Chapter 56

"The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord approaches... Born to those who have thrice defied him, born as the seventh month dies...

and the Dark Lord will mark him as his equal, but he will have power the Dark Lord knows not... and either must die at the hand of the other for neither can live while the other survives...The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies..." (JKR OotP)

Hermione woke up on the morning of Halloween and, as had become her custom, she reached for Draco, physically and magically. He responded in kind. She prodded at him curiously to see if she could tell if he was as apprehensive about the day as she was.

"Yes, Hermione," he sighed, "it's going to be a shite day, you don't have to flood me with your own dread."

"Sorry."

He sighed again. "I know you can't help yourself, but do what you need to do and then put your shields up before breakfast or Harry will be able to read your emotions all over your face from across the Great Hall, and then you'll feel even worse."

"He could skive off classes for the day and Madam Pomfrey would absolutely back him up if he just reminded her that it was Halloween."

Draco snorted. "Are we talking about the same person?"

"Right," she made a face at her own wishful thinking. "That's the last thing he would do."

"And for once he's not even being dramatic. If he disappeared today, of all days, he'd just garner himself a lot more attention when he finally re-emerged." He sighed for a third time as he ran his thumb up the column of her spine. "You know, I used to enjoy Halloween."

"Your sympathy is astounding." She poked his side and he snatched up the offending hand.

"My sympathy is making me feel like this, so I think I'll check it at the door next time, thank you very much."

"Conversations like this make me seriously question my taste in men."

"It's early, you know how I am when it's this early." She could practically hear him rolling his eyes. "And let's not pretend you have taste in men, in general. There's only me."

"Lucky, lucky me," she drawled, in her best imitation of him, but she ruined the effect by turning her head to prop her chin on his chest and grinning up at him.

"So lucky, in fact, that I'm awake now and I'll grace you with my presence while you walk the dogs."

"How generous, I suppose we can tolerate your company," she answered dryly. Morning walks were usually her alone time with the puppies, which she'd actually come to guard rather jealously or she never got to see them given their many adoring fans, but she didn't want to be apart from him today any more than she could sense he wanted to be apart from her. She turned over and started to climb out of bed.

"Hey," he called quietly. She looked back at him. "I love you."

At the beginning of their friendship Draco had often struggled to express his emotions, but by the time he accepted that he did, in fact, love her, he had made a real effort to learn how to put his feelings into words, at least for her. She had been the first one to admit it out loud, but he had never been shy about telling her that he loved her thereafter.

But recently it had become almost a compulsion, like every time could be the last. Lucius' injury had given them a new perspective. And then there was the thing that they didn't talk about.

The power the Dark Lord knows not.

It had been a shot in the dark. A wild guess. Something she'd said to her betrothed over the summer to encourage them to work a little harder, a little smarter. She had not expected for it to become a concrete her reality.

She would have taken it on willingly, for Harry. But in loving her it was now a millstone around Draco's neck as well because they were irrevocably intertwined. And the guilt of that ate at her. So, contrary to her very nature, she said nothing, not wanting to burden him further.

But, of course, he knew. And he wouldn't have it. He didn't confront her, wouldn't even justify it with an argument. He just provided her with constant affirmation of his devotion in word and in deed. And, when her own feelings were particularly vexing, he flooded her with his own adoration.

Draco thought he was selfish. He was almost proud of the fact. It was laughable.

Thankfully, whatever magical ties had bound them to Harry, he had not gained any further insight into their emotions beyond what he could gather from simply knowing them well. He would not have responded well to that, and it was so unspeakably intimate, she would never want to share it with anybody but Draco.

Whatever, exactly, had happened was still a mystery, but it had turned them from a formidable trio into- as Sirius had so eloquently put it- a force of fucking nature. And he didn't even know the full extent of it. Neither, Hermione suspected, did the three of them.

Lucius and Narcissa had been more subdued than usual in the six weeks or so since her birthday, but that was to be expected. Without the existence of the antivenom and the timely use thereof, Lucius would have succumbed to his injuries. He had only been given just over a week to recover before being called back to the Dark Lord's side to be examined like some kind of science experiment. His magic was still recovering and he would probably always walk with a limp- a small price to pay, but a constant reminder nonetheless. But Hermione had been unable to determine if they had been treating her, Draco, or Harry any differently.

Sirius, on the other hand, treated them like superheroes whose secret identities he'd just discovered. Though, Hermione suspected that this was his way of making light of something that he couldn't explain and was simply doing his best not to appear frightened.

She did not know what her parents had been told. She hadn't had the opportunity to see them and it was unsafe to discuss such things via owl. She tried not to think about how grateful she was for that.

Professor Dumbledore had only appeared at their weekly lessons twice in the meantime and Hermione was certain he hadn't been told anything at all. At least not by the Malfoys or Sirius. If he noticed a difference in the three of them, he acted no differently.

Professor Snape was the most disconcerting. It had taken several days after her birthday and a mirror call with Sirius for them to realize and confirm that of all of their secrets which the man now shared, he still did not know that she was Hermione Granger. She had worn her charm bracelet the entire time she was at the Manor- she never took it off for that very reason- and nobody who possessed it had told him the secret to her identity. What he made of what he'd witnessed- notably her close relationship with Sirius and Harry, she couldn't begin to imagine. But she supposed he'd discovered much more interesting things in those early morning hours and chances were that he didn't think of it at all. He treated her and Draco normally in class, though a few times she caught him looking at the two of them with something that looked a lot like curiosity. He went out of his way to avoid interacting with Harry, but in comparison to before, his behavior towards the younger wizard was downright respectful.

And between the three of them they worked hard. They spoke Voldemort's name without hesitation. But they did not speak of this. To speculate would be not just absurd, but obscene, which led Hermione to believe that, whatever the truth was, there was no preparing themselves for it. One day it would just arrive.

She glanced back down at Draco to see that he was smirking at her knowingly. Lost in thought, she hadn't responded to him. She shook her head and smiled. "I love you too."

The day crawled by and Hermione began to suspect that the feeling in her stomach was more than just sympathy for her best friend and the resulting vicarious grief for his parents. More than even just the knowledge that the events that took place on this day fifteen years ago had sealed Harry's fate as the child of the prophecy.

She sat silently through all of her classes- luckily, Mia Garnier was not the student Hermione Granger had been, so nobody was suspicious of her behavior- and tried to put a name to it. It took her all day, but she finally did.

Anticipation.

Not usually a particularly distressing emotion, but in this case it was very bothersome. Because she didn't know what she was anticipating, and she worried that whatever it was would sneak up and take her by surprise before she could properly prepare for it.

She and Draco waited until the last minute to walk up to the Feast. He wasn't looking forward to it any more than she was. They waited so late that the Entrance Hall appeared empty when they started to cross it- but would soon come to find that it wasn't. They both felt him at the same time and stopped in their tracks.

A wave of magic later and they were once again ensconced in Harry's invisibility cloak with him. He looked distressed as he gestured to the open Marauder's Map he was carrying and pointed again, as he had on the morning of Hermione's birthday, to the secret passageway guarded by the statue of the one-eyed witch.

They set off at a brisk pace and within ten minutes were passing through the wards. They linked arms but, unlike last time, Harry stopped Draco from activating his portkey with a shake of his head, stuffed the map into his robes, and activated his own. When they arrived Hermione immediately understood why Harry had taken control, for they weren't at Malfoy Manor, but at the Irish safehouse where they came every week for their lessons.

Without removing the cloak they moved towards the training room. Hermione had to clap a hand over her mouth to stifle her gasp when she saw the group of people who had gathered inside, clustered together around a bed that usually wasn't there.

Dumbledore was reclining atop it, propped up by several pillows, looking pale but otherwise normal, with the notable exception of his right hand which was black, shriveled, and appeared dead. Lucius, Narcissa, Sirius, Professor Snape, and her parents- who had been to the house once in order to be added to the wards, but who didn't travel to it regularly because long distance magical travel was particularly trying for muggles- made up the group surrounding the bed.

But none of those things were what caused Hermione to nearly gasp and give away their position. At the foot of the bed stood two people who she'd never met, but who she would have recognized anywhere: James and Lily Potter.

They were not completely solid, but far more so than any ghost Hermione had ever seen. Lily was absently twisting a wand that was easily recognizable as Dumbledore's between her fingers, while James was tossing a black stone around in a manner very reminiscent of Harry or Draco playing with a practice snitch. Every living soul in the room was staring at them, but they didn't even seem to notice, they were staring straight at her, Draco, and Harry like they weren't covered by the most powerful invisibility cloak Hermione had ever heard of.

Lily smiled. "Hello."

Harry immediately tossed the cloak away but Draco caught it and shoved it back into his hands. "Is this a fucking joke, because it's not funny," Harry demanded while Hermione and Draco reached out to stop him from storming forward.

"No, and I never thought I'd get the opportunity to say this, but watch your language, Son," she answered, but she seemed more amused than anything else. "Apologies though, your doubt is understandable. Sirius can confirm our identities, he was very thorough in doing so earlier. Refused to call you until he was certain."

Harry's head swiveled towards his godfather who just nodded. "You didn't think you should tell me what was going on instead of just ordering me to find Hermione and Draco and get here as soon as possible?!"

"Sorry Pup, they told me not to, and I had to agree that it was better for you to see it in person, we couldn't have you freaking out at Hogwarts."

Harry made a frustrated sounding noise and turned back to his parents. "Are you ghosts? Where have you been? Why haven't I seen you before?"

Lily looked at him sadly, she attempted to smile at him, but it fell short. "No, our time on this side of the veil was over. As much as it pained us to leave you behind, neither one of us resisted moving on. This is a unique opportunity and will only be a brief visit."

"Mum," Harry gasped.

Hermione felt Draco's eyes on her and she turned to look at him over Harry's head. She saw the same thing in them that she felt in her heart: this was either too good to be true, or it was torture. As if he heard their thoughts- and maybe he did, maybe spirits were in possession of extra senses- James caught the stone one more time and then looped an arm around his wife's waist.

"We would never have come if we thought it would hurt him more than it would help. There are five parents in this room who have done everything they could for you three, and it was our turn."

"Turn?" Hermione blurted.

"To help," James grinned. "We have access to knowledge that nobody else here does."

"Like what?" She asked, her curiosity outmatching her sheer astonishment over the situation.

It was Lily who answered. "Like what happened when Tom Riddle finally learned the full contents of the prophecy. As much as you think you may not want to know, it's important. It's unlike you to fear knowledge, Hermione," she chided, but it was a gentle rebuke.

"It's been suggested to me more than once that I shouldn't be such a know it all," Hermione retorted.

Lily laughed. "You shouldn't listen to those people. Especially if their name is 'Severus,'" she turned her head and narrowed her eyes at the man in question. "Don't let him fool you, he spent his entire career at Hogwarts refining and inventing new potions and spells and if he had his druthers he'd spend his life buried in books and a research position." She raised a finger in his direction. "This mess you've gotten yourself into isn't your students' fault and you shouldn't take it out on them, it's petty and, frankly, beneath you. I know teaching doesn't really suit your disposition but you could have made the best of it. Hundreds of young and eager minds have come through your classroom, you could have helped mold them. It might not have been ideal, but at least it could have been interesting and rewarding."

"It's not that simple," he answered, sounding petulant.

"Yes it is, it wouldn't have been easy but it is very simple. Albus stood up in open court on more than one occasion after my death and proclaimed that you weren't a Death Eater. If that didn't blow your cover as a spy then nothing was going to do it, you certainly didn't have to spend fifteen years taking out your ire on innocent children. Now, you have a decision to make or I'm going to advise Lucius and Narcissa not to let you leave here with your memory intact. I'm certain that whatever debts they feel that they owe you for healing Lucius are outweighed by their desire to keep their children and Harry safe." She looked at Narcissa. "I know that mind magicks aren't your forte but I assume that, given his injury, Lucius could use your assistance with the power portion, and I know you wouldn't want to be left out."

Narcissa nodded and the two women smirked at each other.

Sirius looked between them. "You know I could help," he volunteered anxiously.

James sighed. "No Padfoot, you aren't going to help, if it comes down to that. What you can do is stop acting like we weren't jumped up, self-important little arseholes at Hogwarts and especially turning back into one every time you set eyes on Snape."

"We were having a laugh, Prongs. There's nothing wrong with that."

"Some of the things we did were in good fun. But some weren't. Maybe we were too immature to know any better, but the fact that I'm ashamed for my son to know about a good deal of it tells me that it was wrong, and I'm not proud of the fact. You don't have to be a Death Eater to be dark or cruel, and some of the things we did were both. Have you ever considered that we didn't recognize those tendencies in Peter because they were also within us?"

"I would have never done what Peter did!"

"I know," he smiled sadly at his friend. "We chose right, in the end: you, Remus and I. And that's important. But death has given me a lot of perspective, and I'll not stand here, in front of these three, who have an unimaginable burden on their shoulders, and gloss over the truth while I try to give them advice. They deserve better than that."

Sirius just stared at him and Hermione felt her mouth drop open.

"Lily, James you should be careful-" Dumbledore began, apparently seizing his opportunity in the silence.

"Be quiet!" Lily snapped, while James actually rolled his eyes. "Or do I have to remind you that you are wandless and injured, both of which are entirely your fault! Your days of giving orders and having them unquestioningly followed are over. Nobody should have that kind of power, and you've certainly proved that you can't be trusted with it!"

James tossed that black stone in the air again, caught it, and waved it in Dumbledore's direction and, to Hermione's shock, the old wizard deflated and shut his mouth.

"So what'll it be, Severus, are you with us, or are you against us?" Lily asked.

"As I already told your son-"

"I know what you told Harry, but he doesn't know the whole story, he didn't know what to ask of you. Using my name was enough for the three of them to let it go. But you can't make this about me, that's not fair to anybody involved, especially you. Make a choice that you can live with, or even die for, but let it be yours."

He took a deep breath and made a jerky motion that was almost a bow towards her. Lily smiled brightly at him. "I'm glad, Sev."

She was lovely, they both were, and so young- if they donned a couple of uniforms they probably could have fit right in at Hogwarts. As it was, they were dressed casually, like they had been planning a night in. Hermione wondered if this is what they had been wearing when they died. The thought made her heart sick, which quickly turned to anger. She liked them, they seemed fierce and fun, she wished she'd gotten to know them for real. She wished Harry knew them beyond the rose-tinted memories he had been told, and however much he'd be able to glean from this brief encounter. She huffed.

Draco sighed. "Oh love."

Harry, who had been watching all of this with wide-eyed wonder, looked frantically between them. "What's wrong?"

"Not wrong exactly," Draco looked at Hermione and she shrugged, curious about what he'd picked up from her, he chuckled and turned to address Harry. "It's just that Hermione really likes your parents, so now she's furious at Voldemort for killing them. We might need to hold her down to keep her from marching out to find him so that she can decapitate him and put his head on a pike." He took a deep breath and eyed them both. "Because while that would be totally bad arse, and I normally wouldn't interfere, we aren't sure if being the power he knows not allows us to act as your hand, Harry, or if you'll have to do the actual," he cleared his throat, "killing."

Hermione's mouth dropped open again at Draco's incredibly accurate interpretation of her emotions, but mostly at what he's just said out loud.

"What?" He asked. "There are two dead people in the room doling out hard truths like muggles hand out candy on Halloween. I think that might be our cue to stop avoiding our truth and just ask them what the hell happened to us."

"He's not wrong," Harry said in a rush, before she could respond. "You're the one always saying we need all available knowledge. Gryffindor up, Hermione." He looked at her out of the corner of his eyes with a little smirk on his face.

"Right, okay," she muttered and looked towards Lily and James.

Lily gave them a sad smile. "What happened on your birthday- and we are sorry that it happened on that day, but you were right, it was just a coincidence- was the last in a series of events, a series of choices which activated the prophecy. The first was Severus deciding to tell Voldemort what he knew of the prophecy and then, when he learned that it applied to our family and that Voldemort had decided to," she winced, "eliminate Harry, his decision to go and ask Voldemort to spare me. He agreed and because he did, without realizing it he made it possible for me to protect you," she looked at Harry as she spoke the last part.

"I don't understand," whispered Harry.

"I couldn't love you more, darling, then or now," she reached out and touched his chest, right above his heart, "but many parents love their children enough to die for them, I was not unique in that respect. There are five other parents in this room who feel the same way. Your father died protecting us both that night, and given a choice he would have traded his life for ours. But I was the only one given that choice, because Voldemort had agreed to spare me. I could have stepped aside like he demanded and he would have allowed me to survive. His choice made my actions a true sacrifice. He killed me because I would not stand aside and not because it was something that he was going to do regardless. Do you understand?"

"I don't know," Harry answered, glancing at Hermione like he often did when he was uncertain.

"My actions were not any more heroic than your father's, or any number of other people who died, or would have died for their loved ones. Love is precious, to be certain, but in this case it did not save you because it was somehow better, but because Voldemort is the kind of despicable monster who cuts down entire families without giving them any kind of chance or choice. He broke his oath to spare me and that allowed the power of my sacrifice to take hold and protect you."

"Oh." Harry frowned. "Does that mean that I owe Professor Snape?"

"No, not at all. In fact, you have every right to be angry with him, but don't let it turn you bitter. I only tell you because I want you to understand that this is all very complicated. And because I don't want you to put me on some kind of pedestal I don't deserve, it would only cause you pain in the future. Nobody can live up to the memory of a saint."

"Okay," he nodded, but Hermione could tell that he was severely rattled. "So he marked me, that was his choice. But who chose Draco and Hermione to be the power the Dark Lord knows not? Because that's what they are, right?"

"Well, you all chose each other."

"How?"

"Hermione befriended both of you. She and Draco fell in love. You and Hermione came to love each other like family. Draco decided to tolerate you for Hermione's sake," she smiled wryly at that, "and when the time came, instead of turning away from her, you decided to accept their relationship. And then you and Draco came to see each other as family as well. There is a great deal of love, respect, and trust between you. It's lovely, really. Do you see?"

"I understand what you're saying, but couldn't they choose differently now, couldn't they get out of it? Or are they just stuck?"

She looked carefully from Draco to Hermione, and back. "Would you choose differently, knowing what you know now? Knowing the burdens you face?"

"No," they answered in tandem.

"Well there you go."

There was a long pause.

Hermione couldn't hold back any longer. "So is that what happened when Voldemort heard the rest of the prophecy? It changed our magic to meet the parameters? That was the last event? We knew it was due to him hearing the rest of it, but we couldn't understand why that made such an impact on us."

Lily seemed to consider this and she looked at James who began to speak. "No. Prophecies can't do anything. For most of their existence they are outside of time and space. They are always and they are never, everywhere and nowhere. Forces inside the fabric of reality work to meet the terms of prophecies, and any one prophecy can be fulfilled in an infinite number of ways. Only after a certain number of criteria are met, after all of the actors are put into play does a prophecy begin to exist within reality- rather than just being seen."

Hermione felt like her brain was overloading and she grappled to understand what he was saying. While she struggled to find a way to ask for clarification Draco spoke.

"That was what your wife meant when she said that Voldemort hearing the entirety of the prophecy finished 'activating' it?"

"Yes."

"Okay, but if it wasn't the prophecy itself, what changed us?"

"A force that Voldemort has been trying to evade, manipulate, and destroy for almost the entirety of his life- such as it is. Death."

Hermione almost wanted to laugh, and she could tell that Draco felt the same way. "Excuse me?" He choked.

"Voldemort, in his greed, hatred, and fear has twisted his life and his death into an unnatural thing. His very existence upsets the balance. He's made all the wrong choices, and in making the right ones you've been entrusted with power and tools to rectify the damage and restore the balance. I believe you all know the Tale of the Three Brothers?"

Harry nodded, while Hermione could only stare and Draco made another disbelieving sound. "You mean the one with the wand," Lily held up the wand she was holding and wiggled it towards him, "and the stone," he said in a weaker voice as James tossed the stone he was holding into the air again, "and the…" he trailed off completely as they both eyed the cloak that Harry was holding, unceremoniously balled up under one arm.

"But that's just a fairy tale!" Hermione exclaimed.

"So is magic and true love, or isn't that what you were taught as a little girl?" Lily asked Hermione, "yet those things are very real, even if they aren't as perfect or straightforward as they often are in the tales we tell children."

"But," Hermione continued to insist, this all had passed 'unbelievable' a while ago. "Every wand can be beaten! And the dead stay dead," she stopped as she realized the absurdity of what she was about to say given that she was looking at two people who had come back from beyond the veil, even if it was only supposed to be briefly. "Okay, but Harry inherited that cloak, you used to have it!" She looked at James. "It's just a cloak!"

"You know that it's not just a cloak, Hermione. You've seen how it's changed to accommodate you three over the past month. And remember, Ignotus was wiser than Antioch or Cadmus. He didn't flaunt his hallow, so it was never taken from him, and when it was his time to pass on he didn't attempt to use it to hide from Death, and so his family was allowed to keep it. If it makes you feel better I can point you to several books that prove the Potters are descended from the Peverells."

"That would make me feel better," she said in a small voice, and he laughed.

Lily stepped forward and extended the wand to Draco, handle first. He immediately stumbled backwards. "I don't want the deathstick! Though I do feel the need to apologize for even calling it that. But I'm not stupid, even if I can avoid having somebody kill me to take possession of it, I know who last had that wand, and I have no interest in becoming the next Albus Dumbledore."

"And that is exactly why you should take it," she continued to shove it in his direction.

"Why me? Hermione or Harry would be the better choice, though I assume the cloak is meant to stay with Harry."

She nodded. "It is, but why shouldn't you take the wand? Are you concerned you'll be enticed by its power?"

"My family collects power, Lady Potter, both sides of it. It's practically all we've done for generations. How do you think we ended up tied to Voldemort?"

"First of all, it's 'Lily,' I've grown very fond of you and I'd prefer not to stand on ceremony."

"Okay," he said slowly, his pureblood upbringing making him obviously hesitant to agree.

"And yes, you were born to great privilege. It would have been the easiest thing in the world for you to spend your days hoarding and building your wealth, flaunting it in the face of others, lording yourself over those less fortunate. But that is not the path you chose. You chose love and kindness, and danger when it meant protecting those that you care about. Even now when you are learning the stark truth of that choice, you haven't backed down. If you were to look into the Mirror of Erised right now you would think you were looking at a normal mirror, you've learned to value what is truly important."

"I had help. I would have ignored Hermione if it wasn't for my mother, turned my nose up at her and bullied her. I wouldn't know how to treat her if it wasn't for my father and the Grangers. I wouldn't have given Harry the time of day, at least not with any kindness, if it wasn't for Hermione."

"You accepted help," she corrected, "a wise person does. None of us are meant to walk alone. Take the wand, Draco." He reached out but his movements were hesitant and she smiled wryly. "If you need a more practical reason, your magic is more suited to an offensive tool than either Harry or Hermione's. Would you rather either of them take point?"

"No," he answered immediately and finally took it from her.

"How does it feel?" Asked Harry.

"Like a wand, if only I could forget what it actually is."

Harry laughed, but Hermione was watching James warily and was not surprised when he extended the stone in her direction.

"I can't use that," she protested as quickly as she could make her mouth form the words. It's supposed to be torture to call a soul back," her heart ached as she looked at him and realized what their presence here meant. "Who did this to you?" She cried.

His face softened. "You are such a compassionate witch, Hermione, and that is why you must take this and guard it until your time is done. As for me and Lily, please don't fret. We volunteered to come and we are not in pain. We took advantage of Albus' determination to seek the stone out today, when the veil between life and death is thinnest, hoping for the opportunity to call one of his own loved ones back with less pain," he looked behind him towards the old man, "it still would have been excruciating. She's at peace, leave her be." He turned back to Hermione. "But we knew that he would try and that we could come in her place, and when he called for help for the injury he caused himself in the endeavour, we could ask those that came to his aid to bring you three to us. Okay?"

She nodded and he stepped forward again so that there were only a few inches separating them, placed the stone in her open palm and closed her fingers around it. His gaze drifted towards Harry. "But know that, had it been necessary in order to speak with you, we would have endured any pain, and it would have been well worth it."

Harry's eyes filled with tears but he nodded in acknowledgement and James and Lily each stepped towards Harry. Hermione noticed Draco moving out of the corner of her eye as well, and then she felt him wrapping his arms around her. She fell against his chest while she watched James and Lily position themselves so that they were embracing Harry together.

"And you," began Lily, "this will serve you well," she patted the cloak which was still balled up under one of Harry's arms, and then she reached up to touch the place over his heart again, "but this is all you've ever really needed."

"We are so proud of you, and we love you more than we can possibly express," James continued, "but you'll find out what that feels like someday. We're counting on it."

"Oh!" Lily exclaimed and James laughed quietly. "How could I almost forget! We wholeheartedly approve of your witch. She's currently gathering you a small army on the Continent. Don't you dare pull any silly nonsense and try to stop her. She's a smart girl and she knows what she's doing. Her family is in this just about as deep as they can get, she has a right to fight."

"Mum!" Harry's squeaked, face beet red from his hairline all the way down to the collar of his robes.

"What?" She asked, sounding positively delighted. "I'm entitled to take this opportunity to embarrass you while I've got it."

"I'm going to have to explain that to Draco! He won't let it go! And what about Lucius? He's not that injured, they're going to kill me!"

"Oh hush, Hermione and Narcissa would never let them do that."

Draco had gone completely still around her and Hermione wondered how much she was going to suffer for keeping this one secret from him. She hoped she could talk him around without too much fuss by pointing out that it had only been a hunch until just now, Harry hadn't actually told her anything.

To his credit Draco didn't attempt to interrupt the moment even though Hermione was certain he knew that Lily had been referring to Claire, and probably had known since she'd mentioned the Continent. Lucius also remained quiet, but Hermione was beginning to suspect that the adults might have been placed under some kind of other-worldly silencing charm so that they couldn't interrupt the discussion once Lily and James were done talking to them, because it had been a long time since she'd heard a peep out of any of them. And, come to think of it, maybe something to keep them within the confines of a small area too, as none of them had attempted to move any closer since they had arrived.

Lily and James embraced Harry for a long time murmuring things too quietly for Hermione to hear, and just allowing him to cry. When they stepped back the two of them joined hands. Harry didn't attempt to stop them, and Hermione couldn't begin to imagine the kind of strength it must have taken to let them go. She reached out to take one of his hands and Draco removed one arm from around her to place a hand on his shoulder. Harry didn't look at them but shifted a little closer.

Lily looked at the three of them. "One more thing. Don't forget that the brothers' true strength was not in their tools, but in what they could accomplish together. It was their teamwork that impressed Death in the first place, after all. And therein lies your strength as well."

Hermione couldn't help herself. "I thought the tale said that death was infuriated that they cheated him, and so he gave them the hallows as gifts, but they were really a way to try and trick them into punishing themselves," she blurted.

Lily's lips twitched and she shrugged. "Artistic license. Beedle didn't want Death to seem too friendly."

Draco shook with silent laughter and Harry was looking at Hermione like she'd lost her mind for choosing this moment to be at peak swottiness. "Right, okay," Hermione croaked.

Lily lifted her free hand in a semblance of a wave, or perhaps it was a benediction. "Until we meet again, and please don't worry about how long you keep us waiting."

"The longer the better actually," James added with a wink.

And then they disappeared.

Disclaimer: The prophecy at the top of the chapter is taken directly from "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix" by JK Rowling. The words are hers. However, spacing between the two parts was done by me to delineate between what Snape heard originally and reported to Voldemort in 1981, and the rest. There is no other significance.

Authors Note: Well, I didn't quite make my self-imposed deadline for posting this chapter, so I'll just wish y'all a happy Monday/November instead! When I went to edit this, the characters informed me that they actually had more to say, so I went with it. I've learned it's always better to do that ;) I hope I answered some questions but I know I've left you with more, please just keep trusting me. Finally, it's officially NaNoWriMo so I'll be a busy writer, but I don't know when this will update next. Thanks, as always, for reading and leaving me your thoughts, they were especially nice this weekend!