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An Even Match by Sabrielle
Chapter 33 : 33.
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 20


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Hi again guys! I just wanted to clarify this chapter – I know that it was a confusing leap to at least one person, so to explain: I didn't detail the hunt for the Horcruxes, partly because I wanted to round this story out, partly because I couldn't do it better than J.K. Rowling did (of course:)) but mostly because this story is about Draco and Hermione, so writing a bunch of chapters where they're in such different places wouldn't have furthered my story in a way that I would have been satisfied with. On that note, this chapter picks up when Hermione, Harry and Ron infiltrate the castle and are searching for the Ravenclaw's diadem. The fighting has already begun.


***************


“Harry! We’ve got to get to the Room of Requirement,” Hermione shouted, raising her voice above the screams and blasts coming from the Great Hall.


“We can’t just leave them!” Harry shouted back, sending a Stunning Spell hurtling toward a Death Eater about to curse Dean Thomas.


“We don’t have a choice!” Ron said. “If we don’t get the last Horcrux You-Know-Who will never be finished.”


“GO HARRY!” Neville shouted. “We’ll hold them. Now GO!” Neville charged into the Great Hall, Ginny, Dean, Lavender, Parvati and Seamus close behind him.


This was it. The culmination of a war seven years in the making. Hermione didn’t bother keeping track of the days anymore – a year they’d been searching for the Horcruxes, a year characterized by death-defying escapes and freezing temperatures, little-to-no food and tensions that had tested their friendship to the breaking point. Worry. And longing. Always longing. Hermione barely had time to think about Draco, but in those quiet moments before nightfall she would let herself be transported back to the library, that final kiss. It was too painful to dwell on for long. She was constantly worried for him. At least I know he’s alive. She wished she had something of his to hold – something she could physically be close to. All I have are memories. And as the days faded into one another and their missions grew darker and more dangerous, even the memories seemed out of reach. She’d caught Ron fingering a necklace he wore under his robes; a long gold chain hung with an intricate key, with a sparkling square-cut emerald set into the bow. She knew inherantly it was from Pansy. Harry too, had a token of the girl he’d left behind: a marble mosaic puzzlebox in the image of Ravenclaw’s crest. He’d gotten to the point where he could solve it in under a minute, re-reading the note Cho Chang had slipped inside the year before.


And now here they were. Back at Hogwarts. It was surreal – all the House colors and crests had been removed but for Slytherin’s. The whole place had a dark, sinister feel, as if the spirit had been sucked out of it. Hermione was reminded of Azkaban.


“HARRY! Let’s go,” she shouted.


“Ok. Ok,” Harry panted. They raced for the staircase, dodging boulders and fallen suits of armor.


“You know how to open it?” Ron asked, pacing in front of the stone wall on the Third Floor.


Harry nodded. “I’ve done it before.” Closing his eyes, he focused hard.


“Harry!” Hermione exclaimed.


“Well done, mate,” Ron said, nodding at the door that appeared out of nowhere in the wall in front of them.


Once inside, they stared in awe at piles upon piles of forgotten items.


“Wow,” Hermione breathed. “How are we ever going to find the diadem?”


“Accio diadem!” Harry shouted. Nothing happened. “Hmpf. Figured that wouldn’t work, but had to try it. Voldemort must have put an Anti-Summoning charm on it.”


“Look at all these sherry bottles,” Ron said.


“Professor Trelawney’s, no doubt,” Hermione smirked. “Ok, I think the best thing to do is split up – we’ll cover more ground that way.”


“You’re right,” Harry nodded. “Holler if you see anything. I’ll go this way.”


“Good luck!” Ron and Hermione said.


“Good luck to you too.”


“Luck is all fine and good, but in my experience it doesn’t get a lot done.”


“MALFOY?!!” Ron exclaimed, aiming his wand at the Slytherin’s chest. But then he saw who was behind him, and his wand arm fell.


“Pansy!”


“Ron.” She was beaming. Ron struggled for a moment, but he couldn’t fight his own smile. Pansy ran to him. Ron barely had time to register surprise before she was kissing him.


“Here we go,” Theodore muttered to Harry.


“Hey Nott, how are you? What are you guys doing here? I thought all the Slytherins evacuated.” Harry asked quietly, trying not to disturb Ron and Pansy, who were still kissing, and Malfoy and Hermione, who were rooted to the spot, just staring at each other.


“I’m ok. And almost everyone did evacuate – we stayed behind. Dareon went to find Ginny, and Draco heard that you were looking for Ravenclaw’s lost diadem and figured it was here. Pansy and I are going to fight with you guys.”


“Wait, how did you know the diadem was here? And how did you even get in?” Harry asked.


Draco wrenched his gaze from Hermione’s. “I practically lived in this room for months trying to fix that cabinet, Potter. I know how to get into the Room of Hidden Things.”


“Speaking of,” Hermione said. “Ron! RON!”


“Wha-?” Ron broke off, panting.


“We need to find the diadem. People are dying out there.”


“You’re right. Of course. I’m sorry,” he said, blushing deeply.


“Let’s split up,” Pansy said.


They found the diadem within 15 minutes, perched on the head of a dusty mannequin.


“Here it is!! I found it!” Nott shouted.


“Thank Merlin,” Hermione whispered to herself, setting a jar of shrunken heads back into place.


They met back by the entrance and Theodore handed Harry the diadem. “Here, take it. I don’t know why, but I don’t like it. It’s got a bad energy or something.”


Harry, Ron and Hermione looked at each other. “Um, yeah...it would.”


“Why?” Pansy asked.


“Oh, well...”


“Um, you see...”


“The thing is...”


“Never mind, you don’t need to explain, Potter. Let’s get out of here, ok?” Draco said.


“Going somewhere?” Crabbe stepped from the shadow of the doorway, Goyle chuckling behind him.


“What are you two doing here??” Draco asked.


“We followed you. You shouldnta said ‘ow to get into this place,” Goyle said.


“Yeah,” Crabbe echoed, wiping his nose on his outstretched wand arm. “It took us a bit, but we did it, we did. The Dark Lord is gonna reward us big for this.”


“You fools!” Nott said. “The Dark Lord cares nothing for you, for anyone. He’ll use you just like he does my father and Draco’s. It’s not worth it.”


“Listen to us, Crabbe. We used to be friends...” Draco started.


Used to be friends,” Crabbe snarled. “We ain’t been mates since Fifth Year.”


“And now we’re gonna make you pay!” Goyle said. He leveled his wand at Hermione. “AVADA KEVADRA!”


“NOOOOO!” Draco shouted. The force of his shield charm was such that everyone was blasted backward.


Crabbe howled in rage. “Here’s a curse you won’t be able to block. Fiendfyre.


“Crabbe DON’T!” Hermione screamed. “You bloody idiot!!! Everyone, ruuuuuuuuuuuuuun!!”


They ran, trying desperately to stay ahead of the tidal wave of fire. The smoke was choking. Pansy gasped and collapsed. “Pansy!” Ron lifted her and threw her over his shoulder, then took off after the others.


“Climb!!” Harry shouted. So they climbed. Walls of drawers and things piled high for centuries – books and clothes of every sort, cages with the bones of long-dead creatures. Perched precariously, they surveyed the fiery creatures beneath them. They were trapped.


“Hermione! What do we do??! What do we DO?” Ron said.


Hermione peered through the smoke desperately, struggling to breathe. Soon they would be engulfed.


“Draco! Your Element!”


“Of course!” he shouted back. Why didn’t I think of it before? Focusing all his strength, he stretched his arms toward the heavens.


A wall of water spilled from the ceiling, engulfing them. It cascaded over the piled-up treasures and flooded the room. The fiery throngs of creatures receded with hisses and sizzling fury, but did not go out. Everyone watched in awe as Draco’s eyes glowed with an icy light. The water below them froze, trapping the fire beneath them.


“What the...?” Ron gasped. “You’re an Elemental too??! I thought Hermione was the only one!”


Draco fell to his knees, exhausted, looking up at Hermione apologetically. “It’s Fiendfyre. I can’t hold it for long,” he gasped.


Harry nodded. “I have a plan. Accio broomsticks!” Out of a distant pile two ancient broomsticks came hurtling toward them.


“Only two,” Harry said sadly. “I thought a few more would have survived, but it’ll have to do. Ron, you take Pansy on one. And I’ll stay behind...”


“No Potter. I’m the only one who can hold this Fiendfyre back. Take Hermione or Nott.”


“Nott, you go,” Hermione said.


“But...”


“I’m staying with Draco. Harry, Ron – hurry! Get out of here and come back for us if you’re able.”


“I’ll be back, I promise,” Harry said.


Ron nodded, slinging a leg over his broom and holding the still-unconscious Pansy tightly in front of him.


He, Harry and Nott took off, leaving Draco and Hermione balanced shakily on the tower of forgotten things. Flames were rapidly melting through the thick ice Draco had created. Soon they would be drowning in fire again.


“Hermione, there’s something I need to tell you.”


“Can it wait? Little busy here,” Hermione said.


“I’m sorry.”


“What? Why?”


“At the manor...”


Hermione’s face whitened. “Draco – don’t. You did all you could do. You told Bellatrix you didn’t recognize us. It wasn’t your fault she tortured me anyway.”


“I could have fought. I should have fought for all of you.”


“How could you have? You were in a room full of Death Eaters. Thank Merlin your parents were able to signal Dobby – I didn’t know there was still a magical tie between house elves and their former owners.”


Draco nodded, swallowing a lump in his throat. “Still. When she was torturing you...I almost, I couldn’t...”


“I know,” Hermione said softly. “I was just so glad Harry and Ron broke free. I could tell you were about to do something incredibly brave – and incredibly stupid.”


“That’s the problem!” he exclaimed. “I wasn’t brave enough.”


“You were! Sometimes being brave means not taking action. Imagine if you had tried to stop Bellatrix: you would have given yourself and your family away, and all of you might have died for it. Besides, I know it was you who released Harry and Ron from your dungeons.


“Oh Merlin! The fire!!” Hermione gripped Draco’s forearms as flames leapt high, having melted the ice around them.


“Hermione! HERMIONE!” A voice cut through the smoke-filled room.


“HARRY! We’re over here!”


Shouting and waving, Draco and Hermione stood on tiptoe as Ron and Harry sped into view. “Quick! Get on.”


Hermione leapt on the back of Ron’s broom; Draco on Harry’s, and they were off. Dodging the vengeful flames that stretched high to drag them down again, enraged at having been kept at bay.


“The door! Get to the door!!!” Draco yelled.


“I see it!”


Just in time, they zipped through the archway and crashed into the opposite wall. Coughing and gasping, they lay in a heap on the blessedly cold stone floor.


“Merlin! Are you guys ok?” Theodore had revived Pansy, and the two of them were hovering over the Gryffindors and Draco.


“Yeah,” they panted.


“Where’s the diadem?” Harry asked.


“I’m sorry, Potter,” Theodore said. “We tried to put it out but...”


He pointed at the loop of charred metal. It was oozing something black and tarlike.


Harry and Hermione laughed in relief.


“Are you guys ok? Why is that funny? The diadem is destroyed.”


“We know,” Hermione said. “It’s supposed to be.”


“You wanted it destroyed?” Draco asked.


“We’ll explain everything later. Right now we have to get back to the fight.”


“ARGH,” Harry gasped, bending double.


“Harry, are you all right? What is it?”


“It’s Voldemort. He’s in the conservatory with Snape. He just – he just set Nagini on him.”


“WHAT?”


“What do you mean?”


Harry gasped again. “The Elder Wand. He thinks Snape is the owner of the Elder Wand. He’s killing him.”


“How do you know that?!” Pansy asked.


“Don’t ask,” Ron said.


By the time they reached the conservatory, Snape was bleeding out. They sank down around him as he gripped Harry’s robes. A silvery mist was leaking from the wound.


“Here Harry,” Hermione conjured a small glass bottle and gave it to him. He collected the memories silently. Pansy cried.


Hermione struggled for a moment, then made up her mind.


“Move, Harry. Take those memories to that watering pot. There’s obviously something Snape needs you to see. And Draco, can you help me?”


He nodded, confused. “What do you need?”


“This.” She grabbed his hand and held it, hovering their joined fingers inches above the wound. The life was leaving Snape’s jet-black eyes.


Hermione locked onto Draco’s eyes and held his gaze, communicating silently. He nodded and let his eyelids flutter shut. Then they sent the full force of their combined energy coursing through their hands and into the wound. Theodore, Pansy and Ron backed up.


“They’re glowing,” Pansy whispered.


They watched in awe as the bite closed.


“Why aren’t they using wands?” Ron asked quietly.


“Because an energy force that strong would break a wand. It couldn’t channel both of their powers – and they need their combined energy because poisonous wounds take so much more strength to heal,” Theodore said.


And then it was over.


Draco and Hermione broke their connection and the gold light that had enveloped them disappeared. They stood up shakily.


“That was AMAZING!” Pansy said.


Ron and Theodore nodded.


Hermione blushed. “I’m just glad it worked. He still has a heartbeat.”


“What do we do with him?”


“Let’s leave him here to recover. Hide him in the corner, behind the jungle bushes.”


They dragged him undercover and made sure he was completely hidden, cleaning up his blood as they went.


Harry joined them but stood detached, deep in thought.


“Harry, are you ok? You’re pale. What did you see?”


“Nothing. I’m fine.”


Hermione studied him, unconvinced.


“Guys, we should get to the Great Hall. I want to find Dareon, make sure he’s ok,” Theodore said.


They got back to the central castle to find chaos reigning. Everywhere there was blood. Screaming. Crying. Fighting. Dying. There was Dean cradling Seamus, Zacharias Smith trying to staunch a deep wound over Hannah Abbot’s stomach. Giants were flinging boulders into walls and laughing as students and Death Eaters alike were crushed.


“No,” Harry breathed. Then a voice tore through the fray, a sinister hiss that permeated everything, inescapable.


“Harry Potter. Come out, Harry...I do not wish to spill the blood of the pure. But every moment you hide behind your friends more of them die. Come out....meet me in the Dark Forest. The fighting will stop for 15 minutes. Meet your fate and finish this, or watch as everything you love is destroyed.”


“Harry NO!” Neville sprinted over to him. “Don’t do this Harry! Don’t give him what he wants.”


“I won’t let anyone else die for me. This ends tonight.”


“Don’t be a hero, Potter,” Draco hissed. “He’ll kill you!”


Harry looked at Hermione and Ron sadly.


“There’s something I need to tell you.”


He took a giant breath.


“I’m the final Horcrux.”


Hermione stared at him and bit her lip.


Ron was aghast.


Harry nodded at Hermione. “You guessed?”


She nodded, tears in her eyes. “I figured that was why you kept having those visions. Why you could speak Parseltongue. I just didn’t want to believe it.”


Pansy and Theodore looked at Harry in confusion. Draco hung his head.


“Of course. That’s why the Dark Lord couldn’t die,” Draco whispered. “And that’s why you needed the diadem. It was a Horcrux too, wasn’t it?”


Harry nodded. “We’ve been hunting Horcruxes all year. There are just two left – the snake, and...me.”


“Harry no. No. There has to be some other way, something...”


“No Ron. That’s what I saw in Snape’s memories. Dumbledore made it clear. I have to die. There’s no other way. I have one thing to ask of you all.” Harry glanced at Neville, grabbing Hermione’s beaded bag and sinking up to his elbow. “If I’m not able, then you have to kill Nagini. You have to kill the snake.” Harry handed Neville the dazzlingly bright sword.


“Is that...” Draco started.


“Gryffindor’s sword,” Harry said. “Here, Neville. Take it.”


Neville swallowed, nodding.


“Alright Harry.”


“Oh Harry!” Hermione threw her arms around him, sobbing.


Tears dripped down Ron’s long nose as he shook Harry’s hand, pulling him in for a bear hug.


Harry shook hands with Neville, nodding at the Slytherins. “If things had been different, maybe we could have been friends,” he said.


“I’m sure we would have been, Potter,” Draco said.


“Hermione? If you see Cho...would you tell her I’m sorry? Tell her...”


“I will, Harry.”


Pansy stepped to Ron and put her arms around him. He buried his head in her hair and wept as Harry squared his shoulders and walked out of the Great Hall.


*************


“Please...my son...”


“Crucio!”


“STOP! Please. Pleeeease...” Narcissa wept.


Voldemort lifted the curse and smiled at the bloodied heap before him. Lucius raised his head weakly.


“What is it Narcissa? You don’t enjoy watching your husband get tortured? Maybe you would enjoy it more if it was you?”


“No!” Lucius said.


“If your son is dead it’s your own fault,” Voldemort spat. “My sources tell me he joined the other side...”


Lucius choked, spitting up blood.


Ignoring Narcissa’s pleas, Voldemort once more raised his wand over Lucius Malfoy, preparing to curse him again.


“My lord?” Alecto Carrow said. “The hour’s almost up.”


Voldemort peered through the trees.


“So the brave Gryffindor turns out to be a coward after all. That is quite...unexpected.”


“I’m here, Voldemort.”


“HOW DARE YOU! HOW DARE YOU SAY HIS NAME!?” Bellatrix shrieked.


“Harry NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!” Hagrid yelled, tearing at his bonds.


“Quiet, you fools!” Voldemort hissed. “Show some respect to our...guest.”


Pulling his lips back in a grotesque mimic of a grin, he left Lucius gasping on the forest floor and advanced on Harry. “Are you ready to die, Harry Potter?”


Harry lifted his chin and met the red slits of Voldemort’s eyes. “Yes.”


****************


In the lull of the fighting Draco and Hermione rushed around, trying to heal everyone who was not already dead. Dareon and Ginny were with Fred and George, building a barrier to protect against further attack.


“Let me help,” Theodore said. “I don’t know much, but I know something about healing. After my mother died, I tried to learn...”


“Ok Nott,” Hermione said, pushing curls out her eyes with a bloodied hand. There are so many injured.


“Do you think you could try and heal Luna? Her cuts aren’t very deep, but if they aren’t treated she could bleed to death.”


Theodore nodded, walking over to where Luna lay next to a fallen pillar. Her breathing was shallow.


“Hi,” Theodore said nervously. “I’m going to try and help you. I’m Theodore.”


“I know who you are.”


“Oh. Well, I’m not a bad person,” Theo said defensively.


“Why would I think you’re a bad person?” Luna asked.


“I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I’m a Slytherin, my father’s a Death Eater...”


“But you’re not your father. Plus, Hermione trusts you.”


Theo’s face cleared.


“But d’you think you could maybe heal these cuts? This gash in particular,” she pointed to a wound over her chest. “I can’t breathe very well.”


“Oh Merlin! I was babbling on...”


“It’s ok,” Luna said lightly.


Theodore hovered his wand over the gash. And hesitated.


Luna reached out, grabbing his free hand. “It’s ok. You can do this.” Her gaze was bright and steady.


Theodore took a deep breath and squeezed her hand, repeating the only healing spell he knew in a singsong voice.


“You did it!” Luna said. “Look! It’s gone.”


Theodore opened his eyes and smiled. “That was incredible! I’ve never healed anyone before. Here, let me take a look at your other cuts...”


*******


“Theo looks happy,” Draco muttered to Hermione.


“I’m glad. Maybe he’s destined to be a Healer.”


“Theo?” Draco snorted. “I don’t know about that.”


Suddenly that sinister voice broke through the castle walls again, reverberating around the Great Hall.


“HARRY POTTER IS DEAD. Surrender and you will not be harmed. Resist, and each and every one of you will die.”


“Noooooooo!” Cho screamed. Hermione ran to her side. “It’s not true, it can’t be true,” she was saying, over and over. “Hermione! Harry’s not dead, is he? Tell me it isn’t true.” Hermione looked at her helplessly, tears streaming down her cheeks.


“He’s lying!” Dean shouted.


They ran outside – a wave of students, professors and Order of the Phoenix members, stopping abruptly as Hagrid staggered into view, cradling Harry’s limp form.


Hermione felt her heart stop in her chest. From all around her came whispers of disbelief, screams, shouts of rage. She could feel Ron next to her, every muscle coiled. He too couldn’t seem to speak, or even breathe.


Their best friend. Gone. It was unthinkable.


“I want you all to know that Harry Potter died a coward,” Voldemort hissed.


“NEVER! He was braver than you could ever hope to be,” Hermione yelled.


“HE WAS A COWARD!”


“No!” Neville shouted.


Gripping Gryffindor’s sword, he ran at Nagini, bringing the sword up and around in a sweeping arc. One mighty yell, a flash of steel, and Voldemort’s serpent – the last Horcrux – was dead.


“Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagghhhh!” Voldemort’s scream of rage and pain was terrible to hear.


And then it happened. Harry came alive in Hagrid’s arms, leaping to the courtyard floor and pulling out his wand.


“Harry!!!”


“HE’S ALIVE!”


“NO! It isn’t possible,” said Voldemort with a twisted shriek. “I KILLED YOU. YOU’RE DEAD!”


Harry gripped his wand and joined Ron and Hermione. “You never learn from your mistakes, do you Voldemort? You didn’t kill me. You only succeeded in killing a piece of yourself.”


And then the battle began anew.


The heat of it forced everyone back into the Great Hall; the sight of Harry alive had given his supporters fresh heart. But Voldemort and his dark forces were not done-for yet. Dementors swooped in and out among the crowd, held at bay only by the strength of the few who were able to conjure a Patronus. Draco, Hermione, and Harry’s Patronuses were by far the strongest. The stag charged, the snow leopard clawed, and the dragon tore through robes and fleshless bone like white lightning. Ron and Pansy battled side-by-side with the Weasley twins, holding back waves of Death Eaters and Inferi.


Narcissa, Lucius and Theodore’s father Nott were no longer pretending to be on Voldemort’s side. They fought the Carrows, Averys, and a huge wild-eyed Death Eater, all of them locked in a battle for their lives.


“SEND THE WEREWOLVES!” Voldemort snarled to his troops. Bellatrix raced outside, returning at the head of 20 werewolves. They came barreling through the doors of the Great Hall, slavering and howling.


“Fall back!” Harry shouted.


“To me!” Hermione called, ushering students under cover of a wall of stone and Great Hall tables. She didn’t notice the Death Eater who’d snuck up behind her until it was too late.


He disarmed her with a flick of his wrist and raised his wand over her, but before he could utter a curse a werewolf hit him in the side, huge and grey. He died before he fell. Hermione gasped as the werewolf stared at her. And then she recognized it. Of course. It’s one of the werewolves from the cave. She reached a hand out to stroke his head. The huge beast howled, and werewolves broke rank to heed his call, turning from attacking the lines of students and Order members to fight Death Eaters instead.


“Hermione, what is going on??!” Harry shouted, finding himself battling side-by-side with werewolves.


“I’ll explain later, Harry!”


“Don’t worry about it, Potter. Hermione made friends with a few werewolves last year, that’s all. No big deal,” Malfoy said, directing his Patronus into a line of Dementors while simultaneously dueling a Death Eater. “Only you, Granger,” he smirked.


“Sarcasm, that’s what was missing from my life,” Hermione said, sending hex after hex hurtling into Voldemort’s ranks, thinning them out considerably.


Harry sidled over to them. “Hermione, I’m going to fight Voldemort...”


“But Harry!”


“There’s no time to argue. I need you and Malfoy to hold this line. DON’T LET OUR RANKS BREAK. Fred and George did some recon; there’s another 100-plus Inferi, giants and Death Eaters waiting on the lawn.”


“But we’ve got our own giants,” Draco said, nodding to where Hagrid, Madame Maxime and Grawp were wreaking havoc on Voldemort’s followers.


“We have one small giant, and two half giants, Malfoy,” Harry corrected.


“I suppose you’re right,” Draco sighed. “Don’t worry, Potter, we’ll hold them.”


“We will?” Hermione asked after Harry had raced away, trying to get closer to Voldemort.


“Yes, we will,” Draco said. “I think it’s about time we displayed our full potential.”


Hermione lifted an eyebrow. “Are you saying...?”


“I’m saying Elemental magic is the rarest in the world – it’d be a shame not to use it. And fire is one of the only ways to kill Inferi.”


“True,” Hermione said. “And...?”


Draco looked at her slyly and shrugged. “And ever since the Dark Forest I’ve been itching to re-create that giant hailstorm.”


“I knew that was the real reason,” Hermione laughed. “Well, with the werewolves’ help we’ve pretty much descimated Voldemort’s forces. He’ll send his last army soon...”


“Now, you mean?” Draco said, as more than a hundred dark forces swelled Voldemort’s depleted ranks.


“Whoa,” Hermione gasped.


“Think we can handle them?”


Hermione tossed her hair over her shoulder and glared at them. “No. I KNOW we can handle them. Watch and learn, Malfoy.”


“STAND BACK!” Hermione yelled, as Dumbledore’s Army ran to meet the new enemy onslaught.


“What are you playing at, girl?” Kingsley shouted.


“Just trust me – fall back!” Gritting their teeth, Kingsley, McGonagall, Tonks and Lupin backed up, commanding students to do the same.


She stepped calmly to meet Voldemort’s last line of defense. There was a lull in the fighting as both sides stopped to watch. “Hahahahahahaha!” Bellatrix cackled. “So the Gryffindor Mudblood goes to meet her death. I’m going to enjoy this... ATTACK!” she ordered them.


“Noooo! Hermione!!!” Harry and Ron shouted.


But Hermione’s eyes began to glow, and a halo of orange light formed all around her. Voldemort’s army hesitated. Hermione tilted her head back and raised her arms above her head. A vortex of fire formed at the peak of her hands. With a huge yell, she sent the wave of flames gushing into the ranks of Inferi, incinerating every creature they touched. Screams, curses, shouts of rage came from the Death Eaters and giants who escaped Hermione’s fury. They began to retreat.


“NO! YOU FOOLS! KILL HER! Hold the line – hold the line or I’ll kill you myself! She’s just one person!!” Voldemort shrieked.


“Two, actually,” Draco said coolly. He joined Hermione, his eyes bright with that strange icy light. Then he raised his fist and brought it slamming into the stone floor. The same giant hail he’d used to destroy the Acromantulas came hurtling through the castle ceiling. The rest of the fighters watched in awe as the two Elementals battled side-by-side, Draco sending his huge icy spheres of hail hurtling into Voldemort’s army as Hermione threw fireballs at them with deadly accuracy. Voldemort screamed in wrath, watching as his last battalion was destroyed. He advanced on Hermione and Draco, wand outstretched. But Harry stepped in front of him. “This ends here, Voldemort.”


Bellatrix was fighting Fred, George, Ginny and Dareon, her skill equal to all of them. Hermione ran to help, but Molly Weasley shoved her aside. “This is my fight, Hermione. BACK OFF MY CHILDREN, BITCH.” Molly pushed up her sleeves and jumped into the fight. Everyone backed away to give them room as Bellatrix and Molly circled each other, the ground around them glowing red with the heat of their duel.


And then Bellatrix fell. Voldemort's twisted scream tore through the Great Hall, his rage unleashing in the form of raw power, blasting everyone back. No one dared breathe as Harry and Voldemort faced each other.


“I’ve been waiting so long for this moment, Harry Potter. Long before you were born.”


“Then let’s finish it,” Harry said.


“I have the Elder Wand. You can’t beat me.”


“And you’re sure it belongs to you?”


“I killed the previous owners! It’s mine!!”


“That’s always been your problem, Voldemort. You think murder is the solution to everything.”


“Because it is, you pathetic little boy. AVADA KEVADRA!”


“EXPELLIARMUS!”


A flash of light met Harry’s and rebounded. Voldemort had time for one last cry of rage before his voice was gone forever. What was left was the shadow of a monster – any blood, flesh and bone Voldemort had stolen for himself now deteriorated; the remnants of a corpse long before laid to rest. There was a stunned silence.


And then the cheering erupted.


Harry fell under the weight of a pile of people. Through the chaos he felt a small hand reach through, pulling him out. When he stood up, gasping, he was facing Cho Chang.


“Cho!”


“Harry,” she said, tears in her eyes.


“Oh no – why are you crying?” Harry asked nervously.


Cho laughed. “Because I’m happy Harry.”


“Oh. Oh! Well, that I can handle.” Harry pulled her in close and leaned over her.


“Harry?” Cho whispered, inches from his mouth.


“Yes?”


“Promise me you won't die again.”


“I’ll do what I can.” He pressed his lips against hers and let passion take over.


When they finally broke apart, Harry smiled softly at Cho. “You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that.”


“I do, actually. Probably about as long as I have.”


Harry looked around the Great Hall. Everywhere there was celebrating, crying, hugging. Draco was with his parents, Nott with his father. Ginny and Dareon were locked in a tight embrace. Fred and George were with Percy and the other Weasleys, including Fleur. Neville was surrounded by admirers.


“Hey, there’s something I have to do. Will you be ok?”


Cho followed Harry’s eyes to where Ron and Hermione sat with Pansy, a little apart from the celebration. “Absolutely Harry. I’ll be here when you get back.” She joined some fellow Ravenclaws as Harry beelined for his two best friends.


Coming up behind them, he laid a hand on each of their shoulders. “Hey guys,” he whispered. “Care to slip away with me for a moment?”


Ron looked at Pansy. “Go,” she said.


Silently, they left the Great Hall.



***************


“So, you and Pansy, eh Ron?” Harry nudged him as they walked back from their quiet meeting on the bridge.


Ron flushed. “What about it? And anyway, it’s not nearly as far-fetched as Malfoy and Hermione. What’s up with that?”


“You know, he’s really a good person, underneath the exterior of sarcasm and superiority.” Hermione said. “You two are actually quite similar...”


“WHAT?! Merlin and Agrippa, Hermione. I’ve never been so insulted in my life! Where’s the justice?”


Harry and Hermione laughed.


“I just find it crazy that I’m the only one of us who hasn’t fallen for a Slytherin.”


“You’re a paragon of virtue, Harry.”


“Ho ho, there’s the Golden Trio!” Slughorn winked merrily at them. “Where are you three going?”


“Back to the Great Hall,” Hermione said.


“Well, a few of us are having a meeting first. Minister of Magic’s orders.”


“What? Who?”


“Kingsley Shacklebolt of course! Was just appointed.”


“Where are we meeting?”


“Snape’s classroom. He’s pretty weak, so we figured that would be easiest for him.”


They got to the dungeons to find a roomful of people. Shacklebolt and McGonagall, Lupin and Tonks, the Malfoys, the Weasleys, the Notts, Pansy, Dareon, Neville, and a paler-than-usual Snape.


“To the Golden Trio!” Tonks said. The room erupted in clapping.


“What’s with this Golden Trio stuff?” Hermione grimaced.


“Yeah, could we retire that title for, like, ever?” Harry added.


“What’s wrong wiv it?” Ron asked. “Mmmmf. These little sandwiches are delightful. I haven’t eaten a proper meal in weeks.”


Hermione rolled her eyes. “So, what are we all doing here?”


“Paying homage to you of course, Granger. What else?” Malfoy smirked.


“Ah, of course. Was that before or after congratulating yourself on the giant hailstorm?”


“Well I was going to say before, but I can be gracious.”


“I never doubted it for a minute,” Hermione laughed.


“Ahem,” McGonagall coughed, glaring at the two of them.


“Sorry, Professor.”


“So,” Kingsley said. “I’ve called you here for a few reasons, the first of which is to congratulate you. All of you. Everyone in this room played a role in defeating Voldemort and destroying his evil reign. However, we must acknowledge that you three – Harry, Hermione and Ron – were absolutely essential in this war. Without your work to destroy the Horcruxes, we could not have been victorious. And now, the other piece of this meeting: as I understand it, we have some Inter-House relationships going on?” Shacklebolt’s eyes rested on Dareon and Ginny’s twined hands. Blushing, they drew away from each other.


“Sir, I hardly think that’s relevent...”


“Miss Granger, please let me finish. And it is relevent, judging by the obvious attraction between you and Draco Malfoy here.”


She stammered.


“Minister, students from other Houses date each other all the time...Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, Ravenclaw and Gryffindor...”


“But not Gryffindor and Slytherin. In fact, students from Slytherin House rarely, if ever, date outside of it. And there has never been a case of a Slytherin Pureblood dating a Gryffindor Muggleborn.”


“Well I don’t care,” Draco said.


“Son, listen to the Minister....”


“NO! I don’t care what anyone thinks, I’m not going to be kept from someone I love because some toddies in the Ministry think it’s not proper.”


The room went quiet in shock.


“Malfoy...” Hermione hissed.


Draco looked at her blankly. “Like!” he burst out. “I’m not going to be kept from someone I like...not love...obviously, haha. Like – in purely a professional, friendly sort of...I mean, have you seen her hair?”


“EXCUSE ME??!” Hermione faced him, hands on hip.


Narcissa bit her lip, trying to hide a smile. “You’re steering into dangerous waters dear. Better come about.”


Malfoy grinned nervously. “Granger...Hermione...I was just joking. I love your hair. It’s so...wild!”


“Speaking of wild, Malfoy...how much ice do you think it would take to stop wildfire from burning through that very expensive-looking robe of yours?”


“Alright, alright, although I’m sure we would all be very curious to see you perform another incredible feat of Elemental magic, I don’t think now is the time,” Shacklebolt said. “And for the record, I’m not trying to keep anyone in this room apart.” He nodded at Dareon and Ginny.


“In fact, I’m suggesting quite the opposite. In the last year the Wizarding community has lost homes, friends and family to Voldemort and his dark forces. Now more than ever, we need to stand together. Your love for each other, in spite of your different backgrounds, will be the hallmark of a stronger, more united community. Ideally, a community free from prejudice. All of you have a key role to play in rebuilding this world. Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy, Nott, you risked your lives to turn against your master and fight for our side. I promise you, it will not go unrewarded. If you wish, all of you have earned key seats on the Ministry board, and will be influential in making laws that will benefit all parts of the wizarding community."


Narcissa gripped her husband’s hand, smiling tearfully. Nott’s father nodded gratefully. “That’s a very generous offer, Minister, thank you,” he said.


“Professor Snape, there is also a seat on the board for you, along with a – very – generous stipend, if you take it. Your other option is to remain here as a professor (teaching Potions or Defense Against the Dark Arts, whatever your preference). However, I am making the decision to strip you of the title of Headmaster. Not because you have done anything wrong, but because the Wizarding community would not allow it. There are many things they don’t know.”


“I understand, Kingsley,” Snape said. “I already forfeited the position to Professor McGonagall.”


“Did you?” Shacklebolt said. “Very good.”


“And I would like to remain here as a Professor. Hogwarts is the only home I know. Potions would suit me just fine, if Lupin wouldn’t mind taking his old post as Defense Against the Dark Arts professor.”


Lupin started in surprise. “Me? But you...”


“I held an unnecessary grudge against you. I apologize,” Snape said.


“But you’ve always wanted the Defense Against the Dark Arts position...”


“I thought I did. But it turns out I’m a bit tired of the Dark Arts,” he touched his neck delicately, glancing at Draco and Hermione.


Shacklebolt nodded.


“And as for you students, you get a choice as well. All of you have proven yourselves beyond your years. Ginny, of course, you have another year of school – but the rest of you are welcome to refuse to retake your final year and head straight into your careers of choice. I don’t think the Auror field will be as exciting as it used to be, given the destruction of Voldemort and his Death Eaters, but I’m sure there will be ample opportunites to fight evil.”


They all looked at each other.


“Ron, dear.”


“Yes, Mum?”


“I know I can’t influence your decision – you’re an adult now, but I do think that...”


“It’s ok, Mrs. Weasley. We’re staying at Hogwarts another year.”


“We are?! But Hermione, think of the excitement – think of the danger! We could become Aurors right now!”


“Or right after next year,” Pansy said temptingly. "There's still a lot to learn..."


“I’m staying at school,” Dareon said quickly, squeezing Ginny’s hand.


“Well that settles it. I’m staying too,” Theo said.


Draco raised his eyebrows at Hermione. “Well? Are we staying at school?”


“We? Are you sure they’ll be room for both of us? My hair is so big and all...”


“You’re never going to let me off the hook for that one, are you?”


“Take it from me, Malfoy, never – and I mean NEVER – insult a woman’s looks,” Harry said. Narcissa, Molly, Tonks, Pansy, Hermione and Ginny all nodded. "Oh, and I'm staying too."


“Words of wisdom, mate,” Ron said. “You see, I would never bring up that Pansy’s nose is a little more upturned than most, or...” he broke off when he caught Pansy’s eyes.


“Or what, Ron?” Pansy said sweetly, walking toward him with langorous steps.


“Or...how beautiful she is, compared to every other girl in the world,” he broke off, panting. “Is it hot in here? Why aren’t there any windows down here?”


“He doesn’t get that from me,” Arthur Weasley muttered.


“Oh really?” Molly said. “I seem to recall one fateful anniversary when you called me, what was the phrase? Oh yes. ‘Pleasantly plump.’ When was that again, honey? Two months ago?”


Arthur swallowed.


“But he said ‘pleasantly,’” Lucius cut in mildly.


“Yes, see, exactly!” Arthur said. Arthur and Lucius smiled at each other, surprised, only to find both of their wives glaring at them with equal venom.


“Dear,” Narcissa started. “Why don’t you explain to us how adding a conciliatory word in front of an offending one makes the phrase any better? We’re all so curious...”


Lucius opened and closed his mouth. “There wouldn’t happen to be any firewhiskey left around here, would there?”


“An excellent idea!!” Arthur boomed. “I’ll go look in the storage closet.”


“I’ll join you.”


“Well, I’m going to get back to the Great Hall,” Theo said.


“Very well. You are all dismissed. And thank you again for your exemplary service. I very much look forward to working with all of you in the coming years – I have no doubt you will do extraordinary things.”


“I’m going to go find Cho,” Harry said.


“We’ve got to get back to little Teddy,” Tonks said happily.


“Yes we do,” Lupin said. “Minerva, you don’t think...?”


“We will make arrangements for you to live off-grounds next year, Professor Lupin,” she smiled.


“Thank you,” Lupin said, his smile making him look years younger.


“I’ll go back to the Great Hall too,” Hermione said. “I hear there’s a feast going on.”


“Wait – Miss Granger,” Snape said. “I didn’t get a chance to thank you. You saved my life.”


Hermione smiled. “I had help. I’m really glad we got there in time.”


Snape nodded. “Surprisingly, I am too.”


She was rounding the dungeon corner when Draco came running after her.


“Hermione! Wait. Please.”


“Yes Malfoy?”


“Oh for Merlin’s sake, don’t go all cold on me. I said I was sorry. Besides, we’re going to have to get along.”


“Says who?” Hermione demanded.


“Says our living arrangements next year. McGonagall made us Head Boy and Girl!”


“And what if I refuse?”


Draco’s face fell. “What do you mean – refuse? You can’t refuse! Why would you refuse?” He took a deep breath.


“Ok, I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. I was an ass. I love your hair. And I love – I mean, I like, wait. No.”


“For Merlin’s sake Malfoy. I know you like me...”


“No. I don’t like you.”


“What?” Hermione turned away, taking the dungeon stairs two at a time.


“WAIT! Hermione. That came out wrong. What I mean is, I don’t like you...damn it.”


He raced after her, grabbing her arm as she rounded a corner.


“Malfoy! LET ME GO. I heard you the first time, and the second,” she said. She was fighting back tears.


“Well you’re not listening then! I’m trying to tell you that I don’t like you – I LOVE you. You daft, wild-haired, bookworm, know-it-all Gryff–“


She kissed him.


He pushed her against the wall and lifted her up until she was resting on his upper thighs, her legs circling his waist. He never stopped kissing her. “Whoa, get a room there!” Slughorn shouted as he walked past them toward the Great Hall.


Malfoy pulled back with a groan, resting his forehead against hers. “Merlin, I’ve missed you.”


Hermione pulled back, a mischevious glint in her eye. “Malfoy? Did you just call me a daft, wild-haired, know-it-all bookworm?”


“What? No! Damn it woman, I said I love you.”


“Riiiiiighhht, just not my hair...”


“I’m never going to live that down. We’re going to be 70 years old and you’ll still be bringing that up.”


“70 years old? What makes you think I’m going to be able to stand being around you that long?” Hermione smirked.


“Please. You know I’m the only person you want to argue with for the rest of your life,” Malfoy said. “Plus, I don’t know if you’re aware, but I have a mansion. I’m kind of a big deal.”


“That does it, we’re breaking up!”


“Impossible. We’re not even dating Granger.”


“Malfoy, will you go out with me?”


“Yes.”


“Good. We’re dating. Now I’m breaking up with you.” With a coy smile, she turned on her heel.


“Oh no, you don’t. Something you should know about Slytherins: we’re very determined.” Draco scooped Hermione over his shoulder in a fluid motion.


“Malfoy! Draco Abraxas Malfoy, put me down THIS INSTANT.”


“Say it.”


“Say what?”


“Say you’ll date me.”


“This is blackmail,” Hermione protested, her voice muffled by his robes.


“Say it or I’ll carry you into the Great Hall like a sack of potatoes. I don’t think your Gryffindor pride could withstand it...”


“Fine! You giant Slytherin git.” She mumbled something inaudible.


“I can’t hear you...”


“I’LL DATE YOU! Ok? Now put me down.”


He swung her down, laughing as she blew hair out of her beet-red face.


“So we’re dating,” Draco said.


“I suppose so,” Hermione huffed. “Probably the least romantic way I’ve ever been asked out.”


“What do you mean? What was missing?”


“Oh nothing much. Flowers, those delicious little chocolate cream puffs...eye contact...you know, the basics.”


“Ah, well here!” He plucked a blackened rose from the bush behind them. The petals disintegrated into ash the moment Hermione touched it. She raised an eyebrow.


“I think I’m really getting the hang of this whole dating thing,” Draco said.


“Oh definitely. We just need to work on your technique a bit,” Hermione said, pushing open the doors to the Great Hall.


“And the best part is, I’ve got an idea for my wedding proposal.”


Hermione’s face fell. “DRACO ABRAXAS MALFOY!”


“Ow, OW! I was joking Granger. Merlin. Don’t get your panties in a twist.”


“Oy! Guys, you weren’t going to eat without us were you?” Ron and Pansy, Dareon and Ginny ran toward them. Harry waved them over to where he was sitting with Cho and the Weasley twins.


“Where’s Theo?” Draco asked, grabbing Hermione’s hand.


“There he is!” Pansy said. “It looks like he’s...sitting with Luna Lovegood.”


“Well, more surprising things have happened,” Ron said.


“It’s not all that surprising, come to think of it. You know Theo believes in Snargles?” Draco laughed.


“I heard that, and there’s really no evidence that they don’t exist!” Nott hollered over his shoulder.


They sat down to a feast the likes of which Hogwarts had never seen before, or since. Former enemies, friends old and new, family members, werewolves, centaurs, even a giant. Not knowing what lay before them, but trusting that whatever it was, it would be good. Even magical.


************

And that, boys and girls, is the way the story really went. Haha, JUST KIDDING;) Thank you all for reading. I really enjoyed writing this story, and especially all of your support!


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