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Not Quite Fate by Hearts Cadence
The End by Hearts Cadence
A/N – This is it. The long-awaited update. The big one. That’s right: you are officially looking at the final chapter of NQF. And it’s a lonnng one too haha.

Actually, it’s not technically the last, as I’m going to write an epilogue to tie up the many loose ends that this chapter leaves dangling in the air, but still. Of the “actual” story, it’s the last. Enjoy!

- - - - -

Chapter 36 — The End

McGonagall wasted no time in shutting down the Floo, or in setting up apparation wards similar to those that covered Hogwarts grounds. While Ginny appreciated the added precaution and all, it had proved highly annoying when it came to contacting Nott. She was determined to talk to him first, though. In the end, Naomi’s whole crazy plan hinged on the unpredictable Slytherin, and Ginny was going to make sure she had his cooperation before she spoke even a single word of this to Harry.

She hated this waiting part, though. She sat on her bed, tapping her foot impatiently and hoping that Ben could handle this. Naomi had assured her the little devil would love the chance to get into some mischief, and that he was far cleverer than any four-year-old had a right to be. Apparently he showed signs of the Ravenclaw gene. Ginny only prayed he would remember to keep it all very hush-hush.

Just then there was a mighty crash from the kitchens and a child’s shout of alarm. Ginny steeled herself and walked to the door, pressing her ear against the wood to listen for the sounds of rushing footsteps. Sure enough, within moments the old wooden floors were complaining at the top of their lungs as several pairs of sneakers clambered across to see what had happened. Ginny waited only a second for the sounds to fade, then slipped out more quietly herself.

She jogged lightly down the steps, remembering to avoid the creaky ones, and crept through the hall at the bottom. She vaguely heard Naomi shout, “Ben, what on earth were you thinking?” and then she was rushing through the front room to the foyer, sliding out the door silently. She allowed herself a congratulatory grin when she felt the wind brush over her face. She’d gotten out undetected, at least. And Merlin, but that breeze felt heavenly after being cooped up for so long.

It took a great deal of effort to keep herself from lingering any longer in the lovely afternoon and instead to rush off down the street. The familiar smells of chimney smoke and damp air filled her nostrils as she jogged. She grimaced as her lungs started working harder far sooner than they should have. It had been far too long since she was allowed a proper run, and it was showing.

She went about two blocks before arriving at the little café. It was just a tiny cubbyhole of a shop, really, with only enough seating for maybe a dozen customers. But she remembered the coffee tasting delicious here, and their breads were the best around. More importantly, it was the closest meeting place to headquarters.

She walked in to the soft tinkle of a bell overhead. A dark-haired woman behind the counter, the only other presence in the place, looked up from her work refilling the biscuit display and smiled. She had very straight teeth, and a smudge of flour beneath her left eye. “Good afternoon. Can I get you anything?” she asked.

“Just water, if that’s all right,” Ginny said. She would have loved to get something more, but that, unfortunately, would have required Muggle money.

“You’re sure? Our coffee is fresh brewed, and if you prefer hot chocolate, you’ll never find it creamier or richer than you will here. These biscuits are fresh from the oven, and I have some wonderful sweet rolls about to come out in just a minute. They’ll still be hot and gooey.”

The woman said it like she was sharing a secret, and Ginny smiled regretfully. “Sorry. I would love all of that, but I’m a bit short on funds at the moment. I’m actually waiting for a…friend, you see.”

The woman looked disappointed, but she managed to keep her smile tacked firmly in place. “Water it is, then.”

She disappeared into the back, and Ginny chose a seat near the window, as far from the counter as she could get. She just hoped that Nott would show up. She sent him an owl three days ago, making sure to keep it purposely vague. She was more less banking on his curiosity. A quick glance at the tin, mug-shaped clock above the counter told her that she was right on time, so he should be arriving any minute now.

If indeed he was coming at all.

The tinkle of the bell tore her gaze away from the clock, and she exhaled slowly when she saw the familiar figure of Theodore Nott walk into the shop. His expression was hard to read as he surveyed his surroundings, a curious mix between approval and vague discomfort. Then he spotted her.

“My darling Weasley.”

She set her lips in a line. She should never have told him to stop calling her that. Now he was just going to do it more than ever. Forcing down her irritation, she forced a warmer look onto her face. She was going to be asking him for a big favor in just a moment, she might as well not start out on the wrong foot.

“Hullo, Nott.” She forced some cheeriness into her voice, which the boy raised an eyebrow at. But before he could make some sure-to-be scathing remark, the dark-haired woman with the flour still smudged across her cheek reappeared with Ginny’s water.

“This is your friend, then?” she asked pleasantly as she set the tall glass in front of Ginny.

“Yes,” she answered. “He only just arrived.”

The woman treated Nott to one of her big, welcoming smiles. “Good timing, then. Can I get you anything?”

Nott glanced at the specials board above her head. “I’ll try a mocha.”

“The sweet rolls are fresh from the oven. Still piping hot, and nice and sticky,” she promised with a grin.

Ginny couldn’t help but smile. This woman knew how to push her wares. But then, she would have to in order to keep so small a café running.

Nott shrugged. “Why not? Bring one of those out too.”

The woman seemed far happier with Nott than Ginny, and she hurried off with much more haste to fill his order. Ginny leaned forward at the table as he took his seat. “You do realize you’ll need Muggle money to pay for all of that, don’t you?”

“You mean Muggles haven’t started accepting Galleons yet?” he asked with mock incredulity.

“Nott.”

“Relax, Weasley.”

She sat back, puzzled. “Where did you get Muggle money from?”

“What did I tell you about divulging my Slytherin secrets?” He sat back and folded his arms. “Now, I’m much more interested in discussing the reason you made me break school rules to sneak off grounds and apparate to a middle-of-nowhere, Muggle café.”

“I didn’t make you do anything,” Ginny pointed out. “I invited you.”

“More like begged.”

Ginny gritted her teeth. This was going to be a long meeting. Just then the proprietress swept up to their table and placed a steaming mug of mocha coffee, topped with a heap of whipped cream drizzled with chocolate syrup, in front of Nott. A sticky bun followed, still hot and gooey as promised.

“Anything I else I can get you two?”

“No, thank you,” Ginny answered politely for the both of them. Nott was already biting into his sweet roll.

The woman wandered back to the counter, and Nott closed his eyes in exaggerated bliss. “Oh, Weasley, you have no idea what you’re missing,” he told her. “I’d offer you some, but I don’t want to.”

Ginny glared at him, feeling her stomach rumble. “You have icing on your nose,” she snapped.

If she’d hoped to embarrass him, she’d failed, as he simply produced a handkerchief and wiped it away without showing the slightest concern. “So now what’s the problem this time? If you still don’t have your bloody wand, that’s not my fault. I sent it with that hyperactive owl of yours.”

Ginny shook her head. “It’s…something else.”

He took a careful sip of coffee. “Are you waiting for me to cast Legilimens to find out the details?”

Ginny recoiled, horrified at the thought of this boy seeing into her mind. “No, I’m not!”

He gave a barely-there smirk. “I suspected. However, if I were you, I would hurry up. Just in case.”

She glowered at him, caught herself at it, and forced herself to present a less hostile front. “I have a proposition for you.”

He sat back and cocked his head. “A proposition, is it? Ah, now you’re learning to speak the language. Of course, what you mean is you have another favor to ask. At least you’re trying.”

She forced herself to ignore him. “It could mean your freedom from…from Voldemort.”

Nott’s lips curled into that half smile. “Voldemort, is he now? Someone’s getting cocky.”

“Did you even hear what I just said?”

Nott sighed. “Yes, Pansy’s screeching hasn’t made me deaf yet. But you can save it, my darling Weasley. I’m not becoming a part of your bloody Order, or your cause.”

Ginny leaned forward. “And if I told you I’m not proposing that?”

Nott took an uninterested bite of his sweet roll. “I would inquire why you bloody well dragged me out here then.”

“To offer you the chance to end it all—the Death Eaters, the Order…the war, Nott.”

“Did I miss something? What happened to Potter? He’s the savior of the world, last time I checked. I just follow orders.”

Ginny sat back frustrated and crossed her arms, studying him seriously. “Why do you pretend like that?”

“You’ll have to be a bit more specific. Far too broad a question for any Slytherin to answer.”

Ginny rolled her eyes. “You act like you’re just this pawn to Voldemort that can be scooted around just as he pleases. You pretend like you don’t care, and it doesn’t bother you. But you don’t just follow orders, and obviously you care to some extent. You helped me all those times, didn’t you?”

“It was much easier then.”

“Why?”

“Saving your arse wasn’t directly opposing the Dark Lord. It just wasn’t something he would have done personally. Now you’re talking blatant disobedience.” He paused and added thoughtfully, “Also, you didn’t know I was helping before. Now you’re trying to cast me in some bloody righteous light, and I’m not another eager helper for you and your precious McGonagall.”

Ginny’s face hardened. “McGonagall is not on my list of favorite people at the moment, actually.” She leaned forward again. “And if you’re so keen on defying her, I suggest you shut the hell up and listen for once instead of being such a smart arse.”

He watched her expressionlessly for a moment, then allowed a grim smile to spread across his face. “It’s so refreshing when you stop trying to be smooth. You’re much more effective as you are.”

Ginny had no idea if this was a compliment or not, but decided to just take it as one and move on. “Well? Are you interested?”

He shrugged as he sipped more from his coffee mug. “Vaguely. If you talk, I won’t completely block you out.”

Ginny knew that was as good as she was going to get. “You know about the Horcruxes, don’t you?”

He nodded disinterestedly, tearing off another piece of his sticky bun.

“Then you probably know that only one is left intact. I’m going to make this real simple for you: we found out what it is, we found out where it is, and we know how to destroy it.”

“Excellent. Glad to see you’ve got everything under control. Can I be leaving then?”

“Shut up and listen. Now Draco’s the only one who can get to it, but McGonagall won’t let him out. So Naomi, that woman you freed along with me in Snape’s dungeon? She and I are going to break him out ourselves to go and destroy it.”

“And Malfoy is agreeable to that plan? Don’t get me wrong, it sounds brilliant. There’s probably only about a hundred things that could go wrong.”

“First, you haven’t even heard the details yet. And second, yes, Draco’s agreed, not that it’s really any of your concern.”

“If you’re asking me to help, I should think it is my concern.”

“I’m not asking you to help with that. We’ve got that much under control. It’s the second part of the plan we need you for. And McGonagall would hate this bit even more, I assure you.”

“More than breaking free her third most hated person?”

Ginny looked at him quizzically. “Third?”

“After Voldemort and Snape. And what else would you need me for if you’ve already worked out how to free Malfoy and destroy the Horcrux?”

Ginny glanced up front, just realizing that all of this probably sounded either crazy or criminal to the Muggle café owner. Luckily she was off somewhere in the back. Ginny occasionally caught a glimpse of her dark hair whisking by, or heard the soft melody of her humming drifting out in the silence.

“Well?” Nott demanded impatiently.

Ginny pulled her attention back, feeling safe to speak again. “We’ll destroy the Horcrux…but we need your help destroying Voldemort.”

Nott stared at her for a long while like he was trying to figure something out. Finally he said, “Sweet Merlin. You’re serious, aren’t you?”

“Of course. Look, once the Horcrux is done, Harry will need to kill Voldemort as quickly as possible. We’re not exactly sure what will happen, but there’s a good chance Voldemort can somehow feel the Horcruxes going, and we need to act before he can find some kind of Plan B.”

“And before he can attack your precious Order,” Nott added knowingly.

“Well, that would be nice, yes. But the point is we want Harry close enough on hand that as soon as Draco’s done, he can Floo to say so, and Harry can do what he has to.”

“I still fail to see why I need to know any of this.”

Ginny grabbed his eyes with hers. “Think about it. If Harry’s going to be close enough that he can act as soon as Draco’s finished, he’ll need to be wherever Voldemort is — as soon as Draco’s finished.”

She could see the understanding in his eyes. “You want me to bloody well get Potter into my headquarters.”

Ginny said nothing. She knew this was the crucial moment, and she had to let him run through everything for himself first. Rushing him could prove disaster.

“That’s it, isn’t it?” he asked again. His voice was impossible to read, but if pressed, Ginny would guess it sounded somewhere between amused and incredulous. “You want me to give you the address so Malfoy can Floo, and you want me to somehow sneak Potter in undetected so he can skip off and play good versus evil.”

Ginny took a sip of her water, never breaking eye contact with him. Draco would have been proud of how controlled she kept her face.

Nott leaned forward and massaged his temples, the greatest show of emotion Ginny could remember seeing from him. “You’re mad, Weasley. Totally round the bend this time. Do you have any idea how ridiculous even thinking of this is? You’ll get your boyfriend killed.”

“Harry’s not my boyfriend,” Ginny said. She steeled herself for her next bit of news. “Draco is.”

Nott looked up sharply, and a slow, smug smile transformed his face. “Finally.”

Ginny allowed herself the luxury of a smile herself, then laid her hands flat on the table, all business once more. “Now it is very dangerous, of course. It’s going to take everything I have to even suggest this to Harry, but — ”

Nott held up his hand. “Wait, hang on. Do you mean to tell me that you haven’t told Potter yet?”

“Only Draco. And now you. I’m not going to worry him with this until I’m sure.”

“And what makes you so positive that Potter would agree to such an obviously moronic plan?”

“Because he’s Harry,” Ginny said simply. “And he’s exhausted. He’ll do anything to finish it once and for all, just as long as it won’t put anyone he loves in danger. And he doesn’t care a whit for rules, we both know that. What McGonagall wants won’t bother him.”

“You really are serious about all of this.” His voice was full of awe.

“Very much so. So what do you say, Nott? We can end this war, get rid of the Death Eaters and the Order both, and you can finally have your freedom. But it’s all up to you.”

Nott smirked, reclining back in his chair with the mug of coffee at his lips. He made a great show of stretching out his legs and crossing them at the ankles. “Well, well, well. Quite an interesting spot to be in.”

Ginny let him have his moment. If that’s all she had to endure for his cooperation, it was well worth it.

He took a long pull from his coffee and closed his eyes, that vague half smile still on his lips as he supposedly savored the hot drink. When he opened his eyes again, they settled on Ginny, and his half smile turned into another smirk. “What the hell?”

- - - - -

“Draco, you agreed.”

She did not sound whiny or petulant as most girls Draco had known would have, and as Pansy always did. Ginny just said it calmly but stubbornly in a tone that would not be refuted.

“I know, but that was when…that was before.”

“That was when what, exactly?” Her voice was now beginning to take on a hard edge. “Draco, do you have any idea what I’ve gone through under the assumption that you were telling the truth like you promised you would from now on?”

“I was telling the truth. I just — ”

She kept talking as if he never spoke, counting off the points on her fingers. “I had to meet with Nott — which is like pulling teeth — and I had to talk to Harry, who was less than thrilled about working with Slytherins. Not to mention all that Naomi and I have gone through to make sure this goes smoothly, and now you’re talking about begging off?”

Draco struggled to control his temper. “I didn’t say anything about begging off. I just think you haven’t thought this through.”

“We have. As we speak Mum is receiving an urgent owl from McGonagall demanding everyone get to Hogwarts now. No excuses. If someone cannot be found, leave them behind. There is no time.”

Draco had a very bad feeling about this. “The owl is actually from you, I gather.”

“Nott, actually. But yes. Naomi found a glamour that made his owl look just like McGonagall’s, and he can already forge like no one I’ve ever seen. And that includes even the twins — which believe me, is saying something.”

“How on earth did you talk Nott into all this?”

Ginny’s eyes sparkled mischievously. “I knew how to sell it. I mean, he knew what I was up to and everything, but it still worked. The whole time I made it out like it was all just to his gain, his freedom.” She shrugged. “Plus, he really, really hates McGonagall. I think he would have done it just to peeve her.”

Draco grudgingly accepted the explanation. “So what makes you think your Mum won’t get suspicious about something so sudden?”

“But that’s the beauty of it, don’t you see?” Her eyes were shining with excitement. “It’s not sudden at all. You have no idea how on-edge everyone is with this whole Death Eater attack. They’re just waiting for someone to say jump. They were practically expecting this owl.”

“You know your Mum will never just leave you behind, though.”

Ginny nodded. “Already taken into consideration. I planted a note in one of my cloaks and left it on the bed. Naomi will follow my mum in the room when she looks and miraculously ‘stumble across’ it. We made it look like some secret boyfriend was writing to me, and I snuck out to meet him.”

“In the handy penmanship of Nott, I’m assuming.” Draco felt very, very tired.

“Actually, no. Naomi’s. She has terrible writing — it looks just like a boy’s.”

Draco rolled his eyes. “So you’re making it look like you ran off with some bloke. Brilliant, because you know, that won’t worry your mum at all.”

“Shush. Of course she’ll explode. But Naomi will be there, and she’ll say that she knows the address. Mum’s needed, since the owl asked for Order members, and plus, she should be with Harry and that lot. Naomi’s just a stranger to them. She’ll go and get me, and meet everyone at Hogwarts.”

“And why wouldn’t your Mum just go to the address herself?”

“Because we made it up. And give me some credit; I wasn’t stupid enough to write down an actual address, imaginary or no. I just put the ‘Mocha Java Club.’ Naomi’s going to say it’s the nickname for some quiet café she knows about. Mum will hate it, but she does have a responsibility to the Order, and she does have another child right there she can protect.”

Draco raised an eyebrow. “Mocha Java Club?”

Ginny threw her hands up. “I was craving one, and we’re wasting time on stupid details! The point is, we thought it all out!”

“How can you be so sure your mum will trust Naomi?”

“You’d be surprised. Naomi’s been praising her cooking and how smoothly she keeps the household running for days. Mum’s quite fond of her now.”

Draco ran a hand through his hair. “I just don’t know. What about after I get out of here? Is Naomi sure this spell will work? And who’s to say my dad won’t be in?”

“Naomi’s says she’s about 95 per cent positive about the spell. And your dad’s away. That’s why we waited until today. Nott said that the Dark Lord gave him some assignment that should last until at least 11 o’clock tonight. It was all very hush-hush, but Nott said he was positive he overheard today’s date at the last meeting.”

Draco frowned. “Too much can go wrong here.”

Ginny finally lost all patience. “Who the hell are you? Hermione? What happened to the cocky fellow I fell in love with, who would defy Voldemort himself and risk everything to break me out of a dungeon with a plan so flimsy a breeze could have blown it away?! Don’t you want out?”

He did. Truly. What he didn’t want was to go to Malfoy Manor. He would never in a million years admit it to Ginny, and really, he even denied it in his own mind. But somewhere, way back in the furthest corner of his thoughts, he was frightened. Frightened of that place that used to be his home, and frightened of his father. It held too many bad memories, and what if he was caught? What if he couldn’t get back out again? What if his father was there?

He wasn’t the bloody hero. That was Potter’s role, and Draco never wanted it. All he wanted was to get away somewhere, to take Ginny and escape to some far off place until the whole damned mess just blew over.

But Ginny was watching him with those dark, intense eyes, her expectations written all over her face. She would never forgive him for going back on his word. Why had he been so sure that things would turn out bad? Why couldn’t he have just told her then that the whole thing was mad?

As if reading his thoughts, Ginny murmured, “Draco? Make up your mind now.”

Draco closed his eyes against the sight of her. He couldn’t handle the suspicion in her gaze.

Then the door swung open.

Naomi was out of breath as she sped through the words. “Molly’s just left with everyone, even the guards. The place is deserted, but it won’t take long for them to get to Hogwarts and realize McGonagall never sent any letter. We have to move now.”

Ginny nodded, then turned back to Draco. She didn’t say a word, just looked him straight in the eyes and raised her eyebrows.

Oh, hell. Draco climbed to his feet. “Well? What are we waiting for then?”

Ginny’s smile stretched from ear to ear, and she snatched up his hand to give it a grateful squeeze. “Here, you’ll need this.” She pressed his wand into his palm, and Draco was about ten times more confident just feeling that familiar hawthorn wood back in his hand.

Ginny was still talking. “McGonagall has up apparation wards that cover nearly a two-block radius around the place. It’ll be a bit of a jog. Think you can keep up with me for once?”

He opened his mouth to come back with some snarky remark, but she was already off. Draco made to go after her, but hesitated when he felt the itchy sensation of being stared at. He turned to find Naomi’s eyes glued on him, mixed emotions all over her rather ordinary face.

“So you’re Lucius’s son, are you?” she asked in a curiously flat voice.

Draco made sure his own face gave nothing away. “Yes.”

“He’s a bloody bastard.”

Draco smiled grimly. “I happen to agree with you.”

Her eyes narrowed like she was searching him for something. “And you say you love Ginny, do you? You wouldn’t dream of hurting her, of course.”

Now he allowed a flash of annoyance to cross his face. “Not that it’s any of your concern, but yes. I do, and no, I wouldn’t.”

The searching look stayed a moment longer, then all at once her entire demeanor returned to normal. “Better catch up. Ginny’ll be annoyed if you take too long.”

Draco hesitated just one more moment, trying to puzzle out this strange woman, but time was fast slipping and she was right. He ran after Ginny and left Naomi standing alone in the basement.

She was tapping her foot impatiently at the front door. “Merlin, you did get slow, didn’t you?”

“It was your precious Naomi that held me up. Strange woman. Are you sure she’s trustworthy?”

“About as trustworthy as everyone else I’ve been forced to rely on this year.” Ginny grabbed his hand and turned to run out onto the street. “Now come on, we don’t have a lot of time here.”

Draco reveled in the feeling of the wind whipping against his face, in the morning’s familiar, murky gray sunlight. The stone somehow felt more solid beneath his feet, and the air seemed easier to breathe. He was free.

True to her word, Ginny didn’t stop until they had run two blocks and Draco was out of breath. Then she turned to him and quickly said, “Okay, you know the plan from here. I’ve got to go meet Harry, so…I guess, good luck.” She said that last apprehensively, the hopeful note in her voice clearly forced. She gave away her fear when she added, “Just don’t do anything stupid or brave, yeah? Remember, I dumped the last hero I dated.”

He smirked. “Don’t worry, I’ll be as cowardly as I can.”

“Good,” she said, entirely serious. Then she wrapped her arms around his neck like she might never get the chance again. Her kiss was hard and tactless, but it made Draco’s blood sing. All too soon she was ending it and wrapping him in a cobra-like hug instead. Right against his ear, she whispered, “I love you.”

He felt a shiver go through him and didn’t even care that she, pressed so tightly against him as she was, must have felt it too. He said nothing in response, not trusting his voice and still finding it difficult to be so blunt about this whole love business. Instead he just ran his hands down her back, ducked his head down to kiss her neck, then stepped back. Their eyes met, he gave a barely perceptible nod, she smiled a sad, shaky smile…then Draco lifted his wand and heard the crack of his own apparation like an explosion in his ears.

He appeared in his old room with a softer pop. For a long time he could only stare, frozen by the sheer fact that he was actually back in this place that he had accepted he would never see again. It looked so exactly like he had left it that he wondered if Lucius still sent the House Elves up to tidy it on a daily basis. Draco would not put it past the man.

His silk, emerald-colored duvet lie perfectly straight, not a wrinkle in sight. The black and silver pillows were still arranged artfully against the dramatic rise of the decorative oak headboard. Not a speck of dust marred the surface of the matching oak dresser or bookcase, and a quill and ink sat ready at his desk as if Lucius expected he might drop in some time for a spot of studying.

It was eerie. He would have preferred his room to be a dilapidated shadow of its former glory, a mess beyond repair. That would have made his escape more final, more real. This…this made it seem as if it would be far too easy to slip right back into the way things were. That was probably Lucius’s intent all along, though.

Draco shook his head. He was wasting time. It did not matter that his room looked like a shrine to his former life. He would never return to it. So why did it bother him so much? Why had his abandonment of Lucius and everything this manor stood for never truly felt final? He had never admitted this to himself before, but now, feeling like he had traveled back in time, he realized it was true.

He shook his head a second time. Stupid, pointless thoughts. He turned his back on the room of his youth and walked out the door. He moved through the familiar halls like a zombie, feeling like he may retch at any moment. He remembered this walk all too well. He only ever used to make it when he was in trouble. Lucius’s study was a place of fear for Draco; nothing pleasant could happen there. The old childhood terror had not gone away, either, and he felt it now lodged at the base of his throat.

Every far-off echo made him jump, every flicker from the enchanted wall sconces grounds for a heart attack. It felt like an eternity before he was stepping into his father’s study.

This, at least, had changed to some degree — not much, but a little. The desk sat imposing as ever in the center of the room, the bookcases against the wall still overflowing with priceless volumes that his father probably never once actually read a word of. But they were a symbol of sophistication, wealth, good breeding. So Lucius made sure he had them.

But the antique grandfather clock was gone, and a new portrait hung behind the desk. A trunk covered in black dragonhide sat in the corner, also a new addition. Draco would have remembered the pearly iridescence in those midnight scales. It made it look like something live and breathing, constantly moving and swirling like wisps of silvery fog on a black night. The thing was probably worth two Malfoy Manors, and Draco was positive that it was not legal. Dragons with hides like that were protected under the law.

He dragged his eyes away and let his gaze skim across the familiarly dark, rich tones of the study. Then his idle search fell on the mantle. He walked towards it, at once praying that the dagger was still there and that it was missing both. He wasn’t sure if it was relief or dread he felt when he saw a black leather sheath with purple metal inlay, topped by a black ivory hilt carved into the shape of a raven. He reached up and lifted it carefully off the mantle, flinching when he lifted it away completely and scraped it quietly against the wood. He almost expected to hear alarms going off at any moment.

But the house remained deafeningly silent. Mentally berating himself for his foolishness, he squared his shoulders, thrust his chin into the air, and strode off confidently through the corridors. He was a Malfoy, and just because his father had scratched his name off the inheritance did not make him any less worthy to be walking through this place. It helped…a little.

Like the classroom at Hogwarts, the Malfoy potions lab nestled down in the lowest level of the manor. Draco hated it down there. It was not a dungeon, but once upon a time it had been, and Draco always got the uncomfortable feeling that there were more than a few tortured spirits lingering in the gloom. The Malfoy’s had never been known for their mercy.

Now, though, it was just a basement for storage and the lab. Of course, the lab was at the very end of the third long hall of the underground maze, so he had to walk through several minutes’ worth of dark, close passageways. A few enchanted torches always burned, but since the basement was hardly visited, they were few and far between, faint so as not to waste energy.

Draco scowled as he finally found the potions lab and slipped into the spacious room, thinking that Ginny had damn well better be planning one hell of a “thank you” surprise for him after all this was done with.

He immediately went round the room and lit every single torch he could find. The flames eventually forced away the shadows, revealing an elaborate lab fit to make any potions master drool. The place was kept impeccably, and the only sign that it had ever been used was a massive cauldron of something bubbling in the corner. It sat on the floor, but it was so tall it probably reached Draco’s chest.

Draco did not bother wasting time to investigate the cauldron. It was probably just one of his mother’s anti-aging draughts, which was ridiculous since Narcissa Malfoy refused to leave her room these days. Draco had a feeling something in her mind had finally snapped, but he did not dwell on that either.

Shoving the dagger into his belt, he went and found a large, shallow bowl — solid silver, as per Naomi’s instructions. He took the thin flask from the pocket of his robes and dumped it into the bowl, frowning doubtfully when it just sloshed around clear and innocent as plain water. Shrugging, he went off to gather up all the other ingredients Ginny had written down for him.

All told, it took him nearly twenty minutes of fumbling around in cupboards before he found everything: Acromantula Venom, Asphodel Root, Dragon Blood, Erumpent Fluid, and several other ingredients he never even heard of before.

That made him a bit nervous. All the ones that he did know were either so rare that they were almost beyond price, or so deadly volatile that he almost feared handling them; he did not even want to think about the ones he was not familiar with.

It was not a complicated mixture to create. At least, his part was simple. Naomi apparently had the more difficult half. She would have finished it for him, Ginny said, but she had not had access to the rarer ingredients sure to be in Malfoy Manor. At least Draco’s part had none of that annoying “turn clockwise three times, then counterclockwise once, count to ten, stand on your head, then repeat” business. Basically, he was to dump it all in one at a time, stirring until it was completely absorbed.

If he expected any special effects as he did this, he was disappointed. In the end, the liquid only got a tiny bit thicker, and took on a brackish look. A thin film of something that resembled swamp scum floated on top. Draco made a face, read over Ginny’s directions again to make sure he had it all right, then with a shrug, took out the dagger.

He slid it out of the sheath and stared a moment. It truly was a spectacular blade, shining so brightly it seemed to glow with its own light. He could see without even feeling the edge that it was razor sharp, and the black ivory hilt was carved with such detail that he could pick out individual feathers on the raven’s body. No wonder Voldemort had picked it as one of his Horcruxes. Shame that he was about to blow it up.

If what Naomi told Ginny was true, it would be an explosion to remember. Flames to the ceiling, blinding light, smoke afterwards, the whole bit. Supposedly all he had to do was drop Rowena Ravenclaw’s dagger into the potion — taking extreme care to not let even a drop of it touch his skin — and then cast Incendio on it to trigger the reaction. Draco almost felt let down by the simplicity of the whole thing. He expected a bit more of a challenge…not that he was complaining.

With another shrug, Draco tossed the sheath aside and carefully lowered the blade into the substance, snatching back his hand quickly when he dropped it the last few centimeters to avoid getting splashed. He wasn’t sure what it would do to him, but if it could destroy an indestructible blade, then he was not overly keen on finding out.

He backed far away from the silver bowl until he was almost at the door, praying it was far enough. Ginny said Naomi promised the flames would go straight up, not out— more of an implosion than an explosion — but he did not want to take any chances.

He took a deep breath, lifted his wand…then felt his whole body go stiff. Only his face seemed relaxed; everything from his neck down was like a rock, and Draco felt himself panic a little. He forced down the sudden terror, still standing there with one arm awkwardly raised in a casting position. What the hell…?

Then he heard boot heels click against stone, and seconds later, Lucius Malfoy was standing in front of him. He looked far older, lines around his eyes and skin sagging on his face. Draco thought he even spotted streaks of gray in his hair, but it was impossible to tell being so silvery blond to begin with. But Draco felt no pity — only an intense hatred. He’d forgotten how much he had come to loathe this man.

“So you’ve come back,” Lucius said softly, eyes cold and unblinking.

Draco said nothing, still frozen in place with his hand over his head.

“You can speak,” Lucius informed him. “I cast a body bind on you, but I left your face mobile. Can’t you feel?”

He could, but what would he say? Ginny had been wrong. Whatever his father had planned for today, it did not last into the evening. And why didn’t Draco hear him cast the body bind?

A cruel smile curled Lucius’s lips up. “Yes, my plans did have to change a bit. A matter of a certain man not being where he was meant to. Imagine my surprise when I arrived home to find my wards telling me that I had an intruder?” Lucius’s smile widened at the shock on Draco’s face. “Yes, forgot about those, didn’t you? And, really Draco, there is such a thing as silent casting.”

Draco panicked for just a second before instinct took over and he shut off his mind to his father’s Legilimens. He was never more thankful for Snape’s Occlumens lessons. For his part, Lucius gave no indication of his feelings.

“What are you doing here, Draco?” Lucius asked, swinging his cane back and forth very slowly. He glanced around the potions lab. “And here, in particular?”

Draco still would not speak, and he made sure to never so much as glance at the silver bowl ready and waiting for him to cast Incendio. If he could just get out of this body bind, then he could cast it before Lucius could do anything about it. If he just focused enough…

“Not speaking?” Lucius broke off Draco’s train of thought. “A bit immature of you.” He turned and walked slowly about the room, eyes always moving but never in any seeming hurry. Then his icy pale gaze fell on the silver bowl. “What have we here?” He moved over and peered into the contents of the bowl.

Draco took the long stretch of silence to close his eyes and focus his energy, calling up every last shred of willpower to break the body bind. Lucius was strong, but Draco was desperate.

Lucius’s face had gone hard. “Where did you find that dagger?” he asked in a deadly voice. His wand flashed into his hand and he levitated the blade from the bowl, the thing dripping with potion from hilt to point. “What were you trying to do?”

Draco felt a sudden stab at his mind as his father tried to force his way into Draco’s thoughts. Draco managed to push him back with Occlumens, but he lost any headway he had made against the body bind in the process.

“Do you have any idea how valuable this is?” Lucius never raised his voice, but it still managed to send little tendrils of fear snaking down Draco’s spine. “I’ll ask you again: What were you planning to do?”

Draco finally spoke out of sheer frustration. “It looked as if it could use a bit of a wash,” he spat sarcastically. “I thought I’d give it a good scrub for you.”

Lucius lost his patience then. With one great sweep of his arm, he flung the silver bowl across the room, spilling the potion across several countertops and all over the floor. Draco watched it all in horror, knowing that was it, he could not just make up another one. Even if he had time to gather all the ingredients again, he had no clue how Naomi had made the first half. It was all over.

The despair hit him first, but rage soon replaced it, all consuming and terrible. With a shout of anger, he squeezed his eyes shut and in a great burst of focused energy, he exploded out of the invisible bonds his father had cast on him. He saw a streak from Lucius’s wand fly towards him and dove to the ground, only just avoiding another hex.

On his hands and knees, Draco’s blood pounded in his ears, his adrenaline pumping through every vein in his body. He heard another crash above him, and swore as a shower of broken glass fell down on his head. He silently cursed his father and his adeptness with silent casting. It would make anticipating anything nearly impossible.

He drew his legs up under him and lifted himself onto the balls of his feet, still low to the ground so that he balanced in a low crouch. What now? Should he just try and apparate out? It would be his best bet, and Ginny had told him not to be brave. What could he accomplish by staying, anyway? He couldn’t destroy the dagger, not without the potion.

But as another shelf of broken glass rained down on his head, he realized with grim certainty exactly what he could do. He could put an end to his father and the shadow of fear the man still cast over him to this day. Draco knew it was foolish. He also knew he was going to try.

He straightened to his full height so suddenly that Lucius faltered for a moment, and Draco took the opportunity to hurl a curse at him. But Lucius easily dodged it and, having recovered his wits, was already launching his answer at Draco in a beam of red light. Draco stumbled back to avoid it and bumped into the bubbling cauldron he remembered seeing when he came in. He glanced back quickly, then did a double take.

The substance in that cauldron was a dark, sickly green, roiling and tormented as a storm at sea, and it smelled of bile and spoiled eggs. Draco identified it instantly — Basilik Acid.

Snape used to drone on for hours about the power in even a glass of Basilik Acid. Named for its main ingredient — the highly potent venom of a basilik — it cost a fortune to produce and required even more skill than money to actually make. One small misstep, and the whole thing would literally blow up in the potion maker’s face. And if what Snape said was true, even a drop on a man’s forearm would burn all the way through bone and flesh out the other side.

Snape only ever spoke of it wistfully. He would never have the opportunity to actually see any, let alone ever hope to make some for himself. Too expensive even for a king, and too complicated even for him.

And now Lucius had somehow procured an entire vat as tall as Draco’s chest. He only wasted a second wondering about that before he got an idea.

Not bothering to wait for his father’s next hex, Draco darted behind the cauldron. There was silence for a long moment, then Lucius’s cold voice ordered, “Come out from there, boy. You don’t know what’s in that cauldron.”

Draco felt a smile stretch over his face. Oh, but I do Father. I most certainly do.

Lucius hesitated for a second longer, then cast a few ineffectual spells at the wall above Draco’s head. He would not risk hitting the actual cauldron. No matter how dear or not he held his son’s life, he would not risk all the money invested in that cauldron.

Lucius must have run through his options for a moment or two, because it was awhile before Draco finally heard the soft tap of boot heels approaching. He tensed, getting a good footing underneath him. The taps grew nearer, and Draco stopped breathing, coiling his legs beneath him. Slowly, very slowly, he leaned around the cauldron to see exactly how close his father was to the cauldron.

He pulled back quickly, heart pounding. Just a few steps more. Tap, tap…tap. There.

With a sudden burst of strength, Draco threw his whole weight into the cauldron, grunting out loud from the effort. It tottered, but he realized with some panic it would not tip completely. It was too heavy. Acting more on instinct than anything else, he yanked his wand out of his pocket and cast a bolt of magic at the thing, praying to every deity he’d ever heard of not to let the cauldron shatter. He could already see where the Basilik Acid had eaten away several inches of the thick, iron walls.

It didn’t shatter, and the bolt did its job. It toppled forward, and Lucius let out an unearthly shriek unlike anything Draco had ever heard before. Draco lurched back, dizzy with adrenaline, and watched in initial satisfaction, and then sheer horror as the acid consumed his father right in front of his eyes. It popped and spat, smoke hissing off of Lucius’s clothes and flesh, but all of that was background noise to the awful, ongoing wail of agony coming from Lucius’s barely intact lips. Even the stone of the floor was beginning to disintegrate, and Draco finally understood Snape’s awe of this stuff.

At first Lucius had tried to hold the dagger away from the spill, but now he was beyond caring. In an act of desperation, he brought down the hand clutching the raven-shaped hilt and tried to swipe some of the deadly acid away.

It was a useless effort, of course, but the second the blade hit the acid, a terrible, high-pitched whistle filled the room. Draco clapped his hands over his ears, but still stunned by the horror of it all, he could not bring himself to look away.

The dagger had burst into light, shooting blinding rays of pure white through the room. The hilt bubbled, curled and twisted, then crumbled apart in Lucius’s hand…or what was left of it. The whistle grew in intensity, more like a shriek of some tortured dragon in its death throes. Draco’s head was pounding, and the light was making his eyes hurt. Little black spots danced in front of his eyes until he had to shut them; he physically could not keep them open another second.

There was a heart-stopping, final crack then, followed by the sound of a hundred crystal chandeliers crashing to the hard ground. A wind whisked over Draco’s heated skin, carrying with it the smell of burning flesh and drying the sweat against his face so fast that it left him shivering.

Then everything went still and quiet.

Draco kept his eyes shut a long time. When he finally, cautiously opened them, he blinked at the scene. Nothing was left of his father, no trace that he had ever existed. The floor was still hissing and crackling softly as the acid chewed away at solid stone. And right in the center of the green-gray pool lay the mangled remains of a black ivory hilt.

Unable to even blink, Draco slid slowly down the wall until he sat with his knees to his chest. His father was dead. He had killed his own father, and it made him twice a murderer. Funnily enough, he could not find it in him to regret it this time. The man had been evil; he had done too much wrong for Draco to feel any pity now that he was gone. There had never been any love there — only misguided admiration.

Seeing the twisted chunk of black ivory, Draco remembered that the last Horcrux was destroyed too. He didn’t know why Naomi hadn’t realized that Basilik Acid could work — maybe she just automatically assumed there was no way they would ever get their hands on any. But either way, the dagger was gone.

It was finished.

Draco lowered his head onto his knees and cried.

- - - - -

A/N – Well, I thought long and hard about showing Harry’s part in all of this. I even started outlining how it might go. But after much debate, I finally decided to exclude that. The focus of this story all along has obviously been D/G, and I thought it kind of odd to abruptly just throw in a random Harry-scene. Nott would not have been able (realistically) to smuggle in both Harry AND Ginny, so I would have had to write it through either Nott’s or Harry’s PoV, and since I had done neither previously, it would have been a bit abrupt to do so now. So I finally decided against it.

HOWEVER I will not leave you hanging. I will cover all of the Harry fun in the epilogue, as well as what happens to Draco, Ginny, Nott, and Naomi. Of course, you won’t be able to read about it until after the archive reopens from its DH close lol…sorry! I was too slow.

Until then – thanks for all the support!!! You guys are amazing!


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