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Chapter 26: Father, Mother, Son and Daughter (Year 6)
BYOT. Depiction of death and generally weepy images.
The journey back towards Hogwarts should have felt, Hermione thought, like walking through a nightmare. But she'd grown used to having some control over her nightmares, being able to shift their circumstances or even end them altogether. This silent, slow-paced run with her Pack and Pride—most of her Pack and Pride—beside her could not be changed, nor could it be avoided.
We have to know. That fact, more than any other, kept her paws moving through the passage from village to castle, then her feet through the corridors and down to the Den. We have to know what happened. Mysteries are worse than knowledge.
They'd stopped to see the Weasleys before stepping into the passage, and Ron had remained behind with his family, after taking a moment to hold Hermione tightly. She still wasn't sure which of them had been comforting the other.
Most likely it was both of us.
Even now, whenever she closed her eyes, the scene was there, waiting. The Weasley twins lay side by side along one wall of a hastily conjured tent, as identical as they had ever been, except for the seemingly minor detail that one of them was breathing and the other was not. Mr. Weasley sat beside Fred, holding his son's hand, talking quietly to him, his face appearing composed until one got near enough to see the tear-marks staining his cheeks.
Because as bad as it is to lose one of them, it would be so much worse to lose them both.
Lee Jordan leaned wearily against a tent pole, watching his wife and Danielle Reading doing their best to soothe a blank-eyed Crystal Huley. Clearly the Muggle girl was in deep shock, both from her boyfriend's death and from what she'd done immediately afterwards.
Percy told us about it, and I'd say I don't know if I could do it myself, except haven't I already, with Greyback?
A small huddle at the other side of the tent was resolvable, after a few moments' work, into Mrs. Weasley, Ginny, Fleur Delacour, and Tonks, mother and daughter weeping silently together with the two sisters-in-law providing what comfort was possible by the simple fact of their presence. In a far corner, the three oldest Weasley brothers talked in fierce murmurs, Percy's sharp gestures leaving no doubt that he was in control of the conversation. It was their group Ron had joined, after pausing to embrace his mother and briefly scent-touch his sister.
We've changed him. We've changed all of them. But then, so have they changed us…
Harry touched her arm. "We're here," he said.
Hermione looked up. They had come to the Den's Quidditch pitch, with its simulated nighttime sky overhead, the breezes blowing through it as though it truly were outdoors. Her eyes filled momentarily as she looked up at the near middle hoop, half-expecting to see a slim masculine figure seated there—
No. I can't do that yet. Firmly, she set the tears aside. We have to see what happened, to Amanda as much as to Draco. We have to see if there's anything they need from us.
It would make their loss that much worse if we lost ourselves in grieving for them and let their sacrifices go for nothing.
Stepping into the center of the loose Pack-and-Pride circle which had formed, she elongated Draco's pendant chain and tossed it out to everyone, then drew a deep breath and closed her hand around the strange-familiar medallions.
"Show me," she said softly. "Show me my brother."
Blackness swept her, and the minds linked to hers. Then she stood in the street outside the Hogsmeade WWW branch, watching her twin and their most loathed blood relative dueling furiously, spells shooting every which way, making the other Death Eaters who'd come to watch shield themselves almost constantly. And one of those shields—Hermione sucked in a breath—one just beside and behind Draco, where he wouldn't see it, was growing larger and brighter by the moment—
Lucius dodged to one side, out of the way of an Arm-Locker by Draco, and fired an Impediment Jinx, seemingly careless, but Hermione could see the calculation on his face—Draco blocked almost impatiently, sending the Jinx ricocheting off to one side—
Harry swore under his breath and Meghan muffled a cry with one hand as the Jinx bounced off the gleaming shield and slammed into Draco from behind, dropping him to the street.
"Intriguing." Moony had one arm around Danger's back, the other buried in her hair where she was pressing her face into his shoulder. His voice was cool, faintly amused, but tiny licks of heat haze rose from the conjoined outline of the Lupins. "Lucius isn't even pretending he can handle Draco on his own anymore. I wonder who—ahh." This as the mirror-shield dissipated, revealing the gloating features and black hair of Bellatrix Lestrange. "That makes sense, I suppose. Keeping things in the family."
Padfoot made a half-voiced remark or two about what his family could and should do to, for, with, and by themselves. Letha glanced sideways at him but made no other comment. Her hands rested on Neville and Meghan's shoulders where they stood in front of her, their fingers interlocked and trembling. Luna had taken a place beside Danger and was stroking the inside of her left arm absently as she watched the memory events unfold.
Lucius was now pulling Draco to his feet, having removed his wand from his hand and worked a nonverbal spell on him first, most likely binding him from changing forms. Bellatrix stood to one side, clasping her hands under her chin as though sighing over a touching reunion between father and child. "Daddy's little boy, come home at last!" she crowed. "Won't our Master be happy for us! Finally come to your senses, have you, Draco dearie?" She sniffled theatrically, blinking back tears. "If only my darling Cissy had lived to see it…"
Draco met his aunt's eyes squarely. "My mother died ashamed of you," he said with a hint of a snarl in his voice. "Ashamed of what you, and she, had done and become in your precious Master's name."
"Tsk-tsk." Bellatrix shook her head chidingly. "Such terrible lies they've told you. But never fear, you'll see the truth soon." She giggled once. "Lucius has the arrangements all ready…"
"So I do." Lucius stroked a hand down his son's face, pulling it away just in time as Draco snapped his teeth towards it. "Now, now, is that any way to behave? Though I suppose I should expect nothing less, from one reared up by the Pack." He pronounced the word delicately, as he might speak a word for filth in a foreign tongue. "Let your lessons commence—now."
The sharp crack of flesh against flesh drew a spontaneous snarl from four or five Marauders simultaneously. Draco kept his face angled away from Lucius for a moment, holding the position into which the slap had thrown him. Then, deliberately, he turned back to look into the eyes so like his own.
Hermione hummed deep in her throat, her human version of an exultant catly growl, and heard Harry's soft laugh and Padfoot's sharp bark mingled with it. Lucius Malfoy, for one instant, had quailed before the child he wished to claim.
I know it won't change anything, not in the end, but it does matter. It matters to us. Draco may have gone to this willingly, but that doesn't mean he's giving up.
A bubble of hope swelled in her chest. If they could see where Lucius meant to take her twin, if they could get there first, or even slip in afterwards—
Don't get ahead of yourself, Neenie, she cautioned silently, envisioning her own hand on the scruff of her furry neck. Watch and learn. And be sure he isn't being used as bait. Fox would not be happy with you for getting yourself captured trying to bring him home!
But she still spent a few moments, while the memory-figures of the Death Eaters and their captive hurried through the Hogsmeade streets, imagining the stunned joy on Draco's face as she mewed quietly from a window ledge or wiggled her way out of a crack in the wall. If we can follow him. If we can get there in time. If, if, if…
Then she saw the figure waiting in the open field beyond the last houses of Hogsmeade, and her heart chilled.
Harry swore under his breath. "Blood-bond may work too well," he murmured in Moony's direction, watching as Lucius escorted Draco triumphantly through the small gathering of Death Eaters and shoved him to his knees in front of Lord Voldemort himself. "I didn't know he was here."
"Would it have changed anything if you knew?" Moony's voice was calm, but his eyes were bleak. "You made the right decision, Harry. Don't second-guess yourself."
"I know, it's just…" Harry windmilled one hand, as though trying to catch a thought.
Danger lifted her head from Moony's shoulder and caught Hermione's eye. Stop this, she mouthed, pointing towards the memory-figures, now jeering at Draco as he straightened his back. Just for a moment.
Only too happy to comply, Hermione reclaimed Draco's chain for herself, blanking out the memory. The field at the edge of Hogsmeade vanished, the Den's Quidditch pitch returned, with the Pack and Pride still standing as they had been, everyone's attention on Harry.
"It's just what?" Moony asked, moving slightly sideways as Danger released him and turned to face Harry as well. Padfoot and Letha closed in from behind, stationing themselves at the other two corners of an imaginary square with Harry at its center. "What is it, Harry?"
Hermione caught her Pridemates' eyes and made a single, simple sign, a closing of her right fist and a small downward jerk. Brace yourselves. Explosion coming…
"That should have been me!" Harry burst out, thrusting a hand at the spot where Draco's memory figure had knelt before the Darkest wizard in a hundred years. "I'm the alpha, I'm the bloody Chosen One, I'm supposed to be facing this stuff, not pawning it off onto somebody else—don't you understand? That should have been me!"
"So you'd deprive Ginny of a brother and a husband, all in one night?" Letha's tones dripped sarcasm as Harry spun to face her. "Such devotion you show her. It's no wonder she adores you."
Harry's fists balled up at his sides. Letha smiled coolly, her own hands rising into readiness, open and deceptively relaxed. "Try it," she invited, flexing her knees once. "Just try it."
For two Knuts, Hermione thought, Harry would have done exactly that, but even the vicious grief-fueled anger she could smell boiling off him wasn't quite enough to override his native intelligence. Their Pack-mother was not only a former Hogwarts Beater, she was a qualified Healer, which meant she knew precisely where and how hard to hit for maximum pain with minimum effort.
Besides, she helped train him. She helped train all of us. She knows our strengths, she knows our weaknesses, and she knows how to counter the one and exploit the other…
"That's not what I meant and you know it," Harry finally growled, when he had enough control back to speak in a somewhat normal tone. "We swore an oath—'my life for yours'—"
"And was that oath binding only on you?" asked Danger softly, bringing Harry whipping around again. "Did you tell everyone who spoke those words with you that you would be the only one who could ever pay that price? Or did you swear in equal shares with those on your right and your left, and bind yourself both to give and to receive that sacrifice?"
"Stop turning it around like this!" Harry shouted, the force of the sound making Hermione's throat ache in sympathy. "I'm not four years old anymore! Stop treating me like I'm some little brat throwing a tantrum to get attention because his brother did something right—"
"Stop acting like it, then," Padfoot interrupted.
Harry snarled under his breath and lunged at his godfather. Padfoot stepped neatly aside, swept Harry's legs out from under him, caught him by the shoulders as he fell, and dropped to the ground with him, pinning him handily.
Hermione fought to keep her smile fully hidden. And everything about Letha helping to train us? Double for Padfoot.
"He who fights angry," Padfoot said in a thoughtful tone as Harry writhed fruitlessly against his grip, "loses." He looked down at his godson, his voice hardening, taking on an edge of command. "Haven't we all lost enough for one night?"
A half-audible hiss burst from Harry, making Luna lean back in surprise. "That's not a nice thing to say at all," she confided in Hermione. "Though I suppose that's why he said it in Parseltongue."
"In—" Hermione cut herself off. Later, later, ask about that later…
"Finished?" said Padfoot without a change of expression, meeting Harry's glare levelly. "We can sit here as long as you like, I'm good for another hour at least."
Harry spat a few more swear words, in English this time, then exhaled a reluctant breath and let the tension flow out of his muscles. "I hate it when you're right too," he grumbled as Padfoot released him.
"I'm not too fond of it myself. Not when it happens like this." Padfoot sighed, his shoulders slumped. Hermione swallowed as she saw the sheen across the silver-gray eyes, but the tears did not fall. Instead, her Pack-father waited until Harry was sitting upright, then began to speak again.
"'There is no greater love,'" he quoted, his voice soft, almost abstracted, "'than to lay down one's life for a friend.'" A tiny, breathy laugh broke through the last word. "Or so we've been told. And by and large, I'd tend to agree. But even if there's nothing greater, there's one love that's just about equal to that one." He held out a hand to Harry, and after a long moment Harry took it. "And that's being the friend. Accepting that sacrifice, whether or not you think you're worth it. Knowing, without a shadow of a doubt, that you should have been the one taking the hit. Wishing, with all your heart, that you had been." He squeezed Harry's hand gently. "And going on with your life anyway. Because you know that's what they wanted you to do."
Neville had turned away, his shoulders arched defensively. Meghan was huddled against Letha, the older witch gently rubbing her daughter's back. Danger glanced behind her and beckoned Hermione closer, and after what felt like a week's worth of trying, Hermione managed to make her feet move. Her eyes were burning with unshed tears, her throat felt like someone had squeezed it in a fist—
"I hate this," she whispered, stumbling into Danger's offered hug and wrapping her arms around her sister-mother, feeling Moony embrace them both and hold on tightly. "I hate this so much, it isn't right, it isn't fair—"
"Love and war, Kitten." Moony stroked her hair back before kissing the skin thus exposed at her temple. "This would seem to be both of them. And we need to go on watching. I'm sorry," he raised his voice to carry over the various cries of protest and dismay, "but if there's something we can do, some way we can help, isn't it better to know sooner rather than later?"
And if there isn't, the sooner we know that, the better as well…
But this thought Hermione kept strictly to herself, making sure it was buried deeply before she passed Draco's chain around the circle once more. A quick thought, and they were again in the field outside Hogsmeade, watching Lord Voldemort draw his wand unhurriedly from his pocket. Draco's eyes fastened onto it, but Hermione thought only she or another of their Pack would have been able to see the fear in the silvery depths. Stay strong, she willed him, don't crumble, we'll come for you, you know we will—
One long-fingered hand darted out and caught Draco's left arm, drawing it smoothly upward and forward. The wand flicked once, and the plain black cloth of Draco's sleeve parted, revealing his pale forearm underneath.
Harry's curse blended with Meghan's "No!" and Hermione's own gasp as they realized simultaneously what was about to happen. Draco himself tensed, his eyes momentarily flooding with sick despair, but made no move to fight.
A spell so dark green it was almost black burst from the tip of Voldemort's wand and slashed across Draco's left arm, drawing a collective exhalation from the gathered Death Eaters. Draco's lips had all but disappeared and his other hand was clenched impossibly tight, but he remained silent, even as the light of the spell faded to reveal its results.
Sleek, sinuous, and stomach-turningly real, the skull and snake of the Dark Mark lay ineradicably branded upon Draco Black's skin.
"In the usual way of things, I would not grant the Mark to one so young," said Voldemort contemplatively, letting his wand's tip rest upon the center of the skull. Draco's breath hitched once, and Hermione had to press her hands against her mouth to stifle her own cry of pain. "Or so…untried. But I reward those who are faithful to me, and your father's faithfulness has been great. When he asked this one small favor of me in return, I could not find it in my heart to refuse him." The Dark Lord smiled thinly. "You are safe now, Draco, safe in the place where you truly belong. For what I have Marked, I can always find again." He tapped Draco's cheek, just below the twin-scar, with a chiding finger. "No matter what may stand in my way."
Hermione's throat squeezed shut. Further around the circle, Harry's teeth were bared. Padfoot was muttering a three-sentence riff on a particularly rude set of words, while Meghan's eyes had gone as cold as her mother's on one side and as hard as Neville's on the other. Luna, oddly, looked almost triumphant, but Hermione's confusion at this was offset by the deep and abiding sorrow in her friend's scent.
Maybe this fits something she's Seen, and couldn't make sense of until now…
Danger stood with her head bowed, her hand tightly clasped around Moony's. He was clearly watching the scene for both of them, and his eyes, whirling blue-brown-blue too fast to track, darted to the left an instant before Hermione noticed the commotion at that edge of the memory herself. Draco, still paler than usual and keeping his eyes averted from his arm despite the newly repaired sleeve which hid the Mark, turned with the rest of the crowd to see what was going on.
Regal as a queen, the smallest of smiles on her face, Amanda Smythe walked between two Death Eaters, her lips curving further upwards for a brief second when she spied Draco. Her fingers fluttered, and Hermione blinked. "Was that…" she murmured in Luna's direction.
"Pride-sign?" Luna nodded matter-of-factly. "We don't really hide it, you know. Professor Dumbledore learned it just by watching us, and by knowing how we think. Amanda probably did the same thing. Though she had an advantage."
About to open her mouth to ask what kind of advantage Amanda might have had, Hermione thought better of it. If Luna thought she needed to know, Luna would tell her, and this night was already approaching the outer limits of her tolerance for strangeness.
Especially when you add in the girl who used to sort-of date my brother telling him not to be afraid, that everything will be all right. How can it, when he's been captured and she's about to be killed?
"And what is this?" Voldemort asked one of the Death Eaters flanking Amanda, looking her over with his red eyes. Her green ones sized him up in return without a trace of fear. "A prize from the night?"
"She…" The broad-shouldered Death Eater faltered, and Hermione had the impression he might be reddening with embarrassment under his mask. "She wanted to speak with you, my lord. She…insisted."
"Did she." Voldemort motioned the Death Eaters back, into a rough circle around him and Amanda. Lucius drew Draco into place beside him, one hand gripping Draco's arm loosely but with the promise of real force if Draco struggled. "Well, then, by all means, my insistent young friend. Speak."
Amanda dipped a curtsey so shallow it could be nothing but an insult. "As you wish," she said with the same smile playing about her lips. "My lord."
She drew a long breath and spoke.
Meghan shrieked. Neville's potion piece appeared like magic in his hand. Harry took a step back, his eyes widening in shock. Padfoot and Letha swore in counterpoint, Danger's head snapped up, and Moony frowned in concentration. Hermione froze the memory where it was, then blanked it out, returning Pack and Pride to the Den's Quidditch pitch once more. Luna, she noted with the single remaining corner of her mind which worked, didn't look surprised.
It might have been nice if she'd warned the rest of us!
"You thought Amanda had something to do with Alex's daughter, Ron told us." Padfoot shook his head like someone had hit him with a spell from behind. "Just offhand, I'd have to say he was right!" He looked sideways at Harry. "Or wasn't that—"
"No, that was Parseltongue." Harry slid his hands under his glasses to rub at his closed eyelids. "She's using an older style, but I can understand it." A tired laugh bubbled under his next sentences. "Mind you, that's just the words. I've got no idea where or how she could have learned the language itself!"
"Maybe she'll tell us." Luna waved a hand at the place where the memory-figures had stood. "And there's someone else we can ask, if we need to. But I think we ought to hear what Amanda had to say first. Hermione?"
"Yes, all right." Settling her feet into place, centering her weight above them, Hermione steadied herself, drawing down her nerves. Danger released Moony's hand and came to stand beside Hermione, opening her arms slightly to indicate a hug was available if wanted. Hermione stepped into the offered embrace and laid her head momentarily against the shoulder thus provided, though it wasn't as easy as it once had been. She hadn't realized until this moment how close she'd grown to her sister's height.
Always my little love, Danger murmured silently, touching the back of Hermione's hand with one finger, and Hermione sent back a wordless pulse of thanks before straightening up and summoning the memory stored in Draco's pendants yet again.
Though I think I'll take it back, just a bit…
Moony snickered, Letha's lips twitched, and Meghan and Luna both laughed out loud as the scene came into focus around them. Hermione had elected to bring it up at the exact moment Amanda's choice of language dawned on Lord Voldemort, and the mingling of shock and baffled fear on the snake-like features was every bit as wonderful as she had hoped it would be.
Now we just need to get him to look like that a lot more often.
"Ready, Harry?" she asked.
Blowing out a breath, Harry rolled his shoulders once. "Ready."
Hermione braced herself for still more strange twists to this night and told the memory to begin.
Harry's eyes half-closed in concentration as the torrent of Parseltongue poured from Amanda's lips. "A thousand years I have waited for this moment, Tom Marvolo Riddle, little cousin of mine," he translated in a monotone. "Can you conceive of that, you who say you wish to live forever? A thousand years of waiting and watching, of holding to hope when there seemed none. And now, here we stand. Face to face at last."
"So she is Alex's daughter," Meghan breathed. "But then how…"
Neville pressed her hand, shushing her, as Amanda and Harry both went on. "I had almost despaired, after so very long," the red-haired girl spoke in the language of snakes, Harry's voice filling in the English after each sentence. "But then the miracle occurred, a miracle which you brought about yourself—or perhaps I should say, which you brought upon yourself. You cast a fatal curse, attempting to kill a certain small child…and instead of striking home, that curse was turned back to you in all its power, and tore you from your body, casting you adrift as a wandering soul."
Letha had her arms tucked across her chest, her right hand rubbing her left elbow as she watched events unfold. Padfoot's brow was furrowed, his fingers flicking back and forth as though he were already writing down the scene before him, finding words to convey the restless rustling of black robes and the shocked whispers from behind white masks, the quivering stillness into which Lord Voldemort's features had fallen as Amanda continued to speak, the mixture of worry and exultation which lit Draco's face where he stood beside Lucius in the surrounding circle.
"Look on me now, cousin." Amanda spread her arms wide. "Do I remind you of the woman you killed that night? I should. For she was the end of your beginning, and I am the beginning of your end. If only you could see into the future, to see how pitiful your ambitions appear to those who will come after you…" She shook her head, smiling. "But your line has long forsaken that gift, and even if it returned to you this moment, you could not accept what it would show you."
"The greater gift of the Slytherin line," murmured Danger. "Not Parseltongue, but prophecy."
"But a true Heir of Salazar Slytherin, that you are indeed, my lord!" Amanda laughed, her hissing speech and Harry's translation both acquiring a sneering tone, as she planted her hands on her hips and tossed her hair scornfully. "True Heir of an oathbreaker, a murderer and a fool! Ambition is a fine trait in and of itself, striving for greatness is a virtue and not a vice—but if such striving becomes the sole object of a life, that life turns inward and feeds upon itself, and then looks outward only to consume others in its fruitless quest for fulfillment! When ambition is all in all, cousin mine, it is empty and dead by its very nature. But when ambition is guided by a noble soul, a loyal heart, a thoughtful mind…then, and only then, is true greatness achieved."
"You speak in riddles," Voldemort returned, also in Parseltongue, beginning to circle towards Amanda's right. She countered, matching him step for step. "Foolish wordplay, the games of children. But I am no child, whatever you may call me."
"I call you only what you are." Amanda ran her hands down the sides of her Hogwarts robes, smiling. "Not that you will understand that, not until far too late. And not that you will ever understand what I have tried to tell you here. But others may. Others will." She lifted her head proudly, sending a tiny smile to Draco. "And by my father's loyalty and love, the long-hidden wisdom of my mother, and the courage of my beloved and of one who is yet to come, the House of Slytherin will be restored to its rightful place before this war is done." Green eyes closed for a moment, then opened, clear and calm and triumphant. "So come, little cousin, lift up your wand and speak the words. Take my life and free my soul. Let us begin your ending together."
"The only ending tonight," said Voldemort coldly in English, "is yours."
Too fast to follow, his wand was in his hand, trained on Amanda. "Avada Kedavra!"
Draco's eyes widened in horror, his lips moved in what might have been a shout, but the sound of rushing wind which accompanied the Killing Curse drowned it out. The backwards jab of his elbow impacted with Lucius's side at the exact moment the green spell struck Amanda full in the chest.
"Nice hit," Padfoot commented, watching Lucius double over. "He'll feel that one in the morning."
"And he's not feeling it now?" Moony returned as Draco wrenched himself free from Lucius's lax grip and bolted to Amanda's side, dropping down beside her, lifting her limp form in his arms, holding her against him and bending low, his lips moving as if he spoke the secrets he had waited too long to divulge—
Hermione halted the memory, moved it back a few seconds, and wiped out all the extraneous people from its purview. Only the image of Draco remained, kneeling on the ground before them, cradling the lifeless body of a girl he'd loved, but the words he breathed were not meant for her.
He knew we'd find Amanda's body. Maybe not the Pack, not immediately, but someone who knows us, who would recognize a set of pendants and a dagger for what they are. And he knew the Death Eaters wouldn't bother with her, not after their Master had killed her. So he left us his pendants in plain view of everyone who would have wanted what he hid in them, and he was able to give us this one last message as well…
"I love you all," Draco whispered as Hermione began the memory playback for what would surely be the final time. "I'll miss you so much. But it won't be for that long—I should get where I'm going by the time Captain and Wolf come of age, shouldn't I?" A breathless laugh, as the tears brimming in his eyes threatened to overflow. "Take care of each other. And whatever you do, don't try to go after me, and don't let me come home if it looks like I've escaped. Because it won't…" A brief shudder swept him. "It won't be me. Not really. I'm begging you, don't let them do that to me. Don't let them use me to hurt you, to betray you. Please." He glanced over his shoulder. "I have to go. I'm sorry. Luna…don't do anything too crazy?"
He bent forward over Amanda, as though unable to hide his grief any longer.
On the sound of a quiet sob, the memory ended.
Only when Hermione's vision blurred did she realize Draco hadn't been the only one crying.
"It wasn't supposed to be like this," she whispered hoarsely, as Moony drew her close and held her against him. "Why does it have to be like this? Why?"
"Because we dared to love, and love greatly." Moony rested his cheek against the top of her head. "And because the only other way is to never feel anything at all."
I almost wish I didn't. Hermione buried her face in Moony's robes. I almost wish he'd never been ours. That he really did belong where he is now. Then no one would have to grieve for him. He'd be home, and we'd be happy…
Except we wouldn't, not the way we should. Deliberately, she filled her mind with her Fox's wicked smile when he was about to make a bad joke, with his love of being watched while doing what he did best, with his gleeful laughter when someone had fallen for his pranks and with his rapt absorption as he played his music. He was one of us. He belonged to us. We loved him. And not even missing him for the rest of my life will be enough to make me wish he'd never been there.
Though it may come close.
And then there were only tears, and Moony's arms to hold her safely through them.
Draco had always considered the phrase "cried oneself to sleep" to be poetic overstatement, maudlin sentimentality, or some mixture of the two.
And now I know better, don't I.
Sitting up, he looked around. Long practice allowed him to pick out the small clues which told him the pretty, forest-surrounded meadow in which he sat was a dreamscape, but he'd still take it over his present reality.
Especially because… A testing finger brushed lightly across the surface of his left forearm. Sure enough, no Mark.
Though I do seem to have brought something else with me.
Amused, he tossed the sockball into the air once or twice, then tucked it into the pocket of his Hogwarts robes and got to his feet. He hadn't consciously decided to enter a dreamworld tonight, and though he could have done so unintentionally, he was leaning more towards one of the other possibilities.
Like a certain pair of female relatives of mine, who share that particular power with me, and might just want to take a chance on seeing me again?
He frowned. Though just because I can't see the Mark, that doesn't mean it's not there. I hope they can't get any bleedover from it, if this really is them…
Turning to survey his surroundings more thoroughly, he stopped.
The person standing behind him was neither female nor related to him, but did answer the question of "who" and "how".
While raising a whole boatload of others in the process!
"Evening, Alex," he said.
"Evening, Fox." Alex had his hands in his pockets of his own robes, a darker shade of green than the grassy color he most often wore. "I'd ask how you're doing, but even I'm not quite that dumb."
"Pity." With an effort, Draco kept his tone light. "And here I was in the mood to scream at somebody."
"We might still get to that, but later." Alex smiled slightly. "Actually, I'm here to make good on a promise. Back before Halloween, alley behind the Pepper Pot?"
"Back before—oh, right. Amanda." Draco exhaled between his teeth. "Since when does she speak Parseltongue? You told me she wasn't a ghost—"
"She wasn't." Alex swirled two fingers in a graceful curve, and a chair appeared behind Draco. Another swirl, backwards to the first, produced one for himself. "I can't explain too much, it touches on the things you pulled out of your head with that jewel, but my daughter never truly died. Her spirit was bound to the world, neither living nor dead, until she found the answer she was looking for. At which point she located a body which wasn't otherwise being used, and got her second chance." He shut his eyes, looking overwhelmed, as though a pain he'd never dared acknowledge had suddenly been healed. "And it worked. It worked. I never thought she'd really manage it…"
"Manage what?" Draco thought he was doing well not to shout the question, given how many others were lined up behind it, trying to shove their way out of his mouth. "What exactly did she accomplish by walking out there, spouting off her little oration, and then just letting him kill her?"
"Well, you see…" Alex broke off, looking very relieved, as another figure materialized at the edge of the woods. "Took you long enough," he said, standing up and conjuring another chair beside his own. "I thought I was going to have to start this thing off by myself!"
"Would I be that cruel to you?" asked the red-haired woman Draco had seen in Alex's portrait in the Den a few times, laughing through her words as she took her seat and arranged her dark blue robes neatly around her. "Hello, Draco, remember me?"
"It's Anne, isn't it?" Draco smiled a little. "You sang for me that one time, and said you didn't make a very good man."
"Which I don't." Anne folded her hands in her lap. "But I am a fairly passable storyteller, if I do say so myself. And Amanda's story is one I know very well." Her answering smile was soft, wistful, ancient with sorrow. "I was her mother."
"You were—" Draco looked from one to the other of his companions, suspicions rising in his mind. "But then you'd have to have been—"
"Alive a thousand years ago?" Anne finished. "I was. Not quite the first Muggleborn to study at Hogwarts, but certainly among the earliest of them. I saw it all happen, from perhaps a closer vantage point than I really wanted." She grinned briefly at Alex, who nudged his shoulder against hers in reply. "But that's a very long story indeed, and you wanted to hear about our daughter. About Amanda." Her grin turned wicked. "Though I see no reason you should have to suffer through it alone."
Draco was taking a breath to ask what this meant when he caught a new scent in the air, one which tightened his throat and made his heart stutter painfully. Female—not too young—related to me—Merlin's blood, did they really—
The chair on which he sat stretched into a loveseat just in time, as Danger tumbled around the edge of it and caught Draco into one of her patented mother hugs. He clung to her without shame, feeling the prickle of more tears in his eyes.
I thought I was never going to get to say goodbye…
"Why can't this be real?" he whispered.
"Silly Fox." Danger kissed the top of his ear. "It's as real as we make it."
"How did I know you were going to say that," Draco muttered, and felt his Pack-mother's answering laugh. "Did you find my pendants?"
"We did, and listened to Amanda's story, or the parts of it she was able to tell. Which, I'll admit, made me quite curious myself." Danger angled the last sentence away from Draco. "So I'm guessing I'm here to report back to everyone else, so you don't have to tell it twice?"
"That's one reason." Anne's tone was light, inconsequential. "Let me know when you're ready."
"How about it, love?" Danger bent low over Draco to murmur the words. "Do you need more time?"
Oh, only about seventy years or so… "No, I'm ready." Draco pushed himself upright and turned to face Alex and Anne, though Danger's arm was still around him and he did not try to remove it. "Whenever you are."
"Very well." Anne sat back in her chair, her eyes growing distant. "My father was born in a sunny southern land, a short-legged, short-sighted, short-tempered man with a lust for travel and a gift for healing. A trading ship it was that brought him first to the shores of England, but a dreamy-eyed storyteller maid was the one who kept him here, for he wanted her from the moment he first saw her, with her hair all wet from the lake where she'd just bathed…"
Anne's full story will probably be written as a one-shot later, but we'll get Danger's synopsis for the Pack when she wakes up later. And this final scene is for everyone who was crying because Draco didn't get to say goodbye to any of his parents. Now he does.
Next chapter: the official ending of the spell-breaking year, Harry and Ginny's wedding (yes, finally), and what becomes of Draco. And I will remind you right now that dead or injured authors do not update. Yes, it's that evil. Anyone who's read my DV-based original, Homecoming, might already have an idea. Why yes, that was a shameless plug, available through all major e-book retailers and signed copies at my Etsy shop…
Thanks as always for reading, and next chapter as soon as I can manage it!
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