Toward End Game
"Er. Nurse?" Hermione lifted herself up off the bed, and swung her legs onto the floor. "Hello anyone?" There was no sound the hospital was as deathly quiet as a tomb. She pulled the back of her gown together as well as she could, and with one hand clasping the edges she stumbled out into the hall.
No one. Hermione frowned, and released the back of her gown.
"Hello?" she tried, experimentally. And then "I'm a young, scared, blonde teenager, and I need manly support."
Still nothing. Hermione's frown deepened that tactic had always worked before. She wandered up the hall, toward the centre of the Ministry of Magic.
Pushing open the double doors, she found that the Ministry was empty too. Even in the dead of night, there were always people around the Ministry, working late hours on some case or another. She peered over the railing toward the lower floors of the building and thought she caught movement out of the corner of her eye. Someone had just walked through one of the glass doors, into the street.
"Hey!" Hermione dashed down the spiral staircase, taking the steps three at a time. She swung herself around on the end of the banister, and ran off toward the door. She jerked it open with one hand, and saw
Almost three hundred wizards and witches, staring at the sky.
Some of them were wearing the official robes of the Ministry; others were dressed in casual Muggle-wear perhaps, Hermione thought, with growing alarm, they really were Muggles. They stood side by side, none of them bustling for more room, with their eyes fixed on the moon. Hermione followed their gaze, and saw a sliver of passing green, a bright flash and then nothing.
A total eclipse. The gathering let out a soft, fearful sigh.
A nurse Hermione vaguely recognised from the infirmary was standing nearby. She wandered over, and prodded him remonstratively in the stomach.
"Me?" The nurse blinked out of his reverie, and stared at her. "Oops. Sorry, Mistress."
"What the hell is going on? Why aren't you up in the office? What's happened to the moon? Why are there Muggles here?" Hermione snapped.
He fidgeted, his eyes flickering to the sky once more.
"On your knees." Hermione cracked her knuckles menacingly. "Don't make me hurt you, slave boy."
The nurse tore his gaze away. "I don't know," he mumbled. "No one does. Not even Mr. Fudge. People are saying it has something to do with Voldemort."
Hermione smirked. "People always say it's something to do with Voldemort, every time anything goes wrong. A witch crashes into a pylon, and it's Voldemort. Two boys fuck on a broomstick, and Voldemort made them do it. The Ministry coffee machine breaks down, and it's Voldemort "
"It's real, this time," said the nurse. "I mean the moon there was a white dragon and the Death Eaters there's been reports they're rising in Staines."
"In Staines? I think not. The Death Eaters wouldn't be seen dead in a hole like that."
"Don't correct me. And didn't I tell you get onto your knees?"
The nurse stumbled to obey. Hermione glared at him for a few minutes.
"Where do they keep the broomsticks around here?" she asked.
"In the broom closet."
Hermione slapped him over the head. "And where is the broom closet?"
"Just inside the door, on your right "
Hermione made off at a jog, dodging through the glass doors. Lucius, she thought. I have to find Lucius. That bastard ex-Death Eater he has to know something. And if not, well. He is rather good at
She pulled out a broomstick, feeling a little mushy. She shook the sensation off, and went back outside.
"Nice ass, by the way," said the nurse. "Very green."
"Shut up, slut," Hermione told him, and slid onto the broomstick. Mm, well, that brought back memories Get the hell out of my head, Malfoy, Hermione thought, angrily.
She took off. No one but the nurse appeared to notice. They were all still staring at where the moon had been, awe-struck by what such a stellar anomality might portend.
"Ow. Get off my elbow, Malfoy."
"Not you. The other Malfoy."
Lucius grated his teeth. "The other Malfoy," he said, "suggests that the Weasley should quit bothering him and take it like a man. Not that you'd know anything about that, hm?"
"Trust me, don't piss him off," Harry muttered. "Been there, done that, still got the headache." He rubbed his skull, thoughtfully. "What now? Is he going to come here?"
"I'm sure he will," said Lucius, confidently. "He'll want to give some commentary about the Potter-Malfoy union.. And no, Draco. I know exactly what you're going to say. And you know exactly how many nice stories about Snape I can reminisce over in return. Consequently, for your own mental health, I suggest you keep your darling mouth closed."
Draco shut his mouth, and just nudged Harry in the ribs. Harry, who still wasn't over the Malfoy-Weasley union, didn't gratify him with a look. Once this mess was over, Harry had made the private decision to ask Lucius for the brief use of his dungeon. Draco was definately in need of some tough love. And some tough Veela love, at that.
"He's coming," Lucius murmured.
"I didn't touch him," said Ron. "Honest."
Lucius began to tap his wand against the palm of his hand. Ron ducked instinctively. Lucius might have been on the verge of casting some silencing spell on the unfortunate red-head, when a cloud of smoke suddenly exploded from the centre of the room. The four conscious wizards inside the circle jumped; the bang had come from nowhere, as loud as a localised thunder storm. Narcissa moaned in her slumber, and mumbled something about pink underpants.
From the centre of the explosion, tendrils of shadow were emerging. They coiled outwards like snakes, fashioning a wavering Medusa's head dress around a pinpoint of white at the centre. As the tendrils uncurled further, the pinpoint of white seemed to grow larger, spreading until it formed a recognisable shape: a head, almost a skull, with sunken cheekbones, and massive, staring red eyes. The pupils were slit like a cat's, and the nostrils were two sharp diagonals, like those of a snake it was barely human.
A mouth resolved on the white skin, a raw red in contrast with the pallour of the flesh.
"Lucius Malfoy," said Voldemort. "Welcome to the End Game."
"Bugger," said Harry Potter.
Hermione hurtled through the air. Infront of her, the manor was visible she ducked her head low against the broomstick. Hermione had never been a particulary comfortable flier, especially at high speeds, but a strange sense of urgency spurred her to push the broom to its limits. Female intuition, she told herself, as her stomach lurched.
All the manor windows were darkened, and Hermione could barely see where she was going. Only one remained illuminated, and against it, Hermione saw figures moving, silhouetted against the blinds. She dived towards it, and began to bang her hands against the glass.
"Yes, Tom, the wife is happy if drunk out of her mind, and the boy is doing fine," said Lucius, dryly. His even drawl didn't contain a hint of fear, but Draco knew how good his father was at putting on a serene facade. "Anything else you'd like to know about? Or isn't this a social occasion?"
"Potter," Voldemort snarled. "You have Potter."
"My son says, not often enough, but I rather beg to differ." Lucius continued to tap his wand against his palm. "Yes, Potter is with me, now or rather, I'm with Potter. But you knew that anyway otherwise I'm fairly sure you wouldn't drop by."
"Turned to good, Malfoy? Such a waste.."
"What do you call destroying the universe?" Lucius inquired, raising an eyebrow.
"Jussstice," Voldemort hissed, dragging out the word. His voice was serpentine, slurred. "You built a circle," he continued. "Trying to keep me out, Lucius?"
"No. I just thought it would look nice with the bloody wall hangings," Lucius snapped. "Get on with it. You want the End Game. We're ready to play."
"Not you," Voldemort said.
"What do you mean, not "
"You know the Game too well. You know how to win don't you? Or you should have guessed it. The Game calls for four unrelated parties and choosing an ex-Death Eater, I'm afraid, would be rather foolish of me. A Death Eater knows too well the necessity of self-sacrifice.."
Voldemort paused. Someone was banging on the window.
"I'll get that," said Harry. Draco gripped him by the shoulder before he could step out of the circle. "Nuhuh," Draco hissed. "I'm not losing you. Ron you want to open the window?"
"Go to hell, fan boy," said Ron.
"Well, I'm not getting it."
"But they sound really persistent.."
"Oh for the gods' sake," Voldemort spat, "I'll get the bloody window."
A cord of shadow rippled out, and opened the blinds. Hermione was pressed against the window her mouth became a wide O of terror as she saw what lay within. The shadow-hand opened the latch, and before Hermione could dart away, the window fell open and Hermione tumbled inside.
"Quick! Get inside the circle," Harry yelled to her.
Hermione stumbled to her feet, uncomprehending. She stared about her.
"The circle!" Draco took up the cry.
The three boys teetered on the edge of the circle, extending their hands towards her.
"This is ridiculous," Voldemort told Lucius, his bladed nose pinched closed. "I'm intending to destroy the entire universe. I don't think missing out on one fuzzy haired individual in a hospital gown will matter in the long run."
"She could give birth to a child, who'd rise up to destroy you later," said Lucius, thoughtfully, remembering one of the tips he'd gotten out of Evil Tyranny for Dummies.
"With whom? They're all gay," said Voldemort.
"True," said Lucius.
"I am not," Ron spat, infuriated by the suggestion before he remembered exactly who he was talking to. Voldemort's great red eyes widened, the slits growing thinner. "Um. Okay. Yeah, maybe I am," said Ron, in a smaller voice. "Er. Sorry for interupting."
Harry had managed to drag Hermione into the circle by this stage Draco was helpfully brushing her down, while trying to keep the hole in the back of her gown closed with the other hand.
"You're embarrassing me," Lucius muttered at them, out of the corner of his mouth.
"This is why I realised that evil was the way to go," said Voldemort. "Good is so impossibly ignorant."
"Evil isn't particulary intelligent, either," Lucius said. "Do you remember when those four Death Eaters got caught in a Muggle laundromat when the automatic door closed on them?"
"Oh, gods, don't get me started," said Voldemort.
"And they put their robes in on tumble dry, and left their wands in their pockets, so of course they got broken. I told them once, I told them a hundred times, you have to get those things dry cleaned. The colour runs otherwise."
"Yes, well," said Voldemort.
"I don't know what it is with the fabric. But you put in a Death Eater robe with the rest of your laundry, and everything turns grey. You should really have consulted a proper tailor, instead of getting Johann Crabbe's wife to run them up. That woman has absolutely no idea about "
"Anyway," said Voldemort.
"Mm," said Lucius.
"End Game," Voldemort reminded him.
"Yes, yes. Go on."
"You know the rules. The stakes: the universe, and everything in it. The players: four wizards or witches, to fight me. On my terms, on the battleground of my choosing. War. Famine. Pestilence. Death. The physical embodiments of each tragedy of the wizard and Muggle world."
"I want to be " Lucius began.
"Oh, come on. You can't expect the fuzzy-haired girl to take my place."
"I'm afraid so, Luc."
"Fuck you, Tom."
"This isn't fair," Lucius said. "This is the death of the universe we're talking about. At least give us a fighting chance."
Voldemort said nothing. Lucius growled under his breath. "Turn around, all of you," he snapped to the others.
"What?" Draco looked up.
"Don't be an idiot, Lucius," said Voldemort, smugly. "You can't possibly attack me. Perhaps I can't get into you in your circle, but I'm far too powerful for you to try anything. Your magic will simply bounce off."
"I said turn around, all of you," Lucius hissed.
Exchanging worried looks, the four would-be players turned, as best they could within the tight confines of the circle.
"Hah!" they heard Lucius say.
"Oh, good gods," Voldemort cried, agast. "What the Lucius "
"Serves you bloody right," Lucius sniped, straightening.
Draco risked a quick look over his shoulder.
"Father " he mumbled, feeling a blush spread over his cheeks.
"Yes, son?" said Lucius, sounding rather self-satisfied.
"You didn't, um "
"Didn't what, Draco?"
"You didn't just moon the Dark Lord, did you?"
"Yes, Draco. Yes I did."
Harry and Ron struggled not to laugh. Hermione was biting her bottom lip.
"I am so ashamed," Draco muttered.
"That was completely uncalled for, Lucius," Voldemort snarled. "You have your team. Let them leave the circle. End Game will begin now. I've wasted enough time with you, traitor. War, Pestilence, Famine, Death now!"
"Father?" Draco asked.
Lucius sighed. "I can't do anything. The four of you will have to play. Step out of the circle."
Harry looked at the others, and shrugged. He didn't feel particulary scared Voldemort had become a childhood nightmare to him; a childhood nightmare he'd always beaten. He slipped his arm into Hermione's. "It'll be okay," he whispered to her. She was trembling, but nodded.
They stepped out of the circle, and stood there, waiting.
"War. Pestilence," Voldemort intoned.
"Father!" Draco wailed, reaching for Lucius. Lucius caught him in both arms, squeezed him close, kissed his forehead, his son's silvery hair.
"I love you," Draco whispered, his head downcast. "I do I do, honest. I'm sorry for "
"I love you too, Draco," Lucius murmured. There was a crisp edge to his voice. "Good luck, son.."
"Out," Voldemort ordered.
Lucius released him, slowly. Draco stepped outside the circle, and flung himself against Harry's chest. Harry didn't have the heart to pry him off.
"Famine," Voldemort pronounced.
"Guess it's me next," said Ron, swallowing thickly. He made to step out of the circle, but Lucius reached for his elbow, and tugged him back. "Weasley," Lucius whispered, "it's up to you. The Game it's a sham you have to "
"Lucius!" Voldemort bellowed. "Another word, and your son dies."
Lucius let Ron go. Mystified, Ron stepped out of the circle. Another day, another mindless act of heroism, he thought, grimly. Hermione reached for his hand, and he took it wondering in a half-hearted way why she was green.
"I know you don't want to do this," said Lucius, quietly.
"I have to do this," Voldemort replied. "It's the only way."
"You'll destroy yourself, too," Lucius reminded him. "The death of everything. You aren't exempt."
"When you kill the universe, you have to expect to break a few eggs," said Voldemort, philosophically.
"That was the most pathetic mixed metaphor I've ever heard," said Lucius, disgusted. "And from an Evil Overlord, too. I hope those aren't going to go down as your last words."
Voldemort smirked, as much as his broad, shark-toothed mouth could.
"Don't try to be sarcastic, Luc," he said. "Now Let the End Game begin."
Draco held Harry, who held Hermione, who held Ron.
Around them, the world changed.
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