DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN HARRY POTTER!

The Serpents' Child

Chapter 36

June 1997

"Below, Harry. Hide yourself!"

Hermione jumped up from the chair she'd been resting in, standing to the side of the archway. Harry ran through it, jumping when he saw Hermione. "What are you doing here?" He hissed in a whisper, clutching his heart in surprise.

"I came looking for Dumbledore." She whispered back, pressing herself against the wall as the footsteps heading up the tower got closer. Harry copied her, taking hold of her hand. Whoever it was ran past the room, up into the open area above them. What Dumbledore said next froze both of them.

"Good evening Draco." Hermione felt like someone had punched her in the throat, her breath being snatched from her body as she looked through the gaps in the floorboards over her head and saw her cousin aiming his wand at Dumbledore. "What brings you here on this fine summer evening?"

"Who else is here?" He demanded. "I heard you talking!"

"No, I often talk aloud to myself. I find it extremely useful at helping one clear one's mind." Through the floor, Hermione could see Draco's scared and tormented face. He didn't want to do this. That gave her some comfort. "Draco," Dumbledore said kindly and gently, "You are no assassin."

"I've done things that would shock you!" He argued.

"Like giving Katie Bell a cursed necklace in the hope she'd give it to me? Like swapping a bottle of wine with one laced with poison?"

"I told you!" Harry hissed to Hermione through the mental link. She scowled at him, then turned back to listen again.

"Forgive me, Draco, but those efforts seem so weak that I don't believe your heart was truly in them." Dumbledore tested.

Draco glared. "He trusts me! I was chosen!" He pulled back the sleeve of his left forearm. Harry and Hermione couldn't see, but by Dumbledore's face, they could tell that the Dark Mark had been burned into Draco's skin. He was a Death Eater after all.

"Then I'll make it easy for you."

Dumbledore pulled out his wand, but Draco was too quick. "Expelliarmus!" Dumbledore's wand flew from his hand, landing in a corner across the room. Harry pulled his own wand out. Hermione kept hers sheathed.

"Very good, Draco." Dumbledore sounded impressed. The door at the bottom of the tower opened again. "You're not alone. There are others? How?"

Draco seemed to wrestle with himself for a second before answering. "The Vanishing Cabinet in the Room of Requirement. I've been mending it. It has a twin, in Borgin and Bourkes. They form a passage."

"Your precious cousin's let Death Eaters into Hogwarts!" Harry shouted through the link, giving Hermione a headache. Separating their hands, Hermione took out her wand, standing next to Harry as he pressed himself against the wall of the room.

"Ingenious!" Dumbledore praised. "Draco, a long time ago, I knew a boy who made all the wrong choices. Please let me help you."

"I don't want your help! Don't you see? I have to do this. I have to kill you." Hermione didn't need to see her cousin's face to tell that he was crying, the pain was evident in his voice. "Or He said He'd kill me." Her heart broke for Draco. He didn't want to do this, but had to under pain of death. That was why he'd been so distracted and angry this year – he'd been trying to stay alive.

Footsteps – at least four pairs – ran past the archway to the storage room, and up the short staircase into the main room. As they ran past, Hermione tried to get a good look at them. She couldn't see them clearly enough. She looked to Dumbledore's face through the boards. He looked…Scared. She had never seen Dumbledore scared before. That alone struck terror into her own heart. His eyes flicked downwards, meetings hers. His fear grew. He obviously hadn't known she'd been there. What was about to happen? Did Dumbledore know already?

"Well well." Cackled a voice.

"No."

"Look at what we have here."

"Please no."

"Hermione?" Harry whispered as Hermione rested her head against his shoulder, tears leaking from her eyes.

"Good evening Bellatrix." Dumbledore greeted. There was a tremor in his voice. This was not going to end well. He looked to the other people in the room. "I believe introductions are in order."

"I'd love to, Albus, but we're on a bit of tight schedule." She laughed. She walked over to Draco, kissing his cheek. "Well done Draco." She praised in a delighted whisper.

Hermione stepped forward again, looking through the boards at the other Death Eaters' faces. Her heart sunk again. "Greyback. The Carrow twins. Dolohov."

"Do it!" Bellatrix urged Draco, who hesitated.

"He doesn't have the stomach. Just like his father." Greyback insulted, taking a step towards Dumbledore. "Let me finish him off!"

"No! The Dark Lord has given orders! Draco is to do it!"

A floorboard creaked behind Harry and Hermione. They shot around. Snape was standing in the archway of the room, his wand raised. The two teens raised their own, but Snape lowered his. He raised a finger to his lips, then motioned for them to stay put, backing out of the room.

"Come on, Draco! Now!" Bellatrix screamed.

"No."

Everyone in the room above turned. Snape had stepped forward. No-one moved. Draco cowered. Bellatrix glared. Hermione held her breath, taking hold of Harry's free hand, squeezing it in fear. He squeezed back. Snape and Dumbledore looked at each other.

"Severus. Please." Dumbledore pleaded.

"Avada Kedavra!" Green light shot from Snape's wand, flying towards the Headmaster and hitting him in the chest. The force of the spell sent his body over the railing behind him, sending him tumbling towards the ground two-hundred feet below.

The Death Eaters above rushed to the balcony, looking over the side. Hermione curled up in Harry's arms, who held her as he went numb, both of them trembling. Bellatrix cackled with glee, shooting a Morsmordre into the sky. The Death Eaters ran back down the stairs of the tower, the sounds of their movements becoming quieter the further they got away. Harry pulled away from Hermione shakily, stumbling back into an iron globe. He turned and ran out the room and down the stairs.

"Harry. Harry!" She cried after him as she wept, getting no response.

Heading down the stairs, she knew she wouldn't have a chance to catch up – Harry was faster than her, and was being fuelled by rage. When she got to the bottom of the tower, she looked out the window. There, on the grass below, lay Albus Dumbledore. She knew what she had to do. Running through the castle, jumping down steps whenever she could, skidding around corners, Hermione emerged from the castle. She could see him. She didn't breathe as she got closer. There he was. She collapsed next to him, feeling his neck for a pulse, but knowing she wouldn't find one. His eyes were still open. Reaching over with a trembling hand, she gently closed his eyes, unable to contain her grief as she picked up one of his hands and stroked it gently, whispering to him softly as she brushed his hair away from his face, smoothing down his robes.

And that was how the school found them. Hermione didn't look up, but she knew everyone was there. She could feel them, feel their grief, their heartbreak. No-one approached. No-one spoke. Someone came closer. She looked up. It was Harry. Crouching down beside Dumbledore, he held his other hand. They sat there for what felt like an eternity, looking into the now peaceful face of their Headmaster, Hermione stroking his head soothingly. The area around them grew lighter. Was it dawn? She looked up and saw everyone with their wand in the air, shining light up at the sky, destroying the Morsmordre above their heads. Hermione smiled at the sight. The Dark was defeated by the Light.

With a silent prayer, she hoped that was a sign of things to come.

!"!

Dumbledore's funeral was the next day. It had to be; all the students were being sent home the day after. Home, Hermione mused. That was going to be a cheerful place. The worst part for Hermione was that it probably would be – Dumbledore's death was a victory for the Dark, and thus would be celebrated. For the first time ever, Hermione wanted to run away. She wanted to be taken away from this place. Away from a world with Light and Dark. Maybe take Blaise with her.

The funeral had been done well. Respectful and dignified, yet still with life and hope. It was a wonderful homage to Dumbledore's memory. Dusk approached. Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny were in the Astronomy Tower, standing exactly where Dumbledore had stood when he had died, looking out over the lake and forest behind the school. With the sun starting to set, it was a beautiful and peaceful sight. Hermione could see why Dumbledore had liked to come up here.

"Do you think he would have done it?" Ginny asked. Everyone looked to her. "Draco. Do you think he would have killed him?"

"No." Harry answered first. "He was lowering his wand."

"He was scared." Hermione said, quietly. She'd been using that as a small comfort to herself. "In the end it was Snape."

"It was always Snape." Ron grumbled.

Harry held out a golden locket on a chain. Hermione looked at him questioningly. "It's fake. Go on."

She opened it. Inside was a tiny folded up piece of parchment. She opened it, handing the locket to Ginny, who turned it this way and that. "To the Dark Lord. I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death with the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more. R.A.B." She looked to Harry. "R.A.B?"

He shrugged. "No idea. But whoever they are, they have the real Horcrux. It means it was all a waste." He meant Dumbledore's death. The four of them looked at each other. "I'm not coming back." Harry announced. "I've got to finish whatever Dumbledore started. I don't know where that'll lead me, but I'll try to keep you informed as best I can." He said with a brave nod.

Hermione smiled at her friend. "I've always admired your courage, Harry. But sometimes you are so thick. You don't think you can find all those Horcruxes by yourself, do you?" Anyone listening in would have thought that she was being insulting, but the four of them didn't take it that way. "We're in this together, Harry."

"But your family-"

"I don't give a shit about them anymore." She answered honestly. They looked shocked at her language.

Ron cleared his throat. "But if the Light win the war-"

"I know. But what if they win? Like I said, we're in this together. All of us." They stood in silence for a while, pondering the future and what was to come.

Ginny was the first to speak up. "So what's the plan?"