The Death Eaters had abandoned the field. Draco wanted to pretend that meant the Order of the Phoenix had won, but he couldn't lie to himself. They'd lost, and they'd lost badly. The only reason he was standing here was that no one doubted they could bring him in later. And they weren't wrong. It wasn't as if he had anyplace else to go.
Hermione dragged herself up over the pile of felled trees they'd been using as a barricade. Draco automatically checked her for injuries. Blood on one cheek, not hers. Scorch mark on her jumper, but she wasn't favoring her arm at all, so whatever had hit her hadn't done any real damage. "You okay?" she asked.
"Still standing," he answered. It was all that really mattered. "Sweep the field?"
She nodded grimly. That no one else was rising up from the ashes wasn't a good sign. Usually, at the end of the fight, there were more than two people left. Scorched, injured, covered in blood. But alive. Draco told himself that everyone else had apparated away and headed to one side of today's adventure in despair. After every fight, they checked to see if anyone needed help, which was noble, and searched the bodies, which was less so. This far into war, however, and any illusions of nobility had been stripped away. They needed money and magic and fallen Death Eaters sometimes had both tucked away in their pockets. A couple of galleons could be the difference between feeding a safe house filled with children or not. A packet of Peruvian Instant Darkness Powder might win the next battle.
Draco was bent over a stranger, turning his pockets out and finding nothing, when he heard Hermione's strangled cry. He spun, wand already out, but no flock of death eaters were descending upon the field for a second round. It was only Hermione – only his sole bright light in a world filled with loss – and she was only on her knees, hands shoved at her mouth as if that would keep the hoarse, miserable sobs from leaking out.
"Who?" he asked. There was one reason for that kind of grief when going through bodies. He'd found Theo that way, his arm charred to a crisp from fighting the compulsions of the Mark and losing. He'd been so sure if Draco could escape, he could too.
The cost of failure was death.
"George," she said in a raw whisper.
Draco closed his eyes for a moment. He hadn't liked the Weasleys, and none of them liked him. George hadn't trusted his defection, had never stopped watching him with grim certainty that at any moment Draco would snatch up their plans and race back to his childhood home, maybe stopping to lay a flower on his mother's grave before triumphantly giving Voldemort what he needed to win. A whole year of suspicion, and it was all so stupid, and now he was dead.
"I'm sorry," Draco said. He was, too. He may not have liked George, but he'd been a hugely valuable asset to their side. He's been smart, and unscrupulous, and endlessly inventive when it came to new ways to twist magic into ever darker objects. What victories they'd had were because of him. And now he was gone. All of them were. A whole family wiped from the earth in just this one year. No more loud laughter. No more ginger-haired indigents at Hogwarts. No more of anything.
He sat, suddenly too tired to go through another dead man's things looking for some other trivial advantage. There didn't seem to be a point anymore. If not tomorrow, they'd lose the day after, or the day after that. Time was on Voldemort's side.
Something wet soaked into his arse. Blood, probably. Hermione came and sat next to him. Funny to think he'd hated her two years ago. Now her head fit against his shoulder as if he'd been made with her in mind. He pressed his face into her hair and shuddered. This might be it. They might be the only two left.
Sometimes he wondered why they were still standing. As much as he'd love to think it was because he was just that powerful, war beat vanity out of a man, and quickly. And he'd lay it at the feet of being lucky, but he'd seen enough skilled fighters taken down by a stray curse to know everyone threw a one eventually.
The bone-chilling possibility that Voldemort was saving them for last haunted his nightmares. He was a vindictive bastard, though, and Draco's escape had to sting. The only Marked Death Eater to ever do so. Not even Severus Snape — God rest his soul — had managed that particular feat, but then, Draco doubted anyone had ever loved Snape. Certainly, no one had loved him enough to fling themselves in front of a curse while begging the monster to take them instead.
"You're thinking about something," Hermione said.
She reached over and took his hand, squeezing his fingers in hers. "She'd be proud of you."
"Would she?" Draco asked bitterly. He'd stayed alive as better men than him had fallen. Stayed alive as friends screamed in columns of fire. Stayed alive, and for what end?
"You know she would," Hermione said.
Draco pressed his lips into the soft mass of her curls and didn't say anything. He'd give almost anything to be the sort of man his mother could be proud of. The sort worthy of Hermione's love. Instead, he was... what? A failed Death Eater. A failed fighter for the light. A man probably spared by a cat looking forward to toying with him. "What now?" he asked.
Usually, they would finish checking over the bodies, go back to one of the increasingly empty safe houses, eat a thin dinner, and sleep under thinner blankets. Maybe fuck themselves into a moment of mindlessness. Maybe not. It all felt futile.
Hermione pulled herself up and began going through the pockets of the nearest body. A packet of candy, opened and covered in unappealing lint. A receipt for Quidditch tickets. A golden necklace.
Hermione held the last up.
"What is it?" Draco asked. It was hard to care. One of George's jokes maybe, something that would send a laughing clown's face into the sky. Or maybe it turned rocks into canaries.
"It's a time-turner," she said with wonder.
Draco's heard the stories of how she'd spent a year of school using one to go to extra classes. He'd teased her that of all the things to redo hours for, he wouldn't have picked an extra Arithmancy class. "Sex maybe," he'd said. "Day after day in a bubble of time where no one could find us."
"Does it work?" he asked.
"If it does, we could redo that battle," Hermione said. Her voice was getting hushed as she considered the possibilities. "George could still be alive."
"Why go back one day?" Draco asked. "We could go back a week, before Luna died, not get caught in that ambush."
"A month," Hermione said. She was getting excited now. "We could warn everyone about the park."
"A year," Draco said, but she shook her head.
"We'd still exist then," she said. "We... you don't want to run into yourself."
"We existed an hour ago," Draco pointed out. He paused to consider. "How far can you go back?"
"I never went more than a few hours," Hermione said. "And it's... you are using magic, right? I was always super tired when I was doing it. I think it just requires so much magic to do. And it's one turn per hour, so if we wanted to do back a month... we'd have to stand here turning and turning and turning the thing."
Draco looked out across the blackened battlefield. "What are the risks," he asked. Risk assessment was a thing he did automatically now. What was the risk of going to the shops? What were the odds of getting caught by Snatchers if you went for a walk?
"More than a few hours is… bad," Hermione said. "A witch traveled back in time five hundred years in the late 1800s and when she got back to the present, her body had aged five centuries and several dozen of her descendants vanished because she'd altered her own life so much they didn't exist anymore. And time can get wonky if you go back too far. Days pass too quickly, or an hour lingers for the whole afternoon. The fabric of time is fragile stuff."
"Well, we don't need to go back five hundred years," Draco said. "But we should do it. Three years. Four. Enough that we can undo all of this. That we can warn people."
Hermione stared at him with wide eyes, and he reached over and laced his fingers through hers. It was a terrible idea, but he could see it catching fire in her eyes. A war erased. All their friends alive. Only —-
"Four years ago, I hated you," she said softly.
Draco's mind raced. They couldn't not travel back in time now that they'd found this. Even if he wasn't afraid it was just a matter of time before he ended up at Voldemort's feet begging for his life — begging for her life — it would be tremendously selfish to decide his love mattered more than so many lives. He couldn't make the cost of them be the rise of darkness. But he also couldn't imagine life without her.
"We'll go back further," he said. "Ten years, before we met. Fifteen. We'll go back so far we don't already hate each other."
"How much will we undo?" she asked.
"Would it be worse than this?" He knew the answer. Almost nothing would be.
"And who would we tell?" she asked, but that was was the easiest answer in the world. His mother. She'd believe anything he told her. His love had freed him from the Mark, and it could free them all from Voldemort.
Hermione followed his thoughts and nodded, but she said, "Professor McGonagall too. Your mother... she's still a Death Eater's wife. People won't believe her, but the two of them together..."
Draco nodded. He pulled Hermione into an embrace, his arms around her, and moved his finger toward the time turner. Before he could do a single spin, she grabbed his mouth and pulled it to hers.
The battlefield was stinking with ash and blood and fear but for a moment all he knew was the sweetness of her kiss. It was wild, and desperate, and filled with hope neither of them had felt for months. "This will erase us," she said. "You know that, right? If your mother changes the future, we won't exist anymore."
Draco rested his forehead against hers. "We will always exist," he said. "I will never not love you. I will never not find you. We're meant to be together. I will find you at Hogwarts, and you will find me, and we will be together in a world that we've made peaceful."
Hermione wrapped one arm around him and began to spin the time-turner.
The world went black.
. . . . . . . . . .
A/N - Thank you to torrilin for beta reading and thank you to everyone who came along on this ride.