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Chapter 32 : 32.
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It was enough. Draco regained his composure and stood up, facing the cabinet like an old foe.
“How are you?”
Hermione waved and nodded.
“You look like a bobblehead,” Harry grinned.
“It’s not my fault, what am I supposed to do?” Hermione hissed, teeth clenched in a smile.
“There’s nothing you can do, but it’s right annoying, I’ll tell you that much,” Ron grumbled, pushing through a crowd of First Years who were straining to get a look at Hermione.
“It was two weeks ago!” Hermione burst out. “And it wasn’t a big deal!”
“Um…a Slytherin helped a Gryffindor in plain sight of everyone,” said Harry. “Not only that – but the Slytherin – a Pureblood who’s been our nemesis since First Year. You may not think it was a big deal, but trust me, it was.”
“Maybe he was Imperiused,” Ron said.
“Maybe he was,” Hermione agreed, ignoring Harry’s exaggerated eye-roll.
The last two weeks Hermione and Draco had taken every pain to avoid each other. Hermione didn’t so much as glance at the Slytherin table during meals, and when she noticed any flash of green in the corridors she studiously looked down. Still, people continued to talk about the Hogsmeade incident. Students from every House were being suspiciously nice. She’d even caught a few Slytherins giving her discreet smiles. Ginny said it was because most people wanted the Houses to get along. “You see,” Ginny whispered the night after the Hogsmeade trip, “Gryffindor and Slytherin used to be best friends, which people always forget – but yesterday you and Malfoy reminded them.”
“But nothing really happened!” Hermione had exclaimed.
“It did though! Think about it this way: Gryffindors and Slytherins have hated each other for centuries, ever since Godric and Salazar had their falling out, and since then any friendly or romantic interaction between our two Houses has been unheard of! Yes, it has probably happened – discreetly, but this is the first I’ve heard of a Slytherin actually fighting to help a Gryffindor, in full view of the public. Can’t you see why this is so exciting??!”
But Hermione still didn’t see. Furthermore, she was terrified it was going to get Draco in trouble. What if You-Know-Who finds out? No. Their only hope was to pretend that nothing happened until the whole thing blew over. The problem was that it wasn’t blowing over as quickly as Hermione would like. Two weeks later, and people were treating her like some captivating damsel-in-distress. I wonder how Draco is faring? From what she’d overheard, students were heatedly debating his character. Was he good? Evil? A mix of the two? The only definitive thing about him was that everyone (at least the girls) thought he was hot.
“He’s so dangerous!” A Hufflepuff giggled as Harry, Ron and Hermione slipped into Defense Against the Dark Arts.
“Bloody hell,” Ron growled. “What is it with girls and the ‘bad boys’…he’s a total git, how is that attractive?”
“It’s the mystery, mate,” Dean Thomas said. “Girls love it. You should hear my little sister go on about Balthazar.”
Harry and Hermione raised an eyebrow at each other, thinking of Ginny.
“Good morning, one and all!” Professor Slughorn beamed at his class. “Now, today…”
“That was wicked!” Ron said as soon as Defense Against the Dark Arts was over.
“Yeah, I didn’t know how to cast a hovering Shield Charm before!” Hermione said. An interesting lesson always energized her.
“I have a feeling it’ll come in handy next year,” Harry said knowingly.
They went quiet.
“Well, I’ll see you guys at Transfiguration,” Hermione said, splitting off from them. “I’m going to the library for a bit.”
“What could you possibly have to do?” Ron asked.
“How about that essay on poisonous plants for Herbology?”
“That isn’t due til next week!” Harry said.
“Exactly. That only gives me four days! And I’ll probably have to finish both of yours…”
The boys rolled their eyes.
“Bollocks! We’ll get it done. We’ve got loads of time,” Ron exclaimed.
“Uh-huh. I’m sure. Well, bye guys,” Hermione laughed.
“See you later Hermione.”
“Don’t work too hard…”
It was nearing afternoon and the library was quiet. Still, Hermione headed for the back, out of sight of the main entrance.
She moved past shelves and shelves of books, past the Restricted Section and its warning ropes of velvet, past nooks and crannies stuffed with old armchairs and dusty tables.
She stopped when she heard rustling coming from her favorite spot.
Damn! No one is ever back here.
She was turning to head back up front when a voice pulled her around.
“Malfoy! What are you doing here?”
“Waiting for you.”
He looked awful. His eyes were slate-grey and dull, shadowed by heavy bags. His hair hung lank over his forehead, and his cheekbones were sharper than she’d seen them before.
“How long have you been here?! How long were you intending to wait?”
“As long as it took. And it doesn’t matter how long I’ve been here. You’re here now – I have something important to tell you.”
She followed him to the faded green couch, where he collapsed onto it as though standing was simply too much effort.
“Draco…” She leaned over him, brushing hair from his eyes and resting her hand on his forehead. It was warm. “You’re feverish. How long has it been since you’ve eaten? Or slept?”
He closed his eyes, letting her touch wash over him. “Don’t know – can’t remember. A few days, maybe.”
“A few days??!” Hermione cursed herself. She’d been so focused on avoiding him so as not to arouse suspicion that she hadn’t noticed how much he’d been suffering.
“I’ll go get you some food, you lay down and rest, I’ll be right…”
“-No! Hermione, there’s something I have to tell you. Please.”
She sat back down.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
“For the last month I’ve been working on fixing this cabinet – a Vanishing Cabinet. There are two of them. They connect between The Room of Requirement and Borgin and Burkes.”
“So that’s why Harry couldn’t find you on the map!” Hermione breathed.
He looked at her confusedly, but continued. “Anyway, Dumbledore, Professor Snape and I formulated a plan – basically, that I would give The Dark Lord what he wants.”
“What’s that?” Hermione whispered, fearing the answer.
“To take over Hogwarts. To kill Dumbledore.”
“Well,” Hermione swallowed. “Well, that’s nothing we didn’t know before…although, this pathway. Are you saying…what you mean is that, they’re coming tonight.”
Draco met her eyes in despair. “Yes. I fixed the cabinet last night. They’re coming tonight.”
Hermione felt a shiver run up her spine. Draco grabbed her hand, squeezing tightly. It was cold and clammy.
“Hermione, listen to me. You have to stay in Gryffindor Tower.”
“PROMISE ME!” He gripped her hand even tighter, breathing heavily. “Snape is going to make sure the halls are clear.”
“Where will Dumbledore be?” Hermione asked in alarm.
“I don’t know – he said he had something to do. That he’d be here later.”
“Something to do?! What could he possibly have to do? The castle is about to be invaded by Death Eaters and he’s just going to leave?”
“That’s why it’s so important that everyone stay in their House quarters. The Death Eaters can’t go there, except the Slytherin common room, and they won’t hurt students from their own House.”
“How do you know?” Hermione demanded.
“I – Hermione, I – I don’t know. I don’t know anything. I’m terrified.” He buried his head in his hands. His whole body was trembling.
Hermione slid her arms around him, leaning over his back, her head on his shoulder. Draco pushed himself up and held her tightly to his chest. He breathed her in and gradually stopped shaking.
“I don’t know when I’ll see you again. I can’t come back to Hogwarts after tonight. The Dark Lord might kill me anyway, just because he can. I wish I could be the man you deserve. I wish I could give you what you want – what you deserve.”
Hermione pulled away from him. Her eyes were filled with tears. She could barely speak for the lump in her throat, but she choked out the words: “All I want is for you to survive.”
Then she was kissing him fiercely. Draco met her with equal passion, his exhaustion forgotten. It was a furious kiss – deep and desperate, tainted by despair. When neither of them could hold their breath for a second longer they wrenched themselves apart.
Panting, Hermione pushed herself off the couch and stood up. She reached the bookshelves before turning back with eyes of fire.
“Come back to me, that’s my only wish.”
“Hermione! There you are. I went to the library but couldn’t find you.” Harry’s eyes were wild. “I can’t find Ron and Ginny…” He gripped her forearms.
“Harry! I’m glad you’re here. I need to tell you something…”
“Death Eaters will be here tonight.”
“Draco – Malfoy told me.” Harry nodded as though this made sense.
“I’m going with Dumbledore,” he said quickly.
“I don’t know.”
“Yes, now. Listen, you have to make sure everyone is in the common room tonight – no one leaves. And also – the elixir I won in Potions – the Felix Felicis?”
“Take it – give some to Ginny and Ron too.”
“What about you?”
“I’ll have Dumbledore with me.”
“I’ve got to go,” Harry said frantically. He kissed her cheek. “Take care,” he whispered. “Of everyone.”
“You too. And I will.”
He ran back down the hall, leaving Hermione standing stock-still. Then she raced for class, hardly knowing where she was going.
Ron was already there. She collapsed in her seat, breathing heavily.
“Hey, where were you?”
“Miss Granger!” Professor McGonagall barked. “Merlin knows I don’t like taking points from my own House, but lateness is unacceptable. 10 points from Gryffindor.”
“Hm-hmm,” Hermione said. Everyone looked at her in alarm.
“Hermione, what’s going on? You're acting really weird.” Ron whispered out of the corner of his mouth.
“I have to talk to you,” she said.
“MISS GRANGER! Do you want Gryffindor to lose another 10 points??”
“No, Professor, I’m sorry.”
Miss McGonagall snorted acquisance. “Very well. Today we’ll be discussing…”
Hermione didn’t even try to concentrate as McGonagall outlined the day’s lesson, finally releasing them to pair off and practice Conjuring Charms.
“Finally!” she gushed, pulling Ron closer.
“Ow! Hermione, don’t yank my arm off.”
“I’m sorry, but this is important. Here, pretend you’re waving your wand over this,” she said, pointing at a blank sheet of paper where they were supposed to be making a quill appear.
Suddenly Snape stuck his head around the door. “Minerva, I need to speak to you. On a matter of urgency.”
“Very well.” She raised her voice, “Carry on, everyone. I want to see quills on every paper before the end of the hour.”
“I wonder what ole’ greasy ears wants,” Ron mused.
“Probably to tell her that at some point tonight this castle will be invaded by Death Eaters,” Hermione hissed.
“What??! Bollocks! Dumbledore would never allow....”
“Dumbledore is gone. Harry tried to find you and Ginny before he left. They’re going on some sort of secret mission.”
“But that means...”
“That our castle will be invaded, and there will be no one here to protect us. That’s why it’s imperative that...”
McGonagall came whipping back into the classroom.
“Everyone! I need your attention. Go back to your common rooms and STAY THERE. Dinner will be served in your respective common rooms tonight, not the Great Hall. All Hufflepuff students – follow your House leaders now. Professor Spout is escorting the younger students. Ron and Hermione, take the Gryffindors to the tower.”
“But what about the less...”
“NEVER MIND the lesson, Mr. Smith. Hogwarts is about to be invaded...”
“What’s going on?”
McGonagall sighed. “I suppose you have a right to know. We have received word that Death Eaters will be invading Hogwarts. Don’t be alarmed – we have alerted the Ministry and as long as everyone stays in their common rooms, no one should be harmed.”
“NOT NOW Miss Patil. All of you, pack up your stuff and get to your common rooms. I need not tell you that it is an absolute necessity that you stay inside your rooms and keep your wands close by, just in case. Especially after 8 p.m. Understood?”
“Yes Professor,” they murmured, ashen-faced.
“Then get going.”
There was a silent scramle as students gathered their things. Hermione and Ron marched them back to the common room, neither speaking as students whispered behind them.
When they were back in Gryffindor Tower they headed straight for Harry and Ron’s room.
“Do you know where it is?” Ron asked.
“It should be in his trunk.”
Ron rummaged through piles of clothes.
“Wait! What was that?” Hermione said, pointing at a bundled-up sock.
“This?” Ron shook it out, and the tiny gold bottle rolled onto floor.
“That’s it!” she exclaimed. “But when should we take it?”
“Well it’s nearly 5 now...and I can’t remember exactly, but I think the whole bottle allows for 12 hours of luckiness.”
“So if we split it between us and Ginny...”
“What about my brothers?”
“Right. We can’t forget them. But remember, Ron – this is only if we venture out of the common room, and I see no reason to do that. The professors made it clear they have it in hand, and...”
“Bollocks! They’ve made that clear before Hermione! And if you recall it’s never worked out all that well – or have you forgotten the Triwizard Tournament and Slytherin’s monster?”
Hermione sighed. “Of course I haven’t. But events beyond our control have been set in motion, and I think the best thing to do is just stay in the common room this evening. As long as students are safe there no one should be harmed.” Except Dumbledore. She pushed the painful thought away.
Ron nodded. “You’re right. You keep the potion in case we do end up needing it – knowing me it’ll get lost or broken.”
“Ok.” She stowed the sparkling bottle carefully in her bag. “Should we see what’s going on downstairs?”
“Is everyone clear?” Snape barked.
The Slytherins were gathered in the common room.
“NO ONE leaves.”
“But aren’t they Slytherins?” a Fourth Year said.
Snape eyed him coldly.
“Do you think that’s a source of pride?” he asked.
“N-n-no, Professor. I just meant – I mean, they won’t hurt us, right?”
“I can’t say. But these are not just Slytherins, Mr. Tiberius. They are murderers, psycopaths, and torturers.”
The Fourth Year paled.
“So I will say it again – stay in your rooms and keep your wands close. I have warded all of your doors. Should any Death Eaters enter this common room, they should not be able to enter your personal quarters.”
As he turned to leave, Pansy grabbed his sleeve. “Yeeeees, Miss Parkinson?”
“Erm, just wondering, Professor...”
“Spit it out girl, I haven’t got all day.”
“Is everyone aware that we’re being invaded?”
Snape stared at her confusedly.
“I informed the other Heads of House, so yes, everyone should be aware. Why do you ask? And Balthazar, what do you need? You’re hovering.”
“Oh nothing, Professor. I was just...um, ah....”
Snape rolled his eyes.
“Well if that’s all, I need to help Minerva prepare.”
“So everyone is safe?” Dareon blurted out.
“Yes, Mr. Balthazar, or did you not hear me say so to Miss Parkinson? You were certainly standing close enough.”
He eyed them both suspiciously. “Why do you ask?”
“–Curious, that’s all,” they babbled.
“Hmmm. Well stay in your rooms. Balthazar, I’m putting you in charge in place of Draco. Pansy, you can brief him on what is required of Prefects.”
“Where is Draco?” a Fifth Year asked when Snape had disappeared through the statue.
“Yeah, we haven’t seen him all day....”
“Is he alright?”
Pansy waved her hands to get their attention.
“Draco is fine, everyone, he just had to...to...” she looked at Theo and Dareon for support.
“He had to visit his family!” Theodore said. “His...um, aunt, is sick.”
The Fifth Year shrugged. “Ok.”
“Thanks, that was close,” Pansy whispered to Theo when everyone else had been herded to their rooms.
“Yeah. Merlin, I hope he’ll be ok,” Dareon said.
“You know Draco. He’ll be alright.”
“I hope so,” Pansy said. “I can’t believe we’re going to lose Dumbledore though. I wasn’t his biggest fan, but what’s going to happen to Hogwarts?”
Theodore shook his head darkly. “I don’t know, mates, but I have a feeling it won’t be good.”
It was nearing 7:30 when Snape swept back into the Slytherin common room. The Slytherins had just finished dinner, delivered by a staff of house-elves. He knocked on each door, beckoning everyone out.
Pale-faced and nervous, the students stared at Snape expectantly.
“Are they here?” one asked.
Snape held up a hand for silence.
“No, they are not here. But they will be soon. I have a question for you. The other Heads of House and I have been doing a head-count, and we are missing someone. Does anyone recall seeing Ginny Weasley this afternoon or evening? Professor McGonagall and her fellow Gryffindors can’t find her.”
“Who cares? One less Weasley to deal with,” A Fifth Year said under his breath.
“What did you say Sherwyn?” Dareon pushed through the crowd, wand outstretched.
“What’s it to you, Balthazar?” he sneered.
There was a jet of light and a scream, and Sherwyn was on his back, battling lurid green tentacles that had sprouted from the sides of his head to attack his face.
“ALRIGHT, that’s enough.” Snape watched Sherwyn struggle for a minute before flicking his wand at the writhing figure on the floor. The tentacles disappeared. Wild-eyed and sweaty, the Filth Year pushed himself up, glaring daggers at Dareon, who looked ready to hex him again.
“Now, are we done?” Snape asked coldly.
“Wh-what?? But Professor, Balthazar...”
“I saw what he did. And I’m not sure you didn’t deserve it, so don’t look to me for sympathy.” Snape raised his voice. “Anyone else want to chime in that they don’t care whether a fellow student dies tonight? No? Very well. I will ask you again. Has anyone seen Ginny Weasley?”
“I saw her this morning...”
“She was in Herbology this afternoon.”
“Oh yeah, she was!”
“Did anyone see where she went afterwards?”
“I mean, she was with the other Gryffindors, and they looked like they were headed to Gryffindor Tower, but I don’t know...”
“She may have gone to the library...”
“Or headed for the Astronomy Tower.”
“Ok, ok, that’s enough,” Snape said. “So no one has seen her since Herbology?”
They all shook their heads.
“Very well, I will inform Professor McGonagall. Back to your rooms!”
“Hey, where are you going?!” Theodore demanded, watching Dareon throw on his most coveted robe. Woven by elves, the smoke-grey fabric melted effortlessly into shadows, walls and stone alike.
“Don’t worry about it Theo.”
“You’re going to look for her, aren’t you?”
“So what if I am?”
“Are you crazy? It’s too dangerous! She’s probably just in her common room bathroom or something!”
“And if she’s not?”
Theodore stared at him helplessly. “But...”
“But nothing, Theo. Listen, we’re Slytherins. And Purebloods. My family goes all the way back to Salazar Slytherin’s time. And I’m my mother’s only child – I’m not saying I’m out of danger, but I’m about the last person a Death Eater would want to hurt. Ginny, on the other hand...”
“Ginny? You’re on first-name basis with her?”
“No, I mean, yes – maybe. I don’t know,” Dareon slipped his wand into his robes and drew up the hood.
“How long have you liked her?”
Dareon’s dark skin deepened in color. “I don’t know. Since the train...”
“Since the TRAIN? And you didn’t tell me?! Merlin, first Draco, then you – who are you guys? Have all of my friends fallen for Gryffindors?”
“I haven’t fallen for anyone. I just – I’ll admit I don’t want her to get in the way of the Death Eaters. You know what they’ll do to her if they find her.”
Theo shivered. His father had told him of the things Death Eaters liked to do to their victims.
“Ok Dareon. Let’s go.”
“I’m coming with you.”
“NO, you aren’t.”
“I’m coming too,” Pansy waltzed into the room, wand in hand.
“Wait, how did you get up here??” Theodore said. “Girls aren’t allowed in the boys’ quarters!”
“Yes they are,” Pansy said archly, tossing her hair over one shoulder.
“But boys aren’t allowed in the girls’ quarters!” Dareon exclaimed.
“Because girls are more trustworthy,” Pansy smirked.
“Bollocks,” Theo and Dareon grumbled.
“Oh, and you’re NOT coming,” Dareon added.
“Yes, I am. And you can’t stop me. It’s just a matter of whether we’re going to go as a group, or whether I’m going to sneak out after you later.”
Dareon struggled with himself a moment.
“FINE!” he said. “But if there are any signs of Death Eaters, you’re coming back here immediately.”
“Yes, Daddy Dearest.”
Dareon glared at her. “I’m serious, Pansy. You too, Theo.”
“Yeah, yeah. Let’s go, ok? If Weasley is out there somewhere, we need to find her before any Death Eaters do,” Theodore said.
“Are you ready?” Ron asked.
“Yes. Here, you haven’t taken the Felix yet...” Hermione handed him the tiny bottle.
“Oh right. We need it tonight,” Ron said tightly.
“Where do you think she could be?”
“I dunno. But we’ll find her.”
“We’d better. It’s 7:45 – McGonagall said the Slytherins hadn’t seen her since Herbology this afternoon, so that means she’s been missing for about 4 hours. And Death Eaters could be here any minute.”
“Do you have to keep repeating that?” Ron said. “I know.”
“I – I’m sorry, Ron. I’m just trying to go over all the facts in my head, make sure we didn’t miss anything...”
Ron sighed. “I know. I’m sorry. I’m just...worried. I’m so worried.” Ron knocked back the little bottle and took a swig, handing it back to Hermione.
“I know. We’ll find her.”
Ron nodded. “Let’s go.”
They were almost to the portrait hole when the twins appeared.
“Oy! Where d’you think you’re off to?” Fred asked.
“Where are you off to?” Hermione fired back.
“To find our little sis, of course,” George said.
“Us too,” Ron said.
“Now, now, I know you’re both Prefects, but I think it’s a good idea to let us older folk handle this...”
“Not a chance,” Ron said.
“Look at this way, boys. You may be older, but Ron and I have been sneaking off to fight evil since First Year. I’m afraid experience trumps age in this case,” Hermione said matter-of-factly. “But you’re welcome to come along if you’d like. Here...” She rummaged in her little bag and pulled out the Felix Felicis. “There’s enough for both of you. Just leave a sip for Ginny.”
“She has a point, mate,” Fred said to George.
“Conceded.” They each took a sip of Lucky Potion, and together they slipped through the portrait hole and into the main castle. It was deathly silent – even the shadows seemed frozen in time. Everything had an eerie sense of waiting. Instinctively, Fred, George, Hermione and Ron stayed quiet as they moved down the staircase, hugging the wall. Ron was rounding the corner when he bumped into someone.
“WHOA!” Ron yelped.
“Luna??! What are you doing here?” Hermione asked.
“I heard Ginny was missing,” Luna said. “So I came to find her.”
Hermione sighed heavily. “This mission gets more dangerous by the second. Here – you’d better have a sip of this. It’ll be nearly gone after this, but there should still be a bit for Ginny. If we find her, of course.”
“Oh we’ll find her,” Luna said in a misty voice. “I know where she is.”
“WHAT?!” they exclaimed. “How?”
“A warble told me. I was following it up here when I bumped into you.”
Ron snorted. “Luna, I’d love to play ‘follow the make-believe creature’ with you, but Ginny could be in real danger. We don’t have time for this.”
Luna’s gaze sharpened. “Just because you can’t see something, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.”
“Ok, ok,” Hermione said swiftly. “We don’t have time to argue. Luna, where was the warble taking you?”
“To the Astronomy Tower.”
“Then what are we waiting for?” Fred said. “Warbles or not, we may as well search there.”
“Alright,” Ron mumbled, rolling his eyes at Luna.
“Nyah, nyah, nyah...pfffffffftt....”
“PEEVES! LET ME OUT! I’ll get you for this, you see if I don’t...” Ginny yelled, pounding on the invisible walls of her prison.
Peeves did somersaults in front of her, tossing her wand up and down. He’d stolen it and trapped her as she was coming down from the Astronomy Tower. It was going on 4 hours, and Ginny was fit to kill. Why? WHY has no one come this direction today? She couldn’t figure it out. At first she’d been upset but not livid – certain that someone would wander along and break her out with a flick of their wand. But she hadn’t seen a soul except Peeves. And he doesn’t even have a soul, she thought furiously.
Suddenly Ginny heard footsteps coming from the corridor behind Peeves. “Finally!” she exclaimed.
They rounded the corner, and Ginny felt fear strike her deep and hard. Peeves shrieked, then broke the barrier and tossed Ginny the wand, flying up the Astronomy Tower stairs and out of sight. Ginny snatched up her wand and backed away slowly.
Malfoy stared at her, stricken. Death Eaters fanned out behind him.
“WEASLEY! What are you doing here?!” he said. He was furious. Everyone is supposed to be in their rooms.
"Well, well, what do we have here?" one of the Carrows whispered eagerly. He toyed with his wand, raising it up until it was aimed directly at Ginny's heart.
“NO! We have a job to do,” Draco said sharply.
“Then let’s kill her quickly,” a husky Death Eater whispered. “Unless you have a reason not to?”
“Of course he doesn’t!” Bellatrix said. “Do it Draco! Prove yourself!”
Draco looked at Ginny desperately. She shook her head sadly, fingering her wand. There was nothing to be done.
“GINNY!” Ron, Hermione, Luna and the twins raced around the corner, wands aimed at the line of Death Eaters. The fighting began all at once. A big blonde Death Eater was throwing killing curse after killing curse into the rank of Gryffindors and Luna, but couldn't hit them. Hermione battled her way closer to Draco. He was sending stunning spells in the direction of Fred and George, but aiming so that each one missed by a small margin. He caught Hermione’s eye.
I ordered you to stay in Gryffindor Tower!
And when have I ever followed your orders? She aimed a Corpse Curse at a Death Eater and he toppled, stiff as a board.
You need to go, she thought to him.
I’m not leaving you here.
You don’t have a choice! Look, Harry gave us the Felix Felicis he won in Potions. All of us except Ginny took some. We’ll be safe, now GO!
Malfoy stared at her fiercely, then nodded. He raced up the Astronomy Tower stairs, closely followed by the Avery twins, the husky Death Eater and the Lestranges. A moment later Snape appeared. He took in the scene with wild eyes and hesitated, seeming to fight with himself. Then he ran up the stairs after Malfoy.
Hermione turned back around and froze as the Carrow brother shot a deadly curse at Ginny, the manic gleam in his eye flashing brighter as red light burst from his wand.
“NO!” a voice yelled. A hex struck Carrow hard mid-leap, and he was knocked off balance, slamming into the wall and collapsing to the floor. His killing curse missed Ginny by a nose.
“Are you ok?” Dareon said, rushing through the fray to Ginny.
“Yeah,” Ginny gasped. “Look out!” She stunned a Death Eater who was aiming for Dareon’s back.
Pansy had joined Ron and Luna. Theodore battled back-to-back with Hermione.
“You do realize how dangerous it is for you to be seen fighting Death Eaters? Your father...”
“I know. But I couldn’t let Dareon come alone.”
He threw a Jelly-Legs hex at the big blonde Death Eater, who crumpled.
“There’s a lot of them,” she mused over her shoulder. Death Eaters were fighting them two-to-a-person. Pretty soon they would be overwhelmed. And the Felix Felicis will only last so long.
Theodore nodded, fighting furiously. They were battling for their lives now.
“There they are!”
“I hear them!”
And then the Order of the Phoenix arrived, McGonagall at their head.
“Thank MERLIN!” Hermione said. She felled the two Death Eaters she was fighting with one curse, in a burst of renewed energy.
Dareon looked around at the Order members and laughed in relief. A jet of light struck him in the side, and he crumpled. “Noooooo!” Ginny screamed.
“Dareon!” Pansy narrowed her eyes and took out the Death Eater with a furious curse.
A Sectumsempra curse struck Bill, splitting his face open. Hermione tried to take down the Death Eater who'd hit him, but the hooded figure was up and running for the Astronomy Tower before she could reach him.
“Follow him!!” Mad-Eye yelled.
“I can’t! The stairs are blocked somehow!” Tonks shouted back.
“Grrrrrrr,” Mad-Eye growled, killing three. They fought furiously, felling every single Death Eater. Panting, Hermione looked around. Bill was at her feet in a pool of blood. She bent down quickly. Thank Merlin. “He has a pulse!” she announced. Fred and George punched the air happily. Ron sighed in relief. “I’ll find Madame Pomfrey,” Fred said.
“Hermione, Hermione!” Ginny was crying, bent over Dareon. Pansy and Theodore were on either side of her. “Do something! He won’t wake up.”
“Move,” Hermione barked. “Where was he hit?”
“On his left side,” Pansy said. They unbuttoned his robes and pushed up his shirt, revealing a mottled wound. The skin around it was black and blue.
“He needs to go to St. Mungoes,” Tonks said.
“There’s no time,” Hermione muttered. She rifled through her little purse, sinking up to her shoulder.
“Undetectable Extension Charms are illegal, girl,” Mad-Eye said.
“You can lock me up later.”
He frowned at her. “You’re sassier than I remember.”
“And you’re more concerned with rules than I remember,” she retorted. “Ah-ha! Found it. Ginny, tip his head back.”
She trickled a crystal-clear potion into his mouth, taking his pulse at the same time.
“Well? What was that?” Theodore asked. "Can you feel a pulse?”
“I can, but it’s weak. About to stop. The potion should keep his heart going for a bit longer while I try to heal this wound. I wish I knew what he was hit with.”
“What do you know about healing?” Ron said.
“Not much,” she admitted. She hovered her wand a fraction above the wound and closed her eyes, feeling power course through her.
She whispered in a singsong voice, channeling her life force into the blackened gash. Little by little, it closed, stitching itself into a shiny purple scar.
“Hermione!” Ron caught her as she collapsed over Dareon’s body, her energy spent.
“His heartbeat! It’s strengthening!” Ginny exclaimed.
Hermione nodded weakly.
“Hermione, are you ok?” Ron asked.
“I’m fine, fighting a curse like that takes a lot of energy, that’s all,” she panted.
“Humpfh. There’s more to you than I realized,” Mad-Eye said.
“Is that an insult or a compliment?” she smiled. “Oh, and before I forget, someone needs to erase the Death Eaters’ memories.”
“Why?” Tonks said happily. “I want them to remember how badly they lost.”
“No, they need to be erased. Nott’s father is a Death Eater.” Hermione looked up at Theodore. His face flushed, but he nodded. “It’ll go badly for you and your family if You-Know-Who finds out that you fought on our side.”
“Oh right.” Tonks’ face fell. “I forgot about that.”
“I’ll do it,” Kingsley Shacklebolt said. He set about erasing the memories of the Death Eaters who were still living, simultaneously locking them in chains. Madame Pomfrey bustled up, assessing Bill with sympathetic clucks.
“I’ll take him to the Hospital Wing. His face won’t be the same, though,” she sighed.
A plaintive note echoed through the castle. “Fawkes!” McGonagall said.
Hermione’s heart sank. “Dumbledore is dead,” she whispered.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” Shacklebolt demanded. “Why would you say that? It’s impossible!”
Hermione swallowed a lump in her throat. She shook her head. They’ll find out soon enough.
“Hey! The block is gone,” Tonks said.
Hermione pushed herself up and sat against the wall as the others raced up the stone stairs, wands in hand.
At the top of the Astronomy Tower they looked around frantically. The light was a sickly green, illuminated by the Dark Mark that hovered evilly above them.
“The Dark Mark!” Tonks gasped. “But where’s Dumbledore?!"
“Gone,” someone whispered.
“Who’s there?!” Mad-Eye demanded.
Harry pulled the Invisibility Cloak off slowly, letting it fall to the floor in a crumpled heap. His face was streaked with tears.
“What do you mean gone? When’s he coming back?” Shacklebolt asked.
Harry shook his head. “You don’t understand. He’s...” Another soulful note echoed through the night sky.
“Where is that coming from?” Tonks asked. She ran to the edge of the Astronomy Tower and peered over the side. “No, no.... It can’t be,” she gasped.
“What is it?” McGonagall ran to her side. “Is that...Dumbledore?” she breathed.
Harry nodded again. “He’s dead. I saw him die. I saw it all.”
Tonks, McGonagall and Shacklebolt rushed from the tower, headed for the castle grounds.
Mad-Eye was white-faced. “What happened?”
“Snape did it. The Avada Kevadra. Malfoy was supposed to, but he couldn’t.”
“Where are they? How did they escape?” Mad-Eye looked about frantically, as though hoping to find Snape tucked away behind a pillar.
“They’re gone. Portkeys. I tried to get to Snape, but I couldn’t.”
Harry closed his eyes. “I can’t go down there. I don’t want to see him.” Suddenly he started. “Hey, where’s Hermione?”
“Oh, she’s fine. Just a bit spent after healing Dareon – I mean, Balthazar,” Ginny said.
Ron nodded. “And Bill got hit with a Sectumsempra curse, but Pomfrey says he’s gonna be ok.”
Harry grabbed up his Invisibility Cloak and ran down the stairs.
He sank to his knees and pulled her in for a hug. “He’s gone, Hermione.”
Pansy, Theodore and Luna were still hovering over Dareon. Ron and Ginny sank down next to Pansy. “How are you? You ok? You’re pretty pale,” Ron said to her.
“Is this what you guys do every year? Nearly get yourselves killed fighting Death Eaters?”
“Well, not every year,” Ron grinned wearily. “But pretty much.”
“So that’s it, then? Dumbledore is dead?” Theodore whispered.
Ron nodded grimly.
“What’s going to happen to us? To Hogwarts?” Pansy asked.
“My guess is that You-Know-Who will have taken it over by this time next year. Maybe sooner,” Hermione said. She stood up shakily, leaning on Harry for support.
They fell silent as this reality sank in.
“Oof. What happened?”
“Dareon! You’re awake!”
“Thank Merlin and Agrippa, we were so worried.”
He tried to push himself up, but Ginny stopped him.
“Stay still. You were hit with a dark curse. If it wasn’t for Hermione it would have been fatal.”
He lay back down, but held Ginny’s hand fast to his chest.
Ron looked from his sister to Dareon. “Balthazar, if you hurt her I will hit you with a curse you won’t wake up from.”
“Ron!” Ginny exclaimed.
Dareon started to laugh but stopped abruptly, clutching his side with a grimace.
“Fair enough,” he gasped.
Hermione nudged Harry. “Do you want to...”
“No. It’s done. I don’t want to see his body. I already watched him die,” Harry’s voice caught.
“Ok, Harry. How about a butterbeer?”
“A butterbeer? How about a firewhiskey, more like!” Fred and George came bounding around the corner.
“Bill’s in the Hospital Wing with Mum and Dad. Fleur’s there too,” Fred added.
“Why’d you come back here?” Hermione asked them.
Fred rolled his eyes. “Because Mum and Fleur are getting overly sentimental. We left before we drowned.”
“Aye. Barely made it out alive, we did. Anyway, about our earlier offer...”
Ginny nodded emphatically. “I could definitely use a firewhiskey.”
“I second that,” Hermione said.
“Me too,” Harry chimed in.
“I’ll take a butterbeer,” Luna said.
“Let’s go then! We’ll toast to Dumbledore, send him off right.”
“I think he’d like that,” Harry whispered.
Ron and Ginny stood up.
“Are you guys coming?” Harry asked.
“Us?” Dareon asked.
“Yes, you. You fought too, right?”
“And if it wasn’t for you, I’d probaby be dead,” Ginny said.
“We might all be dead,” Hermione said. “We needed every wand tonight.”
Theodore nodded. “Well, I could use some firewhiskey...”
“I’ve never had it,” Pansy said.
“You’ve never had firewhiskey?” Ginny exclaimed.
“Some of us prefer not to break the law,” Pansy said.
“Don’t listen to her. The only reason she hasn’t had firewhiskey is because she bought her first bottle off a leprecaun, and all the liquid disappeared as soon as she tried to pour it into a glass,” Dareon grinned.
Pansy glared at him. “I spent 3 galleons on that bottle, and it was one of the most disappointing moments of my life. I’d appreciate if you’d stop bringing it up.”
Ron laughed. “Well come on then. But let’s figure out where to go, since obviously we can’t go back to any of our common rooms...”
“Come on, little brother. You don’t give us enough credit. We’ve got it covered!”
“Where will we go?”
“The Room of Requirement, of course! Where else?”
“What room is that? I’ve never heard of it,” Theodore said.
Fred winked at him. “Follow us.”
George nodded. “And prepare to have your horizons...expanded.”
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