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.


45. Harry

"Do you want to help me carry him to the other line?" asked Blaise.

Draco blinked and lifted his head.

He'd been lost in a world of his own then; a dark world which wasn't too far removed from his current reality. The Great Hall was the same dismal, cold, and haunted room it had been before he'd watched Theo die, but now he felt so much more sensitive to the chill in the air and the bleak atmosphere. Had it been up to him, he wouldn't have returned to the Great Hall, but Hermione had insisted, and where else would he have gone? After he'd calmed down, he'd scrubbed at his face furiously, determined to remove any evidence of his tears. His face was now red and sore, but at least it wasn't wet.

He didn't want anyone else but Granger to know.

She'd left him alone for the moment, trying to find Potter and also get some tea to, as she put it, "make him feel better", but he wished she'd stayed. He hadn't asked her to, but he wished she'd stayed. He thought too much when he was alone, and none of his thoughts were comforting. He would prefer not to think at all.

"Draco," said Blaise. "Did you hear me? Do you want to help me carry Theo?"

He nodded, not trusting his voice. Following Blaise, he returned to the same spot in which he'd watched Theo die, and Theo was still there; bloody, ashen, and unmoving. Miles, Tracy, and Millicent were still stood nearby, sullenly shifting their weight, uncertain what to do. Someone had clearly moved Theo; his body was straight and flat on the cold floor, his head resting on Miles' blood and ash-stained jumper.

Draco's footsteps faltered and he inhaled sharply, fighting very hard to keep his composure. As he crouched beside Theo, the stench of blood invaded his nostrils, but he suppressed the urge to gag. Carefully, he and Blaise pulled Theo up, each draping one of Theo's arms across their shoulders before they stood up and slowly began to walk towards the fatality line. Theo was so heavy, a deadweight, but Draco refused to allow his stature to be compromised.

He would keep his back his straight. If nothing else, he would keep his back straight.

"Blaise," said Draco, his tone croaky. "I think...I think we should put him near Tonks and Remus."

Blaise simply nodded. Apparently, his voice had given up on him, too.

When they came to where Tonks and Remus lay, they gently lowered Theo down beside them on a stretcher. Stepping back on his shaky legs, Draco stared at the three bodies despite his desire not to. Tonks and Remus seemed paler to him now; more dead, somehow. But Theo...Theo's expression still seemed to have some life in it; his brow was still furrowed in pain and there was still some pink in his cheeks.

"Do you think he knew that we gave a shit?" blurted Draco. "Do you think he knew that...that he was important?"

"Yeah, he knew."

"But I never-

"You didn't need to."

Silence again. Everything is always broken up by silence. Punctuated by silence. Silence is nothing, but it's everything, because we hunt for words in silence. We think in silence. Our minds work hard in silence. And yet it's awful. It's empty. It's lonely. Necessary nothingness.

Blaise sighed and rubbed his eyes, staring hard at Theo. "I keep expecting him to open his eyes, jump up, and say 'You two are so gullible', or something. Seems like the kind of shit he would pull."

Draco nodded. "He always did have a twisted sense of humour."

"I feel like I should say something, but I don't know what to say."

"He wouldn't have cared for anything sentimental anyway. He would have laughed at you and told you to grow some balls."

Blaise chuckled. "True. Nevertheless..." The humour fell from his face like rain. "I will say this to him: Goodbye, Brother."

Pain tugged at Draco's stomach. He felt sick again, unbalanced, like he was trying to walk steady on a rocking boat. It was hard. Greif was new to him, but it was all he could feel now. It was at his core, and it was consuming. Even in the spare seconds his mind managed to drift to another topic, the grief was still there, like a dark voice constantly whispering in his ear. He wanted to say things; wanted to apologise for things he wasn't even sure he'd done. He wanted a conclusion; an ending that was in his control. He wanted to say goodbye, but he couldn't. Blaise had done it, so why couldn't he?

"Where's Granger?" asked Blaise.

"She and Weasley went to look for Potter. Apparently someone saw him talking to Longbottom or something."

"I'm going to find Luna. Maybe try and help with all this... mess. You coming?"

"No, I want to stay here for a moment," he replied. "I'll come and find you in a bit."

Blaise hesitated for a second and appeared to stop himself from asking Draco a question before he quietly left Draco's side and disappeared into the crowd. And then Draco was alone. Well, perhaps not alone. Are you considered alone in the company of corpses? That question plagued him until he became aware of Hermione's comforting presence beside him.

"Did you find Potter?" he asked.

"No. Can't find Neville either, but Oliver said he was helping him bring in the injured, so I'm guessing Harry's doing the same. I don't think he would..." she paused and lowered her eyes.

"You don't think Potter would what?"

"Nothing," she sighed. "I managed to find us some tea."

"I told you, I don't want tea."

"But it will-

"I don't want the tea, Granger."

"Then what do you want?" she asked, frowning. "Tell me what I can do to make this easier for you."

Draco sighed. "Just...keep speaking to me."

"What do you want me to say?"


Hermione chewed her lower lip with thought. "When I was nine and my Grandmother died, my Mum told me that she was in a better place. I remember thinking about that better place and wondering...if it really is better, then why doesn't everyone just go? Why do people stay in this place if there is somewhere better?"

Draco slanted his eyes so he could see her. "And?"

"Well, I think I decided that people say things to make you feel better when you lose someone. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don't, but there's comfort there anyway, isn't there? That someone will lie or invent scenarios to try and help you cope. It shows that people care, and that's all anyone wants, really."

"But someone's still dead."

She flinched and glanced at Tonks. "Yes, but you can't do anything about it, and that's probably the hardest part to deal with. But it gets easier, Draco. I promise you, it does."

Draco clenched his eyes shut. Something else was tugging at his stomach now; a different emotion that he couldn't quite place, but he felt like he was unravelling slowly. Something was pushing its way out of him, like a confession. Opening his eyes, he took a deep breath, and as he exhaled, the words poured out of him.

"Theo was my first real...friend, I guess. Well, before you really know what friendship is, you form these bonds with people by accident, don't you? Theo and I just clicked. Neither of us had any siblings or relatives of a similar age, was just us, really. I didn't meet Blaise until First Year, and Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy were acquaintances that I knew of, but I didn't really know them until Hogwarts."

He coughed to clear an itch in his throat.

"Theo and I used to play at each other's houses all the time. In hindsight, our fathers were probably taking in part in Death Eater meetings or something, but I would see Theo often; maybe once a week. We would muck around, get in trouble, you know, all that silly shit you do when you're young. When we were about eight, we were messing around in his house and I broke some ornament of his father's."

He stopped again and shifted his weight.

"Even when I was that young, I knew that Theo was terrified of his father. I could just sense it. Anyway, I broke this thing and Theo's father was furious. Theo took the blame for me. I don't know why, he just did. His father beat him so bad he had to spend a week in St. Mungo's. He told everyone that Theo had nicked his broom and had an accident, but I knew it was bullshit. Theo and I never talked about it; he never explained why he'd taken the blame, and I...I never said thank you, or anything."

"Sometimes friendship means not having to say anything. Thank yous and apologies can sometimes get lost, but it doesn't mean they're unexpressed," murmured Hermione. "So what happened? I mean, I always remember you being with Crabbe and Goyle. Not Theo so much."

"I think when Theo came to Hogwarts, he was so relieved to be away from his father that he just kept his head down and got on with it. He didn't want to get expelled and have to go home. And you remember what I was like in the younger years. I was always getting into trouble. Theo still came to my house in the holidays, though. And Theo and Blaise were the first people I sought out when Crabbe and Goyle's stupidity got too testing. At the end of Fifth Year when Voldemort...well, you know. When I was getting ready to take the Mark, I guess Theo knew and didn't want anything to do with it, and we just stopped talking. I was too busy fucking everything up to really notice."

"Draco, I know this may sound quite... ineffectual, but at least you two had the opportunity to reconcile. At least you resolved your differences."

He cleared his throat again and averted his eyes to the floor. "Granger, as much as I envy and sometimes loathe your ability to find the positive in everything, I don't...I don't think I'm there yet."

"Then where are you?"

"I don't know," he mumbled, shrugging. "Some...quiet place between denial and anger."

Hermione moved around to stand in front of him and then pressed her body into his, wrapping her arms around him in a hug so tight it forced the air out of his lungs. One of his arms slowly looped around her back to pull her closer, and the other held the back of her head, crushing her face against his chest while his fingers toyed with her hair. He wondered if she needed this just as much as him; they'd both lost people today and it had certainly taken its toll.

They were both exhausted, too. He estimated it was almost four in the morning and his lids felt heavier than they'd ever felt before. The temptation to simply close his eyes and sleep away the last few hours was remarkably strong, especially in Granger's warm and consoling embrace.

But no.

There would be no peace tonight. Not for anyone.

The chillingly familiar hiss of Voldemort's voice clawed at Draco's and Hermione's eardrums like it had earlier.

"Harry Potter is Dead."

Hermione gasped and her body jerked out of Draco's hold. With a wide and petrified stare, she scanned the Great Hall, locating Ron and Ginny near the main doors. The siblings looked as shocked and scared as she felt, and she met Ron's panicked eyes across the room. Everything went silent. Everyone had stilled, abandoning whatever they'd been doing to listen intently as Voldemort continued to project his words across Hogwarts' grounds.

"He was killed as he ran away, trying to save himself while you lay down your lives for him. We bring you his body as proof that your hero is gone. The battle is won. You have lost half of your fighters. My Death Eaters outnumber you, and the Boy Who Lived is finished. There must be no more war. Anybody who continues to resist, man, woman, or child, will be slaughtered, as will every member of their family. Come out of the castle now, kneel before me, and you shall be spared. Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live and be forgiven, and you will join me in the new world we shall build together."

Hermione stood there, open-mouthed and frozen to the spot. Her heart was drumming so fast and loud that she could feel and hear it in her head, pumping behind her eye-sockets. She must have swayed on her wobbly legs because Draco's hands shot out to grip her shoulders and when she looked up at him, his expression was creased up with concern.

"It can't be," she muttered. "No...Harry wouldn't...It's a mistake. A bluff."

"Granger, calm down and-

"It's a mistake."

The conviction in her tone was so loud that Draco very nearly believed her. Nearly.

Grasping his hand, Hermione dragged him along as she rushed to where Ron and Ginny were stood, now discussing something with Luna while Blaise stood quietly at her side. Ginny looked completely tormented and bereft, like she'd actually witnessed Harry's death at Voldemort's hand, and Ron bore the unsettled expression of a man trying to keep himself in line. With one arm draped across Ginny's shoulders, Luna appeared to be offering the siblings vain words of support, but there was sadness and worry in her demeanor.

As Hermione shoved her way through the crowd, tears clouded her vision; blurring and burning. Godric, she was scared. And her heart...Her heart. Her best friend...It had to be a mistake.

Please let it be a mistake.

"Ron! Ginny!" she shouted as she neared them, her voice lost amongst the roaring questions of everyone in the Great Hall. Everyone seemed to be saying Harry's name. It was all she could hear.

Harry, Harry, Harry, Harry, Harry.

"No," she hissed to herself, pushing harder against the crowd to reach her friends. Almost there. "Ginny! Ron!"

"Hermione!" cried Ginny.

The youngest Weasley rushed forward and Hermione released Draco's hand so she could meet her and envelop her trembling body in a tight, desperate hug. She locked eyes with Ron over Ginny's shoulder and she hated how hopeless he looked; slumped shoulders and an absent, glazed-over stare, like he was watching the world crumble without actually seeing it. Stretching out her arm, she gently cupped his cheek, frowning as one of his tears trickled across her fingers.

"It's a mistake," she whispered against Ginny's hair. "It has to be."

Ron sniffed and rubbed his lips together. "What if it's not?"

"But, Ron-

"What if it's not, Hermione?"

Hermione's mouth opened and closed, forming around fickle words of reassurance that she couldn't voice. What if...what if? What if her best friend was dead? What if they'd lost the War? What would happen to them all? The questions ruthlessly ricocheted around her head and she couldn't find answers for any of them. She was speechless. Twisting her head, she looked at Draco, and his face was tellingly furrowed with concern as he silently regarded her.

Ginny slowly peeled herself out of Hermione's arms and sleeved away the tears beneath her eyes with a harsh swipe of her arm. "Hermione's right," she said firmly. "It has to be a mistake. Harry would never run away, trying to save himself-

"I don't believe that," interrupted Ron. "Voldemort's probably just saying that so we doubt our loyalty, but...but Harry might be...I think he's-

"There's not much sense in maybes," Luna rushed out. "We need to find out what's happened. It looks like people are starting to head outside."

Hermione swept her gaze across the Great Hall. People were indeed moving, heading towards the doors and still murmuring Harry's name between them as they walked; some crying, some offering optimistic encouragement, and others hard-faced and furious. McGonagall was at the front, closely followed by Pomfrey, Trelawney, and Slughorn. Behind them marched Kingsley and the Weasleys, and Ginny and Ron fell into step beside their family, exchanging a meager handful of words with their somber parents.

Hermione hesitated to follow; a part of her wished to remain behind, uncertain if she was prepared to discover if Voldemort's announcement about Harry's death was true. But then Luna reached out and softly squeezed her shoulder, and Hermione began to numbly walk with the others in an almost catatonic state. She felt so small in that moment, like one raindrop in a raincloud. Everyone was speaking, but their voices were so hushed and quiet that they simply sounded like waves of breath rippling between the stone walls.

They were an army; a defeated army. An army of fear, dread, and doubt.

She felt a warm, comforting hand settle against the bottom of her back and she glanced to the side to find Draco studying her closely, his mouth twitching with the urge to say something.

"Granger," he started uncertainly. "Are you...are you-

"I'm frightened," she blurted.

The muscles in Draco's face softened for a moment and he pressed his hand slightly harder against the sway of her back. "You're allowed to be."

"Are you frightened?"

"More...nervous, I think," he replied, sighing. He bent his head so she could better see his eyes and know his next words were honest and sincere. "I won't let anything bad happen to you. Do you understand? I won't let them hurt you."

She tried to smile, but her lips couldn't quite lift at the corners. "I won't let them hurt you, either. I won't let them near you."

The fervour and force in her voice knocked Draco speechless for a second, but then he sank his fingers a little deeper into her skin, ghosted a kiss against her forehead, and whispered, "I know you won't."

They continued to walk with the crowd and Hermione absently listened to the constant hum of their shoes thudding across the floor. Or was it her heart thudding in her chest? Were everyone's hearts thudding as loud as hers? She was so frightened. When she looked inside of herself, all she could find was fear. It was everywhere; in every vein, every cell, every fiber of her being, and she wanted it go away. She wanted to be brave and face all this with a high, bold chin, but she was so tired and so, so scared.

The distance from the Great Hall to Hogwarts' main entrance was barely a distance at all, but it felt like a mile-long, uphill stretch. As the crowd leaked out of the castle and into the courtyard, Hermione was first struck by the acrid scent of charred wood and smoke. She wasn't sure how'd she'd missed it before (when she and the boys had returned to Hogwarts from the Shrieking Shack), but the air was hazy and choking and her mouth became dry. The sun was rising in the backdrop and its rays pierced through some of the damaged castle's crevices, the light turning grey as it hit the smoke. As she walked with the others, she felt like there was a certain sense of clarity to the crispness of the atmosphere, but there was no comfort in it. None at all.

As she side-stepped a piece of rubble, someone shouted out, "Look over there!" and silence swept across their group as everyone stretched their vision to the far side of the bridge. From the dark clothes, Hermione knew it was the Death Eater Army and she could just make out the distant hum of their trampling feet. Behind them, four or five giants followed, their footsteps pounding against the ground and making it tremble. But among the Death Eaters, a figure stood higher than the rest, sticking out of the throng, and Hermione recognised Hagrid's height and the silhouette of his wild hair. The Death Eaters drew closer and then she could see Hagrid was carry something — no — someone in his arms.

"No!" screamed McGonagall, and it was only then that Hermione realised her fears had been confirmed.

Ginny called out. Then Ron. Then her own scream tore out of her throat like cutting knives.


Her body lunged forward, but she barely made it two steps before a steel arm clamped around her waist and prevented her. She was yanked backwards, colliding with Draco's strong chest. She struggled in his hold, but then she felt his lips press against her ear.

"Calm down," he whispered. "Keep yourself steady, remember?"

"He's my b-best friend!" she sputtered, trying to break free from his hold. "They killed him!"

"I know you want revenge, but this is not the time-

"They killed him!"

"And they will kill you if you charge at them now," he hissed quietly, still restraining her. He wondered briefly if he might be hurting her, but he refused to slacken his grip. "They will kill you. And what the hell would I do then? What the hell would I do without you? I did not come here to watch you commit suicide."

"But I...they-

"They killed my friend, too, Granger. And you stopped me from doing something stupid. You can fight me all you like, but I am not letting you go. Would you have let me go?"

Hermione stopped struggling and bowed her head, watching her tears fall and turn patches of the dirt darker. She sucked the smoky air in through her teeth and forced tension into her muscles. The grief she felt was suffocating and she struggled to catch her breath, but, slowly, she gathered her wits together and straightened her posture.

"Okay," she said, swallowing back the knot on her throat. "Okay, I...I won't do anything. Not yet."

"Not yet," echoed Draco, hesitantly unwinding his arm from around her waist, but he guided her to stand at his side, watching her closely.

As Hermione came back to reality, she realised Dumbledore's Army was shouting now, hurling abuse at Voldemort and the Death Eaters, who had spread out into a line. The roars of outrage echoed across Hogwarts' grounds, coming back louder and angrier. The castle itself seemed to quake with their incensed voices.

"SILENCE!" bellowed Voldemort. He raised his wand and there was a blinding flash of light and a crash of noise.

Their mouths continued to move, but only the faintest of hushed murmurs pushed past their lips. They watched on with furious eyes as Voldemort ordered Hagrid to place Harry on the floor at his feet. All of Hermione's grief was forgotten and in its place came this fiery, hot rage.

"You see?" said Voldemort. "Harry Potter is dead! Do you understand now, deluded ones? He was

nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"

"He beat you!" yelled Ron, the silencing spell broken, but Voldemort repeated it and shut them all up again, encasing them in a barrier.

Suddenly, Hermione was aware of Lucius and Narcissa pushing past the other Death Eaters to the front of the line, stopping not too far from Voldemort. Snapping her eyes Draco, she knew he was watching them. He was completely transfixed on them; his lips pursed and his eyebrows low. To anyone else who thought to look, Draco appeared poised and collected, but she could see the trepidation clouding his eyes.

On the other side of the courtyard, Lucius seemed to whisper Draco's name to himself, but Voldemort must have heard because he glanced back at his ally and then scanned Dumbledore's Army until his cold, serpentine eyes settled on Draco. Something dark and unsettling crawled its way up Draco's spine as Voldemort's mouth stretched into a crooked, evil grin, but he tilted his chin high, defiantly. He was determined to confront the man who had wanted him dead with some semblance of pride.

"Well, well," sneered Voldemort. "Look who came back from the dead. The young Draco Malfoy."

Draco could feel everyone's eyes on him, Death Eaters and Dumbledore's Army, but he kept staring ahead, flicking his glare between Voldemort and his father, trying to gauge the latter's temperament. Granger had been right when she had spoken of his parents back at Tonks' house; Lucius looked fragile and withered, evidently suffering the toxic effects of torture. He had aged a decade in the year Draco had been apart from him.


But Draco could tell his father wasn't as mentally damaged as he'd assumed he would be. There was still arrogance in his stance, a certain stoicism in his expression, and, most importantly, there was awareness in his eyes. Lucius knew where he was and what he was doing, which meant whatever he chose to do (once Draco revealed his loyalties laid with Granger and the Order) was his decision, and it would be a decision made with a sane mind. And that made it so much worse.

As Lucius studied him from the Death Eaters' line, Draco searched him for any indication of concern, relief, or the slightest hint of paternal compassion, but he found none. All he could identify in the familiar face, so similar to his own, was an odd combination of suspicion and displeasure.

"You appear to be confused, young Malfoy! You're on the wrong side!" mocked Voldemort, drawing Draco's attention back to him. "Come now. I will not harm you. You have my word. Come join your parents and stand where you belong."

Draco didn't move an inch, but he felt Hermione's trembling hand swiftly grasp his and clutch it so tightly that he heard his knuckles crack. Twisting his head, he met her worried, questioning eyes and he frowned down at her, half offended and half bewildered as her fingers gripped even tighter into his hand, crushing it.

"Did you honestly think I would leave now?" he asked, his voice hushed because of Voldemort's spell.

She dragged her teeth across her bottom lip. "Perhaps I just needed to hold your hand."

A small, barely-there smile twitched at the corners of his mouth before he lowered his head to peck a brief kiss against her lips. A quiet murmuring of surprise and approval rippled across the crowd, but Draco didn't hear it as he squeezed Hermione's hand back. Reluctantly, he returned his attention to his father, who looked ready to split in half with shock and indignation. The sly grin on Voldemort's face stretched a little and he cocked his head to eye Lucius with amusement.

"It would appear your son has made some new friends, Lucius! Mudbloods and Blood Traitors!"

Draco stared hard at his father, so hard he thought his eyes might bleed.

Shaking his head, Lucius' expression shriveled up into harsh scowl, his teeth bared with disgust. "He is no son of mine," he spat. "Blood Traitor."

Draco felt something in his chest shatter. That final, fighting delusion that his father just might accept his relationship with Granger gave way like a wall that had been crumbling for years. And it wasn't just his relationship with Granger that Lucius was refusing to accept. Draco knew that his father — his own flesh and blood — was denying him.

The new him.

The better him.

He forced himself not to react. He'd never cried in front of his father before and he'd be damned if this moment would be the tipping point. He didn't flinch. Didn't blink. Didn't move. But he felt the pain and betrayal all the same. It hung, unexpressed, in his chest; heavy and hurting, pounding like a pendulum in his heart, but he ignored it.

"That's that, then," said Draco simply, feeling Hermione's thumb rub soothing circles against his hand.

He couldn't look at his father anymore. He thought if he did he might shout out or his facade might falter. His eyes fell to his mother and the pain weakened slightly as he took in her softer features. Had any of the Death Eaters been paying attention to Narcissa, they might've seen the emotion in her expression, the longing to go to her son, or her mouthing the words, "I love you" to Draco across the courtyard. But no one was looking at her. Not even her own husband.

Draco gave her the subtlest of nods, ensuring the gesture was hardly noticeable so she would remain safe and free of suspicion. For now.

"Yet another member of your family to turn traitor, Lucius," goaded Voldemort. "You must be so proud."

"Draco might not have his father's pride," said McGonagall, breaking the silencing spell again. "But he has our pride."

Draco glanced appreciatively at the headmistress and made a mental note to express his gratitude should he survive this day. Dumbledore's Army had begun to shout out and jeer at the Death Eaters again and Voldemort paced back and forth a few times, frustrated about losing control.

"Enough!" yelled Voldemort, recasting the silencing spell and then pointing to Harry's body tauntingly. "Returning to the matter at hand, I think it's only fair you should all know Harry Potter ran away, trying to save himself, and I..."

There was movement in the crowd; Draco and Hermione turned their heads just in time to see Neville burst through the magical barrier, his wand out. He barely made it a few feet before he was disarmed and thrown to the ground by Voldemort.

With her hand still tightly clasping Draco's, Hermione listened with baited breath as Bellatrix informed Voldemort of Neville's identity, cruelly mentioning his parents with a callous chuckle. Neville climbed to his feet, standing courageously in the no-man's-land between the two armies, and Draco never thought he would find himself so impressed by something Longbottom had done.

"You're a pureblood," said Voldemort, "And you show bravery and tenacity. You would make a fine Death Eater."

"I'll join you when hell freezes over!" shouted Neville, and a loud cheer erupted from Dumbledore's Army, breaking the spell yet again.

"Very well," said Voldemort. "Neville here is now going to demonstrate what happens to anyone foolish enough to continue to oppose me."

Hermione turned cold as she watched Voldemort raise his wand. Her body rocked forward and she bents her legs, ready to sprint forward and do what she could to help Neville. But when Voldemort flicked his wand, Neville remained unharmed and standing. Instead, she heard a low whistling sound, like something was flying through the air, and she could only watch with confusion as the Sorting Hat soared over their heads and landed in Voldemort's hand.

"There will be no more Sorting at Hogwarts," Voldemort addressed the crowd. "There will be no more Houses. The emblem, shield, and colors of my noble ancestor, Salazar Slytherin, will suffice for everyone. Won't they, Neville Longbottom?"

Voldemort aimed his wand at Neville then, and Hermione watched her friend's back go stiff and straight. With a fording twist of his wrist, Voldemort levitated the Sorting Hat, and it landed on Neville's head, almost covering his entire face. McGonagall, Dean, and Lee were slowly edging themselves forward, step by step. Hermione reached into her pocket to withdraw her wand and she was aware of many in both Dumbledore's Army and the Death Eaters' Army doing the same.

Her hand remained fixed in Draco's, just like the night they'd run through the Forbidden Forest before she'd sent him to Andromeda's house. There were moon-shaped dents in his skin from her fingernails, but she refused to relax her grip. She knew this was the build-up to the inevitable chaos and she wanted to maintain the contact with him for as long as possible.

An eerie silence had settled in the courtyard. It was too quiet and too still; that deceptive moment of peace before anarchy invades. Voldemort took a step forward, twisted his wand, and rendered Neville completely still with the Body-Bind Curse. And then, the Sorting Hat burst into flames atop Neville's head.

It took approximately two seconds for Hermione to comprehend what had just happened, but Neville's scream slashed though the air like a dart, and all of Dumbledore's Army seemed to surge forward like one furious wave.

But then a different sound joined the courtyard. Several different sounds, actually.

A racket of new screaming voices and stamping feet echoed across Hogwarts' grounds, coming from the boundary of the school; out of sight, but approaching quickly. As Hermione whipped her head around to try and establish from which direction the stampede was coming, she saw Grawp, trudging his way around the ruins trying to get to Hagrid. Voldemort's giants howled and ran at Grawp, and then Hermione heard hooves cantering across the ground, combined with the snapping sounds of bows and the hiss of arrows soaring through the air. The centaurs aimed their arrows at the Death Eaters, and Hermione watched as four black-robed figures collapsed, dead, while the others panicked and dispersed.

During all of this mayhem, most of Dumbledore's Army had stopped in their tracks. Hermione and Draco were perhaps thirty feet away from the Death Eaters — still hand in hand — watching everything unfold with wide eyes.

Amongst the ear-shattering noise and chaos, Hermione's attention was again drawn to Neville when he suddenly shifted, breaking the Body-Bind Curse. The Sorting Hat fell from his head and Hermione squinted when something silver inside caught the light and glistened. Now everyone seemed to be staring at Neville as he held up the Sword of Gryffindor and swiftly lunged forward, decapitating Nagini with such a quick slice that Hermione wondered if it had been a trick of the light.

Voldemort's deafening cry ricocheted around Hogwarts like a siren as Nagini's detached head spun in the air and then landed with a thud near his feet. Enraged, he aimed his wand at Neville, but Hermione watched dumbfounded as the spell rebounded off a Shield Charm, which she knew Neville hadn't cast himself.

Then Hagrid's voice rose above the pandemonium — "HARRY. WHERE'S HARRY?"

Hermione's eyes snapped to where Harry's body had been, only to find an empty space with no indication that he had ever been there at all. Frantically, she scanned the courtyard, hunting for him amongst the scattered Death Eaters, but he was nowhere to be seen.

"Where is he?" she mumbled to herself.

"What?" asked Draco. "Where's who?"

"Harry. Where is he?"

Her voice was blanketed by the sounds of beating wings as Buckbeak and a flock of Thestrals swooped down from the sky, pecking and kicking at the Death Eaters. A spell flew past her face, the wind of it grazing her cheek, and it jolted her back into action. Raising her wand, she began firing jinxes and curses at the Death Eaters, and she could see most of Dumbledore's Army doing the same, including Draco, but the warring giants were forcing everyone to retreat back to the castle.

"Come on, Granger!" shouted Draco, yanking her with him.

"But where has Harry gone?"

"We need to stay with the others!"

Death Eaters and Dumbledore's Army alike headed back into Hogwarts, shoving and ramming each other, launching spells at their enemies, and many tumbling to the floor. The crowd was so thick and frantic that Hermione found herself wedged between several sets of shoulders as she and Draco approached Hogwarts' main entrance. She could feel Draco's hand slowly slipping out of hers as they were buffeted in different directions by the horde, but she kept holding on, stabbing her fingernails deep into his skin to get a better grip and his nails stabbed her back.

But she knew they were going to be ripped apart.

Lifting her scared eyes to meet his, they managed to steal a fleeting moment of eye contact and understanding before she felt his hand slide out of hers. She watched with horror as Draco fell down, lost amongst the sea of people in an instant.

"Draco!" she called, but there was too much noise. "DRACO!"

Futilely, she tried to push her way backwards, still screaming his name, but the crowd carried her into Hogwarts and to the Great Hall.



Draco grimaced as the crowd passed over him, their shins and knees knocking his body and face and their feet stamping on his hands. He'd managed to land on all fours, but it was impossible to push himself up, so instead he tried to crawl, bearing the brunt of countless kicks as he sought space. Somehow, he found room to move, and as the sea of legs eased, he pushed himself up, leaning against a wall to catch his breath. Ignoring his bruised abdomen, he tucked himself into a shallow alcove and examined his surroundings.

"Granger!" he yelled, but he couldn't see her anywhere. "GRANGER!"

There were barely any people left in the courtyard now; the giants continued to wrestle with Grawp and the thestrals, the vibrations of their thunderous quarrel shifting the dirt. From Draco's hidden position near the main entrance, he could hear the battle continuing in the Great Hall and see flashes from spells dancing across the walls. The fight itself was out of sight, but Draco waited for the final, straggling Death Eaters to disappear inside before he headed towards it.

But as he rounded the corner and caught a glimpse of the anarchy contained within, his eyes were drawn to the side, and they clashed with a cold, grey pair of eyes that were almost identical to his own. Lucius had apparently been lingering in the shadows, waiting for him, and Draco tightened his fist around his wand.

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