In the End

She often wondered where it all started to go wrong.

Was it the day that Dumbledore lay in the large oak casket, bidding the troubled world good bye in eternal slumber? Was it the day that Ronald Weasley's broken wand arrived on their doorstep accompanied by a sinister note recounting every minute of his torture in glee? Or was it the day that Harry Potter, savior of the magical world, went insane out of desperation and guilt?

When did it all start? When did life bid adieu to the champion cause and link hands with the dark side? When did God die?

A small bitter smile graced Hermione's lips as she looked out into the rainy day. It was always like this now. Never a moment of sunlight. Always dark and hollow. They were in Voldermort's domain now.

Rowdy cheering filled the small dingy tavern, originating from the less than savory occupants drowning away their sorrows with a generous pint of ale. But Hermione paid them no heed. Her attention was solely reserved for the black robed figure approaching her in his usual confident stride. Upon reaching her booth, he gracefully slipped the hood off his head and took a seat opposite from her.

Physically, everything was the same about him in the seventeen years they have known each other. The same white blonde hair elegantly gelled back. The same storm-gray eyes conveying indifference towards her ultimate demise. And the same arrogant smirk gracing his aristocratic face. Yes, to the eyes of the world, Draco Malfoy has not changed one bit with time. But Hermione knew differently.

"Granger," he greeted her with a stony nod. She returned the favor.

For a while, they sat there in silence, each lost in their own thoughts. It was a comfortable silence, one often shared between long-time companions.

"So how's Potter?" Draco inquired casually, finally breaking the pensive moment.

"As good as can be expected," Hermione answered with a shrug. "How's work?"

"As bloody as can be expected," Draco replied with similar indifference. If someone had told Hermione ten years ago that she would be having a decent conversation with Draco Malfoy someday, she would have recommended them to St. Mungo's. Such a ridiculous notion would have never occurred to the idealistic young witch fresh out of Hogwarts. But war changed people. It certainly changed them.

"Perhaps it will get better over time" Hermione supplied with a faint smile.

"Do you really believe that?" Draco arched a silver brow in amusement.

"No, I was just trying to make conversation…" Hermione mumbled with a sigh.

"Don't. Naivety no longer suits you, Granger."

"I suppose not, but it's nice to dream." Hermione shrugged, eyes averting to the window and the gloomy weather outside.

"So I hear that another one of your units was captured last night," Draco began conversationally. "That's the second in a month. My, someone must be slipping…"

There was a long pause. Draco wondered if it was still too raw of a wound to bring up.

"I shouldn't have let them do it" Hermione finally replied dejectedly.

"And why did you, Granger?" Draco challenged. "Doesn't seem like you to lose control."

"They were anxious to fight. I could no longer hold them back." There was a bitter laugh. The sad brown orbs were still averted to the window. "They weren't even doing it for justice anymore. They wanted vengeance. Cold, bloody vengeance. And I couldn't stop them because I wanted the exact same thing."

"So you let 13 mere children die?" Draco arched a brow in question. Hermione turned around and looked the blond in the eye. There were no tears in her molten brown orbs, just a sense of desolation.

"Yes." She whispered, taking the weight of the blame upon her overburdened shoulders. "Yes, I did."

Silence once again reigned between the pair. Hermione had returned to watching the gloomy weather. Draco was lost in his own thoughts. And the time ticked by. The atmosphere in the muggle tavern did not diminish in rowdiness, but none of the noise affected the pair. They were lost in their own separate worlds.

"So, are you thinking of giving up, Granger?" Draco asked, finally breaking the silence.

"No, that is not an option for me" Hermione replied with a defeated sigh. "I cannot abandon my duty. I made a promise."

"It's too bad," Draco shook his head with the arrogant smirk he was once known for, "because The Dark Lord would love to offer you a place at his inner circle."

"I know." Hermione whispered in reply. "And that is precisely why I resist."

He remembered the first time he saw a tortured muggle. They had just come back from a successful raid and brought back many victims as tokes of their victory over the Order. One of them was a little muggleborn girl named Emily.

She was a delicate little creature filled with innocent hope and curiosity. Her hair was strawberry blonde and her cheeks were rosy with youth. And when they cut her up, she bled.

It was a viscous crimson liquid with a dark tint that came out of her pale arms. Nott had attributed the tint to her muggle ancestry, but Draco could not buy it. He saw that exact same tint on his injured comrades in battle. The blood that leaked out was the same as the blood running in his veins. They were the same.

It was ironic that after years of believing in the purity of blood, one defining moment challenged his entire conviction. There was nothing about the girl that spoke of a muggle ancestry. She could practice magic like the rest of the children from pureblood families at Hogwarts. In fact, she has done quite well for herself in her year. The only thing she did wrong was choose that precise weekend to visit Hogsmeade. Draco attributed her death to fate rather than her ancestry.

And so the gruesome murders continued and with each one, Draco's beliefs died a little more. Each time the victims would bleed the same blood running in his veins. And each time he would become more confused and more disgusted.

They were winning the war at this point. Dumbledore was dead. Potter had gone insane. The Order had fallen. But strangely, Draco felt no exhilaration in the demise of his enemies. In fact, he felt rather gloomy because of it. Was this how the rest of his life going to be? Torturing muggles while secretly wondering if, perhaps deep down, they were the same? Was he to drift in life like a lost waif waiting for the final moments of death to release him from his obligations? Will he find no peace?

Then, one day, he saw a familiar set of bushy brown hair sitting on a bench overlooking a sunset on the lake. Softly, he strolled towards her and took a seat beside her on the wooden bench.

She was surprisingly better looking than Draco remembered. Molten brown eyes set upon unconventionally beautiful features, framed by unruly brown locks. He looked at the Golden Girl of Gryffindor in silence, waiting for her to notice him. But she paid him no heed. Instead, her eyes were averted to the colored water, her pink lips pursed in thought.

"Granger" Malfoy finally interrupted her pondering. Immediately she tensed, instantly recognizing his voice. Her hand raced to the wand in her pocket and her molten brown orbs were alight with fury, ready to do battle.

It was expected that they would. After all, she was the last standing member of the Order and he was a notorious Death Eater. What other way should their meeting progress?

"Don't bother" Draco informed with a smirk, his wand already pointing at her face. Hermione stared at the wooden stick for a long minute, already knowing her fate. Yet she did not lose her courage nor beg for mercy.

"Do your worst, Malfoy," she spat out with a grin of her own. Then she looked him in the eye, ready and willing to accept her fate.

It was at that moment that Draco realized that Hermione Granger was not merely good looking, but beautiful.

The silent air was tense as Hermione waited for Draco to say the words of her demise. Yet, in the final moment of his complete victory, Draco could not do it. He could not allow himself to finish the job. He could not kill her.

"Tell me Granger," he asked very softly, "why does our blood look the same?" Hermione stared at him in shock. Draco stared back expectantly, wand still ready to strike.

"Because they are the same," Hermione finally replied in an equally soft tone. Slowly, Draco lowered his wand.

And a strange friendship began to develop.

He watched Malfoy return from his weekly rendez-vous with a malicious glint to his ocean blue eyes.

"Fraternizing with the enemy," he murmured to himself with a devious chuckle, "how dangerous, my blond friend. Especially if this was heard by the wrong ears."

Blaise Zabini gracefully sat down in one of the comfortable leather armchairs by the window. The only thing lighting up the quiet atmosphere was a blazing fireplace at the side of the richly decorated room. It was room of bold beauty and subtle grace. Much like the owner himself.

"Hermione Granger…" Blaise spoke the name into the quiet study room. It a perfect name for such a complex character.

Hermione Jane Granger, the muggleborn witch who has been single-handedly holding the small resistance together. All the major players from the old Order of the Phoenix were dead, locked away, or in Potter's case, nuts. There was only her. Ten years of war and persecution, and she was still standing. Blaise was immensely impressed.

She began as nothing more but a little mudblood who had overstepped her bounds. A little girl that would shy away at the first sign of danger. An irritation that needed to be brushed away. A minor inconvenience.

Fresh out of Hogwarts, she had fresh ideals of justice and equality. Blaise just snorted at them, knowing that they will be soon eroded by the horrors of blood and massacre. She would wilt away, a little flower unable to bear the continuous rainstorms. But as time passed and the Order fell one by one, Hermione Granger became a much hated name hissed through the ranks of the Death Eaters.

Blaise became intrigued.

As more time passed, she slowly graduated from a minor nuisance to a major threat. Now, when the storm is over and the dust is cleared, she was the only opponent left standing.

And Blaise became infatuated.

It was common knowledge that Slytherins only dealt with obsession in one of two ways: utter destruction or complete possession. And although the former did hold its merits, the latter would be much more enjoyable to Blaise. Owning her would be his greatest victory yet.

Blaise glanced down at the courtyard. Draco had paused to talk to a robed figure. A sinister smile crept upon his lips.

"Too bad you won't be around to witness her downfall…"he muttered in silent glee.

The plan was complete. All that remained was the execution.

When he finally brought down the infamous Hermione Granger, not even Voldermort would begrudge him the prize. After all, to the victors go the spoils.

She came back to a pitch black room.

Outside, lighting streaked the sky, occasionally lighting up the room in shadows. Hermione sighed, dropping into the nearest armchair for a momentary rest. It was worn and tattered, much like the rest of the room. Much like her life.

"Hermione…" came a whisperer from a dark corner. Hermione bolted out of her seat and quickly pulled out her want to point at the corner. "Hermione…" The whisper became a raspy groan.

"H-Harry?" Hermione's shoulders relaxed. "What are you doing in the dark, Harry?"

Brilliant green eyes regarded her. Once upon a time, those green eyes held the courage and hope of the magical world. Now they were haunted by shadows of guilt and fear. No longer did they glint with mischievous humor and affectionate loyalty. Those days are long past. Now, they are simply stained windows to a broken soul.

"They're coming, Hermione…" He whispered, eyes jumping to the dark corners of the room. "They're coming."

"Who is?" Hermione asked patiently. She was long use to his paranoid phases. They were one of the few things she can still depend upon.

"Death Eaters. They're coming to kill us once and for all. Wake everyone up! We should leave this house immediately!"

"No one is coming, Harry," Hermione assured with a smile. "Besides, where would we go? This is the only place left that they don't know about yet."

"But they know now."

"No, no yet Harry." Hermione annunciated firmly. "We have to locate another shelter before we can move."

"But they're coming!" Harry bellowed. "They'll come and they'll curse us in our sleep if we don't leave now!"

"What's going on?" A tiny meek voice came from the doorway. Hermione whirled towards it. There stood a frightened little boy in the shadows, clutching to the door for dear life. He was Ginny and Neville's child. Both parents died in battle five years ago. He was only one year old at the time.

"Nothing, Jacob" Hermione assured in a soft tone, "go back to bed, sweetie."

"Who's coming?" The meek voice persisted.

"The Death Eaters," Harry yelled before Hermione could reply. The frightened blue orbs enlarged in shock. Hermione pulled him into a tight hug.

"No one is coming, sweetie" Hermione soothed gently. She could feel his tears dampening her cloak. "No one is coming. You're safe here. You're safe."

"They're coming!" Harry insisted again, glaring at Hermione. "You're not doing him a favor by lying to him."

"Harry, I think it's time you went back to your room." Hermione suggested with a sigh. "I'll come and see you in a minute."

"No, I'm not going back! We're leaving!"

"Where are we going?" Jacob asked. "Are we going to see Lisa and Rickie?" A hint of hope was evident in his tone. Hermione embraced him tighter. They died during the last raid. A futile raid done not in the name of justice, but in the name of vengeance.

"No, they went away, sweetie. Somewhere far away."

"Will we see them again?"

"Perhaps someday," Hermione answered with a smile, "someday."

"We're going to raid Granger's last defense," Blaise informed casually. Draco looked up from his parchment.

"What?" The legendary Malfoy composure was momentarily abandoned. The two sat in the comfortable coaches in the grand library of Voldermort's new home, Hogwarts.

"You heard me; we finally found Granger's last hideout." Blaise declared with pride. "And you'll never guess where it was. Right under our nose! Diagon Alley!"

"When is the raid going to take place?" Draco asked quickly.

"Two nights from now," Blaise replied in excitement. "It's going to be amazing! Our final victory against the Order. The last fragment of the resistance to be extinguished under our reign! So, you in?"

"Err, yes," Draco replied quickly, "of course."

"Good." Blaise beamed. "Because the Dark Lord wants you to lead the raid. He sees a bright future for you, young Malfoy. Perhaps even a place for you in his inner circle, I imagine. Lucius will be proud when he hears of this."

"Yes…" Draco had clearly tuned out by now, which was rather uncharacteristic of him during such a career-promising conversation. "If you would excuse me now, I must attend to something…" And with those final words, he dashed out the room, no doubt to the nearest apparation site.

Blaise regarded the empty doorway in glee. He was not Voldermort's master spy for nothing.

Draco Malfoy was never a religious man, but this once in his life, he found himself praying that the message will reach her in time.

The parchment was handed to a scrawny little boy, eager to earn a few galleons to feed his hungry family. Whether the message will reach Hermione at all, Draco could not tell. But this was the most he could do. Everything from now on will be out of his hands.

In a world where darkness had penetrated even the warmest of hearts, altruism did not serve well.

He will lead the Death Eaters in the raid two nights hence, like a good little solider. Once again, Draco Malfoy had sacrificed his heart for his hide.

The message had reached her on time.

The house was empty. Pathetically empty. Not a person in sight. Draco smiled in relief.

The rooms were a mess. Papers scattered everywhere. Clothing flung all over the floor. Furniture upturned in every corner. It was as if the inhabitants were in a hurry to leave. And Draco prided himself in knowing that he was the one that caused this. He was the one that saved them. Perhaps in this one fleeing moment, he could feel pride for his actions. Pride in himself.

"It looks like they were tipped off," Pucey hissed in rage. He was eager for some blood all night. Draco would bet that the brothels will be missing a couple of mudblood whores after this evening.

"It would appear so…" Blaise muttered. He seemed almost delighted. Draco frowned. Something was off.

The Death Eaters began to search the house. For secret messages, hidden contacts, new locations. Anything that can shed light as to where Granger had moved the resistance. Draco knew that Voldermort will not be pleased. And when he wasn't pleased, someone was always screaming in pain. And Draco knew that it was going to be him tonight. After all, he was the one leading the raid. Maybe that's why Zabini was so pleased. The prospect of him in pain was always a source of amusement to the Italian.

Draco began to casually stroll around, taking in the scene that Hermione had lived in for the past year. The house was quite charming, with dozens of bookshelves and cozy nooks. A place one would expect Hermione Granger to inhabit.

A framed photograph caught his sight. Draco gingerly picked it up. It was a Hogwarts picture of the Golden Trio. Clearly during happier times.

Potter was waving goofily in the photograph with Weasley giving mischievous winks. And Hermione was smiling. It was a lighthearted smile. An innocent smile that had not yet seen the horrors of war. A smile that will never grace her face again.

A single pale finger touched the brunette's cheek in longing.

Draco Malfoy had never cared for anyone in his life. But at this very instance, he knew that he cared for her. Perhaps even loved her. And if he had the guts, he would even tell her.

But he was also a highly realistic man. These were times of war. And they were on opposite sides. This could only end in tragedy.

Gently, he slid the picture out of the frame and slipped it into his robe pocket. He may not be with her, but he can still protect her from afar. She had taught him humanity, and in return, he would give her safety. Perhaps they could meet again in another life and start over. In a life where bloodlines didn't matter and the world wasn't distinctly divided into two sides. In a life where the world was perfect.

Suddenly, he felt a tap on his shoulder. It was Blaise.

"The Dark Lord wishes to see you," he muttered. Draco nodded. He knew his punishment was coming. This was not his first time under the Cruciatus curse, not would it be the last.

Silently, the two apparated to the castle grounds and slowly trudged up the stairs that would lead to the Great Hall of the old Hogwarts. Now it served as the Dark Lord's throne room.

He sat on the majestic throne. An imposing figure with inhuman features. The very image of death. Draco and Blaise bowed in respect before him.

"Malfoy," the commanding voice boomed in the large chamber. "You have failed me."

"I'm sorry, my lord," Malfoy began, bowing even deeper in apology. This was what he had always wanted as a kid. To be a sniveling little lap dog of a psychotic man bent on destruction. Oh how little he knew then. "But it seems that Granger had been tipped off."

"Then there must be a spy amongst us," He mused with a penetrating gaze. Draco did not dare look up. "Blaise, what do you make of this?"

"My lord, upon my discovery of Granger's hideout, I only told one person of this impending raid before tonight." Draco could feel the beginnings of dread settle within the pits of his stomach.

"And who, pray tell, is that person?" Voldermort inquired slowly.

"That person is Draco Malfoy, my lord."

A sinister grin stretched upon Voldermort's thin lips.

She waited for him in their usual booth.

The wind was banging against the dirty window. The fire crackled in the distance. Rowdy singing filled the atmosphere of the tavern. Hermione waited for him to arrive for their monthly rendez-vous, fingers tapping impatiently on the wooden table.

And as usual, he was late.

Covered in a black cloak, he arrived in his customary confident stride. She smiled, running over to embrace him before he even reached her.

"Thank you," she whispered into his covered ear, hugging him tighter. Slowly, his arms came up to embrace her gently in return.

They stood like that for several minutes, locked in each other's embrace. The wind howled, the fire crackled, and the singing went on. But for those minutes, the world was centered upon the embracing pair.

Slowly, Hermione began to pull back. His arms slipped from her back as well and soon the two stood facing each other. His face was obscured by the shadows of the heavy hood. Hermione gently took his hand and began to guide him towards the booth.

But he halted her.

Slowly, the somewhat unfamiliar fingers reached the edges of the heavy hood and pulled back.

A mass of jet black locks were revealed.

Hermione gasped in fear. Ocean blue eyes regarded her with the utmost intensity, as if wanting to trap her very soul.

"Hello Hermione," came the deep velvet smooth voice that had always set off alarm bells to her in Hogwarts. "I have been waiting for this moment for quiet some time now."

There stood Blaise Zabini with a sinister grin.

His ultimate victory has arrived.