Quite a few of you expressed interest in reading the epilogue, so here is the final instalment of Domino. I had to rework some things because of how the last chapter ended, but it's pretty much the same in terms of the basic outline.
There were no fireworks to signal the defeat of the wizard known as Lord Voldemort. The sky remained an oppressive black, smothering the brightest of stars behind a cloak of clouds. Even the moon refused to show its pale face, yet glimpses of light had still been seen: sickly greens and bold reds, clashing and sparking off each other in a battle for dominance. Then the boy saviour had come, just as it had always been prophesied that he would, and the man with the crimson eyes had fallen.
The war was over.
Few had witnessed the end, and even fewer understood how that much anticipated victory had truly been won. A name was whispered—sometimes in reverence, sometimes bitterly—but no one mentioned the girl with the vibrant red hair and the scarred hands. She was just another page in the lost and forgotten; a casualty of war whose story would never be told, yet it was she who had first shaken the Death Eaters' foundations and set the wheels in motion to end the struggle. Harry Potter might have defeated the Dark Lord, but she was the domino who had started it all: a wounded innocent who had been forced to fall through the Death Eaters' cruelty, and one by one they had toppled after her until only their master remained, helpless and already on the verge of collapse.
No one knew what had become of that girl. Her body had not been found amongst the slaughter that had taken her family, though many had presumed her dead. In the uglier parts of society, it was rumoured that she had been enslaved by the Malfoys; however, when the manor finally crumbled from the corruption and fear that rotted its foundations, collapsing like so many house of cards, there were no traces to be found of the servant who had walked the halls. She had simply faded from existence.
In time, there was only one who refused to believe that her heart had stopped. He remembered the girl with the blood-stained dress who had fought so desperately for her freedom. He remembered the warm imprint of her lips upon his, and the final look she had given him before she passed through the gates and vanished into the darkness. He knew she would not have given up.
Ginny Weasley was out there somewhere, perhaps still waiting to emerge from the ashes of her past, but alive nonetheless. She would whisper a name along with the rest of the world, but it would not be the boy saviour's name on her lips. The end of the war was more than just a new beginning for the girl with the scarred hands; it was a reminder of what she had left behind. She had not forgotten her promise, and one day she would return to fulfil it.
I'll find you again, Draco Malfoy.
The sky was a veil of grey the day that she arrived on the island. Waves crashed upon the rocks, forming watery walls that barred all escape, though one would have to climb down the precipitous cliffs to even get to the shore. People did not leave this island. The collection of gravestones she could see sticking up from the withered grass was a testament of that. The barren spit of land was occupied only by the Undesirables and their keepers, and no one cared what happened to them as long as the Undesirables stayed far away from the rest of civilisation. There were not even any flowers or trees to soften the landscape—just the cold construction of stone that stood in the centre like some ugly monolith. It was a depressing sight, and she shivered at the thought of having to spend the rest of her life in such a miserable, isolated place.
"You alright there, sweetheart?" the man guiding her asked in a gruff voice.
He looked like a shaggy bear impersonating a human as he stood there in his navy robes, black beard smothering most of his features. She nodded and clutched her cloak tighter to her body, trying to protect herself from the wind. Her hood had been pulled low over her face, but it fell back with a particularly fierce gust, letting waves of red tumble free and flutter around her like ribbons of fire. A few drops of rain began to fall, getting heavier by the second. The man made a noise of displeasure at the back of his throat.
"Curse this rain!" he grumbled. "We'd better get inside. We'll end up like drowned rats if we stay out here."
Wordlessly, she followed her guide towards the building, keeping her head bowed against the barrage of wind and rain. The man knocked twice on the steel door, which opened with many groans and clicks. She was barely inside before the door swung closed behind her with a heavy thud. The finality of that sound made her stomach twist in panic, and she had to take a moment to breathe deeply through her nose and calm her racing heart. She had not been good with enclosed spaces ever since the war, especially such tightly sealed ones as this.
A touch on her sleeve made her look up. The gruff man who had led her across the island now gestured to the small booth on her left.
"We're going to need you to hand over your wand before we go any further. Protocol," he added with an apologetic cough.
She walked over to the booth and placed her wand on the bench, sliding it through the gap in the bars to the guard who sat on the other side. The tag on the guard's chest said his name was Grant. He looked to be around her age, maybe a little older. Some might have thought him handsome with his golden hair and vivid blue eyes, but all she noticed was the way he stared at her hands in surprise, even repulsion.
"What's the matter?" she asked, giving him a hard look. "Never seen scars before?"
Grant quickly averted his gaze and muttered something that might have been an apology. The young woman smiled humourlessly and began filling out the form he had passed to her, already dismissing the incident from her mind. People often stared at her scars, and most of the time it was with that faint mixture of curiosity and disgust. The war had left many people disfigured, but there was something particularly off-putting about her scars. Perhaps it was because she seemed like such a pretty little thing, but then you saw her hands and the way her palms and fingers were smothered in what looked like a constellation of pale stars. Except these were not stars; these were deep gouges and mounds of puckered flesh—the ghost of wounds that refused to heal and were uncomfortably rough to touch.
A friend had asked her once why she didn't have the scars removed. They made her hands look so unattractive, and surely it would be easier to just move on and forget the past? Her answer had been simple enough: the scars were a reminder of why she must survive, of what had been sacrificed so she could be free. There was no shame in that. Besides, the real wounds were the ones that could not be seen with the naked eye. Humpty Dumpty might have put herself together again, but the cracks still showed where she had fallen apart. She knew that the memories would not fade, even if the visible disfigurements did.
The gruff man coughed, shattering the mirror of dark images that flashed before her mind. She exhaled softly and finished signing her name on the parchment, then pushed the form back to Grant. He glanced over what she had written and nodded to other guard, signalling that they could proceed.
"This way," the gruff man said, heading to the door at the far end of the room, which she knew led to the lower levels.
Suddenly, her feet didn't want to move. For five years she had waited for this moment, and now that it was here she realised she was afraid. It had been so long.
I can't run anymore.
Steeling herself, and with her heart pounding with anticipation, she followed the gruff man down into the depths of the building. Apart from the metal doors that framed the walls there was no distinct change in the decor, but she couldn't help but feel as if the corridors were becoming darker—almost malignant. There was so much misery festering within this place, so much hate and despair. The people who dwelled behind those doors knew that they were trapped in a living hell. It wasn't long before she began to hear the screams.
"Don't mind them," the gruff man commented, noting her hesitance. "They like to moan every now and then. Gives 'em something to do."
She nodded and walked ahead without a further word, though her cheeks remained pale. In her heart, she felt sick with apprehension. There was something about those screams that unsettled her; it was a sound twisted with madness and hopelessness, like the frenzied cries of a lunatic who knows he is lost but still yearns for sanity. She didn't see how anyone could survive living in this place, let alone for five years. She hated to think what it would have been like when only the Dementors were used as guards.
They passed through another set of doors and he led her down a narrow flight of stairs, which led to even more maze-like corridors. The moans and screams of the Undesirables were getting fainter, but then she would pass a door and hear the wretched sobbing coming from within. Sometimes there was only silence, as if the person living inside the cell was already dead. She didn't know what was more unnerving.
"How much further?" she asked, ignoring the knots forming in her stomach.
"Not far to go now. We've been keeping him in Isolation, mostly for his own protection. He's one of the few Undesirables charged with war crimes who managed to escape a life sentence or receiving the Dementor's Kiss. The others don't like that."
"He's not an Undesirable," she said softly—too softly for the gruff man to hear.
It was a term coined by politicians to replace the old title of Death Eater, much in the same way that Lord Voldemort's name had been changed to You Know Who. Now the label was used to describe all criminals, but the implication was still the same: an Undesirable was someone less than human—a despicable and highly dangerous creature who could have no place in society. It bothered her that people thought he was such a man. Whatever wrongs the boy she had come to find might have committed during his time as a Death Eater, he had been kind to her.
"Tell me," she said after a moment, now staring at her hands with sudden interest. "Will I—will I find him much changed?"
The gruff man gave a bark of laughter. "Sweetheart, this is Azkaban. Everyone goes a little mad here."
Her expression must have suggested that this was not the right answer, because he plastered an apologetic smile on his face and assured her that he was just an old fool and she shouldn't take heed of the things he said. The young woman was not comforted, but she said no more and followed the guard in silence. Finally, they stopped outside a single metal door. The light above flickered in broken stutters, like a candle hissing its last breath. It was the only sound to be heard, for there was no screaming coming from within this cell.
She took in a deep breath and faced the gruff man. "I want to be alone with him."
"I don't think you—"
"I want to be alone with him," she repeated in a hard voice, narrowing her eyes. "He's been cleared for release, hasn't he?"
"Well, yes, but—"
"Then there shouldn't be a problem," she finished. "Now open the door."
The gruff man muttered something under his breath about foolish mainlanders, but he seemed to realise it would be futile to argue with this fierce little woman and ran his wand over the door to remove the lock. It seemed like hours that she waited for that cold slab of metal to move, but then a gap appeared and she felt her body come alive with the beating of her heart. It was time.
"I'll be waiting for you down the hall," the gruff man stated. "Don't be too long."
She merely nodded and then walked into the cell. A man dressed in a garishly crimson one-piece was sitting on the bed, but he stood up at her entrance and stared at her through startled grey eyes, as if he thought her some kind of illusion. She had much more trouble identifying him—at least when placed beside the elegant boy she remembered. Hair that had once been short and silky now fell in silvery-blond tangles around his shoulders, and the lower half of his face was covered in much the same, though his beard was a few shades darker. He looked ill and far too pale, which only emphasised the dark smudges under his eyes. He had also lost a lot of weight, to the point where he seemed all cheek bones and sharp edges, like a skeleton trying to break free from its skin. No one in their right mind would have called him handsome, let alone want to touch him.
"Ginny," he breathed, taking a few steps towards her. "This can't be real."
Something warm slipped down her cheek, and she realised she was crying. This was not the reunion she had been expecting. The past five years had not been kind to Draco Malfoy. While she had been given the space to heal, he had clearly been left to rot in his cell, damned and abandoned for crimes he should never have been forced to commit.
"What happened to you?"
Her voice was the barest whisper, but it had the effect of making him pause. The blond averted his face, perhaps ashamed of his appearance.
"You don't exactly get the five-star treatment when you're an Undesirable," he said with just a trace of bitterness.
Something flickered in her eyes. "Don't call yourself that."
"Why not?" he muttered, turning back to face her. "It's what I am, aren't I?"
"You're not an Undesirable, Draco. You never were."
He laughed, and she could definitely hear the bitterness now.
"That's not what my record says. Not what my arm says, either."
A crease formed on her brow. "I thought the Dark Mark would have faded once You Know Who was defeated, like it did last time."
"It did, which is why they gave us this—" He pulled up his sleeve and there, burned into his forearm in vivid black, was an ugly tattoo where the Dark Mark should have been.
"X2150," she read aloud. "Is that—"
"My identity code," he finished with a nod. "It's so people will always know what I am. It also means that the Ministry can find me any damn time they like." He let his sleeve drop back to cover the tattoo, and his mouth twisted into a cynical smile. "I belong to them now."
"I'm sorry," she said, placing her hand on his arm. "I really am sorry, Draco."
He shrugged. "It could have been worse. I'm just lucky I was eighteen and had already chosen to surrender when I was brought up for trial. I only ended up getting five years. Most of the others will be in here for life, that is if the Dementors don't get to them first. Sometimes it makes me almost glad that Mother—"
Draco swallowed and fell silent, inhaling sharply as he looked the other way to hide his expression. Ginny gripped his arm tighter.
"I heard about her death," she said quietly. "I'm sorry."
He gave another of his jerky shrugs. "Well, at least the Dementors didn't get to her, right?"
There was nothing to be said. Ginny moistened her bottom lip, feeling fresh tears prickle at her eyes. It was heartbreaking to watch him try to be strong when she knew by the faint tremor in his voice that all he wanted was to break down and cry. She wished she could take away his pain, but she knew it was impossible. Like her, he would have to live with the wounds of his past, but she wondered if it would have been as bad for him had she just stayed. Perhaps she could have helped him. Perhaps with someone by his side he would not have fallen so far.
"I should have come earlier," she said in real distress, staring down at her shoes. "I should not have kept away from you for so long. It was selfish of me."
His fingers closed around hers, and she looked up on instinct and was struck anew by the beauty of those dark grey irises. In all her life she had never seen a colour quite like it, but it was the expression reflected in his eyes that truly held her entranced. She could see no bitterness swirling in the grey now—no anger. There was only sadness and maybe a hint of something else. Something that made her blood quicken and her limbs tingle with warmth. She was suddenly very conscious of where their skin touched, and though she knew he could feel every uneven bump of scarred flesh, there was no repulsion in his gaze.
"It wouldn't have made a difference if you had returned earlier, Ginny," he said gently. "You could not have got me out of this prison, nor could you have saved my mother." He placed his free hand against her cheek, tilting her face up more towards his. "Besides, you're here now, aren't you?"
"Yes," she murmured, almost in a whisper. "I'm here now."
For a moment they just stood there staring into each other's eyes, and then he closed the distance between them and pressed his lips against hers. Her eyelashes fluttered shut at the contact, and she returned the grip on his hand as she responded to the kiss, not even caring that all she could taste was the salt from her own tears. For five years she had waited for this moment—to feel her body pulse with life and her heart sing in wild pleasure as their lips moved together in sweet union. It had been so long, but never had kissing him felt so right. For once there was no great divide separating them. For once they could just express the secret thoughts of their souls without fear or reserve. The broken strings had finally been restrung, and with that came a sense of wholeness.
He had made her complete.
Their fingers were still entwined when he pulled back from the kiss and rested his forehead against hers. "I never forgot you, Ginny," he mumbled, closing his eyes.
"I never forgot you either."
He squeezed her hand gently, but then he stepped back and held her gaze, looking suddenly grave. "It's not going to be any easier for us, you know. Five years can't erase the past."
"I know." She held their clasped hands to her chest, letting him feel the vibrant beating of her heart. "But I don't need to forget the past, Draco. I've been running for five years and now I want to stop. Now I just need you."
He smiled—a rare smile that whispered of a handsome boy who had once risked all to help the girl he loved. "Then I guess there's nothing more to be said."
"No," she agreed, and then she tugged lightly at the hair smothering his chin. "But we might have to do something about this beard."
He laughed in genuine amusement. "Trust me, Ginny; get me out of this hell and I'll let you do whatever you want."
She smiled and leaned forward to place a soft kiss on his lips. "It's a deal."
Suddenly, there was a hard rap on the door.
"Time's up, sweetheart! Get a move on, why don't you, or I swear I'll lock your boy there back up in his cell and call it a day!"
Ginny glanced back at Draco, her eyes questioning. "Ready to go?"
It was more than just a question about leaving the prison. She was asking him if this was what he really wanted—to join their paths as one and bridge the chasm between them once and for all, regardless of their history. Draco did not hesitate; he took her hand in a firmer grasp and graced her with one of his rare smiles.
There would be no parting of ways today.
Thanks to everyone who read, reviewed and appreciated this story. I have enjoyed reading your thoughts and am eternally grateful for your support. There were many times when I wanted to scrap Domino, but you pushed me to keep going—even to add an epilogue which I honestly didn't feel like writing.
If you still feel like this ending wasn't very satisfactory and would like to read something with a bit more bite to it, you might want to check out The Different Shades of Grey. This is the fic I will be primarily working on for the rest of the year (or until I get it finished), and is definitely worth reading if you're a fan of darker DG stories. ^_~