Beneath the Surface – Epilogue

1 Year Later

Blaise stood in the entrance of the Great Hall, his mind in a daze. His head throbbed just over his right eye, which was almost swollen shut. Pain shot through his ankle with every new step, and he gripped his wand tightly, still unable to relax his muscles though He Who Must Not Be Named had called a truce ten minutes ago.

He felt exhausted, his body heavy not just from the exertion of the night’s events, but the strain the entire school year had put on him. His seventh year at Hogwarts hadn’t been easy, though he hadn’t expected it to be. His fellow housemates had both targeted and isolated him, their anger at his choice to date a Muggle-born having festered over the summer break rather than faded. He knew how to defend himself, but it was the loneliness that made it difficult, more so than the taunts and attempted hexes in the halls. The few Slytherins he had been friendly with in the past had begun to ignore him so as not to call attention to themselves. The only person who had really paid him any mind had been the odd Luna Lovegood, but even she had disappeared just before Christmas, taken by Death Eaters on the train home. 

The hardest part was being apart from Hermione. He hadn’t seen or heard from her since the end of the year before, when they’d said goodbye on the train platform. Occasionally, the Daily Prophet would release news of Harry Potter’s whereabouts — a Ministry break-in early in the school year, a sighting near Ottery St. Catchpole around Christmas, an escape from Gringotts Bank on a dragon just that morning — and Blaise would take it as a good sign, telling himself that Potter wouldn’t still be alive if Hermione wasn’t there to keep him in check.

He kept the chain connecting them around his neck at all times, the red stone resting on his chest under his robes. Right now it was cool, but he supposed no one was safe at the moment, so he tried not to let it get to him. It was often closer to this temperature than to the warmth he had felt when she first put it on. There had been a few times when it had dipped, freezing his skin and causing fear to rise in his chest. The first time had been early in the summer, a full two hours where he wondered what danger had befallen Hermione and whether she would survive it. It had dipped again briefly right around the Ministry break-in and again around the Gringotts escape, but the two worse by far had been during the Christmas and Easter holidays, where Blaise had worried the stone would actually burn his skin with the cold, had worried that the worst had come for the girl he had so surprisingly and completely fallen in love with the year before.

It was the necklace that woke him up this night, not so bad as the worst times, but still startling him out of his sleep regardless. Moments later, one of the third year boys had rushed into the room, telling Blaise, Draco, Theo, Crabbe, and Goyle that Slughorn was calling for them to come to the Great Hall right this second.

Blaise had thrown on his shoes and cloak over his pajamas, confused and groggy. As he came out of the Slytherin common room with the rest of his House he began to hear whispers. The Carrows had been attacked in Ravenclaw Tower, Snape had left the school, Harry Potter was here.

It had felt as if a huge bell was clanging in his head — his only thought was Hermione, loud and glaring, drowning out any drowsiness he had up to that point. His eyes immediately began to scan the Great Hall once he made it inside, scrutinizing each and every Gryffindor at the table on the other side of the room as he sat down. His stomach lurched when he saw Potter, dark-haired and grim, but Hermione was nowhere to be found.

He’d told himself not to panic — his necklace hadn’t become any colder and he couldn’t find Weasley anywhere either, though most of his siblings and even his parents seemed to be there, standing up with the teachers at the front of the room.

Professor McGonagall began to speak, telling the entire school that He Who Must Not Be Named was here, that they would begin evacuating students before mounting a defense, that Professor Snape had run away, abandoning them for his master. Just as she began to dole out instructions to the prefects, a high cold voice pierced the air, sending a chill up Blaise’s spine.

“I know that you are preparing to fight,” the voice said, “Your efforts are futile. You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood.”

Blaise had felt a fear almost stronger than what he had felt back in December and April, hair rising on the back of his neck. He had clenched his fists to keep them from trembling.

“Give me Harry Potter and none shall be harmed. Give me Harry Potter, and I shall leave the school untouched. Give me Harry Potter, and you will be rewarded. You have until midnight.”

Silence filled the hall, and Blaise felt an overwhelming urge to run to safety, to leave before things got out of hand — because he knew they would. There was no way the teachers or the majority of students would give Potter up.

“But he’s there!” Pansy Parkinson shrieked from down the table, “Potter’s there! Someone grab him!”

As Blaise had expected, the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws had all stood, making it clear that Potter was protected.

“Thank you, Miss Parkinson,” Professor McGonagall said, “You will leave the Hall first with Mr. Filch. If the rest of your House could follow.”

Blaise had stood then, eager to get as far away from the castle as possible. He filed out of the Great Hall after two first years, winding up the stairs and down the halls toward the seventh floor. He was halfway there when he’d stopped, suddenly remembering Hermione. He thought about her worried gaze, as she had explained to Blaise in vague terms what she had to do. He thought about the way she was always studying, even after exams were canceled, preparing as best she could for the terror to come. He thought about her words, in one of the first letters she had sent him during their correspondence the Christmas before last.

It’s terrifying, but I know I can’t just step aside and let it continue.

Hermione was sacrificing so much for herself, her friends, and Muggle-borns everywhere who were being hunted, imprisoned, and killed just for being born to parents without magic. How could he, someone who was protected by his own magical ancestry, sit back and allow her to go through all that without doing his part to help?

With that, he turned around, pushing against the swelling crowd and back down towards the Great Hall. On the second floor, he ran into Professor McGonagall, leading a group of fighters.

“We’re mounting a defense from Gryffindor Tower,” Parvati Patil told him when she saw him slow to a halt before them.

And so he had gone with the group, hoping Hermione might show up and determined to do his part to fight against the hate that had been festering in the wizarding world for ages.

He didn’t see Hermione at all during the fight, not even when he ended up in the entrance hall, fighting side by side with Dean Thomas and Seamus Finnigan. Debris from a nearby explosion had hit his head, cutting his eyebrow and swelling his eye shut. He had slipped on the emeralds from the Slytherin hourglass scattered across the entrance hall, twisting his ankle.

And then the Dark Lord had called a truce, giving them an hour of respite, to hand Potter over, before it would start all over again.

Blaise had limped his way back into the castle from the dark grounds, where he, Ernie Macmillan, and a few others had pushed back a group of acromantula, and now he entered the Great Hall, his eyes scanning the injured and shaken defenders of the castle. Even in his exhaustion and pain he was trying his best to stay strong for the next wave, for Hermione.

His eyes skated over the Patil twins sitting near a stirring, unrecognizable figure, past a weary and battle-worn Neville Longbottom, before they came to a halt at a large group of red-haired people, huddled closely around a body on the floor. He did a double-take at the sight of a curvy figure with thick curly hair, arms tight around the red-haired girl.

Blaise froze, and for a moment he thought maybe he was hallucinating, which wasn’t entirely impossible given how tired he felt. But then the red-haired girl broke away, turning to one of her brothers, and the figure turned. Hermione.

She was thinner than when Blaise had last seen her, her brown face drawn and gaunt. The knees of her jeans were stained with mud, rubble and dust riddled through her dark hair, the bottom of her jacket burned. She put a hand to her face, wiping away tears.

And then her brown, beautiful eyes met his and Blaise could feel his throat constrict briefly, felt a swooping sensation in his stomach, as if the ground had dropped out from beneath him.

“Blaise,” her voice was no higher than a whisper, but still he heard it, his skin warming at the sound of her.

“Hi,” he tried to smile, his voice cracking with the emotion that had suddenly come rushing through him.

Hermione looked in shock. He could see her taking him in, her eyes lingering on his swollen eye. Before he could say anything more, she had closed the gap between them, grabbed his arms, and was pulling him to the nearest empty bench.

She forced him to sit down, sliding the beaded bag strapped across her chest to the front and plunging her arm deep inside it.

“It’s got to be in here somewhere,” she muttered to herself, before saying, “I don’t think there’s much left, but it should be just enough.”

Blaise stared at her, feeling as if he had entered a dream.

“Hermione,” he said, though his voice didn’t come out as strong as he wished.

She didn’t seem to hear him, cursing under her breath before drawing an unfamiliar wand from the inside of her jacket and pointing it into the opening of the bag, muttering “Accio Dittany.

A small brown bottle flew up into her hand and she slipped the wand away. Her hands shook slightly as she pulled the stopper out and then slid her free hand along the side of his face to keep him still, leaving what felt like a trail of fire along his skin. She tipped the bottle over his eye, and Blaise could feel the liquid drip into his cut. It burned at first, but then quickly cooled as his eye began to open back up, allowing him to see her clearer.

Hermione immediately turned her head from him, craning her neck. “I need to find Madam Pomfrey, she would be much more thorough—”

“Hermione,” Blaise said, his voice stronger. He reached up to touch her face, to pull it back to face him. Her eyes were wide, fear on her face. “I’m okay.”

One moment, she was staring at him, her lip trembling and eyes filling with tears as she searched his face, and the next her arms were tight around his neck, her head on his shoulder and hair in his eyes. Blaise wrapped his arms around her waist and closed his eyes, inhaling her familiar scent of fresh parchment and rosemary, mingled in with the dust and sweat of battle.

After a long moment, Blaise pulled her down to sit on his good leg. Her arms loosely rested on his shoulders, and even as the stone on his chest stayed at room temperature, he felt comfort just having her here in his arms.

His eyes raked over her, taking in the faint burns across her jawline and forehead, the arch of her eyebrows, her teeth gnawing on her bottom lip, the gold chain peeking out from under her t-shirt. He frowned at the thin scar at the base of her throat, and before he knew it he was reaching out, running his thumb over it.

“I’m okay,” she said, quickly reading the question on his face. But her face darkened and her voice trembled, “It was a gift from Malfoy’s aunt.”

Blaise felt a surge of anger and shame, but both emotions died in his chest at the sight of the worry on Hermione’s face.

“I think Harry’s going to go to Voldemort,” she whispered, as if she was afraid to say it any louder, to speak it into existence.

He frowned, “Why would he do that? Everyone’s fighting to keep him safe.”

“That’s just it,” she said, shaking her head, “I know him. He can’t take people dying for him any longer.”

Blaise didn’t know what to say to that. He rubbed her back, hoping that at the very least she would feel some comfort in the gesture. She leaned her head back down on his shoulder.

“I don’t know what will happen next,” he murmured to her, “But whatever does, we’ll stick together, alright?”

Hermione nodded, and Blaise felt a new surge of purpose as her lips grazed his jaw. They would get through this. They had to.

A few hours later, Blaise was sitting on a different bench, his leg elevated as Madam Pomfrey tapped his ankle. The pain in it stopped immediately, his ankle now given full range of motion.

Hermione had brought him straight to the matron once He Who Must Not Be Named had been defeated, but it had taken her a while to get to him, given the more pressing injuries of others. Hermione had sat with him while he waited, until Weasley turned up, saying that Potter wanted to speak with them. Hermione had nodded, turning to kiss Blaise’s temple before going off with Weasley, assuring him that she would be back.

He saw her now, reentering the Great Hall just as Madam Pomfrey finished checking him for other bruises and cuts.

“You’re alright now, Mr. Zabini,” she told him, giving him a kind look before moving on to the next injured person.

Blaise thanked her as he stood. He made his way across the Great Hall, over to where Hermione was speaking in a rapid pace with Professor McGonagall. Weasley nodded to him as he approached.

“Listen,” he said, his voice hushed, “Make Hermione get some rest, will you?”

Blaise glanced behind Weasley at Hermione, her voice rising above the low din of the Hall.

“…can take a group of people up to the towers? They must be a mess…”

He felt a familiar and welcome exasperation, and looked back to Weasley. He looked pale, shoulders drooped from both exhaustion and grief. “What about you?”

Weasley rubbed his face, “Need to check on my mum and brother. But then I’m taking a long nap.”

Blaise nodded in understanding, but stopped in surprise when Weasley held a hand out to him. Feeling strange, Blaise shook it once before Weasley offered him a smile and walked away.

Hermione turned to Blaise as Professor McGonagall left the Hall.

“I was talking to McGonagall, and I think if we start at the top of the castle and work our way down, that might be the most efficient way to make sure everything is back the way it should be.”

Blaise fought to keep his face blank. He reached out and took her hand, her familiar grip sending small jolts of electricity up his arm. “Let’s go to the Quidditch pitch.”

Hermione frowned at him in confusion, “What needs to be done there?”

Blaise shook his head, “Just come on.”

He pulled her out of the castle, into the cool morning air. Thinning smoke covered the rising sun, but he could feel it warming his skin. They walked in silence across the scorched grass, around huge fallen stones, and past a fallen giant. The pitch loomed up ahead, the only part of the grounds untouched.

Blaise came to a halt in the very center of the pitch, the empty stands rising above them.

When he turned to look at Hermione, he saw that she was still frowning.

“Blaise, why are we here? There’s loads to do,” she said, her eyes sharp. “We need to look through the castle to make sure there are no more injured or fallen. The Room of Requirement might be ruined forever, but someone should check. And the common rooms should all be inspected to make sure—”

“Hermione,” Blaise said calmly, taking both of her hands in his own. He looked down at her fiercely. “Just take a deep breath. It’s okay now. You’re safe.”

She stared up at him, startled by his words. Slowly, they seemed to sink in. She opened her mouth to speak, but shut it before trying again, sounding astonished. “I suppose you’re right.”

Keeping one hand in hers, Blaise drew his wand and Conjured a thin blanket, to provide a barrier between them and the dewy grass. They lay down together on their sides, hands propping themselves up, facing each other. Blaise watched Hermione’s face, watched her watch him, her eyes blinking slowly in her weariness. He reached out, resting his hand on the curve of her hip and nudging her closer.

“Will you come to Australia with me?” Hermione blurted out.

“Yes,” Blaise answered, without a thought. “Why Australia?”

She bit her lip, shifting uncomfortably. “I, er, sent my parents there last summer. I didn’t want Voldemort coming after them to try to get to Harry so I changed their memories and gave them new lives. In case I couldn’t come back.”

Blaise watched her fight with her emotions, and remembered the way she had spoken to him at the end of last year, how terrible she had felt at the thought that she had put him harm’s way. He was just realizing himself how much she had prepared, how much she had done to protect those she loved.

“Of course I’ll come with you,” he murmured, leaving out the fact that he had no plans to let her out of his sight at this point. He moved his hand from her hip to her face, caressing her cheek with his thumb. “I love you.”

Hermione’s tired face lit up, her entire body relaxing at his words. “Me too.”

They leaned into each other then, and Hermione’s lips were a wonderful familiarity, soft and sweet against his own. Blaise slid his fingers into her thick hair and felt a flutter in his chest, and as Hermione pressed closer to him he could see their futures, stretching out endlessly before them.