A/N – Here it is, the epilogue, finally ending the tale of Draco's forced maturity, Ginny's intellectual awakening, Nott's grand ambition and even grander folly, Lucius' release from the Game, Narcissa's scheming and Snape's quiet faith. Not to mention a whole host of other characters with motivations of their own that also played a part.

Many thanks to my advisor Jess, and to all my wonderful reviewers.

Disclaimer – I don't own Harry Potter or any of the canon characters in this story. Don't sue me.

"...Ground Control to Major Tom:
Your circuit's dead, there's something wrong.
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom?
Can you hear me, Major Tom...?"

David Bowie, "Space Oddity"

Chapter 25 – Epilogue.

Even the stars were strange.

The man who had once been Lucius Malfoy thought on this, staring up at the unfamiliar night sky – so subtly different to the sky he had seen every night from his home – of this new land to which he had fled. Or perhaps not fled; perhaps it was better to say that he had chosen to remove himself from the futile situation that had faced him in England.

The Game…for so long has it dominated my entire life. I do not wish to play it any longer…

He had run out of choices, and so had made his own, unthinkable choice. He'd turned his back on everything that he'd known, loved and valued, and had left it all behind. But not without making sure that his affairs were satisfactorily resolved…

Oh, and Lucius… Tell him who sent you.

Beautiful Narcissa. Ruthless, ambitious, venomous Narcissa who cared for nothing and no one but herself…but who nevertheless had an exquisite sense of irony. He would forever treasure the look on Alexander Nott's face as he produced Narcissa's tell tale scarf – the incomprehension, then shock, then fury, then fear, as he finally realised who had engineered his downfall.

It had been the perfect time to bow out: his son had found his own strength and had gained powerful allies; his lands and people were safe, and his wife – his dangerous wife – had what she had always wanted, and was more than happy to see the last of him and his knowledge of her activities. And Lucius had always had an excellent sense of timing.

"Mr. Montfort?" The woman's voice jolted him out of his reverie, and he turned to face her – one of those sleek, efficient professional women the muggles seemed to pride themselves on so. She was looking at him inquiringly, too well trained to be openly puzzled, but curious about his hesitation.

He wondered what she saw: a dark haired, dark eyed man, some forty years old, the very image of a successful muggle businessman; Lucas Montfort, an upper class Englishman with no hint of wizardry or anything even remotely strange marring his conventional, staid image and his spotless reputation. Certainly he had expended enough time and money to be sure of it…

Summoning a smile, he nodded graciously and slid into the back of the car, into the smell of new leather and an abundance of money.

"Welcome to Switzerland, sir," she said politely, and then gently closed his door.

He allowed himself one, quiet laugh, before the limo pulled away from the curb, and bore him into the anonymous stream of traffic.

Draco tugged at the collar of his robes, unaccountably nervous. It was ridiculous, really: he had faced far greater perils than this – his fellow Slytherins, for one, and Nott and his Death Eater friends – but for some reason, the thought of dinner with the entire Weasley family was incredibly intimidating.

Perhaps it was the thought of Ron, who still hated him and probably always would – but hatred had never bothered him before – or Bill Weasley, who had looked at him with those considering, measuring eyes. He had liked Bill, actually – more worldly than his father, more cynical than most of his family – and perhaps the thought that Bill might think him contemptible – as so many still did – was exerting a stronger influence on him than it should. Perhaps it was the thought of finally meeting Molly Weasley, of whom he had heard so much, and most of it terrifying…

But he rather thought it was the thought of what the evening might represent, and what it might mean for the future. Because tonight was the night that Ginny Weasley introduced him to her family, and he was not sure where the consequences would lead…

He had tried to walk away from her, but she had followed, insisting on knowing why he was reneging on their bargain. He had tried to drive her away, the memory of her pale, still face still haunting him; she had not believed his words, seeing them for the falsehoods they were – seeing far too much, and far too deeply.

She saw him. Him.

And that was the most terrifying thing of all, because he didn't understand her. He didn't know what she wanted from him. Before she had come to support him against Nott, he had thought that all she wanted was his knowledge, and he had known where they stood and been comfortable with it. But now, he sensed that her rational, logical view of him as a tutor had been changed into something quite, quite different…

Just as – reluctant as he was to admit it – his rational, logical view of her as a student had transformed into something else, something far more dangerous. Because it was ridiculous, of course it was. A Malfoy and a Weasley? What could they possibly have in common, other than their mutual hatred of the Dark Lord?

Nevertheless, he owed it to her to give her at least this much – Arthur Weasley had done much for him, in the first days of his father's absence, and Ginny herself had stood beside him through the worst of his recklessness. In acknowledgement of services rendered, and in remembrance of the friendship they had shared – and perhaps still did – he would dine with them this once, and let events take their course.

Severus Snape and Dane Harcourt, reluctant partners in their concern for Draco Malfoy, watched him step out of his room – dressed in normal everyday robes, rather than formal evening wear – and laughed softly at the thought of him dining as amicably as he could with the Weasleys. They had watched and approved of his growing friendship with Ginny Weasley, and had been even more intrigued as the friendship looked to deepen into something more…

And both of them spared a thought for Lucius Malfoy – wherever he was, whatever he was doing – who would surely be pleased at the way his son had turned out. No matter which way Draco turned after this, whether he joined the Order – and Dane would do his best to ensure that he did – or remained outside, working from within the High Clan without being too visibly affiliated with the Ministry and Dumbledore – personally, Snape was all for this option – they knew he had the strength to support his convictions, and the ability to back them up.

The strength to stand alone, but enough allies that he need never do so…

Once again, the Malfoy were the centre of the High Clan, the Lords and Ladies deciding it was best to gloss over their recent loss of faith. Over the past few weeks, the ranks of those who had always believed in him but had been coerced by Nott grew steadily – but that was only to be expected. However, Draco had also cemented other, less conventional alliances – alliances that may, in truth, prove to be more lasting and trustworthy than the ancient bonds of the High Clan. In this, at least, he could say he had stepped out of his father's shadow, and perhaps even exceeded Lucius' achievements.

When Draco realised this, when he stopped idolising his father and saw him as a real, flesh and blood man who could and did make mistakes, he would gain even more confidence in himself, would finally become everything he was meant to be. But there was time enough yet for that – he was only sixteen, after all…

Well pleased with themselves and their protégée, the two men smiled indulgently and wished him well. They too had been young once, after all…

He was due at any minute, and she was nowhere near ready. Her hair was not cooperating with her, despite the application of a number of grooming charms, and she could not – absolutely could not – decide what to wear. She had told him to come in ordinary clothes, not the formal robes that cost more than her father made in a whole year – she didn't care if it offended his High Clan sensibilities – but that meant that she too had to wear relatively normal clothes to keep up the pretence of informality, no matter how she might be drawn to the green silk dress, sleek and elegant and extremely flattering…

Of course, such thoughts were utterly frivolous, she knew, but they served to distract her from the true problem she faced tonight. Would her brothers accept him? She had threatened them with dire punishments if this evening degenerated into a firefight, but since her…illness…they had become extremely protective, and were more than happy to blame Malfoy for getting her into the whole mess in the first place. At least Ron and the twins were; she rather thought Bill and, to a lesser extent, Charlie, had recognised that he was no longer the nasty git of his younger years. Percy, of course – newly returned and repentant, now that their father had grown in influence, after Nott's fall – was willing to do anything to be noticed by the Lord of Clan Malfoy. Ginny thought she understood Percy now, a little, but it was not a comfortable thought, by any means.

And her parents? Her father, of course, had supported Draco before Nott had driven the stakes up ridiculously high; she suspected that he was ashamed of withdrawing his help, and that he had a fledgling respect for the way Draco had refused to leave her side when she'd been sick. Anyway, with Harcourt's urging, her dad could be – indeed, had been – persuaded to help Malfoy, if it was a matter of opposing the Dark Lord…

Finally, giving up all thought of the green silk, she settled on a nice robe – not too ordinary and not too formal – and threw it on, quickly brushing her hair and applying last minute touches. There was a gentle knock on the door, and she turned to see her mother coming in, an indulgent look on her lined face as she saw Ginny's embarrassment. Coming over to stand behind her, looking into the mirror at their shared reflection, she gave her a quick, warm hug.

"Is this what you want, dear?" she asked, quietly.

Ginny paused, thought before she spoke. Molly saw the gesture, recognised it for what it was – a sign that her baby girl was growing up. It was good that she thought long and hard before setting her mind and heart on Draco Malfoy…

Finally Ginny straightened her shoulders, lifted her chin and looked her mother in the eye. "Yes, Mum. This is what I want." She stopped, flushed, a little flustered. "I mean…not now, of course, but in a few years, maybe…"

Molly only nodded. She knew. She understood. Giving her daughter one last hug, she left her to her preparations and went downstairs, to tell her husband and sons that she fully expected them to behave, tonight, and make sure that Malfoy felt welcome – or at least to make them promise not to injure him too badly.

The knock at the door came, and Arthur Weasley drew himself to his full height, so that when he opened the door he stood at least a head taller than Malfoy, who was still growing into his body. The usual guarded civilities were exchanged, and the protective father finally let him into the house, to run the gauntlet of six just as protective brothers.

They sat in the living room making awkward, stilted small talk, before an upstairs door opened and closed, and footsteps came down the stairs. Draco half turned to see Ginny arrive – no Scarlett O'Hara grand entrance, here, because Ginny was not and never had been the type – with almost all her usual verve and enthusiasm, and quite unconsciously rose to greet her, in the manner that he had been taught from birth.

Holding his hands out to her, his eyes were serious and faintly questioning, amused and slightly wary all at once, but underneath – always underneath – was the confidence and strength that had grown so much in the short time since she had come to truly know him. Reaching out, she took his hands, noting the silver seal ring on the right, and felt the quiet, tensile strength of them, the latent power and the potential threat that was inherent in his flesh and blood and bone.

She smiled.

Yes. This is what I want.