“…You…you haven’t seen Harry, have you?”
Hermione glanced up from her efforts to repair one of the demolished staircases. She, Luna, and Ginny had tried to distract themselves from the mounting pile of bodies laid out in the Great Hall by sorting out the damaged areas of the castle as best they could with what little time had been granted. With the staircases repaired, they might still be able to use the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw towers for sanctuaries if necessary. High ground was really the only defence they had left.
Draco was standing awkwardly on the bottommost step, arms wrapped around himself and shifting nervously from one foot to another.
Her hackles went up immediately. “…No—last I saw, he was with you…” She pursed her lips. “He’s not, then?”
Draco shook his head, grimacing. “He…he got a message—Dumbledore’s bird delivered it, insane as it may seem.”
He gave her a look that said Had a lot of birds, did he, that Dumbledore? “I suppose?” He shrugged. “It summoned him to the Headmaster’s office, and—he wouldn’t let me go with him. Said it sounded like something he needed to do alone, and that no one was going to try and jump him when he’d been summoned by the Dark Lord. I—I fucking let him go.” He dropped his arms and began pacing, running his hands through his hair. “It seemed reasonable, and he’s a grown-arse wizard who shouldn’t need a nanny, but it’s been almost thirty minutes now and—”
“All right, all right, calm down,” she urged, scrambling down the steps and taking him gently by the shoulders. It spoke to how worried he was that he didn’t even seem to notice, thoughts too scattered to bother shrugging her off. She made sure to keep her tone even; if Harry had gone wandering, it would be up to them to keep Draco in his skin.
Inside, though, she was boiling with rage—though she couldn’t exactly blame Draco entirely. Harry was prone to impulsively running off and taking risks he shouldn’t, something she and Ron were well aware of after over six years at his side. Draco, though, had only cared about Harry’s well-being for a handful of months—not nearly long enough to truly get wise to Harry’s distressing tendency to thoughtlessly put himself in danger.
There was nothing to be done for it now, though, but to track down Harry and set a Shackling Spell on him.
They found Ron helping relocate paintings in corridors sure to see fighting in the coming hour, and he seemed relieved to have a mission to distract. “If I had to listen to Trelawney yammer on about what the alignment of the stars over Astronomy Tower means for the next wave of battle for five more minutes, I swear to Godric…”
He was no more happy than Hermione that Draco had let Harry slip off, but he managed to hold his tongue, and Hermione gave him a warm smile of gratitude that had him ducking his head and quickly glancing away. Draco was, for once, too preoccupied with Harry’s absence to make his usual snide remarks concerning their haphazard displays of affection. She almost missed it.
They made for the Headmaster’s office first, but the entrance had been sealed off, the spiral staircase refusing to show itself even when they used the password Draco said had been written on the scroll. With no sign of Harry, they were resigned to scouring the corridors and checking empty classrooms. He was nowhere to be seen, though, not even in Gryffindor Tower, still under heavy construction after having been ravaged by Draco a year earlier and neglected under the Carrows’ rule.
Ron glanced out of one of the shattered windows when they reached the end of yet another corridor. “He might’ve gone out onto the grounds, don’t you think? Maybe to help…y’know, gather the bodies?”
Hermione nodded; she was pretty sure she’d seen Neville and Oliver Wood down in the Entrance Hall, recruiting others to help—
A cold thought speared through her, and though she already knew the answer, she asked in a soft, small voice, “…He wouldn’t have gone to turn himself over to Voldemort…would he?”
But—no, surely not. Surely—surely he wasn’t that stupid. It was suicide, and Harry had an undeniable urge to help people, to save people, but he didn’t have a deathwish. He would want to, he might even consider it, but he wouldn’t just leave—
Draco evidently had less faith in their Harry, though, for he spat, “He absolutely would, that sanctimonious arsekettle.” He was halfway back down the corridor, marching for the stairs, before Ron and Hermione realised what he intended to do and scrambled after him.
“He’s got the Elder Wand now, though, right?” Ron said. “Maybe that’s what he meant to do? You-Know-Who’s expecting him, probably rolled out the red carpet for him, so he wouldn’t have to worry about fighting his way there—then a proper duel with an unbeatable wand and it’d be done!”
He sounded unaccountably cheerful, and Hermione tamped down a flare of irritation. “But there’s still one Horcrux left to destroy! And why wouldn’t he have told us? Or told someone if time was of the essence? We could have made a plan, something a bit more put together than just traipsing off into the dark hoping to run across Dark wizards!”
Ron drew out his pocketwatch. “…Well it’s getting late. Or early. Maybe he didn’t think there was time to rally? Winging it has worked out for us about as often as slaving away for weeks over a plan, you’ve got to admit.”
She was obliged to admit nothing of the sort, and they swiftly descended the stairs, arguing the whole way. By the third floor, Hermione had the beginnings of a plan piecing itself together in her mind. “I suppose we’ll have to be better late than never,” she huffed, rolling up her sleeves. “He’s got a bit of a head start, but maybe we can find him before the Death Eaters do.”
“And then kill the little shit,” Draco snarled.
“Or, as an alternative—just a suggestion—but we could yell at him a lot?” Ron offered.
“Not nearly as satisfying, trust me, Weasley.” Draco’s jaw was tight as he charged down the stairs, in real danger of missing a step and tumbling end over head. He would be in an all-out run before they made it to the Entrance Hall at this rate, and if he snapped and transformed, there was no guarantee he would be able to retain his fragile grip on his humanity. His mate was probably in terrible danger and had virtually abandoned him in a stressful situation—it was a wonder he was still human at all.
Hermione tried to distract as best she could. “There’s a mob of Dementors guarding the border of the Forbidden Forest. How’s your Patronus coming along, Draco?”
He drew up short on the second-floor landing, whipping around to stare at her in perplexed befuddlement—then seemed to wilt.
She sighed. “Right, just—stick between me and Ron, all right? And try focusing on as happy a memory as you can—it can’t hurt to try.”
Draco nodded, though he didn’t look very sure of himself, and they continued on down the stairs. By the time they made it to the ground floor, they were all three running, barrelling through the Entrance Hall and arrowing straight for the front steps. The hallway had been swept clear of debris, with the House Cup gemstones brushed into glittering piles against the walls, and the gruesome slicks of blood had been mopped up, though there were still dark rust-coloured stains on the flagstones that it would take several Scourgifys to resolve.
Ron’s long legs had him loping ahead, with Draco nipping at his heels and Hermione lagging behind. She was weighing the option to slip into her Animagus form, given it was built for speed, when Draco took a stumble, nearly bringing Hermione down with him as he crumpled to the ground like someone had just Vanished all the bones from his body. She bit back an irritated growl at his clumsiness, reaching for his elbow to help him back to his feet—
When he seized violently and gave a choking, gurgling gasp. His back heaved, sending him surging forward, and his face cracked against the stone tiling before he rolled onto his side, convulsing.
“Fuck it all—is he having a fit?!” Ron groaned. “We’ve got to get him outside if he’s gonna transform—”
“H—he’s not, this isn’t—” Hermione sputtered, thoughts aflurry. Draco was scrabbling frantically at his shirt. “He’s choking or—or he can’t breathe—” She sank to her knees beside him, shoving her beaded bag at Ron. “Help me stabilise him! Something’s terribly wrong—”
“You think?” Ron huffed, rifling through the bag for her Healer’s Kit.
“I mean this isn’t a rogue transformation!” She knew her voice was shrill, but she really didn’t care, and she began casting Diagnostic Charms with abandon. He hadn’t been dosed with any potion or poison that she could see, and they’d been right by his side for the past twenty minutes—if anyone had hit him with a Curse, surely she or Ron would have noticed, or else been hit themselves as well.
Ron got her Healer’s Kit out, popping it open and arranging the little trays inside for easy access. Draco had stopped his furious squirming and heaving, which might have been relieving, except his colour was going terribly off now, a sickly grey pallor tainting his cheeks, and she could tell his languorous movements were not from whatever had happened relenting but instead worsening. His limbs grew rigid under her probing touch, and his mouth stopped working. Her Diagnostic Charm began trilling in warning—
“Fuck—fuck!” she hissed, feeling her own throat closing up in panic. Draco’s struggles slowed to a sluggish crawl before he seized up altogether, and the Diagnostic Charm gave an angry blare of alarm.
“Hermione?!” Ron warbled worriedly. “Hermione—what’s—”
“Shut up!” she cried, and she was crying, real nasty, snotty tears over Draco-bloody-Malfoy, as she raised her wand to cast a spell she had hoped she would never need in order to restart his failing heart. She forced it to beat, conducting its rhythm with her wand, and the Diagnostic Charm quieted, though it still spat out terrible, horrible readings that said what anyone with eyes could as easily tell just by looking at him: Draco was dying—was dead really, this was just artificial life support. She forced her breathing to steady, knowing that if she stopped, if she interrupted the Charm, his heart would fail again and might not be revived this time.
What the fuck was going on? It wasn’t the Killing Curse—he’d be dead, just dead, alive one moment and dead the next, if it had been that. This had been a swift but still measured descent, like someone had unplugged him and his back-up battery had wound down. She had to think—think what could have possibly caused an otherwise healthy wizard to just keel over—
A dark thought lodged in her throat like a bezoar, and she whispered in a harried rush, “Go get Charlie.”
“What?” Ron looked at her like she was mad. “Charlie?”
“Just go get him! Hurry!”
He didn’t try to argue again, lurching to his feet and racing for the Great Hall, where they had last seen the better bulk of the Weasleys. She prayed she wasn’t right; she’d been called a know-it-all and an insufferable swot all her life, but never had she wanted, so desperately, to be wrong about something.
And maybe it wasn’t that. Harry had assured her it wasn’t serious, after all. Perhaps dragons were just particularly sensitive to lingering spell residues, and Draco’s system had been overwhelmed. Or—or maybe one of the wilting bouquets in the Hufflepuff Common Room had included dragonsbane, or vervaine, or asphodel.
She cursed under her breath. She would not lose another person tonight, not if she could help it. Lupin and Tonks and Lavender and poor Colin Creevey… She hadn’t been able to help them, but she could and would save Draco. Harry…Harry would kill her if anything happened to him on her watch. Oh god, where was he? Why had he left them like this? They were barely holding this little coalition together; Harry was their glue. Their pole star. He didn’t always know where he was going himself, or what to do, but his mere presence kept hope alive. Except now he’d fucked off to god knew where, and Draco was dying under her nose, and Ron was trying to stay strong, but he was preoccupied with ensuring his family’s safety. They were scattered, they were failing.
They couldn’t have come this far, only to stumble here at the end.
She took one of Draco’s hands in her free one, ignoring how it felt like a lump of cold, dead flesh and giving it a tight squeeze. “Get your shit together, Malfoy…” she muttered thickly.
Ron was back two minutes later with Charlie in tow, and his befuddled expression said Ron hadn’t bothered to explain why they needed him. His eyes boggled at the sight of Draco laid out flat on the cold flagstones, and he swallowed, visibly shaken by the prospect of yet more death.
“You’re the only one I could think to ask,” Hermione confessed, voice watery and thick with emotion. She sniffed. “He’s dying…”
“Yeah, I…I can see that…” Charlie said weakly. “But I’m not sure what you think I can do? If you want, I saw Madame Pomfrey back in the Great Hall—”
Hermione shook her head fiercely, daring to glance up from her wandwork. “No—no, I mean: he’s a dragon Animagus. Understand?” Charlie narrowed his eyes, frowning. “He just collapsed here, without warning, and his condition nose-dived. I can’t find anything physically wrong with him, so I thought maybe…maybe that had something to do with it?” She bit her lip, unable to shake the feeling she was speaking out of turn, but Draco was hardly in a conversational state, and Harry wasn’t around to explain his involvement with Draco himself. “Just—Harry’s missing, and we’re worried…” She fought down another wave of anger and frustration. “We’re worried he might have gone to give himself over to Voldemort, and…and Draco’s, um—well he and Harry—”
“Oh shit,” Charlie whispered, dropping to his knees and crawling close as he ran his eyes over Draco proper. “This is what Harry was talking about?”
“What do you mean ‘what Harry was talking about’?” Ron pressed, glancing back and forth between Charlie and Hermione with quick, nervous flicks of his eyes.
Charlie licked his lips and reached for Hermione’s Healer’s Kit, picking through the potions ingredients with a discerning eye. “He asked me about dragon Animagi at his birthday party last summer—I thought it was just a passing curiosity, but then he asked about their mates. About how they’d…” He trailed off, gaze gone distant, and his face drained of colour. “Oh shit.” His breath came in quick, frightened pants, and he ran his hands through his hair. “Oh shit—oh shit.”
“What?!” Ron asked, frantic now. “What’s—do you know what’s wrong? What’s happening to him?”
“It’s not him,” Charlie said softly. “It’s Harry. If—if this one’s like this, for no reason at all, then it means…it means that Harry’s…”
“It bloody well does not!” Ron yelled with a raw, sorrowful fury, actually shoving Charlie hard across the chest. He followed Charlie down to the ground, crawling over him and grabbing him by the collar of his shirt, giving a good, hard shake. “You fix him!” he roared, incensed. “You fix him right now, we’ve got to go and save Harry’s good-for-nothing arse! Or—” A thought appeared to strike him. “Or you take over the Charm!” Ron turned back to Hermione, face so red his freckles were nearly invisible and eyes shining. He reached for Hermione’s wrist. “Let’s go! Charlie’ll watch over Malfoy, and you and me—we’ll go find Harry and—and we’ll—”
Hermione shook him off, though, rubbing the heel of her hand in her eyes to force back the tears that wanted to cascade down her flushed cheeks. She shook her head in harsh rejection, and Ron wailed.
“Hermione please, please let’s…we have to…” he begged.
He made another feeble grab for her, and she slapped him away with a sharp, snotty No! She forced herself to concentrate on the Resuscitation Charm, wary of missing any beats. “I won’t leave him,” she grit out. “And neither will you. Harry’s not dead, because Draco isn’t either.” She would cast the Charm as many times as it took, keep some semblance of life in Draco’s body for as long as it took for Harry to find his way back from…from wherever he’d foolishly disappeared off to.
She would keep Draco alive until Harry came back. It was really that simple.