A/N – Hello my lovelies. Not much to say this week other than thanks for the reviews we've been getting. There will also definitely be an epilogue coming out when this is finished too. If you could drop me a review, it'd make my day.
"The tables, Malfoy, enchant the tables!"
Draco turned his head to the source of the cry; tiny Professor Flitwick was stood on a window ledge with his wand pointing out and up at the deep midnight sky. In between muttering furious incantations and shooting jests of rainbow coloured light upwards he was now staring right at Draco. "
"Enchant the tables so that they become mobile; they can charge on our enemies. And the chairs too – everything, anything!" Flitwick was shouting, gesturing to a nearby classroom with his free hand, before returning to his spell work.
Draco obeyed, running into the room and raising his own wand before realising that his mind had gone completely blank. The same cold panic from earlier in the Great Hall was returning, twisting like barbed wire round his lungs and squeezing at them. He couldn't do it, he didn't know the spells, had he ever learned them? Had he ever learned anything? Right now he was struggling to remember how to breathe, let alone how to cast a complicated charm. His instinct to run was kicking in, and he felt his feet begin to inch him backwards and out of the room, and his breathing was fast and shallow, coming out in gasps.
The Dark Lord was coming, coming here, where he was supposed to be hiding and safe… oh god, he was going to die, painfully, horribly, in the most prolonged manner possible because he was a traitor… or no, even worse, she was going to die, the stupid girl he'd let himself fall in love with and who was now running around the castle, as vulnerable as a rabbit in an open field, just waiting to be hunted down, blindly following her best friend like only a naïve Gryffindor would… they couldn't find her, they couldn't hurt her, not her, not after he'd finally found her and opened up to her and confessed to her…
The thought of her brought him back from the brink. The mist that had been enveloping his field of vision in his panic was clearing now he was focussing on her face in his mind… those crinkles in her nose, the creamy, unblemished skin, her smile…
The map. He reached into his back pocket and unfolded the tattered parchment. His eyes raked the sheet desperately as he searched the endless entirety of the map for her miniscule little dot… and there it was. He breathed, properly now.
Her dot was spiralling as it made its way up the long steps to the Ravenclaw tower. There weren't many other dots nearby. She was safe. He was safe… for now. He breathed.
He put the map away, steadied himself, and fumbled around in his brain for the right spells.
"Inanimatus Conjurus," he said, slowly moving his wand from one desk to another, one chair to another, even pointing it at tables and chests of drawers and cabinets, concentrating hard on visualising them as steeds or guardians.
One by one, they began to transform, testing their newly usable legs as they stepped around on the spot and only a minute later they were galloping out of the classroom.
"Well done, Malfoy!" Draco heard Professor Flitwick shout, but Draco did not stop to bask in the unusual praise.
He had set off at a run in the direction of the Ravenclaw tower. He had a plan, newly formed but stark in his mind; wherever she would be tonight, he would be nearby. He had to be.
On his way he remembered her words: "Make yourself useful." So he began running into every room on his way, enchanting the furniture and commanding it to man the boundaries, to protect. Now he had found the right spell it was not so hard.
Soon he was beginning to get creative, enchanting the weapons on the walls to release themselves of their steel braces and brackets, careful to direct them only to attack those who were attacking the people defending the school. He barely had time to check the map as he ran, casting spells and enchantments and bursting into rooms every few seconds, all the while dodging frantic students and teachers and villagers and those that were, presumably, members of the elusive Order of the Phoenix, who were all doing the same as he. Sometimes he had to dodge around a jet of light, or he ran into someone who was running in the opposite direction and who looked either determined or terrified, because no matter who Draco saw there was no in between.
As he rounded another corner, another obstacle between him and Hermione, he looked down, reaching in his pocket for the map but in the split second that his eyes were not ahead he crashed into yet another person; he looked up and his eyes were assaulted with shock of pink hair. Taking a step back, simply to take it all in, he heard his hindrance mutter 'ow' as she – so it was a girl then, Draco thought – stumbled back and then regained her balance.
"Wotcher," she said pleasantly as she looked up with a smile, which slipped visibly when she took in Draco's appearance. "
Sorry," he muttered, and then he stepped around the woman with the offensive hair and sprinted off again.
"Wait!" Despite his better judgement, Draco halted in the corridor about ten feet away and turned around.
"What?" he snapped, irritated.
There wasn't time for this.
"Do you know who I am?" said the pink haired woman.
She smirked at his sarcastic response. But Draco knew that smirk all too well. Hadn't he himself perfected it in this last year? The snarky grin to hide how one truly felt… and he could suddenly see that she was an exception to the rule he had discovered; she was neither truly scared nor truly determined. She was both. Her eyes held fear and even in this short fraction of time he watched as her head had snapped over her shoulder not once, but twice, like she was anxiously waiting for someone to walk around the corner. She was jittery and fidgety beneath the confident and almost cocky exterior pervaded by her grin and loud hair; like Draco, she was looking for someone. So why had she stopped?
She responded at last.
"I'm your cousin," she revealed, and Draco felt confused.
"I've never seen you in my life," he replied, and he felt perfectly certain that if he had, he would have remembered that hair; in fact, no Malfoy on earth would even be caught dead in that hair.
"I'm Andromeda's daughter."
The sister his mother never spoke of, the one who had married the Muggle. He looked at her properly now, and he saw aspects of his mother in her – her pointed face for one, that he himself had inherited, and hints of her cheekbones too.
"Oh," he said, feeling embarrassed.
The prejudices he had been trying so hard to rid himself of were stirring.
"Yeah, I'm the half-blood spawn that you probably don't talk about much," she said, with a slight laugh, but again she looked behind her and her eyes were still full of vulnerability. "I'm Nymphadora. But don't call me that, no-one does. I'm Tonks… oh wait, I guess technically I'm not, I'm Lupin now… but I'm still Tonks really," she babbled, probably from all the adrenaline flooding her body, and Draco saw her twist at a simple golden band on the fourth finger of her left hand.
So she was married then, realised Draco, and she'd said Lupin… she'd married a werewolf? He tried hard to keep his expression neutral. Was that who she was looking for?
"You're Draco," she said now.
"Yeah," he confirmed, still feeling uncomfortable.
Did she judge him? Probably, he answered himself.
"What are you doing here?"
"Fighting," he replied simply.
She nodded and at last there seemed to be a genuine smile on her face, one that looked less forced and less like the eerie, gouged-out smile of a Hallowe'en pumpkin.
"You're doing the right thing, you know," she said warmly, and then before he could reply she was half running and half skipping backwards down the corridor. She raised a hand and pointed at him and that fake smile was back. "Family reunion at some point, yeah? You're on our side now after all."
She grinned, baring teeth, and then turned around and started sprinting away.
"Later!" she called, and then she was gone round the corner.
There was no time for Draco to process; he, like his cousin, had someone to go and find. He checked his watch and his stomach sunk. It was five minutes to midnight.
He grabbed the map yet again and looked at the lines of the Ravenclaw tower. Her dot was not there. Fuck. Where had she gone? He shouldn't have let himself get distracted. His eyes raked the map. Where was she? He had to find her, he couldn't have lost her… There! Her dot was right there in the Great Hall, and it was next to another dot, labelled Harry Potter. What was the fastest way there? he asked himself as he shoved the map back into his back pocket. A route appeared in his mind almost instantly – when it came to Hermione, there was nothing but mental clarity – and then he ran off the way he had come.
Flying down the main staircase, Hermione was praying silently that Harry would be waiting for her in the Great Hall. Her stomach was hurting from running but she couldn't stop… there were only a few minutes to midnight. She felt like Cinderella in the tales from her childhood, only this was much more sinister – she wasn't waiting until she would have to leave the Ball. She was waiting for a war.
Skidding across the Entrance Hall, she was careful not to drop her precious cargo in her haste. If she did, her efforts so far would have been a waste.
She saw him in the distance, through the heavy wooden doors of the Great Hall and he was looking around all over for her.
"Harry!" she called as loud as she could over the din of spells and orders and panic, waving her free hand. "Harry!"
He finally noticed her and fought his way over through the chaos.
"Did you find a ghost? Did you talk to them?" she yelled to him as he came closer.
"I did, it's definitely the diadem, I talked to the Grey La- what the hell is that?" Harry replied.
Hermione looked down at the cause of Harry's confusion.
"It's Rowena Ravenclaw," she said.
"Why have you brought her head?" Harry asked, eyes popping in disbelief.
Again, Hermione looked at the white stone effigy under her arm. Its neck was jagged from where she had used a spell to separate it from the rest of the bust.
"I thought it would be better if you saw it, then we both know what we're looking for," she explained.
"And you couldn't have just described it to me?"
"No Harry, it's better this way, just- look, look, she's wearing the diadem," Hermione said, shifting the statue and holding it up so that Harry could see the carved white crown in the stone locks of Rowena Ravenclaw.
Harry took the statue off her and for that she was glad because it was ridiculously heavy. His eyes scoured every detail and she saw his brow furrow behind his glasses in concentration. Slowly, realisation appeared in his green orbs.
"I've seen this before…" he murmured, just loud enough for Hermione to hear.
"What?" she gasped. "How? It's lost-"
Suddenly Harry's eyes widened as comprehension dawned.
"I know where he is," he said, with startling certainty.
He set the head of one of the great Hogwarts founders down none too gently on the floor and Hermione gawped at him.
"It's in the Room of Requirement, I saw it last year, I just didn't know what it was," Harry explained. He took Hermione's hand. "Let's go."
She was interrupted by Ron striding towards them, carrying several large, curved, dirty yellow objects in his arms. He sidestepped around the crowd and raced towards them.
"Ron! Where have you been?" Hermione yelled. "Draco said you said something about a bathroom, what did you mean a bathroom?"
Ron's eyes darkened at the mention of Draco's name and the relief and happiness Hermione felt at the return of her friend was tinged somewhat by the realisation that things would not be the same between her and Ron any longer, and that at some point she would have to sit him down and talk to him and explain to him and hope that they could go back to being best friends, but what she needed to do now was find the diadem and fight and hope that they could end this somehow.
"Where the hell have you been?" Harry shouted, looking equal parts relieved and angry. "
Chamber of Secrets," said Ron.
"What?" said Harry and Hermione.
"I was just thinking that even if we found that- that crown thing, well, we'd still need a way to destroy it. And the cup. So I was thinking about Gryffindor's sword and the Basilisk venom so… yeah," Ron explained.
It hit Hermione what Ron was holding. Basilisk fangs.
"Ron, that's genius! It's incredible!" she gushed, and he smiled shyly.
"You aren't a Parselmouth though, how did you get in?" Harry asked.
Ron made a weird strangled sound and Harry recoiled slightly.
"That's the noise you made when you opened the locket. It took me a few tries but I managed it," he said, ruffling his hair and looking at the ground.
"Brilliant!" Harry said.
"Harry knows where the last Horcrux is," Hermione said breathlessly, dizzy from the run of luck they were having.
"What?" said Ron disbelievingly.
"Room of Requirement," Harry confirmed. "I'll tell you on the way, come on, let's go."
And so the three friends, so freshly reunited, set off at a run.
Ten past midnight. How could it have only been fifteen minutes when it felt like decades had stretched out since he'd bumped into his estranged cousin? And he'd barely covered any ground in between tripping and being forced to help and taking wrong turns amid all the mayhem.
All around Draco's feet lay stone chunks of exploded gargoyles, dust and debris, random pieces of armour no longer making up the full enchanted suits that had been blown to pieces by a well-aimed spell.
The whole castle juddered suddenly and Draco nearly fell. That had been happening sporadically for the past ten minutes. As he ran, he looked out of the window: the golden shimmer of the magical barrier between Hogwarts and the Death Eaters was still there, but there were visible cracks along it, inching further along the surface even as Draco watched briefly. Flashes of green and gold and white and red were raining down like fireworks as they exploded against the barrier, veiled slightly by the shimmer of the wards, but too often one of those flashes would make it through one of the cracks and sail through a window, shattering the glass and causing damage like the kind Draco could now see all around him.
His legs felt like jelly; though adrenaline was surging through him, the exertion of running almost non-stop was taking its toll. Once more, he barely had time to check the map for reference; too often he was commandeered by a group to help send up reinforcing spells for the wards or to help move someone who had been injured by the deadly accurate curses worming their way through the ever decreasing magical protection around them.
At one point, Draco swore he saw a giant lumber past a set of windows as he ran down a seventh floor corridor; he ran past Longbottom and Professor Sprout wearing earmuffs and stood by crates of potted plants that could only be Mandrakes, the silver sheen of a Silencing Charm glistening in a halo around them, as they took up position by huge arched windows, the stained glass inside the frames long since shattered, making a rainbow path of splinters along which Draco ran as he tried to get to the Entrance Hall.
With the next ominous shake of the castle, Draco ducked inside a nearby classroom as dust rained down from the ceiling; he was still on the seventh floor but now on the opposite side to Ravenclaw tower, how was that possible? He checked the map but yet again Hermione's dot had moved. As he raked the map for it among the chaos of moving ink while he desperately tried to ignore that the shakes of the castle were growing ever more frequent, he found her and his heart soared – she was on the seventh floor too, she was nearby. All he could see was the tiny, beautiful little speck of ink that represented her.
She'd moved so much faster than him, how… probably Potter's shortcuts, he thought, seeing Potter and the Weasley's dots next to hers. She was only a couple of corridors away, a minute at a run at most…
And then her dot disappeared. So did Potter and Weasley's. Draco shook his head, trying to make sense of it. They hadn't moved, the ink had just disappeared, like it had been siphoned away… Where was she? Where had she gone? Where… where…?
There was no time to even think. He shoved the map away and threw the classroom door open then sprinted as fast as he could possibly go towards where she'd last been. A terrific boom reverberated through the castle, sending dust down in thick clouds and shaking the castle so much that it threw Draco forwards and off his feet. As he struggled back up, coughing as he breathed in the grime, he saw with horror out of the nearest window that flaming chunks of the magical barrier were floating through the air like embers before disintegrating… the wards were down. He had to go, now.
He was back up, flying around the final corner… to find nothing but a deserted corridor where Hermione's dot could last be found. Draco scanned the lengths of the corridor but saw no-one and nothing, not even suits of armour, through the gloom, nothing but a few remaining torches in brackets giving off hardly any light, only enough to see clearly what was a few feet in front of him, but why would he want to see a stupid tapestry of an idiot wizard trying to teach trolls to dance…?
Oh, but he knew that tapestry.
He at last saw the door as he squinted through the thick mist of dust. The Room of Hidden Things, the room he'd practically lived in last year. At least she was safe. His heart was in his mouth. Damn to hell whatever private mission she was on with Potter, the wards were gone now and he was going in after her. He could hear echoes of shouts and cries and chaos in the distance but he ignored them as he ran over to the door, still ajar, that was keeping Hermione from him.
"Where are you going?"
The dulcet tones, like the beating of a drum, shocked Draco so much that he halted entirely. He turned agape to see his ex-cronies, Crabbe and Goyle, only a few feet behind him. If they were here, that meant nothing good.
"Crabbe. Goyle," he said, trying to act calm as he nodded at them cordially. "Haven't seen you two in a while."
They were wearing school robes that were covered in dust and they were swaying slightly, as though disoriented. They'd probably been thrown off their feet like Draco when the wards had come down. Ever so carefully, Draco began reaching his hand towards his front right pocket, making to reach for his wand. How hadn't he noticed them on the map if they had been nearby? He'd been too focussed on finding Hermione and now he was stuck.
Crabbe took his wand out now and pointed it at Draco. Goyle followed suit.
"Dropped out after Christmas. Dad had better things for me to do," he said slowly.
"Yeah, better things," said Goyle.
God, the pair of them were dense.
"We've been training," Crabbe added, and Draco felt a chill creep over him.
"So why are you wearing uniform then?" Draco asked uneasily, still trying to get hold of his wand without drawing attention to it.
"One of the others had a good idea, said we should put our old robes on and sneak in. We're spies," said Crabbe proudly.
"Yeah, they all had a feeling there'd be a big fight here soon. Since Dumbledore died. They helped sneak us in about a week ago from Hogsmeade and we've been hiding in the dungeons. And you never knew," Goyle said, and he and Crabbe exchanged stupid smiles.
Draco had a hand on his wand now.
"A week ago?" he said in disbelief.
How hadn't anyone noticed? Death Eater spies hidden in Hogwarts and no-one had even known.
"Yeah. We had to be really quiet and we couldn't eat much because we couldn't keep sneaking up to the kitchen for food," Crabbe added, looking unhappy. "But we did it because we knew we were important. They all told us so."
"Well, that's quite clever for you two idiots," he said, his voice shaky.
"We're not idiots. We're gonna be rewarded," said Goyle darkly. "First we got you, the traitor, and then we're gonna get Potter and the ginger and the Mudblood. We saw them go in there and we're gonna get 'em. The Dark Lord's gonna reward us."
"You aren't going to get me or them," Draco said, filling with anger at what they had called Hermione.
He wrenched his wand out of his pocket and attempted to Stun them but something unexpected prevented him; Crabbe grunted "Expelliarmus" and for the second time today, Draco's wand flew backwards out of his hand; he whipped his head around to see where it landed and heard it tinkle as it rebounded against the stone of a windowsill and landed with a clatter by the bottom of a far off arched window. He turned back, defenceless, to face the two. They were grinning stupidly, clearly pleased with themselves.
"We know how to do Unforgiveables now," Goyle said menacingly.
"You always used to boss us about, like we were nothing." Crabbe took a step forward. "But look who's in charge now. You've had this coming for a while. Malfoy."
He raised his wand and Draco winced, preparing to be Crucioed or even worse, when there was a splitting, crunching sound followed by the loudest blast he'd ever heard in his life; mere milliseconds later he was soaring through the air, lifted high off the ground by a force unlike anything he'd ever felt and he could feel heat as he flew, and then his whole body connected sharply with something hard and pain consumed him as he crumpled to the floor.
Somehow, he was still awake, but he couldn't move or open his eyes or even make a sound to scream from the agony and aches filling him up. Drawing in breath was nearly impossible, it was coming in slowly and barely at all. He could taste dirt and stone. There was a shrill hum rattling around in his very bones that faded slowly into a high buzzing sound and suddenly he could hear bits of what was going on around him. He could hear some kind of echo and a crumbling and the sound of rock on rock but he had no idea why, and then he heard groans and words in voices he thought he knew but he could make no sense of them.
"Wall exploded. I've cut my head."
"It's not that bad. Where's he gone?"
"Is he dead?"
"I think so. Look at all the blood. He's not moving. Doesn't even look like he's breathing. And his eyes are closed."
"Are you sure?"
"The wall that exploded was right behind him. No way he's living after that. Now come on, we have stuff to do."
Footsteps. Echoing. A door creaking. Rocks falling with a clatter. The shrill ringing taking over.