Author's Note: This is it, folks. The last chapter. I apologize for the disappointing ending, but it was really the only logical conclusion I could see given the story that decided to take place.
I ran into Snape on my way to the dorm room—literally ran into him, as I was turning a corner. A book about some deeply obscure potion-related concepts went tumbling to the floor. One about the first World War followed it, curiously enough.
"Sorry," I said, jumping up, gathering both of them, and trying to hand them back to him before he'd even finished picking himself up off the floor with all the dignity he could muster.
He collected himself and snatched the books back, freeing one hand to smooth his robes imperiously. The look he gave me was nothing short of mistrustful. "Where are you going?" he demanded.
"Home," I answered. I intended for it to come out like thunder, like a beacon, with all the grandeur and confidence the decision deserved, but it…didn't.
Professor Snape stared at me for a few seconds. "You're leaving the school, do you mean?"
I nodded confirmation. "Forever, if I get my way."
Shining black eyes like polished onyx appraised me momentarily. Then their owner turned, started down the hallway, and remarked over his shoulder, "Come with me, Mister Malfoy."
Given that it was my last day, I considered telling him to go fuck himself, but Snape, at least, had been relatively good to me over the years. So I followed.
Momentarily, he was unlocking a door I'd never seen and ushering me inside. The room within looked like a small foyer, humble but comfortable, well- and warmly-lit. The wallpaper was a creamy yellow striped with a pale green, and there were bookshelves crammed full of books about every imaginable period in history next to oddities beyond imagining—tiny perpetual motion machines and pewter models of dragons, knickknacks of every variety, and a slightly blurry picture of a man standing with his arms out in front of a line of approaching tanks.
My Potions professor went over to the wide fireplace and considered the flames within it for a moment. He looked at me, and then he took from the mantle a hinged box of slightly tarnished silver set in intricate, twisting designs and opened the lid. Für Elise began to play, quietly and serenely, in the plinking voice of an old music box. He selected a pinch of Floo Powder from it and tossed his acquisition on the fire, and then he replaced the box carefully, almost reverently, and looked to me.
"If you'd like to go before your nerve fails you," he noted calmly, "I'll see that your possessions get sent along after."
I looked at him—really looked. And for the first time I realized how desperately lonely Severus Snape was.
"Thanks," I said. I moved towards the fireplace.
"One more thing," he interjected. When I turned, he took my hand firmly. "Good luck, Draco," he told me solemnly.
"Thank you," I said again. Then he released me, and I said the words, stepped into the flames, and closed my eyes.
When I opened them again, I was in my mother's room.
She was sitting on the bed reading a book, and she looked up at me with some surprise. "What are you doing here?" she asked.
"Good to see you, too, Mother," I muttered.
"But Draco, dear, isn't school in session? I would have thought—"
"I quit school, Mother," I interrupted.
She stared at me. "But, Draco…"
I was halfway to the door, and I threw a few unnecessary words over my shoulder. "Is Father in his study?"
"I suppose he is, but, Draco—"
I closed the door behind me. She was so weak. She'd never understand.
I stopped off at my bedroom first. The dresser loomed and the bed lurked; the closet gaped and the lamps glinted. Even the cleanliness was unnerving somehow—it was too organized, too neat, too perfect. It seemed almost sterilized. It was clear that no one lived here, and it was unclear how anyone ever could.
I took off my robes, even though it was cold in the house—it was always cold in the house; nothing had changed for my absence. I folded them and laid them on my bed. I unknotted my tie and dropped it on top, and I straightened my vest a little. Then I went to the study.
Silently I stood before the door. Seconds trickled by. I fortified myself with one last deep breath, suppressed a shiver, and knocked on the door.
"Who is it?" my father's voice inquired disinterestedly.
"It's me," I called back.
There was a pause.
"Come in," he permitted.
I opened the door and slipped inside. My father gave me a moment to try not to fidget under his faultlessly level gaze.
"So you left, did you?"
Absently he tapped the end of his quill on his desk blotter, running one long finger along the line of his jaw as he considered the information.
"I don't believe I can blame you unduly for that," he decided at last. "That school damn near drove me mad, and it doesn't surprise me in the least to know it did the same to you. I presume you intend to find a different one?"
I nodded again.
"Yes, higher education is a gift and all that tripe… I believe there's a school only for pure-bloods in Northern Ireland, if you would be willing to put up with those ridiculous accents of theirs."
Once more, I nodded.
"Excellent. Is that settled, then? Anything else you can think of?"
"Only that…" I swallowed. "Well, Dumbledore said he'd write me a recommendation—if I need it, you know."
"Not from him, you don't," my father rejoined immediately. "That will be all. If you're hungry, the elves will find you something."
That was my cue to leave. I started to obey it.
"Oh, and, Draco?"
I turned and waited.
My father smiled his thin predator's smile. "Don't give me cause to write you any more letters. Ever."
I nodded and fled.
It was impossible to sleep on my bed. The sheets were like silk, slippery and cold, and the mattress was so soft as to envelop me like a strangling vine. After two hours of tossing, turning, and trying to avoid getting eaten by it, I got up, crossed the room, drew back the curtains that concealed the window-seat, and curled up on it. The view out was hazy at best, and the glass panes did little to dull the frigidness outside, but it wasn't so stiflingly opulent as the bed, and that was what mattered. I pressed my hand against one of the square panes and drew it back wet, admiring the palm print I'd left in the condensation.
As much as I might have hated it, as much as it might have hated me, Hogwarts had taught me a lot. It had humbled me, it had chastised me, and it had brought me reluctantly to my knees, time and time again. It was a place where I didn't win at every game and didn't ace every class just because I was rich. It was a place where I was hemmed in on all sides by Mudbloods and half-bloods and pure-bloods alike, and all of them, including the Mudbloods—especially the Mudbloods—had a viable chance of being better than me at something or at everything. I hated even to admit it, but the school had changed me. Likely it had changed me for the better.
The drug withdrawals were dying down by the time my parents saw me off at Saint Thomas's Academy a week after I'd come home. Saint T's, as some idiots apparently called it, was indeed stringently restricted to pure-bloods, and male ones at that. But because it didn't discriminate between nationalities, it recruited widely, and the student population was actually considerably larger than the one at Hogwarts. And, even more unlike Hogwarts, there were all different types of kids there. There were boys descended from the greatest American Indian shamans and boys who claimed to be related to Middle Eastern djinns of extraordinary power; boys like me who lived in England, and boys from Iceland and India and Brazil and Japan. Some of them spoke only the sparest English, and some of them sounded like they ate dictionaries for breakfast. Wands varied, attire varied, extent of snobbery varied, but the one thing that didn't was the blood. And maybe that was the way it should have been. Maybe it wasn't. In any case, this wasn't Hogwarts, not at all. The dean looked like an ex-con and promised me twice in the first three minutes of our initial meeting that he would wring my neck personally if I put a toe out of line. It looked like he meant it. And it looked like this gluttonous excess of structure and rules was the overdose I'd needed all along.
At Saint T's, owls stayed only in their proper place, which was in an isolated building separated from the school by a cobblestone pathway. If you wanted to see if you'd received mail, you had to go check. One member of a very large support staff sorted the incoming messages (which were very often on white paper or stationery and were usually delivered by human mailmen instead of avian ones) into neat piles for different students and filed them alphabetically.
After about a week of keeping my toes well behind the line, I went down and found my owl where he was waiting patiently. I took some binder paper I'd bought from the student store and folded it up. I wrote Hermione Granger on the back. I unfolded it again and chewed on the end of my ballpoint pen a little. Then I scribbled Thank you for trying on the inside, tied it to my owl's waiting leg, and sent him off. I watched him go until the last feather had disappeared into the orange glow of twilight.
The next day, he came back. The response was written on a scrap of parchment.
Pretend you care.
I chewed a little more on my pen, realized I might be ingesting something less than healthful, and stopped. Then, on a new piece of paper, I wrote, If I didn't care, I wouldn't be here.
A day later, the reply came. It was three words, but that was enough.
How are things?
I whipped out my pen.
All right. It's a bit of a culture shock here. Shocking because I've discovered that there are, in fact, other cultures. How are things with you?
She wrote back, Good. Your little cronies just wander around aimlessly without you, you know. They look like they've lost their mothers in the supermarket. Discovering anything interesting about said other cultures?
I chewed on the end of my pen a little too hard, and it splattered viscous blue ink all over my face, sour and acrid in my mouth.
And somehow, I didn't care.
Author's Note Again: Yup. This is it. If you've stuck with me this far, I'd be really happy to get a few words of commentary, criticism, or just random gobbledygook, if that's the way you roll. Tell me what you think. I would very much like to know.
And if you did enjoy this little diversion, I think I'm going to try a bit of first-person limited with Lupin next, so stay tuned.