Hermione arrived back at Order headquarters in a daze. She could barely understand what had happened, the feeling of the warm sun still burning her skin. They had broken the blood curse they had made a year ago – but now, they were bound in a Wizarding marriage, which was the most powerful vow in the world. She had felt it the moment they said the words, and when they kissed - something had changed. Something magical was holding them together now – something cleaner and purer than the dark magic of the blood promise. She quickly slipped the emerald ring in her pocket - hiding it. The cold stone was the most delightful thing her hand had ever touched - there was nothing that reminded her of him more.
Suddenly, Hermione was brought back to reality as she entered the front door of Grimmauld Place. There were people rushing about frantically – muddy footprints soiled the carpets, and the umbrella stand was turned over. Her feet stumbled downstairs on their accord to the kitchen, and she heard the loudest yells coming from inside. Opening the cellar door, she found the highest Order members rushing about furiously, holding maps of St. Mungos's in their arms, yelling at everyone. She swept past ghostly specters of hundreds of patronuses, like wisps of blue smoke curling around her hair – more than she'd seen ever all at once. Ginny whispered something behind her, but Hermione could barely hear anything but the yelling. Bill and Charlie were devising a strategy, giving a lecture on the underground tunnels of the hospital, while younger members of the Order were listening attentively, nevertheless looking deathly nervous. Just then, Tonks brushed past Hermione out the door, barely seeing her. Remus was staring after Tonks, his face pale, gripping the table with white fingers. Molly was shrieking at him, telling him to go after her. Kingsley and Moody suddenly burst through the fire – Number Twelve was in pandemonium.
"What's going on?" Hermione asked Bill, and he looked up at her, his blue eyes terrifyingly sober.
"There's been an attack – St. Mungo's – we've been sending our best. But there's nothing we can do. Our numbers are too small," He said, and the crowd seemed to swell with every word. Order members were rushing past her, pushing her into him. Bill yelled over her head, "Vance, I want you to back up Podmore – we've just lost Lee Jordan and the Creeveys," Bill wiped his brow, "God rest their souls."
Hermione's face couldn't have been paler. Didn't Draco tell her – didn't she see the Dark Mark gleaming on his arm – didn't she know there would be a summons for an attack? Why didn't she warn the Order sooner? Her heart was tearing itself apart – guilt was consuming her. Just a moment, she had been with her worst enemies – Malfoy, Snape, and Zabini. And for better or worse, she was now a Malfoy herself. If the Order only knew …
"I've got George – he and Neville have gotten some of the healers out, and most of the wards. Fred is still holding them off with the others," Arthur yelled over the crowd, holding a telephone in his hand. He and some of the Weasleys had successfully been using muggle devices since the Death Eaters had taken over the Ministry. It had proved surprisingly useful, considering Hermione had set it up herself.
Someone screamed near the door as they discovered the fate of the Creeveys and Lee Jordan.
Hermione felt waves of pain slice through her lungs – what was she supposed to do? Who was she now she was married to Malfoy? Who was she supposed to side with? She felt frozen in every way, letting herself get jostled by the Aurors running past her.
"Oh God," Remus spoke softly, his brittle hair falling in his eyes, as he mouthed the message from a silvery patronus. "They're killing all the muggles. It's a massacre."
A deathly quiet fell at his words. Everyone was standing still, not moving.
She heard Bill say hoarsely beside her, his icy resolve sparkling in his eyes, "That's it. Nobody's staying back here anymore. We're not letting them get away with this." He moved swiftly out the door, his arms locked fiercely with Fleur's. Remus didn't wait a second, and a host of Order members followed him with a furious storming.
She breathed in deeply, feeling the ice that had frozen her feet melt away. She didn't have to think twice to know who she really was, and what she had to do – She was a member of the Order of the Phoenix, a Gryffindor to the end, no matter what happened, no matter who she was married to. What happened with Malfoy could never change who she was. She would die fighting, saving muggles and everyone who was being killed by those prejudiced Death Eaters – she realized with a bitter anger that she hated everything Draco stood for. When she had left him this morning, the pain was killing her – the memory of the warm sunshine was destroying her. She had thought she'd return to Grimmauld Place and drown in misery. But now, there was no time for all that.
Her feet were moving on their own after everyone – and she suddenly felt Kingsley's strong arm on hers, holding her back. He said forcefully in his thick voice, "Harry Potter wanted you to stay. Those were his orders before he left. You're not going anywhere."
She was one of the last people remaining, and Hermione was not going to stay back during this battle – not when they were losing fighters so rapidly. She was being held back by everyone – and she wasn't taking it anymore. She pushed Kingsley away stormily. "You tell this to Harry if you see him," She spat angrily, her eyes blazing, "That the last person who needs protecting now is ME."
Kingsley tightened his grip on her arm, but she fought him off, grabbing her wand and holding it in front of her. "Stay away from me," She said, breathing hard.
Molly was standing next to Kingsley, protesting, "Hermione, what's gotten into you? You can't leave."
"Just try and stop me," Hermione's lips curved in a threatening sneer.
They drew back at the menacing look in her eyes, even Kingsley who was twice her size. Something was storming inside her – and nobody could stop it. She had never felt this much fury before. Everything that had made her shrink from fear before was turning to rage as she felt the world collapse around her. Muggles were being slaughtered … her friends were dying trying to protect them … innocent healers were caught in the battle. And she was married … to one of them ... to one of those heartless people who were doing it. As her feet pounded the pavement, she barely recognized herself – she was someone else. It was as if being married to Malfoy gave her soul some supernatural strength. It nearly frightened her how heated she felt.
Apparating into the street, Hermione could never have imagined such terror could exist. The cries of innocent muggles in the street were painful. The yells from the streets were drowned by the terrified screams of people running for their lives inside. The strong lights were all out – it was just glimmering little bursts of wand light between corridors. Orbs were shattered, the chairs overturned, and portraits were lying ripped up on the floor. She saw the pointed cloaks of the Death Eaters running past her in the hallways – but they were so far away. Suddenly, she heard an almighty crash overhead – more screams - and the ceiling crumbled, sending showers of dust on everyone. Pushing everyone out of the way, Hermione groaned as the weight of the floor above fell on her shoulder. But she got up, growling from the fierce anger surging through her, and stood up, breathing hard. Hermione ran quickly to find the rest of the Order, her hair tousled, her feet crunching over glass and bits of the ceiling.
She saw Neville, his face covered in soot, running at her, pulling her into a warm hug, "Hermione! You're here!"
Just as quickly as she saw him, he disappeared from her arms, leaving her alone in the empty entryway. The reception desk was empty; it was splintered, and everything was chaos. More bloodcurdling screams from above – and Hermione's sharp mind came together. She looked up, her brown eyes sweeping past the open floors above her, as she remembered instantly the floor plans from her fifth year.
Hermione turned quickly, hearing a feeble moan. A witch in Healer's robes was lying on the floor nearby, holding her gashed arms. Hermione rushed to her side, knowing she could do nothing to save.
"How many Death Eaters? Where are they?" She whispered to the witch urgently.
The witch shook her head faintly, "Twenty – maybe more. They said we were going to die for healing muggles … second floor –"
Hermione got up quickly, steely determination in her eyes, as the witch cried out for her to stay. Rushing through the deserted entrance hall and hurtling past the double doors hanging on their hinges, she ran, her mind focusing on the distant voices upstairs. There could have been more than fifty people up there from what she could hear – doubtlessly, most of them Death Eaters overpowering the Order. She ran through the ominously empty corridor – the crystal baubles shattered, leaving only a few candles to float hauntingly above her. The oak paneled walls were broken apart – as if the Death Eaters had burst through them.
Her resolve quickening, she burst through the double doors to the flight of stairs. As she ran up, her heart beating quickly, the sounds of the battle above was so clear now – she knew them all by their voices.
Her hand stayed on the door to the second floor, and she felt the last of the fear wash over her. All the waiting, hiding, and calm of the last few weeks were at their end – all those secret meetings with Malfoy, all those nights spent wishing she was fighting – everything was over. She needed to remember how to fight again – she had forgotten so much ever since Malfoy came back in her life. Her life was crashing back over her now. But she knew, it was the life she had been born for. This was her destiny - to fight Death Eaters. To fight him.
A sudden resentment burst through her, destroying any dread she had felt. She held her breath, her wand aloft, and pushed the door open - the crashes, screams, cursing, and spells flying past her, whizzing through the air. It was a maze of brilliant blue, crimson and green curses. The few Order members were being picked off. She gasped - the Death Eaters had grown in number than she'd thought possible. They were astonishingly good at their curses.
But Hermione was stone. She raised her arm, sending dark curses soaring out her wand. The bluish light burst from her like lightning, breaking on the chests of several Death Eaters, who didn't even have the time to look up. They fell over, and Hermione stepped over their unmoving bodies swiftly, pushing Seamus out of the way as a curse was about to strike him. She twisted over her shoulder to throw one back at the Death Eater, who turned out to be a Slytherin from her year, Theodore Nott. She realized as they fell quickly around her as if they'd never seen battle, that these were the weaker Death Eaters fighting their equally inexperienced Order counterparts. She wasted no more time over there anymore, and began looking for Remus, Bill, or Moody on the other side of the room, where the curses were flying more densely like an electric fog.
She stumbled to them, her heart thundering in her chest.
She heard an unbearable shriek – and saw Fleur fall over, her blond hair spread across on the floor, as Macnair laughed cruelly over her. Bill rushed over, but was caught in the face by a shaggy-bearded Lestrange, who sent a curse at him so strong Hermione could smell the singeing of his flesh. The fog of curses parted – and she saw more silhouettes of the Death Eaters – silently circling their victims, laughing together. They hadn't seen her yet. McGonagall and Moody were looking pale-faced as the Lestranges cast another curse at Remus, and he fell to the floor – it was only later she saw that they had ripped through his skin, forcing Remus' insides to expel out his body tortuously. Her breath caught in her throat – the Death Eaters had become something so unimaginably powerful.
Hermione couldn't deny it any longer - they were losing. All she could hear were her friends screaming as a quick curse caught them one second too soon. Just then, Fred and George pulled out a dark casket – she knew what was inside – their own Peruvian darkness powder, secretly improved to blind only those who've smelt its gunpowder odor. They threw it down on the ground, and quickly cast their hands over their faces, and she did the same. The Death Eaters didn't even know what was different with it, as they suddenly yelled incoherently from the darkness.
It could give them only seconds.
Everyone on her side cast the impediment jinx on the blinded mass of Death Eaters. But Hermione's heart didn't stop her – they deserved so much more than that. It wasn't enough – they needed to feel pain. For everything they've done – killed countless muggles, tortured and murdered her friends, ruined her life … blinded the man she loved with their prejudice … - they needed to suffer. Her body crackled with fury. She looked at the mass of Death Eaters, her heart suddenly fearing he was one of them. She brought down her wand silently, breathing coldly.
Fire erupted all around the room – lighting up the darkness – it was the most powerful curse she had ever spoken. She could barely restrain it – but she brought up her wand, as she saw the cruel faces of Rodolphus and Fenrir – and she let the curse go. It looked like a soaring dragon - or a gryffin - baring its wide mouth to devour them, as the Death Eaters stumbled back. The fire erupted on their skin, fluttering like a golden flag ias they writhed like Fleur and Remus before them. Her heart was racing from anxiety, but she didn't care. This was justice.
Before they were lifeless, she brought the fire back to her wand, her breaths coming in quick gasps, her arms searing from pain. The Death Eaters beyond them were still lost in darkness, sending blind spells that hit the walls. She turned to see that McGonagall and Moody was staring at her frightened, but Aberforth next to her gave Hermione a warm smile that nearly cracked through her icy façade, almost making her feel as vulnerable as she did the last time she'd seen him.
But her dark curses was what the rest of the Order needed – they suddenly found strength in Hermione's suddenly power that had sent three of Voldemort's strongest to their knees. Soon everyone were throwing the strongest curses they knew – nearly half of the Death Eaters before them were now unconscious and … dead. It was Charlie who had yelled the killing curse first. This was what had become of the Order - they had once vowed never to become like them - to not give in to the dark arts. But they were in a dark city – they were nearly defeated – if they wanted to do anything, to help those unfortunate muggles who were going to be annihilated, if they wanted to live – they had to give in to darkness. They couldn't get by on sheer luck. There was no other choice.
The unmistakable shriek of Bellatrix Lestrange sent a piercing shiver down her spine.
Hermione couldn't stop herself – she was becoming stronger every second – the shriek suddenly brought her mind into focus. The Death Eaters suddenly stormed forward angrily, throwing silver curses that sent her and everyone to their feet. The killing curse was flying thickly, but Bellatrix was the one with the most victims.
"Avada Kedavra!" Bellatrix shrieked again, killing Kingsley Shacklebolt instantly as he tried to get to his feet.
Hermione got up instantly, faster than anyone else, not even bothering to hold her hand over her head, as she screamed the killing curse herself, just as Bellatrix ducked, and the red curse hit a stunned Rookwood – he was down quickly, his eyes glassy. Hermione gasped as if she had taken a lungful of icy water. She looked at the lifeless body wordlessly, blind to the spells flying over her. She felt tears sting her eyes – she had become momentarily numb with grief as her heart burst open wretchedly. How did it all come to this?
Bellatrix looked at her curiously through the fog of dust.
"Why, it's the famous mudblood," She cackled, "Got a taste of your first kill?" She rocked on her heels leeringly, "Why don't you try that again … Hermione?"
At Bellatrix' words, Draco's head shot up quickly. Hermione's heart gave a bittersweet jolt as she saw him again between the hazy forms of Death Eaters in front of him. She could see the rise and fall of his chest, his hair in his eyes, and his gray eyes – the gray eyes she could never understand.
The room was suddenly filled with the dark bluish light again. But it felt like the night had just begun. As the battle erupted around them again, Bellatrix licked her lips, screaming a curse, which Hermione deflected quickly. Hermione threw a dark curse at her, which came rushing back at her in an instant. She ducked swiftly as it crashed behind her.
The walls shattered, as Bellatrix circled her quickly, "Relashio!"
Hermione was too quick.
"Protego!" Hermione held up a shield charm – which suddenly protected her in a enormous shimmering barrier that acted like a bubble, reflecting the curses back at the Death Eaters, who looked suddenly taken aback at the strangely powerful magic. Hermione walked forward slowly, holding her shield aloft, so the Order could get behind her - the Death Eaters would see them clearly as they destroyed them. Her resolve nearly collapsed as she thought that he'd be there too. Her feet struck the floor slowly, echoing. She could feel his eyes on her even if she didn't know where he was, and it gave her an agonizing thrill. She was different now than this morning – something had changed. There was fire in her eyes. Hermione stood framed in the dark blue light, her face severe with determination. She looked frightening.
Reserved from the battle, Draco was watching her, mesmerized and impressed, a conceited smirk breaking across his icy face.
Hermione was oblivious to everything but the battle. The Order was hurling hexes quickly around her, and they had twenty Death Eaters down already. If they could just keep the momentum -
Suddenly, Lucius Malfoy strode in between them, unable to take defeat, "Serpensmordre!"
A powerful green curse disintegrated Hermione's shield, making it crash and effervesce around them, and seemed to bite her with a paralyzing venom. Hermione stumbled back, her arm in blinding pain.
The twenty Death Eaters remaining suddenly rounded on them – and she felt someone pull her back. But it was too late to retreat. There was a sudden burst of blinding light – as the floor collapsed under them with a powerful curse. Her ankle went through the ground, and she struggled momentarily, before the entire floor dissolved, and she heard herself scream as if from a distance.
In a second, she was rising unsteadily to her feet, they were in the entrance hall – there were bodies scattered around, under heaps of stone. She let out a strangled sob.
There were some of her side still fighting the Death Eaters who were advancing menacingly, and she joined them gratefully. The Death Eaters were moving together … no, they were marching … their hoods over their faces, a sinister grin on their faces as their curses hit her repeatedly. The unforgiveable curses were screamed over and over again, and she felt herself turn to molten fire spite being riddled with dark curses, she held her ground as the pain grew in her arm, paralyzing her muscles from Lucius' curse.
The Order was falling back … and her strength was declining.
Bellatrix stepped forward slowly from the host of Death Eaters, calling Lucius in a sickening voice, "Why don't you tell Dumbledore's ickle lemmings the good news, Lucius? That we just found Potter? Once the Dark Lord returns from Bulgaria ... there'll be no more of you left. Potter's been screaming in Azkaban, waiting for you lot to join him. There's no use fighting. Just give up, and we won't feed you to the snakes." She laughed at the shocked faces before her.
"N-no …" In a derailing second, Hermione felt herself tremble violently. Bellatrix' words drained all her strength in an instant. She felt her world collapse painfully. This was it. It really was the end. She could feel everyone standing by give up slowly as they knew the truth.
They were going to lose.
She stumbled back with them beside her, still holding out her wand, but feeling like no spell would ever come out of it. The Death Eaters rained curses on them – and they all fell, one by one. She couldn't stop it anymore, all her fury and anger from before had vanished. She felt like she was looking at everything through distant eyes. The fire was burning through the hospital, and everything was aflame – everything was being destroyed.
The fire was blazing around her.
What would happen to everyone now that the Order had finally fallen? She didn't know what life was going to bring – if anyone would live beyond this miserable day. She wondered if she should be standing there with them. Just then, a sudden golden flame erupted in front of her, and a tiny phoenix feather floated down. She looked finally at the people she was fighting with – and they looked quickly at her as they saw Fawkes last feather. If she didn't know it was the end of the Order of the Phoenix before – she knew it now in that heartbreaking moment. All Hermione could hear were the swishing sounds of ropes pouring from the Death Eaters' wands as the Order was being tied up painfully. As Bill finally collapsed next to her, Hermione felt her knees give way, and she crouched beside him, trying to wake him up. She was the last one still left conscious … as if they were saving her for something.
Bellatrix' coarse hand caressed Hermione's face violently. She fussed when Hermione flinched. She slinked back, standing beside Lucius, as they surveyed Hermione smilingly, "Do you want to do the honors, Lucius? We've got them all – that entire filthy Order - but we're sure you'd want her first. You've been dying for a chance at torturing fiery little mudbloods, haven't you? Especially this one?"
Bellatrix cackled, as if waiting for this moment all night. She grinned, standing up to look down at Hermione, her wild hair looking wilder against the blazing fire.
Lucius smirked, his cold foot sliding up Hermione's face, making her grimace, "I'll let Draco do that ... He can have a chance to make up for that pitiful night at Hogwarts years ago."
Hermione started violently. His words made her entire body tremble. This couldn't be happening. Just moments ago, she had brought several Death Eaters down. And now, she had to see him torture her … Her heart was racing wildly against her neck - she could actually feel it.
It felt like ages before she heard slow footsteps draw near … it must have been him.
"Draco," Lucius said icily, saying nothing more. It was all in that one word - what he wanted him to do.
Hermione looked up slowly, her hands still entwined around Bill as they took him forcibly away, and she was sure she had stopped breathing that instant.
Draco was looking down at her, his hair shimmering in the dreadful fire behind him. He looked at her as Hermione lay at his feet. His eyes were quiet, and he looked years older than what he really was. The fire was spreading all around them – lighting up his face in slashes of light. She thought she'd never see him look so weary – and then her eyes caught his hand, holding his wand … something in the way he held it made her suddenly afraid that he wasn't going to do it – he wasn't going to follow his father's orders. She felt her heart suddenly constrict – he was going to do something dangerous … and he was going to risk his life trying to save her. They couldn't discover that there was something between them – Draco would be destroyed.
She thought grimly how she'd really changed since this morning … she was worried about him now, not caring what happened to her. If anyone could see her face, they might have seen the first tears break her steely resolve … she was no longer a Gryffindor all by herself anymore. She was in love with her darkest enemy … and, even now, when she couldn't have been more vulnerable, she knew Draco needed his life more than she did.
She looked at him pleadingly, hoping he'd see the fear in her eyes, and understand she didn't want him to fight for her. Not now. Not when they didn't have a chance. Maybe someday … they could be free.
Draco's eyes were soft, and there was a hesitant smile. He looked unchanged, his wand slipping slowly from his hand, as if he was about to give up.
Hermione's hands were white as she suddenly felt fear explode from her lungs. If they did something to him for not torturing a mudblood … she looked up at him, the tears welling in her eyes desperately.
Not now, Malfoy, please, no! Don't let them find out … they'll hurt you … do what they want - torture me …
He shook his head imperceptibility, his eyes glaring angrily as he saw the tears stream down her face. His hand suddenly gripped hard around his wand, as if unyielding to her begging. He knew … he knew what she crying for … and he wasn't worth her sacrifice … He couldn't have her breaking. He looked her in the eyes, finally letting her hear the silent thoughts he had hidden from the world. His eyes were angry and forceful, forcing her to believe.
Someday ... Granger ... things will be better. I promise you ... All this will be gone ... Someday, Granger, we'll be together ...
Sobs broke through her, unable to imagine the pure paradise he believed would happen one day. The sobs echoed desperately as the Death Eaters waited around him hungrily for her blood. There was no other way - they had to make it through all this. They deserved that someday. They couldn't be weak now. She looked at him, finding all the strength she had, her eyes blazing strongly, her words gasping through her.
"Do … it … coward."
Yaxley and Goyle moved forward, their teeth bared at her nerve, about to hit her with the curse themselves. With one quick glance at their ready wands, Draco's face filled with a sudden panic, his face growing white.
He brought down his wand, his words blazing, "Crucio."
In that moment, they knew hell.
She didn't know why – but his curse sounded soft to her ears. As the pain erupted in her nerves, her bones set on fire, her eyes watering from sobs and the stinging in her body, she was glad he was the one to do it – he was gentle somehow. If her world was going to collapse around her, at least he would be safe. She would have died than have their secret destroy him.
The pain ripped through her – it seemed endless. This was their life – this was her fate. The grief was agonizing … she never knew her heart could bear so much pain and still live through it. The excruciating pain tore her apart, slashing through her.
She was finally broken.
The curse lifted, and through cloudy eyes, she saw him. Sweat beaded down his hair, and his eyes were blotched with pure anger, hot tears spilling down his face. He was breathing raggedly as if the torture had been for him. She tried to smile at him - tell him it would be okay ... somehow. But she didn't have the strength to move. Suddenly, she felt someone bind her arms with tight ropes, and her eyes closed serenely, her breath even and calm – he was safe - that was all that mattered. She didn't know what was going to happen - what her cruel life had in store for her - and she was sorry this was all they had together after their wedding.
Through the darkness of sleep, she felt the wild fire grow stronger, licking through the magical building, bringing it to the ground. The heat of it nearly burned her. She heard harsh laughter, and someone stand beside Draco proudly, facing her.
"Dump her with the others. We're running out of room in Azkaban these days … with all this filth."