~Chapter 14 – Wild Hope~
I hate you, Hermione.
It took about a week for Hermione to recover. I spent a lot of time with her at the beginning, but soon, there were others visiting her. Ginny and Longbottom came together the first time, and then, they started taking shifts. I started to suspect it was to keep me away, though I was sure they didn't know what had really happened. Longbottom had never been much of a wizard, but I felt sure Ginny could have cursed me to bits if my back was turned. As she would have, if she'd known.
Once, when I finally found Hermione alone, I settled into a chair just in time to see Longbottom and Luna coming in the room. I groaned and stood. Longbottom and I shared a mutual glare, but when I started to leave Luna grabbed my hand.
"Hello, Draco," Luna said in her ethereal voice.
"Uh, hi," I said. I was watching Longbottom take my seat around her.
"The oddest thing," Luna continued. "I had a dream about you last night."
"Oh, yeah?" I said, barely paying attention. Hermione and Longbottom were deep in conversation; I wanted to hear.
"Yes," Luna said. "It was very strange. We were swimming in the lake. And you saved me from the Giant Squid."
"It was strange, because I've never known the Giant Squid to be particularly vicious."
"…Draco?" Something in her voice sounded sad, so I looked at her. She smiled. "Have you had any interesting dreams lately?"
"No," I said. "I haven't been dreaming at all."
"Oh," Luna said, sounding disappointed. "Why do you think that would be?"
"I've been taking a potion," I explained.
"You mean you've chosen not to have them?" Luna asked. "Why ever would you do that?"
"I don't like my dreams," I told her.
"How sad," Luna said. "I think dreams are so fascinating. Sometimes, they even give you things you couldn't have any other way." Then, she shrugged and finally let go of my hand. I watched Luna go over to Hermione and wrap her in a hug, before I turned to leave.
Our common room was quiet. I remember how I used to love the quiet. Now, it drove me mad. I worried about Hermione. I relived the things I had seen. I wanted to take action. All the while knowing that wasn't like me at all. I didn't get involved. I covered my own ass. That was who I was. That's who I'd always been. I was losing that part of myself. I was losing everything I knew as me.
Snape's return was the final straw. I cornered him in his office. "What's going on?" I demanded. "Where have you been?"
Snape looked both exhausted and exasperated. "I do not answer to you, Draco. Don't gawk at me as if I were the cause of all this madness."
"Oh, fuck," I snapped. Then, I started to storm off.
"Wait," Snape said. I froze.
I hate how your former friend Potter killed off Voldemort and became the new Dark Lord.
"It's true," Snape continued. "Dumbledore is dead. I found his body in the Forbidden Forest. And…" He gave an irritated sigh. "The Dark Lord's as well."
"What?" I gaped.
"Listen, Draco, I-"
McGonagall's magically amplified voice broke into our conversation. "All staff and students please report to the Great Hall at once."
Snape groaned again. He moved past me through the door.
"Hold on," I called after him. "Where are you going now?"
"Are you deaf?" Snape snapped. He continued on his way.
"Stop. Wait. You - You owe it to me, Snape!" I blurted.
Snape spun instantly and set his furious black eyes on me. "I owe you?" he spat. "You blithering fool. I used to think you were clever, Draco. Now, look what you've done. And you have the gall to say that I owe you? You've wrecked everything. Your life and mine included."
"No, for once in your life, listen, Draco!" Snape shouted. "All our plans have been uprooted! Everything I've fought for! You have to take responsibility for yourself now. I'm not going to be here to save you."
He left me standing there, broken.
By the time I arrived in the Great Hall, McGonagall was already speaking. She was telling the students what they'd only been left to guess for the past week. Harry was gone. Dumbledore was dead. She spared them some of the details, my involvement included, but she was truthful.
The hall stood together, the house tables having been cleared away. They quickly erupted into frightened chatter when McGonagall paused. I took the opportunity to slip through the crowd until I spotted Hermione. I reached for her.
Sparks burst in front of us. McGonagall moved away quickly, her wand pointed to the site of the magic. The front of the hall blurred, then came back into focus with an image of Potter's face enlarged. The hall went quiet.
She wouldn't let me take her hand. Out of all of us, Hermione walked forward to the image projected in front of us. She walked bravely and alone. I wanted to tell her she could still be brave and not alone, but I knew it would do any good.
The image of Potter smirked, and it was clear to me that he was no longer who he used to be. "Greetings, Hogwarts students."
I heard a sharp intake of breath behind me, that I thought came from Ginny. I was surprised, too. It sounded just like him. But of course, it would. The dementor had only stolen Potter's soul, not his voice.
"I assume you've been informed of your Headmaster's… untimely end," Potter said. He chuckled. "Well, now, you will know. I was the one who killed him."
There were gasps. A girl started sobbing in the crowd. I glanced behind me at Ginny, who was tear-free, fists clenched. My eyes found Luna holding onto Longbottom's arm. She, too, was not crying, though her eyes were shining. When I finally noticed the crying girl, I recognized her as the Hufflepuff from Weasley's funeral. Susan Bones. I suppose I had known her given name after all.
"Dumbledore was weak. Old and fragile. Not fit to be your honorary monarch," Potter continued. "It was always me. The chosen one, you called me. You all rallied behind me. Some more than others. But you all believed in me. Well, now's your chance to prove your loyalty. There is no way around it. I am now, and will forever remain, the strongest wizard alive. Your choice is simple: join me… or die. There will be no war."
I watched Hermione more than Potter. Her chest rising and falling. She was trying so hard to stay steady. What was she thinking? How was the image of her longtime friend, hero of Gryffindor, saying these words making her feel? My heart was surging, wanting to hold her, put my arms around her from behind and crush her into my aching chest, protect her from what was happening. But she didn't need me.
"I encourage you to weight the consequences of being one of very few to rise against me. As you now know, I will not hesitate to strike down old comrades to prove my power. And speaking of that, I will let you get back to your… mourning." He smirked again. "Expect to hear from me again. And Hermione Granger." Hermione let out a small gasp. "I cannot tell you how sorry I am for your loss. But how I will rejoice that your filthy blood will not soil the life of a newborn wizard."
That fucking -
Potter's image faded away.
Everything was quiet for a while. Then, Hermione took a few more steps forward and turned. "He's wrong." She let her words sink in, and I wondered exactly what she was denying. "There will be a war. If all of us are brave enough to make it happen. And we are. All of us. Not just the Gryffindors. We need everyone. A war against evil needs all kinds of strength. So, please. Stand together with me."
I couldn't understand how, after such a personal attack from the voice of her lover, Hermione could stand so strong. I would never have been so bold as to face the crowd alone. But she wasn't alone for long. Ginny walked forward to stand next to Hermione. Longbottom and Luna followed just behind. Soon, most of Gryffindor House was up at the front of the crowd along with scattered other students and all of the staff. Many people still stood where they'd started, now deep in discussion. I glanced back at them. Then, I walked forward to stand near Hermione. The crowd stilled their conversation, shocked.
Hermione looked at me. Her lips twitched, but I couldn't be sure if she was trying to smile. I just wanted that to be true. I looked back at the crowd. They stared back at me.
Ginny moved in front of me, sending me a mixed glance in the process. "Stand together!" she shouted. "All of us as one!"
I hate how he started the greatest wizard war in history.
The crowd cheered, adding in calls of excitement. Only my fellow Slytherins were quiet. All of them seemed to be staring past Ginny, straight at me. Pansy looked like she wanted to strike me down, right then and there. But she wouldn't. Slytherins waited and calculated their moves. I knew once the crowd had dispersed, more of them would come forward, wanting to fight. But it would be a small group. Most of them would be too scared. They'd decide to stick with the strongest. Or with their parents' values. Or with any group that wasn't led by a muggleborn Gryffindor.
"All right!" McGonagall said, finally taking over. "Now, before we initiate any war, we have more pressing issues. The staff and I have discussed it, and the school will be closing for the foreseeable future. All of you, who are as of yet underage, will send an owl to your parents. Tell them what has happened. And that the school will be closing after the – the funeral. Now, back to your common rooms."
The students shuffled out slowly. I noticed for the first time all of the young ones, looking scared to death. I thought back to my own early years at Hogwarts. All the stupid shit that had scared me. I had no idea what they were facing. But I didn't have enough in me to worry.
Once everyone was gone, besides some of the staff and the five of us, McGonagall turned to Hermione. "My Dear Hermione," she said, her face and voice giving away the depth of her grief. "I am so sorry."
Hermione nodded weakly. Then, in a moment of vulnerability for the two strong witches, they embraced. And Hermione let out a few sobs into her mentor's robes. My heart twitched and ached alone.
"We're here for you, Hermione," Longbottom said, after a moment.
She turned to face her three friends and smiled weakly. "Thank you."
"I must alert the Order," McGonagall said. "They'll – well, I expect we'll gather here. We'll need to make preparations for the funeral. And then…"
Hermione nodded again. "I should check on the Gryffindors. Make sure they're writing their letters."
"I'll do it," Ginny said. "You should rest."
"I don't want to rest," Hermione protested. "And I'm… I'm Head Girl."
Everyone was quiet. I remembered back to how much she'd wanted it. How much that position, this school, meant to her. And now, because of one - completely fucking mental - coward of a Head Boy, the Headmaster, not to mention her best friends, were dead. The school was closing. And a war was starting.
I felt absolutely sick with myself.
McGonagall set a hand on Hermione's shoulder. "You have a lot to prepare for, Hermione. Please, don't carry the burden on your own. I know from experience that is not the right path to walk."
"I… okay," Hermione said, quietly.
McGonagall gave the faintest of smiles, then left us. The remaining staff followed her out.
"I'll take care of it," Ginny said. "Don't worry." She gave her friend a short hug, glanced angrily my way, then left as well.
"We'll walk you back to the hospital wing," Longbottom offered.
"I don't want to go back there," Hermione said.
"But you just said-"
"Not yet," Hermione amended.
"Then, we'll stay," Longbottom said.
"Please, I want to be alone," Hermione said. "Just… go help Ginny, okay?"
"I'm not going," Longbottom said, looking defiantly at me.
"Come on," Luna beckoned, taking his arm. "Let's leave them alone."
"But he -" Longbottom frowned, but he let himself be led away. "I'll be back," he said, as a warning. I caught myself smirking at his weak threat, before I could stop myself.
Hermione turned to me, when they were gone. I think she knew I wouldn't leave her. Though she couldn't know quite why.
"I couldn't believe it," she said, quietly.
"What?" I asked. There was so much to not believe about the past few weeks.
"You," she said.
I stiffened. "What?" I said again, scared of the answer this time.
"You came up here," Hermione explained. I could almost see the wheels spinning in her head, trying to figure me out. "Alone. You were the only Slytherin who did."
"There will be more," I told her. "They were just scared to break out of the group. But… don't get your hopes up."
"And you weren't scared," Hermione said. Was it an observation or a question? I couldn't tell.
"I've already broken away," I said. "Haven't felt like a part of them… a part of anything… in a long time."
"You're not one of us either," Hermione said, flatly.
"Like I don't know that," I laughed, darkly.
I hate how you threatened to kill me if I joined Potter… not that I would have.
"Remember what I said," Hermione whispered. "I'm only letting you live so you can fight."
"I know," I said. My voice sounded weird. Disappointed. Pathetic.
Hermione noticed it, too. "I…"
"Don't you dare feel sorry for me, Hermione Granger," I grumbled.
"I don't," Hermione said. But she was lying. "You made this bed for yourself."
Why, in this tense moment, did some part of me want to remind her that the house elves were the ones who made the beds around here? "You're right."
Hermione shook her head slowly and walked towards me. For one crazy minute, my heart wanted to explode out of my chest. To take us both down in a blaze of hatred and passion. I'd never related to Fire so much before in my life. But how odd, in turn, to see Hermione so composed and collected and cold. "Don't let me down. Don't make me regret sparing your life."
"You won't," I said. This time, she did smile – or smirk – in return. And my blazing heart couldn't help but create the wildest hope that someday it would be more than that.
I really was mental.