the legality of the spell, and it won't be recorded! Merlin, I can't believe I didn't think of that!"
Hermione had a contemplative look on her face when she finally said, "If that were the case, then the Latin roots of the spell roughly translate to mean 'to cut always.'"
"Well, there you go," Ron waved his hand around. "Problem solved. The spell will cut someone forever until they're dead."
"Good to know. Not that I was ever going to use it," Harry affirmed.
The conversation died when a sudden commotion came towards the Entrance Hall. A group of Seventh Year students was marching in, chatting animatedly with a girl in fresh Gryffindor robes and her brown hair pulled back into a tight ponytail.
"Harry, that's Katie!" Hermione exclaimed.
"Katie? Katie, who?" Ron asked.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Katie Bell."
In an instant, Harry was on his feet and walking towards the girl. No one had heard or seen her since the day she was transported to St. Mungo's for treatment after being cursed. The four of them hadn't done much follow-up on the necklace, for the Professors turned it over to the DMLE for investigation. However, after chatting with Tonks at Christmas, it sounded like the cursed necklace was low on the priority list due to staff shortages.
"Think she'll remember who cursed her?" Ron posed, looking at Harry having a hushed conversation with the returned Gryffindor.
"Honestly, I'd be surprised if she did," Hermione replied, though Draco had tuned out the rest of the conversation. His gaze was fixed firmly on a corner of the Slytherin house table where Theo Nott stared in Katie's direction. His face was white as a ghost, and his eyes shown with immense guilt. Pansy was rubbing his back, frantically whispering something to Theo, when he abruptly got up and stalked out of the Hall.
Draco ignored Ron and Hermione calling after him, as he too got up and followed after his former childhood friend. Theo's pace quickly picked up, taking them up the Grand Staircase and to the second-floor girl's lavatory. Draco jumped over the trick step before slowing his stride when he approached the bathroom door. He could hear Theo's whimpers and sobs of distress before the faucet turned on, drowning them out. When the blond cautiously entered the room, he found Theo's robe and tie thrown on the floor while he leaned over the sink muttering to himself, or so Draco thought.
"You can't help me! No one can."
"Tell me what's wrong?" the voice of Moaning Mrytle cooed. "Is it the girl you love? The one that is promised to another?"
Theo shook his head. "It's not that. It… it won't work… said he'll kill me if I don't get it to work soon…."
Draco stood, rooted in his spot, when he realized something. Theo was actually… crying. Unbreakable, cocky, arrogant Theo, who didn't let anything bother him… was standing in a girl's bathroom, crying about his woes to a ghost. About what? Draco didn't know, and he didn't get the chance to ask.
Theo had raised his head just enough to catch Draco's reflection in the mirror above the basin. The Slytherin spun around in a defensive stance, firing a curse towards Draco, which the Gryffindor barely missed.
"Did you do it, Theo?!" Draco shouted, pulling his wand out. "Did you curse, Katie?"
Another spell shot out his Blackthorn wand, hitting a sink and causing water to spew from the broken faucet. Draco felt a small piece of the porcelain break off, cutting his cheek. He winced at the sharp pain before ducking behind another column.
"Stop! Stop this now!" Mrytle shouted, but it was no use. The boys were highly focused and could not be swayed from their battle.
"Fuck off, Malfoy!" Theo shouted, pointing his wand again. "Cruci-"
"Sectumsempra!" Draco bellowed without a second thought. His mind had defaulted to the last spell he could remember, yet he was shaky and stunned when the pale orange light left the tip. The curse had hit Theo square in the chest, creating large, jagged scars across the Slytherin's torso. Theo lay in the water, which was quickly turning red with his blood, gasping for air, when the door to the bathroom suddenly burst open.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?!" Pansy screamed shrilly. She was crying hysterically while leaning over Theo's body. "Theo?! Baby, can you hear me?"
Her voice was enough to shock Draco out of his trance. He quickly shuffled around in his bag, looking for the small pale yellow vial which contained some Essence of Dittany. Draco uncapped the healing solution, coming over to pour it on the wounds when Pansy snapped her head up.
"STAY AWAY FROM HIM!"
"If you don't let me pour this on the wound, he will bleed out!" Draco shouted back.
"And who's fault is that?" she retorted bitterly.
Draco ignored her, trying to push down the regret he felt so that he could fix his mistake. He started at the top of Theo's chest, spreading the liquid around like icing on a cake so that it would cover the entirety of the affected area. However, the curse was counteracting the healing properties of the Dittany, causing the wounds to reopen.
"I don't understand. It should be working," Draco said, staring aghast at what was happening while Theo groaned in pain, still struggling to breathe.
To cut forever.
Hermione's voice was replaying in the back of his mind, reminding him of the etymology of the curse. He sucked in a harsh breath, believing he had killed Theo, when heavy footsteps entered the bathroom, sloshing through the water.
"Vulnera Senentur," Snape repeated over and over again until the wounds were closed. Theo had passed out by this point, having lost too much blood and needing his head to be held up by Pansy so that he didn't drown in the pooling water. "Parkinson, have Crabbe and Goyle carry Mr. Nott to the Hospital Wing. Explain to Madam Pomfrey what happened."
"Yes, Sir," she sniffled just as the two aforementioned Slytherins came into the bathroom.
Snape ordered Myrtle to disappear when they had left before glaring at Draco. "My office, now."
Draco didn't even think of disobeying the command. He moved on autopilot while grabbing his school bag and heading up the stairs to the third floor, where he would wait for Snape in the DADA classroom. His brain felt like it was still trying to comprehend what had happened when he felt someone grab his sleeve.
"What happened? Why are you all wet?" Hermione asked, her voice filled with concern.
"I… I used the spell. On accident," Draco's voice was shaky, and his eyes were pooling with tears. "I hit, Theo."
"Oh, Draco," Hermione reached up, wrapping her arms around him in a tight embrace.
The act caused Draco to break down even further. "I didn't even know I had said it until after the fact. I followed him to the bathroom, and then… he just started firing spells at me, telling me to go away. I heard the first half of the Cruciatus curse and just… shouted the first spell that came to mind."
He hadn't realized that Harry, Luna, and Ron had been standing there, listening to the story as well, when Draco pulled out of the hug.
"But he's going to be alright," Ron said. "It looked like he got help. And knowing you… you obviously stopped the curse from spreading."
The three paled when Draco shook his head. "It really does mean, 'to cut always.' I used my spare Dittany to try and close the wound, but the curse reopened all of them… like I hadn't done anything."
No one said anything, just staring at one another, trying to come to terms with the atrocity. Luna moved first, bringing her hand up to cup Harry's cheek. "You need to get rid of it, Harry. Today."
The dark-haired wizard nodded. "You're right."
Hermione looked down into her bag, pulling out her wand and muttering, "Finite." She looked up at Draco with a small smile. "It's gone. No more looking at the Half Blood Prince."
"Potter, Weasley, Lovegood, and Granger! This isn't an open invitation. Be on your way while I speak to Mr. Malfoy," Snape demanded, flicking his wand so that the door to the classroom could open.
Draco gulped before sending one last look to his friends. He stepped inside, his feet bringing him towards the front of the room where Snape's desk was. He winced when he heard the classroom door slam shut, followed by the Professor's heavy and fast steps.
"Where did you learn that spell?"
Draco opened his mouth to respond, but it was like the words had failed him. "I… from... a book."
"Turn over your bag. Now," Snape ordered. It was clear he had no patience after the dire situation that Draco had created when he roughly took the school pack out of Draco's hand and dumped it over. Snape ignored the rolls of parchment and notes to Hermione when he came across what he was looking for.
"Ah," the Professor said, holding up a worn copy of Advanced Potion Making. "Cheating, were we, Mr. Malfoy?"
"No, Sir. Just using my resources," Draco responded, his voice slowly becoming steadier and clearer.
Snape slammed the book onto the desk. "This is not the time to be clever or witty, Mr. Malfoy! You have seriously injured another student and have been using illicit material to pass a class! Never mind, a subject I have instructed you on countless of times and should already know!"
Draco fought back the tears of shame that threatened to leak out as Snape continued his tirade.
"Is this how Potter and Weasley are passing the class? Did you share the information with them?" Snape asked.
"No, Sir. Just Hermione, but she never used it. She was the one that told me the book was bad and to get rid of it," Draco half-fibbed. Snape didn't need to know that he copied the book and that it had been Harry who was warned to destroy the book.
Snape eyed the student for what felt like an eternity before muttering, "Incendio."
Draco winced as the book caught fire, the large orange flames dancing brightly before snuffing themselves out. Left behind on the desk were nothing but ash from the pages and the charged hardback cover.
"You realize you could be expelled," Snape reminded the Gryffindor. His tone was not threatening but low enough to convey the gravity of the situation.
"I know," Draco gasped out. His heart was pounding, and he felt very hot all of a sudden. He would have seen his face flushed scarlet with embarrassment and shame if he had access to a mirror. "I didn't know what the spell did. I was trying to research it, figure out where it came from before I got into the duel with Nott."
For as long as he had known his godfather, Draco had never feared the man's harsh or condescending choice of words. It was just Snape's way of showing affection, at least sometimes. No, it was his silence and lack of response that told Draco the man was not only extremely upset but disappointed as well.
Waiting for Snape to seal his fate felt like being held under the guillotine. You knew the blade was there, but you didn't know when the final chop would occur.
"I will speak to your Head of House, and we will discuss the severity of your punishment," the Professor said with finality, waving Draco out of the classroom. He didn't breathe again until he was back on the seventh floor and in front of the Fat Lady.
"Ad hominem," he said quietly, prompting the portrait to swing open. Draco was instantly greeted by Hermione, Ron, and Harry, who started bombarding him with questions. When Draco relayed that Snape would be speaking to Professor McGonagall, there was a collective sigh of relief amongst the group.
"There is no way in hell that McGonagall will expel you," Ron assured.
"Plus, Luna hid the real book. It will never be found again," Harry revealed.
Draco nodded. "Luna won't tell a soul."
Hermione reached over, squeezing Draco's hand. "It's going to be alright. You'll see."
It wasn't long until Draco was called to visit McGonagall in her office a few days later. She and Professor Snape were waiting for him when he walked into the empty classroom. Despite the reassurance that he would not be expelled, Draco couldn't help but feel dread at the possibility.
"Mr. Malfoy, I'm sure I don't need to explain the seriousness of the situation, so I'll get right down to it. Your conduct, under normal circumstances, would warrant immediate expulsion from the school. However, after discussing the issue with the Headmaster, we have decided not to expel you."
Draco let out a breath he had not realized he was holding in, his body physically relaxing with relief that he would not be having his wand snapped, that he would not be kicked out to fend for himself at the mere age of 16.
"However, you will be spending the rest of the school year in detention with Professor Snape. Every Sunday starting at 10 in the morning," McGonagall said.
"And possibly through the next term," Snape intoned.
Draco let out another breath. "I understand, Professors, and accept my punishment." He would have to miss weekend practice, but Harry would understand. It just meant Draco would have to work harder during the weekday sessions so that they would be prepared for the final match of the year against Ravenclaw. "I hope you know how much I regret my actions and hope Theo is okay."
"He will be fine, thanks to Professor Snape. Possibly in the Hospital Wing until the end of the year." McGonagall's voice was firm, the tone dripping with disappointment as she dismissed Draco. On the other hand, his friends had different opinions when he met back up with them later that night.
"They cannot force you to serve detention that long!" Ron argued.
"Actually, they can!" Hermione retorted before giving Draco a sad look. "And honestly, Draco's right. He could have been expelled, and who knows what would have happened if…."
"He would have gone home. With Sirius and Remus!" Harry glared at Hermione. "There's no way they or I would have let Draco go back to the place being used as Voldemort's headquarters."
Hermione sighed. "No offense, Harry, but you wouldn't have had a legal claim, and Draco's underage until June."
Harry huffed. "Don't need one. I'll duel Lucius Malfoy or any other Death Eater that tries to take my brother away from me."
Draco chuckled, slightly hiding how touched he was by Harry's passionate defense. "Luckily, you don't, and I just have to serve detention and face whatever consequences that come with it." He sighed. "I'm not sure how this will affect my possible internship at St. Mungo's or if Madam Pomfrey will want me to continue my rounds with the Hospital Wing."
"I think at this point, she would have told you if you were kicked out of the program," Ron pointed out. "And if things get awkward with Nott, you can just have one of us stay with you."
"How?" Draco asked.
Ron shrugged. "We can fake a headache."
"Or a stomach ache!" Harry added.
"See! Foolproof! We sit on the bed while you 'treat us' until your shift is over," Ron said.
"You lot are the best," Draco laughed. "I'll let you know."
Feeling accomplished, Ron then turned to Harry. "How are things with Slughorn?"
"Still a bit awkward. And nowhere near where I need to be with him to get the memory," Harry admitted.
Ron whistled. "Rotten luck, Mate."
Draco and Hermione stopped what they were doing when they noticed Harry's expression. He had a look of revelation in his eyes as he jumped up from the couch, running up towards the dorm rooms. "Luck! That's it!"
Hermione, Draco, and Ron looked back and forth between one another, confused by what just happened when Harry ran back down the stairs. He held up a familiar-looking vial with yellow liquid glimmering in the low light of the fireplace.
"All I need is a bit of luck," Harry said as he uncorked the potion.
Draco bit his bottom lip, watching intently with Ron and Hermione as he downed about ¼ of the potion. It would give Harry approximately six hours of use based on what Slughorn informed them that day long ago.
When Harry closed the vial back up, he appeared to be staring off into space with a broad smile and dizzily looking eyes, but not saying anything. It was unnatural and made the three observing Gryffindors uncomfortable to watch.
Draco was half tempted to cast a spell and check Harry's vitals when Hermione piped up, "Well? How do you feel?"
"Excellent," Harry laughed. "Really excellent!"
He suddenly stood up, looking around the Common Room like how Lockhart used to look when he had a 'brilliant idea.'
"Harry," Hermione snapped her fingers in front of the dark-haired wizard's face to get his attention. "Remember, Slughorn usually eats early, takes a walk, and then returns to his office."
"Right," Harry replied breathlessly. "I'm going down to Hagrid's."
"What?" Ron exclaimed. "Why?"
"No, Harry! You got to go and speak to Slughorn!" Hermione insisted.
"This is definitely not part of the plan, right?" Draco asked.
"I know, but," Harry trailed off like he was searching for the right words to describe what was happening. "I got a really good feeling about Hagrid's. I feel… like it's the place to be tonight. You know what I mean?"
"No," the three Gryffindors replied simultaneously.
"Well, trust me! I know what I'm doing. Or, rather, Felix does!" Harry said. He waved at a younger student before walking out the portrait hole.
"Merlin's Beard, the textbooks weren't kidding when they described the side effects," Draco said. "Mood swings, irrational behavior… I just hope Harry doesn't become addictive to the properties."
"Do you think we should follow him?" Ron asked.
Hermione sighed. "He said to trust Felix. So, let's…" she plopped down onto the couch, pulling out her Charms textbook. "Trust the process."
Ron and Draco shared a look before the redhead leaned forward and whispered, "Have you ever heard Hermione just… go with the flow?"
"Nope. So, we should either be very scared or very worried," Draco replied quietly.
"I can hear you!" Hermione said in a sing-song voice. She pointed at the chair and the other end of the couch, respectively. "I would suggest you two sit down and do your homework while we wait for Harry."
"Yes, Hermione," Ron and Draco grumbled simultaneously.
It was well after curfew when Harry marched back into Gryffindor Tower that night. The three friends were dozing off in front of the fireplace when he woke them up.
"Well, did you get it?" Ron yawned loud as a lion.
When Draco's vision cleared of sleep, he noticed Harry looked normal. He no longer seemed to be bouncing with excitement but was instead his usual self.
"Oh, I got it. And learned so much more," Harry revealed in a low and angry voice.
This caused the three to perk up and listen as Harry told the tale. He relayed that he ran into Slughorn stealing from plants in the greenhouse on the way to visit Hagrid, which caused Ron to snort in disgust.
"Typical," the redhead commented before Harry continued. The dark-haired wizard then described finding Hagrid, who was in the process of burying Aragog.
"The Acromantula that ordered the other spiders to eat us in second year?" Draco asked in disbelief.
Ron scoffed. "Good riddance."
Once the burial was complete, Harry had a drink with Hagrid and Slughorn back at Hagrid's hut, information which caused Draco and Hermione to cringe. There was no telling what the effects of alcohol and the liquid luck would have when mixed together in one's system, but thankfully Harry appeared to be whole and had no injuries. It was there that Harry was able to convince Slughorn to provide the memory, which Harry promptly brought to Dumbledore to view.
"It's called a Horcrux, a dark artifact made by someone splitting their soul and embedding the object with it."
"How do you do something like that?" Ron whispered.
Harry gulped. "By killing someone."
Draco sucked in a sharp breath while Hermione covered her mouth, and Ron's eyes widened.
"And… how many did Voldemort make?" Hermione asked bravely.
"He made seven."
There was another pregnant pause amongst the Gryffindors until Draco cleared his throat.
"Seven," he parroted.
Reluctantly, Harry nodded.
"They could literally be anything," Ron added quietly, his face turning white with the shock.
"We know four already," Harry informed them. "The diary, the ring, the cup, and the locket."
"The diary you destroyed. Any others?" Hermione pulled out a notebook and quill, ready to record the findings.
"Dumbledore took care of the ring. That's why he's been sick most of the school year," Harry said.
"Will he recover?" Ron asked.
"He's dying. Isn't he," Draco stated, a knowing look on his face as he stared at Harry for confirmation.
The dark-haired wizard nodded again.
"How long?" Hermione demanded.
Harry shrugged. "I honestly don't know, but I take it not long since he's given me more information this year than ever before. He's found another one. The locket."
It was Hermione's turn to suck in a breath. "Is Dumbledore going to go after it?"
"That's the thing… he wants me to go with him," he said.
"What?" Ron, Draco, and Hermione gasped.
"You're going to tell Sirius about this, right?" Draco asked.
"When are you going?" Ron questioned.
"Harry. This… this is insane," Hermione trailed off, the quill in her hand shaking. Draco immediately noticed and reached out to gently grasp her wrist. She dropped the writing instrument, turning her palm up to intertwine their fingers.
"Sunday night." He looked over to Draco. "I'll leave the invisibility cloak with you, the map with Ron, and Hermione will keep track of the Felix Felicis."
"What? No! You will keep all your stuff!" Ron argued.
"I don't know when I'll be back, so I need you three to look after everything valuable. Do you promise?"
"Harry…" Hermione trailed off
"Do you promise?" he repeated.
A charged silence fell between the friends, leaving each one of them speechless at the request. They wanted to believe that Harry would be alright with Dumbledore, but the way he was talking made it sound like there was a possibility he wouldn't come back. Draco, especially, wanted to argue and run to tell Sirius, but doing so would violate his trust with Harry.
"And you're sure this is where the Horcrux is?" Draco asked.
"And that this is what you need to get to help defeat Voldemort?" Ron added.
Ron, Hermione, and Draco looked between one another, silently coming to a conclusion to agree to the request. Eventually, they turned back to Harry and nodded to indicate their agreement.
"There was one more memory he showed me. It was of Snape," Harry said before breaking for bed. He cracked his knuckles, attempting to keep his anger and tears in check.
"What about him?" Draco asked.
Harry's face looked haunted as he cleared his throat. "Snape was the one that told Voldemort about the Prophecy. His information was the reason why the Voldemort targeted my family in the first place."
"No," Draco shook his head, sucking in a breath. "He's with the order! A spy! That…."
"It's true. I saw it through Dumbledore's eyes," Harry retorted.
Draco couldn't say anything and instead squeezed Hermione's hand, trying to draw strength from her. He refused to imagine that his godfather would do that and would willingly go to the Dark Lord to give up information freely like that. He was a stern and disagreeable man but never so cruel that he would condemn the lives of others.
"But he's part of the Order! And Dumbledore trusts him," Ron stated in a confused tone as he looked between Harry and Draco.
"Are we suddenly trusting Dumbledore now?" Harry questioned, glaring at Ron. His tone softened as he turned back to Draco. "I'm mainly telling you so that you can be careful around him. I wouldn't be surprised if he is still playing both sides."
Draco still didn't respond and watched as Ron and Harry went off to bed. Hermione stayed up, cuddling him on the couch and assuring that Snape loved him and wouldn't betray Draco. Though he was beyond grateful for the words of affirmation, something in Draco's gut was warning him otherwise.
The mood was melancholy, to say the least when morning rolled around the Saturday before Harry's mission. Spirits were high around the golden quartet as it was the last match for the school year and would determine who won the Quidditch House Cup. Yet, the four of them couldn't seem to find it in them to be as jovial as the rest of the team.
"Guess what!" Luna exclaimed as she slid across the bench to sit next to Harry. "I get to commentate the last match!"
"Luna! That's fantastic!" Draco cheered.
Harry leaned over, kissing her on the forehead. "Congrats," he whispered. "I'll have to fly up and hand you the snitch when I catch it."
Luna giggled before kissing him on the nose. "Don't count your chickens before they hatch. You are facing my house after all."
"Gah!" Ron gagged. "Look, Mate. I'm happy you have a girlfriend and all, but can you stop being so… lovey around us? It's bad enough we have to deal with these two all the time!"
"Hey!" Draco and Hermione said at the same time.
Luna rolled her eyes before pecking Harry on the lips. "There's your good luck kiss, Captain. I better go and set up. Spectators will be arriving soon, and I want to make sure the Wizarding Wireless is playing before the stadium fills up." Before she skipped away, Luna turned to Hermione. "You should sit next to me. It could be fun to view the match from a different perspective."
"Oh, uh, alright," Hermione agreed, stunned by the offer.
Despite all that was to come in the next 24-hours, Luna's energy had brightened the mood amongst the four Gryffindors, putting the three players in a better mindset as they trekked down to the changing tents.
Hermione broke off and began climbing the steps to where the commentator's box was. She greeted Professors as she walked by them before sitting next to Luna.
"I'm so glad you could join me," the blonde Ravenclaw said over the loud music playing.
"Since when did you get approval for this?" Hermione asked.
"It was actually Lee's idea before he left! He said he didn't get anywhere with Professor McGonagall on playing it before matches to pump the crowd up. When I took over and asked Professor Flitwick about it, he was naturally thrilled with the idea," Luna explained.
"Because he's the Frog Choir coach?" Hermione theorized.
"I think so," Luna agreed, bobbing her head to the rock tune.
Before long, the stands were packed and divided, with people supporting either Gryffindor or Ravenclaw. Luna cut the music before pulling out the ancient-looking microphone.
"Hello everyone! And greetings to you on this fine Spring day for the final Quidditch match of the season," Luna said in her dreamy voice. "My name is Luna Lovegood, though most of you call me Looney behind my back…."
Hermione's jaw dropped as Luna basked in her opportunity to make the crowd uncomfortable. The curly-haired witch couldn't help but feel pride that her unusual and quiet friend was finally sticking up for herself in the pettiest way possible.
"…and yes, I will be providing commentary on this match, even though I know next to nothing about the sport or the players' names."
Hermione couldn't help but chuckle as she heard McGonagall let out a noise of disapproval, but that didn't stop Luna from providing her two-pence.
"Without further ado, let's introduce the teams! First up, we have Ravenclaw House, led by Quidditch Captain and Keeper Diana Halloway. She's nice and helped me find my shoes when I was a first-year."
"Oh, for Merlin's sake," McGonagall said under her breath. "Miss Lovegood, please just get on with the introductions."
"Okay, Professor. For the Chasers, we have Ashley Hazelwood, who is very rude; Anthony Goldstein, and Michael Corner, who I don't know but is a year above me. Rounding out my house team for the Beaters is Andrew Gutsy, who is such a mean and awful boy, and Mickey Stix, another nasty boy that you do not want to snog. He doesn't brush his teeth."
There was a collective noise of disgust from the crowd, which, judging by Luna's face, was the exact reaction she was going for.
"Finally, we have Su Li as the Seeker, which, again, I don't know her, but she is quite beautiful. Next up, the Gryffindor team!"
Hermione cheered and clapped as Luna took her time introducing the Gryffindor players. She tried not to cringe as the players did some dangerous yet impressive stunts around the field to hype up the crowd. "Whoa! Go, Draco! Go, Harry! Go, Ron!"
A wide smile formed on her face when she caught Draco's eyes. He did some kind of elaborate dive before gliding upright on his broom and stopping in front of her. Leaning over the side of the commentator's box, he shouted, "Kiss me for good luck?"
Hermione laughed as she stood up, grabbing the edges of Draco's Quidditch robe before pulling him forward. It was like the world around her disappeared as their lips connected in a sweet but lingering kiss, only to be interrupted by Madam Hooch blowing her whistle.
"Score big for me," she shouted as Draco flew away to take his formation amongst the team. When Hermione reclaimed her seat, she blatantly ignored the Professors around her who were either staring at the back of her head in shock or were not so secretly passing Galleons back and forth. Luna even shot her a smug look, causing Hermione's cheeks to blush red as an apple. "Oh, shut up," she teased the Ravenclaw as Luna brought the microphone up to her lips.
"Well, if anyone in the crowd still had doubts that Hermione Granger was dating my cousin, Draco Malfoy… they're gone now!"
"I'm going to kill you," Hermione muttered as Madam Hooch released the Quaffle.
Luna lowered the microphone. "Harry would be very sad if you did that." She shot Hermione a teasing side-eye. "Besides, you love me too much."
After two hours of intense competition, Harry finally caught the snitch, securing the Quidditch Cup win for Gryffindor house. As promised, Harry handed the Golden Snitch to Luna before she left the commentator's box.
The party in the Common Room that night went well into the early hours of the morning, leaving the golden quartet to sleep in the next day. When dusk rolled around, Harry gave each item to the respective person before heading out the door.
"You will be careful, won't you, Harry?" Hermione asked, trying to keep her voice steady.
"There's no need to worry. I'll be with Dumbledore."
The three watched as Harry left, not looking over his shoulder and marching forward with determination. If… no, Draco couldn't think like that, when Harry came back, he would have one more piece of Voldemort that they could destroy, weakening him further.
"We should be contacting Sirius, right?" Hermione posed to the group after an hour of just sitting around the Common Room.
"You realize that if you do that, Harry will never trust you again. Besides, I'm sure he told Sirius," Ron hypothesized.
The assurance did little to sway Hermione, which only caused Draco to pull her into his side and hold her while lying on the couch. They could hear the wind pick up and the thunder crack in the distance as ominous storm clouds started to roll in around the castle. They lost track of time in how long Harry was gone when, suddenly, several loud consecutive bangs sounded from the hallway, causing all three of the Gryffindors to jump.
"Something's going on out there," Ron muttered.
"What is it?" Dean asked, coming to stand behind the redhead.
Hermione gasped, her eyes widening with realization as she inched slightly closer portrait hole. "The Room of Requirement is on the seventh floor."
"And?" Ron prompted, his head turning back towards the door when a loud howl resounded from the other side.
"Nott and Parkinson must have fixed the Vanishing Cabinet. They let Death Eaters into the castle," Hermione's voice trailed off, getting quieter with each word as the shocking revelation came to light.
"Then we know what we need to do," Draco said, nodding to the sixth year boys and some of the other seventh year students who had come down to see what was happening.
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked just as the group of Gryffindors started marching towards the portrait hole.
"Get the first years upstairs, Hermione," Draco ordered sternly as he pulled his wand. "As high up as you can."
Hermione grabbed his wrist, tugging Draco back to her side. "You cannot go out there. Draco…"
Her protest was cut off by Draco leaning down to kiss her firmly on the mouth. He lingered only for a moment, savoring the taste of her lips. When he pulled back, he cupped her face, memorizing her beautiful, chocolate brown eyes through the slight glassy look thanks to the tears forming in the corners of his.
"Love, I need you to hold down the fort and get the first years to safety. Can you do that?" he asked her, a slight crack to his tone.
Hermione couldn't say anything and simply nodded, quickly wiping away the tears that had started to flow from her eyes.
"Alright, Mates," Draco called out, turning away from Hermione. "Remember what Harry taught us. Defense positions with groups of three to four minimum."
The older Gryffindors nodded as Ron did the count down before Selena Wahlbeck, a seventh year, opened the portrait. Before Draco joined them, Hermione stepped in front of her boyfriend and vaulted herself into his arms. "Don't be a hero, Draco. Come back to me."
"I promise," he vowed before charging out the door. Lavender was the one to make sure the portrait was sealed while Hermione regained her composure. Her heart was pounding so loud in her chest that she felt like it would burst out. This was it. It was really happening. The war was upon them, and the Death Eaters were finally taking a shot at Hogwarts. Taking a few deep breaths, she closed her eyes and quickly grounded herself before opening them to face the members of her house.
"Miss Hermione. What is going on?" a scared first year boy asked while tugging on her jumper sleeve.
Hermione did her best to smile reassuringly. "We're all going to go upstairs to the highest room and wait for a little bit. Okay?"
She didn't waste any time and ordered Parvati and Cormac to start knocking on doors and getting people as high up as possible. Once the Common Room was cleared, Hermione ran over to one of the medieval paintings and called out. "Sir Cadogan!"
The knight fumbled a little bit but managed to bow upon his arrival. "At your service, M'lady."
"I need you to notify Professor McGonagall and the other Heads of Houses. Let them know there is an intrusion in the castle, and inform our Head that Gryffindor Tower is safe."
Hermione was surprised at how clear and steady her voice was, considering she had no idea if the people she loved most were safe or hurt. No matter how much she wanted to charge out there and find Draco or Ron, she knew they were right. They needed someone to be the last line of defense in case the intruders were going to break into the Tower.
The knight did not hesitate and leaped into action, disappearing from the painting to deliver her message. With a shaky hand, Hermione tried to clear her mind and think of the happiest memory she could manage, given the circumstances. She instantly thought of Draco, lying in bed next to him or kissing him outside the Transfiguration classroom while they planned their future.
The silver otter, who she had become accustomed to seeing, instantly shot out the tip of her Vinewood, coming to float at attention in front of its conjurer.
"Find Sirius Black or Remus Lupin. Let them know Hogwarts is under attack," she commanded the spirit. Within a breath, the white Apparition floated out of the stained glass and into the grey and foreboding night sky to find its target.
Parvati came jogging down the stairs, passing the otter before reporting to Hermione. "Everyone is either in the seventh or sixth year dorms. Cormac and Romilda are keeping watch."
"Thank you," Hermione whispered.
"We should stay down here and be the first line of defense," Lavender's voice cracked. "In case…"
"In case the Death Eaters breach the Tower," Hermione finished. "I've called for the Order of the Phoenix. Hopefully, more reinforcements are on the way." She raised her wand and stared at the door. "You two should get upstairs with the rest."
"Are you kidding me? We aren't leaving you here by yourself!" Lavender protested.
"It's too dangerous," Hermione argued.
"We're being attacked, Hermione!" Parvati yelled, holding up her wand to stand to Hermione's right.
"The least we can do is not let you guard alone," Lavender agreed, standing to Hermione's left.
The curly-haired witch looked between the two of them. She was trying not to think about how she'd known these wonderful, brave girls for six years… and how that friendship could end in a matter of seconds tonight. Letting out a slow, steady breath, Hermione agreed, turning her attention back to the door when Sir Cadogan came back.
"M'Lady! I was able to reach most of the Professors, except for one."
Hermione gulped, her throat suddenly becoming dry as she asked, "Who?"
Draco ducked around the corner, narrowly avoiding a curse while he heard his aunt cackle out, "Come out, come out, Drakey dear! Come out and play!"
"Stupefy!" Ron shouted, just missing Bellatrix by inches from her head. He jumped around the same corner as Draco. "Your family is crazy!"
"Tell me about it," Draco grunted while throwing up a shield charm.
"What are you two doing out here! You should get back to the Common Room!" Bill Weasley yelled as he shot off another curse towards two Death Eaters.
"Bill! They're 'eading for the Astronomy Tower!" Fleur called out. She was flanking a group of Order members trying to fight the Death Eaters as they charged.
"We're trying to help!" Ron shouted back.
"You're still too young! Get everyone you can and get back inside the tower!" Bill ordered.
Draco grabbed onto his best friend's shoulder, squeezing it firmly but not hard enough to hurt.
"No! We have just as much a right to be out here as the Order. We're members, are we not?"
In his hot-headed arrogance, Ron stormed after the group, wanting to prove his worth. Not wanting to leave his friend alone, Draco ran after him, trying to convince Ron to come back. They were both unaware of the creeping figure that was watching from a hidden alcove.
"For the last time! Go back!" Bill yelled at his brother.
"No! I'll fight if I want to!"
"That's not the poin…."
Suddenly, Draco and Ron were pushed out of the way, landing hard on their backs on the corridor ground. When Draco looked up, Fleur was firing spell after spell at the real-life version of Greyback, her cry of warning coming only a second too late. The fearsome werewolf that he had seen in countless wanted ads in the Daily Prophet was looming over the oldest Weasley sibling, his left claw dripping with blood from the fresh wound he left on Bill's face.
"Take one more step, blondie, and I'll bite him," the werewolf howled.
"Fuck you!" Fleur shouted while Bill fired off a spell, vaulting Greyback off of him.
The werewolf howled in pain before growling and running on his original path towards the Astronomy Tower entrance. Fleur did not bother to chase the creature and knelt to take care of Bill instead.
"…must get you to the 'ospital wing…."
"Ron," Bill groaned, clutching the side of his face while blood continued to leak through the gashes. "Get back… to Gryffindor… Common Room."
This time, Ron did not argue and instead allowed Draco to guide him back. When they arrived, Hermione was there, making sure that students were getting out and to safety towards the secret passageways into Hogsmeade.
"What's going on?" Draco asked.
Hermione spun around, throwing herself into his arms. "You're alright."
"I'm alright, Love," Draco assured her, cupping the side of her face. "What's happening?"
"McGonagall. All the Head of Houses, except for Snape, are escorting the younger students out of the school. We don't know how many Death Eaters there are. Hogwarts… Hogwarts is no longer safe."
Draco felt his breath catch in his chest as the realization hit him. He opened his mouth to ask about Harry and Dumbledore when Parvati came running out of the portrait hole. "That's the last one. Gryffindor Tower is clear."
"Have you seen, Harry?" Ron asked, his voice slightly cracked from the shock of watching his older brother get attacked.
Parvati shook her head. "No, sorry."
A loud boom resounded through the ground, causing Hermione and Draco to jump. They could hear cackling and cheering coming from somewhere far away when the sky illuminated in a deathly green. Sparks of magic popped and formed the terrifying image of a human skull with a snake slithering out of its jaw.
"That's…" Parvati couldn't finish, her body quaking as she pointed towards the ominous sign.
"The Dark Mark," Draco, Ron, and Hermione intoned simultaneously.
"It only appears when they kill someone, right?" Ron whispered, not taking his eyes off the symbol in the sky.
"Is that what that means?" Parvati asked, tears flowing freely down her cheeks.
The three Gryffindors looked towards the ground, finding a white blob that looked like an outline of a man.
"Long white hair," Draco breathed out. "Is it…"
"It's Dumbledore," Ron affirmed in a grave tone. "It has to be…."
The sound of voices and taunts that Dumbledore was dead started to fill the hallway prompting the four to find a nook to hide in. Bellatrix led the pack, skipping down the corridor like a school girl having a grand old time instead of celebrating the death of the greatest wizard ever to live. She was followed closely by Greyback and other higher-ranking Death Eaters, all having gleeful expressions on their faces as they passed by the hidden Gryffindors unaware. Then something happened that caused Draco to almost faint. To his shock, Snape was amongst them, dragging Theo along through the procession. The sight of his godfather walking away with the people who murdered Dumbledore, who supported the Dark Lord, was like a punch to the gut. His chest was swirling with the pain of the duplicity from the man he trusted most.
The four students waited for a moment, listening until the footsteps stopped echoing, and the voices died down.
"He left us," Draco whispered to know one in particular. "He left me!"
"Maybe there's an explanation," Hermione assured quietly, reaching out to squeeze Draco's hand. She pulled him in for another hug.
"He betrayed us!" Draco's voice cracked as his features hardened. "Just like Harry said."
"Speaking of… Harry!" Ron shouted, but the dark-haired wizard ignored them and continued following after the Death Eaters.
"We should go after him," Hermione suggested, tugging Draco out of their hiding spot. She looked up at him with concern when she saw the angry and far-off look on his face.
"Draco. Mate. You need to snap out of it." Ron shook his friend's shoulders, trying to snap him out of his shock. "We need to get to Harry."
"Right," Draco mumbled, shaking his head. A new look of determination set over when he nodded. "Let's go."
The three, including Parvati, rushed down the stairs and into the courtyard, ignoring the path of destruction left by the Death Eaters when they met some resistance. Several students and Professors had gathered around the area, forming a circle around Dumbledore's body. It was jarring enough to stop Hermione, Ron, and Draco and join the group, almost like they were in a trance as they looked at the unmoving figure of the Headmaster. They thought this was a man who would never be defeated, even though they did not trust him. This was the man that Voldemort feared above all, even more so than Harry, and here he was… on the pavement as nothing more than flesh and blood.
The eerie yet tranquil trance was broken at the sound of another explosion. The three Gryffindors jumped, looking down the hill towards the Forbidden Forrest, when their eyes widened.
"That's Hagrid's hut," Draco voiced, his body moving before his mind and causing him to break into a run. He didn't look but could hear Ron and Hermione trailing close behind him. He pushed his legs to go faster down the steep incline, the entire time hoping that Hagrid got out and would be okay. When they finally reached the garden, they found Harry on the ground; his wand kicked away from his hand.
The three did not hesitate to shoot water spells at the hut. Steam rose through the sky, hissing as the incompatible elements fought for dominance over the other. Between the three of them, they had the house out within a minute and could enter the rubble.
"Hagrid?" Draco called out, being the first one to enter the once humble abode. He used his wand to levitate pieces of charred wood and personal belongings out of the way but did not find anything that resembled a body of a half-giant.
"I… don't think he was inside…." Hermione stuttered. When she noticed something near the north wall of the house. "Oh…"
Ron and Draco knelt to where they could hear more clearly the faint whimpers coming from Fang, Hagrid's trusted dog.
"Can… Can you help him?" Hermione sobbed, unable to look away from the injured animal.
"He's got third-degree burns, and I don't have any Dittany on me," Draco revealed to the redhead quietly.
"Even if you tried to use magic to save him… let's be honest. It would probably prolong his suffering," Ron replied in the same hushed tone.
"Oi! What 'appned?! What did yeh do ter me house?" Hagrid's voice resounded through the clearing. When the three Gryffindors gazed over, Harry finally managed to stand up and pulled Hagrid into a hug.
"NO! NO! IT AIN'T TRUE!"
Hagrid's sobs drowned out any other noise in the clearing. His giant body shook with grief and distress as he hugged Harry tightly when his head suddenly snapped up.
"Fang! Where's me dog! Where's Fang?"
"Hagrid…" Ron tried to say gently, but the Professor wasn't having any of it. He pushed into the house, finding his trusty companion where the teenagers had discovered the dog.
"Those bastards! Ever' las' one of them," Hagrid muttered between his tears and sobs. "Draco…"
The blond stepped forward. "Yes?"
"I need ter ask yeh a favor," Hagrid said in a broken voice. He looked at the Gryffindor with pleading eyes. "Can yeh… can yeh put him out of his misery?"
Draco gave a sharp intake of breath, understanding perfectly what Hagrid was asking. "I know the spell," he replied in a soft tone.
Hagrid nodded. "Make it quick."
He held out his wand, moving his hand in a 'Z' like formation. "ad somnum," Draco muttered, sending a light wave of purplish-pink magic towards Fang. Within seconds, the dog was knocked out and was no longer making any noises of distress.
Slowly, Draco lowered his wand and stepped back to stand beside Hermione and Ron, watching with a dazed look as Hagrid grieved the loss of his canine friend.
After an indeterminable amount of time, Harry walked up and informed them they needed to head back to the castle. Together, the five of them walked in a deadly silent group to the courtyard, where more students had gathered around. People were crying and still looking upon the dead body, clearly not knowing what to do or still processing the events of that evening.
Harry didn't hesitate and moved past everyone to kneel beside the Headmaster. The dark-haired wizard rearranged the hair that had fallen into the man's old face before he reached up and closed Dumbledore's eyes. Luna moved next, crouching down next to Harry as she embraced him. Harry's sobs were heart-wrenching to hear, even if they were slightly muffled by him crying into the Ravenclaw's shoulder.
Hermione and Draco reached out for each other, holding firmly and interlacing their fingers as they grieved with the rest of the students and faculty. The Dark Mark above their heads seemed to be growing larger with each passing second, only prompting McGonagall to raise her wand first and cast a small white light. She held it high above her head, like an act of solidarity for the Headmaster, which prompted other students and staff to follow along. The combined light from their wands rose together, mixing with the dark clouds like a tornado. It was an ironic image, a battle between light and darkness in its purest form, not knowing which one would win. Yet, in the end, the light dissipated the gloomy clouds, allowing the break of dawn to cut through the stars and moon to shine upon the school grounds.
"Hope," Ginny whispered to no one in particular.
Draco couldn't help but silently agree as he squeezed Hermione's hand just a little bit tighter.
The best way Draco could describe the mood of the following days was frantic chaos. He was sure McGonagall or any of the other Professors hadn't slept in almost three days, what with trying to reclaim a sense of peace over the school and arrange for Dumbledore's funeral. At least, that was if a student's parents didn't come storming into the school demanding to remove their child. Seamus got into an almost knock-out, drag-down fight with his mother about staying, which was quite something to see when the traditional Irish accent came out in full force. Even the golden quartet was still wired, only managing a few hours of fitful sleep here and there. Classes and school activities were canceled for the year, and all students would be sent home the day after the funeral, nearly two and half weeks early.
Harry had pulled Ron, Draco, and Hermione aside at some point before the funeral, telling them what happened that night on the Astronomy Tower and showing them the locket, revealing that it had been a fake. That someone else had already gotten to the Horcrux first.
"Nott really killed Dumbledore?" Hermione parroted back in a tone of disbelief.
Harry nodded. "He said he didn't have a choice, that his path had been chosen, and this is what he had to do."
"But… why? It doesn't make sense?" Hermione threw her hands up, pacing around the floor as she tried to put the pieces together. "Voldemort didn't have any leverage over him. Nott had no reason to go through with the mission unless he wanted to."
"But he did. It was for love," Harry revealed. "Theo volunteered for the mission to kill Dumbledore after Pansy and Zacharias announced their engagement. He told Dumbledore that if he succeeded, Voldemort would annul the contract and allow Pansy and Theo to be together."
"Which is why she helped him. The cursed necklace did belong to the Parkinsons!" Hermione exclaimed.
Harry nodded. "They worked together to fix the Vanishing Cabinet… and while also... sort of... having an affair behind Zacharias' back."
"I never thought I would say this, but Merlin, I feel sorry for Smith!" Draco said, shaking his head. He did not voice that he could relate to why Theo did what he did. Looking up and making eye contact with Hermione, Draco knew in his heart that he would do anything for the woman he loved… even murder someone if that's what it took. Based on the flicker in Hermione's gaze, he could see she conveyed the same thought.
"I'm assuming Smith found out?" she questioned.
"I think his father dragged him out the morning it broke that… well, you know," Ron informed them as he returned a note to Harry. "More importantly, who is R.A.B.?"
"It's got to be someone's initials," Hermione stated, handing the fake locket back to Harry. "Maybe someone in the Order will know or recognize it?"
"It sounds… really familiar!" Draco chewed on his bottom lip, letting out a breath of frustration. "Why can't I put my finger on it."
Hermione shushed him, sliding to his side to wrap her arms around his torso. "Don't overwork yourself, Love."
"I just… feel like I know something, and it should be there," Draco sighed.
"Hey, Mate. We've all had a rough few days. Maybe after we get home and rest, it will come to you," Ron assured, earning him weird looks from his friends. He raised his hands in a self-defense position. "What?"
Harry shook his head while Hermione let out a small chuckle. "That was just… surprisingly considerate of you, Ron."
The redhead rolled his eyes. "I have my moments, you know."
"Few and far between," Draco teased, earning him a playful punch in the arm.
The four of them clung to that sense of normalcy for as long as they could before eventually getting up to get ready for the service. There were rumors that it would be completely packed and that there would not be an open spot on the grounds with how many spectators were coming to pay their respects.
"Do you think your father and mother will be there?" Hermione asked, holding onto Draco's side a little tighter as she tried to fight the mental image of the Malfoys taking away her boyfriend.
"I honestly don't know, but I won't go with them if they do," Draco promised.
Though most students were packing and preparing to travel on the Hogwarts Express that evening, Hermione was not among those students. She had already closed her trunk and was ready to leave at a moment's notice, which found her sneaking down to the library to scour the Charms section.
"Memory… Memory… Mem…"
"What are you looking for?"
She gasped, spinning on her heels with her hand on her heart. "Draco! For Merlin's sake, you scared me half to death."
The blond, handsome devil that was her boyfriend smirked. "You only get scared like that when you get caught doing something you aren't supposed to be doing."
Hermione bit her bottom lip, pulling a textbook out. She moved to storm past Draco, but the Gryffindor stopped her. He gently pushed her up against the window seal, trapping her in the abandoned library between the stacks.
"And what knowledge are you searching for this evening?" Draco asked as he pulled the book out of her hand. The playfulness in his tone dropped when he read the title. "Memory charms?"
Hermione looked away guiltily. "You know… just for reference…."
"No," Draco dropped the book on the table. He placed his hands on either side of her face, forcing Hermione to look at him. "Why are you researching memory charms?"
"I…" her voice broke, a tear leaking down her eyes. "I need to protect them, Draco."
"My… my parents," she whispered, placing her hands on his shoulders. "You have to understand… We will be hunting the Horcruxes, which means Voldemort will go after them for information. They won't know anything, but… I can't leave them here unprotected." She cleared her throat. "I'm going to erase their memories and send them out of the country; give them new identities. They… They won't remember who I am and will be safe…."
"Hermione! That's crazy! And permanent!"
"I know!" she shouted back, the tears flowing freely from her eyes. "Do you think I haven't thought of every possible scenario?"
"This is the safest option," Hermione affirmed, reaching for the book again.
Draco stopped her, cupping the side of her face. "Did it not once occur to you, you brilliant, clever witch, to maybe… ask for help?"
"I…" Hermione stuttered, her voice failing her as she blinked at her boyfriend.
"Hestia is an Unspeakable, which means she is a trained Oblivator," Draco said slowly. "She could safely memory charm your parents without causing permanent damage."
Hermione didn't know what to say. It had never crossed her mind that she could reach out to the Order. Her first reaction had been to research and then act as soon as possible. Now that Dumbledore was gone, there was no telling how many days they had left before the Death Eaters took control of everything. She had been so caught up in trying to give her Parents the best hope for survival that she never stopped to consider that… yes, she had a support system and people to turn to who could help her.
Draco almost reared back with shock when Hermione burst into uncontrollable sobs. He didn't hesitate to pull her into his chest, rubbing soothing circles on her back as she let out the pain, frustration, and grief these past few days had caused her.
"I'm here. Shh, I'm here, Love," Draco whispered in her ear, holding her tightly and not letting go.
When Hermione pulled back just enough to look into his eyes, she said, "I don't have to lose them. I could… I could have them back? When this is all over?"
Draco nodded as she flashed him a watery smile while rubbing her nose.
"I know," Draco leaned down and kissed her forehead gently. "You aren't alone, my Love."
"Neither are you," she whispered back, rising on her tiptoes to firmly kiss his mouth.
It didn't take long for things to turn heated between the two of them. Hermione wrapped her legs around his waist while Draco rutted against her, barely breaking contact with her mouth as he moved their intertwined hands along the stained glass until they were above her head.
"I love you," she moaned.
"I love you, Hermione Granger…." Draco breathed out, pulling back just enough to look into her lust-filled and dazed eyes. "Forever."
End of Year 6