A/N: Since there was such a huge gap between this chapter and the last, I really recommend you read the last one again to understand the twists
“Go ahead and do it,” Draco said calmly as he looked down the end of Lestrange’s wand.
Lestrange’s beady eyes were intently focused on his nephew but there was a slight tremor in his upper lip that betrayed his fear. “Cassius isn’t anywhere near here,” Draco assured him.
“What did he want from you in the dungeons?” Lestrange asked, raising his right brow.
Draco could feel the cowardice radiate from the pathetic man in front of him. Lestrange was genuinely afraid of Cassius and right now, that was the only thing that Draco could use to distract him. He eyed the stone basin from his peripheral vision and blinked twice, taking a deep breath and mustering up the energy to form a small curl at the end of his lip and smirk.
“That’s a secret,” Draco replied. “But I wouldn’t be too worried about him coming right now. There’s no way for him to find me or you, for that matter. You can go ahead and kill me if you want.”
“I’m going to ask you one more time, boy,” Lestrange said through gritted teeth. “What did he want from you?”
“He wanted something that I wouldn’t give him,” Draco explained casually. He could feel the strain in his lower limbs as his legs worked hard to keep him standing straight. “In fact, I’m the only one who can give him what he wants so I don’t think he’d be too happy if something happened to me that would prevent me from sharing that pertinent information; something like... I don’t know... death? But don’t worry about that; you go ahead and do what you have to and we’ll worry about the rest later. Well, actually, you’ll have to worry about it by yourself because I’ll be, you know, dead.”
“I’m warning you, Draco. Don’t test my patience or els-”
Draco laughed and cut Lestrange off mid-sentence. “Or else what? I have nothing left to lose,” he said calmly. “My family was taken from me, my wife is dead, my house is haunted by a demonic, flame-throwing woman who was so much in love with me before she died that the injuries she caused me are quite literally sucking the life out of me. I’ll be dead within the hour – you’ll only be speeding up the process.”
Draco could feel himself gaining power over Lestrange as he continued to speak. “Come on, Uncle Ralph. Who are we kidding? You’re not going to kill me. You can’t risk displeasing Cassius, having him turn against you. I mean, I understand completely of course. He is the son of the Dark Lord, after all.”
The last sentence caught Lestrange’s attention and his eyes shifted in surprise and he looked at Draco in silence. “Oh everyone knows,” Draco explained. “Gossip spreads faster in death eater circles than it does in the girls’ lavatories at Hogwarts. You’re just lucky Cassius was born with a nose, otherwise he would have been the spitting image of his real father.”
“That’s enough!” Lestrange cried. He took a few steps closer and pressed the tip of his wand into Draco’s neck. “I can do a lot to you to make sure your last hour alive will be the worst of your life. You’ll be begging me to end it all.”
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” Draco warned. “I cannot guarantee the strength of my occlumency when I’m under torture. For all you know, the moment the spell hits me, my mind will be as wide open as – well, I could say something rather crude about Aunt Bellatrix and the Dark Lord here but I was always taught to speak well of my elders. Anyway, the point is that Cassius is currently trying very hard to find me and the moment I open my mind to him, he’ll be here.”
“He doesn’t want to save you, Draco,” Lestrange countered though Draco could sense the hesitation in his voice.
“Maybe not but he can’t let me die without giving him his answers,” Draco said. “And that would be quite awful for you to lose his support after spending your entire life raising him and grooming him for this very particular time, I imagine. That’s what you always wanted, isn’t it? You wanted Cassius to grow up and take charge of the Death Eaters with you by his side. He’d lead the reign of terror and you’d happily follow along, spreading the word of evil. It’s a good plan – or at least, it was. Isn’t that why you killed Adria?”
A confused expression flitted over Lestrange’s face as her name was mentioned. “Who? You know what, Draco? You’re just as foolish as your parents were. You have to know how to get on the winning side and how to stay there.”
“I am on the winning side, Uncle Ralph,” Draco mused. “And I think you know it too. Otherwise, you would have done away with me when you had the chance to.”
As he continued to taunt his uncle and enjoyed the results, two figures emerged from behind the door to the bedroom. Lestrange, facing away from the door, couldn’t see as Ron and Pansy held up their wands and entered the room.
“Expelliarmus!” Pansy cried and Lestrange’s wand shot out from his hand and landed on the floor. But before she could reach for it, a blinding white light filled the room and Lestrange lurched forward at Draco who ducked out of the way – with immense amounts of pain. Ron pulled Pansy out of the trajectory of the white light that had been mysteriously cast.
“It’s Drew,” Draco called out into the bright flash.
“Am I too late to join the party?” Drew’s voice called as he entered from the side door and as the white light began to dim, his figure appeared clearly. He whipped his wand in Pansy and Ron’s direction and their wands flew out of their hands.
Lestrange had grabbed Draco’s neck which Draco, despite his best efforts, could not move. He used his legs to push against the old man’s chest and in doing so, felt his heel dig into Lestrange’s stomach. “You son a bitch,” Draco said as Lestrange’s left hand pressed down on the Draco’s chest.
Draco cried as the scars of Adria’s wounds reacted as though they had been awoken from a long night’s sleep. “Hurts, does it?” Lestrange asked with a menacing smile on his smile.
The rabid pulsations from the wound traveled to every inch of Draco’s body and it felt as though he was being pierced with a knife multiple times and the pain just wouldn’t stop. Lestrange’s grip around Draco’s neck loosened a little and a bit of air managed to escape into his lungs. The water from Draco’s eyes cleared for a few minutes and he realized that the reason Lestrange had loosened his grip was because Ron had grabbed the back of his shirt, pulling him off temporarily and punching him in the face.
Pansy had, meanwhile, made a move for the discarded wand on the floor and in doing so, attracted Drew’s attention. He whipped a curse at her and she fell back, collapsing against the floor and hitting her head against the sharp corner of the bed. Ron’s attention was drawn off Lestrange and he too tried to make a move for the wand but a cruciatus curse came flying at him and he cried as the light hit his chest and seared through his skin.
Draco was in and out of consciousness, clinging on to dear life as he watched Pansy and Ron fail against Drew’s spells. He could feel Lestrange’s presence near him and within seconds, the old man’s coarse hands pressed the side of his face and he looked at him. Lestrange said something but Draco’s couldn’t hear anything.
He had only one option left and he prayed that it would work.
The sharp sound of glass shattering filled the room as Cassius threw the mirror in the bedroom on the floor. At that moment, it was the only way he could release the anger boiling under the surface of his skin. He looked up again and saw Hector’s body lying against the floor while Carter was lying, unconscious behind the door. The rage began to boil in his blood and his fist went for the wooden chest of drawers, leaving a deep indentation in the carefully carved oak. The blood on his knuckles was congealed and a blackish red; the pain and destruction he had caused in the room since discovering Hector’s body had still not managed to calm Cassius tonight.
Draco had tricked him.
And unfortunately for Cassius, relocating Draco would be a lot harder than he had originally thought. Draco was, of course, untraceable given his skilled occlumency but Cassius had always managed to trace him by tracing Hermione. Yet, for whatever reason, he couldn’t locate Hermione’s mind anywhere in the Manor.
Cassius could feel Natalie slipping through his fingers, now more than ever. This mission, this vengeance that he had spent the last years of his focusing on had been a way of keeping Natalie alive within himself. He had stopped thinking about her death and started thinking of avenging her; it kept her alive and it kept her with him at all times. More than that, it gave him a reason to bring Natalie some justice when he failed to protect her while she was alive.
And Draco had ruined it all. He had known what 1213 meant all along and he had lied to Cassius. What was worse than that though was the fact that Draco’s life had a timer attached to it with very little time left. When the antidote stopped working, along with Draco, the secret of Natalie’s murder would die as well and that was something Cassius couldn’t fathom. Ironically, if Cassius killed himself then Draco would be able to live.
As he stepped over the shards of glass, Cassius heard Hermione’s words in his head. “Natalie’s dead. You are living for and fighting for a ghost! And because of you, Lucius died, Adria died and now Draco will die! She’s not coming back, Cassius!”
Three innocent people – Lucius, Narcissa and Adria – had died because of Cassius. News of Narcissa’s death hadn’t quite reached Draco yet but it was only a matter of time. Draco would die soon enough.
And that’s when Cassius heard the voice in his head.
“Save Hermione and the others and I will give you your answers.”
It took Cassius only a split second to recognize Draco’s voice and another two seconds to close his eyes and figure out where in the manor he was.
Harry felt an eerie cold around him as he walked through the dungeons. He had lost complete track of anyone and with the exception of an abandoned cell in the dungeons, he had found no indication that they were anywhere near. He continued his walk when he heard a woman’s voice in the distance.
“Hermione?” he called. “Pansy?”
There was no reply and so Harry took a few more steps forward. He held his wand up to the darkness and muttered an illuminating spell. “Hello?”
It was only when he took a few more steps in that he observed a faint green light at the end of the long passageway. A woman’s humming noise began to sound and Harry’s eyes widened in horror as he realized what he had just walked into. Without a second thought, he swiftly turned on his heel and ran up the entrance way he had come.
Behind him, he still heard her humming. But as she got louder, the humming turned escalated into laughter, the laughter of a creature that had nothing more on her mind than the destruction of this manor and its occupants.
The little bit of air that had managed to enter Draco’s lungs gave him the strength to ward off Lestrange one more time. He grabbed his uncle’s right hand and kicked Lestrange’s shin, pushing him into the large cupboard. As he did so, he saw the discarded wand lying by the bed post; he was still lying on the floor but as he tried to make a grab for it, he saw a curse from Drew’s wand fly in his direction.
As Draco dove out of the way, Pansy made a grab for the stick and managed to get her fingers around its end. “Expelliarmus!” she cried and her spell his Drew right between his shoulders.
Lestrange grabbed the back of Pansy’s hair and pulled her up, pressing her up against the wall as he put his other hand under chin. “Do I need to teach you another lesson, Pansy?” he asked.
His hands moved down Pansy’s neck and onto her shoulders. He leered at her and inched his head closer to her ears. He inhaled her scent and whispered carefully to her. “I was forgiving the last time but make no mistake, love. I can and will kill you.”
“Let me take care of her, Ralph,” Drew suggested as he stepped forward and grabbed his wand from Pansy. He walked past Ron’s motionless body lying against the wall. “I wouldn’t worry about him if I were you, Pansy. He’s had so many cruciatus curses that I don’t think he’ll be waking up any time soon. He tried hard though; A for effort.”
“And what will we do with you, Draco?” Lestrange asked as he released Pansy from his grip and turned to his dying nephew.
Draco could feel his heart beating in his ears. He could feel the blood racing through his veins, his heart pumping desperately, trying to keep him alive. The burning pain in his arms reached unparalleled intensity, making them feel like dead weight attached to his body. He couldn’t move, he couldn’t feel anything but sheer, unadulterated pain. And just as he thought he was going to face the inevitable end of this losing battle, he heard Hermione’s scream as she appeared out of the pensieve.
Hermione’s scream echoed throughout the room, drowning out Cassius’ footsteps as he entered. Lestrange had his wand on her in a split second but as her petrified gaze drew from Draco’s limp body, to Ron and Pansy, and finally to Cassius, Lestrange turned around and saw the one man he feared.
“Cassius...” he said weakly.
Cassius was standing at the door, his eyes a piercing black colour as they fixated on the scene before him. His wand was drawn, sharply and he pointed it at the man he had called father for so many years. He looked at Hermione who had turned a ghostly white colour; she matched his gaze but her eyes dropped onto Draco and the tears began to well up, spilling out silently. Hermione fell to her knees and cupped Draco’s face in her hands. She swept her fingers along the side of his face and felt the beads of sweat coalesce under her touch. She could feel the heat pulsating through his body.
Draco beckoned her to come closer to him and as she did, he drew his head up so that his face was within inches of hers. “Is it true?”
Hermione nodded solemnly as she whispered in his ear. “She was murdered. Draco, it was Lestrange.”
Draco felt the news hit him as hard as Natalie’s death had. It wasn’t the reopening of old wounds but rather, the occurrence of fresh new ones – wounds that were deeper and harsher. Draco looked at his uncle who was standing a mere few feet from him, his body cowering as it faced Cassius. Natalie had seen that very same pathetic man before she died = seen those same perverse eyes, that sickly grin and smelt that pungent smell. He looked at Hermione’s injured face and then back at the unconscious Ron and Pansy who was still in Drew’s grasp.
“Cassius can’t know that you know,” he whispered to Hermione. She nodded briefly as she helped him stand up and before he got to a full stance, Cassius’ wand was now pointed straight at his chest.
The door flew open in that instant and Harry appeared, a wand in his hand. Cassius’ aim shifted to Harry and he recoiled, glancing at Ron and Pansy’s bodies and then looking to Draco and Hermione. “Drop the wand,” Cassius asked calmly, as though asking someone to remove their coat.
“Not a chance.”
“Harry, there’s no use,” Draco said in a defeated voice. “We can’t fight our way out of this one.”
Cassius nodded in agreement. He gestured to the mess of bodies that lay before them and shrugged casually. “I’m the only one who knows what you want to hear,” Draco said to Cassius. “Ron, Harry, Pansy and Hermione leave safely and then we’ll talk.”
Draco’s gaze briefly shifted towards Lestrange but he forced it back to Cassius. He couldn’t look at Lestrange without wanting to reach into his heart and rip it out of his chest – but right now, patience was needed. Cassius was the only one who could guarantee his friends’ safety and after they all left, Draco would get his answers and he would get his revenge.
“That shouldn’t be a problem,” Cassius replied. “Potter’s already signalled the aurors outside your perimeter to march forward. Haven’t you, Harry?”
“How did-?” Hermione asked, confused. “Harry’s trained in occlumency.”
“Not Harry,” Cassius answered. “I can’t read his mind but those aurors... their thoughts are so loud that they might as well be yelling their plans to me. It’s a pity the ministry doesn’t better train their aurors.”
Harry took a step forward but Draco put his arm out. “No, this is not the time to be heroic, Harry. This is my score to settle. Ron and Pansy need you. Cassius, do we have a deal or not?”
“Oh yes, yes, of course.” Cassius turned his wand to Drew and flicked it, causing Pansy to fall from his grip and the death eater to hit the wall behind him. Ropes jetted out of his wand and encircled the man as he lay paralyzed on the floor. Lestrange hadn’t moved an inch during the confrontation – his gnarly face unable to mask his confusion and fear.
“I’m not leaving, Draco,” Hermione said stubbornly. “You promised you wouldn’t do this without me.”
Draco turned to Hermione and leaned in, matching her gaze as she spoke to her very silently. “Hermione, I’ve already lost someone I cared deeply for because of Cassius and Lestrange. Ron is in very bad shape and so is Pansy. Please. Just please take them to safety with Harry and I will meet you at St. Mungo’s.”
Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes. “Is that a promise?”
Draco smiled at her sadly and placed his lips against her cheek. “No.” Hermione opened her mouth to protest but Draco placed his hand gently on her lips. “It’s okay.”
“Cassius was the one that killed Adria,” Hermione said sombrely. She eyed Cassius out of the corner of her eye as he used his wand to secure Pansy and Ron to floating stretchers while Lestrange watched idly.
“I probably should have figured that out,” Draco said, unfazed by the revelation. “When I mentioned Adria’s name to Lestrange, it seemed as though he had never heard of her. But don’t worry about any of that. Just go and be safe and make sure everyone is alright.”
“You know that I l-?” Hermione asked, placing her hand on Draco’s cheek. She leaned in for a kiss but Draco turned his head and removed her hand from his face.
“Don’t say it,” he pleaded. “There’s no use opening a new door when the house itself is burning down,” He kissed the hand he had removed from his face and looked at her chocolate brown eyes. He turned to Cassius who was had finished securing Pansy in and then waved his wand so that the two stretchers lifted themselves and floated out the door.
Hermione nodded as she wiped her eyes coarsely and walked towards the doorway. She felt her legs get heavier with every step she took but she continued walking, hoping that the pain would dull itself in time. She also didn’t want Draco to see her break down like a complete fool.
“I do though,” Draco called after her. “I do, with all my heart.”
Hermione nodded silently, a weak smile forming at the ends of her lips as her eyes welled up with tears. She looked at Draco one last time and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. She headed for the marble staircase where she knew Harry would be and as she did so, she hoped, with every fibre in her being that Draco Malfoy would come out of this alive.
“I held up my end of the bargain,” Cassius said calmly. “I just want my information and then I will leave you and Lestrange to finish your work.”
Draco didn’t look at Cassius though. His gaze was fixed on the man who had escaped him so many times before but was now a mere ten feet from him. Draco lifted his wand and pointed it at Lestrange.
“Why did you do it?” he asked.
Cassius turned to Lestrange and then back at Draco. “Do what?” Lestrange asked.
“Why did you kill my wife?” Draco asked.
Cassius’ expression faltered and his dark eyes thinned as they turned to face the man he had called his father since his birth. He held up his wand cautiously. “What are you talking about, Draco?”
“He did it,” Draco said, his wand held tightly in his arm as he pointed it at Lestrange. “He is the one who killed Natalie.”
“You have no idea what you’re saying, boy,” Lestrange spattered. “I don’t even know- Cassius, don’t believe him.”
“Did she beg you for her life?” Draco asked. “She did, didn’t she? Only I don’t think she begged you for her life. I think she begged you for her child’s life.”
Lestrange looked at Cassius fearfully and then back at Draco. “Nonsense... utter nonsense.”
“Hermione’s still in the Manor, Cassius,” Draco challenged. “Check her mind if you have to. She saw it all.”
Cassius’ eyes lost focus instantly as Draco turned back to Lestrange and held up the thin strand of Natalie’s memory. “Guess she wasn’t as foolish as you thought,” he said. “And if you have any common sense left, you will give me my answers. If not, Cassius has his own ways of extracting them, as I’m sure you’re well aware.”
Draco watched as Lestrange deliberated his very limited options; he could either surrender himself to his nephew or take a chance that the boy he raised will forgive him for killing the only woman he ever loved. Cassius’ eyes came back into focus and the ravenous hunger within the red slits made the decision a very simple one.
“I’ll tell you everything!” Lestrange complied. He fell to his knees and gazed into Draco’s grey eyes. “Everything. Just...just don’t hurt me.”
“Why did you kill Natalie?” Draco repeated. He held his wand up to Cassius and cautioned him carefully. “Answers first – He’s no good to you dead.”
“She was just a distraction, Cassius, my boy,” Lestrange whimpered. “I swear to you, she was nothing more than Lucius Malfoy’s way of controlling you. He wanted you to be less powerful – to give up everything we had worked for so that Draco could take control. I mean, look at you now! Your mere presence has people shaking – this is how it was supposed to be! You couldn’t waste the Dark Lord’s gifts.”
“How did you do it?” Cassius asked, his voice dramatically different from its usual self. Draco noted the stark pale complexion that had settled itself on his face and now, more than ever, he looked like Lord Voldemort’s son.
Lestrange was caught off guard. “What?”
“How did you kill her?”
“That’s... that’s not impor-” Lestrange started to mutter, the fear in his eyes deepening. His hands were trembling.
“I asked you a question,” Cassius interrupted. “It is very important for me to know how exactly you killed Natalie and the child she was carrying.”
Lestrange remained silent, well aware of the trap that Cassius was setting up for him. He pondered what to say next but Cassius’ patience was wearing thin and he swung his wand out and pressed it under Lestrange’s chin. “Trust me when I say that if you don’t answer me, I will show you each and every one of my father’s gifts that you were worried would go to waste.”
“I pushed her,” Lestrange muttered fearfully. “I pushed her off the roof.”
“Why not just kill her with a spell?” Cassius prodded, seemingly calm though under the surface, Draco could feel the storm brewing.
“It was supposed to look like a suicide… that’s why I made her write the note.”
“And did she beg you?” Cassius asked.
“I don’t see how this is-”
“Did she beg you?” Cassius asked, loudly and with more force this time as his wand pressed against the side of Lestrange’s cheek.
“Yes, yes, yes,” he whined in reply. “Yes she did. She told me she’d give me anything she wants if I spared the baby and her.”
As the words poured out of Lestrange like liquid from a bottle, Cassius’ pale face grew more and more tense, his wand pressing harder into Lestrange’s skin. Draco grabbed Cassius’ arm and pulled him off Lestrange.
“Stay out of this, Draco,” Cassius warned.
“I loved her too,” Draco interjected. “And this bastard is no good to me dead. I can’t have you killing him. He needs to stand trial for all fifty three deaths he’s caused; I want him to be old, sick, withered in Azkaban. I want him to live to be a hundred and still living in Azkaban with no human contact.”
“I’m not going to kill him,” Cassius replied swiftly. Lestrange’s eyes widened in fear as he turned to Draco. “When I’m done with him, he’s going to be begging me to kill him. Azkaban will seem like a vacation.”
“Didn’t Natalie mean anything to you?” Draco asked. His voice was laden with frustration and fatigue and most of all, pain. “You were supposed to have left all of this stuff behind for her.”
“I was also supposed to be living with my new wife and my child. Things change, Draco. Times change. You have to adapt as necessary.”
“So to adapt to circumstances, you’ve decided not to change?” Draco asked. He took a few steps forward and looked at Cassius. “I never understood why Natalie trusted you.”
“Are we really going to do this now?” Cassius asked. “You really do have impeccable timing, Draco. Your aurors are encircling this perimeter, your dungeons are lit with fiendfyre and the man you’ve been hunting for nearly two years is at your feet but instead of making him pay, you want to initiate a therapy session?”
“I can’t let you kill him,” Draco said adamantly. “He has to face the families of his victims. I want him to be old and sick and dying and not be able to die. I want him to face the reality– and it’s about time you thought about doing the same.”
“Draco,” Cassius replied casually. “Neither you nor Harry Potter nor the best aurors in this world can force me to face the consequences of my actions. I have killed a total of four people in my life – that’s fewer than you.”
“I’m not talking about killing. I’m talking about facing Natalie’s death and ending this streak of insanity you’ve started. You changed your ways when she was alive and I think you can do it again – if only to honour her memory.”
Draco observed the angered look on Cassius’ face and tightened the grip on his wand. The last thing he wanted to do was push Cassius to the threshold of his sanity but after years of knowing him, he was confident that he knew what he was doing. After years of his watching his wife fall in love with this man, Draco knew he understood their dynamic a lot more than Cassius could imagine.
“It appears that we have a pot and kettle situation on our hands,” Cassius commented. “We’re both black, Draco; you just refuse to see it. You are just as hung up on Natalie’s death as I am because just like me, your love for her was the most you’d ever felt for someone. But, I am justified in my downward spiral to hell. I can’t imagine a life without my Natalie and nor would I ever want to because I truly believed she was the only person for me. But you, if I’m not mistaken, I believe you’ve found a person that you loved – dare I say it? – more than Natalie and you’re still here, spending your last few moments of life fighting for Natalie. You found a woman who feels that horrible feeling of euphoria and anger and confusion and anxiety and excitement that is so simplistically known as love, for you. And you just won’t let yourself admit that you feel the exact same way about her. I may not be able to read your mind but I can read Hermione’s and so before you preach to me about moving on, take a look at what you have – or rather, what you don’t.”
“Just shut it,” Draco bellowed. “Hermione and I have a very complicated relationship.”
“Excuses, excuses...”Cassius dismissed. “The feeling may be complicated, Draco but when you love someone, your course of action is simple. And I’m not talking about shallow, childish love but that feeling of certainty and of knowing – knowing that this one person is the only one you will love more than your own life. Natalie won’t let you admit to that. Hermione knows it very well.”
“This is none of your business,” Draco said loudly, his patience wearing thin and his body feeling exhausted. “She’s just as confused as I am.”
“No, she isn’t.” Cassius smiled very slightly. “She just dropped Ron and Pansy off in a carriage at the perimeter of the Manor and she’s coming back. For you, right now. And she’s doing it because she knows what she wants.”
Draco felt his legs give in to the weakness. His torso was now like a heavy boulder, resting on two thin sticks. He needed to stay upright and he needed to make sure Cassius didn’t kill Lestrange. He needed to make sure that Lestrange lived and saw trial for his actions. He needed to make sure Lestrange would pay for his actions and –
And then what?
Draco would be long dead by the time that happened. He would have lived his life trying to find Lestrange and then died to make sure that Lestrange survived. The man had killed over fifty people in his life – not to mention the hundreds of deaths he had ordered – and Draco realized that he was giving up his own life to save this monster’s life.
“Are you reconsidering your stance?” Cassius asked calmly. “Have you finally realized how foolish it is for you to be standing here, on the verge of death, bargaining for the life of a murderer?”
“I’m going to die even if I don’t fight for him,” Draco said, his grey eyes oddly focused on Cassius. “Undoubtedly, you know that you are the key to my life.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that little hitch.” Cassius turned to Lestrange, his red eyes narrowing. He then looked back to Draco with a shrug. “I’m afraid I can’t be that generous.”
“I wouldn’t expect you to be,” Draco agreed and the grip on his wand tightened. “I can try though, can’t I?”
He whipped out his wand and shot the green curse at Cassius who, in his unwounded state, was much too quick for Draco. He dodged the curse as though it was a light rain. The spell drained a lot out of Draco and he fell to his knees, narrowly avoiding the curse that Cassius shot back in retaliation.
Draco dove behind the large chest of drawers and tried his hand at another curse but that failed as miserably as the first one. “Crucio!” he cried, for a third time but Cassius deflected it as though it was just another spell.
“You’re fighting a losing battle, cousin!” Cassius called from his position by the door.
Draco shot another spell, another blind shot into the dark and this time it did hit someone, only it was Lestrange. The old man was knocked unconscious against the wall and Draco felt a little bit more life leave him. He had to fight, though. He had to fight to stay alive. He had to fight alive for whatever little he had left in his life.
Hermione’s feet were carrying her quickly as they could. Admittedly, the many injuries she’d sustained throughout the night had slowed her down considerably but the cold night wind dulled the pain. She could still see the look of horror on Harry’s face as she had secured Ron and Pansy into the carriage and then turned back towards the Manor. But he understood something that Ron really wouldn’t have; he understood that this was something Hermione had to do. She didn’t know why she had to do it but she knew she had to. She had to find Draco and thwart his completely idiotic notion that he had to do this alone... that he could do this alone.
She recalled the conversation she had with Harry in the forest as he was moving Ron’s body onto the velvet seats.
”Hermione, grab his legs,” Harry said and Hermione leapt forward, catching Ron’s legs just in time. As she did, Harry’s balance shifted and a piece of parchment slipped out of his pocket. They placed Ron’s head securely against a soft pillow and Hermione bent down to pick up the letter.
“Harry, this is addressed to Draco.”
“Yeah, it’s a letter that came for him – I think some of Lestrange’s men intercepted it.”
Hermione opened the letter and the first line jumped out at her: To my dearest Draco, I asked that this letter be sent upon my death in Azkaban and so I hope it receives you in better health than me. You are my son and I love you and with everything that has happened to you and to our family, I think I owe it to you to share something Natalie shared with me the day she died.”
Hermione suddenly stopped reading. She stuffed the letter into her pocket and muttered a quick explanation to Harry as she darted back towards the Manor.
She reached the entrance of the Manor and felt the last bit of cold wind cut through her skin and then the warmth of the Manor took over. She froze as soon as she entered, however. A few feet from her, she saw Mathias standing in front of her with his wand pointed in her direction.
“Steady now, Granger,” he ordered, gesturing to Hermione’s wand.
Hermione didn’t move. “It’s over,” she said. “There’s no use in doing this anymore. Mulciber, Carter, Drew, Hector... everyone – it’s over for everyone. Even Lestrange surrendered.”
“But Cassius hasn’t,” Mathias challenged, his voice visibly shaken. He looked injured and worn out with his hair plastered to his pale forehead with blood and sweat. His shoulder looked broken and he couldn’t stand up straight. “Cassius won’t lose.”
“There’s more at stake here than you know,” Hermione said, taking a step forward. She knew all she’d need was one simple disarming spell and Mathias would be blown out of the water. “You don’t have to die to get out of this.”
“Cassius won’t lose,” Mathias repeated, his lip quivering. “He’s starting to look more and more like the Dark Lord – can’t you see it? He can’t lose. He won’t lose.”
Hermione raised her wand as quickly as she could but before she could even think of a spell to perform, the horrifying high pitched scream that she dreaded filled the entrance. From the hallway, a faint green light was beginning to materialize and Mathias’ attention wavered as well.
“W...wh...” he mumbled, the sound unable to escape his throat.
Hermione put her wand down and matched Mathias’ gaze with her dark brown eyes. “Listen to me very carefully. If you have even a shred of common sense, you will go outside and surrender to the aurors at the perimeter of the Manor. If you try and escape, I can promise you that if you ever manage to leave the Malfoy grounds, I will personally hunt you down. Also, remember that St. Mungo’s does not accept fugitives and I doubt the death eaters offer a comprehensive health plan.”
Mathias’ fearful eyes hovered over Hermione for only a second before she pushed him towards the large door and ran up the marble staircase, dodging a large streak of flames. The green light had filled the entire room now, reaching as high as the enchanted ceiling.
“Ring around the roses...”
Hermione heard Adria’s voice and the haunting memories of her burns came back. It wasn’t Adria though, she corrected herself. She quickened her speed as she reached the top of the stairs and continued down a long stretch of hallway. It was Adria’s ghost or her monster... it was the banshee that had driven her to this form. It was the dark magic that had driven to this form of a monster.
As another scream filled the hallway, Hermione suddenly stopped in her tracks. It was the dark magic that had driven to this form of a monster. She thought about her encounter with Mathias a few minutes ago and the last piece of the puzzle fell into her lap.
“I don’t want to kill you, Draco,” he heard Cassius say. “But my generosity is naturally brought into question when you shoot curses at me. Be smart and I will let you leave with Hermione. You can take an antidote or go to the hospital and live out the few hours or days you have left in peace.”
Draco stood up and held his wand in front of him, tightly. “I can’t do that anymore.”
Cassius had his wand up too, pointing straight at Draco and they took a few steps towards each other, encircling each other. Draco’s reflexes were as strong as those of an eighty year old man which were no match for the Dark Lord’s son. “I know I can’t fight you,” he admitted with defeat. “But you were right about Natalie. I am here because I couldn’t let go of her and to add insult to injury, she never wanted me in the first place.”
“Do I take that as an admission of defeat?”
“No, it’s an admission of fault but not defeat. I was wrong to have destroyed my life and pushed everyone away but I am not going to surrender to you. You killed Adria – she was innocent and you killed her because of Natalie. I may have killed more than you did but I never killed an innocent person in cold blood.” Draco wiped the blood from his mouth and felt the salvia smears against his arm. “I can’t...”
He felt his breath get caught in his throat. His chest was heaving, trying to intake a small amount of air but the effort was in vain. He felt his field of vision blurring, the edges being consumed into blackness. He tried to breathe again but the feeling of drowning came back – filling in his lungs, muffling his cries and stopping his breath. He fell to the floor and saw a growing pool of blood in front of him. His limbs felt as heavy as boulders and the only thing he saw before the darkness consumed him was Cassius looking at him.
If Adria’s screams hadn’t been so loud, Hermione was sure the cry she let out as she entered the master bedroom would have resounded throughout the manor. Draco was lying in a pool of blood, his body limp and motionless and eyes closed. But Hermione didn’t have much of a chance to look at him anymore as she spotted Cassius and drew out her wand.
“You’re not going to kill me, Hermione,” he said calmly. He was standing by Lestrange’s unconscious body with his wand by his side. “And I think you know that I’m not the one who did this to Draco.”
“I don’t want to kill you,” she replied. She examined his ghost like features: his pale skin, his red irises which had now become slits and his gaunt face. “I’ve come to negotiate.”
“Darling, there’s no need to negotiate. You can have Draco.”
Hermione’s eyes twitched in Draco’s direction but before she got a full view of the body, she forced her focus back to Cassius. No, concentrate. “I’ve come to negotiate for your horcrux.”
Cassius’ expression faltered and his calm disposition gave way to a knowing look in his eyes. The look, however, disappeared as soon as it came and his lips curved into a small smile. “Your brilliance never ceases to amaze me,” Cassius said.
“You made one after Adria died, didn’t you? That’s why you’re starting to look like Voldemort did; the eyes, the skin, they’re all starting to change.”
“Yes, I’m afraid the physical change was more than I expected given that it was only my first horcrux but thankfully, it is only visible when I am enraged. So, what’s the plan? You’ll destroy the horcrux and Draco will be saved and Adria will be able to die?”
“Yes.” Hermione’s heart was beating in her ears. She knew her time was running out and as the screeching down the hall became louder and louder, she realized she had to get to the point. “I have the memory Natalie left.”
This wiped the smile off Cassius’ face and he turned to glance at Lestrange’s body and then back at Hermione. “Of her death?”
“Of the time leading up to her death,” Hermione explained. “Lestrange made her write a suicide letter to you that she thought was going to Draco. But the memory is of the hour before her death and before Lestrange had even entered her room, Natalie had been confiding a secret to the only person she thought would understand.”
Cassius’ face was blank but Hermione noted that some of the colour in his skin appeared to be returning. There was a flush in his cheeks, brown in his eyes and the hollow appearance of his face had started to fill out. “She told Narcissa Malfoy about her plans to leave Draco for you,” Hermione continued. “She was in tears as she told Narcissa something that no one knew and Narcissa gave Natalie her blessing to leave. And then Natalie was killed which meant that Narcissa was the only living person who knew and for fear that the secret would die with her in Azkaban, she wrote a letter and instructed it to be delivered to Draco upon her death.”
Hermione felt her heart get heavy as she retrieved the folded piece of paper from her pocket. “If I’m not mistaken, I believe this is the letter.”
Cassius took a step forward and Hermione held up her wand to the paper. “Not even a step closer,” she warned. She pressed the tip of the wand to folded note that read ‘To be delivered upon the death of Narcissa Malfoy (née Black)’ and whispered an incantation. A dim yellow light encircled the paper and as it faded, Hermione turned back to Cassius. “It won’t open unless I perform the counter curse myself. And if you kill me, it dies with me. Don’t bother trying to search my mind for it – all I know is that the secret was about the baby. I couldn’t hear Natalie when she told Narcissa in the memory and I haven’t read any more than the first three lines of the letter.”
“You’ve really thought this through, haven’t you?” Cassius asked. “And what if I told you that I didn’t care about what was written in that letter?”
“Then you’d be lying.” She took one step closer to Cassius and pressed the letter into his hands. “You can’t not know, Cassius. It’s like you said: we are all victims of curiosity.”
Hermione took a shallow breath as she watched Cassius ponder her offer. She had tried to make deal as solid as she could – no loopholes and no way out. But then again, she had met her match in Cassius once before. She waited and hoped that the man Natalie had put all her love and faith in was still somewhere beneath the surface. She hoped that Cassius wouldn’t fight this anymore.
“I want the memory as well,” he said, his dark eyes fixated on the letter in his hand. “And I want Lestrange.”
“I can’t negotiate his life – it’s not mine to give you.”
“I want you to make sure no one comes looking for him.” Cassius’ eyes still hadn’t moved from the paper. “You have my word that he won’t be causing any more trouble.”
Hermione reached into her pocket and pulled out the thin strand of silver memory that Natalie had left for Draco. She held it between her long fingers and felt its fine, silken texture against her skin. “Here you go,” she said.
“Open the letter,” Cassius ordered.
Hermione shook her head and held out an empty hand. “Horcrux first.”
There was a brief pause before Cassius reached behind his head and unclasped a chain around his neck. Hermione hadn’t noticed it before given the tan line on his skin visible under, it appeared that Cassius had been wearing this for a while. There was a ring attached to the end of the chain with a very simple design: a plain gold band with a large diamond in the middle. He held out the chain to Hermione, the ring dangling in front of her as she looked at it.
“It was an engagement ring I bought for Natalie,” he explained, answering the inevitable question. “I’m not lying – you have to hold it by the chain because the dark magic in the ring is too much.”
Hermione’s fingers grazed the gold chain and an odd feeling passed through her. She felt the same way she had done in seventh year when they had been close to Voldemort’s horcrux; she felt as though the dark magic near her was going to poison her. She looked at Cassius who was examining her facial expression. “Satisfied?” he asked, to which she nodded. “Unlock the letter.”
Hermione pointed her wand at the folded piece of paper in Cassius’ hand and whispered, “Reclude!”
The sealed edges of the parchment came apart, revealing the words on the inside. As Hermione began to lower her wand, Cassius suddenly raised his and pressed it to Hermione’s cheek. He was a few feet from her but Hermione saw a curious look in his eyes, unmatched by the smile on his lips. “You’re too trusting,” he said slowly.
Hermione felt her heart skip a beat and she breathed slowly, trying to decipher the look on Cassius’ face. “You’re not going to kill me,” she said.
“I know,” Cassius replied in a low voice, breaching the distance between them.
He brought his face close to Hermione’s and his lips grazed her cheek. Hermione moved her head back suddenly and looked into Cassius’ dark eyes, confused. “What’re you doing?”
“Draco and I both fell for the same woman once before,” Cassius mused. He shrugged as he pulled back. “I wanted to see if lightning could strike in the same place twice.”
“And?” Hermione asked.
Cassius paused and examined the look on Hermione’s face. He smiled and drew his wand away from her, putting it into his pocket. “And... all I can think of is Natalie. I guess history really won’t repeat itself.” He looked at Draco as the crackles and howls from outside drew close. “He doesn’t look like he has much life left.”
Hermione turned to Draco and fell to her knees, feeling his pulse between her fingers. She could sense the warmth under his skin which meant that although sick, he wasn’t dead. She ran her hand on his forehead, pushing back the mix of blood, sweat and hair as she tried to wipe the blood from his mouth. The horcrux theory was just that – a theory. It was one of the more concrete theories Hermione had had but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t a chance of failure. She couldn’t draw her eyes away from Draco but Adria’s cries got louder and a green light began to emanate from the other side of the closed door.
“Cass-” Hermione began but as she turned around, she found that she was alone in the room. Cassius was no longer there and neither was the unconscious Lestrange. Hermione turned her gaze to the window on the other side of the room that was wide open, the cold wind capering through the large drapes.
The green flames burst through the door and Hermione fell back as the heat grazed her skin. She struggled to her feet and looked at the ring in her hand for a quick second before she tossed it into the fire. It had taken basilisk venom to destroy Voldemort’s horcruxes and she hoped fiendfyre would have enough dark magic to destroy the object. As the diamond glistened under the flickering green, it hit the flames and Hermione dropped to her knees, pressing her head between Draco’s shoulder and head, shielding him from outburst of flames. A wave of heat flew through the room and the green flames turned a bright orange and then a menacing red.
Hermione drew her head up, fearing that her plan had somehow backfired and the dark magic from the horcrux had enhanced the fiendfyre. But her fears were dismissed as Adria’s scream suddenly dampened, causing the outpour of a shriek that was both frightening and piercing. The flames dissipated and a woman’s form began to emerge within the receding darkness. She was young but her features were hidden in the darkness and she fell to the floor.
Hermione took a step forward to try and reach her but the young woman’s skin began to disappear, her light brown hair started to decay and within seconds, she was nothing more than a withered corpse. The shriek suddenly stopped and Hermione fell back against the wall, her hand on Draco’s heart and her breath heavy and quick. And in a blink, the flames and the darkness were gone. Cassius' horcrux, the ring, had been destroyed and with it, the dark magic that had trapped Adria and was feeding off Draco were gone too.
The silence in the room was deafening but over the piercing quiet that now dominated the destruction in the room, Hermione felt a heartbeat under her fingers. She closed her eyes and allowed the overwhelming events of the last hour to set in and tears began to flow out of her like water from a stream.
She looked at Adria’s body – or what was left of it – and felt a wave of sadness rush over her but the colour in Draco’s cheeks began to return and for the first time in a very long while, Hermione felt like there was peace. She felt like the large stone that had been pressing down on her heart was finally easing up, the knot in her stomach was loosening and maybe, she thought, as she looked out the window and saw a Ministry carriage heading their way, this nightmare would finally end.
Miles away, Ginny tucked Teddy into bed – brushing his long hair out of his eyes. She kissed his forehead and as she did so, heard shuffling in the next room where Eli had been resting. She checked her watch suddenly and realized that she had to give Eli his potion ten minutes ago. Grabbing, the vial of potion that Ron had given her from the bedside table, she rushed into the room.
“Eli?” she asked.
What Ginny saw made her scream and she dropped the potion on the floor. The sound of glass shattering and the liquid spreading all over the floor wasn’t enough to distract her from the scene that lay before her.
I am sensing that the horcrux part may be a little confusing? I'll explain =D The ring that Cassius gives to Hermione is his horcrux - there is only one that he made. And since Hermione tosses the ring into the fiendfyre, it is strong enough to destroy the horcrux. Now, if you remember, Cassius had to die to break the spell binding Adria to the banshee and to save Draco. Well, instead of Cassius dying, Hermione destroyed a part of Cassius' soul (in the horcrux) and that managed to break the spell and save Adria. I hope this is clearer? I did some quick edits to make it easier to understand in the story.
A/N: (Sorry in advance, this is going to be a lengthy author's note)
I'm really really sorry about the delay everyone! I made this chapter extra long (almost 9000 words!) to make up for my late update. This was clearly a really important story and so I ended up rewriting and replaying this scene in my head multiple times over the last few months. I've finally come up with a version that fits with the flow of the story and the direction I wanted it to go in almost three years ago. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed the action/unravelling of the dynamic between Cassius and Draco. But NOT TO FEAR, there has to be some resolution for ALL the characters and that will come in the next chapter which will be the last one of this story. You have to look forward to an equally long (if not longer) chapter that will be uploaded not long from now (as an added apology for the late update). I'm on a writing streak right now so the wait won't be long.
PS: Just because the story's coming to end, I hope you didn't think the twists and cliffhangers would stop ;)