An Unbearable End
As soon as Draco touches his mother's hand he apparates. They are inside of the most protected part of Hogwarts, the Great Hall. Inside there are people being healed and mourned, but some Death Eaters were able to apparate in just as he has done. Bellatrix is one of them. She is fighting with Ginny Weasley. The fierce young girl can defend herself well in spite of his aunt's extensive training and practice. For a brief moment Ginny seems to pause which gives Bellatrix the chance to attack and take her down. He knows that she will cast to kill so Draco reaches down to a dead body nearby. It is a very young girl who had her wand held out in front of her, which means she must have been murdered from behind.
Nobody is looking at Draco except for his mother. He defends against Bellatrix for Ginny Weasley, which gives her mother a chance to step in now. Narcissa turns her head and walks over to somebody who is injured very badly. She must know that her sister is about to die. Draco does not stop himself from watching, though, because he knows that she deserves it. He wishes to see justice served upon her. She hurt Hermione in ways that cannot be forgotten and he feels a vengeance satisfied when Mrs. Weasley brings her down for good.
After that, many of the Death Eaters flee the Great Hall; Draco presumes they are abandoning the war all together. Many of Voldemort's followers already 'jumped ship' immediately after Harry Potter revealed that he was still alive, but there was also the possibility that they went to seek out weaker victims. As it becomes obvious that there is no remaining threat in the hall, Draco mimics his mother; helping anyone who he is capable of healing. As he walks around he happens across Neville Longbottom, passed out with the Sword of Gryffindor not far from his reach. Draco squats down to him and touches his head. He's just been knocked unconscious which is something to be thankful for. His hands reach out to shake him awake but Neville must sense it before it happens because he jerks upright and half groans, half shouts.
"I must save Harry Potter!" No sooner does Draco blink does Neville have the Sword of Gryffindor back in his hand. He runs off out of the Great Hall. Draco remains with his gaze cast around at all the people, his hands stuffed in his pocket. This war has brought disaster after disaster. Barely two minutes pass by before Draco decides that he will not wait and see as he'd told Pansy earlier. He has always been passive when it came to his roles in the war. But Draco wanted – no – needed to do more to help ensure that Harry Potter defeats Voldemort. So he dashes after Neville in an attempt to play a more active role.
He catches up in no time; he is leaner and faster than Neville quite simply. They travel silently together, only speaking enough to decide in which direction Nagini would have travelled. Time ticks by very slowly as they wander the halls; Neville and Draco both decide unconsciously to round themselves back near the Great Hall when they hear a familiar scream sound off to the left off them, near the main staircase of the school.
Draco does not hesitate. He makes it up the first flight of stairs to find Hermione and Weasley huddling against the rubble on the landing. He watches her bury her face into his chest and even though he is jealous his anger is even stronger. Why isn't Weasley doing more? Why did he let her stay there? Draco could think of at least a dozen different things he could be doing more of in order to keep her safe. Keep her alive!
In his outrage, Draco begins casting protective spells on the two of them. Just then Neville catches up wielding a weapon strong enough to end Nagini in one fell swoop. Luckily, or unluckily as Draco sees it, the snake is still focused on Ron and Hermione. Before the predator is about to strike the prey Neville brings it upon himself to finally swing the sword down.
She must have detected his movement because just before the blade is meant to break surface the snake turns and attacks Neville. Draco realizes he must act quickly. Even though Neville's body is falling to the ground, already dead, he has to reach for the blade. It clamored to the ground immediately when the serpent turned around. Lunging forward doesn't provoke Nagini the way it normally would because the creature recognizes Draco. It had been in his home many times, after all. However, he does get too close and she makes a move. He narrowly misses her fangs but Draco has to refigure how to get ahold of the blade without alerting the enemy.
Then the soft sound of a rock being pelted at the serpent is heard. Draco jerks his gaze over to Hermione and Weasley who have both taken the opportunity to put some distance between them and Nagini. Now they were throwing rocks to distract her. It was a reckless plan but it did allow Draco to lean out and grab the blade. As soon as the metal could be heard scraping the focus was back on him.
Draco glances over at Hermione who was no longer embracing Weasley. Her eyes are stuck on him, very rarely bouncing back to the creature ready to attack him. Her body is tense and she is worried, conflicted even, between what she should do and what she wants to do. Draco knows this because he has felt that way for years.
Nagini raises herself into the air, ready to kill. Draco points the blade at the creature and waits. There's a cool settled feeling in his chest as he realizes that the only way to bring the serpent down is if he goes down with her. That would be all right, he thought, because then the world would be a safer place for Hermione. Nagini's hiss is blaring around him but he doesn't hear any of it. He is too busy remembering the kiss in the library. The one and only kiss he would ever get to share with Hermione.
Hermione remembers the last time she used her time turner in fifth year; it was always for her classes and finals. But Draco had taken it and used it that year, too, in order to get a letter to her. The letter he had not included in the book he returned to her at the Three Broomsticks. She knew the laws surrounding the time turner, of course. Not more than five hours, never to save someone from death, never to kill someone, never to alter history significantly. Time travel was unreliable and difficult to master. You couldn't even be allowed to see yourself for it would drive you mad. Hermione had to recite all of these laws when she received the time turner to ensure that she knew well what having this rare piece of equipment meant. Yet, Hermione had broken two of those rules in her third year.
The time turner still remains on her person as it had all those years ago. She balls her hand around it and looks for the telltale signs that this was the path she was meant to take. There would be signs that she uses the time turner, as there had been at Honeydukes. It was a shimmery feeling around her head that alerted her that the device was used then but no such feeling comes to her now. So now she sought nothing more than a blurry spot in her vision, a strange quiet noise, or an inconceivable action. Her eyes never left Draco and Nagini but she kept her senses sharp.
The serpent was only a few inches away from attacking Draco now. There was no more waiting. Hermione pulls out the time turner at record-breaking speed and wraps it around her neck. She doesn't even need a full hour. She just needs fifteen minutes. The time turner only works at thirty-minute intervals, though, so she turns it appropriately and turns back to look at Ron who is more confused than ever.
"I'm sorry." Hermione shouts just before she disappears backwards in time. Thirty minutes ago they were in the crowd watching Voldemort talk about Harry as if he were dead. Hermione appeared at the entrance of the school away from everyone. She knew that Neville had the Sword of Gryffindor so she would have to sit back and wait for people to disperse so she could get the weapon from him, leaving a duplicate in its place. As she waits she also decides she will need to immediately wipe that memory from Neville's head in order for the time travel to be successful.
Hermione isn't stuck sitting limbo for very long because only minutes later her friend's body is flying directly at her. She dodges him, only barely, and then must watch as people carry on as usual. Once the crowds flee and spread out she walks over to Neville and the sword. He is knocked out so she feels relief wash over her.
Hermione does not want to perform another memory charm; it is deceitful and powerful. She has never wished to be that strong and certainly has not gained a taste for it in that moment time. She acts quickly and duplicates the Sword of Gryffindor, and act she was tortured for by Bellatrix Lestrange. "Geminio."
Irony makes her smile faintly as she places the false sword down next to Neville Longbottom. He deserves to be the hero but instead she knows that he will die. Tears trickle over her cheeks but she does not allow herself long to grieve. She must find a way to get this to herself in the present so that she can save Draco and end this war. Hermione feels awful for not thinking of saving her friend before saving the man she loves, but if she can save just one life today then she will be satisfied regardless. She cannot allow herself to be a guilty hero.
She starts off in the same direction she'd gone with Ron. Up the stairs of the main hall, and to the right on the landing; it would be a few more minutes before she and Ron were faced with Nagini. So she would have to find a hiding spot until the opportune moment arises for her to attack. Hermione chuckles at the thought, attack. She is not that sort of person yet in a war it is one of two things people can do: attack or defend. Hermione defended all evening side-by-side with friends. They all kept falling to the enemy, injured or worse. She would not sit back and question whether the war could be won. Hermione would win the war, or at the very least help.
Hermione places herself in the shadows of a column and keeps the sword at the ready. She forces herself to watch the actions playing out in front of her. Nagini advancing on her and Ron, Draco showing up and casting protective spells, Neville coming up behind him and dying in an attempt to end the war, her and Ron moving further away from the scene in an attempt to help Draco and – finally – Draco being faced with imminent death. This is her only chance. She pulls out her wand and points first at Ron.
Then at herself.
And finally, at Draco, "Impedimenta."
Everyone is thrown backwards just in time. Nagini jolts at nothing. Draco is thrown atop the rubble, which she and Ron had been cowering on a few minutes ago. She is caught up in her time line so Hermione waits for the serpent to turn away from her. It first turns towards the column where she is hiding but ends up returning attention to Draco atop the rubble. She will have to move quickly so she bites her lip and decides the only way to achieve success in this predicament is to apparate. She focuses very pointedly on the same location where Draco is laying.
A very quiet snap sounds when she moves. It is loud enough to distract Nagini. Hermione catches the last half of the sound when she lands. The snake is still facing the opposite direction and this is clearly her only window of opportunity. Hermione places her free hand on the hilt of the sword after dropping her wand and swings in front of her chest with all the force she can manage. She closes her eyes when the blade makes contact and is only confirmed in her actions when the sound of two separate parts of the creature smack against the stony floor. Seconds pass in solid silence before she opens her eyes to see what she has done.
Once she has that confirmation she looks over at Ron first, just to see if she knocked him unconscious when she blasted him away from the trouble. Hermione finds immediately that he was not because he is on his feet staring at her. A weak smile spreads over her lips. The war may be over but she knows there is another battle within herself yet to be won.
She then takes this opportunity to focus on Draco. She pulls her wand into her hand before placing her hands on the Slytherin's shoulders to jar him back to consciousness. He doesn't stir at first so Hermione pushes him around harder. Nothing happens. Panic swells in her chest as she becomes more violent in her movements, trying relentlessly to get some sort of reaction out of him. When he does, at last, awaken she lets out a loud gasp of relief.
Hermione pauses before she does anything else. She registers Ron's presence behind her. He must have come over when she started tossing Draco about in worry. As one man sits up, the other kneels down and the three of them are sitting there quietly. Hermione looks at the ground and waits for someone else to talk, for someone else to ask the questions.
Thankfully, she does not wait very long.
"We should go back to the Great Hall. They may need us there." Ron says kindly. Hermione sees Draco nodding to her left and follows suit effortlessly. The three of them head back to the Great Hall without another word. Hermione is grateful that Ron and Draco don't ask about her use of the time turner, another defiant act against the laws set in place to prevent such selfish motivations. She is also thankful that neither of them brought up Hermione's very obvious emotional conflict between the two of them.