I am sorry for the delay. I know I had a deadline to meet but my Final exams came two weeks early and I had to study. It was a matter of life and death! But look, I passed everything! Yay. Anyways we finally made it here so there's no need to dwell on my—ehem—2 month lateness.
Warning: Dark themes and something else...
This ending might disappoint you but that's okay.
I encourage you to read everything, down to the punctuation marks. Don't skip. Everything matters, every line and every word. I had placed them in there for a reason. Skipping parts would destroy the story for you.
Pooja (murtagh799) is my first and only beta and I want to thank her deeply for putting up with me. I would never have finished this without her. You are wonderful, you are.
READ THE HUNGER GAMES BY SUZANNE COLLINS. It's my new obsession.
I thought a lot about the first line and I've decided to take one from my own short story. This one's from me.
Here we go, love. Take a deep breath...
The Final Chapter part 1
And he once had a gaping hole in his chest, but not anymore.
A bomb. A weapon of mass destruction set to explode in the underground vaults where precious things were stored. Muggles were clever. Magic wouldn't have stood a chance.
She would never have suspected him to have thought of something so muggle, so completely unlike him. But then again, that was just how he operated. She could never understand how his mind worked. He had been here only a while ago, showing his concern for her after Astoria Greengrass had completely destroyed her potion. Hermione felt a horrible sensation in her gut and a strong urge to throw up. A while later, she was retching all the contents of her stomach onto the floor.
Reality had finally crashed down on her, shocking her to the core. The Denovorum was gone. Dennis was going to die, and Draco... Draco had betrayed her to run off with the Death Eaters.
It was unfair that such horrible things had happened all at once. She couldn't understand why Draco would betray her like that. Had he been planning this from the beginning? He had made a promise to her, had assured her that he wouldn't kill anyone anymore. He hadn't killed Astoria because of that promise.
Perhaps he wasn't really betraying her. Perhaps he just wanted to keep her away from harm. But she knew this was all wishful thinking. Nothing she did seemed to silence the thoughts in her head but at least her thoughts were a fine distraction from reality.
The more she thought, the less she heard the screams from below.
She paced around the laboratory, Astoria's wand in hand. Draco had taken her wand, but by sheer dumb luck he'd forgotten about Greengrass's. Hermione had been so relieved to have found the wand. She'd had no second thoughts prying it from Astoria's perfectly-manicured, unconscious hands.
But the odds were against her. Draco had planned that she stay here, and he had planned it well. Apparition wouldn't work— nothing would. She was stuck here until he reversed whatever curse he had placed around the perimeter. There was nothing she could do but send a Patronus to find Harry and spend the next few minutes waiting in silence.
She soon realized the flaw in her plan, thinking that maybe Harry had his hands full with Death Eaters, and as a consequence he'd take a long time getting here. Or maybe he was injured... or maybe he hadn't gotten her Patronus, or maybe a stray spell had, had...
Ugh. This was maddening. Pretty soon, she couldn't ignore the screams anymore. She let out an anxious groan and slammed her shoulder against the door of the laboratory repeatedly, knowing that it wouldn't budge no matter how many times she tried to force it open.
Finally, she gave up and slammed her back to the concrete hard. She let her body slump, slowly descending to the cold floor. She brought her hands to her face and murmured obscenities to the air. She kept thinking how much she was going to make Draco suffer for doing this. Revenge would be sweet. Him and his bloody bombs.
She let out a loud gasp and jumped up from her crouched position. Frantically, she searched the laboratory for materials: lithium, tritium, deuterium, thorium...
Magic wouldn't stand a chance.
Running down a flight of staircases was easier with her dress ripped a few inches above her knees. It didn't take long for her to reach the lobby where the ball had been taking place. The huge space, once bedecked with the finest flower gardens and fountains, was barely recognizable. It was now a barren wasteland destroyed by the Death Eaters. Gone were the banners and the decorations and colorful lights, but what was left was a battleground with blood staining the floors and dead bodies scattered everywhere.
It was as if she was reliving the Great Battle all over again.
There were duels occurring all around her and once or twice she had to duck as a stray spell almost came into contact with her skin. A few Aurors were leading the remaining guests to safety. She saw Padma fending off some of the Death Eaters with complicated spells.
"Hermione!" Another stray spell came hurtling towards her, too quick for her to jump out of its way. Suddenly, she was tackled to the ground by someone. She didn't know who until she caught a glimpse of bright red hair. "Merlin, are you alright?" Hermione merely nodded, panting.
"I was supposed to help you out of the Laboratory, but there's been a delay!"
Two Death Eaters had seen them and were now showering them with jets of green light. They searched for cover as more and more hexes soared just above their heads, barely missing them by inches. They jumped to an overturned table, firing their own spells at the two Death Eaters now hidden out of view behind the columns.
"I'm alright, Ginny," she whispered, trying to catch her breath. She fired another spell from behind their cover and knocked a Death Eater unconscious. "I got out just fine. Where's Harry?"
"He's trailing after Malfoy in the underground vaults," she replied. "The other Unexhibitables were sent home to safety, although some of them weren't so lucky." She frowned. "Luna's the only one who stayed to help Harry find his way. It's dangerous down there."
"But I have to go. I have to stop Malfoy."
"Are you mad? It's too dangerous. Harry told me not to—" But Hermione didn't want to listen. She peeked from their cover once more, only to find the other Death Eater had what seemed to be a bomb in his hand. Out of reflex, she grabbed Ginny by the arm and dragged her away to safety.
A loud bang sounded, so loud it had rendered her temporarily deaf, exactly from the place where they had been crouching only moments previously. The force of the explosion had thrown them both backwards. Hermione crashed painfully to the ground, her back grazing against the cold pavement. She let out a loud groan from the sudden pain. The air was filled with black smoke, dust, and debris, making it impossible to see anything.
She let herself lie on the floor, coughing from the fumes that had entered her lungs.
Her body was aching everywhere, but she had to move and get out of there.
"Ginny!" she yelled through the blur of smoke, nervously. "Ginny!"
She forced herself to roll onto her stomach and crawl towards the sound of the voice, relieved to hear her friend alive. Hermione's skin scraped against the rocks, but she forced her body to keep moving.
Ginny was lying face down on the ground and clutching her stomach with both hands. Hermione flung herself beside Ginny immediately and rolled the girl onto her back. Ginny's eyes were closed tight and her expression was one of immense pain. Only then did Hermione notice the big gash on her stomach, oozing red blood all over. She cringed at the sight of it, suddenly remembering Viktor and how she had watched him die.
Slowly, Ginny opened her eyes and grinned sheepishly, something akin to what Fred Weasley might've done had he been in the same situation.
"Nothing a little healing charm won't fix," she said as-a-matter-of-fact. Hermione didn't need to be told twice. She was already healing Ginny's huge slash and making quite a bit of progress.
The wound was about an inch deep; just blow her breast, crimson red against Ginny's pale complexion. Bits of her skin were sticking out in a jagged manner, and parts had even been ripped from her body when the wound had been made. Hermione started removing the detached skin as carefully as she could.
"Do you know there's a black hole in the Malfoy Manor?" Hermione whispered, trying so hard to keep her voice from cracking. She knew that the only way she could distract the girl from the pain was by talking to her. Make her think of something else.
"Yeah?" Ginny said in a ragged voice, smiling slightly again. She looked like she was going to pass out at any second. She was trying to fight for consciousness and talking helped a lot. "How did he manage to get one in there?"
"They're the result of a Denovorum potion gone wrong," Hermione said. She was in the middle of cleaning the wound with her magic, feeling so relieved that the wound wasn't as bad as Viktor's had been. Even with her healer training, Hermione's hands were shaking so much that she had to make an effort to keep them steady. "One of the reasons why Denovorums are so rare. A simple mistake will create a black hole. You see, the ingredients are so powerful that an imbalance would be deadly."
"You're joking. You mean to tell me," Ginny breathed. As the blood slowly disappeared, her ragged voice was returning to normal again. Hermione had finished cleaning the wound and had now proceeded to seal it. "Malfoy tried to make a Denovorum?"
"I'm not sure if it was him. Hold onto me, it'll help," Hermione replied. Ginny held her left hand tight. "There've been rumors that the Malfoy Manor had a black hole hidden inside it for generations now." Ginny let out a loud groan of pain as the healing charm worked its magic. Her nails dug into Hermione's skin, drawing blood. Ignoring the pain of her iron grip, Hermione continued working on her raw wounds. "Listen Ginny, I have to do this. I have to go down there… It's—" she reinforced the healing charm which earned another loud groan from Ginny. Her left hand felt like it would break from Ginny's grip. "I'm the only one who can stop him."
She was still bleeding slightly. Hermione tried to stop the blood from coming out, but it was not enough. There was only so much a volunteer healer could do. Despite this, the healing charm had done a lot for her wound. A few minutes more and Ginny would've bled to death. Hermione tore fabric from her already ripped dress robes to serve as bandages.
"You have to go back," Hermione said when she'd finally finished.
"No," Ginny said harshly. She pushed herself away from Hermione and tried to stand up. "I'll stay here and fight them."
"Merlin, Ginny, look at you!" Hermione said loudly, getting irritated with her stubbornness. She was really worried. She didn't want anyone else to get hurt. "You're injured. You need to go to St. Mungo's, you won't last a—"
"You'll need a distraction, won't you?" Ginny said urgently, ignoring Hermione's outburst. Blood was still leaking from her stomach, staining her ripped dress robes. Hermione tried to ignore the fact that Ginny was right: that she did need a distraction. But her thoughts were in a knotted mess, filled with Snape's voice telling her that she had to fix Draco at all costs. At all costs or she'd be sorry. "To get to Malfoy, you have to get past these Death Eaters! You said so yourself, you're the only one who can stop him! I'll distract them! I can, too—"
Before she could even finish, hooded cloaks and white masks appeared out of the darkness, moving in quick pace towards them. More Death Eaters. Hermione raised her wand to fire spells, but Ginny, with raw willpower, began pulling her to the entrance of the Vaults. When she tried to protest, Ginny only pulled her all the more violently, literally dragging her feet to get her to move.
The walls were trembling all around them, crumbs of concrete fell onto their heads. The beams that supported the ceilings looked like they were going to collapse any second.
"Go Hermione!" she yelled, a slight tinge of desperation in her voice. Hermione was at a loss, torn between staying and leaving. She cast more spells towards the Death Eaters (there were about 10 of them). A spell grazed her shoulder but she ignored the pain. Ginny couldn't possibly… "I'll buy you some time!"
"You're bonkers if you think I'll leave you here! Come with me—!"
"JUST GO!" she shouted.
Before Hermione could argue, Ginny fired a spell directly at the beams that supported the high ceilings.
The effect was immediate. Large chunks of concrete descended with a boisterous sound. More dust thickened the already polluted air. Hermione ran towards the entrance as a huge part of the ceiling collapsed between them, separating her from Ginny.
She thought she was going to be buried alive.
It went on for seconds, but it felt like a lifetime. It took a while before the concrete stopped falling and the fog to clear up.
"Where are you!" she bellowed, coughing so much and trying to find a way through the rocks and boulders hysterically. "GINNY!"
But Ginny didn't respond to her calls this time.
The last Hermione heard from her was her scream— her earsplitting tortured scream.
And then silence.
She couldn't find a way back.
The paths had been too obscured, too wrecked by the rocks and boulders; the only way out had been to continue towards the vaults. Apparition wasn't allowed inside as well.
The first level had been destroyed completely like the lobby, but she hadn't found any sign of Hufflepuff's flower anywhere. The Death Eaters had probably taken it for their own gain. Goodness knows where they would use a plant that nullified magic.
Now she was running towards the second level, equipped with only her determination, her knowledge of spells, and Astoria's wand. The place was like the Room of Hidden Things at Hogwarts. All around her, artifacts were displayed out in the open. She maneuvered her way through them, taking care not to touch anything.
And what had happened to Ginny in the hands of the Death Eaters? Injured. Tortured. Hermione tried very hard not to think of her, because if she did she would surely burst to tears.
She didn't want to process the events of the evening. Her mind was rejecting them, repressing them. She didn't want to believe that Ginny was dead. In her mind, Ginny was still up there fighting off the Death Eaters, receiving help from the other Aurors who had only just arrived.
She was not dead.
Now is not the time to cry. There would be a time to mourn, but not now. Right now, she had to keep going.
Remembering that there would be flesh-eating monsters on the sixth level, Hermione took a bottle of Puti Elixer from the many artifacts and tucked it inside the pocket of her dress robes.
She was thankful that the second level was only a storage space for the more rare of the artifacts that weren't as dangerous. Finally, Hermione cast a strong warming charm over her skin to prepare herself for the snowstorm at level three.
Any other witch or wizard would have had trouble getting through each level alive, but as she was an Unexhibitable, she already knew the preparations needed for each level and the quickest shortcuts to get through them safely.
"You're almost there, Hermione," she would tell herself every five minutes. She would tell it to herself after each step. It was her mantra from the piles of snow forming under her feet and eventually after each step, into grains of sand on the next level.
On this level was a stone, a fire stone that could bring heat and sand to any place, day and night, for eternity. Said stone was hidden somewhere in the forth level, while an ice stone was hidden in the third.
As she dashed off through the underground snowstorm of level three and sand storm of level four, she couldn't help but think of what she were to face once she reached the seventh level. It had been her task to stop Draco since the beginning, but apparently she hadn't done such a good job of it. She should've spent more time with him, should've showed him how much she cared. She could've done so much more.
But would that have been enough? She was sure she had seen Draco somewhere in his mask of indifference, but what made her so certain she could fix him? For all she knew, this lack of emotion was a permanent thing. Maybe he was too broken, too scarred from the torture that Voldemort had put him through. Maybe Snape was wrong. Maybe Draco had already turned into a monster.
No. She mustn't lose hope. Hope was the only thing she could cling to at the moment. She had to believe in Draco. She was the only one he had. Who else would believe in him if not her?
At last, Hermione had reached a hole in the middle of the desert. They called it the rabbit hole. It was the entrance to the rainforest on level five.
She closed her eyes and jumped.
When she opened her eyes, a different scene appeared before her. Tall trees surrounded the perimeter, different plants never seen before by human eyes. There was a tree with purple leaves and grass with blinking lights. The dessert and snow have gone, replaced by the rainforest. She scanned the place for any signs of movement. Her gaze fell on the vines not far from her; the Vinewhip bushes Astoria had brought from Russia.
Taking care to avoid the large vines studded with thorns and leaves, she made her way around them and started heading for the entrance to level six.
She was quiet, so quiet, like a shadow in the night, so as not to disturb the forest where monstrous animals dwelled that could attack her any second. As she reached the clearing, she heard different people shouting words, probably spells, not far from her.
Behind a couple of huge trees, she found Harry and Luna battling more Death Eaters. They were clearly outnumbered, about fifteen to two. Hermione hid behind the trees to keep herself out of view from the ongoing battle. One of the fifteen was Blaise Zabini, standing still beside one of the trees, wand limp to the side, simply enjoying the show.
Hermione felt anger course through her veins at the sight of him, but she didn't have time to think of him. She had to save Harry and Luna.
"Hey! Hey you!" she yelled at the Death Eaters. The spells stopped. All of them turned to look at her. "Remember me? Hermione Granger! The mudblood married to your precious Voldemort's heir!"
Angered, they abandoned Harry and Luna immediately and dashed after her. She bolted, forcing her legs to run the fastest they could to whatever destination. She had intended to distract them from Harry and Luna, but now she had no idea how to get away from them. Hexes were fired at her from all directions. She cried out as one hex stung her back, two more stung her legs that almost sent her crashing to the ground.
"Hermione, watch out!" she heard her name being called out. But the voice was washed away by the loud bawls, the screams of anguish of the Death Eaters. She turned around, only to find them being crushed to pieces by the Vinewhip bushes she had evaded.
She stared in horror as the vines bound the Death Eaters to the ground, preventing any means of escape. They were thick vines and they hungered for human flesh. She fired curses to get the vines off, but it was no use. There was so much blood spurting out everywhere, the thorns piercing their skin, their eyes, their mouths. She heard their bones crack, one by one.
And then her vision blurred and her feet threatened to collapse. They were all dead. She had caused it to happen.
"There's nothing you could do," Luna said to her. She was immediately at Hermione side, pulling her to her feet.
She couldn't stop staring at the bloodbath in front of her. "It wasn't your fault."
Minutes passed with Luna trying to fix the hexes on her back and legs.
"Hold still," said Luna. The healing charm raked over her stings, while she fought to stay conscious.
Meanwhile, Harry had gotten Blaise Zabini cornered. His wand was aimed straight at his heart and this time he wouldn't miss. Blaise would not retaliate. His hand holding the wand remained limp at his side. He didn't even try to fight back.
"You're with them," Hermione breathed, eyeing him untrustingly. Luna was helping her to her feet, still working on her stings. "You helped orchestrate this."
"Why do you always assume it's my fault when it's always Draco who's to blame?" he retorted. He stared at the Death Eaters killed by the vinewhip bushes in disgust. "It's not as if I could plan something like this, Hermione. I was neutral in the Final Battle, or have you forgotten?"
Hermione's resolve threatened to break but she stood her ground. She kept seeing Ginny, hearing her screams in her head. Blaise still didn't know she was dead. "What's he going to do? At the ghost chamber, what does he want?"
Blaise gazed at her eyes intensely as if trying to decide whether to tell her the truth, completely ignoring Harry and Luna. Her patience was waning. She pulled away from Luna and fired a quick curse, but he had blocked it. She fired more but he kept dodging. He was always on the defense mode. He still wouldn't attack.
"Tell me or I'll kill you!"
"I doubt it. I'm the only lead you have at the moment," Blaise reasoned solemnly. "I'd say I'm pretty important—"
"Have you forgotten who killed Voldemort, Zabini?" Harry sneered, firing curses of his own. "I could surely do the same to someone like y—"
"Ah, but didn't you know, Potter?" he said, giving Harry a look of contempt. "The ghost chamber can bring Voldemort back to life."
Luna gasped. Harry's jaw dropped. Hermione stopped firing spells at once.
"What?" Words could not explain the shock and anger she had felt at what she'd heard. She strode over to where Blaise stood and with blind fury grabbed what she could of his collar. "What do you mean!" she hissed.
Hermione gripped the edge of her wand tighter, her wrath causing red sparks to emit from the tip. She had one curse, one particular curse that would suit the occasion. It was on the tip of her tongue.
But Blaise didn't raise his wand still and it made her even angrier.
"He's trying to stop it," he whispered, finally. He had a look of pure disbelief on his face, as though the very thought of it was madness. "Draco, he's—he's trying to stop it."
"He's lying!" Harry yelled. "Stun him, Hermione! Stun him now!"
But Hermione only tried to search for signs, anything that might tell her that Blaise was lying. And she remembered that Blaise had never lied to her. Not once.
"Draco's trying to stop Voldemort from rising again," he whispered again. She let go of him, a mixture of shock and disbelief registering in her features.
A minute passed without any of them saying anything. Harry was having trouble absorbing the information. Luna was quiet. Hermione just looked lost. Furious, Blaise grabbed both her arms roughly, shaking her hard.
"Didn't you hear me, Granger? Draco's trying to stop it! He's trying to stop it for you! Believe me!"
She wasn't sure what to believe. Everything was happening so fast; she felt like screaming. Not knowing what to do, she turned towards Luna for assurance, who gave her an encouraging nod with a twinkle in her eyes.
"I— yes," Hermione breathed finally. "I believe you."
When she looked back at Blaise, he let her go immediately. His fists were clenched and he was trembling. It was the first time in years that she'd seen him this angry. The last time was when the newspapers had announced his parents' execution. He thrust a glass vial into Hermione's hands. Hermione recognized it immediately, the glass vial that contained the sample of her first finished Denovorum.
"He wanted me to give this to him tonight. Draco's not going to survive down in that chamber and he knows it. I tried to talk him out of it but he wouldn't listen. It wasn't an illness that attacked Creevey, Granger," Blaise said in all seriousness. "It was a curse."
The Final Chapter part 2
"The nameless condition that plagued your little friend… It's spreading all over the world, it seems. We've had the most number of sick people this year. Over a hundred and fifty blokes compared to the last."
"Slytherin's Curse. It's a rare curse used in the Dark Arts. It's so undetectable and unheard of, the wizarding world thought it as a natural disease for so long. It sucks the magic out of people. Used by Salazar Slytherin generations ago to gain more power. Voldemort cast the same, only a more powerful one, affecting hundreds of people, draining their life sources to feed his own soul."
"Sweet Merlin," Luna gasped. Hermione stared at the ground in disbelief. After all the years she'd spent making the Denovorum for what she thought to be an illness... What do you do if the truth suddenly distorts everything you've once known?
"Because Voldemort needed power for his soul to cross from the world of the dead to the living. Draco has known this the moment he became heir," Blaise said. "It was his task to bring Voldemort back to life, to bring a vessel for his soul once he emerges from the arch… But after you bonded—" he paused and closed his eyes, calming himself a little. Hermione could only keep staring. She was at a loss of what to do, what to think. All the revelations— it was overwhelming. "After you bonded, Hermione, he changed. I think he felt something. So he decided to abandon his task and to do whatever it took to keep it from happening."
"I told you to trust him," Luna said from behind her.
"He knew there were other Death Eaters— knew there were more that might have been assigned the same task, should he fail. He knew that the only way he could find them was by pretending he was still on their side. So he had to pretend, all this time."
"He could've asked for my help. He could've told me."
"Would you have believed him?" he spat, chuckling darkly. "Even if you did, would Potter, the Ministry, the public— would they have believed him? He had killed too many people and he knew that if he were to come back, he would surely be sent to Azkaban. So he took matters into his own hands."
"He had found the only counter to be the Denovorum. But he couldn't make it properly, so when the Daily Prophet announced that you were making a Denovorum, he couldn't believe his luck. He insisted that he had to come back. But honestly, I think all he really wanted was to see you again."
Suddenly everything started making sense— why Draco had paid for the Denovorum. And the black hole in the Malfoy Manor— it was probably an attempt to make the potion. A failed attempt— but an attempt all the same.
"So the Denovorum was for Voldemort…" Harry said, staring at Luna in amazement. Luna smiled back dreamily. "He funded Hermione's projects so he could destroy Voldemort."
"Yes, Potter. And to see her engaged to Krum… Draco was so angry, he did nothing to stop their deaths," Blaise continued. "He is not yet fully recovered. There is still some monstrosity left in him, if not more. But it's a wonder he's kept it tamed inside him just because of his love for you."
By this time, Hermione couldn't help but let a few tears leak from her eyes, but she wiped them clean furiously. She stared at Blaise again who was watching her with curious eyes, like he had done at Hogwarts so many years ago, wondering what her next act would be.
"What can we do to help him?" Hermione said finally, a new strength overcoming her. If Draco could be so strong, so would she. She wore the glass vial around her neck and with it, her new resolve.
"I'll tell you on the way. Right now we have to get to the sixth level," Blaise said, gesturing to them. He started running towards the way out while they followed closely behind.
So this was it.
After years of planning and scheming it would all lead to this.
A group of Death Eaters positioned around the Ghost Chamber, led by him, Voldemort's heir. The scene depressed him.
Now that he had successfully gathered Voldemort's followers from the corners of the world, he could kill them one by one. He wouldn't let any of them leave this place alive. To be certain once and for all that none of them would attempt to bring Voldie back to life again once Draco killed them.
And if Draco was lucky, he might escape this place alive. If he was lucky, he might see her smiling again.
It was a fool's hope, but it gave him strength somehow.
"What happens now, my Lord?" asked Rowle.
A wisp of smoke emerged from the Ghost arch. It was so small that he was the only one who had seen it: Voldemort's soul.
"Now we wait."
Hermione had always thought the sixth level to be the most dangerous level out of all the levels of the SFOWW. It was a huge maze, similar to the third task in the Triwizarding tournament. This maze would have been safe on a normal basis, when the Unexhibitables had protocols to follow to keep them from harm. But right now they had no protocol, no nets of safety. They had to be very careful if they wanted to make it out of this alive.
The maze often changed and separated people from each other, too.
She stared at Blaise again, not knowing what to say to him. Only a while ago had she told them of Ginny's unfortunate death. There had been silent sobs from Luna and her, a loud scream of despair from Harry, and Blaise had yet to utter a single word.
They were a wreck for a long time, but once Harry had calmed down, he insisted they kept going. Ginny would have wanted them to, he had said. Already, they were in the middle of the huge obstacle, with Harry in front, Luna closely behind him, and Blaise and her shortly after.
Hermione wanted to talk to Blaise, to tell him it was alright, anything to make him feel better. But she didn't really know Blaise the way Ginny had. Once, when Blaise had been angry, he had thrown a vase repeatedly at the wall after he'd fixed it with his wand and Hermione could do nothing about it. She was horrible at trying to cheer people up (besides Harry, Ron, and Draco, of course).
"Point me," Harry said once more while he held his wand at the palm of his hand. It pointed north, so they kept going. Three times, they had encountered dead ends and once they even felt like they were going around in circles.
"I-if you need anyone—" Hermione stammered as they walked, with a hushed voice so Harry and Luna wouldn't hear them, "to talk to, I—"
Blaise only stared at her with his usual stoic expression. "I'm fine."
There was a strange sort of emptiness in his dark eyes. It was as if something once alive had left him and now he was hollow. She didn't know what to do. She opened her mouth to say something but the words died on her throat.
"Do any of you hear anything?" Harry whispered.
And then she heard it: a faint buzzing sound a short distance away from them. She panicked, knowing all too well what they were. She saw them swarm at the other side of the maze. Fishes. But there was no water in sight— they were flying.
"RUN!" she yelled at them. And they were lucky to have done so quickly because the fishes (looking a great deal like piranhas) soared towards them at an unforgiving speed. Blaise and her fired spells but there were too many of them.
The buzzing sounds were getting louder and louder. Harry navigated towards the maze. When they turned right, they couldn't see Harry or Luna in front of them anymore. Maze changes paths remember? So both she and Blaise had no choice but to keep going, turning left, right, and left again. She hoped to Merlin that Harry and Luna were safe. Finally, she saw light at the end of the path.
"Hurry!" Blaise bellowed.
Blaise was a quicker runner and he had grabbed her hand so she wouldn't fall far behind. A few fishes had caught up with them and were gnawing the flesh on her shoulders and a few got on her hair. She couldn't even stop to feel the pain.
They had only a few feet to go. She felt a rush and pushed her body to the limit. She was running beside Blaise now. And they almost made it out, but he tripped on one of the roots and collapsed carelessly to the ground. Hermione held him with both hands, pulled him to get him to his feet, because the fishes were already surrounding them, biting every part of skin they could reach. Somewhere along the stabs of pain, she heard both her and Blaise screaming. But she kept pulling and would not let go of him.
Next thing she saw was his bloody, almost skinless, arm raising his wand and pointing at her. Next thing she felt was the strong force of his magic throwing her backwards, to the end of the maze, safe, because the flying fishes could never reach her from there.
But she could never reach Blaise from there, too.
Scratches and torn flesh could be found all over her body.
Her hair had been reduced to a few inches and blood was leaking from all her wounds. Hermione took the Puti Elixir that she had placed in her pocket a while ago and drank it. It took a while before the elixir could salvage what was left of her skin.
She was in level seven now. Ginny was dead. Blaise, too. Harry and Luna were nowhere to be found.
"Hermione," someone kept whispering to her. "Hermione."
"Who are you?" she whispered in a daze, still feeling a slight dizziness from the elixir.
As soon as she had enough strength to move, she sat upright. Cautiously, her eyes darted in the surroundings, the emptiness of the place, and the lone archway in the middle. She was surprised to find many Death Eaters dead, pale corpses discarded on the floor.
And then, all too suddenly, she was staring at his silver eyes again.
He was only a few inches away from her, brushing her now shorter hair. She felt an odd kind of warmth and safety.
"What happened?" she asked in confusion. A searing pain attacked her head, blurring her vision a little. She clutched his robes to keep from falling to the ground.
"Voldemort killed them. Sucked the magic out of every single one," Draco said, frowning. "That was until I killed him of course."
Pools of grey clouded her vision. He was studying her face, searching for something in her eyes. But she had all but ceased to care. She was just so relieved to hear his words. Safe. She was now safe. He had broken his promise, but it was alright. Everything was going to be alright.
"It's over," he whispered in her ear. He was smirking; a calm smirk, so familiar but so different from what she had remembered. He pulled her towards him at once and kissed her. She relaxed, feeling a sense of euphoria from the softness of his lips. She let her arms wrap around his neck and let her dazed mind think about the gentleness of his body against hers. She felt his tongue and let him explore her mouth. She was so happy, so happy that it was over. She drank from his lips and lost herself in his warmth.
But something was different about him. Something she couldn't figure out until the Elixir completely left her body. At once she jumped and the bond was shattered. She opened her eyes and pulled away, distanced herself from him while staring at him in absolute horror.
"You— you're not Draco," she said.
A devious smirk graced his features, and his eyes flashed crimson.
Hermione cringed at the sight of him, of Tom Riddle, Voldemort on Draco's skin. This was not Draco. He couldn't be. She couldn't look away as she used both hands to drag her mangled body backwards. But it was useless, because he stood up and sauntered towards her until he was only a few inches away again.
"Does it matter? You enjoyed kissing me a while ago, didn't you?" He laughed coldly at her horrified expression.
"Where is he?" she demanded angrily.
He squatted in front of her and grabbed a fistful of her hair roughly. "He's dead. My soul has taken over his body now. I know because I didn't feel him inside me when I kissed you."
"N-no." She struggled away from him and was awarded with a painful, stinging slap to her face.
"Do you really think that I would let you get away with defiling my heir, Hermione Granger? Do you know how disrespectful you were? All the hard work I've done to ensure that he doesn't feel even the slightest bit of love was almost put to waste! I thought he would let go of all emotions, but it seems I've made a mistake. He fell in love with you. And it's a lucky thing he was stupid enough to think he could destroy me. He would have never brought me back to life had he known I was going to kill you afterwards."
Drac— Voldemort in Draco's body, grabbed her roughly by the arm and hauled her up, forced her to look at the Death Eaters lying lifeless on the ground.
"Look at them. I own their magic now," he said coldly. "And after this day is over, I will own all the magic of those affected by Slytherin's Curse as well. Hundreds of people's power will belong to me! And no one— no one will be able to kill m—"
"Wake up!" she cried out in desperation. "Wake up, Draco! WAKE UP!"
Voldemort tossed her angrily to the floor in utter disgust. And a Cruciatus Curse engulfed her body, so powerful she saw nothing but black. She felt like Ginny must have felt being tortured by the Death Eaters. She felt like the Death Eaters must have felt being crushed to pieces by the Vinewhip bushes. She felt like Blaise had felt being eaten flesh by flesh by the piranhas.
"He will never wake up, mudblood," she heard Draco's voice, but it wasn't really Draco at all. "He's dead!"
And that was probably the worst pain of all, knowing Draco was dead. It was a pain she knew she could never accept. So in her mind, she refused to believe it. She refused to give him up.
She felt something else too. Something other than pain.
Moving seemed so impossible, but she tried to stand up anyway with whatever strength she had left. The Cruciatus curse was unbearable, stinging, stabbing, and burning her repeatedly. It was worse than anything she had ever experienced. It was the Cruciatus Curse from the power of many men. Her body parts had ceased functioning properly.
It was as though the only thing functioning properly was the dull throbbing in her chest. Her legs and arms were numb from so much pain, but her heart, she could still hear it.
And this was how she knew Draco to be alive.
She could hear his heartbeat in rhythm with hers, like a familiar song reverberating in her brain. She knew he was there, waiting for the right moment to strike back.
So she gave him an opening, pulled the glass vial she had worn around her neck and threw it at him with all the energy that she could muster…
Time seemed to have slowed down for her. Her body gave in to the pain, crumpling to a heap on the ground. She heard voices and saw different shapes and colors. She saw Viktor Krum smiling at her before dropping dead. She saw Vasil Krum and the light disappearing from his eyes. She heard Ginny screaming and Blaise casting his last spell to keep her from dying.
She didn't know if the pain had stopped. It made no difference because her body couldn't feel anything anymore.
She didn't know for how long, but hands, gentle hands were grabbing her and pulling her to a tight embrace, cradling her to sleep. She sensed warm kisses on her forehead and face and hands. She would know that gentle, affectionate touch anywhere.
"Portus," she heard a familiar sound. Smeared images of glasses and pink highlights appeared in her peripheral, but she couldn't remember why she was relieved to see them.
And she finally let the darkness swallow her whole.
Whenever she would look back, even a few years later, she would still feel a slight ache in her chest. Her recollection of the things that had happened between them, the murders, the deaths, seemed only a dream, scattered glass shards in her mind. Once in a while these shards of memories would cut her and tears, instead of blood, would pour out.
Draco served a few years in Azkaban. It was a small price to pay for all the crimes he had committed. But Worden deemed it fair, considering he had suffered so much in the hands of Voldemort. Once he was released, the Wizaring World welcomed him again, especially after the Prophet had published the story of how he had stopped Voldemort's second rising.
He hadn't fully recovered, as Blaise had said. Even after his time in Azkaban, there was still a monster inside him that would probably never die. It was a permanent scar that he was burdened with for the rest of his life.
But she would be there for him this time.
Today was a Saturday morning, and they were in the lovely Malfoy Garden.
Hermione was dressed in a comfortable white sundress and her husband had one arm wrapped affectionately around her waist.
They were watching two little kids playing in the grass. One was picking flowers to put in her pale blonde, bushy hair. Her skin was porcelain white and she looked doll-like in her little pink dress. The other one was playing in a puddle of mud and smearing some on his cheeks and blond hair, the epitome of his father. But he never let the mud get into his silver eyes.
On Sundays, the Potters, (Luna and Harry, and their twin sons) would come over.
On Fridays, they would eat dinner at Grandma Brielle Zabini's place, and play with the Zabini kids.
Dennis came to visit five times a week.
Hermione loved the feel of Draco's hand in hers. She always loved holding his hand. Seven years had passed since Voldemort's death. Draco hadn't killed anyone since. He kept his promise. He still got a little jealous and possessive at times, but nothing bordering on evil anymore. Nightmares still plague him at night, but she would always be there to calm him down.
Because of this, he would often look at her for reassurance and whisper, "Tell me you love me?"
"I love you," she would respond, always, without hesitation. And he wouldn't feel so scared and alone anymore.
She would smile, too, because he loved her smiles the most.
And all was well.