Thank you to everyone who has taken the time to read this story. You've been wonderful!

(I apologize if the ending seems abrupt at all, this was just how the plunnie played out in my head as the story drew to a close)

Chapter Sixteen

The Only Truth

The very first thing which told Lucius something was not quite right upon returning to the castle was the body of Potter's servant. It had still been on the floor in the Great Hall, no one had bothered to move it.

Yet now, he'd nearly tripped over it in the foyer. So close to the doors that the sheet which had been draped over the creature caught on the heel of Lucius' shoe.

He exchanged a look with Narcissa, who was just coming down the main stairs to meet the search party—the unsuccessful search party. Her delicate eyebrows shot up, but she remained silent.

He couldn't explain why she would have done this, but he still needed to ask, "Is this your doing?"

His wife only shook her head, her expression mystified. "Why would it be?"

At her words—and the confused looks on his followers faces—a cold sneer twisted his lips. "This is a message." He looked to the closed doors of the Great Hall.

The doors which had quite distinctly been open when they'd left the castle to search the grounds for his son and the girl. Arching a brow, his said with a mirthless grin, "Potter's here."

Stomping across foyer and up the short flight of steps toward the entrance of the Great Hall, he waved his hand, sending the enormous doors flying open. Wand at the ready, he stalked inside. He'd had just about enough of surprises, as of late.

Yet as soon as he laid eyes upon the dais, whatever spell he might've uttered died on his lips.

Potter was there. He stood on one side of the gilded chair, and his son—oh, no, why did Draco's eyes look like that?—on the other. Miss Granger was seated between them, delicate hands draped over the armrests, and her posture as painfully perfect as when she'd stood in that dungeon cell.

His lips pulled back from his teeth in an angry and truly menacing expression as he started to raise his arm, again. Yet it was Narcissa who stepped forward.

Defenseless—her wand arm hanging limp at her side—she approached, her head shaking. "Draco . . . what happened to you?"

Holding his mother's sad gaze caused Draco's heart to squeeze in his chest, yet, he knew it had to be this way. "I made a choice," he said, swallowing hard.

"And your choice was them over us, was it?" Father's voice was harsh and unforgiving as he spat the question.

"My choice was the good of . . . everything over whatever lunacy you have planned!"

"Draco." Narcissa drew closer, still. She was half-way across the wide room before she spoke again. "You did this to yourself?"

His lips folded inward as he nodded. "I did."

"Oh, dear Merlin, why?" She could see clearly now that his eyes looked exactly like Miss Granger's. Her strength fled her for a moment and the very act of breathing hurt for a blinding, terrible second.

What had Lucius' madness wrought?

She crumbled to her knees, her gaze dropping to the floor to hide the tears in her eyes.

Something happened, then. Even from his place just inside the entrance, Lucius could see both his son's eyes, and Miss Granger's, spark. A signal had passed between them, he was certain of it.

Draco nodded to nothing—nothing aloud, anyway—and stepped from the dais. Upon reaching his mother, he lowered to the floor in front of her.

He crooked a finger beneath her chin, forcing her damp gaze to meet his. "I did it because you had to see. You have to know how wrong things have gone. Everything. It needs to be righted, and this is the only way, now."

Her son's hollow, crystalline voice hurt her ears, but she didn't care. Lower lip trembling, she raised a hand, cupping his cheek. "What do I do, Draco? I never wanted this madness—"


The pair in the center of the room went on, as though Lucius hadn't just let out an angry bark.

"You come over here, with us." He smiled gently. "You accept that things can change."

The most disturbing thing, in Lucius' view, was the serene smile that crept onto the silver girl's lips. She approved of Draco's decision. Approved of Narcissa betraying him! He would have thought the girl at least appreciated loyalty.

"Narcissa," he barked again, even as Draco ignored him and turned, slipping an arm around Narcissa's shoulders and helping her to her feet.

"I don't . . . . I don't know that I can," Narcissa whispered, her head shaking.

Harry, in a startling show of solidarity, hurried from Hermione's side to get a chair for the elder witch. Draco nodded his thanks as he guided his mother to sit.

Hermione turned her head, catching Narcissa's gaze. She and Draco spoke as one as they said, "You are willing to try."

Narcissa and Harry winced. The young man snapped his head toward the doors, seeing motion from the corner of his eye. Lucius had a hand pressed to his ear.

"In the beginning, magic was all around us, yet not gifted to man," Hermione and Draco said, turning their attention to the group at the entrance, as well.

Lucius blinked hard, pulling his hand from his ear. Harry closed his eyes and looked away from the flash of crimson, plainly visible, even from across the room.

"So prevalent was it that man—arrogant to a fault, even when primitive—assumed magical creatures no different from any other."

Harry felt the pain at the base of his spine . . . but it was bearable. Like a spike through the back of his skull, true, but he could manage. In the chair beside Hermione's, he could see Narcissa bent over, holding her head in her hands.

"In a time so long ago the tragedy has been forgotten, man hunted the unicorn."

Lucius' face curled into a livid expression as he kept his gaze locked on the girl and his son. Was this the great secret he'd so wanted?

It was sad to him that in a corner of his mind, a voice laughed. The arrogance of man had set whatever this was into motion. And his arrogance had brought it to fruition.

He felt as though he was being stabbed in the back of the skull. Little pinpricks of cold and agony threaded his veins and ran along his skin.

Distantly he could hear his followers making terrible noises. Sounds of anguish as they backed through the doors, hoping to escape the images unfolding in their minds' eyes.

"Long before the curse of the half-life, man consumed the sacred flesh like that of any other beast."

Harry rounded the back of Hermione's chair. He couldn't bring himself to cross in front of Hermione and Draco. He'd seen the way their silver eyes gleamed now as they spoke in halting sentences—seeming to glow a glittering white—as a sharp iciness worked its way through his body.

As he reached the other side, he carefully lowered himself to sit beside Narcissa's seat. A strange parallel of the moment in the Forest when she'd lied for him, he thought. Reaching an stinging hand up, he slipped his fingers over hers.

She turned her head to meet his gaze as she let him hold her hand, her tears flowing freely, now.

Harry couldn't help a wince—despite his own discomfort—at the sight of crimson dripping from Narcissa's ears. Just the faintest trickle, though. Nothing so severe as the rivulets from Lucius'.

Their hollow voices gained strength, rising from a whispered shout to thunderous roar so quickly the change startled Harry and Narcissa. "Man's mastery over magic arose from this terrible moment. Raw, uncontrolled, unrefined. You were supposed to bring about your own destruction for such a transgression!" Hermione and Draco shook their heads as one as they continued. "But you adapted. You learned. Through the ages, magic became a force for good. But . . . you also forgot."

Snarling, Lucius could no longer hold his own weight, their words—the memories he watched—pressed upon him. He hit the floor hard on his knees, but he fought to stay upright.

"You crafted implements to focus and hone your magic as its strength began to dwindle. Occasionally producing those who were correct, once more. Those who did not possess magic. Yet, you came to view those newly perfect humans with scorn."

Harry could swear he heard their crystalline voices clogging with tears as the two forced themselves to continue. Their volume climbed, yet again, a howling wind kicking up from nowhere to accompany their words.

"Magic sought to correct the mistakes of man, once more."

"No!" Lucius struggled to his feet. He pressed forward, refusing to accept what he was seeing.

"Those bloodlines untouched by man's tragic mistake began to produce those able to control magic."

Narcissa's slender frame shook, and Harry forced his aching body closer to slip his arms around her shoulders and hold her steady.

"Those who were pure of blood. They were meant to guide the descendants back into harmony with their ill-gotten magic."

Lucius couldn't breathe. He sank to his knees once more, dropping his wand to the floor as he continued to stare at the dais. Unblinking, droplets of crimson trickled from the corners of his eyes. He could hear screams throughout the castle, he damn well wished they'd shut up! Their pathetic whines only added to his own discomfort.

Hermione and Draco exchanged a glance. His expression was resigned, while hers was unsurprised. Even now, his concern was for himself above all else. Nodding to each other, they looked toward the man before them, again. To the shining example of everything that had gone so very wrong with the balance of magic within the world

"Those of the tainted blood refused to accept the pure-blooded witches and wizards, labeling them a name that reflected what they, themselves, were. Dirty blooded. You dare cast judgments when you would have the world under your heel after all the horror those like you have inflicted upon it!"

Hitting the floor with his full weight, Lucius could feel the slowing of his heart. By the time he realized he couldn't breath, he was too weak even to panic, anymore.

"Your world must end." The wind dissipated and their strange voices dropped back to those loud, mingled whispers as they said, "It must die with you."

The pain faded in a flash—so quick, Harry lost his balance, falling to the floor beside Narcissa's chair. His breathing frantic, he ran his hands over his face, the sides of his neck. Nothing—he'd not bled, not even a little.

Draco spun, his eyes strangely dim as he dropped down in front of his mother. Narcissa trembled at his touch, but raised her head. Smiling weakly, she met his gaze.

"I am all right, Draco," she said, her murmured voice sad. She slipped her hands over his. "Your father . . . ." She looked past her son's shoulder to the sight of her husband, such a sad figure crumbled on the floor. "He was not as terrible as all of this made him seem."

"Mother . . . ."

"He loved us, after all, didn't he?"

Harry and Hermione exchanged a glance—he could see now, in her darker eyes, why Draco's seemed less bright. The silver had receded, leaving a thin, solid band around her pupil, and the outer edge of her iris, but the center was that familiar chestnut-brown he'd grown up seeing.

His best friend's face had pulled into a sad expression at Narcissa Malfoy's tone. He may not have been a good person, but Lucius was her husband, and she had loved him.

"He did," Draco said, sniffling as he nodded. Now that it was over, he could feel the anguish at what had come to pass—at the notion that his father was gone. Perhaps it was better to think the War had killed the Lucius Malfoy he knew. "But he loved the thought of power, more."

Narcissa nodded, her watery, pale-blue eyes drifting closed as she pressed her forehead to her son's.

Harry climbed to his feet, giving mother and son a moment as he rounded them to stand before Hermione. She sat in Dumbledore's chair, still, staring up at him.

Without waiting for her to speak, his slid his fingers around her wrists and pulled her up, into a hug. The sound of her surprised laugh as she slipped her arms around him to hug him back forced a wash of relief to ripple through him.

She was Hermione, again. Only Hermione.

He pulled back, meeting her gaze. "So what's the plan, Miss Pure-Blood?"

A gasp tore from Narcissa's throat as she bolted upright in her seat. Draco started as Harry and Hermione turned their attention to his mother.

"Oh, God, Miss Granger!" The pale-haired witch shot to her feet, but wobbled a little, silently grateful when her son caught her by the elbow and set her right. "I am so terribly sorry. I had no . . . . How could I have known?"

Hermione smiled, happier than she could find words for that their part in this was over. "It's really okay. I didn't know, either."

"But there's still the question," Draco said, reaching over to claim Hermione's hand. "What do we do next?"

Shoulders drooping, Hermione wondered just how it was that she came to be in charge—and of such a strange little group, no less.

"Well, you and I both know there are survivors in the castle."

Draco nodded.

Harry looked from one to the other. He blatantly ignored their linked hands. After all, hadn't she kissed him in the Room of Requirement, and Draco hadn't batted a silver eye? But then he wasn't oblivious to the way Hermione and Draco looked at one another, and they'd been alone for nearly two days. Who knew what had gone on in his absence, what with her condition being the way it was?

He held in a sigh. That bit of drama could wait for another day. "You do?" he asked, focusing on the moment at hand. "How?"

Again, Draco nodded. "We can feel them," he said.

"So we find them, and we leave here. All of us."

Hermione and Draco exchanged a glance before he took over explaining. "They'll spread the truth. The first memory was the most painful, those that follow will be easier. More will accept, and because of that, they'll survive and pass it on. And our power is still here, it's just ebbed, for now. But if we need it, it'll return."

"First . . . ." She turned her head, deliberately directing their collective attention to Lucius' body. "We have to bury them. They deserve that decency, at least."

Harry bit his lip to hold in a protest. He wasn't so certain they did—not all of them, anyway. But then, he supposed, wasn't this was what the good guys were supposed to do? Show kindness when it wasn't deserved. Perhaps especially when it wasn't deserved.

"Thank you," Narcissa said, nodding as she smiled sadly. She wished this hadn't played out as it had, but she knew Lucius wasn't going to allow himself to live in a world he would consider so very backward.

"After that, we'll do what Kreacher was going to do. Go to the safe houses, look for our friends who might've survived the Battle." She shrugged, shaking her head in disbelief. "It's only been four days!"

"We're all going to do this? The four of us?" Narcissa's eyebrows had shot up her forehead, but her inquiry was echoed in Draco's expression.

"Of course," Hermione said, smiling as she met Draco's gaze, her fingers squeezing his gently. "Not going anywhere without you."