a/n: Just the usual song recs! Tom Odell - Heal and Poets of the Fall - War. Huge thank you to my Beta, Maeghan (occupymalfoysbed on tumblr) for betaing this chapter! Hope you like it!

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ISOLATION

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Chapter 47: Power

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At the mention of her best friend's name, Hermione's heart soared up into her throat. The cheers of the crowd grew louder, and all the while she could hear people saying Harry's name, reaffirming that he was alive. She craned her neck and leaned forward on the tips of her toes, trying to see over the horde and follow their eyes to the commotion at the centre of the Great Hall, but it was futile. All she could see were the heads and shoulders of everyone else, blocking her view like a barricade of bodies. She cursed her short stature.

"I can see him," said Draco beside her. "I can see Potter."

Hermione's eyes darted to him. "You can? He's alive?"

"Yes," he nodded, and then he turned to her with the slightest of smiles. "I told you he was immortal."

"Oh my God. Really? He's really there?"

"Come here, short arse." Tugging her close, he wrapped his arms around her hips and lifted her off the ground. "See him now?"

"Yes!" she gasped. "Yes, I see him!"

Draco didn't really understand why he suddenly felt relieved and almost pleased, but he decided it was because she looked happy. And when Granger was happy, she glowed. It touched everything close to her, like the heat of sunrays, and he inevitably felt her warmth.

Glancing to the side, Draco frowned when he found his mother had moved away from his side and was meandering her way through the crowd, searching. He wondered if she was looking for Lucius amongst the collection of battle-worn witches and wizards, but Hermione spoke and he looked back to her.

"What?"

"Harry's confronting Voldemort," she said, squirming impatiently in his arms. "Put me down, please. We need to get closer. I need to see what's happening."

Draco lowered her to the floor and the moment her feet landed on solid ground she pulled his elbow, dragging him forward and meandering them through the others trying to witness what was taking place. Limping due to the lingering pain still throbbing in his ankle, he struggled to keep up with his lover as she pulled him this way and that, colliding with several people along the way. But it was working; they were getting closer and Draco could hear the raised voices of Potter and Voldemort as the crowd hushed to listen.

"Hermione, over here!"

Ron ushered them over to a platform of debris near the centre of the Great Hall where he, Neville Ginny, Luna, and Blaise were all perched, watching the scene from their slightly elevated vantage point. Climbing up the fallen bricks and crumbled parapets, she still clutched Draco's hand, practically yanking him up there with her, stumbling with her desperation to see the exchange between Harry and Voldemort, and, inevitably, the outcome of the War.

She knew this was it. The climax. The final battle. Everything that they had been fighting for would be decided now by her seventeen-year-old best friend and this clash with one of the most dangerously powerful wizards that had ever lived. She'd never been more terrified and excited.

As Hermione and Draco found their balance atop a stable stack of stone beside Ron and the others, Draco scanned the area and did a double-take when he spotted his mother comfortably standing beside Molly Weasley and McGonagall. He thought back to his encounter with Snape, remembering his disclosure about his mother helping the Order, and he wondered if McGonagall had known. Another question to add to his list that he would ask if they won the war.

Where was Snape? Surely he would be here, just like everyone else.

Sweeping his eyes across the hall, he caught sight of Miles, Millicent, and Tracey, huddled amongst a group of Hufflepuffs. All seemed fine, which was good. Miles caught his eye and dipped his head with acknowledgement, but Draco could detect his nerves despite the distance between them. The girls looked nervous, too. He wondered if any of the masked Death Eaters hovering on the other side of the room were their parents, or if any of his fellow Slytherins had suffered a similar confrontation to the one he'd had with Lucius.

Draco thought of Theo then, who he knew had indeed had a confrontation with not only his father, but Lucius, too.

Theo should have been here.

Theo should have been standing up on this rostrum of rubble with him and Blaise. He should have been cracking inappropriate and ill-timed jokes. He should have been irritating them with unnecessary comments. He should have been here as the third member of their conflicted and complicated Slytherin trio.

He should have been here as their friend.

Hermione nudged him, and he looked down into her wide, worried eyes.

"This is it," she said.

"Yes."

He didn't know what else to say. All words suddenly seemed obsolete.

Instead he looked where everyone else was looking: the centre of the room, where Potter and Voldemort were circling each other like impatient, hungry wolves. They were speaking to each other; Potter sneered his words through gritted teeth, and Voldemort hissed his words back, spitting a little with each syllable. Despite the steadfast silence of everyone else in the Great Hall and their proximity to Potter and Voldemort, Draco strained to hear their exchange. Some words and phrases got lost amongst Hogwarts' tumbled columns, but, for the most part, he could hear their heated quarrel.

"You will not kill anyone else tonight!" shouted Potter. "It's over, Riddle! All your Horcruxes have been destroyed."

"You think yourself stronger than me?" taunted Voldemort. "You think you alone can protect these fools?"

''I already have! My love for them protects them from you, just as my mother's love protected me!"

Voldemort snorted and grinned a vile grin. "Love? Love? Did Dumbledore implant these ridiculous ideas into your simple head?"

"Why do you think none of your spells have been working? My love shields them!"

Draco felt Hermione's hand slip into his.

"You think your pathetic concept of love is stronger than me?" jeered Voldemort. "You think you are stronger than me? I am the most powerful wizard that has ever lived."

Harry shook his head. "Dumbledore was stronger than you."

"I brought about his death!"

"No you didn't,'' said Harry calmly. "You're wrong. You think Snape was working for you, that he killed Dumbledore for you, but you're wrong. Snape was on our side."

A burst of gasps echoed around the crowd.

"You think you and Snape planned Dumbledore's death, but they had planned it between them long before. The moment you threatened my mother he became Dumbledore's spy because he loved her."

Voldemort scoffed. "Snape had nothing more than a fleeting desire for your mudblood mother."

Draco scowled. It was strange how that word infuriated him now.

"That's what Snape wanted you to think," continued Harry."But he loved her, and he sided with Dumbledore. So when Snape killed Dumbledore, it was planned. The power wouldn't be transferred to Snape. Dumbledore had wanted the Elder Wand's power to die with him-

"It is irrelevant," disputed Voldemort, narrowing his eyes at Harry. "Because I stole the Elder Ward from that old fool's grave. I plucked it from his cold, dead fingers. I killed Snape, and since Dumbledore's death was by his hand, the power is now mine."

Draco choked on a sharp breath and turned to Hermione. "Snape's dead?"

She nodded her head once and stuttered, "I-I'm sorry."

There wasn't really time for Draco to react to the news, but he felt his fists clench, and his chest seemed to constrict. How should he feel? His relationship with Snape had been complex to say the least, but, nevertheless, the man had ultimately saved his life in more ways than one. There lied a debt he would never be able to repay. But those thoughts, like so many others, would need to be placed aside for later.

"You're not listening, are you?'' said Harry, glaring hard at Voldemort now. "Possessing the wand isn't enough! The wand chooses the Wizard, remember? Somebody else defeated Dumbledore. Somebody else disarmed him, and he became the master of the Elder Wand."

Draco's brow furrowed with confusion. He didn't really understand what Potter was saying, but he knew it was somehow important. Beside him, he felt Hermione stiffen.

"Oh my God," she whispered, snapping her head around to face him. Her eyes were wide with knowledge. "Your wand. Draco, where is your wand?"

He stared back at her, perplexed. "What?"

She reached for his pocket with jerky movements and yanked out Andromeda's wand. She studied it for a moment and then looked back to him with even rounder eyes. "This isn't your wand."

"It's Andromeda's," he explained. "What the hell is going on, Granger?"

"Where is your wand, Draco?" she asked frantically. "Where is it?"

"I don't know! I lost it, remember? Granger, what is-

"Yes, yes," she muttered, distracted. ''Harry disarmed you and he kept it...and he's been using it..."

Draco frowned. "Potter has my wand?"

"Yes! And since you were the one who disarmed Dumbledore...''

They both turned back to Harry and Voldemort just as the latter lifted his wand, his arm shaking

violently with intent. Harry didn't flinch, and Hermione could never recall seeing such a fierce look of

determination on her best friend's face. Draco watched as Potter slowly lifted up the wand in his hand — his wand — and he understood.

"Draco Malfoy was the true master of the Elder Wand!" exclaimed Harry, and Draco felt hundreds of eyes shift to him for a brief moment. "He disarmed Dumbledore, and that's why it won't work for you! You may possess the physical wand, but its powers are not yours!"

"Holy shit," mumbled Draco.

When he looked up, Voldemort's piercing, shocked eyes were fixated on him, and his serpentine face was stretched back with spite. But in a second, the shock was gone, and Voldemort turned back to Potter with that even, cold expression of deranged composure.

"No matter," he said confidently. "After I defeat you, I will attend to Draco Malfoy."

Hermione tugged at Draco's arm, trying to pull him backwards, but he resisted.

"But you see," Harry went on, "You're too late. I disarmed Draco just a few days ago." He paused and aimed Draco's wand at Voldemort. "So the only real question is: does the wand know its last master was disarmed? Because if it does, then I am the master of the Elder Wand.''

Hermione didn't realise how fast her heart was beating until that moment. It was roaring in her chest like a storm. She couldn't tear her eyes away from Harry and Voldemort, but a spurt of glowing, red light poured into the Great Hall through the shattered windows and forced her to squint. It was the first of the rays of sunrise, and it enveloped Harry and Voldemort in an almost Hellish, fiery light. Her eyes adjusted to the garish blur just in time to see Voldemort prepare his wand and open his mouth, and Harry did the same.

This was it. The difference between damnation and salvation was now balancing forebodingly on the shoulders of a seventeen-year-old boy and his tentative theory about a wand from a fairytale. The atmosphere in the Great Hall was curled around the occupants like a clenched fist.

"Avada Kedavra!"

"Expelliarmus!"

Green and red collided in the centre of the room with a horrendous roar, and the gust of the impact almost shoved Hermione, Draco, and the others off their pedestal. Shielding Hermione from the blast with his body, Draco closed his eyes, feeling the heat of Potter and Voldemort's clashing spells tingle the nape of his neck. Dust and sediment rushed outwards from the explosion and into the crowd, shrouding them in rubble. Swiping away the dirt in his eyes with his sleeve, Draco blinked away the mist of his vision and looked back to where Potter and Voldemort had stood.

Only now, Potter stood alone. In his left hand, he held the Elder Wand tightly in his fist, and in his right, he held Draco's Hawthorn. Sprawled across the ground lay Voldemort; stiff, still, and silent. Dead. Definitely dead. The Dark Lord was no more. The only movement was the slight flutter of his robes, teased by a breeze sweeping in through a hole in the wall.

He heard Hermione inhale sharply as she absorbed the scene for herself, but that was the only sound to puncture the nothingness that had suddenly blanketed the Great Hall. Everyone beneath the enchanted ceiling simply stood there, staring hard at Voldemort's corpse in collaborative silent, motionless shock.

For five heavy beats of Draco's heart, nothing happened. And then the crowd erupted.

Draco had no idea how, but Hermione threw herself off the brick pile and reached Potter first, wrapping her arms around his neck and embracing him with all her strength. Weasley was right behind her, and then came the rest. McGonagall, Lovegood, Finnegan, and every other red-headed member of the Weasley clan. They all gathered around him; many cheering, some crying.

Turning his head to the side, he found Blaise, like himself, had yet to move from his spot. But there was a subtle grin on his face as he slowly met Draco's eyes. Draco's lips twitched with a subtle smile of his own.

"They won," said Draco.

"We won," corrected Blaise.

The elation and relief that flooded Draco stayed, unexpressed, in his chest, inevitably dimmed by the deaths of Tonks, Snape, and Theo. Theo. And what of Lucius? How had Snape died? So many questions to ask. But there was time now. Time to learn. They were no longer under threat. There was no augury timer counting down to their deaths. Voldemort was defeated, and with his defeat, they were all free.

Nearing Draco, Blaise patted his friend on the back, and the pair watched the scene. Their attention was diverted from the Potter parade to the side of the Great Hall. Shacklebolt and around fifteen others were surrounding the forty or so remaining Death Eaters, though most had already surrendered their wands. One by one, they removed their masks, and Draco recognised some of the faces. Crabbe and Goyle's fathers were among them, both of Pansy's parents, and then...another familiar face.

Blaise sighed and shook his head as he watched his mother raise her hands in submission. "Stupid cow," he muttered. "I wondered if she would be here."

"Are you going to speak with her?" asked Draco.

"I have nothing to say to her. Sometimes the past is best left ignored." He paused. "What about your past? I don't see Lucius down there."

Draco averted his eyes to the ground. "I saw him earlier. We talked. I haven't seen him since."

"And?"

"And nothing. He reacted how I expected him to."

Blaise nodded with understanding. "I'm sorry."

"Don't be," he replied lifting his eyes to locate his mother. She was on the other side of the room, talking with McGonagall. "I have had more support than I had initially anticipated."

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As the horde surrounding Potter began to disintegrate, and those people moved on to talk with others, Draco found himself sitting alone on a bench. To which house it belonged, he didn't know, nor did he particularly care. The professors had brought out the House benches and tables to provide some seating for the weary fighters, and he had simply settled on the nearest. He watched with half-lidded eyes as they all talked, celebrated, mourned...

It seemed apt for him to sit here; not separated and yet not fully integrated. On the outskirts, but there nonetheless.

As he became aware of someone sitting beside him, he focused on Shacklebolt and Slughorn lifting Voldemort's corpse and placing it in a small alcove, purposefully kept away from the fallen.

"What do you think they'll do with it?" he asked.

"I don't know," sighed Narcissa. "Bury it, I suppose."

"They should burn it."

"Perhaps."

When he angled his head to regard his mother, Draco was confronted with a very conflicted and tired expression. With red sunken eyes, over-chewed lips, and disheveled hair, she looked like an entirely different woman. Never could he recall seeing his mother look anything less than immaculate, even when Lucius had been sent to Azkaban. But the alterations in her appearance weren't just side-effects of the events of the last several hours. Her eyes looked like they'd been bloodshot for months, her cheeks were hollow, and there were some subtle grey hairs interwoven amongst her blonde ones.

A breath shuddered out of Draco before he shifted up the bench towards his mother, and her arms were wrapped around his shoulders before he even realised it. Burying his face into the crook of her shoulder, he felt the bob of her throat against his temple as she swallowed heavily, trying to stifle a whimper. He felt like a little boy seeking solace in his mother's embrace, but it was a comforting nostalgia, and exactly what he had been craving for a while. Over a year, in fact.

He didn't tell her that he'd missed her, and she didn't tell him that she's missed him. He didn't tell her that he'd been scared, or that he'd been worried, or even that he was so completely and utterly relieved that she was on his side. The absence of the words seemed all the more profound. He could feel it in the way she clung to him, and he hoped she could feel it in the way he clung to her.

After too short a time, he pulled away to look at her, watching one tear tumble down her sunken cheek. Guilt overtook him for what he was about to say next, but it was inevitable.

"I saw him," said Draco. There was no need to clarify who. "Just before everyone came in here, we spoke outside."

Narcissa bowed her head. "And what was said?"

"Nothing good. I don't know where he is now, but he made it clear that...well, you know." And then quieter. "I'm sorry, mum."

"Oh," she whispered, her hands covering her mouth. She cried harder, sputtering out the words. "Oh, no, Draco. I am sorry. I am so, so sorry. I never thought...I am just so sorry."

He reached out to grab her trembling hand. "I'm not angry with you."

"You should be. I am angry with myself."

Draco waited patiently for her tears to subside, holding her hand. "What about Lucius?"

"I don't know," she shrugged, shaking her head. "He's...he's not well. He hasn't been himself for a long time now, and I...I don't know. But I want you to know that you are my son, and you are my first priority. Whatever you want will be."

Nodding his head, he decided not to push the matter. A part of him wanted to curse and rant about Lucius to her, but he doubted it would do either of them any good. He had no idea what his parents had been through while he was away and, if he was honest, he really didn't want to discuss his father any longer. He had a feeling that it would be a topic brought up a lot over the next few days, and he already felt burdened with that notion. Plus, there would always be some censorship with how much he told his mother about how Lucius had so brutally dismissed him. Breaking her already broken heart was something he refused to do.

"I stayed with Andromeda," he blurted, feeling the need to break the silence.

Narcissa's eyes widened. "Okay."

"She took me in, kept me safe."

"That was...good of her."

"I like her, mum," he said. "I like her a lot, actually."

Her jaw twitched with regret. "I did, too."

Draco contemplated saying more, and then, for some reason, he thought about asking her how she felt about Bellatrix's death, but he decided against it quickly. Broken heart. Broken everything.

A blur of familiar bushy hair in his peripheral vision drew his attention back to the crowd and he saw Granger. She was speaking with Longbottom, but she must have felt his stare because her eyes met his, and she smiled softly at him. Narcissa followed his line of sight to Hermione and then looked back to him, her expression gentle and pensive.

"You love her very much, don't you?" she said.

He nodded his head once. "She's...she's just the reason. For everything. I can't explain it."

"She's...certainly a very special girl."

"She saved my life."

Narcissa watched the way her son watched the Muggle-born and felt a knot grow in her throat. Clasping her hands together tightly in her lap, she took a deep breath.

"Draco," she said slowly, bringing his focus back to her. "I'm not going to pretend that I completely understand, or that when I look at her I don't see...what I've always seen. But I promise you, I will learn. I will learn, just like you have. I promise, I will."

"I know you will," he replied.

"And I want you to know that I have never, ever, been as proud of you as I am today."

Flinging her arms around him in another desperate, seizing hug, Narcissa smiled against Draco's shoulder, and then she kissed his cheek in that firm way that mothers do. As she released him from her maternal death-grip, she lifted her hand to stroke the side of his face. Her eyes were beaming with joy that was suppressed only slightly by the glistening of tears, and her smile was fragile at the corners, but it was there nonetheless.

"We can talk about everything properly later once the dust settles, both literally and figuratively. I owe some people my gratitude, and to a great deal more, I owe apologies." She glanced back to Hermione, who had begun to tentatively approach them. "And it will allow you two some time alone."

"Thank you."

"I love you very much."

"I love you, too."

With a final cracked smile, she stood up and moved away from him, and he studied her with interest as she headed directly for Hermione. She shifted her weight nervously as Narcissa stopped in front of her, and Draco strained to hear their exchange, but they were too far away and the roar of the room drowned out anything he might have caught. After a fleeting conversation between the two witches, he quirked an eyebrow when he witnessed his mother pull Hermione in for a brief but undeniably awkward hug that looked anything but comfortable for either of them. Despite how unnatural it looked, Draco felt one of the corners of his mouth lift into half a smile.

It only lasted a few seconds, and then Narcissa was marching away, leaving behind an evidently bewildered Hermione. Noticing Draco's amused stare, she grinned back and continue to walk the short distance to where he sat, perching herself on the stool beside him. Slowly, she yanked at her sleeve and rolled it up to her elbow, displaying the clean and unmarked skin of her forearm.

"It's gone," she said, satisfied. "That Mudblood mark that Bellatrix cursed me with. I felt it disappear when she died. Blaise was right."

With almost hopeful urgency, Draco mimicked her actions and pulled up his sleeve, also revealing bare skin, unblemished by the Dark Mark that had once sat there so brazenly.

"Thank Merlin," he mumbled. "I wasn't...I didn't know if it would go."

"It's gone," she said, reaching for his arm and bringing it up to her lips to place a chaste kiss where the Dark Mark had been. "How do you feel without it?"

Cocking his head to the side with thought, he said, "I know this is an odd word to describe it, but I feel...clean."

"I know what you mean," she nodded, and then quirked a confused eyebrow at him. "What I do find odd is that you're sitting on a Gryffindor bench."

"Far stranger things have happened today."

"Like when your mother just hugged me?"

"That's certainly in the top ten," he said, leaning back and resting his shoulder blades against the table behind them. "What did she say to you?"

Hermione scooted a little closer to him, settling her hand on his knee and ignoring the unpleasant texture of his dirt-encrusted trousers. "She thanked me for saving your life."

"And what did you say?"

"I told her I didn't save your life. I told her that you did that by yourself."

Draco's brow crinkled into a frown. He disagreed with her, but the tone of her voice told him to resist challenging her comment.

"She's not completely okay with it, is she?" mumbled Hermione. "Us, I mean."

Sighing, he moved his fingers to massage the vertebra beads at the top her spine. "Not yet. But she'll get there."

"Like you did?"

"Like I did."

Dropping one his arms to drape across her shoulders, his fingers absently toyed with wisps of hair crowning the nape of her neck. He was tired now. So unbelievably tired. He could quite happily settle his head against Hermione's shoulder and let his lids fall shut.

"Tired?" asked Hermione.

"Hm," he grunted. His heavy lids were aching now, and despite his best efforts to resist, they slid shut. "Shattered."

He heard the bench creak as Hermione moved and then he felt the tips of her hair tickle his cheeks before she kissed him. Their first kiss since Voldemort's defeat, and it was appropriately tender and quiet. A throaty hum vibrated in his chest of its own accord as a numbing sense of calmness spread through him, encouraged by the persistent tug of exhaustion. As the deep darkness of looming sleep began to cloud his mind, he realised this was the first time in over a year that he had closed his eyes and felt completely safe.

"Have a quick nap," he heard Hermione mumble, and one of her hands pushed his hair away from his face. "I'll wake you up in a little while."

.


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Draco didn't manage to fall asleep. Not really.

He lingered in that blissful but torturous state between awake and sleeping; aware of his surroundings but, oblivious to time or context.

A low rumble of voices pulled him away from that purgatory back to consciousness despite his best attempts to avoid it. He could feel Hermione's hand still in his hair, tracing lazy patterns against his crown, and he was relieved that she was still at his side. Keeping his eyes closed and listening carefully, he recognised the voices of Blaise, Lovegood, Weasley, and Longbottom, all contributing to a conversation with his girlfriend, and then a couple more voices he couldn't quite place. They were inevitably discussing the battle.

The victory.

Slowly, he peeled open one eye and glanced at the little collection of people that had gathered around him and Granger since he had tried to fall asleep. As he'd deduced, the group included Blaise, Lovegood, Weasley, and Longbottom, and sitting with them were also Ginny Weasley, Katie Bell, and Dean Thomas.

Lovegood and Ginny Weasley were chatting about something to do with thestrals while Blaise and Thomas discussed theories about how Potter had beaten Voldemort. Hermione was talking with Longbottom about how he had decapitated Nagini, and Weasley was carefully wrapping Katie Bell's swollen hand in a bandage.

As his eyes scanned the group, he thought they all looked the same to some extent; all bearing expressions of paradoxes. The all looked exhausted, but wide awake. They all looked calm but anxious. They all looked happy but sad.

He must've moved slightly because the bench groaned and Hermione twisted her head to smile down at him.

"Good morning," she said.

Draco sat up and wiped his face with his dusty fingers. "Is it still morning?"

"Yes. You were only out for about twenty minutes."

"It's hard to sleep when everyone insists on talking so bloody loud," he grumbled, flinching when Hermione half-heartedly slapped his knee. "Did I miss anything?"

"Shacklebolt, Mad-eye, and some others took the Death Eaters down to the dungeons," said Blaise. "That's about it."

Draco nodded. He wondered how long it would take for all the Death Eaters, including Lucius, to be sent to Azkaban. Or even if they would be sent to Azkaban at all; there was clearly a security issue there. And they would need to face trial first. The Ministry would inevitably take a while to become a functioning authority again, even with all the tenacity of the Order and Voldemort stone cold dead.

As these thoughts pestered his mind, Draco became aware of Longbottom staring at him with confused, narrowed eyes, and his head slightly cocked to the side. Blinking when Draco caught his eye, he corrected himself and cleared his throat awkwardly.

"Sorry," he blurted loudly, drawing the attention of everyone else in the small group. "But...I mean, I have to ask."

Draco exchanged a quick, knowing glance with Blaise. "Go on then, Longbottom."

"So you two are good now?"

Blaise grinned. "Define good."

"Well..." he began hesitantly. "You know. Like you're not...You know."

"We're not Death Eaters," said Draco.

"Not just that. During school you were both...um...you were both..."

"Twats?" offered Ron.

"Yes!" Neville exclaimed, and then his face dropped. "No! No, wait, that wasn't what I-

"We're still twats," said Blaise, shrugging his shoulders. "But I guess we're...decent twats now."

"Decent twats sounds like an apt description," agreed Draco.

Hermione frowned as she leaned in to peck his cheek. "I don't think it is. I would say you two are good, decent men."

"And sorry, can I just check something?" asked Neville. "You two" — he pointed at Hermione and Draco — "And you two" — his finger moved to Luna and Blaise — "Are...you know...together?"

"All four of us?" smirked Draco. "Not exactly my taste, Longbottom, but I can't speak for the others."

"I didn't mean...You're just messing with me, aren't you?"

Hermione stifled a laugh with the back of her hand. "Draco and I are a couple, and Luna and Blaise are a couple, Neville," she explained, smiling fondly at him. "Any more questions?"

"Just one. How the hell did that happen?"

Hermione and Draco shared a brief but meaningful glance. They weren't sure themselves how they had happened. It had sort of snuck up on them both, like a blast of wind shaking the trees before it reaches you.

"I'm sorry, Neville," said Hermione. "But it's a long story, and one I'm too tired to tell."

"Fair enough," he sighed, getting to his feet. "Tell me another time then. I'm sure it's an...interesting story. I'm going to see if the professors need a hand with anything."

"I'll come with you," said Dean.

"I will too," said Katie, turning to Ron with an almost bashful smile before she stood up. "Thank you for bandaging my hand."

"No problem," he beamed back. "See you later."

The three waved their goodbyes as they left the rest of the little group behind and Draco noted the cordial nod that Longbottom offered him. He nodded back. To be fair, the guy had decapitated an enormous snake which had had happened to be the pet of the most evil wizard known to the magical world. That alone had earned Longbottom some respect, albeit a reluctant kind.

"Katie's a nice girl," Luna remarked casually. "Isn't she, Ron?"

He blinked blankly at her. "Uh, yes, I guess."

"And didn't you two used to play Quidditch together?"

"...Yes?"

She grinned contentedly to herself. "Well, that's nice, isn't it?"

"Um, sure, Luna," he replied, awkwardly clearing his throat.

"And you and Draco are friends now," she said. "That's also nice."

Draco slowly turned to face her, his eyes slitting into a glare. "Lovegood, you have all the subtlety of a mountain troll in drag."

"So you're not friends? You appear to be getting on well enough."

"Well enough," repeated Draco dryly.

"We're as good as we'll probably ever be," said Ron. "I think friends is certainly pushing it a bit, though, Luna."

"I prefer to think of it as a... mutual tolerance."

"But you see, you're not very good at admitting you have friends," mumbled Luna thoughtfully. "You still don't think I'm your friend."

Draco glowered at her. "That's because you're not."

"Oh, I definitely am," she said confidently.

"She is," Hermione agreed, smiling smugly at Draco. "Speaking of friends, I haven't seen Harry for a while now."

"He was talking to Aberforth last time I saw him," said Ron. "Maybe he slipped out for a bit to get some space. Can't imagine he's had a second to think with someone congratulating every two seconds."

"How was Harry when you spoke to him?" asked Luna.

"Much the same as everyone else," replied Hermione. "Elated and devastated all at once. Don't think he can believe he's done it, really."

"I have to say," muttered Blaise, "I didn't think Potter would actually be capable of beating Voldemort."

"Hm," Draco hummed in agreement. ''Despite Granger's pestering to the contrary, I didn't think he could kill him either."

"I wasn't sure I could do it either, to be honest."

The intimate little group of five all simultaneously turned with stunned gasps, whipping around their heads to the find the source of the new voice. Floating just behind Hermione's shoulder was Harry's disembodied face, bobbing like a creepy, rogue balloon as he smiled sheepishly at them.

"Merlin's bollocks, Potter!" exclaimed Draco, catching his breath after the shock. "What the hell are you doing, sneaking up on people? Don't you think our hearts have had enough attacks for the-

"Shhh, Malfoy," hissed Harry, glancing around. "I don't want to attract too much attention."

"Well, maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to scare the shit out of-

"Congratulations, Potter," interrupted Blaise, his mouth tight with a sincere sort of awkwardness. "I mean...good job, I guess."

As Potter offered an amicable nod to Blaise, Draco attempted to ignore Hermione's elbow discreetly prodding into his ribs, but her jabs were persistent and becoming more painful with every second. Coughing to clear his throat, he folded his arms across his chest and studied his shoes, pretending not to notice as everyone's eyes slowly turned to him.

"What Blaise said," he mumbled, but apparently, from the glare Granger sent in his direction, that wasn't sufficient. "Nice work with...the hero shit and...stuff."

In spite of himself, Harry grinned. "That's the best I can expect from you, isn't it?"

"Yes. Take it or leave it, Potter," he said, and then, as an afterthought, "Do I get my wand back?"

"I just need to take care of a couple of things, and then it's yours. Not as the Elder Wand, though, obviously."

"Harry," interjected Hermione, "Why on Earth are you wearing your invisibility cloak?"

"He has an invisibility cloak?" asked Draco, and then, grumbled, "Of course he bloody does."

"I wanted some peace and quiet," he said, ignoring Draco's comments and shifting his eyes between Hermione and Ron. "But there's something I want to do. Will you two come with me?"

Without a moment's hesitation, Hermione and Ron were on their feet, nearing Potter's hovering head. With what sounded like a flutter of material, they disappeared, along with Potter's head. The sounds of shuffling footsteps pattered across the floor for a few moments, and then there was nothing except a slight drag mark where Potter's magic cloak had disturbed some dust and debris.

Blaise moved his rather amused eyes over to Draco. "Does it bother you that your girlfriend just disappeared with two men using a magical item with the sole purpose of providing privacy?"

"No," he replied honestly. "And that, in some ways, is troubling in itself. I am a little pissed off, though. I had quite a few questions I wanted to ask, like what Potter was saying about Snape, and how he died." He sighed and shrugged. "I guess my questions will just have to wait until later."

Blaise rubbed his chin. "We all have a lot of questions, Draco. The answers will come when the dust settles."

"Can I ask you a question, Draco?" said Luna, leaning forward, her expression intrigued.

He regarded her cautiously. "I'm sure you will regardless of my answer, Lovegood."

"Well...you were the master of the Elder Wand, but you had no idea?"

"Not a clue."

"But if you had known, would you have done anything differently?"

"That's a good question," remarked Blaise, his tone slightly softer with affection.

"Never was a big fan of 'what if' questions," said Draco. The reality of his own was complex enough without considering others. "I never saw the point in them."

"Oh, come on, mate. Luna asked you a decent question there. Amuse us."

Tilting his head to the side in thought, Draco travelled back in his mind to when he'd been stranded with Snape in Scotland for months, fearing for his life and constantly looking over his shoulder, practically waiting for Voldemort to find and kill him. Had he known then that the power of the Elder Wand was in his trembling hands, of course he would have used it, but that wasn't what Luna and Blaise were asking him.

They were asking him if he would trade a reality of power with the reality he lived in now; the reality with Granger.

He tried to imagine it. He tried to imagine never being forced to stay in her dorm. He tried to imagine that all those arguments had never happened. He tried to imagine that she hadn't sliced open his palm, and then hers, and blended their blood. He tried to imagine never kissing her after the bee sting. He tried to imagine that they'd never been ice-skating, or watched fireworks, or had sex, or read Shakespeare, or talked, or cried, or kissed, or screamed, or anything.

He tried to imagine the absence of all those things, and merely the notion of such made something at his very core ache.

A reality without his and Hermione's isolation from the rest of the world, and all the events that had been catalysed by that, was not something he could even bear to contemplate.

"Both of you already know my answer," he said quietly. "I wouldn't change it."

Luna beamed back at him with an almost proud expression. "I knew you were going to say that." Leaning her head against Blaise's shoulder, she sighed with contentment. "Everything's going to change, and it's going to be so much better."

.


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a/n: Well, hello! Long time no see! I can only apologise for how long it's been, I have been extremely busy with my teacher training! It's been hardcore, and I can only thank all the people that have waited patiently and continued to show support!

I just have to give a quick shout out to the reviewer 'Brad'. Your review made me smile from ear to ear and thank you SO MUCH for your supportive comments. I really appreciate it.

Also, can I just say right now that reaching 10k reviews for this fic is just AMAZING. I have no idea how it's happened and all I can do is say THANK YOU. I am truly touched and stunned by the response this fic has received and I was speechless when I realised that it had reached 10k.

There's only one chapter left and then the epilogue...so yeah...it's almost finished...which is leaving me with mixed feelings. Let me know your thoughts on the chapter, and I hope you liked it!

Thanks for reading!

Bex