Dawn broke suddenly over the line of trees that made up the Forbidden Forest. Hermione turned towards the window with a sort of slow surprise. She hadn't slept a wink, and hadn't figured she would. She had expected that, eventually, the sun would rise and that awful day would begin. She just hadn't expected it so soon. There was no turning back now.
She rose from bed earlier than the girls in her dormitory, showering and readying herself for the day. What if it was their last? She spent a few extra minutes readying herself just in case. She knew she'd been the one to remind him that everything would be alright - he wasn't the optimistic type anyway - but she hadn't expected that she'd have to try so hard to convince herself.
Not worst of all was the fact that Hermione had yet to uncover who had been the original owner of Harry's Potions book. She already knew that he'd followed a spell there that he hadn't understood. What if he did worse? Ron still wasn't fully speaking to her. He'd mention things to her in passing, sit beside her at the Gryffindor table when that was how they all fell into place. But he hadn't brought up Draco again. No, worst of all was, of course, the events of the day before her. An endless day of classes and studying, preparing for final exams. It nearly shocked her to realize that she didn't give a damn about exams, not now when so much more was at stake. She wished that she could slip a note into his warm palm, meet him in the dark eaves of a corner of the castle, and tell him one last time - if it were the last time - how much he meant to her. But there wouldn't even be notes, not between herself and Draco at least. Just a day of pointless notes on parchment about spells and potions and things.
At their goodbye last night, they'd decided to go without contact until it was all over. They'd meet in the courtyard at eleven that night. Eleven. That was - oh, it was still so early! There were sixteen hours left to go until then. Nearly an entire day. She wouldn't be able to rest - there was too much at stake. She thought about breakfast, but just the thought of eating made her stomach twist. Harry would send Ginny up in a few minutes to look for her, to coax her down for breakfast. And he'd think it was her worrying about exams! For a fleeting moment, she wished she'd told Harry everything - the cabinets, the plan. But she knew that could not happen. Dumbledore himself had admitted it.
Hermione tried, leaning against the walls of the bathroom, to think of something that would make her feel even a little bit better. The letters? No, she'd obsess over how they might be the last she heard from him. A walk? No, the bright early summer sunlight would only irritate her. The library might be nice, but she'd picture him waiting around every corner, in the very beginning of it all, looking for her letters.
She raised her fingers to her lips without a second thought - he'd kissed these lips, so many times. It should not be the last. He had a plan. Everything would be... fine.
Six minutes. Five, four, three, two, one...
In his last peaceful moments, Draco repeated the plan to himself countless times. Open the cabinet for the Death Eaters to enter. Follow their instructions precisely, until Dumbledore was within their grasp. Disarm Dumbledore. Wait for the real chaos to begin - and then flee. Hide somewhere dark, somewhere nobody would expect.
The second hand passed the tip top of the clock beside him, and as he reached for the knob to open the cabinet, it flung open, narrowly missing smacking him in the face. Half a dozen Death Eaters poured out before the door was closed, then re-opened, and another handful joined them. Most he recognized, and it became immediately clear to him that tonight was not a night that The Dark Lord had taken lightly - he'd sent his best duelers and most trusty companions to Hogwarts tonight to do what he felt he could not yet do.
And in one step that Draco would regret for a long time, despite the fact that he had no choice - he followed them.
'Hurry, Draco. He's coming, I can feel it...'
'The time has come for you to prove yourself. Are you ready?'
'Now, Draco! Now!'
One by one, the Death Eaters split off in pursuit of duels and fights. Draco at last was alone, walking towards the top of the highest tower. He heard a commotion from above, Dumbledore speaking in low tones. Harry would be with him - he had to hide that as best as he could. He waited a moment then burst through the door, aiming his wand with true accuracy and shouting despite the feeling that his lungs were empty of air.
A moment later, the old man's voice echoed in the small round room.
"Good Evening, Draco."
The Dark Mark hung in the air behind him, though the murder had not yet taken place. The eerie green coming from behind Dumbledore's slight frame bathed Draco's skin, making him glow. In the moments that Death Eaters, Snape included, joined him at the top of the tower, Dumbledore spoke to him with all the derision of a man about to be cruelly slain. But it was the look in his wide eyes that said otherwise, and Draco knew that it was Dumbledore's last kindness to him that he did not look upon him as a villain, but as a hero in his own right.
He would be numb, if it weren't for the pain in his feet. As soon as his part was done - disarming Dumbledore and feigning incompetence - he was out the door. He followed a Death Eater for just a moment before splitting off, seemingly for other pursuits. But his feet padded down staircases and through long hallways, around corners and through one very large doorway.
The library smelled different to him - but everything seemed a little strange, tonight.
He'd done it - he'd managed to do as little as possible while keeping himself safe from the wrath of his father's friends. He sank back against a bookshelf in the farthest, darkest corner of the library. There would be no one here - everyone was already out of bed, in a panic. Everyone might already be outside by now.
He squinted in the dark at the clock on the far wall - and by a stroke of luck was able to read it without lighting his wand. It was ten-thirty, he had half an hour until he was almost sure the Death Eaters would all be gone, and he could meet Hermione in the courtyard.
Her face had been in his mind the whole time. When he disarmed Dumbledore, when he spat cruel words at a man who had never done anything but believed in the good in him. He had said disgusting things to Albus Dumbledore, a man who had spent precious time defending him. A man who was now, he was sure of it, dead. In his mad rush down the stairs, he'd seen a couple of students running towards the main doors talking about it. How his body had fallen from the highest tower. He would have been dead before he'd hit the ground - a Killing Curse, of course. Right to the chest. He didn't stand a chance. Snape had always had an impeccable aim...
In his last moments of solitude he thought of Hermione. He thought about her lithe form, about her hair, about the way she constantly corrected him. He thought about the hurt in her eyes when he'd enlarged her teeth, so many years ago. He thought about the love in those same eyes when they'd met in person for the first time after the letters. When they realized, the both of them, that love happened in unexpected places. That through some divine guidance and the luck of him looking for a book, he'd discovered that Hermione Granger was so much more than the brainy, loud, bookworm. That she was a protector, a well-wisher. That she would do anything to keep the ones she loved safe - even if it meant formulating a plan that went against almost everything she believed in.
In the last moment before he left, he thought about the two of them as opposites. A fierce, spirited Gryffindor and a weak, selfish Slytherin. He could see why the hat had sorted her there. He almost wished it of himself, for just a moment.
Hermione had been waiting for nearly ten minutes. As with everything in her life so far, she'd showed up a touch early. This time, though, a lot more was riding on her actions that being tardy to class. It was now that she'd find out if Draco had survived - if she'd live to see his face again, to be held in his arms. To feel his kiss.
At the strike of eleven, she heard footsteps. She whirled around to see him there, in pain but otherwise alright.
"Hermione... you're alright?"
"I'm fine, I'm fine. Don't worry about me, I kept out of the way. You look rotten though..."
"Thanks, I always love hearing that." He groaned, stepped closer towards her and slipping his arms around her waist. He held her tighter than she remembered him ever doing before, burying his face into the top of her head.
He raised her head, looking into his eyes. "It's done."
"I know. I disarmed him, played my part. For someone who knew what was coming, he had a keen way of not showing it. The look in his eyes..."
"Oh, Draco. I'm so sorry..."
"Don't feel sorry for me." He brought his lips to hers, just once, and only very briefly. "You've suffered a greater loss. I've got more work to do - they'll be looking for me."
"I want to see you after that. You'll stay here, right? At Hogwarts?"
"Of course. They're still, somehow, trying to keep me planted at Hogwarts."
"Then midnight. Here. Send them off, I'll go see Harry and the others and... join the mourning. Oh, Merlin... and I'll come back here."
"Midnight. An hour. Make haste." He kissed her forehead again before running back into the castle, looking back just once to see her standing there, watching him carefully.
Hermione had done her part - she had mourned honestly and completely, beside her two best friends in the world. She comforted them, cried with them. Harry paused only a moment to ask what she knew - she said they'd discuss it later. There was something in his acceptance that told her that she would be honest with him, and that eventually - maybe not any time soon, but eventually - he would understand why she'd had to hide it from him.
When the crowd began to break up - staff to make arrangements, students to wander the grounds to mourn and talk - Hermione excused herself and walked back to the courtyard, nearly breaking into a run so that she might be able to take Draco somewhere more private before others found them there together. She did reach him first, which would have elicited a sigh of relief had it not been for the condition she found him in.
His wand was raised, pointing at the Death Eater across from him. They were arguing about where Draco had been in the moments after the murder, and Draco's story seemed to be far from belief. Hermione stepped into the light at just the wrong moment, and they both turned to her - the Death Eater with a look of violent hate, Draco with one of sheer shock. Had he forgotten?
"That's Hermione Granger. Get her." She watched Draco's mouth form the words, but could not believe them. What was he doing? Had he... he couldn't have been fooling her all along, no! That was sick, it was...
The Death Eater turned to her, raising his wand - but the slow way in which he wished to taunt her didn't work. Draco shot a stunning spell at him so fast, he didn't even have time to taunt her. The Death Eater turned around, shooting a jet of red light back at Draco, who dodged it. Hermione knew this could not last long - Draco hadn't been sleeping well, and the Death Eater seemed to be an excellent duelist...
She turned and ran, hoping that she might run into someone who might be of some help. To her complete wonder and relief, she ran smack into Professor McGonagall, wand already out.
"Professor, please! It's Draco - there's a Death Eater, in the courtyard..."
McGonagall took off down the path and around the corner, skidding to a halt at the scene.
Draco's feet were inches from the ground, laying limp. A Death Eater - one she did not easily recognize, with his hood drawn over his face - held Draco in a Cruciatus Curse that seemed to last hours, but was over in seconds. Draco fell to the floor without a fight, without moving.
The Death Eater turned to face them now, ignoring Draco's still body.
"They send an old hag and a Mudblood to fight? Shows just how useless your side is... come on then, give me your best."
His overconfidence was probably what lead to his end. McGonagall was fast, and a stream of bright white light crashed into the Death Eater at the same time an angry, bloody red shot from his.
It was that red light that Hermione would see in the final moments before darkness.
With a gasp, she raised her head. The feeling was something like reaching the surface after having been underwater a great deal of time. She tried to move, tried to look around, but the ache in every part of her body forced her back down. She recognized the beds, the layout of the room, the taut face that rose above her. Poppy Pomfrey was clearly not pleased.
"I told them one visitor at a time, but seeing as one has gone so far as to refuse to leave, you'll have to excuse their noise..."
She moved to reveal Harry and Ron both leaning over her, wide-eyed. Harry spoke.
"Hermione, I... we were so worried."
"What's wrong? What happened?"
Harry sighed, sitting on the side of her bed. "There was a Death Eater. I'm guessing you went to meet... somebody. And the Death Eater was there with him. McGonagall was there, not sure how. She took care of him, he's already in Azkaban, but he knocked you out rather hard."
"How long have I been out? And where is... my friend? He was being tortured. I saw it, it was awful, I..."
Ron chuckled a little, despite the tone. "You've been out a day and a half. It's Friday. Dumbledore... his... his funeral is today. Two hours."
"No. I mean, I knew he... but..."
"Yeah. Big thing. There are reporters everywhere..."
"And..." She lowered her voice to a whisper, nearly just mouthing the words. "And Draco?"
A voice, scratchy and low came from the next bed over. "Present and accounted for."
She'd never been so happy to hear that voice - even though it sounded awful now. "Draco. You're fine?"
"Sore. But yes."
Hermione's next glance around the room revealed three more occupied beds and a handful of other visitors.
"Later. We'll meet later."
She looked over at him, at the bruises on his cheek from the fall, and watched him nod. He did not smile. She didn't blame him. Looking at Harry, she spoke in a low whisper again. "How long has he been here?"
Harry looked over and back again. "Same as you. He could have left yesterday, but kept complaining about pain in his stomach. It took a difficult straight face from me to try and act like it might be left over from the Sectumsempra incident. He didn't want to leave you."
She nodded, ending that part of the conversation. It was all she needed to hear. They would have their reunion later, but doing so now would be stupid. She raised herself slowly off the bed. "I want to shower and dress. I want to be there - the funeral."
Harry nodded, and he and Ron each wound an arm around her middle, helping her to stand. She closed her eyes, held up by their arms. She knew that if Draco still intended to follow them, that things could get rocky. But she always had Harry and Ron, always.
"Hermione?" Harry nearly whispered into her ear. "How much did you know?"
She hesitated before answering him, wincing. "More than you'd have liked. But it's better for both of us if that stays off the table for a while."
Harry nodded solemnly but his hold on her did not falter, and she was glad for it.
"I've told you the plan."
Draco nodded, his hand on her cheek. Their reunion had been fast and welcome - he'd snogged her like never before, stealing the breath right from her lungs. And he hadn't let go for a long time, either. Didn't intend to. They had both made it, somehow. But the hardest parts were yet to come.
"And Draco, you know what this means."
She stirred, slowly and painfully moving her body to face him. "It's not final, you know. You could go back. Or you could hide."
"Hermione... I've been having a house-elf make small withdrawals from Gringott's. Just enough to get us by without really getting noticed. I've gathered only what I think I'll need to keep with me. The decision was made long ago."
"Then you know it won't be easy. We won't return to Hogwarts next year. We'll be traveling - searching for things..."
"You'll have to give me details eventually, but yes."
"Shh. Don't say anything. I know."
He kissed her once more, and then again. And then a few more times. He was well aware of the fact that the path ahead of them was dangerous. But his knowledge of the Dark Lord and his plans would be invaluable to Hermione, Harry, and Ron on their quest to defeat the Dark Lord for good. It would be far from fun - but he'd be able to get them past a few wards, he'd be able to tell them things they'd have never known on their own.
And best of all, he'd be with her the entire way. Yes, he'd have to hide - and only once in total privacy would he be able to kiss her, or talk to any of them. For the most part he'd be a ghost, silently following behind them and doing what he could. But it would be worth it all, in the end, once the Dark Lord's reign was over and he was free to start anew, with her.
He picked up her hand in his own, running the pad of his thumb over her palm. It was such a small, touching gesture that it surprised him. She had surprised him. Love had surprised him. And it had made all the difference in the world.
AN: THANK YOU to all who have stuck by this fic. I know that I've been a spotty author - I make mistakes and sometimes take two months to update, but the overwhelmingly positive response from all of you has made all the difference in the world to ME. I will indeed be writing a sequel to Footnotes - I'll provide a short description after these notes. It has been an amazing experience for me as an author to see this fic grow from a small idea in my head to one of my most popular and well-loved fics. I'm excited to start on the sequel and will update you within this fic to let you know when it is posted. Cheers, thanks again, and I eagerly await your readership to the sequel.
Coming Soon, the sequel to 'Footnotes' entitled 'Headlines', another fabulously epic fic by Kateofallpeople.
Beginning just two weeks after the ending of Footnotes, Headlines follows four young Wizards on the quest for truth and the defeat of evil. While their determination and success grows, Draco Malfoy is able to provide secrets and insight in a way more valuable to them than they ever could have imagined. But it all begins on a late summer's night, the very night Bill and Fleur's wedding is interrupted by the sudden fall of the ministry and murder of Rufus Scrimgeour. In the midst of all the panic, many apparate away, grabbing their loved ones and preparing to go into hiding. Harry, Ron, and Hermione all grasp hands with a fourth figure, a tall boy who slips back from invisibility completely by accident, with white-blond hair and grey eyes. A boy who many have believed to be dead following his confrontation with one of The Dark Lord's most powerful duelists - which is clearly not true. But what is Draco Malfoy doing here? Why does it look as if the Golden Trio has welcomed him into their ranks? Molly Weasley, when goaded to speak by her dear husband and overheard by the biggest eavesdropper of all time, reveals that she knew he'd been at the Burrow since Hogwarts students were released early, following the tragic death of Albus Dumbledore. And when quill is set to parchment, this breaking news is sure to make the Headlines...
Brief interviews and Headlines provided by Rita Skeeter.
I'm guessing you can only imagine the trouble that our four are about to get into - and just you wait. I've been brainstorming for a while now and I'm really excited to begin Headlines. With brief input by everyone's least favorite journalist of all time, whispers around wizarding families everywhere, and an epic journey to find and destroy the last of the horcruxes, Headlines is sure to be a great read for all who enjoyed Footnotes.