Vincent Crabbe apparated to the stoop of his family home. The door in front of him was painted a color that had, at one point, been a cheery red. Now it was faded and cracked, paint chips raining around his hand as he turned the knob. The siding needed attendance, as well, and Vince made a mental note to send an owl to a contractor before the end of the night. In the back of his mind, it occurred to him that it was well into the evening and most contractors would be home by now, but he dismissed the thought; after all, he didn't exactly have a lot of time left, did he?
Swinging the door open, he stepped inside the foyer. Everything was dark and silent; the sun had just started to set, but already the inhabitants of the house seemed to have settled in for the night. At the sound of his footsteps, a house elf appeared from around the corner.
"Blinky." Vincent greeted the little elf with a nod as he closed the door behind him. "Is my mother up to having a visitor?"
Blinky nodded emphatically, his tiny body shaking with the force. "Mistress always wants to see Master Vincent, she does."
"Wonderful. I'm going to her room. Will you bring me something to eat in a few minutes? I have yet to have supper." He didn't wait for the elf's answer; he knew it would be an affirmative. Moving to the right, Vincent mounted the staircase. He gripped the banister and felt the roughness of the wood under his palm; it was cracked and splintered down the middle. The sight of it made him frown deeply.
The Crabbe's came from a long line of purebloods; somewhere in the rat hole of a house, Vincent knew there was a book on their lineage that could date it back seven generations. Though they'd once been one of the wealthiest families, the money had dried up a hundred or so years previous. They were not destitute by any means, but did not have the affluence that some of the other pureblooded families, like the Malfoy's or the Parkinson's, had had.
It had only gotten worse after the war. His father was imprisoned, and he himself had barely escaped the same fate, mostly due to his age. It had been impossible to find a job or a proper healer for his mother, and even if he'd managed to find the latter, it would have been impossible to pay him or her. Sometimes, Vince wondered if it would have been easier to have been sent to Azkaban; it couldn't be that much worse than living in a world that refused to forgive the transgressions and idiocies of youth. A world so blinded by hatred that it could not, would not, see the reformed as just that—reformed.
Merlin, he hated Frink. That stupid bastard and his prejudices had the entire British wizarding world wrapped around his finger, and bloody Potter was too daft to see it. Some effective Minster he'd turned out to be.
All this swirled through Vince's mind as he climbed the steps, hesitating at the top. His mother door was directly in front of him, slightly ajar. He could hear her voice coming through the crack, and though he could not make out the words, he knew they were nonsense. Something akin to both anger and despair welled in his chest. Anyone who doubted he'd been truly given up Voldemort only had to look at what that monster had done to his mother.
In her prime, Mrs. Crabbe had been beautiful. It was shame, Vincent knew, that he looked so much like his father. She had dark hair and eyes set against pale skin; now the eyes were sunken and forever faraway, constantly dreaming. She was a broken woman who spent most of her days talking to the furniture, reliving conversations she'd had twenty years ago. It was a good day when she even recalled she had a son, let alone recognized Vincent as her flesh and blood.
For a fleeting moment, Crabbe considered not going in to talk to her. It probably wouldn't make a difference to her either way; even if she did learn, at some later point, that her son had died, she'd forget it within a few minutes. Her grief would be short, which was a blessing. Vincent laughed bitterly to himself; he'd managed to find an upside to his mother's insanity.
Heaving a deep sigh, Vincent crossed the hall and entered the room.
"Mother." He said.
She looked up at his voice, turned her head to side as she studied him. Her expression was vacant and unseeing, a ghost of smile hovering on her lips. Then, as if she hadn't noticed his entrance, she looked away and began to babble at the lamp.
Vincent took a seat in a chair near her bed and reached out to grab her hand. She did not pull away or even seem to notice his touch as she continued her conversation with the light fixture, but Vincent did not leave.
He had to remember why he was doing this, and she was his reminder.
When Blaise had answered he would be doing whatever he had time for, he hadn't meant he'd be getting pissed at a bar, but that's what ended up happening. And Greg, not knowing what else to do with himself, had followed.
They'd ended up at a muggle bar a few miles from Draco's apartment. It was a regular haunt for them. Conducting top-secret meetings about killing a well-known political figure was risky, and doing so in wizarding London had always seemed to be suicide. Outside of muggleborns, however, wizards rarely went into muggle sections of the city. They were free to congregate and discuss whatever they wanted without rousing as much suspicion.
The bartender recognized them and had their regular draughts waiting for them by the time the pair had settled at the bar. Each of them downed the beer as quickly as possible, and their drinks were quickly replaced. Greg briefly tried to start a conversation, but after a minute of nothing but monosyllabic answers from Blaise, he gave up. There was simply nothing to discuss; they were both going to die tomorrow, so none of their usual topics seemed important. Who cared if the Chudley Cannons had just fired their manager? It was not as if Blaise or Gregory would be around for next season.
A second round was provided, then a third, then a fourth. At the fifth, they both got less quiet. A flat-screen TV displayed a football game, and despite knowing precious little about the sport, they both began to cheer violently at the television. Other patrons sent them withering glares, but neither of the men paid them any mind. After a few minutes, the bartender handed each of them a bill and told them to shove off, and they grudgingly complied.
By the time they were outside, the sun had set. The streetlights were bright and unnatural and cast strange shadows across Blaise's face as he declared, "I am not nearly drunk enough."
Somewhere, in the dark recesses of Greg's brain, he realized that getting smashed was a terrible idea. They had—he glanced at his watch—roughly fourteen hours before 10 am. If either of them got any more drunk, they'd have a wicked hangover. Greg wondered if the only thing worse than a suicide mission was a suicide mission accompanied by the aftereffects of a night of binge drinking.
Of course, part of him rationalized, it was a suicide mission either way, so who the hell cared if he had a headache.
He turned to Blaise. "You know, neither am I."
The other man smiled slowly, his dark skin washed out in the stark light. "Let's go to the Witch's Hat."
"That new place outside of Diagon Alley?" Greg was still aware enough to be surprised. "Why the hell would we go there?"
Blaise let his head fall back and closed his eyes, as if he were pondering the question very seriously. When he met Greg's gaze again, he shrugged. "I want to laugh."
Greg quirked an eyebrow. "Laugh?"
"Yes," Blaise said, nodding, "I want to laugh right in their unthinkable faces."*
Letting out a guffaw, Greg smiled. They pair began to stumble down the street, making their way toward the entrance to Diagon Alley.
Ginny would not open the door.
Harry had followed her after she'd taken off, but she'd locked herself in their room and had refused to come out. She'd screamed at him when he had knocked and asked to come in, and so he'd decided to give her some time. Hours later, however, and the door remained closed, the person behind it just as unyielding.
As the clock struck ten, Harry heaved a sigh. He'd tried to do some work in his office while he let his wife cool off, but he hadn't been very productive; as he looked down at all the documents he'd read, he realized he had not retained a word of them. His brow furrowed. A perfectly good evening, gone to waste.
He couldn't really blame Ginny, though. He had been unnecessarily harsh about those robes—she looked great in them, she really did. She'd just caught him at a terrible time, what with the Hermione thing, and Frink requesting extra security for his speech tomorrow morning, and the way he and Hermione had parted, and the terrible press he was getting in the Daily Prophet lately, and Hermione leaving with Draco bloody Malfoy…he sighed again. It was days like that reminded him why he'd never really wanted to be Minister of Magic at all.
Harry set his quill down and pushed his chair back. He stretched as he stood, working out the kinks in his overtired body. He said a quick "nox," extinguishing the lights in his office, and then headed out, closing the door behind him. As he made his way down the hall, he tried to think of what to say to make Ginny believe that he only loved her and not Hermione, but the words seemed to stick in his throat.
Outside of their room, Harry knocked gently on the door. "Gin?"
There was some shuffling behind the door, then a softly whispered spell. He heard the lock release and felt relieved, making his way inside. He shut the door softly, slowly, as he squinted in the dim light of the room. Again, he said, "Gin?"
The light next to their bed abruptly lit, illuminating his wife. She had changed, now dressed in a ratty old bathrobe. Her red hair was a mess, sticking out at strange angles, and the tear tracks on her face were still prominent. She did not say a word as she looked at him, but the guilt still cut Harry like a knife.
He grimaced. "I'm so sorry, love, I really am. You caught me at the worst time. I've been so stressed out all day and would have snapped at anyone who walked through the door. You look beautiful in everything you wear, and—"
"Why were you stressed?" she asked. Her voice was much calmer than Harry would have expected.
"I'm the Minister of Magic." Harry replied with a helpless shrug. "A lot has been going on, especially today, and—"
Ginny interrupted a second time. "You've been Minister of Magic for awhile now, Harry, yet this is the first time you've accused me of being a prostitute."
The anger surged in Harry again, but he fought against it; one of them had to keep their head, and he knew it wouldn't be her. He took a deep breath, trying to steady himself. "I said no such thing, Ginny, and you know it. It's been a very hectic day, what with Frink's visit."
"Oh yes," she replied, "Frink's visit and Hermione's departure all in the same day. However did you manage?"
The anger was winning. "Don't make this about Hermione."
"It's already about Hermione!" Ginny exploded, jumping off the bed and approaching him rapidly. "It's always been about Hermione! When Ron died, when she got sick—she's been gone less than a day, and you're being irritable and cruel…" her voice lost its heat, and she looked down at the floor, avoiding his eyes. "I thought with her gone, we'd finally be us again, but you can't even function without her for a few hours…"
Guilt gnawed at him. "Ginny…"
Harry knew what he should say—that he did not love Hermione, not in the least—but the words wouldn't come to him. They both stayed still, her staring at the carpet, him looking beyond her shoulder, neither knowing what to do. Tentatively, he reached out and caught her hand.
"I love you…" his voice was soft and quiet as he let it trail off.
She looked up to meet his eyes; she was crying. "But not as much as Hermione."
It was not a question, so Harry didn't answer. He pleaded with his eyes for her to understand. After a few moments of silence, she nodded and leaned into him. His arms encircled her automatically.
"Harry?" she mumbled into his chest.
"Yes, darling?" he answered.
"Would you like me to fix you a drink?"
"What do you mean we slept for eight hours?" Hermione's voice squeaked shrilly. She sat up, grabbing at the sheet and covering herself when it fell away, briefly exposing her breasts. "That can't possibly be right! You set the alarm to wake us up—your clock must be wrong!"
Draco winced at the pitch of her voice. They'd only been awake for a minute, but already his patience was wearing thin. "There's nothing wrong with my clock, Hermione. We just didn't hear the alarm."
She fell back into the pillow, hands covering her eyes. She sounded on the edge of tears as she ground out, "How could this happen?"
"Well, how should I know?" his voice was rough as he leaned out of bed to grab his boxers and then stood to slide them back on. He settled back onto the bed, his posture stiff. "Maybe I didn't say the charm correctly, or something."
"Merlin," Hermione whispered, "eight hours. I don't think I've ever been so upset about sleeping for eight hours before." Glancing at Draco, she noted he looked uncomfortable and annoyed. She sighed. "I didn't mean to screech at you, Draco. It's just that every moment seems more precious now…"
He nodded. "I understand. Don't apologize. It doesn't really matter, anyway."
"What?" she asked, confused.
"Do you think it does? Of course, now you'll have to wait until the morning to talk to Potter, which makes me a little—well, honestly, very—worried, but besides that..." he trailed off as he noticed her look of disbelief. "What? I mean, what else is there to worry about? We've already…fallen in love, haven't we?"
She blinked in surprise, biting her lip as she considered his point. "So we don't have to worry about the time limit, then?"
He shrugged. "I wouldn't think so."
"Huh." She answered, picking at his raggedy comforter.
Laying back down beside her, Draco wrapped his arm around her middle and drew her close. "Something the matter?"
Hermione shook her head. "No, nothing's wrong. I'm just…surprised, is all. It was…" she paused, "easy. Almost too easy."
"Well," he said, leaning into kiss her cheek, "falling in love with your soul mate should be easy, shouldn't it?"
"Yes, I suppose it should be." She was still avoiding his gaze, still playing with the blanket. To distract her, Draco caught her hand and brought it to his lips, grazing it with a light kiss. Her heart skipped a beat in her chest as she turned to give him a grin.
He smiled. "I love you, Hermione."
Inwardly, she hoped he was telling the truth.
"I love you, too."
"Greg." Blaise nudged Goyle in the side. They were at the bar in the Witch's Hat, getting surprisingly few stares. The place was crowded with witches and wizards on all sides; the bartender had hardly paid them any mind, and the rest of the patrons seemed to follow suit. Greg couldn't tell if he was annoyed by the relative anonymity they were enjoying, or if he welcomed it.
Bleary-eyed, Gregory turned to his friend. "Yeah, mate?"
"How drunk are you?" asked Blaise, whose glass had sat empty for the past half-hour. They'd both had enough reason to realize they should cut themselves off and sober up so they could be as ready as possible for their mission the next morning.
Greg shrugged. "Eh, not very. Starting to lose the buzz, actually." He looked longingly at the beer taps.
"How drunk am I?" Blaise continued, earning himself a very strange look.
"I wouldn't have thought you were all that pissed until just a moment ago, honestly." He replied. Blaise barely seemed to be listening; his eyes were focused on something just past Goyle's shoulder. Perplexed, Greg turned and followed Blaise's line of vision. His stomach dropped to his feet.
There, in the corner, was Theodore Nott, alone, pissed, and completely unaware of them.
When Greg turned back to Blaise, the other man was staring at him, his eyes aflame. "I want to hurt him." The voice coming from his throat was strangely mangled; it barely sounded like Blaise at all. "I want to kill him."
At a loss, Goyle simply said, "Oh."
"The question is," Blaise replied, undaunted by Goyle's sudden muteness, "am I drunk enough to do something so…" he trailed off, then smirked, "justified."
Greg looked back over his shoulder at Nott, who sat, nursing a beer and leering at the barmaid. It was certain they were going to fail tomorrow, that they were going to die tomorrow, and the man responsible did not look as though that affected him in the least. He'd never thought he'd hated anyone—outside of Frink, of course—that he'd want to kill, but at that moment, he stood corrected.
Feeling bold, he answered, "I think you are. And I think I'm drunk enough to help."
Disclaimer: Believe it or not, I don't own Harry Potter. You should probably believe it.
A/N: I am ridiculous, and stupid, and I won't blame any of you for hating me over the absolutely disgusting wait for this chapter. I am thoroughly ashamed, believe me. A few notes to consider:
-I absolutely know where this is going now, and the next chapter WILL BE THE LAST.
-I added the timestamps because it is getting to the last few hours of the day, and because I was confusing myself while writing.
-After I post the last chapter (which will hopefully be sooner rather than later), I am going to rewrite the first eight chapters (also hopefully sooner rather than later). I posted them so long ago that I feel like there is a noticeable shift in style between this chapter and the others. I may be making that up (feel free to tell me what you think or if you noticed anything drastically different in the way I write), but it bothered me so much that I considered not posting this at all until I'd rewritten the entire damn story. Obviously, I didn't choose that, but only because I FELT HORRIBLY GUILTY for neglecting this for so long.
I AM SORRY. Forgive me, lovelies, and review if you have the time. :)