The news came on the twenty-fifth of June by war Eagle: Voldemort was dead.
Cheers rose up in the Great Hall and the atmosphere at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry became less troubled.
But simply because Voldemort was dead, didn’t mean the war had ended. Death Eaters still battled against the side of Light, despite the loss of their leader. Some, having remained masked throughout the war, would disappear again into the woodwork and would not be found. The majority of the Death Eaters, however, would continue to fight, as they had nothing left to lose. If captured, they would be stripped of their memories and fed a potion rendering them into Squibs. Their wands would be broken and they would be sent to live in a penal colony, New Azkaban, never to set foot in the Wizarding world again.
Over the next few days, Order of the Phoenix members, Aurors, and soldiers apparated to outside the gates of Hogwarts, the main base for the side of Light during the war. They were primarily from the squadron designated to find Voldemort and were returning for rest or reassignment.
She stood at the third window in the East Tower facing the gates of the school, like she had every day during her off time since the twenty-fifth of June, and waited. She had been left behind six years ago, better to serve the Cause using her intellect rather than her wand. Over that time, she had lost several close friends to the war, each death more painful than the last. She waited now to see whom else she would have to mourn.
Neville Longbottom was the first of her friends to return, looking beaten and worn. He brought news that she didn’t want to hear, about the confirmed dead.
Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil arrived, apparating in from an outpost in Inglebrook, bringing word of the identified Death Eaters, deceased. She was not surprised by the names, having heard them repeated since Fourth Year, when Voldemort first returned: Crabbe Sr., Goyle Sr., Nott, MacNair, Lestrange, Pettigrew, and Lucius Malfoy. Voldemort’s inner-circle.
Dean Thomas straggled in, half-dragging Colin Creevey. Healers were needed at Inglebrook, as the wounded could not apparate and port keys to Hogwarts were few. She was not asked to go, and so she remained at her window, watching, waiting, and praying.
She was witness, therefore, to Draco Malfoy appearing outside the gates.
She lifted her omnioculars to her eyes to confirm that it was, indeed, Malfoy striding up the path. She was about to raise the alarm, as Malfoy was a known Death Eater. But then she saw Severus Snape emerge from the main doors of the castle and walk down to meet Malfoy.
She watched as Malfoy stopped in front of Snape. Neither of them said anything that she could see. Malfoy knelt slowly and laid his wand at Snape’s feet, before sitting back on his heels. Snape put his hand on Malfoy’s down-turned head and gently stroked his hair.
Then, Malfoy knelt up, wrapped his arms around Snape’s legs, and began to cry.
She watched, stunned, as Snape continued to soothe Malfoy by petting his hair. It was an intensely private moment, one she shouldn’t be witnessing and that she did not understand. For in this war, there would be no forgiveness.
It wasn’t until later that she learned Draco Malfoy had been on their side all along.
Snape made the announcement in the Great Hall, verified by Minerva McGonagall when she returned to Hogwarts. Snape didn’t explain when Malfoy had joined their side, or why, or about anything, really, other than Malfoy’s loyalty to the Light.
Those residing at the castle were suspicious of him, still, which was unsurprising. Whispers and taunts followed Malfoy’s footsteps as he roamed the corridors. His features were set in a perpetual sneer, but he never responded to the hateful words thrown his way. He avoided people as best he could, isolating himself and sitting apart from others during meals.
She tracked him down, once, intending to demand answers. But when she saw him standing at the third window in the East Tower, two floors down from her own window, she hesitated, and from where she stood unobserved, she saw the sneer melt away. Malfoy’s expression became the same one she saw on everyone’s face: war weary and somewhat lost. He watched the gates, worry tightening his lips and the corners of his eyes. She realized then that he was waiting, just like she did when she stood at the window two floors up.
She wondered whom he was waiting for, but she never asked. She left him alone, after that.
Two weeks later, Harry Potter returned to Hogwarts amidst cheers and a mini-celebration. She hugged him tight for a long time and stayed with him in the Hospital Wing. He told her of the final fight with Voldemort, of his injuries and remaining in hiding with Dumbledore until it was safe for him to apparate.
Malfoy came into the Hospital Wing the first evening Harry was back, surprising her and Harry. Harry’s wand was in his hand in a flash, and she almost didn’t stop him from spellcasting in time. She explained in quick, low tones about Malfoy’s loyalty, to Harry’s extreme skepticism. Still, he didn’t curse Malfoy as the blonde approached the bed at the far end of the room.
“I see the great Harry Potter has finally succeeded in destroying my Lord,” Malfoy said. He glanced at the beds surrounding Harry. “Where’s your faithful lapdog? I thought you and the Weasel were splinched at the hip.”
“Not that you really care, but I lost Ron at Inglebrook,” Harry said. His eyes narrowed behind his glasses. “What I want to know is: what are you doing here?”
“Paying worship to the Golden Boy, what else?” Malfoy drawled, but there seemed to be something off in his voice and the lines around his mouth and eyes had tightened. He turned with a flare of robes and strode several steps towards the door, but then paused. With his back still to them, he said seriously, “Thanks, Potter, for ending it finally.”
Harry exchanged a confused look with her, as Malfoy left the Hospital Wing. He vowed to get answers about Malfoy that day, but as the weeks passed, he learned nothing. Malfoy ghosted the corridors of Hogwarts, withdrawn even further since Harry’s return, until he became forgotten amongst the crowd.
She stood at the window less, now, instead spending her time with Harry. Reports came in continuously from the field about captured Death Eaters and the dead from both sides. Ron Weasley had yet to be listed, but she and Harry were losing hope that he would return. The Battle of Inglebrook, where Harry had lost track of Ron, had happened too long ago.
New battle plans were made and carried out. Squadrons were reassigned. Soldiers for the Light came and went. More healers were trained for the field. Additional guards were rotated into the fold at New Azkaban, as the population swelled. Debates began to rage about what to do with families of Death Eaters, who weren’t Death Eaters’ themselves but whose loyalties were questionable.
She and Harry sat at the old Gryffindor table in the Great Hall, surrounded by their still-living friends. Neville, Dean, Colin, Lavender, Parvati, Ginny Weasley, and Luna Lovegood had been reassigned to the castle, with her and Harry. They found subdued peace in their new work, even though the war continued on outside the gates of Hogwarts. Meals were no-brooding zones, by group decree, and they spoke of everything other than death as they ate.
She was the first to notice him, as he entered the Great Hall. Her fork dropped to her plate with a clatter, causing the others to look up. Ron Weasley strode towards their table, looking worn around the edges, but uninjured and wholly alive.
She was out of her seat in an instant, throwing her arms around him in a tight hug. Her friends joined her, as did many others in the Hall, hugging Ron or pumping his hand. His reception rivaled that of Harry’s, as if everyone thought that with the restoration of the trio of best friends – Harry, Ron, and Hermione – the war had officially ended.
People returned to their seats, elated conversation rising in volume, only to fall swiftly to a hush with the sound of one voice.
Ron turned. Malfoy stood two tables away, the sneer that had been missing for weeks twisting his face. “Malfoy,” Ron said simply, and she and Harry exchanged questioning looks.
“I see you survived,” Malfoy said.
“So did you.” Ron lifted his arms slightly, extended towards Malfoy. “You don’t have to pretend anymore.”
Harry’s wand was in his hand the moment Malfoy moved, but he didn’t raise it. Instead he, like everyone else in the Great Hall, stared gob-smacked as Ron separated from his friends and pulled Malfoy into his arms.
Malfoy embraced Ron tightly in return. He tucked his face in the hollow of Ron’s neck. Ron closed his eyes and rested his cheek against Malfoy’s head. There was no room between them to slip even a piece of parchment.
They stood there for a long time, holding each other like they’d never thought they’d meet again. Perhaps, they hadn’t.
Ron stroked his hand down Malfoy’s back and Malfoy lifted his head. His expression was open, with a breathtaking smile and an unmistakable look of love. Ron lowered his mouth to Malfoy’s, capturing that smile in a slow, tender kiss.
The voices in the Great Hall rose again in volume. Ron and Malfoy broke the kiss, rested their foreheads together, and stared into each other’s eyes with matching, adoring grins. Ron then curved his arm around Malfoy’s waist and guided him closer to the table of friends.
“Guys, there’s been something I’ve been meaning to tell you…”
She laughed suddenly, in joy and disbelief, as her friends talked over one another, throwing questions and stupefied demands at Ron. Ron kept his arm snuggly around Draco. Draco’s sneer had returned, but he leaned against Ron with obvious reluctance to lose touch with him.
Eventually, Ron shushed their concerns and questions and dragged Malfoy out of the Great Hall.
She found them later in the East Tower by the third window, two floors down from her own post, holding one another as if the world were about to end.
Or maybe for them, it was just beginning.