Isolation

He can't leave the room. Her room. And it's all the Order's fault. Confined to a small space with only the Mudblood for company, something's going to give. Maybe his sanity. Maybe not. "There," she spat. "Now your Blood's filthy too!" DM/HG. PostHBP.

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6291747/1/Isolation

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40. Fight

Hermione toyed with a loose thread on her jumper, pulling it tight until there was a temporary dent slicing into her index finger; she frowned, lifting her eyes back to Harry.

"Right, explain one more time what you saw, Harry. Slowly."

"I told you!" he said, evidently exasperated. "You-Know-Who killed the goblins for letting us escape from Gringotts, all of them! Including Griphook! And he knows we have Helga's Cup. He's anxious and panicky now, because he suspects we know about the Horcruxes."

"Well that's not good," mumbled Ron.

"No, but I could hear his thoughts, and I know that he's keeping a Horcrux in Hogwarts. I heard it. And he's going to head there, so we need to get there before he has a chance to move it."

"But, Harry, we don't even know what we're looking for," said Hermione, "Or where to even start looking. Hogwarts is a big place, and it probably has hundreds of hiding places we don't know about."

"But we have the map."

"But not everything shows up on the map, like the Room or Requirement-

"But most of it does. And we know that the Horcrux must be linked to Rowena Ravenclaw somehow. Dumbledore said last year that he believed the Horcruxes would be connected to the Founders, so this one must have something to do with Ravenclaw-

"But we don't-

"And, You-Know-Who revealed that Nagini is a Horcrux, and if he's heading to Hogwarts with her, then that's two Horcruxes in the same place."

"Two birds, one stone," said Ron. "But how do we destroy them without the sword?"

"I don't know yet, but at least if we get them, we can figure that out later-

"Harry, wait," sighed Hermione. "Do you realise how difficult it's going to be to get to Hogwarts? We might be able to get into Hogsmeade with the Invisibility Cloak, but Hogwarts is practically impenetrable. They have Death Eaters and Dementors everywhere-

"We'll figure something out; see how bad it really is when we get to Hogsmeade," he hushed her. "Once he realises the ring and the locket are gone, he'll be heading to Hogwarts. We don't have time for hesitation, Hermione."

Her frown deepened as Harry tugged her bag out of her hand and pulled out the cloak. She knew he was right, of course, that they didn't have time to linger on the edge of idleness, but the abruptness of it all left her feeling uneasy. She was hardly spontaneous at the best of times, and she wondered if Harry's eagerness might be clouding his judgement and his ability to remain rational.

"This doesn't sit right with me," she whispered to Ron. "We are not properly prepared."

"Yeah but bugger it," he replied. "I doubt all the planning in the world could prepare us for this. Even your kind of planning."

"Perhaps you're right, but I just feel like...this is it. I feel like-

"Guys, come on!" called Harry, holding up the cloak for them to slip under. "We need to get going!"

The words died on her tongue as Ron gave her an innocent shrug and left her side, joining Harry beneath the cloak. Smothering the urge to protest or insist that they should take some time to prepare, she headed toward her two companions with heavy ankles, dragging her heels in the mud. If Harry noticed her reluctance, he didn't say anything, but as they linked their hands to Apparate, he gave hers a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

And with the sound of a whip snapping the air, they were gone.

.

.

"Check."

Draco resisted the urge to roll his eyes. Blaise and Theo's chess match had been in play for almost two hours, and this was the fifth time Blaise had cornered Theo's king. Theo had never been particularly skilled at the game, but his inadequacy today was irritating Draco to no end, although he acknowledged that he'd hardly been in the best of moods anyway. Perhaps that was why he was focussing all his attention on their game, directing all his frustration at Theo, distracting himself from thoughts of Granger and her welfare.

"Shit," hissed Theo, moving his king. "I don't know where my game is today."

"You never had a game," said Draco. "You were always shit at chess. Even Goyle beat you."

"Hey, I've beaten you before."

"One time in third year."

"And you still look fucking bitter about it," Theo smirked, "Like I shoved the king up your arse or something."

Blaise shook his head. "Must you always be so crass?"

"Yes, it's part of my charm."

"Check," said Blaise again, snaring the King with his Bishop and directing a bored look at Theo. "Your charm is about as good as your chess playing skills."

"Well, we all know that's bullshit," he replied. "I could've charmed the chastity belt off Umbridge if I'd wanted to-

"Theo, what the fuck?" growled Blaise. "Do you think I need those kinds of thoughts in my head-

"I bet it would be a pink chastity belt with a metaphorical cat on it saying 'Don't touch my puss-

"Merlin, Theo, STOP IT!"

Draco caught himself grinning as his two friends bickered back and forth like they were fourteen again, before all the chaos had started to settle in. Before Voldemort had returned. And now he thought about it, they'd been confined before even then, bearing the burden of the hatred their parents had hammered into their heads from the moment they could listen. Looking at his friends now, particularly Theo, they looked so much...healthier, free and young. Even though they barely had a Galleon between the three of them, their girlfriends were AWOL, and there was a war waiting around the corner, Draco thought that this was the best they'd ever been as young men.

Not boys. Men.

And at least Theo seemed to be getting over Ted's death day by day, wit and profanity pouring out of his mouth, just as they should be. His temper had simmered, his cockiness was back, and Draco could honestly look at Blaise and Theo now and consider them more than casual allies for personal gain. He wouldn't call them friends as such, if only because they would taunt him for using the word, but he trusted them and felt at ease in their company, even admired them.

"...it's not my fault you don't have a sense of humour-

"I have a sense of humour, Theo, you're just not fucking funny-

"Why must you lie to yourself everyday?"

"Would you shut the hell up and just make your move!"

"You two sound more like brothers every day," remarked Draco, smirking at their offended looks.

"Step-brothers," corrected Theo. "Aside from the obvious fact that I am far too good-looking to be related to Blaise by blood, the fact that he has no sense of humour-

"Bloody hell, Theo, don't make me come over to your side of the table."

"What are you going to do? Patronise me to death?"

Blaise shot up to his feet. "I'll show you what I'll bloody..."

He trailed off when Andromeda entered the room, retaking his seat with a rather embarrassed expression, not that she appeared to notice. Studying his Aunt curiously, Draco felt the knot of nerves in his stomach tighten as he took in her serious features, waiting expectantly as she met his eyes across the room.

"I thought you might like to know," she said carefully, "That they made it out of Gringotts."

Draco's eyebrows shot up as a sigh he couldn't stop rushed out of him. "You're certain?"

"Yes, they got out."

"Who got out?" asked Theo, and then his eyes widened. "Wait, Granger and the dipshit duo were in Gringotts?! What the fu-

"How do you know?" interrupted Draco, ignoring his companion.

"You know the Order has their...contacts. Tonks is at a safe-house with The Order, and she passed the information on to me."

Draco wondered if Snape had somehow relayed the information to McGonagall, and it had been passed on to Tonks, then to his Aunt, or if there were more spies creeping their way around Voldemort's den. And then he decided he didn't care. Granger had made it out of her suicide mission with a pulse, and that was all he needed and wanted to focus on for the moment. An odd sensation found its way to his chest, something he couldn't place, and he absently wondered if it might be hope, but quickly discarded that notion.

"I need to leave for a little while, there's a lot going on," Andromeda continued. "Will you boys be alright here?"

"We're fine," said Theo quickly, waving her away and waiting until she'd disappeared before he turned to Draco with uninhibited interest. "Granger went to fucking Gringotts? As in the Gringotts? The bank that's currently swarming with Death Eaters?"

"How many Gringotts do you know?" frowned Blaise. "Although I have to agree with Theo. That was ballsy."

"Ballsy?" Theo repeated. "It's fucking insane. You need to keep your girlfriend away from those morons she calls friends, because apparently death wishes are contagious-

"Andromeda didn't say where Granger is now," mumbled Draco, dropping his head. "She doesn't know where Granger is."

Theo snorted. "Look, she made it out of Gringotts alive, okay. I'm sure she's bloody fine. Quit complaining."

"You know how intelligent and resourceful Granger is, Draco," Blaise assured him. "And the Gryffindors have Irish luck. Again, I hate to agree with Theo, but if anyone will be fine, it will be Hermione Granger."

Draco nodded absently, doing his best to remove any hint of concern from his expression, and if any of it remained, Theo and Blaise didn't comment. Instead, they returned to their chess match, seemingly deciding it was best to leave him to untangle his thoughts, and Theo finally moved his king to a safe square.

"Just out of curiosity," said Blaise. "Why were they at Gringotts?"

"I can't tell you."

Theo clicked his tongue. "I feel like that's the bloody motto around here. 'I can't tell you' or 'It's a secret,' might as well be carved into the sodding door."

"Would you stop complaining?" Blaise snapped. "Just make your move so I can beat you already."

"Don't get cocky, Blaise-

"You're calling me cocky?"

"I believe that was the intention of my last sentence, yes."

"Just make your move-

"I'll make it when I'm good and ready..."

Draco barely heard them this time, their voices muffled static in his ears, distant and distorted. His eyes wandered over to the window, and he stared past the reflection of himself into the night outside. It had been dark for a couple of hours already and he guessed it was around nine in the evening now, but the darkness of the sky seemed so...permanent and consuming, and he couldn't look away. There was no moon, no stars, but somewhere in the distance, a shard of lightning cut through the vast, black emptiness, and a shiver ran up Draco's spine.

The air felt hostile and unbalanced tonight, like the electricity of the oncoming storm was prickling against his skin, and all he could do was silently beg some unseen greater force that Granger would be fine.

Then he looked back to Blaise and Theo, thought of Tonks, Andromeda and Teddy, of his parents, of Bletchley, Davis, and Bulstrode, hell, even Lovegood, if only for Blaise's sanity, and begged that obscure greater force that they'd all be fine too.

.

.

Hermione felt the ground beneath her feet, and through the cloak's translucent veil, she could make out the buildings of Hogsmeade; so familiar and yet unfamiliar now. Zonko's and Honeydukes appeared to be half-burned down, the windows shattered, and the doors ripped off their hinges. She thought of Christmas, when lights, candles, and trinkets had adorned the shops, lighting up the street, and now it looked like an abandoned ghost town, save the glow coming from The Three Broomsticks.

The moment her eyes settled on the pub, a harsh and high-pitched shriek sliced through her, and it didn't fade; just kept ringing in her ears. The door of the pub burst open, and out poured several Death Eaters, their wands ready, and one was screaming, "Accio Cloak!" before she could really comprehend it. But the Invisibility Cloak didn't move, and she resisted the urge to sigh with relief.

"We know you're here, Potter!" one of them shouted. "No point trying to escape either! Spread out and find him!"

The Death Eaters surged towards them, but they managed to move out of the way in time, ducking down into a side street, all of them holding their breath as flashes of light began to erupt around Hogsmeade.

"We need to get out of here," whispered Hermione. "There are too many."

"You heard him, there's no escape," said Harry. "They must've set up some wards or something. They were ready for us-

"Get the Dementors!" a voice called somewhere in the distance. "They'll find him!"

Hermione turned to Harry, meeting his panicked eyes with her own, and she desperately reached for his hand, then Ron's, readying herself to Apparate, but it didn't work. The air around them felt heavy with wards, and she began to frantically search through her mind and memories for something she could do, but the cold crept up on her, and she could see the Dementors heading towards them. Before she even realised it, Harry had his wand out, and then a brilliant, white stag was jumping out the tip, and the Dementors dispersed.

"Over there!" one of the Death Eaters shouted; but before Hermione had a moment to gather her thoughts, she heard a door open, and light poured into the dark space they were hiding in.

"Potter, get in here!" a harsh whispered ordered. "Head upstairs, keep the Cloak on, and stay silent!"

Harry was holding her hand again, dragging her and Ron towards the voice. Once inside the building, Hermione took in the musty scent and fragile bar, realising they were in the Hog's Head Inn, and she followed Harry to a door at the back that led to a flight of groaning stairs. Reaching a sitting room with a welcoming fireplace, Hermione let go of the breath she'd been holding, taking a second to study the large painting of a young and delicate girl smiling pleasantly at them.

Shouts from outside caught her attention, and she and Ron kept close to Harry as he made his way to a window, adjusting the Cloak a little to make sure they were sufficiently covered before they looked outside.

"I don't have a stag Patronus, I have a goat Patronus, you idiot! I just showed you!" yelled a man, who Hermione now realised was the Hog's Head's barman, and the man who had saved them. "I'm not having those Dementors out on my street-

"You broke Curfew!" argued the Death Eater.

"If I want to let out my bloody cat, I will!"

"Your cat set off the Caterwauling Charm?"

"So what? Going to send me to Azkaban, are you? I hope you haven't pressed your little Dark Marks and summoned him. He's not going to be happy if you called him here because of my cat."

"You broke Curfew-

"What are going to do, shut down my pub? And then what would happen to all your black market potions and trading?"

"Don't threaten me-

"I keep quiet, now bugger off."

The Death Eater backed off a little. "Don't break Curfew again, or we won't be so lenient."

Then Hermione heard a door slam, footsteps heading towards the sitting room, and in marched the barman. Hermione was struck speechless by his resemblance to Dumbledore. From the striking blue eyes to the beard spread out across his chest, the similarities were remarkable, and Hermione had read enough texts, including Skeeter's cruel account of Albus Dumbledore's life, to know that the man before them was Aberforth Dumbledore.

"You're Aberforth," confirmed Harry, stepping forward. "Thank you so much-

"You shouldn't be here," frowned Aberforth. "You foolish-

"It's your eye I've been seeing in the mirror."

Hermione switched her gaze to her best friend, confused about that comment, and then she realised that Harry was looking at the mirror on the mantelpiece above the fireplace, a corner of it missing, and the missing piece was in Harry's hand. Harry had told her in the days at Tonks' house how he'd stared into the mirror shard while Bellatrix had been torturing her, begging for help, and how he'd seen an eye staring back at him, and it all came together in her mind.

"You sent Dobby."

Aberforth nodded. "Where is he?"

"Dead," replied Harry, his voice shaking a little. "Bellatrix killed him."

"Pity," he mumbled, yet his face remained stoic. "I quite liked that elf."

Behind her, Hermione heard a low grumble coming from Ron's stomach, and when she turned to face him he had a sheepish look on his face.

"Sorry," he muttered. "I'm starving."

She was about to scold him for his timing, but then her stomach sang too, and she offered their host an apologetic glance.

"There's food over there," said Aberforth, pointing to the table in the corner of the room. "Help yourselves."

Hermione and Ron slowly made their way towards the table and she picked up an iced bun, timidly picking at it to appear polite while Ron practically swallowed a muffin whole. Harry stayed where he was, his eyes flicking between Aberforth and the mirror on top of the mantelpiece.

"How did you get the mirror?" asked Harry. "It was Sirius'."

"Bought it from Mundungus a while ago. Albus explained what it was and I've been keeping an eye on you. Speaking of which, we need to figure out how to get you away from here-

"What?" snapped Harry. "We're not leaving. We need to get to Hogwarts."

"Don't be so bloody stupid, boy," said Aberforth. "You need to get out of here. Go overseas or something and stay the hell away from-

"No, I have a job to do! Your brother asked me to do a job and I'm running out of-

"If you know what's best for you, you'll forget everything my brother ever told you, and forget any promises you're keeping to a dead man," he replied coldly, bitterly. "My brother had a habit of tainting people's lives, and the best thing you can do is forget him."

"Dumbledore loved Harry," Hermione spoke up, feeling the need to defend him as she took in his disappointed expression.

"It was the people my brother loved who suffered the most!" he retorted, shooting his eyes over to the painting of the young girl. "Listen to me, Potter, forget whatever my brother told you."

"But it's not just about me, it's about everyone," tried Harry. "It could win...we need to keep fighting. You have to understand, you're part of the Order-

Aberforth scoffed. "The Order is over. Finished. We've already lost."

"That's not true, we still have a chance, and Dumbledore told me-

"Get someone else to do whatever job my brother left you."

"It needs to be me!"

Aberforth shook his head with weariness, his gaze falling to the painting again and lingering there for stretched out moment. Hermione thought she might know who the smiling girl was now, but she nibbled her lip nervously, uncertain if it was appropriate to ask, but the silence in the room became too profound for her to resist.

"Is that Ariana, Mr Dumbledore?" she asked. "Your sister?"

His eyes narrowed. "Been reading some Skeeter shit, have we?"

Hermione felt the heat warm her cheeks and she averted her eyes, idly picking at her iced bun, but the need to ask another question forced her to look back at Aberforth. "Were you...were you talking about Ariana when you said that the people your brother loved suffered the most?"

His eyes clenched shut and a shadow seemed to pass over his face. When he opened his eyes, he was glaring at Harry, his jaw clenched like he was trying to restrain himself. Seating himself in a dusty armchair that look older than him, he propped his chin against the back of his hand, and let go of a long and burdened breath.

"You want to know the truth about my brother, Potter?" he said. "Take a seat."

.

.

Blaise moved his bishop. "Check."

"Oh, for fuck's sake," muttered Draco. "Theo, that's the eighth time he's checked you. Just give it up."

"Hush," said Theo. "I'm concentrating."

Draco shook his head with frustration, leaning back in his char and folding his arms across his chest. This was so typical of Theo, dodging the final blow, avoiding the unavoidable. Even when they'd been kids he'd pushed the boundaries, refusing to give up when he was already beaten, usually earning him a harsh beating from his father when there was nowhere left to run. The bad always caught up with Theo eventually, even if he was a master at delaying the inevitable.

Sighing and huffing the hair out of his eyes, Draco turned his attention to the window again, and his eyes widened a fraction. "Bloody hell," he murmured, "That storm picked up quick."

Beyond the window pane the black clouds thrashed and throbbed, white sparks of lightening illuminating the sky accompanied by loud, angry growls of thunder that Draco swore made the glass vibrate. In such a short time, the chaos of the storm had crept up on them. Barely an hour ago it had been miles away, yet now, it almost seemed directly above Tonks' house, hovering above their heads, and Draco felt another shiver tickle its way up his spine.

"Checkmate," said Blaise.

Draco turned back to their chess match, noting that Theo had finally been defeated, courtesy of Blaise's black castle.

"Bollocks," frowned Theo, then he shrugged. "Best out of three?"

.

.

Hermione could feel the tears gathering in her eyes, to the point that it was almost painful, but she refused to let any fall.

For the past seven minutes, she'd listened to Aberforth spill out the tragic details of his sister's short life: How she'd been attacked by a group of Muggle boys when she'd been six, and how it had traumatised her, leaving her magical abilities unstable. How her father had attacked that group of boys and then ended up Azkaban, and how her mother, in her desperation to keep her daughter close, kept Ariana hidden away, isolating her from the world. How Ariana had then killed her mother with an accidental magical outburst, and then how she'd been left in the care Dumbledore.

And then finally, she'd listened to how a confrontation between Aberforth, Dumbledore and Gellert Grindelwald had killed Ariana, and during Aberforth's speech, the resentment he felt towards Albus had been so loud and heartbreaking.

Hermione glanced at Harry, wondering what was going through his head after hearing the dark past of the man he had idolised and trusted like a wonderful grandfather. She would never admit it to Harry, but Aberforth's account had made her doubt her own feelings towards Dumbledore, and she wondered if she should feel guilty for that.

"Anyway," whispered Aberforth, "With Ariana gone, Albus was free to-

"He wasn't free though," interrupted Harry. "He wasn't. I know he wasn't. The night your brother died, he drank a potion that made him mad, and he kept on saying, 'Don't hurt them. Hurt me instead'. He thought he was back there with you and Grindelwald. He thought he was watching Grindelwald hurting you and Ariana, I know he was. He was never free."

Hermione stared at Harry, wide-eyed and open-mouthed. He'd never really gone into the details of the night Dumbledore had died, and she and Ron had never pushed him for details, knowing it would be too painful for him revisit the memories of that night.

Aberforth dropped his eyes to his aged and withered hands, toying with them in his lap, and looking so sad that Hermione had to look away. "How do you know my brother wasn't thinking about the greater good instead of you, Potter? How do you know you're not just a pawn, a casualty of his vision, like my sister was?"

"No," said Hermione, shaking her head. "Dumbledore loved Harry."

"Then why didn't he tell you all to hide? To survive?"

"Because this is bigger than us!" yelled Harry, rising to his feet. "Because this is War, and you need to think beyond yourself! You might've given up, but I will not!"

"Who said I've given up?"

"You did! You said the Order's finished and that You-Know-Who has won-

"It's true!"

"Your brother told me how to defeat You-Know-Who! I will carry on! I will continue to fight until he is finished, or I will die trying!"

"We all will," said Hermione.

"Yeah," nodded Ron beside her. "We're not giving up."

Harry offered them both of smiles gratitude before he turned back to Aberforth, who seemed deep in contemplation again, looking so much older than he had just a few moments ago.

"We need to get into Hogwarts," Harry repeated. "If you won't help us, then we'll do it ourselves, but if you do know a way to help us, I am asking you...no, I am begging you to tell us, because we need all the help we can get."

Aberforth released a long and laboured sigh, stroking his beard with his thin fingers for a moment, and Hermione could see the conflict in his bright, blue eyes. After what felt like minutes, he slowly got to his feet and approached the painting of Ariana, looking at the portrait of his sister, and Hermione thought she saw a tear slide down his cheek.

"Okay," he said to the painting, "You know what to do."

Ariana's naive smile stretched a little, and then she turned and walked away down what appeared to be a tunnel painted behind her. Hermione felt her brow furrow with confusion.

"Ummm," said Ron. "Where is she-

"There's only one way into the castle," explained Aberforth. "All the secret passages are blocked, they have Dementors surrounding the walls, patrols inside the school, and you have Snape in charge with the Carrows following his every order." He turned to Harry. "I have no idea what you intend to do once you get inside, but as you said, you're prepared to die."

"I don't understand," murmured Hermione, approaching the painting and studying it closely. "What..."

But she trailed off when she saw a movement; a small speck of colour appeared at the end of the tunnel and Hermione guessed it was Ariana, growing bigger as she returned, but there was someone else at her side. Hermione squinted, trying to discern who it was.

The figure was tall, his clothes ripped and torn, his hair brown, and he walked with a slight limp towards them; yet there was a bounce in his stride, like he was excited, and it was that more than anything else that made her realise that Ariana's companion was Neville. The portrait swung open like a door, and Neville practically fell into the room with his eagerness, a huge grin on his face despite the cuts and bruises marring his skin.

"Harry!" he beamed, pulling Harry into a crushing hug. "I knew you'd come!"

"Neville?" mumbled Harry once he'd been released. "But...how...?"

Hermione was ready with her own string of questions, but suddenly she was being lifted off the floor, wrapped up in Neville's strong arms. He dropped her, moving on to greet Ron in a similar fashion, and Hermione frowned at Neville's tattered and bloodstained robes. In the better light of the room, the scratches on his face appeared so much worse, and Hermione shared a worried look with Harry.

"Neville," tried Harry again. "What on Earth happened to you?"

"Huh? Oh, I'm not too bad," shrugged Neville. "You should see some of the others. Seamus is pretty bad. Come on, let's get going." He turned to climb back inside the tunnel, glancing at Aberforth over his shoulder. "There's going to be a few more coming, Ab. They'll be Apparating to the bar, okay."

With Ron's help, Hermione crawled into the tunnel after Neville, hearing Harry thank Aberforth for saving their lives behind her, and then the four of them began to move down the passageway, guided by the glow of bright lamps.

"So, is it true?" asked Neville. "You broke into Gringotts and then escaped on a dragon?"

"It's true," said Ron.

"That's bloody brilliant! But what the hell were you doing there? Have you been up to something, to defeat You-Know-Who?"

"Yes, but tell us about Hogwarts, Neville," said Harry, avoiding his question. "What's been going on?"

"It isn't really Hogwarts anymore. It's more like a torture house. The Carrow twins are sadistic. Amycus teaches Defence Against the Dark Arts and makes us use the Cruciatus Curse on each other."

"What?" gasped Hermione. "You can't be serious."

"I'm completely serious. I got this one," he said, pointing to the largest gash on his face, "For refusing to do it. They don't like when you stand up to them. And then Alecto teaches Muggle Studies, tells everyone they're vermin, that they're all stupid and feral, and I got this one," he pointed to another scratch, "For standing up to her in class."

"Bloody hell, Neville," mumbled Harry. "You should be more careful."

"No, it's good! It gives everyone hope when people stand up to them. Anyway, me and Ginny started up Dumbledore's Army again."

Hermione flicked her eyes over to Harry, witnessing his features perk up at the mention of Ginny, and she thought of Draco, safely staying at Tonks' home away from the horror that Hogwarts had become, and she was grateful for that.

"It's been hard," Neville continued. "Anyone who has relatives who are openly resisting You-Know-Who get a lot of shit. The Death Eaters pretty much want me dead now because I've been speaking up, so I had to go into hiding. Ginny too. And Lee. And - Oh! Did I mention that Luna and Dean showed up here this morning? Just turned up out of the blue! I don't know where they've been-

"They were with us," explained Hermione. "We've been staying at Tonks and Remus' house, recovering after what happened at Malfoy Manor."

"Yeah, we heard about that. Glad to you see you all look okay, because that sounded-

"Wait, you said you had to go into hiding," said Harry. "But you're taking us to Hogwarts?"

"Ah, you'll see," replied Neville, a cheery grin on his face. "We're here now anyway."

Turning a small corner, they arrived at a door at the end of the tunnel, and Neville pushed it open, shouting, "Look, guys! I told you they'd come! It's Harry, Ron, and Hermione!"

Hermione barely managed to jump down into the room she didn't recognise before she was engulfed by a horde of twenty or more people, all of them hugging her , Harry, and Ron, shouting over each other with delight and relief. The Patil twins wrapped their arms around her, Michael Corner was beaming at her, Terry Boot was patting her back, and all she could do was take in their happy, scratched faces, wondering just what they'd been through in the last couple of months.

"Guys!" shouted Neville over the racket. "Guys! Give them some space!"

Finally able to take in her surroundings, Hermione studied the room, noting the many hammocks, all brightly coloured and strung up like festive bunting. She noticed bookcases bulging with books, tables and chairs scattered around, a wireless in the corner, some brooms resting against the wall, and hung up on the wooden walls were the House emblems of Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Hufflepuff. But no Slytherin. There was hardly a shimmer of green or silver anywhere. She'd never seen a room like it, and she wondered if they were in Hogwarts at all.

"Where on Earth are we?" asked Harry.

"The Room of Requirement!" supplied Neville. "I did a bit of redecorating. I was running away from the Carrows and it let me in! It was smaller than this to begin with, but since the D.A. arrived, it's expanded and gotten even more impressive. The tunnel to Ab appeared when I was hungry. He's been providing us with food because the room can't."

"And the Carrows can't get inside?" asked Ron.

"Nah," said Neville calmly. "I kind of learned you had to be more specific with what you want, so I just asked the room to make sure no Carrow supporters could get in. As long as there's always someone in the room, it's fine! Oh hey, guys" he addressed the group again. "They did go to Gringotts!"

"No way!" exclaimed Seamus. "What were you doing there?"

The others all started barking out similar questions, but Hermione zoned out when Harry suddenly lurched forward, his hand flying up to his forehead. She reached for his arm in an attempt to steady him, but in the next second he was fine, standing up straight, but the look of dread on his face was telling.

"We need to hurry," he whispered, so only she and Ron would hear. "He is on his way."

Behind them, there was a noise, and the door to the passageway swung open, revealing Fred, George, Lee, and Cho.

"What are you lot doing here?" asked Ron.

"Good evening to you too, little bro," grinned Fred. "We're here for the fight, aren't we? Neville called for us."

"The fight?" said Harry. "Now hold on, we're not here for that."

"Of course you are!" shouted Neville. "Why else would you be here?"

"We're looking for something."

"What, and then you're just going to leave?"

"Well...no, but...this is insane!"

"Calm down, Harry," smiled George. "Don't get your knickers in a twist."

"No, you don't understand..."

There was another sound behind them, the tunnel's door was being pushed opened again, and Harry fell silent. Upon seeing Ginny, Harry's face brightened, and Hermione smiled privately to herself, knowing how long it had been since they'd seen each other. But they didn't have the time for wistful glances, and Hermione nudged her best friend.

"Harry," she whispered. "The Horcrux."

"Oh, right," he mumbled, a little embarrassed. "But how do I ask them where it is without telling them what it is?"

"Just tell them we're looking for something to do with Ravenclaw. They support you; they won't force you to explain."

"Hermione, I don't want them to fight."

Biting her bottom lip and shifting her eyes to scan the room, she analysed all their friends' eager faces, the way they clutched their wands with excitement and anticipation, and then she turned back to Harry, offering him a pat on his shoulder.

"I don't think you can stop them, Harry," she whispered. "Look at them. They've been waiting for this. You can't hope to tame a revolution all by yourself. But you need to ask them about the Horcrux. That is what you need to do right now."

Sighing and turning back to the crowd, Harry directed his attention to the small group of Ravenclaws to his side; Cho, Padma, Michael, and Terry. "Look, we're searching for something. We need it to beat You-Know-Who. We think it has something to do with Ravenclaw, something signature to her, like the Sword was signature to Gryffindor. Anyone know what it could be?"

The silence that followed Harry's question was a loud one, and Hermione could practically feel his panic building as the four Ravenclaws exchanged uncertain looks with each other.

"There's the diadem."

Hermione's ears pricked up to the sound of Luna's warm and familiar voice, and her eyes eagerly darted around the room, trying to locate her friend. Dumbledore's Army parted to reveal the sweet blonde perched on a low-hung hammock, hands placed innocently in her lap and a brilliant smile on her lips.

"I told you about it, Harry," she went on. "Ravenclaw's Diadem-

"Yeah, but it's lost," said Cho. "No one's seen it in-

"Hush," hissed Ginny, and Hermione felt the tension fly between the two witches like hot sparks. "Let Luna finish."

"Well, that's the only thing that was signature to Ravenclaw. I could show you what it looks like. There's a statue of her in the Ravenclaw Common Room and she's wearing it."

Hermione frowned as Harry flinched again, his fingers returning to his scar, and then he turned to face her and Ron, his voice quiet and low. "He's on the move," he explained. "I want to have a look at this statue with Luna. I know it's not much to go on, but maybe I'll recognise it or something will click if I know what it looks like. Can you stay here and keep the Cup safe?"

"Of course," said Ron. "You should worry about keeping yourself safe, mate."

"Yes, Harry, do be careful," Hermione mumbled. "Stay under the Cloak. Constant vigilance, remember?"

"Sure. I'll be back in a bit. Try to calm these lot down."

Simply nodding and trying to hide any indication of her misgivings, she watched Harry and Luna walk away, guided by Neville to the exit, and then her two friends were gone, out into the dark halls of Hogwarts, where Merlin knew how many Death Eaters were patrolling. She heard Ron release a jaded sigh beside her and she echoed the gesture, rubbing her eyes with her fingers and trying to shake off the sudden feeling of exhaustion that washed over her. As the others in the room began to talk amongst themselves, they seemed distorted and blurred to Hermione, like she and Ron were separated from them all, trapped in a tiny bubble that nothing could penetrate.

"Do you think he'll find it?" he asked.

"I don't know," she murmured. "He can sense them. Maybe it will lead him to itself."

"Yeah, but even if he does find it, we can't exactly do much. Thanks to that bloody goblin-

"Don't speak ill of the dead please, Ron-

"Well, it's true!"

She was about to suggest that they take a seat and brainstorm some ideas, but the tunnel's door was being flung open again, and Hermione's jaw dropped as person after person emerged. Remus, Moody, Shacklebolt, Molly, Arthur, Fleur, Bill, Percy, Oliver Wood, Angelina Johnson, Katie Bell, Alicia Spinnet; all of them came, pouring into the room, much to the delight of Dumbledore's Army, who cheered and greeted the new recruits heartily.

"Bloody hell," mumbled Ron. "Who the hell called the Calvary?"

"I did!" said Neville. "Figured we'd need all the help we could get."

Hermione watched Ron leave her side to address his family, and she smiled at the cluster of redheads, listening as Molly launched into a loud rant at Ginny about taking part in any of this when she wasn't of age. As she glanced around the room, she realised someone was missing, and she made her way towards Remus, holding back for a moment when she heard that he, Shacklebolt, and Moody were discussing battle strategies.

"...if he does, we should head for the tallest towers," said Remus. "We'll have the best view and a good vantage point from up there."

"Not like you to say something bright, Lupin," grunted Moody. "We need to speak to McGonagall and the other Professors-

"Not until Harry gets back. We need to know what he's doing."

Moody rolled his good eye. "Fine, we'll just sit around here and twiddle our thumbs-

"Yes, we will," said Remus in an assertive tone. "Patience isn't a virtue, it's a necessity for victory."

"Yeah, yeah," Moody dismissed him, hobbling away from their small group. "I'm going to talk the kids about what's been going on here. Probably get some more sense out of them."

"Remus," called Hermione, making herself known. "Why isn't Tonks here?"

"Hello, Hermione," he smiled, waiting until Shacklebolt had excused himself before he spoke again. "She's at a safe-house with the baby. I asked her to head home."

"It's not like her to miss something like this."

"It took a lot of convincing. Someone needs to keep an eye on Teddy, and I'd rather she stayed somewhere safe. Hell, I'd prefer we were all somewhere safe, but it seems it's time to fight."

Hermione absently nodded her head, looking out at their ready band of soldiers, taking in the assorted expressions of excitement, trepidation, anxiety, hope, and just about every other emotion on the colourful spectrum. It was bizarre really, to think that this willing group, the majority of which were teenagers, would be the ones to fight Voldemort and his Death Eaters. Bizarre and sad.

"Remus, do you honestly believe that we are ready for this?"

He hesitated, his brow wrinkling with thought. "I believe that people can make themselves ready for anything when the occasion calls for it. You are not a naive bunch of kids, and you're all of age. You've seen the birth of this War with your own eyes. Why shouldn't you see it end?"

Forcing a smile she doubted looked sincere, Hermione didn't respond because she didn't know how to, so she excused herself and meandered through the crowd for several minutes, chatting with Padma and Parvati for a little while until she caught Ron's eyes on the side of the room. He waved her over, tearing himself away from Molly's protective presence and meeting her in a quieter spot at the fringes of the crowd.

"I was thinking maybe we should try and figure out how we're going to destroy that Horcrux," he said. "This whole battle they're planning will be pointless if we don't think of something."

"I know," she sighed, raking her hands through her hair. "I need to go to the bathroom. I'll be back in a minute and we'll try to think of something."

.

.

Draco massaged the bridge of his nose as the beginnings of a dull headache started to pound against the backs of his eyes.

Theo was just a few moves away from his second defeat of the evening, with his king trapped in a corner of the board and ambushed by Blaise's queen, bishop, and castle. Draco guessed he should be grateful that this match had been substantially shorter, barely an hour actually, but staring at the black and white squares was beginning to make him feel sick. He watched Blaise intently as he pushed his castle forward, letting go of a jaded sigh as he leaned back in his chair.

"Checkmate."

"Thank Merlin," said Draco.

"Balls," murmured Theo, scratching the back of his head. "Best of five?"

"Fuck off," spat Blaise, and the moment the words left his mouth, Andromeda stepped into the room, and Blaise looked like a sheepish child who'd been caught with red hands. "Sorry, 'Dromeda."

"It's alright," she smiled at him. "I'm not that much of a prude, Blaise."

"That's not fair," said Theo. "You always have a go at me when I swear."

"That's because every other word you use is a swear word, Theo."

"Have you heard anything else about Granger?" Draco asked, trying not to appear too eager. "Does anyone know where she is?"

"No, sorry," she replied, joining them at the table. "I tried to contact Tonks but I couldn't get through to her. I tried to contact a few other people too, but no one's answering. Perhaps they've all gone to bed. It is quite late."

Draco was as unconvinced as his Aunt looked with that comment, but he didn't argue with her. If she didn't know anything, there was little he could do about it, and she appeared so worn down and exhausted as she absently chewed her fingernail, evidently fearing that something was amiss. He had that feeling too, like something ominous was polluting the air, and his stomach had been twisted into a tight knot since the storm had started to rumble above their heads.

"Why don't you three go to bed?" asked Andromeda.

"Not tired," said Theo simply. "Are Miles, Tracey, and Millicent in bed?"

"No, they're in the other room playing cribbage." She paused and tilted her head, looking to the window as an explosion of lightening lit up the sky. "Perhaps it's just going to be one of those nights when nobody can sleep."

.

.

Feeling uncharacteristically nervous as she muttered the password to the gargoyle, Minerva McGonagall rushed inside the Head's Office, her heart pounding wildly in her chest as she ascended the staircase. So much to do, so little time. Scanning the room, she found Snape with his back to her, his eerie silhouette set against the largest, grandest window in the room, seemingly oblivious to her interruption. The white-blue glow from the Protection Charms Flitwick had cast just moments ago illuminated the room, and Minerva stepped into Snape's shadow to save her eyes from the garish light.

"Severus-

"Potter's here," he muttered, still facing the window.

"How did you know?"

"My Mark burned. You-Know-Who will be on his way. I'm assuming that's why you've shielded Hogwarts?"

"Yes," she nodded. "And according to Mr. Potter, he is already close."

Slowly, he finally tilted his head, regarding McGonagall with confusion over his shoulder. "You've seen Potter?"

"Yes, I ran into him and Miss Lovegood in Ravenclaw Tower. Alecto was the one who summoned He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

"And where are the Carrow twins now?"

"Both stunned and bound. They are not a problem."

Snape's lips twitched. "And Potter?"

"He said he was searching for something on Dumbledore's orders," she explained, clearing the scratch in her throat. "Severus, I have ordered all the Heads of Houses to gather the children and other professors. The younger children are going to be evacuated, but those who are of age have been given the option to stay and fight."

"Those Protection Charms aren't going to keep them away for long, Minerva."

"I'm aware of that. I have also cast the Piertotum Locomotor to buy some more time, but I know they'll penetrate the barriers eventually. We are meeting in the Great Hall in fifteen minutes to discuss strategies and ensure the younger ones get out safely."

Arching an eyebrow, Snape twisted to face her. "Have you come here to ask me to delay him?"

"No, Severus," said McGonagall, shaking her head. "I came here to try and convince you to abandon your role as a spy, and valorously fight for our side."

"What?" he snapped. "That's preposterous, Minerva-

"I can vouch for your innocence and intend to do so in the Great Hall-

"I am more useful to you as a double agent. I can relay information to you and possibly hinder him, and the Death Eaters. To reveal my true loyalties would be foolish-

"Severus, we are moments away from a battle. Our side consider you an enemy. What if you are killed or injured by someone on our side? I would never be able to live with myself for allowing that to happen, and neither would the person responsible once they knew the truth."

"Minerva, I am more than capable of defending myself-

"Severus, please," she said, her voice strained and desperate. "You are my friend and I do not want to see you hurt because of a facade you feel you must keep. Fight for the Order-

"I am fighting for the Order," he sighed. "This is what I must do. I never thought I would need to tell you to remain logical, Minerva. I am far more valuable as a spy, and you know this."

"I ask you to reconsider."

"I decline," he replied crisply. "You are wasting your time, which is something you can't afford to do. Gather your students, make your plans, and go to the Great Hall."

"But, Severus-

"Go, Minerva," he insisted."Go. Now. Prepare for battle while you have some time. Don't waste anymore energy on me. Save it for the fight."

Bowing her head in defeat, the wrinkles in McGonagall's expression became so much deeper, creasing up with regret as she pivoted on her heel to leave. Intuition was telling her to protest, to persevere and convince him to change his mind, but she didn't have the minutes to spare, and she had a school of underage wizards and witches to consider. She hesitated at the door though, turning back to meet his impassive stare.

"You are the bravest man I know, Severus. I hope everyone else gets to know you as I do, and thank you for what you've done."

Snape didn't respond, waiting until she'd left his sight before he released and tired and troubled breath. Looking back to the window, he watched the army of soldiers and statues march outside, into the courtyard, their footsteps pounding across the ground like a battle drum, and beyond the office door he could hear students moving along the corridors, their voices alarmed.

"Minerva is right, Severus," said Dumbledore's portrait. "You are a very brave man."

"Brave or insane, although I am now convinced that they are the same thing."

"You must not forget your task, Severus. Harry must know that he is the final Horcrux, and that Voldemort must kill him, or Voldemort will remain untouchable-

"Yes, you made it very clear that Potter must sacrifice himself," he sneered bitterly. "I will ensure that I inform Potter that he must commit suicide. And again, you have my eternal gratitude for leaving me with this responsibility."

Dumbledore's painting frowned. "Have you still not forgiven me?"

"I'll forgive you if it works, and if we win."

.

.

Hermione splashed some water on her face, eyeing her reflection in the mirror and deciding she looked so much younger than she felt. Her limbs ached, her lids were heavy, and her heart felt swollen in her chest, like it was ready to burst with all the apprehension contained within. She couldn't decide if she was terrified of what seemed to be the inevitable now, or eager to reach the finale of the hell they'd been living in since fourth year; since Voldemort had regenerated.

Glancing down at her hands , she noticed they were shaking a little, but credited it to adrenaline and the lingering chill. She realised she had a small scratch on her ring finger, probably from Gringotts she concluded, and a drop of blood fell into the basin; scarlet set against porcelain, and she was momentarily fixated on it.

Blood is the beginning and the end of everything: birth, death, even love in her case, and she thought of a different blood-stained bathroom in a different time.

There. Now your blood's filthy too!

She didn't know why, but she pinpointed that incident as the turning point for Draco and herself; the catalyst for their relationship. She missed him now more than ever, craved his voice to steady her nerves, but she was glad he wasn't here. She was glad he was somewhere safe. Too many of the people she loved were here already, and the rational part of her knew that there would be losses.

People were going to die tonight.

People she knew.

She was too lost in her thoughts to hear the bathroom door open, or the footsteps patting against the tile floor behind her, but a flash of movement in the mirror startled her. Spinning around with a strange mixture of shock and instinct governing her body, she had Bellatrix's wand out in a second, aiming it at the intruder with a surprisingly steady arm.

"Whoa, Hermione, calm down!" sputtered Ron. "It's just me!"

"Bloody hell, Ronald, you scared the life out of me!"

"Jumpy much?"

"Well, in case you forgot, You-Know-Who is on his way," she said, tucking the wand in back in her pocket. "You shouldn't sneak up on people like that!"

"Sorry, I tried knocking, but you didn't answer."

"What the hell are you doing in here anyway? This is the girls' bathroom, Ron."

"Well, that's it! That's why I'm here!" he said, suddenly animated. "When you said you were going to the bathroom, something clicked in my head. The girls' bathroom! The bloody bathroom!"

"What the hell are you talking about?"

"The Chamber of Secrets!" he exclaimed. "The Basilisk skeleton must still be down there, and if we get some of its fangs-

"Then we can use them to destroy the Horcruxes," she finished, a smile climbing up her cheeks. "Ron, you are a genius!"

"I know! We can use a broom and be in and out of there in a few minutes."

"And I can cast a Disillusionment Charm to keep us hidden," she said, already heading for the door. "Come on, let's go."

Fortunately, the girls' bathroom in the Room of Requirement was adjacent to the exit, and they slipped out before anyone would even notice, descending a claustrophobic staircase until they reached a wall. Ron pushed it open just as Hermione finished reciting the Disillusionment Charm, but the moment they stepped into the corridor, they were almost knocked off their feet by small stampede of first year Gryffindors, led by a rather flustered-looking Madam Hooch. Behind them was a group of fifth year Ravenclaws, and then behind them a group of third year Slytherins, and Hermione quickly released the spell on Ron and herself, nervous that they would get separated amongst the traffic of Hogwarts students.

"I guess Harry saw one of the professors and told them You-Know-Who is on his way," mumbled Ron, tugging on her sleeve. "Come on, we need to get to the second floor."

"Do you think Harry's alright?"

"Of course he is, you know he's got knack for keeping himself alive. He has the nickname 'The Boy who Lived', remember?"

Allowing Ron to drag her down Hogwarts' familiar corridors, she listened to the pandemonium echoing around the castle: the thundering footsteps and frightened shouts, and everything just seemed to blend into an ear-shattering roar that caused the very building to quake.

As they darted past a window, Hermione was momentarily blinded by the screen of glaring light surrounding the school, and she knew they were Protection Spells, forming a bright and brilliant shield to defend Hogwarts.

She knew it had begun.

.

.

"Checkmate," said Andromeda.

"Fucking hell," muttered Theo. "It is just not my night tonight."

Draco was about to make another comment about Theo's poor chess skills, but a strange noise diverted his attention, and everyone in the room snapped their heads to the side when the kitchen door swung open. Tonks rushed into the room, clutching Teddy to her chest as he cried his little lungs raw. There was panic carved into Tonks' features, and her hair had turned an angry shade of red since he'd last seen her, and then Andromeda was on her feet, approaching her daughter with obvious anxiety.

"Nymphadora, what is it?"

"Mum, I need you to watch Teddy."

"Why?"

"Remus has gone to Hogwarts with the Order," she explained quickly. "Harry is there and You-Know-Who is on his way. We're going to fight. This is it."

"Is Granger there?" asked Draco, uncaring if he sounded pathetic this time.

"And Luna?" added Blaise.

"Everyone's there from what I can gather," she said, carefully settling Teddy in her mother's arms. "Remus told me to stay at home with the baby, but I need to go. I need to get to him, Mum."

That knot in Draco's stomach tightened, and the hammering of his heart quickened. This was it. This was the final battle. The deciding fight. If Potter was at Hogwarts, he knew Granger would be too, and if Voldemort was heading there, then he would have his army of Death Eaters with him, set for war, ready to kill. He saw all the dread and angst he felt mirrored in Tonks' face, and he understood how she felt, knew how desperate she was to be with at husband's side, because that was how he felt about Granger at that moment.

He needed to get to her, and that need made him ache.

And it wasn't even exclusively about Granger anymore. He'd be lying if he said that she wasn't the main reason he was so anxious to get to Hogwarts, but there were other incentives now that encouraged him to act. He wanted to it for himself, to prove that he was capable; that he could do something right for once in his miserable, mistake-ridden life.

And he had so many questions: Why was Granger there? Was she alright? What if something happened to her? Would his parents be there? Could the Order really win this War?

"I'm sorry, Mum," said Tonks, kissing Teddy's forehead, and then her mother's cheek. "I have to go."

"I know you do, love."

Tonks offered her mother a sad smile, her hair turning a calm shade of brown before she turned to the Slytherin trio, watching them expectantly. "And what about you three?" she asked. "Are you staying here, or are you coming with me? To fight?"

Draco didn't hesitate. He was already getting ready to stand up and join Tonks, but Theo beat him to it, shooting up out of his seat in a second, his expression more severe and earnest than Draco could ever recall.

"I'm coming," said Theo. "I'm not going to let you Gryffindors have all the fun."

Tonks frowned. "I was in Hufflepuff."

"Same bloody thing. You lot will probably try to hug the Death Eaters to death. You need some Slytherins, believe me."

Ignoring his comment, she looked past him to Draco. "And you?"

"Of course I'm fucking coming," he snapped, getting to his feet.

The look that stole his cousin's face almost resembled pride, or maybe she simply understood his intention to get to Granger, but she didn't say anything. She flicked her eyes over to Blaise, but he was already up, nodding his head before she could even ask the question.

"And you're all prepared for this?" asked Tonks. "You're prepared to fight against the people you once considered friends? Your family? You're ready for-

"Blah, blah, blah," Theo interrupted. "Yeah, our parents are arseholes, we know that. We know it better than anyone actually. We did live with them."

"We know what to expect, Tonks," said Blaise. "Honestly, we know what we're doing."

Tonks seemed to consider Theo and Blaise for a second before she turned to Draco, studying him intently, and he knew why. His circumstances weren't as black and white as his friends'; while Theo and Blaise had been legitimately disowned by their families, he had no clue how his parents felt about him now, or even how he felt about them now. It was complicated, and he acknowledged that he was apprehensive about seeing them again, but he'd mentally prepared himself for every conceivable scenario. Getting to Granger was his main priority, and if his parents, or anyone else, tried to prevent that, then he would deal with it in whatever manner was necessary.

He didn't say anything, instead giving Tonks a final, firm nod of his head to let her know that he'd made up his mind. Grinning with approval and seemingly satisfied with his gesture, she stepped forward to place her hand on his shoulder.

"I am very proud of you," she told him, shifting her attention to Blaise and Theo. "And you two."

"See," mumbled Theo uncomfortably. "It's exactly this kind of soppy bullshit that proves Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors shouldn't be allowed near battlefields. Can we fucking go already?"

"Shit, wait," said Draco. "I don't have a wand. I haven't seen it in days, and I have no idea where it is-

"You can have mine."

Following the voice, Draco's eyes landed on his Aunt, who had already removed her wand, holding it out for him to take. He'd never really taken much notice of Andromeda's wand before, but now he noticed it was approximately thirteen inches, Vinewood, and with, if he wasn't mistaken, a Dragon Heartstring core, very similar to his own. Carefully testing his fingers against the wand, he felt it yield to his magic instantly, obediently, and he wondered if it was because his wand and hers were so alike, or if it was because she trusted him enough that the wand knew to obey him.

"Thank you, Aunt 'Dromeda," he whispered, so only she would hear. "For everything."

He hoped she knew he truly was thankful for everything she had done, because he would never be able to openly express his gratitude. She had saved his life and kept him alive, sheltered, and fed for the last few moths, and had never asked for anything in return. And after everything his family had put her through in the past, she had never owed him anything, but had done it all regardless. He knew now that the Aunt he'd had nothing to do with up until a few months ago was an amazing woman, and she was family.

"Please be careful," blurted Andromeda, quiet tears on her cheeks as she regarded the others. "All of you, be careful."

"We'll be fine, Mum," said Tonks, pulling her wand out of her pocket. "Okay, boys. Let's go fight."

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