Chapter Thirteen: The Eve of the War
Dumbledore stared out of the window miserably, his eyes shining with unshed tears. ‘You’re sure?’ he enquired of Lupin who was sitting in a chair with his head in his hands.
He looked up, rubbing his eyes to rid himself of the fatigue he felt having been up all night. ‘Yes, the attack happened last night. We were unable to get there in time to prevent it,’ he answered mournfully.
Dumbledore sighed, closing his eyes when Fawkes landed softly on his shoulder, rubbing his face against Dumbledore’s cheek. He reached up, stroking his silky feathers, before turning to Lupin. ‘She needs to know, before the final battle. I know she may not fight to her full potential, but she deserves to know. Will you go and get her for me, Remus?’ he asked, and Lupin nodded, standing to leave the room.
Haldir stepped forward from where he was standing in the corner silently listening. ‘Is there anything I can do, Albus?’ he asked, his tone vexed by this turn of events.
Dumbledore nodded. ‘Bring Legolas here, please. I think we should make him aware as well,’ he answered, gesturing towards the grounds. ‘I saw him walking out by the lake not long ago,’ he added, and Haldir nodded, leaving without another word to find his companion.
He knew something was wrong, he could tell from the tone Haldir used and managed to catch up with them before they reached Dumbledore’s office. He could tell from the expression on her face she knew something dreadful had happened. His hand brushed against hers, and she felt like ice. He quelled the impulse to take her hands in his to warm them.
When they reached the office, Lupin bid them farewell, heading back down the stairs, and Legolas looked at her, before opening the door to the large office. Dumbledore turned upon their arrival, beckoning Hermione to sit down, and he offered Legolas a seat, but he declined, opting to stand against the wall next to the desk.
‘What’s happened?’ Hermione queried in a small voice, taking in Dumbledore’s distraught appearance.
Dumbledore sat down slowly, looking at her over his half-moon spectacles. ‘There was an attack last night at your home, Hermione. We were unable to get there in time to thwart anything from happening to your parents,’ he paused, letting the words sink in, and studied her facial expressions cautiously, the mirage of different emotions… hurt, rage, betrayal, confusion, and, at last, acceptance. ‘Voldemort murdered them... I’m so sorry,’ he finished, feeling his eyes well with tears.
Hermione felt her throat close off painfully, shutting her eyes, and suddenly Legolas was beside her. A cold chill made the hair on the back of her neck lift when she felt him stroke her hair, and, unexpectedly, he slid his arm around her, pulling her close. Her skin felt clammy and hot, and her heartbeat thudded in his ears. She could not think, she could not breathe, she could not see, and she felt her world crumble. Her hand reached for her wand, and another hand stopped her from making a huge mistake, and she looked at the hand, not seeing it, but her eyes rose to the shoulder, the neck, and then the face of the person it belonged to. Those blue eyes stared at her, and it startled her to see there was a slight spark of resentment in them. Her eyes were shining with unshed tears, her cheeks inflamed, and there was a rage brewing in her, he could feel it in the hand trembling in his own. He held her against him, looking at Dumbledore powerlessly when she broke down, and he motioned to the door, and Legolas led her out thinking it would be best to get her to the common room where she could be alone to lament her loss.
He took her into his room, sitting her down in a chair not sure what to do. He reached for her but felt her pulling away, so he resigned himself to just being there if she needed him. He was beyond fuming at what Voldemort had done, and he would have great pleasure in killing the bastard himself if it was not Harry’s fight. One look into those innocent eyes, anyone would have made the same choice.
Legolas kept a close eye on Hermione, but he could feel her closing herself off from everyone, even him. Half the time she did not want him around, so he resigned himself to watching her from afar, and she spent most of her time on the Astronomy Tower, or down by the lake. She seemed to have lost her will to train with everyone else, and Dumbledore had not mentioned anything about her absences from classes or training, but Legolas knew she still went to the Room of Requirement late at night to train by herself. Sometimes, she took the boy Draco with her.
The way he saw it, there are two types of people, those who spend their lives trying to build a future, and those who spend their lives trying to rebuild the past. For too long he was stuck between both, hidden in the dark, but Hermione pulled him out of it, and he wanted to pull her out of her depression, but she would not let him near her, even knowing they accepted what they had. Now, she was pushing him away this time, and it distressed him. He knew now how she felt when he drove her away, it was a ghastly feeling, and he wanted it to end.
Hermione sat between the roots of the oak tree next to the Black Lake. The world looked a picture of serenity, a feeling contradicting every emotion plaguing her. She felt numb and angry, and she tried to speak to Lupin and Moody to find out what happened, but neither of them answered. They only said she was not ready and in time they would tell her. No one could say what happened that night… it all seemed to be a blur of images, never-ending, but never showing the reasons…
Shaking her head, she sighed, looking out onto the peaceful lake where not a ripple disturbed the surface, and not even the Giant Squid was around to poke a tentacle out of the water. From this position, she could hear the chiming of the clock above the entrance of the school past the courtyard, and she closed her eyes, counting the chimes. This place was great, because the giant roots of the oak hid her position, so if anyone were looking for her they would not find her unless they came to stand next to the tree, and looked between the roots. It was a great place to hide when she needed to think, or just get away from the realities of her life.
She gathered she never had any choices; they were made for her when she followed the path she was now treading. When living life like she was, there is only one path to take. It is almost like a funhouse, in a way. A funhouse is a linear sequence of scares, take it or leave it is the only choice given, and it made her think about free will. Had her decisions been made for her because of who she is?
She thought about her parents, were they given a choice? Or were they slaughtered without so much as an explanation? Like always, the dead had all the answers she was missing, but it didn’t mean they were not eager to talk. Quite the contrary, the deceased had plenty to say, and once they started, they would never shut up. Their words were keeping her awake at night, visiting her in nightmares, and her parents would talk to her, blaming her for their deaths. She felt tears well in her eyes, deciding she should make an appearance at dinner lest Legolas come looking for her again, but she stopped walking when she reached the courtyard.
He had shown such concern in the last week, and she felt guilty for pushing him away. She knew he was there, watching her every move, but she missed him now she thought about it. She was spending most of her time with Draco, training him to keep her mind off everything else, but she downright pushed Legolas to one side. She shook her head, she would worry about him later, and she could not focus on him when so much was going on like it was.
She wandered into the halls of the majestic castle which had been her home for almost seven years, wondering when it started feeling more like a prison rather than home. She felt resentment for the memories it held within its walls. Memories she would never get back, memories she could never change and make better. There were so many things they did in their youth, which brought about some form of pain or loss. It was stupidity really; they were young and naïve, and they would never get those years back…
She might have laughed if she remembered how.
Weeks passed in a blur, seeming to mesh together to make one massive mess of days, and she could not even remember what day it was anymore. All she knew was things became more painful to deal with after her parents’ funeral. The send-off was beautiful, but it was also the hardest thing she had ever gone through. Things were becoming surreal; it was like her life was becoming something out of a movie, only she knew there would be no happy endings.
She desperately needed someone to talk to who would have some understanding of what she was going through. Anyone who would be able to sympathise with her plight, and she thought about speaking to Harry, but he never actually knew his parents, and he said himself he could not sympathise.
She sat on the couch in the common room, watching the way the flames flickered in the fireplace, and she felt at peace. She barely noticed when someone sat across from her on the other seat, silently watching her with his piercing eyes. She did not look up, and the reality of the situation she found herself in weighed heavily on her shoulders.
Reality is not kind.
She never asked for this to happen, but nothing ever works out the way she wants it to. There is always something which ruins everything, or it is too good to be true, and she got to the point where she could not get her hopes up so that she can take anything which came her way. Now the thorn in her side was sitting right in front of her, currently staring at her, but he was not a bad thorn; it was more like the thorn was stabbing her for pushing him away when he was only trying to help…
She looked at him, and he stared back worriedly. ‘Yes?’ she asked quietly, her voice cracking, and she knew she sounded harsh, but she was not in the mood to be social to anyone.
Legolas sighed, before opening his mouth to speak, ‘There is a story from my people, will you let me tell you?’ he asked her gently, and at her confused nod, he continued, ‘Everyone has an Angel, a Guardian who watches over us. We cannot know what form they will take, one day an old man, next day a little girl, but do not let appearances fool you. They can be as fierce as any dragon. They are not here to fight our battles, but to whisper from our hearts, reminding it is us. It is every one of us who holds power over the world we create.’
Hermione frowned. ‘Why are you telling me this?’ she asked quietly.
‘Because I want to help you. Take it as my way of letting you know I am here when and if you need me,’ he answered looking into the fire. He was torn. On the one hand, he wanted to shake her, telling her she was stronger than this. On the other, he wanted to pull her into his arms, keeping her safe from the world seeking to hurt her. Even at the cost of ruining countless other lives, he desperately wanted to save her because existing is not living. ‘Death is inevitable. Our fear of it makes us play safe, blocks out emotion. It is a losing game. Without passion, you are already dead,’ he whispered, but she did not look at him, and he wondered if she even heard him. He moved, kneeling in front of her and took her cold, clammy hands in his, and he looked up into her tearful eyes. ‘All those who live must someday die... It is the fate of a mortal,’ he whispered, only receiving her cold, calculating stare in response.
They stayed this way in silence, but it was not the comfortable silence he became accustomed to while being with Hermione. It was uncomfortable, unyielding, and painfully unbearable. Where had his life changed so dramatically, now anything to do with Hermione was unbearable. The look in her eyes… it was horrible. The past has a way of sneaking up on you. You will hear broken echoes of it everywhere, like a bad replay, and you will get mad at everyone for reminding you about it, even if it is all in your head, and now she felt like she was reliving it… he could see it now. He was painfully aware he was losing her, and she had suffered much in only a few weeks. She would be taken away from him one day, and he knew why. The thought terrified him more than admitting his feelings for her had.
Another week passed, and Legolas stood in the courtyard leaning against a wall looking out towards the Black Lake. Hermione had not spoken to him or even acknowledged him since the night in the common room, and he wondered if he hurt her with his blunt words. She was getting better, she was attending classes again, and she was training with everyone as usual, but he desperately wanted to fix the distance which developed between them.
‘When people die, they just go away. If there is any place a soul would go, it is in your memories. People you remember are with you forever,’ came a voice he thought would never get directed at him again, and he turned in surprise to see Hermione standing about a metre away from him. He did not say anything for fear she would push him away again, but she did smile when she looked at him. ‘I’m sorry,’ she whispered, taking a step towards him, but Legolas did not move, and she sighed a little, before turning to walk away.
Legolas shook his head, and closed the distance, pulling her into his arms. ‘I thought I lost you,’ he whispered, stroking her hair.
‘I just needed time, I shouldn’t have pushed you away,’ she whispered, looking up at him.
Legolas did not answer; he just leaned down, pressing a kiss to her lips gently. Hopes and dreams are not limited to the light. Hope blossoms in the darkness as well…
Hermione and Draco padded through the courtyard. Draco kicked a stone, and came to a stop, looking up at the front of the majestic castle they had come to know as a second home for the last seven years. There was only silence, except for the ticking of the clock connecting to the front of the castle, which was also the only sound which didn’t annoy the hell out of him. The silence other than the ticking pressed against him, and a bitter lump rose in his throat. ‘Tomorrow,’ he whispered.
Hermione looked at him in shock, comprehending his statement. ‘You can’t delay anymore?’ she asked fearfully, and grabbed his arm, turning him to face her.
Draco shook his head wretchedly. ‘Lucius is suspicious, and the Dark Lord is furious I have been putting it off for so long. If I refuse this time, he’ll kill me, no question,’ he disclosed, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes.
Hermione’s eyes watered while she looked at him. Draco had become such an essential part of her life, and she could not imagine him disappearing. He had become her best friend, her confidant, the one person she poured her heart and soul to. She told him everything, ranging from her parents to school work to how she felt about Legolas, and he viewed her in the same light. To be honest, when everything fell apart she was determined not to let it get to her, but if she thought nothing would get to her, she was lying to herself the whole time. At best, she was temporarily dead, but the shock of his revelation was like a lightning bolt reanimating her.
She tried to reason with him, to come up with a plan so he would not have to go through with it, but he just shook his head the whole time, and Hermione gave up when they entered the castle. Hogwarts was dark except where glimmers of moonlight cast uneasy shadows into the rooms. Hermione bid goodnight to Draco miserably, pulling him into a tight hug before watching him disappear down to the dungeons.
Hermione wanted to see Draco before he left to meet his Father. She ran down the marble staircase to the entrance hall, and she was struck with annoyance and shock. Draco and Ron were squaring off again, and Draco had a nasty black eye, while Ron’s lip was bleeding. She ran over, chancing a glance at Draco who looked livid like he might just kill Ron.
‘What happened?’ she asked them.
‘Why don’t you ask lover boy there?’ Ron snarled while Draco’s eyes narrowed.
‘Believe what you want to, whatever it takes to make you happy. What’s done is done,’ Draco muttered, shoving past Ron and out of the castle.
She glared at Ron. ‘You are an asshole,’ she whispered, running after Draco. ‘Draco, wait!’ she shouted, catching up to him.
‘What?’ he growled.
She wanted to snap back at him but knew he was not angry with her, just the situation. ‘Draco, I can’t just let you go,’ she told him gently, reaching up to touch his cheek, but he flinched away.
‘I’m fine, I can take care of myself,’ Draco replied, turning to walk away.
‘I don’t think you can. You’re trapped, Draco, and you will end up dying if you can’t break free of him. You are strong now, but for how long? I don’t want to see you go into the same dark place again,’ Hermione said imploringly.
Draco stopped walking, his shoulders heaving, and he turned to look at her. ‘It’s not up to you to save me, Hermione,’ he whispered.
She walked over to him, taking his hands in hers. ‘I know, but if you would only let me try, I can help,’ Hermione pleaded with him.
‘You can’t. Just… leave me alone,’ Draco told her forcefully and walked away while Hermione let her shoulders slump in defeat. Draco never looked back; he did not want her to see the tears in his eyes while he walked towards his doom.
Hermione sat quietly at the Gryffindor table, she could feel Legolas’ questioning gaze, but she did not look up at him. The doors to the Great Hall swinging open with a bang pulled her from her reverie. Draco dragged himself in, before falling to his knees, and Hermione was by his side in seconds, followed by Dumbledore who raised his wand, knowing where Draco had gone. ‘It could be a trick, check his forearm,’ he ordered.
Moody ripped the sleeve from his robe on both arms revealing pale, smooth skin not tarnished by any mark, and Dumbledore lowered his wand. ‘What happened?’ he asked Draco in shock.
Draco tried to look up through his battered eyes. ‘They… tried to… make me… but… I ran… I… don’t want… that life…’ he answered incoherently and looked at Hermione imploringly. ‘Hogs… meade… is burn… ing…’ he whispered, collapsing to the ground.
‘What did he say?’ Dumbledore asked her urgently.
Hermione looked at him in horror. ‘Hogsmeade,’ she choked out, running for the main doors and threw them open, looking in the direction of Hogsmeade. Dumbledore, the Professors, and the students all ran to see what was going on. Hermione’s hand flew to her mouth, taking in the black smoke, and burning flames they could see from their position. The sky was blood red, and a huge green skull, with a snake protruding from its mouth, was floating in the sky in the distance.
Dumbledore turned to them, his countenance severe and determined. ‘I want you all to remember you can deny angels exist, convince yourselves they can’t be real. They show up anyway, at strange places, and at strange times. They can speak through any character we can imagine. They’ll shout through demons if they have to, daring us, challenging us to fight,’ he declared, pointing towards the green skull in the sky. ‘That is our angel, telling us to ready ourselves for what is ahead,’ he ordered them and announced for the students to return to the Great Hall. ‘I want the Professors to take care of the students, except for Minerva and Severus, I want you both to come with me. I want the Chekov Garde to remain here at Hogwarts in case anything happens, and I want the rest of you to come with me,’ he said firmly, issuing out orders.
The group Dumbledore told to follow him walked behind him towards the gates of Hogwarts. ‘What are we going to do, Albus?’ Minerva asked, almost running to keep up with his determined strides.
‘We are going to pay Tom a visit, Minerva,’ he answered, smiling grimly, and he turned to Haldir and Legolas who fell into stride with him. ‘I need you both to stay here along with the other Elves,’ he ordered them, and they nodded. Dumbledore turned to look at them. ‘Keep them safe,’ he pleaded before Disapparating to Hogsmeade.
Hermione followed behind Haldir and Legolas while they carried Draco to the Hospital Wing. They entered the room, and Madame Pomfrey directed them to place him on one of the beds. ‘He is in bad shape, I will need you all to leave,’ she ordered them, hustling them out of the room.
Hermione leaned against the wall, letting her fears show now the final battle was upon them, and Legolas placed a gentle hand on her shoulder, and she was glad he was there.
Haldir paced the hallway. ‘We are not ready,’ he said, shaking his head.
‘This is as ready as we are ever going to be, my friend. I feel the same, but there is nothing we can do. We must wait and prepare as best we can until we hear more from Albus,’ Legolas reasoned, receiving a nod from his companion.
‘What if we were to give the element of surprise? Attack him before he attacks Hogwarts? Take him by force?’ Haldir suggested.
‘No, he will have already thought of it,’ Hermione answered, looking at him.
Before Haldir could answer, Dumbledore turned the corner followed by a shaken McGonagall, and a severely hurt Snape on a stretcher. They took Snape straight into the Hospital Wing, followed by the Auror’s carrying him, and McGonagall, but Dumbledore stayed outside.
‘What news?’ Haldir asked him.
Dumbledore shook his head. ‘His army is great. He took out a few of those I took with me to Hogsmeade. Voldemort has destroyed the village, and now he marches towards Hogwarts,’ he replied, and Hermione lowered her head sadly.
‘Is there any hope for us?’ Haldir muttered, leaning against the wall opposite Legolas and Hermione.
‘Force will get us nowhere, and it won’t resolve this battle. Hope is not realised through force, but through passion, determination, and faith,’ Dumbledore answered, looking between the three of them. ‘Some lead and some follow. Rules are defined over time within their companionship, and at times, it is the free spirit within the confines which inspires all…’ he told them, hoping to lift their spirits somewhat.
The three companions nodded, and Dumbledore gestured for them to follow him down to the Great Hall where everyone was waiting for word.
Dumbledore looked down at the students, teachers, Auror’s, Elves, and the Chekov Garde who cramped themselves into the Great Hall, and stepped up to the podium. ‘There is little time to make a speech. As you all know, Voldemort marches towards Hogwarts intending to end this war in his favour, but I say we can resolve this through means of our talents. Outside, there are armies of magical creatures who have rallied to aid us in the war, but we must remember Voldemort’s army is more significant than ours. Will we win this fight? I think we can because we have passion. We have determination. We have the one thing he has never known…’ he paused, looking down to where Harry, Ron, Hermione, Legolas, and Haldir were standing. ‘We have love,’ he concluded.
Harry stepped forward through the crowd, coming to stand next to Dumbledore. ‘Before everything kicks off, I just want everyone to know I am proud of you all, and I am thrilled to be able to fight alongside you. Finally, this question, the mystery of whose story it will be, of who draws the curtain. Who chooses our steps in the dance? Who drives us mad? Lashes us with whips, and crowns us with the victory when we survive the impossible? Who does all these things? Who honours those we love with the life we live? Who sends monsters to kill us, and at the same time sings we will never die? Who teaches us what is real, and how to laugh at lies? Who decides why we live, and what we will die to defend? Who chains us, and who holds the key to set us free? It is you. You have all the weapons you need. Now fight!’ he shouted the last part to emphasise his point, receiving cheers from the crowd in return.
Dumbledore placed a gentle hand on his shoulder, smiling at him proudly, and he stepped off the stage to lead the battle with Harry following behind him. The throngs of students followed the Headmaster out onto the grounds of Hogwarts, and they lined themselves up, wands and weapons at the ready, watching the colossal army moving towards the gates of Hogwarts.
The army stopped, and thousands of beams of light swarmed towards the castle, hitting the magical barrier they set up for extra protection for the wards. Dumbledore cringed when more spells hurtled towards the boundaries, and they cracked, and he watched Voldemort raise his wand, joining in and it was not long before the barrier smashed, and the wards failed. With a cruel, twisted grin, Voldemort raised his wand and fired a purple beam towards the Ravenclaw Tower. It exploded, raining debris down on the students, and Dumbledore raised his arms, casting a protective barrier around his army and most of the debris bounced off harmlessly, but the damage was done.
Hermione grasped Legolas’ hand tighter, her eyes glued to the army ahead of them, and her eyes averted to the main doors when two figures walked out, and it shocked her to see it was Draco, and Snape. The students, Auror’s, and the Chekov Garde fired spells at Voldemort’s Army, while the Elves made ready their bows.
She let go of Legolas’ hand and ran towards Draco. ‘What are you doing!?’ she screamed, pulling him to one side.
‘I’m joining in the fight,’ he told her, pulling out his wand.
‘You’re not well enough!’ she shouted, firing a spell towards a Death Eater running at them.
‘It’s cool, I’ll put a big shit-eating grin on my face while watching these bastards take turns trying to kill me…’ he told her with a wide grin.
‘Draco, that’s not even funny!’ she cried, trying to grab his arm, but he shook her off.
‘I’ll be fine! If I don’t do this I’ll regret it for the rest of my life!’ he shouted back, and she stepped down, deciding it wasn’t the time to argue with him.
Draco took off through the fighting mass of people, Elves, and magical creatures looking for only one person he wanted to get even with. Lucius was trying to buy more sand for his hourglass, but Draco was not selling any. He dodged a green beam of light, feeling it singe his jumper. ‘With each passing day, the world finds new and exciting ways to kill a man,’ he muttered, turning back, and his eyes took in the damage to the castle. It didn’t look the same, and there seemed to be a veil of tension covering it like it was waiting for the next attack. The Ravenclaw Tower was demolished, and the roof of the Great Hall had caved in under the relentless barrage of spells thrown at adversaries here and there. Things would never be the same, this he knew in his heart. Running towards the castle now, he felt like he was heading towards the Gallows, wondering what method of torment would be in store for him.