Life Debt

Settling a Debt

-Draco-

I could sense Weasley's need to help Potter as he stood beside me. Even I thought it was stupid to challenge him head on like this. The duel had been going for some time now, stray spells hitting off the walls inside the manor, causing rubble and stone to break off, nearly hitting us and the Death Eaters on Voldemort's side of the room. It was strange, seeing Voldemort be evenly matched. With the Elder Wand, Potter had the edge he needed, the leverage that made Voldemort actually fear the outcome of the duel. It wasn't obvious, but it was there. He was afraid, I could see it in the desperation of his spells, his voice. The confidence was long gone.

It wasn't long before he noticed the wand. There was a break in the fighting, Voldemort trying to use it to bait Potter. "I see you have my wand, Potter...how many of your little friends died trying to retrieve it? I don't see the mudblood with you...did the manticores get her?"

At his mention of Hermione, my grip on my wand tightened, and I could hear the Elder Wand calling out louder, calling for Voldemort's blood. He deserves the bloodiest of deaths... He did, and I wondered if Potter had heard the wand speak as well. He shot me a look, indicating that he had.

"Relax, Malfoy." Weasley tried to calm me, but it wasn't working. I wanted to lunge at Voldemort, to kill him myself, to hell with the prophecy. Voldemort noticed.

"Is she dead, young Malfoy? You couldn't save your little mudblood whore after all..." He sneered, his snake-like face contorting into a disgusting smirk.

"Malfoy..." Weasley's voice was a warning, his hand on my shoulder, trying to keep me from going at Voldemort. "If you attack him, the Death Eaters will attack. We can't win this way..."

"ENOUGH!" The baiting had worked, and now Potter was furious. The fury wasn't entirely him, though. And the bloodlust in his eyes wasn't his own. It was the wand, its call to violence stronger than Potter's resistance to it. The battle continued, the younger wizard shooting a spell I didn't recognize at Voldemort. The dark wizard dodged, momentarily satisfied with his handiwork as Potter slowly lost control.

-Hermione-

Even though I was asleep, I could feel the pain getting worse. How much time did I have left? Would Luna do as I had asked? If anyone could believe what Snape had told me, it would be her.

Draco...I wanted him there, to hold my hand, to give me something to tether me down, to keep me from letting the pain win. But I knew he couldn't be there. He was with Harry and Ron, probably fighting the last battle as I lied there useless and in pain. I couldn't stand the idea that I wasn't there to help, that there was nothing I could do but wait. On top of the pain, I could feel my panic, not because of the poison, but the idea that, if I woke up, Harry, Ron, and Draco might not be there to greet me. They might be dead. It left a horrid taste in my mouth, metallic, bitter.

I felt a warm liquid on my chin then, spilling down the corners of my mouth and onto my neck. Someone's hand was holding my head up, while the other held the vial against my lips, pouring the liquid into my mouth. That's where the taste was coming from – manticore blood. My eyes snapped open, and I was met with Luna's face hovering over mine, as she sat beside me, giving me the antidote to the manticore poison. I was suddenly unbelievably thirsty, and I drank the blood with desperation. Molly stood behind Luna, looking on, disgust, slight horror, and doubt written all over her features.

The pain was fading, my energy returning, the exhaustion ebbing away. I sat up, coughing, some of the blood spilling on my hand as I did. I was dizzy, almost drunk. The blood was potent, and there was no way to tell what kind of side-effects it might have on me. For now, though, all I cared about was that the pain was gone. The liquid had spread warmth all over me, the pain disappearing with every passing moment. I wiped my mouth with the back of my bloodied hand, looking up at Luna and Molly.

"Hermione?" Molly's expression changed to concern. "Are you alright?"

"I...I think so." I blinked several times, trying to clear my vision of the dizzying spots. My head felt heavy, but all the pain was finally gone. "The pain is gone."

"How did you know this was the cure?" Luna looked from me to the empty vial in her hands, fascination clear in her eyes. Some of the red liquid still clung to the glass.

"Snape...I thought I was dreaming. He told me, told me that manticore blood would make me immune to the poison, cancel out the effects." I was still in shock that he'd been right. Standing up from the bed, I had to hold myself against the wall to keep from falling. Luna motioned to help me stand. "I'm okay. I just...feel odd."

Her eyes widened, more so than usual, when she looked at me again. "Hermione, your eyes..."

There was a mirror beside the bed, and when I turned to look at myself, I noticed what had spooked her. No longer the dark brown I was used to, they had gotten lighter, become almost amber. Small red specks dotted my irises. "Side-effect? Snape didn't say anything about..." I couldn't even finish the sentence, unnerved by my own reflection.

Molly took a slight step back, clearly afraid. We didn't know what this was doing to me, didn't know what kind of adverse effects the blood might have.

"I need to talk to Snape." I was talking more to myself than the two women in the room with me. "Dobby!" When the small house elf appeared, he took a step back upon seeing my eyes.

"Miss Hermione is alright?" He was unnerved by my eyes, clearly, but he got past it enough to show his concern.

"Yes, Dobby. But I need to go to Hogwarts. Will you take me to the Room of Requirement?" He nodded reluctantly, taking my hand.

"Hermione, wait. We don't know what this did to you. It could be dangerous..." Molly went into mother mode, urging me to stay, to go back to bed.

"I'm sorry but I have to go." I ignored the rest of her protests, signaling Dobby to take me.

-Draco-

Both sides itched to join our respective leaders. I wasn't sure how much longer Potter would remain in control, and it was clear that Voldemort now thought he had the upper hand. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Dobby disappear. Had something happened in the hideout? My thoughts immediately went to Hermione, knowing that she was the only other person, besides Potter, Weasley, and me with the ability to call him.

"Look out!" Another stray spell hit the wall behind us, forcing most of us to move. The maneuverable area of the room was getting smaller. Soon, everything would be in ruins, but neither Potter or Voldemort seemed willing to relocate. It was as if no one else were in the room with them. They only had eyes on each other, following every movement, trying to anticipate every attack.

Kill him... Potter was making a conscious effort to ignore the wand. I could see it in the stiffness of his movements. Had it been me, I wouldn't have hesitated to mutter the unforgivable that would end the fight.

The Elder Wand was no longer an advantage to Potter, but a distraction. Voldemort sent another curse his way, and this time Potter wasn't able to dodge it. This fight was about to end exactly as the one at Hogwarts, except that we were in enemy territory now, outnumbered, and the chance of escape was unlikely.

-Hermione-

The castle was completely void of life. The manticore corpses were still around, only adding to the emptiness, the hollow feeling within the walls. I thanked Dobby, expecting him to leave. When he didn't, I didn't question it, letting him follow me into the room where Dumbledore and Snape's portrait waited for me.

"Miss Granger." Dumbledore didn't seem fazed by my appearance, and Snape simply looked on, his eyes only darting to mine momentarily.

"Hello professors." I narrowed my eyes at Snape, annoyed that he hadn't warned me about side-effects. Opting not to beat around the bush, I continued, "What exactly did the manticore blood do to me?"

Dumbledore motioned me to sit in the chair, but I refused, staying on my feet, my hand on the chair's backrest. "It counteracted the poison."

"Clearly." For the first time in all the years I knew Dumbledore, his penchant for mystery was starting to get to me.

"Show some respect, Miss Granger!" Snape was angry, but at the moment that didn't bother me.

"It's alright, Severus." Dumbledore smiled at me, despite addressing the other professor. "Miss Granger, you are fine. Manticore blood is similar in its properties to unicorn blood."

"Am I cursed?" My mind flashed back to what I knew about unicorn blood. Anyone who drank it would live a cursed life.

"No. There isn't a way to tell how long the side effects of the blood will last, but the important thing is that it fights the poison." He paused, examining my eyes through his spectacles. "My theory is that the side effects will likely wear off once the poison has been purged from your system."

At the very least, it gave me something to look forward to.

-Draco-

It wasn't looking good for Potter. At all.

"We have to do something." Weasley's voice was urgent, insistent. He gripped his wand with white knuckles, ready to step in.

"If we interfere, we are as good as dead." Lupin's voice came from behind us.

"If we don't, Potter is dead." My eyes followed the progression of the fight, until Potter was thrown back by a spell, landing only a few feet in front of us. Weasley and I rushed over to him. "Potter! Potter wake up!" He was alive, but unconscious. We needed to think of something, quickly, or Voldemort would dispose of him in moments.

"Has the boy finally accepted defeat?" The hiss of his voice traveled the air between us, everything suddenly growing quiet. The Death Eaters behind him awaited a response, tense with excitement. The look of hope on my father's face disgusted me. Before Weasley could do something stupid, or any of the Order members could speak, I took the Elder Wand from Potter.

Kill him... I intended to.

-Hermione-

I walked out of the Room of Requirement, Dobby by my side. There was nothing else the professors could help me with. All I had to do was wait for the blood to finish fighting off the poison. I couldn't simply sit around waiting for this to happen. The boys needed me, and I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that something was terribly wrong, more so than the obvious. I thought about returning to the hideout, letting Luna and Molly know I was okay. But I couldn't. Instead, I turned to Dobby, asking him to take me where the boys had gone.

"But Miss..." His large eyes were clouded by doubt, concern for me, for my condition.

"Please. I need to help them, if I can." Maybe it was the look in my eyes that convinced him to do as I said. Still clearly worried, he took my hand and we disappeared.

When we appeared at the manor, I was faced with a nightmare. Off to the side of the room, Ron crouched beside Harry's motionless body, and Draco was getting up, moving to fight Voldemort, Elder Wand in hand. I was frozen in place, unable to react, and it hadn't seemed like anyone noticed my presence yet. Dobby had been smart to Apparate us in a shadowed corner of the room. Before I could do or say anything, Draco engaged Voldemort in combat.

Behind Voldemort, the Death Eaters stirred, moving to attack the few Order members present. It would all be over. They were all going to die.

"No!" Voldemort extended his arm, stopping his army. "I don't need the help of incompetent fools..." His pride was getting in the way. Did he realize what he was doing? I looked on as he faced Draco, trying to find a way to help. "I will deal with the insolent, Malfoy brat and then with Potter."

I never thought Voldemort's words could bring relief, but they did. We stood a fighting chance. Ron picked up Harry's body, bringing him to the back of the crowd of Order members. I made my way over, trying to remain unseen. When I crouched down beside Ron, I took him by surprise.

"Hermione!"

"Shh..." I looked at him, hand over my mouth. I realized then I was still blood-smeared, Ron's eyes widening with the hint of fear. The other order members that saw me remained quiet, turning their attention back to the fight. The room shook with the impact of each spell that missed its mark, the explosions covering up our voices.

"What happened...?"

"Long story." I turned my attention to Harry. "Harry...come on, wake up." Shaking his body, I did everything I could to get a reaction out of him. It seemed like an eternity before he finally came to.

"Her-Hermione?" He coughed, apparently still sore from the spell that knocked him out. "Are you alright?"

"Yes, don't worry about me. Are you alright?" Harry didn't seem to have any serious injuries, sitting up easily.

"Where's...?" He turned to look at the fight, his eyes widening when he saw Draco wielding the wand, fighting Voldemort for him. "No...he's going to get himself killed."

Before any of us could do anything, Draco was thrown back by an explosion, knocked a few feet away from us, near the corner I'd Apparated to with Dobby. Still conscious, he was struggling to stand, mouth moving in an incantation. I could see the fury in his eyes, the rage. The wand's influence was strong on Draco, his eyes blind to everything but his target. On the other side of the room, Voldemort was raising his wand. Every hair on my body stood on end, knowing exactly what was coming.

I didn't know what I was doing, only that I had to cross the distance between us before Voldemort shot his spell. Draco couldn't die, and I couldn't be sure if it was the life debt I owed him or my feelings propelling me forward. I heard the Order's cries as they tried to stop me, Ron and Harry calling out my name. In moments, I was in front of Draco. It seemed as if he didn't see me at first, still focused on his target.

"Draco!" My hands gripped his shoulders, stopping him from advancing. When he looked at me, his brows furrowed in confusion at first, as he slowly realized I was there. Eyes widening when they locked onto mine, he was about to say something when I felt it, the impact.

A green light lit the air around us, and the world went black.

-Draco-

For the second time in my life, the body of someone I loved laid limp in my arms. I couldn't breathe, choking on the tears I tried to keep down. I cried out, anger and fury, sorrow and grief, all mixing into one. Nothing around me mattered anymore, only the girl in my arms, who had sacrificed her life to get to me, to save me. I held her body close to mine, collapsing to the ground with her, unwilling to let go, not caring if Voldemort shot another Avada to finish me off.

Voldemort's laughter filled the room, the sound sickening in its sadistic pleasure. I looked up, hatred filling me completely. Before I could react any further, I saw Potter move out of the corner of my eye. I hadn't even noticed him get up, and I imagined Voldemort hadn't either. He was still looking at me, at the ready prey before him.

"Avada Kedavra!" The curse flashed its deadly green. A gasp filled the room as it struck the intended target. Voldemort's lifeless form collapsed among the wreckage of what remained prompting the Death Eaters to scatter at the sight of their fallen leader. Order members gave chase, leaving Potter, Weasley, and me alone with Hermione's body.

I was too stunned to speak. Looking over at Potter, I shot him a grateful look. He'd save my life, taking advantage of Voldemort's momentary lapse, his pride at having killed one of the Golden Trio.

"Hermione..." Weasley knelt beside us, taking Hermione's hand in his, and Potter followed.

"I'm so sorry..." Potter's voice was filled with guilt, and I knew he blamed himself for her death.

The tears rolled down my cheeks silently, and I pulled her to me again, burying my face in her neck. "Why...? You didn't have to...do this..." Her body still felt warm, and for a second, I could pretend she might wake up.

"D-Draco?" I thought I was hearing things, thought her voice was just in my head. Any doubt disappeared when I felt her heartbeat, faint, but there.

I pulled back, taking her face in my hands as her eyes fluttered open. She blinked slowly, her eyes clearing as the moments passed. They were still light, with specks of red, but they were beginning to darken. "She's alive..."

Potter and Weasley lifted their heads, smiles breaking out into their faces at the sight of Hermione's eyes opening. She offered them a faint smile, weakness clear on her face.

"Hermione!" Their excitement was palpable, and I couldn't help my own smile.

-Hermione-

"I'm...I'm alright, boys." I didn't know how, but I was alive. The curse hadn't killed me. "What happened...to..." I struggled to sit up, to look around the room for a hint of the outcome.

"Voldemort is dead. We won." Just as Ron spoke, my eyes settled on the dark wizard's body in the center of the room.

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