Chapter 16 – The Final BattleBegins and Ends

I send you, I look at you,

Wolfish perversion and unbearable desire,

May distress descend on you and jöluns wrath.

Never shall you sit,

Never shall you sleep ... (that you) love me as yourself.

Hermione and Draco climbed up to the opening of the cave, wands at the ready clutched tightly in their hands. When they reached the cloaked exit, Draco implored, "Let me go out first. There might not be anyone out there, but if there is, I want to be the first one they see."

Hermione didn't like that plan. "Why? You're the one he tried to kill last night."

Draco spun on his heel and gave her a steeling glance from his grey eyes. "That was only to stop the mating ceremony, which was a moot point, since it didn't occur anyway, and you still ascended this morning. But it was YOU who he tried to kill all the other times, of that I'm certain. You have to let me do this for you, especially as you've fully ascended. He most certainly will want you dead now."

Clinching her jaw tightly so she wouldn't argue, she glared at him with a set look in her eyes.

He could read that look like the back of his hand. Returning her set look with one of his own, he reminded her, "You must feel depleted… and we can't even be certain that your magic wasn't affect by the ascension, which I'll remind you only happened a short while ago."

"My magic certainly wasn't 'depleted'. Let's make a deal," she urged at the same moment that her wand passed over the opening. "We'll make a portal in the cloaking so we can see out, but they can't see in, and if there's no one out there waiting for us, we leave together, agreed?"

"Do I have a choice? You already made the blasted portal!" he barked. "I'm pretty damn certain you're going to do whatever else you want to do anyway."

"You're right. You have no choice, and I'm going to do this anyway," she replied tenderly. Placing her hand on his chest, she said, "I can take care of myself. I've been doing so for a long time, and things are even different now. I can't explain it, but I feel… well, I guess I feel more powerful and stronger than ever before."

Draco grabbed her hand in his instead of replying, and turned to look out the 'portal' she created in their ward. They stared out toward the trees in the forest. It was late morning now, and the sun was high in the sky. The tops of the trees bowed slightly with a northern wind. Everything seemed quiet and calm.

Then, they both noticed something move in a hedge a short way in front of them. Hermione's skin prickled – not with fear – but with anxiousness. Suddenly, a man appeared from behind the hedge. It was Devlin. He didn't look threatening. His entire demeanor was relaxed.

When he stepped from the hedge, other men and women, all Veela from his clan, began to appear from behind trees and bushes. Devlin was staring at the cave's opening as if he knew they were staring back at him. And when he spoke, it caused both of them to startle in surprise.

"So it's done, isn't it?" Halberdsen asked.

Neither of them answered, and he smiled, as if he didn't expect them to. At the exact moment the evil smile crossed the man's lips, he held up a long, white glowing sword. Hermione could have sworn it was the sword from her dreams.

He said, "I believe you'll need this. It only showed itself after your ascension… that's how I knew it was complete. It's as valuable to me as you would have been, dearest cousin Hermione. You can't begin to defeat me without it."

Squinting, she leaned closer to get a better look, and as she did, Draco placed a hand on her arm. "Get back here," he hissed.

Chills went through Hermione's body as the next moment Halberdsen's smile was replaced with an evil sneer. Then there was a loud, crashing noise as the 'cloak' they were hiding behind shattered, almost as if it were made of glass. Then there was a burning sensation all over her body, a sting of pain, and she fell over at Draco's feet.

Draco shouted as Hermione fell at his feet. The cataclysmic explosion of the cloak dissolving over the door pricked his skin and burned his eyes, but he knew no pain, as his every thought was on the woman lying at his feet. A flash of anger rose from his chest, he roared her name and reached for her arm, dropping to the ground beside her.

There was a bright and blinding light that suddenly filled the entire cave, as the walls around them fractured and splintered, causing rocks and pieces of slate to fall all around them like shrapnel. Draco placed his body over the still body of the woman beside him, and as he did, he could tell she was cold, barely breathing, not moving at all.

The walls of the cave continued to press upon him, and he felt suffocated and afraid, and totally helpless, especially when a hand reached in around them and pulled Hermione away from his grip.

He tried to try to fight his way out of the rubble and mess, but he couldn't continue to fight. The light was dimming… until it was totally dark. Then he gave into the darkness.

Hermione felt a warm, unpleasant tasting liquid fill her mouth and she began to sputter and cough. The metallic taste of blood made her retch. Opening her eyes, she noticed she was in another cave – a different cave – with her wrists bound behind her back. Devlin looked down at her. His wrist was bleeding. Dear heaven above, he had fed her some of his blood.

"I know what you're thinking, and it would be correct," Devlin said. "I gave you my blood. With it in your body, I will be able to control you, sense you, and hopefully make you behave." He knelt down beside her and with a strange twist of tenderness, wiped an errant drop from her chin.

"Where did you get the sword?" she asked.

"Here, in this cave. If you had read everything that was in those journals and texts of yours, you would have known it was here."

"I couldn't understand everything that was written in them," she begged to differ, "as some of it was written in runes I'd never seen. I could only read those particular runes after they appeared to me in the cave where I ascended."

He looked at her differently. "Runes appeared in the cave after you ascended?"

They appeared after she placed the amulet in a rock, but she wasn't going to tell him that, since she still wore the amulet around her neck, and felt it might come in handy later. So she nodded.

"Interesting," he leered.

Hermione's mind was in a haze. She tried to think of ways to escape, but nothing came to mind. Nevertheless, as she sat on the floor of this cave, arms bound, she began to feel even stronger than before, and she couldn't betray that feeling to this man. Her enemy. The one she just decided – in her mind – would die.

Draco found it hard to concentrate. He was under heavy debris, having trouble breathing. Each breath he took came out shallow. Rage filled him when he thought of Devlin taking Hermione away. In his mind, she was HIS and no one could take her from him.

An arm reached in the rubble. He heard a voice. It was Potter. Bloody hell! Potter to the rescue, once again. The man had already saved Draco's life a time or two when they were younger, and here he was saving him again. He put that repulsive thought in the back of his mind and shouted as loudly as he could. "Potter! Halberdsen took Granger!"

"We know," Harry said, clearing away rocks and boulders with his wand. "We saw him taking her. The rest of his people followed, so a few of your father's people and two of my Aurors chased after them."

A small clearing appeared, sunlight flooding the dark prison. Harry blocked the light, leaned into the small space he made, and said, "We'll find her, Malfoy. Don't worry."

"I think I know where she is. I can find her, because she took some of my blood. Just get me out of here, Potter," Draco said resignedly.

Hermione watched as Halberdsen paced back and forth in front of the large opening of this cave. He had a wild look about him.

"Why did you try to kill me all those times?" she asked.

He looked back at her. "I never tried to kill you, actually. I tried to kill Malfoy. You're no use to me dead, and he's better off dead."

"Why didn't you kill him now?" she asked, trying to remain calm.

Halberdsen knelt before her. "Oh, he'll die soon, never fear. But I have to make you mine first. The mating ceremony will happen – only this time, it will be you and me, not you and Malfoy. I'm waiting for a priestess from my clan to come and make it official, so to speak."

"Draco told me that the mating ceremony isn't legal in any sense of the word," she opposed.

He smiled again. When he smiled, he looked more sinister. "It may not be legal, but believe me, it's very binding. And it will make me the strongest Veela in our world. My cousin was meant for that particular title, but he was weak, and didn't appreciate the fact that he practically had the world lying at his feet. That's when I decided I would take him out of the equation, and make you mine instead."

Hermione gasped, the implication of his words feeling like a slap to her face. "You killed Jonathon?"

"Smart girl. Yes, I killed him. He's buried here in this cave." He started to smile again, but then a loud boom sounded outside.

"What the hell?" Devlin shouted, standing.

The front of the cave widened with a crash. Their hiding place filled with dust. The whole cavity rumbled and shook. Cold air mixed with fury descended upon them. Hermione covered her face with her hands. When the dust settled, she saw Draco standing before them, Harry and the others right behind. A battle of hexes and curses bounced around the cave walls, and out the opening. She ducked her head to keep from getting hit.

Struggling in her bindings as the fight ensued, she finally managed to free her hands. Draco shouted for her to run, but she knew she couldn't leave them.

Halberdsen took the white, glowing sword and sliced it in the air. She screamed as Draco once again crumbled to the ground, this time with a slash of red blood seeping onto his shirt from a laceration going from his chest to his groin.

Hermione ran over toward Draco. Halberdsen and his guards were still fighting Harry and the others. Placing Draco's head in her lap, she swiped his fringe of bangs off his forehead. He looked up at her and with a weak voice said, "I've come to rescue you this time, little love. Aren't you proud of me?"

"Very much," she said, close to tears.

"Am I dying? If I am, it doesn't hurt as much as I feared," he said, taking a ragged breath in and out.

Hermione gently placed his head back on the stone floor and said, "I've decided that you'll live from this battle, Draco. You won't die today." She felt strong in her conviction, but she knew they were mere words unless she went into action. Instinctually, she grasped the amulet in her hand, closed her eyes, and thought of Draco as strong and healthy. Opening her eyes again, she looked down at him, bent at the waist to kiss his forehead, then stood.

Walking out of the cave, she saw fighting all around her, all throughout the woods. Men and women were battling each other with curses, hexes, even good old-fashioned hand-to-hand fighting. Calmly, she walked among the mêlée and stepped over bodies lying on the ground, until she was standing near Halberdsen. Circling the man, who was using his wand to fire a curse at an Auror, she saw the sword on the ground by his feet.

She stooped low, concentrated, and held out her hand. The sword flew right to it. Without hesitation, she joined the fray. Thrashing the sword right and left, she ran through the crowd of men and women battling. She realized that she didn't need to touch a single person with the sword. All she had to do was point it toward the person she wanted to fall, and they fell.

Feeling more and more powerful, she continued into the throng. Harry was on the ground, bleeding, covered in dirt and sweat. She paused over him, pointed her sword at his chest, and thought one though. 'Live'.

The dust and confusion began to settle. That didn't mean it was over, because Hermione saw Halberdsen turn to flee. She began to chase after him. Running through dense forest, between trees, over rocks, down narrow paths, she followed him. At one point she lost him. Seeing a shadow on the path, weaving back and forth, she looked up and there in the sky, above the trees, were eight ravens. Somehow, she knew what they represented, and that they were there to help.

The birds flew westward, so she followed. She ran and ran through thicker foliage, until she heard rushing water. Coming out of the thicket of trees, she spied Halberdsen just as he was running toward a small boat sitting on the embankment of a rapidly moving stream.

He pushed the boat from the shore and then stepped inside. Using the oars, he began to row away. She ran to the edge and shouted, "Stop!"

He had a wild look in his eyes. He looked up, noticed the ravens circling overhead, and with a panic expression on his face, he started to row faster.

Hermione closed her eyes, concentrated, and when she opened her eyes she was standing in the small boat, right in front of the man. He sucked in a breath of surprise.

Halberdsen stood to face her, causing the small craft to shift back and forth. Hermione braced her legs widely and pointed her sword at the man. They were so close the tip touched his chest.

His lips twisted in anger. "Drop that sword!" he raged.

"I don't think so," she said calmly. Then she closed her eyes, lunged forward, and just as quickly opened her eyes. When she opened her eyes she saw the sword bobbing to and fro from its place in the man's chest.

Halberdsen looked down at his chest, sword sticking out of it, and his eyes grew wide in shock, mouth opened in a silent scream. With his last remaining breath, he said, "How?"

"Because I willed it so," she said serenely.

Falling in a slow arc, the man toppled out of the boat into the water. Hermione was able to grab the sword at the same time, but the momentum of his falling caused her to go overboard with him with a loud splash.

From the shore, Draco (who had recovered shortly after she passed her hand over him) and Harry Potter both shouted. Harry yelled, "HERMONE!" and Draco simply screamed.

They ran toward the water, with Draco moving a bit faster than Harry. They started to swim toward the middle of the stream, but both stopped when they saw the point of the sword making its way above the murky water.

Hermione hauled herself into the small boat, holding onto the hilt of the sword with one hand. Throwing the sword inside first, she climbed in, looked toward the muddy bank, and saw Draco and Harry wadding in the water. "I'm fine!" she shouted, chest heaving from exertion. "How did you know where to find me? Did you follow the ravens, too?"

"I didn't see any ravens," Harry said. "I followed Malfoy."

She looked over at the other man. "And I found you because you're mine. My blood is in you." He bent at the waist, chest bursting from effort and exhaustion. "I thought I was finally going to rescue you." He looked back at her and smiled. "But it would appear that you didn't need rescuing… just as you predicted."

She began to row toward them, a smile on her face. "One might even say that I saved you again," she said with a grin.

"What else is new?" Draco almost pouted.

Hours later, back in the village, the victorious Veelas were rounding up the last of Halberdsen's people. Sitting at the same tables where they were to have their mating ceremony, Hermione reached across the smooth wood that separated her and Draco and grabbed his hand.

"Is it over?" she asked.

"I'm not sure," he said sincerely.

He brought her hand to his mouth, kissed her knuckles, and then placed their joined hands on the table between them.

"My dream sort of came true," she said. "You know, the one where I sat on a horse, hair flowing all around me, a breast plate of armor on my chest, and a sword in my hand. And I even saved the prince."

Draco snorted. "Except your horse was a broken down row boat, your breast plate was a dirty and torn mating gown, and… and… okay, you had the sword, and you saved the prince."

She smiled.

He rubbed his thumb back and forth across her hand. "So, Granger, what's to become of you and me?"

She raised her eyebrows. "I don't know. What do you think?"

Looking down at the table, he kept her hand in his left hand, while he drew small designs on the top of the smooth wood with the other. "You could always marry me. It's a bit more binding then a simple mating ceremony, but it's traditional, and I have a feeling that we're meant to be." He sheepishly looked up at her. "That is, if that's something you might be agreeable to do."

"We could do that, I suppose," she said, trying to sound flippant, even though she felt anything but. "And we might even do it here in Vanaheim. We could invite our friends and family to come here and join us."

He nodded. "That might work," he said. He dropped her hand, stood up from his bench, leaned across the table, and braced his weight on his hands. With his face next to hers, he said, "Do you mind sealing the deal with a kiss?"

"It would be my pleasure," she said, bringing her face up and placing her mouth upon his.

After their kiss, he dropped back down in his seat and placed his head on the table. "I think I need a nap first. I was almost killed again today. I can't even count how many times I was almost killed this past week or so. Almost dying is exhausting. I don't know how Potter used to get over all his near brushes with death."

"He had me there to help him," she said softly, brushing her hand along his scalp. He glanced up at her and smiled, then closed his eyes. "And you'll have me here to help you, always."

"Better you than Potter. And it's a good thing, too, because I think I'm going to need it," he said, eyes closed.

She bent toward him, kissed him on the head and said, "I think I'm going to need it, too."

The End