The corridor was silent as a tomb.
“Are you sure he’s in there?” Luna asked, echoing Hermione’s own thoughts.
Hermione paced in front of the door to Snape’s office, chewing on her lower lip. “He was when we headed down here.”
Luna didn’t ask how she knew that. “What if he left through a different door?”
It certainly was quiet enough. Maybe Snape had slipped out another way. This was all a bit silly. The boys had never liked Snape, and they’d also never been right about Snape working against them. If there was a threat to the school while Dumbledore was gone with Harry, she didn’t honestly think it would come from Snape.
A stray thought crossed her mind. She shouldn’t leave Luna . . . but she couldn’t really believe Snape would hurt Luna, even if he caught her lurking outside his office.
Hermione made a decision.
“I’m going to go check on what’s happening.”
Luna looked up at her curiously. “Do you think it’s safe to split up?”
“I’ll be fine. If you see trouble, knock on the door. I know what Ron and Harry think, but they’re wrong. Professor Snape’s not the threat. Anyway, I’m sure I’ll find that nothing’s happening, and I’ll be back before you know it.”
Drawing her wand just in case, she started back up the hall at a brisk walk. It was nearly midnight, and the corridors were empty. So she heard the quick, light footsteps of Professor Flitwick well before he came into view. She listened, wondering what would put him in such a hurry and knowing the answer in her gut. His muttered ramblings of, “Death Eaters in the castle!” as he passed by without noticing her confirmed it. She broke into a sprint.
She emerged from the dungeons into the middle of a battle. Curses were being thrown on all sides, rock falling as bits of the walls were blasted away, bodies hitting the floor . . .
There were Death Eaters, all right. More than she could count offhand. She saw them dueling with Ron, Ginny, Neville . . . Tonks was there, and Lupin, and McGonagall. Backup had come, at least. Raising her wand, she prepared to throw herself into the fray, but movement in the corner of her eye caught her attention: a flash of green and pale blond. Draco.
This was it. It must have been Draco who’d got the Death Eaters in. And now he was running from the battle—which meant he must have something more important to do. And if Draco was far enough gone that he’d let the Death Eaters into Hogwarts, then whatever was so important to him now needed to be stopped.
With a last glance at the battle, she followed him.
Draco ran to the Astronomy Tower and up the stairs. He didn’t notice her following him, even when she ducked under the warding spell he sent to the stairway behind them. She raced, panting, up the stairs, wondering what he could be up to. When she reached the top, she knew.
Professor Dumbledore was lying on the ground, weak and pale. Draco loomed over him with his wand pointed at Dumbledore’s heart. She didn’t think.
It happened so quickly, yet it seemed to take forever. Draco turned his face to her, his eyes widening when he saw the spell flying toward him. It hit. His wand flew from his hand—but that wasn’t all. Draco himself went flying, back, up, and over the tower’s crenelations. For a split second that stretched into eternity, Draco met Hermione’s gaze, his eyes wide with shock, disbelief, and—she was sure she imagined it—something like betrayal, as if she’d cheated at some casual game between friends.
Then he disappeared behind the stones at the tower’s edge.
Aghast, she ran to the side of the tower and looked down. Draco lay sprawled on the grass below, limbs twisted at odd angles, unmoving and silent. She fell to her knees, not believing what she’d just done, and met Dumbledore’s frantic eyes.
“I think . . . he’s dead.”
“No . . .” Dumbledore said, his voice weak. There was a deep, unrestrained sorrow in the furrows of his face. He appeared to be a man utterly defeated.
Then Harry ran to her. She hadn’t even seen where he’d come from, but he was there beside her, first looking over the wall to confirm what she’d said, then crouching next to her.
“He’s dead,” Harry told her. “He was going to kill Dumbledore. You saved his life.” Harry looked at Dumbledore again, then seemed to remember something. “Snape. I’ll go get Snape.”
Dumbledore looked as if he was going to say something, but didn’t get it out before Harry was already gone.
Hermione was still in shock. “I didn’t know Expelliarmus could do that,” she said, trying to both understand the event and excuse herself from blame for it.
“It can . . .” Dumbledore told her, “at times.”
Then she remembered seeing the same thing happen to Lockhart when Snape hit him with it in the dueling club. She should have known, should have remembered. But . . . would that have stopped her?
“He tried to kill you?” she asked, the words having just registered.
“He would not have,” was Dumbledore’s answer.
“What . . . what happened to you?” she asked him, looking over his body more closely. He didn’t appear to have an ounce of strength left in him.
“Poison,” he told her. “I am dying.”
“No!” she shouted, as if her volume could make it that much more not true. “Whatever it is, there’s got to be an antidote. Professor Snape will—”
“Professor Snape can do nothing for me any longer,” Dumbledore said sadly, wearily, but did not expound on it.
“Why not?” she asked, just as Harry reappeared.
He ran to them, panting. “Snape’s lying in the hallway,” he blurted out. Dumbledore did not seem surprised to hear this news. “I don’t know what’s wrong with him, but he’s . . . twitching.”
Now Dumbledore looked shocked. “He is not dead?”
“No.” Harry shook his head. “Why would he be?”
“Bring me to him. Quickly!” Dumbledore commanded, attempting to sit up.
Harry didn’t appear to understand what was going on much better than Hermione did, but he Levitated the Headmaster down the stairs.
Hermione followed them as far as Snape, who was indeed lying alone in the corridor, spasming like he was being Crucioed. It frightened her to see him so helpless. But she knew there was nothing here for her to do, and by the sounds coming from the Entrance Hall, she knew the fight was still raging. Pushing the sight of Draco’s broken body from her mind, she ran to meet the battle.