Playing with Fire

Chapter 70: This is it

Song: The Night King - Ramin Djawadi

There was only so much planning you could do when preparing for a situation full of uncertainty. They had no idea when the Incendiaries would be there. If they would show up. How they would arrive.

Hermione was on edge - couldn’t sleep, couldn’t eat. She could barely breathe even. Draco pushed her to eat and was getting quite impatient with her refusal. “What if it happened then? While I’m stuffing my mouth with food they just show up? What then?”, her responses were mostly the same each time he addressed the issue.

And because she couldn’t do any of those things, Draco couldn’t either. He felt as if he were standing on the edge of a cliff, waiting to be pushed - all day every day. It had been three days of this.

Ginny walked around the house freely now, not as a cat, which she was thrilled about and brought up regularly. Apparently it was quite abnormal to remain a cat for days or even weeks as she had. It was somewhat disorienting for her, especially considering she had only become an animagus over the past few months. She missed McGonagall’s guidance.

Hermione and Ginny were seated at the dining table around noon when it finally happened. They were sipping tea - mainly just trying to fill the time. The clocks in the manor seemed to tick as if they were taunting them. Counting down without actually knowing how much time was left.

They sat in silence. Any words that needed to be spoken, explanations given, questions answered - they had all been said by then. Sit. Wait. Drink tea. Wait. Lie awake in bed. Wait. Over and over and over.

Draco was upstairs in his study and Lucius was in his on the opposite end of the manor. Hermione had just taken a sip of her tea when she heard the floo from the main hall of the manor. She choked on the tea and the cup dropped to the floor, shattering loudly upon impact.

Her eyes flew to Ginny and neither of them moved or breathed. In no time, Ginny was twirling in the air until an orange tabby cat with green eyes appeared, leaping over the table and into Hermione’s arms. She nuzzled her head against Hermione’s shoulder in reassurance. It’s now. It’s happening.

Hermione took a deep breath and raised a trembling hand to the door handle before opening it. That was the exact moment that Draco and Lucius reached the top of the stairs from their opposite wings of the manor. Hermione met Draco’s eyes before they both redirected their attention to the wizard in the center of the room.

Nagini slithered around his legs, hissing and taking up a horrifying amount of space as usual. Kill the snake. Kill Voldemort. Kill the snake. Kill Voldemort.

“My Lord”, they all said in unison, breaking what was complete silence apart from the last horcrux’s obnoxious sounds. It felt as if it were teasing Hermione. As if it was saying I’m right here, come and get me. And she wanted to do so more than anything.

“To what do we owe the pleasure?”, Lucius drawled, slowly descending the steps without even holding the railing. Absolutely fucking bizarre.

“I received notice of thestrals, dragons, and brooms seen flying amongst the clouds above London”, Voldemort said with a sickening grin. “I’m sure they’ll be here any minute now”, he hissed.

Hermione’s heart thumped against her chest and she could hear it in her ears along with a painful ringing. Her head throbbed and she fought the urge to even bite her cheek as the set of red eyes met hers. “Well done, Hermione

She fought back the vomit that climbed her throat as her name rolled off his tongue.

“Thank you, my Lord”, she responded with a quick nod. Draco flinched. She saw it. Practically felt it. Thankfully he was behind Voldemort, and therefore out of his line of sight.

This was the one thing she hadn’t accounted for - Voldemort showing up before the Incendiaries. She felt like an imbecile. How had she been so short-sighted? Of course he had Death Eaters patrolling every corner of London. He probably had since the day of her broadcast.

“I didn’t realize you kept pets, Lucius”, Voldemort scowled and turned his eyes on the man after noticing Amity - Ginny - in Hermione’s arms. The snake slithered closer to her and her grip on the cat tightened.

“Yes well, I’m quite fond of them. Cats can be quite feisty”, Lucius chuckled. Ginny hissed at the man in her cat form and he continued to smirk in response.

“I’m afraid you may have to get a new one, Nagini is rather...hungry”, Voldemort grinned eerily as the snake didn’t stop its stalk.

“No need, I’ll bring her something. Any particular preferences?”, Lucius smiled. There was something behind those pale eyes that Hermione couldn’t quite place. It was calculating and made her blood run cold. She had no idea what he was doing, but she prayed that she wouldn’t have to up-end the entire thing to save Ginny because the bloody horcrux was hungry.

Voldemort looked thoughtful for a moment before answering, “Something...muggle. Make sure it’s fresh”, he responded, showing his grey and decayed teeth. Hermione shivered at the man’s words.

“Right away my Lord”, Lucius responded before heading towards the kitchen. Why isn’t he having a house elf do it? It was all very...not Lucius.

There was painful silence as they waited for Lucius to return. Clearly Voldemort wasn’t one for small talk. Hermione and Draco weren’t either - when it came to Voldemort. The wizard shamelessly stared between Hermione, cat Ginny, and Draco. It was horrifying.

After what felt like a decade, Lucius returned with what appeared to be a raw steak. She didn’t want to know what it was, nor where it came from. It had to be a regular, average, non-muggle steak. Surely. But it smelled bitter and rancid as the scent filled the air.

Lucius tossed the steak in Nagini’s direction, landing right in front of Hermione’s feet. She jumped back in horror when the snake attacked it greedily, practically swallowing it whole. Something was oozing out of the meat…

Surely it wasn’t...had he? Oh God. Hermione tried her hardest to hide her nervousness but she was trembling with realization. She recognized that smell. And the shimmery liquid that oozed from the meat when the snake gorged itself on it.

Basilisk venom.

Voldemort was too busy scrutinizing the man who couldn’t look back at him, the man with long blonde hair and a snake-headed staff. The man who had put basilisk venom in the snake’s food. The man who was currently killing the last horcrux.

Hermione met Draco’s eyes, widening them in horror, and she urged him nonchalantly to look at the steak. But he didn’t understand. He hadn’t ever encountered basilisk venom. How had Lucius got ahold of any?

The snake began to choke and Voldemort spun on his heel in shock. “Nagini?”, he asked in confusion. Hermione wanted to roll her eyes. The fact that this man only held anything even resembling affection for a snake, and not for humans was just...it was a joke honestly.

While Voldemort was distracted, Lucius turned towards her, eyes set on hers, cane facing her as well. She quirked a brow slightly. He winked at her with a smirk. What? He nodded down to the snake staff in his hand which encased his wand. She looked down to it and back up. Her mouth opened slightly as she went back and forth between him and the staff, not understanding what he was trying to communicate.

After a few more glances, it hit her like a ton of bricks. It was never out of his hand. Ever. The staff. The snake head. That’s why it felt as if she was watched by the bloody thing whenever she was around him. He was seeing through the snake’s eyes. He still had sight, just not through his own eyes. The snake’s eyes glinted and Lucius slightly nodded. Her jaw dropped to the floor. She almost completely forgot Nagini.

Voldemort was chaotic, closing in on the snake protectively and trying to cast counter-choking spells. It didn’t work. Nagini began to immaterialize, as if pieces of her were breaking away and destroying themselves. A loud shriek filled the air that scratched her ear drums painfully. Voldemort yelled out in pain as he felt his last horcrux die.

This is it.

You”, Voldemort turned to face Lucius with nothing but fury in his glare.

Lucius spread his arms out like a bird, leaving himself completely vulnerable. He practically begged the man to kill him and didn’t even put up a fight. The grin on his face said it all. Do your worst.

“Avada Kedavra!”, spilled from Voldemort’s mouth in a stomach-churning hiss as green light made contact - shooting out of the Elder Wand and into Lucius’s chest.

His pale eyes rolled back and Hermione’s breath caught. She saw Narcissa die. She saw Harry die. Watching Lucius die after the way they had bonded was like...almost like watching an adoptive father die.

She couldn’t scream. Couldn’t cry. Draco looked as if he had been impaled. The blood drained from his face so much he was practically translucent.

Amity shot out of her arms, twirling in the air to once again emerge as Ginny. Hermione, Ginny, and Draco each formed a triangle with their wands aimed on Voldemort instinctively.

This is it.

Voldemort turned slowly in a circle, laughing maniacally. “You brought friends how lovely” He was as vulnerable as ever, and as furious as ever too. He looked weak, but he still had the Elder Wand. Which is Draco’s, she reminded herself.

“Two blood-traitors and a mudblood. Oh dear, your ancestors would truly be appalled”, he seethed. No one moved as Voldemort continued to spin slowly, taking all of them in. Hermione swore her heart stopped beating and there was no oxygen in the room. It was sucked away with Lucius’s life force.

CRASH!

The windows in the manor completely shattered as a dragon - a dragon - burst in, completely destroying the front of the manor. And on top of it? Ronald Bilius Weasley himself.

The dragon breathed fire into the room as Hermione, Ginny, and Draco all darted in separate directions. Terrible fucking timing Ronald.

A black puff of smoke engulfed Voldemort before the flames found him and began to spread viciously throughout the walls.

Hermione was frozen. Flames everywhere. Apparate you stupid git. But she hadn’t done that in ages. There was no choice. She would burn to death and they would lose. What if Draco burned to death? Ginny? No. She wasn’t having any of it.

By some Sanguis Stigma sixth sense she could tell that Draco had darted down the west wing, so she apparated there.

He skidded to a halt in front of her when she appeared. She grabbed his arm and apparated again, this time outside the manor. Where is Ginny? But she had no way of figuring that out. Ginny was smart. She would apparate out. Hermione tried to convince herself she was sure of it.

Fire licked the building with a horrifying speed and the dragon was up in the air along with Ron. Thestrals and broomsticks came down all around them but Hermione couldn’t even pay attention.

Her mouth had gone dry and Draco gripped her arm possessively. He dragged her with him as he sprinted around the back of the manor. None of the Incendiaries dared shoot a spell at Draco for fear of hitting Hermione. But they still didn’t know the real him, and it wasn’t over yet.

They rounded the corner, almost running face-first into Voldemort before diving separate ways. One of her ribs cracked on impact with the icy ground and she wailed in pain. “Hermione!”, Draco shouted, practically jumping to get back to her but he was forced back when another spell shot his way.

Hermione grimaced and bit her cheek until it bled - the pain overwhelmed her. But something else came with it. Her insides felt like they were boiling with fury.

Right as she aimed her wand at Voldemort he disapparated again and more dragon fire rained down on them. It caught Draco’s leg and he yelped before putting it out with his wand.

Hermione raced to his side, her mind ignoring her broken rib now - there were more important matters.

“Hermione, you’re hurt”, Draco said with fury in his eyes.

“So are you”, she said, taking his hand. They both nodded in agreement that these things would have to wait and sprinted off towards the puff of black smoke that appeared 20 yards away - by Narcissa’s fountain. She felt Draco’s grip tighten on her hand.

Hermione summoned her rope-binding upon Voldemort but he slashed it away as if it were string. He cast a curse quickly that blasted each of them opposite directions as they got closer to him.

“You foolish, foolish boy”, Voldemort said, closing in on Draco where he lay on the ground. “I should’ve know you were as much of a waste as your mother”, he spat.

Draco bared his teeth and shot a spell at Voldemort, but he beat him to it. He disarmed Draco. Hermione’s heart sank to her stomach and tears filled her eyes. No. No no no.

Draco looked horrified. She couldn’t lose him. She couldn’t. She had already lost so much. The world felt like it was closing in on her but she pushed back.

She saw Voldemort rear back. “No!”, she shouted.

It was instinct. It was protection. It was love.

Hermione apparated in front of Draco as green light shot out of Voldemort’s wand - hitting her square in the chest.

~~~

A/N: Don’t have an aneurism...it’s not over yet ;)

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